Rumi Forum's blog on Hizmet, Fethullah Gulen, peacebuilding, education and interfaith efforts.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Towards an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gulen Movement" by M. Hakan Yavuz

There are 3 issues I want to deal with:

1.     One, why did I write this book?

2.     Second one is the message of this book?

3.     Third what is left out? Or what are the issues I think needs to be explored or the critical expect of the movement as well.

I wrote this book because my original dissertation very much covered Islamic movements in Turkey. Even though I did my field work in the Fergana Valley and Turkey but I left the Fergana Valley aside and very much focused on Turkey. The Gulen movement was one of my case studies in mid 1990s and I tried to examine and follow the evolution of the movement and I’m not a member of movement. I want to mention that as well. I approach the issue from a scholarly prospective. I did a number of field works in the Balkans, Central Asia and Europe on the movement. What made me to write this book, one this misunderstanding of the movement both in Turkey and outside. Second, somewhat inability of members of the movement to explain what they are doing because the movement is very much action oriented movement, and there are I would say just recently there are some institutes to conceptualize what the movement trying to do. So there are member of conferences of movement put together, some scholars, some member of movements but I was not satisfied with those works as well. And I decided to write the movement one to examine impact of neoliberal economic policies unleashed by Ozal and then also deepening up Turkish democracy. How democracy and market economy shapes Islamic movement, religion in general Islam in particular. In other word what we have in Turkey that in Europe usually protestant reformation played an important role in the evolution of capitalism; whereas in Turkey the capitalism and democracy help to create more or less Calvinist, protestant Islam. I think the Gulen movement is one of those interpretations of Islam. I would say the most powerful one and most successful one. Tries to reconcile with democracy moderation in general democracy, human rights and market economy. So what we have here a new Islam and I defined this new Islam. I think there are poor major characteristic or new imagine constructor or new understanding of Islam or we can call it a new Islam. One of the new defining characteristics of new Islam is that religion it is a type of religiosity more or less rooted in ourselves on soul in ourselves. Believing is important as long as you behave, that is this connection between believing and behaving that the religion should motivate you to do something. So the religion, the piety is not for the sake of but the piety but the piety for the sake of improving social, political and economic condition of your society. So here the piety becomes a motivating force not only fulfilling your religious duties but rather religion is an instrument in a way to improve your social conditions. The second, by new Islam religion especially Islam in the conceptual method of Gulen is a civil philosophy. That is something very important by civil philosophy I mean Gulen wants to integrate Muslims into public debate and discussion including interpretation of Quran and so they in understanding of Quran or making some decision on other words for Gulen to build the consensus something is very important. The consensus building should not be left to one or two religious scholars, people should participate what the verse means, what we need to do and this Islam provides that shared code of language how to debate, how to discuss and it offers general sense of good life for this building consensus So again building consensus true sharing life of Islam. I think this is something very important. So it is not the process in terms of building the consensus but that what we shared is definition of good life is something very important for the new understanding of Gulen.

Again this is not an Islam of Sheriah, this is an ethical Islam. Overall in the Turkish case, if you look at the religious movement in Turkey, no one wants sheriah because of also the sheriah has a very negative meaning because of a number of historical and political events in the country but this is a Islam, ethical Islam, a type of Islam you build a bases to create a consensus.

Finally, I would say the third major characteristic of this new Islam is been is voluntary. That it is very similar to Abdullah El-Main a professor at Emirate University and this voluntary that you should make your own decision to be a Muslim or not to be Muslim. It is your right to follow or not to follow. In another words that this the voluntary activity that the piety itself it also becomes to voluntary. It should not to be force, neither by community nor by the state. This voluntary expects is something very important, this is why we don’t know the membership of the movement, who is in and who is out is not clear. People come and people leave. And sometimes people come together for certain activity. When that activity is finished, people go home. Because it is very much this voluntary expect is something very important and this voluntary expect also that religion or piety should be voluntary, it has a social implication. Some spill over positive effect on the society. Finally, this new Islam according to my own understanding, it is an attempt to create enlightenment or there is a conscious effort to bring or filter revelation through reason. Reason plays an important role, in terms of the critical thinking in terms of what is right or what is wrong to determine the true consensus building. I think that is something also very important. The critical thinking and also this emphasis on open society. But you have to imagine and think the Gulen movement within large of conservative Turkish society. Where movement was and where it is today, an incredible change and transformation. Now I would argue that these are the four major defining of characteristic the New Islam that the Gulen tries to articulate. In my book I try to separate the Gulen movement and meaning the book consists of three parts. Because what Gulen thinks and what Gulen is trying to do is not necessarily manifested in the movement. Because the movement activities are rooted and located in different counties and social and political conditions of each country very much shapes the meaning. The meaning is the outcome. So there is this tension between the ideas of Gulen and the actions of the activities of the movement. They are not always the same. I’m not saying they are contradictory but the conditions, let’s say in Kirgizstan or in Uzbekistan or in the USA are not the same, so the activities of the movement also varies, there is this variation.

Now, whe n you look at the totality of Gulen’s cognitive map or his philosophy. I would say also how does  cognitive map of Gulen his carried out by the movement, there are seve n major centers of, I would say, concept and the activity, the practices based on some concept. One as I said this Islam as a civil philosophy is something very important for Gulen. Second, the movement and Gulen very much they stress bridging more than bonding. Bridging with different cultures and different societies. Here something quite interesting, it links to this consensus building, also how do you transform yourself, you transform yourself through acting with the other. There is this dialectic between self and other in terms of bridging with different cultures and different societies. This is I think very important and it also explains helps us to understand interfaith dialog of the movement. People say what is the purpose of this movement? My own work and on the bases o f my own study, I would say the key purpose of the movement is character formation. This is one the, it is more the purpose is not religious I would say , it is very much secular, it is a character formation. This is one of the reason why education is something very important for the movement. Another aspect, the practice of the movement which links to terminology or the concept of Gulen how to teach Islam? This tension between “temsil” versus ”teblig” rather than preaching you need to teach Islam through good examples, so the action, activity, practice, building  institutions become much more important than going and preaching the religion. Another expect of the Islam of Gulen, I see the understanding  of Islam by Gulen is  feminize d Islam.

I didn’t deal with this issue in the book but I consider it as feminized Islam. By feminize Islam, I mean the following that when you read the memoires of Gulen, he argues that his grand mother and mother shaped his understanding of Islam more than his grandfather and father. His father and his father, they played an important role in terms of disciplining the body. But he argues that it is his grand mother and mother who shaped his mind and for Gulen, Islam is a felt emotion that there is a inner dimension of Islam and he believes that the sentimental emotional aspect of Islam is essential in terms of action and activity. So there is this feminize d aspect of Islam that is a felt emotion. The finally, some another issue which is not a part of the book and it is a project of another book. That is for Gulen , this character formation is very important. But one of the defined aspect of the character Gulen wants to shape, should be someone who concerns the world, who cares other. There is this ethic of caring, ethical discourse to care the world because of that the world and humanity very much created by God. There is the sense you care and you should care if you are a Muslim, what is happening. Your  environment, the world and humanity because of your love your God. So these are the, I would say key issues of the book. I also criticize the movement in my book as well. I have four major areas that I think the movement needs to focus on. One is the gender issue, I tried to argue that the movement is not where it suppose to be, recruitment of women and the gender is one of the issue. Certainly, the Turkish culture certainly how Islam is understood in Turkey plays an important role. There are some changes in terms of the movement emphasizes women’s educations more than other groups but still it is one of the area, the gender, is a key issue.

Second, the movement very much focuses on the human being and community, less on the state. So this is when you are looking at the movement in Kirghizstan or in Germany or in Turkey. You know, because their concern is character formation, their main concern is the empowerment of the community. So you see the similarities but the strategies change. The goal is the same, but the practice and strategies would vary form state to state on the bases of the legal social and political context of that country. So this is one of the, even if Turkey the different regions of the country, so I tried to make sure in my book that we should not make too many generalization about the strategies of the movement but there is certainly a shared core what movement wants to do.

- Foreign cover for policy and international relations. Let me kindly ask you touch a little bit on the foreign policy, international relations outlook of the movement. For example, has Hizmet movement been an important factor in recent Turkish outreach in the world. And how does such a transnational home grown civic movement effect Turkish foreign policy in term of means and outlook? And what do you think are the general principles of the movement when it comes to international relations. Say for example, would you say the movement is confrontational or non-confrontational, pragmatic, realist? How would you comment on that?

- Well, I think the movement is one of the, there is a debate about the role of the movement in Turkey. Especially the state bureaucracy is not very comfortable with the movement because they don’t want civil society participation. So the movement participates, or tries to get engaged on a number of issues and there is also this engagement not only the inside of the country but the in foreign policy as well. That the movement very much focuses on civil diplomacy that not the states. This is not a state centric movement. Here concern is the human being and community. So the movement foreign policy principles are would say very much the human right especially the religious freedoms are something very important for the movement. And the human rights discourses important for the movement. But there is a debate what the movement is also supporting the human rights of those who don’t share the vision of the movement is a debate of Turkey, as you know. But overall, when you look at the outside the human right discourse the individual rights, the community, the civil society, these are very important for the movement. In other words, if you look at Turkey’s presents in many countries, regions of the world, outside of the Turkish Embassy may be in the US, you see Turkish coalition of America little bit but may be in it is only Washington but if you go outside of Washington, wherever you go, you have centers of the movement. Or if you go to Europe in the European cities is the same thing. In Central Asia the same. I went to Tokyo, Japan, you have the Turkish Embassy and you have the Tatar mosque in Tokyo and some Muslim communities and then the movement, nothing else. But you have here that the movement is quite active in terms of building societal ties, society to society rather than state to state. Because this is one of the main focus of the movement as well the individual and the community and its foreign policy principles of the movement, I would say not confrontational very much it engagement. Movement tries to solve the problems through peaceful means, this is one of the reason why Gulen was open the critical of the Israelite-Turkish tension over trying to break the siege of Gazzah. Because he believes that there should be a compromised diplomacy and the negotiation, something is very important for the movement. But the understanding, again the foreign policy principles of the movement I think the core of the movement is very much this is the human is something very important for the movement. So the foreign policy or other policies are very much the extension of understanding what is the purpose of the movement to improve the social and economic conditions of the society.

- Thank you.

- But again, one more last thing, the movement is the most pro-European in the country. This is one of the area of tension between AK Party because they used to be very pro-EU but not any more and whereas the movement wants to see Turkey to be a part of Europe rather than part of larger Middle East. So the movement sees the future of Turkey in Europe not outside Europe. And it is also against the special membership status as well. So this is one of the areas especially on the foreign of policy area. Also the movement is not very comfortable with Turkish government’s aggressive attitude toward Syria. The movement doesn’t want Turkey to get involved or dictate what to do. They would like to see less intervention in the affairs of the Arab countries. That doesn’t mean less engagement. Turkey should engage but Turkey should not see itself as an arrogant country to go and tell other Arab counties what is right and what is wrong. I think so…. and relation with the Iran, there is also some differences of opinion.

- They (Hizmet Movement) seem to be more critical on Iran.

- They (Gulen Movement) are more critical about Iranian government because of again they try to raised in terms of the human right issue in Iran, and the religious freedoms of the other groups in the country and they also not comfortable with Iranian politicizing Islam.

- Thank you. Now is time for questions from our audience. Yes, sir.

- That raises the obvious question as to the Gulen and its relationship to the U.S. You did talk a little bit about its interesting area. What is the public opinion as far as how should the US be conducting itself militarily right now in that area. Is that something that is come up with let’s say in the publications is to what their interests are as far as U.S. and how we should we conduct ourselves. Not only with respect to Israel but / as media coverage, how it is covered?

- I think, about the capitalism, there is no systematic critic of capitalism unfortunately in the movement. And the movement very much sees market or capitalism something good. Something good that someway this competitiveness of the capitalism is part of the, may be not the philosophy of the Gulen but actions of the movement that you need to be competitive, you need to engage, you need to do the past and also there is a sense that the movement feels they should be powerful as well. So movement doesn’t shy away from wealth of power and but they want that wealth and power to be used for the ultimate goal or purpose of the what the movement believes in. And most of the supporters of the movement in Turkey are middle or higher/upper middle class. So the type of Islam is evolved or the interpretation of Islam very much I would say caters this developing Turkish economy. Do they are comfortable with the capitalism and the economic wealth and power. But again, there should be some ethical boundaries what you can do with the power and wealth.

- Are they comfortable with Americans right now in terms of travel because we know there are certain places where Americans are not welcomed right now. So my question is this the case?

- In Turkey? I don’t think there is any problem in Turkey. I think Americans can.. I don’t see any problem. I think Turkey is still one of the main destinations for American tourists. The leader of the movement is in the U.S. one of the accusations movement receives from the some radical Islam’s groups. They framed the movement as uncle Sam’s Islam or it is on American Islam and they think that the Gulen movement is not in but the CIA, set of CIA activities. This is very much you hear these kinds of charges from the leftists, and the communists. And also some people in Russia for instance, movement is not active because they treat movement as nothing but American extension. So the movement is again also criticized inside Turkey as well by anti-American groups because one of the charge is the leader of the movement is in the U.S. The type of Islam, movement try to develop is nothing but the American design type of Islam.