As a progressive thinker Gülen believes that the future can be better than the past and that rather than wistfully looking back to a forever lost ‘golden age’ Muslims, together with other people of good will, should work to achieve societies that are progressively more just, compassionate and decent. This progressive outlook lies at the heart of the Hizmet movement’s focus on education and the development of individual potential through learning and discipline. For Gülen, secular democracy represents the best and only appropriate approach to governance in the modern state. He argues that whilst the Qur’an and the Sunnah speak clearly of religious values that should be reflected and upheld in the state they do not contain a blueprint for politics.
Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam establishes fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances.
Gülen frequently endorses democracy specifically, arguing that it is the most appropriate form of government for the modern period and one that is entirely compatible with Islam:
Democracy and Islam are compatible. Ninety-five percent of Islamic rules deal with private life and the family. Only 5 percent deals with matters of the state, and this could be arranged only within the context of democracy. If some people are thinking of something else, such as an Islamic state, this country’s history and social conditions do not allow it … Democratization is an irreversible process in Turkey. (1)
(1) Gülen interviewed in Sabah, 27 January 1995 and quoted in Yavuz, M. Hakan (2003) ‘The Gülen Movement The Turkish Puritans, in M. Hakan Yavuz and John Esposito (eds.) Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement, Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, p.28.)
Source: Summarized from PREACHING BY EXAMPLE AND LEARNING FOR LIFE: UNDERSTANDING THE GÜLEN HIZMET IN THE GLOBAL CONTEXT OF RELIGIOUS PHILANTHROPY AND CIVIL RELIGION by Greg Barton
This paper was presented at the conference titled “Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gulen Movement”, 25-27 October 2007, London. Click here to visit the conference web page.
Greg Barton: from January 2007, Herb Feith Research Professor for the Study of Indonesia, Monash University. In 2006 he was Associate Professor at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he continues to be an Adjunct Professor. 1993 to 2005 he taught comparative religion, Islamic studies and politics at Deakin University. Research interests and publications: Professor Barton has written about Jemaah Islamiyah and other radical Islamist groups in Southeast Asia; his central research interest is progressive Islamic thought and its contribution to civil society and politics, to which he has added a focus on comparative study of progressive Islamic thought in Turkey and Indonesia. He has widely published in this field. Currently working on two book projects: Islam’s Other Nation: a Fresh Look at Indonesia and Progressive Islamic Thought and Social Movements in Indonesia and Turkey.