Wednesday, January 16, 2007
A Catholic scholar of Islam, Father Paul Stenhouse, suggested ACU (Australian Catholic University's Melbourne) had been naive in establishing the new Fethullah Gülen chair in the study of Islam and Muslim-Catholic relations, named for a Turkish Sufi leader now living in the US.
In last month's edition of Quadrant, Father Stenhouse said Gülen was a disciple of another Sufi leader, Said Nursi, and alleged Nursi's goal was Islamic supremacy.
"Is one being over-cautious in recommending prudence on the part of Catholic and other Christian, Jewish and non-Islamic bodies generally, when they are invited to give moral support to, and to engage formally and publicly in dialogue with (Sufi) groups promoting the teachings of Said Nursi and his disciple Fethullah Gülen?" Father Stenhouse asked.
But another scholar of Islam, Monash University professor Greg Barton, who has also made a special study of Gülen, has dismissed Father Stenhouse's objections.
Dismissing the article as poorly written and "not particularly well-argued", Professor Barton said the Gülen movement was marked by the commitment of its members to work hard, live modestly and to serve others, which often meant donating money to worthy causes, such as education and interfaith initiatives.
"Father Stenhouse conflates this quiescent Sufism with some of the rare examples of Sufi militantism," Professor Barton said. "For the most part, Sufis are accommodationists rather than confrontational."
"(The Gülen movement) is the antithesis of Islamist movements."
Father Stenhouse used quotes from sermons by Gulen, including this one: "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."
The launch of the chair was supported by Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart and attended by Victorian Governor David de Kretser.
The non-profit Australian Intercultural Society (AIS) has made the first donation of five instalments of $586,000 to fund the initiative. The first chairman is Turkish scholar Ismail Albayrak, from Sakarya University's divinity school.
According to AIS spokesman Orhan Cicek, about half the money came from the Australian Turkish community and the rest from overseas donations through AIS contacts.
AIS was established in 2000 by Australian Muslims devoted to interfaith work and to giving second and third-generation Australian Muslims a sound education in the faith.
Cicek said Gülen, who was granted a private audience with pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1998, was an inspirational figure.
"In the Muslim world he is like the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela," Mr Cicek said.
[Read also: ACU National announces new Chair in the study of Islam at the ACU website http://tinyurl.com/2z2kmj].