Differences Should Not Lead to Separation

Differences Should Not Lead to Separation

Dr. Saribay: Fethullah Gulen clearly shows that Islam can have different interpretations. In the coming days, there is going to be a settling of accounts between populist and radical Islam. I believe that the first group’s victory will enable democracy to develop more evenly.

Cerrahoglu: Is the Refah Party (RP) using politics as a tool?

Dr. Saribay: In a sense, yes. Politics in Turkey is based on protective relationships. It is not only religion that is misused, but also Ataturk and the very concept of democracy. As a result, even if it’s not their intention, the RP is exploiting religion.

In my opinion, the RP is close to both modernism and post-modernism. Even if it’s a common example, Erbakan’s wedding was striking. Does Islamic tradition feature a wedding held at a five-star hotel, an Islamic-but-modern bridal dress, and the exchange of Rolex watches? This is congruent with becoming modern and natural. There’s nothing to reproach here.

Looking from the perspective of post-modernism, in a culture that gives priority to image, Muslims are not above of this. Islamic headscarf (hijab) fashion, what they themselves call becoming “Vakko”ish, is a typical example. Another indication of the RP’s post-modernism is that everything can turn easily into something else. A model displaying transparent clothing suddenly starts wearing hijab. Her writing a book on Islam three days later is accepted quite naturally.

Cerrahoglu: Is the division between the Refah Party and Fethullah Gulen’s movement apparent or real?

Dr. Saribay: In my opinion, there are serious differences. The Refah Party is a political organization; Fethullah Gulen’s movement is a civil organization. Gulen wants Islamic values to become generally accepted, not to politicize them. If the movement wanted to use Islam for political purposes, it could swallow the RP.

By developing an interpretation of Islam that is compatible with human rights and democracy, the Fethullah Gulen movement contributes to the stabilization of democracy in Turkey. Turkey has not reached this point yet. Thus, if we are going to develop democracy, where is Islam’s place? Islam has represented itself in both the cultural and political arenas and it should. But a concept of living side by side has been developed in democracy and for democracy over the last 10 years. We’re living side by side, but we’re not living together. Living together means seeing others’ existence as legitimate as my own.

Cerrahoglu: Isn’t the frequently used term religious nationalism one of the special characteristics of Fethullah Gulen’s movement?

Dr. Saribay: Fethullah Hodja stresses that religion, not nationalism, is unifying. According to this approach, if we have a glorious past, this is mainly due to religion. Secular nationalism, based on an ethnic foundation, is divisive. Religious nationalism can play a unifying role, especially in a religiously homogeneous society. However, religion can’t be unifying if it is absolutist. As far as I can see, Fethullah Hodja is bringing an interpretation that is not absolutist. This provides conditions for living together.


This is part of an interview with Prof. Dr. Ali Yasar Saribay by Nilgun Cerrahoglu of Milliyet newspaper on October 8, 1995. English translation is retrieved from fgulen.com.

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