It is with great gratitude to the Rumi Forum that I put down some reflections on my wonderful trip to Turkey several weeks ago. I have been fortunate enough to have visited Istanbul several times in the past, but never in this fashion, and never with the added pleasure of side trips through the beautiful Turkish countryside. The group itself was a delight – the structure of the events helped us to coalesce quickly so that simply being together was in itself a special treat. While I have been acquainted with the Gulen community in general through students at Hartford Seminary I have never before had the opportunity to learn about their goals, projects and philanthropy.
As I try to describe to friends the many places we visited and people we had the opportunity to talk with during this one week’s experience I am amazed again at how much we were able to do in such a short time. When my energy began to flag after early morning starts and long days I was snapped to alert by hearing Ali say, “Next week you sleep – this week you see Turkey!” And indeed we did. I think that the week was carefully choreographed so that we were able to mix seeing the amazing sights that excite tourists in general with the opportunity to talk with people and see a range of institutions not available in guidebooks. Among the highlights of the trip for me were visiting the ancient churches and monasteries near Cappadocia, sitting in the Blue Mosque with my old friend and student Tuba Gursul, tapping my feet (I couldn’t bring myself to dance but wish I had) to the music of the wonderful Turkish musicians, and hearing businessmen and professionals talk about their commitment to helping others through education and outreach.
At one point while we were waiting for the group to gather I asked Erkan what motivated the Rumi Forum to make such a financial investment as to invite groups like ours for such a first class visit to Turkey. His response was full and rich, expressing the hope that all of us will tell others about our experiences with the work of the Gulen community and with our new-found friends. I have already had many opportunities to do that, and will incorporate much of what I learned into my courses at Harvard Divinity School this coming year. I was extremely interested to learn of the five goals of the community, and especially its work with schools and universities, hospitals, communications and service provision. To give a portion of one’s financial holdings is a strong obligation in Christianity, but I have rarely seen it carried out in the same way as was expressed by our Turkish hosts. I greatly enjoyed seeing the school and the university, and was fortunate to be seated at the university breakfast next to an articulate female professor who talked about the school and about the growing economy of Turkey. Everywhere we went we were treated with kind hospitality and generosity, for which our words of thanks seemed inadequate.
My first visit to Istanbul was over twenty years ago, and while I have visited several times since I was particularly struck during this visit by the way in which Turkey has modernized and strengthened itself. The country seems poised both to provide leadership to the countries of the Middle East and to become a significant player in Europe. While we in the United States continue to hear discouraging news about the economy we got a very different message about the ways in which Turkey has handled its financial affairs. I look forward to seeing its continued progress and development over the coming years. Clearly the Gulen movement is contributing significantly to this success.
Finally, on behalf of Harvard Divinity School I am very grateful to the Rumi Forum for allowing me to bring two students on this wonderful trip. They had a terrific time and took an unbelievable number of photos. We are already planning ways in which to share our experience with other students at HDS.
Thank you again, Rumi Forum, for a truly great week. I will never forget it.