First and foremost, I do not intend to insult or smudge any Islamic jamaat. It is each person's choice to be a member of any jamaat as long as it does not turn into favoritism used to sneak into state positions and to tear society apart.
The best way to be united globally is to follow the true tenets of Islam while, at the same time, we should be exploring Islamic and nationalistic ways of uniting people at home. I have respect for those individuals, groups and jamaats that have a pure Islamic standing without judging, discriminating, disunifying or doing wrong. They deserve wholehearted respect.
I would like to discuss some issues related to domestic and global Islamic jamaats – not about all jamaats, as I have not able to meet all of them, but some which I have taken the opportunity to visit, observe and analyze through my various experiences. I will not name any particular jamaat for a number of reasons, one of which is that I do not wish to create any more factions among Muslims. Having encountered many people from diverse Islamic backgrounds, I just want to show the common mistakes of jamaats.
This is a very sensitive issue but it needs to be addressed so that we, as believers, will be able to follow the true pillars of Islam. This way, we can correct ourselves and encourage others to think from different angles.
Islam is high above all, including jamaats, sheiks and imams. Therefore, Islam is not built on any specific group or their teachings; instead, it has been revealed for all of humanity.
Common problems of jamaats
A general definition of jamaat is a group of people who come together for a collective purpose and share similarities. However, nowadays, jamaats divide Muslims by closing doors to others who have dissimilar thoughts within the Islamic community.
Muslim jamaats, including jamaats in Turkey, should truly change their way of thinking, approaching, integrating and instructing others.
What I have found is that each jamaat blames other jamaats, or each thinks that its way is the most correct one for gaining entry into paradise. There are some that are intolerant of criticism; in fact, these jamaats would simply excommunicate anyone who launched any form of criticism.
As Muslims, we are in theory one nation, but still a long way away from achieving that in practice. The primary goal is crystal clear: to unite Muslims regardless of race, nationality or color, at any cost.
We must embrace each other against all odds. No race, no sect, no sheik, no imam, no jamaat is better than Islam itself. Islam alone is what all Muslims should be following. No one has the right to judge any human being for following or sympathizing with other ideologies, having long hair, short hair, a trimmed beard, a long beard or any other personal choice. Every person is the architect of his own life, which means each person is responsible for his deeds – both good and bad – in this world and the afterlife.
I have come across many people, for example, who blame other jamaats for being too closed, or too open, or for following other sects of Islam, and many other useless accusations. However, those accusers do not acknowledge their own mistakes, and they forget that gossip is prohibited (haram) in Islam.
Teaching the holy Quran, guiding Muslims in a true way, educating people in accordance with Islamic values are all good actions in which every Muslim should take pride.
The case of Turkey
Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs should be more active in order to convince people that Turkey, as a state, is able to take good care of people’s beliefs. Increasing the public's trust is a huge responsibility for hodjas, imams and other religious authorities across Turkey.
Turkey in any case should be aware of a second Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) problem. I do not blame any jamaat or group. I just want Turkey and its people to feel safer and more prosperous and to experience fairness through a controlled balance between the public and jamaats.
It is OK for jamaats and other Islamic groups to exist. However, if any of these groups start to divide people based on their own ideologies, philosophies, doctrines and interpretations, then those groups help in keeping Muslims divided.
The Turkish people should feel that their own state is capable of instructing, teaching, delivering, explaining and meeting all sorts of demands of the Turkish public related to religion.
I have met with many people who do not give the salaam greeting to each other because the other person believes in a different sect in Islam or has a different ideology. If things have gotten this bad, questions must be asked as to what people are learning from their religious instructors.
One should ask out loud, what is it that makes those who follow any jamaat better than other Muslims? Why is it that they believe that they are so pious and others are not?
Jamaats and Islamic groups should focus on uniting people around the basics of Islam rather than dividing or creating their own circles that exclude others. Nowadays, these groups seem to work more on dividing people than uniting them by putting their own doctrines above all else. They can ask people to choose to be, or not to be, a member.
However, in the name of Islam, no entity or individual can say this because Muslims are supposed to be brothers and sisters. They can of course create their own circles, but if it is about Islam, then they should practice embracing all other Muslims as well.
The focus should be on uniting Muslims, not prioritizing their own benefits.
For instance, there is news circulating on social media and some media outlets about a hostel belonging to a jamaat in Turkey. This jamaat attempted to misinform the Turkish public by showing that the state is against Islamic values.
This jamaat claimed that their hostels are being destroyed by the Turkish government. However, Fatih Süleyman Denizolgun, the grandson of the founder of this jamaat, refuted the allegations and clarified the issue.
It is well-known fact that the Turkish state is letting any legal group operate freely and carry out activities without any difficulties. The reality is that jamaats should be thankful toward the current government instead of voicing complaints.
This should have resulted in many positives, such as teaching the Quran, providing guidance to Muslims, educating students with the love of state, embracing humanity and bringing these students into society for activities that bridge and unite society.
Advantages and disadvantages
On the other hand, the Islamic groups operating overseas are somehow perceived as a soft power of any country, including Turkey. They mainly concentrate on an Islamic agenda in the line of their own thoughts on Islam.
These groups always should be inspected, because their good or bad approaches, discourses, actions and so on, have an impact on local people, or outsiders of the groups, in a negative or positive way. For example, I have met with many people asking what the issue is behind FETÖ – which I have already explained to them.
According to the school of realism, one of the most prominent theories in international relations, human nature is concentrated on a struggle for power. In this sense, naturally, each entity, group or jamaat may have different aims that range from expansion of ideas, penetration into societies, gaining ease for their activities, infiltrating into institutions, and so on. In fact, this feature has been a normal characteristic of human beings since ancient times.
Therefore, the vital takeaway here is that Turkey should encourage the Directorate of Religious Affairs to increase their involvement in the activities of these groups both inside and outside Turkey.
We do not need a second FETÖ, which very nearly brought Turkey into an unprecedented and irreversible disaster due to its coup attempt in July 2016. Luckily, the incredible awareness and incomparable sacrifice of the Turkish public prevented Turkey's collapse in July 2016, in the face of FETÖ’s brutal attacks.
Additionally, the Turkish people should not be abandoned in a dilemma between the state and these jamaats. In this regard, I would like to suggest an Islamic council initiated by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which would include all Islamic movements in the country. This council would help ensure that these groups are more accountable, transparent and productive in the eyes of both the public and the state. In this manner, both the public and state may evaluate which groups are the best when it comes to collaborating about Islamic issues.
We need Islamic institutions, groups, individuals and jamaats that are in line with our Islamic and national values, which connect us as one nation with other Muslims.
* Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia