What is his perspective on the environment and natural living?

Fethullah Gülen

When asking this question, the author was under the impact of what we can call a “natural Paradise,” far from the noise of the city, in a rural setting in the upper Pennsylvania region, where Fethullah Gülen resides. When there were several small lodges, unrepaired for years, at the beginning, this natural place, decorated now by the rich forest-like trees and bushes, is completely renovated. A major building was constructed where both Fethullah Gülen can reside and meet the followers and he can hold the lessons with his students. Later were added some more single houses where they can receive the guests. The landscape of the premise is done properly and some paths were opened, leading to the ravine at the lower part of the property. While the field resembles a campus of a school, without touching the natural appearance, it was made more beautiful. In short, before even receiving the question regarding ecology, Fethullah Gülen and his team together have demonstrated their sensitivity about it. But the question was asked, anyway and answered by Fethullah Gülen as followed:

Fethullah Gülen sees protecting nature as a religious duty:

In Europe an environmentalist group arose who call themselves the “Greens.” In addition to establishing political parties under various names and titles, they have organized themselves and began works in this field. They even, through these works, have connected with the dominant powers of the world, and integrated.

As for our situation, it is rather difficult to awaken the Muslims to this issue. It cannot be said that we have made a serious progress in this field despite the efforts of last 5–6 years. This was not taken as seriously as the schools and the dorms. It cannot be said that the state takes it seriously, either anyway. Although, for so many times we had applied to revive the forests which were burned down, in many of these cases we could not receive positive answers.

Yes, to patronize the environment, to protect the eco balance is among the major duties of a Muslim. If God wills, starting with our friends, everyone would be awakened and later it would be possible, to accept it as a religious and national patriotic duty, they in turn, explaining the matter to others, can achieve the establishment of a green and balanced world.[1]

He bases his views on the following:

Mankind, in terms of origin, was created in Paradise. Later as a result of disobedience to the divine commandments [it can be said to the harmony there] was put out of Paradise and sent to this new land. For this reason, as long as he lives in the world he has desired Paradise and he will desire it in the future. Yes, this place which is described with its one thousand and one beauties has always entered into the dreams of people, decorated their fantasies, has become a theme for legends, and is always pictured as a goal to be reached. So much so that in order to call attention to the beauty of a place beyond imagination, by using the expression “like Paradise,” we try to stress on this passion of ours.

As a matter of fact, the place on which the mankind originated and opened its eyes to life is such a place, “like Paradise.” Who knows, maybe it is the projection of it. But it is unfortunate and painful that deliberately or not, after the unlucky period, the mankind has destroyed this paradise with its own hands, has made it non-livable and nowadays has set out to search for one, by making descriptions of the “lost Paradise.”

In this slice of history, Turkey has experienced this unlucky period that we have been talking about. Today, not only Turkey, but all the countries of the East and the West, sharing similar fate are in the same bitterness of heart and in the same search.[2]

He continues,

The place on which our dear Prophet had honored our world was a place of desert. In order to convert this place, encircled with deserts, into a worldly paradise, in addition to the Qur’anic allusive remarks in many verses, he has insisted on this issue through many of his sayings, acts, and deeds. If we make an exposition of his words about Medina, “I am declaring Medina as the Haram region” in modern parlance, we can render it: This vast area was declared as a “national park.” The Messenger of God, in his statements, commenting, and making an exposition of it, said: “The flowers or plants cannot be plucked, the trees cannot be cut down, and the animals cannot be killed.”

During wars when it was inevitable to bombard the interior of the castles through catapults, our dear Prophet went into doubt and expectation for guidance through revelation in the matter of cutting the trees and throwing them as logs to serve as canons. He showed the same concern about the burning of the crops. But, today when it becomes a matter of victory or defeat, it is resorted without any hesitation to both burning of the crops and cutting of the trees.

Furthermore, for the people, who go into state of ihram for the purpose of Hajj [the Pilgrimage] or Umrah [the minor Pilgrimage], it becomes absolutely prohibited to kill animals, to pluck the weed or grass or plants, to cut down the trees in the region of the Haram. This statement belongs to him: “Whoever has a plant in his hand, if he is able let him plant it into soil, even if it is the doomsday!”

In summary, the idea of protecting the nature and retaining it has to be appropriated by the masses. And who knows, maybe then, the mankind can reach the “lost Paradise” again.[3]

Based on various Islamic sources (e.g., Bukhari, Muslim, and the implementations of Umar), Fethullah Gülen also concludes that, “The species of animals should not be extinct because, the balance in the nature would be tipped.” He notes that Umar took many measures not to damage nature. In the matter of protecting the ecological balance, he interprets the principle that the Prophet and his early Caliphs had adopted: “If you are going to plant the three in your hand, while the end of the world is at hand, it means you have not lost the hope yet in this world.”

Fethullah Gülen attaches great importance to measures taken not to pollute the environment and to maintain the ecological balance. However, he also points to the double standards with respect to this issue, as well. For example, the West polluted nature and spoiled the ecological balance. He believes that this did not originate only in its passion for conspicuous consumption, but also it did not realize that so much industrialization would be so harmful. Now, that the West is trying to correct these mistakes, it should provide the developing nations with guidance.

While displaying his sensitivity about the environment, he makes an interesting comment. He states that the creature that needs to be protected the most is the human, because the human is the most beautiful.

And human beings themselves seem to be the most beautiful among all this beauty. With our outward looks, our inner world of senses, thoughts, and faith, we are like a sample, a replica of the universe. It is therefore apparent that humans have been created as a key to solve the riddle of creation.[4]

Since the human is such a miracle and contains in his self the mystery of the worlds, he is a combination of all creatures through the Creator. In this situation, he is both the carrier and the implementer of the unity of creatures. The human accomplishes the acts related to this unity through art. In his own words,

The nature in its entirety is an exhibition of wonderful things, but we prefer to call it a “book.” It is because we hear it like a book, we read it like a book, just as if we were watching the gilded lines and decorations of a book in all colors, and we watch it in great admiration. Every morning we see it painted anew, decorated in front of us with its dazzling height and gaze at it loosing ourselves in amazement and wonder.[5]

For Fethullah Gülen, nature is the primary source of what is aesthetic. The human takes the talisman of beautiful things and utilizes them in shaping his own work. For this reason, every beautiful work of art is, at the same time, a wonder of nature. Fethullah Gülen explains this relationship as such:

As the architecture of a mansion or a waterfront house, the elegance and aesthetic in its architecture whispers to us something beyond the mansion and the house, a wonder of a nature likewise ... carries meanings beyond the existence. It whispers also the one who makes it and brings it to the place of display, the one who hints his existence through every work he produces, but somehow cannot be comprehended due to his awe the genuine, real source of all the order and beauty which is beyond the capacity of humans to understand and comprehend.[6]

Unfortunately, we did harm to ourselves by turning this beautiful place, resembling Paradise, into a hell. If the mankind does not revive and bring back to its former glory and beauty, this world that they broke the order of and defiled and made ugly, it would be inescapable for us to receive a flood like the one of Noah, and through that calamity this beautiful world will be showered on us like the ruins of a collapsed building.[7]

After stressing the necessity of protecting nature and humans as part of it, along with its aesthetic values, Fethullah Gülen complains about our establishment of ugly settlement units in natural spaces:

Our urbanization is measured by the sand and the barns, our architecture is devoid of any aesthetic, to the extent that it can make even the beavers laugh at, and they are hastily put up. Our villages, our towns, our cities are as lowly as to be an illustration for the contest to destroy the nature, along with growing and expanding. Our plains and oasis are completely dry and in the pang of becoming deserts. Our streets are narrow tunnels between the buildings that mutually closed in on each other. Indeed, to call these houses as houses, to consider these piles of concrete as a dwelling place is disrespect to the words and concepts.[8]

Whereas, in the past, the elegance and beauty and art in these houses and buildings were so deep and in congruence with the book of nature.[9]

[1] Fethullah Gülen 1997b, 239.
[2] Ibid., 196.
[3] Ibid., 196–198.
[4] Fethullah Gülen 2010i, 24–25.
[5] Fethullah Gülen 2002a, 110.
[6] Ibid., 111.
[7] Ibid., 113.
[8] Fethullah Gülen 2008e, 23.
[9] Ibid., 26.

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