The early followers of Fethullah Gülen sought a lifestyle that centered around community and religious values. Solidarity and mutual support were very important to them. How was the role of the individual determined in the structure of community?

by Doğu Ergil on . Posted in Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen Movement in 100 questions

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Fethullah Gülen

“Society” and “community” are two foundational terms of sociology. Societies are the largest organizations of solidarity and division of labor. They contain different cultural and professional groups. Society is too broad of a term to represent the individual; the individual might find himself in the society uprooted, powerless, and anonymous. For this reason, in every society, traditional or modern, individuals seek groups that embrace them, that provide the means of solidarity, and that give meaning to their lives. This is true for every society.

This is especially the case for those who come from a rural environment (the relations, values and the basic principles of which are acquainted), who find themselves in limbo in an urban environment, where the laws, social rules, and codes of behavior are foreign to them. People in this position often search for others who have the same values and code of behaviors. This is only natural, and it is a phenomenon experienced in the process of development of every society. In Turkey, where development has come relatively late and where traditional features are still maintained in the country side, this process is ongoing. The Gülen Movement arose in the midst of this process, meeting a crucial need.

One of the most important concepts in Fethullah Gülen’s works—and a security valve preventing the loss of the individual in the society—is the phenomenon of consultation (shura). Consultation, which is based on injunctions in the Qur’an, is a mechanism through which the participants of the movement make a decision by consulting with each other in a sense of solidarity. According to Fethullah Gülen, consultation is one of the most important features of a believing community, because it makes equality, participation, and solidarity possible.

Fethullah Gülen finds consultation significant, both as a necessary corollary of faith and social solidarity:

In Islam, consultation is an absolute essential, which both the rulers and the ruled must obey. The ruler is responsible for conducting consultation about state politics, governing, legislation and all affairs related to society; the ruled are responsible for expressing and conveying their views and thoughts to the ruler.[1]

According to Fethullah Gülen, consultation is the first condition that must be taken for any decision in any issue to be correct.

We have all seen how all decisions made without having been thought through thoroughly, without having taken into account the views and criticisms of others, whether related to individuals in particular or to society in general, have resulted in fiasco, loss, and great disappointment. Even if a person has a superior nature and outstanding intellect, if they are content with their own opinions and are not receptive and respectful to the opinions of others, then they are more prone to make mistakes and errors than the average person. The most intelligent person is the one who most appreciates and respects mutual consultation and deliberation [mashwarat], and who benefits most from the ideas of others. Those who are content with their own ideas in their plans and deeds, or who even insist or force others to accept their ideas, not only miss a very important dynamic, but also face disagreement, hostility, and hatred from the people with whom they are associated.[2]

Here, Fethullah Gülen advices discussion and collective decision making, which is sine qua non of a democratic society. This view, being far beyond the classical frame of a Sufi order, is bringing to the fore a partnership which is open to novelty and human will.

Without consultation, one might venture into risky behaviors, such as the criticism of destiny and blaming of the environment.

Concerns such as “We are under the unending threat of foreign forces” and “They are going to divide and colonize us,” result from the rulers, sound in mind but divorced from reality, those who make decisions without consulting the public’s opinions.

According to Fethullah Gülen,

Consultation is one of the prime dynamics which keep the Islamic order standing as a system. To consultation belongs the most important mission and duty of resolving affairs concerning the individual and the community, the people and the state, science and knowledge, and economics and sociology, unless of course there is a nass [divine decree; a verse of the Qur’an or a command from the Prophet, decisive on any point in canon law] with a clear meaning on these matters.[3]

[1] Fethullah Gülen 2007b, 43.
[2] Ibid., 44.
[3] Ibid., 45.