October 21, 2014

Gülen On Religion And Science: A Theologian's Perspective

Osman Bakar*


A number of contemporary Muslim thinkers have dealt with the relationship between religion and science.[1] The subject itself is fast gaining popularity among Muslims, not only among scientists but also among other groups of Muslim professionals and intellectuals. Understandably, as Muslims they are primarily interested in discussing and debating the subject from Islamic points of view. We may even say that in many Muslim countries today practically every class of educated Muslims is concerned with some issue pertaining to the relation of religion and science.

Those who have been closely following religious developments in the Muslim world since the beginning of the so-called global Islamic resurgence in the 1970s would not fail to notice that a growing Muslim interest in issues of religion and science in the last several decades is part and parcel of a larger interest on the religion, culture, and civilization of Islam. The fact that the majority of the active participants in the emerging Muslim discourse on religion and science have been natural scientists with an interest in religion speaks volumes about the intellectual transformation taking place in the Muslim world.[2] Sad to say, the volume of literature available on the subject is only a pale reflection of what has actually been happening on the ground. Western scholarship on contemporary Islam tends to focus on its political dimension, thus helping to eclipse other modern manifestations of Muslim intellectuality and religiosity such as in science that is regarded in the West as perhaps the most secular of all domains.

Also unfortunate is the increasingly popular Muslim interest on intellectual discourses on religion and science, which has not been matched by the institutionalization of appropriate academic and research programs. Beneficial programs, which are not currently implemented may include the introduction of the subject in the educational curricula of institutions of higher learning and the establishment of research centers dedicated to the advancement of human understanding of the multi-faceted relations between religion and science. While in the West there are numerous such centers, academic organizations, and journals devoted to studies in religion and science within the Judeo-Christian worldview; we can speak of only very few such endeavors in the Muslim world.[3]

Against this background of the relative neglect of the intellectual dimension of global Islamic resurgence, this essay seeks to make better known the voice of a contemporary Muslim theologian on issues pertaining to religion and science. The religious figure presented here is Fethullah Gülen[4] (b. 1938), a devout Turkish scholar, educationist and popular preacher influential not only in his country but also in the Turkish-speaking Central Asian republics. It is evident that the choice of a Muslim theologian's perspective on religion and science is rather significant. The significance lies in the fact that contemporary Muslim discourse on the subject has been dominated by Western-educated Muslim scholars and scientists. Throughout the Muslim world today, it is rare to find serious thinkers among men of religion reflecting on issues in religion and science, regardless of whether they have been educated in a traditional or modern setting. Gülen definitely belongs to this small minority of religious scholars. It is precisely his standing as a widely respected religious scholar intellectually interested and fairly knowledgeable in the relationships between religion and science that makes treatment of his ideas significant. Also significant is the fact that Gülen comes from secular Turkey where his basically traditional Islamic views on religion and science may be seen as philosophically at odds with the ideological content of the official state secularism if not with its political institutions.[5]

Gülen's Intellectual Orientation

In the light of both his educational training and intellectual output, Gülen may be best described as a religious scholar deeply rooted in the traditional religious sciences and at the same time quite familiar with modern Western knowledge. Born in the small village of Korucuk in the Hasankale district of Erzurum province, Turkey, Gülen had an early traditional education in the sciences of the hadith, the Qur'an, and jurisprudence. He had a special love for languages and Sufi poetry. Besides having a good command of Arabic and Persian, which he first learned from his father, he also knows French. On his own admission, thanks to his father's spiritual circle, Gülen was very much influenced by the Sufi master and poet, Muhammad Lutfi Efendi[6] (d. 1954), from whom he received spiritual lessons when he was as young as ten to fifteen years old.

Another influential modern Turkish intellectual and spiritual figure who contributed a great deal to Gülen's spiritual and intellectual formation was Bediuzzaman Said Nursi[7] (1876-1960), whose commentary on the Qur'an known as Risale-i Nur is widely appreciated in the Muslim world. Gülen had been introduced to this work while still a school student. The work, written partly in defense of Islamic beliefs from the assault of modern science, had influenced Gülen's formative views on religion and science. It seems that before reaching the age of twenty Gülen had already been exposed to both traditional Islamic learning and Western literature and philosophical thought.[8] His intellectual foundation and inclinations were rooted in this early learning.

With this kind of educational background Gülen has emerged as a scholar well versed in the religious sciences of Islam and with deep academic interests in modern intellectual thought. Some of his writings clearly give a strong indication that he is fairly informed, at least on some periods, of the history of the relations of religion and science in the West. Also from his numerous publications, one gathers the impression that he is quite familiar with the principles of modern science and that he possesses some understanding of its achievements and weaknesses.

Gülen's Treatment of Religion and Science

Gülen has addressed several issues pertaining to the general theme of the relations of religion and science. This paper, however, will concentrate on just three issues, namely [1] the relationship between scientific and religious truths, [2] the Islamic view of the modern scientific approach to nature, and [3] the approach of the Qur'an to science. His views on these issues are based on one of his very few books available in the English language, The Essentials of Islamic Faith.[9] This work and others that we know of reveal the general context in which Gülen is interested in indulging in religion and science issues. His primary interest in doing so is theological. What I mean by this is that he is interested in defending theological positions of Islam with science playing the subordinating role of "handmaiden of theology." In his view, religion and science can never be regarded as equals in Islam. Science's stance against religion will be explained in the subsequent sections.

In his discussion of the relations of religion and science, we may discern the major sources of intellectual influence on Gülen. Clearly he makes many references to the Qur'an and prophetic hadiths to support his contentions. His spiritual interpretation of nature clearly betrays traditional Sufi influences, especially the natural theology of Ibn 'Arabi, Sufism's towering figure. In asserting that the universe is "the realm where God's Names are manifested and therefore has some sort of sanctity" and that it is "the Divine Book of Creation" Gülen is echoing the views of Ibn Arabi and other Sufi sages.[10] He also displays intellectual orientations in his writings that clearly demonstrate his acquaintances with modern western thought. On such issues as the Islamic critique of the nature of modern science, he is known to have referred, for example, to the views of Karl Popper,[11] a modern British philosopher of science, and Rene Guenon,[12] a traditional French philosopher of science. However, one may be disappointed to find his references to modern Western thinkers are invariably brief. But then in the context of his whole argumentation he has a point in doing so. His primary interest is spiritual and theological. His concise citation of the scientific or philosophical views of certain western thinkers is only meant to illustrate or lend an additional support to his theological arguments.

Sufi influence seems to be the most dominant factor of the intellectual framework of Gülen's thoughts on religion and science. Clearly he is a man of God, who has a special love for both the intellectual teachings and the spiritual ethics of Sufism, although he is not known to belong to any Sufi order (tariqah). Certainly, his deep intellectual attachment to Sufism can be seen in his popular writings on the subject. For example, Gülen has written on the concepts and practices of Sufism.[13] However, at the moment I am not in a position to assess the extent of the influence of Sufi doctrines on Gülen's religious philosophy of science. But in his exposition of the principles of Sufism, he seems to be convinced that this spiritual dimension of Islam is the real path to the knowledge of the inner meanings of things. Moreover, in his view, it is this inner knowledge of things that deepens and enriches a person's understanding of religious and intellectual truths. In the light of such views we may say that Gülen's perspective on the relationship between religion and science has been primarily shaped by his deep attachment to Sufi intellectuality.

Nature of Religious and Scientific Truths

Let me first deal with Gülen's treatment of the issue of the nature of religious and scientific truths, and the possibility of either a confrontation or a harmonious conceptual relationship between these two types of truths. Before discussing his views on the precise relationship desired between religious and scientific truths it would be most appropriate first to first clarify his understanding of the word "truth." According to him, "Truth is not something the human mind produces. Truth exists independently of man and man's task is to seek it."[14] Gülen therefore believes in the idea of objective truths widely asserted by men of religion and philosophers. These truths are unimpaired by the limitations of individual human subjective experiences, and are only waiting to be discovered by humans.

He divides truths into two types: absolute truths, and relative truths. By absolute truths he means truths that are "unchanging" and that "lie in the realm above the visible world" since these concern immutable and permanent realities.[15] Absolute truths concern the essence of existence, the very domain that science is incapable of knowing by virtue of its methodological limitations. "The modern scientific approach," he asserts "is very far from finding out the truth behind existence and explaining it."[16] For Gülen, truths in the Qur'an and prophetic hadiths are absolute in nature.[17] In contrast, relative truths are changing, transient and tentative in nature. He contends scientific truths belong to the category of relative truths. In his usage of the term "scientific truths" he is referring to facts or truths discovered or established by science. But then, as he puts it, "sciences are in constant advance and what is regarded today as true may appear tomorrow as wrong or, by contrast, what we see today as wrong, may be proved to be true in the future."[18] In explaining why scientific truths are necessarily relative he points to the dependence of science on empirical data and rational interpretations of those data for its knowledge of things it seeks to study. It will be discussed further the inherent limitations in the methods of science in the human quest for truths in the subsequent topic on Gülen's Islamic critique of modern scientific approach to the study of nature.

In maintaining that truths in the Qur'an and prophetic hadiths are absolute, and that scientific truths are relative, Gülen has provided the philosophical premise for articulating the appropriate kinds of relationships that should exist between religious and scientific truths. One commonly asked question is whether religious and scientific truths are necessarily contradictory, reconcilable, or better still, in harmony. In principle, Gülen's view is that the two types of truths could never be in contradiction. There is a need to clarify further what is meant by "no contradiction in principle." According to him, "the universe, the subject-matter of the sciences, is the realm where God's names are manifested and therefore has some sort of sanctity. Everything in the universe is a letter from God Almighty inviting us to study it to have knowledge of Him. Thus, the universe is the collection of those letters or, as Muslim sages call it, the Divine Book of Creation issuing primarily from the Divine Attributes of Will and Power. The Qur'an, issuing from the Divine Will of Speech is the counterpart of the universe in verbal form. Just as there can be no conflict between a palace and the paper written to describe it, there can also be no conflict between the universe and the Qur'an, which are two expressions of the same truth."[19] The above quotation from Gülen clearly shows his firm conviction that scientific and religious truths cannot be in conflict since their ultimate source is one and the same, namely the divine source. Most Muslims readily share that conviction.

But if a situation arises where a 'scientific truth' is seen to be in conflict with established religious truths, then failing all attempts at reconciliation he wants Muslims to reject the former in favor of the latter. In taking this stand he is being consistent with his 'philosophical' belief concerning the ultimate worth of scientific truths. Accordingly, scientific truths are essentially mere theories, for if it was a "truth" there would be no contradiction between science and religion. It is the absolute truths of revealed religion that have the final say in deciding the fate of scientific truths. A scientific truth presently widely accepted by the scientific community, but found to contradict religious truths, will sooner or later be disproved by science itself. Gülen is insistent that relative truths must be subservient to absolute truths. That subservient role needs an emphasis since the very status of relative truths as truths finds epistemological legitimacy in the light of its affirmation by absolute truths.

It is in light of this relationship between absolute and relative truths that Gülen is insisting on the role of scientific truths to serve the cause of religious truths. If philosophy was regarded as the handmaiden of theology among classical theologians, then in today's world Gülen is of the view that such a role ought to be played by science. "Science and the facts it presents can and should be used to expound Islamic facts," he says.[20]He goes on to say that "our primary aim when introducing science and scientific facts must be to win the pleasure of God."[21]He seems to be very critical of the various tendencies toward scientism among contemporary Muslims that seek "to justify religion or reinforce its credibility by means of modern scientific facts." In response to such tendencies that somehow regard science as superior to religion, Gülen has come up with the following strong assertion: "Our position must be clear, and it is this: the Qur'an and hadith are true and absolute. Science and scientific facts are true as long as they are in agreement with the Qur'an and hadith, and are false inasmuch as they differ or lead away from the truth of the Qur'an and hadith. Even the definitely established scientific facts cannot be pillars to uphold the truths of iman (faith)."[22]

Although tendencies of scientism are to be found throughout the Muslim world,[23] it is quite obvious that Gülen's criticism of it is primarily directed at his own Turkish society. He wants to address the views of three important groups in that society which he considers erroneous. The first group consists of atheists and secularists who have rejected religion in the name of science. The second group consists of Muslims who believe in both religion and science but they have the tendencies to subordinate the former to the latter. The third group consists of Muslims who are critical of giving a place to science in support of religious truths. Gülen has rejected all the three views as unacceptable from the Islamic viewpoints. Referring to the first group, Gülen describes the attitudes of materialists and the anti-religious people toward religion and science in the following terms: they are eager to "exploit science as a means of defying religion and use its prestige to spread their thinking." As a result of their exploitation of science "they have distorted and corrupted the minds of a great number of people."[24]

In the face of such an exploitation of science by the group to discredit religion, Gülen calls on Muslims to study science and with the same scientific facts to confront the group with arguments supportive of religion. He wants to impress on the believers that if certain people have interpreted scientific findings in such a way as to negate religion then they can use the same scientific materials to show that science and technology are not contradictory to Islam. Indeed science guided by religion can lead people to the right path. Critical of the third group which shuns such an involvement Gülen feels there is nothing wrong with it from the point of view of religion. "On the contrary" he says, "I hold that believers should be well versed in such facts in order to fight back against materialism and atheism."[25] He tries to make it clear that to employ science in the service of religion is different from to justify religion by means of science as is done by the second group whose scientism has already been discussed. Muslims will not fall into the error of scientism as long as they keep in mind that the truths of religion have proofs independent of science and as long as they recognize and maintain the superiority of religious to scientific truths.

The Modern Scientific Approach to Nature

The second issue to be dealt with pertains to Gülen's views on religion and science concerns the modern scientific approach to nature. Gülen has no hesitation in accepting the validity and legitimacy of the modern scientific method in the study of nature as long as its limitations are duly recognized. For him, empirical methods are the best and the most appropriate to be employed when dealing with the world perceived by the physical senses. Similarly, rational methods based on inductive, deductive or analytical reasoning, which together with empirical methods constitute the core of the modern scientific methodology, are valid and effective within their domain of competence. Gülen contends the modern scientific methodology is simply incapable of penetrating and knowing "the essence of existence."[26] There are domains of reality that are beyond its competence. The inability of science to know the truth concerning the essence of existence is of utmost importance in his mind, especially with regards to the limitations of the empirical methods.

The human mind is interested in knowing with certainty the unchanging truth underlying the world of nature, but by relying on empirical methods the mind is powerless to know that unchanging truth. For example, the mind is keen to discover the truth about the origins of the existence of things and in particular the origin of the universe. But as Gülen sees it, whenever science deals with the issue of origin, "what it does is only to explain how things take place."[27] Science does not really answer the question of origin to the satisfaction of the mind. It gets out or "thinks it has got out of the difficulty of explaining the origin of existence by attributing it to 'nature' or 'self-origination' or such notions or concepts as 'necessity' and 'chance'".

In Gülen's view, it is important that science remains true to its nature as a discipline by being honest enough to acknowledge its methodological limitations to know the whole of reality and concede that the domain of eternal and absolute truths is beyond its epistemological concern and competence. Such a philosophical acknowledgment is certainly important for the sake of preserving legitimacy and harmony in the relationship between religion and science. Moreover, it is in being faithful to its legitimate role and function as an academic discipline and not through usurping the function of religion and laying claim as the science of reality that science will be conscious of its real value.[28] On top of all these considerations, Gülen the theologian obviously has a theological interest in maintaining the limitations of the scientific approach to nature in both theory and practice. In light of all that has been said we can say that he wants to reserve for religion the domain of inquiry that is beyond the scientific. That wish for the role for religion is completely justifiable. It is the central concern of divine revelations, particularly as manifested in the Qur'an, to inform and to clarify to humans truths that are beyond the human mind to discover by itself.

The Qur'an's Approach to Science

The third and last issue of science and religion to be treated in this essay concerns the Qur'an's approach to science. In Gülen's view, Muslims would be committing a great mistake if they consider scientific study as a kind of human activity that should be undertaken separately from and independently of the Qur'an. They need to do science in the light of the epistemological and ethical principles and values in the Qur'an. What he means is that the Qur'an should provide the philosophical framework for the study of nature. He is quite concerned about misunderstandings among Muslims as to the precise role and function of the Qur'an as a book of knowledge, particularly in relation to science. For that reason he goes to great length to address the question "Does the Qur'an contain everything?" he himself has posed.[29]He has answered the question in the affirmative, since the Qur'an itself has said so. The verse he has quoted is as follows: "With Him are the keys of the unseen. None but He knows them. And He knows what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falls but with His knowledge, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, nothing of wet or dry but (it is noted) in a manifest Book."[30]

In trying to understand what the Qur'an means when it says "everything is found in it" Gülen has referred to the views of Ibn Mas'ud and Ibn 'Abbas, two of the most well known early interpreters of the Qur'an, and the views of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, a fifteenth century Egyptian religious scholar.[31]All three are said to affirm the view that the Qur'an contains everything with al-Suyuti providing a further explanation that "all sciences or branches of knowledge are to be found in the Qur'an." As emphasized by Ibn Mas'ud the problem with each of us human individuals is that "we may not be able to see everything in the Qur'an" since what we see is what we know. Moreover, things in the Qur'an exist at different levels of reality, thus requiring from us the corresponding levels of consciousness if we are to see them. In other words, for human readers of the divine book, the Qur'an may be said to "contain everything in principle or in potentiality." As Gülen puts it, the Qur'an contains all things "in the form of seeds or nuclei or summaries or as principles or signs, and they are found either explicitly or implicitly, or allusively, or vaguely, or suggestively. One or other of these forms is preferred according to occasion of revelation, in a way fitting for the purposes of the Qur'an and in connection with the requirements of the context."[32]An actualization of that potentiality may be realized through knowledge. The more one has knowledge the more things one sees in the Qur'an. One function of science would be to help the reader see more things in the Qur'an.

If Muslims generally can speak of the Qur'an's approach to science it is because in principle it does contain everything. The Qur'an is relevant to Muslims as a guide to their study and applications of science because as emphasized by al-Suyuti it contains the principles of all sciences or branches of knowledge, including sciences of nature. In talking about the role of the Qur'an in relation to science Gülen's emphasis is indeed on its guiding capacity to deliver "true science" to humanity. One of the main objectives of the Qur'an is to inspire the love of truth, and "it is the love of truth which gives the true direction to scientific studies."[33] By "the love of truth" Gülen means "approaching existence without any consideration of material advantage and worldly gain." He does not think, save in the case of a small group of scientists, that science today is being pursued as inspired by and for the sake of love of truth. On the contrary, he sees much of contemporary science as having been developed by "those who are infected with worldly passions, material aspirations and ideological prejudices and fanaticism." In consequence, the legitimate course of scientific studies has been diverted and science made a deadly weapon to be used against the best potentials of humanity.[34]

Gülen calls on intellectuals, educational institutions, and mass-media to undertake the vital task of helping "to deliver modern scientific studies from the lethally polluted atmosphere of materialistic aspirations and ideological fanaticism, and to direct scientists toward the higher human values." In his view, the Qur'an is insisting on men of learning to direct their scientific studies toward the higher human values. The pursuit of science, indeed of all branches of human knowledge, should be done within the framework of realizing the Qur'an's four broad objectives: [1] to prove the existence and unity of God, [2] to prove prophethood, [3] to prove bodily resurrection, and [4] to concentrate on worship of God and justice.[35] For this reason Gülen's discussion of religion and science in Understanding and Belief is preceded by a lengthy treatment of those four objectives of the Qur'an. His treatment there may be described as conforming to the traditional perspective of a Sunni and Sufi oriented theology.

In Gülen's view, the four fundamental objectives of the Qur'an will have the effect of producing a science that is at once spiritually enlightened and more promising in serving the real interests of humanity. He calls such a science as "true science."[36] He thinks Islam in the past has succeeded in creating such a science. In his words, "the concept of science to which Islam gave rise was embedded in aspiration for eternity, the ideal of being useful to mankind and responsible in handling things for the sake of earning the pleasure of God Almighty."[37] The resurrection of such a science can help a lot in creating a world that is richer in its intellectual life, with its technology more wholesome and its sciences more promising.

Gülen makes reference to the traditional Muslim consciousness that sees harmony between religion and science and unity of spiritual and scientific knowledge. That consciousness has been essentially shaped by the Qur'an itself which refuses to separate scientific facts from spiritual wisdom. He writes: "The concept of science as based on divine revelation, which gave impetus to scientific studies in the Muslim world, was represented almost perfectly by the illustrious figures of the time who, intoxicated with the thought of eternity, studied existence tirelessly with the aim of attaining to eternity."[38] The refusal of the Qur'an to separate scientific facts from spiritual wisdom has inspired Muslim scientists to do the same. Gülen has no problem accepting the idea that the Qur'an alludes to many scientific facts and developments. But he emphasizes it does not refer to them "in the manner of science and materialistic or naturalistic philosophy."[39] For example, the Qur'an does not speak of cosmological and scientific matters in an elaborate manner. When it does make reference to those "facts" it is with the view of providing "the eternal interpretation of the book of the universe" and a spiritual interpretation of sciences dealing with natural phenomena. God has provided those "facts" because He wants to use them to illustrate spiritual truths like revealing about His names and attributes and to teach spiritual lessons to humankind. Accordingly, Gülen urges Muslims to always remember that "while the Qur'an contains allusions to many scientific truths it is not to be read as a book of science or scientific explanations."[40]

In the light of the spirit of the Qur'an in referring to "scientific facts" one needs to be careful when reading scientific meanings in its relevant verses. Gülen in fact is emphasizing the traditional position of Islam when says that in interpreting each verse of the Qur'an one should always bear in mind its multiple meanings. The verse in question cannot be exhausted in meaning by one interpretation alone. The idea of the Qur'an as having both literal and inner meanings is popular among many interpreters of the holy book. Generally speaking, Sufis have been more inclined than any other intellectual school in Islam toward expositions of the Qur'an's inner meanings. Not surprisingly then, as a scholar who has been much influenced by Sufi thought, Gülen seems well-versed in dealing with the issue of deeper levels of meanings in a sacred book that are of immense importance to man's search for spiritual truths. Also, he has sought to relate the inner meanings of the Qur'an to the inner reality underlying natural phenomena that is beyond the reach of the modern scientific method. What he is seeking to emphasize then is that the role of revealed religion is to help man discover higher truths about the natural world. What lies beyond scientific truths is not doubt and hopelessness that serves as an escape route to materialism, atheism or agnosticism, but rather a domain of spiritual truths that lead to a greater sense of certainty in man's consciousness.

In summarizing Gülen's views, we can say that the primary reason for the Qur'an's interest in the science of nature and other sciences is that it wants to invite man to know God. If the Qur'an is repeatedly calling upon humans to study creation, it is because it wants them to study it for the sake of knowledge of the Creator. Gülen strongly believes this whole approach of the Qur'an to science needs to be properly understood, because in this spiritual approach lies the real basis for a harmonious and fruitful relationship between religion and science.

Conclusion: Significance of Gülen's Views

In the light of our whole discussion of Gülen's views on various aspects of religion and science, we may point to their significance for the contemporary world in a number of respects. Firstly, in insisting that science should not be separated from religion, Gülen is taking a firm intellectual position against ideological secularism understood in its strictest sense. The idea of secularization of knowledge pursued to its logical conclusion would be incompatible with Islamic conceptions and theories of knowledge that are rooted in the teachings of the Qur'an. In particular, that idea would go against Gülen's belief that "science should not be studied independently of the Qur'an" The ongoing intellectual discourse on "Islamization of knowledge" in many parts of the Muslim world, Turkey included, can only be fully appreciated if one understands Islam's insistence on harmonious conceptual relations between the science of God and the sciences of the natural and human worlds. Islamization of knowledge may be seen as a serious attempt by cntemporary Muslims to restore that philosophical conceptual link between theology and the sciences that has been severed and the traditional unity of knowledge that has been shattered by modern secularization of knowledge.

Secondly, Gülen's views on the relations between religion and science are not just his personal views. In all, he represents one of the major interpretations of the Islamic position on the subject not just in secular Turkey but in the whole Muslim world. In many of his views he indeed speaks for the larger traditional segment of contemporary Muslim societies worldwide on the meaning of the relation of religion and science and what that understanding signifies for the task of preserving the Muslim identity. Thirdly, his position on the relationship between religion and science has a universal significance beyond the Muslim world. His views on the subject are of immediate relevance to similar kinds of discussion going on today within other religions, particularly Christianity.

In recent years, there have been numerous Muslim-Christian dialogues throughout the world on a wide range of issues. Unfortunately, only a few dialogues have been conducted on the important issue of the relation of religion and science. There is definitely a need to feature this particular issue more prominently in the agendas of contemporary Muslim-Christian dialogues. Gülen himself is known to have been engaged in dialogues with leaders of Christian communities, including the present Pope and leaders of the Orthodox Church in Turkey.[41] In this regard, it may be of interest to take note of Gülen's views on what has been regarded by many in the West itself as the conflict between Christianity and science. He says: "Although usually presented as a conflict between Christianity and science, the conflicts in the Renaissance period were mainly between scientists and the Church. Neither Copernicus nor Galileo nor Bacon was anti-religious. It may even be said that it was their religious commitment which ignited in men's souls the love and thought of finding truth."[42] In Gülen's view, which we consider highly significant for a contemporary Muslim theologian, lies the prospect of a sincere and serious dialogue not only between Islam and Christianity but also between men of religion and men of science in the different societies.

*Osman Bakar, Malaysia Chair of Islamic Studies, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

[1] The best known and most prolific of them is undoubtedly Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian-American scholar who currently teaches Islamic studies at George Washington University, DC. A great bulk of his influential writings on Islamic thought and civilization deals with issues of religion and science. These include An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964); Science and Civilization in Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968); The Encounter of Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man (London: Allen and Unwin, 1968); and Religion and the Order of Nature: The 1994 Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham (New York-Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
[2] This phenomenon is quite the opposite of what we find in the West where theologians dominate the religion and science discourse.
[3] Of all Muslim countries Malaysia is perhaps slightly ahead in having academic centers, professional organizations, and academic journals active in popularizing discourses on Islamic perspectives on religion and science. Worthy of mention are the University of Malaya's Department of Science and Technology Studies with its bi-lingual journal Strategi, the more internationally known ISTAC ("Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization"), and the Islamic Academy of Science of Malaysia (ASASI), an academic organization of Muslim scientists and technologists, which also publishes a journal.
The latest addition at the international level to the growing list of Muslim journals on religion and science within Islam is the Islam and Science published by the Center for Islam and Science based in Canada under the leadership of Muzaffar Iqbal, a leading contemporary Muslim scholar in the field of Islam and science.
[4] For a brief biography of Gülen, see Ali Unal and Alphonse Williams (compilers), Fethullah Gülen, Advocate of Dialogue (Fairfax: The Fountain, 2000), pp. 1-41. This work is hereafter cited as Advocate of Dialogue. On more critical treatments of various aspects of Gülen's life and thought, his worldwide religious community and the significance of his so-called "liberal Turkish Islam" see John L. Esposito and M. Hakan Yavuz, eds., Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Bulent Aras and Omer Caha, 'Fethullah Gülen and His Liberal "Turkish Islam" Movement,' Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA), vol. 4, no. 4 (December 2000).
[5] As a matter of fact, at various points in his life, Gülen has been charged with carrying out religious activities detrimental to the Turkish republic. A personality widely known for his preaching on tolerance and progress, Gülen denied the charges that he claimed were trumped up by extremist secularist groups suspicious of his religious movement and by others just envious of his popularity. He has been in exile in the United States for the last five years. On Gülen's recent references to charges against him, see his interview with Nuriye Akman, 'High-ranking People Used the Cassette Incident as a Tool for Blackmail', in http://en.fgulen.com/a.page/press/interview/interview.to.nuriye.akman.of.zaman.daily/1733.html.
[6] This influential Sufi master who had a divan of his own was also known later on as Efe Hazretleri or Alvarli Efe. See Advocate of Dialogue, p. 10.
[7] On the biography of this philosopher-theologian, see 'The Author of Risale-i Nur: Bediuzzaman Said Nursi,' http://www.risale-inur.com.tr/rnk/eng/tarihce/bsn.htm.
[8] On Gülen's familiarity with Western philosophical and literary works, see Advocate of Dialogue, pp. 28-30. Among modern western philosophers and scientists who had attracted his attention are Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Sir James Jeans, and Sir Arthur S. Eddington. In literature he has read widely the works of Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, and Tolstoy.
[9] See M. Fethullah Gülen, Understanding and Belief: The Essentials of Islamic Faith (Konak-IZMIR: Kaynak Publishing, 1997).
[10] For Gülen's reference to the Sufis' spiritual vision of the universe, see his Understanding and Belief, pp. 318-319.
[11] M. Fethullah Gülen, Understanding and Belief, p. 308. Gülen has referred to Popper's view that the theories of Newton and Einstein could not be both true at the same time. Apparently the reference was made with the view of emphasizing his contention that science can only seek approximations to the truth and not arrive at the real truth.
[12] Guenon was a leading twentieth century exponent of perennial philosophy and critic of modern science. Gülen has cited Guenon's assertion on the inability of science to know the truth concerning the essence of existence, because that would support his main argument why science needs religion. See Understanding of Belief, p. 308.
[13] See M. Fethullah Gülen, Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism (Fairfax: The Fountain, 1999).
[14] M. F. Gülen, Understanding and Beliefs, 309.
[15] Ibid., 308.
[16] Ibid., 307.
[17] Ibid., 335.
[18] Ibid., 306.
[19] Ibid., 318-319.
[20] Ibid., 334.
[21] Ibid., 334-335.
[22] Ibid., 335.
[23] The most popular figure in the contemporary Muslim world to be associated with scientism was the late French-born medical scientist Maurice Bucaille who was said to have converted to Islam. His works focusing on the issue of scientific predictions in the Koran have been translated into numerous Muslim languages. His most widely read work is without doubt The Bible, The Qur'an and Science (Paris: Seghers, 1978). For various critiques of Bucaille's 'scientism' see Leif Stenberg, The Islamization of Science: Four Muslim Positions Developing an Islamic Modernity, Lund Studies in History of Religions, vol. 6, 1996.
[24] M. F. Gülen, Understanding and Belief, p. 333.
[25] Ibid., 334.
[26] Ibid., 308. For more detailed discussions of Islamic critiques of the modern scientific methodology see Osman Bakar, The History and Philosophy of Science (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1999), chapter 2. See also Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 'Reflections on Methodology in the Islamic Sciences', Hamdard Islamicus, 3:3 (1980), 3-13.
[27] M. F. Gülen, Understanding and Belief, p. 310.
[28] M. F. Gülen, Understanding and Belief, p. 308.
[29] Gülen has addressed this question in Understanding and Belief, pp. 301-307. On his treatment of the general characteristics of the Qur'an, see pp. 288-300.
[30] The Qur'an, chapter 6, verse 59.
[31] Ibid., 302.
[32] Ibid., 303-304.
[33] Ibid., 313.
[34] Ibid., 313.
[35] Ibid., 303.
[36] For his treatment of "true science" see ibid., 312-315.
[37] Ibid., 313.
[38] Ibid., 312.
[39] Ibid., 323.
[40] Ibid., 333.
[41] On Gülen's inter-faith dialogues with various religious leaders of the world, see Ali Unal and Alphonse Williams, compilers, Advocate of Dialogue.
[42] M. F. Gülen, Understanding and Belief, p. 312.

Published on The Muslim World, Special Issue, July 2005 - Vol. 95 Issue 3 Page 325-471