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How does Fethullah Gülen view the issue of multiculturalism?

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

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Fethullah Gülen

According to Fethullah Gülen, the idea of Devlet-i Ebed Müddet (the Eternal State—a phrase of hope for the continuation of the Ottoman Empire until the “end of days”) during the rule of the Ottomans results from its view of plurality. He believes the Ottoman period illustrates how they embraced multiculturalism. For instance, the Ottoman Empire with its unique legal system was able to achieve the flexibility to administer the state for centuries. For this to be possible, the principles and judgments derived from the fundamental sources of the religion were utilized, and the other principles were reinforced by new interpretations and legislations. This brought together the social order and the philosophy of government.

For instance, in the conquered areas lands, the relationship of the government administration with its subjects was just and functional. Groups from different ethno-religious backgrounds were autonomous in practicing their daily lives and administering their cultural institutions.

Another issue is that it was made possible for the people from different faiths, Christian, Jewish, and even atheists [under the roof of the same state]. Buddhists and Brahmans were treated very well. Even from the services of these people were benefitted. As of the earliest period, Ghazi Mihal takes his place next to Osman Ghazi, meaning they are acting with a Christian. It is not known whether he converted later or not. But one of those who fought in the front of Muslim armies was this man. Evrenos Pasha, Zagnos, Ghazi Mihal, etc…

I think the fact that more than pure blood Turks from Anatolia among the subjects of the state, there are people from different races and tribes points to that phenomenon. No one had carried within himself the doubt and concern that by joining the Ottomans he would be deprived of some advantages. This matter is … an application of the richness and facility of the core of the religion. What is beautiful about it is that the Ottomans did not do this facilitation only for the Muslims, but Christians, Jews and other faith members alike. The Ottoman administrators have implemented the principle of tolerance, and therefore they left the doors of the state always open. This must have meant a great meaning that the joining in the empire steadily increased. This feature of the state being pluralistic … as providing the flexibility to the laws, it put the men of the state at ease. The universality was captured.[1]

At this point, Fethullah Gülen enters into a much debated topic. He believes that during the reign of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the principles of tolerance, pluralism, and the coexistence of different groups, prevailed. Whether these principles could once again be revived in the form of religious injunctions is the issue.

As long as you do not bring the logic to be able to interpret the principles of Islam together along, you can never bring about a universal function to this matter. When you are open to this matter like the Ottomans, the success could be obtained. But, in this matter, if rigidity takes place in the name of the religion, like the Kadizades did in the Ottomans, if the natural sciences are thrown out of the religious schools, saying these are evil sciences, and if the deliberations like why are there next to the higher Islamic knowledge, why do you have to recognize to the unbeliever the right to life, why should the Jew benefit from the rights we benefit, why should we allow others to earn in trade, what is the meaning of trading with the unbelievers, come to the fore, very important aspects of our universality would be trimmed. In reality, this would have been tantamount to trimming our own our arms and wings.[2]

These assessments explain why, under the pretext of creating a nation state and as a result of practices attempting to produce one type of human being, Turkey has lost a great majority of our non-Muslim population. Does it only explain the state of non-Muslims? Unfortunately, not. It also answers the question: “Why is our Muslim population, comprised of diverse ethnic groups and sects, alienated and resentful?” Fethullah Gülen suggests that the cause is the “loss of real Islamic logic” or loss of the logic of interpreting Islam within its own framework and its open nature to universality.

[1] Can 1997, 125–126.
[2] Ibid., 127.