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The basic principles of the religion and the religious methodology

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in The Broken Jug

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Fethullah Gülen: The basic principles of the religion and the religious methodology

Question: In your talks, you frequently mention the significance of remaining loyal to the basic principles of the Religion and the religious methodology (Usul ad-Din, Kalam, or Islamic Theology). Could you elucidate this please?

Answer: The Usul ad-Din constitutes the basic essentials, principles and criteria of the religion. It is the essentials that set the framework for belief, the principles established with respect to knowing God Almighty,may His glory be exalted,the general considerations about the resurrection of people, and the truths stated aboutthe relationship between existence and humans, etc.

The walls around faith and Islam

During the early period of Islam, theseessentials were established by the noble Prophet himself andexisted as unwritten rules, but they were not specified within the framework of an academic discipline. Scholars who lived in later periods,such as Imam Maturidi and Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari,systemized these inherited truths in order of the most important issues to those less important. They also gaveelaborate explanations on how to prevent misinterpretation and deviation.

Similarly, matters of Islamic jurisprudence, such as how to let Islam truly permeate inreal life within the framework of the Qur’an and Sunnah; which methods shouldbe followed while deriving judgments from these two sources; and how problems encountered should be solved, also existed informally for a certain period of time. In later times, outstanding scholars of Islamic jurisprudence developed these matters into a discipline, determining their frameworks one-by-one. If individuals live within the orbit of these essential teachings—with God’s permission and grace—they will not be misguided, nor fall into conflict.

Since Islam is a universal religion that addresses all humanity until the end of time, it is possible to formnew interpretations and scholarly opinions as long as they comply with the essential principles. However, it is not correct to find fault with existing judgments established by the Qur’an and Sunnahand, claiming that there is no basis for these judgments anymore, assert them as invalid and replace them with other judgments. This is deviation from the established judgments of Islamic Theology. Once a person begins to move away from the essential teachings, it is not possible to predictwhere the issue will lead. In addition, such behavior also indicates that the person is actually undergoing an alteration in terms of his world of thought. This means that a person who has undergone such alteration once has opened himself to a waterfall of alteration.

In order to avoid such alteration, which can separate a person far from the values he once followed, it is necessary to firmlyadhere to the essential sources of Muslims’ cultural heritage, the Qur’an and Sunnah being the first, since the Qur’an is Divine speech. Bediüzzaman said: “In the greatest mosque of theuniverse, the Qur’an reads the universe, so let’s listen to it. Let’s become filledwith its light and act according to its guidance. Let’s read it regularly! It is itsright to speak and what it says is true. The Qur’an is the truth, coming fromthe Ultimate Truth. It guides to the truth, spreading its light everywhere.”[1] With this statement, he pointed out that the sun of guidance to lead us to the right way is the Wise Qur’an, no matter what theconditions are.

It is baseless innovation to come up with something new that contradicts the essential principles derived from these heavenly sources. Every such innovation opens a door that leads to deviation.[2] A person must not deviate to groundless inventions eitherin thought, attitude, behavior or devotions, or inunderstanding and interpreting the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is such deviant invention in religion to see the Prophet—may God forbid—merely asa postman, to view the blessed Companions and the righteous early generations that followed them with certain different considerations, and to accept some improper attributes theschools of Mutazila and Jabriya ascribed to the Divine Essence (God Almighty Himself).

For example, it is heretical invention to claim that God Almighty is “obliged to” do certain things or claiming that He is “obliged to” pursue a certain worldly benefit. As it is stated in different verses: “God decrees as He wills” (al-Maedah 5:1); “He cannot be called to account for whatever He does, but their false deities (they have adopted from among conscious beings) are accountable” (al-Anbiya 21:23). God Almighty does whatever He wills, and brings everybody to account for what they did, but nobody has such a right to ask God about what He does.

Just as it is very important to understand the principles established by the Methodology of Islamic Jurisprudence in order to understand Islamic Jurisprudence correctly, it is also important to have a very good traditionof Islamic Theology (Kalam) to avoid such deviations in belief. Although they differ in the finer details, the imams of the four schools of law and their followers bequeathed a rich accumulation of knowledge tothe later generations. In the same way, first Imam Maturidi and Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari and then latereminent scholars tried to save us from deviation by authoring works on Islamic Theology. By adhering to theseestablished principles of Islamic Jurisprudence and Theology, it is possible to succeed in forming new interpretations necessitated by time and in legitimately developing the fields of Islam that are open to scholarly judgments with critical interpretation and deductive reasoning, taking present conditions into consideration. However, if the essential principles are not adhered to, even if the time is insightfully understood and very good interpretations are made, they will not amount to anything more than misguided innovations.

Neither the principles nor manners should be sacrificed

Complying with the essential teachings also holds true for the issue of conveying the values of our spiritual heritage to different parts of the world and taking from them what we will. If we are not duly scrupulous about this important matter, there is the risk of committing certain mistakes.For example, we might be unnecessarily compliant and submissive for the sake of expressingcertain truths to others.We might prioritize their pleasure for the sake of what we are doing, instead of seeking God’s good pleasure.We might primarily feel fond of the people themselves, try to appear congenial to them, or commit the mistake of preference whendetermining the priority of the seats we spare for people in the world of our heart. All such things actually contradict the principles of Islamic Theology. The Qur’an commands believers to primarily love believers themselves in the first place, and to not take others as friends instead of them.[3] On the other hand, a believer’s totally cutting off relations with people other than believers and completely turning his back on them, similarly contradicts the essential teachings. The Qur’an states that not all of the People of the Book are the same, thatamong the People of the Book there is an upright community, reciting God’s Revelations in the watches of the night and prostrating (themselves in worship), they invite people to truth, and when they hear the message ofthe Qur’an, their eyes brim over with tears due to encountering the truth they are familiar with (from their own Books).[4] Therefore, all People of the Book should not be judged equally.Likewise, God Almighty stated that there is nothing wrong in gaining their hearts by performing acts ofkindness forthem with the Divine statement meaning: “God does not forbid you, as regards those who do not make war against you on account of your Religion, nor drive you away from your homes, to be kindly to them, and act towards them with equity...” (al-Mumtahina 60:8). Hence, it is praiseworthy behavior to find a means of relation with everyone in consideration of where they stand, establishing a relationship with them and letting them reach you as well.

The scrupulousness of a Jewel Smith at presenting certain good things

The heroes of love and tolerance who dispersed from Anatolia to the four corners of the worldencounter and interact with people raised in different cultural environments. They need to have good background knowledge of the people prior to interacting with them. First of all, it is necessary to know about those people’s worldview, beliefs, and character, topredictwell how they may respond to what they hear, and to start speaking to them afterwards.

Another point that calls for scrupulousness regardingthis issue is to avoid acting contrary to Islamic Theology for the sake of gaining the heart of the person addressed and seeming more amicable. For example, when you engage in dialogue with a religious person or organization, if there are no statements in the Qur’an and Sunnah about the religious figure those people see as holy, then our expressions and statements must be within that framework.On the other hand, it is possible to convey the Qur’anic approach about Prophets Moses, David, Solomon, Abraham, John, and Jesus, peace be upon them,or the considerations of God’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, about them and thusopen a door onto common ground where we can share the inspirations of our soul with them. For example, once a Companion and a Jewish man were arguingaboutwhether Prophet Moses was more superior or the noble Prophet and the Companion slapped the man. Upon this, the Messenger of God said, “Do not give me superiority over Moses, for on the Day of Resurrection all the people will fall unconscious and I will be one of them, but I will be the first to gain consciousness, and will see Moses standing and holding a side of the Throne. I will not know whether (Moses) also fell unconscious and got up before me, or whether God exempted him from that stroke.”[5] With this example, we can express the modesty and virtuous attitude of the Perfect Guide toward a Prophet regarded as one of the Masters of Determination. Another point of consideration here is to avoid provoking reactions from people. We must avoid like the plague every kind of attitude and behavior that would reflect Muslims as being petty and simple. In order to comply with the essentials of Islamic Theology on this issue, it is necessary to have a good knowledge of the noble Prophet’s philosophy of conduct, together with the way and methods followed by his Companions.

The volunteers in our time must have a good knowledge of the Qur’anic teaching and Sunnah, which we can see as theexpounding of this teaching. It is necessary to organize seminars to learn these two main sources of the religion and the principles they established, and to educate people properly about this issue. Otherwise, for the sake of explaining the religion to others, some may be clumsy or make certain mistakes thatcontradict the principles of Islamic Theology.

In the past, people who tried to express truths would ask one another, “How many people perished because of you?” in order to fan the flames of self-criticism. In other words, “How many people visitedyourspherebut were repelled from religion because of your inconsiderateness?” In order to save others and avoid them perishing we must exert our brains, find aproper way, never be mistaken with the method and manner, and try to present the truthsin the most appealing fashion.

Half a doctor costs you your life, half a scholar costs you your faith

If a person does not have the proper ways and manners and is not knowledgeable about the essential principles of the Qur’an, the message of the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and the conduct of the righteous figures of the early generations of Muslims, then it is always possible for him to be misguided by Satan, even if outwardly he seems to be a wise spiritual guide around whom people gather. Satan might misguide such a person sometimes by means of extraordinary happenings, and sometimes by whispering certain things into his ear;he might thus causethat person to fall for some ten wrongs besides one truth, and temptthat person toward different kinds of deviation.

However, a person who is well-equipped with knowledge of Islamic Theology will be aware that he is not reinforced by Divine revelation. Such a person knows that he needs to test by means of the criteria of the Qur’an and Sunnah whatever is whispered into his ear, what comes to his vision or what he feels in his heart, and whatever addresses his inner senses. If itconforms with the Word of God, the authenticated Tradition of the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him,or the essentials established by the righteous figures of the early generations, then he welcomes it with feelings of gratitude and thankfulness. Otherwise, he does not credit any of these. In this regard, it is dangerous for those who do not have knowledge ofIslamic Theology to assume the position of a spiritual guide. According to Sheikh al-Naqshbandi, it is not possible for a person who has not mastered Islamic disciplines to be assigned as a spiritual guide. Namely, such a person needs to know both instrumental disciplines such as grammar, syntax, and semantics, and also disciplines such as Islamic Jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, Hadith, Islamic Theology, and their methodologies.

In earlier times, these qualifications were sought in those who were assigned as spiritual guides and teachers of truths. Those who were not equipped with the necessaryscholarly knowledge were not assigned tothis duty. In our time however, considerations such as continuing the existence of Sufi lodges and not letting those who gathered around these establishments disperse has led to the authorization ofpeoplewho are not erudite in religious disciplines and who are not eligible for this responsibility. Actually, this is not much different from authorizing a veterinarianto perform open-heart surgery on a human patient. To put it in the words of folk wisdom: “Half a doctor costs you your life, half a scholar costs you your faith.”

Therefore, it is very important for those who wish to take on the responsibility ofspiritual guidance to be well-versed in the Islamic disciplines, and to have a sound knowledge of the methodologies of Islamic Theology and Jurisprudence. Otherwise, even if they set forth with the good intention of guiding people to the truth, they might unintentionally commit so many mistakes.

Let us conclude the subject by remembering the words of Niyazi-i Mısri:

Do not adhere to any guide, lest he takes you through steep ways;
Those who walk behind a true guide, surely take a path of much ease.

[1] Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Words, New Jersey: The Light, 2013, p. 46.
[2] Sahih Muslim, Jumu’ah, 43; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Eidayn, 22; Sunan Ibn Majah, Muqaddima 7.
[3] Al Imran 3:28; an-Nisa 4:144; al-Maedah 5:51.
[4] Al Imran 3:113; al-A’raf 7:159; al-Maedah 5:83.
[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, Khusumat, 1; Anbiya, 31; Riqaq, 43; Tawhid, 31; Sahih Muslim, Fada’il, 157.

This article has originally been published in Turkish on 25/04/2016.