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Religious fundamentalism is a two way street

  • 04 May 2012

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