Fethullah Gulen: Islamic world does not really exist, Islam is not understood properly

Fethullah Gulen: Islamic world does not really exist, Islam is not understood properly

Leonid R. Sykiainen

In a number of his publications Fethullah Gülen analyses in a short but very deep manner the present situation in the Muslim world. He agrees that during a long period of time the Muslim societies have been witnessing a multidimensional political, social and cultural crisis.
On one hand, this crisis embraces the Islamic thought and education at the moment. But one the other hand, it is itself caused by the decline of Islamic ideas and knowledge. That is why Fethullah Gülen’s teachings must be estimated by their impact upon the development of the modern Islamic theory and by their contribution into overcoming the crisis of the Muslim world.

The thinker points out a few main reasons of the present weakness of the modern Muslim countries. In his view, the three ones deserve to be mentioned before others:

  • Prolonged and continuing political backwardness which manifests itself first of all in the absence of genuine democratic institutions and processes coupled with domination of the authoritarian regimes;
  • Spiritual and moral crisis which consists in particular in the growing influence of imported – western standards of life;
  • Unsatisfactory knowledge of Islam.

When touching leading roots of backwardness of the Muslim world, Gülen underlines some key problems of Islamic societies linked directly with the perspectives of their political reformation. He especially stresses that Islamic societies entered the twentieth century as a world of the oppressed, the wronged, and the colonized. After their liberation and creation of independent states, political authorities worked for the well-being of the dynasties of which they are members, rather than working for the prosperity of their countries and trying to establish the unity of public and the power, and thus these administrations have been degraded to the position of mere oppressors and are deserving of loathing in the eyes of the public (Gülen 2004:239-240).

Values like democracy, basic human rights, the spread of knowledge and education across society, economic prosperity, equality in production, the institutionalization of consumption and income in a way that prevents class formation, the supremacy of law and justice, values which today are general accepted throughout the world, have never been fully realized in Islamic societies (Gülen 2004:240).

Maybe more important than all of the above, the fact that religion and the religious values, spirituality and ethics that are connected to religion have been eroded away throughout the world constitutes the most important source of major social problems that threaten humanity today. The Muslim world is going through a spiritual crisis as all the essential supporting pillars of humanity have collapsed and have been destroyed (Gülen 2004:241).

To sum up, Fethullah Gülen formulates the most important and bitter conclusion: today, in his opinion, an Islamic world does not really exist. There are places where Muslims live. Islam has become a way of living, a culture. It is not being followed as a faith. There are Muslims who have restructured Islam in accordance with their thoughts. It doesn’t mean radical, extremist Muslims, but ordinary Muslims who live Islam as it suits them. The prerequisite for Islam is that one should “really” believe, and live accordingly. Muslims must assume the responsibilities inherent in Islam. It cannot be said that any such societies with this concept and philosophy exist within Islamic geography. There are no administrators having this vision. The Islamic world is pretty ignorant, despite a measured enlightenment that is coming into being nowadays.

Today, there is an Islam of the individual. There are some Muslims in different places of the world. One by one, all have been separated from one another. It’s difficult to see anyone who is a perfect Muslim. If Muslims are not able to come into contact with one another and constitute a union, to work together to solve common problems, to interpret the universe, to understand it well, to consider the universe carefully according to the Qur’an, to interpret the future well, to generate projects for the future, to determine their place in the future, then we can’t talk about an Islamic world. Since there is no Islamic world, everyone acts individually.

It could even be said that there are some Muslims with their own personal truths. It cannot be claimed that there is an Islamic understanding, which has been agreed upon, approved by qualified scholars, reliably based upon the Qur’an, and repeatedly tested. It could be said that a Muslim culture is dominant rather than Islamic culture. As a result we must realize that no Islamic country, when considered from viewpoint of administrative, legal, and economic matters, exists. Today Islam is not understood properly. At best we can say that Islam is not known at all (Gülen 2004:184).

Leonid R. Sykiainen is Professor and Chair of Theory of Law and Comparative Law, School of Law, State University-Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and (from 2000) Professor of Institute of Asian and African Countries, Moscow State University. Prof. Sykiainen is the author of more than 160 learned works on Islamic law and comparative legal studies.



Excerpted from Prof. Sykiainen’s paper titled “The Relevance of Fethullah Gülen’s Thoughts for Democratic Reforms in the Muslim World”, which was presented at the International Conference on Peaceful Coexistence: Fethullah Gülen’s Initiatives in the Contemporary World, held at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands on 22-23 November 2007.

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