Social and political conjuncture was very turbulent when Rumi emerged. It was a period in which so many conflicts and disorders were being experienced one after the other. There was first a great deal of dissidence and anarchy as a result of the marginal Babai movement. People were also fed up with the continuous assaults, pillage and invasions of the Mongols and Crusaders. As to the administration, the Seljuks state was significantly weakened and getting deteriorated, fastened by the inability to cope with internal conflicts, divisions and mismanagements. The other powerful state, the Kharzamshahs, which once fought against the Genghis Khan’s armies and stopped them and defended the Muslims, then turned against and were fighting the Anatolian Seljuks and organizing territorial incursions and invasions. Benefiting from the chaotic atmosphere and lack of authority in the region neighbouring communities were exploiting the circumstances for their own material and political interests.
During this period Rumi emerged as a powerful activist character and scholar. Not only he talked about but also actively produced an atmosphere of dialogue and tolerance through his lyrics, poetry and of course, followers. Through tolerance and compassion, he was conveying his message, which clarifies the relation of man to his/her Creator, and one’s relation to the others and fellow beings.
Humanity, love, compassion, tolerance, respect for, openness to and acceptance of the other in their otherness and dialogue are fundamentals of Rumi’s thought and practice. The world was a global village even in Rumi’s time and he was fully aware of this reality:
Still, this whole world is but a house, no more. Whether we go from this room to that room or from this corner to that corner, are we still not in the same house? (1)
Empathy which is essential for peaceful coexistence in the global village is another essential cornerstone of his practice as beautifully emphasized in one of his discourses:
A westerner lives in the West. An oriental comes to visit. The westerner is a stranger to the oriental, but who is the real stranger? Is not the oriental a stranger to the entire western world? (2)
He also drew his listeners’ attention to the mother of all evils –ignorance- and underlined that education and dialogue are only remedies. He communicated something through his writing that has attracted spiritual seekers from almost every religion in the world, for hundreds of years. Rumi’s discourse is composed of tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love, looking with the same eye on Muslims, Jews, Christians and others alike:
Come, come, whoever you are…
Come and come yet again…
Come even if you have broken your vows a thousand times
Wanderer, idolater, worshipper of fire…
Ours is not a caravan of despair,
This is the date of hope,
Come, come yet again, come.
Even in his day, Rumi was sought out by many, from famous scholars to ordinary villagers. When he passed away in 1273, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Turks and Romans honoured him at his funeral, and men of five faiths followed his bier. The flood of people in the funeral was the sign of that he was understood well even in his lifetime and that he was a sound foundation for the communities. Rumi’s discourse and practice teach us how to reach inner peace and happiness so we can finally stop the continual stream of hostility and hatred and achieve true global peace and harmony. (3)
Below quote shows how Rumi’s main message is continued by Fethullah Gülen:
… if we exclude certain periods and individuals, the Turks’ interpretation of what Islam allows to be interpreted is correct and positive. If we can spread globally the Islamic understanding of such heroes of love as Niyazi-i Misri, Yunus Emre, and Rumi, if we can extend their messages of love, dialogue, and tolerance to those thirsty for this message, everyone will run toward the embrace of love, peace, and tolerance that we represent. (4) Those who perceive religion as being contradictory to science and reason are the afflicted; they are unaware of the spirit of both religion and reason. Moreover, it is absolutely fraudulent to hold religion responsible for clashes between different sections of society. Conflicts between peoples and groups of people arise from ignorance, from ambition for personal advantage and profit, or from the vested interests of particular groups, parties, or classes. Religion neither approves nor condones such qualities and ambitions. (5) In a world becoming more and more globalized, we are trying to get to know those who will be our future neighbors…. One of the most important factors here is to eliminate factors that separate people…such as discrimination based on color, race, belief, and ethnicity…. Education can uproot these evils. …We are trying our best to do this. (6)
As Thomas Michel concludes in his paper entitled “Fethullah Gülen: Following in the Footseps of Rumi” in this book, “(i)t is not an exaggeration to say that Gülen is a modern Muslim thinker and activist whose life work of promoting an Islamic appreciation of love, tolerance, and universal peace is in fact a renewed interpretation for our times of the central insights of Mevlana.”
Sufism (tasawwuf) has played a major role in Gülen’s life and spiritual intellectual scholarly upbringing. A new chronological and intellectual biography of Gülen gives details about Gülen’s spiritual, scholarly, and intellectual background: Gülen was a student of Alvarli Efe Muhammed Lutfi, a great Sufi-master of his time. Under Alvarli’s instruction, Gülen studied Arabic, Islamic jurisprudence, and exegesis. Muhammed Lutfi was also Gülen’s first teacher in Sufism. On his own account, Gülen was much affected by his teacher Muhammed Lutfi, especially from his piety, devotion, and ascetic lifestyle. It is from Muhammed Lutfi that he first learnt the importance of devotion to others, selflessness and altruism. Again, his respect for the great Sufi masters, including Rumi, is attributable to Alvarli. (7)
Gülen sees humans as God’s special and very important creatures:
Humans, the greatest mirror of the names, attributes and deeds of God, are a shining mirror, a marvellous fruit of life, a source for the whole universe, a sea that appears to be a tiny drop, a sun formed as a humble seed, a great melody in spite of their insignificant physical positions, and the source for existence all contained within a small body. Humans carry a holy secret that makes them equal to the entire universe with all their wealth of character; a wealth that can be developed to excellence. (8)
He underlines that:
Compassion is the beginning of being; without it everything is chaos. Everything has come into existence through compassion and by compassion it continues to exist in harmony. . . . Everything speaks of compassion and promises compassion. Because of this, the universe can be considered a symphony of compassion. All kinds of voices proclaim compassion so that it is impossible not to be aware of it, and impossible not to feel the wide mercy encircling everything. How unfortunate are the souls who don’t perceive this . . . Man has a responsibility to show compassion to all living beings, as a requirement of being human. The more he displays compassion, the more exalted he becomes, while the more he resorts to wrongdoing, oppression and cruelty, the more he is disgraced and humiliated, becoming a shame to humanity. (9)
A man of compassion does not hesitate to be open to all and to enter into dialogue with all. As Celik and Valkenberg (2007) explain, Gülen proposes dialogue as a method to be used in building and establishing a culture of peace among co-religionists, people of different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. He sees dialogue as a framework of mutual acceptance and respect of each other’s identity. They describe this as the first stage of Gülen’s dialogue concept: accepting the others in their own position. The second stage involves respecting the position of the other(s),and the third stage is the concept of sharing values in the context of the other(s). Gülen’s conviction is that humanity ultimately will be led to peace and unity by recognizing and accepting social, cultural, and religious diversity, an exchange of mutual values and union in collaboration.
Gülen sees diversity and pluralism as a natural fact. He wants those differences to be admitted and to be explicitly professed. Accepting everyone in their otherness, which is broader and deeper than tolerance, is his normal practice. (10)
The Prophet says that all people are as equal as the teeth of a comb. Islam does not discriminate based on race, color, age, nationality, or physical traits. The Prophet declared “You are all from Adam, and Adam is from earth. O servants of God, be brothers (and sisters)”. (11) Those who close the road of tolerance are beasts who have lost their humanity… forgiveness and tolerance will heal most of our wounds, but only if this divine instrument is in the hands of those who understand its language. Otherwise, the incorrect treatment we have used until now will create many complications and continue to confuse us. (12) Islam recognizes all religions previous to it. It accepts all the prophets and books sent to different epochs of history. Not only does it accept them, but also regards belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim. By doing so, it acknowledges the basic unity of all religions. A Muslim is at the same time a true follower of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and of all other Hebrew prophets. This belief explains why both Christians and Jews enjoyed their religious rights under the rule of Islamic governments throughout history (Gulen 2001a: 137).
He believes that dialogue is a must today, and that the first step in establishing it is recognising but transcending the past, disregarding polemical arguments, and giving precedence to common points, which far outnumber polemical ones. (13) In his opinion, a believer does not hesitate to communicate with any kind of thought and system; while one foot should remain at the centre the other could be with other ‘seventy-two nations’ (Rumi’s famous metaphor); Islam does not reject interaction with diverse cultures and change as long as what is to be appropriated does not contradict with the main pillars of Islam.
…different beliefs, races, customs and traditions will continue to cohabit in this village. Each individual is like a unique realm unto themselves; therefore the desire for all humanity to be similar to one another is nothing more than wishing for the impossible. For this reason, the peace of this (global) village lies in respecting all these differences, considering these differences to be part of our nature and in ensuring that people appreciate these differences. Otherwise, it is unavoidable that the world will devour itself in a web of conflicts, disputes, fights, and the bloodiest of wars, thus preparing the way for its own end. (14) If one were to seek the true face of Islam in its own sources, history, and true representatives, then one would discover that it contains no harshness, cruelty, or fanaticism. It is a religion of forgiveness, pardon, and tolerance as such saints and princes of love and tolerance as Rumi, Yunus Emre, Ahmed Yesevi, Bediüzzaman and many others have so beautifully expressed. (15)
Gülen firmly believes that the road to justice for all is dependent on the provision of an adequate education. He envisions a twenty-first century in which we shall witness the birth of a spiritual dynamic that will revitalise long-dormant moral values; an age of tolerance, understanding, and intercommunal & international cooperation that will ultimately lead, through inter-cultural dialog and a sharing of values, to greater understanding and peaceful coexistence. He believes that “the Islamic social system seeks to form a virtuous society and thereby gain God’s approval. It recognizes right, not force, as the foundation of social life. Hostility is unacceptable. Relationships must be based on belief, love, mutual respect, assistance, and understanding instead of conflict and realization of personal interest” (Gülen 2001a, 137).
(1) Rumi, Discourses of Rumi, Fihi Ma Fihi ,Tr. By A. J. Arberry, Discourse 12, p. 99.
(4) Gülen, Love and Essence of Human Being, p. 29.
(6) Ünal and Williams 2000: 329–331.
(7) See in detail Dialogue Society (forthcoming) A Short Chronological & Intellectual Biography of Fethullah Gülen. London, UK: Dialogue Society. It should be underlined that Gülen’s Sufi understanding refers the pre-institutionalized period, mostly to the first and second century of Islam. Gulen does not have tariqah (Sufi order ) and he is not a Sufi as the term understood especially in the west. As Dogan Koc (2005) explains in Gülen’s understanding, Sufism was characterized by spiritual people seeking to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet, and his companions by imitating their lives. Sufis eventually established orders under different scholars, and institutionalized it by establishing regulations and rules in each tariqah.. That is why Saritoprak (2001) calls Gülen “a Sufi in his own way”: “(e)arly Sufis had neither orders nor even Sufi organizations. Rabia, Junayd, Muhasibi, Bishr, Ghazali, Farid al-din Attar, and even Rumi did not belong to a tariqah. However, they were Sufis” (Saritoprak 2001: 6). As Gökçek (2005) puts Gülen does not establish a tariqah, but he lays down basic principles for a Sufi life in the modern world. According to Gülen, Sufism’s practical dimension is more important than its historical or terminological definitions or institutional structures (Koc 2005). In his own words, “(s)ufism is the path followed by an individual who, having been able to free himself or herself from human vices and weakness in order to acquire angelic qualities and conduct pleasing to God, lives in accordance with the requirements of God’s knowledge and love, and in the resulting spiritual delight that ensues (Gülen, 1999: p.xiv).
(8) Fethullah Gülen, “Human Beings and Their Nature” Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance, Ed. M. Enes Ergene (New Jersey: The Light Publishing, 2004), 112.
(9) M. Fethullah Gülen, Towards the Lost Paradise, (London: Truestar, 1996), 40–2.
(10) See in detail, Unal and Williams, the Advocate of Dialogue, op. cit ., pp. 256-258.
(12) M. Fethullah Gülen, “Forgiveness,” The Fountain 3 (April–June 2000), 4–5.
(14) Gülen 2004a: 249-250.
(15) M. Fethullah Gülen, Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance, Light: Somerset, N.J., 2004, pp. 58-59.
Excerpted from the article “Social Innovation for Peaceful Coexistence: Intercultural Activism from Rumi to Gülen” in the proceedings of “The International Conference on Peaceful Coexistence: Fethullah Gülen’s initiatives for peace in the contemporary world,” Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 22-23 November 2007. pp. 26-30.
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