The Gülen Movement, Dialogue, and Tolerance

The Gülen Movement, Dialogue, and Tolerance

Enes Ergene

Tolerance and dialogue are among the most basic and broad dynamics of the Gülen movement. These two concepts, first developed on a small scale, have turned into a search for a culture of reconciliation on a world scale. Today, the idea of different groups peacefully living together is a philosophical issue that modern states are trying to formulate. The international relations of past empires were founded on conflict and war. Different civilizations were separated by thick walls, which were supported by political, ideological, and religious identities. Inevitably, this led to conflict. During the long Middle Ages, international relations were governed by a “law of engagement,” which allowed for little space to express religious or ethnic differentiation. The domestic laws of states and empires were not exempt from this philosophy. Throughout the Middle Ages, humankind’s struggle for civilization found expression in aggressive and passionate conflict. Today, with new concepts brought by globalization, the search for dialogue between civilizations and cultures has entered a new phase.

The Gülen movement is a clear example of this search, a search that has reached international proportions. Gülen strengthens this search with religious, legal, and philosophical foundations. One of the basic aims of the global education activities [of the Gulen movement] is to form bridges that will lead to dialogue between religions and civilizations. The long-lasting wars of the past had to do with the problem of power balance that reigned in the international relations of the day. This was probably the case for all political empires and religious formations of the past. But today, humanity is not in a position to shoulder such a conflict on the global scale. According to Gülen, Muslims today should not shape their own cultural, social, and existential identities according to destructive values, which are rooted in conflict and fight; these are not aligned with the universal value system of Islam, in which peace, dialogue, and tolerance are the basic principles. Today, humanity is not in a position to bear a conflict on the global scale.

This is the principle that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, practiced in Medina. The people of Medina were composed of groups belonging to different religions and cultures. For the first time in history, the Prophet enacted a system of values that aimed to maintain a peaceful co-existence of these religious groups. What historical documents show us is that the reciprocal rights and responsibilities of different religious and cultural identities were clearly defined and a consensus was reached [in Medina]. According to this, non-Muslims would be free to practice their religions, their way of life, and their way of worship. No one was to interfere with their partners in a pluralistic organization in which groups had religious, legal, and cultural autonomy. Ali, the fourth Caliph [and the Prophet’s son in law], would formulate this pluralistic freedom in a letter that he sent to the governor of Egypt, Malik b. Ashtar, as a systematic legal expression. According to Ali, people who lived in regions ruled by Muslims were divided into two main groups: one “Muslims, our brothers in religion, ,” and the other, “non-Muslims, our equals in creation.” They both have rights to protection. In history, there has never been a culture that has been able to place “the other” on such an ontologically humane basis and thus to exalt them. This definition of Ali’s stressed the Prophet’s saying: “All humans are the children of Adam, and Adam was of the earth.”

The interaction of early Muslims with neighboring nations and cultures was rooted in human and moral principles. Six centuries later, a similar development occurred. The Mongols who reigned in the Damascus region in the thirteenth century had taken Muslims, Christians, and Jews who lived under their protection as slaves. A Muslim scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, went to negotiate with the Mongol commander, Kutlu Shah, for the release of the slaves. The Mongols refused to release the Christian and the Jewish slaves along with the Muslim ones. The scholar responded as follows: “The war does not reach an end until all the slaves are free. The Christians and the Jews are under our protection, we cannot accept that a single one of them should remain a slave.” Kutlu Shah soon agreed to set free all the slaves. During the periods when Muslims adhered to the principles of tolerance and dialogue, they thus developed a broad and accommodating perspective that guaranteed the lifestyles and freedoms of various religious and cultural communities. The Ottoman Empire was a typical manifestation of this phenomenon.

Today, the Gülen movement advocates social pluralism, based on the principle of tolerance, on a global scale. Unlike pluralism in the past, which was limited by religious principles, today we need broader cultural and political bases, which to build on. In order to produce such a culture of reconciliation, members of different civilizations have to make a positive contribution to these efforts. There needs to be a revival of such values so that shared and livable pluralism can be established on the earth. Only then will the efforts of the Gülen movement meet with the expected response on a global scale.

Source: “Tradition Witnessing the Modern Age: An Analysis of the Gülen Movement” by Mehmet Enes Ergene, Tughra Books, New Jersey, 2009, pages 19-22

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