Understanding faith brings people one step closer to adversity, which was a message that Mr. Okan Dogan attempted to spread in this month’s Interfaith Academy. It took place at the First Baptist Church of Austin. Dogan presented an overview of Islam and the Gülen movement to a group of about fifty participants.
An Overview of Islam
A portion of Dogan’s presentation gave the participants insight about Islam. He discussed the pillars that the religion rests on: beliefs of there being one God, Angels, the Afterlife as well as the existence of Holy Books and Messengers. He also talked about various practices of Islam such as daily prayers, pilgrimage, and zakat (charity). Dogan further enlightened the participants by discussing the Qu’ran and the Sunnah. He told the audience that both the Qu’ran and the Sunnah bore importance because they are considered the main sources of Islam.
Dogan also touched the topic of Muslims in the Contemporary World. He commented that the emergence of different cultures led to different interpretations of Islam. For example Dogan mentioned the social separation of men and women in some Muslim societies, noting that this was not part of Islam; rather, it came to be due to social norms putting it into practice. More importantly, Dogan also told the participants that most contemporary Muslims are “Mainstream Muslims”, Muslims that are against violence and terrorist activity, open to science and faith, and are in between reason and revelation. Fethullah Gulen and followers of the Gulen/Hizmet movement are example of mainstream Muslims.
Gulen and the Hizmet Movement
Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish scholar influential to the Dialog Institute. Gulen’s teachings focus on the universal value of world religions, calling for love, tolerance, dialogue, and forgiveness on all faiths. In fact he has kept relations with religious leaders of various faiths, including Pope John Paul II in 1998. His other teachings also included an emphasis on Islamic morality over Islamic rituals as well as having a shared language with so one could address issues like poverty and ignorance. He was recognized as “Top Public Intellectual” by Foreign Policy Magazine in 2008, made Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2013, and was awarded the Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award in 2015. With the term Hizmet the Turkish word for “service”, followers of the movement attempt to spread the message of love, tolerance, dialogue, and forgiveness.
Austin branch of Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Hizmet movement, organizes grassroot activities and events such as Dinner of Abrahamic Traditions, Interfaith Academy and Dialogue Matters, aiming to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue in Austin.