January 28, 2016

A Muslim voice to be heeded

Fatih Harpci*

The majority of Muslims openly and loudly reject violent extremism regardless of the religious or ethnic identity of the perpetrator, but that is not what the Western media focuses on. If we closely look into a broad poll, we will see hundreds of Muslim leaders denouncing terrorism, and one of these Muslim voices that we don't listen to is Fethullah Gülen.

Gülen is a Turkish-Muslim teacher, preacher, thinker, dialogue and peace promoter. He is a social advocate, whose decades-long commitment to education, service and interreligious dialogue has inspired millions in Turkey and around the world. His message on promoting education, defending human rights and denouncing terrorism in the article titled "Muslims Must Combat the Extremist Cancer," published by The Wall Street Journal in August, needs to be taken heed of.

In a powerfully expressed statement on Nov. 14, Gülen also condemned the terrorist attacks in Paris, calling on all to join in rejecting terrorism "without 'ifs' and without 'buts' and without hiding behind any excuse." In fact, he was the very first Muslim leader who condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, repeating the famous remark, "A true Muslim can never be a terrorist and a terrorist can never be a true Muslim."

In his article, Gülen not only condemns terrorism, but also puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Muslims to combat extremism. If they do not take the necessary actions, he says, Muslims "will be partly responsible for the smeared image of (their) faith."

In this context, first, Gülen clearly rejects the approach that blames the West for all the unwanted developments both in the Middle East and the world. Even suffering oppression cannot be an excuse for causing terrorism or failing to condemn violent extremism in Gülen's own words.

Second, it is crucially important to endorse a holistic understanding of the Qur'an and Islam as a way of life and realize the fact that Islam's core teachings, such as "taking the life of a single innocent is a crime against all humanity" (Qur'an 5:32) are not open to interpretation. Gülen also admits that "mainstream voices" never make it to the newspapers and on TV or anywhere, yet he underscores that "instead of blaming the media, (Muslims) should find innovative ways to ensure (their) voices are heard."

Third, Gülen reminds his fellow Muslims that while respecting religious diversity, they should promote universal human values; "dignity, life and liberty" and emphasize once again that human life is sacred and should be respected.

Fourth, Gülen firmly believes that in today's world, Jews, Christians and Muslims have three common enemies that they have to face together: ignorance, poverty and conflict. In the article, he strongly writes that this ignorance in the Muslim nations must be eradicated through an appropriate universal education. Over the years, he has proposed establishing schools founded on modern sciences and morality and encouraged people to support quality education. With donations of these volunteers, the civil society movement called Hizmet (service in Turkish) has established many schools and colleges from Central Asia to the United States, from the Far East to Africa.

Fifth, considering the human being consisting of body, mind and spirit, Gülen affirms that not only natural and social sciences, but also spiritual and religious education must be provided to Muslims. Otherwise, "faith grows in the shadows, leaving it to be interpreted by unqualified and radical figures."

At the end, Gülen writes that terrorism has no religion, yet there will be always people with exclusivist views who misinterpret and abuse the sacred scriptures. Violent extremism, according to him, "is a multifaceted problem, so the solutions should address the political, economic, social and religious layers."

He calls on Muslims around the world to be part of the solution, and I personally think if Muslims truly and wholeheartedly listen to Gülen's messages, as he puts it, they "can be beacons of peace and tranquillity in their societies."

* Assistant professor of religion at Carthage College.

Published on Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, 27 January 2016, Wednesday