The story that a NSW priest has criticised the important development in Catholic Muslim relations that has taken place at the Australian Catholic University shows just what damage an “hermeneutic of suspicion” can do to in inter-religious relations.
It also shows how mistaken it can be to interpret a religious movement outside of its context. Fethullah Gulen’s movement arose in the anti-religious, ultra-secular, context of 1960’s Turkey. It is Islamic in the same sense that (for eg.) Opus Dei is Catholic. (In fact, in very many ways, the Gulen Movement and the Opus Dei movement are similar culturally and religiously, just in different religious and social contexts. Opus Dei has itself often been attacked by its enemies with exactly the same sort of “hermeneutic of suspicion”). As a movement, its intention in Turkey has always been to enable ordinary “lay” folk to live out their Islamic faith in daily life of business and service.
In the original article to which the news story refers, the author quotes from one of Gulen’s sermons:
You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centres, until the conditions are ripe.
This statement in its context clearly relates to the way in which Gulen encouraged his followers to work against the discriminatory anti-religious system of his own country. It has never been the intention of the Gulen movement to move into other countries and “take over”, as the author of the article seems to suggest.
Unfortunately, the author of the article attempts to interpret the situation in Turkey vis a vis Islam (and religion in general for that matter, including Christianity) through paradigms that we are familiar with in the Western world. Even on the basis of my very brief experience in Turkey (which you can read about in my diary here), I have come to realise that this is not possible. To understand the Gulen movement in its context it is necessary to be familiar with the specific history of the relations between state and religion in the Turkish republic during the 20th Century.
There is much that dialogue with Muslims can achieve in our world today. The establishment of the Muslim chair at ACU gives us an opportunity to work very closely together, in an open academic context. There is no place for the hermeneutic of suspicion here. Only for generous engagement and rigourous academic investigation.