April 12, 2013

The Work of Fethullah Gulen & the Role of Non-violence in a Time of Terror (1)

Steve Wright, Ph.D.*

…This paper examines the peace-building work of Gülen within wider concepts of non-violence in order to explore their lessons for modern Islam’s dtransition. It is important for the conference to hear something of past voices and experiences, and the lessons learned from them, which can further inspire those in Islam who wish to move towards future peace using peaceful, non-violent activities. This goal is particularly pertinent in a time of terror when existing counter-insurgency methods readily provoke a violent response, which justifies more violence and repression.

…For sure, Gülen’s approach is to work within an Islamic framework and apply the principles of the Qur’an to create positive change based on mutual respect. How does this differ to more Western approaches(**) that share similar outcomes? It is important for this conference to hear something of past voices that share the vision of peace through peace and their similar experiences in telling truth to power. A key question is the extent to which these different approaches converge or diverge and the extent to which learning can be mutual. This goal is particularly pertinent in a time of terror when extant counter-insurgency models incorporating organized violence against innocents can easily provoke responses used to justify even more violent repression. A crucial issue is whether or not Fethullah Gülen’s teachings on nonviolence, can inspire a new non- violent praxis towards peaceful social change

…This is my point: believability is the extent to which teaching and practice are one. This is what is so attractive about the Gülen movement to external observers since even to an outsider the motivation is to unify outward behaviour, with spiritual credo. Peace is of course central to Islamic teaching, the Qur’an refers to it being one of God’s names (59:23). Islamic scholars have cogently argued that the sunnah or Prophet’s way, can be understood as a deliberate choosing of the of the path of non-violence – a distinctly Islamic approach to non-violence based on dawah or peaceful struggle for the propagation of Islam.

It is in his sense that Fethullah Gülen’s contribution might be best understood through the lens of western practices of non-violent action for social change. This remains a slow process of recognition since it is only in recent years that the larger peace research networks have begun to recognize and assimilate the thoughts of Islamic scholars on non-violence and that this form of non-violence is active and transformative. Of course within Islam, Arab elders have used such principles for centuries to resolve family and community disputes and there is a continuum of practice for scholars willing to research it as such. (Abu-Nimmar M., 2003)

Historically, the East has provided us with some of our most inspirational teachers, translating their spiritual beliefs into a philosophy of both peace cultures and peace through non-violent direct action. All of us active in peace movements today will acknowledge their debt to Mahatma Gandhi. His quest was seen as a process of transformation, of tackling the violent injustices of the largest empire ever assembled. He rejected violence as a tactic because in the long term it was counterproductive. “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent” For Gandhi, “Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary”.

…Well Gülen’s approach to non-violence is totally rooted in Anatolian Islamic belief systems, which to an outsider are based on the timeless wisdom of the Qur’an which is viewed as immutable holy writ. A closer reading however reveals that Gülen seems the inspiration of his faith as a work in progress rather than being ‘set in concrete’. He values interfaith dialogue and ongoing cultural exchange as evidenced by his role as honorary chair of the” Journalists and Writers Foundation.”

…In many senses the Gülen movement is a practical global networking effort for peace and understanding. And yet paradoxically in Turkey is where its essence has been most widely understood and misunderstood. On the one hand by all accounts the moral teaching in Gülen schools offer an exemplary moral and practical training for young people. And yet there are sectors in the military who distrust any pro-Islamist movement of whatever description because of the threat they perceive to Turkeys avowed secular identity. Fethullah Gülen himself has made it abundantly clear that the movement has no interest in seizing economic, political or cultural power either inside or outside of the country. In an interview with Turkish newspaper Zaman he has reiterated his spiritual credo of serving humankind by self-sacrifice:
“As in the past, I am currently maintaining the same distance to all political parties. Even if power, not only in Turkey, but that of the entire world, were to be presented to me as a gift, I have been long determined to reject it with contempt.”
…Gülen’s expressed philosophy does not falter when it comes to characterizing the unacceptability of terrorism. For him, terrorism is against the very fabric of Islam. On the basis of his erudite understanding of the Qur’an: No Muslim can be a terrorist, no terrorist a Muslim.

Western commentators lack the scholarly authority within Muslim communities that Gülen brings when he concludes that suicide bombing, whatever, wherever, whenever is absolutely forbidden in Islam and for those that commit such crimes, the logical prospect is eternal banishment. It is important that such debates over interpretation are had within the Muslim community and that powerful voices are heard that can with full knowledge declare can make an extremely articulate attack on those who would attempt to use religious justification to commit atrocities. “Islam never approves of any kind of terrorism.”

* Senior lecturer in the School of Applied Global Ethics and an associate director of the Praxis Centre, Leeds Metropolitan University.

**Please refer to the full article for reviews/the analyses of aforementioned Western approaches to non-violence

Excerpted from the author’s paper: "The Work of Fethullah Gülen and the Role of Non-violence in a Time of Terror." Presented at the conference Muslim World in Transition: Contributions of the Gülen Movement, University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, October 25-27, 2007.

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