Fethullah Gülen and the Art of Co-Existence in an Age of Global Oppositions
Prof. Dr. Paul Weller
We meet in a region of Europe, namely the Balkans, which has known more than its recent share of conflict and suffering informed by ethnic, religious and national tensions.
The title of this paper in itself flags up a number of the key themes with which it will be concerned. The key terms within it are ‘global oppositions’, ‘art of co-existence’ and, of course, ‘Fethullah Gülen’.
In all of our societies there are particular and specific local ‘oppositions’ or ‘contradictions’ that can give rise to conflict. But in the contemporary world, wherever we live, because of the impact in the modern world of what the British historian Arnold Toynbee (1958: 87) called the “annihilation of distance,” we also all live in a wider global context. In relation to this globalised world of transnational ethnic and religious communities, Fethullah Gülen (2004a: 230) has observed:
Modern means of communication and transportation have transformed the world into a large, global village. So, those who expect that any radical changes in a country will be determined by that country alone and remain limited to it, are unaware of current realities. This time is a period of interactive relations. Nations and people are more in need of and dependent on each other, which causes closeness in mutual relations.
In an increasingly ‘glocalised’ world in which all religions are increasingly becoming ‘diaspora’ religions, the transnational connections of religions have the positive benefit of offering channels of insight into varied cultural contexts. But tragically they can also become conduits through which conflicts are transported from one part of the world to another. As a consequence of that, while some oppositions and contradictions are particular to our own society, there are others – which we might call ‘global oppositions’ – that run deeply and profoundly between and across all societies and regions of the world and in which we all somehow find ourselves caught up. These ‘global oppositions’ include those between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ and the related but distinct ones between ‘science’ and ‘religion’. They also include the oppositions between ‘the West’ and ‘the East’, and the related but also distinct ones between ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’.
Of course, not all oppositions or contradictions are as oppositional or contradictory as they might, at first sight, appear. In addition the tension – and sometimes even the conflict – that derives from oppositions or contradictions is not always something to avoid. Rather, it can be a necessary part of positive historical and human development. Thus not all conflict is bad. It is often only through what the German language calls the Spannungsfeld (or field of tension) created by oppositions that historical developments that are of great importance and benefit to the world come about. For example, in the application of human rights – as distinct from their mere proclamation – it has, in many societies, been necessary for individuals and groups to take a stand and, in so doing, experience and possibly even create conflict with others who may be resistant to change. However, a lot depends not on the ‘oppositions’ themselves, but on how they are approached and handled. And it is in relation to such an ‘art of co-existence’ that this paper argues that the contemporary Turkish Muslim scholar, Fethuallah Gülen, has much to offer.
Global Oppositions: the ‘Religious’ and the ‘Secular’
The oppositions between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ have roots that go back at least into the European Enlightenment. Today these oppositions are one of the major ‘frames’ for many of the issues that we face in both our individual societies and in the world as a whole.
In the still recent history of Albania there was a period not so very long ago under the rule of Enver Hodjha during which the ‘secular’ of a very particular ideological kind exerted an enormous pressure on religions in at least their institutional form leading to expropriations of the property of religious groups. That anti-religious campaign led ultimately, in 1967, to the literary monthly Nendori referring to Albania as “the world’s first atheist nation.” In the wake of that, Article 36 of the 1976 Albanian Constitution stipulated that, “The State recognizes no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people.”
The life, work and teaching of Fethullah Gülen was also forged in a context in which such contradictions have also been very sharp. This is because the twentieth century story of Turkey was one that was dominated by the ideology of Kemalism that was developed in the name of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881–1938), the founder of the modern Turkish state who abolished the Muslim Caliphate in 1924. Yavuz and Esposito point out that in Kemalist ideology, modernity and democracy require secularism. Indeed, the version of secularism that has been dominant in Turkey is what these authors (Yavuz and Esposito, eds. 2003: xvi) call a “radical Jacobin liaicism” in which secularism is treated “as above and outside politics” and in which therefore, “secularism draws the boundaries of public reasoning”.
While the ‘secular’ is often said to be the foundational of contemporary European models for the relationship between religions states and societies its meaning is not self-evident, and it is in fact referred to in ways that relate to a variety of diverse and contested meanings (see Weller, 2006). As explained by Hakan Yavuz and John Esposito (2003: xvii), “In many developing countries, secularism has become a theology of progress and development” and that “normative fault lines of modernity are nowhere else as clear as in Turkey.” Thus, until only a few years ago, any attempts to use religious language in public debate could result in Turkey in the banning of any political party that did so. Indeed, notwithstanding recent developments following the double electoral victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AKP), ongoing conflicts related to the historical inheritance are, as yet, to be fully resolved.
Forged in this crucible, Gülen’s teaching offers a critique of a socially exclusive secularism. Thus of the Turkish Republic, Gülen (in Ünal, A. and Williams, A. ed., 2000: 148) warned that “The republic is obligated to protect its citizens’ religious faith, feelings, and thoughts. If its leaders do not do so, but rather hold people in contempt because of their religious feelings and thoughts, violate their rights, and smear their good names, in reality they are holding the republic in contempt and violating all that it represents.”
That is, of course, the context from which Gülen and the community that has emerged around his teaching derive and in the setting of which they have had to chart a course that both engages with, and also differentiates itself from the twin challenges that arise from ideological ‘secularism’ and political ‘Islamism’. In this context, while properly traditional, the vision of Islam set out by Fethullah Gülen is one that that has distinguished itself both from obscurantist and oppositionalist forms of Islam, while also engaging with the secular. As summarised by Sahin Alpay (1995), “Hodjaefendi opposes the use of Islam as a political ideology and a party philosophy, as well as polarizing society into believers and nonbelievers.”
At the same time, in contrast to those Muslims who advocate a defensive holding back from the public sphere Gülen’s teaching – as also, and importantly, expressed in the educational, media, and other social institutions created by the movement associated with it – encourages Muslims actively to engage with the wider (religious and secular) society. On the other hand, it also critiques those forms of involvement in which religion is politically instrumentalised and instead argues for engagement that is based on a distinctive Islamic vision characterised by robustness and civility.
What this means in concrete terms can be seen especially in the work of the Journalists and Writers’ Foundation, founded in 1994, and the seminars held by the so-called Abant Platform, one of the aims of which is “dialogue and reconciliation in the light of knowledge and experience”. Thus, the Platform’s first meeting three meetings (1998-2000) – all held in Abant, Turkey – were on, respectively, the themes of “Islam and Secularism”; “Religion, State and Society”; and “Pluralism and Social Reconcilitiation”.
The principles of the Platform can be seen as embodied in the commitment to it of some of its key participants. Thus a former chair of the Platform was Professor Mehmet Aydin who, between 2002-2007 was Minister of State for Religious Affairs in the AKP (Justice and Development Party) Government. Since 2006, Professor Dr. Mete Tuncay of Bilgi University has been Academic Co-Ordinator of the Abant Platform. This is itself a clear embodiment in action of the principle of a Platform created out of a religious spirit. This is because Professor Tuncay refers to himself as, “a person who believes in agnosticism in religion” and as one those “who accept the notion of living in justice and freedom without referring metaphysics.”
In relation to his own context, Professor Tuncay points out that, “In Turkey, there has been a dispute among those who acknowledge religion and those who believed that religion and religious thought was the cause and the sign of ignorance and underdevelopment for at least two hundred years” and so “We have to comprehend and implement secularism in an appropriate manner” which he defines in the following way: “The bottom line is to attain a capacity of living together with a common sense of citizenship without changing each other.” (http://en.fGülen.com/ content/view/1778/18/)
In thinking about the secular in terms of oppositions with the religious, my own work has pointed out the following:
- In the totality of a global historical perspective it is perhaps worth remembering that it is the ‘secular’ that must be considered to be a new experiment in social organization and integration.
- The reactive origins of the ‘secular’ can be found in the European inheritance of the Inquisition, ‘nationalised monopolies of religion’ and the impact of the seventeenth century Wars of Religion and the responses to these of economic liberalism, revolutionary Republicanism, and the emergence of socialism and Marxism
- The European roots of the ‘secular’, which can make it problematic for societies whose other experience of imports from Europe has been in terms of colonial and imperial takeover.
- There remains a need to see especially how the ‘secular’ can relate with the Muslim civilisational heritage.
- Acknowledgement of the need explicitly to consider the ‘secular’ can result in formerly ‘common sense’ formulations of problems and issues being turned on their head, making it possible to see them from new and previously unrecognized perspectives.
In ways that speak both to ideological ‘secularists’ and political ‘Islamists’, and with relevance beyond the Turkish context, Gülen distinguishes between an understanding of the ‘secular’ that is concerned with the participation of citizens of all religions and none in the public life of a society and an ideological form of secularism that is concerned to promote positivist philosophical positions and their philosophical and political consequences. In relation to ‘secularism’ understood this more sophisticated and differentiated way, as Gülen (in Ünal, A. and Williams, A. eds., 2000:167) summarises it, “Secularism should not be an obstacle to religious devoutness, nor should devoutness constitute a danger to secularism.”
Global Oppositions: Science and Religion
In his historical reflections on what are still the historically recent European attempts made to build societies in the absence of spiritual values. Gülen (2004a: 194) explains something of the roots of the global oppositions that came about between science and religion in the following way:
Enlightenment movements that began in the eighteenth century saw human beings as consisting of the mind only. Following that, positivist and materialist movements saw humans as solely material or corporeal entities. As a result, spiritual crises have followed one after another. It is no exaggeration to say that these crises and the absence of spiritual satisfaction were the major factors behind the conflict of interests that enveloped the last two centuries and that reached its apex in the two world wars.
In making this point Gülen is not naïve or in denial about the historical ambiguity of religions. At the same time, he points out that criticism of the role of religions by those who are secular to be informed by as much lack of self-criticism as can be found among the religious. This, in turn, can lead to a superficial criticism being made of religion as something that is at the root of social conflict, but without adequate reflection taking place on the significance of the suffering brought about by the secular ideologies of fascism, Bolshevik communism, and capitalism. Thus, as Gülen (2004a:
196) explains it, religion (and especially not Islam) did not lead to what he calls the “merciless exploitation” that could be found in, “….the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century that killed hundreds of millions of people and left behind even more homeless, widows, orphans, and wounded ….” Rather, Gülen argues that the roots of this suffering were to be found in “Scientific materialism, a view of life and the world that had severed itself from religion and a clash of interests caused this exploitation.”
Gülen also argues that scientific materialism has brought about environmental pollution as a consequence of a perspective that “nature is an accumulation of things that has no value outside its ability to meet physical needs” (Gülen, 2004a: 197). By contrast, he speaks of nature as having “a certain sacredness” because he sees it as “an arena in which God’s Beautiful Names are displayed.” He (Gülen, 2004a: 194) also reflects that, “Humans are creatures composed not only of a body and a mind, or feelings and a spirit; rather, we are harmonious compositions of all these elements”. Developing this further, he explains that “Each of us is a body writhing in a network of needs; but this is not all, we also possess a mind that has more subtle and vital needs than the body” and that, “Moreover, each person is a creature made up of feelings that cannot be satisfied by the mind, and a creature of spirit; it is through the spirit that we acquire our essential human identity”.
While coming from a traditional Turkish religious background, instead of identifying external ‘enemy images’, Gülen increasingly began to argue that the problems of Turkish society were rooted in an internal societal ignorance that he compared to a blood cancer, the cure for which he identified as education. Interestingly, in this he was also creating common ground with secularists who have always been strong advocates of science, technology and education and against obscurantist traditionalism – albeit that secularists built their stance upon a positivistic form of secularism that stands over and against religion.
In fact, Gülen’s perspectives and the movement and educational institutions that have formed on the basis of the inspiration of his teaching strongly affirm that Islam and education, science and technology should not be seen as being in conflict. Rather
Gülen (in Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 317) argues that “In its actual meaning, religion does not oppose or limit science and scientific work.” In other words, Gülen sees religion and science as “…..different worlds’ ways of expressing the same meaning, content and truth.” (Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 316). This is because of a theological view held by Gülen (in Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 316-317) that sees “the universe as a mighty Qur’an deriving from God’s attributes of Power and Will. In other words, if the term is proper, the universe is a large, created Qur’an. In return, being an expression of the universe’s laws in different form, the Qur’an is a universe that has been coded and put on paper.”
Global Oppositions: ‘West’ and ‘East’
It is often the case that gobal oppositions between ‘religion’ and the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’ and the ‘scientific’, are seen as being linked with the global oppositions between ‘East’ and ‘West’. However, it is at least arguably the case the that the global oppositions between ‘East’ and ‘West’ are as also a by-product of the history of colonialism and imperialism. While these words and concepts are, in many ways, out of fashion in the polite western and capitalist society of today, they do describe historical realities of immense significance and import for contemporary life, including for the question of co-existence between religious groups.
As Gülen (2004a: 239) has observed in realistically evaluating the current global context: “Islamic societies entered the twentieth century as a world of the oppressed, the wronged, and the colonized; the first half of the century was occupied with wars of liberation and independence, wars that carried over from the nineteenth century. In all these wars, Islam assumed the role of an important factor uniting people and spurring them to action. As these wars were waged against what were seen as invaders, Islam, national independence and liberation came to mean the same thing.” At the same time Gülen is certainly not apologetic about the achievements of Ottoman civilization and, in particular, highlights the religiously informed realism of the Ottoman rulers in dealing with the cultural and religious diversity of their Empire, including in the Balkans region:
…our glorious ancestors captured the hearts of people by means of tolerance and became the protectors of the general peace. The longest period of peace in the Balkans and the Middle East, which have always been volatile areas, was realized with the enduring tolerance of our ancestors. From the moment that tolerance and those great representatives left history, this region became void of peace and contentment. (Gülen, 2004a: 42)
But while recognising and praising the achievements of the Ottoman past and the religion of Islam, Gülen (1996: 53) has argued strongly that Muslims should not retreat from modernity into the illusory attempt to reconstruct past glories:
…no success or victory from the past can come to help us in our current struggle. Today our duty is to offer humanity a new message composed of vivid scenes from the past together with understanding of the needs of the present.
One of the ways in which the oppositions of ‘West’ and ‘East’ have become focused is in relation to the identity and membership of the European Union (EU). Albania, as a majority Muslim country, has applied to join the EU, while Turkey has for a long time had a special relationship with the EU which it hopes might also ultimately lead to full accession.
Among Turkish traditionalists are those who fear that, when it comes down to it, the EU is really a ‘Christian Club’ and that full membership of the Union would inevitably lead to continued and probably accelerated erosion of Islamic belief and practice in Turkey that was seen as already having been set in motion by the secularizing Kemalists. Of such concerns Gülen (in Gundem, 2005) says, “Some Muslims have recently published and distributed books on such grounds: “….if they (Europeans) come, they will influence us and steal our youth from us, with the way they look, their mentality, their conception of religion, their notion of God.”
In fact Gülen was himself at one time not a stranger to such perceptions, as pointed out by Bekim Agai (2003: 63) who argues that, Gülen “….used to see the solution to Turkey’s problems as raising Muslims’ consciousness in order to overcome the dominance of Westernized cognitive patterns and to restructure a shared grammar in Turkey based on Islam.” But Agai also noted that, in the 1990s, the emphases within this perspective changed and Gülen began to identify that a lot of Turkey’s problems were to be found in Turkey itself. In a 2000 interview with Hakan Yavuz (2003: 45), Gülen said:
We all change, don’t we? There is no exit from change. By visiting the States and many other European countries, I realized the virtues and the role of religion in these societies. Islam flourishes in Europe and America much better than in many Muslim countries. This means freedom and the rule of law are necessary for personal Islam.
Gülen (2004a: 244) critiques the superficial reading of religion in European and Western societies that can be found among many traditionalist Muslims, observing that:
Some people might be tempted to say that religion has no place in the life of society in developed countries such as America and those of Western Europe. We must immediately point out that such a statement is in no way correct and that these countries have been and are attached to their religions. Just as we have expressed earlier, although religious values may have been weakened over the last two centuries throughout the world, humanity today is again searching for religion, and is once again inclining toward it. Even though the population may be indifferent to religion, to a certain extent in Western Europe, those in the administration seem to be, on the whole, rather religious. Among these, there have always been religious people at the highest levels of administration, and there still are today. Moreover, though secularism is the rule in all these countries, there has never been a mentality dictating that the guidance of religion should be abandoned in social or even in the political life of a country.
So, despite opposition from some Islamists Gülen, in recent years, has been clear in his support of full EU membership for Turkey. In a recent piece entitled “With
Accession, Europe Would Know us Better” Gülen (2006: 40) says, “I have been in favour of EU membership for a long time” and that, “In my opinion, the EU is something that the Turkish people long for.”
In his capacity as Honorary President of the Journalists and Writers’ Foundation, Gülen (2004b) sent a message to the December 3rd-4th 2004 Abant Platform meeting held at the European Parliament in Brussels in which he made three key points about the developing relationships between Turkey and the EU. These points included the idea that Turkish entry into the EU would be a fulfilment of the so-called “contemporary civilisation” objective of Ataturk; that the historic role of the Turkish armed forces in this should not be forgotten, even though this is sometimes seen as one of the biggest obstacles for Turkey’s full membership and that Turkish membership of the EU would “reinforce its role as the island of peace in the heart of the Eurasia” since “A Turkey in the EU will more successfully realize its function to establish a bridge between the Islamic world and the West.”
Gülen’s clear position in favour of EU membership is especially significant given the more traditionalist historical background from which he comes. This is because, following the Kemalist revolution, Turkish society was broadly split between Kemalists who understood themselves as both modern and western, while many traditionalists saw the decline of Turkey’s role in the world as being linked with a failure of religiosity and the importation of alien cultural and religious values and have been concerned that the EU is basically a ‘Christian club’. In relation to the latter stances, Gülen speaks of “some who have their doubts about their own religiosity” whereas, for himself, he says, “I could be on familiar terms with Europe. Through membership I could perhaps better explain my culture and myself to them. Perhaps they would be touched and would know us better.” And, at the same time, towards the existing member states of the European Union and their societies, Gülen (quoted in Gundem, 2005) offers the challenging perspective that:
To date, how Turkey will benefit from this process has been discussed, generally speaking. I am not sure whether European countries are aware, but what Turkey will bring in is much more important. If they are aware of this and still resist, that means their obstinacy has dominated over sound thinking. As a matter of fact, there are many benefits out of this relationship for the reputation and future of Europe.
Thus, in contrast to the ‘clash of civilisations’ espoused by either secular advocates of an ongoing and global ‘war against terrorism’; by Christian apocalypticists; or by contemporary Islamists and jihadists, Gülen (in Gundem, 2005) argues the positive case that: “Turkey can be a bridge across the Middle East and the Far East. Europe is in need of Turkey’s profound and rich heritage of insight into the Middle East.”
Global Oppositions: ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’
As we have already seen when looking at certain Turkish traditionalist views of the EU, because of their historic alignment with dominant civilizational streams, ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’ have often formed part of the discourse of oppositions between ‘West’ and ‘East’. Among religious personages Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, in 2004 wrote to European bishops explaining the reasons for his stand against full Turkish membership of the EU, and stated that:
The roots that have formed Europe, that have permitted the formation of this continent, are those of Christianity. Turkey has always represented another continent, in permanent contrast with Europe. There were the [old Ottoman Empire] wars against the Byzantine Empire, the fall of Constantinople, the Balkan wars, and the threat against Vienna and Austria. It would be an error to equate the two continents…Turkey is founded upon Islam…Thus the entry of Turkey into the EU would be anti-historical.
As we have already noted, such perceptions have their equal and opposite mirror among Muslims. But it is, of course, very important to distinguish between the oppositions of ‘West’ and ‘East’ and ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’, and so not to fall into the trap which fails to distinguish between them and, in so doing, becomes a version of Samuel Huntington’s (1993, 1997) “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. This is not least because some of the most ancient of Christian communities are to be found in lands where Islam predominates today. Thus, Iraq (see Rassam, 2005) has been home to some of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world; while in recent times, we have been reminded that Coptic Christians are an integral part of Egyptian history and society. Similarly, Muslims in Europe have been not only a phenomenon of recent migration and refugee movements of people. Rather, Islam has been long established in Europe, both in Spain and here in the Balkans, as well as in countries such as Poland where the Tartar Muslim population has a long – though generally less recognized – history.
Nevertheless, in both the popular Christian and Muslim mind, and also in much of the West and the East, this confusion and bloc thinking (see Weller, 2010) predominates. Because of this, Gülen’s (in Ünal, A. and Williams, A. eds., 2000: 241-256) commitment to Muslim-Christian (and other forms of) dialogue is of great importance. It is set out perhaps most clearly in his article on “The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue: A Muslim Perspective”. This, it is important to note, was published prior to 9/11. His commitment to dialogue is therefore not merely reactive and pragmatic, but is rooted in his vision of Islam and the contemporary world. Perhaps the most comprehensive collection of his thinking about dialogue was developed in his (Gülen: 2004a) book, Towards a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance.
Of this book, the Catholic priest Thomas Michel (in Gülen 2004: i) has said in a foreword that a significant part of its purpose was as “…..a call to Muslims to a greater awareness that Islam teaches the need for dialogue and that Muslims are
called to be agents and witnesses to God’s universal mercy” while at the same time it was also “an invitation to non-Muslims to move beyond prejudice, suspicion, and half-truths in order to arrive at an understanding of what Islam is really about.” (Michel, in Gülen 2004: i-ii) Perhaps the most comprehensive collection
of Gülen’s thinking about dialogue was developed in his book Towards a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance. In his reflections for the Millennium, Gülen (2004a: 231) set out his conviction about the importance of dialogue in the following way:
I believe and hope that the world of the new millennium will be a happier, more just and more compassionate place, contrary to the fears of some people. Islam, Christianity and Judaism all come from the same root, have almost the same essentials and are nourished from the same source. Although they have lived as rival religions for centuries, the common points between them and their shared responsibility to build a happy world for all of the creatures of God, make interfaith dialogue among them necessary. This dialogue has now expanded to include the religions of Asia and other areas. The results have been positive. As mentioned above, this dialogue will develop as a necessary process, and the followers of all religion will find ways to become closer and assist each other.
The Art of Co-Existence
It is the argument of this paper that such teaching of Fethullah Gülen and the actions of those inspired by his teaching can contribute positively to the development of ‘the art of co-existence’ amidst the global oppositions – those oppositions being between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’, the ‘religious’ and the ‘scientific’, the ‘West’ and the ‘East’, and ‘Christianity’ and Islam.’
As with all words, the word and concept of ‘co-existence’ has a particular history, and some historical baggage. In the context of the thawing of the Cold War between capitalist and communist states, ‘co-existence’ was terminology adopted by the Soviet Union and its allies to speak of a different kind of relationship with the capitalist economic and military bloc. Such ‘co-existence’ later developed into ‘détente’ – a word which was intended to capture a slightly ‘warmer’ approach than the somewhat more ‘sterile’ feel that ‘co-existence’ could conjure up, despite it being preferable to either a Cold War or, even more so, a ‘hot’ one.
One of the main weaknesses of ‘co-existence’ as politically articulated in the 1970s was that it represented a ‘hands-off’ stance in terms of ideas of ‘non-interference’. Of course, in contexts where ‘interference’ can be a highly destabilising exercise of military and/or economic power and that might have risked provoking global war through destabilising of the prevalent balance of power one can understand such an approach. At the same time, ‘co-existence’ understood as ‘non-interference’ tends to mean that mutual scrutiny and accountability is avoided. But the word need not mean that. With a particular understanding it could be clearly articulated with an emphasis on the ‘co’ of ‘co-existence’ – in other words, an existence which we share in creating together…..what Gestalt Psychology, for example, calls ‘co-creation’.
In connection with such a possibility the use of the word ‘art’ would also seem to be appropriate. While there have been those who have seen and interpreted history in terms of the supposed ‘hidden hand’ (capitalists) of the market or the ‘iron laws’ (communists) of history, it is at least arguable that human affairs are not capable of being entirely dealt with according to scientific and/or mechanistic paradigms. Rather, the notion of the ‘art of co-existence’ evokes the sense of practical wisdom that is needed. And it is such practical wisdom that the teaching of Fethullah Gülen elucidates.
Based on the evidence of history about attempts, on the one hand, to enforce religious conformity of various kinds and, on the other, to enforce atheistic and/ or anti-religious stances, Gülen (in Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 151) has pointed out that, “Efforts to suppress ideas via pressure or brute force have never been truly successful. History shows that no idea was removed by suppressing it. Many great empires and states were destroyed, but an idea or thought whose essence is sound continues to survive.” What has always been true of history in this regard is also argued by Gülen to be even more the case in our modern globalized world. As Enes Ergene notes (in Gülen, 2004a: xii):
Gülen has stated that in the modern world the only way to get others to accept your ideas is by persuasion. He describes those who resort to force as being intellectually bankrupt; people will always demand freedom of choice in the way they run their affairs and in their expression of their spiritual and religious values.
At the same time, Gülen warns that the transformations which have occurred in our social, historical, institutional and theological realities may provoke in those who are theologically insecure, a temptation to retreat into or to seek to create, idealised patterns of life which are, in fact, illusory. In fact, for Gülen, the notion that plurality can be abolished is not only illusory, it is also dangerous. Against such dangerous illusions Gülen (2004a: 249-250) warns that:
…different beliefs, races, customs and traditions will continue to cohabit in this village. Each individual is like a unique realm unto themselves; therefore the desire for all humanity to be similar to one another is nothing more than wishing for the impossible. For this reason, the peace of this (global) village lies in respecting all these differences, considering these differences to be part of our nature and in ensuring that people appreciate these differences. Otherwise, it is unavoidable that the world will devour itself in a web of conflicts, disputes, fights, and the bloodiest of wars, thus preparing the way for its own end.
Thus with reference to the closely related notion of ‘tolerance,’ Gülen (2004a: 37) points out that: “First of all, I would like to indicate that tolerance is not something that was invented by us. Tolerance was first introduced on this Earth by the prophets whose teacher was God.” Therefore in the ‘Gulenian’ vision of Islam, tolerance is something that has roots that are much deeper and more constant than mere accidents and expressions of history. What Gülen means by tolerance is set out clearly by him, as follows:
Tolerance does not mean being influenced by others or joining them; it means accepting others as they are and knowing how to get along with them. No one has the right to say anything about this kind of tolerance; everyone in this country has his or her own point of view. People with different ideas and thoughts are either going to seek ways of getting along by means of reconciliation or they will constantly fight with one another. There have always been people who thought differently to one another and there always will be. (Gülen, 2004a: 42)
Gülen points out that a reification has occurred in parts of the Muslim community. While the ‘Gülenian’ vision of Islam is one that has a high view of the Qur’an, it also has an approach which is flexible towards interpretation. Thus Gülen (in Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 53) explains that, while “Taking the Qur’an and Sunna as our main sources and respecting the great people of the past, in the consciousness that we are all children of time, we must question the past and the present.” Put simply, Gülen summarises the challenge thus: “We must review our understanding of Islam.” And as he then went on to further explain his aim, “I’m looking for laborers of thought and researchers to establish the necessary balance between the unchanging and changing aspects of Islam and, considering such jurisprudential rules as abrogation, particularization, generalization and restriction, can present Islam to the modern understanding.”
Significantly, this approach to dialogue does not remain at the level of teaching alone. Rather, it is expressed through symbolic and effective action. As Bekim Agai explains it:
Although many Islamic leaders may talk of tolerance in Islam, it may be problematic to put it into practice. Gülen himself has shown that he has no fears of meeting leaders of other religions, including the Pope and the representative of the Jewish community in Istanbul. He also crossed the borders of Islamic discourse to meet with important people in Turkish society who are atheists. These activities were not easy from a religious perspective because Islamic discourse in Turkey has definite boundaries that do not appreciate close ties to the leaders of other religions and nonreligious persons. Also, his support for the Alevis was not very popular among most Sunni-Islamic groups. (Agai, 2003: 65).
By extension also with relevance also to the position of the Bektashis in Albania, Gülen (in Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 67-70) has spoken positively of the need for better Sunni-Alevi relations, affirming that the Alevis (in Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 67) “definitely enrich Turkish culture” and that (in Ünal and Williams, eds., 2000: 69), “Alawi meeting or prayer houses should be supported.”
Bearing all of this in mind, it is the argument of this paper that the thinking of Gülen and the practical initiatives of the movement that has been inspired by him offers resources that engage with the secular; are ready for dialogue with Christians and others; are confident of what Islam can offer, and yet also acknowledge the current reality of the situation for Muslims and Islam in Europe rather than promoting only an idealized vision.
Taken in the round, Gülen’s key approaches offer the possibility to Muslims to live not according to a traditional distinction between dar al-Islam (the land of Islam, or peace) and dar al-harb (the land of war, or conflict) – which in the hands of ‘Islamists’ have become corrupted politicised concepts that tend to accentuate division and promote conflictual understandings that undermine the possibility for peaceful co- existence – but according to to the newly articulated concept of dar al-hizmet (country of service).
Indeed, it is the argument of this paper there is benefit both to Muslims and the wider society, when a contribution is made to civil society and to public life that is based on clear Islamic perspectives and motivations, but which is offered, seen and accepted as one contribution alongside others which also have their own integrity. For the wider society, the challenge is to appreciate the great depth and breadth of resources that exist in the heritage of Islamic civilization; the contribution that Anatolian heritage can make through the full membership of Turkey in the European Union; and also the spiritual insights and alternative perspectives offered by Islam itself.
For both Muslims and European societies and states, neither phantasmagoric and prejudicial enemy images, nor real threats to co-existence, can ultimately be overcome by security measures, however important such measures may be for the immediate safety of citizens and residents. Rather, whatever are the enemy images and whatever might be the enemy realities that exist, Muslims and others have no choice but to live alongside one another in Europe. Muslims and others have no choice but to live alongside one another in Europe. The only question facing us all is about the way in which we currently do this and about how we will do so in the future. It is the argument of this paper that the thinking of Gülen and the practical initiatives of the community that has been inspired by him and his teaching offers resources that engage with the secular and the scientific and are ready for dialogue with Christians. These resources contribute significantly to the development of ‘art of co-existence’ because they are confident of what Islam can offer, and yet also work with current reality of the situation for Muslims and Islam in Europe rather than promoting an idealized vision.
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