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ANKARA: No Islamic World Exists Today

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  • ANKARA: No Islamic World Exists Today

    Zaman, Turkey
    March 22 2004

    No Islamic World Exists Today

    by Nuriye Akman

    After five years of living in the U.S. and suffering from poor
    health, Fethullah Gulen broke his silence by granting an interview to
    Nuriye Akman. Gulen commented on developments in Turkey and around
    the world, and answered all the allegations about him. Along with
    those subjects, he also explained the meaning of years of
    homesickness. Gulen conveyed the traces of his yearning for his
    homeland, and remarked, "These last five years have perhaps become
    the most painful years of my life."

    As a member of Sabah newspaper, I interviewed Fethullah Gulen 10
    years ago in Izmir. This was a turning point. This marked the first
    time he was sharing his views with an 'outsider' journalist; he was
    clarifying about who he was and what he wants to do. 10 years later,
    this time in America, I had the chance to interview him as a member
    of Zaman. I say 'I had the chance' because as all my colleagues, I
    was wondering about how he lives in the U.S.; how this lengthy
    separation reflected on his feelings and thoughts and when he will
    return to Turkey. I had the desire to be the first journalist
    reflecting his disclosures. I feel that I am lucky since I had the
    chance to witness this expatriation process.

    I would like to start with the subject that his followers and
    opponents are most curious about: Where and how is he living?

    In a small town, he lives in a house owned by his niece located in a
    small wood of pine, chestnut, juniper and oak trees. This is place
    similar to what Yahya Kemal describes in his poems; a place that
    tranquilizes the soul under cool cypresses, away from crazy crowds.
    It is where time runs not out but in slowly, cheered every now and
    then by visits of Turks who live in America. Flocks of birds in a
    hurry leave the sounds of their wings on the rooftop during the day.
    The moon and stars in all their grandeur shine in a sky free of light
    pollution. There are plenty of squirrels and deer.

    But, if you think that Fethullah Gulen takes long walks in the wood
    and watches with pleasure how a bubbling brook flows into a small
    pond, you are wrong. He leaves his room only for praying and meal
    times. Let alone the wood, he had not even taken five steps into the
    garden in five years.

    All right, but why? From diabetes to heart disease, from high blood
    pressure to cholesterol problems, many physical discomforts of course
    have a share in it, but, I consider the real answer to be hidden in
    his soul. You will find a few hints of this during our interview.

    I witnessed how much the health problems, which an ordinary person
    would barely stand, wore him out. His condition was fluctuating. Even
    though his eyes could not mask his pain, he deemed it impolite to
    complain about his pain and he tried to answer my endless questions
    in detail. When his doctor felt he [Gulen] could not continue because
    of increasing blood pressure, fever, headache and the inability to
    utter even a single word, he was demanded a break and sent him to
    take a rest. I was angry at myself for pushing him to talk with me
    before he had fully recovered from his heart surgery he had a short
    while ago; however my professional excitement was dominating and I
    was saying, "All right, that will be all for the day, but let's
    continue tomorrow," and he was replying, "if I do not die."

    Despite the fact he implied that I was pushing the limits, my ego was
    unwilling to hear this.

    For this reason, I should say that one should not be taken in by the
    vigorous posture and rugged clothing in his photos.

    I was not before him on an interview appointment anyways. I would
    like to thank him for not letting me down even though he felt that it
    was not the time to express his thoughts. I happened to attend a pep
    talk he was giving his guests on a day when he was feeling good. I
    listened to him in a pep talk for the first time. It was a
    multilayered talk blended with Sufism, history, geography, politics
    and literature. It was addressed both to the hearts and minds, in
    which audience could broaden their circle of awareness to the extent
    of their intellectual accumulations. I think he was able to talk so
    fluently because he was able to curb his bewilderment on the inside
    that was caused by his being wronged.

    When I requested to see his room, I was not rejected. A twin size bed
    was covered with a bedspread stitched with simple colorful fabric
    pieces. A treadmill was in the corner. All the things in the room
    were nothing but the presents with symbolic values. Soil saved in
    jars or some in plastic bags from different regions of Turkey was for
    pacifying the yearning for his homeland.

    It's been five years since you came to America, has it not?

    On March 22 (today), it will be five years.

    How was Fethullah Gulen Hodjaefendi five years ago and how he is

    Such a long time has passed and naturally it has had an influence on
    me. As of my character, I cannot say that I changed a great deal.
    However, I have seen different things, heard different things.
    Sometimes, I had been lowered into gayyas, [a well in hell]. I kept

    These five years perhaps were the most painful years of my life. I
    had been subjected to a similar unjust scrutiny as well for nearly
    six years. In the end, the verdict was annulment of the charge. It
    could be said that, since May 27 some repeatedly pushed the button,
    whether or not I know the reasons, and some took action. I am 66
    years old; almost since I was 20 my life has been like this. This was
    the most painful of all. Because, in a way I am oversensitive. I am
    so sensitive to the extent of hysteria. I feel I am being disloyal if
    I do not return to a place where I had a cup of coffee. In the same
    way I feel I am being disloyal to a road previously taken if I do not
    take it again. There is soil in my room from 50 different areas of
    Turkey. They are being preserved, as if it is the soil of Kabah. I
    look at them and find consolation in them. But, on the other hand, I
    endure like pressing a piece of red hot coal into my chest and
    squeeze my teeth not to provoke some.

    What did this period bring to you and take from you? How did it
    affect your health and psychology?

    There are two sides to every story. I came here for treatment mostly.
    There is Mr. Sadi in the Mayo Clinic, he is a Crimean. He went back
    and forth to Turkey. They came with a delegation of the executive
    board. They wanted to run a check up on me. The other side of the
    issue is that there was pressure. Gossip was going on and on. On one
    side, there were pleasant things, like taking tolerance to higher
    places in Turkey, of the people respecting their positions and even
    more so, of it becoming a culture. On the other hand, some were
    disturbed a great deal for some reason. My heart was in fairly poor
    condition. My diabetes was increasing. Even my cholesterol could not
    be controlled. I came to the Mayo Clinic. My intention was to stay
    there a few days and then return. A few days turned out to be a few
    months. Based on these incidents, they said returning would be
    harmful for my health. I tried to be under treatment on one side. I
    had osteoporosis. I often went to hospitals for my heart condition. I
    went to the hospitals 20 times. I did not go any place except
    hospitals. I got sicker here, partly from sadness, partly from
    distress. These were the places where the newspaper failed to reach
    and I failed to listen to radio. I felt as if I was a little more
    comfortable here. I was released from the happenings around me.
    However, the yearning for Turkey was burning me inside.

    No Islamic World but Individual Islam

    Islamic section sat aside for years saying, 'Islam does not accord
    with terror". However, the incidents of September 11 occurred. In the
    aftermath, bombings took place in many countries, including Turkey.
    It was discovered that the perpetrators came from among us. Before
    everything else, it is it not necessary for us to rebel?

    You are so right. Today, Islam is misunderstood at best. Muslims
    should say, "In real Islam, terror does not exist." Because, in
    Islam, killing a human is equal to qufr [not believing Allah]. You
    cannot kill a human being. You cannot touch the innocent, even in
    war. No one can give fatwa (a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by
    a religious law specialist, on a specific issue) on this subject. No
    one can be a suicide bomber. No one can rush into crowds with bombs
    tied to his body. Regardless of the religion of these crowds, it is
    not religiously permissible. Even in the event of war - in which
    balances are not kept much- , this is not permitted. It is told, "Do
    not touch children, people who worship at churches." It is not only
    once that it is said, but over and over again. What Our Master [The
    Prophet Muhammed] said, Ebu Bekir said, and what Ebu Bekir said, Omer
    said, and what he said, in later times, Salahaddin Eyubi, Alparslan,
    Kilicarslan also said. Fatih [Mehmet The Conqueror] said the same.
    Thus Constantinople, where a disorderly hullabaloo was experienced,
    had become Istanbul. That means neither Greek did anything to
    Armenian, nor Armenian did anything to Greek. Muslims too did not do
    anything to them. After the conquest of Istanbul, there was a huge
    Fatih poster in the Patriarchate. It had been made at that time.
    Fatih summoned the Patriarch then and gave him the key. They
    [Patriarchate] remember him in respect. Now, as in everything else,
    there is lack of understanding Islam, which has always respected
    different ideas.

    I should say this regretfully that in the Islamic World, some hodjas
    and immature Muslims have no other weapons to use. Islam is a just
    religion, it should be lived justly. It is definitely not right
    either to use a futile pretext on the way to Islam. As the target is
    required to be just, all the means to reach that target should be
    just as well. Within this perspective, one cannot go to heaven by
    killing another. A Muslim cannot say, "I will kill a man and then go
    to heaven." Acceptance of the will of Allah cannot be earned by
    killing men. Of the most important goals of a Muslim, one is to earn
    acceptance of God's will and the other is to make the Almighty name
    of Allah known to universe.

    Is this how their logic works; war used to fought on the fronts. But
    now, everywhere is a battle ground. Thus, do they accept this as a
    war as well? Do they think that a gate for them will be opened to go
    to heaven from this angle?

    Rules of Islam are obvious. Individuals cannot declare war. Neither a
    group nor an organization cannot declare a war. War is declared by
    the state. You cannot declare a war without a president or an army
    saying that it is war. Otherwise, it becomes a relative war. One
    forms a war front by gathering, forgive my language, a few plunderers
    around him. One other takes the others. Think about Turkey. There are
    strong minded people. A front could be formed even because of their
    differences. Some could say, "I declare war against such and such." A
    person tolerant to Christianity could be told, "He helps
    Christianity, and weakens Islam. A war against him should be declared
    and he must be killed," then a war is declared. This is not so easy.
    If the state does not declare a war, one cannot wage war. Whoever
    does it, even if the scientists I like much, it is not true war,
    because it is against the spirit of Islam. The rules of peace and war
    in Islam are determined.

    If it is against the spirit of Islam, then why is the Islamic World
    like so?

    In my opinion, there is no such world as the Islamic world. There are
    places where Muslims live. They are many in some places and few in
    others. That is Islamic culture. There are Muslims who restructured
    Islam in accordance with their thoughts. I do not refer to
    radicalism, extremist Muslims. Requirement is that one should justly
    believe, and apply justification to these beliefs; Islam should be
    owned. It cannot be said that in Islamic geography no such societies
    with this concept and philosophy exist. If we say otherwise, then we
    slander Islam. If we say Islam does not exist, then we slander
    humans. I do not lightly consider the contribution of Muslims to the
    balance of the world. I do not see that logic with administrators.
    The Islamic World is pretty ignorant, despite an enlightenment in
    measures that is coming into existence nowadays. We can observe this
    in Hajj. You can see this in their conferences and panels. You can
    see this in their parliaments through television. There is a serious
    inequality in the subject matter. They cannot solve the problems of
    the world. Perhaps, it could be achieved in the future.

    You mean then, that the term "Islamic World" should not be used?

    No such world exists. There is individual Islam. There are some
    Muslims in different places around the world. Piece by piece, broken.
    I personally do not see the prosperous existence of Muslims. If
    Muslims, who will be in contact with the others and constitute a
    union, solve common problems, interpret the universe, read it really
    well, consider the universe carefully with the Koran, read the future
    very well, generate projects for the future, determine its place for
    the future, do not exist, I do not call it Islamic World. Since there
    is no such Islamic World, every one does something according to
    him/her self. It could even be said that there are Muslims with their
    own truth on behalf of Islam. It cannot be said that an Islamic
    concept reached consensus by itself; rather great Islamic scholars
    reach a consensus on a subject, bound by a strong Koran
    interpretation, and it is tested many times. It could be said that an
    Islamic culture is dominant.

    Perhaps, it has been always like that. And it will continue to be as
    such until the end of the world.

    It has been so after the 5th A.H. It started with the Abbasid Era or
    with the appearance of the Seljuks. It started more so after the
    Conquest of Istanbul. This is a period that is the will of Allah for
    us. In the following periods, doors to new interpretations were
    closed. Horizons of thought were narrowed. Wideness in the soul of
    Islam was narrowed. More unscrupulous people are started to be seen
    in Islamic world. People who are touchy. People who cannot accept
    others. People who cannot open themselves to everyone. This
    narrowness was experienced in dervish lodges. It is so sad that it
    was even experienced in madrasas [schools of theology]. And of
    course, all of these require revision and renovation by great people
    in their fields.

    You think maybe their abolishment was for better.

    Abolishment was the punishment of Allah for them.

    Fethullah Gulen struggles with serious health conditions. While he
    was answering Nuriye Akman's questions, he got sick from time to
    time, and all his pain was reflected in his face. There were pauses
    where he felt that he could not continue with the interview. He
    mentioned that he satiates the yearning for his homeland by viewing
    the soil brought from 50 different regions in Turkey; he does not
    consider it is time to go back to Turkey just yet. When he is asked
    about the reason, he says: "My treatment continues. I do not want to
    stir anything up with my return."