An Analysis of Ecevit's View on Gülen

by Tankut Tarcan on . Posted in Commentaries

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In Turkey's short-sighted way of thinking, important events, people, and movements do not receive the scientific analysis they deserve. As a result, and most unfortunately, they are sacrificed to patterns created by ideologies or other interests. For example, we still have produced no serious analysis of Marxism and its philosophical, sociological, and economic facets. Orhan Hancerlioglu, in the absence of any scientific evidence, claims in his Felsefe Sozlugu ("Dictionary of Philosophy") that dialectical materialism is the only scientific philosophical movement. His claim, again with no supporting scientific proof, that dialectical materialism is scientific and realistic is inconsistent and prejudiced. Those who formerly opposed communism in our country without critically examining its ideological and philosophical basis behaved in the same way. It can be said that opposing communism based merely on such popular emotions as the right to private property and the family's sacredness was a banal approach that made it more attractive. Even though the Marxist worldview contains very important contradictions on such basic subjects as its epistemology and view of history and events, unfortunately our intellectuals have yet to make a serious analysis of this point.

Now Turkey is witnessing another drama that appears unimprovable for some: the view of Fethullah Gülen. Beginning with some theses put forth in the name of analyzing Ecevit's views on Gülen, I think it would be beneficial to analyze this movement briefly from the perspectives of Islam (which it takes as its base), Turkey's socio-political and ideological foundations, and its tomorrow.

One perspective's analysis

According to a Cumhuriyet columnist, Ecevit's view of Gülen is based on the following headlines:

Gülen does not represent a Sufi order. He evaluates his group more as a civil organization.

Gülen is not opposed to Ataturk's principles and secularism, as claimed. Rather, his movement prevents reactionaryism's advance and stops the tendency toward Sufi orders.

Gülen and his community are serving the country with their schools. In particular, their schools in the Central Asian republics have decreased Iran's influence there.

Since the columnist, while criticizing these lead sentences, uses the same arguments as the militant so-called secularists use against the Gülen movement, I will deal with these arguments:

Title of Hodjaefendi

"Let's put everything else aside. Is there such a as hodjaefendi in Turkey? Representatives of his community use this for Gülen. Those around him approach him with an air of servanthood. Moreover, those close to Gülen don't deny their connections with the tariqa."

These lines comprise the most important argument in criticizing Ecevit's views on Gülen. Now let's see to what degree such an argument is true:

One does not need to ask if the hodjaefendi is or is not an institutionalized Turkish tradition. In Iran the titles of hujjat al-Islam and ayatullah are institutionalized; in Christianity the papacy is an institution; and in the Ottoman Empire the office of shaykh al-Islam was institutionalized. In the literature of the Iranian madrasa hierarchy, hujjat al-Islam and ayatullah are titles like professor and doctor in modern universities. Thus, the hujjat al-Islam is an institutionalized office. Whereas, calling Imam Ghazali aujjat al-Islam doesn't signify an office, for this title, which means "one proving the truth of Islam" or "the proof of Islam," is not used as a scientific hierarchical name. It was deemed suitable as a of honor by the people and other scholars because of his knowledge, virtue, and humanity.

In the same way, hodjaefendi is not a designating a scientific or religious hierarchy. Just as Turks use the words brother, sister, aunt, and uncle with others even though there is no biological tie, the term hodja or, more respectfully, hodjaefendi, is a form of address or reference used by our people for those whose religious knowledge they respect. There is no institutionalized side to it. Among students, "ogretmenim" (my teacher) has not been common in Turkey; instead, they use the more easily pronounced hodja. Similarly, all sportsmen, including soccer, basketball, and volleyball players, use hodja for their technical director, trainer, or even referree. Even though it is contrary to Kemalist reform laws and therefore the constitution, we use pasha instead of general, and none of our secular, Kemalist generals object.


Coming to the assertion that those close to Gülen approach him with an air of servanthood. This has appeared from time to time in the press, and it stems from not understanding how Islam perceives servanthood. Tawhid, the rendering of servanthood peculiar to God, is emphasized more than anything else in Islam. Nothing is to be avoided more carefully than servanthood to that which is not God. This is one of the important meanings of Islam's basic principle of La ilaha illallah (There is no god but God). This principle weighs heavier than anything else in Islam.

The most important requirement of this principle is that no servant is great enough to be worshipped, not even the Prophet. In Islam, faith and belief in God is considered the real source of all knowledge, power, and wealth. It saves a Muslim from being a servant to everything else, other people, interests, and obsessions. It makes each man and woman an individual in the full meaning of the word.

For this reason, Islam never gave precedence to a bureaucratic and institutionalized state structure, as is done today. Instead, by addressing all believers it made society responsible. In other words, it considered the whole matter within the framework of a social contract. This was the main factor in the development of many institutions in the history and civilization of Islam that today are called civil organizations, and which performed many functions now done by modern states. Thus, Muslims have never considered a religious leader as a Pope, a cardinal, or a priest, as Christians do. Also, because of this principle, consultation, even if it would bring defeat, could not be neglected.

The claim that Gülen's followers approach him with an air of servanthood at most means that the respect shown to him is exaggerated. There is only one answer to this: Not everyone can be a leader, a Prophet, a guide. People excelling in certain points undoubtedly influence others and, despite their wishes (this does not happen by wanting it), can create an aura of respect in their surroundings. Why do Prophets who lived thousands of years ago still influence people in this age of science and technology? Should there not be a psychological and sociological basis for this? Moreover, Gülen's relations with his community are more democratic than the most democratic structures, as far as I have seen.

Gülen, Secularism, and Ataturkism

Like reactionaryism and secularism, Ataturkism brings no ready definition to mind. If we use these terms only to slander people or institutions we do not approve of, with nothing in the name positive values, people will see secularism and Ataturkism as purely negative systems. Do we have a common view on nationalism, popularism, and reformism based on Ataturk's six principles? Can we defend étatism today? Are we blind to the fact that étatism equals economic backwardness? Why? Because conditions have given precedence to free enterprise. Thus, equating Ataturkism with étatism means seeing it as economic backwardness. If Kemalist are sincere in their Ataturkism, then they should define it as behaving in a way required by this age and today's conditions, for not doing it a means of fanaticism, bigotry, and conservatism. Loyalty should be to goals, not stereotypes. On this point, no one can accuse Gülen of being unaware of the requirements of the age. Nor can he can be blamed for antisecularism. What he said about Ataturk is known to everybody. Accusing one of "making pretense" assumes that what is in his or her heart is known. Those who see being scientific as superior to everything would find this assumption laughable.

Gülen and Tariqa

Gülen and the Sufi tariqas is a subject that requires a separate and deep analysis. However, most Turkish intellectuals, unfortunately, are just as ignorant of Islam as they are of tariqas or Sufism. According to the Qur'an, a Prophet is charged with purifying his followers' minds from incorrect perceptions and prejudices, cleansing their hearts from sin, and saving them from such negative feelings as rebellion and jealousy or else transforming these emotions into virtues. A Prophet also relays knowledge about the creation and the universe, objects and events; teaches the Book to his followers; and later provides religious knowledge and wisdom on how and why to raise human beings with superior morality.

Sufism was born as a discipline to purify one's heart of sin and negative feelings so that he or she could be transformed into a monument of virtue. The tariqa appeared only 3 centuries later, as this discipline began to be institutionalized. The tariqa is an institution; Sufism is a discipline. The tariqa has its own principles, hierarchies, and chain of sheikhs; Gülen's movement does not. Opposing Sufism as a discipline is opposing the essence of Islam. You can support or oppose tariqas according to Islam, or social or psychological conditions, but you cannot defend tariqas according to the current laws of the Turkish republic.

Gülen and reactionaryism

To accuse a movement of being reactionary, we first must understand what is meant by reactionaryism. Do we mean Islam? The author assumes that all religious training rests on reactionaryism. There can be no more "splendid" example of reductionism and simplification than this! What if that education is opposed to reactionaryism, both in its understanding and as a natural necessity of belief?

For example, today Islam is purported to be a religion of terror and to encourage terror. However, the Qur'an reserves the heaviest punishments for those who engage in terror and anarchy. It is not Islam's fault if some Muslims are terrorists. Similarly, due to misunderstanding or sociopolitical conditions in some countries, Islam is perceived by the majority as a political ideology. Some have even attempted to use it in that way.

But should those who perceive Islam in exactly the opposite way, as a system for raising virtuous individuals, be placed in this category? To a certain extent, they have united Islam, long criticized for being opposed to science, with science that, when stripped of religious spiritual and moral principles, brings as much harm as good to humanity. They have opened schools to prove this, and even used religious feeling to serve science. This has been developed into a thesis.

In the name of our country, I have difficulty comprehending why some are offended by this. Who can object to raising youth who use science and the technology it gave birth to for the good of humanity, scientists respectful of moral principles, administrators who serve people sincerely, and officials and managers who do not steal and abuse their position but rather understand administration to mean serving the people?

Tankut Tarcan, Zaman, 01/04/1998