By Hatice Sağdiç Yildiz
27 February 2014
In the aftermath of the recent corruption scandal surrounding the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Gülen/Hizmet movement, a civic movement based on Islamic piety, cultural values, education and interfaith dialogue, has been accused of being behind it.
To cover up the investigations, the newspapers close to the government use many derogatory labels for the movement, such as "promoters of light or moderate Islam," "the protestantisation of Islam," "collaborators and allies of foreign intelligence agencies," and "Christian missionaries under an Islamic guise."
As a 10-year member of the Pacifica Institute, which is a non-profit interreligious and intercultural organization, inspired by Gülen's ideas and founded by the Turkish Muslim community of California, I find the claim that the Gülen movement has been serving Christian missionary goals the most scandalous one. Except for Gülen's meeting with the pope, they cannot provide a single piece of evidence to prove such a symbiosis between the Gülen movement and any form of Christianity. Let's first take a look at these arguments.
Based on the hypothesis of the Turkish theologian Mehmet Bayraktar, an Islamist-oriented newspaper called Yeni Vakit makes three allegations. First, “the idea of interfaith dialogue was for the first time introduced by the Vatican Council II in 1962 and 1965 and according to John Paul II, the purpose of interfaith activities was to convert non-Christian religions to Christianity… In Turkey, official institutions, NGOs, and religious communities having an interfaith agenda are representatives of the Council."
Relying on unsubstantiated assumptions, except the partial truth of information about the Catholic understanding of interfaith dialogue, the newspaper suggests that the Gülen movement serves a strong Catholic agenda.
Second, the newspaper argues that the Gülen community has aspired to develop a model of Islam in which the Prophet Muhammad does not play a significant role based on the claim that “in dialogue activities, neither Gülen nor some of his followers approve to mention Muhammad as the Messenger.” Those who have read any book written by Gülen, in the original Turkish or English, or attended at least one single event organized by his followers would refute this awful slander without a doubt.
Third, as a result of interreligious dialogue promoted by the Gülen movement, major changes were made in the textbook "Religious Culture and Moral Values" taught to fifth-grade elementary students in 2002. For example, the phrase “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” was removed from the doctrine of the unity of God (Tawhid).
In the same textbook of 2002, examples of prayers from the Quran and the Sunnah that refer negatively to Christians and Jews were removed. Since I could not access the textbook in question, I would give two responses to these arguments based on my knowledge of Islam. First, the doctrine of Tawhid only holds that God is one and unique. Muhammad, the Messenger of God is the second part of the Muslim confession, not of the doctrine of Tawhid. So, if such a change was made as claimed, it was the right thing to do. Second, if it is true, the removal of the “negative” wording about Jews and Christians from the textbooks serves not only pedagogical, but also theological goals.
They might have been revised for the spiritual sake of the fifth-grade students who might not have understood the specific context of these verses and sayings without having knowledge of the general approach toward “people of books” in the Quran and the Prophetic tradition. It might also have caused them to develop hate speech based on not only religion, but also nationality, race and gender.
No doubt, the opposition to interaction between Islam and other religions is not a recent development in the history of Turkish Islam. Its roots go back to the puritanical reform movement of the 17th-century Ottoman world, namely Kadizadelis, who regarded themselves as exponents of the true faith. They harshly attacked not only Sufi practices and teachings, but also the definitions of Islam as an Abrahamic religion.
But this movement did not survive for long in Ottoman religious life, where Sufi teachings and practices played an essential role and the coexistence of different religions continued to develop mutual interactions with each other. Hopefully, in Turkey, Muslims will also be on the side of harmony, mutual dialogue, democracy, tolerance, transparency, and religious freedom instead of authoritarianism, corruption and the political usage of Islam.