Communities or politics?

When tension between Fethullah Gülen's Hizmet movement and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was high, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, in referring to religious communities, said: "We guarantee everything. You exist as long as we exist. You cease to exist when we cease to exist."

In addition to its connection to the actual agenda, these remarks have aspects relating to political sociology as well as recent and ancient experiences in the Muslim world. The question is: Does society determine politics or vice versa? It must be noted that both cases are possible and one can find examples of both cases in history. Excluding those weak monarchies, politics can play a dominant role so as to determine sociology during times of strong rulers. Monarchies weren't effective at this level as there are ruling elites which play an effective role in the decision-making processes and these elites generally consist of the military and bureaucratic, economic and religious groups. We know that in ancient Egypt, elite social groups referred to as the "melee" and "mutraf" had played a dominant role in the country along with the pharaoh, who saw himself as the lord of Egypt.

The main innovation introduced by Islam to politics is that it declared that God's will does not manifest itself in so-called sacred rulers -- caliph, sultan, king, shah, president, prime minister, chief, etc. -- or in the state as an impersonal artifact and it reduced the government to a simple trade. Thus, "swearing allegiance" (biat) is a form of trade. A government owes its legitimacy to the nature of provisions which are taken as a reference in the administration and not to people.

This implies that politics and administration should be developed on sociological grounds. In other words, rulers or politicians cannot determine social life; rather sociology determines politicians. In the final analysis, politics, like economy, can be defined as a social event. Indeed, political sociology studies politics within the context of changing social events. If politics or rulers can determine sociology, then people will adopt the religion of the king.

The movement which the AK Party had come from initially started as the Necmettin Erbakan-led National Order Party (MNP) in 1969. Thus, it is not even half-a-century old. On the other hand, religious communities and orders -- whose existence this movement claims to depend on -- are centuries old. Nakşi, Kadiri, Haznevi, Mevlevi and other orders are extremely old; the Nur movement is almost a century old. These communities and orders survived pressures from sultans, the single-party regime and implicit or explicit military interventions and tutelage.

Does "social or cultural Islam" owe its existence to the National View (Milli Görüş) or political Islam -- which the AK Party has denied any connection to -- or vice versa? In my opinion, we can say that these versions of Islam mutually supported each other, and in the early 21st century, they brought the AK Party to power by abandoning their fundamental assumptions.

With the AK Party coming to power, the adherents of cultural or social Islam were attracted to public positions and resources and were bound to the state through politics. The religious communities which feed on public resources do not want this government to go as they can no longer return to their old days of voluntary, civil and autonomous work. Those who are able to review their relations with the state, ruling party and public authorities may suffer certain losses in this process, but they will be able to stand on their feet again. Yet this experience implies that there are serious problems with our sociology which should determine politics.


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