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Is the Islamic world unstable and backward because it forgot the humane, unifying essence of religion, and made religion subordinate to politics?

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

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Fethullah Gülen

While answering this question, it was obvious that Fethullah Gülen was unhappy to hear the negative state of affairs implied in the question. After mention­ing that the first things that came to his mind were the “lack of faith” and the “narrowness of a vision,” he added:

Islamic world, since its inception, in no period of history, has gone through as miserable time as it does now, and as far as I know, never was left behind its vision. Even worse, it is not even capable of assessing the size the gap between the miserable places where it stands now and where it should be. Despite that fact, it is as comfortable as it could be; it has nei­ther an intellectual pain nor a constructive idea nor an intention nor an anxiousness which comes from the bottom of its heart. In terms of its tomorrow, with the exception of base desires it has neither a worry nor an ideal. Sometimes it serves the oppressors, sometimes a modern beggar, sometimes trembling in the hands of poverty and sometimes crawling with ignorance and fanaticism.

The religion of Islam commands its adherents to be virtuous to lead a life of honor, to be open to science, to read the existence correctly, to inves­tigate the universe inside out and the things in it, to be creative in the worldly and religious arena and to interpret it in the … most perfect man­ner. But who … cares?

As we look at the power and richness of Islamic dynamics, one would like to see cities developed in every sense of the word, the settlement places as if they were projections of Paradise, villages, towns, happy and hopeful people, searching spirits burning for the love of truth, people com­ing and going between laboratories and the books. But how painful it is that what is being observed is just the opposite of what is to be seen! Nowadays, in this geography, it is not possible to see a dozen of intellectu­als who would be the counterpart of those of sometime in the past who succeeded the development of the entire planet, nor a few apprentices who would repair broken parts of our ruin.

Whereas what was expected is that the adherents of this religion with its faith, decisiveness, determination and the projects for the future, to be in a mold to be able to guide the whole world, and to solve the problems of our day. We would expect that when justice, the superiority of law, the freedom of faith and thoughts, in everybody’s imagination this world should appear. But is that the case now? No, Alas! Justice is like a com­modity to have an eye on. The law is under the guidance of brute force and its power is a vehicle of oppression and molestation to oppress the weak; freedom, equality, brotherhood are the unknowns, we are yet fortu­nate enough to see. The respect for human and the humane values are the gilded topics of the conferences and panels which never have seen the light of day.[1]

Fethullah Gülen attributes these negative things to the lack of political and social leaders at the top and the psychological state of defeat at the bot­tom. He attributes the lack of moving and embracing leadership to the lack of political and legal identity which should accommodate everyone. He relates the debates over the constitution and our inability to make a new constitution, which all could accept, to the fact that we cannot agree on the common denominators in order to produce common values that would serve that purpose. He draws our attention to our inability to become a nation that represents all individuals and the society-in-gener­al, but we live as parallel communities with its drawbacks:

It is another reality that we are very behind in science and technology, in art and trade. Our esteem in the world is something like that. As against all these negatives, I wish we were at least in harmony inside. Alas! On top of that we are the ones who produce so much negativity: hate, grudge, to blacken others and establish all the plans on the basis of animosity. For so many years now, we always established fronts against each other in enmi­ty, we invented artificial enmities and artificial threats; we seat the masses pitted against each other. And we made the blessed geography of the old into the valley land of ghosts.[2]

Fethullah Gülen accuses the administration and political movements of having a narrow view; they do not see the Turkish people as a whole, but treat cultural differences as an excuse to discriminate and to establish privi­leges for themselves. They have divided the populace officially into two categories, “accepted” and “fearful” and treated them differently. In doing so, they injured justice. They did not attach significance to the superiority of law and opened the door of arbitrariness constantly; they generated the influence of authoritarian tendencies in politics. We observed with amazement how the seeds of hypocrisy were planted for the mere desire of not losing control of the central authority, and, hence, in order to pre­vent various societal segments from coming together to demand a more democratic regime.

The central authority did not only stay at an equal distance from the political and legal values which would unify the people, but also stayed at a distance from the faith-values, preventing democracy to develop. The belief in the threat, likely to come from religious and cultural demands, led to neither religion becoming in conformity with social change nor the establishment of a regime of plurality.

Today, the feeling of defeat in the society is sustained by the author­ity, which prevents the individual to develop. It also points to the deter­mining and orienting impact of the West, which is ahead in terms of economical, technological, and legal developments on societal processes. The sense of siege and helplessness, as a result of this situation, often gives way to violent and extreme reactions:

In the face of all these things taking place, who knows many, saying, “No longer any good can come out of this world, the future will be worse than this!” goes and sinks into the swamp of hopelessness; many are losing the hope to live for living. When everyone ventures to establish a world, according to one’s own whims and whishes, they are in a position to demolish everything they see opposed to their criteria. That for the last one or two centuries, in this unfortunate geography, these things are working out in this way.[3]

Fethullah Gülen refers to a line of Mehmet Akif Ersoy, the poet of the Turkish National Anthem, “The wretched fellow religionists who kill in the name of ghaza (war).”

Although he does not in any way condone the reactions loaded with violence seen everywhere in the world against this sense of siege, to pre­vent these reactions by viewing with doubt all the positive services in the name of ethics and morality and register those who undertake these activities in the black book is not the answer. Those who see everyone as a rebel, the tyrants and their so-called “yes” men, somehow never see the miserable, heart-bleeding situation of the world or they pretend not to see. He adds:

Whereas, in this geography there is an inertia causing for concern; for cen­turies now, the minds are not producing anything, the power resources are idle; the sights capture everywhere the helplessness of the powerless and the jobless.[4]

From the picture he has drawn, Fethullah Gülen believes that it would be impossible to derive unity, peace, and stability, and the only remedy to overcome this would be to agree on the common human values and make these values as the foundation of a new legal and ethical system. Later, he remarks that the leadership in the Islamic world is weak, and the opinion makers are lazy in recognizing the realities of the world. The faith, the thought, and the creative moves to direct and orient the societ­ies, are prevented by the establishment and their dominant powers. As a result, Islamic societies are deprived of the level of power and strength to contribute anything to modern civilization:

How interesting it is! Although that exalted Prophet advices his Ummah, through hundreds of verses and hadiths, to seek knowledge and wisdom and insists on them constantly, for several centuries now, Muslims could not understand and comprehend them, they were always closed to the knowledge, skill, comprehension, and art; beyond being closed, they became so shallow in terms of thinking and research; became static and left everything go as it may, a time came when even coming under the tutelage of others did not wake them up, ... by waking up, they could not see what was happening around them.[5]

Where then is the salvation? How can this dark picture be illuminat­ed? The raison d’être and the mission it arrogated to itself, is in the answer to this question:

In this dark geography, we do not need anything else, but only to reawaken the love of truth, the love of knowledge and research, and letting the con­sciences hear one more time the religion in its original, purified form.

Those who would save at this moment, this world from the terrible hole it is thrown into, are the minds who are raised with our own discipline and training, the souls devoted to God, sharing the same faith and the same goals; those heroes of will who run to the service of others without any hatred or rancor and determined to overcome every obstacle laying in front of them. They are the heroes of knowledge, skill, and determination, with­out expecting anything in return. Up until today, we have lived always with the hope of their arrival. We intend to do the same until eternity.[6]

In summary, Fethullah Gülen dreams of a society in which the individuals con­sist of those whose souls are trained with Islamic ethics and morality—namely, those who do not steal, deceive, do not expand the gap of inequal­ity through the habit of consumption, do not decay the administration through corruption, do not see the different as the enemy, and who are hard working, sharing, just, fair, and have not closed the door to innova­tions). Their minds are shaped with the discipline of science, researching and constantly searching after discoveries. With these attributes, they would contribute to the modern civilization and raise the development level of the society. His dream has led to a global organization. Seeing this, while he is still alive is a sign that his preferences and the principles that he had adopted are in conformity with the expectations of people around the world. The Gülen Movement, which is the movement of volunteers, has come together, neither through legal enactments nor force nor as a political necessity.

Its expansion and development, despite all the pressure, can be attributed to the fact that people belonging to different sectors of society have found useful and beneficial things in what Fethullah Gülen offers and advises, s which also result in positive developments in their own lives.

[1] Fethullah Gülen 2010b, 45–47.
[2] Ibid., 47.
[3] Ibid., 48.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 50–51.
[6] Ibid., 51.