Have Muslim societies succeed in coping with the challenges of globalization? If not, why?

Fethullah Gülen

According to Gülen, the answer to this question is very clear. The Muslim countries were caught unprepared with globalization and could not respond to it effectively. One dimension of this weakness was structural problems and not being developed sufficiently. The other dimension was the ineffectiveness of the Muslim intellectuals in their duty of pioneering and guidance.

To the question, “In the Islamic world, why haven’t sufficient number of intellectuals or the intellectual movements did not arise?” Gülen begins with a definition of “intellectual”:

… Intellectuals … are aware and knowledgeable about their own existence and able to interpret and understand the creation correctly. … [They] are aware of the time in which they live and ready to question it and able to voice with no hesitation what they know.[1]

Gülen accepts the fact that there are a few intellectuals in the Islamic world who fit this definition; later, he elaborates more on his view:

… This standstill of development is not something unique to the Islamic world. There have been many nations throughout history whose yesterday was very bright, and whose today is dull. This is like the destiny of all nations; history repeats itself. Various civilizations and nations have such a destiny; similar to a flaming fire that is extinguished, or resembling equipment that becomes dusty and obsolete, or a human who is born, grows old and then dies. One can try to renew them in order to extend their life, however this can be very costly.[2]

Gülen suggests that Muslim countries are having difficulty in understanding the spirit of the age and in renewing themselves. He explains why:

… There are three fundamentals of the Islamic spirit. The abandonment of any one of these fundamentals to a certain extent will paralyze the other dynamics. These fundamentals can be summarized as follows: Firstly, interpreting the religious sciences that draw from the Qur’an and the Sunnah in accordance with the understanding of the century, as was the case in the early period of Islam or the era of Tadwin [recording tradition]. Secondly, as we read the holy Qur’an, as derived from God’s attribute of Kalam [speech], we should also read the book of the Universe and the divine laws found in nature, which come from God’s attributes of Qudrah [power] and Iradah [will]. Thirdly, we ought to keep a balance between matter and the immaterial, body and spirit, this world and the hereafter, and the physical and metaphysical. One should be equally open to each of these.[3]

According to Gülen, these three basic fundamental principles were either neglected completely or partially, and Islamic countries lost the skill and capability to read the spirit of the age and the philosophical depth and, therefore, have fallen behind in the civilizational race. In this regard, he states,

In a world where reason is abandoned, the heart has been ignored, and the love for truth and longing for knowledge has been extinguished, it is not possible to even speak of elite or intellectual humans.[4]

To the view that countries deprived of intellectual leadership fall behind, Gülen adds the blinding impact of wealth and power:

… Similar to the modern day West, the Islamic world experienced a great period of enlightenment. There were positives of the period, but when vital dynamics were neglected, there were no doubt negatives as well. In some cases, plentiful material possessions caused the laziness of people, industrial systems skewed people’s sense of reality, victories and successes drove the people’s passions for life, and extreme frivolity led to a decadent lifestyle. In a context where such an oppressive atmosphere is dominant, the intellectual cannot emerge.[5]

He adds that technology, which determines our age, came into existence outside the Islamic world:

… Today’s positive sciences essentially and methodologically are not based merely on the search, experience, and analysis of Muslim scholars. Methodologically speaking, in our modern days, sciences are based on positivism, naturalism, and rationalism in the Western sense. In the world of sciences, all research and analysis are under the control of a certain understanding. This will continue until new geniuses emerge to reinterpret the world or the creation and to analyze and re-establish it within the filter of their own thoughts.[6]

Therefore, as long as the Muslim countries do not make their own contributions to modern science and technology, they will change and develop at a pace determined by the West and bound by its rules and regulations. As this separates them from their core essence, it deprives them of the capability to impact global processes.

[1] Sarıtoprak and Ünal 2005, 458.
[2] Ibid., 459.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

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