Does Fethullah Gülen suggest that today’s Muslim has a duty to address those distorting Islam from within or from without and, if so, what is that duty?

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, those who commit vices against the nation or religion to which they belong are the ones who do the most damage. It is because they are from within. With a known enemy, by contrast, you are ready to face the challenge.

The most unbearable test would be this one. To see treason and unkindness from the place you expect fidelity is painful as well as something to be considered seriously. From yesterday to today, from time to time, from the enemy but sometimes from the adversaries in the guise of a friend, the Muslims who encounter always disloyalty and ill treatment, during all history have seen the heaviest and the most painful tests. They were subjected to most dreadful treasons. Maybe ... in the future they will see some more tests. They will face hills made of fire, the oceans made of blood and pus; all of these will help them to renew themselves and acquire metaphysical tension. This is because, he will recognize his friends and foes through these, he will be sharpened, and he will learn the ways to stand up after falling down.[1]

If there were no adversity and prejudices from his adversaries and no ignorance and disloyalty from his friends, today the entire humanity would have united around the divine table spread by Islam and shaken hands with each other. When the hearts do not lends ears to Islam, it cannot make its voice heard, either; if when conduct and representation do not deepen the words, its voice would be lowered and it would absolutely fail to generate attraction in the souls.[2]

What does Fethullah Gülen mean here?

Evaluated with what has been said on other occasions, he is highlighting the fact that religion has been distorted by incorrect interpretations and practices and exploited for worldly benefits ,because of some of the co-religionists’ conservatism, lack of vision and disloyalty, and the enemy’s hatred, vindictiveness, animosity, obscurantism, and fundamentalism.

In reality, religion becomes something other than itself (not a faith anymore) and turns into a vehicle for blind ambition, power, and politics.

But in fact the religion was sent, to speak on its behalf, as itself, to enter into hearts as itself, and to say whatever it wants to say as itself. It had not appointed as its advocate and no one had the right on its behalf. But you can observe that many of us, without shame or embarrassment, we are able to speak comfortably about it.[3]

Fethullah Gülen believes that the source of the problem is the personal preference made on behalf of the religion. It results from the specific conditions of a known time and place. Thus, the source of the problem is not the religion, but the adherents of that religion. A person’s sincerity, intention, and humanity, and how he practices his religion and lets others practice theirs are the determining factors.

… The Muslims who make an effort to live in an atmosphere of tolerance, peace, and tranquility should know that Islam from yesterday to today is subject to attacks and after today some people might act with a sense of hatred and animosity.[4]

Abu Bakr had struggled against Aswad al-Ansi on one side, and also the liars who claim to be Prophets like Musaylima al Kazzab, Sajah, Tulayha, and disloyalties arising from within the community. When entering the First World War, the Arab tribal chiefs [being caught by the influence of the foreign propaganda] committed treason against the Ottoman soldiers at the defense of Medina.[5]

According to Fethullah Gülen, these sort of people have existed exist and will exist in the future. We have to live with them. It is one test on the way of becoming a perfect man or woman. Then, how should we conduct ourselves? First, we should not produce vehicles conducive to enmity:

We are in favor of to chain the mistakes of the past in history books, and not to revive the sensibilities for animosity. In the past, certain events had caused other chain of events; animosities had given way to other animosities; the people were estranged and alienated from each other, and opposite fronts were built up. Today, by making mention of these, establishing them as reason for new fights, and creating new gaps are meaningless. Whatever they say, whatever they do, no matter what they say, we have to continue on the way of tolerance that we are walking on, despite the hatred, vindictiveness, and animosity. We have to reach some “islands of peace”; we have to establish the “islets of peace.”[6]

These words are especially relevant at this time when the process of “democratic opening,” better relations with non-Muslim minorities, and normalization of the relations with Armenia, is taking place. It is encouraging to witness a man of religion’s sermons that were once considered mere abstract advices to turn into a reality. And, of course, for those who disagree with Fethullah Gülen, it is a source of irritation and disturbance.

How then can peace be achieved? According to Fethullah Gülen, peace is achievable through mutual respect, based on the acceptance of differences and dialog in order to get to know one another, thereby engendering warm relations.

Let us say tolerance and go beyond it, let us think to “friendly share”; let our intention, our determination be in this direction, and let our planning and projects be made according to that intention and determination.[7]

There are, however, limits to what can be achieved.

Let us not forget that we do not have power to soften all the people in the world. We cannot force everyone to say “dialog,” we cannot get them to say “tolerance and respect for every position.” Not even in Turkey, you are able to carry everyone to the atmosphere of tolerance. Even sometimes, they are complaining to everywhere about you, by claiming, “They are Christianizing the people by saying tolerance and dialog.”[8]

He also is asking people to be alert:

Yes, as Muslims our problem is not only the animosity outside. Inconsistencies incongruousness among us, disloyalty, insincerity, not being able to endure, and infidelity are our greatest problems.[9]

As a man of religion, the solution is “to strengthen the Islamic thought and sensibilities, releasing the masses from the clutch of aimlessness and establish their bonds with higher ideals.” And then he adds, “If you will, you can call these redirecting humans toward living with heart and soul.”[10]

Fethullah Gülen attaches significance to the rescuing of the soul and strengthening the faith. But while doing this, he is not overlooking the changes to be realized in the material life, social structure, economy, and law. He is only pointing out that these are not enough and that the process of change will be adversarial and shocking. Spirituality would be helpful at exactly this point in the process. Fethullah Gülen believes that today the language used among the people and in societies is inappropriate in style and far from egalitarian in content. He worries that from this style will not emerge a desire to live in coexistence, willingly and peacefully.

For years now in our society we are experiencing a slipping of our thoughts. And a distortion of manner of speech, increasingly spreading is, as it were, imprisoning all the senses and thoughts. Statements are rather indecent, the expressions are transgression as much as possible, the behaviors are lower than the ordinary, the tone is altogether torn up; the emotions and the logics which form the basis for these immoderations are as dark as the intentions of the scorpions. What are you going to listen to, who are going to trust, and what thoughts are you going to rely on? In the arena of these fighting spirits, locked into criticism and destruction, even the most innocent ideas, the most cohesive and consistent plans and projects, are eschewed in the tooth of the truths and put aside and the most sacred values are stepped on under the feet.

I wonder what it could be to cause our people to lose altitude, in terms of humane values. What are the incentives making us wolves to our fellow men? If with this tone and manner of speech—of course if this could be called a manner—they are thinking to arrive at somewhere, they are mistaken; especially by way of this, if higher ideals are aimed at, that is altogether an illusion. But what a pity that for years we have been going through one illusion after another, we have been making unthinkable mistakes. Also, by boasting about what we have accomplished and trying to show off as if we had achieved something on the global scale, we have been making great mistakes. Some foolish talks, such as, “We are going to be an example for the rest of the world, to change the shape of the earth, or at least we are going to put our country in order,” have become commonplace in this period. But here is this blessed country which is in the claws of the want of peace and tranquility and here is the victimized nation with a high-pitched screaming! In fact, with this deterioration beyond recovery, it would be possible neither to change the map of global thought, neither to transform our society’s misfortune to prosperity nor to open up new horizons for our people. In my opinion, out of these circles of palpitation or feeling exasperation from their ideas each one of which could be considered as delirium, nonsense, convulsion, and agitation; if there is anything, disorder can result. But never a renewal can.[11]

Fethullah Gülen’s ideas can be summarized as follows:

1. Instead of starting from our history, from its social and cultural realities, we have interpreted them through an ideological prism; we have ruled the country with a vision of a nation, far from reality. Naturally, this state of affairs has produced tensions, conflicts and fights in the society.

2. In this foggy sphere, we became rude and crude. Our language has become vulgarized and carries a warlike tone. We have forgotten to respect and love one another. Therefore, we have lost the sense of commonality and the common values on which we could unite.

3. We have boasted about ourselves. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that we are successful. But according to all reliable international criteria, the fact is that we are an underdeveloped society with numerous shortcomings in the field of democracy, which are there for everyone to see. Additionally, while we are venturing into the role of ambassadors of peace in our region full of conflicts, we are overlooking the fact that we cannot bring to a positive conclusion our internal conflicts.

4. These weaknesses are nourished by two main sources: a) running away from reality and deceiving ourselves, namely making logical and rational mistakes; and b) ignoring our conscience and higher values such as justice, fairness, and love.

For the humans who are defective with these weaknesses, it cannot be considered seriously at all, these people will develop the world to be a better, livable place, to contribute in any way to the happiness of human beings or to be beneficial for their nations, and furthermore to direct them to new horizons.

It is not possible because, they were never able to feel themselves in their innermost recesses, and could not conceive the reason of their existence, moreover they have forgotten to love, did not care about respect, considered the virtue as a fantasy, and always dreamed about what he is going to earn, how he will earn, whom he will con, and in what ways he will reach the zenith of welfare.[12]

People such as these “come back and seek the remedy in the doctrines like socialism, capitalism, liberalism,”[13] but could never save society from the vicious circle in which it is trapped. It is therefore necessary to identify the real center of the defect and the real causes of the deviations.

Where is the real center of the defect, according to Fethullah Gülen? In this matter, Fethullah Gülen is consistent and cohesive within his own system of thought:

Although as a nation we had taken the initiatives to make so many reforms for couple of centuries now, we could not establish our own ethical and moral system, basing it on our own national culture; we could not develop our own metaphysical conceptions and made it into a system. We could not develop a coherent educational system and a conception of art which could reflect our own internal world life in terms of God, the universe and the realities of humans.

But, in the world the core of ethical systems consist of a healthy and firm faith, an internalized sense of freedom and the conscience of responsibility that almost all of them are related subjects to metaphysics. In a society where the sense of religion is killed, the sense of responsibility is extracted from the hearts and thrown away; it is not possible to talk of metaphysics. In this milieu to talk about ethics and moralities is completely out of question. The societies which could not establish their own system of metaphysical thought, the individuals who could not determine their own internal identities according to such metaphysical considerations, over time would lose their faiths, but it would not be possible to maintain their family trees.[14]

There are two conclusions which can be derived from this analysis. First, if we lose our connection with our own history and cultural richness, we are plunged into meaninglessness. We have to decide who we want to be in terms of identity, philosophy, and faith. Second, our current understanding of history and society, which started with denying the Ottomans, is based on the conceptualization of an artificial nation state, the characteristics of which are determined only by the administrators, as if it had come down from the heavens. This artificial nation state has no identity, soul, or organic unity, other than what the administrators have attributed to it. For this reason, we must search for a new identity and a spirit that begins with our nation’s natural and historical accumulations. Only then can we become ourselves and discover our cultural richness. A philosophy of life with an axis of God–universe–human, in accordance with the realities of our day, would allow us to find our identity and release the peace and tranquility inside us.

After pointing out what we need, it is reasonable to discuss the attributes of those who might lead the effort to meet this need. What kind of person could end our identity crisis and produce solutions for the individual and social discomforts and disturbances?

Fethullah Gülen refers to them as “special humans”—“by triggering the dynamism of faith and action, those who would again start the period of faith, love, logic, and reasoning.” He continues,

They will be locked into an effort to correct the historical misperceptions, to establish a world based on better parts of the old and the new, to unite heavenly and worldly one more time. To the extent of the depths of their sincerity, they will be close to all considerations save the Hizmet, they will produce alternative thoughts against the faults, they will side with the right no matter from whom it comes, and they will take their place next to the building and repairing against the destruction and the destructive ... in the face of everyone—even if they do not share every point of view of them,—they are always respectful, elegant, and graceful people. They are a people of polite and courteous manner in language.

They are not after a new sect, a new path, and a new system. But they are in the possession of the sensibility, the richness of thought, emotion, and reason, by making the old acquire new depths, to be able to produce from the old values new products. In our days when everyone seeks asylum into the material power and crude force, along with accepting the material within its own framework, they only trust the soul, spirit, spirituality and divine help and support. They believe that their salvation as a nation depends on, rather than material victories and taking over other countries, but by embracing others, entering their hearts, and trying to open up the doors of their chests. They have believed so strongly that the doors of hearts which could not be opened so far with animosities would be opened by love. For this reason, they would not exchange even an iota of love with the whole world.

As against everyone’s display of harshness, hatred, and grudges, they act with tolerance and acceptance to the greatest extent, they would always search for the roads leading to universal peace …, and they accept this as the purpose of their lives. So, instead of quarreling with this or that person, they would focus and direct, with all their strength, the power of struggle on their own carnal soul, and search for mistakes, weaknesses, inconsistencies, and shortcomings in themselves, and fight against them. They would ward off evil with goodness and kindness.[15]

What has been said so far represents an “ideal human” type. Fethullah Gülen, beginning with his own yearnings and lifestyle, would like to see the number of this type of human being steadily increase and influence others by their example. This ideal human is so attractive that one can easily understand why participants in the movement try to live up to these expectations of becoming such a perfect man or woman. Our society desperately needs people who are equipped with these qualities and virtues.

There are two obvious goals in the philosophy of Fethullah Gülen: the moral human being and a society of solidarity. And Fethullah Gülen has produced a tremendous amount of material, regarding how to access both of them. Clearly, this material has been, at least, partially utilized in that a movement was born in his name, Gülen Hareketi (the Gülen Movement), even if that was not his intention or aim

Fethullah Gülen sets forth the direction of the movement, which is a journey inward. It includes: training and trimming of the carnal soul to defeat blind ambition and appetite, controlling destructive drives, disciplining aggressiveness and temper, and once these are achieved, extending the hand to others. As such, it is a philosophy of ethics.

Many people try to categorize the journey Fethullah Gülen is encouraging as a journey “toward the outside,” namely, one that is politically motivated and a covert search for domination. Is that accurate today or, perhaps, in the future? It is unlikely, as long as Fethullah Gülen is alive, as his beliefs would not permit that to happen.

[1] Fethullah Gülen 2008b, 39.
[2] Fethullah Gülen 2010e, 16.
[3] Ibid., 249.
[4] Fethullah Gülen 2005b, 158.
[5] Ibid., 158–159.
[6] Ibid., 159–160.
[7] Ibid., 160.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 162.
[10] Fethullah Gülen 2006a, 39.
[11] Fethullah Gülen 2010e, 168–169.
[12] Ibid., 169.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., 171–172.
[15] Ibid., 89–90.