To Gulen, it is not Islam but Muslims who fail to address the contemporary challenges due to their narrow vision and lack of proper understanding

Mohammad Fehullah Gulen is a remarkable Muslim scholar and thinker, a prolific author and a poet, one of the renowned peace ideologues and educationists of the Muslim world in the contemporary times. He is the founder of Hizmet movement (Hizmet literally means service) which is popularly known as the Gulen movement. Gulen describes it as “a movement of volunteers gathered around high human values”. The movement has thousands of schools, community organizations and institutions in almost all the major countries of the world. The movement has million of participants and followers across the globe and is actively engaged in various activities ranging from education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue, peace and coexistence, tolerance and religious pluralism to spirituality. The present review is on a similar theme. This book is an edited volume and the chapters offer deep insight into a wide range of themes between peace building, interfaith dialogue, religion and spirituality by examining Hizmet movement. This book is basically an outcome of the conference, “The Hizmet Movement and Peacebuilding: Global Cases. The Rumi forum, the center for Peacebuilding and Development at American University, Mount St. Mary’s University, and the Woodstock theological center at Georgetown University held this international symposium in Washington DC, edited by Mohammad Abu-Nimer Professor and Director of International Peace and Conflict resolution at American University and Timothy Seidal Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Social Sciences and Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

The book begins with the introduction in which Abu Nimer provides a comprehensive analysis of peacebuilding processes, a wide range of activities that contribute to helping societies meet needs by handling conflict and promoting constructive non-violent ways of dealing with issues (p.9). Nimer states that Hizmet Movement offers insights into how the secular and the religious is lived in the twenty-first century. He further argues that in the case of Islam, as with other religions, religious discourse (based on scripture and tradition) can be the base for developing effective peacebuilding frameworks. Without a framework rooted in local religious and traditional discourses, peacebuilding interventions will continue to be perceived as foreign knowledge and expertise imposed as local communities. Hizmet Movement educational and social development methodology can be utilized as a step towards the necessary articulation of a macro Islamic framework for social and educational change in Muslim societies (p.12).

The book under review is divided into four sections: (1) educational paths to peacebuilding; (2) principles and practices to overcome “otherness” and live together across difference; (3) conceptual foundations of the Hizmet Movement’s approach to peacebuilding; (4) spirituality, interfaith, and intra-faith engagement toward peacebuilding.

First section of the book is about the educational paths to peacebuilding in which Eugeniusz Sakowicz focuses on Fethullah Gulen’s pedagogical proposition that knowledge and science do not exclude each other but actually constitute two different aspects of the same truth, from which they are derived. The path towards the resolution of conflicts and building of unity is paved by education fostering the reconciliation of science and religion as well as interreligious dialogue. Education plays a significant role in paving the way for dialogue. Ori Z. Soltes explores parallel educational paths to peacebuilding and considers the Hizmet movement and seeds of peace in comparison with another ambitious and hopeful program with a distinctly peacebuilding agenda for which a starting point is education, albeit from within a different structure and context, seeds of peace. Almazhek Beishenaliev explores Fethullah Gulen’s pedagogical ideas and their practices in Central Asia, as Gulen initiated educational institutions or international lyceums in Central Asia are the flagships that succeed to implement and develop an innovative school culture in the Kyrgyz republic. His action-oriented approach finding effective ways to overcoming obstacles that befall the educational system by incorporating the true and tried traditional and modern pedagogy inspired by a notion “sacrificing souls”, a central element to Gulen’s teaching of selflessness and living for others, an essential principle for building a global culture of peace. Martha Ann Kirk’s chapter highlights the influences of the Hizmet movement in northern Iraq, in particular how Hizmet schools and hospitals are contributing to peace, reconciliation and a better future. Kirk has given a few examples that indicate the effectiveness of the Hizmet schools in implanting knowledge, skills, self esteem, self-confidence, values and virtues that are very much needed in Iran.

Second section is on principles and practices to overcome “otherness” and live together across difference in which Jessica Lee Rehman examines how Hizmet movement is based on peace, love and Justice. Gulen opines that it is not Islam but Muslims who fail to address the contemporary challenges due to their narrow vision and lack of proper understanding. For him, establishing peace among human beings is the most important task, though one of the most difficult of all, as it is one of the primary prerequisite of the human family. His view of human society is based on the principle of harmony, knowledge, justice and peace; wars and violent actions have no place in the essence of Islam. Johnson explores the specific case of Nigeria, and how the Hizmet movement helped them through socially and educationally to end sectarian violence. Sevilla’s chapter argues how Gulen ideas became the inspiration for the Philippines and Turkey’s diplomatic relations, promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Gulen says that dialogue is the key to open up new chapters of peace and prosperity in the world. The Western assaults on Muslim since decades, domestic political repression of Muslims, politicization of Islam and misinterpretation of Islam in the West are some of the hurdles and challenges to interfaith dialogue but still he is quite optimistic about the future of the world, negating the Clash of Civilization.

Third section speaks about conceptual foundations of the Hizmet Movement’s approach to peacebuilding. Tom Gage discusses how Hizmet movement’s work in education as Gulen believes that education is the panacea to reduce rather dilute jealousy, hatred and enmity among people and he foresees education as a primary tool in the development of society. He presents education as the only durable and permanent solution for society’s problems and challenges and the needs of humanity. He aspired for an ideal generation which he calls “Golden Generation” which works altruistically for the uplift of the human family. He strongly believes that his Golden generation not only work for the educational reformation but would also strive for peace, coexistence, justice and equality across the globe.

Fourth section throws light on spirituality, interfaith and intra faith engagement towards peacebuilding. Kamal examines the importance of Hizmet movement in promoting peace in Ethiopia, as the country passed through tough times with internal and external conflicts. Kamal presents a picture about the recent developments in Ethiopia by giving particular attention to Hizmet movement in bringing the development of peace, love, tolerance, and mutual understanding among the people of the country. Amidu Sami in his chapter examines conflict and peacebuilding in multi-religious and multi-ethnic context of Nigeria. He tried to find a lasting solution to conflicts in Nigeria by promoting tolerance and mutual understanding by using the Gulen’s faith-inspired but not faith-delimited service projects and narratives-is necessary offering peacebuilding models. Further he says that one of the primary endeavors of Hizmet Movement and its emphasis is to make the world a better place to live in. Gulen met world religious leaders from time to time including Pope John Paul II of the Vatican to improve relations between different religious, ethnic and cultural groups. He has also organized and advises his followers to organize dialogues on many platforms with other religious leaders to ease up the strife and tensions which have divided the human family.

The chapters in this volume provide us a sound understanding into the Hizmet Movement’s peacebuilding impacts. In spite of its educational and community development activities, the Hizmet has enlightened and emphasized Islamic frameworks for producing interpretations of Muslim sources that promote Justice, conflict prevention, and peaceful coexistence. Hizmet aims to revolutionize Muslim societies through education and promoting social harmony and actively connect to “Other” through interfaith and intercultural dialogue. It is a must read.

Dr. Ashiq-ul-Islam teaches at Department of Islamic Studies, GDC, Pampore. Mail at dr.aashiqulislam@gmail.com