Open Letter to Fethullah Gülen, Founder of Hizmet Movement
Dear Respected and Honorable Hodja Effendi,
I hope my letter finds you in the best of health and spirits. I had the pleasure of visiting you twice. Both visits remain cherished memories in my life. The compassion and honesty with which you answered my questions have remained seared in my memory. For that I am grateful. I am writing to you today with the expectation that once again you will indulge me and give my proposal serious considerations.
I cannot recall another time in my lifetime when the Muslim ummah faced greater oppression and crisis than today. This comes at a time when the educational and economic achievements of individual Muslims, particularly in America, are unprecedented. American Muslims individually have achieved much success but collectively our institutions have not stepped up to match the professionalism and vision of other American faith-based institutions. This limitation is already hurting the community as our younger generation keeps drifting away. While some leave the fold of Islam entirely, others remain committed to their faith but do not want to associate with Islamic Centers or other social institutions of the American Muslim community. Hizmet is no exception to this alarming trend.
The freedoms in America and the unique social setting of American life allows any individual to flourish with or without the help of their faith communities. However, when faith-based institutions fail to live-up to expectations, the long-term result is a weakening of the fabric of society. Faith-based institutions have the potential of being the prophetic voices in our society. When they fall short, everyone loses. Given Hizmet’s message of universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity, I am sure this pains you as much as it pains me. We are failing to live up to our beloved Prophet’s model of being “rahmatul lil alamin” (mercy to all of God’s creations). As people called to follow the prophetic path of being a mercy to all creations we must step up and fulfill the awesome responsibility that we voluntarily accept when we ask Allah each day to guide us on the “siratul mustaqeem” (straight path) and when Allah replies, “dhalikal kitaabu la rayba fee hudal lil muttaqeen” (this Quran is the book that contains guidance for the people of conscience). We cannot be on the sirat by abandoning the core message of the Quran, which teaches us to love all of God’s creation in the same way that our beloved Prophet (SA) did.
I have studied and interacted with many Islamic movements. When I first came in touch with Hizmet, it gave me hope. I perceived the movement to be professional and visionary. I observed its members to be humble and dedicated to a higher purpose. After nearly a decade of association and having seen the movement up close, I have sadly come to the realization that the movement today does not fully reflect the lofty ideals of your teachings. Today the movement is mired in ethnic chauvinism and a paranoia that has led to an abandonment of the values of Islam and the ethics of American public life. The movement is by choice cut-off from the broader Muslim community in America. And when it interacts with the broader society, it does so less with altruistic intent and more as a cover to protect its institutions (namely its schools) from public attacks. The movement remains Turkish-centric. And most importantly it remains opaque. For example, after worshipping alongside Hizmet brothers for many years, I still do not know who the decision makers are, locally and nationally. Such secrecy may have been necessary in Turkey but in America such secrecy is detrimental. More concerning is the “holy deception” that members of Hizmet routinely engage in by putting out misleading information in the public (i.e. claiming that the charter school in my city has nothing to do with Hizmet or Gulen). Hizmet’s reliance on an archaic chain of command to make decisions bears little understanding of the lived realities in local communities.
Hizmet faces an existential struggle. And in this struggle your enemy is not Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Your enemy is internal dissension, which is the direct result of an unresponsive leadership. Erdogan can oppress. Erdogan can kill. Erdogan can imprison. But he cannot force Hizmet to abandon its vision or its core values. Hizmet’s execution of its vision is at best confusing and at worst hypocritical. An unresponsive leadership along with an unquestioning rank and file has brought Hizmet to face-to-face with serious questions about not only its legitimacy but also its survivability.
My purpose in this letter is not just to inform you about the problems. I am sure you have heard similar complaints from the growing list of disillusioned Hizmet members who are both publicly and privately raising important concerns. The fact that such concerns have not led to meaningful change in Hizmet’s operations, suggests to me that the concerns may not be reaching you in the fulness with which they are raised.
My dear esteemed teacher, I have admired the principles by which you lead your life of self-imposed seclusion. And that seclusion serves a purpose. But today, your seclusion is failing the movement. By remaining secluded, you are missing important data and much needed perspective that both Hizmet insiders as well as external well-wishers are eager to convey. Many cannot make the trip to your Pennsylvania compound. And even if we do, you can never get a full picture from our words alone.
Given the magnitude of the crisis, I urge you to undertake a listening tour in the United States wherever Hizmet has laid down significant roots. I am proposing a bus tour across the US. I understand the difficulties your health pose. But given today’s modern technology, and the advancements in modern medicine and transportation, I am confident that the concerns regarding your health can be addressed. During your visits across the US you will have the extraordinary opportunity to meet with men and women, the young and the old, the believer and the agnostic, the Muslim and the people of other faiths. Hearing their voices will allow you to gain insights that no abi, no follower, no writer, can ever convey. In their voices you will detect a sincere well-wishing for the Hizmet and a true desire to see your teachings of universal brotherhood spread across not only the Muslim community but also across the general American society.
At this moment, the world is once again confronted with a virulent ethno-religious nationalism unseen since the days of the Kaiser. At this moment, the Muslim ummah is once again confronted with trials and tribulations unseen since the days of the Khawarij. America’s commitment to democracy can bring the world back from the brink. Islam’s message of universalism can bring the world back from the brink. But messages of universalism, democracy and pluralism, is masked by internal divisiveness. The ummah and the world needs a spark. It needs a new source of light. Be that spark. Inspire American Muslims.
Give hope to America. In your voice let us rediscover the prophetic call for civility, unity and faith.
I look forward to welcoming you in my city of Jacksonville, Florida.
Parvez Ahmed, Professor of Finance
University of North Florida.