The movement, which is not sponsored by a government or by a political party, is a transnational civic initiative rooted in the spiritual and humanistic tradition of Islam. One of the main goals of the Hizmet organization has been the elevation of a Muslim consciousness that is compatible with modern civil democracy and opposed to Islamism. 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; strangely enough, many groups that have put themselves forward under the banner of Islam export a distorted image of Islam and actually strengthen it.
As a Muslim movement, Hizmet seeks to revitalize religious faith, and it also believes Islam has a role to play in enriching and sustaining civic and democratic political life. But in sharp contrast with Islamists, the participants of Hizmet do not seek to become a political party, nor do they seek political power for themselves or for the purposes of spreading a particular political ideology.
Instead, the movement aims to improve modern society and advance human flourishing by strengthening spirituality and individual piety. Indeed, the importance of Sharia law is mentioned only two times in the Holy Book and whereas the exigency of faith is manifest on numerous pages. Through a learned reconstruction of traditional Sufism and concepts, the study shows, among other things, the limits and fundamental poverty of Islamist thought and it helps to overcome the seeming incompatibility of Islam and civil democratic modernity.
His sermons are full of symbolism, allegories and aphorisms; instead of canonical interpretation, the spiritual and internal dimensions of Islamic belief are accentuated.
Such emotional performances serve as an expressive vehicle to establish connections between the earliest Muslims and contemporary ones. Through this, a type of saintly personality is suggested as a model for emulation, and believers are encouraged to take as their life-project the goal of triumphing over carnal desires, politicized ambitions and the fleeting pleasures that the world offers to the egotistical self.
In this, members of the Hizmet depart from the ways of the dervishes of the traditional Sufi brotherhoods. Indeed, as Paul Heck has argued, in contrast to the puritanism of Wahhabism, the anti-modern pietism of Tablighism, and the harsh and enmity-filled ideology of contemporary jihadism, reformed Sufism as practiced by the Hizmet movement adopts a positive view of the modern world.
For Hizmet members, self-negating service to others can be regarded as a form of modern religious practice.
This service to others is a function of individual choice; unlike in some traditional Sufi orders where prayer is imposed on individuals by the larger community, service to others is not externally-imposed or strictly systematized in Hizmet practice. Instead, individuals are encouraged to choose the intensity and frequency of their practice. Because of this core teaching, it is not surprising that the movement has expanded rapidly—and not only in Muslim countries, but also in non-Muslim ones.
Hizmet practitioners have rendered service to others in more than countries. Instead, Islam is a call to critical engagement and communication with others and to working together for shared goals like the betterment of human society. Of course, in some secularist contexts—such as in the post-Soviet countries of the larger Turkic world—this could be seen as a challenge to the normative framework and to purely a-religious forms of sociability. This may be one reason why critics have mistakenly suspected the Hizmet members as crypto-Islamists and of harboring hidden agendas.
This is a projection of worldly mysticism onto his understanding of secularism. In fact, he seeks to eradicate the elements which give rise to actual and potential conflict between Islamic religious interests and the modern world. For these reasons, he seeks to prove that science and Islam are not at odds. In his view, the more Muslims witnessed the perfect order of nature by the use of modern sciences, the greater they understand God.
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Through this, the modern idea of progress through the advance of science, technology and education is shown to be perfectly compatible with an esoteric and spiritual understanding of Islam. As he writes:. Secularization is inevitable characteristic of human nature. But man is not only a body. He has a soul, too. He has a metaphysic dimension besides the physical one. He has both sacred and profane aspects. Therefore a perfect democracy can welcome both the physical and metaphysical needs of its subjects. The needs of a person are not solely made up of worldly needs. People should have the benefits of freedom of thought and freedom of economic action, but they also have another side which is open to eternity… If democracy is to be a full-fledged democracy, it needs to include things that help to fulfill such demands and it needs to give support to them.
That means, democracy requires a metaphysical dimension. It also needs a side that is open to our accounts for the other world, to our unfulfilled accounts. Why not have such a democracy? The Hizmet movement does not make the stark distinctions that Islamists make between Islam and un-Islam. For these reasons, the movement has spearheaded inter-faith initiatives and other forms of outreach aimed at curtailing the clash between Islam and the West promoted by Islamist movements and others.
As John O. As the impact of the educational activities of those influenced by him attests, his vision bridges modern and postmodern, global and local, and has a significant influence in the contemporary debates that shape the visions of the future of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. On the issue of Islam and democracy, one should remember that the former is a divine and heavenly religion, while the latter is a form of government developed by human beings.
In this approach, the separation of the religious and political domains that civil democratic modernity rests upon is obvious; human beings are existentially free not only to make choices about their personal lives but also to make choices with regard to their political actions. If a state In the presence of such a state there is no need to seek an alternative state. The Quran is an explanation of the reflections of the divine names on earth and in the heavens… It is an inexhaustible source of wisdom. Such a book should not be reduced to the level of political discourse, nor should it be considered a book about political theories or forms of state.
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To consider the Quran as an instrument of political discourse is a great disrespect for the Holy Book and is an obstacle that prevents people from benefiting from this deep source of divine grace. On the basis of this, the Hizmet movement seeks to promote a new Islamic attitude, one that embraces secularism and that stresses tolerance and respect for all people regardless of their faith and worldview.
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Such an attitude is not only necessary for civil democratic modernity, but it is also required in Civil Islam. The spread of Civil Islam has helped not only to usher in the post-Kemalist era, but it has also stimulated changes inside Turkish Islamism. Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Arab societies, the Turkish Islamist movement in the s was hostile toward modernity, and it conflated religious belief with the need to struggle against the secular order and Western influences. The spread of Islamist ideology, therefore, has only sharpened the distinction between religious faith and loyalty to the modern Turkish state and its founding secularist ideology.
But Civil Islam offers Muslims an alternative model, one that shows that it is possible to live as a pious Muslim while embracing secular democratic pluralism. Through this, religious faith and citizenship have become increasingly reconciled for sizeable segments of the Turkish electorate. The spread of Civil Islam has opened new possibilities for engagement with civil democratic institutions, just as it has counteracted Islamist efforts to politicize religion and fostered a new post-Islamist orientation.
Civil Islam has also been a major factor behind the political rise of the AKP.
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In many ways, the new Anatolian middle class embodies the Hizmet teachings: they are religiously conservative, but democratically and civically engaged professionals and business people. Civil Islam is deeply influential in Anatolia through Hizmet-affiliated educational and media institutions.
In fact, many Anatolian businesspeople as well as AKP politicians have sent their children to Hizmet schools. As a whole, this has weakened the appeal of radical Islamism on the wider socially conservative masses of Anatolia, who have become increasingly open to international engagements. Today, participants of the Hizmet movement are actively seeking to influence the AKP by stressing the importance of cooperation with non-Muslims and secularist Muslims, and also democracy and human rights.
Civil Islam as it has evolved in Turkey has the potential to influence other Muslim societies. Major developments in Turkey have already been followed by considerable interest by the media, thinkers and activists in many Muslim societies, and for its part, the Hizmet movement has increased its activities throughout the Muslim world. In , the Hizmet movement responded to criticism that it was not paying sufficient attention to the Muslim world in comparison with its focus on dialogue with non-Muslims by launching a new initiative of the Abant Platform, which is a part of Journalists and Writers Foundation in Istanbul.
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