Saturday, October 31, 2009

Growing up in the turbulent Turkey of the 1980s

Growing up in the turbulent Turkey of the 1980s, Muhammed Çetin knew how to hate and he had tangible reasons for doing so. Like others in his home, he had to serve two-hour shifts keeping vigil in the night, because if a bomb were tossed into the house, someone needed to be awake to throw it back.

“At that time the basic attitude was if anybody was in a different camp, they had no right to live,” Çetin recalled. But then Çetin heard Fethullah Gülen preaching about Islam’s demand for mutual respect, caring and cooperation — ideas that would change the direction of a teenager’s life.

Today, Çetin, an internationally educated scholar, spends his life promoting Gülen’s teachings through translation work, books and speeches, such as the one he gave Thursday during the annual Community Prayer Breakfast organized by the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

More than 200 people attended the morning event held this year at St. George Catholic Church in Baton Rouge. For years the federation was known as the Greater Baton Rouge Federation of Churches and Synagogues, but in 2007 it changed its name and opened its membership beyond Christians and Jews to include Muslims and followers of other faiths.

Çetin, serving as the first Muslim speaker for the breakfast, talked of how Gülen helped Turkey through a time when political and religious strife threatened to pull it apart. “(Gülen) exerted all his scholarly, intellectual and practical efforts to convince individuals and university students that they did not need violence, terror and destruction; they could establish a progressive and prosperous society without such terrible acts,” Çetin said. “Instead, they could avoid violence, ignorance, moral decay, and corruption by conversation, interaction, compassion, education and collaboration.”

Education and altruism are at the heart of Gülen’s message, Çetin said. “Only if they receive a sound education can individuals and their society respect the supremacy and rule of law, democratic and human rights, diversity and other cultures,” Çetin said. Gülen talked to people all across Turkey and convinced many to fund new schools, where children from a variety of factions could not only learn, but also become friends, Çetin explained. “The education at the schools and institutions accepts differences and renders them valuable,” he said.
“We may be powerless as individuals, but when we work together, we have the power to shape our community and history; we can all leave our mark for good because we all can serve humanity,” Cetin said.

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