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What is the view of Fethullah Gülen on secularism?

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

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Fethullah Gülen

While in the second article of the 1982 constitution it is stated that secularism is one of the basic attributes of the Republic of Turkey, in the article 24, it is stated that everyone has the freedom of conscience, religious belief, and opinion; and the religion could not be misused. Although secularism is not defined in our constitution and in other legal texts, in the reason given for article 2, it is explained that secularism can never mean irreligiosity, and it is stated that it means for each individual to have any faith he/she wishes and not to be treated discriminatorily because of religious faith. The freedom of religion is defined as for the individuals to believe in the religion of their choice and without the fear of being disturbed to be able to practice the requirements of the religion they chose freely.[1]

Fethullah Gülen, by looking at the current legal rules, proposes that secularism should be understood as follows: Religion should not interfere with the worldly life and the administration should not interfere in the religious life; everyone should be able to practice his faith freely in his social milieu. But in reality, this is not the case. Because it is not the case, many problems arise, including tensions among the society, the state, and the religious groups. According to Fethullah Gülen, each individual in society should decide on their own whether to belong to a religion or not. No one should be forced to believe in a religion or to meet the requirements of a particular religion. He states with respect to Islam, his own faith:

There is no coercion in the core of the religion because coercion is opposed to the spirit of the religion. Islam takes the will and the choice as real, and establishes all of its treatments on the basis of these traits. None of the actions and performances, whether they are of the kind of faith, worships or transactions, carried out by coercion can ever be taken as valid and acceptable. This situation would be in contradiction with the principle, “Actions are by intention.”[2]

With these views, he stands diametrically opposed to radical interpretations or movements that relate Islam to brutal force or violence. Indeed, Fethullah Gülen considers the politicization of Islam as the exploitation of religion and vehemently opposes it. He is aware that as a result of this abuse, it is unavoidable that the politics would meddle in religious affairs. If religion is a sacred phenomenon, it becomes necessary that it must not be used as a tool for anything else. He goes one step further and says:

… So much so that religion should not be used as a tool in the spiritual sentiments of füyuzat [effulgence, spiritual manifestations] in order to individually enter Paradise. Secondly, when we base our political opinions and our views of parties, in some ways, our shortcomings, faults, and defects reflect into the religion. The reaction which is felt about us is also directed to religion. In another approach, the religion also takes its share when hatred is felt towards us. The reality of religion should be represented in such a way that it should be above all political considerations. Whereas when religion is politicized, it is tantamount to say, “We are representing it.” Then as it were we consider others outside it. Here I am not thinking of anyone or a political entity. I am directing attention to what kind of reaction could be generated by the politicization of religion. Even if that attitude is adopted in the name of defending religion, since we blacken it by our acts, the religion takes its share from the hatred felt against us. Those who politicize are doing a great disservice to religion.[3]

Religion is a matter between the human and God, the foundation of which is based on cordiality, sincerity, earning God’s pleasure, … the internal depth of heart. It is a matter of passing one’s life on the emerald hills of the heart. It would be wrong by ignoring this side of religion, practicing it like a ceremony, and as if to make a show.[4]

He further states,

In Turkey which is a secular state, politicizing religion is treason to the spirit of Islam. Religion should not be a tool of politics.[5]

Despite his clear words to the contrary, Fethullah Gülen has been subjected to persecution and many indictments for years that he is anti-secular and anti-Atatürk. An oligarchic network making these unfounded accusations desire to impose its own understanding of religion on the whole society. This power has made its creed dominant in the institution which has been entrusted with religious affairs. It has organized that institution as part of the state apparatus and by governing it; it has itself violated the principle of secularism.

Fethullah Gülen explains the difference between secularism and secularization. Secularism is politics. There is a political authority behind it and this authority directs the institution of religion that it holds under its authority to put the society in a certain course. In this way, religion is a part of the political authority and is subject to it. When the political authority is weakened, the society interferes in the field of faith, which is already politicized, and tries to release religion from the claws of politics and the state. But this is a painful process. Because in order to pull religion from the hands of the political authority into the autonomous and respected field of faith, struggle in the field of politics might arise. In leftist and nationalist societies, this has generally been the result.

Whenever a society matures and develops, the educational and income levels and the standards of living increase. The religion moves from the political arena into the deserving cultural field, a politically neutral field where faith has the respect it deserves. Secularization is just that.

In summary, secularization is a process. It purifies religion from politics. When this happens, religious and worldly matters are not in opposition and confrontation; they are together and complement each other. In this sense, according to Fethullah Gülen, Turkey is a country which has yet to complete its secularization.

[1] Dinçkol 1992, 67.
[2] Fethullah Gülen 2010c: 195.
[3] Özsoy 1998, 30.
[4] Ibid.
[5] The interview given to Hulusi Turgut, Sabah, 25 January 1997.