M. Fethullah Gulen
Self-renewal is the first condition of survival. Those who cannot renew themselves when necessary face annihilation sooner or later, no matter how powerful they may be. Everything lives and continues to live through the effort of self-renewal. When renewal ceases-as it has ceased for a corpse-decomposition sets in.
The earth in springtime is a wonderful image and instance of universal renewal. Grass, trees and soil-in a thumbnail portion of which countless organisms are nurtured-all together come back to life. Take a walk amongst the living creatures-how they sally forth, putting on their uniforms of renewal and rejoicing in growth! How seemingly lifeless things come to life, like armies called out to parade, transforming the earth into a cheerful, multi-coloured paradise! Thus the spring puts on show innumerable signs of global renewal. Here a sentient, animate creature panting, heaving itself forward, in a mighty effort to achieve self-renewal. There, sprouting plant-forms pushing and struggling against whatever hardship surrounds them to emerge into the light in a cluster of shoots. And there, seeds scattered in thistle down, blown along with so many other kinds by winds obedient to the season, and pollen carried upon the legs of busy insects to fertilize the eager flowers, all alike actively seeking their renewal and continuance of life. And where the effort for self-renewal is not made, a decomposing and sinking back into the soil, there to be consumed without hope of renewed emergence.
Man too must, like every other creature, make the effort for self-renewal, individually and collectively. The more that communities and societies revive and rejuvenate themselves in mind and spirit, the better they are able to shoulder the world-wide responsibilities. That is accomplished by enlightening the sciences with the truth of religion, by applying technology with the wisdom of faith, and by carrying the message of revival to all people. Those communities who fail to renew themselves in this way will never be safe from destruction and the chains of captivity.
Self-renewal must not be confused, as it often is, with the indulgence of mere novelty and the latest fashions which is mere cosmetic covering up of defects. True renewal is providing the community with immortality through the water of life from the fountain of Khadr1.
True renewal is seeking and obtaining higher and purer levels of contemplation. It is preserving the purity of seed and root, of upholding the values refined and handed down over the centuries in association with the knowledge and ideas of modern times. It is sheer delusion to make outward forms of dress a measure of modernity or backwardness, and another delusion to suppose people will long be taken in by so shallow a criterion.
Self-renewal takes place in the metaphysical, not the physical, realm and is a revival of the spirit and of the spiritual life; the term ‘renewal’ is not seriously used for any other kind of renovation.
Renewal is true insofar as it engages in and uses modern scientific developments and technological facilities as means to increase our knowledge of the universe. However, we must constantly hold up to our hearts the mirror of self-examination so that our understanding is truly and meaningfully renewed.
An individual who has succeeded in renewing himself may be considered an enduring support to the well-being of the community. A society which comprises many such individuals becomes an important element in the balance of the world. But certainly there cannot be a society-wide renewal without sufficient numbers of individuals who have truly renewed themselves. Such people have hearts radiant with faith and minds soaring into different realms in quest of ‘bright days’, people who each moment renew the quality of their consciousness of that which is holy and true. Further, it is necessary that individuals of this calibre be followed by successors willing and able to hold aloft their thoughts and ideals like a torch.
The Ummayyads were unable to save themselves from destruction at the hands of powerful rivals because, as a dynasty, they proved incapable of carrying on the revival of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al- ‘Aziz: they wallowed in corruption and passed away in humiliation. Almost the same is true of the Abbasids, and of the Ummayyads in Andalusia, and of the Ottoman Turks of the 18th century. These magnificent states decayed and disintegrated in a similar manner, at the same time receiving heavy blows from external enemies. They applied themselves to Latin and Greek philosophy in the hope of sparking a renewal of their spirit thereby. This proved no remedy at all, rather it accelerated their destruction. Worse, in the case of the Ottomans, it caused them to deviate from their essential line of development and engage in a mindless imitativeness of their enemies so that the Ottoman intelligentsia became something of a laughing stock in Europe.
Neither the ‘New Regime’2 nor the massacre of the Janissaries, nor the Imperial Edict proclaimed in Gulhane Park3 by some callow and fanciful imitators of the West could open the road to a revival for the Ottoman society. Indeed, the reverse is true, that such measures stifled that society and threw it into a deathlike coma. We do not deny that there were some positive aspects to these movements but these were of so localized a nature as to have no bearing on the negative outcome. It can even be argued that the evident weaknesses of the Ottoman regime, disguised by these reforms, became thereby more insidious and therefore more dangerous. Such inappropriate remedies had no more long-term usefulness than sedating a patient suffering convulsions or applying a truss to a hernia.
Almost all the promises made by such dead, unintelligent souls who had lost their own way have proved a delusion which have led, and continue to lead, the ordinary mass of people astray. I do not know whether we shall be able to teach true renewal to those who have been, over and over again, deceived and misled.
1. A sage and saint believed to have been a leading a life unique to himself for centuries and to appear, at the right moment, to help those who are worthy, Those who are directly guided and educated by him are also believed to gain a kind of eternity referred to as ‘drinking the water of life from Khadr’s fountain’.
2. When the Ottoman Empire began to decline and suffer successive defeats, reforms were considered necessary. The ‘New Regime’ (nizam al-jadid) under Selim III was the result. Until the 18th century the Ottoman army had consisted of two main divisions, the State Guards (including Janissary troops) and the Cavalry units stationed in different parts of the empire and mobilized at need. Following the death of Suleiman the Magnificent, signs of degeneration began to appear in the imperial army as well in other institutions. The decline intensified in the following centuries. Under Selim III an attempt to establish a new regime was instituted for the army and a new division created on the French model and with the name nizam al-jadid. However, this was not at all a fundamental reform; there were some superficial improvements but nothing of any lasting, positive significance.
3. This Edict, read out in Gulhane Park by Moustafa Rashed Pasha, the then Grand Vizier, proclaimed the so-called political reforms of Sultan ‘Abd al-Majid.