Hizmet in Context: Societal Islam Versus Political Islam


Date posted: April 23, 2014

 
Sabine Dreher*

The movement discussed here is according to Ebaugh (2010) a civic movement rooted in Islam that is independent from the state. Others see it simply as a faith- based movement (Esposito and Yilmaz 2010). Agai (2004) describes it as an education network and Hendrick (2009) as a global pressure group to promote Turkish interests. The difficulty with the movement is that ‘‘it does not easily fit into existing categories of religious organizations in the Muslim world’’ (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2010, p. 18).

This is because existing research on Muslim majority countries and Islamic movements has been slow to catch up to the fact that political Islam or Islamism in its various forms: the Muslim totalitarians, Wahabism, or Salafism— the literal interpretation of the sacred texts promoted especially by Saudi Arabia—or the violent versions promoted by terrorists—is not the only response to the processes of social change in the Muslim world. It is only quite recently that researchers have come to understand that there is another tradition within Islam that has dis- played a different response to modernization—one of adaption, interpretation, and adjustment to modernization—but also, and more importantly, the transformation of this modernity through religion. The latter has prompted the development of a discourse on multiple modernities— the idea that the western form of modernity is not the only model available (Eisenstadt 2000).

This other Islam has been given various western labels such as reformist, progressive, moderate, or liberal Islam but none of these are really satisfactory. To use reformist Islam, implies a criticism of the religion and creates too many difficulties from the outset (Jacobs 2006, p. 3). This is equally true with the notion of liberal Islam as liberalism is nearly synonymous with secularization; furthermore not all ‘‘reformers’’ are liberal or progressive, on the contrary some are extremely conservative on social and moral issues analogous to the Evangelical Christians in the United States.

Akyol (2011) uses the notion ‘‘people of reason’’ (Mutazilites) which he juxtaposes to the ‘‘people of tradi- tion’’. He portrays the tradition of reason as trying to accommodate to changes but also to ensure the ongoing relevance of religion in modernity. In contrast, the people of tradition insist on a literal reading of the texts and reject the possibility of influencing modernity through religious practice let alone to adjust religious practice to modern requirements. According to Akyol (2011), the people of tradition have dominated public discourse on the interpre- tation of the Islamic religion since the 8th century, and it is only recently that the other tradition is emerging again.

Within the tradition of reason, there is a need to distinguish between a societal Islam that refuses to openly engage in political questions from an Islam that tries to influence politics or even to impose its religious politics on society. Furthermore, societal Islam may be more progressive and advocate the whole spectrum of human rights (e.g., for gays and lesbians), or it may be more socially conservative. It is this societal Islam or civil Islam (Hefner 2000) that is completely understudied, most likely because there exist only two countries in which this type of Islam has become more prominent, and they are at the opposite geographical end of Islamdom: Indonesia and Turkey.

In Indonesia, we have the Muhammadiyah (Fuad 2002; Hefner 2000) while in Turkey we have the Hizmet movement inspired by the ideas of Fethullah Gulen, which is the most prominent among similar Islamic movements in Turkey (Yavuz 2003). Another, more transnational movement, equally understudied, is the Aga Khan Development network (Patel 2003). All these movements are strictly focused on civil society activities and are all influenced by a form of Islamic ethic which is based on charity, donations, and voluntary services (Salih 2003). To, therefore, describe the movement as a form of market, Islam (Haenni 2005) is also problematic because of its integration within the non-profit sector. Of all these movements, only Hizmet is globally active and only Hizmet has developed and integrated a business side right from the beginning. It is socially more conservative but also sup- ports multiculturalism with regard to the Kurdish issue in Turkey, a topic outside the frame of this article.

Societal Islam separates itself from politics and tries to create a civil society. This stands in marked contrast to the prevailing understanding—recently summarized anew by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs—that Islamic faith traditions do not separate between society and politics (Berkley Center 2008, p. 13). This shows that despite an increasing number of publications on a more societal form of Islam (Ali 2009; Akyol 2011; Hefner 2000) there is a tendency in the West to accept the interpretation of Islam as it is pushed by the ‘‘people of tradition’’ instead of acknowledging that there are now a variety of approaches concerning the relationship between state and society in Muslim majority countries.

This section has discussed various forms of how ‘‘Islam’’ manifests itself and categorized the Hizmet as a societal and socially conservative form of Islam with multicultural tendencies. It has substantiated the claim from the first section that there is a need to move away from the search for a universal or essential Islam and to differentiate Islam into various movements such as is already done automatically with Christianity (Santos and Laczniak 2008; MCann 1997; Roels 1997).

*Department of International Studies, Glendon College, York University, Toronto, Canada

Excerpt from the article “Islamic Capitalism? The Turkish Hizmet Business Community Network in a Global Economy,” Journal of Business Ethics, Springer. April 2014.

Source: HizmetMovement.com , April 23, 2014


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