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Fethullah Gülen’s Views on the Roots of Terrorism and Its Solutions

Undoubtedly, terrorism is one of the greatest scourges that afflicts humanity, threatening its future, instilling fear and concern in society, compromising the safety of life and property, and sowing chaos and discord. In today’s world, there is hardly any country that has not been affected by terrorism. However, especially since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Muslims (!) have been increasingly portrayed as the perpetrators and sources of terrorism. Unfortunately, when a terrorist incident occurs anywhere in the world today, Muslims immediately come to mind. Although the influence of Islamophobia worldwide and provocations carried out intentionally play a significant role in this perception, it cannot be denied that some radical groups that claim to act in the name of Islam and certain religious scholars who issue fatwas for suicide attacks have also contributed to this perception.

Fethullah Gulen took a clear stance against terrorism, without any “buts” or “howevers,” as soon as the issue of Islam and terrorism came to the world’s attention, and radical organizations like al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram began carrying out terrorist acts. Perhaps there hasn’t been another Islamic scholar who, from the outset, took such a strong stand against suicide bombers, declared that they could not be associated with Islam in any way, and emphatically stated, “A terrorist cannot be a Muslim, and a Muslim cannot be a terrorist.” He did this despite the risk of becoming a target of these organizations.

Unlike some scholars who resorted to excuses, spoke of martyrdom for suicide bombers, condoned retaliation for the massacres committed by others, viewed the weakness and helplessness of Muslims as an excuse, or expressed any positive opinions on the matter, he insisted that the means used in Islam must be legitimate, that killing people is considered a grave crime, that individuals do not have the authority to initiate wars, and that even in war, the killing of innocent people is not permitted. He emphasized the need to protect the image of Islam and consistently stood against terrorism and suicide attacks.

Whenever a terrorist attack occurred in Turkey or in other countries, he would issue messages expressing condolences to the families of the deceased on the one hand and condemning terrorism on the other. These actions reflected his unwavering stance on the issue.

Legitimacy of Means

As previously mentioned, the relationship between means and ends is a topic Fethullah Gulen often discussed in his works. He emphasized that, in addition to the ultimate goal and purpose, the means used to achieve it must also be legitimate. He argued that the Machiavellian idea of justifying any means to achieve a goal is not compatible with Islam. According to him, if a person wants to attain the highest goal in Islam, which is to earn God’s pleasure or qualify for Paradise, they can only achieve this goal by using the legitimate paths allowed by religion. Engaging in activities such as street violence, robbery, kidnapping, murder, becoming a suicide bomber, or carrying out other terrorist acts cannot lead one to such a goal, as none of these actions can be justified within Islam.

He believed that individuals who became suicide bombers, even if they claimed to act out of a desire for Paradise, would ultimately face retribution for their actions. According to him, Islam does not permit acts that are fundamentally incompatible with its teachings. Therefore, acts of terrorism, where innocent lives are taken, buildings and businesses are destroyed, and women, children, and men are left as widows and orphans, cannot be justified within the framework of Islamic beliefs.

Authority to Declare War

In Fethullah Gulen’s view, considering such terrorist attacks as “jihad” is also not possible. He stated, “No Muslim can declare war, whether their country is invaded or its freedoms are taken away, on their own, and they cannot target innocent people in the name of fighting for freedom. Such an understanding cannot be reconciled with Muslim logic. In our religion, war can only be declared on a national scale, organized by the whole nation, and subject to specific rules.”

Furthermore, these terrorist attacks have no connection to the rules and principles of Islamic law concerning warfare. Gulen argued that Islam did not condone war, emphasizing that it was primarily related to defense and was permissible to prevent chaos, oppression, and corruption. He maintained that even during war, Islam imposed strict limits, prohibiting actions such as harming religious leaders who had taken refuge in places of worship, killing civilians who had not directly participated in the conflict, mistreating the defeated, and damaging cultivated fields, orchards, nature, and property. These rules were essential in Islamic teachings, and acts of terrorism that openly violated these rules had no place in Islam.

Representation of Islam

According to Fethullah Gulen, Muslims have a duty to represent Islam properly, to show its beauty to others, and to present it in an appealing manner. However, the impression that Islam is being misrepresented is created when crimes are committed in the name of Islam and through actions that appear to be carried out in the name of religion. This leads to a distorted image of Islam and the belief that terrorism and Islam are synonymous. He believed that rectifying this misunderstanding by those who do not truly understand Islam would be challenging and might require years of effort. Therefore, even the thought of true Muslims supporting such activities or engaging in them is inconceivable.


Fethullah Gulen assessed the ruling on suicide in Islam, stating that it is considered a violation of the trust given by God and is therefore prohibited. Even desiring death due to some difficulties in life is seen as a form of rebellion against God’s decree and is considered sinful.

He argued that suicide bombings were no different from other forms of suicide. In fact, he considered suicide bombings even more heinous because individuals who had no connection to humanity and were oblivious to the spirit of religion killed themselves and, in the process, took the lives of numerous innocent people. According to him, even if they did it with the hope of entering Paradise, they would face severe consequences for their actions. Therefore, there is no difference between suicide bombings and other forms of suicide.

The Source of Terrorism and Its Solution

As can be understood from Mr. Fethullah Gülen’s statements regarding terrorism, it is not possible for Islam to support or be a source of terrorism. He pointed to the real source of terrorism with the following words: “No one who has sincerely embraced Islam knowingly and especially repeatedly enters into terrorism. Terrorism attributed to Muslims up to today has sometimes been carried out under the leadership of shallow souls who have not fully embraced Islam within their depths – the number of these is very few, sometimes due to the excessive provocation of young emotions, sometimes through the activities of individuals bearing Muslim names and appearing as Muslims on behalf of superpowers, and sometimes through bloody murderers who suppress human emotions and feelings of fear with different drugs.

In my opinion, Muslims, although lagging behind in knowledge and technology, are not base and vulgar enough to engage in such despicable acts. Most of these are so naive that their minds cannot comprehend the great service games played on the international stage. When the real reasons behind terrorism are ignored, the issue comes to focus on religion. Due to conflicts of interest, factional and clique rivalries, antidemocratic practices, and human rights violations in the Islamic world, many dissatisfied groups have emerged. Most of them are of a type that can be easily swayed by some agencies due to their lack of knowledge and quick response. Someone is using them to move step by step towards their goal.

In addition, some secret and open organizations at a supranational level base all their plans on destruction, constantly stirring up unrest in the world and keeping everyone occupied, thus expanding their areas of action and activity. Without seeing these factors, even if some of the negative aspects that are presented as the causes of terrorism are eliminated, the evil behavior will continue to exist under another name and title. However, those who seek the opportunity to attribute all the negatives to religion, especially Islam, and those who engage in such attitudes because their interests require it have never seen and will never see it.”

Mr. Fethullah Gülen not only mentioned the causes of terrorism but also invited Muslims to self-examination and suggested the elimination of factors that could indirectly prepare the ground for the emergence of radical groups: “As Muslims, on this occasion, we should review our understanding and practice of Islam in the light of the conditions of our time and interpretations made by the contemporary scholars, which is not to disconnect from the Islamic tradition; on the contrary, it means realizing the possible deviations and getting rid of them and holding on to the spirit and essence of the Qur’an and Sunnah, which the righteous predecessors always pursued. We must marginalize interpretations of religious sources that have been used as a means for other purposes by being divorced from their contexts and conditions.

Muslim scholars, intellectuals, and scholars should encourage a comprehensive approach to religious sources. We should be able to reconsider the decrees given during periods when political and religious affiliations overlapped and conflicts continued constantly. We must revive the spirit of intellectual freedom that brought about a Renaissance for Muslims at one time, remaining faithful to the spirit of religion. We can only fight against radicalism and terrorism that turn to violence by doing so.” With the above expressions, Mr. Fethullah Gülen opposed the exploitation and misinterpretation of Islam by radical groups and pointed out how to act on this issue. His words also highlight the sociological and pedagogical measures that need to be taken to prevent terrorism:

“We should identify young people who are lost within our society early and establish infrastructures that will prevent them from embarking on dangerous adventures and provide support to families through counseling and other services. We should engage in positive cooperation with the states we are citizens of and express our ideas in meetings where counterterrorism plans are discussed. We should teach our young people how to express their ideas democratically. It is important to introduce democratic values at an early age in school curricula for the sake of future generations.”

Finally, we would like to state that the labeling of Mr. Fethullah Gülen, who consistently condemns terrorism and highlights fundamental principles for its prevention, and the Hizmet volunteers who contribute to the establishment of a more peaceful and livable world through educational and tolerance activities while declaring war against ignorance, conflict, extremism, radicalism, and discrimination that could indirectly contribute to terrorism by the state of Turkey led by the AKP as “terrorists” and launching a “social and economic genocide” and “witch hunt” against them is a strange and paradoxical situation in terms of reason, morality, law, and religion.

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Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religous Studies.

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