Islamic radicalism and Fethullah Gülen’s response

Fethullah Gülen


Te language employed in contemporary debates over religious issues has often been exaggerated, and in many cases provoca tive. Moreover, as the literary editor of The New Republic Leon Wieseltier aptly said, ‘No faith has suffered more at the hands of this improper usage than Islam’.[1] Over the last century, especially from the late 70s there have been Muslim groups, communities, leaders and indi viduals who have responded in a reactionary and sometimes violent man ner towards events or actions that seem to be debilitating to Islam and Muslims. Methods of response have included various acts in the guise of Islamic behavior, such as the repetition of Islamic slogans during pro tests and demonstrations, and attempts at so called military jihad. When publicly displaying their reactions, some Muslims have made radical speech es, burned flags and effigies, and condemned entire nations. Sometimes these acts have become violent, or have led to violence. Such acts have been viewed as a religious obligation, or a defensive holy struggle, and therefore a necessary display of Muslim power in defense of Islam and Muslims. Thus, Islam has been presented as a form of human-made, revo lutionary ideology operating under the flag of Divine religion. Other Mus lims saw these acts as a means to speak out against injustice, and to pro tect or obtain their rights. Muslims who refuse to participate in such acts are viewed by some of the radical protestors as pacifists, cowards and even traitors. During the turmoil or crisis in the Muslim world, while most of the great Islamic leaders and scholars have focused on internal fac tors, extremists and reactionary groups have instead placed the blame on external factors as the cause of the problems.

The most controversial and reaction-provoking events have been the occupation of Palestine, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq, the clashes in Kashmir, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoon controversy and the recent Innocence of Muslims movie. Reactions to these events have ranged from protests, and have even gone as far as violent acts, some of which have caused inno cent deaths. These types of events have led to the coining of the terms ‘radical Islam’ or ‘Islamism’ after the revolution in Iran.

The word Islamism appeared in the late 19th century and was used mainly by Western Orientalists[2] and it has no place in the Islamic tradi tion at all.[3] Radical Islam was almost unknown in the Western world before 1979. Prior to that there was barely a reference to Islamic fundamental ism, either in the academic literature or in the mass media. David Har rington Watt found that until 1979, the word ‘fundamentalism’ was used almost exclusively in reference to the beliefs and practices associated with Protestant Christians such as Jerry Falwell and Curtis Lee Laws.[4] From 1978 to 2010, the catalogue of Harvard University’s library contained more than 1,300 records for texts on Islamic fundamentalism that had been published after 1978. Academic Search Premier Database listed over 1,600 such references while JSTOR listed over 5,000. Washington Post index gave over three thousand references to ‘Islamic fundamental ists’ in articles published between 1979 and 2010 while the New York Times gave records for over four thousand.[5] While the topic has been cov ered from a number of different angles, especially political, there has been little attention paid to the religious legitimacy of the activities of radical Muslims. The bulk of this coverage, including media reports and scholar ly articles, has touched upon verses of the Qur’an superficially, but has rarely gone in depth into their interpretation. Still less have those cover ingthese matters debated whether the actions of extremists were legiti mate in the light of the classical tradition.

The ‘Islamicness’ of these reactionary methods—that is to say, their supposed foundation in sacred texts—is not certain, and is therefore considered controversial. Such acts are recent in the history of Muslims. Their rise coincided with the period during and immediately after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Colonization of the Muslim world and the divide-and-rule policy by European powers spurred a natural reac tionary pose by Muslims. The Muslim world was influenced, too, by the French Revolution and the Communist Manifesto, both of which unhinged Europe. Some Muslims have adopted similar methodologies as those employed in revolutionary Europe, as a means to obtain their rights, but have done so under the banner of Islam. In the same way that groups rose to support a pure Communist state, Muslim groups also rose to sup port a pure Islamic state. Europeans called for democracy, while Muslims called for theodemocracy.[6] Just as Communists wanted a socialist eco nomic system, and Capitalists wanted a free market, so too Muslims want ed an Islamic economic system to solve the woes of their own nations. In both trends, a defeatist psychology plays an important role in spurring reactions. The President of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Turkey, Mehmet Görmez, holds that these reactions bear the weight of a 200–year wounded mentality. The head of the Tunisian al-Nahda Movement Rashid al-Ghannushi views Islamic radicalism as a project to create chaos and divide Muslims.[7] There are other causes and factors that could be explored, but this is out of the scope of this article. The majority of pub lished work so far has focused on the actions of extremist and violent Muslim groups, but has not investigated primary sources and prominent scholars’ interpretations of sacred texts for the religious legitimacy of these groups.

This article will explore the methodology, style and language used by some radical Muslims, and whether or not it contradicts with two primary sources: the Qur’an, and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. This article will also examine the views of two prominent contemporary Muslim scholars, Said Nursi (1877–1960) and particularly Fethullah Gülen (1941–), in relation to the reactionary meth ods of some extremist Muslims who indiscriminately condemn entire nations or all the adherents of a faith. Such extremist methods might take the form of burninga country’s flagor an effigy of a country’s leader, or calling for the complete destruction of a country. The tendency in these cases is to stereotype or generalize the targeted religious group or nation, paintingthat particular group with the same dark brush. Fethullah Gülen always avoids such slogans, and he is generally against what might be called ‘slo ganic’ Islam. He states that radicalism conflicts with the very essentials of Islam.

Qur’anic Anti-dote to violence

Although Islam is considered as a way that does not neglect any aspect of life[8] , providing guidelines from social relations to personal hygiene, it is nevertheless not an ideology.[9] It has provided guidelines for Muslims on ways of responding to aggression and injustice, and has methods for presenting the truth and righteousness, preserving collective and indi vidual rights, and ensuring justice. It has made clear that dealing proper ly with non-Muslims is just as important as dealing with Muslims.[10]

In the last two decades, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, prejudice and abuse directed towards Islam and Muslims have risen sharply. Some marginal Muslim groups and individuals have reacted to this prejudice with ‘un-Islamic’ behavior, meaningactions that are not based on the sacred sources of values and universal prin ciples, and include reactionary responses such as violent protests. These reactions mar the reputation of Muslims, especially those who live in non-Muslim countries. Muslims will naturally feel disturbed when Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, or any other Prophet, is abused in any way, since it is a principle of Islam to love Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and follow his example. Islamic prin ciples also set a method of response based on the Qur’an and life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). These two sources set rules on respond ing to physical aggression against Muslims and non-physical aggres sion and abuse against the sacred values of Islam. This chapter will focus on examples of Prophets from the Qur’an and life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in order to define how Muslims should deal with offences against Islam, in ways based upon religious values in general. The Prophet is the role model for all Muslims as the Qur’an states (33:21).

Just like other faiths, Islam is no stranger to suffering assaults. The Qur’an refers to the struggle between those who believe in tawhid, One God, and those who are sternly against it, exemplified particularly in the epic stories of Adam and Eve and Satan, Jonah and his tribe, Moses and Pharaoh, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Meccan polytheists. The Qur’an explains that those who were against tawhid used every act and tool in order to inflict harm and persecute the believers in one God. Accord ing to Muslim theologians, Prophets occupy a spiritual station higher than the angels. From this, Muslims must draw the lesson that they should speak well of the members of other faiths, even towards those who com mit acts of injustice against God and Muslims.

The first humans as mentioned in the Qur’an, Adam and Eve, were deceived by Satan to eat fruits from the banned tree.[11] This caused their expulsion from Paradise. Although they had no evil intention when eat ing the forbidden fruits, Adam and Eve turned to God in repentance immediately. ‘They said (straightaway), ‘Our Lord! We have wronged our selves, and if You do not forgive us and do not have mercy on us, we will surely be amongthose who have lost!’ (Qur’an:7:23). They could have cursed Satan, and asked God to punish him. Accordingto Qur’anic exe gete al-Tabari (838–923), Adam and Eve did not blame Satan, but point ed the finger at themselves.[12] They did not rebel against God like Satan, but instead sought forgiveness and mercy from God. For contemporary Mus lims, this example depicts the ideal reaction: to criticize oneself before blaming others. Before launching diatribes against those who portray Islam in unfavorable colors, Muslims need to turn to themselves, reflect on their methodology, their presenting style, how well they have repre sented their faith, and then subsequently seek forgiveness from God for not reflecting their faith properly.

The story of Prophet Abraham in the Qur’an was revealed when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) faced death threats, persecution and harsh treatment at the hands of the polytheists of Mecca. Abraham’s story was to serve as an example to the Prophet and his Companions on how to carry themselves when dealing with aggression and injustice.[13] Abraham told his polytheist father that he had indeed received revelations from God, knowledge which his father did not possess (19:43) and told him that belief in God would grant him immense rewards in both this life and the hereafter. Abraham concluded his preachingby warning Azar of the grave punishment he would face if he did not mend his ways (19:45). When Abraham offered his father the guidance and advice of God, he rejected it, and threatened to stone him to death (19:46). Despite such a threat from his polytheist father, Abraham was still kind in his speech and treat ment towards him. (19:47).[14] In Tabari’s exegesis, Abraham’s response to his father’s threat was ‘Even if youstone me, Iwill not harm you.’ Ibn Kathir (1301–1373) extends this further, adding‘Iwill not harm, insult or even disrespect you’.[15] Abraham even asked God to forgive him. It was only because of a promise that he had made earlier to him. When it became clear that Azar’s unrelentinghatred towards pure monotheism would never be fought, Abraham dissociated himself from him (9:114).

The coverage and mention of the story of Moses and Pharaoh is the most frequently referenced narrative in the Qur’an. Pharaoh is mentioned as an extreme tyrant who committed all kinds of evil and injustice, from the killing of male children to the oppression of the Israelites. He went as far as declaring himself to be a god. Despite this, God commanded Moses and his brother Aaron to speak gently with Pharaoh. ‘… But speak to him with gentle words, so that he might reflect and be mindful or feel some awe (of me, and behave with humility)…’ (20:43–44). All prominent clas sical and contemporary exegetes of the Qur’an agree that the two Proph ets followed this order, even when Pharaoh killed more of the believers and the Children of Israel. Qurtubi (1214–1273) interprets the command to mean speak gently, implying that Moses should not use any word imply ing hatred or animosity. He goes on to state that this is a general rule to be applied by those who seek to enjoin good and forbid evil.[16] Al-Qush ayri (986–1072) extends this rule to cover not only a person’s speech, but also their demeanor.[17] In another verse, believers are instructed to ‘…speak kindly and well to the people…’ (2:83). Tabari interprets this verse as explainingthe proper way—which is to say, the way that pleases Allah— to communicate with others. This includes speaking gently, using kind words, not being harsh, and maintaining the best of manners.[18] Razi (1149–1209) stated that this verse makes it a requirement for all believers to speak gently.[19] Ibn Kathir went further to say that the overall approach to others should be gentle and non-provoking.[20]

When commentingon this verse, Fethullah Gülen says, ‘God command ed Moses [and Aaron] to treat kindly and speak gently to Pharaoh who oppressed, persecuted and killed Moses’ people for decades. Therefore, even if before you there is a Pharaoh who has for years killed your people, you must treat him with gentle words and a mild demeanor. The meaning of this command is to show that the other party may listen if spoken to gently, but if dealt with harshly, the other party will neither listen nor care.’[21] This implies that even if the unjust party is as evil as Pharaoh, there is still a proper method in which to deal with them. Moreover, he also comments that even rightful anger deserves a suitable method of expression that is not harsh. This is because the key for opening a heart is soft words and soft manner.

Prophet Jonah is another leadingexample in the Qur’an, who is well known for his total submission and prayer to God during his most diffi cult and testing times. He had invited his people to believe in God, but was rejected continuously by them. After years of rejection, he decided to leave the city. He boarded a ship which later faced a dangerous storm in the midst of a turbulent sea. Accordingto many exegetes of the Qur’an, those on the ship believed that someone amongst them had committed a wrong and they were being punished with the storm. Prophet Jonah then confessed that he had made the mistake of leaving his people and was subsequently tossed into the sea and swallowed by a whale. Inside the whale, he begged God to be his savior and made the famous prayer,[22] ‘There is no god other than You, Glory be unto You! Indeed, Iwas amongthe wrongdoers’ (21:87). Instead of accusinghis disbelievingpeople, he took himself to account. It was after this reflection that God saved Jonah miraculously.[23] Another example of oppressed believers turningto God is that of a group that lived before Prophet Muhammad’s time. Non-be lievers had persecuted them and their Prophet had been killed by an army.[24] The Qur’an says of them, ‘What they said (when they encountered the enemy) was, ‘Our Lord! Forgive us our sins and any wasteful act we may have done in our duty, and set our feet firm, and help us to victory over the disbelievingpeople!’’ (3:147). Accordingto Razi, this group of believ ers held themselves responsible for their sins, defects and misfortune, asked for forgiveness from God and pleaded to God for victory.[25] ‘So God granted them the reward of this world as well as the best reward of the Hereafter. Indeed God loves those devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeingthem’ (3:148).

The Qur’an charts the recommended course of action beginningwith: (1) seekingforgiveness; (2) reflectingon past deeds, and endingwith; (3) sincere prayer for help while; (4) keepingsteadfast on the path of religion. In this way, those who repent may find the internal causes or factors for their negative situations and losses,[26] which in turn gave them victory over the enemy. Whether in politics or in social situations, a Muslim needs to respond to aggression with the four actions of this praised group of believers in the Qur’an. However, the actions and words of radical and reactionary Muslims do not conform to the prescribed or rec ommended manner of dealingwith aggression outlined in Islam’s sacred texts. The Qur’an often addresses all people as ‘O humankind’. Qur’anic exegetes explain that every human beingfalls into this category, includ ing polytheists, hypocrites, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Zamakhshari (1075–1144) views this address as referringto polytheists only since verses that begin with ‘O humankind’ were revealed duringthe Meccan period of revelation.[27] Razi expounds that although polytheists commit the greatest sin of associating partners with God, and it was a group of polytheists who persecuted and killed the early Muslims, they are not being differentiated in this address.[28] Qurtubi states that while verses beginning with that address serve as warnings, the term of address in itself is kind.[29] Said Nursi referred to those who committed injustice against Islam and Muslims as ‘people who are devoted to this world or worldly’ instead of callingthem infidels, heathens, oppressors or devils. Fethullah Gülen has followed the same path, and even used the Turkish term of respect ‘bey’ (gentleman) towards aggressors, includingthose who slan dered him and accused him or heresy and betrayal.[30]

Radicals and reactionaries do not respect the values of those con sidered as ‘enemies,’ whether they are political, religious, or economic. The Qur’an orders Muslims to refrain from insulting even the polythe ists and their idols. ‘And do not (O believers) revile the things or beings that they have, apart from God, deified and invoke, lest (if youdo so) they attempt to revile God out of spite, and in ignorance..’(6:108).[31] Qush ayri stated not to argue with the non-believers because the carnal soul can dominate the argument, which in turn will lead to more harm and wrongdoing.[32] Qurtubi commented on this verse as beingtimeless and an order not to offend others on account of their beliefs or harm a place of worship.[33] Ibn Kathir views defamation towards other faiths as a cause of disorder.[34] Razi commented in a similar vein, saying that even if the enemy insults Islam, a Muslim is not permitted to respond in the same manner, because this will open the door to more insults. If a Muslim speaks ill of the idols, the polytheists will speak ill of God.[35] A prominent Shiite exe gete Tabatabi (1892–1981) points to the etiquette put forth by this verse, stating that it is contrary to Islamic ethics to attack or insult the sacred values of others.[36]

Referringto this verse, Fethullah Gülen comments that it is a believer’s duty neither to respond with curses or bad language, nor to hurt the other par ty’s feelings or dignity, regardless of that person’s status or background. The role model for humanity, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), never spoke about an error or sin committed by any person, group or tribe openly or privately. He would speak about the error in a general way to many peo ple. Fethullah Gülen states that it is a Muslim’s duty not to abuse or insult anyone, speak inappropriately, or offend anyone. He takes this concept further and says that by insulting a religion or a leader, a person insults all the followers of that religion or the leader. Moreover, calling someone ‘infi del’ or usingthat term is not a sunnah of the Prophet. A person who uses this label does so to satisfy his or her own desire and will not benefit from it.[37] Fethullah Gülen goes as far as sayingthat to call someone an ‘infidel’ in some situations is sinful. The Qur’an explains how Muslims ought to behave in the face of mistreatment or misconduct. ‘The (true) servants of the All-Merciful are they who move on the earth gently and humbly, and when the ignorant, foolish ones address them (with insolence or vulgarity, as befits their ignorance and foolishness), they respond with (words of) peace (without engagingin hostility with them)’ (25: 63).

Tabari interprets this verse as meaningthat God’s merciful subjects act kindly towards those who are ignorant and do not fall down to their level.[38] Razi adds that the believers should either respond with silence or act justly.[39] Qurtubi states that even towards those who hate the vers es where God orders people to worship Him as the Most Merciful One, a believer must act peacefully.[40] Ibn Kathir goes further to add that a believ er not only avoids using harsh language, but also forgives the aggressive or wrong party for any mistreatment which they have caused. Qushayri even states that a believer should respond with praise of the other par ty’s positive characteristics.[41]

There are verses in the Qur’an containingharsh words and strongcriticism. However, Fethullah Gülen says these are aimed not so much at the indi viduals or groups in question, but rather at the wrong beliefs or actions committed by them. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) knew of these verses, but nonetheless he still acted kindly towards people. Just as there are vers es in the Qur’an which criticize Christians, Jews and others, there are also verses which praise them. Fethullah Gülen interpret this as the Qur’an judginggroups by their actions and attributes and not by their religion, affiliation or any other defining factor.[42] The Qur’an refers to the Jews and Christians as Ahl al-Kitab, or People of the Book, a title of honor since a book implies civilization and enlightenment. Fethullah Gülen also supports Nursi’s view.[43]

No one can be claimed to be as evil as Pharaoh, and no one, includ ing Muslims, can be as pious and gentle as Moses and Aaron. In the Qur’an, God commands Prophet Moses and Aaron to speak gently to Pharaoh, who committed all types of evil and even declared himself as a god. (20:44).

Also in the Qur’an, when Luqman, who is considered as a Prophet or a great saint in Islam, advises his son, who was a polytheist, ‘O my son, do not associate [anything] with Allah. Indeed, association [with him] is great injustice. (31:13)’. Although associatingpartners with God is the greatest sin in Islam, Luqman still refers to his son as ya bunayya, my sweet little darling son, in loving terms. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exemplifies and embodies such a desirable trait in a believer. He did not curse those who persecuted him and the believers, nor did he directly blame anyone. Out of many examples, this article will focus on three examples from the Prophet’s life. It was duringthe most difficult years of his life in Mecca when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sought the leaders of the sister town of Ta’if for protection. Havinglost his chief protector and uncle, AbuTalib (549–619), as well as his supporter, his beloved wife Khadijah (d.619), the Prophet needed a secure place for the persecuted Muslims. He travelled to Ta’if with hope, and sincerely addressed the leaders and people of Ta’if for ten days. They mocked him, disbeliev ing that he was a Prophet, and ran him out of the city pelting him with stones. Bloodied and weary, he took refuge under the shade of a tree out of the city limits. According to Islamic historians, an angel appeared before him asking him if he wished for the city of Ta’if to be destroyed. However the Prophet preferred that the city might be saved, out of the hope that even one person might turn out to be an ally and seek the truth.[44] He continued, ‘My Lord, I complain only to You of my weakness, powerlessness and my being despicable to the people. If you do not have anger against me, then I do not mind the suffering, misfortunes and diffi culties that Ifaced.’ Towards the polytheist leaders who persecuted and killed the Muslims and harmed the Prophet through assassination attempts, direct assaults and heavy insults, the Prophet’s response was only to raise his hands and say, ‘O Lord, Ileave these to You.’[45]

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not call curses upon or ask for the destruction of those who caused him suffering, or who killed people from amongst the community of believers and members of his family. He later forgave all those who had trampled his individual rights when he con quered Mecca.[46] If this is how the prime role model of Islam reacted to those who threw stones at him, then this is how Muslims should also react against those who throw words of slander and accusations towards the Prophet. In both his actions and reactions, the Prophet was extremely patient, going through all proper courses of action (i.e. dialogue and diplomacy) and never turningto violence unless it was ordained by God.

The traits of showing patience, and adopting appropriate actions in the face of aggression, characterize all Prophets. Joseph remained patient towards his siblings even after they left him at the bottom of the well and sold him into slavery (12:15–19). He did not curse them or harm them when the opportunity came. On the contrary, he helped them when they came to seek aid (12:59) and, just like his father Jacob (12:98), he forgave them (12:92). Other Prophets were known and praised for their clemency and their forgiving and non-aggressive nature against the non-believers. The only exception occurs in the story of Noah. It was after years of warninghis people and invitingthem to believe in one God (71:5), both in public and private (71:8–9), and imploringthem to remember God’s blessings upon them (71:11–20), with the kindest of words and best man ner for 950 years (29:14) that he eventually sought justice in regard to their misdeeds.[47] Not only did they not listen, they rejected him and con spired against him in many ways.[48] Finally, Noah supplicated for the destruction of the disbelievers amongst his tribe (71:26). The 19th Century exegete Mahmud Alusi stated that Noah felt sorrow over his people’s con ditions and would weep heavily. His constant crying leads to him being called Noah, which means the one who cries a lot. Noah’s original name was Abd al-Ghaffar, meaning‘The Servant of the Oft-Forgiving’. Qurtu bi states that towards the end of his life, Noah was ordered by God to pray for the destruction of his people who rejected and harmed him and Noah followed the order.[49]

When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received a wound in the face by a non-believer during the Battle of Uhud, he pleaded to God, ‘My Lord, forgive my tribe. They do not know what they are doing.’[50] Even against Abu Jahl, the most aggressive oppressor of Muslims, and other polythe ist leaders, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘O God, Ileave them to you.’ God may guide them to become good people, or punish them as He sees fit. He forgave those polytheists who had persecuted him, killed his com panions, and expelled him and Muslims from Mecca.[51] The Prophet’s strat egy was to bring people close to Islam and gain more allies instead of challenging those who were against him. Taking a lesson from Prophet Muham mad’s clemency and examples from the Qur’an, saints and other righ teous Muslims did not act impulsively, but patiently endured and sought help from God in order to build relationships with the immediate and wider community.

Great Muslim figures throughout history have adopted the patience and clemency of the Prophets. Throughout history, successful Muslim lead ers were those who engaged in reflection and were critical of themselves. They focused on serving and reforming their communities instead of lay ingthe cause of failure in others. Examples include Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (682–720), Nur al-Din Zangi (1118–1174), Salah al-Din Ayyubi (1138–1193), Nizam al-Mulk (1018–1092) and Imam Rabbani (1564–1624). Imam Rabbani lived in India during a time of spiritual crisis. Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah persecuted Imam Rabbani and jailed him. Imam Rabbani’s students wanted to revolt, but he did not allow them. Instead, he sought for an audience with the Emperor and saw that the Emperor’s advisors affected the Emperor’s views on Imam Rabbani. The Imam chose to solve this problem through the power of persuasion, despite all the unfair treat ment and imprisonment.[52] Said Nursi, a contemporary Muslim scholar, was also abused, imprisoned, exiled and poisoned unjustly. However, in spite of this, he never sought revenge, made curses upon those who mistreated him, nor did he engage in any extreme behavior out of anger. The perse cution he underwent led him closer to desiringGod’s love and forgive ness. He would offer prayer for hours through invokingGod’s names and repeating Prophet Muhammad’s supplications. Even on his death bed, he forgave those who had made his life miserable.[53]

All these examples from the Qur’an and history provide Muslims with a guide on how to respond to misfortune, abuse, oppression, and calam ity. In such situations, there are four things which should be done. First ly, Muslims must beseech God more than ever, through various means such as ritual prayer, supplication, recitation of the Qur’an, the invoca tion of God’s names, and extra prayers, as well as prayers for the unjust individuals or groups to be guided. Secondly, they should repent from wrongdoings and beg for forgiveness. Thirdly, they should forgive those who have violated their personal rights. And finally, they should focus on internal factors and call themselves to account first, reflecting on their own deeds, sins and shortcomings. The final rule is the most significant: a Muslim should be patient and proactive. Part of reflecting on past deeds is considering whether the individual or group in question has taken the necessary and suitable actions to allow good causes to arise, or has taken measures to prevent an atmosphere of hate and discrimination. To judge any action, an individual or group must consider that act in light of guide lines laid down in sacred texts and civil laws. Actions that provoke peo ple and stir feelings of distrust need to be discontinued. Muslim commu nities must reach out beyond their own sphere and build relationships that would strengthen the general community and enhance feelings of security. It is not an individual or group responsibility to physically defend Islam, but a duty of the Muslim countries’ governments.

An individual has to act in the light of these rules and be instructed by rational thought. When dealing with problems, a Muslim has to think long-term and globally and react positively. Instead of reacting impul sively, a Muslim needs to take planned steps towards solving the problem, while keeping in mind how those steps will affect other Muslims both locally and globally. In place of accusing and blaming others, Muslims need to present the preferred action or communicate the right informa tion. Finally, a Muslim should turn to God, asking Him to enlighten those who misunderstand Islam, guide those who misrepresent Islam, and direct Muslims to the right actions and thoughts. As God says in the Qur’an, ‘(O human being!) Whatever good happens to you, it is from God, and what ever evil befalls you, it is from yourself…’ (4:79). Tabari[54] and Ibn Kath ir[55] state that calamities and evils that befall believers are due to their wrong actions. Muslims should think, ‘Had we done what was necessary and suitable on time, perhaps this evil may not have befallen us?’ One who accuses his soul sees its faults. And one, who admits his faults, then seeks forgiveness for them. And one, who seeks forgiveness, takes ref uge with God. And one who takes refuge with God, is saved from Satan’s evil. Not to see his faults is a greater fault than the first fault. And not to admit to his faults is a serious defect. If he sees the fault, it ceases to be a fault. If he admits it, he becomes worthy of forgiveness.[56]

Another trait of reactionaries is the act blaming others as the cause of one’s own misfortunes, or accusingthem of beingresponsible for social and religious problems. By contrast, in the Qur’an, when the Muslims were almost defeated at the Battle of Uhud, God warned the Muslims and com manded them to call themselves to account instead of condemning the polytheists (3:140–143–155). Fethullah Gülen adds that it is inappropriate to lay blame only upon aggressors, occupiers, tyrants and unjust governments. Even more importantly, it is necessary to call the individual self or com munity to account, and search for weaknesses, mistakes and shortcom ings. When a person, community or nation fall victim to oppression, the victim must not look outward for the source of the problem first, but should turn inward to search for what could have been done to avoid the problem.

Fethullah Gülen views reactionaries as indicative of backwardness or a lack of progress, and saw lack of proactivism as a spiritual weakness.[57] Reac tionism does not solve problems; rather, it aggravates them and causes further disorder. It gives an advantage to the opposing forces, by provid ing material to the sensationalist mass media which can then be used against Islam and Muslims.[58] Nursi considers providing such damaging material, which appears to be prejudicial to Islam, as a betrayal of the faith. It opens the door to tolerance for any interpretation, and unsound things have become mixed with sublime Qur’anic truths. This has led some unfair critics, and those who tend to go to extremes to accuse the Qur’an and the Prophetic Tradition of containing certain fallacies.[59] Even if reactionary individuals’ or groups’ actions uphold legitimate values and causes—such as expressinganger over insults towards the religion—the inappropriate methodology and manner in which they respond make them seem the unjust party or lead to more tension and misconceptions.

Yelling at protests or making radical speeches does not further the cause of Islam or bring people closer to it, contrary to what some reac tionaries and radicals might think. Nor does it solve problems.[60] In order to cause change, and seek rights and freedoms, persuasive speaking and diplomatic action based on the situation is the most effective way. Fethullah Gülen states we must neither be hostage to our reactionary instincts, nor must we remain completely silent in the face of the systematic defamation of our values and beliefs.[61] Fethullah Gülen sees Muslims as lacking in this area and believes they need to develop in this respect. Fethullah Gülen agrees that it is nat ural for those who are active in Islamic work or dedicated to serving Muslims to be disturbed greatly when the sacred values of Islam are under attack or insulted, such as when Prophet Muhammad’s image was defiled through the Danish cartoon. In reacting to such incitements, a Muslim should not sway from the proper middle path. Many correct forms of response can be found by appealing to the collective conscience of society and to the international community.[62] In such situations, Fethullah Gülen believes Muslims should be even keener to act appropriately and work harder to present that which is right. This will be the most effective means to reform, influence, or at least maintain a positive image. First of all, a person, group or people should be aware of his/her/their rights and hold onto them. However, if these rights are usurped or taken away, then laws and diplomatic situations should be applied to regain that which was lost. Through such means, the person or group seeking to regain rights will earn the respect and even influence those who took the rights away.

Islam cannot be conveyed through shouting at protests, and loud voices, and in an atmosphere of hate, because in that atmosphere, even the truth receives a negative reaction.[63] It is not right to condemn peo ple for their faults. All our relations must take the path of leniency and tolerance. If we continue to act gently towards those who are aggressive and unjustly critical towards Islam and Muslims, then Fethullah Gülen believes that there will be a day when a majority of them will become most sincere friends.[64] One common trait shared by Nursi and Fethullah Gülen is their prefer ence for positive and proactive responses to political injustice, rather than the use of force. They believe that just as political diplomacy uses soft power, hearts and minds can be conquered through a similar soft power. The characteristics of this soft power are the uses of persuasion over force, proactive responses over aggressive reactions, peace over disorder, conquering hearts over force, mildness over harshness, forgiv ing personal rights over seeking revenge, establishing common grounds over differences, getting along over quarrelling and constructive criti cism over destructive criticism. For Fethullah Gülen, the use of force was seen as a method which could once be used to convince others during a particular historical period, but one which time has since abrogated. In today’s world, civilized people are won over by persuasion.[65]

Fethullah Gülen’s views of criticism

Fethullah Gülen sees criticism as a path to the ideal state. To criticize in a construc tive manner and to be open to constructive criticism is fundamental to general and scholarly learning. Elderly, experienced and professional people should use their wisdom as a way to encourage good and be exam ples. However, this does not mean that the aforementioned people should speak as they see fit. Criticism should have its code of conduct:

  • Those who offer criticism should avoid rude gestures, tasteless acts, prideful remarks, boasting and arrogance, and other acts which displease God, as well as avoiding acts that injure hearts and leads to reactionism.
  • Not every truth should be spoken at every moment, especially if it will lead to conflict and division.
  • A person’s manner of communication reflects his or her charac ter. Therefore, towards friends or foes, we must act the same. To those who curse, defame and insult him, Fethullah Gülen still refers to them as ‘bey,’ ‘efendi’ (sir or gentleman) as he refers to his close friends because this is the manner of a believer. ‘If we compromise our values, we will fall to a very low position.’[66]
  • Even the humor we use to criticize should be gentle, soft and con structive. Criticism should be as objective as possible, the truth should be valued, and strong bias should be avoided as much as possible. The one criticizingshould propose an alternative. Otherwise, the criticism could be harmful, not insightful.

When speaking, or just reacting, a person or group should speak or react according to the manners, etiquette and social and political condi tions of the time and place. Fethullah Gülen views reactionary protests and speech es as counterproductive because the manner in which they are carried out does not do any favors for the message it is trying to convey. It may harm the message or lead to misunderstandings. Moreover, it devalues and disrespects what it is tryingto protect. Fethullah Gülen refers to a personal example in order to explain this. When he was arrested in 1972 duringthe military coup in Turkey, he stayed in the same block as the commu nists and extreme left-wingstudents. Fethullah Gülen said somethingabout Karl Marx (1818–1883) which offended a Communist. The Communist, in return, said, ‘Would youlike it if Icursed your Prophet?’ This terrified Fethullah Gülen. He experienced such a deep regret and understood further the manner and methodology of speaking that Islam has prescribed. He publicly apolo gized in 1999 and again in 2005 for some of his statements which caused offence to some people. He states that a Muslim must be respectful and tolerant towards others, but this does not mean a Muslim should pas sively accept other people’s wrongactions or a denial of his faith.[67] After referringto Islamic primary texts, Fethullah Gülen goes on to quote from Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207–1273), who was accused of beingembracingof Christians and Jews and even welcoming of sinners, which, it was alleged, in turn made him dishonor and devalue Islam. The person accus inghim called him a ‘zindiq’ and stated ‘even Hell will not accept you’. In response to this, Rumi wrote, ‘Come! Ihave a seat for youin my heart as well.’ Fethullah Gülen goes on further to say that a consistent use of gentle and suitable speech over time could lead to improved relations and even friendships amongst most people, including those who were once ene mies.[68] Responding to mistreatment or aggression in a similar form or manner does nothing to mitigate the problem. On the contrary, it only aggravates it even further. A believer must refrain from speech or actions that provoke enmity or hatred. By doing this, it is possible to ease hatred and other negative feelings in an atmosphere of gentleness and tolerance.

Due to such views as these, Fethullah Gülen has been accused by some schol ars and radical political Islamist groups of being tolerant of infidels/dis belief. They argue that being tolerant means compromising the religion. Fethullah Gülen responded to such criticisms with the aforementioned verses and examples from Prophet Muhammad’s life regardingtolerance in Islam.


Politically, Muslims in the twentieth century have been more reactionary than proactive. Instead of taking a critical approach to their weaknesses, understanding the root of their problems and taking progressive action accordingly, they have tended to resort to the easier path of reactionism. Although they may claim to be acting in the name of Islam, often their reaction has been influenced by the current political climate, such as the rise of Communism and Capitalism. Moreover, they have also neglected to look at and understand their own history when Muslims have dealt with large-scale issues and crises. Turning religion into a political tool, or using religion as a cover for politics or as a means for pursuing ulteri or objectives, is against Islamic principles. Historically, this has been a cause of failure for Muslims, whereas strong and sustainable Muslim civili zations and leaders, such as Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (682–720), Abd al-Rah man I(731–788), Salah al-Din Ayyubi, Osman Gazi (1258–1326) and many other great rulers were led by religious principles. They held themselves accountable first, and worked to improve the conditions of their people before pointingblame at external factors. Contemporary extremist groups, on the other hand, have worsened both the condition of Muslims and the public image of Islam by wasting efforts on unfruitful acts, causing dis order and even creating chaos. Ghazali’s (1158–1111) statement, ‘A hundred years of injustice are better than a day of chaos,’[69] still holds true for today’s Muslims. Some individuals and groups act as vigilantes and use their powers against injustice and oppression without the majority support of their community or nation. This leads to further tension and even chaos. Revolting against an unjust government with force has caused the death of tens of thousands Syrians, mostly civilians, the dis placement of four million people, and economic destruction which will affect the country for many years to come.

Regrettably, these attention-seekingextremist groups do not ques tion the validity and results of their actions, nor do they call themselves to account. One should scrutinize the possible ramifications of each and every action, and seek the wisdom of the collective judgment.[70] Unre flective action is against the core Islamic principle of struggling with one’s self. A faith that does not count even the blaming Satan as an act of worship, should not view blaming others as rewarding. Despite the suf feringthey lived through, includingimprisonment, exile, persecution and threats to life to them and their followers, Nursi and Fethullah Gülen did not react with anger, violence or even negative criticism towards their aggressors. Moreover, they forgave those who harmed them greatly. Their patience was not passive; rather it is proactive. It was the regular call for self-ac countingand self-blamingin the leaders and literature of the Hizmet Movement that made it successful. Their chosen distance from politics, and their focus upon internal factors, have attracted millions of follow ers. Nursi is the most influential contemporary Muslim scholar, while the Hizmet Movement inspired by his works is one of the largest faith-based movements in the world. For Fethullah Gülen, the future will not be built on hatred, grudges, violence and wars, but on love, tolerance and accepting and respecting each other.[71] This either will, or will not, come true. Only time will give the answer.

[1] Leon Wieseltier, ‘The Jewish Face of Fundamentalism,’ in The Fundamentalist Phenomenon: A View from Within, a Response from Without (ed. Norman J. Cohen), 192–196.
[2] M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, ‘İslamcılık Üzerine,’ Sabah, 2/9/2012.
[3] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-3, 191.
[4] David Harrington Watt, Muslims, Fundamentalists, and the Fear of the Dangerous Other in American Culture, V. 12 (2010), 1–13.
[5] Ibid.
[6] This notion was first proposed by Abul Ala Mawdudi. Fore more information, see: Abu’a Ala al-Mawdudi. in Political Theory of Islam edited by Khurshid Ahmad; Islam and Its Meaning and Message, Islamic Council of Europe, London, 1976, 160–162, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, ‘‘Mawdudi and the Jama’at-i Islami: The Origins, Theory and Practice of Islamic Revivalism’’ in Pioneer of Islamic Revival (ed. Ali Rahnema), 98–123.
[7] Rashid Gannusi, ‘İslam diyalogdini, radikalizm ise fitne ve kaos çıkarma projesidir,’ Zaman, ma-projesidir_2082413.html retrieved 25.4.2013.
[8] For detail of this issue, see Sayyid Abu’l Ala Mawdudi, The Islamic Way of Life, Marakzi Maktabi Islami, (Delhi, 1967).
[9] Coffey, ‘Fethullah Gülen.’
[10] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-5, 84–85.
[11] According to Islamic theology, Prophets are infallible, but may commit minor mistakes unintentionally. Adam was a Prophet who made a minor mistake out of good intention.
[12] Muhammed ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan an Ta’wil Ay al-Qur’an, retrieved 2.8.2013.
[13] Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir, retrieved 1.2.2013
[14] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[15] Ismail ibn Umar ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim, retrieved 2.27.2010.
[16] AbuAbdullah al-Qurtubi, Al-Jamiu li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, rerieved 8.10.2011.
[17] Abd al-Karim ibn Hawazin al-Qushayri, Lata’if al-Isharat bi Tafsir al-Qur’an, retrieved 8.10.2011.
[18] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[19] al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir.
[20] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim.
[21] Fethullah Gülen, Prizma-1, 41.
[22] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[23] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim.
[24] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[25] al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir.
[26] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[27] Mahmud ibn Umar al-Zamakhshari, Al-Kashaaf,
[28] al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir.
[29] al-Qurtubi, Al-Jamiu li-Ahkam al-Qur’an.
[30] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-3, 103.
[31] Ali Ünal, The Qur’an with Annoted Interpretation in Modern English.
[32] al-Qushayri, Lata’if al-Isharat bi Tafsir al-Qur’an.
[33] al-Qurtubi, Al-Jamiu li-Ahkam al-Qur’an.
[34] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim.
[35] al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir.
[36] Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, Tafsir al-Mizan, retrieved 11.9.2012.
[37] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-5, Nil Yayınları, 84–85.
[38] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[39] Al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir.
[40] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim.
[41] Al-Qurtubi, Al-Jamiu li-Ahkam al-Qur’an.
[42] Zeki Sarıtoprak, ‘Said Nursi’s Teachings on the People of the Book: a case study of Islamic social policy in the early twentieth century,’ Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, 11:3, 321–332.
[43] Zeki Sarıtoprak and Sidney Griffith, ‘Fethullah Gülen and ‘the People of the Book’: A Voice from Turkey for Interfaith Dialogue,’ The Muslim World, 329–340.
[44] Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.
[45] Müslim, III, 418, Bayhaqi, Dalail al-Nubuwwa, II. 280, Zahabi, 217, Abual-Fida, III.44, 45, Halabi, I.470. cited in M. Asım Köksal, İslam Tarihi, I, 359–366.
[46] Tabari, III, 120, Ibn Athir, II, 252 in M. Asım Köksal, İslam Tarihi, VI, 424–427.
[47] al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir.
[48] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[49] al-Qurtubi, Al-Jamiu li-Ahkam al-Qur’an.
[50] Bukhari, Anbiya, 54; Muslim, Jjihad, 104–105 cited in Fethullah Gülen, Muhammad: The Messanger of God, 77.
[51] Fethullah Gülen, The Messenger of God: Muhammad, 247.
[52] Imam Rabbani, Mektubat (trans. Hüseyin Hilmi Işık), 2–6.
[53] Suat Yıldırım, ‘Vefatından Elli Yıl Sonra Bediüzzaman İle Helallaşma,’ Yeni Umit.
[54] al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan.
[55] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim.
[56] Nursi, Flashes, 124.
[57] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-2, 135.
[58] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-3, 246.
[59] Nursi, The Reasonings: A Key to Understanding the Qur’an’s Eloquence, 20.
[60] Fethullah Gülen, Prizma-1, 42.
[61] Fethullah Gülen, Violence is not in the tradition of the Prophet, Financial Times, 20.09.2012.
[62] Ibid.
[63] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-5, 178.
[64] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-1, 104.
[65] Fethullah Gülen, Prizma-1, 41.
[66] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-3, 103–104.
[67] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-2, Nil Yayınları, (İstanbul 2008), 86.
[68] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-3, 104.
[69] Mimat Hafez Barazangi, M. Raquibuz Zaman and Omar Afzal, Islamic Identity and the Struggle for Justice, 25.
[70] Fethullah Gülen, Financial Times, 20.9.2012.
[71] Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-3, 129.

Pin It
  • Created on .
Copyright © 2021 Fethullah Gülen's Official Web Site. Blue Dome Press. All Rights Reserved. is the offical source on the renowned Turkish scholar and intellectual Fethullah Gülen.