Gulen wants Anatolian [interpretation of] Islam

Date posted: December 16, 2013

Neşe Düzel

Monday Talks, June 15, 2010 (PART II)

– “The West has a positive opinion about Gulen. There is a Salafi jihadist Islam and a separate radical Iranian Shia. And against those, there is a person who deems it appropriate for Islam to adapt modernity.”

– “Turkish diplomacy has reached its limits in the Middle East. There is a limit to defending Palestinians more than Arabs, and a limit to being successful in convincing Israel to act more humanely.”

– “If Turkey had any influence on Hamas and if Turkey had put its own people at risk for Hamas, then Hamas should release the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. If not, that means that Hamas is using Turkey.”

I would like to turn to Fethullah Gulen who, due to his recent comments, has frequently been at the center of political debates. You published a book recently about the Gulen Movement.

Fethullah Gulen’s followers do not constitute a tariqah, but rather a community. It adheres to certain principles and goals, whereas tariqah’s have rigid doctrines. In addition, once you join a tariqah it is not easy to quit. You will be isolated if you leave.

Does the movement continue to provide the same benefits to those who leave?

No. Of course, the Gulen Movement does not applaud those who quit, but they don’t harm their personal life space. Those who leave can establish a new life outside the movement’s effective area. The Gulen Movement is a civil society movement that began with the ideal of creating a religious society. However, its global educational and invesment activities eventually created a group of people with a high level of income and education and caused them to move away from this narrow target.

What is the movement’s target now? Why do its members cooperate with each other?

They are rural migrants to cities who seek to improve their lot in life. They are unlike those tariqah members who have limited opportunities to progress and who feel stuck socially. The people who Gulen influences are not like tariqah members.

What are they like?

They are people who live in the cities and try to advance by working hard. They seek to earn capital and are motivated by the entrepreneurial spirit. They take traditional [Islamic] values seriously but also want to adapt to modern society. In other words, they are stuck between tradition and modernity. Now, those who are willing to advance are inspired by Fethullah Gulen regarding how they will manage this transition.

How many people are in the movement?

It is said that the movement influences about 1-2 million people. Gulen himself doesn’t know the number. If you’re talking about his philosophy, it is based on two fundamentals: the Qur’an and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). Gulen is trying to develop a philosophy of life that is compatible with modern life and thus promotes a modern society that accommodates faith, science, and technology.

Modern society is defined by male-female interaction. An important indication of a modern society is how women function in society with or without equal opportunities. In this respect, the movement’s weakest link is related to women. Why can’t Fethullah Gulen merge religion and modern life when it comes to women?

This is indeed Turkey’s problem. You are one of the lucky women. Eighty percent of people in Turkey have the same view on women. Gulen differs from the tariqah leaders in that he doesn’t tell his followers to live a secluded spiritual life.

What does he say?

He says: “Work hard and earn money, but be honest. Allah will reward your hard work and honesty. But do not squander that reward. Turn it into an investment and help others.” It sounds a lot like the Protestant work ethic. This is the underlying vision of capitalism. The Gulen Movement looks a lot like the Ottoman-era Ahi movement (1). It is a kind of a solidarity group that provides people with jobs, education, and reintegration into society.

[Gulen-inspired] schools all over the world are surrounded by businesspeople who belong to the movement. These young people have become successful in their businesses and have accomplished what a young enterpreneur couldn’t have accomplished on his/her own in a foreign country. They have risen to the top in their respective businesses. Is affiliation with the [Gulen] movement a way to economic strength and wealth?

It is definitely one way to rise in society. People ask me: “The movement turns individuals into introverts, isolates them from the surrounding world, and hinders individualization and freedom. Are you not afraid of the Gulen Movement?” “No, I am not,” I tell them. If an individual has become wealthy, if his/her level of education has risen, and, more importantly if he/she has become [an] international [citizen], then he/she cannot be easily manipulated. A movement like this cannot control its members as easily as it used to. Besides, the period of “let’s gather smart kids from villages and educate them in Selcuk University or Gaziosmanpasa University” has ended. (These two Anatolian universities are not considered to be on the same level as those in Istanbul and Ankara)

What phase is the Gulen Movement going through now?

Even the period of “let’s educate these kids at METU or Bosphorus” is over as well. They do not say: “Let’s educate them in France, China, and have them return to Turkey.” Now they say: “Let them study abroad, stay there, start businesses, and have families there.”

Do foreigners who marry Gulen Movement members convert to Islam?

No. Gulen believes that the time for Islamic civilization has come. He thinks that Arab Islam failed to realize this, for they spawned a short-term historical civilization that later collapsed. From now on, a more human-centric Anatolian Islam will emerge. He foresees the Islamic world’s historical dynamism rejuvenated by Anatolian Islam as well as Turkey’s development and renaissance. Therefore, he wants Turkish Muslims to proliferate in the world; he wants to start a Turkish Islamic Renainssance over “movement” values. Here, the relationship between people of different religions and ethnicities grows through “faith” and “values,” not through conversion. This approach suggests that “whatever your religion or ethnicity is, accept these humanistic values.”

Wasn’t the Gulen Movement growing by spreading Islam?

It was, but only at the beginning. There is no doubt that the original intent was to create a religious society. Now, however, the goal is to create a Turkish-Islamic civilization, which Gulen calls “Anatolian Islam.” When asked about it, he says: “Islam is universal, but there is also a notion of Islam that reflects Anatolian values.” This interpretation of Islam is based on tolerance, dialogue, and diversity. I know this from the long conversations that I had with him. Gulen does not want isolation from West. He says that there is no “Islamic world” today, but rather “Muslim societies.” In his words: “Since there is no Islamic world, there isn’t a bloc that thinks and acts together.”

Does the absense of an “Islamic world” mean the absense of an “Islamic civilization”?

Yes. There is the religion of Islam and Muslim societies, but there is no Islamic civilization. Furthermore, unlike the West, there is a huge gap between the rulers and the ruled in Islamic societies because in those societies the nation does not have a government; rather, it is the government that has the nation. Gulen is very much aware of this: “This is a departure from the essence of Islam” and “the provisions of Islam about politics and governance is [only] about 3 to 5 percent [of the entire Islamic law].”

Does that mean that there cannot be any Shariah-based governance?

Yes. “Most of Islam’s principles are about worship, faith, moral principles, and a moral society. The type of governance is to be determined by the rules and principles agreed upon by the people. These rules and principles should not contradict with Islam’s principles. Only about 3 to 5 percent of Islam relates to politics. This part contains the principles established by the people that should not contradict Islam. Beyond that, politics and law are worldly affairs,” he says. This is very important, since it prevents the radicalization of society.

Is the civil law not contradicting the 3 percent of the religion (i.e., religious law) unimportant?

Well, this is a religion at the end…

But this 3 to 5 percent contains many laws that deprive women of their inheritance, do not recognize the testimony, prohibits interest in banking, and so on. It has many rules ranging from trade law to criminal law.

Fethullah Gulen comments that most of these are interpretations that stem from the lifestyles of certain societies during a certain historical period.

Does he consider veiling a historical interpretation as well?

“Veiling is not a major ruling. Veiling and its style are dependent upon [personal] preference. The key thing is for a woman not to exhibit herself,” he says. Regarding the headscarf crisis, he adds something else: “If a believer wants to veil herself, removing the veil by force is bad. However, not being able to study because of a veil is even worse. One should choose an option that is less bad.”

Does he tell girls with headscarves to remove their turbans and continue their studies at the universities?

Exactly so. This is such a comforting thing [to reduce tension in society].

You have said that since Gulen is considered an important person, that he receives information from everywhere. What did you mean?

This is my conclusion after researching the movement for two-and-a-half years… There is a jihadist Islam called Salafi Islam. There is also radical Shia Islam in Iran. Then there is someone like Fethullah Gulen, who is against violence and considers Islam’s becoming compatible with modernity and the West a good thing for the Muslims. The West looks positively on someone like him. It does not mean that the West created this person. Quite the contrary, for the West would not make such an investment. It would observe such a power emerging and would want to make use of it. Now, when there is someone like Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen Movement, they will want to learn his views and have him on their side against radical movements in the Islamic world.

Gülen cemaatinde bir ikinci adam var mı? Gülen’den sonra ne olacak?

Bu hareketin bir kurmay heyeti var. Bunlar aralarında iş bölümü yapmışlar. Bazısı okullara, bazısı finansa, bazısı basına bakıyor. Bakın… Gülen’in ilham verdiği bir hareket bu. Yoksa o, böyle bir teşkilat kurmadı. İnsanlar onun etrafında toplandılar. Ondan alınan ilhamla faaliyetler ve projeler ortaya çıktı ve bu faaliyetler üzerinden bir örgütlenme doğdu. Bu örgütlenme bir devinim içinde sürekli gelişiyor. Dolayısıyla Gülen’i bu kadar güçlü kılan kendisi değildir.

Is there a number two in the Gulen Movement? What will happen after Gulen?

The movement has a [board of] wise men (kurmay heyeti) who function according to a division of labor among themselves. Some of them supervise the schools; others look after financial matters and so on. Look, Gulen inspired this movement. He did not come up with this organization. People gathered around him. With his inspiration, those activities and projects that lead to an organization began to emerge. This organization is constantly developing and improving. Therefore, what makes Gulen so powerful is not Gulen himself.

What makes Gulen powerful?

What makes him powerful is the movement, for all those people who carry out those projects with great devotion and self-sacrifice are inspired by him. Those people who work in desolate corners of the world and make such great sacrifices can only be motivated by religion. One needs to understand this. When I asked some of the “wise men” about “after Gulen,” they replied: “We do not discuss or think about it.”

Will Fethullah Gulen return [to Turkey]?

He will, if he finds the situation favorable [in Turkey]. After all, why shouldn’t he? He has a deep longing for Turkey. He does want to return.

Why doesn’t he return?

He says a word in America and it causes quite a stir in Turkey. If he returns, he will have a more frequent and direct contact with people… He is a man of the heart and peace.

(1) The Ahi Brotherhood followed the Sufi tradition of Islam during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Most members were merchants and craftsmen who viewed taking pride in their work as part and parcel of their adherence to Islam. However, it was not a professional organization and should not be confused with the professional guilds that emerged later.

SourceTaraf newspaper, June 15, 2010

Disclaimer: The original article is in Turkish. Slight deviations from the original meaning may have occurred due to the difficulties in translating phrases and idioms. The Peace Islands Institute volunteers translated the article.

Read Part IThe Gulen Movement has become Turkey’s most significant export

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