The evolution of the Ottoman Empire into a Turkish secular state brought with it authoritative and oppressive political reform, which ultimately changed the way Islam was able to be practiced in the public sphere and the influence it had over the nation.
The radical secular regime also lead to the birth of Diyanet (Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs) in 1924 – the official state institution established to execute the works concerning the beliefs, worship, and ethics of Islam and control of the sacred places of worship.
In the recent decade, Diyanet has been utilised by the Erdogan regime to stifle critics through religious rhetoric. It has been a particularly effective tool in furthering Turkey’s post coup crackdown on the Gulen movement, by releasing reports prepared mainly by the former President of Diyanet, Dr Mehmet Gormez, and sermons, in which scholar Fethullah Gulen and his followers were accused of heresy and treason.
In late 2020, Dr Mehmet Gormez spoke about excommunication and accusations of heresy in Islam whilst referring to controversial religious statements made by Dr Mustafa Ozturk.
Dr Gormez stated that while he did not agree with Dr Ozturk’s comment that the Quran cannot be the word of Allah, Ahl-al Sunnah needed to evaluate Dr Ozturk under the sphere of Ahl al-Qibla.
He proclaimed that it was not acceptable to skilfully and selectively quote people to take their words out of context, and thus the excommunication of Dr Ozturk was wrong.
Dr Ergun Capan, who completed his PhD in Islamic Studies, published an article titled ‘Selective Quoting and Perception Engineering: A Critique of ‘F Gulen’ Report by Diyanet’.
The article aimed to evaluate the extent to which Diyanet’s team, headed by Dr Gormez, adhered to the aforementioned principle of Ahl al-Sunnah in their report on Fethullah Gülen.
In the article, Dr Capan attempts to examine whether the report titled ‘FETO In His Own Words: Organised Abuse of Religion’, in which Dr Gormez wrote the preamble, measured up to his commendable ‘methodological and moral standards’.
The report quoted the following words from Gulen’s sermon dated 16 November 1989:
“A believer enters into the atmosphere of the reverence and affection of the One that is meant to be revered and excited from the moment they enter a mosque. That gathering is such that on the pulpit is Allah who looks, sees, hears and intimately knows all about us. And if there is one person who walks between your rows and among you and provided he is given permission from above, who is present in all gatherings about him to bestow blessings onto the gathering, it is Muhammad Mustafa (pbuh)… the presence Muhammad Mustafa (pbuh) who looks in His eyes and observes His beauty.”
Dr Capan stated that Diyanet’s report concluded that Gulen’s claim reduced Allah’s existence to a specific location, and that he was wrongly influencing and risking the faith of the masses as Allah is beyond the physical realm.
The report also found that Gülen likened Allah to humans by attributing Him physical attributes such as eyes, claiming his Islamic knowledge was deficient and that he abused sacred values.
By way of example, Dr Capan thoroughly measured the report’s above finding against the criteria of the Ahl al-Sunnah, to unearth the “Diyanet’s attempt to engineer perception by selectively quoting Gulen”.
In doing, so Capan stated the following criticism:
- “Since Görmez believes that “judgment should not be passed by selectively quoting and by excerpting from a speech” the above excerpts of Gülen’s sermons should have been assessed within their original context. As a preacher, it is perfectly normal and expected that Gülen, a powerful orator, makes use of such strategies to convey his messages.”
- “There are many metaphorical expressions in the Quran and the Sunnah,” he continued. “If we were to apply the methodology in Diyanet’s report to [ayahs in the Quran]… one would have to conclude that… these verses would pose a challenge from an Islamic perspective and they would have to be rejected.
- Dr Capan then explained that scholars of Kalam, who studied the articles of Islamic faith, have pointed out that metaphorical and allegorical expressions in the Quran and Sunnah have been included to assist people in understanding higher truths and have cautioned against taking their meaning literally as it may lead to heresy.
In Diyanet’s own publications, the importance of metaphorical expression has been emphasised. In Diyanet’s Encyclopedia of Islam’s entry on anthropomorphism, is it emphasised that it is deviation and disbelief to interpret [metaphorical] expressions in the Quran and Hadith literally without recognising the relationship between the metaphors and the truth they refer to,” he continued.
With regards to anthropomorphism, Capan proclaimed that Gulen’s position is the same as the Ahl al-Sunnah ulamah, as he believes that attributing body parts to Allah, such as hand, feet and eyes, is heresy, and has made it numerously clear that Allah is free from space and time.
Lastly, Capan refers to a multitude of renowned Muslim scholars who have expressed their support for Fethullah Gulen’s ideas and affirmed that his approach to belief and Islamic service are in line with Ahl al-Sunnah.
Some of these named scholars include Prof Dr Muhammad ‘Imārah, one of the most significant ulama of today; Prof Dr Saīd Ramadān al-Būtī, who is one of the distinguished Muslim scholars of our time; Prof Dr Fathī al-Hijāzī of Al-Azhar University, Egypt, and Prof Dr Ahmad Ali Rabi’ of Al-Azhar University, Egypt.
Dr Capan concludes the article by stating that “the Diyanet report on Gulen, which was ordered to be prepared by Prof Gormez himself was based on a misguided method, represented a double standard and was compiled through multiple examples of selective quoting”.