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What changes took place regarding his world view and at what stages? Namely, what are the mental and philosophical stages in his thinking from the first days of his preaching until he became an opinion leader and held the influence that he holds today?

by Doğu Ergil on . Posted in Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen Movement in 100 questions

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Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen’s answer to this question demonstrates that from early on, he took a holistic approach in his worldview, which evolved as time went by. It would be safe to attribute, at least partially, this perspective to his wide reading of the classics from the East, as well as the West, during the period of his childhood. For this reason, he believes that in all of the time that he has been preaching in mosques, there has not been a serious wavering in his thought. Of course, this does not mean that his thinking has not been enriched by the knowledge and the life experiences that he acquired later. Only, that he maintained a stable, solid course in his thought and general approach. As he explains it, there was “no change from black to white.” He then adds:

But, in my speeches and assessments, it is unavoidable to have small changes depending on time, place, and human factors. For instance, in my early preaching, when I considered the problems that arose from the behavior of the Jews, I used to consider them with an approach of generalization, and I used to interpret some verses and the sayings of the Prophet within that framework. But, in the atmosphere of dialog that began after the 90’s, I distanced myself from that approach. I brought forth the idea that the counter arguments given in the Qur’an and the hadiths should be approached with a holistic view, rather than taken as specific accusations directed towards specific individuals. I did this because, it is more in line with the universal message of Islam, and I advise the people who are listening to me to take it that way as well.[1]

A society which has been settled and stable for a long time and is open to reason will have a philosophy of life and a national manner of speech which is inherently unifying.[2]

Leaders who stress that differences among us are dangerous, rather than highlighting our common characteristics and our common needs, sow the seeds of doubts and enmity among their populations. At this point in time, peace should be based on common benefits and interests among communities.

According to Fethullah Gülen, this unifying approach is the essence of democracy. The continuity of democracy depends on the interaction of the various segments in a society. Democracy maintains open channels of communications between the rulers and the ruled. Popular participation in decisions regarding community issues and common living must be unhindered by discrimination against members or groups within the community. Agreements and peace in society can only be attained in this way. The primary function of government is therefore to facilitate this decision-making process and to organize the decisions into a set of laws.

Fethullah Gülen’s understanding of democracy, though, is not limited to a harmony between the ruling class and the ruled. He expresses a vision of a holistic democracy:

From the teacher in a school to the preacher in the pulpit, from the writer for a magazine to the news commentator in front of the camera, from the literary artist to the painter, are natural carriers of democratic values and ideals, and the work that they do is inherently democratic.[3]

Fethullah Gülen stresses that democracy does not happen by accident, nor is it exclusively available to certain cultures or societies. Extra effort is necessary to establish and maintain it, as well as an additional burden on the shoulders of the civic leaders and intellectuals:

Leaders are people who think and produce, but they also encourage others to think and produce. By persistently broadcasting a message to the members of their community, they awaken it, they motivate it, and they prepare them for the difficulties that they are likely to face. They put them in circumstances in which their inherent gifts and talents can shine forth, and orient themselves and their communities towards every greater vision.[4]

Leaders continually expand the horizons of the people around them. They encourage others to transcend the material and spiritual limits into which they have been confined. Leaders would never encourage people to be passive and lazy, but to act on their ideas, and the leaders would guide them in their actions. According to Fethullah Gülen, this is the way that you lay the foundations of a society that is dynamic and self-sufficient, rather than a society whose members are dependent on the authorities.

For Fethullah Gülen, a mature society consists of citizens who ask questions and search for answers. It is a productive society which values sharing, takes care of its deprived and weak and, at the same time, critically assesses the orders and decisions coming from the authorities. A mature society rejects flawed decisions and constantly forces the rulers to improve their performance and to produce alternative solutions to existing problems. Thus, the government becomes the apparatus for the implementation of decisions made by the public. Demands and expectations that are diverse and potentially controversial are filtered through common interests and able to be reconciled. When such symbiosis is established between the ruler and the ruled, it is able to serve as a midwife for a new democratic political culture. In this process, the role of the social leader is important; but at the same time, every individual must work to conduct himself beyond the dictates of his own interests. Though a leader may guide, the future of the society is the responsibility of everyone involved.

Fethullah Gülen attributes this phenomenon of responsibility to religion. According to him, a person can find in Islam the direction that they are searching for in life, as well as the source of the motivation necessary to reach their goals. But this does not mean that Islam is a closed circle and the only source of inspiration and knowledge:

It is the duty of the members of an Islamic society to seek out the most beneficial ideas and thought structures, even if they lie at the end of the world, and put them to use. Yes, just as it always has, it takes the very best of physics, chemistry, astronomy, geometry, medicine, agriculture, industry and all other technologies, and uses them, develops them and leaves them as a legacy for future generations. There is no reason that an Islamic society would not continue this vigilant practice even today.[5]

Mankind is the servant of God on Earth. This makes it part of his duty in such servanthood to cherish a deep love for the truth, a passion for knowledge, and research with dedication and commitment every field of human study. A believer should be as open as possible regarding matters other than those relating to the system of faith and thought. He should develop whatever he takes from the outside and develop and leave it to the future owners of it. This is the way that knowledge, science, and technology have traveled from nation to nation and from generation to generation, and has ultimately become the common heritage of all mankind. How can a Muslim deprive himself of this common heritage of intelligence and labor? It is out of the question to talk about the religion and nation of these matters, anyway. For this reason, societies that have self confidence are fearless against the modern world. If they can adopt the modern sciences as part of their culture, and if they have the right to express themselves freely, there is no limit on what they can accomplish.[6]

[1] Doğu Ergil’s interviews with Fethullah Gülen in January 2003 and February 2006.
[2] Gülen 1998a, 3.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Gülen 1999, 4.
[6] Ibid.