Turkey: A Bridge between Islam and the West -IV
By Dr Muzaffar K. Awan
Michigan, USA

Lester Kurtz's (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 for this.
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 process.”
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 Gulen.
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 to Saritoprak.
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 Page 325-471
8. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 24:2 (2004), pp.213-232.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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