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Breakfast champions peaceful respect for all

The Advocate. William Taylor, October 30, 2009

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.

More than 200 people attended the morning event held this year at St. George Catholic Church.

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.

Çetin’s involvement in what has become known as the Gülen Movement grew in the late 1990s as stories of international terrorism had people wondering where to find the peaceful Islamic voices.

Gülen and those in his movement had been such voices for years, but had preferred to let their altruistic actions speak for them, Çetin explained.

Now the movement reaches out internationally to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue with dinners, educational programs and trips to Turkey.

Çetin, while living in Texas for several years, served as president of the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, USA, an organization devoted to Gülen’s concepts of cultural exchange and cooperation. Now in Pennsylvania, Çetin continues to work with the institute as publications coordinator.

He said he believes that through interfaith dialogue people can grow deeper in their own faiths while accomplishing the goals the shared virtues of those faiths commend.

“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,” he said.

The Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade said she heard in Çetin’s remarks the echoes of her own Lutheran faith’s call to action as well as the mission of the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, which she servers as executive director.

In addition to working this year to help people rebuild from Hurricane Gustav, the federation has continued a focus on education, most recently helping more churches get geared up to adopt schools through Volunteers in Public Schools, she said. “To me, if we want to make a dent in poverty, we educate.”

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