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Muslims’ unique responsibility to fight terror

Muslim’s have a responsibility to strengthen their immune system against violent extremism writes Fethullah Gulen, honorary president of Dialogue Platform.

SAYLORSBURG, Pennsylvania — The brutal, deadly attacks in London and Manchester on innocent civilians are the latest in a series of senseless violent acts carried out by the so-called Islamic State, a group that deserves no designation other than the world’s most inhuman criminal network.

In response to this threat, the world’s Muslims can and should help intelligence and security communities ward off future attacks and eliminate the lifelines of this menace.

From its founding amid the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS has dealt in deception as well as death. Despite its name, ISIS represents a perversion of Islam. The group’s dress, flags and slogans cannot hide their abhorrent betrayal of the spirit of this major world faith.

Denying this barbaric group a geographical base that emboldens them to claim statehood — an essential element of their propaganda to potential recruits — is a worthwhile goal that all Muslims should support. But the challenge isn’t only military.

ISIS, and other groups like it, recruits alienated Muslim youth by offering them a false sense of purpose and belonging in the service of a totalitarian ideology.

Countering that appeal will include religious, political, psycho-social and economic efforts. It will require that local communities and government institutions address structural issues such as discrimination and exclusion.

International organizations must protect citizens against violent persecution of the kind we witnessed in Syria and assist with transitions to democratic governance. Western governments, too, have a responsibility to adopt a more ethical and consistent foreign policy.

Muslim citizens and organizations can and should be part of these broader efforts, but we also have a unique role and responsibility in this fight.

Across the world, Muslims need to strengthen the immune system of our communities, especially our youth, against violent extremism. We must ask: How did our communities become grounds for terrorist recruitment? Yes, external factors must be addressed, but we must also look within.

Self-examination is an Islamic ethic. There are actions we can take, as Muslim parents, teachers, community leaders and imams, to help our youth protect themselves. We must defeat these murderous extremists in the battlefield of ideas.

A common fallacy of violent extremist ideologues is to decontextualize the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet (peace be upon him) and misinterpret them to serve their pre-determined goals. These ideologues turn snapshots from his or his companions’ lives into instruments to justify a criminal act.

The antidote is a religious education program that teaches the tradition in a holistic and contextualized way. To be able to resist the deceits of radical ideologues, young Muslims must understand the spirit of their scripture and the overarching principles of their Prophet’s life. We need to teach our youth the full story of how the Prophet moved his society from savagery into ethical norms shared by Abrahamic faiths.

A holistic religious education should start with a commitment to the dignity of every person as a unique creation of God, regardless of faith. When God says “We have honored the children of Adam” (Quran, 17:70), all humanity is honored. The Quran describes taking the life of even one innocent person as a crime against all humanity (Quran, 5:32). Even in a legitimate defensive war, the Prophet’s teachings specifically prohibit violence against any noncombatants, especially women, children and clergy. The belief that one can enter paradise by killing others is a delusion.

Violent extremists also commit another major fallacy: transplanting into the 21st century religious verdicts from the Middle Ages, in which political rivalries were often confused with religious differences. Today, Muslims have the freedom to practice their religion in democratic, secular countries.

The values of participatory governments align with core Muslim ideals of social justice, the rule of law, collective decision-making and equality. Muslims can and do live as contributing citizens of democracies around the world.

Proactively, we must develop positive ways to satisfy the social needs of our youth. Youth groups should be encouraged to volunteer in humanitarian relief projects to help victims of disasters and violent conflicts. In teaching them to help others, we will give them the tools to empower themselves and feel that they are part of something meaningful. We also have a duty to help the youth engage in dialogue with members of other faiths to help nurture mutual understanding and respect. As Muslims, we are not just members of a faith community, but of the human family.

Since the 1970s, the participants in the social movement Hizmet — the Turkish word for service — have founded more than 1,000 modern secular schools, free tutoring centers, colleges, hospitals and humanitarian relief organizations in more than 150 countries. By facilitating the involvement of young students and professionals as service providers, mentors, tutors and helpers, these institutions and their social networks foster a sense of identity, belonging, meaning and empowerment that constitute an antidote to the false promises of violent extremists.

Indeed, the best way to proactively protect our youth is to provide them with a positive counter-narrative. By offering opportunities for language learning and cultural exchanges, these kinds of institutions nurture a pluralistic outlook, critical thinking and empathy.

As part of their daily rituals, practising Muslims pray for God to keep them “on the straight path.” Today, the straight path means examining our understanding of the core values of our faith, how we embody those values in our daily lives and strengthening our youth’s resistance to influences that contradict those values.

Being part of the worldwide effort to help stop violent religious radicals from repeating the London and Manchester cruelties elsewhere is both a human and religious responsibility.

Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.

The Turkey I no longer know

The honorary president of Dialogue Platform, Mr Fethullah Gülen penned an opinion-editorial titled as “ The Turkey I no longer know” published in The Washington Post.

In the opinion piece, Mr Gülen made a call on the West to help Turkey return to a democratic path. He said the presidents’ meeting, and next week’s Nato summit should be used as an opportunity to advance this effort.

To reverse the “democratic regression” in Turkey, he wrote that a new civilian constitution should be drafted through a democratic process involving the input of all segments of society and that is on par with international legal and humanitarian norms, and drawing lessons from the success of long-term democracies in the West.

Second, Mr Gulen wrote that school curriculum that emphasises democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed.

Here is the  full text of the article:

15 May 2017, SAYLORSBURG, Pa.

As the presidents of the United States and Turkey meet at the White House on Tuesday, the leader of the country I have called home for almost two decades comes face to face with the leader of my homeland. The two countries have a lot at stake, including the fight against the Islamic State, the future of Syria and the refugee crisis.

But the Turkey that I once knew as a hope-inspiring country on its way to consolidating its democracy and a moderate form of secularism has become the dominion of a president who is doing everything he can to amass power and subjugate dissent.

The West must help Turkey return to a democratic path. Tuesday’s meeting, and the NATO summit next week, should be used as an opportunity to advance this effort.

Since July 15, following a deplorable coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has systematically persecuted innocent people — arresting, detaining, firing and otherwise ruining the lives of more than 300,000 Turkish citizens, be they Kurds, Alevis, secularists, leftists, journalists, academics or participants of Hizmet, the peaceful humanitarian movement with which I am associated.

As the coup attempt unfolded, I fiercely denounced it and denied any involvement. Furthermore, I said that anyone who participated in the putsch betrayed my ideals. Nevertheless, and without evidence, Erdogan immediately accused me of orchestrating it from 5,000 miles away.

The next day, the government produced lists of thousands of individuals whom they tied to Hizmet — for opening a bank account, teaching at a school or reporting for a newspaper — and treated such an affiliation as a crime and began destroying their lives. The lists included people who had been dead for months and people who had been serving at NATO’s European headquarters at the time. International watchdogs have reported numerous abductions, in addition to torture and deaths in detention. The government pursued innocent people outside Turkey, pressuring Malaysia, for instance, to deport three Hizmet sympathizers last week, including a school principal who has lived there for more than a decade, to face certain imprisonment and likely torture.

In April, the president won a narrow referendum victory — amid allegations of serious fraud — to form an “executive presidency” without checks and balances, enabling him to control all three branches of the government. To be sure, through purges and corruption, much of this power was already in his hands. I fear for the Turkish people as they enter this new stage of authoritarianism.

It didn’t start this way. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power in 2002 by promising democratic reforms in pursuit of European Union membership. But as time went on, Erdogan became increasingly intolerant of dissent. He facilitated the transfer of many media outlets to his cronies through government regulatory agencies. In June of 2013, he crushed the Gezi Park protesters. In December of that year, when his cabinet members were implicated in a massive graft probe, he responded by subjugating the judiciary and the media. The “temporary” state of emergency declared after last July 15 is still in effect. According to Amnesty International, one-third of all imprisoned journalists in the world are in Turkish prisons.

Erdogan’s persecution of his people is not simply a domestic matter. The ongoing pursuit of civil society, journalists, academics and Kurds in Turkey is threatening the long-term stability of the country. The Turkish population already is strongly polarized on the AKP regime. A Turkey under a dictatorial regime, providing haven to violent radicals and pushing its Kurdish citizens into desperation, would be a nightmare for Middle East security.

The people of Turkey need the support of their European allies and the United States to restore their democracy. Turkey initiated true multiparty elections in 1950 to join NATO. As a requirement of its membership, NATO can and should demand that Turkey honor its commitment to the alliance’s democratic norms.

Two measures are critical to reversing the democratic regression in Turkey.

First, a new civilian constitution should be drafted through a democratic process involving the input of all segments of society and that is on par with international legal and humanitarian norms, and drawing lessons from the success of long-term democracies in the West.

Second, a school curriculum that emphasizes democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed. Every student must learn the importance of balancing state powers with individual rights, the separation of powers, judicial independence and press freedom, and the dangers of extreme nationalism, politicization of religion and veneration of the state or any leader.

Before either of those things can happen, however, the Turkish government must stop the repression of its people and redress the rights of individuals who have been wronged by Erdogan without due process.

I probably will not live to see Turkey become an exemplary democracy, but I pray that the downward authoritarian drift can be stopped before it is too late.

Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.

 

Fethullah Gulen’s Video Message for International Women’s Day

VIDEO LINK

I expressed my views on women’s rights in an interview to the Muslim World journal shortly after arriving in the United States.
[00:16] I view woman and man as the two sides of a unity. I view them as two different sides of a whole. Indeed, God has created them as such.

But in different periods she has been limited to a life at home closed to the outer World. Sometimes tyrannical leaders have isolated them and prevented them from participating actively in social life. Hence, they experienced various forms of deprivation.

[00:48] A balance should be sought. That aspect of life has a place and this aspect of life has a place. She has a home. She sometimes will spend time withe her children but there is no obstacle to her participating in social life. She can assume any role.

[01:06] But the World has not yet realized this reality. Leaving reality aside, perhaps they have not even thought about it properly. How many woman chiefs of general staff are there in the World? How many presidents?

In England’s tradition, there is Queen Elizabeth but that is something she inherited from her father.

[01:37] Question: What can be done to ensure that women can have the status they deserve in our society?

This matter should be promoted Worldwide. In Brussels, in Washington D.C., in New York, at the African Union. Events should be organized to express this matter in a universal language around the World. Qualified experts should be brought together, people from among Muslims, Christians, Jews, Budhists, Shintoists and others, should be brought together without excluding anybody to discuss this matter.

This matter should be integrated into school curricula at an age when the children’s subconscious is still developing. Some pedagogists say that is the 0 to 7 years old period.

But experience suggests that the development of a person’s subconscious mind, the development of their neurons, their pituitary gland, thalamus gland, and memory center continues up until the age of 15. This corresponds to the period of high school.

[03:04] This matter [women’s rights] should be made part of the school curricula so that the students will learn them early on. This is the only way to make the desired attitudes on women’s rights to be internalized. Otherwise, if the matter is enforced upon people there can be a reaction. It could lead to a negative, reactionary response. People need to digest and internalize these things. They should make this attitude a part of their character. They need to internalize it. Education is the path to achieve that.

[03:42] As a side note the reason your friends have focused on education is that it is a way to address multiple problems at once. To grant every human being their deserved status goes through education. Elimination of poverty goes through education. Achieving social harmony and cooperation, and the prevention of conflicts go through education. Bringing people together and reconciliation, enabling them to go arm in arm goes through education.

Education is an important factor but it needs a solid foundation in the form of a curriculum. Psychologists and pedagogists should be brought together. I don’t think in our World matters have been analyzed from a pedagogical and psychological viewpoints in the light of our beliefs.

I believe that there is a serious need for a solid study of the philosophy of Prophet’s life by experts in the field based on the lives of Prophets, the Qur’an, the authentic accounts of Prophet’s life. I don’t think something like this has been done yet.

[05:05] If the issue [women’s rights] is integrated into school curricula starting at elementary school, then in middle school and high school, then when a person starts his or her career they will be imbued with the respect for women’s rights.

There can be exceptions but the attitudes of the vast majority of people can be shaped through education and this could be a lasting solution to the issue.

[05:37] Question: Could you comment on education rights of women?

Among the members of the family, if the woman is not at the same level of education as her husband or children, if they don’t understand each other…

[05:58] Rumi has a beautiful saying: Not the ones speaking the same language, but the ones sharing the same feeling understand each other. İf the woman’s level of education doesn’t match other members of the family, a kind of a hidden cast system can emerge within the family without anybody noticing it.

It is very important for people to understand each other, to be able to share the topic of discussion. Women’s education rights should be viewed from this angle.

[06:28] If we consider a family like a molecule, we can view the society as an organism. Members of the society should be able to understand each other as well. They should be able to understand each other’s speech and delve into a topic together. They should be able to share a vision.

Looking at this from another angle, we can consider on the one hand the religious knowledge and the spiritual life and on the other the study of the creation, the study of the universe, the main topics of the positive sciences. Members of a society should be educated at least at the level of high school to be able to communicate with each other. So that when they come together and someone is speaking on these topics the others will not remain at loss.

[07:38] Therefore, if the members of a family differ significantly then a form of social strata like a cast system can form within the family and the society without anybody recognizing it.

These were practices and attitudes during times of Egypt’s pharaohs and the Indian cast system in Ganj valley. Unfortunately, we are still living these partially.

[08:19] Question: Do you have a special message for the International Women’s Day?

Human beings are alive as long as their hopes are alive. I believe the intellectuals of the future will solve these problems and perhaps women will get what they have been yearning for.

I hope that the intellectuals of the future will find a way to grant everybody’s rights without causing a reaction. I hope that there will be a social system where women will be satisfied as well, there will be a world where women will be able to breath, God willing.

In the globalized world, this may happen more easily. Now you can reach the other side of the world by touching a button. You don’t need to get on a horse or mule as in the past. You are able to convey a message to India or Pakistan whenever you want.

[09:30] But we need to start somewhere. If it is started now, it can be realized within a quarter century. Contemporary means of communication and transportation may help realize these goals faster. With the help of God women can be hopeful about the future. As the poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy says, “the dawn promised by God to you is near, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps even earlier.”

The Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges

This report has been written in response to recent events in Turkey — the attempted coup of July 15, 2016 and the extraordinary purges that are continuing in its aftermath. With the current government crackdown on the media in Turkey, it is difficult to extract an objective account of events on the night of the failed coup and establish responsibility for them. For that reason, here we examine the Turkish government’s official account of events and some of the difficulties with it. We also present a number of alternative conclusions about events from academics and experts from across the political spectrum. We document the alarming rise in wholesale human rights abuses for which the failed coup appears to be a pretext. We then show how the Turkish government or its supporters are also instigating similar abuses within the borders of Europe.

In the hope that the reader will be able to form an educated and objective opinion about the current state of affairs in Turkey and its effects beyond Turkey’s borders, we have provided plentiful references to supporting evidence in the form of newspaper articles and reports from official bodies or human rights organisations. At the time of going to press all the links given in the footnotes were available. However, given the Turkish government’s determined attack on freedom of expression, it is possible that those links which are based on servers in Turkey will not remain available for very long.

The report was initiated by the Alliance for Shared Values in the United States and the Dialogue Platform in Brussels. Scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and Holland have contributed to the text.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

Fethullah Gulen: I Condemn All Threats to Turkey’s Democracy

Fethullah Gulen, the Honorary President of Dialogue Platform has written an Op-Ed on the New York Times on his condemnation of the recent military coup attempt in Turkey.

To access the article online, please click here.

SAYLORSBURG, Pa. – During the attempted military coup in Turkey this month, I condemned it in the strongest terms. “Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” I said. “I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.”

Despite my unequivocal protest, similar to statements issued by all three of the major opposition parties, Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian president,Recep Tayyip Erdogan, immediately accused me of orchestrating the putsch. He demanded that the United States extradite me from my home in Pennsylvania, where I have lived in voluntary exile since 1999.

Not only does Mr. Erdogan’s suggestion run afoul of everything I believe in, it is also irresponsible and wrong.

My philosophy – inclusive and pluralist Islam, dedicated to service to human beings from every faith – is antithetical to armed rebellion. For more than 40 years, the participants in the movement that I am associated with – called Hizmet, the Turkish word for “service” – have advocated for, and demonstrated their commitment to, a form of government that derives its legitimacy from the will of the people and that respects the rights of all citizens regardless of their religious views, political affiliations or ethnic origins. Entrepreneurs and volunteers inspired by Hizmet’s values have invested in modern education and community service in more than 150 countries.

At a time when Western democracies are searching for moderate Muslim voices, I and my friends in the Hizmet movement have taken a clear stance against extremist violence, from the Sept. 11 attacks by Al Qaeda to brutal executions by the Islamic State to the kidnappings by Boko Haram.

In addition to condemning mindless violence, including during the coup attempt, we have emphasized our commitment to preventing terrorists’ recruitment from among Muslim youth and nurturing a peaceful, pluralist mind-set.

Throughout my life, I have publicly and privately denounced military interventions in domestic politics. In fact, I have been advocating for democracy for decades. Having suffered through four military coups in four decades in Turkey – and having been subjected by those military regimes to harassment and wrongful imprisonment – I would never want my fellow citizens to endure such an ordeal again. If somebody who appears to be a Hizmet sympathizer has been involved in an attempted coup, he betrays my ideals.

Nevertheless, Mr. Erdogan’s accusation is no surprise, not for what it says about me but rather for what it reveals about his systematic and dangerous drive toward one-man rule.

Like many Turkish citizens, the Hizmet movement’s participants supported Mr. Erdogan’s early efforts to democratize Turkey and fulfill the requirements for membership in the European Union. But we were not silent as he turned from democracy to despotism. Even before these new purges, Mr. Erdogan in recent years has arbitrarily closed newspapers; removed thousands of judges, prosecutors, police officers and civil servants from their positions; and taken especially harsh measures against Kurdish communities. He has declared his detractors enemies of the state.

Hizmet, in particular, has been the target of the president’s wrath. In 2013, Mr. Erdogan blamed Hizmet sympathizers within the Turkish bureaucracy for initiating a corruption investigation that implicated members of his cabinet and other close associates. As a result, scores of members of the judiciary and the police forces were purged or arrested for simply doing their jobs.

Since 2014, when Mr. Erdogan was elected president after 11 years as prime minister, he has sought to transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into an “executive presidency,” essentially without checks on his power. In that context, Mr. Erdogan’s recent statement that the failed coup was a “gift from God” is ominous. As he seeks to purge still more dissenters from government agencies – nearly 70,000 people have been fired so far – and to crack down further on Hizmet and other civil society organizations, he is removing many of the remaining impediments to absolute power.Amnesty International has revealed “credible” reports of torture, including rape, at detention centers. No wonder Mr. Erdogan’s government suspended the European Convention on Human Rights and declared a state of emergency.

Turkey’s president is blackmailing the United States by threatening to curb his country’s support for the international coalition against the Islamic State. His goal: to ensure my extradition, despite a lack of credible evidence and virtually no prospect for a fair trial. The temptation to give Mr. Erdogan whatever he wants is understandable. But the United States must resist it.

Violent extremism feeds on the frustrations of those forced to live under dictators who cannot be challenged by peaceful protests and democratic politics. In Turkey, the Erdogan government’s shift toward a dictatorship is polarizing the population along sectarian, political, religious and ethnic lines, fueling the fanatics.

For the sake of worldwide efforts to restore peace in turbulent times, as well as to safeguard the future of democracy in the Middle East, the United States must not accommodate an autocrat who is turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government.

_____________________

Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.

Gulen’s Op-Ed in Le Monde: “Muslims, we have to critically review our understanding of Islam”

Words fall short to truly express my deep sadness and revolt in the face of the carnage perpetrated by terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

I share profound frustration with a billion-and-a-half Muslims around the world at the fact that such groups commit terrorism while dressing up their perverted ideologies as religion. We Muslims have a special responsibility to not only join hands with fellow human beings to save our world from the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism, but also to help repair the tarnished image of our faith.

It is easy to proclaim a certain identity in the abstract with words and symbols. The sincerity of such claims, however, can only be measured by comparing our actions with the core values of our self-proclaimed identities. The true test of belief is not slogans or dressing up in a certain way; the true test of our beliefs is in living up to core principles shared by all major world faiths such as upholding the sanctity of life and respecting the dignity of all humans.

We must categorically condemn the ideology propagated by terrorists and instead promote a pluralistic mindset with clarity and confidence. After all, before our ethnic, national or religious identity comes our common humanity, which suffers a setback each time a barbaric act is committed. French citizens who lost their lives in Paris, Shiite Muslim Lebanese citizens who lost their lives in Beirut a day earlier and scores of Sunni Muslims in Iraq who lost their lives at the hands of the same terrorists are first and foremost human beings. Our civilization will not progress until we treat the suffering of humans regardless of their religious or ethnic identity as equally tragic in our empathy and respond with the same determination.

Muslims must also reject and avoid conspiracy theories, which have so far only helped us avoid facing our social problems. Instead, we must tackle the real questions: Do our communities provide recruitment grounds for groups with totalitarian mindsets due to unrecognized authoritarianism within ourselves, domestic physical abuse, neglect of youth and lack of balanced education? Did our failure to establish basic human rights and freedoms, supremacy of the rule of law and pluralist mindsets in our communities lead those who are struggling to seek alternative paths?

The recent tragedy in Paris is yet another reminder for both theologians and ordinary Muslims to strongly reject and condemn barbaric acts perpetrated in the name of our religion. However, at this juncture, rejection and condemnation are not enough; terrorist recruitment within Muslim communities must be fought and countered by an effective collaboration of state authorities, religious leaders and civil society actors. We must organize community-wide efforts to address all factors that aid terrorist recruitment.

Ways of expressing support and dissent within democratic means

We need to work with our community to set up the necessary framework for identifying at-risk youth, preventing them from seeking self-destructive paths, assisting families with counseling and other support services. We must promote a proactive, positive government engagement so that engaged Muslim citizens can sit at the table where counterterrorism measures are planned and share their ideas. Our youth should be taught ways of expressing support and dissent within democratic means. Incorporating democratic values into school curricula early on is crucial for inculcating a culture of democracy in young minds.

In the aftermath of such tragedies, historically strong reactions have surfaced. Anti-Muslim and anti-religious sentiment as well as security-driven treatment of Muslim citizens by governments would be counter-productive. The Muslim citizens ofEurope want to live in peace and tranquility. Despite the negative climate, they should strive to engage more with their local and national governments to help work toward more inclusive policies that better integrate their community into the larger society.

It is also important for us Muslims to critically review our understanding and practice of Islam in light of the conditions and requirements of our age and the clarifications provided by our collective historic experiences. This does not mean a rupture from the cumulative Islamic tradition but rather, an intelligent questioning so we can confirm the true teachings of the Quran and the Prophetic tradition that our Muslim predecessors attempted to reveal.

We must proactively marginalize decontextualized reading of our religious sources that have been employed in the service of perverted ideologies. Muslim thinkers and intellectuals should encourage a holistic approach and reconsider jurisprudential verdicts of the Middle Ages that were issued under perpetual conflict where religious affiliation often coincided with political affiliation. Having core beliefs should be distinguished from dogmatism. It is possible, indeed absolutely necessary, to revive the spirit of freedom of thought that gave birth to a renaissance of Islam while staying true to the ethos of the religion. Only in such an atmosphere can Muslims effectively combat incivility and violent extremism.

In the aftermath of the recent events I am witnessing, with chagrin, the revival of the thesis of the clash of civilizations. I do not know whether those who first put out such a hypothesis did so out of vision or desire. What is certain is that today, the revival of this rhetoric simply serves the recruitment efforts of the terrorist networks. I want to state clearly that what we are witnessing is not a clash of civilizations but rather the clash of humanity with barbarity in our common civilization.

Our responsibility as Muslim citizens is to be part of the solution despite our grievances. If we want to defend the life and civil liberties of Muslims around the world and the peace and tranquility of every human regardless of their faith, we must act now to tackle the violent extremism problem in all its dimensions: political, economic, social and religious. By setting virtuous examples through our lives, by discrediting and marginalizing the extremist interpretations of religious sources, by staying vigilant toward their impact on our youth, and by incorporating democratic values early in education, we can counter violence and terrorism as well as totalitarian ideologies that lead to them.

*This article by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen was first published in Le Monde on Dec. 17, 2015.

Fethullah Gulen’s op-ed in WSJ: Muslims must combat the extremist cancer

Denounce terrorism, defend human rights and promote education.

As the group that calls itself Islamic State, known as ISIS, continues to produce carnage in the Middle East, Muslims must confront the totalitarian ideology that animates it and other terrorist groups. Every terrorist act carried out in the name of Islam profoundly affects all Muslims, alienating them from fellow citizens and deepening the misperceptions about their faith’s ethos.

It isn’t fair to blame Islam for the atrocities of violent radicals. But when terrorists claim the Muslim mantle, then they bear this identity, if only nominally. Thus members of the faith must do whatever possible to prevent this cancer from metastasizing in our communities. If we don’t, we’ll be partly responsible for the smeared image of our faith.

First, we must denounce violence and not fall prey to victimhood. Having suffered oppression is no excuse for causing it or for failing to condemn terrorism. That the terrorists are committing grave sins in the name of Islam is not merely my opinion; it is the inevitable conclusion of an honest reading of primary sources: the Quran and the accounts of the life of Prophet Muhammad. The core principles of these sources—relayed over the centuries by scholars who devoted themselves to studying the Prophet’s sayings and practices, and to the “author’s intent” in the Holy Book—dispels any claims terrorists make of religious justification.

Second, it is important to promote a holistic understanding of Islam, as the flexibility to accommodate the diverse backgrounds of its adherents can sometimes be abused. Islam’s core ethics, however, are not left to interpretation. One such principle is that taking the life of a single innocent is a crime against all humanity (Quran 5:32). Even in an act of defense in war, violence against any noncombatants, especially women, children and clergy, is specifically prohibited by the Prophet’s teachings.

We must demonstrate these values by showing solidarity with people who seek peace around the world. Given the nature of human psychology and the dynamics of the news, it’s obvious that mainstream voices are less likely to capture headlines than extremist ones. But instead of blaming the media, we should find innovative ways to ensure our voices are heard.

Third, Muslims must publicly promote human rights—dignity, life and liberty. These are the most basic of Islamic values and no individual, nor any political or religious leader, has the authority to snatch them away. Living the essence of our faith means respecting diversity—cultural, social, religious and political. God identifies learning from one another as the primary goal of diversity (Quran 49:13). Respecting each human being as a creation of God (17:70) is respecting God.

Fourth, Muslims must provide educational opportunities to every member of their communities, where the study of sciences, humanities and arts is embedded in a culture of respect for every living being. Governments in the Muslim world must design school curricula that nurture democratic values. Civil society has a role in promoting respect and acceptance. This is the reason participants of the Hizmet movement have set up more than 1,000 schools, tutoring centers and dialogue institutions in more than 150 countries.

Fifth, providing religious education to Muslims is critical to depriving extremists of a tool that they use to spread their twisted ideologies. When religious freedom is denied, as it has been for decades in parts of the Muslim world, faith grows in the shadows, leaving it to be interpreted by unqualified and radical figures.

Finally, it is imperative that Muslims support equal rights for women and men. Women should be given opportunity and be free from social pressures that deny their equality. Muslims have a great example in Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha, a highly educated scholar, teacher and prominent community leader of her time.

Terrorism is a multifaceted problem, so the solutions should address the political, economic, social and religious layers. Approaches that reduce the problem to religion do a disservice to at-risk youth and the world at large. The international community would do well to realize that Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism—both literally and symbolically—and they can help marginalize terrorists and prevent recruitment. That’s why governments should avoid statements and actions that result in the alienation of Muslims.

Violent extremism has no religion; there will always be people who manipulate faith texts. Just as Christians do not endorse Quran burnings or the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, and Buddhists do not endorse atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, mainstream Muslims do not endorse violence.

Muslims have historically added much to the flourishing of human civilization. Our greatest contributions were made in eras when the faith cherished mutual respect, freedom and justice. It may be immensely difficult to restore the blotted image of Islam, but Muslims can be beacons of peace and tranquility in their societies.

Mr. Gulen is an Islamic scholar and founder of the Hizmet civil-society movement.

SOURCE: http://www.wsj.com/articles/muslims-must-combat-the-extremist-cancer-1440718377

Fethullah Gulen: Turkey’s Eroding Democracy

It is deeply disappointing to see what has become of Turkey in the last few years. Not long ago, it was the envy of Muslim-majority countries: a viable candidate for the European Union on its path to becoming a functioning democracy that upholds universal human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and the rights of Kurdish and non-Muslim citizens. This historic opportunity now appears to have been squandered as Turkey’s ruling party, known as the A.K.P., reverses that progress and clamps down on civil society, media, the judiciary and free enterprise.

Turkey’s current leaders seem to claim an absolute mandate by virtue of winning elections. But victory doesn’t grant them permission to ignore the Constitution or suppress dissent, especially when election victories are built on crony capitalism and media subservience. The A.K.P.’s leaders now depict every democratic criticism of them as an attack on the state. By viewing every critical voice as an enemy — or worse, a traitor — they are leading the country toward totalitarianism.

The latest victims of the clampdown are the staff, executives and editors of independent media organizations who were detained and are now facing charges made possible by recent changes to the laws and the court system. The director of one of the most popular TV channels, arrested in December, is still behind bars. Public officials investigating corruption charges have also been purged and jailed for simply doing their jobs. An independent judiciary, a functioning civil society and media are checks and balances against government transgressions. Such harassment sends the message that whoever stands in the way of the ruling party’s agenda will be targeted by slander, sanctions and even trumped-up charges.

Turkey’s rulers have not only alienated the West, they are also now losing credibility in the Middle East. Turkey’s ability to assert positive influence in the region depends not only on its economy but also on the health of its own democracy.

The core tenets of a functioning democracy — the rule of law, respect for individual freedoms — are also the most basic of Islamic values bestowed upon us by God. No political or religious leader has the authority to take them away. It is disheartening to see religious scholars provide theological justification for the ruling party’s oppression and corruption or simply stay silent. Those who use the language and symbols of religious observance but violate the core principles of their religion do not deserve such loyalty from religious scholars.

Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty and for believers, a religious obligation. The Quran makes clear that people should not remain silent in the face of injustice: “O you who believe! Be upholders and standard-bearers of justice, bearing witness to the truth for God’s sake, even though it be against your own selves, or parents or kindred.”

For the past 50 years, I have been fortunate to take part in a civil society movement, sometimes referred to as Hizmet, whose participants and supporters include millions of Turkish citizens. These citizens have committed themselves to interfaith dialogue, community service, relief efforts and making life-changing education accessible. They have established more than 1,000 modern secular schools, tutoring centers, colleges, hospitals and relief organizations in over 150 countries. They are teachers, journalists, businessmen and ordinary citizens.

The rhetoric used by the ruling party repeatedly to crack down on Hizmet participants is nothing but a pretext to justify their own authoritarianism. Hizmet participants have never formed a political party nor have they pursued political ambitions. Their participation in the movement is driven by intrinsic rewards, not extrinsic ones.

I have spent over 50 years preaching and teaching the values of peace, mutual respect and altruism. I’ve advocated for education, community service and interfaith dialogue. I have always believed in seeking happiness in the happiness of others and the virtue of seeking God’s pleasure in helping His people. Whatever influence is attributed to me, I have used it as a means to promote educational and social projects that help nurture virtuous individuals. I have no interest in political power.

Many Hizmet participants, including me, once supported the ruling party’s agenda, including the 2005 opening of accession negotiations with the European Union. Our support then was based on principle, as is our criticism today. It is our right and duty to speak out about government policies that have a deep impact on society. Unfortunately, our democratic expression against public corruption and authoritarianism has made us victims of a witch-hunt; both the Hizmet movement and I are being targeted with hate speech, media smear campaigns and legal harassment.

Like all segments of Turkish society, Hizmet participants have a presence in government organizations and in the private sector. These citizens cannot be denied their constitutional rights or be subjected to discrimination for their sympathy to Hizmet’s ideals, as long as they abide by the laws of the country, the rules of their institutions and basic ethical principles. Profiling any segment of society and viewing them as a threat is a sign of intolerance.

We are not the only victims of the A.K.P.’s crackdown. Peaceful environmental protesters, Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslim citizens and some Sunni Muslim groups not aligned with the ruling party have suffered, too. Without checks and balances, no individual or group is safe from the ruling party’s wrath. Regardless of their religious observance, citizens can and should unite around universal human rights and freedoms, and democratically oppose those who violate them.

Turkey has now reached a point where democracy and human rights have almost been shelved. I hope and pray that those in power reverse their current domineering path. In the past the Turkish people have rejected elected leaders who strayed from a democratic path. I hope they will exercise their legal and democratic rights again to reclaim the future of their country.


Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.

To read the article on New York Times please click here

A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 4, 2015, in The International New York Times.

“Turkey needs a new constitution to save its democracy”

By Fethullah Gulen – Opinion @ FT.com

“A small group in the executive is holding the country to ransom” says Fethullah Gulen.

Trust and stability are fundamental to a nation’s development and to how the world perceives it. There is inherent trust in a democratic and accountable government that respects the rule of law. Turkey painstakingly built this trust over the past decade.

Until recently it was seen as an example of a country that prospered while maintaining a democratic government run by observant Muslim leaders.

No longer. A small group within the government’s executive branch is holding to ransom the entire country’s progress. The support of a broad segment of the Turkish public is now being squandered, along with the opportunity to join the EU.

Several recent actions of the Turkish government have drawn strong criticism from the EU and other western countries – among them, a law that gives the justice minister powers to appoint and discipline judges and prosecutors; a bill to curb internet freedoms; and a draft law that would give Turkey’s intelligence agency powers akin to those claimed by dictatorial regimes.

After decades of coups and political dysfunction, the ruling AK party’s attempt to end military interference in domestic politics was necessary. Democratic reforms towards that end were praised by the EU and supported by a majority of Turks, as evidenced in the 2010 constitutional referendum.

To read the full article please visit FT.com by clicking here.