Fethullah Gülen’s answer is short and clear:
No one can be a suicide bomber. No one can rush into crowds with bombs tied to his or her body. Regardless of the religion of these crowds, this is not religiously permissible. Even in the event of war, during which it is difficult to maintain balances, this is not permitted in Islam. Islam states “Do not touch children or people who worship in churches.” ... This has not only been said once, but has been repeated over and over throughout history. What the Messenger of God said, what Abu Bakr said, and what Umar said is the same as what, at later dates, Salahuddin Ayyubi, Alparslan, and Kılıçarslan also said. Later on, Fatih Sultan Mehmet [the Conqueror] also said the same.
Thus the city of Constantinople, in which a disorderly hullabaloo reigned, became İstanbul. In this city, the Greeks did not harm the Armenians, nor did the Armenians harm the Greeks. Nor did the Muslims harm any other people. A short time after the conquest of Constantinople, the people of the city hung a huge portrait of the Conqueror on the wall in the place of that of the Patriarchate. It is amazing that such behavior was displayed at that time. Then history relates that the Sultan summoned the Patriarch and gave him the key to the city. Even today, the Patriarchate remembers him with respect. But today, Islam as with every other subject is not understood properly. Islam has always respected different ideas and this must be understood for it to be appreciated properly.
I regret to say that in the countries Muslims live, some religious leaders and immature Muslims have no other weapon to hand than their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. They use this to engage people in struggles that serve their own purposes. In fact, Islam is a true faith, and it should be lived truly. On the way to attaining faith one can never use untrue methods. ... In Islam, just as a goal must be legitimate, so must all the means employed to reach that goal. From this perspective, one cannot achieve Heaven by murdering another person. A Muslim cannot say, “I will kill a person and then go to Heaven.” God’s approval cannot be won by killing people. One of the most important goals for a Muslim is to win the approval of God, another being making the name of Almighty God known to the world.
Fethullah Gülen is saying that in the matter of those who resort to violence in the name of religion to legitimize their behavior they advance such reasoning:
War used to be fought in the past in the fronts. But now, everywhere is a battlefield. Therefore, they accept this also as a form of war, a kind of jihad. Moving from this point, they think that they are opening a door in Paradise. Whereas, the rules of Islam are clear. Individuals cannot declare war. A group or an organization cannot declare war. War is declared by the state. War cannot be declared without a president or an army first saying that there is a war. Otherwise it is an act of terror. In such a case war is entered into by gathering around oneself; forgive my language, a few bandits. Another person would gather some others around himself. If people are allowed to declare war individually then chaos would reign; because of such small differences a front would be formed even between sound-thinking people. …They are weakening Islam. …Unless state declares a war, the war could not be attended. Contrary behavior would be opposed to the spirit of Islam… The rules of peace and war in Islam are clearly set out.
To the question, “If these behaviors are in opposition to the spirit of Islam, then why are such kinds of distortions and deviations taking place in the Islamic world?” The answer to this question has been sought for a long time. Fethullah Gülen’s response is rather striking:
In my opinion, an “Islamic World” does not really exist. There are places where Muslims live. There are Muslims in some places and fewer in others. Islam has become a way of living: a culture; it is not being followed as a faith. There are Muslims who have restructured Islam in accordance with their thoughts. … The prerequisite for Islam is that one should “really” believe, and live accordingly; Muslims must assume the responsibilities inherent in Islam. It cannot be said that any society with this concept and philosophy exists within Islamic geography. If we say that they exist, then we are slandering Islam. If we say that Islam does not exist, then we are slandering humans.
According to Fethullah Gülen, Muslims do not now have the accumulation of knowledge and skills to be able to start an “enlightenment”:
I do not think Muslims will be able to contribute much to balance of the world in the near future. I do not see our administrators having this vision. The Islamic world is pretty ignorant, despite a measured enlightenment that is coming into being nowadays. We can observe this phenomenon during the pilgrimage to Mecca. We can see this displayed during conferences and panels. You can see this in their parliaments through their television channels. There is serious lack of knowledge and know-how. At this moment, they cannot solve the problems of the world. It may be possible in the future.
Moreover, Fethullah Gülen tells us that there is no place that can be called “the Islamic world” that has a civilization of its own. For this reason, there is group of people in solidarity, who have common characteristics and share common interpretations and values. He states:
No such world exists. There is an Islam of the individual. There are some Muslims in different places of the world. One by one, all have been separated from one another. I personally do not see anyone who is a perfect Muslim. If Muslims are not able to come into contact with one another and constitute a union, to work together to solve certain problems, to interpret the universe, to understand it well, to consider the universe carefully according to the Qur’an, to interpret the future very well, to generate projects for the future, to determine their place in the future. Since there is no “Islamic world,” everyone acts individually. It could even be said that there are some Muslims with their own personal truths. It cannot be claimed that there is an Islamic understanding which has been agreed upon, approved by qualified scholars, reliably based upon the Qur’an, and repeatedly tested. It could be said that a Muslim culture is dominant, rather than a sound Islamic understanding.
It has been so since the 5th century AH [12th century CE]. This started with the Abbasid Era and with the appearance of the Seljuks. It increased after the conquest of İstanbul. In the periods that followed, doors to new interpretations were closed. Horizons of thought became narrowed. The breath that was in the soul of Islam became narrowed. More unscrupulous people begun to be seen in the Islamic world; people who were touchy, who could not accept others, who could not open themselves to everyone. The narrowness was experienced in the dervish lodges, as well. It is said that it was even experienced in the schools of theology.
Fethullah Gülen mentions in this excerpt that even the Sufis (i.e., dervish lodges) have not escaped from the narrowness of thought that has distorted Islam. Specifically, they have deviated from their raison d’être, to convey the highest ideals of Islam to new generations and to lay the infrastructure of an Islamic Civilization in accordance with the changing times. As such, does he condone the disestablishment of dervish lodges and retreat centers? Unlike many other men of religion, he does not give an emotional reaction in favor of their continuation, by thinking that even though they lost their functions and became the focus point for resistance to change, they are still religious institutions.
He then discusses the subject of radical religious organizations, especially Al-Qaeda which has displayed many bloody acts in Turkey:
One of the people I hate most in the world is Osama bin Laden because; he has sullied the bright face of Islam. He has produced a contaminated image. Even if we were to try our best to fix the terrible image that has been done, it would take years to repair. We speak about this perversion everywhere on many different platforms. We write books about it. We say, “This is not Islam.” Bin Laden replaced Islamic logic with his own feelings and desires. He is a monster, as are the people around him. If there are other people similar to them anywhere, then they too, are nothing more than monsters. We condemn this attitude of Bin Laden. However, the only way to prevent this kind of deeds is that Muslims living in the countries seeming to be Islamic, and I stated earlier that I do not perceive an Islamic world, there are only countries in which Muslims live, will solve their problems. Should they think in a totally different way when electing their leaders? Or should they carry out reforms? For the growth of a well-developed younger generation, Muslims must work to solve their problems. Not only their problems in the issue of terror, an instrument that is certainly not approved of by God, but also those concerning drugs and the use of cigarettes, two more prohibitions made by God. Dissention, civil turmoil, never-ending poverty, the disgrace of being governed by others, and being insulted after having put up with government by foreign powers are all problems that could be added to the list. All of these are anathemas to God, and all of these have been placed primarily on our nation. Overcoming these, in my opinion, depends on being a just human being and a human being who is devoted to God.
Fethullah Gülen states that the road leading to terrorism is a complex one. He believes that salvation starts with the individual; and therefore, we should not forget the importance of being a good person. And the way to becoming a good person lies in the essence of religion and its undistorted values. He defines this as “servanthood to God.”
But the question arises that because “being a good servant to God” is subjected to so many interpretations, how can we get out of this chaos?
It is our fault, the fault of the nation, fault of education. It is inconceivable for a true Muslim, for a Muslim who understands Islam inside out, to be a terrorist. It would be difficult to remain a Muslim for a person who is involved with terror. In order to reach the goal, Islam does not permit murders. But of course, what efforts did we make to raise these people as perfect humans? With what kind of elements did we bind them? What kind of responsibility did we take in their upbringing so that now we should expect them not to engage in terror? That is not the only issue. Both Turkey and other countries that have a large Muslim population suffer from drug abuse, gambling, and corruption. There is almost no one left in Turkey whose name has not been involved in some type of scandal. There are some implicated individuals that were supposed to be reached that have been reached. Yet there are many possible suspects that still cannot be reached. You cannot bring them for questioning. You cannot call the people in charge to account. They are protected, sheltered and thus they have been left alone.
All these people are the people who grew up among us. All of them are our children. Why have some of them become bad guys? Why were some raised as bullies? Why have some of them rebelled against human values? Why do they come to their own country and blow themselves up as suicide bombers? All these people were raised among us. Therefore, there must have been something wrong with their education. That is, the system must have some deficiencies, some weak points that need to be examined. These weak points need to be removed. In short, the raising of human beings was not given priority. In the meantime, some generations have been lost, destroyed, and wasted. Dissatisfied youth has lost its spirituality. Some people take advantage of such people, giving them a couple of dollars, or turning them into robots. They have drugged them….They have been used as murderers on the pretext of some crazy ideals or goals and they have been made to kill people. Some evil-minded people have wanted to achieve certain goals by abusing these young people.
Fethullah Gülen diagnoses the problem in Turkey and in other Muslim societies—self interest, political competition, and authoritarian rules, which cannot be questioned, disorient people and divide societies, causing different sectors to fight against one another. He believes that these deviations are rooted, to a great extent, in detachment from morality and the relinquishment of responsibility. For example, if a fanatic activist gets his motivation from a man of religion he trusts, he will not feel guilty or responsible for his murders. No matter how wrong and sinful his action, he does it in the name of a high ideal or for the sake of Paradise promised to him; he is without a conscience and heartless.
Fethullah Gülen uses as an example the suicide bombings of 2003 carried out by Al-Qaeda in İstanbul:
The same thing could be said about İstanbul affair. Those who carry out the terroristic activities are not people who are sane, believing, coming out of the mosques and did that infamous thing. Their knowledge of religion is weak. He must have a leader, a teacher who said that person should be killed. Not few people were killed in Turkey. This group caused the death of that person and that group caused another killed. On 12 March 1971 people were holding bloody knives. The army came in and interfered. Again on 12 September 1980 people were killing each other. All of them were terrorists. That side was a terrorist and this side was a terrorist. But they were naming them. One says, I am doing this for Islam. The other says, I am doing it for my land and people. Yet another says, I am fighting against capitalism, against exploitation. All of them were just empty words. The Qur’an talks about such “labels” and calls them exactly “empty words.” They were things of no value. But people just kept on killing. Everyone was killing in the name of an “ideal.” Somebody at a higher echelon was saying: Let him be taken away, and then someone’s body was being destroyed. So and so and so and so also should be taken away he was saying. All of these were terror. Not only the Muslim was doing it but everybody else was. Repeated by everyone, it became something ordinary and normal. They made everyone accustomed to it. They brought the society to the state of affairs we altogether know.
Fethullah Gülen points to a significant truth. Violence is atomizing the societies that it falls upon; it is destroying the sense of solidarity and trust. Once violence is made into a vehicle of influence, political calculations, and a source of power and becomes ordinary in a society, the legal system evaporates and becomes nonexistent. Violence tears apart the fabric of society and permeates every field of life and the collective consciousness.
Every chaos ends with a renewal. Societies in chaos start looking for a “savior.” Some of them become victims of false saviors. These “saviors” offer them collective or totalitarian methods. They ask them to internalize, from morning until evening, from birth until death, “similar” and “one type” behavioral codes, without opposing them. They try to completely dominate their minds and hearts. These experiences result in failures and, most of the time, with disastrous consequences. Fascism and communism are this kind of totalitarian conceptions and understandings. Organizations such as Al-Qaeda try to do the same in the name of religion. They try to establish an order in the name of God, by placing themselves between the individual and God. The human (Muslim) here is not founder or organizer but organized, and even a victim—he is an insignificant accessory whose objection is met with an execution. Fethullah Gülen offers a different road: Let us look at Islamic societies of the past when there was peace, prosperity, and social solidarity. However the religion was interpreted, what kind of higher ideals and values were prevalent and reflected in the daily life? Let us find out. Let us again accept and internalize them; let us reinterpret them under the current circumstances and make them part of our living.
The cure for the problem is teaching the truth. It must be explained and exposed that a Muslim cannot become a terrorist. Why should it be explained? According to the dictum, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it” (Az-Zalzalah 99:7–8), it should be understood and this should always be stressed that killing a person is as if killing the whole humanity is a principle of the Qur’an. People should be reminded of the words of Ibn Abbas: “A murderer will stay in Hell for eternity.” If the foundational spirit of religion is this one, then it should be imparted through education. But they do not.
As readily seen, Fethullah Gülen believes that education, especially a sound religious education, leads people to the straight path. If so, why are Muslim societies incapable of doing this? Does this stem from the fact that self-criticism in Islam did not develop sufficiently? The answer is important because an individual or a society who does not engage in self-criticism and look at his thoughts or behaviors critically, automatically blames the “other.” This, in turn, impedes his development and prevents him from understanding others and establishing meaningful relationship with them.
Fethullah Gülen is not in favor of accepting in the absolute sense, the maxim, “There is no self-criticism in Islam.” He explains:
There is self-criticism in Islam. Anything which is not bound by a revelation is subject to criticism. The arguments, debates, and discussions of Islamic matters among the legal scholars and theologians are so widespread that they fill volumes. In Muslim communities everyone had criticized everyone else. If today no self-criticism is practiced in the Islamic world the cause should not be sought in Islam but in the attitude of those Muslims who do not read and understand Islam, or rather misunderstand it.