TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Whenever the failed military coup which took place in Turkey on July 15, 2016, is talked about, his name will also be mentioned. But Muhammad Fethullah Gulen, 79, accused as being the brain behind the coupbelieves that event was in fact engineered to benefit Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Known as Hojaefendi--the highest spiritual teacher--Gulen has become Erdogan's arch enemy. The President's supporters are pushing hard to get Gulen extradited from the United States.
Journalists from all corners of the want to interview this spiritual leader after the failed coup. But Gulen rarely accepts requests for interview. Having contacted him since last year, Tempo reporter Wahyu Muryadi was lucky when in June, Gullen finally agreed for a meeting at his retreat in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. The meeting initially was planned as a friendly get-together during Ramadan, without an interview. "Every Ramadan, Gulen's tradition is only to read and recite the Qur'an, not responding to the mass media," said Osman, one of his staff.
After an hour-long meeting with servings of tea, dates and nuts, Gullen surprisingly allowed Tempo to publish the results of the discussion. Wearing his old blue robes like an overcoat, he even allowed his picture to be taken. This was also the first time Gulen made a video selfie with the media.
Gulen has written many books on Islamic mysticism and the history of the Prophet Muhammad. He is also an avid reader of French classic literature by Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. Like other spiritual leaders, the sunni muslim scholar from the Hanafi school has a steady routine of teaching and interpreting the Qur'an for followers who attend his retreat. Over the years he has been well-known for his work with interfaith movements to promote peace and reconciliation, in Turkey and overseas, with Protestant, Catholic and Jewish religious leaders.
Marking one year since the coup this July, Gulen appears to be using this momentum to speak openly about many issues in his home country, including the political situation under Erdogan. During the interview, he was accompanied by his right-hand-man Alp Aslandogan--a doctor of computer science who leads an NGO called Alliance for Share Values. Gulen answered all questions in Turkish, while Aslandogan acted as interpreter, translating into English. Excerpts:
You've been accused of being behind the failed coup against Erdogan on July 15, 2016. Is it true?
I condemned the coup attempt on that same night and denied any involvement. But President Erdogan, without any investigation, began accusing me of being behind it. This is wrong from the Islamic perspective and according to universal justice principles. How can you accuse someone of a crime like this, with no investigation? After the July 15 incident, I again stated my commitment to democracy and peace, declaring that I am against any attempt to remove Erdogan from his position through undemocratic means. I published an article in The New York Times saying governments should change through ballots not bullets.
So who is responsible?
I cannot say it was this or that person, nor group who staged the attempt. But other observers and commentators are arguing that a group of ultranationalist generals might be behind the failed coup attempt.
Can you explain in more detail?
It was not a real coup. It was designed to help purge the military of people allegedly sympathetic to me. I invited Erdogan to allow for an international investigation into the event, and I pledged that if they found me guilty, I would buy my own ticket and return to Turkey. But he did not respond to my challenge.
Is there an analogy explaining your relationship with Erdogan?
You can see it in cases of national and religious leaders over the centuries. All are imams from the four major schools, Imam Abu Khanifa, Imam Shafie, Imam Ibn Hanbal, Imam Malik, Imam Rabbani, even Maulana Jalaaluddeen Rumi's father suffered the same fate we are suffering now in Turkey. They were asked by a political leader to provide unconditional support, and having to give up their integrity.
What do you think about Erdogan's leadership?
Legal experts discussed Erdogan's eligibility to serve as president, because of questions about his college education. Other have questioned the fairness of the elections and there are allegations of electoral fraud. But aside from this, if the Turkish people elect a shepherd as their leader, I respect their choice. But personally I don't see Erdogan is fit to be president.
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine