No Islamic World Exists Today

After five years of living in the U.S. and suffering from poor health, Fethullah Gülen broke his silence by granting an interview to Nuriye Akman. Gülen 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. Gülen 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 Gülen 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 Gülen 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 [Gülen] 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 Gülen Hodjaefendi five years ago and how he is today?

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 quiet.

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 Gülen 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."

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