Maimul Ahsan Khan. The Vision and Impact of Fethullah Gulen: A New Paradigm for Social Activism.
This 174-page book documents the ways of M. Fethullah Gulen and the supporters of the movement inspired by him presenting a new kind of social activism with a deeper sense of spirituality and altruism. It has been missing from many contemporary civic movements. The author shows a clear structure in the outline starting off with a brief introduction of Gulen, a household name in modern Turkey for several decades. The author indicated Gulen has become something of a center of gravity for millions of people from all walks of life throughout the world.
The book is clearly structured starting off with Gulen's Ideas on Rumi, sufism in theory and practice, methodology of schooling, approach to the Quran and ideal society and notion on Hizmet and public good. Towards the end, the authored covered topics on Gulen's thought on modern democracy and on jihad, tolerance and terrorism.
There have been some outstanding issues raised in the book illustrated by Maimul of the efforts of Gulen and his supporters in trying to balance spiritual life and social activism in order to inspire people from all segment of society. "How can Gulen walk such a fine line in his presentation of Islam as a mission of comprehensive social reform? Philosophically articulating Islam as a world vision for the whole of humanity, Gulen's call to all Muslims to become better human beings is very appealing. Instead of causing discomfort in atheists or Muslim secularists about Islamic ideas of social reform, Gulen has shown great sensitivity towards Turkish secular regimes as well as religious groups that are engaged in making the Turkish nation more "Islamic" (p.7).
The chapter Gulen Echoes Rumi with a Difference has outlined several relevant arguments that the rise of political Islam is a serious dilemma faced by most of contemporary Muslim countries. "Gulen has not taken sides in the feud in the Muslim world between secularists and Islamists who are locked in an ideological battle over the control of the rotten state machinery left behind by the European colonizers" (p.17).
In Sufism in the Theory and Practice: Gulen's Perspective, the author highlights that Sufism is mainly concerned with the enrichment of the inner world of human beings on their journey to the Absolute Truth. "To become a truly human being one needs to acquire good qualities in one's soul infused from heavenly sources and this is a never ending process of making oneself available for the well-being of others, a process which must be pursued to ots final fruition" (p.37).
The author asserts a person can truly be transformed and spiritually uplifted through works and talks of spiritual masters. "The core of the issue is that one benefits greatly from the works or gatherings that take place in the spiritual presence of true saints or spiritual masters who have experience of the heart while journeying on the spiritual path toward God, as Rumi stated beautifully in a couplet: My heart, be seated near that person who has experience of the heart/Go under that tree which bears fresh blossoms" (p.21).
The author also argues that the main purpose of education should be free from all kinds of ideological affiliations. "Many also feared religious indoctrination in Gulen's methodology of combining good morality with modern skills, but they ultimately found Gulen's completely a modern man free from any extremist thoughts and ideas" (p.52).
The author has pointed out clearly the movement demonstrates and invites everyone to do good works for the future generations, ultimately shaping the world. "We consider the past as a living body that speaks for us, thinks for us, and whispers words for us. We see a world that seaks through streams, rivers, seas, hills and plateaus. In reality the future is a world where opportunities come one after another" (p.110).
In Gulen's Thoughts on Modern Democracy, Maimul wrote some Muslims, especially from countries with an overwhelming Muslim population, do not favour the Western democracy due to its secular stance, on one hand, and their vision of political Islamism, on the other. "Turkey was the first Muslim country to take the constitutional principle of the separation of religious and civil affairs seriously and aggressively and to use state power to transform the society into one where religious sentiments are not tolerated" (p.113).
Maimul pointed out Gulen never even hinted any hostility towards people or nations in the West for providing biased image of Islam. "Instead of just blaming people for their ignorance about Islam and Muslims, Gulen endeavours to convey the true message of Islam and to conduct interfaith dialogue between different religions and civilizations" (p.129).
Maimul, The Vision and Impact of Fethullah Gulen: A New Paradigm for Social Activism is an illuminating view of the distinct, diverse and transnational view of Gulen in regards to political and religious discourse. The text and extensive wok of the author makes the book not only for Muslims but a guideline for all human beings to be part of social activism that knows no borders of national, social, religion and ethnic identity.
University of Selangor