How does Fethullah Gülen see the “individual”? To what extent should the individual have freedom vis-à-vis the state and religion?

Fethullah Gülen

It is useful here to make two points:

First and foremost, Fethullah Gülen’s idea of “human” is a person who does not have a blind obedience to any authority outside of his will. This authority does not necessarily have to be political or administrative. It could be social, that is to say, it might be rooted in a group one belongs to. Both might oppress the individual. However, for the individual to be able to resist repressive authorities, he or she must have something to lean on, some kind of spiritual place of refuge. For Fethullah Gülen, this place of refuge is religion.

The individual, who has sought refuge in religion (i.e., Islam, according to Fethullah Gülen) and has resisted every kind of tyranny and oppression through the support he has received from his faith, also can protect his freedom. But, what about the binding regulations of the religion? Does religion have its own kind of repression? According to Fethullah Gülen, religion is a holistic system; it is the sum total of a set of values adopted and accepted. It is not a matter of accepting or compliance by force. On the contrary, belonging to a religion is by personal choice, with a free will.

The unity of the believers frees the individual from loneliness and powerlessness. Their combined actions create a synergy that they cannot acquire individually and protect them against political oppression. Another benefit of religion is that it gives direction to one who is lost, hope to the one who is hopeless, morality to one who is seeking morality, and a norm to one who is seeking a norm in dealing with others. In the words of Fethullah Gülen:

The modern world and contemporary systems of thought claim that for the first time in history individuals have become the true, active subjects of their lives and their actions. According to these modern systems of thought, individuals have depended on the traditions that have come down from the past to the present day, imprisoning themselves within the limits of these traditions. Since the group attitude has become the norm, and as it is not possible to change the established standards of communal life, it has been the destiny of individuals to remain only passive, obedient members of the community. In the modern age, they have finally started to free themselves from this imprisonment, acquiring their individual personalities. Until the modern age, individuals were not free and were not independent. Although these thoughts on individualism are true for some cultures and some regions of the world, they are not true for every religion, for every thought, and for every community. From the perspective of Tawhid, which is the main principle of the unity of God in Islam, it is impossible to have unrestricted individualism. This is because humans are either both free with no acceptance of any moral values and rebellious with no moral criteria, or they are servants who are dependent on God and seriously obedient to His commands. Through being obedient servants of God, the individuals will not bow before any power and will not sacrifice an ounce of their freedom.

A servant of God cannot be enslaved by anything but God—neither by worldly belongings nor by the corrupted traditions that cause individual misery and paralyze the spirit; nor by communal relations that lay siege to human reason; nor by considerations of selfish interests; nor by greed for more and more material earnings, a desire which dynamites morality; nor by oppressive tendencies that give priority to power over logic and reason; nor by immorality, such as jealousy, hatred, and slavery to carnal impulses. A Muslim repeats at least 30 to 40 times a day, “O Lord, You alone do we worship and from You alone do we seek help” (Al-Fatiha, 1:4). By saying this, individuals break the chains that bind their freedom and individuality and so take refuge in the infinite Power of God, which is sufficient. An individual who has not achieved this reliance on God and taken refuge in Him cannot be considered having fulfilled the task of being an ideal human.

Thus, Islam, while asking individuals to be free and independent from anything except for God, also accepts as a principle individuals as members of a family, society, nation, and indeed, of all humanity, based on their needs. A human being is a social, civilized being that needs to live together with other humans. In this sense, a society is like an organism; the parts are interrelated to and in need of one another.

It is very important to see such togetherness as a “greenhouse” that protects individuals against oppressive forces and helps them to meet their needs and assists in personal and social development, which is not easily achieved individually. This is the point where we differ from those who claim absolute freedom for the individual. Those supporters of absolute freedom leave the individual alone by themselves in the “desert” of existence, without any support against the forces that wait in ambush to capture them, under the pretext of freeing the individual from certain traditional ties. Such an individual, being under the tyranny of dictators or even social oppression, has paid for this individualism in a very painful way, by losing both freedom and honor in the name of individuality.

Here I should also point out that, unlike some other religions or religion-like systems, Islam does not restrict itself to metaphysical considerations only, such as spiritual perfection of the individual, religious rituals, prayer, devotions, and contemplation. In addition to the emphasis on metaphysical considerations, Islam also sets out rules that order human individual, social, political, economical, moral, and legal life; and it promises safety from lawlessness and eternal rewards in return for the observation of these rules. Restricting the divine religion to only belief and individual religious rituals means compartmentalizing it and shaping it contrary to God’s will and approval. At the same time, this will force individuals to hesitate about what they need to practice and live by and how and when to practice it. It would not be difficult to claim that such compartmentalization can even cause some sort of mental confusion. If individuals cannot live by the principles of their religion freely because of certain obstacles put before them, this means that they have been denied the freedom of belief and conscience.[1]

[1] Sarıtoprak and Ünal 2005, 447–448.

Pin It
  • Created on .
Copyright © 2020 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.