June 20, 2015

[BOOK REVIEW] European Muslims, Civility and Public Life: Perspectives On and From the Gulen Movement

European Muslims, Civility and Public Life: Perspectives On and From the Gülen Movement
Complex interactions of European and Islamic civilizations from the time of the Prophet until the contemporary era continue to occupy intellectual and cultural debates in the third millennium. If the political and military aspects of the early encounters between Islam and Christianity remain the topic of considerable debates among the historians, a series of socio-cultural and political issues such problems of integration, marginalization, multiculturalism, and assimilation dominate the discussions about the presence of Islam in contemporary Europe among politicians and the broader society. After 9/11 attacks, the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and the Arab Awakening these debates became a matter of global public concern.

Paul Weller and Ihsan Yilmaz edited a volume, which deals with challenges and opportunities faced by Muslims and the wider society in Europe following the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005. In four parts, contributors of the book explore various aspects of notions such as civility and public life. Overall, they look into how Muslim communities adapt to life in the West and practice a specific interpretation of Islam, which is relevant for the time and place. In particular, they focus on the thought and practice of the global movement inspired by the Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen. Articles presented in the volume point out the importance and distinctiveness of the teachings of Fethullah Gulen. They emphasize that the movement inspired by Gulen’s teachings is rooted in a Turkish Islamic heritage while being fully engaged with modernity. Authors suggest that the Gulen movement could be an example of “a contextualized renewal of Islam” for Muslims in Europe while being fully rooted in the teachings of the Qu’ran and the Sunnah of the Prophet.

Fethullah Gulen and Gulen Movement

In the first part contributors examine Fethullah Gulen’s views on Muslim identity and community life. In the introductory chapter Paul Weller presents an analytical framework for the study of the relationship between religion and public life in Europe. Weller suggests that there are several ways to promote equity for religious minorities, inclusivity on the part of the state, and participation in civic society. In examining these possibilities, the author points to the teachings of Fethullah Gulen. In the following chapter Gurkan Celik and Yusuf Alan, relying on the linguistic analysis of Gulen’s works, demonstrate how modern ideals and Muslim identity relate to each other. In the final chapter of the first part, Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi examines the diversity of Islamic community in Europe. For him, Turkish influence on the formation of European Islamic identity is very important. In particular, the author points out the significance of Fethullah Gulen as a spiritual leader of an influential movement inspired by the ideals of love, compassion, justice, and honesty.

In the second part of the book discussion revolves around the notions of civility, co-existence, and integration. In chapter four, Wanda Krause examines the notion of civility in Islamic activism. For her, religiously inspired Islamic movements are able to contribute to interfaith dialogue, East-West relations, and ultimately to the development of civil society around the world. As a case study, Krause focuses on the activities of the Gulen Movement. She points out the centrality of shared values in the philosophy of Fethullah Gulen and suggests that focusing on these values could help to overcome many of the contemporary challenges. Erkan Toguslu in chapter five examines the influence of two major public Islamic figures on European Muslims – Fethullah Gulen and Tariq Ramadan. According to Toguslu, both Gulen and Ramadan are admired and valued by the Muslim communities in Europe for their preaching of moderate way of practicing Islam and their calls for co-existence of different ethnic and religious affiliations. In the last chapter of the second part of the vomume, Araks Pashayan examines the issue of integration of Muslims in Europe. For Pashayan, the key issue that needs to be addressed in order to overcome mounting social problems in Europe and beyond is interfaith and intercultural dialogue.

In the third part of the book, contributors offer different perspectives on the Gulen Movement from across Europe. Tineke Peppinck in her article focuses on some of the activities of the Gulen Movement in the Netherlands. She starts by pointing out the importance of religion in the Turkish identity. For her, the long-time dream of Turkish leaders to modernize Turkey obtained a new opportunity and dimension with Fethullah Gulen’s idea of a “golden generation.” Representatives of this generation would possess a strong belief in God and be respectful of other cultures. This, according to Peppinck, could also help the Netherlands to become a role model for other countries within Europe. Emre Demir in chapter eight discusses the emergence of a neo-communitarian discourse in the Turkish diaspora in France and Germany. Demir argues that the Gulen movement has introduced a new perspective to integration of Islamic communities to their host societies. By focusing on secular education of local Muslim youth rather than investing into construction of mosques and religious schools, the movement, according to Demir, makes an important contribution to shaping the future of Western societies. In chapter nine, Fatih Tetik discusses potentials and constraints of the Gulen movement as an integration mechanism for Europe’s Turkish and Muslim communities. According to Tetik, the presence of a movement that puts Gulen’s ideas into operation distinguishes Gulen from other Islamic scholars whose ideas about interfaith dialogue were never implemented. In chapter ten, Jonathan Lacey examines the role and activities of the Gulen Movement in Northern Ireland. Author suggests that the movement plays an important role in changing perceptions about Islam in Western societies.

Gulen Movement In The Context of…

In the last part, authors discuss the issue of terrorism. In chapter eleven, Paul Weller examines activities of the Gulen Movement in the context of British civil society. Weller emphasizes the significance of the movement inspired by Fethullah Gulen’s ideas in promoting ‘moderate Islam’ and the image of ‘moderate Muslims’ in the UK. According to the author, conservative Islamic groups should not be labeled as a danger to the society. Rather, they should be embraced to demonstrate that there is no room for terrorism in Islam. In doing so, according to Weller, it is important not to instrumentalize religion for political purposes. In chapter twelve, Alp Aslandogan and Bekir Cinar question the legitimacy of violence in the Islamic faith. Authors emphasize that Fethullah Gulen rejects terrorism and considers the acts of violence against civilians as inhumane. For Fethullah Gulen, according to contributors, self-declared wars of individuals or groups under the banner of Islam cannot be regarded as legitimate. More importantly, Aslandogan and Cinar explain how educational and interfaith dialogue projects carried by the Gulen movement contribute toward eradicating the root causes of terrorism. In his article, Steve Wright focuses on non-violent approaches in mitigating conflicts. For, him the Gulen Movement presents an important case study, which demonstrates how Islamic principles can be applied to create positive change based on mutual respect. The last empirical chapter of the volume by Asaf Hussain and Ihsan Yilmaz discusses the issue of terrorism in Britain. They highlight the importance of recognizing the value of moderate Islamic groups which can positively contribute to overcoming the actual and potential threat of terrorism. Hussain and Yilmaz point to the Gulen Movement as an example of such faith based movements. In their concluding remarks, editors highlight the key points and questions raised by contributors of the volume and identify some of the potential challenges that may be encountered by European Muslims, the Gulen Movement, and a wider society in the future.

Overall, this volume presents an important contribution to the study of the Gulen Movement. Not only the book presents a number of unique perspectives on sensitive issues such as the identity of Muslims in the West, integration processes in Europe, problems of adequate education and the challenges of terrorism, as well as the benefits of intercultural living, but also suggests that science and faith are not confrontational. This makes this assessment of a movement inspired by the ideas of Fethullah Gulen an essential reference material for future studies on the topic. Those interested in understanding the Gulen Movement and its contributions to peace in Europe and beyond should read this volume.

European Muslims, Civility and Public Life: Perspectives On and From the Gulen Movement. Edited by Paul Weller and Ihsan Yilmaz. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012. 255 pp.; ISBN: 978-1-4411-2048-9. Gulen

Published on fethullah-gulen.org, 8 May 2015, Friday