What kind of a role does Fethullah Gülen attribute to consultation in the framework of rulers and the ruled relationships?

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

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Fethullah Gülen

It is obvious that the concept of consultation prevents the melting or eradication of the individual within the society and contributes to the composition of collective decisions. What kind of a role does Fethullah Gülen attribute to consultation in the framework of rulers and the ruled relationships?

Fethullah Gülen stresses that for Muslims the decisive statements of the Qur’an and the clear Sunnah must be given priority. He then says:

Even if the head of state or the leader is confirmed by God and nurtured by revelation and inspiration, he is under obligation to conduct affairs by consultation. There have been some who have neglected to do so, but generally the number of nations or communities which have retained this institution under different names and titles at different times is not negligible. In fact, any society which has ignored or disregarded it has never prospered, but rather has perished. So the Messenger of God saw the salvation and progress of his community in mutual consultation: “Those who consult do not lose.”[1]

The importance that the Gülen Movement places on consultation explains why it continues to increase its members throughout the world and why it has become a movement that accommodates different sectors, unifying them around common sentiments and deeds. The evidences confirming the assessment made here are implicit in how Gülen interprets consultation and deliberation:

Consulting with his Companions on every matter, the Messenger of God took their opinions and perspectives into account, and thus every venture he planned was presented to and adopted by the collective conscience; he made use of every feeling, emotion, and inclination that arose from the collective conscience as a foundation, and thus he supported and gave extra strength and endurance to the work he undertook. That is, by uniting everyone and involving everyone mentally and spiritually in the work to be done, he accomplished his projects on the strongest, soundest basis.[2]

Fethullah Gülen reminds us here that in the life of a society the dualism of ruler and the ruled is not permanent and institutional; it is only functional and a division of labor directed to meet the needs of the society. This understanding, which is the foundation of modern democracy, refers to the principle that the religious does not interfere with the political and the political does not interfere with the religious, each acts in its own autonomous fields.

Clearly consultation does not take priority over Divine Commands as a source of legislation. It is itself enabled by Divine Commands, and though it may be the basis for some laws and principles, consultation is restricted as it depends on true legislative sources. Those matters on which there is a clear divine decree remain outside the intervention of human beings, and people may only turn to consultation in order to ascertain its full meaning. Matters on which there is no such a decree are considered completely within the boundaries of consultation. On such matters, there is an obligation to abide by the results and decisions reached by consultation, and one cannot act contrary to the decisions taken and cannot continue to expound or defend other opposing views and opinions. If there is an error or mistake in the decision taken, even if it was taken by the majority, it must be amended or corrected by consultation again.

Although the divine decrees about consultation are, in a sense, general, they are restricted by the decrees on particular issues and also by the acts and deeds of the Messenger of God. In fact the decrees in Islam, with a few exceptions [those which express universal principles and general rules], do not dwell much upon or go into details of matters which can be deemed secondary. Issues on which there is no decree fall completely within the boundaries of consultation and are of the matters open to deliberation.[3]

Thus, in Islam there are a limited number of judgments in the field of political and social matters that came through revelation. In all other areas excluding these few concrete decisions, the decision is made or should be made through consultation. If a decision is made, but later or under different circumstances no longer serves the purpose, this situation should be reassessed and changed through consultation. In short, the society should be ruled, not by coercion or coercive people according to their whims and wishes, but by consultation with the members of the community, through their participation in a shared reasoning and decision-making process. Fethullah Gülen finds this democratic principle in the essence of Islam. Secularism, which is respectful to religion, can be reconciled with Islam:

The following are among the first principles at which Islam aims: to establish equality among people; to strive against ignorance and to spread knowledge; to interweave and interlace every issue and affair around the Islamic identity so that Muslims are not left to contradict their own essence; to direct the people of a country to protect their place and standing in the balance between states; to achieve the right balance of social justice between the individual and community; to develop and advance in every individual and the whole nation feelings of love, respect, altruism, striving for the sake of others, sacrificing their own material and spiritual benefits, and aspirations for the sake of others; to maintain and retain the balance between this world and the other; to order and organize domestic and international politics; to follow world affairs closely; and to prepare, as and when needed, all the resources to cope with the world as a whole…[4]

Fethullah Gülen mentions here the main problems of human history, which, he argues can be met when both religion and worldly politics are functional.

Fethullah Gülen continues with what consultation promises:

Consultation, within its remit, promises some effects and also follows some rules which lead to positive outcomes. In this regard we may mention an increase in the level of thought and intervention in society; reminding society of its own importance by taking its views on all new events; by reminding it in this way, leading it to produce alternative ideas… in every event, getting … the majority of the highest, most able individuals … to join in the administration to some extent; to ensure by public supervision of the administration that the people remain aware of the necessity for questioning and calling to account the administrators whenever the situation requires them to do so; and by preventing irresponsible behavior of rulers by limiting their executive power.[5]

What Fethullah Gülen proposes is very close to the modern definition of democracy, namely, “participatory and deliberative democracy.” His vision is more in conformity with a human-centered, political system that is based on the supremacy of law and which is seen in many developed countries. Furthermore, he calls upon the people to participate in the decision-making process, stressing that this is a right, as well as a responsibility. Individuals who do not fulfill this responsibility are, in fact, shirking the duty of citizenship. He holds responsible those citizens who do not let their opinions and demands known, as well as the administrators who do not resort to the preferences and demands of the citizens:

As a consequence of the verse, consult them in the affairs (Al-Imran 3:159), it is incumbent on the ruler or administrator to bring the matter on which consultation is required to the attention of those of sound judgment, otherwise he will be held responsible. The ruled are responsible for expressing their views when they are asked to. However, if the ruled do not express their views when asked to, then they are equally accountable. In fact, they are considered not to have fulfilled the duty of citizenship if they are not determined to be heard when their views are being taken, and still more if they neglect to voice their views and opinions.[6]

Fethullah Gülen invites the individuals to become active citizens and participate in decisions that influence their destiny; he also considers it a weakness not to be decisive. He implies that such citizens cannot escape from the distress of rulers or demagogues who do not share the power in their hands and who do not let the decisions that they take be questioned. Another point he makes is that in the cases where unanimity cannot be obtained, the majority decision rules, with the proviso that the minority rights are safeguarded.

Under these given facts, in Fethullah Gülen teachings it is impossible to find an understanding of a political system based entirely upon the principles derived from the Divine Decree, where there are unquestionable rules, immutable, or unchangeable. On the contrary, he brings forth a vast area of private enterprise and defends a rather developed system of a democracy in the worldly sphere, outside the divine one, in which only religious commandments are prevalent.

It is not possible to talk of a religion, if there were no principles related to worship. Moreover, any religion provides the fundamentals to develop into a good human being. For this reason, it is not reasonable and meaningful to say that there is a threat of shariah waiting behind the door, just because divine commandments are mentioned.

No matter how much Fethullah Gülen believes in the importance of the individual’s participation in the decision-making process on matters regarding their own lives and the merits of close supervision of rulers who implement those decisions, he is aware the need for the pioneering efforts of opinion leaders or wise men. He says:

I am in favor of solving all issues in the collective conscience. I am of those who see three minds better than one and preferring the majority sentiments of my friends to my own sentiments. Then in that case, let us make the mechanism of mutual consultation operational. Let us grind the grave problems of the future in the wheels of it and never act individually.[7]

People who know are numerous, but the numbers of people who represent in conduct what they know are very limited. The fact that knowledge transforming itself into virtue and its reflection on our behavior and conduct is our shortcoming. Both the one who knows [the wise man] and the one who has the merit of leadership, would shoulder the task of, in Bediüzzaman’s words “division of duties, ordering the work, and facilitation of mutual help.” In a society there are all kinds of works for everyone, from A to Z. For this reason, everyone should be given a task that he can undertake. Hence, the spirit of unity would not be damaged.[8]

When we are talking about the importance of opinion leaders, the topic of the relationship between Fethullah Gülen and his followers inevitably arises. To what extent do Fethullah Gülen’s followers feel comfortable to offer their opinions in a consultation with Fethullah Gülen? He replies:

Some of our friends, maybe as a result of their respect, do not want always to express themselves. But the moments that you would like to see are not few. Sometimes they are very talkative, they express their opinions. I am always advising these friends: Let us not say with a submissive spirit, so and so always says the truth. I am making a self-criticism, by questioning if what I am doing might be wrong. My interpretations are my personal interpretations; you might not agree with them. But there are certain things, if they are right and they are also confirmed by the Book and the Sunnah, then just for the sake of arguing you cannot quarrel by saying I am going to hold a brainstorm, it would be meaningless.[9]

When asked if his influence and his ties to the movement produce pressures on the followers by destroying individualism and freedoms, he replies:

It must have some pressure. Feeling respect and being crushed under that respect might occur, but it is not an oft experienced matter. We have to solve this, all of us, all together. Like a debate, namely keeping the courtesy, we can always discuss the matters. I think this would and can be realized over time. At this moment, here everyone is comfortable to bring the issues to be tabled. If it is right, it receives approval.[10]

After this assessment, Fethullah Gülen returns back to the topic of the need for opinion leaders and what would happen to society if they did not exist:

In terms of their vision of thinking, if the individuals could not overcome their egos, those who did, could not vocalize them, and after vocalization, if they could not make the society of which they are members, appropriate with all its sectors, then it would be inescapable for such a society to decay, dissolve and swallowed up by others.[11]

[1] Gülen 2007b, 43.
[2] Ibid., 46
[3] Ibid., 49.
[4] Ibid., 49–50.
[5] Ibid., 51.
[6] Ibid., 52.
[7] Gülen 1997b, 69.
[8] Gülen 2010a, 152.
[9] Akman 2004, 77.
[10] Ibid., 78.
[11] Gülen 2010b, 45.