Turkey: A Bridge
between Islam and the West -IV
By Dr Muzaffar K. Awan
(2) article examines Gülen's paradox of combining
personal commitment to Islamic religious principles
with a strong engagement with pluralism. He argues
that Gülen has managed to fuse theory and practice.
Referring to certain theological foundations on
which Gülen has grounded his ideas of tolerance,
Kurtz cites Gülen: "One cannot be a Muslim
unless one believes in the pre-Islamic prophets."
Lester Kurtz, who starts with the supposition that
loyalty to faith and tolerance are distant and contradictory
notions, concludes that Gulen has reconciled these.
Noting that Gulen encouraged others to practice
tolerance, not in spite of, but as a consequence
of his loyalty to Islam, Kurtz points at the schools
as one of the most important areas in which this
reconciliation has taken effect. Indicating that
these schools constituted a form of humanitarian
service, designed for education in the general sense
of the term and in order to avoid Islamic propaganda,
and he says that if humanity is to live for another
century, the voices coming from such faith communities
as Gulen’s, would undoubtedly play a very
important part in it.
Thomas Michel's (3) article explores the relationship
between Sufism and Modernity in the teachings of
Gülen. He also explores how Gülen successfully
followed the teachings of Sufism without being caught
by the legal regulations of theTurkish state which
had banned the Sufi institution of Tariqah. Michel
speaks of three main influences that shaped the
thought of Gülen: Orthodox Sunni Islam, the
Naqshbandi Sufi tradition, and the Nursi movement.
A great portion of this article examines Gülen's
approach to modernity and his influence on contemporary
Turkish thought. Thomas Michel, who studies how
“Sufism” and “modernity”
are reconciled in Fethullah Gulen’s thoughts,
points at an educational philosophy that is reflected
in the hundreds of schools established in Turkey
and throughout the world as the most reliable evidence
Michel says that given the lack of integration between
scientific knowledge and spiritual values, Gulen
and his companions introduced a new style of education
which reconciles the two. According to Michel, Gulen
neither proposes rigid traditionalism that completely
rejects modern values, nor a nostalgic return to
the madrasah type education of Ottoman times. Rather
he finds an Islamic middle ground that stands in
a critical engagement with modernity. In opposition
to modernist social planners he regards the real
goal of the nations as the renewal or “civilization”
of the individuals and the society through moral
action and mentality. Michel characterizes the schools
established with this philosophy in mind as one
of the most impressive and promising educational
enterprises that is currently taking place.
Elizabeth Özdalga (4) wrote an article on the
Gulen movement to attract attention to the “other
faces of Islam”. She examines the Gulen phenomena,
which she terms as “the most influential revival
movement in modern Turkey” from the theoretical
framework discussed in Sociologist Norbert Elias’
book titled ”Modernization Process”.
Ozdalga analyzes the Gülen community from a
sociological perspective. She suggests that when
public institutions fail to integrate citizens,
the demand on other organizations and communities
to fill this void increases. The Gülen community
plays a significant role at this juncture. She mentions
the experiences of several female members of the
Gülen movement and emphatically suggests that
the Gülen community is not a Tariqah (Sufi
order), but rather a civic community. Referring
to Elias's analytic framework, Özdalga examines
the relationship between the Turkish establishment
and the Gülen movement.
Ozdalga sees the Gulen movement as being one of
the civil interim networks undertaking the role
of “mediatorship” and filling the gaps
where public institutions have difficulty in integrating
citizens with the system during the process of being
a modern nation-state.
Terming the Gulen congregation as a “social
network” being different from other traditional
congregations, Ozdalga says, “The Gulen movement,
which attaches so much importance to education,
makes a remarkable contribution to the formation
of values and identities, which lead to a deepening
of the roots of the construction of the nation-state
According to Ozdalga, it is not religion but the
fear of “settled ones” regarding the
change in the balance of power in favor of “those
coming from outside,” just as Elias mentioned
the basis of the reaction towards Gulen.
Sidney Griffith and Zeki Saritoprak (5) explore
Gülen’s idea of interfaith dialogue.
This article attempts to find the roots of Gülen’s
approach by referring to early Islamic figures such
as al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 728) and Harith al-Muhasibi
(d. 857), al-Ghazzali (d. 1111), and Jalal ad-Din
ar-Rumi (d. 1276). Gülen also avidly read the
more recent works of two Indian writers, Ahmad Faruqi
Sirhindi (1564-1624) and Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi
(1703-1762) as well as some Western classics such
as Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare, and Honore
de Balzac. The article argues that "Bisme-allah,"
the first verse of the first Qur'anic chapter, constitutes
the starting point for Gülen's understanding
of interreligious dialogue. Furthermore, the article
elaborates on Gülen's meeting with Pope John
Paul II and the reactions of various Muslims to
this meeting as well.
The article examines the theological roots of the
peace and anti-violence rooted in Islam; and gives
examples of the representatives of this tradition
in Turkey such as Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan, Mehmed
Zahid Kotku, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and Fethullah
These people made an important contribution to the
formation of a safer and peaceful atmosphere in
the country thanks to their loyalty to the principle
of “being against violence despite the pressures
imposed by extreme secularists,” according
Indicating Gulen’s personal experiences that
he gained during the “anarchy and military
coups” processes that play an important role
in his anti-violence attitude, Saritoprak says,
“For a peaceful world in the future, Gulen
encourages his fellow citizens to establish schools
in Turkey and abroad.”
Gulen strongly defends “freedom of faith”
for non-Muslims as well, says Saritoprak, concluding
that Turkey’s experience of an anti-violence
attitude in the frame of Islamic teachings is a
valid solution in a period when Islam is identified
with violence and barbarism.
Mucahit Bilici approaches the Gülen movement
and its politics of representation more critically.
His article examines the activities of a Turkish
institution called The Journalists and Writers Foundation,
of which Gülen is known as its honorary president,
as well as other fields of interest in the Gülen
movement. Bilici finds that this organization is
working to prevent the fulfillment of Huntington’s
prophecy of a "clash of civilizations."
Also, he maintains that Gülen owes a great
deal of his intellectual background to the teachings
of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, although he differentiates
between these two. Bilici presents Gülen as
a modern Ottoman, and expounds on several terms
that are popular within the Gülen movement,
such as hizmet (service), and himmet (support).
Finally, Ihsan Yilmaz's (6) paper examines the transformation
of Islam in modern Turkish history, especially after
the establishment of the modern Turkish state. Within
this context, he differentiates between civil Islam,
represented by Gülen, and state Islam, for
which Yilmaz coins the term "Lausannian Islam."
Yilmaz also focuses on the influence of Gülen's
discourse on the Turkish public sphere, and compares
the movement to other Islamic political parties
established in Turkey. Yilmaz while examining the
secularism process in Turkey explains in his article
how non-official Islam is being lived although the
Turkish state claiming a “secular mujahidin”
role wanted to establish the understanding of Lausanne
Islam. He exemplifies the National View’s
movement of political Islam and Fethullah Gulen’s
movement of Anatolian Islam. Advocating that the
Gulen movement that he also defines as the largest
civilian movement inTurkey made transformative influences
on society, nationalist Islam and political Islam
as well, Yilmaz considers Gulen’s discourse
in the “moderate Islam” category. Yilmaz
depends on Gulen’s use of a flexible language
on some issues relating to the authoritarian state
not showing tolerance to any rival in the social
arena. He exemplifies the efforts of secularist
and nationalist circles that could not digest Gulen’s
meeting with Pope John Paul II under the context
of dialogue among religions, to make the Department
of Religious Affairs take on that role.
This special issue of “The Muslim World ‘’publication,
I believe provides an interesting understanding
of Fethullah Gülen and his contributions which
have increasingly received the attention of academic
scholarship of the Muslim and the Western World.
With a charismatic personality, his ever multiplying
admirers, and his tremendous openness, Gülen
and his civil society movement can contribute to
the development of positive relationships between
Islam and the West. A close examination of Gülen’s
thought shows that he is one of the foremost Muslim
scholars of the present day Islamic World who has
been promoting dialogue and tolerance between the
Muslim communities, who differ among themselves
in many important ways, as well as between Muslims
and the adherents of the other religious traditions.
1. Bakar, Osman (2005) Gülen on Religion and
Science: A Theological Perspective. The Muslim World
95 (3), 359-372.
2. Kurtz, Lester R. (2005) Gülen's Paradox:
Combining Commitment and Tolerance. The Muslim World
95 (3), 373-384.
3- Thomas Michel, S. J. (2005) Sufism and Modernity
in the Thought of Fethullah Gülen. The Muslim
World 95 (3), 341-358.
4. Özdalga, Elisabeth (2005) Redeemer or Outsider?
The Gülen Community in the Civilizing Process.The
Muslim World 95 (3), 429-446.
5. Saritoprak, Zeki & Griffith, Sidney (2005)
Fethullah Gülen and the 'People of the Book':
A Voice from Turkey for Interfaith Dialogue. The
Muslim World 95 (3), 329-340.
6. Yilmaz, Ihsan (2005) State, Law, Civil Society
and Islam in Contemporary Turkey. The Muslim World
95 (3), 385-411.
7. The Muslim World, July 2005 - Vol. 95 Issue 3
8. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 24:2 (2004),