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Mr. Fethullah Gulen’s Guidance During the Period of Oppression

YÜKSEL ÇAYIrOGLU

Nobody is unaware that tens of thousands of volunteers of Hizmet (Service) Movement in Turkey and overseas have been subjected to genocidal pressures, tortures, and atrocities in the last decade, but many ignore it. To date, numerous reports have been written, documentaries filmed, and news stories covered about this. The AKP regime has mobilized all the power and resources of the state to divide, shatter, crush, annihilate, and end the Service movement. They have locked down the institutions of Hizmet Movement, seized their individual savings and properties, expelled them from their professions, took away their freedoms, and played with their reputations. They even imprisoned children, pregnant women, seriously ill patients, and the very elderly. They deprived them of their most basic rights and freedoms, including their legal rights.

The pain experienced is truly immense. People who were held in high regard until recently, whose successes were met with praise and applause, and who were shown as examples to others, were suddenly branded as “traitors” and “terrorists”. Media under government influence constantly runs smear campaigns against them. Politicians target them whenever they speak, making baseless accusations, severe insults, and fabricating outrageous lies and slanders. Courts, having completely lost their impartiality and independence, despite there being no criminal offense, impose penalties on the innocent based on reports and complaints from somewhere, using their own concocted excuses and reasons.

The ongoing process is very different from the past in every aspect. With all these events, the period of comfort, abundance, and expansiveness has ended; a period of hardship, tribulation, distress, and testing has begun. How should this process have been managed from the beginning? How should the injustices have been responded to? How should these disasters be understood? How should relations with God have been maintained? Why were those souls, who had poured out into the streets for nothing but the pleasure of God, exposed to such calamities and misfortunes? How should those unable to resist oppression and atrocities have been treated? How should disintegrations have been prevented? What should have been done in the name of service during this period? How should hands have been extended to the oppressed and the victims? How should a stance against the oppressor have been presented?

So far, Hizmet volunteers, who have been inspired by him, have benefited from his ideas, and have followed his guidance, have once again turned their eyes to Mr. Fethullah Gulen. In this article, we will discuss how Mr. Gulen managed this period of hardship through his conversations and writings, what he said to his followers during this period, what he recommended, and what issues he emphasized.

How should we interpret events? Personalities like Mr. Gulen do not get caught up only in the apparent causes of events; knowing very well that God is the actor behind the curtain of causes, they also focus on the message God wants to convey through the language of events. Mr. Gulen, indicating this reality with his phrase, “We must view events through the lens of the fate treatise,” has given examples of this on different occasions, pointing to the reasons and wisdom underlying all these painful events.

In this context, sometimes by drawing attention to “our sins” such as failing to fulfill the responsibilities of our position, not utilizing the opportunities at hand profitably, relying on our own strength and power instead of God, attributing successes to ourselves, not preserving sincerity and fraternity, he has pointed out that the events we experience could be expiations for these, that through them we could be purified and cleansed; sometimes he has expressed that God takes all apparent reasons away from us, directing us only towards Himself; sometimes he has stated that such trials would distinguish the raw from the mature, or friends from foes, and make everyone known for their true character; sometimes he has mentioned that such hardships would further mature the devoted, refine them, and prepare them for the future; sometimes, like seeds spread everywhere during the winter season, he has reminded us that God has scattered us to all corners of the world to bear fruit later on.

His remarks on this subject are not limited to these. According to him, the calamities we face have many wisdoms, such as better understanding the condition of the elders, directing believers towards repentance and seeking forgiveness, reminding them of their weakness and frailty, rescuing them from systemic blindness, showing the righteousness and stance of the righteous victims of oppression to both friends and foes. Therefore, what falls to us is also to be able to see the secrets, wisdom, and gains hidden in the chest of the experienced pains and losses. According to Mr. Gulen, even in the hardest times, God continues His grace and favors. If we pay attention and can look at events with the eye of faith, we can read God’s care and supervision even in the face of calamities. At least, we can thank God thousands of times for having separated us from the tyrannical community, for not having left us among them, for not making us like them.

How should we meet disasters? Great figures, heirs to the way of the Prophet, think about the hereafter of people as much as they think about their worlds, or rather primarily so that they do not suffer a loss in the hereafter. People turn to God more easily in times of abundance and expansiveness; times of hardship and difficulty can lead them to complain, rebel, and criticize fate, thus distancing them from God. Therefore, in such times, people need more spiritual support.

Mr. Gulen, well aware of this, has often turned our eyes towards the hereafter during this process with phrases like, “Look to go as creditors, not as debtors to the hereafter,” “Even if they make us lose the whole world, they cannot touch our hereafter,” “Who knows how happy we will be when the troubles we suffer here are reflected on the other side with their own color and pattern!” He has shown the way how calamities and misfortunes can be turned into provisions for the hereafter and emphasized that we should primarily focus on winning the hereafter. He has also frequently drawn attention to patience and contentment as the primary ways to this. He has stated that meeting calamities with patience and contentment is very difficult but achieving this difficult task can elevate a person vertically towards God.

He frequently recited the prayer “Radînâ billah Rabben…” during this process, and advised his followers to do the same. “When I think of what we have lost, I feel paralyzed,” he said, and then added, “God gave, God took away. What does it matter if institutions go as long as God is with us!” indicating that he felt somewhat relieved. “On the one hand, God takes some things away, but on the other hand, He grants other favors. There is a dizzying divine plan of fate. We should not take it to heart at all, we must respectfully accept God’s decrees,” his words are significant reminders.

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Besides, another topic that he constantly emphasizes is never to be shaken, panicked, deviated, or fall apart in the face of waves of oppression that keep hitting.

Pain and Hope Mr. Gulen said, “They were our buds of hope,” regarding the scything down of the service workers, their being captured and sidelined, and the deep pain and suffering he feels in this regard is evident. This can be understood from his occasionally uttered expressions such as, “You cannot know the extent of my suffering,” “They ruined a fifty-year effort, each of the acts they committed pierces my heart like a spear,” “I feel the pain of tens of thousands of people in my heart,” “My heart seems to stop when I remember the oppressions committed,” “The suffering of every friend drips blood into me,” “I never forget those in prison. I almost go mad when I think of them,” and from his general state of mind. It is, of course, impossible to expect a person who represents compassion and mercy at its peak to meet all these tragedies in any other way.

However, he never despaired, and he always instilled hope in his followers, keeping their spiritual strength alive. Sometimes he indicated the end of the process with expressions like, “Hold on a bit longer, endure, and the outcome will be in your favor, God willing,” “God has taken some of our means from us. But if this is a temporary taking, it can return manifold, God can turn one into thousands,” “When the appointed time comes, such a dawn will break that all darkness will disappear,” “God willing, a long day will follow this night.” Sometimes he sharpened their resolve by saying, “Do not worry about the current partial interruption. Things that have happened once can happen again. In fact, things that have been done once are easier to do again.” Sometimes he drew attention to God’s mercy and grace by saying, “Everything is in God’s hands. If He wills, He can prepare such opportunities that you may encounter a very different scene a few generations later,” “They extinguished some torches. But God who lit them once can light them a thousand times more.” Sometimes, “Despite all their efforts, our brothers stood firm, did not disintegrate, did not scatter. These strong wills that have maintained their vitality despite all the battering will hopefully do very beautiful work in the future,” he expressed his confidence in the Service person. Sometimes he also stated that despair is disrespectful to God, while maintaining hope is highly respected by God. But at every opportunity, he kept hope alive and advised others, “We must work hard to boost people’s morale. Like the stones in a dome, we all need to come together head-to-head and support each other.”

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Self-Audit and Facing Ourselves Many know that the penalties given to Service people are oppression and injustice, and that the accusations of the tyrannical regime are slander and defamation. Mr. Gulen has expressed this repeatedly at different times with phrases like, “They did what even an infidel wouldn’t do,” “There’s no scale to weigh their sins, even the scale at the Resurrection would break,” “What they do cannot be reconciled with Islam, let alone humanity,” “They never tire of doing evil, they are ruining their afterlives,” “They have succumbed to their envy and indigestion, they are experiencing paranoia,” “They can’t get enough of their revenge,” “They wanted to be set up in a ready-made harvest but they ruined that too,” “They are so emotionless, numb, and merciless that if the law allowed it, they would hang fifty thousand people,” “They did what Hajjaj, what Yazid did.”

However, if there is destruction, there are also aspects of it that concern us; therefore, it must be accounted for and lessons must be learned. Indeed, one of the issues Mr. Gulen focused on most during this process was self-audit and facing ourselves. He wrote a series of articles on this subject in Çağlayan Magazine. However, he approached the issue more in terms of our relationship with God.

He linked the experiences to our inability to achieve pure sincerity, to reach true monotheism, to fully fulfill our responsibilities, to think of ourselves as indispensable, to cling too much to institutions, to support the oppressor, etc., and emphasized that we must first repent, make up for what we missed, and repair our deficiencies. In other words, according to Mr. Gulen, after all this destruction, everyone should examine themselves, face themselves, and subject their ego to serious self-audit.

Mr. Gulen, of course, also evaluated the events in terms of causes and made their accounts. For example, he said that we succumbed to our good assumptions, that we supported the men who oppressed us considering them the lesser of two evils, that we did not realize the lamb was a wolf, that we could not ensure route safety, that we did not imagine they would commit such cruelty, that we were heedless, that we were deceived, that we paid the price for not pledging allegiance, etc., and stated that these mistakes should be considered as teachers, that these kinds of errors must definitely be taken into account in the services we will perform later.

Do Not Double the Calamity Although it is easy to maintain brotherhood and unity during times of abundance, expansiveness, and victory, in times of trouble, constriction, and defeat, people usually turn on each other. They look for someone to blame for the pain and disaster they experience. No one looks at themselves but seeks a guilty party to put in the dock and hold accountable. They think about where they went wrong, criticize their systems and institutions, and blame each other. At this point, if steps are not taken carefully, if accusations are made, unity and solidarity cannot be maintained, and the oppressed do what the oppressor could not do and can disperse the caravan of service.

Therefore, Mr. Gulen, while constantly trying to be unifying during this process, also told his followers that maintaining our internal unity is very important. “We should be ready to give everything, even our lives, to our brothers. If a brother needs life, we should ask, ‘Could mine suit him?'” he said, and then expressed his concern with the question, “Is this consistency being maintained?”

In addition, being aware of realities, Mr. Gulen reminded everyone that not everyone’s immune system is equally strong, and therefore, some might take steps that could harm this unity and solidarity during this process, and these should also be seen as natural. “We have endured the greatest oppression of the worldly people; why can’t we endure these small troubles among ourselves?” with these words, he called on Service people to be tolerant and forgiving towards each other.

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Continue the Duty Such a terrible smear campaign was launched against the Service movement from all sides, perceptions were manipulated, and such a psychological war was waged that even the most benign and charitable activities carried out for humanity were made to seem criminal. Most people who do not know the Service closely believed the lies and slanders thrown at them, as did some devoted souls who had dedicated their lives to this cause, who began to regret the path they had walked, even at the risk of contradicting themselves. Some, aware of their innocence and the oppressions committed, began to wonder, “Should we withdraw from everything for a while?” But this is exactly what the oppressor wanted.

Aware of this, Mr. Gulen constantly told his followers “no stopping, continue the service”. He even said that we should double our energy, effort, endeavor, and support to continue on our path. “The fact that the other side comes at us with vengeance should cause us to shift gears and increase our speed,” he said.

His following words clearly reveal his stance on this issue: “Our main issue is clear, which is to know God, to love Him, and then to introduce and make Him loved by the whole world… If you have the slightest doubt about whether your actions are suitable for the goal, come together head-to-head, refer to collective wisdom, and review your path once more. Check if there is a mistake in the business. After testing and reviewing all this ten times, if you believe that the path you are walking is correct, that the things done by those who want to turn you from your path are oppression and injustice, and that the services you perform promise great goods for humanity, then the duty that falls to you is to maintain your stance, stand firm in your place, and continue your services by multiplying them.”

According to Mr. Gulen, even if new steps could not be taken and new gains could not be achieved during this process because the conditions did not allow it, what needs to be done is to preserve the current situation to the extent necessary. “You should protect the situation in whatever framework it needs to be protected. Saying ‘vira bismillah’ and starting over will cause you to lose a lot of time,” with these words, he also indicated where efforts and endeavors should primarily be directed during this process.

Trust in God’s Favor Without Getting Stuck on Reasons Service volunteers listened to the words of the person they saw as the idea architect of the services done so far; they continued to walk on the path they believed to be right, ignoring difficulties and threats from the oppressor, and taking all kinds of risks. Because their consciences were clear. They were confident in their innocence. They had not committed any disgraceful or humiliating crimes. They believed that the path they walked was in accordance with the firm aspects of religion and the way of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s). They had accepted from the beginning that difficulties, pressures, and oppressions were the unchangeable fate of this path.

However, the conditions are extremely harsh. The government’s first and most important job is a witch hunt. Therefore, every step taken is closely monitored. All available resources are taken away. Tens of thousands of trained service people are being thrown/thrown into prisons. Therefore, it is not possible to even do one-tenth of the services done before the process in terms of quantity. Perhaps a new magazine is published instead of the closed ones, but the number of subscribers remains very limited. Neither the financial resources nor the human resources are sufficient to implement the desired projects. This makes some people despair, making them think, “What can be achieved with these works?”

Mr. Gulen also guides Service people on this issue, showing the way. The duty of them is to make the best use of the opportunities and possibilities they have, and he reminds them that the one who will create the result is God. His following approaches once again bring relief to hearts: “We should spell out our ultimate goal to the extent that the conditions allow. We cannot know how the small works done today will bear fruit in the future. Small movements must continue everywhere so that they may serve the general welfare tomorrow. God is the one who will turn drops into a sea. You never know, God may send people you never expected to help you tomorrow, open doors you never expected, and grant new developments. Just make sure that the services done are in accordance with His pleasure.”

Do Not Facilitate the Oppressor’s Work Until yesterday, the openings of the institutions opened by Service volunteers were made by prime ministers, presidents. In their programs, leading politicians and diplomats of the state spoke and showered them with praises. Reference letters sent by prime ministers helped open educational institutions abroad. Both AKP and other party members were almost racing to visit Mr. Gulen, wanting to receive his blessings. Hundreds had visited him.

Today, however, the picture is completely the opposite. A tyrannical regime that has taken over the state wants to end the Service movement and considers inhumane oppressions, which would not even be done to an enemy, appropriate for its own co-religionists, its own citizens. It wants to separate Service people from Mr. Gulen, from their causes, and from each other. It invites them to stand by their state, to pledge allegiance to the government, to surrender to the judiciary, and to become “confessors”. Many Service volunteers are in doubt about what to do in such a murky period. Could apologizing, trying to please, or at least keeping silent be seen as a way to escape the wrath of the oppressor? Was it right to surrender to the police, or should they hide and run away? Should all dangers be faced and stay in the country, or should a way be found to perform compulsory migrations to other lands?

Mr. Gulen’s approach, “Facilitating the oppressor’s oppression, giving opportunities and chances to those who commit injustices is also a kind of oppression, whereas making the oppressor’s work difficult is a kind of worship. It is also rudeness towards God for a believer to facilitate the work of someone who oppresses him,” answered many questions in people’s minds, guiding them on how they should act. This is such a fundamental and key approach that everyone can determine whether the steps they take facilitate or hinder the oppressor’s work and determine their course of action accordingly.

Mr. Gulen’s following statement is also extremely important in terms of showing his view of oppression and oppressors: “If even a slight thought of us apologizing passes through the corners of their minds, then they have completely lost their minds. A believer does not apologize to the oppressor.”

Do Not Compromise Your Character During this process, the oppressors, in order to achieve their sinister goals, committed every kind of torment and affliction such as seizure, detention, imprisonment, expulsion, abduction, torture, as well as constantly touching the nerve endings of service people with their moves to collapse their spiritual strength and take them out of their line. For example, they imprisoned small children, pregnant women, women who had just given birth, the extremely sick and elderly, they committed all kinds of insults, touched the honor of women, turned prison visits into torture with naked searches, did not give them jobs, doomed them to hunger, even criminalized helping the victims… and did many other things.

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How should these evils be responded to? What needed to be done in a place where the oppressor became more insolent every day, increased his oppression, and constantly touched the property, life, reputation, and honor of the oppressed?

Even in an environment where the inflicted evils pushed the limits of patience, Mr. Gulen did not compromise his line, his stance to date, and repeatedly advised his followers in his talks not to resort to the principle of tit-for-tat, regardless of the evils they were subjected to, not to compromise their characters, their styles, and their morals by a single particle. Otherwise, he stated that we would fall to the level of the oppressors, that we would be no different from them. The oppressors may have crossed all religious, moral, legal, and customary red lines, but this situation does not legitimize us crossing even a single red line. A believer may be deceived but should never deceive anyone.

This, of course, did not mean sitting and doing nothing in the face of the oppressor’s oppression. Indeed, Mr. Gulen repeatedly advised fighting against oppression within legal limits, using the rights of clarification, correction, and refutation against lies and slanders. “We need to write novels, make films to properly reflect the events to the next generations,” he said. “The villainy of the villains of the age must be announced to the whole world,” he advised that the oppressions and injustices committed be told to the whole world. He stated that it is very difficult to fight against oppressors without explaining the oppressions to the world and getting the world public opinion behind.

Do Not Double the Distance The dirty propagandas carried out by the oppressors, who have taken all the media power behind them, against Service people worked and some people in Anatolia slowly began to distance themselves from them. Not only politicians, but after a while, communities, orders, members of the Diyanet, theologians also openly took sides against them. Some neighbors, friends, relatives, and even parents left them alone. This is truly a great test. It is very challenging to endure that people who could not fit you into the sky and the earth yesterday, turn their backs on you today, and even become enemies.

Mr. Gulen did not surprise us here either, he said, “You stay in your place” and added: “Against the other side distancing themselves from you, do not double the distance between you by also distancing yourselves from them. There will be people from them who will feel regret in the future and turn back to you. Do not make them walk too much road to reach you. You stay in your place, even take a step or two towards them so that when they turn back, they can easily reach you.”

Mr. Gulen is not someone who thinks only of today, stuck in today. He constantly says, “You are people of tomorrow. There is also a tomorrow for these days. People will evaluate what is done today in the future,” he says we cannot think on a daily basis and wants plans to be made accordingly. According to him, steps that will make us say “I wish” tomorrow should not be taken today. Some things must be endured today for the sake of tomorrow. He constantly advises positive action and warns his followers against reactionary attitudes. Aware of the anger that the experienced pains could create in the chests, he constantly emphasizes softness, gentleness, and forgiveness. “Whatever we do is worth it for Turkey. That country is our country. It was the center of the Ottoman Empire. People act like this against you because they see the other side as right and do not know you. God willing, one day things will fall into place in Turkey, and once again there will be a resurrection there,” with such expressions, he soothes the resentment and anger in the chests.

Do Not Waste Your Time and Energy The agenda is very busy, the conditions are very harsh. Oppression and victimization continue at full speed. The oppression process does not seem to end. The tyrannical regime does not collapse. The Service movement, which is declared a scapegoat almost every day, continues to be the subject of news, mostly consisting of fabrications and distortions. In such an environment, people become more curious about what is happening and therefore many spend their time on social media. However, this has little benefit for many people. Reasons seem largely silent. There is not much to do. Moreover, neglecting important tasks that should actually be done by being too busy with current issues usually breaks hopes, exhausts patience, pollutes minds, wastes time.

Therefore, one of the issues Mr. Gulen still frequently focuses on during this ongoing process of oppression is not to waste time and energy on current issues. These are his findings: “When people delve too much into current topics, they neglect the important tasks they should actually do, moving away from them.” “If you constantly engage with the negative news of the media, you cannot stay upright without your morale being disrupted and falling into despair. It is unlikely that a soul with a defective or collapsed immune system will be successful in its work and put forward a serious service.” “We are going through a gloomy period when not even a minute can be wasted.” According to him, this process should be evaluated by approaching God more, being spiritually nourished, reaching out to the victims, trying to get out of the hardship, and continuing to walk in the direction of our ultimate goal.

Time, Time for Assistance Opportunities are very limited, but needs are great. Plans and projects made on behalf of the Service cannot be implemented because sufficient resources cannot be found, new people cannot be employed, and needed institutions cannot be opened. Despite all this, Mr. Gulen persistently says “assistance,” stating that it is absolutely necessary to reach out to people who are doomed to unemployment and hunger in Turkey or whose families are left in the middle because they themselves are imprisoned. He insists that everyone should grit their teeth, push their capabilities, and display extraordinary sacrifice on this issue. To explain the importance of the matter, I suppose the phrase “If it would be useful, sell me too and send the money for assistance” is sufficient.

Mr. Gulen’s followers, who have never left any of his words in the air, have also tried to reach out to the needy by bringing together whatever they have in their hands, despite the limited opportunities and difficult conditions. And they did this despite the tyrannical regime also criminalizing this, closely monitoring, and trying to prevent it. On the one hand, Mr. Gulen wants the services to continue, but he is also aware that the greatest resource of the Service is the human element. Therefore, he prioritizes them, says that the time is for brotherhood, and once again opens the way for Service people with his guidance. He does not limit assistance to just financial help, but also advises feeling their suffering within us, seeing their problems as our own problems, fervently praying for them, and reaching out to them in every material and spiritual matter they need.

Evaluate the Psychology of Victimization Well Mr. Gulen is someone who tries to see the good sides of even the worst events, the goods hidden inside, and the benefits that will eventually emerge. He approaches the experienced victimization and oppression in this way too. On the one hand, he states that people who are left without branches to hold onto and fall into a desperate state will pray to God and that God will respond to such prayers. On the other hand, he points out that people who are exposed to the world in a victimized and oppressed state can more easily convey their voices to others and present their message. For example, in one of his talks, he says, “If you had opened up to the world in this number before, they would not have been so interested. Now they are looking at you as victims and oppressed. Therefore, they may be more interested in the message you will present. We must take advantage of this opportunity and introduce ourselves to the whole world.”

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Mr. Gulen states that if the experienced victimizations are well explained, they will activate the compassion and mercy feelings of the people they meet, attracting their interest and sympathy towards the victims, but he also does not neglect to warn against falling into “compassion begging”.

Integrate Without Assimilating Tens of thousands of service people, seeing that there is no opportunity to live like a human and serve as they believe in their own homeland, have migrated to Western countries where democracy and human rights are relatively better. However, there are many difficulties in holding on to life in a new country, adapting there, living and representing the values they believe in. Mr. Gulen’s phrase “integrate without assimilating” can solve many problems for them. While Mr. Gulen advises being intertwined with the people in the places where they migrated, standing close to them, arousing the feeling that we are part of them, he also underlines maintaining and developing their own values and staying as themselves.

Oppression Does Not Continue The most curious question of the Service volunteers, crushed under the wheels of oppression, is when this witch hunt will end. Mr. Gulen, with his words in this vein, has always kept the hopes of his followers alive: “When we look at the ends of the tyrants who have lived in history, we see with astonishment how they fell into pitiable states, how the empires they built collapsed on their heads. Although they chased dignity and applause throughout their lives, they died in disgrace and scandal. Neither the palaces of welfare and happiness they built could save them, nor the men they trusted, nor the empires they established. I assure you that the fate of the oppressors who have settled like a nightmare over our blessed homeland today will not be different. Because God grants respite (gives time) but never neglects. Unbelief may continue, but oppression never does.” “We must never lose the consideration that God will grant a way out one day. But when it comes to the appointment, the calendar, that belongs to God.”

Mr. Fethullah Gulen’s remarks during this process are not limited to these. A more meticulous and detailed research on his talks and writings published during this process can add more items to these. Here we must state that if Service people are able to stand firm during this difficult period, if they do not radicalize, if they do not engage in violence, if they do not give up the path they believe to be right, Mr. Gulen’s guidance contributes a lot to this.

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