Religious sociologist Muhammet Çakmak is of the view that the logic of, “You are either with us or you are nothing,” threatens all religious groups and communities in Turkey. He also holds that this approach has no scholarly value or validity.
In the past, religious communities were generally persecuted by left-wing parties and juntas in Turkey. For the first time, it is a conservative party that has placed a religious community on the list of its targets. A campaign of slander and defamation is being carried out using extraordinary methods in extraordinary times to destroy Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet movement.
What does the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) think about the Dec. 17 process?
Muhammet Çakmak is a religious sociologist who also serves as group advisor and member of the party assembly in the CHP. Çakmak says: “Religious groups and communities did not evolve with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Turkey; they were always here. Remarks like ‘assassins’ or ‘phony scholar’ have never been used in the history of this nation. History and the people will never forgive such remarks.” Çakmak also argues that the government’s approach of, “You are either with us or you are nothing,” puts all groups under the spotlight. He further warns: “In the future, you may hear them say that there is a religious affairs directorate so there is no need for your Koran study houses. And then they might shut down the study houses of Süleymancıs.” The Süleymancı community is a movement initiated by religious and spiritual leader Süleyman Hilmi Tunahan.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said: “You will lose if we lose, and you will be gone.” Is it possible that a religious group exists or disappears with a political party? As a religious sociologist, how would you respond to these remarks?
This remark holds no scholarly value. It is a hilarious statement. It is not based on any sort of knowledge or analysis because religious groups and communities seek to practice religion through its emotional dimension. This is the main motive for the organization of religious groups and communities. In other words, people who would like to experience the main rituals of a faith more sensitively, to serve the people, to spend their time in a spiritual environment and improve themselves, form a group.
Sociologically, we call this a religious group or community. Therefore, there is no association between a religious group or community and a political organization. No political group can form a religious group or community in the world. It is impossible to do from a sociological perspective. If you form a political party and then create a religious community as well, this is against nature.
Does it have a political meaning?
This is clearly a blackmail move. The idea “If we are there, you will also be there,” is not ethical. Religious groups and communities did not emerge with the AK Party. The Hizmet movement has been active since Said Nursi [an eminent and influential Islamic thinker who died in 1960]. Did the AK Party found the Süleymancı community? Did these people gather together because of the AK Party? Both religious orders and communities have existed since the establishment of the republican regime in Turkey. There were even some bans on their activities, but despite these bans, they survived. Right-wing parties came to power, then they were replaced by left-wing parties and then there were coup times. But the religious groups have always existed in these periods because no religious group or community held political concerns and considerations.
Is the prime minister trying to form his own community?
Exactly. This will be an unsuccessful move. The prime minister is trying to form a community that is similar to the AK Party. He wants to have control over this community. In the long term, he will not succeed because you cannot organize a faith group around a political perspective. But we are aware that there are two currents in Turkey: the Süleymancılık, inspired by Süleyman Hilmi Tunahan and the Risale-i Nur movement named after Said Nursi. These two movements have survived over the last century despite the fact that there has been a change in power many times. Did they lose any of their passion and ambition? They do not care. They do not care about the state of political affairs in Turkey. They are focused on one goal only: to serve the nation, the state and the flag and to contribute to the promotion of traditional and ethical values. If you remain adherent to such a pure and undisputed goal, you do not care about politics.
The prime minister refers to the Hizmet movement as a parallel state. Do you agree with him?
Let us look at what this movement has done. There are two things that the movement does that attract admiration. First, they make a huge contribution to the education of the sons of this nation. Second, they convert small business owners into businessmen who do business all over the world. I am very interested in this. I believe that this is pretty important for the future of the country.
In one of your theses, you examined the religious middle class. What is the role of the AK Party in the improvement of the middle class in Turkey?
Atatürk [Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic] is the architect of this class. He sensed the lack of entrepreneurial activity in early years of the republican regime. He emphasized this at the first İzmir Economic Congress in 1923; some businessmen were supported. Menderes [former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes] took this initiative further. Since the 1970s, this was also supported by Demirel [former President and Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel], Ecevit [former Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit] and Özal [former President and Prime Minister Turgut Özal] governments. A middle class emerged and evolved after the republican era. It reached a certain height during the AK Party’s office term, but the AK Party already had a middle class that had strong relations with the world; we cannot possibly say that this party made huge and intellectual contribution to its development. The AK Party has tried to present this as its own success. This class was already there. There were different factors that contributed to the development of this class.
What are they?
One of the most important factors is the Hizmet movement, which has contributed extensively to the emergence and growth of this middle class. There is a structure that emerged under the auspices of TUSKON [the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists]. You cannot just ignore this.
Why does Erdoğan view the Hizmet movement as a threat?
Since Dec. 17, the prime minister and his close friends have begun to see this movement as a threat. Why? Because a huge investigation involving some ministers and their relatives was initiated. We should trust justice and law. There is a legal process that the public is well aware of. The Turkish judiciary and the police proved that some people had done some unethical things. After that, the Hizmet movement began to be referred to as a parallel state. Why was not it called that before?
This is what they are trying to do. They argue that the Hizmet movement is responsible for exposing these unethical actions. Why did you do that? Their logic simply asks this question. They attribute this process to the Hizmet movement. However, we all know that those who conducted this operation have no connection to the Hizmet movement. What did the judiciary do? They did their job. The police were assigned a task by the prosecutor. They have no choice; they have to do this. And the prosecutor relies on documents and proof in his actions. I believe that the people are well aware of the goal pursued in this. The purpose is to cover up the corruption that was revealed on Dec. 17. They are trying to get rid of this accusation by listing everybody as part of a so-called parallel state.
Erdoğan insulted religious scholar Fethullah Gülen by calling him a “phony scholar” and a “false prophet.” As a religious sociologist, how would you comment on this? Has a similar remark been made before?
I am not aware of any similar remark in the 5,000-year history of these lands. These are the most unfortunate remarks to have been made on this soil. Mawlana [Sufi Mawlana Jalaladdin Rumi] says, “Do not hurt a heart; and do not do this particularly if that heart is in love with Allah. In that case, you’ll also hurt Allah.” We cannot possibly know which hearts Allah loves. You cannot make these remarks against a person like Gülen who has dedicated his entire life to the sons of this nation and to the social, economic and cultural development of this nation.
As a scholar, how would you describe the scholarly aptitude of Gülen?
He is a very important intellectual. He is one of the major contributors to intellectual life in Turkey. I attend the Abant Platform hosted by the Hizmet movement. This platform provides academic works to offer solutions to major problems in Turkey. There is a movement that contributes to the transformation of Turkey into a more civilized country and the spiritual mastermind of this initiative is Fethullah Gülen. The prime minister made pretty insulting remarks about this person who holds no worldly expectations. I believe that this will be remembered bitterly in these territories for a long time. And I particularly believe that it is extremely unfortunate to liken a group of people who are dedicated to contributing to the betterment of the people of this nation to a bunch of murderers. History and the people will never forgive this. Despite this grave insult, the Hizmet movement did not change its position and instead remained calm. This speech was delivered in the presence of a number of religious scholars at an event organized by the Religious Affairs Directorate. I expected them to react. I condemn the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate. Görmez [Religious Affairs Directorate President Mehmet Görmez] should have warned the prime minister [that such a statement was inappropriate], as the head of the directorate. He should have warned him because this was an event his directorate organized and the prime minister insulted a person who has millions of followers in this country. The Religious Affairs Directorate is not an institution of a party. They should have acted in accordance with this. The person who heads this institution must not act as if he is affiliated with a political party. I call on the president of the Religious Affairs Directorate to do what is necessary. This is what a scholarly approach requires. This is to be done for the sake of personal dignity and honor.
A civilian government is persecuting Gülen by relying on the means and methods of martial law rule. Could the AK Party finish off the Hizmet movement?
Is there anybody who faced pressure greater than that which Said Nursi suffered? What happened? Take a look at what happened. He contributed to the emergence of the strongest unity in these lands through his works. I am telling members of the Hizmet movement: We are experiencing a period of hardship like one in the early period of Islam. Stay patient; do not become demoralized. No matter what you are accused of, you have won the hearts of the people. What you have done is out there. What really matters is what the people think of you. Even if you are jailed, so what? So what even if your properties are taken away? The Hizmet movement has no love for property. We all know how they live. They use all they have to promote our country abroad and for the development of the sons of this nation. The movement should never retreat because there is nothing wrong in what they are doing. What did the Hizmet movement do? The prosecutor of the state does his job and they attribute this to the Hizmet movement? Five thousand police officers were removed or reassigned in winter time because they are allegedly members of the Hizmet movement. This is not convincing. Those who do this will lose prestige. Someday, history will recall them as people who did something evil.
Is it possible that similar things will happen to other faith groups and communities as well?
I assure you that this mentality and this approach of, “You are either with us or you are nothing,” has put all religious groups and communities in great danger. All faith groups are in huge danger. They may shut down the study houses of Süleymancıs. They may say that the Religious Affairs Directorate has its own study houses so there is no need for yours. There are many other structures; there are Alevis, there are cemevis. This mentality and this approach put everybody in danger.
What is the approach of the CHP toward the Hizmet movement? Do you see it as a threat and a danger?
Never. Without discriminating, we [the CHP] see all religious communities as civil society groups. We never see faith groups — such as the Alevis, the Sunnis, non-Muslims, Armenians, Jews or Christians — as threats. And we believe that it is wrong to view them as a danger.
Do you have red lines?
We are opposed to the politicization of religious groups and communities. A faith group should not get involved in politics. Politics is a field of competition; it is a merciless sphere. Religious communities are structures that make contribution to the religious, economic, cultural and social development of the people. If these structures are integrated into politics, the traumatic and competitive aspects of politics may also negatively affect them. This disrupts the purity. Politics has a corruptive impact by its nature. Political parties have to address their problems without discriminating among them.
The CHP had problems with religious groups for many years. Has there been any change in its approach?
There is one important reason for this. During the emergence of the republican regime, there was a positivist approach in the political climate. If you look at the enlightenment period, you see that this is a confrontation with Christianity. A political approach emerged out of this perspective. This climate also affected us in the initial years of the republican era. Math and science were given great attention and religion was perceived as a phenomenon that left us underdeveloped. And Turkey was just out of its war of liberation. There were huge problems, including poverty. Development models were borrowed from the West to address these issues. Those were also influenced by the approach to religion. Atatürk was also aware that things were too way secular. After development projects, Atatürk took swift measures. He commissioned works of exegesis. He made assignments for the translation of hadith collections into Turkish. İsmet İnönü [former prime minister and second president of Turkey] opened the Ankara Divinity School. In recent times, the CHP proved that it is reconciled with the values of the society. It is the CHP, not the AK Party that actually solved the headscarf problem. The headscarf issue was resolved at the universities after Kılıçdaroğlu [CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu] clarified the party’s position. This also resolved the headscarf issue in Parliament. As the CHP, we support the development of all faith groups. Today, we have no problem with any faith group in Turkey.
Who is Muhammet Çakmak?
Dr. Muhammet Çakmak was born in Elazığ on July 14, 1969. He is the grandson of great sheik Halid of the Sufi Nakshibendi order. He spent the early years of his education in Elazığ and then graduated from the faculty of theology at Ankara University in 1992. In 1997, he received his master’s degree in the field of religious sociology from Ankara University’s Institute of Social Sciences. In 2004, he earned his Ph.D. in the field of philosophy and religious sociology at the Institute of Social Sciences in Ankara with a dissertation titled “The Sociological Universe of the Nakshibendi Order: The Cases of Elazığ and Siirt.” His relationship with the CHP began during the chairmanship of Deniz Baykal. He contributed to Baykal’s speech on the celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad. Çakmak, who serves as a CHP party assembly member and CHP group advisor, has been one of the masterminds of the CHP’s policies to bridge the gap with religiously observant people. Çakmak was nominated to be a candidate for mayor in İstanbul’s Bağcılar district by the CHP in the 2014 local elections.