Re: “Islam is compatible with democracy”, have your say, March 1.
Terry Hayden refers to a ray of hope within contemporary Islam by the name of Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen movement. A former imam and politically active moderate, Gulen lives in exile in the US because there is an arrest warrant for him in his native Turkey.
Although he may seem a moderate, this perception must be placed in realistic context. He is an advocate of the Hanafi, one of four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni sharia law. Thus he supports the divine nature of sharia above all secular law as contained in the following Hanafi foundational texts: Kitab al-kharaj and Kitab al-siyar (doctrine of war against unbelievers, distribution of spoils of war among Muslims, apostasy and taxation of dhimmi (infidels).
With as many as 6 million followers and dissident status, Gulen may, from the perspective of orthodoxy, be considered influential and moderate (he mentions democracy and demonstrates an enthusiasm for Sufism). However, this does not represent a significant sea change in Islamic thought.
Although Sufism is the pinnacle of Islamic spiritual thought and its expression, it is almost exclusively an attribute of the Sunni Muslim tradition and has been subject to violent extremist opposition from the Shia and especially the Wahabi sects, almost to the point of complete annihilation during the 20th century.
The fact that Gulen must live in exile to escape persecution is evidence of the unpopular nature of the reformist ideals suggested by his recent letter to Le Monde. In addition, in keeping with Islamist thought presented to “dhimmi” audiences, the real import is often concealed in idealistic platitudes crafted to achieve political goals. And let us not forget, Gulen is viewed, above all, as a politician in Turkey.