“The sword has been returned to its case”
Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish Islamic scholar and the initiator of a global civil society grass roots movement originating out of Turkey and now active in over 160 countries, generally referred to as the Gulen or the Hizmet movement. Hizmet (literally, ‘service’) focuses on education, dialogue and relief work and is loosely connected by the shared ideals and principles of its participants. A preacher since 14 and author to over 60 books, his contemporaries consider Gulen a significant scholar focused on social action and practical impact. The movement is particularly noteworthy because many of its participants are motivated by their Islamic faith with an inclusive mode of practice that is deeply respectful of diversity.
Gulen, in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, regularly gives talks to his students and guests. Some of these talks are then broadcast by his students via his website, Herkul.org. Gulen’s latest talk titled, ‘To Live With Dignity and Die While in Service to Others’ (original title in, ‘�zzetle Ya�amal� ve Hizmet Ederken Ölmeli’) was released on 23rd December 2014 and is 17minutes long.
The key points in his talk are:
- Hizmet upholds and promotes universal human values.
- People should always be in state of action and service for others. Only then can the human soul achieve true freedom.
- ‘The sword has been returned to its case.’ There is no place for swords, guns and bombs in your way of service to God. The Mujaddid (Renewer) of this age has sealed of the path of serving God through war, combat and violence. You cannot rescind that seal because you cannot achieve consensus to do so. That is why we have been extremely alert against ‘armed movements’ and have warned society against it. Today, we are being made to pay the price for doing so.
- There will be those that do not want any alternatives to their way of thinking and action and want all credit to be due to them. As in the past and today, such people will try to intimidate and subjugate others through various forms of campaigns. In such instances, one must not waver from the truth and principled action. Even if they annihilate Hizmet entirely, we must stand fast and say no to being subjugated.
The video was broadcast on Herkul.org in Turkish without subtitles. To view the video please click here.
- In relation to Gulen on ‘universal human values’: In a recent statement on the Kobani crisis, Gulen says “[t]he purpose of religion is to bring about a peace that is founded on universal human rights, the rule of law and universal human values.” Gulen often makes reference to “universal human values” as a means and objective to achieving the pleasure of God. Gulen arrives at this interpretation through Islamic methodology and primary sources (Qur’an and Sunna). Therefore, while the movement is faith-inspired its activities are faith-neutral, inclusive and based on universally accepted values and norms (such as nondenominational education, intercultural dialogue and relief work). This means that Hizmet appeals to observant Muslims while simultaneously appealing to non-observant Muslims and those of another or no faith whatsoever.
- In relation to Gulen on ‘the sword’: Gulen has consistently and unequivocally condemned terrorism whatever the stated motive in the strongest terms. What Gulen is addressing here however is beyond a condemnation of terrorism but a rethinking on legitimate war and combat in Islam altogether. In this vein, Gulen quotes the 20th century Islamic theologian Said Nursi who said: “The sword has been returned to its case. Thenceforth, triumph over the civilized is through persuasion and reason.” There are two types of Jihad in Islam, the inner and outer. The outer type involves physical struggle of all forms for the sake of God. Legitimate defensive warfare is just one form of that outer jihad. According to Nursi and Gulen, jihad by war can only be declared by a legitimate state under restrictive circumstances and even then, in accordance with the strictest of rules. What Nursi and Gulen are pointing out here however is that while legitimate states may continue to have the right to arm for deterrent reasons, war and combat of any sort cannot be used to serve religion by for example conquering lands as was done in the past. Those wishing to serve religion (including legitimate states, groups and people) cannot do so through war, combat and violence but can only do so by appealing to the mind and reason of the civilized world. Gulen says that he and Hizmet are being ‘made to pay a price’ because he espouses this view.
- On ‘we are being made to pay the price for warning people against armed groups’ and ‘some will attempt to subjugate you’: It is no secret that President Erdogan has been undertaking a self-confessed “witch-hunt” against Hizmet and Gulen. According to Gulen, that is because Hizmet presents an alternative theory and praxis to that dictated by Erdogan and that Hizmet is independent of him and his government. For Gulen and many within Hizmet, Erdogan’s wrath against the movement is an attempt to subjugate it. Based on this view, the argument that last years corruption investigations were a coup attempt against the government is a pretext to (i) rid the judiciary and state of non-government-loyalists and (ii) nationalize Hizmet by forcing it to “swear allegiance”. This is corroborated by many statements and actions on the part of Erdogan and his government, one of which was made by Deputy PM Arinc’s who said: “If they [Hizmet] apologize and seek forgiveness then things will normalize”. In the past week, a new case has been brought against Gulen on the charge that he founded and is running an “armed terrorist group” (supposedly Hizmet). Ironically, the evidence for this is a 2009 talk in which he warns people against armed groups.
Fatih Isik, co-Director of the Centre for Hizmet Studies, said:
“What is significant about Gulen is that he has ‘street-credibility’ as an Islamic scholar, public intellectual and devout practitioner. What he says has credence with a great many people. His views are not based on a reformist agenda, but sound Islamic methodology of interpretation and a thorough grasp of Islam’s primary sources. That is why we believe his views, coupled with his years of practice, has so much inspirational worth and impact on people. In light of that, what Gulen says on ‘universal values’ and Jihad are most significant. His views on the President Erdogan’s onslaught is also noteworthy not just in terms of current affairs but also in terms of how an Islamically-inspired movement deals with political persecution while remaining loyal to its values and principles.”
Notes to editors
London-based and founded in 2014, the Centre for Hizmet Studies provides access to reliable information and resources for serious study of Hizmet. The Centre aims to facilitate, as well as present, critical analysis of Hizmet for both academic and popular audiences. Its activities include research, resource development, online support, discussion forums and print publication.
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