FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT
PEARL INSTITUTE AND HIZMET MOVEMENT
A: The Pearl Institute is a registered charity, established in Hong Kong SAR in 2015 (Formerly named as Istanbul Club (1998-2007) and Anatolia Cultural and Dialogue Centre (2007-2015), with the aim of advancing social cohesion by connecting communities through dialogue. It does this by bringing people together through discussion forums, courses, publications and outreach.
A: The Pearl Institute combines the features of a number of types of organisations. Through its discussion forums, community co-ordinators and outreach it seeks to connect communities and people by targeting the grassroots of society. Through its courses and community publications it aims to build capacity for dialogue by empowering engagement. Through its research fellows, academic and community publications and workshops and conferences it develops and proposes new ideas for meaningful dialogue. In that sense, the Pearl Institute is a centre of research and civic engagement (or a Think&Do thank) developing and delivering ideas for meaningful dialogue.
A: Specifically, it stands for promoting dialogue, firstly as a natural and basic expression of the human person and secondly for overcoming pressing social problems through open, honest, candid and critical engagement.
More generally it stands for democracy, human rights, the non-instrumentalisation of religion in politics, equality and freedom of speech. It oppose undermining democratic values and human right norms in the pursuit of any political or religious ideology and discriminating against others on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or age.
A: At the Pearl Institute, we understand dialogue to consist of meaningful interaction and exchange between people of different groups (social, cultural, political and religious) and individuals who come together through various kinds of conversations or activities with a view to increased understanding.
A: Overall, the PI’s target audience is a proportional cross-section of people from different backgrounds living and working within the regions in which we operate.
In addition to bringing people together across cultural and religious lines, we are concerned to bring together people from the following sectors: academia, the public sector, the community sector and the media. The work done by relevant professionals and volunteers within all these sectors can have a significant impact on the character of society. However, while each sector has a role to play in helping society to develop in a cohesive and empathic direction, channels of communication between them can be lacking and they can easily become insular. We aim to bring the different sectors into a creative, constructive dialogue that will inform and enhance the work of all.
A: While the Pearl Institute was founded by people that are inspired by their Islamic faith, it is neither a religious (Islamic/Muslim) or ethnic organisation. At most, it is an organisation led by Muslims since the current directors are Muslim. The Pearl Institute aims to serve society at large without being (mistaken for) an organisation for one particular ethnic or religious community or another. Pearl Institute team includes non-Muslims and our Board of Advisors includes Christians, Buddhist, Atheists and numbers of other faiths. We target and attract people of all backgrounds and religions for our events. In the past, we have organised events understanding Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, the Baha’i faith, Christianity and many other religions.
A: The Pearl Institute believes in equality between men and women. We believe that women can fill any of the public roles that men continue to dominate. In fact, in many ways we believe that women are more adept at dialogue than men. Women are active at every level at the Pearl Institute, including senior management.
The Pearl Institute is against discrimination on any grounds, such as race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age. The Pearl Institute opposes any form of hatred towards any group, however manifested, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism.
A: Violent extremism is an illness that has afflicted and continues to afflict many groups or sub-groups within society. This is not a problem unique to Muslims. At the Pearl Institute, we consider violent extremism as inexcusable and utterly abhorrent whatever the reasons that are offered. Islam is very clear on its teachings regarding those who kill others indiscriminately: “he who kills one person is as if he has killed the whole of humankind.”
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
A: Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic scholar and peace advocate. He is credited with inspiring a transnational social movement to engage in education and dialogue, contributing towards greater understanding and peaceful relations. The movement is faith inspired yet faith neutral and is increasingly attracting support from people of diverse backgrounds and religions. The movement is loosely connected through shared ideals and principles.
Those participating in the movement do not refer to themselves as ‘Gülen inspired’ among themselves. In Turkish, they usually refer to themselves as people engaged in Hizmet. Hizmet (translated as service), is the term by which people within the movement refer to the movement. In that sense, those in this movement can be called Hizmet participants or Hizmet volunteers.
Hizmet participants have identified themselves (and have been identified by others) as Gülen inspired mainly in the English speaking world, because Gülen provides the main interpretive framework that acts as general guides and principles for Hizmet and because Gülen was and continues to be better known than the movement. As a result it was and continues to be easier to identify people in relation to Gülen (a known public figure) rather than a far less known, less tangible movement.
That said, what does it mean to be a Hizmet participant/Gülen inspired?
The term is usually used to mean the following: a person may be considered to be a Hizmet participant or Gülen inspired if he or she shares the core values and principles of Hizmet and actively supports its activities. Active support can vary in nature and extent. The point is that the person does what he or she can and is willing to do. A person who receives a salary for the work that he or she does may (continue to) be a Hizmet participant or Gülen inspired if the main motivation behind his or her work is not the salary but the ideals and goals of the movement’s activities.
How a person becomes a Hizmet participant or becomes Gülen inspired is a different question. Since the movement is not a single legal entity and has no centralised structure there is no formal way of joining or leaving the movement. One is as much in or as much out as he or she feels engaged and supportive of the movement. It is entirely relative. What is more, what moves or inspires a person to develop a sense of support for the movement can vary from one person to another. That is the nature of inspiration.
Having said that, we can perhaps point out that often people are inspired to become active in the movement as a result of seeing the example or practice of the movement, or the people within the movement. They may come across the example before they realise that this example is based on core values and principles rearticulated by Fethullah Gülen. Certainly, some may come into contact with Gülen as a public figure before they come into contact with the movement. But even then, the example and practice of Gülen’s devout and Sufi lifestyle is usually what gives his teachings credibility and influence amongst his audience. So usually the source of inspiration is coming into contact with the example and practice of the movement as well as the teachings and principles. And the most common form of practice which inspires people vis-à-vis the Hizmet movement in our experience is seeing what can be achieved collectively through good-will and mutual support as opposed to what is achieved individually.
A: Our ‘work output’ is disproportionate to ‘funding input’ since most of our work is achieved through the efforts of volunteers and interns, and in-kind support from a range of people in a number of specialist fields including accounting, branding, design and printing and legal work. Therefore, there is a substantial difference between the market value of the work we do and the actual cost to the Pearl Institute of the work achieved.
Pearl Institute is primarily funded by private donations from people based in the HK including small business owners and people working on different fields. In addition we organise fund-raising activities, distribute collection boxes, sell books and offer room-hire.
Pearl Institute has been working within the community since 2015 (With its former name, istanbul Club and Anatolia Cultural and Dialogue Centre it has been in the society since 1998). For many years it worked without any office or any paid staff. It has grown as people have come to admire its work and have supported the goodwill of the people volunteering for it. It is because of this that it has the supporters and sponsors it has today.
We are not in receipt of any local or national government funding. In coming years we have plans to apply to independent grant-making bodies where these are open to funding the kind of projects in which we are engaged. We do not accept funding from foreign governments.
A: Some of the founders and donors of PI are participants of the so-called Hizmet, or Gulen movement. PI was inspired by the movement’s philosophy and goals. We both are focused on bringing together communities in order to promote social hamrony, cooperation, partnership and community service through intercultural dialog, projects of engagement and conversation.
A: The Gülen/Hizmet movement is a values-driven social movement and philosophy that advances intercultural and interfaith dialog, education and community service as tools to build a better and more harmonious society.
The movement was inspired by the philosophy and teachings of Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish scholar, author and advocate. However, participants more often refer to it as the Hizmet Movement — hizmet means “service” or, in a broader sense, serving your community – because the movement is about serving something bigger than one person or oneself.
Read more about Gulen Movement at https://www.fethullah-gulen.org
A: They are core values shared by the vast majority of Hong Kongese and millions of others around the world: education, human rights, freedom of expression, spirituality, democracy, social justice, dialogue and community service. And importantly, the Hizmet movement advocates taking tangible individual action to support these values.
A: No, it does not have a political agenda and reflects diverse political views. Hizmet Movement believes “Our humanity is the biggest point which makes us one as a whole.” Humanity is beyond politics. Pearl Institute is not aligned with any political party or with any specific political movement. Politically, we are non-partisan.
A: Meeting with policy-makers is a very small part of our work and is something we do as part of our attempt to communicate and exchange ideas with diverse groups and sectors. We meet with policy-makers to inform them of our work and note any feedback or suggestions they may have. We do not lobby them in any way.
A: No. Although it originated in a community of Muslims, it has grown into a broad movement that embraces diverse religious affiliations and is built on intercultural and interfaith dialog. Indeed, the movement has been criticized by radical Islamists as “not Muslim enough.” For example, when the Taliban took control in Afghanistan, they closed down some schools that had been founded by people who were inspired by Gülen; fortunately, the new government has allowed them to reopen.
A: No, although it began in Turkey, it has become a truly international movement because it speaks to core values held by Hong Kongese and others around the world.
A: The Gülen/Hizmet movement is not centralized; there is no legal entity or office. Fethullah Gülen’s teachings inspired the movement but he has no legal/institutional authority.
A: A Turkish teacher, advocate and author who is considered by many to be one of the world’s most influential religious thinkers. In 2008, Gülen ranked #1 in the poll of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines, intended to identify “the thinkers who are shaping the tenor of our time.” For example, Gülen had a personal audience with the late Pope John Paul II in 1996 in recognition of his contributions to interfaith understanding, was received New York-based East-West Institute’s peace award in 2011 and Most recently Mr. Gulen has been awarded GANDHI, KING, IKEDA Peace Award in 2015.
Read more about Fethullah Gulen at https://www.fethullah-gulen.org/biography.html
A: Fethullah Gülen is often misunderstood or mischaracterized because he doesn’t fit neatly into the common stereotypes. Some facts that illustrate his perspective:
● He has consistently opposed violence and turning religion into a political ideology.
● He has publicly called Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi are a “monster.”
● He has condemned all suicide bombings unconditionally and Saddam Hussein’s missile attacks on Israel during the first Gulf War.
● He has actively advanced the empowerment of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey, including the anticipated reopening of the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary on Istanbul’s Heybeliada Island and the Turkish government’s return of property to religious minorities.
● He supported allowing Kurdish citizens of Turkey to be educated in their native tongue.
● He has publicly promoted democracy as the best form of governance and supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
Q: What about claims by some that Fethullah Gülen has a “hidden agenda” to go back to Turkey and seize control of the government?
A: The supposed “evidence” of that that claim is a videotape of Gülen’s sermons that actually consists of pieces of several sermons deliberately taken out of context and spliced together in order to be misleading. As human rights attorney James C. Harrington noted in an April 2012 article, a Turkish trial court has ruled that the videotape was fabricated. (https://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?load=detay&newsId=278603&link=278603).
Alliance for Shared Values / https://www.afsv.org
Fethullah Gulen / https://fgulen.com/en/
Rumi Forum / Washigton DC / https://rumiforum.org
Peace Island Institute / https://www.peaceislands.org
Dialogue Society / https://www.dialoguesociety.org