Tolerance in the Theology and Thought of Fethullah Gülen

Tolerance in the Theology and Thought of Fethullah Gülen

David B. Capes

In his writings and oral addresses, Gülen prefers the term hoshgoru (literally, “good view”) to “tolerance.” Conceptually, the former term indicates actions of the heart and the mind that include empathy, inquisitiveness, reflection, consideration of the dialog partner’s context, and respect for their positions. The term “tolerance” does not capture the notion of hoshgoru. Elsewhere, Gülen finds even the concept of hoshgoru insufficient, and employs terms with more depth in interfaith relations, such as respect and an appreciation of the positions of your dialog partner.

The resources Gülen references in the context of dialog and empathic acceptance include the Qur’an, the prophetic tradition, especially lives of the companions of the Prophet, the works of great Muslim scholars and Sufi masters, and finally, the history of Islamic civilization. Among his Qur’anic references, Gülen alludes to verses that tell the believers to represent humility, peace and security, trustworthiness, compassion, and forgiveness (The Qur’an, 25:63, 25:72, 28:55, 45:14, 17:84), to avoid armed conflicts and prefer peace (4:128), to maintain cordial relationships with the “people of the book,” and to avoid argumentation (29:46). But perhaps the most important references of Gülen with respect to interfaith relations are his readings of those verses that allow Muslims to fight others. Gülen positions these verses in historical context to point out one by one that their applicability is conditioned upon active hostility. In other words, in Gülen’s view, nowhere in the Qur’an does God allow fighting based on differences of faith.

An important factor for Gülen’s embracing views of empathic acceptance and respect is his view of the inherent value of the human. Gülen’s message is essentially that every human person exists as a piece of art created by the Compassionate God, reflecting aspects of His compassion. He highlights love as the raison d’etre of the universe. “Love is the very reason of existence, and the most important bond among beings,” Gülen comments. A failure to approach fellow humans with love, therefore, implies a deficiency in our love of God and of those who are beloved to God. The lack of love for fellow human beings implies a lack of respect for this monumental work of art by God. Ultimately, to remain indifferent to the conditions and suffering of fellow human beings implies indifference to God himself.

While advocating love of human beings as a pillar of human relations, Gülen maintains a balance. He distinguishes between the love of fellow human beings and our attitude toward some of their qualities or actions. Our love for a human being who inflicts suffering upon others does not mean that we remain silent toward his violent actions. On the contrary, our very love for that human being as a human being, as well as our love of those who suffer, necessitate that we participate actively in the elimination of suffering.


Summarized from the paper “Tolerance in the Theology and Thought of A. J. Conyers and Fethullah Gülen” by David B. Capes

This paper was presented at the conference titled “Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gulen Movement”, 25-27 October 2007, London. Click here to visit the conference web page.

David B. Capes (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Texas, 1990; following Master of Divinity at same Seminary, 1982; BA, Mercer University, Atlanta, 1978): serves as Chair of the Department of Christianity and Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. In 2000 he was appointed Visiting Fellow of the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh where he carried out research on early Christian worship practices. In 1992 he published Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr). Since then he teamed up with Etty Boochny of Tel Aviv to write The Footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land (Jerusalem: Steimatsky, 1999). He serves as the theological review director of a new Bible paraphrase called the Voice (with Thomas Nelson). His research interests include Christian origins, Biblical interpretation, Christology and worship. For years he has been active in Jewish-Christian dialogue in Houston and around the nation.

Tags: | | |

Related Articles