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In today’s world, fanaticism is becoming widespread and is overshadowing Islam. Is this an interreligious, intercultural matter or something originating from the Islamic world? If it is the latter, how can it be overcome?

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

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Fethullah Gülen

To this question, Fethullah Gülen replies that world fanaticism is both an interreligious matter and intercultural matter and continues:

Outside the Islamic world as well, both in religions and in ideologies it has reached a level never observed before in history. Therefore when we look at it from this larger perspective, it is wrong to limit the matter to the Islamic world. It would be unfair to make the Islamic world a scapegoat or a whipping boy.[1]

Fethullah Gülen attributes gradually increasing fanaticism to intolerance and the lack of love. In turn, he attributes this lack of love to the lack of empathy and a disinterest in each other’s problems.

According to Fethullah Gülen, fanaticism resembles the situation of a person who looks through the key hole from a dark room into the outside world and thinks the world is limited by what he sees and acts solely in respect to his own emotions. The one who acts with this narrow viewpoint sees everything in a distorted fashion and acts upon that distortion. This is the psychological state of a fanatic. For his cause, he does not care about the harm he might cause to himself, to his beloved ones, or the loved ones of others. Against the faith, objects, and the society that he hates, he declares a war and makes it into a sacred cause. This artificial sanctity causes the fanatic not to feel any moral responsibility when he kills innocent people or blows up buildings. In this sacred cause, everything, including himself, is not important and can be sacrificed.

One can arrive only at such an irrational and immoral belief by rejecting the fundamental principles of religions and the sacred books. Only people under extreme pressure, captivity, poverty, and helplessness (in other words, under siege) can find salvation in extreme doctrines. The setting in which they live is conducive to these beliefs. If they also have access to teachers who tell them that these extreme teachings will provide them salvation, the combination results in a situation ready to explode. Fanaticism, under this assessment, can be defined as the psychological state in which the given circumstances are interpreted as helplessness or captivity, and salvation is found in extreme reactions (limitless violence) by sacrificing the individual and every kind of human value.

For this reason, Fethullah Gülen calls our attention to the drawbacks of interpreting the fundamental principles of religion, according to certain times and places. In order to overcome fanaticism, Fethullah Gülen advices us to hold onto the values that make one a good human being (for instance, thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not do to your neighbor what you do not want to be done to you, etc.) and to implement the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. What has been said so far is related to the reading of the Islamic world from within. There also is an aspect concerning the outside.

According to Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic world was held under direct occupation and colonization for centuries by the West. In many Islamic countries the administration allied themselves with the West or behaved like Westerners, but was unable to develop their countries or free them from imperialism. This generated a climate of resentment in the society. This resentment has grown over time, intensified, and has gone so far as to encourage rebellion against the unjust administrators, as well as the foreign yoke.

The salvation expected through socialism, was not realized in the Islamic world because the material conditions of socialism did not come about. The expectation of justice, freedom, solidarity, and ethical administration was looked for in a religious climate. When these expectations, which are the promise of the religion, could not be realized through politics, a political role was assigned to religion and through religious terminology and sentiments, justice and freedom were sought. This state of affairs led to politics and religion to be concentric, overlap, and interchangeable.

With a hope that every kind of negative thing would be eliminated, religion became the arena of the daily politics, became worldly, and the focus of every kind of fight. Through sacred concepts and a search for legitimacy the way to extremism and violence was opened. The sacred text, through the interpretations of some men of religion, gained a new meaning and presented as a document of hatred. The young people who felt they were under siege were taken under their influence, and the sentiments of helplessness were exploited, for the sake of a cause that they were made to believe divine, allowing them to accept killing and being killed as a form of worship.

The Westernizing elites ruled with iron hands the countries that they colonized. In this climate of helplessness, fanaticism was adopted as a way out, and this, of course, has been an extremely unfortunate development for the Islamic world. Breaking this vicious circle is only possible by the development of the countries where fanaticism was produced as a way of salvation, by the illumination of the darkened minds through contemporary education, and by the separation of religion and politics, and religion returning to its honorable and deserving place.

[1] Doğu Ergil’s interview with Fethullah Gülen.