Importance of Gulen Movement in the Post 9/11 Era: Co-existence

“Love the love, and hate all hostility”
Fethullah Gulen

A lot has already been said and appears to continue about the long term impacts of 9/11 tragedy for the years to follow. The days immediately following this horrific incident, all scholarly critics, and politicians and as well as renowned public figures simultaneously voiced their concerns citing that “nothing ever will be the same after this.”  Extensive coverage both in printed and visual media, focusing not so much on political and economic motivation, but much about religious identity of those who committed this outrageous crime against mankind .

Deliberately or unintentionally a religion was put under fire. Billions of innocent followers of this peaceful religion were offended not only by been considered as “potential suspect”  but also by helplessly watching their  religion been  hi-jacked by this tiny terrorist group who label them falsely as devout followers of this religion. Indeed a  new era began;  an era of “religious divide” which manifested itself as in the form of “intolerance towards other cultures, religions and value system”, and this systemic ideology was then branded itself as “you are either with us or with the terrorist” slogan, leaving no room for others to breathe without been trapped in this religious divide. All of a sudden citizens of this aging world woke up in a different world with an echo on their ears whispering that “the world would  be much safer  if all Muslims are gone”. The believers of this idiosyncrasies then launched a massive campaign of labeling, tracking, following and questioning –some with legitimate, but many with not so legitimate reasons- of the innocent followers of this peaceful religion. Years immediately following this horrific tragedy indeed proven to be- if not physical but- virtual prison for many innocent Muslims.

It was such a time of chaos coupled with mix feelings instigated with the malicious act of a small terrorist group, that entire world, especially Muslims needed a strong voice  to tell entire world where they stand at this crime against humanity, and meanwhile help Christians gain a more balanced perspective, an axis of though, more importantly a moral base  when  criticizing a religion, Islam, as a whole. Fethullah Gulen was the first Muslim scholar who publicly denounced the 9/11 attacks, just next day after these unspeakable acts.

“We condemn in the strongest of terms the latest terrorist attack on the United States of America, and feel the pain of the American people at the bottom of our hearts. Islam abhors such acts of terror… No terrorist can be a Muslim, and no true Muslim can be a terrorist.. A religion that professes, “He who unjustly kills one man kills the whole of humanity,” cannot condone senseless killing of thousands. For this reason, no one—and certainly no Muslims – can approve of any terrorist activity. Terror has no place in one’s quest to achieve independence or salvation. It costs the lives of innocent people. Even though at first sight such acts seem to harm the target, all terrorist activities eventually do more harm to the terrorists and their supporters. This latest terrorist activity, which is a most bloody and condemnable one, is far more than an attack on the United States of America – it is an assault against world peace as well as universal democratic, humanistic, and religious values. Those who perpetrated this atrocity can only be considered the most brutal people in the world. The world should be assured that, although there may always be some who exploit any religion for their interests, Islam does not approve of terrorism in any form. Our thought and prayers go out to the victims and their loved-one”1-Fethullah Gulen.

Coming from Sunni tradition, and having adopted strong Hanafi understanding , and living with the fundamental principle of “love the creature because of the creator”by Sufi scholar Yunus Emre and grabbing the “branch of olive” of Mawlan Rumi  to “have a seat in our hearts for everyone”,  Gulen went further on  to declare on September 13, 2011 that;

“Bin Laden is among the persons in this world that I hate most. Because he has defaced the beautiful face of Islam. He has produced a dirty image. Even if we work on repairing the terrible damage he has caused with all our power, it will take years. We shall speak on every platform everywhere. We shall write books. We shall declare “this is not Islam”. Bin Laden replaced Islamic logic with his own desires and wishes and lives as a monster. The men around him are like that as well. If there are people who think like that, they are also locked into monstrosity. We equivocally condemn their perspective”.2

It is this kind of vision from the Islamic world view that had to be internalized by all Muslims, especially those who live in the West. Unfortunately Muslims who hate the Western countries due to ignorance, and lack of proper education have been vulnerable to Fundamentalist Islam and its sub-sectarian interpretations that is very far from being representing the true Islam as in the case of other fundamentalist such Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 92 people in Oslo, then during the police interview he claimed to be representing the Christian supremacy.

Intercultural Dialogue

Long before 9/11 Gulen movement had established various institutions to create awareness between different world cultures, build bridges to nurture dialogue, tolerance, understanding, empathy and across world cultures especially between the Christian West and Muslim East.  The importance of Gulen movement is therefore due to its long term sustained effort to bring west and east together to prevent what so many have been wishing to see happen “ Clash of Civilization”.  Therefore, Gulen movement deserves careful study not just because of the quality of Gulen’s ideas but also because it represents one of the few such progressives and inclusive mass-based civil society movement in the world3. Gulen believes that Islam is a religion of peace and wherever there were conflicts in countries like Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, the Philippines, Banda Aceh, Northern Iraq Gulen addressed the problems of ethnic and religious conflicts.

The Gulen movement with so many dialogue foundations located in almost every capital of the world, and with countless number of civic and media organizations, has been presenting a renewed Rumi practice that emphasizes love, mutual respect, understanding, socio-cultural activism, education, social innovation, peaceful coexistence, dialogue and cooperation with all for a cohesive society. For example, with the establishment of various schools in about 100 countries in North, East, West and South, all over the world, many people, not only Muslims, are getting a good and quality education in a multicultural, multi-faith environment with English primary language of instruction so that in future they will continue to be open to dialogue and they will hopefully attain good socio-economic status within their societies.

Interfaith Dialogue

Forbes magazine cited “the main characteristic of the Gulen movement as not seeking to subvert modern secular states but rather encouraging practicing Muslims to use to the fullest the opportunities those countries offer”4  while the New York Times describes the movement as “coming from a moderate blend of Islam that is very inclusive.”5

As stated above, the volunteers and sponsors of Gulen movement have founded a number of institutions across the world which promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities in order to help bring peace . Gulen personally met with leaders of other religions, including Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomaios, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron 6

Realizing the unfortunate fact that most Muslims from other conservative countries neither do wan to know about other faiths, nor want to establish any relationship with others, the importance of Gulen movement in reaching above and beyond these artificial borders to bring world cultures and religions together for peaceful tomorrows.  Even more surprisingly, it has been observed that  in recent years movement initiated dialogue with also those of no faith. For example, the Dialogue Society in London, which is inspired by Gulen’s teaching, has more atheist and agnostic members of its Advisory Board than it has Muslims.7 Gulen is very clear about his disposition that a true world peace would be possible only   through an interfaith and an intercultural dialogue, and receiving his fundamental teachings form the Holy book of Qur’an, he states that Islam recognizes all religions previous to it, and accepts all the prophets and books sent to different epochs of history. Not only does it accept them but also regards belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim. By doing this it acknowledges the basic unity of all religions8.

As his life philosophy, Gulen favors  cooperation and mutual understanding between the followers of different religions as well as religious and secular tenants of society. Furthermore, while helping to educate underserved generations of Muslims to fight with ignorance and fundamentalism, Gulen himself, at the same time, has been very critical of such undemocratic regimes as Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, who has been oppressing its people, and supporting and breeding fundamentalist terrorist groups, such as Al=Qaida, whose leaders claim to be representing the true Islam ironically.


1 Appeared in Washington Post on September 12th, 2001
2 Akman, N., Zaman, March 22-April 1, 2004
3 Paper by Greg Barton, Progressive Islam’s thought, Civil Society and the Gülen movement in the national context: Parallels with Indonesia. 8 November 2005, p. 2
5 Interview with Sabrina Tavernise, World View Podcasts, New York Times, May 4, 2008
6 Advocate of Dialogue: Fethullah Gülen
7 European Muslims, Civility and Public Life Perspectives On and From the Gülen Movement
8 Ihsan Yilmaz, Ijtihad and Tajdid by Conduct: The Gülen Movement in M. Hakan Yavuz and J. L. Esposito. Turkish Islam and the Secular State. Syracuse. Syracuse University Press, 2003. p. 230

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