A: The founding of the Pearl Institute was inspired by a scholar and peace advocate Fethullah Gülen. Gülen is an Islamic scholar speaking from a perspective founded on Islamic sources. His exposition of Islam has always been very open, inclusive, loving and peaceful. Therefore, those influenced by his scholarship have also adopted an open, inclusive, loving and peaceful interpretation and approach in their faith. This approach is conducive to dialogue.
More specifically, in the early 1990s Gülen began emphasising the importance of ‘organised and consistent dialogue’ and promoted the founding or dialogue groups and organisations. During this time, he set an example by visiting religious and ethnic leaders such as the Patriarch of the Turkish Orthodox community, the Patriarch of the Turkish Armenian community, the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community, leaders of the Turkish Alawi community, Pope John Paul II and the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel. He was personally involved in setting up the Journalists and Writers Foundation which organised many dialogue events bringing together people from opposing viewpoints and divergent lifestyles. These initiatives had a significant, nationwide impact in Turkey with reactions documented in the newspaper columns of the time.
So Gülen’s teachings coupled with his concrete example from 1994 onwards were the stimulus for the founding of the Pearl Institute in Hong Kong SAR. In addition to the original inspiration, we adopted the following principles or points of view from Gülen’s teachings and practice (not exhaustive):
a. We must come together around our humanness: ‘we are human first, then Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu or other’
b. We must embrace one another: ‘there must be a place for everyone in your heart’
c. Peace is default: ‘however difficult, peace must be sought’
d. Dialogue is valuable in and of itself, regardless of its outcome
e. Dialogue is a natural human expression and diversity is an intended phenomenon
f. Dialogue should be as extensive as possible and not be narrowly framed
g. Dialogue should be positive and proactive and focus on developing greater understanding and trust
h. Dialogue should focus on core social issues, developing a stronger sense of belonging and concern for one another