Q: What is the Institute of Interfaith Dialog?
A: IID grew out of the need to address the question, "How can citizens of the world live in peace and harmony?" The Institute aims to eliminate or reduce false stereotypes, prejudices and unjustified fears through direct human communication. We believe that, even in the digital era – and perhaps even now more than ever – direct interaction and dialog is the best way to build mutual understanding, trust and harmony.
Q: Is IID an Islamic organization?
A: No, IID is open to people of all faiths. In fact, among the people who attend our activities, 8 out of 10 are not Muslim. We think of IID as not a “faith-based” organization, but a “faith-inspired” one.
Q: What kinds of activities does IID conduct?
A: We primarily focus on three areas: academic activities, grassroots-level activities such as luncheons and other get-togethers, and interfaith dinners involving diverse religious leaders. We also conduct trips to Turkey, the Balkans and Central Asia to facilitate two-way learning about different cultures and societies. Last year alone, some three thousand people attended our events; this included more than 100 Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy attending our Abrahamic Traditions interfaith dinners, which promote dialog and understanding among the three religions that trace their roots to Abraham.
Q: Where does IID get its funding?
A: IID is a 501-c-3 non-profit educational organization. The majority of IID’s funding comes from individual donors. Certain programs also receive corporate support in the form of underwriting. We do not receive state or federal funding.
Q: How is the Institute of Interfaith Dialog involved with the Gülen movement?
A: Some of the founders and donors of IID are participants of the so-called Gülen, or Hizmet movement. IID was inspired by the movement’s philosophy and goals. We both are focused on bringing together communities in order to promote compassion, cooperation, partnership and community service through interfaith dialog and conversation. We are especially dedicated to encouraging the study of the global communities’ spiritual traditions from the vantage point of respect, accuracy and appreciation.
The Gülen/Hizmet Movement
Q: What is the Gülen/Hizmet movement?
A: The Gülen/Hizmet movement is a values-driven social movement and philosophy that advances interfaith dialog, education and community service as tools to build a better and more harmonious society.
The movement was inspired by the philosophy and teachings of Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish scholar, author and advocate. However, participants more often refer to it as the Hizmet Movement -- hizmet means “service” or, in a broader sense, serving your community – because the movement is about serving something bigger than one person or oneself.
Q: What are the movement’s values?
A: They are core values shared by the vast majority of Americans and millions of others around the world: education, spirituality, democracy, social justice, dialogue and community service. And importantly, the Gülen/Hizmet movement advocates taking tangible individual action to support these values.
Q: Is the Gülen/Hizmet movement a political movement?
A: No, it does not have a political agenda and reflects diverse political views.
Q: Is the Gülen/Hizmet movement a religious (Islamic) movement?
A: No. Although it originated in a community of Muslims, it has grown into a broad movement that embraces diverse religious affiliations and is built on intercultural and interfaith dialog. Indeed, the movement has been criticized by radical Islamists as “not Muslim enough.” For example, when the Taliban took control in Afghanistan, they closed down some schools that had been founded by people who were inspired by Gülen; fortunately, the new government has allowed them to reopen.
Q: Is the Gülen/Hizmet movement a Turkish movement?
A: No, although it began in Turkey, it has become a truly international movement because it speaks to core values held by Americans and others around the world.
Q: Where is the Gülen/Hizmet movement based?
A: The Gülen/Hizmet movement is not centralized; there is no legal entity or office. Fethullah Gülen’s teachings inspired the movement but he has no legal/institutional authority.
Q: Who is Fethullah Gülen?
A: A Turkish teacher, advocate and author who is considered by many to be one of the world’s most influential religious thinkers. In 2008, Gülen ranked #1 in the poll of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines, intended to identify “the thinkers who are shaping the tenor of our time.” For example, Gülen had a personal audience with the late Pope John Paul II in 1996 in recognition of his contributions to interfaith understanding, was praised by former U.S. president Bill Clinton for his contribution to mutual understanding, and received New York-based East-West Institute’s peace award in 2011.
Q: Is Fethullah Gülen an Islamist or a secularist?
A: Fethullah Gülen is often misunderstood or mischaracterized because he doesn’t fit neatly into the common stereotypes. Some facts that illustrate his perspective:
- He has consistently opposed violence and turning religion into a political ideology.
- He has publicly called Osama Bin Laden a “monster.”
- He has condemned all suicide bombings unconditionally and Saddam Hussein’s missile attacks on Israel during the first Gulf War.
- He criticized the 2010 Gaza flotilla organizers’ failure to seek accord with Israel before attempting to deliver aid.
- He has actively advanced the empowerment of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey, including the anticipated reopening of the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary on Istanbul’s Heybeliada Island and the Turkish government’s return of property to religious minorities.
- He supported allowing Kurdish citizens of Turkey to be educated in their native tongue.
- He has publicly promoted democracy as the best form of governance and supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
Q: What is Fetullah Gülen’s view on America?
A: Gülen praises American democracy and has praised America’s strong democratic position and legal system. After 9/11, Gülen placed an advertisement in The Washington Post condemning the attack. He said, “We condemn in the strongest of terms the latest terrorist attack on the United States of America, and feel the pain of the American people at the bottom of our hearts.”
Q: Some say that Fetullah Gülen has tried to stop publications that perceive him in a negative light. Is this true?
A: Gülen has never tried to stop the publication of media coverage of him or the movement. In fact, Gülen talks about the crucial nature of freedom in some of his books, and lists free thinking and freedom of expression as one of the aspects and characteristics of a virtuous generation. Dozens of publications that stridently attack Gülen’s teachings have been in circulation for several years and have continued being reprinted even after their authors have been found guilty by Turkish courts of libel and slander.
Q: What about claims by some that Fetullah Gülen has a “hidden agenda” to go back to Turkey and seize control of the government?
A: The supposed “evidence” of that that claim is a videotape of Gülen’s sermons that actually consists of pieces of several sermons deliberately taken out of context and spliced together in order to be misleading. As human rights attorney James C. Harrington noted in an April 2012 article, a Turkish trial court has ruled that the videotape was fabricated. (http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?load=detay&newsId=278603&link=278603).