May 15, 2015

Fethullah Gülen’s specific responses against particular incidents of violent extremism

Ozcan Keles and Ismail Mesut Sezgin

Fethullah Gülen’s (and Gülen movement’s) position on violent extremism is based on a comprehensive, thorough and robust understanding and reading of the spirit and teachings of Islam’s primary sources, the Qur’an and Sunna – the same foundations on which its core teachings are based.

To elaborate, Gülen espouses the interpretation of Said Nursi (1877–1960), an extremely influential twentieth-century Kurdish Islamic scholar, that every form of life manifests a unique combination of God’s names and attributes which we as humans were created to see and reflect upon in our spiritual journey of ‘travelling’ from the created to the Creator and arriving at a higher form of understanding and awareness of ourselves and God – that is the purpose of creation. Therefore, in addition to its inherent value, every form of life, be it human or not, is a unique species in and of itself. That is one interpretation of the Qur’anic verse ‘the unjust killing of one person is like the killing of all humankind’ (Al-Ma’idah 5:32). Based on this reading, people have a positive responsibility to appreciate one another and ensure the continuation of life. Furthermore, since, according to Gülen, humans are key to the purpose of creation, unjust killing is a grave injustice not just against the person killed and their loved ones, but also against the entire universe to which their existence gives meaning.

That is why Fethullah Gülen says ‘a true Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist cannot be a true Muslim’ because they are so fundamentally and diametrically opposed to each other, not just according to the ‘letter of Islam’ but also according to the ‘heart, soul and spirit of Islam’.

A person who believes in the letter and spirit of Islam is called a mu’min (literally, ‘believer’), which stems from the Arabic roots amn and amanah, meaning trust, trustworthiness, peace and security – attributes that should be upheld by a true believer. A believer must always follow the concept of sirat al-mustaqim (‘the middle way’), avoiding harmful extremity at every level of life including thought, feeling and even in the practice of religion,

where the Prophet admonished those who were too extreme in their fasting and praying to the point of neglecting their homes and families. A mu’min of this type is one from whom others are safe with respect to what he says and does. (1)

Some examples of Gülen’s specific responses to particular incidents and controversial issues concerning violent extremism are given below:

On the beheading of James Foley and others: ‘I deplore the brutal atrocities being committed by the ISIS terrorist group hiding behind a false religious rhetoric…. Any form of attack, suppression or persecution of minorities or innocent civilians is an act that contradicts the principles of the Qur’an and the tradition of our Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings.’ (2)

On the defense of Kobani: ‘All forms of oppression, persecution and attack against minorities and innocent civilians are completely against and at odds with the teachings of the Qur’an and the practices of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) … [W]hat they [ISIS] are doing is terrorism and must be called as such.’

‘The purpose of religion is to bring about a peace that is founded on universal human rights, the rule of law and universal human values. Interpretations contrary to this, especially efforts to inflame conflict through the perversion of religion, go against the spirit of religion.’ (3)

On 9/11: ‘I would like to stress that any terrorist activity, no matter who does it and for what purpose, is the greatest blow to peace, democracy and humanity. For this reason terrorist activities can by no means be approved of. Terror cannot be a means for independence, nor can it be applied to a struggle for salvation…. This latest terrorist activity is the most bloody and condemnable. It is an act of sabotage against not only the United States of America, but also against world peace and universal democratic and humanistic values. Those who committed these acts cannot be but the most brutal of all in the world…. Terrorism cannot be a means for any Islamic goal, and a terrorist cannot be a Muslim, nor can a true Muslim be a terrorist.’ (4)

On Muslims committing terrorism: ‘The Prophet (pbuh) says: “a person cannot commit adultery while in a state of belief’’. A believer does not commit adultery; if he does he is not in a state of belief, at least during that period. Some scholars have interpreted this to mean that during that period, faith leaves a person, rising above his body temporarily, and only returning once the act is complete and the person has repented. This is a bit of a forced interpretation but it is sound in terms of what it means. A person cannot commit these acts if he truly believes in God, the afterlife, that he will give account of his actions, that there is heaven and hell. In this sense, when a terrorist commits terrorism at that point in time he is not a mum’in (a believer in Islam). And a true mum’in cannot enter into acts of terrorism while in a state of true belief.’ (5)

On suicide attacks and Palestine: ‘Despite the great hardship in Palestine, suicide attacks cannot be accepted. A Muslim cannot strap a bomb around his or her waist and go into a public space and detonate a bomb killing people like that.’ (6)

On Qaradawi’s religious decree on suicide attacks in Israel: ‘In response to the atrocities and injustices in Palestine, Palestinians take part in suicide terrorist attacks. Apparently, Qaradawi has said that this is legitimate in Islam since they have no other weapons to use. I was deeply saddened when I heard this statement by Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b.1926) because he, like Ratib al-Nabulsi (b.1938), Said Ramadan al- Buti (d.2013) and Hassan al-Turabi (b.1932) are well-known people in the Muslim world – they are not average people, they are well-known. When they speak, it is as if they speak on behalf of Islam and as a result Islam is negatively impacted by this statement. How can he legitimise such an act? On what Islamic rule or principle does he base this opinion? That does not mean I am suggesting that we remain indifferent to what is happening there – I die with every person I see dying in those lands. But this form of action is not in accordance with the “pleasure of God” or with reason.’ (7)

On groups declaring war: ‘Any Muslim with even a little Islamic knowledge knows that even if Muslims lose their freedom, even if their land is occupied, an individual or a group cannot declare war or mobilise people for war.’ (8)

On suicide attacks during legitimate war: ‘Even during war you cannot touch or harass those that are innocent. No one can issue a religious decree (fatwa) that contradicts this position. No one can be a suicide bomber in Islam. No one can strap bombs around their waist and run into a crowd of people regardless of the faith or religion of the crowd of people that are targeted.’ (9)

On the punishment for terrorism and suicide attacks in Islam: ‘Terror can never be used to achieve an Islamic goal. In this respect, a true Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist a Muslim. A Muslim cannot be a terrorist because Islam foresees the harshest penalty in this world for murder or for violating security and in the afterlife it foresees the harshest penalty for those that reject faith, those who associate partners with Him and again those who have committed murder. It warns that those who have deliberately [and unjustly] killed another will face an eternal life in Hell.’ (10)

‘Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) says: “a time will come when he who kills will not know why he killed and he who was killed will not know why he was killed!” It is as if we are going towards that point step by step. Some people become suicide bombers and claim to be doing this in the name of religion. They do this for revenge, they do this to draw attention; if somebody blows themselves up as a suicide bomber, forgive me, but that person will fall straight into Hell.’ (11)

On compromising the right of an individual for the right of a community: ‘[A]s far as the rights of humanity are concerned, based on its principle that “rights cannot be categorized as great and small,” Islam sees the right of an individual as being equal to the right of the community. It does not sacrifice one of these for the other, and it has introduced the principle that “if on a ship there are nine criminals and one innocent person, as long as that innocent person remains on the ship, the ship cannot be sunk in order to punish the nine criminals.”’ (12)

On what Hizmet must do in response: ‘We must do our best to change these people’s views and opinions on these matters. It appears that some headway is being achieved by telling people about ourselves through efforts for dialogue and empathic acceptance. Islam cannot be represented by people who engage in certain acts; such people have fallen prey to their emotions, to anger and hatred.’ (13)

‘Achieving any goal by killing people is not the way of the Prophets or the friends of God. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was oppressed and persecuted as if compressed through a crusher for thirteen years but he did not even tread on an ant. He responded to and treated those arrogant, harsh and tyrannical people in a humane way. And we must teach these people of this way and spirit to prevent people from resorting to terrorism.’ (14)

Keles, Ozcan and Sezgin, Ismail Mesut. 2015. “A Hizmet Approach to Rooting out Violent Extremism.” Thought & Practice Series, Centre for Hizmet Studies.

(1) Al-Buhari, Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, book 76, no. 491.
(2) ‘Fethullah Gülen on ISIS’, Centre for Hizmet Studies website, Centre for Hizmet Studies website, accessed 1st February 2015,,fethullah-gulen- statement-on-isis.html.
(3) ‘Fethullah Gülen on the Peshmerge, Turkmen and Iraqi defense of Kobani’, Centre for Hizmet Studies website, accessed 1st February 2015, _17,fethullah-gulen-on-the-peshmerge-turkmen-and-iraqi-defense-of-kobani.html.
(4) ‘On 9/11’, Centre for Hizmet Studies website, accessed 1st February 2015, www.,on-9-11.html.
(5) ‘Kanlı Arenada İslam İmajı (Londra’da Terör). Bamteli. 09.07.2005’, Herkul website, accessed 5th February 2015, da-teror/.
(6) ‘Filistin ve İntihar Saldırıları. Kirik Testi, 13.05.2002.’ Herkul website, accessed 5th February 2015,
(7) ‘Kanlı Arenada İslam İmajı (Londra’da Terör). Bamteli. 09.07.2005’, Herkul website, accessed 5th February 2015, da-teror/.
(8) ‘Kanlı Arenada İslam İmajı (Londra’da Terör). Bamteli. 09.07.2005’, Herkul website, accessed 5th February 2015, da-teror/.
(9)‘Nuriye Akman, Zaman gazetesi roportaji, 2004.’ Fethullah Gülen website, accessed 5th February 2015, zamanda-nuriye-akmanla/12070-zaman-bugun-islam-dunyasi-diye-bir-dunya-yok.
(10)‘Nevval Sevindi, Fethullah Gülen İle New York Sohbeti, 2002.’ Fethullah Gülen website, accessed 5th February 2015, dizi-yazilar-dosyalar/fethullah-Gülen-ile-new-york-sohbeti/3438-nevval-sevindi-11-eylul- sonrasi-islam-ve-teror-arasindaki-iliski-butun-dunyada-cok-tartisildi-bu-konuda-ne- diyorsunuz.html.
(11) ‘Kutsala Saygı, Teröre Lanet. Herkul Nagme, 15.01.2015’, Herkul website, accessed 1st February 2015,
(12) ‘Interview in Kenya’s Daily Nation, 2004.’ Fethullah Gülen website, accessed 5th February 2015, daily-nation.
(13) ‘Kanlı Arenada İslam İmajı (Londra’da Terör). Bamteli. 09.07.2005’, Herkul website, accessed 5th February 2015, da-teror/.
(14) ‘Terör ve Izdırap. Bam Teli, 24.10.2011.’ Herkul website, accessed 1st February 2015,

Published on, 08 May 2015, Friday