Exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by the Erdogan regime in Ankara of masterminding the 15 July failed coup attempt, has a following in India too. Not only his books are published and distributed here, seminars and events are organised that draw inspiration from his ideas of peace, multiculturalism, inter-faith dialogue and coexistence in multi-religious societies.
After the coup attempt, the Turkish government urged the Indian government “to stop the spread of Gulen’s ideology”.
New Delhi-based Indialogue foundation, an organisation run jointly by Turkish and Indian citizens, claims on its website that it seeks inspiration from personalities like Emperor Ashok, Mahatma Gandhi and Fethullah Gulen. Its president Bilal Acikgoz said that his organisation is devoted to promote cultural exchanges, cause of peace and harmony among people of all religious orientations. “We keep organising events like seminars, conferences, cultural festivals etc., to promote such ideas. One such programme will be held on Gandhi Jayanti on 2 October.
“Indialogue’s objectives are to champion proactive studies, to pioneer international, intercultural and interfaith dialogue initiatives and to promote universal values as love, respect, harmony, co-existence, cooperation, care and peace. We contribute to information exchange and networking on current issues of dialogue and peace building through its analyses and reports as well as academic and social meetings and conferences. Indialogue Foundation envisions eradicating polarisation, animosity and prejudice among communities and groups through its academic, social, interfaith and cultural events, programs and projects,” Acikgoz said.
Acikgoz added that his organisation seeks inspiration from many eminent scholars and spiritual personalities, including Fethullah Gulen. “Just as we revere Mahatma Gandhi and promote his ideas of non-violence and peace, we advertise Gulen’s thoughts in a similar fashion,” he said.
Acikgoz categorically denied that Indialogue is an offshoot of Gulen’s Hizmet movement, which has a worldwide network of educational and welfare organisations.
When asked about the funding of his organisation, he said that a major chunk of the funds comes from donors and contributors in India.
Akhlaque Usmani, a journalist covering international affairs with a focus on the Muslim world, said Gulen has a network in India and his people even fund some educational institutions in India. “But unlike in other countries, they perhaps don’t use Hizmet for that,” he said. He did not name such institutes but said that most of such institutes are of Sufi orientation, a religious and spiritual leaning which is readily accepted in India.
Like Indialogue, Adam Books, a publishing house based in old Delhi, publishes books of Gulen. A staff member from the publishing house said that people from the Turkish embassy have ordered the publication of Gulen’s works like Allah ke Paighambar (Prophet of Allah), Nure Sarmadi in Urdu and Hindi and The Infinite Light, a biography of Prophet Muhammad, in English. Another Indian organisation called Muslim Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (MESCO) had organised a question and answer quiz contest based on Gulen’s book, The Nectar, in 2012 for school students. As the Turkish President has signed a decree to shut down all bodies including schools and foundations linked to Gulen and requested all countries having the Gulen network on their soil to shut down such bodies, the Turkish ambassador to India has urged the Indian government in a press statement to take action against those linked to Gulen’s network in India. But Indialogue foundation, Adam Books and MESCO denied receiving any communication to this effect from any government agency so far.
Meanwhile, attempts to enquire from the Union Home Ministry whether the Centre will pay heed to Turkey’s request in this regard yielded no result. While some believe that Gulen’s thoughts will continue to spread, there are experts like Omair Anas of Indian Council for World Affairs who think otherwise. “Activities of the Gulen-affiliated groups in India have some support from religious sections of the Indian society. It will be too early to say whether, or not, they will use their welfare and educational activities for political purposes. Gulen was known mainly for his spiritual and educational activities before he clashed with the Turkey government.
“In my assessment, activities of the Gulen-affiliated groups in India have some support from religious and spiritual sections of the Indian society. It will be too early to say if they use their welfare and educational activities for political purposes also. Prior to the conflict between the Turkish authorities and the Gulen movement, Gulen was known mainly for his spiritual and educational activitities.
“As far as his religious thoughts are concerned, they make little difference as Gulen himself has come from a revivalist school of thought started by Said Nursi. His writings do not sufficiently respond as how to make Islam and democracy compatible and why a Muslim should support a non-religious system of governance. For this reason, Turkey’s secular military and political parties have seen Gulen and his movement with great suspicion."
“I have doubts if his thoughts can attract Indian Muslims very much because Gulen has no popular support from any of India’s Islamic seminary or the Sufi order,” said Anas.