Gülen* Speaks About Cartoon Spite and Turkish Attitude
By Zaman newspaper, Istanbul - Friday, February 10, 2006
[*Gülen is a very famous Turkish spiritual leader, very active in working for Peace in the world and for Dialogue and Friendship between peoples of all faiths including Muslims, Christians and Jews]
Question of the interviewer: The Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon him, and the essentials of our faith are being insulted today in the press, as has been done in other ways in the past, and this is defined as “freedom of speech.” Muslims all over the world are manifesting their reaction in various ways. What are your thoughts? What should be done to keep reactions within legitimate boundaries and to achieve a positive result?
Answer: I think those who have initiated all this with a small spark in some countries, as in Turkey, are a radical group. These people are extremists, disrespectful of others’ thoughts, bigots. Such people can be found everywhere, not only in Denmark, France, or Germany. Some are motivated by faith. To put it more correctly, they tie their extremism to their way of understanding religion and culture. Some take action according to racial thoughts, while others act in the name of anti-Islam, forming a front of hostility toward Islam. We have such people in Turkey too.
Disrespect in every way
Bigotry is present in every country and we have seen many examples. Especially when looking at the West, concepts like democracy, republicanism, human rights, freedom of thought . . . these might be valid at administrative level and there might actually be some who have assumed them from within. On the other hand, some sections might also have a kind of bigotry flowing in their veins bequeathed from the past. This fact must be taken into consideration and acknowledged as a reality while maintaining mutual relationships. This acknowledgment does not mean remaining silent in the face of their insults, humiliations, and hatred. No. This is something else. You will respond in a civilized manner. You will utilize diplomatic means. Perhaps, you will do as Gandhi once did to England. One way of expressing reaction could be boycotting their products and buying that of other nations.
The restlessness about the growing number of Muslims and the growing Turkish population in Europe has recurred like a disease from time to time until today. And what we have today is another recurrence.
(At dialogue meetings) you only meet people who proclaim tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect, but you are deceived. You think everyone else is like them. This is not true. There are some among them who are fanatics and extremely intolerant. Perhaps, these fanatics regard those (who engage in dialogue) with hatred. “What is all this about tolerance?” they say. They don’t like such things. What that poor caricaturist did was to comply with this feeling. But he made a great mistake.
How to react
You are by no means allowed to behave in the same way as they did. Our religious tradition prohibits that. Their disrespect toward our Master, peace and blessings be upon him, is discourteous behavior in their name alone. But, if you were to display one tenth of the same offense toward Mary, for instance, who is sacred in Christianity, you become an apostate. If you say a word against Jesus, you are an apostate. If you say a word against the authentic Gospels you are an apostate. Retaliation in kind is never a possibility for you. You can never use those weapons. If you respond to their insults to our Master, peace be upon him, and you respond with an unbecoming word to Solomon, David, or Moses, peace be upon them, you become an infidel.
This is the universality of our religion. Islam accepts Adam, Enoch, Noah, Hud, Salih, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Shuaib, Zachariah, Jesus, Moses, and other prophets which is clearly expressed in the Qur’an: “We make no distinction between any of His Messengers (in believing in them)” (Baqara 2:285). These names stand for individuals who are—in one sense—transcendent and the most proximate to God. Being close to them and showing respect to them is being respectful to God. This is clearly expressed in the traditions of the Prophet. If you love the Prophet, you love God. And we say in our prayers “Oh, God! Make us love You. Make us close to You and close to those You love.” These prophets are God’s beloved. They were sent as messengers specially equipped with manifestations that come directly from God and that come constantly from the divine attributes. This is a matter of faith for you. The farther you are distanced from them, the farther you are distanced from faith. If you say a word against them you take a step away from faith. Your culture does not allow you to respond to their disrespect in the same way. Then you have to find out other ways to avoid it. This is insolence in every way. It is very despicable to curse great prophets and to humiliate unfairly and inappropriately this most distinguished person who is admired by one and a half billion people, as well as many others like Bismarck, Carlisle, Carrel, and Goethe who studied him and declared his greatness after analyzing his personal virtues, capabilities, chastity, innocence, and wisdom. They don’t have measures, criteria, respect, and decency. This is nothing but disrespect. Nevertheless, the most insignificant disrespect that you may utter might deprive you of your faith and put a distance between you and God.
They cannot digest the Muslim presence
Our religion does not cause us to disregard other religions; (on the contrary) it causes us to feel respect toward them. Our religion encourages us to get together with everyone, it desires that we open our doors to everyone, and we do open our hearts to everyone. We do not sacrifice our modesty and good character even in the face of their insolence. We say, “No. It is time to be patient. Retaliation in kind means disbelief. One cannot retaliate if that means taking the risk of disbelief.” This is the challenge with which we have come face to face.
Civilized reaction is necessary
Such atrocities are nothing but efforts to raise a front against the Muslim population in Europe. They are doing whatever they can to provoke Muslims. These are issues by which it is very difficult not to be provoked and about which it is difficult to be patient. Some show their reactions at the French or Danish embassies. This is unpleasant for us. We cannot approve of such actions. As I have just mentioned, others are utilizing things which they consider legitimate. But your faith, your culture, your past do not give permission to you. No. It is forbidden. Otherwise you will desert me, you will desert your religion, and you will desert the spirit of your nation. Your reaction must be civilized and courteous, and within the rules by which you are bound. They are provoking. They seek retaliation, and perhaps with this excuse they will isolate them.
Caution and control
Both the statesmen and public should control their anxiety. Otherwise, first we may defame Islam’s bright face. Second, we will obstruct an ongoing process. Third, we may put off other countries who could side with us. With such unbecoming behavior, you can scare away countries like India, China, Russia, or other countries in the Far East which could support you. Even at the most critical moments when we are hurt by such atrocities, we should act with a sound mind, not with emotions. We have to move technically, using logic as if in a boxing, wrestling, or soccer match. So, it is much better to leave the matter to diplomatic solutions.
The press can also be used to get a message across, saying for instance, “if you start assaulting something that is sacred, then you may harm people’s respect for your own sanctities. Even if people restrain themselves and keep silent, you may lead them to thoughts like ‘what should I say, what should I do.’” Therefore, caution is a necessity in such situations.
All these must be rephrased again and must be expressed. The following message must be put in words: “You are on a wrong path, you are doing wrong. We showed our respect to Mary, we said ‘peace be upon her’ and to Jesus and said ‘peace be upon him’ even during the Crusades. Respect is a prerequisite of our religion.
Do not curse!
We have never cursed even the idols of anyone. We have never said “such and such philosopher, thinker, or saint of yours is of no use.” We cannot as we are enjoined not to in the Qur’an.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, warned those around him who said unpleasant things about Abu Jahl, while Ikrima, Abu Jahl’s son, was in the group: “Do not hurt those who are alive by saying things about some people who are dead.” Ikrima had a connection with this unbeliever naturally, as he was his father.
The Prophet never said anything about Abdullah ibn Ubay b. Selul when this hypocrite’s son Abdullah was in his company. He even attended his funeral as he was invited, but he was warned by God to perform the funeral prayer for him. The Qur’an says, “And do not (O believers) revile the things or beings that they have, apart from God, deified and invoke, lest (if you do so) they attempt to revile God out of spite, and in ignorance” (An‘am 6:108). That is, if you humiliate Lat, Uzza, Manat (famous idols in Mecca before the advent of Islam), if you say a word against Buddha, Brahman, or Confucius, they will answer back by insulting your Prophet. If you do, they will respond in kind. Nevertheless, you would not do it as your culture prohibits you to humiliate, curse, or insult others. You may consider some individuals and if you curse them you may provoke others. And they will curse your values in return.
Once the Prophet said, “No one should curse their parents.” His Companions asked in curiosity, “O the Messenger of God! How can one curse his parents?” To this the Prophet replied, “You curse another person’s parents. He responds—in retaliation—and curses your parents. Thus, you have cursed your own parents.” In the divine abode it is considered as if you have used those words against your own parents.
You are bound by your own cultures and its virtues. Perhaps your boundaries of maneuver are limited. Thus, it is not easy to play against those who play with no rules. You cannot hit below waist. But the other person does not follow these rules. You cannot hit his eyes or eyebrows, but he does. You’d better not play with them in such arenas, because you will be harmed. Do not act in blasphemy toward what is sacred to others. Do not utter improper words. They will respond by uttering something against what you hold sacred.
This is the manners we are taught by our religion. You cannot stay silent against such insolence. You have to do something. But you have to consider well whether your reaction can really help get rid of such offense, or in other words, you have to strive to reach a solution by giving careful thought about realities. Cursing in return for a curse, burning flags, and hurling insults do not solve the problem. On the contrary, such reactions will increase the violence and hatred on the other side. Such an attitude might even justify their position. They will say, “See, these people get furious over even the smallest matters.”
In the face of all this foolishness, we still should act upon reason. What sort of arguments should we use to get rid of this so that we can express our respect both to the Prophet, our Master, and the Qur’an? The crime they have committed must be answered. What does burning their flag achieve? Such actions are neither retaliation in kind nor a wise action. You only exhibit your feelings of revenge and hatred which further increases the hatred of others. Civilized action is necessary. They are acting in a civilized manner. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Despite everything you will always remain calm and preserve your composure. You will never compromise your cause. But you must try to get rid of it. How can you get rid of such a thing? As recorded in a hadith, the evil must be warded off with what is good and kind. You will display a believer’s attitude.
Action with reason
The entire world is watching us now. It is like a game being played. We have to comply with the rules of this game. We have to gain points in this game by complying with the causes (asbab). The world should favor their points on our side. When the matter is brought to international law, we should be concluded as being in the right. Others should have to say, “They have never changed their attitude. They have always acted with reason. They have not engaged in any improper action.” They are provoking us. If we react as they want, they will do the same on another matter. This is our weakness. They will provoke us more if we continue to reveal this weakness. They will make us take to the streets. They will bring us down to where we no longer have any value. They will incarcerate us in the public opinion. And no one will feel uneasy while they are exterminating us. We have to be careful. These actions do not make sense. Those (retaliating in kind) are deprived of satisfaction in emotions, frustrations, and bigotry, but not in the mind nor in reason.
Freedom of thought
Freedom of the press does not legitimize insulting others. If you were to publish something about another’s wife you would quickly receive objections, clarifications, and corrections. How would they react if you said, with the excuse of press freedom, that you would publish something negative about “royal family in the UK” or “the revolutions of the French. . . the land of Robespierre” or “the bandits of Denmark”? You cannot simply say, “This is freedom of the press, I am freely expressing my thoughts.”
Freedom of expression does not authorize anyone to defame others. There is certainly a freedom of disseminating one’s thoughts, but if you do not take others’ thoughts into consideration you will leave them with no freedom. There should be boundaries between freedoms.
You must be respectful to everyone. What they have committed (with cartoons) is a grave offence. It is disrespect in every way. They should tread carefully.
This is an abbreviated transcription of Fethullah Gülen’s impromptu speech about “cartoon” crisis. audio recording is available at www.herkul.org
Quick quality translation 6 cents/word
or 4 pence/word
(native Turkish professional translator)