Fethullah Gulen, more familiarly known by the affectionate and respectful title of Hodja Effendi, is a contemporary Islamic scholar of remarkable achievement. He combines profound, rigorous learning in the traditional Islamic sciences with a sure grasp of the intellectual and philosophical resources of modern Western civilisation. In both his character and his work, he has consistently demonstrated an unshakeable conviction in the truths of Islam alongside an equally firm openness to new developments and changes in human life.
Throughout his life, he has proven himself able to translate personal faith and high erudition into a language that is clear and comprehensible, a language which ennobles those who hear or read his words, and inspires them to the service of their fellow human beings-and that is, for the great majority of us, the best way to practise serving God. It is no exaggeration to say that his life's work as a whole illustrates the ancient maxim: 'Think like a learned man but express yourself like the ordinary people'.
That is why his message has moved millions world-wide, why it can be effectively translated into different languages, why it can be put into programmes of action that work in the real world. That too is why his followers have not been deviated by the success of their movement into political ambition, into engaging in or provoking divisiveness, belligerence, the kind of activism that soon degenerates into a party fanaticism, excluding more people than it includes, hurting more than it heals and, in the end, however unintentionally, doing more harm than good. The movement Fethullah Gulen helped to nurture and encourage is a movement to educate, but to educate the heart and soul as well as the mind, to revive and invigorate the whole being: a 'graduate' from this movement is not only competent in his or her job or profession in the world but also understands and is dedicated to the full meaning and purpose of achieving competence and delivering useful goods and services to others. Individuals who lack an intelligent, alert relationship with the moral and spiritual values of their tradition, are (to all intents and purposes) culturally orphaned. They are liable to self-doubt and disappointment with themselves, and they are vulnerable to those around them who are all too keen to rob them of their self-worth and their material and cultural wealth. So too a society that cuts itself off from its religious and cultural traditions is, as it were, morally beheaded, and risks blundering here and there, without sure direction or steady self-confidence.
The schools and colleges associated with the name and work of Fethullah Gulen number in their hundreds and are established in all four corners of the world; similarly, the publications and electronic media channels associated with him are translated into the major world languages. This has been achieved in a little over thirty-five years, a single generation, without the help of national or foreign government support. All the funds and resources used by this movement have been donated or generated by its own members, privately, individually, in small increments-reliable. 'long-term service. This quality of dedicated support has been earned and sustained by Compassion. Fethullah Gulen's faith and message are rooted in his compassion, itself rooted in his yearning to seek the pleasure of God. But how has he been able to articulate and communicate this compassion to so many?
The compassion that moves Fethullah Gulen and by which he moves so many others, is of a very unique character and importance. When we realise that there are many millions who have long been suffering thirst for intellectual and spiritual contentment and a overall peace, a believing mans compassion is bewildered. We fear the problem is too big to tackle; we either avoid the issue or seek refuge in gestures - the language of bitterness, hating the situation and unable to find any good in it; the language of vain fantasy, able to visualise the goal we wish to reach but helpless to design and take the first, second, third and other necessary steps to attain that goal. Fethullah Gulen is a man of different temper: his faith protected him from loss of hope, his conviction of the Mercy of God and the need to accept His Decree, the ease and the hardship of it, enabled him to seek, even in the situation which led to the disorientation and humiliation of those millions and other millions like them, whatever could be of positive value. Loyalty to his religious belief enabled him to recognise the shortcomings of the believers which had led them to their present pass, and the good qualities of those who had skillfully and subtly exploited the believers' weaknesses; the same loyalty enabled his compassion to remain positive and vigorous, and fed his imagination with ideas and ideals which would, from within the realities of modern civilisation, re-discover the Muslims of Turkey and many more in other countries the dignity and dynamism that are ingrained in man- the noblest of God's creatures. He expelled rancour from his heart and let compassion grow in its place; he maintained his vision of the desired goal and took, and motivated others to take, one at a time, the steps that must be taken to attain that goal.
Despite the originality of his ideas and the success of his movement, Fethullah Gulen remains a modest, unassuming man. He once described celebrity as 'a poisonous honey' which reduces the spiritual vigour of the heart. Therefore, he has always steadfastly refused worldly honours, wealth, prestige and the like. Whoever has met him has come away with a clear impression of a profoundly and sincerely religious man, without affectation or pretension of any sort. He persuades by reasoned arguments based upon faith and idealism, and his mission has prospered to a degree so astonishing in so short a period that one must conclude that he has touched universal, perennially effective truths and conveys them to others with an almost irresistibly persuasive wisdom. His efforts, especially in the area of educational and social reform, have made him one of the most well-known and respected public figures of the last half century in Turkey.
HIS LIFE AND MISSION
Fethullah Gulen was born in 1938 in a village called Korucuk, in Erzurum, a province in eastern Turkey. He felt called from very early childhood to a life of religious devotion and he has remained loyal to that vocation to this day. After graduating from Divinity School and taking his license to preach and teach, he began his teaching career in Edirne in 1958. Even then, he also took part in other welfare activities besides his teaching. Following military service and more teaching, he was transferred in the early 1960s to lzmir, the third biggest province in Turkey. This appointment was to prove a turning-point. From his base in lzmir, he began to travel from city to city to give lectures on subjects ranging from Darwinism to social justice, and attend places like large Turkish-style cafÃ©s, where people mostly gather, in order to unburden himself to them.
Fethullah Gulen had long dreamed of a young generation who would combine rational 'enlightenment' with true spirituality, wisdom and continuous activism. Being knowledgeable in religious and social sciences and also conversant with the principles of the so- called 'material' sciences, he was able to instruct his students in almost all of them. The first students who attended his courses in lzmir were able to wed intellectual enlightenment with spirituality and morality. Those who heeded Fethullah Gulen's advices and encouragements by the end of the 1960s set out to serve their nation and humanity. The generation captivated by his tears, sincerity, altruism and love, have served others, and still continue to do so, without expecting material reward. These services include preaching, teaching, establishing private institutions of education all over the world, publishing books, magazines, dailies and weeklies, TV and radio broadcasts, and funding scholarships for poor students. The people coming from almost all walks of life and having different political opinions and even world-views have followed his line to create an atmosphere of love, peace and respect. They have founded and are running high schools and universities numbering about 300 all over the world from England to Australia and the United States, and from Russian cities such as Petersburg and Moscow to Yakutsky, to new centres in South Africa. They run a TV channel whose broadcast covers a wide area stretching from Turkey and Central Asia to India and the Middle east.
KEYS POINTS IN HIS MESSAGE
Inter-faith and Inter-cultural dialogue Fethullah Gulen believes that the thoughts, values and experiences which are shared by the people of not only the same nation but by all the nations of the world, are much more important and more numerous than what divides and antagonises them, To encourage tolerance and respect and promote unity, while at the same time preventing the divisions and antagonisms from growing into open hostility and conflict. Fethullah Gulen maintains that regular dialogue is essential. To this end, he pioneered the establishment of the Foundation of Journalists and Writers, whose activities to promote dialogue and mutual respect among all strata of the society have been warmly welcomed by people from almost all walks of life. Again to this end, Fethullah Gulen visits, and receives visits from, leading figures not only from among the Turkish people. but from all over the world. The Vatican ambassador to Turkey, the Patriarchs of the Turkish Orthodox and the Turkish Armenian communities, the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community, as well as influential opinion-formers such as journalists, columnists. TV and film stars, thinkers and writers of diverse views, are among the many people with whom he frequently meets.
Education: its role and significance
Fethullah Gulen unequivocally asserts: 'If you wish to keep the masses under control, simply starve them of knowledge. The only escape route from tyranny is through the attainment of knowledge.' He believes the road to fair opportunity and justice for all is paved with an appropriate and sufficient general education. Only then do the resources develop within individuals and within their communities to enable understanding and mutual respect which, in turn. are the basis upon which each others rights can be secured by voluntary compliance. Fethullah Gulen has over the years. encouraged the elite and community leaders, also successful industrialists and businessmen, to support quality education for those who cannot otherwise afford it.
His tireless efforts to promote education have begun to bear fruit The students graduating from the private schools in Turkey and Central Asia established by entirely private donations, fostered through his inspiration, and run as trusts, have taken high honours in university placement tests and consistently finished at the top in international Knowledge Olympics, producing a number of world champions, especially in such subjects as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Indeed, as recently as July 1997, a chemistry team from Yamanlar High School in lzmir, competed in the Chemistry Olympics in Calgary. Canada, and won the top award.
Fethullah Gulen maintains: If a civilized nation expects to be ignorant and free, it is expecting what never was and never will be.' In the field of education this principle means making intelligent use of, rather than running away from, the latest knowledge and technologies, notably mass communications technology such as television, to inform the public, especially those unable to attain a formal education, of matters of concern and relevance to them.
The usefulness of democracy
Fethullah Gulen is of the opinion that, in spite of its many shortcomings, democracy is the only viable choice in modern times for a system to manage political decision-making and governance generally. He argues therefore that mankind should preserve democracy and try to develop and improve it.
People will always demand freedom of choice in the way they run their affairs and especially in their expression of spiritual and religious values.
The duty of hope
Do not despair in the face of adversity and do not yield to anarchists,' he emphasizes time and again. He has warned most particularly against giving up hope when disappointments and failures come thick and fast. Hopelessness is a quicksand that incapacitates the will to struggle and succeed it is a noose that chokes the powers of reason and imagination so that, in their despair, people refuse to learn from their trials and run to false, short-term solutions which, in time, intensify the very problems they sought to escape. A strong faith in God and loyalty to fundamental principles are the best defence against the decay or loss of hope.
Visions for the future
Fethullah Gulen has said that lie senses a positive change in the spiritual climate in the world. He envisions a 21st century in which we shall see the birth of a spiritual dynamism that will shake off the dust that has stifled moral values for so long. He looks forward to an age of tolerance and understanding leading to co-operation between the great human civilizations and ultimately to their unification. The nobility of the human spirit and moral conscience will triumph on the way to intercivilizational dialogue based on shared values.
Mankind face anxieties and stresses in modern society, and their labours, even well-intentioned, have undesirable outcomes, psychological, socio-political and environmental. The principal reason, Fethullah Gulen contends, is that man proceeds only haltingly in search of his Creator and the purpose of his creation. To the fundamental questions which we all ask -Why was I born? What is the purpose of my living? What is the meaning of death and what does it demand from me?-Fethullah Gulen gives very practical and convincing answers, but people must choose individually to be guided or not. In his speeches and writings he has often said: 'Man has come to a crossroads: one road leads to despair, the other to salvation. May God give! us the 'visdom to make the right choice.
Sharing the abundance
Fethullah Gulen does not believe that there exist any material shortages in the world which might conceivably justify the death of millions from famine or drought. The problems arise from inequitably distribution of wealth and the resources from which wealth is generated. He argues strongly that wealth should be channelled through private charities to the needy. He has spearheaded the establishment of many charitable organizations to handle the welfare of the underprivileged and to administer and carry out the most direct and effective methods of accomplishing this task.
Material and spiritual values
In his philosophical writings and speeches Fethullah Gulen has sought to synthesize the positive sciences with divinity, to reconcile the alleged incongruities between them. In the same spirit, he has argued that man must seek, in his everyday life of work and relationships, a subtle and delicate balance between material and spiritual values. Individuals and societies must guard against unrestrained avarice and the artificial multiplication of needs. Equally, absolute renunciation is not a way that all can follow, nor one that even the few can follow all the time. Through steady discipline and intelligent exercise of conscience a moderate path must be sought and held to. Only then can individuals and societies enjoy serenity and contentment.
Use reasoned argument, not violence
As for getting others to accept your ways, Fethullah Gulen tells us, mere force is not appropriate. In a situation where communication across great distances has become easier and easier, and people have access or can demand access to the means of mass communication, the only proper way to get others to accept your ideas is by persuading them through convincing arguments. Those who resort to brute force to reach their goals are intellectually bankrupt.
Though officially retired, Fethullah Gulen remains active in the organization of meetings and conferences, and as writer and speaker. He is also teaching Islamic sciences to a large group of divinity graduates under his private tutelage. His following in his native Turkey and abroad continues to grow. His biography recently reached its fiftieth edition.
FETHULLAH GULEN'S VIEW OF ISLAM IN THE MODERN AGE AND THE DIALOGUE AMONG THE GREAT RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD
Man is a itripartite' being composed of the spirit, the carnal self and the body. These three elements are so interrelated that neglecting one results in failure to achieve perfection. Man has accordingly been endowed with three essential faculties, namely the spiritual intellect, reason and will. During his life-time, man experiences a continual inner struggle to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. The motor or engine of this struggle is will, as directed by reason. However, since reason can be swayed by carnal appetites, personal desires, biases and interests, and by such emotions as anger and rancour, it needs the guidance of the spiritual intellect which includes man's conscience and is the source of moral values and virtues.
Because of his worldly nature, man can be too obedient a servant of his lusts. When human beings captive to their lusts gain enough power to rule over others, they light fires of oppression on the earth and reduce the poor and the weak to misery and servitude. Human history is full of instances of such oppression. However, as God is All-Just and never approves oppression, He sent His Prophets at certain points in human history in order to guide and correct the individual and collective life of mankind. All of the Prophets came with the same fundamentals of doctrine, namely belief in One God. Prophethood, the Resurrection, Angels, Divine Scriptures and Divine Destiny and the duty to worship God. All of the Prophets also conveyed the same moral principles, in this sense, all the Divinely revealed religions are one and the same, but differences in cultural, geographical, social and economic conditions in different periods required different Prophets to be sent and certain differences to be made in the acts and forms of worship and in the subdivisions of the law.
Moses, Jesus And Muhammad, upon them be peace
Islam, as the latest form of the Divine religion, orders its followers to believe in all of the Prophets. Being a Muslim also means being a follower of Jesus and Moses and of all the other Prophets at the same time. The Qur'an (2.285) declares:
The Messenger (Muhammad) believes in what has been revealed to him by his Lord, and so do the believers. They all believe in God and His angels, His Scriptures and His Messengers:
'We make no distinction between any of His Messengers - and they say: We hear and obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, our Lord; to You is the journeying.'
In respect of prevailing conditions, certain principles had greater prominence in the messages of the Prophets. Also, God bestowed particular favours on each Prophet and community according to the needs of the time and the mission of each Prophet. For example, Adam, upon him be peace, was favoured with knowledge of the 'names, that is, the keys to all branches of knowledge. Noah, upon him be peace, was endowed with steadfastness and perseverance. Abraham, upon him be peace, was honoured with intimate friendship with God and being the father of numerous Prophets. Moses, upon him be peace, was given the capability of administration and exalted as the direct addressee of God, and Jesus, upon him be peace, was distinguished with patience, tolerance and compassion. All the Prophets have, however, some share in the praiseworthy qualities mentioned, but, on account of his particular mission, each of them surpasses the others in one or more than one of those qualities.
When the Prophet Moses was raised as a Prophet, the Israelites were leading a wretched existence under the tyranny of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Because of the long years of oppression they suffered, slavery was ingrained in the Israelites' way of life and had become a part of their character. In order to reform them, to equip them for freedom and independence, and to rebuild their character and free them froth subservience to the Pharaohs, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, came with a message containing stern and rigid rules and measures. This is why the Book given to Moses was also called the Law or Torah.
Again, as a requirement of his mission, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace:was a reformer and educator of somewhat unyielding and stern character. However, that is not to say that the Prophet Moses was merciless or unpitying. Rather, like every other Prophet, Moses was filled with the most profound concern and care for his people and desired mercy for them. It should not be forgotten that mercy sometimes requires punishing wrongdoers, that failure to do justice is sometimes also a failure to establish mercy.
When Jesus. upon him be peace, was sent to the Israelites, the spirit of the Religion had been dwindled away and the Religion itself reduced to a device for its leaders to exploit the common people. So,Jesus concentrated on faith, justice, mercy, love, humility, altruism peace, respect, repentance for one's sins and begging God's forgiveness, helping others,purity of heart and intention, chastity and sincerity:
Happy are those who know they are spiritually needy: the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Happy are those who mourn: God will comfort them,
Happy are those who are humble: they will receive what God promised.
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires: God will satisfy them fully.
Happy are those who are merciful to others: God will be merciful to them,
Happy are the poor in heart:' the will see God, (Matthew: 5.3-10).
As for the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, he resembled the Prophet Moses in that he too was a warner and established a Law and fought with his enemies; and he resembled Jesus in that he too was a bringer of good news and preached mercy, forgiveness, helping others, altruism, humility, sincerity, purity of intention and moral values of the highest degree. We should remember that the Qur'an declares that God sent the Prophet Muhammad as a mercy for the whole of creation. Again, Islam presents God, before all other Attributes and Names, as the All-Merciful and the All-Compassionate. This means God mainly manifests Himself as the All- Merciful and All-Compassionate and His wrath and punishment are only accidental. That is, it is man himself who attracts God's wrath because of his sins and wrongdoing. But God is the All-Forgiving and He forgives most of the sins of His servants:
Whatever misfortune befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned and for much (of that) He grants forgiveness. (Qur'an, 42.30)
The Messianic mission toward the end of time
We read in the reliable books of Hadith several sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, that the Prophet Jesus will come back to the world before the end of time and practise Islam. Although those sayings have so far been interpreted in different ways. it cannot be wrong to interpret them as meaning that. before the end of time, Islam will manifest itself mostly in that dimension of it represented by Jesus. That is, the major aspects of the Messengership of Jesus will be given prominence in practising Islam. These aspects are:
Jesus always travelled. He never stayed in one place, he preached his message on the move. Therefore, in order to preach Islam, the followers of Islam should travel or emigrate from place to place. They must be 'the repenters, the worshippers, the travellers, the bowers, the prostraters, the commanders of good and the forbidders of evil, and the observers of God's limits. For them there is good news.' (Qur'an, 9.112)
Second, mercy, love, and forgiveness had the first place in Jesus' mission. He was a bringer of good news. Therefore, those who have dedicated themselves to the cause of Islam must give prominence to mercy, love, and forgiveness, and, never forgetting that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, was sent as. a mercy for all the worlds, for the whole of existence, they must convey good news to every place and call people to the way of God with wisdom and fair exhortation. They must never be harsh or repelling. The world today needs peace more than at any time in history, and most of the problems of the modern world arise from excessive worldliness, scientific materialism and ruthless exploitation of nature. There is so much talk of the danger of war and the pollution of air and water that peace and ecology are the most fashionable words on people's tongues. But the same people wish to remove those problems through further conquest and domination of nature. The roots of the problem lie in rebelling against God and in the destruction of the equilibrium between man and nature as a result of the modern materialistic conception of, and corrupt attitude toward, man and nature. Most people are reluctant to recognise that peace within human societies and with nature is possible only through peace with the spiritual order. To be at peace with the earth one must be at peace with the spiritual dimension of one's existence and that is only possible by being at peace with God.
In the Qur'an, Jesus introduces himself in these words:
God has commanded me to pray and to give alms as long as I live. And He has made me dutiful to my mother and has not made me oppressive, wicked. (79.31-2)
This implies that, as we approach nearer to the end of time, children will be less and less dutiful to their parents. Therefore, the followers of Islam in our age must, besides performing their prayers accurately and helping the poor and needy, be very careful about showing due respect to their parents and elders. The Qur'an enjoins:
Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you show .kindness to your parents. If either or both of them attain old age with you, (show no sign of impatience, and) do not even say 'uff' to them; nor rebuke them, but speak kind words to them (17.23).
One of Jesus' miracles was healing the sick and reviving the dead by leave of God, that is, respect for life was very important in his mission. The Qur'an attaches the same degree of importance to life and regards one who kills a man unjustly as if he had killed all mankind, while, on the other hand, one who saves a life is as if he had saved the life of all mankind. So, those who have dedicated themselves to the cause of Islam must attach the utmost importance to life and therefore try to prevent wars, find cures for illnesses and understand that reviving a person spiritually is more important than healing diseases. The Qur'an declares:
O you who believe! Respond to God and the Messenger, when the Messenger calls you to that which will give you life. (8.24)
As was pointed above, belief in God without associating any partners with Him in His Dimity and Lordship and worshipping Him is the foundation of the Divinely- revealed Religion, which has been the same throughout history with respect to its essentials. It is because of this that the Quran warns that the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, was neither a Jew nor a Christian but one who best exemplified primordial belief in God and total submission to Him. The Quran also orders the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, to follow the nation of Abraham. However, although of the same essence, over the course of time, the religion of Abraham has, unfortunately, taken three separate forms which have almost always been in conflict. Simon Jargy writes:
To try to analyze the historical relations between Islam and Christianity in both their religious and sociopolitical components, is to come up immediately against one preliminary fact: although the three great religions of the monotheist faith came from the same roots, they developed separately from each other. They have not supplemented but rather opposed each other in a perpetual conflict. (Islam et Chretiente, GenevA: Labor et Fides, 1981, plO)
As for the Muslims: in part because of their struggles for independence against colonizing powers, and in part because, like other peoples, Muslims too have tended to see their problems, and therefore seek their solutions, in the light of politics, Islam has come to be taken as almost a political ideology. The Arab-Israeli conflict has contributed to this. Especially after the Iranian revolution in 1979, Islam came to be viewed and presented in the West as a religion of conflict, enmity and violence and the Iranian revolution as representative of Islam. After the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the NATO countries marked out the Islamic world as their potential enemy in place of the Communist bloc.
Fortunately, however, despite their historical disagreements and other negative factors, the followers of Islam. Christianity and Judaism have recently rediscovered that they have much in common. in addition to the essentials of belief, they enjoin faith and trust in God, repentance, truth, purity, chivalry, justice, charity, benevolence, mercy, self-control, chastity, uprightness, respect for others' rights, love, forgiveness, and condemn lying, cheating, theft, gambling, usurpation, falsehood, dishonesty, adultery, hypocrisy, injustice, cruelty, pride, ungratefulness, treachery, intemperance, sloth, jealousy, selfishness, hurting others, violence, etc. The putting into practice of those positive values is what mankind today need more than anything else. For this reason, the Qur'an clearly stated fourteen centuries ago:
Surely, this community of yours is one community and I am your Lord, so worship Me (21.92).
Again, the Qur'an made the following call to the followers of other Divine religions:
Say: '0 People of the Book! Come to a word common between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not associate any partners with Him howsoever, and that we shall not take some of us as lords besides God.' (3.64)
In 1962, the Holy See launched a movement of dialogue between the great religions of the world. The efforts of his holiness John-Paul II are particularly worthy of mention.
He has paid visits to many Muslim countries and, both during such visits and in his book entitled Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he has expressed his feelings and hopes of dialogue. Perhaps the most important and promising response to his call has recently come from Turkey when Fethullah Gulen visited him last February. Like his earlier (and continuing) efforts for dialogue among the different strata in modern Turkish society, a dialogue based on each accepting and respecting the identity of the other and building relations on the basis of complete equality, so too his meeting with the Pope received a very warm welcome from the Turkish media. That this meeting was quite acceptable to the Turkish government was clearly signalled by the fact that the Turkish ambassador to the Vatican, Altan Guven, treated Fethullah Gulen as if he had been an official envoy of Turkey. It was only to be expected that, except for a very few small marginal groups of radical Muslims and the remnant of die-hard communists, the Turkish media should also attached great importance to this meeting. Before and after the event, some TV channels made direct telephone interviews with Fethullah Gulen, and, sociologists, political analysts and theologians expressed their views in either periodicals or on TV screens or through interviews they gave to the media. What you read in boxes is summary excerpts from some of these views and comments.
In addition to the individuals quoted, other influential columnists such as Zeynep Gogus and Cengiz Candar of Sabah and Riza Zelyut of Aksam also expressed their approval of Fethullah Gulen's meeting with the Pope.
This meeting was discussed on a privately-run TV channel. In the panel chaired by Nevval Sevindi, an anthropologist and famous intellectual writing for Yeni Yuzyil. Professors Suat Yildirim and Nevzat Yalcintas, Taha Akyol. a sociologist and another of the most well-known intellectuals who writes for the daily Milliyet, Abdullah Aymaz. the editor of the daily Zaman, Professor Niyazi Oktem, and Uzayir Garih, one of leading businessmen of Turkey and belonging to the Jewish Community of Turkey, discussed the meeting and expressed their support for it.
Also, one of the best-selling weeklies of Turkey, Aksiyon, made the meeting a cover story and published an interview with Fethullah Gulen. A summarized excerpt from that interview follows:
Q: At a time when theories of the clash of civilizations are being discussed and NATO has declared [the] Islam[ic world] the chief enemy, you make attempts for a world-wide dialogue. What factors urge you to make such attempts?
A: The idea that the world is on the threshold of new clashes is the expectation of those whose power and continued: domination depend on continuous conflicts. However, as the Qur'an puts it, man is a noble creature and in pursuit of good things. While searching for the good and beautiful, sometimes be may encounter undesirable things. What urges me to make attempts for a world-wide dialogue is the innate nobility and beauty of man.
Q: Do you attach importance to the relevant commandments or rules of the Qur'an the Prophet in your initiatives?
A: The Qur'an urges peace, order and accord.
It aims at universal peace and order, and opposes conflicts and dissensions. It is interesting that the actions acceptable to God are called in the Qur'an actions to bring peace and order ('amali saliha). Our Prophet upon him be peace, described fighting in the way of God as minor jihad. Because it is undertaken only to remove obstacles before perfecting man morally and spiritually, and to bring about peace and order in human society. The real aim is to perfect man and to bring about peace and order. When this cannot be achieved by desirable ways such as education and when you are exposed to unjust attacks, only then minor jihad can be resorted to. Therefore, the minor jihad is not a rule, it serves only as a last resort.
Q: How did the process leading to the meeting with the Pope begin and develop?
A: It is not possible to achieve something positive in an atmosphere where enmities prevail and through reactionary measures. As social, civilized beings, especially in our day when human values are given prominence even though rather verbally, men can and should solve the problems between them through dialogue. It is our belief- a belief shared by sociologists and political analysts - that religions will have greater word in the next century. Islam and Christianity are the two religions with the largest following. Buddhism and Hinduism also have considerable following. Judaism has influence of its own. If we expect a universal revival toward the end of time, then this requires, as a preliminary condition, the co-operation of these great religions on the essentials common to them.
We have no doubt about the truth of our values. We urge no one to join us and I think that no one conceives of urging us toward their religion. The Qur'an made a universal call of dialogue to the followers of other heavenly religions. Unfortunately, however, the centuries following the call of the Qur'an witnessed conflicts and quarrels rather than dialogue and mutual understanding. Our time is the time of addressing the intellects and hearts, and this requires a peaceful atmosphere with mutual trust and respect. The conditions of the Hudaybiya Treaty seemed unacceptable to the Companions at first glance. However, the Qur'an described it as an opening, because, in the peaceful atmosphere following the Treaty, the doors of hearts were opened to Islamic truths. We have no intention to conquer lands or peoples, but we are resolved to contribute to world peace and a peaceful order and harmony by which our old world will find a last happiness before its final destruction.
PROFESSOR NIYAZI OKTEM
(Niyazi Oktem, born in 1944, graduated and then did his doctorate in law. He became Professor of Law and served, between 1994 and 1997, as the Dean of the Faculty of Communication in Galatasaray University. He is currently teaching in the Faculty of Political Sciences in Istanbul University. Since 1981, professor Oktem has been studying the dialogue between religions and religious schools or sects. He has published many articles and books on philosophy of law, philosophy of religion and political philosophy.)
He was questioned by the journalist, Mehmet Gundem:
Q: According to you, what do Fethullah Gulen's efforts for dialogue import in Turkey?
A: In my view, it is not only economic but also ideological differences which lie behind the conflicts and clashes in the world. The conflicts caused by ideological differences originate from the [opposing] sides not knowing each other. For this reason, I regard Mr. Gulen's efforts as of great significance, as he calls everyone to accept the other as he or she is and respect each other's views and identity. His inclusion of international figures in his quests for dialogue means a lot for the Muslims [in Turkey] particularly. Especially so in the present circumstances when both the Muslims and the Turkish governments have for so long been rather sensitive [on the issue of] foreigners and the representatives of non-Muslim religious communities. Until Mr. Gulen started meeting with those representatives, it had been something unusual for a Muslim to get into dialogue with a Christian or Jew. I myself took part in the first Religious Counsel held in 1992 and, together with Ethem Ruhi Figlali, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology in Mugla University, found it very difficult to include the word 'dialogue' in the final declaration. People feared that Christian missionaries would come and poison our people. Why should a Muslim convinced of the truth of his belief be afraid? Fethullah Gulen does not entertain such a fear, and therefore, as a Muslim with full conviction in his belief, he opens the doors of dialogue to everyone. He has full confidence in his religion.
Q: Some people in Turkey, albeit few in number, speculate that Mr. Gulen is in quest of power. Do you think that?
A: I can never accept that such an important social phenomenon, that is, dialogue, should be reduced to something explicable by conspiracy theories. We have no right to judge anyone by what we produce in our imaginations. Disapproval of an idea or initiative gives no one the right to condemn it. They cannot see the good behind Mr. Gulen's attempts at dialogue. We should consider the atmosphere of peace and love that can be brought about by dialogue. Mr. Gulen had met with Patriarch Bartholemeos before. I regarded that meeting as one of the most important events in the [recent} history of the Turkish Republic. For the Muslims of this country and our Orthodox citizens had [hitherto] regarded each other as enemies. That meeting has paved the way for a better understanding and coming together. Mr. Gulen's meeting with the Pope, the leader of the Catholic world, is certainly much more important than that.
Q: Why is that meeting so important?
A: It is of global import. For, first of all, the West has a very negative image of Muslims. In their eyes, Muslims are unproductive, consumers [only], implacable and inclined to terrorism. And [they see} Islam as the religion responsible for such vices. So, a religious leader's meeting with the Pope at just this time means that he is ready to get into dialogue with Christians and that Islam is not a religion closed to dialogue. This meeting also contradicts those europeans who allege that Muslims are too radical to get into dialogue and offer that as an excuse for their non-admission of Turkey to the EU.
Q: Some question Mr. Gulen's status [his worthiness] to meet with the Pope.
A: That is a matter which not we but the Pope should consider. But it seems that the Vatican knows Mr. Gulen better than us. The Pope does not accept everyone's request to meet with him. Besides, his appointments are arranged from years before. Mr. Gulen's meeting with the Pope was arranged last year. This shows that Mr. Gulen is of great importance for the Vatican.
Personally, I regard this meeting as one of the most important events of recent years. Although at first glance it seems a simple event, it will have far-reaching consequences. For, it has [often] been those wholly dedicated to a cause, not the official actors in state structures, who have started and realized the positive, important changes in world history. Those people may not have official titles but they have a power resting upon the love of their following. Mr. Gulen has a large following. People agree with him on his initiative. I wish the state would give him greater support. I have worries concerning certain fundamentalist movements in Turkey. Mr. Gulen's calls for dialogue make the atmosphere more peaceful and propitious for the coming together of opposing groups. Our ambassador's welcoming him shows that there are important power centers in the state that do support him.
Q: Ertugrul Ozkok, the editor of the daily, Hurriyet, has commented that Fethullah Gulen is becoming an international figure. Do you agree with him?
A: Yes, I agree with him. It is true that ideologically Turkey is a Western country, but Islam is a very important social phenomenon in this country. This phenomenon has long been exploited for political ambitions and due to this misrepresentation, it has been known wrongly. Fethullah Gulen and his group give priority to its main elements, namely love, dialogue, respect for others' rights and human rights. Mr. Gulen's movement is undeniably loyal to the essence of Islam, but this does not prevent them from understanding contemporary values. They give the society the idea that it is possible to live together no
matter to what group, faith or ideology one belongs.
Q: Do you agree that religion is increasingly becoming more influential in international relations?
A: Religion has been always been influential throughout human history. However, many intellectuals cannot see this mission of religion. Economics and religion are the two main factors that have roused peoples to war with one another. Why should it not be possible to use such a powerful factor to bring about peace? Teaching believers that religion can be a means to bring about peace and that it is not a requirement of religion to be enemies with the followers of other beliefs can help to eliminate enmities. Also, dialogue between religions can remove the influence of religious differences in international relations.
Q: What do you think about the proposals Mr.Gulen made to the Pope?
A: It is very meaningful that Muslims and Christians celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Jesus' birth. As Jesus has a significant place in the Qur'an and the Muslim creed, cities such as Antioch, Ephesus and Jerusalem mean much for both Muslims and Christians. Mr. Gulen suggested to the Pope that they make visits together to those cities. He also proposed that Jerusalem should be a city which the followers of the three religions could visit freely without the obligation of visa. He also suggested that they should hold conferences in different cities of the world. He proposed also opening a university or a faculty of theology in Urfa where scholars from the three religions would teach and the students study. All of these offers are of great significance for the promotion of both dialogue, peace and mutual understanding.
PROFESSOR SUAT YILDIRIM
The 20th century has been a century when the age of industry has been replaced by the age of information. The gigantic advances in telecommunications have brought peoples of the world nearer to one another. In such a century, ideas are subject to being outmoded in a very short time. This requires that in order for an idea to have popularity and become more long-lived, it should be 'put in the window' and gain actuality. Again, the survival of an idea depends on its being powerful and influential.
As a plain fact, the Muslim world lags far behind the West in economic, political and military power. Even if Muslims desired or attempted to resort to physical force, they are devoid of the means.
Despite all the advances [in human power through science and technology], it has plainly been seen that the Divinely-revealed religions in particular will continue to exist. It is not possible for either to remove the others and this compels their followers to learn how to live together without any more clashes. More than avoidance of conflict, new developments and changes in the world force the religions to co-operate against anti-religious movements.
The Christian West started an attempt at dialogue after the 2nd Vatican Council held between 1962-1965.Nevertheless, although the Quran made a universal, ecumenical call to dialogue fourteen centuries ago, Muslims show reluctance to the [responds to] offers of dialogue.
Christianity found its survival in opposing Islam and resorting to force when necessary for centuries. It also imagined that it could survive by distorting Islam's image. In the eyes of the Western world, Islam was obscurantist and fanatical. It was an artful forgery of Judaism and Christianity. For a very long time Muhammad, upon him be peace, was considered an imposter. However, having seen the Christian world had been breaking with Christianity, the 2nd Vatican Council had to make a revision and realized one of a few most important changes in its history. In the opening speech of the Council, the Pope Paul VI stressed that although there are imperfections and insufficiencies in other religions, the Catholic Church appreciates the good and right elements they have.
The call to dialogue made by the Catholic Church has not received a considerable response from Muslims. This may be due to the following reasons:
1. There is not an official position or authority of the same function as the Papacy to represent Muslims.
2. Owing to Western colonization which lasted for centuries and was backed up by Christianity, Muslims may not trust the Vatican and regard such attempts as having political aims.
3. Muslims have not forgotten the Crusades and still retain [suspicions of] their far- reaching effects.
4. Muslims may be thinking of the calls to dialogue as a new route for missionary activities.
5. This call [for dialogue] was made at a time when Muslims did not expect it and, although the Church had, thanks to the extensive studies of Christian orientalists, had enough preparations to continue it and counter its possible consequences, the Muslims were not prepared for it.
6. Especially the Muslims in Turkey have long been indifferent to the Vatican's call to dialogue. This is partly because of the reasons cited above but largely because they have mostly been closed to such developments outside the country.
It is difficult to approve such indifference on the part of the Muslim Turks. For, first of all, it was the Turks who had closest relations with the West during the history of Islam. Second, around four million Turks are living in European countries and Turkey has a long history of attempts to enter the EU. It should also be taken into consideration that the West can easily manipulate the image of Islam and Muslims in the international political arena against Turkey and other Muslim countries. So, it is up to Turkey as a state and up to Muslim Turks, as a requirement of their being Muslims, to present to the world the true image of Islam and prevent its being wrongly understood by, at least, ordinary, unbiased peoples.
Fethullah Gulen's meeting with the Pope
Being a well-known religious scholar, the name of Gulen has recently been identified with efforts for a sincere dialogue within Turkish society which has long been torn [by divisions]. Except a few radicals on the right and left, his calls for dialogue, [a dialogue] based on each accepting the other as he or she is and respecting the identity of the other, have received positive responses from almost all sections of the society. Since his calls and efforts attracted attention of many outside Turkey, he organized and attended significant meetings in the US last summer. Gulen's important position as a Muslim scholar in Turkey with a large following whose activities in different fields including especially education have already covered a very large area, and the positive responses he has received to his calls for dialogue within Turkey from almost all sections of the community including the representatives of religious communities - the Patriarch of the Turkish Orthodox people, the Patriarch of the Turkish Armenian community, and the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community may have urged the Pope to meet with him.
The offers of Fethullah Gulen
Due to the lack of a foreign language and their general ignorance in essentials of their creed because they have had little access to Islamic sources, Muslim Turks have been shut off from the outer world for many years. The collapse of the Ottoman State at the hands of the Western powers after centuries of attacks and the Western occupation of Turkey following the First World War, contributed to Turkish Muslims' sensitivity to the Christian West and their distrust of whatever attempts it makes [at dialogue]. As can clearly be understood from certain radicals' reaction to Mr. Gulen's meeting with the Pope, people can still put forward the Crusades as an obstacle to meeting with the Christians, and there are some, however few, who think that a Muslim religious leader can come together with one of his counterparts in another religion only to preach or communicate Islam. What these people mean by preaching or communicating Islam is that whoever a Muslim meets, he must immediately invite him to Islam. So it is quite natural and understandable that people with such backward attitudes, should oppose Mr. Gulen's offers to the Pope.
Mr. Gulen offered to the Pope that they make joint visits to historically holy cities such as Antioch, Ephesus and Jerusalem, and hold conferences in the great cities of the world such as those in the US. He also suggested that they could open a university or a faculty of theology in Urfa - believed to be the city where the Prophet Abraham was born and thrown into flames, and which is an ancient centre of Middle- eastern civilizations - where the three religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) would be taught. He also suggested that Jerusalem should be open to free visits by the followers of the three religions. All these offers mean significant steps to an approach and better understanding between the followers of these religions. As a religious scholar confident of his belief and fully dedicated to his cause, and a man of great vision, Fethullah Gulen has no fear for Muslims that coming together with the followers of other religions will harm any Muslim's belief or creed. He is also of the opinion that past enmities should not be an obstacle to [present] dialogue.
The co-operation against anti-religious movements
Muslims are weaker than the Christians in material power. However, they are confident of their belief and have much to offer the world. Most of the problems of the modern world come from a materialistic world-view and indifference to the moral values contained and propagated by religions. So, Muslims and Christians can offer the world in the clutches of a corrupt materialistic civilization, the spirituality and moral values they hold and inject a new hope into despairing souls. This is what unbiased thinkers of the West such as Olivier Lacombe, Michel Lelong and Montgomery Watt hope for. They explicitly write that the West, engrossed in materialism and secularism, can return to religion by seeing the power of faith in and submission to God Muslims have. So why should dialogue not serve the promotion of Islamic religious, spiritual and moral values in the world? If one does not see Islam as an ideological and political weapon against his rivals or as a means of superiority, if one is not Muslim by name [only], one should be happy with the acceptance and promotion of Islamic values.
Professor Griffith's views of dialogue
During his visit to the US last summer, Fethullah Gulen met with Sidney Griffith, a professor in the Catholic University in Washington. After this meeting, in an interview he gave to a Turkish daily, Professor Griffith expressed his views of dialogue.
Professor Griffith holds that the aim of dialogue is to help Christians unaware of the truth of Islam to get to know Islam. He says that they [typical Christians] thought of Islam as a religion belonging to the Arabs only but have [now] come to understand that Turkey is very important with respect to Islam. Professor Griffith went on:
Many Western historians have not heard of the Crusades. Islam has been taught in the West only in faculties of political sciences. It has been approached as a political phenomenon from the viewpoint of orientalists. It has not been taught as a religion. This is where the main problem lies.
PROF. DR. NEVZAT YALCINTAS
Nevzat Yalcintas graduated in economics, went on to do a doctorate and became a professor. Currently, he is teaching in the Faculty of Economics in Istanbul University and writing editorials in Turkiye, one of the five bestselling dailies in Turkey. He has a unique place among the Turkish intelligentsia.
Fethullah Gulen's meeting with the Pope
Fethullah Gulen's meeting with the Pope in the Vatican is a significant, happy event. The Pope is the spiritual leader of the greatest section of the world's Christians
and of extraordinary importance in the international arena. As for Fethullah Gulen, he is a sincere Muslim scholar wholly dedicated to spreading the spiritual and moral principles of Islam such as faith, mercy, love, affection, mutual helping, reconciliation, and respect for others' rights.
The meeting between these two men who have dedicated themselves to humanity promises new, happy developments in the efforts of dialogue between religions. The offers made by Mr. Gulen to the Holy See are of great significance and should be given due consideration.
The followers of both Islam and Christianity tried their best to remove atheistic communism from the surface of the world. Atheistic communism had no chance of becoming established in Muslim countries, and [in parallel with that] the efforts of the Pope contributed much to its collapse.
The followers of both religions can work together in close cooperation in many fields. For this reason, the meeting in the Vatican is a happy, promising event for not only Muslims and Christians but also humanity as a whole.
PROFESSOR MEHMET AYDIN
Mehmet Aydin studied theology and is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Theology in Seljuk University, Konya. He has several publications on different subjects. He gave an explanation of Fethullah Gulen's meeting with the Pope which was then reported by Anadolu Agency, the official news agency of Turkey. The following is a summary of that report:
A sincere dialogue between Muslims and Catholic Christians will contribute to world peace. In fact, Islam has always advocated dialogue with the Christians, Jews, Sabeans and Magians since the beginning of its existence, and the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, had several meetings with the followers and representatives of these religions. Following their conversion to Islam, the Turks attached special importance to dialogue and contributed a lot to the development of a universal civilization.
Mr. Gulen's meeting with the Pope is a continuation of the historical tolerance of the Turks toward the followers of other religions. I hope this meeting may cause the West to come to understand the universal tolerance of the Turks which the West has ignored for centuries.
Hadi Uluengin is a liberal, free-thinker. He writes for Hurriyet, one of the five best-selling dailies in Turkey. The following is a summary of what Mr. Uluengin wrote on Fethullah Gulen's meeting with the Pope.
Hodja Effendi and the Pope
I have never agreed with the Pope on many of his ideas and initiatives such as banning the pill for birth-control and pronouncing excommunication on divorcees. However, this does not prevent my acknowledging him as one of the most influential figures in the arena of 20th century international politics. He made a great contribution to the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Empire.
Fethullah Gulen, that distinguished religious scholar, met with the Pope and thereby realized a top-level meeting in his search for dialogue and mutual respect which he started by meeting with the representatives of the Turkish Orthodox and Jewish Communities at a time when Islam was being presented [in the West] as a threat and Huntington's theory of clashes of civilizations was widely discussed. Mr. Gulens visit to the Vatican is of historical significance.
The existence of Fethullah Gulen's group is an opportunity for Turkey. It is really an opportunity to bring to an end the internal polarizations, to secularize fundamental religious questions, and to open our country up to the outer world. Some of the worries expressed concerning this group are groundless, and the rest are of secondary quality and quite negligible. The essential points on which we all agree are the points on which both the secularists and devout Muslims and the sincere followers of other religions can come together. The use of Maoists, who are actually of 'fascist' inclinations, in the detestable attacks on this group, shows that Fethullah Gulen and his group are on the right track.
Also, although the Jacobinist intellectuals are reluctant to see the truth, the schools this group has opened in many parts of the world are widening the horizons of Turkey. They complain that these schools are under the control of a religious group. Why should anyone feel offended by that? Did not many Western countries extend their influences throughout the world through the missionary schools they opened in the previous century? Like me, did not many of the Turkish elite study in them [i.e. the missionary schools]?
Fethullah Gulen, who met with the Pope -whom I do not like in moral terms but regard as a genius with respect to his political vision - and his distinguished group both activate the dialogue of religious men with others and [improve] love and respect between them, and open up for Turkey broad perspectives.
Many thanks to Fethullah Gulen and his distinguished group.
Ahmet Tezcan writes for the newspaper Aksam, which has a daily circulation of over 100,000. Previously, he made programs for a private TV channel in Turkey. His comments on Fethullah Gulen's meeting with the Pope are summarized below.
If Fethullah Gulen's offers to the Pope are put into effect, it will have far-reaching consequences. First of all, the dialogue between the three religions will be strengthened and, in the atmosphere of close co-operation, [the shrill voices of] fanaticism will be drowned. Second, Turkey will be a centre for the coming together of world religions.
In particular, the offer to make Harran a base where the three religions are taught, and the scholars from each of them teach together, is marvellous and of great importance for both world peace and putting an end to the sufferings of the people of the region. This offer will be whole-heartedly supported to the end.
I regret the non-coverage of this event by the dailies of some Muslim groups. The best-selling dailies - Hurriyet, Sabah, Milliyet, Aksam, Posta - reported this meeting on their front pages and gave further coverage to it on their inside pages. However, some of the dailies published by some Muslim groups either did not attach to the event its rightful importance or preferred to ignore it altogether. This is largely because of their jealous rivalry and partly because some of them are politically oriented.
TURKISH DAILY NEWS
One individual has recently tried to encourage the Pope to visit to Turkey. Fethullah Gulen, a widely-acclaimed and most widely respected Turkish Islamic figure, went to the Vatican last week to establish what he called a dialogue between religions.
The Gulen's supporters finance schools both at home and abroad. Early televised reports about these schools said the schools abroad, particularly in the former Soviet Republics, have been providing good quality education.
Gulen met the Pope last Monday and told him that he would like to take part in the Papal Council for Interreligious Dialogue in order to correctly explain Islam by opening a dialogue between Muslims and Roman Catholics.
'Islam has always been misunderstood, and Muslims themselves are to blame for this," Gulen told the Pope.
Gulen said his invitation from the Vatican had been conveyed by Pier Luigi Celata, the Vatican's ambassador to Ankara, and George Marovitch, the Vatican's representative in Istanbul.
The two men also accompanied him during the meeting.
The Turkish ambassador to the Vatican, Altan Guven, reportedly received Gulen in Rome with high courtesy, indicating apparent support for his mission by the Turkish government.
Fethullah Gulen also suggested joint efforts aimed at rendering Jerusalem an international zone which could be freely visited without visa or any other restrictions by all Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Gulen said after the meeting that he had reminded the Pope about Demirel's invitation and received a warm response. 'Although he is old and sick, I think he will be able to come to Turkey as he recently went to Cuba,' he said. He also assured the Pope that he would accompany the Roman Catholic leader during his visit.
The Pope also told Gulen that he was very delighted by Demirel's invitation, and that he had had a pleasant time in Turkey during his last visit in 1979. He also responded positively to the calls by Gulen on establishing dialogue between religions.
Gulen also reportedly met with Cardinal Arinze, head of the Interreligious Dialogue Commission, and suggested an exchange of students between Turkey and the Vatican.
Fethullah Gulen has organized interreligious dialogues in the past. Last year, the Foundation of Journalists and Writers had a symposium on peace and dialogue which was attended by a number of foreign and Turkish academics.
'We have already met with the spiritual leaders in Turkey. Everyone knows that we have met with the Greek Orthodox leader in Istanbul. We have also had talks with the Armenian Patriarch and Assyrian representatives,' Gulen said, adding that he had been keeping in touch with the Vatican ambassador.
The 1981 assasination attempt against the Pope had not been discussed at the meeting, Gulen said.
Gulen's meeting with the Pope was also welcomed by various religious leaders in Turkey.
The Greek Orthodox leader in Istanbul, Bartholomeos, said he was pleased to hear about the meeting and expected that it would have a good out-come.
In addition, Yusuf Altintas, a Jewish-Turkish writer, said the meeting between the Roman Catholic leader and the Turkish Islamic figure was a good example of interreligious dialogue.
Fethullah Gulen's visit to Pope John Paul II was also praised by some Turkish columnists. Ertugrul Ozkok of the daily Hurriyet said the recent
Fethullah Gulen :His Remarkable Achievement
- By The Fountain
- Category: Issue 23 (July - September 1998)
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