Religious fundamentalism is a two way street


Norwegian mass-murderer, Anders Breivik was brought to trial a few weeks ago. The court proceedings have revealed his well thought out motivations for the killings. They hinge on an ultra-nationalism with nostalgia for a white Christian Europe, and a deeply held xenophobia, directed particularly against Muslim migrants.

The interviewee featured here on Eureka Street TV sees the Breivik case as highlighting the urgent need for interreligious and cross-cultural dialogue, and he's well placed to make this assessment. Mehmet Ozalp is a leading Australian Muslim academic, author and community activist, and a veteran of interfaith dialogue.

And he's no romantic, he's hard-headed in this activity. He doesn't shy away from the awkward, difficult, seemingly intractable areas of division and conflict between Muslims and the broader community. In the interview he addresses four key 'fault lines' in relations between Muslims and the rest.

Ozalp migrated with his family to Australia from Turkey in 1984 in his high school years. While studying engineering at university, he went through a settlement crisis and turned to his religion. As he studied Islam further he says he gradually shifted from a blind faith to a deeper and more conscious belief and practice.

A particular inspiration was Turkish Muslim cleric, spiritual writer and advocate of interfaith dialogue, 71-year-old Fethullah Gulen. He sparked the global Gulen Movement which advocates what he calls hizmet, or faith-based community service and activism.

Gulen in turn was inspired by Turkish holy man, Said Nursi (1878–1960). Both broadly fit into the progressive Sufi strand of Islam exemplified by figures such as Rumi.

Ozalp became more active in the Muslim community, teaching classes about the Quran, and helping to establish a Muslim high school in the western suburbs of Sydney. In 2000, with a group of friends, he formed the Affinity Intercultural Foundation whose aims were to build bridges between Muslims and the broader community, and to nurture an Australian Muslim identity.

Particularly since September 11, Affinity has become one of the leading organisations fostering interfaith dialogue and understanding in this country. Ozalp served as its founding president from 2001 to 2007, and as executive officer from 2007 to 2009.

In 2009 he founded the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia (ISRA), a joint venture between Affinity and Charles Sturt University, and he is its director. He lectures at Charles Sturt University, and is studying for this PhD in Islamic theology at the University of Sydney with a thesis on the writings of Said Nursi.

As well as his academic teaching, Ozalp is much in demand as a speaker, giving talks in a wide range of forums around the country. He is the author of two books, 101 Questions You Asked About Islam and Islam in the Modern World. 

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Mehmet Ozalp, Anders Breivik, interfaith dialogue



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Existing comments

Thank you for providing this interview. I have read Mehmet Ozalp's "101 Questions". I found one point he mentioned particularly interesting: the idea that because the West has not had historical experience of large non-conforming minorities it has not developed "theologies" that can inform policies to deal with them and the phenomenon of the multi-faith society in a positive way. I thought this interesting because I think it underlines the 'closed-circuit' nature of Christianity's theology whereby it purports to explain everything - in the religious sense - despite it clearly being only one of many particular and originally localised developments in human thought and belief and structure. (I imagine this may be mirrored in Islam as well.) The point being that a theology will reflect to some degree the experience of the people who devise it, and not anything outside it. This should give pause because it suggests that not only should theologies be organic and evolutionary, but that they can never be considered epistemologically complete or expressed in exclusive or excluding terms.
Stephen Kellett | 04 May 2012

There is a dialectics of each religion. 1. There is the Vision and Ideals that spark it. 2. There is the Community that embraces it. These two aspects of Religion have both positive and negative effects on each other. On the one hand, the association of members reinforces them in their quest for Truth, and for fulfilling the ideals. On the other, it tends to lead them to believe that the Truth they share is the Whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, and that other expressions of it are false and should be ignored or suppressed. Efforts to promote the Cultural and material expression of a particular religion have all too often resulted in hostilities toward other religions, even in contradiction of the Ideals that are the basis of the aggressive religion. Before toleration and acceptance of other religions is possible, it is necessary to adjust our attitude to the realities of our own religion, and realise it is only one response to the call of God, and that there are others, all similarly culturally restricted to the traditions of each group.
Robert Liddy | 04 May 2012

Thanks for telling us about this bloke Mehmet Ozalp. He seems like a great Australian and should be acknowledged as Australian of the year. I look forward to reading his two books.
Mark Doyle | 04 May 2012

I have had the pleasure of knowing Mehmet Ozalp since his pre-Affinity days. Our fates brought us together around the similar interests of Fethullah Gulen's works and interfaith dialogue. Today I am honored to be associated with and based at the Rumi Forum here in Washington DC. I look forward with interest to similar related articles and interviews . Thank you Peter !
Emre Celik | 04 May 2012

Kirkwood obviously has no clue about the dark side of the Gulen Movement and it's agenda to restore the Ottoman Caliphate. Check out Gulen's "Get into the arteries of the system" speech which got the 5th Grade educated Gulen exiled out of Turkey. This movement manipulates, cajoles, bribes, intimidates, etc., whatever it takes to gain it's share of power. It is a cult not a religion that is into politics, social structures, media control, and academia. Where ever there is a Gulen school controversy follows in the USA 92 of their schools have been denied expansion, renewals and applications. The schools are NOTHING special, they all are cookie cutters of one another: THeir marketing, PR and advertising of these schools as being "Award winning" is fake. Most of the awards are won at Gulenist owned or sponsored events like: Science Olympiad, Turkish Olympiad, I-Sweep, Genius, Math Matters, CONSEF and more. American children are identified for what they can do for the movement. Given A's and their parents become die hard Gulen Supporters.
Mustafa | 06 May 2012

What a wonderful article about someone trying not only for Australia to understand & work with Muslims & Islam but getting Australians of different backgrounds getting out there & involved in the community. I wonder how many Muslim youth this guy & Gulen schools have saved from the fundementalists...? It's also interesting to see someone from a similar background I presume- named Mustafa- commenting here about the dangers & negatives about these guys who are offering an alternative to the fundementalists - my late grandfather used to say- ' son, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution...' I think people who follow gulen & his teachings are producing solutions - who can say that Mr.Ozalp is part of the problem? Except Mustafa of course... I know which camp he belongs to thanks to my late grandfather...
Matt of Melbourne | 07 May 2012

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