Saritoprak focuses on culture, religion, Gülen movement in Turkey



Zeki Saritoprak, the Nursi Chair in Islamic Studies at John Carroll University, considers Fethullah Gülen to be one of the most influential Muslim Turkish scholars in the late 20th century, citing his contributions to education, aid organization and interfaith dialogue.

Gülen leads the Gülen movement, also known as Hizmet, which began in the 1960s. In his 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture today in the Hall of Philosophy, Saritoprak will discuss the movement’s significance, as well as religion and culture in Turkey.

“It can be argued that with the efforts of interfaith dialogue begun by Gülen and the movement in Turkey starting in the 1980s … the movement contributed to the growth of tolerance between different segments of society — particularly Jewish and Christian minorities,” Saritoprak wrote in an email.

The Turkish political system is very secular, he said, with a constitution that prohibits headscarves in public school. But as 99 percent of Turkey’s population is Muslim, Turkish culture is heavily influenced by Islamic traditions. This is seen particularly during events such as Ramadan.

Turks are very proud of their history, Saritoprak said, leading to heightened nationalism that actually goes against Islam.

“In Islam, there is no concept of nationalism,” Saritoprak said, “because [Muhammad] himself says there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab and a non-Arab over an Arab. The only context for superiority is piety or good works, not race or the color [of] one’s skin.”

Saritoprak wrote about Gülen’s faith as a Sufi in Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement, edited by Hakan Yavuz and John L. Esposito. In the text, Saritoprak quotes Gülen describing Sufism as “the path followed by an individual who, having been able to free himself or herself from human vices and weaknesses … lives in accordance with the requirements of God’s knowledge and love and in the resulting spiritual delight that ensues.”

Saritoprak describes the Gülen movement as one of the most important civic movements of the day. He points to it as a reason for the improvement of education in Turkey, as the movement runs more than 1,000 schools in Turkey and around the world.

“Having come from a religious background, Gülen is known as an Islamic scholar,” Saritoprak said, “but the movement has a much broader scope, and its aid functions go beyond the Islamic world.”

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