Issue 34 / April - June 2001
Civilization and the Confusion of Conceptions
M. Fethullah Gulen
Traditionally, civilization has been defined as the coexistence of people who come together around humanistic thoughts and feelings, and who are conscious of their being human. Since people naturally live in groups, some degree of civilization has always existed.
True civilization is based on refining one's manners, thoughts, feelings, and strengthening one's willpower. Some identify civilization with dazzling advances and innovations in sciences and technology-from trains to spaceships, broad streets and skyscrapers to dams and nuclear power stations, telecommunication systems to electronics. But these are no more than means of an easy, luxurious life. Modern facilities can help "modernize" life's outward appearance, bul this does not mean that people of that society are civilized.
It also provides an environment that encourages people to develop their potentialities. And truly civilized people are those who serve their community, in particular, and humanity, in general, according to the thoughts, feelings, and abilities developed and refined within that environment. Thus civilization is not to be sought in riches, luxury, and a comfortable life in large, richly furnished houses, or in production techniques and amounts of goods consumed, for such things are no more than elements of material pleasure and physical well-being. Rather, true civilization is to be found in purified thinking, refined manners and feelings, and sound views and judgments.
Civilization lies in people's spiritual evolution and continuous self-renewal toward true humanity and personal integrity-to realizing their full potential as the "best pattern of creation." People must realize that civilization is not, as some blind imitators of the West believe, something to be bought from a store and worn. Rather, it is a final destination that can be reached only by following a rational way passing through time and circumstances.
Civilization differs from modernism. Civilization means changing and renewing people's views, ways of thinking, and personal habits; modernism means changing their lifestyles, pursuing physical pleasure, and developing living facilities. But many people are not aware of this distinction, for their generations have been bewildered with misused concepts and misled in their way of thinking. As a result, their belief, language, national ihonghts, morals, and culture have been corrupted.
Western people who enjoy technical facilities more than others, as well as the so-called Muslim intellectuals who consider themselves civilized and view others as uncivilized, commit an unforgivable sin against civilization and culture. Such people should know that just as civilizalion does not mean modernism, being an intellectual is quite different from being a school graduate. The number of true intellectuals who have not studied at an educational facility is not insignificant when compared to the numbers of high school or university graduates. Misusing such fundamental concepts may cause a long-lasting deception characterized by people confusing white with black, justice with injustice, enlightenment with ignorance, being intellectual with being ignorant, and civilization with savagery.
A community's enlightenment and freedom from confused thoughts, expressions, and convictions require the existence of a group of true intellectuals-not just school graduates. A community must have specialists in different branches of science, but such people cannot enlighten it. That task can be achieved only by those true intellectuals who, in the awareness of their age, live at the level of the spirit, are awake to existence in soul and intellecl, and use their willpower in accordance with the truth's dictates. By combining scientific truths with the Unseen's inspirations in order to form an inextinguishable source of light, their souls and intellects are revived and they are able to open the way to their community's revival through the messages they disseminate. Only such intellectuals can bring a true civilization into existence.
Every new civilization is born through attempts based on a unique love and belief. Without these two elements, it is impossible to talk about civilization. If despotic pressure or intervention are added to this lack of love, belief and zeal, even conquering space and discovering subatomic worlds will not be enough to found a civilization.
A community whose ordinary people have no belief, love, zeal, or feeling of responsibility, whose ordinary people live aimless lives unconscious of their true identity and unaware of the age and environment in which they live, cannot be considered civilized. Even if they have changed all their institutions, achieved a high standard of life, and adopted a "modern" lifestyle, they are not civilized. Civilizalion is an intellectual and spiritual phenomenon that has nothing to do with technology, dress and finery, furniture and luxuries. The bloodshed, continued but disguised colonialism, unending massacres and conflicts, unchanging human attitudes, unrefined manners, unenlightened intellectual life, as well as materialism's dominance in science and worldviews and other signs of savagery, prove that neither the "developed" peoples nor their "developing" imitators have founded a true civilization.
It is unfortunate that some members of the intelligentsia in developing countries have mislead their people by letting them believe that modernizing their lifestyles-or "becoming totally dependent on Western countries"-would make them civilized. Such indigenous Westernized modernists do not hesitate to carry out what some Western countries "inspire" in their minds.
We hope that the world will witness true civilization once more. The signs of this civilization, which will be founded on belief, love, knowledge, and universal moral values, are already on the horizon. This sacred cause can be realized if the new generations that have undertaken it continue on their way with a strong belief, willpower, and ever-deepening resolve.