Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yearning for the Fethullah Gulen of Africa

Imagine an old, simple man with no authority, power, political ambition and grandeur yet who inspires millions to act good and inspire hope in millions of people across the globe. A man who creates enduring stories that offer a glimpse to the better side of man? Yes, such man exists and he is the Fethullah Gulen of Turkey.

Demonized by the militant secularists of Turkey as the godfather of Islamism, he has been labelled as a threat to the secular order of his nation and has been lampooned for years. But as a student of Mawlana Rumi, he has taken all that in his stride. Many a time, Hoca Gulen has responded to his critics with his trademark retort: 'I have forgiven those who have harmed me'.

There is no doubt that Mr. Gulen cherishes a higher goal. But his critics fail to know which goal is it. They say he is paving the way for Islamic rule in Turkey through soft power and state infiltration. They accuse him of what they have done for decades: infiltrating the state to oppress fellow citizens whom they accused of not being ‘modern’ I.e praying and fasting and dressing modestly. Like the Somali proverb says: they accuse others of what they are.

Gulen has inspired millions of his students and admirers to do one thing: to serve humanity. The sheer scale of their charitable work is amazing. Their determination to touch the hearts of the poor and the down trodden in the four winds deserve utmost praise. Their courage and fatigue represent the spirit of human good.

In Africa where suffering is synonymous with the continent, it is ironical that there has never been our Gulen; a man of deep honesty and compassion, a man whose priority is to uplift broken spirits and help others take a leap into a better life. A man to inspire a Hizmet (Service) Movement. The Movement he has created is a true reflection of the community Allah (swt) describes in His Glorious Quran when He said: "You are the best people ever raised for the good of mankind because you have been raised to serve others; you enjoin what is good and forbid evil and believe in Allah." (3:111)

Our scholars have been pre-occupied with issuing mediocre fatwas and religious edicts that serve no major purpose. They have been busy with inter-fighting and ruling each other out of order. Yet, the Muslim Community’s suffering in Africa has been great. In Kenya alone where Muslims constitute the largest unemployed segment of the nation, our scholars have been busy with mundane issues that help none. Broken marriages (above 56% in both the Coast and North Eastern Provinces NEP) where Muslims constitute the overwhelming majority have not been addressed. Poor education standards have become a trademark of Muslim regions and NEP’s poor performance has been accepted with a degree of hopelessness.

Our girls miss schools every month because they can’t find sanitary towels and knowing the deep cultural prejudices we cherish in that region, you can imagine the impact such challenges have on the education of our girls. No wonder there has never been a single girl from that region to attain an A mark for decades. Despite these challenges, there has never been a Gulen of our own. Simple and godly, but determined to remind people of God’s decrees and lead the way. A man to remind people of the higher call of the Heavenly Message.

Compare our situation to the gleaming schools the Gulen followers have built in Turkey and in tens of other countries including Kenya. The NGOs that help the poor, the destitute and the disadvantaged. The aid they give to Muslims and non-Muslims and the hospitals they construct where they are needed most. His message is devoid of emptiness and superfluous lessons. His is touching the hearts!

When I examine our scholars vis-a-vis Hoca Gulen, I remember a story I read in the website of Al-Arabiya TV circa 2007 where a young Egyptian man tried to harm the Sheikh of the Mosque he used to frequent while he was on the pulpit delivering the Khutbah. The young man's mother was bedridden and he sought help to no avail. Finally, the hospital bills ballooned and he was instructed to take his mother out. In desperation, he approached the Sheikh for help but he provided none.

When the Sheikh stood to deliver his khutbah which was about Taqwa, the young man stood with a dagger in his hand and swaggered towards him and hurt the Sheikh slightly. He was overwhelmed by the worshippers and subdued. After he was asked why he had attacked the Sheikh, he said: "He is talking about Taqwa and we are suffering. What's Taqwa if fellow Muslims can't care for a brother whose mother is thrown out of hospital?" In this, there are lessons for whoever heeds!