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Fethullah Gülen and Outlines of His Movement

by Lynn E. Webb on . Posted in Fethullah Gülen: Is There More to Him Than Meets the Eye?

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In the scene that I have portrayed so far, the conservative, practising Muslim people of Turkey who are accused for being reactionary, as well as Fethullah Gülen and the movement he represents, have not a single negative role. To the contrary, with the success and performance they have shown in international science olympiads and the honors they have earned in all branches of science, the schools opened both at home and abroad with Mr. Gülen's recommendation and encouragement, have become the representatives of Turkey in the field of science. According to the observations of many columnists in the Turkish press, the teachers working in the schools mentioned within the framework of Fethullah Gülen's understanding, are seen exemplars wherever they are by their sound characters, the level of morality in their behavior and the human values they carry. Again, those schools may serve a repair function in the face of the social and moral erosion. As expressed by top-level officials and, for example, as pointed out by Nevval Sevindi, a journalist from the Yeni Yuzyil newspaper, the most important reason for terror not being prominent in the Van region was the existence of the Serhat High School. This means that those schools can comprise a national support against terror in Turkey. Besides, regardless of the differences of race, faith and color, they can serve as a bridge between the peoples of the countries where they are and thereby can contribute to the world peace, as well as to the rapid integration of those countries with the modern world.

In addition to the schools, at a time when Turkey's social fabric has become damaged and there has been polarization along religious and ethnic lines and between secular and anti-secular camps, Fethullah Gülen's call for tolerance and dialogue, his reinterpretation of Islam and his efforts to reconcile different currents and views, and the activities of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, of which Mr. Gülen is the honorary head, towards this end may well have promised to prevent further deterioration of the social fabric and, in fact, can serve to repair it.

Thirdly, Fethullah Gülen's call for tolerance and dialogue and his meetings with different religious leaders inside and outside the country, including especially his meeting with the Pope received an enthusiastic welcome from the greatest portion of the Turkish media and intellectuals. For example, Professor Dr. Niyazi Oktem, who is currently teaching in the Faculty of Political Sciences in Istanbul University, regards it as one of the most important events of the history of modern Turkey. In the interview he gave to Mehmet Gundem from Zaman Newspaper on April 11, 1998, he remarked on Mr. Gülen's activities of dialogue and tolerance: In my view, it is not only economic and also ideological and religious differences which lie behind the conflicts and clashes in the world. The conflicts caused by ideological differences originate from the opposing sides not knowing each other. For this reason, I regard Mr. Gülen's efforts as of great significance, as he calls everyone to accept the other as he or she is and respect each other's views and identity. His inclusion of international figures in his quests for dialogue means a lot for the Muslims in Turkey particularly. Especially so in the present circumstances when both the Muslims and the Turkish governments have for so long been rather sensitive on the issue of foreigners and the representatives of non-Muslim religious communities. Until Mr. Gülen started meeting with those representatives, it had been something unusual for a Muslim to get into dialogue with a Christian or Jew.

In answering to the question, "Some people in Turkey, albeit few in number, speculate that Mr. Gülen is in quest of power. Do you think so?" Mr. Oktem says: I can never accept that such an important social phenomenon, that is, dialogue, should be reduced to something explicable by conspiracy theories. We have no right to judge anyone by what we produce in our imaginations. Disapproval of an idea or initiative gives no one the right to condemn it.

The views of another Turkish intellectual, Hadi Uluengin, a liberal columnist writing for Hürriyet newspaper, are also worth mentioning: Fethullah Gülen met with the Pope and thereby realized a top-level meeting in his search for dialogue and mutual respect which he started by meeting with the representatives of the Turkish Orthodox and Jewish communities at a time when Islam was being presented as a threat and Huntington's theory of clashes of civilizations was widely discussed. Mr. Gülen's visit to the Vatican is of historical significance.

The existence of Fethullah Gülen's group is an opportunity for Turkey. It is really an opportunity to bring to an end the internal polarizations, to secularize fundamental religious questions, and to open our country up to the outer world. Some of the worries expressed concerning this group are groundless, and the rest are of the secondary quality and quite negligible. The essential points on which we all agree are the points on which both the secularists and devout Muslims and the sincere followers of other religions can come together. The use of Maoists, who are actually of "fascist" inclinations, in the detestable attacks on this group, shows that Fethullah Gülen and his group are on the right track. (Hurriyet, 11.2.1998)

As far as I know, Fethullah Gülen cannot be making these efforts to attract attention or gain fame. Those who know him personally admit that he has no interest in fame whatsoever. Despite some counter allegations, he can neither be pursuing any personal interest in these activities. To the contrary, he says he has no worldly property or goods. He has never participated in active politics throughout his life and always been careful to and aloof from political activities. It's not possible to find any sign in his writings, conversations, speeches or behavior that s a political target. Neither has there ever been any sign indication that he has any intention or thought to establish a religious or non-religious state. In her thesis for the degree of master of arts in political science and public administration in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of Bilkent University in Ankara, Berrin Koyuncu concludes on Fethullah Gülen's movement after a lengthy discussion: The reinterpretation of Islam by Fethullah Gülen constitutes a support for consolidation of democracy in Turkey. At this conjuncture, the views of Fethullah Gülen which carry much more importance are democracy, tolerance and being a Muslim in Turkey.

Fethullah Gülen's meeting with Fener Rum (Greek) Patriarch Barthelomeos should be appreciated for its being the harbinger of tolerance and civility because it is the first meeting of a civil community leader with a Christian religious leader after the proclamation of the Republic. Fethullah Gülen argues that the most important thing for the well-functioning of a society is dependent on tolerance. He adds that tolerance can only be achieved with love of science and of man.

Fethullah Gülen has developed a notion "being a Muslim in Turkey". The contribution of this concept is that the freedom and plurality-oriented Anatolian Islam stands against Islamists who ideologize it. Fethullah Gülen thinks that Turkey can never be an Iran regarding the establishment of an Islamic state because the interpretation of Islam by the Iranians and Turks are different. He claims that culture of a nation plays a key role in re-interpretation of Islam... Ali Yasar Saribay, a professor of political sciences in Uludag University of Bursa, argues that Fethullah Gülen's emphasis on the plurality of commonalties for the dialogue, his point of the war of dogmas, his rejection of useless Western hostility constitute the basis for an inter-secularization of Islam. [1]

The conclusions drawn by Berrin Koyuncu on Mr. Gülen's movement are also shared by Bülent Aras, visiting lecturer at Indiana University's Central Eurasian Department. In his article published in the September 1998 issue of Middle East Quarterly, Mr. Aras comments:

Gülen points out that most Islamic regulations concern private life and only a small portion of them concern state and government. He looks at the Islamic regulations bearing directly on government in the light of contemporary realities. This leads him to the conclusion, for example, that the democratic form of government is the best choice.

Gülen holds that the Anatolian people's interpretations and experiences of Islam are different from those of others. He frequently emphasizes that there should be freedom of worship and thinking in Turkey. He proposes two keys to provide peace in society: tolerance and dialogue. "We can build confidence and peace in this country if we treat each other with tolerance." (Alistair Bell, "Turkish Islamic leader defies radical label." Reuters, Aug. 7, 1995.) In his view, "no one should condemn the other for being a member of a religion or scold him for being an atheist." (The Turkish Daily News, Feb. 18, 1995.) These ideas about tolerance and dialogue are not restricted to Muslims but extend to Christians and Jews.

On the question of women, Gülen has progressive views. The veiling of women is a detail in Islam and "no one can suppress the progress of women through the clothes they have to wear." Gülen also states that "no one should be subject to criticism for his or her clothing or thoughts." (The Turkish Daily News, Feb. 18, 1995.) Furthermore, he says, "women can become administrators," contradicting the views of most Islamic intellectuals.

Gülen emphasizes worldly education and favors integration with the modern world. He supports Turkey's bid for membership to the European Union, and he follows a fairly moderate attitude towards the West and Israel. [2]

Gülen's movement has never been mentioned in connection with any hostility towards the government and with internal terror, misuse of office or other illegal activities. Although they have tried to evaluate this movement within the undefined cept of irtica (reactionary activities), because this claim has concrete basis, it has not been accepted by the public or the courts.

Throughout his life, Fethullah Gülen has always chosen positive action. Just as he's never been reactionary, neither has he resorted to negative or destructive behavior. Because, according to him, the religion he's faithful to and the line of service to others that he has pursued command constructive and positive behavior. He prefers to act on the principles of balance, love, mercy, tolerance, getting along with others, dialogue and respect. He acts according to the approach, "We are the avantgarde of love; we don't have time for hostility" and "tongueless to those who curse, handless to those who hit." In a world he sees shaken by war, separation, and conflict, he aims for Turkey to be in a position to represent peace, tolerance, good intention and togetherness inside and outside of the country and to build a universal bridge in the name of peace between individuals, different segments of the society, societies, and those individuals and countries with different religions and worldviews.

[1] Fethullah Gülen's Views on Islam and Democracy, 1997, pp.86-8.
[2] Middle East Quarterly, September 1998, Vol. V, No. 3, pp. 24-5.