M. Fethullah Gulen
We live in a time of strife between the old and the new schools of thought. The old school failed to renew itself. The new school consumed itself with objections and fantasies. Undoubtedly, both schools were coherent in certain aspects. But as they have always opposed each other, these schools not only discredited the other, but also gave rise to societal turmoil.
The old school was self-contained and avoided any interactions with the outer world. It relied only on its own truths and did not allow any others to flourish. In fact, in some situations, it opposed everything new, ignored the interpretations of the time, did not grasp the role of reason in the progress of humanity, and could not assess the unique content and meanings of the changing age. Thus, the old school fell to the new age, just like Mephistopheles defeated the careless, reckless, indifferent novice Faust.
The new school, which has run full-speed ahead to fill the void left by the old school, declared everything of the past an enemy. The new school based its worldview and life philosophy on enmity and hatred, and nurtured these feelings with constant clashes. These swept away the old values and dried up society’s whole spiritual structure. After this terrible social erosion, in Akif’s words, there remained only, “Destroyed cities, ruined homes, unfrequented deserts / Futile days, and evenings with no dreams for tomorrow.” Though critiquing the ideas and practices of the past is understandable, the new school did not only obliterate fabricated narratives, but an entire cultural heritage. It spat in the face of a whole society’s past, ridiculed belief systems, customs, and traditions, condemned victories as banditry, and interpreted and presented a proud history as a comedy. Its distorted philosophy considered faith in God to be an empty consolation and deceit, worship to be a waste of time, divine love to be delirium, and devotion to spiritual roots to be nostalgia. It derided everything we inherited from the past; with the refrain, “out with the old and in with the new,” it smashed into pieces the spiritual foundation in our hearts.
But the old school was not innocent either. At times, it opposed science and freedom of thought due to mistaken interpretations. Its proponents wanted to pull society to pre-contemporary times. This was clearly bigotry.
Both approaches have been quite aggressive, intolerant, and uninformed regarding human and national realities. In some circumstances the old school cursed every new idea and insisted upon remaining closed to new interpretations of the time. Meanwhile, the new school overturned everything they considered to be old, not realizing that one day their national identity would disappear with the things they had overturned. Both schools went to extremes –one clinging to the past without tolerance for any change; the other trying to eliminate it as it aspired for revolution. The day came when “neither religion nor faith remained; religion was in ruins and faith became a mirage” (Akif).
These two currents of thinking are still intertwined, yet also at each other’s throats. Those who profess enlightenment are in fact themselves defeated by dark forces; some believe hearts are at war with indisputable reason. Those who appear to defend democratic and human values are in fact hostile to any such values, even among themselves. Those boorish ones who believe they have an exclusive relationship with God – even if they are just a few – are labeling everyone as infidels or “beasts” (dabbat al-ard - Qur’an 27:82). Yes, both sides are extremely tense and angry. They are like two bombs, ready to explode.
Of course, both schools have some aspects that are right, but since balance is not maintained and interpretations are stretched to extremes, they both lose. Certainly, those who stand up for religion have their backs supported by centuries of a magnificent past, spiritual meaning, essence, vitality, and the privilege of being native. But because their hearts have been trapped in enmity and hatred, they commit injustices, losing their legitimate ground and polluting their path of good deeds with sins. How sincere are they when they claim to represent that spiritual meaning, spirit, and essence? It is always a matter of debate. If the substance of what we call essence and meaning have been lost and habits have taken their place; if consciousness has flown away and its throne has fallen to instinct; if the capacity for renewal has become dull; if the power to build up has weakened; if the love of thought, art, and research has died out, then in these circumstances, “If they say the community is alive, that is very wrong / Show a people that has remained alive when its spirit is already dead” (Akif).
Our society has the capacity to cultivate a civilization, a culture, and an art, as well as a spirituality. This potential needs heroic lovers of truth to stimulate its rebirth. However, since we lack these heroes, it is like living in poverty, despite abundance. In spite of vast resources, people are writhing in helplessness and passively expecting an exceptional divine grace. Human consciousness and willpower have been made worthless, replaced by some mythological fantasies. A community whose values have been turned upside-down is no different than a heedless horde. A creature as noble as humankind has been downgraded to the level of cattle, the society to a herd, and those who are leading them to shepherds. This state of affairs is the greatest disrespect to both man and his leaders.
The old school is amazingly rich in regard to the essence that forms it, but it is also incredibly poor, for it cannot benefit from these gifts. By contrast, the new school is extremely materialist, extremely positivist, and extremely rationalist and realist. They only accept things they can physically feel; things their eyes can see and their ears can hear. They defend their observations and are able to intoxicate others with dizzying games of logic. With their tactics, they have swayed certain people, especially those with weak faith, those who adhere to the logic of others, and those who have not been able to shake off their doubts on the subject of religion and religious affairs.
It is necessary for our society to disperse these clouds of apprehension; apprehensions which appear to be notions, but which have crept over our spirit. This is how we can attain the truth, feel a passion for it, and discover who we are. As a matter of fact, these apprehensions are absurd and inconsistent taboos fabricated by our imagination. But we have deeply internalized them in our minds as if real; as if they are proofs to our self-assumed power. For us to be able to overcome our challenges, we need reasoning and ideas that are elevated by divine knowledge.
Representatives of the old school perhaps tried to voice our values; yet they failed to appreciate the ever changing conditions of the world and that our values had aspects that needed to be reinterpreted and articulated accordingly. Faced with a world which was expanding, they shrank, and became slender and insufficient. The values of the past were precious in what they were teaching us as far as basic disciplines go, and for that matter they should be duly credited; yet it was also an inevitable fact that they needed to be nourished by what the new age has to offer.
Under the circumstances of this conflict, have we been able to produce anything worthwhile: a new perspective on society, a new approach to science, a new direction for law, or a new research mindset? It is difficult to affirmatively answer this question. The fact that those who appear to represent the old school cannot put forth anything concrete is the reason why the members of the new school can speak so loudly.
Unfortunately, we have been unable to construct a positive future. Both parties have been too engaged in battle to plan for the future. While society's most vital resources were being wasted in a web of opposition and animosity, contenders from both sides thought they were victorious. And I think that this fight between the blind and the deaf will continue until we have raised devotees of truth who give their backs to the past and at the same time walk towards the future and reinterpret the world through a union of science and wisdom.
Though the present is not promising, we will continue to wait for future advocates of the heart: the true owners of tomorrow, who will keep marching forward while still preserving the essence and meaning of a glorious centuries-old past. They will bring the best out of the past and the present, and will turn the tree of our society into an orchard of Paradise, one bearing fruit every day of the year, regardless of season. When these devotees will be able to speak, it will be a new day for the world and things will appear much different than they are today. Enmity, hatred, and anger will become extinguished, one-by-one. The idols of bigotry will fall one upon the other, fanatical ideas will be thrown into the garbage dump, and human discussions will replace inappropriate arguments. Fists clenched with anger will turn into warm hands embracing others, and humans will once again discover their own ascending values.
Regardless of who thinks what, I always close my eyes, and as I imagine the days when love will pour down and everyone will live with this love, I smile at my good fortune.