Monday, July 29, 2013

Tolerance and Dialogue in Fethullah Gülen’s Writings (3)

Yetkin Yildirim* and Madeline Maxwell**

(Cont’d from part 2)

Gülen’s Vision for the Future

Gülen’s purpose for discussing tolerance and dialogue is the achievement of a more peaceful coexistence among the diverse communities and religions of the world. It is this vision of peace that underlies his writings. Gülen believes that striving for peace in the world through tolerance and dialogue is essentially God’s work: “Muslims will lose nothing by employing dialogue, love and tolerance. Muslims continuously seek the approval of God; this is the greatest gain of all” (Gülen, 2004, p. 52). Doing God’s work is what fuels Gülen’s commitment to peace, and he maintains a hopeful and positive perspective on the future of the world:

I fully believe that the coming years will be years of tolerance and love. In this framework, we will give the world much and we will receive much. Not only will we not be fighting our own people, we will not even be fighting other cultures, civilizations, or the people of other beliefs and worldviews. Issues that lead to argument and conflict will be completely resolved, and once again by understanding the power of love, we will be able to open our hearts to all with love and compassion. With the help of God, we will be able to concentrate on the important matters of dialogue and tolerance; matters which today’s world needs very much. (Gülen, 2004, p. 55).

Nevertheless, Gülen is realistic about the work involved in attaining peace and the work that will continue to be required after peace is achieved:

The goal of tolerance and dialogue that we want to reach will cost a lot. Just as it is not easy to achieve such precious and expensive things, it is difficult to protect them once they have been achieved. Attaining social harmony through dialogue and tolerance is a matter of achieving two valuable things in order to realize a third. God is going to test us in different ways so that we will realize how great this value is and, accordingly, for us to stand up for it. We are going to endure all these trials and say: “If harshness comes from God’s Majesty / or generosity from His Grace, /Both are delights to the soul. Pleasing are both His blessings and His wrath” (Gülen, 2004, p. 57).

Gülen has a vision of the near future in peace among the civilizations and he emphasizes love, tolerance and dialogue as the main tools to achieve the world peace:

Let there be no doubt about it, this new century is going to be an age when love and dialogue flourish. Antagonism is going to be basically eradicated and love and tolerance are going to spring up everywhere. This is not a remote probability especially in a period when the world is experiencing globalization (Gülen, 2004 a, p. 49).


The concepts of dialogue and tolerance are two important universal values Gülen emphasizes in his teachings. In his writings, he emphasizes the importance of these concepts for establishing peace in the contemporary world. Gülen sees tolerance and dialogue as methods by which ignorance and misunderstanding among people of different cultures and religious faiths may be erased. For Gülen, tolerance and dialogue are the necessary elements for coexistence and ultimately, peace, among the world’s civilizations. Gülen defines it as the acceptance of other people for whom they are and the ability to coexist with them. As such, Gülen believes that forgiveness is the primary, moral trait that is intrinsic to tolerance; without the ability to forgive, tolerance cannot fully blossom within a person’s soul. Gülen defines dialogue as an inherently social activity between at least two people. In his discussion, Gülen cites the Qur’an and Sunnah and show his audience that the practice of tolerance and dialogue has precedence in Islam. By revealing the presence of tolerance and dialogue in Islam, Gülen succeeds in debunking misrepresentations of the Islamic religion and encourages Muslims and non-Muslims alike to build tolerance and dialogue among different communities. Likewise, by showing the precedence of tolerance and dialogue in Ottoman history, Gülen shows that it is possible for civilizations to coexist harmoniously around the world. Gülen discusses the importance of tolerance and dialogue for healthy democracies, and he suggests that education to be one method for spreading these moral traits around the world. Ultimately, Gülen envisions a world of peaceful coexistence, which he firmly believes may be brought about by the faithful practice of tolerance and dialogue.

We end with a few comments about the relation of Gülen’s ideas on tolerance and dialogue to other dialogues. Tolerance seems to be the essential element of modern conflict management. A quick Internet search, for example, identified a host of organizations with the goal of tolerance as a means to a better world, from the United Nations to the Southern Poverty Law Center to a number of religious dialogue organizations to programs for schoolchildren. Tolerance historically has had two different meanings. One meaning focuses on restraint. The philosopher John Stuart Mill believed that there is no infallible certainty; thus, tolerance for the liberty of thought is only sensible, as well as necessary to the discussion that can lead to discovery. In Mill’s case, motivation for tolerance was a belief in individual liberty and disbelief in certainty (Mill, 2002). Another view of tolerance points to the approach of repudiating but not harassing the other. In the tradition of the dhimmi in Muslim societies, the other had unique burdens (like extra taxes and restrictions) but when this status was recognized, the other was not actively harassed or driven out. Tolerance in Gülen’s writings is not restraint in acting against others or resisting contact with others; it is a moral imperative to reach out and offer tolerance to others and to seek it for oneself. It is a positive something one does, not a negative something one foregoes.

This sense of tolerance includes affirmatively embracing the other in a ‘let’s get to know each other’ sense. This sense is usually linked to increasing diversity. Diversity is often linked to cultural relativity. This seems to be one source of fear and resistance to interfaith dialogue. Cultural relativity often reflects the assumption that one group should not be allowed to dominate or eliminate another and that shared values of peace and equality are higher values. Resistance to or disagreement with making justice and equal treatment the highest values is seen as resistance to modernism, and dialogue is frequently proposed as a tool for increasing tolerance, and tolerance is the stated goal of efforts to address conflict between races, nations, religious groups and so on around the world today. In Gülen’s writing tolerance and dialogue are linked to diversity and exchange but not to equality or cultural relativity, as he assumes the higher value of Islam.

*Texas Pavement Preservation Center Research Assistant Professor, University of Texas
**Professor of Communication Studies, University of Texas

Excerpted from the authors’ paper “Tolerance and Dialogue in Fethullah Gülen’s Writings” presented at the conference "Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethullah Gülen Movement in Thought and Practice", Rice University Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance, 12-13 November, 2005, Houston

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