Zephyrs from the Presence, the latest book by Ahmet Kurucan…


Date posted: July 22, 2013

Engin Sezen

The book, Huzurdan Esintiler (Zephyrs from the Presence), published by Işık (Light) Publications in 2012, is a total of 216 pages. The author collected the articles he had previously written for Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper, and his new articles in this book. The shared subject of these articles written in various occasions is Fethullah Gulen. In this article of both presentation and criticism I will attempt to underline these two matters: Firstly, how does Kurucan describe the conversational environment with Gulen, and secondly, how exactly does the author illustrate Gulen’s portrait?

The book’s distinctive characteristic is that by means of the author’s proximity to Gulen, it presents an insider’s point of view…In this respect, Kurucan’s work serves as a significant document on the way Gulen is perceived and interpreted by an author who has embraced the principles of the Hizmet Movement.

Through his personal observations that he has written down using his journalist dialect and narration, Kurucan conveys the feelings, perceptions and information regarding the America conversations. The written work having been written by a writer from the Zaman newspaper and a theologian close to Gulen, firstly and naturally addresses a specific group of people; at the same time, with its easy read and sincere narration the articles are proficient enough to convey the contents of the book to a greater audience.

Aside from Kurucan’s theologian identity and training which stand out in his articles, we can also find that they possess a distinctively liberal point of view. He is an “insider”, questioning long settled understanding and judgments, and also presents the profile of an intellectual that can think “outside the box” from time to time. The fact that the writer has been living in North America and has been engaged with the English language at an intellectual level for a number of years must have had a decisive role in this…

Such works which present information about Fethullah Gulen’s life and thoughts, clues regarding Gulen’s interpretation and understanding of Islam hold a special position and meaning. As a matter of fact, we musn’t disregard the fact that one of the fundamental sources most frequently turned to in works about Gulen is still Latif Erdogan’s My Small World. Such works of insider observations not only bring with them a specific responsibility, but they also claim their positions in archives as valuable documents and resources. Kurucan is a significant resource for those who are doing research on Gulen.

In Zephyrs from His Presence we learn about Gulen’s life in America, the kind of place he lives in, the kind of conversational environment he shares with his students and guests. The author shares with the reader his reflections, sometimes “while drinking a glass of tea”, sometimes from an exclusive conversation, other times from the foot of the staircase, and “his share of the moral” from a conversation among “a couple friends”. If Kurucan had not recorded these observations and special instances, all these observations may have only remained in the memories of the few people who happened to be there.

The places which the author describes as the conversational environments consist of three main interior locations; the big sitting room where the guests are hosted, another room in which the students receive their regular lessons and teachings, and, specifically, Gulen’s private room. The author explains that Gulen’s words takes those in his conversational circle into a state of deep self-judgment and contemplation, and, from time to time, into a deep state thought with rich connotations over the subtle signs of the Creator.

Kurucan announces the echo of his words, “Once again we were in his presence, amidst the peaceful gathering, in search of peace”, to the reader throughout the book. The author, describing the conversational atmosphere as “the atmosphere which bears its honor from its figure of influence”, depicts Gulen as the central figure in the place where they gather to listen. The author, who we see positions himself as an addressee who contemplates and questions and as a careful participant and observer, says, “You find yourself diving into a deep ocean when listening to Hocaefendi.”

In this respect, there is no harm in regarding the author as a diver striving to collect the pearls in this ocean of wisdom. As a matter of fact, the author feels as if he is “a huntsman lying in ambush” when in the atmosphere of these conversations. Kurucan seems to have acquired proximity to such a degree that he is able to absorb not only Gulen’s words but also his silences and mimics. In one instance, he says,

“He locked his gaze at a certain point and immersed in deep though like he often did. In such an atmosphere, two things come to me; an observation and a feeling. My observation: If Hocaefendi dives into such deep thought, the words he has spoken and will speak have a special depth to them. As for my feeling, it seems to me as if he is cognizant of the hidden truths beyond the point his eyes are fixed on.”

According to the author, giving such an atmosphere of wisdom its due—an atmosphere in which “the melody of a wounded soul flows through as the broken pick hits the tender spot of the saz”—is not an easy task! Here, you cannot help but remember the words of past generations saying, “Being near the Sultan is like a burning fire.” In this atmosphere of conversation, Gulen is “always full of grief, always sorrowful and always heart-sore”.

One of the most interesting details we acquire from the book about the conversation atmosphere also emphasizes one of Gulen’s sensitivities; Gulen says, “Those of you who do not wake in the middle of the night and supplicate with tears in your eyes, do not come into this room.” Conscious of the grave spiritual responsibility of being there in his presence, Kurucan says, “Heads are lowered to the ground in such an atmosphere.” You can sense that the author is making an effort to include the reader into the conversational environment of such intense spirituality throughout the entire book.

Through the book we are also introduced to Gulen’s style of speaking. First of all, Gulen is undoubtedly a man of speech, an orator able to speak beautifully and attract favor through his good speech. He took the manners of speech that he embraced while in the presence of the spiritual leaders of the East from his childhood days and forth, and, utilizing his vernacular style of speech, he represented these values in the pulpit of mosques, in coffeehouses, and in conference halls. Gulen, whose area of interest is not limited to only religious matters, holds a repertoire that allows him to express his opinions regarding various fields in the positive and social sciences. One of the best ways to describe his style of speech would be a kind of journeying from subject to subject; this is also largely illustrated in Kurucan’s book. We can see various examples of Gulen’s unique approach of examining the specific subject at hand with an eclectic and holistic point of view, without drowning in too many details, in Zephyrs from His Presence.

From time to time, Gulen experiments with different methods in his sermons. Q-and-A is one of these methods. For instance, during their regular lessons of tafsir, or interpretation of the Qur’an, his students of theology happen to ask bold questions; Gulen converses with those gathered with him and asks them questions.

For example, he may suddenly ask a doctor, “Does the conscience have any limits?”; or he may direct a question that’s both slightly judgmental and reproachful such as, “Why do you lie? Tell me, how many persons are there who live their life precisely according to Islamic principles? How many people are troubled with the troubles of Islam that they lose their sleep because of it? Yes, why are you lying then?”, asking the questions while measuring deeply each and every one of their faces… In this sense, the conversations with Gulen are not always one-sided and are carried out with careful consideration and discussion.

All right, well, in Zephyrs from His Presence what kind of Gulen portrait does Ahmet Kurucan depict for us?

There are quite a number of adjectives that the author uses in the book to describe Gulen as a man of religious wisdom and spiritual honor: “a monument of prayer” and “one who has millstones grinding inside him” are a couple of these descriptions. According to the author, the human being is at the center of Gulen’s Islamic interpretation and the model of service that he has cultivated; in the final analysis, Gulen ties every piece of beauty that derives from the human being to its true Essence, that is, to God. The portrait of Gulen that we gain from the book is this:

In his circle of conversation, Gulen puts forward the knowledge and experience he has acquired through the years with a tender style, a language of “fresh-dialect”, a “wisdom-emitting” manner, and in the shape of “seeds of thought” waiting to sprout. The way Kurucan has described him here calls into memory Nihat Dağlı’s description of Gulen as the ancient poet who sits in the world “in a poetic manner”.

Kurucan explains this poetic and philosophical style of Gulen: “These are one-sentence expressions that are simple yet deep in meaning, are easily said yet their contents are quite deep indeed. They are observations which can be deeply analyzed in religious, historical, psychological and sociological aspects.”

From the book, we learn that the psychological and spiritual state of Gulen is ever-changing: the events and happenings throughout the day can have a heavy influence in his mood. For instance, a news piece that he has watched, a dream he has had or any other issue that he has in his head can completely turn around Gulen’s spiritual mode, thus changing the mode of the conversational environment as well… Gulen pays careful attention to direct the words being spoken onto the right track by making the right introductions to a conversation of the Beloved during the tea breaks and conversation sessions. Subjects ranging from literature to religion to ideology to philosophy are explored as he sweetens the conversations with memories sometimes from Erzurum, other times from Izmir, and the discussing of micro subjects and daily politics are avoided. Using an original meta-language throughout his conversations, we realize that Gulen is reconstructing, knot-by-knot, the culture, vision and mission of this movement with this meta-language and narration. According to Kurucan, despite the sorrow and melancholy that has imbued both his physical and spiritual being, Gulen, constantly reborn with every passing moment, bearing faith in Allah once again (revival and renewal), instills a feeling of hope in those who are gathered around him. In fact, even in those instances when Kurucan has lost hope, Gulen opens a doorway that always leads to hope and prospect; fully aware of his responsibility, he does not let those who are listening to and watching him fall into the abyss of hopelessness. He says that one should not be daunted and reminds them that a believer’s duty is to “break hatred and soften hearts”.

We also learn from the book that Gulen has a number of interesting habits in his daily life. For example, after using a paper towel, he leaves it to dry and later uses it for another purpose. With this example, the author depicts Gulen as a frugal, sensible and environment-friendly individual.

Different thoughts regarding the definition, classification and description of the Movement have been going on ever since the beginning of the 2000s. We learn once again from Kurucan that Fethullah Gulen is strictly against having the movement referred to with his name attached to it: “Do not idolize certain individuals!” he warns. Meanwhile, being able to predict that, in the times to come, a kind of animosity may arise between those who truly understand the movement and those who misunderstand, Gulen gives advice on how to overcome such situations: “Let us continue with humility, modesty, without driving others into jealousy, without changing our attitude, without altering our direction, and without sacrificing our Islamic identity.”

Those who have listened to Gulen’s sermons will notice that, recently, he has been decorating even the smallest of his conversational sessions with a graceful line of poetry, a piece of verse from Akif, a couplet of wisdom from Divan poetry, or an amorous yet torturous ode from Fuzuli; that, in fact, he weaves his sermons with these poems and lays the foundation of his message with these verses. In this respect, if you ask me, the best way to summarize Kurucan’s Zephyrs from His Presence is through a couplet from Nail-i Kadim:

“Those who have left me joyless, o Lord let them be joyful

Those who wish that I am left without my desire let them gain what they desire.”

Here, Gulen not only expresses his philosophy of tolerance with the words of a 17th century poet in the most aesthetic way, he also underlines his deep spiritual world, his trust in and obedience to Allah, along with his detachment and submission.

Gulen also criticizes certain things during his conversations, when appropriate situations arise. We understand from the book that this criticism is often times directed toward those who are a part of the Movement. Here are a few quotes that can be evaluated in this way:

“We fail to meet a deepening in quality that is equal to the degree of increase in quantity. On the contrary, we seem to be getting even shallower. Such a society cannot successfully carry out such great ideals.”

“You cannot accept genuine sincerity from those who have expectations for their personal prosperity in the future. One who does not struggle with their own ego cannot let go of struggling with others.”

“O my Lord, help me so that I forget myself and make me view speaking of myself as a heinous act.”

In the book, Gulen does not hesitate to shake the conservative population from time to time by speaking of being “culturally Muslim”, “outwardly Muslim”, or “ritual Muslims”. At exactly that point, we hear the cries of “Where are the Muslims…” from Akif ringing in our ears!

I will share a few of the quotes I underlined while reading the book. By essence, these words which can be considered adages, give significant clues regarding the portrait of Gulen that is depicted in the book, his spiritual and intellectual world and attitude:

“Allah is always close to human beings. The human being is the one who stays afar. Physical desires, wishes and ambitions are the things which lead humans away from Allah.”

“First, planning and programming; then, blessing and grace.”

“One day, we too may become true human beings.”

“If I say ‘I’m good’ it will be a lie. If I say ‘I’m bad’ it will be a complaint. The best thing to say is, ‘I’m not bad’.”

If mercy is half of religion, then mercilessness is half of being void of religion.”

Before ending this article, I would like to touch on one other matter. Visiting Gulen, spending some time in his circle of conversation, and then writing about and publishing these personal experiences and observations have become a procedure used by many in recent years. In particular, İsmail Ünal’s Amerika’da Bir Ay (A Month in America), Osman Şimşek’s İbretlik Hatıralar (Memories to Learn From) and Ahmet Kurucan’s Huzurdan Esintiler (Zephyrs from His Presence) have been written by theologians and are works which reflect scenes from Gulen’s life in the U.S. One of the common characteristics of these three writers is that they are all theologians.

If only writers from other fields of study could take their places in Gulen’s circle of conversation, if they would reflect the different aspects and dimensions of both the conversations and Gulen’s personality and thoughts… For instance, if writers such as Ali Çolak, Tahir Taner, Nihat Dağlı, Sait Türkoğlu, Zekeriya Kantaş, Hüseyin Say, Mehmet Erdoğan and Haruk Tokak would stay for some time by Gulen’s side and share these experiences with the reader through a different language and style!

In the final analysis, through a mixture of genres like essay, conversation and narration, in fact, through a brand-new genre of writing, with a style that speaks out more to the mind and logic rather than being one to be read out loud with a burst of emotion, Kurucan presents reflections from conversation with Gulen in America, and leaves an important document behind.

I want to conclude my words with these expressions from Haruk Tokak, who wrote the foreword for the book, which emphasize the importance of Gulen’s conversations and which I find very poetic and magnificent:

“I was a dried up tree whose dreams were limited to the mountains of its village. On a snowy and stormy day, when I reached that fountain of conversation and our eyes met, I felt life crawling into my veins, like a branch in springtime. The spirit of the Respected Companions of the Prophet came alive once again with these conversations, and the new-era cavaliers of light have started on their way, emigrating to new horizons.”

Source: HizmetMovement.Com , July 16, 2010


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