Q: In a time when political Islam has become very popular, what are your thoughts on the relationship between Islam and politics?
Fethullah Gülen: In my opinion, people have either gone too far or not far enough with regards to understanding the relationship between Islam and politics. Some have said that the religion of Islam has no relationship with politics; others have perceived the religion as politics itself, ignoring the varied and rich aspects of religion. In the Holy Qur’an, there are verses concerning administration and politics. The Prophet’s practices also occupy an important place in this regard. For example, the Qur’anic terms “ulu al-amr” (those who rule), “ita’at” (obedience to the rulers), “shura” (consultation), “harb” (war), and “sulh” (peace), are all examples of some Qur’anic references with regard to political and legal decisions. In addition, there are Qur’anic verses related to legal institutions and also some which point to politics and governing.
However, in Islam it is not possible to limit the concept of governance and politics into a single paradigm, unlike the principles of faith and the pillars of Islam. History shows us that in the Islamic world, since the time of the Prophet, there have been many types of states. This is so even if we exclude the elections in the early period of Islam and the qualities that were exhibited in those elections. Even if one cannot see some major methodological differences among these types of governance, there are many differences in the details. Those who are not aware of the principles of these different methods of governing have understood each of them as a separate system. I have to note that these differences were the result of the aspects of religion which are open to interpretation and related to the field of independent reasoning (Ijtihad).
In order to reach a healthy understanding and come to positive conclusions, one should refer to the main sources of Islam: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. There is no doubt that historical experiences are also an important source.
In the Qur’an, besides verses related to human relationships with God, there are many other verses regulating the relationships of human beings with one another. The source of both kinds of verses is one, Allah. The verses that remind us about our duties and responsibilities to the divine essence have been preserved in its originality based on the understanding of the Prophet and his companions. The Qur’anic verses and prophetic sayings related to the second category focus on the principles of humans’ social, economic, political, and cultural life. At the same time, they hint at some wisdom, betterment, and benefits through their brief ending statements at the end of many verses. For instance, the verses on justice, respect for rights, truthfulness, being compassionate and merciful, carrying out actions based on consultation, living a chaste life, and not deceiving anyone are considered examples of this category.
These kind of verses that are directed to human relationships, if read thoroughly and correctly, will give some hints for Muslims about how to solve their future problems. Interpreters and the Mujtahids (those who are able to perform independent reasoning), to a certain extent, take this category as a reference for their interpretations and analyses.
There are many topics in the Qur’an and in the sayings of the Prophet whose relevance to human experiences continues to come to light as time passes. The details of such issues have been entrusted to the passing of time. The divine commands and prophetic suggestions about politics, the state, and ruling the community have been interpreted in diverse ways, resulting in different manifestations and various forms throughout history. You can relate this aspect of religion, if you wish, according to the concept that time is a great interpreter, or as an indication of the universalism of Islam which is also known as the natural and tolerant religion (al-hanifiyyah-al-samha). Yes, among the addressees of the Qur’an there were various groups of people: from Bedouins to civilized people, undeveloped communities to very developed nations, and simple masses to wonderfully organized and enlightened societies. The Qur’an has addressed all these groups considering their own understandings, approaches, views, evaluations, and even lives.
In the case of human relationship to the divine Being, it has given brief explanations leaving the details for the coming generations. In the case of human to human interactions, it has detailed and explained the specifics of some well established principles.
In this regard, there has been a consensus of understanding on this first case with the exception of some heretical groups’ interpretations of the Islamic tradition. As for the second case, there have been many varying interpretations in accordance with the conditions, time, and the situations existing in the world. Naturally, these differences have been reflected in the judicial and administrative institutions.
It would not be a correct understanding of Islam to claim that politics is a vital principle of religion and among its well established pillars. While some Qur’anic verses are related to politics, the structure of the state, and the forms of ruling, people who have connected the import of the Qur’anic message with such issues may have caused a misunderstanding. This misunderstanding is the result of their Islamic zeal, their limitations of their consideration solely of historical experiences, and their thinking that the problems of Islamic communities can be solved more easily through politics and ruling. All of these approaches within their own contexts are meaningful. However, the truth does not lie in these approaches alone.
Although one cannot ignore the effects of ruling and administration in regulating communal relationships between individuals, families and societies, yet these, within the framework of Qur’anic values, are considered secondary issues. That is because the values that we call major principles (ummuhat), such as faith (iman), submission (islam), doing what is beautiful (ihsan), and the acceptance of divine morals by the community, are references that form the essence of administrative, economic, and political issues. The Qur’an is a translation of the book of the universe, which comes from the divine commands of creation, an interpretation of the world of the unseen, of the visible and invisible. It is an explanation of the reflections of the divine names on earth and in the heavens. It is a prescription for the various problems of the Islamic world. It is a unique guide for bliss in this life and in the life to come. It is a great guide for the travelers in this world moving towards the hereafter. It is an inexhaustible source of wisdom. Such a book should not be reduced to the level of political discourse, nor should it be considered a book about political theories or forms of state. To consider the Qu’ran as an instrument of political discourse is a great disrespect for the Holy Book and is an obstacle that prevents people from benefiting from this deep source of divine grace.
There is no doubt that the holy Qur’an, through its enrichment of the human soul, is able to inspire wise politicians and through them to prevent politics from being like gambling or a merely a game of chess.
This article is taken from “An interview with Fethullah Gülen for the Muslim World Journal” The Muslim World Journal, Volume 95 – Number 3- July 2005. page 453-456
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