What are Fethullah Gülen’s views on human rights?

Fethullah Gülen

What are Fethullah Gülen’s views on human rights? Does he, like many others, see these rights as “Western games” used to divide “our country and nation”?

Fethullah Gülen replies, not within the framework of a legal discipline, but from the perspective of Islamic religion, on which his thoughts are based. According to him, all the rights and freedoms (including human rights) that contemporary citizens desire are provided by Islam, a balanced and universal religion:

The Qur’an considers the murder of a human unjustly to be equal to the murder of the entire humanity. And whoever saves a life would be considered saving the entire humanity.[1]

Our Prophet said in another occasion, “Whoever is killed while defending his property would be a martyr. Whoever is killed while defending his blood would be a martyr. Whoever is killed while defending his family is martyr, too.” In all the legal systems of the world the values mentioned in the hadiths were taken under protection. These matters are dwelled on with great importance in our books of Usul [Methodology], which are the foundational books of Jurisprudence, under the rubric of Dharuriyat [Essentials]. From this perspective, religion, life, progeny, mind, and property are the essential elements for everyone to be responsible to protect. Islam thus approaches human rights issues from the perspective of these fundamental principles.

The humans, not in any other system or religion, but only in Islam were honored with the title the “caliph of God” [this term “caliph” which is a theological term should not be confused with the term Caliph, in the phrase the “Caliph of the Messenger of God” which is a political term. The first is earlier, mentioned in the Qur’an, whereas the second is a construction, invented by the later scholars in political science], and it had stressed on the fact that he is the caliph on the face of the earth. Not only that, they were given the possibility to interfere with things in this world, and he was exalted through the freedoms of work and enterprise. How would it be possible for a religion which values human beings so much to ignore the human rights?[2]

While citing examples from the implementations of Islamic injunctions in the past, which are in conformity with current practices, Fethullah Gülen says that the violation of others’ rights would be unethical and sinful. Furthermore, when he talks about “rights,” he does not understand them as only human rights. He believes all the living beings have rights and gives many examples from the period of the Prophet Muhammad as to how the rights of animals were respected.

Fethullah Gülen derives this philosophy from the “authentic hadiths of the Prophet” and bases human rights on five essentials, which Islam seeks to protect: life, mind, property, progeny, and religion. If one dies while trying to protect one of these, one becomes a martyr. Struggling in this path is considered a form of jihad. All legal systems in the world accept these five principles as foundations to be protected. He mentions that these principles exist in the books of Methodology (Usul). This analysis leads him to the following assessment:

Let the contemporary world still crawl in some matters related to human rights, Islam, centuries ago set the standards of legality in the matters of crime and punishments; in the absence of a crime it proved conclusively no one could be considered guilty, the suspect has some rights just like others and could not be taken away from him at all, individuals could not be interrogated based on probabilities or conjectures. No one could be tortured; every right is to be respected, nothing relating to human rights could be belittled; the power must be at the disposal of the right and never a right could be sacrificed for the sake of might. It is reminding us of them seriously and is calling everyone to be respectful towards the rights; it shows it is always protector of the rights.[3]

Here, Fethullah Gülen accepts Islam not only as the source of faith, but, as in the past and still today, also as the source of human rights and contemporary legal norms. As for the infringements of human rights and addressing those whose rights have been damaged, he notes:

Today, it is known that many organizations came into existence and numerous foundations are established in order to serve human and humane values. Great majority of them have been giving services along the line of the aims of their establishments. In addition, there are worldwide organizations and institutions seem to be working in favor of humans. When we look at their constitution, bylaws, and their activities it would be demonstrated that their activities are not in conformity with their aims as stated at the inception.[4]

Fethullah Gülen is implying that “justice” and “love for humanity” have permeated the Turkish society’s soul:

They are full of pleasure to let live, rather than living themselves. They do not work with the philosophy of “If I do not see the fruits and results of my work, I would not invest, but they have been serving this country whose observed part, like the icebergs, is smaller than what is not seen below. And up until now, from these hearts no one rose to say, “So what, what took place” because of the tranquility and conviction in their hearts that whatever they did in terms of good deed had for sure reached its targeted place. Since they know the method and the system work in this way, they never bothered to dwell on the criticisms and slanders they received from others.[5]

Undoubtedly, Fethullah Gülen refers to those who share his viewpoints and sentiments, not to society in general. He indicates this conclusion with the following statement: “I think this is the difference between ‘a collective personality composed of those who dedicated themselves to the Ultimate Truth,’ and a ‘community.’”[6]

After explaining Islam’s understanding of the “rights” and the justice of the Ottomans, he recognizes that the practice often does not reach the ideal and adds:

Until today the “might” has acted mostly as if it was the enemy of the “right” in the social, political, economic, and administrative life. The representative of the brute force always acted around the axis of self interest, interpreted life as an arena for struggle and fight; for that reason, to the extent that they have enough power and means, they did not care about the rights of others at all, even from time to time, violated many of the human rights and shouted “the power is with me!”

… When a time came for a breakdown in the important points of relationship like the faith, Islam, and perfect goodness, when the chinks began taking effect, the falsehood replaced the right; the “might” began imposing by force its obscurantism and obstinacy; the rights were violated; oppressing raised its head, everywhere was heard the moaning of brute force; as a result God rightly had taken away back the things He had given out of His grace, like the consciousness of brotherhood, the sense of trust, the sentiment of compassion, the reverence for respect for the right. Whether He would give them back one more time, I cannot tell, but He, up until now, had been always supplying them to those trustworthy, heroes of faith, Islam, patience, and defenders of rights. He had never left alone those who inclined towards Him with a sense of devotion and loyalty.[7]

In this analysis, two points stand out:

1. While the religion of Islam is the ideal, in practice (in terms of historical and social circumstances) Muslims have strayed far away from its essence.

2. He raises the question, “Whether it is possible to recover the innocence that has been lost?” Fethullah Gülen’s answer is conditional; if we return to the ideal values and if positive circumstances (relationships based on right and love) are established, a system based on human rights and justice can be resurrected. The analysis, which seems utopian in the face of life’s cruel realities, is, in fact, inspirational, as he is “seeking the good” inherent in human beings.

Then, what is the relationship of Islam with humanism?

God Almighty has woven the universe with the threads of love. The strongest relationship between the individuals in the family, society and those making up a nation is the relationship of love. Love demonstrates itself when it originates from the parents toward the children in the form of compassion; originating from the children targeting the parents in the form of respect. The divine love displays itself as mutual help and solidarity between the particles of creation towards other particles.[8]

When justice and love are unified, human efforts not only serve self-interest, but also meet the needs of the “other.” Only then can a comprehensive system based on “rights” begin to be established. But love is not sufficient—everyone must be respected and this respect is based on mutual tolerance and cooperation. If this phenomenon can be established in communities, it also can be established in the larger society, and then it would be inescapable for the idealized societies of the past to come to life again.

[1] Fethullah Gülen 1997b, 92–93.
[2] Ibid., 94.
[3] Fethullah Gülen 2010h, 176.
[4] Fethullah Gülen 2007c, 201.
[5] Ibid., 202–203.
[6] Ibid., 203.
[7] Fethullah Gülen 2004b, 7.
[8] Fethullah Gülen 2006b, 48.

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