Question: What is bigotry? And what are the differences between being steadfast in faith and being bigoted?
Fethullah Gulen: The term “taassub” (used for “bigotry” in the English language) means evaluating matters only according to one’s own understanding without considering it from different aspects and being pertinacious even in matters that contradict reason and the essence of religion. This very fact is expressed in the sayings of the Messenger of God with the word “asabiyya,” which literally means “nervousness,” because a bigoted attitude (taassub) is completely based on nervousness and emotionalism; it is an outward reflection of animalistic feelings in human beings. The term taassub in this inflected form denotes forcing. In this respect, it conveys meanings such as insisting on a certain issue to the degree of excess, continuing to be headstrong with a complete disregard for others, refusing to see or hear, and considering one’s own self as the very focus or basis for everything. As will be seen, “taassub” has nothing to do with reason, sound judgment, or sensibility. For this reason, as bigoted ones cannot act with common sense, it is not possible for them to have true spiritual experiences, which is felt through a certain faculty of the conscience.
A barrier against faith
Those who persecute believers have always been bigoted. For example, the polytheists and hypocrites at the time of the Prophet were bigoted against Islam and Muslims. They were deaf and blind to the message of the Pride of Humanity. However, if they viewed the noble Prophet in a neutral way, they would also see what sensible ones did; if they paid attention to his words of wisdom even a little bit, they would also hear what sensible ones did. If his adversaries turned over the truths he conveyed in their minds and pondered over them, they would see, understand, and appreciate. Unfortunately, they were blind to these beauties by bigotry, grudge, and hatred, and they drifted to unbelief.
Along with arrogance, wrongdoing, and the deviations from the sound point of view, one other factor that prevents a person from accepting faith is blind imitation of their forefathers, without questioning whether they had been right or not. Actually, such blind imitation is a different form of bigotry. The polytheist people of the Age of Ignorance (the era just before Prophet Muhammad’s arrival), therefore, opposed Islam with the arguments that they inherited from their forefathers. Their preventing Muslims from visiting the Ka’ba prior to the Treaty of Hudaybiya was an outcome of the same bigotry. The Qur’an names this attitude of theirs as “hamiyyat al-jahiliyya”—zealotry particular to the Age of Ignorance. They adopted this zealotry to such a degree that they kept on blindly sticking to their traditions and practices as before, so that their pride was not broken in the sight of other Arab tribes. Thus, they even prevented Muslims from entering Mecca.
Indeed, such events are experienced in today’s world as well. For example, when you wish to express yourself with reference to your faith and heavenly values, certain people immediately take action and try to deprive you of this freedom with a harsh and reactionary attitude you cannot understand. You may come up with different plans and projects in order to contribute to the welfare of the society and elevate it to a better status; but in spite of that, some circles will try to prevent you, since your attempts will mean altering their accustomed ways and claim, “These people actually want to harm our values under the pretext of improvement and welfare.” Even though you say nothing wrong about their Marxist, Leninist, and similar understandings and do not say anything against the figures they esteem, when your understanding and values are accepted by society, they feel neglected and claim that your activities are against them, purposefully intending to push them and their values into oblivion. Moreover, even if you somehow find a way and show them a staircase leading directly to Paradise, certain people will still remark, “By doing that, they are trying to make us forget our ideology.” All of these attitudes and behaviors are based on “zealotry,” as in the Age of Ignorance.
A dangerous disease
Such an example of zealotry can be seen in any society or country. There is no particular homeland for bigotry. This negative attribute can pass to any people with different understandings and thoughts. Seemingly religious people can also be under the influence of such bigotry in such a way that some evaluate everything from their own narrow perspective, by solely taking their primitive knowledge as absolutely true. Therefore, they can present a very strict and intolerant attitude toward matters of secondary importance. In our time, suicide attacks—so called “in the name of religion”—are results of such bigotry, given that the attackers are not under the effect of any drug or illusion, that they are not brain-controlled or robotized to commit these attacks. This is such a terrible disease that people ruin their own spiritual lives, for the sake of such delusion of their understanding of righteousness. Those who commit suicide attacks and thus casually take the lives of innocent people, including children, elderly ones, and women, do not become eligible for Paradise but for Hell with such a deed. How grievous an ending it is, when somebody falls into Hell instead of taking the path to Paradise and guiding others toward it!
Being steadfast in faith
Since a true believer is a righteous person, they already have nothing to do with bigotry. It is unthinkable for those who have taken the righteous path to stand against what is right and become indifferent to the truth. Otherwise, they will have shown disrespect to the truth. For this reason, what becomes believers is steadfastness in faith and not being bigoted.
“Steadfastness in faith” relates to the words, behaviors, and state of a believer. It does not mean being strict, harsh, and intolerant. Being steadfast in faith means presenting a complete resolution and sincerity in practicing all aspects of the Islamic teachings, against all odds. In other words, it is continually seeking the good pleasure of God in all of one’s attitudes and behaviors, even if everybody else gives into worldly temptations; it means not being slothful in any religious practices and being resolved to preserve one’s identity in every situation. In order to maintain such steadfastness, a believer must strive to attain true faith based on inquiry, then constantly delve into the truths of faith, and then base all matters on reliable knowledge after having assessed them with sound reason and judgment. Such a journeyer, with knowledge of God, relies on Him in the face of every event, holds onto piety, fulfills what causes require, takes every step with precaution, is not deluded, and never acts emotionally, because the honeycomb formed in that journeyer’s soul by wisdom, love, and yearning for God shows the way at every instance. For this reason, bigotry is found in the attitude and behaviors of those whose practices are mostly based on hearsay and imitation. For believers to attain steadfastness in faith free from bigotry, they first need to know thoroughly and digest the main essentials in the Qur’an and Sunnah; then, they filter and check their knowledge with these two sources, and then, they test what they have learned from the Qur’an and Sunnah, according to the pure understanding and common agreement of the distinguished scholars. After all of these, believers must entreat God in all of their decisions saying: “Our Lord, do not let our hearts swerve after You have guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from Your Presence. Surely You are the All-Bestowing” (Al Imran 3:8).
As much as bigotry is a contemptible trait, steadfastness in faith is a laudable one in the same degree, as steadfastness denotes an unshakable stance like an upright monument. In fact, it is very difficult for a bigoted person to maintain an unwavering course and be steadfast in faith, since he does not act under the light of reason and judgment but upon emotional motives. For this reason, those who become bigoted in the name of a certain ideology will do the same for another ideology in the future. You see that they are bigoted defenders of a certain ideology that sees the material and animal aspect as everything; when they come under the influence of spiritualism, this time they become zealots furiously propagating it. On the other hand, wherever true believers stood at the time of the Prophet with respect to their essential values, they keep the same upright stance fourteen centuries later.
As for making new judgments according to the requirement of new conditions, it is a different issue that does not contradict steadfastness in faith. The importance of referring to the opinion of competent scholars is related in the Qur’an (an-Nisa 4:83). Answering to newly emerging situations with the methodology of the reliable scholars is a kind of progress. Undoubtedly, such progress is completely different from degeneration, making exaggerated rulings in order to become popular, or showing bigotry at a certain issue without reasoning over it; it is the name of reaching into infinity with a finite body of principles, of the universality of Islam and its encompassing nature.
 Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 111; Sunan ibn Majah, Fitan, 7
Tags: Bigotry | Fethullah Gülen's philosophy |
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