A Rare Meeting With Reclusive Turkish Spiritual Leader Fethullah Gulen
I try to spend time with the students here every day as much as my health allows me. Some days my health prevents me from doing so, but I'd like to continue to study with them for as long as I am alive.
In Turkey, our friends are running a program in which female students are taking graduate-level courses in divinity. Here, the same system couldn't be replicated, but there are ladies who regularly follow the lectures.
No, it is not. The noble position of motherhood aside, our general opinion about women is that, while taking into account their specific needs, it should be made possible for them to take on every role, including the jobs of physician, military officer, judge and president of a country. As a matter of fact, in every aspect of life throughout history Muslim women made contributions to their society. In the golden age (referring to the years during Mohammed's lifetime) starting with Aisha, Hafsa, and Um Salama (the Prophet's wives), had their places among the jurists and they taught men.
I don't have a need to promote myself. I've never sought to be known or recognized by people. I simply share ideas I believe in with people around me. If people recognize me despite that, that's their mistake. But my core belief is to seek peace in the world, helping people eliminate certain malevolent attitudes through education as much as possible. An Arabic proverb says: "If something cannot be attained fully, it shouldn't be abandoned completely."
First of all, let me clarify that I have never been personally involved in the founding or operation of any school. My influence, if any, has been through my sermons, talks and seminars. If I have any credit among the people who listen to my words, I have channeled that credit or credibility to encouraging them to establish institutions of education. I have tried to explain that we can achieve peace and reconciliation around the world only through raising a generation of people who read, who think critically, who love fellow humans and who offer their assets in service of humanity.
Although there are voices of moderation around the world, it's sometimes hard to reach a consensus among them. Perhaps what is more important is to be an example. Could Turkey be an example in this regard? Could this movement be an example, could this community be an example? I believe if we're to face ourselves, ask ourselves, perhaps because we haven't been able to set a good example and fully represent our values, there hasn't been great interest or sympathy in the world. But we are hopeful, that God willing this will happen. These views were not welcome in Turkey, but now they are slowly being embraced. If you remember, when I said 20 years ago that democracy was a process from which there would be no return, certain media organizations that are now supportive of the present government were very skeptical and they criticized me severely.
In many places around the world, including Turkey until the 1950s, Muslims didn't have full freedom of religion. Even personal practice was not allowed, and they had to practice in secret. I remember when I was in elementary school around the age of 6 and when I did my noon prayer during recess once, I was locked in the basement as punishment by the principal. Such pressure was real. Today, on the one hand, some Muslims face oppression and in response, certain individuals commit suicide attacks. Religion doesn't condone or justify responding to those who oppress with oppression. Today, Muslims face oppressive conditions in some places, and Christians in others. Some things take time. All humanity should embrace a peaceful attitude, but this can only be achieved in the long term through rehabilitation of society. Can we achieve this? We will achieve whatever we can, and for our unrealized goals, we will be rewarded for our intention.
I am neither the first nor the last to create such polarized attitudes and perspectives. Indeed throughout history, friends of the truth have faced obstacles and enmity, including the messengers of God. Perhaps, when looking at this situation, we should say that maybe we haven't represented ourselves or explained ourselves accurately to people. When we reflect on this, we should say, "If we were able to make it clear that we have nothing for them to be concerned about, then they wouldn't harbor enmity against us." We should give others the benefit of the doubt. Around the world, whole societies experience paranoia. And people in Turkey are also affected by this. We should act and express ourselves in such a way that eliminates every negative thought or suspicion. But we should also accept the fact that some people have historically entrenched attitudes and cannot change. So it is not possible to be praised and loved at the same degree by everybody.
We can consider this matter from different angles. First, it is always possible for a person to go through an evolution in his thinking. In an article I wrote years ago I asked: Are you today the same person as yesterday? And are your interlocutors the same people as yesterday? Neither you are exactly the same person, nor are your interlocutors, which means tomorrow neither of you will be the same person either.
Although there are no legal obstacles for my return to Turkey, I am concerned that certain circles are waiting for an opportunity to reverse the democratic reforms that were started in the early 1990s and accelerated in the last decade. I am concerned that these elements will try to take advantage of my return by putting the government in a difficult position. I have to sacrifice my intense desire to return to my homeland in the interest of both Turkey and the good work of volunteers of the (Gulen) movement around the world. I feel that I need to live with my pain of yearning to return and stay here until there are no more concerns about the consolidation of democratic reforms. Additionally, while in Turkey, I would seek corrections and possible legal actions against libel and slander. Here, I am away from such harassment, and I am less affected by them. I find this place more tranquil.
Turkey is in accession talks with the European Union. Part of Turkey is considered in Europe and the other part in Asia, and sometimes it is considered in the Middle East. It stands in a very important place geographically and politically. It is crucial for Turkey to preserve and advance its achievements in democratization, thanks in part to its ongoing relationship with the European Union.