September 4, 2014

Consultation from Gülen’s perspective: The relationship between the ruler and the ruled

Doğu Ergil

Q: The concept of consultation prevents the individual’s melting within the society and contributes to the formulation of collective decisions. What kind of a role does Fethullah Gülen attribute to consultation as regards these two parties?

Gülen stresses that Muslims must prioritize the decisive statements of the Qur’an and the clear Sunnah. He says:
Even if the head of state or the leader is confirmed by God and nurtured by revelation and inspiration, he is obliged to conduct affairs by consultation. In fact, any society that has ignored or disregarded this practice has never prospered; rather, it has perished. So the Messenger of God saw the salvation and progress of his community in consultation: “Those who consult do not lose.”(1)
The importance that the Gülen Movement attaches to consultation explains why it continues to increase its members worldwide and why it has become a movement that accommodates all walks of life by unifying them around common sentiments and deeds. The evidence confirming this assessment is implicit in how Fethullah Gülen interprets council and consultation:
Consulting with his Companions on every matter, the Messenger of God took their opinions and perspectives into account. Thus every venture he planned was presented to and adopted by the collective conscience. His use of every feeling, emotion, and inclination arising from the collective conscience as a foundation enabled him to support and give extra strength and endurance to the work he undertook. In other words, by uniting everyone and involving them both mentally and spiritually in the work to be done, he established his projects on the strongest, soundest basis. By doing so, although he was supported by the revelation, he reminded the rulers of their responsibilities and enabled the people’s ideas to be considered.He thus opened the way for the people to help the rulers and reminded the rulers not to oppress [the ruled]. (2)
Gülen reminds us here that the dualism between the ruler and the ruled is not permanent and institutional in the life of a society; rather, it is functional, a division of labor directed to meet that society’s needs. This understanding, which is the foundation of modern democracy, refers to the principle that religion should not interfere with politics and that politics should not interfere with religion, for each one acts in its own autonomous field. What is remembered here is the relationship between revelation and legislation – and even more the contradiction between them. His proposal to overcome this contradiction is given below:
Clearly consultation is not a source of legislation, if there is a clear divine decree (nass). Those matters on which there are such clear divine decrees (nasslar –plural form in Turkish) are not subject to human intervention, and people may only turn to consultation to ascertain their full meaning. Matters on which there is no such decree are considered as being within the boundaries of consultation, and everyone is obliged to abide by the ensuing results and decisions. In fact the decrees are, in a sense, general principles.These decrees, with a few exceptions, do not go into all of the details. Issues on which there is no nass fall within the boundaries of the council and can be consulted. (3)
In my own words (DE), Islam contains a limited number of political and social judgments that came through revelation. In all other areas, excluding these few concrete decisions, the decision is – or should be – made through consultation. If a decision no longer serves its intended purpose, due to the passage of time or changed circumstances, it should be reassessed and changed through consultation. In short, society should be ruled not by coercion or the whims and wishes of coercive people, but by consultation via its members’ active participation in a shared reasoning and decision-making process. As Gülen finds this democratic principle within Islam’s essence, the secular interpretation of society and administration does not contradict Islam:

The following are among the first principles toward which Islam strives: to establish equality among people; to fight ignorance and spread knowledge; to direct a country’s people to protect their place and standing in the balance among states; to achieve the right balance of social justice between the individual and the community; to develop and advance in every individual and the whole nation the feelings of love, respect, altruism, living for others, sacrificing their own material and spiritual benefits and aspirations for the sake of others; to maintain and retain the balance between this world and the next; to order and organize domestic and international politics; to follow world affairs closely; and to prepare, when and as needed, the resources necessary for coping with the world as a whole… (4)

Here, Gülen mentions the main problems of human history.He then argues that these can be resolved when both religion and worldly politics are functional. Below are his own words regarding what consultation promises:
increasing the level of thought and intervention of the society, …seeking society’s views on all new events thereby reminding it of its own importance and leading it to produce alternative ideas, … to help society be part of administration, … to ensure that the people remain aware of the need to question and call administrators to account, … preventing the rulers’ irresponsible behavior and limiting their executive power. (5)
What Gülen proposes is very close to the modern definition of democracy, namely, “participatory and deliberative democracy.” His vision is more in line with a human-centered political system based on the law’s supremacy, which is seen in many developed countries. Furthermore, he calls upon the people to participate in the decision-making process, stressing that this is both their right as well as their responsibility. Individuals who do not do so are, in fact, shirking their duty as citizens.

He holds equally accountable [for the ensuing problems] those administrators who ignore the citizens’ preferences and demands, and those citizens who do not speak out their views and demands.
As the ruler or administrator is accountable when he/she does not consult, the ruled are accountable when they do not express their views when asked to do so. In fact, they are considered as not performing their civic duty not only when they do not voice their views, but also if they are not determined to get their views heard. (6)
Gülen invites individuals to become active citizens and participate in the decisions that influence their destiny; he also considers it a weakness not to have any opinion. He implies that such citizens cannot escape from the problems caused by those rulers or demagogues who are unwilling to share power and let others question their decisions. Another point he makes is that the majority’s decision rules, with the provisions that the minority’s rights are safeguarded and that such decisions must be obeyed by all.

In short, it is impossible to find in Gülen’s teachings a society and a political system based entirely upon the clear divine decrees, which contain rules that can never be changed or questioned. On the contrary, he brings forth a vast area of private space and defends a rather developed system of democracy in the worldly sphere, which is outside their boundries.

One cannot talk of a religion if it does not reveal the decrees required for becoming a good human being and a solidaristic society equipped with ethics and does not set principles regarding worship. For this reason, it is neither reasonable nor meaningful to say that there is a threat of the Shariah waiting behind the door just because the divine decrees are mentioned. It is further impossible to believe such threat after reading and listening to Gülen regarding [his views on] democracy, which he refers to through council and consultation. In his own words:
I am in favor of solving all issues according to the collective conscience. I am one of those who hold that three minds are better than one and thus prefer the majority sentiments of my friends to my own sentiments. Therefore, let’s make the mechanism of consultation operational. Let’s join our efforts together to meet and resolve the grave problems of the future and never act individually. (7)
No matter how much Gülen believes in the importance of people participating in deciding the issues that will affect their lives and closely supervising those in power who will implement them, he is aware of the need for the pioneering efforts of opinion leaders or wise people. He says:
People who are knowledgeable are numerous, but the number of those whose conduct reveals what they know is very limited. The fact that knowledge does not transform itself into virtue and does not reflect on our behavior and conduct is our shortcoming. Both the one who knows [the wise person] and the one who has the merit of leadership would shoulder the task of, in Bediüzzaman’s words, the “division of duties, time management, and facilitating mutual help.” Each society contains all kinds of work for everyone, from A to Z. For this reason, each person should be given a task that he/she can do. If this were the case, the spirit of unity would not be damaged. (8)
When we discuss the importance of opinion leaders to a society, the topic of the relationship between Gülen and his followers inevitably arises. To what extent do they feel comfortable with informing him of their opinions? According to Gulen:
Some of our friends, maybe due to their respect, do not always want to express themselves. They speak less. But the ones you wish [to see around] are not less in number. They voice their opinions about issues. I always advise them:“Do not say in a submissive way that[a] person always speaks accurately.”I also question myself regarding my views. My interpretations are my own, and thus you might not agree with them. But there are certain things that, if they are right and confirmed by the Book and the Sunnah, we should not discuss them for the sake of brainstorming and cause a storm. (9)
When asked if his influence and ties to the movement destroys the members’ individualism and freedoms, he replies:
Definitely it may be true. Feeling respect and being under pressure because of that respect might occur, but [I believe that] this is a very rare matter. We have to solve this, all of us, all together. All of my friends should express their opinions. We must remain courteous to each other, just as if we were in a debate, so that we can always discuss matters. I think this would and can be realized over time. At this moment, everyone is comfortable with bringing issues to the table. If the idea is right, it is approved. (10)
After this assessment, Gülen returns to the topic of why opinion leaders are needed and the problems that society would experience if such people did not exist:
If individuals could not overcome their egos, if those who somehow managed to do so would be unable to vocalize their visionary thoughts, if they could not spread their thoughts in all segments of the society after vocalizing them,then their nation would be doomed to decay, dissolution, and being swallowed up by another society. (11)

(1) Gülen, Fethullah. 2007. The Statue of Our Souls. New Jersey: The Light. Page 45.
(2) Ibid., 46
(3) Ibid., 49
(4) Ibid., 49-50
(5) Ibid., 51
(6) Ibid., 52
(7) Gülen, Fethullah. 1997, Fasildan Fasila-3 (From Time to Time, vol. 3) Izmir: Nil. Page 69.
(8) Gülen, Fethullah. 2010. Kirik Testi-3: Gurbet Ufuklari (Broken Pitcher, vol. 3: Horizons from Foreign Lands). Istanbul: Nil. Page 152.
(9) Akman, Nuriye. 2004. Gurbette Fethullah Gülen (Fethullah Gülen in a Foreign Land). Istanbul: Zaman Kitap. Page 77.
(10) Ibid., 78.
(11) Gülen, Fethullah. 2010. Cag ve Nesil-9: Sukutun Cigliklari (The Modern Age and the Contemporary Generation, vol. 9: The Screams of Silence). Istanbul: Nil. Page 45.

Source: Ergil, Doğu. 2012. Fethullah Gülen and The Gülen Movement in 100 Questions. New York: Blue Dome Press. Pages: 56-61

Published on, 08 January 2014, Wednesday