Does he encourage his followers to take an interest in art? Is he interested in any forms of art?

Fethullah Gülen

When asked about encouraging people to art, Fethullah Gülen replies, “Some circles are not ready yet to set out such a journey within our criteria.”[1] He then discusses a parallel topic: He claims that when societies do not appropriate a holistic approach in either science, art, or metaphysical matters, it results in undesirable consequences. As a matter fact, it actually stems from the fact that they do not have a “civilizational project.” According to Fethullah Gülen, for humans to understand themselves and the universe, they have to have a holistic approach to existence and the realm of creatures. This would contain a civilizational project. In the words of Dr. Faruk Beşer, an expert of Islamic jurisprudence,

… No civilization can be a civilization without meeting all needs of its members within the framework of its own world views. If somehow there are in the nature of mankind music ... literature and other belles-lettres, the members of a civilization should be able to find these in a cohesive and appropriate manner for their civilization, in one way or another. Otherwise, if the artistic products of other civilizations are envied, admired and imitated, this would be tantamount to an opening up a gap in the body of own civilization, and that civilization resembles a ship receiving water from an opening.[2]

Fethullah Gülen provides music as an illustration:

When voice, instrument, and word [theme] which are the basic elements of music come together and present themselves in unity, they would be more effective. But when the wholeness of theme, voice, and instrument are not achieved, one cannot escape from emptiness of sentiments. In some cases of works, sometimes word rebels against harmony, the content against rhythm. Music is also a way, an art and a need. If that is the case, then this phenomenon that we call the “need” and is in existence in the society any way, should be handled along the line of our thoughts so that it can be ours. I firmly believe that in the near future in this country, our people, young and old, no doubt are going to be united with our understanding of music; our taste of music will acquire wholeness with our music ... but with our systematic efforts. Probably, then our country will be freed from the occupation in this area and again they will embrace the geniuses of music like Itri, Dede Efendi, Hacı Arif Bey, Saadettin Kaynak, Münir Nurettin Selçuk. Let us not forget, music is a need.[3]

The question arises whether Fethullah Gülen listens to the music and, if so, whose music does he admire most?

During my childhood, in Erzurum, I had connection with some Sufi people. Sufi music … classical music was born in dervish lodges, in retreat centers. By that aspect, the things like ilahis [hymes] and ghazals [odes] attracted me to classical music. For instance, I liked Itri and Dede Efendi and listened to them. I liked Hacı Arif Bey and respected him. While coming towards our day, I liked Ahmet Özhan, and listened to him. I like very much our own music. My stance against the others is maybe because I do not understand them. I listened to mostly Sufi music. I liked it. For instance, we have a close relationship and familiarity with Reşit Muhtar. I have friendships with the old composers. I have some close friends among the artists, and they condescended and composed something from me. ... It is not possible to go through the list. As a matter of fact, I have interest in and love towards many branches of art.[4]

Among the musicians that Fethullah Gülen likes are Cem Karaca (a Turkish rock musician) and Burhan Çaçan (a Turkish folk musician). He says, “We have become very close with them and embraced each other.” Fethullah Gülen also enjoys Hüseyin Efendi, with his touching works and implementation; he says he knows Bekir Sıdkı Sezgin (Hüseyin Efendi and Sezgin are Turkish classical music performers and composers) and Fethullah Gülen expresses the importance he attaches to music as:

A mind, which is close to music, would be close in inclination to anything in the world, because music requires elegance, flexibility, sensitivity and a perfect structure of sense. Therefore, it is not something that everyone can do. I can even say that it has priority over anything like sculpture and painting. So it would be impossible for anyone who does not have a talent for art to adjust one to music, to be able to make music.[5]

Fethullah Gülen also believes that a woman’s sensitivity gives her an advantage in the field of music:

A woman’s inborn sensitiveness is an advantage for the field of music. Maybe for this reason, the proportion of the women who have talent for music is higher compared to men.[6]

The widespread desire among the youth for pop music and the constant support to it by the media, echoing of the stadiums with the noises of the pop music, ... along with very intensive and organized activities on their behalf, it is obvious how difficult it would be to inculcate the love of our own music. But facing all the challenges of these difficulties, by any means possible, we have to make extraordinary efforts in this cause.[7]

But, Fethullah Gülen cautions that during the process of this search, we should not go to extremes:

In reserving a place for the kinds of music, which are favorites of the general public today on TV and radio, we have to think and assess objectively about the entirety of the society. You can isolate neither TVs nor the radios from this business. If you act to the contrary, you would isolate yourselves from the society, and left alone with several individuals who think like you do. For this reason, from among the kinds of music the society accepts, you have to execute the less harmful or harmless ones, you would meet the needs of them and thus you would give your message, too. Let us not forget, if the trustworthy hands do not provide what is needed in the society, it would degenerate in the hands of less worthy ones.

You cannot expect all the sectors of the society or all the members of it to be like yourselves. As there are some to be contented by listening to the Qur’an, by listening to the religious chants and hymns, there are those who share other sentiments. Then, we have to go to the help of those who are after satisfying their desires through “heavy metal” music and “rock music,” with our own genuine music.[8]

He does not hide that he prefers classical Turkish music over others:

It is among the commonly accepted fact that classical Turkish music provides a certain level of refinement to many. The one who could go into depth in the music being executed, could comprehend the elegance in it, and after sometime could reach certain elegance and could get away from primitiveness in him. ... Namely, the musical elegance, finery and even aesthetic, these matters too require music. To deal with music and to spend time with the music lovers depend on orienting toward the meaning, rather than words and instruments. It can always be said that the classical Turkish music gains one this spirit. However, this should not be forgotten either that the source of this business was dervish lodges and retreat centers. When these institutions dissociated themselves from their real, genuine missions, and became the place of idle people, the classical music had lost one of the most important fountains. After that, people returned to primitiveness and adopted the taste again for davul and zurna [drum and double reed instrument] of the folk music. In other words, the people who experience the psychological spirit, represented by the drum and the flute, filled every place. By davul and zurna I mean the noisy atmosphere of the rude sentiments. Nowadays, the same thing is prevalent but I am personally not altogether hopeless.[9]

Fethullah Gülen calls our attention to the fact that after social change, the society’s taste also changes. As the social division of labor develops, new social strata emerged. They then carry cultural habits, originating from their own lifestyles and tastes, into the public sphere. In the last century, after the intensive migration from the rural areas into the cities, the sectors coming from the rural areas and small towns, lifted up by education, politics, and capital, have gained influence in the society. Their understanding of art and music was different from other sectors of the city, which had contact with the world earlier. It could be said that these sectors are living in the same space, but not in the same time period; they are carrying the tastes of different times and social realities. Therefore, their visions of the world and their understanding of art, in congruence with those visions, are different.

Fethullah Gülen, who is aware of this difference, believes that this state of affairs is only temporary:

I believe that for sure; this quality crisis in music will come to an end. Because it is a sociological and historical fact that especially at the beginning of Islam and later the Ottomans, all of the nations who were dominant in the destiny of others had come into existence following such a crisis, just like the last curtain of darkness paving the way to illumination. ...

At this moment in the Anatolian land, which served as a cradle for many civilizations, we could be considered to be going through a revival, in the sense of returning to the true, genuine essence. This revival is marching on in every unit of the society. It is evident that the music will have its share from it. As a matter of fact, the works being done in the field of classical music is an evidence of that. If God wills, the days will come for us to be at an elevated stage, and with the kind of music which belongs to us, the union of mind, heart and spirit would be developed. Elevated individuals, who gained profundity, internally and externally, would be raised.[10]

Fethullah Gülen then discuss other branches of art and says something interesting: “If in our day I am to bring to the fore someone modern ... I would be interested in Picasso.”[11]

From there, he turns his attention to literature:

If there was no literature, neither the wisdom would have taken its magnificent place, nor the philosophy could have been extant today, nor could the Rhetoric have accomplished what was expected of it. Having said that, in a mutual effectiveness and service wisdom, philosophy and Rhetoric have not left, at the disposal of literature, whatever they produced in their respective fields as a limitless, inexhaustible capital, and made it immortal.[12]

Later, he comes to the genres of novel, story, theatre, and cinema:

The novel, the story, theatre, and cinema are lagging behind here compared to the West. Even if the posture of Islam played a role in this, the role of the negligence belonging to us has been enormous. Here I am deliberately using the expression the “posture of Islam.” Because, regarding these matters, there is no prohibition by Islam for certain. It is only possible to detect an anti-stand from the implicit and explicit expressions. In my opinion, at one stroke to get rid of the genres of story, theatre, and cinema and to attach a label of “banned” on them must not be considered as accurate and authentic. ... What we have to deliberate is to understand what kinds of themes they may or may not contain. Praising and encouraging the matters that Islam says absolutely prohibited is out of the question. Any kind of description, representation, explanation, drawing, painting which might be considered as praising and encouraging ... has to be rejected absolutely. Otherwise, in general principle, as a rule of thumb, it would not be right to go against neither the novel nor story nor others like them.[13]

When asked, “What can be done in order to produce our own genuine literature?” Fethullah Gülen replies, “For this, first and foremost both literatures of the East and the West should be known very well. Second, there should be colorfulness and richness in narration.”[14]

Fethullah Gülen’s emphasis on literature coincides with his view of religion. According to him, the first creation was a sudden event by throwing two letters into the chest of nothingness: kaf and nun, which compose the word Kun (Be!). This awesome moment started with a word and started a process of going from one to many, from oneness to multiplicity, to infinity. Everything owes its existence to the “word.”

If there was no word, we would not be able to hear anything belonging to beginning of time, and we would not be able to grasp the meaning of the mystery filling our hearts. By virtue of the word, the universe has become an exhibition and the books coming from God have become a declaration ... the meaning of existence was unfolded.[15]

The poetry also has a special place in the Fethullah Gülen’s perception of art. He sees poetry as music, made of words. For him poetry

... is the expression of the beauty and mutual proportion hidden in the soul of the universe, the expression of the smile and heartwarming sentiment on the face of existence.[16]

Fethullah Gülen remarks that in Islam’s understanding of art, lies picturing creatures in an abstract form, not as they are in actual fact. He considers this preference to be due to the influencing of thought by the faith.

Islamic art, while stressing on the unity of God, opposes clearly resemblance and anthropomorphism, and it clearly expresses its posture. Leaving always the door open to interpretation, it tries to show the ocean in the drop and pictures the Sun in the particle, and it tries to express books in one word.[17]

Fethullah Gülen attributes the fact that the art did not develop very much in the Muslim countries, other than in certain bright periods, to science becoming fruitless. When religious schools fell behind the developments, scientific endeavors deteriorated and retarded. According to him, “In order for the great ideas to shoot out and develop, for the work of arts to come into existence,” the vase has to permit it. As it can be expected, Fethullah Gülen talks about these matters from the perspective of Sunni Islam and develops his interpretations from this angle.

It is unthinkable for Sunni Islam to be against aesthetic, art, beauty, and the expression of beauty. If there was such a thing, the civilizations in Asia would not have come into existence. The period is the one in which the best efforts were made for [the compilation of] the works of Tafsir, Hadith and Fiqh. If there was a system of thought which would shackle the free thinking and art that could only be through the way of Fiqh. But if you make a little research, you would find that the period in which Fiqh is highly developed, is the same period the Islamic society is most forward in terms of art and esthetic thought and free thinking. Andalusia in this matter is the land of wonders. These days, the authors of the Islamic history of science, cannot help but reveal their admiration and adoration and even perplexities of that period.

From Seyyed Hossein Nasr to Garaudy these admirations are expressed maybe more than 50 times. A civilization was established; a civilization in the chest of which was molded the aesthetic, free thinking and faith together, and where the peace, tolerance and love were represented.[18]

Fethullah Gülen emphasizes here the decadence in the Islamic world does not stem from religion, but a particular interpretation of it by the society and the way religion was managed. According to him, Islam is open to every kind of freedom and the form of expression provided that they are compatible with the basic principles. The ones who blacken its horizon are the authoritarian and fundamentalist understandings; they are the governments that make Islam into a kind of regime and the rulers who preside over those regimes.

[1] Fethullah Gülen 2007b, 42.
[2] Beşer 2006, 19–20.
[3] Fethullah Gülen 1997b, 175–176.
[4] The interview given to Ertuğrul Özkök, Hürriyet, 23 January 1995.
[5] Fethullah Gülen 1997b, 180.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 178.
[8] Ibid., 179.
[9] Ibid., 180–181.
[10] Ibid., 181.
[11] The interview given to Ertuğrul Özkök, Hürriyet, 23 January 1995.
[12] Fethullah Gülen 2007a, 51–52.
[13] Fethullah Gülen 1996, 330–331.
[14] Fethullah Gülen 2006c, 153–154.
[15] Fethullah Gülen 2002b, 29.
[16] Fethullah Gülen 2010k, 499.
[17] Fethullah Gülen 2010g, 64.
[18] Can 1997, 103–104.

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