M. Fethullah Gulen
For many years now, cries of silence have clamored above my voice. So many times have I been frustrated to the point that I was going to condemn the tyranny, spit in the face of the tyrant, answer back the slanderer, and choke silent the assailant. “Enough!” comes to the tip of my tongue to shout at the conspirator; the walls of my nature are strained by their attacks, but I cannot or do not say a word to anyone. I console myself, for God sees and knows everything; I submit to the absolute justice of destiny. Gulping down all my anger and fury into my heart that always beats with love, I surrender to “There is no power except in God” in due respect for and in compliance with my character, understanding, and conduct while so many others indiscriminately raise their voices . . . and I am satisfied with “So be it.”
This attitude usually adds to the tyrant’s courage, makes the slanderer even more impudent and the assailant more outrageous. Still, I say to myself, “They are human too, and one day they will realize it and they will give up such impertinence.” This is perhaps wishful thinking or a misapprehension, but I prefer waiting for a blissful hour when everyone will come to reason and mercy. Filled with some bizarre supernatural expectations, I endeavor to soothe my exasperation and stand firm against the storms that challenge my lenience. I sometimes dive into a deep, silent introspection to escape my own realm of feelings. There are times when I feel sorry for myself in the face of some agonizing events, and I am troubled with a passing sensation that I am perhaps disrespecting myself while trying to be respectful to everyone else. But still, in spite of so many lies, fabrications, and devilish schemes, I turn to myself and say, “You have assumed trouble as your healing from the beginning; then what is this protest for? The one with teeth will certainly bite, and the one with claws will rip through; no one can change this as long as those who consider the truth to be with the powerful continue to exist. Be tolerant to everyone.” I bury my cries inside and pronounce my feelings with silent woes.
Indeed, it is impossible for people in my circumstances who share this way of thinking with me to act otherwise. First of all, we do not submit to the wicked ones, but “to the decree of fate we wholeheartedly submit our souls” (Bâkî). Secondly, we live in a time in which people in great numbers are locked onto hostility; today’s revenge-thirsty figures overshadow in ruthlessness the abominable tyrants of the past-so, tempering the atrocities in my heart does not change the reality. Many billow with the rage of pharaohs when they speak; their hatred and violence never abate and their hunger for blaze, destruction, slaughter, and extrajudicial execution is never satisfied. They raise their swords to the heavens like He-Man and scream, “I have the power!” The world all over echoes with the chorus of “Justice, freedom, democracy, civil rights,” but justice is desperate in the hands of crude power, freedom is leashed with the straps of slavery one over another, democracy is a freak in the hands of enforcers who interpret it capriciously. There is no one left who does not understand this, but those who have conducted decades-long abuses continue singing the same tune, as if they are unaware, with no sense of self-respect, and debasing their own social status. With no other occupation, sitting in sloth, they speak on behalf of rights, freedom, and democracy, while others who violate these values in broad day light utter the same words. These are words of magic invoked to earn status and esteem, and then circumvented to legitimize corruption and fraud. Oppressors rely on them when they oppress some people while favoring whoever they favor. These are the words offered as legitimate governments around the world are interfered with and countries are invaded. “Bringing prosperity” is a pretext for shedding blood and dishonoring others. With the same excuse, murders are committed, killings are left unsolved, people are tyrannized, free speech is censored, privacy is violated, religious persuasions are harassed, unthinkable profanity and what is forbidden are replete and promoted; civil rights and justice are frequently pointed to, but are trodden down at the same time.
Nowadays, I am observing all these horrors and calamities through my narrow vision, and I mumble, “O Lord, how forbearing you are! You continue to grant respite to the perpetrators who are responsible for all this violence, oppression, and degradation of rights, freedom, and democracy. Absolute might and power belong to God.” And then I bury myself in a silence of astonishment and amazement (dahsha and hayra) , which I feel has become part of my nature. Absolute silence in the face of injustice, tyranny, and violation of rights is no different than glorifying Satan and is condemned in a Prophetic tradition. Indeed, believers never remain in absolute silence; if their hands are tied, they speak out; if they are gagged, they reveal their fervor with overflowing gestures; if they are ostracized completely from society, they expand with palpitations as if they had a volcano heaving inside. If their internal explosions could be unveiled, we would witness bolts of lightning issuing from their hearts and chill from their claps of thunder.
Their quiet stance arises from their subtle refinement and vast compassion which would not disdain even an ant, from their philosophy of security and trust, respect for human values, mercy toward everyone, and from relying on God in all matters. First and foremost, they are people of fine balance. Even when the most horrific waves of unrest beat the shores of their hearts, they behave with the utmost moderation and prudence. They never act unwisely like a child whose imagination outweighs his reason and comprehension, who blabs everything that crosses his mind without a moment’s thought, who is concerned with accountability only after destroying everything with his words and actions and seeks excuses for the destruction he has caused. They are always aware of their position, of what they do and say, and act with discretion in the balance between their hearts and minds. When they are granted the opportunity, they pronounce universal human values; when they have to remain silent, they act out these values with fervor, keep up their prayers and invocations, observe with compassion, and smile on everyone. They are never upset by their fate, nor do they complain to others as if dissatisfied with God Almighty. On the contrary, they question their own selves and seek their own faults. They bury their sorrows in their chests and do not mention them to those who are unable to comprehend; not a word of discomfort can be released from their mouths even though they may burn like an oven on the inside. They die and come back to life, but never do they disclose this to anyone.
No one can know completely what a burning mass of white-hot embers they actually are; others consider these special people no different than themselves. Yet, if their belief, demeanor, and selfless spirits that are devoted to making others live were to allow them to roar out their internal fervor, all the crows would immediately hush and look for a hidden corner to take refuge in, while all the bats would retreat back into their dark caves and descend into silent introspection. True believers are men and women of trust and security who show the utmost care in performing what their true character necessitates. They never hurt others, even though they may be hurt; nor do they cause pain, even if they are tortured.
In fact, their spiritual realm is replete with portraits of sorrow, each more horrifying than the last, that exist side by side with their feverish passion to relieve society of its ailments. Their palpitations and pains last forever with constant brainstorming and attempts at revival. The eternal verses of their hearts or, more truly, their silent cries, are a call to the light with a commitment to illumination as opposed to darkness. One line of the poem drops from their lips in grief, while the next inspires revivification. Their indignation and enthusiasm reveal signs of all this incessant internal turmoil.
Indeed, this has been the kind of life we have always sought, or perhaps we have been forced to live in this way. Fervor and sorrow have been our fate and in fact what we have also demanded. We have considered living for our own sake as selfishness, an attitude we have always abhorred. The motto “So others may live” and wishing eternal happiness for all have been our passion. This passion is so intense that if it were at all possible to come back to this life after death and we were given the right to choose, we would still prefer others’ lives to our own. The true horizons of humanity we would fix our direction towards; thoughts of revival we would breathe with; degradations we would close our eyes to; fuss about fundamentalism we would not be deceived by; those who come forward with slanders, calumnies, and accusations we would not be upset by or despair at; unrelenting violations and attacks of the severest kind we would bury in our chests; when it hurts inside, we would still manage to smile; when the magma inside erupts, we would suppress our exasperation so that no one is hurt or disturbed; and we would always display the privilege of being human.
I feel that those who think we remain in total passive silence and those who think we are involved in some kind of “activism” are all wrong. We are never absolutely still-anguish and hope, enduring everything, and striving for survival, all coexist in the depths of our souls. We may sometimes lose spirit, but never to a level of termination for good. Even if only with half of a voice or a breath, a quarter of a pain or palpitation, our hearts are like a brazier with embers always burning inside. Our faith constantly whispers new sentiments to us, and our conscience plays tunes of all kinds. Nevertheless, those who are of not the same persuasion or ideals as us cannot hear any of these melodies nor can they comprehend any of these sentiments.
Personally, every time I think of this agitation and fervor, I tremble as I visualize innocent people who have been victims of deadly imprisonment, maddening persecution, and merciless hounding, and whose words were stuck in their throats, words they wanted to utter but could not, so they were choked almost to the point of death. Who knows what beautiful things they would have said. The ignorant who did not know, even worse, those who did not know that they did not know, and the worst of all, who thought they knew even though they did not, used all available means to prevent those innocent people from expressing themselves; they would never allow them to do so, for if they did, people would understand how bereft of ideas and knowledge are those persecutors. In the words of Akif, the miserable oppressors “do not look to the East, nor are aware of the West, nor have any share of good conduct / All they have as capital is a face that cannot blush and eyes that cannot water!” If they did allow the innocent to speak up, those who can reason would comprehend all these matters and discover the true identities of some of these ignorant ones who tie justice to power and resort to despotism, whose assets are no more than yelling, and who try to catch fish in muddy water. Then, all the wretched souls who fight against common sense with dialectic and demagogy would topple one by one, their false candles would blow out, and those who have been deceived would not be tricked any more. All this would end in the collapse of those who want to rule the world with crude power, and I do not think they would ever acquiesce to that. In any case, we end up with the fact that today some people are gagged, while many others remain indifferent.
Those who cannot express themselves today in one way or another, will certainly voice their internal vibrations and pain, be it merely in their comportment; in return for their gulping down their words with palpitations today, they will recite the best poems of silence when the day comes. Who knows, perhaps then many rude and cruel characters who have forgotten true humane values like compassion, mercy, and justice for several centuries now, will unexpectedly melt down and turn into whatever being truly human demands.
So, let tyranny enjoy itself for a bit longer; let civil rights and justice be trodden on; let the innocent moan with pain; let the wronged strive to voice their grievance; and let hearts breathe with grief and fervor, hoping for a blissful hour in which the All-Powerful will speak. For us, if it is a matter of time serving our time of trial and lamentation, then, as in the words of Faik Ali, “There are songs yet unfinished / Anticipation moans in their silence,” there is still need for more quiet lament, after which perhaps the spring will rise.