1- What are your views on gender equality and discrimination of any type?
Dialogue Platform believes in equality between men and women. We believe that women can fill any of the public roles that men continue to dominate. In fact, in many ways we believe that women are more adept at dialogue than men. Women are active at every level at the Platform, including senior management.
Dialogue Platform is against discrimination on any grounds, such as race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age. Dialogue Platform opposes any form of hatred towards any group, however manifested, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism.
2- Do you have any views on how violent extremism should be tackled, especially among Muslims?
Violent extremism is an illness that has afflicted and continues to afflict many groups or sub-groups within society. This is not a problem unique to Muslims. At Dialogue Platform, we consider violent extremism as inexcusable and utterly abhorrent whatever the reasons that are offered. Islam is very clear on its teachings regarding those who kill others indiscriminately: he who kills one person is as if he has killed the whole of humankind.
3- What is Fethullah Gülen’s understanding of democracy?
Fethullah Gülen has always been in favor of democratic institutions, free elections and other principles at the core of liberal democracy today. He maintains that the Qur’an addresses the whole community and assigns to it almost all the duties entrusted to modern democratic systems; he says that people ought to co-operate by sharing these duties and establishing the essential foundations necessary to discharge them, and that government is composed of all of these basic elements. He says, “Islam recommends a government based on a social contract. People elect the administrators and establish a council to debate common issues. Also, the society as a whole participates in auditing the administration.”
4- What is Hizmet’s perspective on women’s empowerment?
Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment are challenges societies face on the global scale. Hizmet recognizes the need to address this issue and aims to do so through education and increasing awareness on women’s rights. It supports gender equality and contributes to the empowerment of women through its social activism. Hizmet volunteers have founded schools for girls even in most unwelcoming conditions such as in Afghanistan under Taliban, Africa, and Northern Iraq. By encouraging women’s volunteerism, women’s roles in Hizmet initiated NGOs and professional associations. Hizmet movement is committed to increasing women’s role in the movement and in the larger society. This support is based on the following principles.
All human beings should have equal opportunities in the pursuit of happiness. While there are some differences between men and women, both genders should contribute equally to society and to family life. Gulen’s interpretation of Islam encourages the rights of women, empowers women against patriarchal traditions, and equal status of genders. Men and women alike are equally entitled to take on any public role, including head of state and judiciary. Gender equality is a significant goal to achieve.
Patriarchal cultures can lead to gender-biased interpretations of religious beliefs and practices. Gulen states that Islamic sources should be reconsidered from a gender-sensitive perspective to overcome these misinterpretations.
Hizmet emerged in the predominantly patriarchal society of 1970s Turkey. It contributed to the empowerment of women by opening up spaces of social activism through education and dialogue. Women in Hizmet participate in social activities and often assume leadership responsibilities within social initiatives. Hizmet initiatives also seek to provide opportunity spaces for women to pursue professional careers and other leadership positions.
Hizmet contributes to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, but recognizes the need for improvement. Although the teachings of Gulen have inspired many to support women’s empowerment in Hizmet-related institutions and beyond, there’s a gap between the ideals and reality. Many Hizmet participants were raised in patriarchal families and the impact of patriarchal society on Hizmet’s volunteers persists. As a result, the increasing visibility of women in Hizmet activities does not necessarily guarantee their empowerment. While many women in Hizmet assume decision-making and leadership roles in its institutions, a stronger effort needs to be made to ensure they have as many opportunities as their male counterparts. Thus, women’s empowerment in Hizmet is a work in progress. Hizmet seeks ways to raise the awareness of its participants on issues of women’s empowerment to address these challenges.
5- What does it mean to be Fethullah Gülen inspired?
Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic scholar and peace advocate. He is credited with inspiring a transnational social movement to engage in education and dialogue, contributing towards greater understanding and peaceful relations. The movement is faith inspired yet faith neutral and is increasingly attracting support from people of diverse backgrounds and religions. The movement is loosely connected through shared ideals and principles.
Those participating in the movement do not refer to themselves as ‘Gülen inspired’ in Turkish or among themselves. In Turkish, they usually refer to themselves as people engaged in Hizmet. Hizmet (translated as service), is the term by which people within the movement refer to the movement. In that sense, those in this movement can be called Hizmet participants or Hizmet volunteers.
Hizmet participants have identified themselves (and have been identified by others) as Gülen inspired mainly in the English speaking world, because Gülen provides the main interpretive framework that acts as general guides and principles for Hizmet and because Gülen was and continues to be better known than the movement. As a result it was and continues to be easier to identify people in relation to Gülen (a known public figure) rather than a far less known, less tangible movement.
That said, what does it mean to be a Hizmet participant/Gülen inspired? The term is usually used to mean the following: a person may be considered to be a Hizmet participant or Gülen inspired if he or she shares the core values and principles of Hizmet and actively supports its activities. Active support can vary in nature and extent. The point is that the person does what he or she can and is willing to do. A person who receives a salary for the work that he or she does may (continue to) be a Hizmet participant or Gülen inspired if the main motivation behind his or her work is not the salary but the ideals and goals of the movement’s activities.
How a person becomes a Hizmet participant or becomes Gülen inspired is a different question. Since the movement is not a single legal entity and has no centralised structure there is no formal way of joining or leaving the movement. One is as much in or as much out as he or she feels engaged and supportive of the movement. It is entirely relative. What is more, what moves or inspires a person to develop a sense of support for the movement can vary from one person to another. That is the nature of inspiration.
Having said that, we can perhaps point out that often people are inspired to become active in the movement as a result of seeing the example or practice of the movement, or the people within the movement. They may come across the example before they realise that this example is based on core values and principles rearticulated by Fethullah Gülen. Certainly, some may come into contact with Gülen as a public figure before they come into contact with the movement. But even then, the example and practice of Gülen’s devout and Sufi lifestyle is usually what gives his teachings credibility and influence amongst his audience. So usually the source of inspiration is coming into contact with the example and practice of the movement as well as the teachings and principles. And the most common form of practice which inspires people vis-à-vis the Hizmet movement in our experience is seeing what can be achieved collectively through good-will and mutual support as opposed to what is achieved individually.
6- How do you explain the malicious allegations being made by some people against Fethullah Gülen and the movement?
Firstly we need to differentiate between criticism and malicious allegation. Everyone has a right to criticise and that criticism should be encouraged and welcomed. So what we say below only relates to ‘malicious allegations’ and not criticisms of any sort. Secondly, Gülen and the movement continue to be the subject of numerous studies issuing from a range of academic disciplines. Gülen encourages scrutiny and critique and sees it as a learning process for the movement.
Allegations vary but some of the most oft repeated are the following (there is often contradiction between the different allegations): the movement is trying to Islamise Turkey/US; the movement is trying to Christianise Turkey for the benefit of the West; the movement is trying to infiltrate established institutions; the movement is Saudi/Iranian/CIA funded; Gülen is a secret cardinal; Gülen is a Trojan Islamist/Jihadist.
Needless to say, participants of the movement (the movement does not have a spokesperson) and Fethullah Gülen deny all of these allegations. It is important to note that the movement is active in over 150 countries around the world and has been in the public eye for the past 30 years; despite the lapse of time and the breadth of the movement’s activities none of these allegations have been proved and neither Fethullah Gülen nor the movement, nor any Gülen inspired organisation have been convicted of any related criminal offence. In fact, Gülen has sought legal recourse against defamatory books and articles, clearing his name on each occasion. If there had been any truth in these allegations, we expect that it would have been proven by now.
So despite this, why are these allegations being made? There can be many reasons, depending on the where these allegations are coming from. One explanation might be because the movement empowers the grass-root masses to be better educated, upwardly socially mobile and proactive in society; thus the movement to some extent upsets social class structures leading to discontent amongst those whose interests are served by maintaining the status quo. Another is that the movement is very successful both as a model of engagement and in terms of its activities. This might be a cause of resentment amongst others envious of this success, or those ideologically prejudiced against the movement.
7- Is Fethullah Gülen an Islamist?
Fethullah Gülen refutes in his speeches and writings Islamist claims for an Islamic political platform: “Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam established fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances.”
Fethullah Gülen’s rejection of Islamism is not due to merely strategic considerations or even personal preference. Rather, it is based on the argument that the Islamist claims to have found political guidance in Scripture represent a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the Qur’an that dangerously distorts the believer’s approach to it. Fethullah Gülen says, “Such a book should not be reduced to the level of political discourse, nor should it be considered a book about political theories or forms of state. To consider the Qur’an as an instrument of political discourse is a great disrespect for the Holy Book and is an obstacle that prevents people from benefiting from this deep source of divine grace.”
Moreover, Fethullah Gülen rejects the totalizing ideological character of Islamist political thought and activism as totally foreign to the spirit of Islam. Islam advocates the rule of law and explicitly condemns oppression against any segment of society. Gülen holds that democracy and Islam are fully compatible and that Islam prescribes no particular form of governance, certainly not arbitrary rule, and that the central Qur’anic message is that Muslims must take responsibility for their own society. He teaches that Islam promotes activism for the betterment of society in accordance with the view of the majority. This activism complements democracy rather than opposing it: “This understanding of Islam may play an important role in the Muslim world through enriching local forms of democracy and extending it in a way that helps humans develop an understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and material worlds. I believe that Islam also would enrich democracy in answering the deep needs of humans, such as spiritual satisfaction, which cannot be fulfilled except through the remembrance of the Eternal One.”
In addition, Fethullah Gülen is critical of the instrumentalization of religion in politics, and has no direct participation in party politics because the modern world exists in a pluralistic experience rather than within an assumed homogeneity of truth. He is against those who have created a negative image of Islam by reducing Islam to an ideology. Through words and deeds he underlines the distinction between Islam, a religion, and Islamism, a profoundly radical political ideology that seeks to replace existing states and political structures, either through revolutionary or evolutionary means. He opposes the use of Islam as a political ideology and a party philosophy, and the polarizing of society into believers and nonbelievers. He calls for those who believe and think differently to respect and tolerate each other, and supports peace and reconciliation.