Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gülen Movement
TOWARD AN ISLAMIC ENLIGHTENMENT – Book Sampl
Islamic Enlightenment – TOWARD AN ISLAMIC ENLIGHTENMENT
First of all we have the phenomenon of Islam. Muslim intellectuals still talk about Islam as if it were a simple, unified entity; a singular object. But in reality the history of Islam, like the history of other religions such as Christianity, is fundamentally a history of different interpretations. Throughout the development of Islam there have been different schools of thought and ideas, different approaches and interpretations of what Islam is and what it means.
There is no such thing as a ‘pure’ Islam that is outside the process of historical development. The actual lived experience of Islam has always been culturally and historically specific and bound by the immediate circumstances of its location in time and space.1
Since the Iranian Revolution 1979–80, there has been much intellectual discussion about the compatibility/incompatibility between Islam and various “isms”: secularism, liberalism, pluralism, capitalism, and ultimately democratization. The reality is that there is not, and never was, one fixed and authoritative understanding of “Islam” as there is none for secularism, liberalism, and democracy.
As in the case of other theologies and belief systems, authoritative attempts at enshrining dogma and praxis have always been contested, and inevitably spawned further permutations and interpretations of what “true” Islam meant.
Such contestation in the modern period intensified in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Muslim lands facing the challenge of Western imperialism, and many of its themes were articulated in the writings and speeches of various and differing luminaries including Ahmad Sirhindi, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Sayyid Jammaludin Al-Af- ghani, Muhammad Abduh, Namık Kemal, Muhammad Iqbal, Rashid Rida, Ziya Gökalp, Hassan Al-Bannah, and Maulana Mawdudi, to name only a few.
One prominent cleavage, which in crucial ways itself is a response to the pressures of modernity and global integration, is between literalist/fundamen- talists and modernist/reformists.
The first group, known as the literalists, has its origins in early Muslim movements of puritanism associated with the thought of Muhammad Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyyah, and later Muhammad Abdul Wahab. Neo Salafi or Wahabi movements posit political and social ills in the Muslim world as resulting from the community of believers straying from the “pure” teaching and practice of an unadulterated Islam exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate followers.
Such literalists abjure the existence of differing interpretations and insist that a “pure” and literal Islam can be distilled from the Qur’an and the sayings and practices of the Prophet as expounded in the collection of authoritative hadiths or sayings of the Prophet.
They deny, often willfully, that the Qur’an consists of very general and poetic exhortations toward faith and virtue and that specific political and social legiti- macy and practice was always fiercely contested in the immediate wake of the Prophet’s death and his successors or Hilafet. Literalist and puritanical move- ments have been able to generate great popular support, particularly in times of intense social and political upheaval, and as a response to the onslaught of ex- ternal foes from the Mongols to Western Imperialists.
In contemporary times, this approach has also greatly benefited from the enormous largesse of the Wahabi Saudi Royal family, which has quite overtly promoted Muslim puritan- ism and Salafism, as well as sectarian enmity, as a way to neutralize suspicion and hostility over the royal family’s own unimaginably decadent lifestyle and reliance on Western military interventions for its own survival. The great pity is that the radical Wahabi-Salafi Gleichschaltung of Islam alongside secular-au- thoritarian ideologies associated with Kemalism, Pahlavism, and Ba’athism elided the more pluralist forms of Islamic revival and reform in the late nine- teenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal implemented a series of radical reforms in an effort to forge a modern (secular) nation-state.
The totality of these reforms and practices, which sought to create a European Turkish state and society by removing Islam from the public life, is codified as Kemalism, the founding philosophy of the Turkish Republic.
The second contemporary group, known as the modernists or interpretivists, draws upon the tradition of earlier modernist reformers such as Namık Kemal, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Sayyid Jammaludin Al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Iqbal, and Ali Shariati, to name a few.
This contemporary genera- tion of modernists, such as the late Fazlur Rahman, Alija Izetbegovic, Abdur Rahman Wahid, Abdolkarim Soroush, Rachid Al-Ghannoushi, and Fethullah Gülen, sought to free Islamic thought and practice from its rigid and puritani- cal interpretation and promote revival and reform to meet the modern spiritual and temporal needs of the Muslim world.
The second approach had a more limited following in the Arab world until the recent Arab Spring. Reflecting both a higher level of socioeconomic development and the lasting role of Sufi thought and movements, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bosnia- Herzegovina have been more receptive to Islamic Enlightenment and mod- ernist movements. In the following section, I will define Islamic Enlightenment and identify the socioeconomic conditions under which the ideas of Enlightenment are likely to flourish.
One of the most often cited definitions of Enlightenment was provided by Immanuel Kant. In an article written in 1784, Kant argued that “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”2 and he continued by saying that “immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.”
In other words, Enlightenment, for Kant, was “the courage to think for oneself.” According to Karl Popper, Enlightenment is “the effort of men to free themselves, to break out of the cage of the closed society, and to form an open society.”3
Thus, there are two aspects of the Enlightenment: use of critical reason, and the evolution of an open progressing society. It is a process of using individual reason to re-interpret the religious and cultural traditions for the advancement of society.
For the sake of this book, it might be better to think of Enlightenment as a bundle of contradictory ideas and debates that are grounded in the faith in reason to bring about social, cultural, and political reforms that would promote democratic society and human rights. Enlightenment does not mean the rejection of religion or the disenchantment of the world, but rather a new way of understanding the interactions between self and society, society and politics, and science and society.
The Enlightenment project has had, since its inception, a major impact on religious debates and shaped a new way of thinking about religious tradition in light of the notions of reason, progress, science, and public deliberation.
Although Ernst Cassirer, Peter Gay, and Jonathan Israel all stress the incompatibility between religion and the Enlightenment, some scholars argue that not only are they compatible, but, moreover, the very foundations of the European Enlightenment are rooted in religion.4
For instance, Peter Gay’s two volume study defines Enlightenment in terms of its hostility to religion and search for freedom and progress through the use of reason. Yet, new research on the Enlightenment stresses the role of religion in the evolution of progressive ideas. J. G. A. Pocock argues that the Enlightenment “was a product of religious debate and not merely a rebellion against it.”5 Pocock does not see a unified narrative of the Enlightenment, but rather a “plurality” and a “family” of the Enlightenment.
On the basis of David Sorkin’s influential book,6 it may be argued that the works of Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen represent “Islamic Enlightenment” in terms of integrating the roles of reason, tolerance, science and public discussion, and especially in how it facilitates the penetration of these ideas to diverse sectors of society.
Although the ideas of the Enlightenment had a major impact among the Muslim intellectuals such as Jammaludin Al Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Namık Kemal, and Muhammad Iqbal, these ideas, however, were con- fined to only a small group of intellectuals.7 While it hardly penetrated the masses, it certainly never became part of the daily Islamic discourse. In the late Ottoman state, some of the key ideas of the Enlightenment were put into prac- tice with the Tanzimat (the period of reorganization) in order to stop the de- cline of the Ottoman state against rapidly transforming European powers.8
However, this top-down and relatively imitative process stumbled because the socioeconomic conditions were not enough to provide the necessary social support for these ideas to become a grassroots movement. The significance of the Gülen movement is that it has not only vernacularized the ideas of Enlight- enment, but that it has also turned them into a religio-social movement.
The ideas of the Enlightenment are evolving and disseminating within, rather than against, Islamic intellectual spaces. Thus, the new Islamic thinking is very much informed by the key ideas of the Enlightenment in a newly evolving socioeconomic context.
In some Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Bosnia, Malaysia, and Tatarstan, one sees the processes of Islamic Enlightenment, which are preconditioned on the use of critical reason to scrutinize the existing Islamic practices and ideas in order to bring about social and cultural reforms that would cultivate a more humane and open society.
In other words, Islamic Enlightenment does not mean an imitation of the ideas of European Enlightenment but rather a transmutation and vernacularization of these ideas within an Islamic-Turkish tradition. By focusing on Islamic actors and discourses, one can fully understand how progressive ideas were produced, discussed, and dis- seminated in the larger society.
Nursi and Gülen, the two intellectual architects of the new Islam, constructed a “reasonable” faith that engages with philosophy and science in the open public arena and, by doing so, they advanced the role of critical reading and diverse texts in the public sphere in lieu of pure emotional devotion or ritual piety.
The European Enlightenment was entirely compatible with religious faith, just like the writings of Gülen have argued that since revelation and reason are two God-given “lights,” they cannot contradict each other. Adrien Lamourette argues that “Reason and revelation get along infinitely better than their inter- preters . . . These two torches are taken from . . .
the same light; they never spoil each other and conflict except in the hands of man.”9 In fact, Gülen also argues that “religion does not oppose or limit science and scientific work,” and insists that science and religion are two definitively separate entities that emanate from the same truth: the Creator.
In his writings, Gülen stresses the role that education can play, since “a new style of education [which fuses] religious and scientific knowledge with morality and spirituality will produce genuinely enlightened people with hearts illumined by religious sciences and spirituality, minds illuminated with positive sciences, characterized by all kinds of human merits and moral values, and cognizant of the socioeconomic and political conditions of their time.”10
The enlightened person, for Gülen, is someone who is armed with secular and religious ideas and able to harmonize them in the public debate to advance the communal good; someone who is always polite in his public and private daily life. For Gülen, there is no Enlightenment without God.
It is important to focus more on how and why some pious Muslims adopt the ideas and practices of the Enlightenment, while others totally reject them. In the case of Turkey, the ideas of reason, toleration, progress, science, liberty, and informed public debate have become part of Islamic discourse and this, in turn, helps Islamic actors engage secular and religious public spheres.
Thus, the public sphere is more pluralistic with mixed secular and religious ideas and practices. In fact, the ideas closely related to the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment are becoming the building blocks of new Muslim thinking.
Today, more Muslims embrace the ideas of Enlightenment as the defining features of their faith and use these ideas to intervene in the otherwise historically insular, secularist public sphere. Islamic values and convictions do not create insular communi- ties and spaces, but rather build bridges between insular intellectual arguments.
In line with his spiritual teacher Said Nursi, Gülen not only stresses the role of reason and public discourse over basic received dogma, but also demands and provides theological arguments for religious toleration and the freedom of reli- gious minorities, even though neither Nursi nor Gülen ever called for state neu- trality in religious affairs.
Furthermore, Gülen promotes the process of Islamic thought adopting modern “print technology and communication,” drawing attention to the sig- nificance of textuality and interpretation in communal solidarity formation.
Finally, the Gülen movement has expanded the public sphere in Turkey as Nursi and Gülen, and their followers, engage in secular concerns and use religious terminology to discuss and debate secular issues. Gülen uses this new thinking to accommodate faith with reason and communicate new ideas through reli- gious idioms to the larger masses.
Although the Gülen movement is born of religious and social concerns, it redefines and blurs the boundaries between the public and the private, the secular and the religious.
These Muslim actors use reason to support their faith regardless of secular- ists, who present themselves as the champions of reason and view religion as the cause of Turkey’s underdevelopment. By utilizing reason, new Muslim actors present Islam as a sensible and reasonable religion. On the basis of the writings of Gülen, one could argue that the ideas of the Enlightenment helped
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