Question: True stories of the Hizmet volunteers are told in the movie Selam (or salam—an expression of greeting and goodwill). You made the comment that going to other lands with a “salam” marks a lasting presence, whereas an entrance by the sword does not make a lasting effect even after long-term presence in those lands. What do you mean by “going with salam” and “the spirit of salam?”
Answer: First, it should be known that peace is essential in Islam and war is an incidental and exceptional situation. The permission for war in Islam is for the sake of defending the (inalienable rights or) values that must be protected, such as religion, life, intellect, property, and offspring. When people fixed on malevolence threaten to give you harm or try to enter your home by force, it is impossible to meet them with flowers. When a nation faces such an attack, they should mobilize and do what is necessary to be done in battle. In addition, stopping oppression (no matter which part of the world and against whom it is done), helping those who are wronged, and thwarting those who try to prevent freedom of thought and expression are among lawful reasons for war.
The Aim Must Be Deterrence
The Qur’an emphasizes that the principle of deterrence in order to establish peace should be done first. In a verse related to our subject, it states: “…make ready against them whatever you can of force and horses assigned (for war), that thereby you may dismay the enemies of God and your enemies and others besides them, of whom (and the nature of whose enmity) you may be unaware” (al-Anfal 8:60).
As it can be seen, the Qur’an advises to prevent war before it ever begins by taking all kinds of precautionary measures against immediate dangers and thus becoming a deterrent force that discourages potential enemies. In the course of the history of Islam, however, when the lawful conditions of war were present, believers had to opt for using the sword in certain periods. Most of the time this right was used for the sake of thwarting transgressive powers, bringing tyrants who upset peace and harmony in the world into line, putting an end to chaos in certain regions, and making right and justice prevail. One may ask the following question at this point: Did they thoroughly observe these principles throughout the history of Islam? When we view the general picture, we can comfortably say that Muslims mostly kept a balanced course. It is true, however, that some people in certain periods took action based on mistaken judgments. In other words, even if they set forth with the intention of establishing justice, they may have failed to observe a fastidious sensitivity about justice by preferring relative justice over absolute justice. For example, they may have failed to adopt a peaceful course of action when problems could have been solved, not with the sword, but with the invincible and everlasting principles of the Qur’an and Sunnah. In my opinion, Muslims’ failure to stay permanently in certain regions in different periods stem from such mistaken judgments.
Salam: A Universal Human Value
The conditions of our time are different than in the past. There is a certain level of democratic culture established throughout the world, and knowledge and eloquence have gained more importance. Victory in a civilized world can only be achieved through persuasion, and thus the diamond-like flawless and precious principles of the Qur’an and Sunnah have a separate significance in such an environment in terms of speaking up for truth and letting hearts feel it. Therefore, it is very important for believers to let others know about the universal and humanly values they cultivate in the depths of their soul, such as self-sacrifice, devotedness, and living for the sake of others by voicing them through different channels of expression and conveying knowledge, including art. So the movie Selam came into existence with such a thought, for the sake of telling the story of devoted souls migrating to different corners of the world. Before releasing the movie, my friends showed some parts of it to me and wished to learn my opinion. Although I do not know much about movie making, I tried to make some comments. I appreciated the movie in certain respects on the whole, as what one finds in this movie is the beautiful thought, understanding, and selflessness of the people of Anatolia whom these values become so well. The movie tells the story of their opening to not one part of the world, but to so many different places, from Africa to central Asia, and from there to the Balkans. Our teachers’ caring for people living in these different localities and coming from different cultural backgrounds, suffering for them, their living for the sake of making those people live, and softening them with love and human values, and nurturing certain virtues in them is so important. This is what the movie Selam tries to show.
As it is known, human nature has an inclination to react against strangers. Particularly, it is much more difficult for people who had been assimilated, oppressed, and suffered exile in the hands of foreign powers to welcome foreigners. In spite of such negative factors, it calls for appreciation that the volunteers of education conquered the hearts of those people and established bridges of love, dialogue, and peace among different societies and cultures.
The Teachers Whose Feet Deserve to Be Kissed
People of Anatolia, who take the diamond principles of the Qur’an and Sunnah as their guide and who possess an immensity of heart so as to let everyone find a place to sit, became a message for the sake of a brand new world and love, which echoed everywhere. As those who watch the movie will remember, there is the true story of a teacher who sacrifices himself while trying to save two boys who fell into a river while fighting on a historical bridge. After seeing this attitude of the teacher who drowned in the river after saving them, the two boys who had been fighting hugged one another and started crying. While watching that scene, I could not hold my tears like most of you. The scenes from Africa and Afghanistan are not much different. Surely, the most important thing was that all of these scenes depict true stories. For this reason, the players who took part in the movie expressed their fascination when they witnessed the self-sacrifice of the teachers in those various places they went for the shooting of the film.
Sometimes, those selfless teachers remained in the middle of a war in the countries where they taught. They did not leave their post even when their city was under siege, and they stood by their students with an immense feeling of faithfulness. The teachers continued to educate, even by risking death which opened up the doors of others’ hearts to them.
Those chivalrous souls who migrated for their ideals, courageously journeyed to different corners of the world. Sometimes young men set forth leaving behind a newly wed bride, or with an engagement ring on their bride-to-be’s finger. Some of them made a sad farewell to their elderly parents and went away by entrusting them to God. In the face of such sacrifices, let alone their foreheads, I am ready to kiss the feet of those blessed souls.
Those people, who did not even know in depth the philosophy of the path they were walking, started walking without stepping back and followed the voice of their heart in submission to the Divine. It was God who guided them towards these places and they were going with a blessed motive. I did not witness any of them complain and return. Even if it happened, I do not know such a thing. In spite of different expectations of their parents and environment, thousands of brilliant young people who graduated from the most prestigious universities of the country gladly set forth with selfless concern for others and devotion to their cause of Divine love, as expressed beautifully in a poem (by the famous love poet Seyyid Nigari):
Can one seeking the Beloved fret over his own life?
And can another who seeks his own life be in quest of the Beloved?
We have entered the path of love; we are lovesick,
We are in no need of personal dignity.
O my heart, are you ready for this?
They Wrote Salam in Hearts
As it was reflected in books, magazines, and different television programs, those friends of ours went everywhere with salam, and they wrote a salam in others’ hearts as they wrote it on chalkboards. They taught that salam means goodwill and peace. Even to those who discredited them, they gave a salam, wished goodness, and moved on. So if you go to new lands with peaceful intentions, you may have a lasting presence. Then your message of salam will find a place in consciences and will echo in hearts. God Almighty does not let those steps go wasted. As it is stated in a hadith qudsi, if you move toward Him a hand span, He comes to you one step, if you go toward Him one step, He comes to you walking, if you approach Him walking, He comes to you running, and becomes your eye that sees, your ear that hears, and your mouth that speaks.1 With this immense blessing of God with you, why would you not succeed?
In conclusion, salam is the real capital we have in today’s world where the sword has been sheathed. The philosophy of salam requires being handless to those who beat, tongueless to those who curse, and feeling no bitterness toward heartbreakers. In this respect, we should not be influenced by discouragements, but stand our grounds uprightly all of the time, and follow the principle of constructive action by saying, “This world is the realm of perseverance, not of taking offense, and thus we must only concentrate on the tasks we need to carry out.