March 22 2004
No Islamic World Exists Today
by Nuriye Akman
After five years of living in the U.S. and suffering from poor
health, Fethullah Gulen broke his silence by granting an interview to
Nuriye Akman. Gulen 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. Gulen 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 Gulen 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 Gulen 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 [Gulen] 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 Gulen Hodjaefendi five years ago and how he is
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
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
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
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 Gulen 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.”