Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review 

Mastering Knowledge in Modern Times, Fethullah Gulen as an Islamic Scholar, Ismail Albayrak (ed.) New York: Blue Dome Press 2011 By Dr Herman Roborgh SJ Ismail Albayrak has compiled a volume that provides a useful introduction to the different aspects of Gulen’s vision for Islam in the modern world. Gulen was a person who managed to take what is best from the past and from the present. According to Ismail Albayrak’s chapter on Qur’an exegesis, for example, Gulen says that translators of the Qur’an could benefit from cultural, sociological, psychological, anthropological and communications research (p.10). Gulen opposes the wholesale adoption of one particular approach to the Qur’an, such as the scientific, literary or classical approach. Instead, he suggests that Muslim scholars and interpreters of the Qur’an should use an approach that is rooted in Islamic tradition and experience, without neglecting modern developments. Gulen’s approach to the Qur’an has social, psychological, cultural and philosophical dimensions that differentiate his Qur’anic exegesis from that of many classical counterparts. He urges Muslims to draw practical lessons from the stories and parables in the Qur’an since these stories can be applied to conditions in the modern world and will enable us to bring the teaching of the Qur’an into daily life. Ismail Albayrak writes that, since Gulen was “a man of action”, it is “inappropriate to view his exegetical efforts from the perspective of mere intellectualism” (Introduction, xii). The preaching and teaching of Gulen has inspired numerous people to devote themselves to the service of others without expecting any kind of material reward. Unlike the classical theologians, Gulen focuses on educational institutions, which serve all human beings, rather than on the establishment of mosques, which serve only Muslims. The writer of the chapter on social responsibility says that, for Gulen, long-standing institutions are the source of successful social change (p.95). He writes: Gulen has successfully managed to combine the values of Islam with contemporary life through educational, social and public health institutions, a combination which has few precedents in the history of Islam. One can observe that Gulen has successfully created a group identity that is concerned with the value of cooperation, which has been contributing to his social theological ideals (p.96). The theology of social responsibility is not foreign to the Islamic tradition and Gulen “could be considered among the most influential Muslim social theologians of our time” (p.85). The writer of this chapter continues: Gulen’s strength comes from his utmost conviction that without practice and the engagement of social life, intellectual curiosity and intellectual endeavors on their own will not be successful. Gulen promotes the premises of Islamic theology through his practical institutions. . . . He believes that for Muslims to be successful in this moment in history, they must be socially active through institutions. Gulen reminds believers of their social responsibilities not only to their individual faith but also to the need for working for justice and peace in this world (p.91). Fethullah Gulen has inspired a whole generation of Muslims to strive for greater integration in their lives. The traditional Islamic theology (kalam) of social responsibility did not develop early in the Islamic tradition because of the influence of jurisprudence (fiqh), which gave prominence to issues of belief and worship. Historically, all Muslim theologians have taken the Qur’an as their main reference, but considering the Qur’an as a reference for social responsibility, as Gulen does, . . . (was) not the main subject of debates among early scholars of kalam (p.92). Gulen differs from early scholars such as Al Ghazzali and Said Nursi in that he includes social action within piety (p.94). Other chapters in this volume deal with topics such as Gulen’s views on the spiritual tradition of Islam (tasawwuf), the written traditions of Islam (hadith), and the legal teaching (fiqh). The chapter describing Gulen’s approach to spirituality in the modern world provides us with an insight into his personality. The writer says that, instead of encouraging people to treat him in the traditional way that a Sufi leader (shaykh) is treated, Gulen refused to allow such practices. For example, he could have allowed people to kiss his hand, and by giving those around him specified daily recitations and supplications within the framework of a specific code, he could have readily engendered a shaykh-murid, or master-disciple relationship. However, he has not done this. Keeping Sufi considerations at the individual level, he has simply encouraged others, addressing everyone in general, to strengthen their belief in God (p.114). Gulen brings a significant change to the spiritual tradition of Islam by showing that Muslims can live a profound spiritual life without having to show the kind of respect normally given to a Sufi shaykh. This change of attitude opens the way for Muslims to live a spiritual life in the changed conditions of modern society. This volume highlights the innovative ideas and approaches of Fethullah Gulen that continue to inspire so many people throughout the world. Its appearance coincides with the opening of the second international conference on Fethullah Gulen under the auspices of the Gulen Chair at the Australian Catholic University, the chair currently held by Ismail Albayrak, the compiler of this volume.

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