Does Fethullah Gülen suggest that Muslims have a duty to address those who distort Islam from within and, if so, what is that duty?
According to Fethullah Gülen, those who commit transgressions against the nation or religion to which they belong are the ones who do the most damage, because they attack it from the inside. On the contrary, one is always ready to face any challenge from a known enemy.
The most unbearable test would be to see treason and unkindness from the place you expect fidelity, which is both painful and something to be considered seriously. From yesterday to today and from time to time, from the enemy but also sometimes from adversaries in the guise of friends, Muslims who encounter disloyalty and ill treatment have endured the heaviest and most painful tests. They were exposed to the most dreadful acts of treason. Perhaps in the future they will experience some more tests. They will face hills made of fire and oceans made of blood and pus. But all of this will help them renew themselves and acquire metaphysical tension (i.e., spiritual energy and renewal). This is because they will recognize their friends and foes through these things; they will be sharpened and learn how to stand up after falling down. (1)
If there were no adversity and prejudice from their adversaries and no ignorance and disloyalty from their friends, today all of humanity would have united around the divine table spread by Islam and shaken hands with each other. When hearts do not lend ears to Islam, it cannot make its voice heard. If conduct and representation do not deepen words, its voice would be lowered and absolutely fail to generate any attraction in the souls. (2)
What does Fethullah Gülen mean here?
Evaluated with what he has said on other occasions, here Gülen is highlighting the fact that religion has been distorted by incorrect interpretations and practices as well as exploited for worldly benefits. This is due to some of its members’ fanaticism, not to mention their lack of vision and loyalty, and the enemy’s hatred, vindictiveness, animosity, obscurantism, and fundamentalism.
In reality, religion becomes something other than itself (not a faith anymore) and turns into a vehicle for blind ambition, power, and politics.
But in fact the religion was sent to speak on its behalf as itself, to enter into hearts as itself, and to say whatever it wants to say as itself. It has not appointed anybody as its agent, and no one has the right to speak on its behalf. But you can observe that many of us, without shame or embarrassment, are able to speak comfortably about it. (3)
Gülen believes that the source of this problem is the personal preference that one makes on behalf of his/her religion, one that results from the specific conditions of a known time and place. Thus, the source is not that particular religion, but its adherents. A person’s sincerity, intention, and humanity, as well as how one practices one’s religion and lets others practice theirs, are the determining factors.
According to Gülen,
… Those Muslims who make an effort to live in an atmosphere of tolerance, peace, and tranquility should know that Islam, from yesterday to today, is subject to attacks and that after today some people might act with a sense of hatred and animosity. (4)
He then gives some historical examples.
Abu Bakr struggled against those liars who claimed to be prophets, like Aswad al-Ansi, Musaylima al-Kazzab, Sajah, and Tulayha, as well as disloyal members of the community … When entering the First World War, the Arab tribal chiefs [influenced by foreign propaganda] committed treason against the Ottoman soldiers who were defending Madina. (5)
According to Gülen, such people always exist and thus we have to live with them. But as such things are just more tests on the way to becoming a perfect man or woman, how should we conduct ourselves? First, we should do nothing that can engender enmity.
We are in favor of chaining past mistakes to history books and not reviving any sensibilities for animosity. In the past, certain events caused other chains of events, animosities gave way to other animosities, people were estranged and alienated from each other, and opposing fronts were built up. Today, mentioning these in order to justify new fights and create new gaps is meaningless. Whatever they say or do, we have to continue on the way of tolerance upon which we are walking, despite the hatred, vindictiveness, and animosity [we encounter]. We have to reach some “islands of peace”; we have to establish some “islets of peace.” (6)
These words are especially relevant now, for the processes associated with the ongoing “democratic opening,” better relations with non-Muslim minorities, and normalizing relations with Armenia are taking place. It is encouraging to witness a man of religion’s sermons, sermons that were once considered no more than abstract advice, become reality. And, of course, those who disagree with Gülen see this reality as a source of irritation and disturbance.
So how can peace be achieved? According to Gülen, peace is achievable through the mutual respect that arises from accepting difference and engaging in dialog to get to know one another, for both activities engender warm relations.
Let us say [promote] tolerance and even go beyond it. Let us think to “share” the world in a “friendly” way. Let our intention, our determination, be in this direction. And, let us devise our plans and projects according to that intention and determination. (7)
He opines, however, that there are limits to what can be achieved.
Let us remember that we do not have power to soften all of the world’s people. We cannot force everyone to say “dialog” or “tolerance” or “respect people as they are.” Not even in Turkey can you carry everyone to the atmosphere of tolerance, for sometimes they are complaining about you to everyone, claiming: “They are Christianizing the people by saying ‘tolerance’ and ‘dialog.'” (8)
He also asks people to be alert.
Yes, as Muslims our problem is not only external animosity. Our greatest problems are our own inconsistency and incongruousness, disloyalty, insincerity, inability to endure, and disloyalty. (9)
As a man of religion, he sees the solution in “strengthening Islamic thought and sensibilities, releasing the masses from the clutch of aimlessness, and establishing their bonds with higher ideals.” He then adds: “If you will, you can call these ‘redirecting human beings toward living with heart and soul.'” (10)
Gülen attaches great significance to rescuing the soul and strengthening the faith. But he does not overlook the changes to be realized in the material life, social structure, economy, and law. Rather, he is only pointing out that more needs to be done and that the coming process of change will be both adversarial and shocking. Spirituality would be helpful at exactly this point. Gülen believes that the present-day language being used among people and in societies is both inappropriate in style and far from egalitarian in content. He worries that it will not engender a desire among people to live together willingly and peacefully.
For years now our society’s inhabitants have been experiencing an oblique or deviant thoughts, as well as a distortion in our manner of speech, which continue to spread and imprison, as it were, all senses and thoughts. Statements are rather indecent, expressions have assumed the forms of flagrant transgression, and behaviors have fallen far below the ordinary. In fact, the tone has been torn up altogether, and the emotions and logic upon which these immoderations are based have become as dark as a scorpion’s intentions. To what are you going to listen, whom are you going to trust, and upon which thoughts are you going to rely? In the arena of these fighting spirits, now locked into criticism and destruction, even the most innocent ideas and the most cohesive and consistent plans and projects are eschewed and put aside. Even the most sacred values are trampled underfoot.
I wonder what could cause our people to decline so much in terms of humane values. What incentives make us wolves to our fellow human beings? If they are achieving something with this tone and manner of speech—of course if such can be called a manner—they are mistaken. This is especially the case if they are aiming at higher ideals; in fact, such a goal would be no more than an illusion. What a pity that we have been going through one illusion after another for so many years, that we have been making unthinkable mistakes. By boasting about our accomplishments and trying to show off as if we have achieved something important on the global scale, we have only been making great mistakes. Some foolish talk, such as: “We are going to be an example for the rest of the world,” “we are going to change the shape of the world” or at least “we are going to put our country in order” have now become commonplace. But here is this blessed country, currently in the claws of no peace and no tranquility, a victimized nation emitting high-pitched screams! In fact, now that this deterioration has gone beyond recovery, it is no longer possible to change the map of global thought, transform our society’s misfortune into prosperity, or open up new horizons for our people. In my opinion, out of these circles of palpitation or exasperation with their ideas, each one of which could be considered a delirium, nonsense, convulsion, and agitation, the only possible result can be disorder, as opposed to any type of renewal. (11)
Gülen’s ideas can be summarized as follows:
- Instead of starting from our history’s socio-cultural realities, we have interpreted these realities through an ideological prism and thus have ruled the country with a vision that has little, if any, connection to our contemporary reality. Naturally, this state of affairs has produced social tension, conflict, and disorder.
- This atmosphere has produced various perceptions of the “enemy,” and we cannot normalize life when confronted with a feeling of an endless “war of independence.”
- In this foggy atmosphere, we became rude and crude. Our language has become vulgarized and bears a warlike tone. We have forgotten to respect and love one another. Therefore, we have lost the sense of commonality and the common values upon which we could unite.
- We have boasted about ourselves and deluded ourselves into thinking that we are successful. But according to all reliable international criteria, we remain an underdeveloped society with numerous shortcomings as regards democracy, which are there for everyone to see. Additionally, while we are assuming the mantle of an “ambassador of peace” in our conflict-ridden region, we are overlooking the fact that we cannot peacefully resolve our own internal conflicts.
- These weaknesses are nourished by two main sources: (a) running away from reality and deceiving ourselves, namely, making logical and rational mistakes and (b) ignoring our conscience and higher values (e.g., justice, fairness, and love).
One cannot seriously think that people who suffer from these weaknesses can make the world a better and more livable place, contribute in any way to humanity’s happiness, or benefit their nations by directing them toward new horizons. It is not possible for them to do so, because they have never felt themselves in their innermost recesses and thus cannot understand why they exist. Moreover, they have forgotten how to love, do not care about respect, consider virtue as a fantasy, and always dream of what and how they will earn, whom they will con, and how they will reach the zenith of welfare. (12)
Such people “come back and seek the remedy in doctrines like socialism, capitalism, and liberalism,” (13) but they can never save society from the vicious circle in which it is trapped. It is, therefore, necessary to identify the defect’s real center and the deviation’s real cause(s).
As regards this center, Gülen is consistent and cohesive within his own system of thought.
As a nation, we have undertaken so many reform initiatives during the last couple of centuries that we have been unable to establish our own ethical and moral system upon our own national culture. We have not developed our own metaphysical conceptions and made them into a system. We have not developed a coherent educational system and concept of art that could reflect our own internal world life in terms of God, the universe, and the realities of humanity.
In this world, the core of ethical systems consists of a healthy and firm faith, an internalized sense of freedom, and the awareness that almost all of them are related to metaphysics. In a society that has killed the sense of religion, the sense of responsibility is removed from the people’s hearts and thrown away. Thus one cannot talk of metaphysics. In this milieu, talking about ethics and morality is also impossible. Societies that cannot establish their own system of metaphysical thought, and people who cannot determine their own internal identities according to such metaphysical considerations, gradually lose their faith because they cannot maintain their ethical and moral purity to pass on to their descendants. (14)
Two conclusions can be derived from this analysis: (1) Losing our connection with our own history and cultural richness plunges us into meaninglessness. In other words, we have to decide who we want to be in terms of identity, philosophy, and faith, and (2) our current understanding of history and society, which starts by denying the Ottomans, is based upon the conceptualization of an artificial “nation state,” the characteristics of which are determined only by its administrators, as if it had descended from heaven. This artificial nation state has no identity, soul, or organic unity other than what its administrators have attributed to it. Thus only by searching for a new identity and a spirit that begins with our nation’s natural and historical accumulations can we become ourselves and discover our cultural richness. A philosophy of life centered upon the axis of God-universe-humanity, in accordance with current realities, would allow us to find our identity and release the peace and tranquility now trapped within us.
After pointing out what we need, it is reasonable to discuss the attributes of those who might lead the effort to meet this need. What kind of person could end our identity crisis and produce solutions for the individual and social discomforts and disturbances?
Gülen refers to such leaders as “special humans”—”by triggering the dynamism of faith and action, those who would again start the period of faith, love, logic, and reasoning.” He continues,
They will be locked into an effort to correct historical misperceptions, to establish a world based on the better parts of the old and the new, to unite the heavenly and the worldly one more time. To the extent of their sincerity, they will be closed to all considerations save the Hizmet (altruistic service to humanity), produce alternative thoughts to correct the mistakes being made, side with the right no matter from whom it comes, and take their place among those working to build and repair, as opposed to destroying… in the face of everyone—even if they do not share all of their viewpoints—they are always respectful, elegant, and graceful people. They are a people of polite and courteous manner in language.
They do not seek to establish a new sect, a new path, or a new system. Rather, they possess the sensibility, richness of thought, emotion, and reason necessary for making the old acquire new depth, for producing from the old values new products. In our day, when everyone is seeking asylum in material power and crude force, along with accepting the material within its own framework, they trust only the soul, spirit, spirituality, and divine help and support. They believe that their salvation as a nation depends upon embracing others, entering into their hearts, and trying to open up the doors of their chests, rather than achieving material victories and taking over other countries. They strongly believe that love will open the doors of hearts that animosity has so far failed to open. For this reason, they will not exchange even one iota of love for the whole world.
Against everyone’s display of harshness, hatred, and grudges, they act with complete tolerance and acceptance, always searching for the roads that lead to universal peace… they accept this as their life’s purpose. Instead of quarreling with this or that person, they focus and direct all of their energy toward struggling against their own carnal soul; searching for mistakes, weaknesses, inconsistencies, and shortcomings within themselves; and fighting against them. They do their best to ward off evil with goodness and kindness. (15)
What has been said so far represents an “ideal person.” Gülen, beginning with his own yearnings and lifestyle, would like to see the number of such people steadily increase and influence others by their example. This ideal person is so attractive that one can easily understand why the Gülen movement’s participants try to live up to these expectations. Our society desperately needs people who are equipped with such qualities and virtues.
Gülen’s philosophy contains two obvious goals: creating a moral human being and a society characterized by solidarity. And he has certainly produced a tremendous amount of material on how to realize both goals. Clearly, this material has been at least partially utilized in the movement that bears his name, the Gülen Movement, even if that was neither his intention nor his aim.
Gülen sets forth this movement’s direction: an inward journey that includes training and trimming the carnal soul in order to defeat one’s blind ambition and appetites, controlling destructive drives, and disciplining aggressiveness and temper… and, after all of that has been achieved, extending one’s hand to others. As such, it is a philosophy of ethics.
Many people try to categorize this journey as a journey “toward the outside,” namely, one that is politically motivated and a covert search for domination. Is such a view accurate today or perhaps in the future? Such an endeavor is unlikely, as long as Gülen is alive, for his beliefs would not permit such a thing to occur.
Ergil, Doğu. 2012. Fethullah Gülen & The Gülen Movement in 100 Questions. New York: Blue Dome Press. Pages: 84-92
(1) Fethullah Gülen. 2008b. Çağ ve Nesil-2: Buhranlar Anaforunda İnsan (The Modern Age and the Contemporary Generation, vol. 2: Humanity in the Swirl of Crises). İzmir: Nil, 39.
(2) Fethullah Gülen, 2010e. Çağ ve Nesil-7: Işığın Göründüğü Ufuk (The Modern Age and the Contemporary Generation, vol. 7: The Horizon Manifesting the Light). Istanbul: Nil, 16.
(3) Ibid., 249.
(4) Fethullah Gülen, 2005b. Kırık Testi 4: Ümit Burcu (Broken Pitcher, vol. 4: The Constellation of Hope). İstanbul: Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfı, 158.
(5) Ibid., 158-159.
(6) Ibid., 159-160.
(7) Ibid., 160.
(8) Ibid., 161.
(9) Ibid., 162.
(10) Fethullah Gülen, 2006a. Çağ ve Nesil-8: Örnekleri Kendinden Bir Hareket (The Modern Age and the Contemporary Generation, vol. 8: The Movement with its Own Samples). İstanbul: Nil, 39.
(11) Gülen, Çağ ve Nesil-7: Işığın Göründüğü Ufuk, 168-169.
(12) Ibid., 169.
(13) Ibid., 170.
(14) Ibid., 171-172.
(15) Ibid., 89-90.
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