Countering Violent Extremism-Hizmet and Media: “Hizmet’s Media-Oriented Approach to De-radicalization”
2015 Winner of the Hizmet Essay Contest
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, PhD Scholar, Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, New Delhi, India
At a time when the extremist indoctrination, jihadist recruitment and radicalization of the Muslim youth through media, especially the ‘new media’, is on the rampage, Islamic scholars need to brainstorm and emulate the Hizmet’s approach to “mediated de-radicalization”. The paper outlines the Hemet’s comprehensive media-oriented approach to rooting out the extremist narratives and radical ideologies, which often catch the imagination of the gullible Muslim youth. It argues that an effective counter-narrative can only be worked out when the extremists’ ideological, theological, political, psychological and doctrinal underpinnings are completely dismantled and rooted out. This is, of course, too gigantic a task to undertake.
However, media offers an ample opportunity to evolve a counter-narrative against radicalization and violent extremism. Given this, the Hizmet has evolved a complete, coherent, well-reasoned, spiritually-inclined and effectively positive counter-narrative against the global extremist underpinnings. Under the guidance of the moderate Islamic scholar Mr. Fethullah Gulen, it has worked out a counter-extremist narrative in the mainstream media. Based on a solid intellectual foundation reinforced by reason and revelation, the Hizmet has mediated a coherent anti-extremist narrative of peace and pluralism, consistent in all respects with the core values of Islam, and suitable for both the present and future societies. Using this Hizmet approach grounded in media, moderate Islamic scholars the world over can rescue a “critical mass” of the young and impressionable minds vulnerable to radicalization and jihadist indoctrination.
The Hizmet has effectively communicated a complete, coherent and moderate Islamic narrative of peace, counter-extremism and de-radicalization using mass media, print and electronic media and new media including websites, online newspapers, blogs, internet TV and social media. By fostering peace education, dialogue and spiritual enlightenment, it is actively engaged in preventing the Muslim children and youth from being lured into the ideologies of radicalism, religious exclusivism, violent extremism and puritanical fundamentalism.
This has led to a serious academic discourse analysis of the media approach that this moderate Islamic movement has employed in countering the violent extremism and radicalization. The primary question of this issue is concerned with the Hizmet’s approach to de-radicalization through the media outlets. This discourse is very relevant to social scientists, academicians, media scholars, and journalists grappling with this issue around the world.
Primary and Secondary Questions
The primary question of this paper is concerned with the Hizmet’s approach to countering radicalization and extremism using various forms of media. The paper attempts to problematize the Hizmet’s approach to the mediated de-radicalisation asking some of the secondary questions such as: (1) What is the position of the moderate Islamic movement, Hizmet on the violent extremism grounded in an exclusivist, intolerant and xenophobic interpretations of Islam? (2) How effectively does the Hizmet communicate an alternative Islamic narrative of peace, dialogue and tolerance to stem the tide of radicalization? (3) How does the moderate Islamic scholar Mr. Fethullah Gulen, the Hizmet’s founder-ideologue, address the issues of violent extremism in media? (4) How does he interpret the primary sources of Islam—the holy Qur’an and Hadith (Prophetic traditions) to counter extremism? (5) What is the role of the Hizmet in countering violent extremist narratives through media? (6) How does the Hizmet channelize its own media outlasts to prevent the Muslim youth from radicalization?
Mapping out the various writings and other works of Mr. Fethullah Gulen widely covered by global media, the Hizmet’s mediated de-radicalization and counter-extremism is looked at in this paper, in order to critically appreciate its approach to de-radicalization. The paper mythology is based on “discourse analysis”. This method is extensively employed, with its dimensions of analysis, in an array of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and media & communication studies. However, the paper addresses a specific realm of discourse analysis and looks into the Hizmet’s “rhetoric” in the given case.
Using this method, the paper tries to discover as to how persuasively the Hizmet channelizes the media outlets to de-radicalise the target audience. In this paper, Hizmet’s “rhetorics”, which are la rgely based on ideological and theological underpinnings, have been studied in order to analyze the movement’s understanding, discovering, designing and developing persuasive arguments to buttress its positions and rebut those held by the violet extremists.
By studying the “rhetoric” in this context, the paper addresses the question as to how effectively the Hizmet persuades the audience in media. Many rhetoricians have analysed similar discourses of various social sciences, including media studies, journalism and digital media, along with the conventional domains of religion and politics (John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and Donald N. McCloskey, 1987).
Today, the term “radicalization” is conflated in media as well as in the academia with something very identical to the connotations of the “violent extremism”. It can be defined as: “a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations”. The process of “radicalization” can turn into both violent and nonviolent. However, most academic literature focuses on radicalization into violent extremism (Randy, 2011).
According to a recently developed definition, “radicalization is a process involving an individual or group whereby they are indoctrinated to a set of beliefs that support acts of terrorism that can be manifested in one’s behavior and attitudes”. While radicalism usually precedes terrorism, nevertheless, it does not always result into an act of terrorism. (Silber & Bhatt, 2007). However, the paper surmises, based on the writer’s empirical knowledge, that that radicalism always breeds an ideological ground for the violent extremism, resulting into acts of terrorism.
Juxtaposing Radicalization with ‘Islamism’
The term “radicalization” was previously used for different extremist fringes in certain political, national, ideological and religious contexts. But, I contend, that it has now become synonymous with “Islamism” or “jihadism” in the global media, particularly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the London terrorist attacks in 2005, the killing of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, the Madrid bombings in 2004. The recently perpetrated acts of terror in France have widened the phenomenon of Muslims being conflated with “radicalization” both in media and academia.
Most extremist Islamist outfits loudly claim to bring Muslims back to the medieval era in the name of the Islamic shariah. But it is interesting to note that, in articulating their medieval, obsolete and retrogressive ideology, they employ very sophisticated means, modern approaches and advanced media including what is called ‘new media’. Thus, they are massively propagating their extremist thoughts, successfully recruiting the vulnerable section of the new Muslim generation. This is how media particularly the social networking sites have become indispensable in the evolution and integration of the radical Islamists.
The role of the media in indoctrinating the violent extremist Islamist narrative into the young, gullible and impressionable Muslim minds has been corroborated by numerous research findings. It has been proven that mass communication portals and social networking sites are facilitating the interconnection between the radical ideologues and the gullible Muslim youth (Ashour, 2007). This situation has triggered an academic debate on the media and its key role in mediating and popularizing, directly or indirectly, the radicals’ extremist narratives among a wider section of the Muslim audience.
This mediated extremist indoctrination can only be countered by a counter-narrative communicated through mass media, digital media, websites, online newspapers, blogs, wikis, internet TV and most importantly social media. In short, media can greatly help in countering and curbing the extremist narratives. O. Ashour makes it patently clear in his book: “as opposed to its effects on radicalization, media can play a vital role in promoting a counter narrative and in facilitating counter-radicalization and de-radicalization efforts”. (Ashour, 2009)
Mediated De-Radicalization and the Hizmet
Since the process of the jihadist indoctrination and recruitment of the Muslim youth through media is on the rampage, a well-thought-out, well-reasoned and effective intellectual refutation of the extremist narratives was imperative, particularly for the moderate Islamic scholars and thinkers. Given this, the Hizmet movement has effectively communicated a moderate Islamic narrative of peace, counter-terrorism and de-radicalization using mass media, print and electronic media and new media including websites, online newspapers, blogs, internet TV and social media.
So far, a number of English, Turkish, Arabic, and Urdu research scholars have produced considerable works on the Hizmet movement and its peace activism and engagement in counter-extremism. However, most of them are primarily designed for the popular consumption and regular audience, and not for the academia. These publications lack objective positioning. None the less, they help a long way in developing a nuanced understanding of the Hizmet’s approach toward rooting out extremism and violence on an ideological level. They also clearly expound Gulen’s theories of peace, violence and extremism. Thus, they lay the foundations for this study. A brief insight into the following references help us to understand it:
Ozcan Keles and Ismail Mesut Sezgin (2015) give a summary of Hizmet’s theological refutation of violent extremism in their co-authored book, “A Hizmet Approach to Rooting out Violent Extremism”. They try to buttress the point that the Hizmet proactively deals with the violent extremism and refutes the tenets of its ideology with a ‘comprehensive, deep-rooted, and robust interpretation of Islam’s primary sources – the Qur’an and Hadith’. Based on empirical evidence, they draw a conclusion that the essential Islamic teachings on which the Hizmet is based can act as a ‘positive counter-narrative’ to religious extremism and radicalization.
Among the distinct features of this joint work is that, unlike other related reading materials, it offers an in-depth analysis of the Hizmet’s ‘default approach’ towards countering violent extremism in an attempt to point out both factors of the radicalization: ideology and indoctrination. Helen Rose Ebaugh (2010), an American professor specializing in the Sociology of Religion, examined the political economy of the Hizmet Movement in her book titled, “A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam”. Ebaugh infers that the civic movement, being deeply rooted in moderate vision of Islam, is actively engaged in fostering interfaith dialog, promoting moderate thoughts and peaceful ideas and thus richly contributing to global peace and nonviolence. Based on interview data and extensive visits to the Hizmet institutions in Turkey and in the United States, Ebaugh’s research helps in understanding the different facets of the Hizmet movement as an effective anecdote to religious extremism in the Muslim society.
It also widely covers the recent Media Attention that the Hizmet Movement has garnered. Ebaugh writes that “a number of widely read and reputable journals have taken note of Mr. Gulen and the many service projects, such as schools, hospitals, dormitories and nonprofit charities that are inspired by his ideas”. Muhammed Cetin (2009) studied this spiritually-inclined movement in his research and had his book, ―The Gulen Movement: Civic Service without Borders, published. It focused on motivation for participations that include spiritual resources and moral values like altruism which constitute the social capital for the peaceful civil society movement. It also delves on how they developed volunteerism, dialog and relationships to achieve shared universal values such as competiveness and non-materialistic and non-contentious services in nine countries.
Cetin concludes that the Hizmet Movement does not rely on reactionary, political or antagonistic interest nor a sect or cult. It is a collective action to pursue long-term humanitarian objectives that exhort to completely shun extremism, radicalization and terrorism (Cetin, 2009). Zeki Saritoprak (2007) explained at the SOAS conference organized by the University of London, that Gulen believes in the integrity of the individual; his approach to social restoration and peace building, therefore, is one of “bottom-up” social change which is similar to the famous Muslim sociologist Ibn Khaldun’s understanding of building peace; that is, philosophy, individual efforts and sacrifices remain essential, where he says, ―peace in society is possible through willingness of an individual to subordinate to the group. Without this, peace and social development are not possible (Saritoprak, 2007).
Introduction to the Hizmet’s Founder, Mr. Fethullah Gülen
An Islamic modernist, Mr. Fethullah Gulen (1938) is a Turkish-origin US-based scholar, thinker, author, poet and an educationist engaged in peace activism, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and promotion of moderate thoughts, modern sciences, democracy and spirituality among Muslims. Gulen’s website introduces him as an “authoritative mainstream Turkish Muslim scholar…. who supports interfaith and intercultural dialogue, science, democracy and spirituality and opposes violence and turning religion into a political ideology” (FGülen.com, April 8, 2010).
Gulen’s Understanding of Islam and Political Islamism
Gulen viewed Islam as a spiritual and ethical path to eternal salvation, rather than a political ideology to conquer the portions of earth. Therefore, Gulen is actively opposed to the politically motivated attempts to turn Islam into a totalitarian ideology, as the scholars precisely put it: “Islam, for Gulen, is not a political project to be implemented. It is a repository of discourse and practice for the evaluation of a just and ethical society.” (Weller, Paul & Ihsan Yılmaz, 2012)
He critiqued the political Islamism in his writings and oral statements, for instance, in the following remarks: “When those who have adopted Islam as a political ideology rather than a religion in its true sense and function, review their activities and attitudes they claim to be based on Islam, Especially political ones, will discover that they are usually moved by personal or national anger, hostility, and other similar motives A Muslim’s beginning point must have an Islamic basis. In the present situation, Muslims cannot act out of ideological or political partisanship and then dress this partisanship in Islamic garb, or represent mere desires in the form of ideas. If we can overcome this tendency, Islam’s true image will become known” (Robert A. Hunt and Yuksel A. Aslandogan, 2007).
Gulen’s Narrative of Peace and Counter-Extremism
Gulen has propounded unique and revolutionary theories grounded in spiritual Islamic doctrines, which can enlarge the ambit of modern approaches to peace, non-violence, counter-extremism and de-radicalization. Interestingly, he is not a social scientist but his blend of ideas is highly significant for peace and conflict resolution. He speaks emphatically about importance of peace and counter-extremism and explores new paradigms to respond to the issues of violent extremism in the modern context. Having categorically rejected religious extremism, he calls for dialogue and peace, which remain the defining credo of his work (En.fGülen.com 2002).
Inspiration for the Hizmet’s Engagement in De-Radicalization
Gulen’s ideas, drawn from Islamic sources, have inspired an influential faith-inspired civic body “Hizmet movement”. It is devoted to serving humanity and spreading Islam’s universal messages of peace and non- violence through social agencies such as education, health, interfaith dialogue, relief work and all other humanitarian programs. Going by an estimate, the Hizmet movement has a presence in over 160 countries with several thousands of secular educational institutions, hospitals, dialogue centers and relief programs. Most notably, they disseminate, in one way or other, the core peaceful Islamic precepts as counter-narratives against the violent extremism emanating from the gross misinterpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith, the two primary scriptures of Islam (Ozcan Keles and Ismail Mesut Sezgin, 2015).
The Hizmet’s Rhetoric against the Radicalism
The Hizmet’s rhetoric or arguments against the radicalism mainly rely on a “robust” and deepened understanding of the spirit and teachings of Islam’s primary sources, the Qur’an and Sunna. The founder-ideologue of the Hizmet and a progressive Islamic scholar, Mr. Fethullah Gulen propounds: “A true Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist cannot be a true Muslim because they are so fundamentally and diametrically opposed to each other, not just according to the ‘letter of Islam’ but also according to the ‘heart, soul and spirit of Islam’ (Ozcan Keles and Ismail Mesut Sezgin, 2015).
The Hizmet’s ideological underpinnings against violent extremism can be summed up in the following five points, as put forward by Mr. Fethullah Gulen:
(1) “Muslims must confront the totalitarian ideology because every terrorist act in the name of Islam profoundly affects all Muslims, alienating them from fellow citizens and deepening the misperceptions about their faith’s ethos”
(2) “When terrorists claim the Muslim mantle, then they bear this identity, if only nominally and members of the faith must do whatever possible to prevent this cancer from metastasizing in our communities”
(3) “Muslims must denounce violence and not fall prey to victimhood”
(4) “Having suffered oppression is no excuse for causing it or for failing to condemn terrorism”
(5) “That the terrorists are committing grave sins in the name of Islam is not merely an individual opinion; it is the inevitable conclusion of an honest reading of primary sources: the Quran and the accounts of the life of Prophet Muhammad”. (Fethullah Gulen, “Muslims Must Combat the Extremist Cancer”, The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 27, 2015)
The Hizmet’s Approach to De-Radicalization
The Hizmet has articulated an Islam-based approach to de-radicalization and counter extremism. Inspired by the inherently peaceful Islamic principles, it strives to strengthen peace, pluralism, non-violence and dialogue based on a solid spiritual foundation laid down by Gulen’s philosophy grounded in Islam (Ozcan Keles and Ismail Mesut Sezgin, 2015). The Hizmet has developed a ‘positivist’ counter-narrative against radical, violent and extremist interpretations of Islam. By dismantling the narratives of victimhood and conspiracy theories, the Hizmet counter-extremism narrative offers a moderate understanding of faith enjoining a complete, comprehensive and coherent discourse of peace, pluralism, tolerance, diversity, dialogue and education. As Marthe Hesselmans succinctly puts it; “Thus, it offers an alternative take on tolerance in which a strong religious group identity is balanced with flexibility towards people, values and customs outside one’s own boundaries” (Marthe Hesselmans, 2014).
Media Representation of the Hizmet’s De-Radicalization
The Hizmet founder-ideologue Mr. Gulen has been on record in global media for his categorical, unequivocal position against the violent extremism and its justification by the jihadist ideologues. According to the Washington Post, he was the first Islamic scholar to publicly condemn the 9/11 attacks. (Paul Weller & Ihsan Yilmaz, 2012) Mr. Gulen has contributed to the international press scholarly articles on the Islamic perspective on counter-extremism and de-radicalization, condemning such acts on humanitarian and religious grounds.
In an article that appeared in Washington Post on September 12, 2001 after in the wake of the September 11 attacks, Gulen wrote a scholarly article in theological refutation of the terrorists. He contended that “A Muslim cannot be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim”. He also explained the link between the “terrorism” and “hijacking of Islam by terrorists”. (“A Real Muslim cannot be a Terrorist”, Fethullah Gulen, 2004 In a recent article published in The Wall Street Journal (Aug 27, 2015), Gulen has buttressed his points against violent extremism and its deep roots in the jihadist ideology. In this op-ed article entitled “Muslims Must Combat the Extremist Cancer: Denounce terrorism, defend human rights and promote education”. Mr. Gulen unequivocally rebutted the terror ideology, dismantling the narratives of victimhood and conspiracy theories in the Muslim society and expounding his counter-narrative to combat what he called “the extremist cancer”.
Besides, Gulen has given interviews to English, Turkish, Japanese, Kenyan and American newspapers in which he is reported to have denounced, in unequivocal terms, the use of political, ideological and religious justifications of violent actions. He has articulately communicated a moderate Islamic narrative of peace, non-violence and de-radicalization not only to the Western audience but also to congregations of thousands of Muslims in sermons and religious addresses.
Media Construction of the Hizmet’s Counter-narrative
The Hizmet’s counter-narrative against the religious extremism has been widely covered by the mainstream global media. Scores of news reports, op-ed articles, opinion pieces and editorials have been devoted to the Hizmet’s works, in several prominent international publications, newspapers and magazines such as The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Economist, the French magazine, Le Monde and The International Herald Tribune. In these publications, the Hizmet is reported to have articulated a moderate Islamic narrative of peace, non-violence and de-radicalization.
Many widely published and largely circulated newspapers and journals have given wide coverage to the Hizmet initiatives to educate the Muslim masses about the ideological ferocity of the violent extremist narratives in order to eradicate its menace. In its front page, the New York Times carried an article (dated May 4, 2008) buttressing the point that the Hizmet-supported or Gulen-inspired schools educate the Muslim children in Pakistan about a tolerant, pluralistic and composite Islamic culture by inculcating in their minds a gentler strand of Islam; that is “moderate and flexible, comfortably coexisting with the West while remaining distinct from it.”
In an article dated January, 18, 2008 published by Forbes’ Oxford Analytica, the magazine says under the title “Gulen Inspires Muslims Worldwide” that the Hizmet movement has the potential to prevent the Muslim youth from the creeping radicalisation. The Economist carried three articles, in a succession, on the Hizmet initiatives. One of these articles (published on January 30, 2008) gives the Hizmet’s founder an epithet of “a liberal Muslim cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in America.” The article speaks at length that the volunteers and activists associated with the Hizmet profess and preach the universal values such as brotherhood of mankind, altruism and non-conformism.
In an article dated January 18, 2008, The International Herald Tribune explained how the Hizmet’s founder-idealogue, Mr. Fathullah Gulen turned today into “an inspiration for Muslims who feel at home in the modern world.”
The Hizmet’s Media outlets
In his book “A Different Take on Tolerance? Gulen’s Alternative to Islam Controversies in Germany”, Marthe Hesselmans details the channels through which Hizmet movement mediates and popularizes its counter-extremism discourses among the common Muslim masses. The book unravels how the Hizmet engages in its own media in order to tackle the onslaught of the violent extremist narratives. In brief, the Hizmet media engagement is focused on its intellectual efforts to identify the root causes of violent extremism among Muslims; that are, according to the Hizmet, “certain mindsets and conditions that violent extremists manipulate to win over new recruits”. (Hesselmans, 2014) Fethullah Gulen himself engages in media, both in the electronic and print media, very proactively. He also exhorts the Hizmet activists to enhance their media activism with an aim to foster dialogue, peace activism, and intercultural harmony to de-radicalize the Muslim jihadist recruits as well as those vulnerable to them.
Inception of the Hizmet’s Media
With the liberalization of the media and the political environment in the 1980s, the Hizmet became actively engaged in both press and TV channels. It started substantially investing in print and broadcast media to communicate its peaceful, pluralistic and universal messages popularizing its discourse on counter-extremism and de-radicalization of the Muslim society. In 1979, the first Hizmet monthly journal, Sizinti was published by the Teachers’ Foundation, an education-based Turkish organization inspired by Fethullah Gulen. It became the best seller monthly journal in Turkey. This magazine largely carries contents conveying that religion and science or faith and reason are not adversary or rival to each other. Thus, the magazine aims at awakening the Muslim youth both scientifically and spiritually in an effort to prevent them from any effect of ‘blind faith’ leading to radicalization.
In 1986, the Hizmet published a mainstream daily newspaper “Zaman” which enjoys a large circulation in Turkey and has also an online edition (ClickPress, 2009). With regular columnists covering national and international affairs, business, interviews, and a culture section, Zaman voices the concerns of the Hizmet and its founder-ideologue, Mr. Fethullah Gulen. Despite the newspaper’s clearly stated moderate and progressive Islamic vision and its complete endorsement of secular and democratic values, the newspaper is critiqued as “Islamist” (Rachel Sharon-Krespin, 2009).
In addition to the daily newspaper “Zaman”, the Hizmet volunteers are also running several other newspapers, magazines and journals, most notably Today’s Zaman (English daily newspaper), Aksiyon (a Turkish news magazine), Yeni Ümit (meaning: New Hope, a culture magazine in the Turkish language published since 1988), The Fountain Magazine (a bimonthly magazine of scientific and spiritual thoughts published since 1993), Hira (the first Arabic magazine from Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire). Hira is considered a ‘platform’, rather than a magazine. Launched in October 2005, it claims to have attracted more than 2,500 Arab scholars and academicians and thus connecting the Arab world with Turkey. Thus, the Hizmet’s works on peace and counter-extremism are also promulgated in the Arab world (Nevzat Savaş, 2011).
Electronic Media (TV & Radio Broadcasting)
After the Hizmet established its newspapers, journals and magazines, it launched radio stations, TV channels, web-magazines and online media portals across Turkey and aboard. In the 1990s, it launched an international Turkish language TV channel “Samanyolu TV”. Samanyolu is a media company operating radio and television broadcasting, publication and distribution of newspapers. ”. With its headquarters in Istanbul, this international Samanyolu has 9 other TV channels Mehtap (cultural & religious), Irmak (religious), Hira (Arabic-cultural), Dunya (Kurdish-cultural), Samanyolu Haber (24/7 news channel), Ebru (US-based English TV channel) and Yumurcak (children’s TV). The Hizmet radio station Burç FM is broadcasted in Turkey in 62 provinces including 115 district centers. It also broadcasts from Internet sites (Yavuz M., Hakan, 2003).
In 1994, The Hizmet established The International Cihan News Agency which is part of Feza Publications, which also owns Zaman newspaper and Aksiyon. It produces news pertaining to the current national affairs, foreign affairs, economy, politics, culture, art and sports. According to Wikipedia, it is daily servicing approximately 450 written news, 315 photos and 100 video news.
New Media (Internet Sites and Web Portals)
The Hizmet volunteers have set up a large number of web portals to publicize the movement’s narratives of peace, counter-extremism, dialogue, tolerance, social activism, acceptance and interfaith harmony. These new media include mostly internet sites and online forums such as: hizmet-movement.net, Gülenmovement.com, www.fGülen.com, hizmetnews.com, en.fGülen.com, fethullah- Gülen.org,Güleninstitute.org,hizmetstudies.org/fethullahGülenforum.org, hizmetreview.com, rumiforum.org and several others.
Using all these print media, electronic media and new media, the Hizmet communicates and publicizes a positive counter-narrative against extremism stressing core universal values—peaceful coexistence, unity in multiplicity, tolerance and acceptance, interfaith dialogue, peace and pluralism.
Hizmet’s Refutation of the Extremist Narratives in Media
A well-considered approach to the mediated de-radicalization is refuting and rebutting the televangelists’ misinterpretations or misunderstandings of scriptures that, if unchallenged, may catch the imagination of the religiously passionate and impressionable minds. The Hizmet has been proactive in media engaging in countering xenophobic literature, extremist sermons and the present-day radical Islamist televangelism to root out the radicalization of the Muslim youth. As empirical evidence, it is pertinent to put forth Gulen’s response to Qatar-based Islamist Televangelist Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who came up with a theological justification of suicide bombings in Israel during his religious rhetoric. Gulen strongly critiqued this justification of suicide attacks.
He retorted: “Apparently, Qaradawi has said that this (suicide bombing) is legitimate in Islam since they (Palestinians) have no other weapons to use. I was deeply saddened when I heard this statement by Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b.1926) because he, like Ratib al-Nabulsi (b.1938), Said Ramadan al- Buti (d.2013) and Hassan al-Turabi (b.1932) are well-known people in the Muslim world. They are not average people; they are well-known. When they speak, it is as if they speak on behalf of Islam and as a result, Islam is negatively impacted by this statement. How can he legitimise such an act? On what Islamic rule or principle does he base this opinion?
That does not mean I am suggesting that we remain indifferent to what is happening there – I die with every person I see dying in those lands. But this form of action is not in accordance with the “pleasure of God” or with reason.’ (Kanlı Arenada Islam Imajı, Bamteli, 2005) The Hizmet’s theological refutation of violent extremist narratives has been worked out in a consistent, coherent and effective way. Mostly based on the Gulen’s sermons and statements, the Hizmet counter-narrative is widely communicated through the various forms of new media that the Hizmet has launched in its centers, institutes and branches across the world. (Keles and Sezgin, 2015)
A critical analysis of the Hizmet’s refutations of the extremists’ theological and ideological underpinnings clears its position that the mainstream moderate narrative of Islam, which the movement adheres to, is completely antithetical to the extremist Islamist doctrines (ibid.). Based on a canonical understanding of the primary Islamic scriptures, Gulen offers a wellreasoned and progressive interpretation of the terminologies and references such as jihad, hakimiyah (God’s rule over the earth), khilafah (Islamic caliphate) and ishtishhad (divine martyrdom) and al-wala wal-bara (love for the sake of God and hatred for Him). These are some of the Islamic doctrines that the radical Jihadists misconstrue to justify their acts of violence and extremism. With a sizeable corpus of Gülen’s writings and oral statements based on scriptural reasoning, the Hizmet has evolved a complete and coherent online literature that refutes the jihadist ideology point by point, clause by clause.
Thus, the movement tries to prevent the gullible and vulnerable Muslim minds from falling prey to the extremist Islamist indoctrination (Dialogue Society, 2011). Furthermore, Gülen has redefined the medieval jurisprudential terms such as “dar alkufr (abode of disbelief) and dar al-Islam (abode of belief)” which were instrumentalised to present a dichotomous worldview of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. He strongly exhort the Hizmet volunteers to replace all such exclusivist terms with a spiritual Islamic concept “dar alhizmah” (abode of service) viewing the whole world as one family of God (ayal al-Allah) and hence he enjoins them to serve and help each other. In a nutshell, Hizmet’s theological curriculum on peace and counter-extremism, freely accessible in the online media, is entirely based on a deepened, balanced and insightful understanding of the two foundational scriptures of Islam—the Qur’an and Hadith (Keles and Sezgin, 2015).
At a time when the process of the extremist indoctrination, jihadist recruitment and radicalization of the Muslim youth through media is on the rampage, the Hizmet has evolved a complete, coherent, well-reasoned, spiritually-inclined and effectively positive counter narrative against the global extremist underpinnings. Though it was an uphill task for the Hizmet’s founder, like other moderate Islamic scholars and thinkers, as the most Muslim governments are not serious about it, he mustered the courage to work out a counter extremist narrative in the mainstream media. Based on a solid intellectual foundation buttressed by reason and revelation, the Hizmet has mediated a coherent anti-extremist narrative of peace and pluralism, consistent in all respects with the core values of Islam, and suitable for both the present and future societies.
As a result of the Hizmet’s rigorous media activism, a moderate and sane Muslim voice against the violent extremism and radicalization is being heard and spread through the mainstream media as well as in the ‘new media’ easily accessible to the target audience. Emulating the Hizmet’s media-oriented approach to rooting out the growing radicalization, more and more moderate Muslims can rescue the young, gullible and impressionable Muslim minds going astray and becoming a prey to ‘online radicalization’. It can only be accomplished through an active media engagement as the Hizmet institutes and volunteers have epitomized.
- Ahmet Kurucan and Mustafa Kasim Erol, Dialogue in Islam: Qur’an, Sunnah, History (London: Dialogue Society, 2011) pp.16
- “BPA Audit Figures Reveal Turkish Newspaper As Having One of the Largest Subscriber Bases in Europe”. Click Press Global News Distribution, July 10, 2007, accessed February 1, 2016.
- John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and Donald N. McCloskey, The Rhetoric of Human Sciences: Language and Argument in Scholarship and Public Affairs (London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987).
- Fethullah Gülen, “Muslims Must Combat the Extremist Cancer”, The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 27, 2015, URL: http://www.wsj.com/articles/muslims-must-combatthe-extremist-cancer-1440718377, accessed January 5, 2016.
- Fethullah Gülen, “A Real Muslim cannot be a Terrorist”, Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, Vol. 1, No. 1-2 (2014), pp. 166
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