Is there currently a political agenda of the Gülen Movement? Has there ever been?

Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen insists that neither he nor the movement that he has inspired has any ideological aim. Therefore, the formation of the movement is not shaped according to any ideology. According to him, neither a political ideology nor an ideology based on religion is relevant. This has been the case since its inception. He especially dislikes the movement to be called by the lately fashionable term, “Islamist ideology.”

He considers stamping every Islamic movement or all social and cultural “renewal” movements (which he sees as a renaissance) sustained by Islam, with the label of “obscurantism” as a mental residue, left over from Western colonialism. He considers labeling all the cultures outside the Western culture and civilization basin as “retarded, barbarian, exotic and from the third world” as an effort to make them the “other” and defines this as sickness of Orientalism. He says,

For exactly 200 years, the West leaned on this ideology in its international and intercontinental relations. Orientalism was an ideology invented to make possible the cultural change to facilitate the political, military and economic expansion of the West and it served this purpose for two centuries.[1]

Fethullah Gülen views Islamic movements from this perspective:

Now, classical Islamic ideology in the Islamic world was born as an oppositional political identity against this colonialism. Today of course, the conjuncture compared to the conjuncture in which the Islamic ideology was born has become different, to a great extent. It is torn apart from the foundations Orientalism was hanging on, it oriented gradually to more humane, ethical, and universal values. This conjuncture development, to a certain extent, changed and transformed the movements in the Islamic world. For sure, in the Islamic world, still there are marginal groups acting with political and ideological concerns of classical Islamism. But, in terms of both, the material and mass [collective] power and ideological organization, they are movements, weak and with narrow visions. Therefore, it would be wrong to perceive all the formations in the Islamic world as movements acting with concerns of classical Islamism and as a threat oriented toward international relations.[2]

He defines the movement that he inspired as “independent as possible from political and ideological formation, which is a religious, social, and cultural dynamic.”[3] It also is clear that when talking to participants of the movement the general impression is that they have not adopted Islam as a political ideology, as advised by Fethullah Gülen and oppose that it is presented as such. They note that this situation would make themselves and the movement a party to conflict, and a movement that is a party to conflict cannot carry out its duty of tabligh. Fethullah Gülen, both in his public speeches and in his books, frequently emphasizes this point.

Additionally, the movement does not see itself as just a religious community. It has a social and cultural identity and a mission. Many Western commentators present religious movements as being a hostile, anti-modernity reaction of traditional societies or social sectors. They consider the rise of these kinds of movements as the crises of traditional societies. But the Gülen Movement is not a reactionary formation. It does not have an anti-modern position. The individuals who shouldered the main dynamics of the movement come from important segments of the society—urban and well educated either in Turkey or abroad; they have adopted modern values and have shown to be self-sacrificing supporters. As they are not after an ideological state, they are not against the official state ideology, or trying to develop an opposition. They are not acting with a sense of deprivation, as is often seen in radical and reactionary movements. On the contrary, all of their relationships are conciliatory and based on dialog and tolerance. In their conduct regarding the individual and social relationships, they value the positive. They express that they are trying to develop relationships, based on a healthier and productive foundation, not by using power or force, but by developing alternatives, without breaking the order of the society. They are bringing to the fore, in all their relationships, the ideal to serve the individual, society, and humanity.

The state, the government, the politics, those whose purposes are these, and who tie their lives to the interests that they will derive from these activities have a tendency of assessing in the same vein those who do the things in the name of faith, the pains felt in the service of the Qur’an.

We have never had any business with terror, anarchy, or anything illegal. They accused me of trying to take over Turkey. I am after no worldly thing; even if they propose the sultanate of this world, I would not turn my face and look in that direction. In the face of this kind of accusations, I say “O my Lord! I wonder if I made a mistake in my act of worship, in my servanthood to you. Was I at fault in sincerity? They are accusing me with the things I never thought of, the things which did not enter into my imagination or dreams![4]

Fethullah Gülen appears to understand the meaning of “politics” differently than its current usage:

In reality, politics is thinking today with tomorrow, and tomorrow with the next day, and an art of administration with a larger perspective of considering the pleasure of God together with earning the pleasure of humans; but today, politics is understood as consisting only of the party, propaganda, elections, and power struggle.

The domination which is obtained through wealth, fame, power, or force is transitory; what is durable is the domination of the right and justice. For this reason, the greatest politics should be sought in the partisanship of the right and the just. Alas! When we look at many countries of the world, we cannot help but think: Where is the politics integrated with the thought of right and justice, and where is the street charlatanism consisting mostly of the lie and deceit?

Unfortunately, in our day, most of the people consider as politics the daily political games, the deception of the masses, the struggle for power and interests, and all the activities in order to realize all these things, legal or illegal. Because of this wrong interpretation and thinking, for the sake of my life related to heart, the straightforwardness of my thinking, and my relationship with my Lord, I have stayed away from every kind of political action, and I consider it absolutely necessary to remain the same for the rest of my life.[5]

[1] Ergene 2005, 53.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Fethullah Fethullah Gülen 2009a, 96.
[5] Ibid., 105–106.

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