Cross-cultural Dialogue on the Virtues: the Contribution of Fethullah Gülen
Trudy D Conway; 2014
128 pp., ISBN : 978-3319078328
Philosopher Trudy Conway analyses hospitality in the Hizmet movement and links it to the virtues. She discusses the gesture of hospitality in terms of tolerance, dialogue and compassion. The idea of hospitality is turned into a social community building in Gülen’s thinking. Conway discusses how people in the Hizmet movement develop the intellectual and moral virtues that are formed by teaching and by good conduct and gives examples from daily life. In this book, Conway explores the role of virtues in community building in the Hizmet movement among the followers in many areas such as education, dialogue and charity.
The founding commitment to the virtue of hospitality continues to define the dialogical ethos of the movement. This ethos can be found among the participants in many educational, dialogue and charity institutions.
Defining Islam as orthopraxy, Muslims tend to correct their belief in daily life according to the rules of Islam. Conway writes that “staying on the straight path of Islam is synonymous with living a virtuous life. Living this life is the source of both personal and communal peace” (p. 13). In the Hizmet movement, participants believe that having a virtuous life is a result of this orthopraxy. Conway points out the role of the virtues in this formation of orthopraxy.
In her encounters with participants in the movement, the author has found that the most prominent and frequently mentioned value is hospitality. She argues that hospitality as a virtue has played a dominant role in Hizmet and in the various predominance of hospitality in Middle Eastern traditions and societies, and in the Gülen movement how it is implemented is very important for analysing the extent to which the notion of hospitality is linked with the commonality and appreciation of difference. All Hizmet initiatives, whether focused on education, the media or charitable work, stem from the emphasis on cultivating both the intellectual and moral virtues. This central emphasis on the cultivation of moral and intellectual virtue is fostered in various activities.
Taking this key notion of hospitality to show how we might maintain the commitments that define social identity and community relations and at the same time open ourselves respectfully to those who do not necessarily share those same commitments (p 27), is the central idea of the book.
The author cites Western philosophical writings on hospitality and discusses it from the standpoints of Jacques Derrida, Hans Gadamer and Emmanuel Lévinas. Derrida’s law and ethos of hospitality, Lévinas’s notion of true hospitality and Martin Buber’s emphasis on thou as a singular person extends the meaning of hospitality in the author’s conceptualisation in the movement. Her book offers an analysis of Gülen’s understanding of the virtues, the influence of Sufism on these virtues and particularly on hospitality, and how these virtues have emerged and are practised in the movement.
Hospitality presupposes two persons: host, the foreigner and local. We invite someone from outside our community, our family. The hospitable person welcomes the other from outside as a neighbour, as a foreigner. It is assumed that the foreigner does not know the culture, the customs of the host. Hospitality makes possible encounters, sharings through which people can learn from each other. These encounters facilitate the overcoming of prejudices, prevent stereotypes and spread compassion. Opening oneself to the other entails a true dialogue, a true way of achieving a learning process. Such hospitality encourages an empathy which allows the acknowledgment of the other in his or her alterity and complexity.
In contrast to stigmatization, marginalization, silence and invisibility, hospitality permits an overture, opens dialogue and recognizes the presence of the other and draws the other into the interaction. Dialogic hospitality creates a shared space, a ‘sphere of between’ and a fusion of horizons allowing for the widening of the different understandings of virtues. The critical understanding of virtue which comes from encountering others from different traditions helps us to re-examine, redefine and reflect on what virtue and wise behaviour mean. The author argues that hospitality is a pre-condition of the sphere of between and a means of deepening discovery of the good.