Following the age of Enlightenment, following the movements of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the individual and individualism gained significant ground in the European world. The problematic of individualism was balanced by socialism, and the individual, or being an individual served as the main principle of permanent modernity. The three basic principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity were born out of the Enlightenment, and their reflection in society, their reception by society –although nothing short of a revolution– was also the result of a historical background. My principle when it comes to understanding the relationship between theory and society is that “societies that are incapable of change cannot be changed”; in other words, we cannot make societies behave in a certain way as we please.
Human will, in the face of nature, can overcome the resistance of nature by cooperating with the laws of nature and making them work for itself, and the same applies to society as well. Chains of cause and effect are not as deterministic in society as in nature, but resistance is also found in human relationships, which are based on both nature and freedom. Historical processes may have encouraged this resistance, or equipped a society with the ability to renew. In the absence of this potential in a society, you cannot achieve social change no matter how many top-down Jacobin or revolutionary attempts you make. This is why some philosophers proposed the sociological law that “the internal dynamics of a society with a stunted ability for change cannot be activated except through outside intervention.”
This movement of individualism in Europe –the emergence of modernity– started in opposition to the authority of the Church. The Church (ecclesia) literally means a community of believers, but over time it became institutionalized and established its authority over society, becoming a historical institution and an institutionalized religion. This is not a faith. Institutionalized religion, including the contemporary Papacy, is a state; it is a full-fledged institution with its laws, state, and legal sanctions. Now, by virtue of its own Christianity-based narrative, this institution is Catholic, that is to say, universal. This means world domination by a teaching based on receiving spirit (the Holy Spirit), a teaching based on the human ability to acquire a “divine spirit”. Therefore, this involves cooperation with earthly powers as well. The Church thus cooperated with kings, and over time, even acquired the power to appoint kings. This is clear when we look at the historical record; it was the Papacy, the institution of the Church that coronated kings. This universalist teaching attempted to spread this Catholic or universal faith through the hands of kings all over the world, from South America, after the discovery of the Americas, to China and Japan, first through missionaries and then through military force and other interactions, including the Crusades.
However, the transformation of the artistic spirit of the Renaissance, of modernity into a philosophical discourse and gradually into ideologies was embraced by society. The Church imprisoned society with its promise of paradise, and as the historical record makes clear, eliminated counter-faiths, especially though the Inquisition. It subjected the Jewish community, in particular, to extreme harassment, and sentenced Jewish women to be burned at the stake as witches because they were followers of the “Kabbalah.” Now, this is obviously a topic that requires further study, but what power can individuals have in the face of such a collective movement organized by dominant powers? This is a matter of faith and passion. In other words, it requires people to think, to contemplate, to develop their ideas, and to engage in social interactions, searching, in a sense, for people who will turn ideas into action.
In Europe, this could not turn into a movement of faith as long as ideas remained at the level of philosophy. It was necessary to turn them into ideology, meaning that people needed to gather around these ideas, put them into practice, and change their lives. Until that point, the idea of changing one’s life did not exist among the masses because it was the administrators, the kings, and the Papacy who made all the decisions. They were the ones who called the shots, but the masses did not have the capability nor the competence to undergo a change. This was the case until the emergence of modernity and its motto, reflected in Immanuel Kant’s words, to “have the courage to use your own reason.” This is his admonition to each and every individual: “Have the courage to use your own reason, and get yourself out of the pit you fell into. No one else can get you out. People are enlightened only if they manage get back on their feet with their own thoughts and actions.” This is what Kant thinks. Therefore, enlightenment cannot be administered from the outside. This also applies to ideologies, as you know; this is how it was in Marx’s teaching initially, but later Lenin proposed that the proletariat be enlightened from the outside by the intelligentsia.
What we mean here is that moving from the fertile ground of ideas in the philosophical realm to the realm of action requires having a passionate commitment to ideas. However, we must first have internalized the idea to be committed to it with passion. An idea that is not internalized, a logic that stands like an object separate from us, that we do not agree with wholeheartedly, that is not existential to us, a merely rational theory cannot be turned into action. This is why the early thinkers of modernity, especially Fichte in his opening lecture at the university, galvanize the youth of the time: “You are the ones who will do it,” he says, “Young people, you are the ones who will do it.” Do what? “You are the ones who will eliminate aristocratic oppression and the universalist oppression of the Church, and earn us our freedom, the freedom to govern ourselves,” he says. This is a famous speech and galvanizes the entire European youth. The hot-blooded youth come to their senses, and decide to change their world by getting a university education.
In fact, Immanuel Kant’s anti-Church stance at the time ─which is where his origins are, in theology─ is not against a pure teaching of faith, but against its totalitarian administration by some people over others once it is institutionalized. He recommends the university in the context of thinking about how to come up with a contrary to the Church. Universities were to be opened all around the world, spreading education all over the world; this was in a sense an anti-Church, an anti-Catholic activity. The “universal city,” the model of the universal state, universal city, and universal country was to become the university, and if this were to be opened all over the world, people educated in this institution would be able to gain a common consciousness and a common reason as if they were members of the same church. This is why Kant says, “We will be members of an invisible church.” This invisible church is the university, not the institution of the university, but the reason behind it. Possessing, taking share in, and contributing to that reason… What is that reason? It is common reason. The first manifestation of this common reason is related to self-government; this was stated from the beginning. Words must be bound to rules, and these rules make up the law. Then, law is common reason as discourse, and legal institutions are the concrete manifestations of common reason.
What did the Church do? The Church claimed it would “make God’s command reign supreme.” This is a very attractive claim and many people believe in this promise. But who exactly will do that? Some clergy say, “We are the ones who will make God’s command reign supreme,” meaning we, the clergy. Well, where is the proof God gave you this task? How come? “We are the ones who read the Bible well; you cannot read it because it is very elaborate. Only people trained in theology and philosophy can comprehend this book; what is more, they need to have received the Holy Spirit. Do you have these qualifications? No. Bu we do.” They call it the Clericus, that is to say clergy, and the clergy are supposedly the messengers of God. They are the messengers, but they make God speak: This is what God means, this is what God wants, this is His wish, etc. They are the ones who say that. People want to reach an invisible, unknowable notion called “God” through ideas and information they receive from visible and knowable despots. This is also called intermediation. Now, it may be an innocent act or an intentional one. In either case, whether it is innocent or intentional, people are unable to use their own initiative or their own will.
This distinction is difficult to understand in the Islamic world, in this civilization. We do not have, our religious dogma does not have the notion of a clergy. La ruhbane fiddin means “No clergy in religion.” Islam rejects a clergy in the Quran. When you reject the clergy, who is to explain religion to the masses? Who is to mediate between the masses and religion if there is no clergy? This is what the clergy did in Christianity. In Islam, this is done by the ulema, or scholars. Now, this is problematic. Who is meant by this term? Scholars. When we refer to the essential text of the Quran itself, the scholars are further described as ulema-i rasihun, or firmly rooted scholars. The Arabic word for scholar is âlim, and the Turkish word for scholar is bilgin. Today we call them scholars, but these scholars are to be firmly rooted. In other words, they need to have “expertise”. What is more, the Quran asks us to “consult with the firmly rooted scholars (experts).” It doesn’t say “follow their orders,” it says “consult with them.” You can obtain their opinions, or fatwas. Now, because moderners don’t know about that, because they read only about the Western Enlightenment and Renaissance, their frame of reference is based on developments in the West and movements opposing institutionalized religion in the West, and they try to apply the same ideas to Islam as well. Yet, there is no clergy in Islam, a clergy is rejected. Compulsion is also rejected, but not in Christianity. La ikrahe fiddin means “There is no compulsion in religion.” This phenomenon of consultancy, also known as fatwa, is found in all scientific disciplines. You submit a question in writing, and receive a written report; you simply consult with them, and you are not obligated to follow the advice you receive.
But this is not the case with the clergy; the clergy give orders. The Church doctrine, which was not codified until St. Augustine and in a sense not backed up by sanctions, started to eliminate its opponents and opposing views after St. Augustine, labeling them “mistaken views,” and accepting the dominance of a single view and trying to spread it around the world. When the Aztecs are massacred, the Spanish and the Portuguese there kill a lot of people; and when the soldiers begin to feel uneasy about these acts and display sensitivity towards the Aztecs, Cortes opens the mouth of the Aztec king with his hands and says, “He has no spirit in him,” meaning the Holy Spirit. This implies that people who do not have the Holy Spirit within them are of animal grade, and therefore, disposable, as per their interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. People who do not have the Holy Spirit are like leaves fallen off a tree. What do you do with fallen leaves? You throw them in Gehenna. Gehenna, as you know, is the name of the place in Jerusalem where they burned trash. Jahannam, the Arabic word for hell, is derived from this name. Gehenna is the place where they burn trash. This is clearly a symbolic narrative: Gehenna and Jahannam.
Now, when they think “We are the ones who provide the Holy Spirit to people, and the others are receivers,” the clergy view themselves as capable of giving spirit, forgiveness, and benefaction, resulting in what is called shirk. This is the meaning of the Islamic concept of shirk. They can excommunicate, admit someone back into the religion, reject and give spirit, providing education like a college professor. Colleges provide education and professors decide who will pass or fail the class, true, but they follow a method. They are bound by the method; they are not arbitrary. You may object, saying “It is the same in Christianity too, they follow a method; individual priests don’t act arbitrarily, as they wish.” I once asked a priest, “Father, do you absolve sins?” “Yes,” he said. “Do you ever have people who confess the same sin again?” “You wouldn’t believe it,” he said, “There are so many of them.” “Then, you are not really absolving them,” I said, for Jesus absolved sins. Mary Magdalene, the sins of whom Jesus absolved, never committed another sin, which means Jesus was able to absolve them. “I pray for them, but He is their Lord; He is the one who ultimately absolves sin.” Then, were you appointed by someone? By God, by a prophet? No. As an organization, you appoint yourselves. You gather together and make decisions, assuming you have the right to do so. Islam has forbidden this from the very beginning; it rejected the clergy. No one can mediate between God and His servants. The Quran itself is not backed up by sanctions, either. The Quran defines itself as advice (nasihat), meaning consultancy. If there are scholars, you can consult with them, but you are the one who needs to take action. It is the individual who has direct responsibility.
In the 18th century and then into this day, this movement of modernity in the West ─even though the aspect systematized as modernism is problematic─ has been in fact a movement against the clergy, against religious oppression, and against the distinction between clericus and laicus. Essentially, Islam does not have this distinction, and thus does not have an institution or oppression to oppose. There is the so-called ‘neighborhood’ peer pressure and oppression by rulers, but the religion itself has no element of oppression. The roots of the discourse on modernity can in fact be found in the Charter of Medina, and in the discourse of the Quran. Is this how we see it today? No. For it is just like in the West… The Bible did not contain these things; they all appeared after institutionalization. What was a discourse in the Bible was turned into a sanction by the institution. The Quran says there is no clergy in religion, la ruhbane fiddin. We do not have a clergy, it is true, but we do have salaried religious personnel, and they are the ones who teach religion; in a sense, it is an imitation of the clergy. They do not have that authority, they cannot be receiving salaries according to the Quran. It is often admonished in the Quran “not to exchange verses for a price.” Period. It is very clear about that, but there are people who turn this into an occupation, get paid for it, teach religion, and try to establish sanctions through fatwas. What I am trying to say is this: Even when the essence of the discourse itself is ideal, putting it into practice can corrupt it.
The Bible was written in Latin, as you know, and not translated into other languages. Because the masses did not speak Latin, these intermediary institutions taught the Bible to the masses. The exact same thing happened in the Islamic world too. Those who spoke Arabic did not stay as intermediaries, as translators, and gradually transformed into a clergy, and eventually into an authority. This can be said for other religions too, but especially in the Western world, these two religions conflict as well as through their commonalities unite. These two religions, Christianity and Islam, are at the center of the debate. What is the role of Judaism here? Judaism is the first narrator, the ancient narrator of both, but because it is not a proselytizing religion, has no desire to spread the faith to others and expand the community of believers ─you are a Jew if you are born a Jew, there is a genetic coding passed down in the family─ it does not make the same claims that Christianity and Islam do. They say, “We are the select children of God, and what we do is nobody else’s business. We can worship God this way or that way; it doesn’t concern anyone else.” Fine, no problem; it is their faith. The group follows its own conscience as if a single person, but doesn’t require anyone else to do the same, nor does it force it upon anyone else.
However, Catholic and universalist religions and ideologies require everyone to do the same. What we have here is the individual against totalitarianism, against the totalitarian rule of institutions. The Quran’s individual-oriented discourse was overshadowed by the Umayyad (Emevi) dynasty and later dynasties; the individual and individual wisdom were overshadowed. In its origins, Islam places its emphasis on individual wisdom and the individual, but this emphasis was later overshadowed. In the West the ‘self’ appears to be something born out of philosophy, something unearthed by philosophers and artists of the Renaissance, but the motivation for the individual in fact comes from the Bible. In the Bible, the teaching of Jesus is all about the spirit-individual, and individuality. This is why Jesus marks the year zero. All religions and ideologies up to that point addressed the masses, but with Jesus, the individual was addressed for the first time, and Islam continued this practice. When we look at what came before, the Torah addresses a specific tribe; its teaching is not universal. The Bible, on the other hand, addresses the entirety of humanity, and hence holds people responsible on the basis of their actions, not their group identities. Thus, religion became a matter of conscience. The institution of the Church is a project of systematically establishing dominion over consciences; it is despotism.
Now, what does it mean to “use your own reason”? The clergy tell you something; they say this is a good deed, you should do it, you will go to heaven, God will bless you, etc. It means you have to make your own decision regarding these things; you can accept or reject them, ask your own conscience. You don’t need someone like a parent teaching you about these things all the time. A certain level of maturity or development must be achieved for modernity to be embraced and defended by a society capable of changing. In hindsight, we can say that the beginnings of industry, widespread education, and widespread appreciation of the arts and philosophy at the time indicate that humanity must have truly elevated to that required level for such seeds to have taken root.
Now, when these ideas were put into practice ─we had the American revolution, too, but─ it was the French revolution that attempted to organize an entire way of living around three principles. What were these principles? The first was equality before the law, égalité. There were three types of people: you belonged either to the aristocracy, to the clergy, or to the third estate. This was the term they used in Europe, the third estate. Who were they? The commoners, meaning everyone else. Why was the clergy so high up in the hierarchy? Because they represented being educated and of a certain quality as they were organized within a set of express laws. Aristocrats are people who have inherited, through their families and over centuries, table manners, etiquette, appreciation for the fine arts, etc. Commoners at the time were peasants and craftsmen. They were considered to be laypeople. They were not educated, not part of the aristocracy, and had no inheritance; they were the “third estate.” The third estate mostly consisted of peasants. The aristocracy and the church seized whatever the third estate produced. They did all the work and had to give up everything, even if they did not have food on the table; it was so heartbreaking… This was seen in almost all of Europe. Knighthood emerged under these conditions. Feudal lords had marriages under their control too, and brides were forced to sleep with the lord on the first night of their marriage. Knights opposed this practice. Knights, as individual persons in such conditions of lawlessness and chaos, fought alongside the people against the aristocracy, against the clergy, and against the bad guys. This romantic period is the period of the knights and deserves further study.
Now, the courage of the modern person, of the individual, to use their own reason requires both education and organization. We demand equality in the beginning as we put this into practice, but then we also demand the expansion of freedoms for this equality. How are we to accomplish these things? Through solidarity. Through kardeşlik, the Turkish translation of the word “fraternity”, but not in the sense of brotherhood, rather closer to what you would find in a labor union, for example. Ideas cannot be put into practice without organized solidarity. The French revolution was achieved by freeing the commoners, or laypeople, and by the freeing of the political prisoners. The French Revolution was very bloody, but it was also a very powerful revolution that laid the groundwork for the emergence of the individual. Napoleon Bonaparte is a pioneer in this sense; he is one of the people who designed contemporary Europe and our contemporary way of life. He was not an aristocrat nor a clergyman. He was a general who came from humble origins, but a victorious general. He went all the way to Egypt and was a great conqueror, transferring riches back to his own country and making everyone happy. He built Paris as we know it; he built a magnificent city. More importantly, he told the Pope “I will be the King,” so “put the crown on my head.” “That is impossible,” the Pope says, “You are not a noble person, you are not an aristocrat.”
What is this issue of nobility that is not possible? There is this dynasty called the Merovingians, and they are considered to be the descendants of Jesus. The lost Holy Grail, in a symbolic interpretation, is Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene’s womb is the grail, and she is believed to carry the blood of Jesus, that is to say his child. Knights found the child of Jesus and brought him to Europe, that is to say, they found and brought the holy grail of that bloodline. This Merovingian dynasty and all European kings must be of his blood. They are holy because they are the bloodline of Jesus, called “blue blood”, and all European kings are thus relatives, but this information is kept confidential. Dan Brown has also written about this, as you may know. Now, this is what the Pope means when he says “You are not a noble person.” “You do not have Jesus’ blood, hence you cannot rule. It is only God who rules. Jesus also rules in the name of God; this is what the Bible says. Now, if this is the situation, you cannot be a ruler; you are a commoner, and you don’t deserve the crown,” says the Pope. At the time, the Papacy is in a lot of debt, and Napoleon sends word that he can pay off the debt. Let’s buy the crown, let’s pay off the debt, add some more, and wear the crown. Okay, they shake hands. I am telling this because it is very important; it is a point in time that built our contemporary lives. A ceremony is held. When the Pope is just about to put the crown on Napoleon’s head, he reaches and takes the crown out of the Pope’s hand, and places it on his head himself. This is an extraordinary event; the individual is born and takes on the whole world: “I can wear my own crown.”
Napoleon puts into practice Kant’s call to “have the courage to use your own reason”; he puts the crown on his own head, and in doing so, ends Papal authority. This is where the fuse was lit, and the rest was like an avalanche… Emperors and kings coronated by the Pope and ruling over multiple peoples were brought down. The French Revolution was the biggest organizer is this movement. Empires dissolved, and once empires dissolved, nationalist movements emerged. The fundamental demand of nationalist movements was linguistic unity ─ the ontology of language: unity in language, culture, and history; in other words, having the same fate, the same sorrows and joys. This is what we call culture. All those empires and religion-based worldviews were replaced by culture-based worldviews, giving birth to contemporary nations.
Now, this was a worldwide movement and affected the Ottoman Empire as well. The Ottoman Empire may have been able to muster the strength to carry on as an empire through internal changes, but ─although there were many reasons, some external, some relating to the weakness of internal dynamics, debts, etc.─ World War I led to the dissolution of the empire. The whole world attacked, and it was dissolved. Could the empire have been reborn in the aftermath of the war? When we look at the conditions that prevailed at the time, when we look at the world and not just at the Ottoman Empire, we can see that the Russian Empire also dissolved, and so did the Austrian Empire, the German Empire, the Spanish Empire… All empires dissolved, and the Ottoman Empire was no exception. However, here we come upon the notion of the everlasting state. Regimes change; a people and their culture, a regime may change, but the state remains, run by a new regime. The state is a permanent structure and carries on. We mistake the regime for the state, and say this state came to an end and another state was established… This is not the case at all. There has been a regime change, but this regime is based on the national culture. It is not based on dynastic continuity or a dogma like in the West. Think about what I just described. Was it born out of this society, out of its own historical references, or was it imported from the West as a Jacobin imitation of the French revolution? There has been a lot of discussion about that. From the early days of the Republic to this day, this issue continues to be discussed in philosophical debates, in theological debates, and in political debates.
I would like to remind you of a few things with direct quotes from the original source, from the words of Kemal Ataturk, the leader of the revolution. After defining the West in this way, let’s remember what sort of a revolution we had here. I will shorten things for brevity. Now, Kemal Ataturk makes an important observation. These are his basic views, which are very simple, consisting of a few paragraphs, but these views have deep meanings and left a profound impression on me. You can find the complete set of articles or documents for these quotes, but I selected these passages for reasons of brevity, not to take them out of context. These are his own words:
“Gentlemen! God is one and God is Great! People can be examined in two classes, in two periods. The first period is the age of humanity’s childhood and youth. The second period is the age of humanity’s maturity and perfection.”
Remember, when we talked about the West, we mentioned the need for maturity (rushd) for the individual to be able to emerge. A mature person is someone who can take responsibility for themselves; they no longer need tutelage (wasiyah), they don’t even need guidance (walayah). We tend to exaggerate words like wasiyah and walayah. Sufi terminology provides our religious diversions; we say “Such and such is a wali, a great wali.” Wali is a guardian, a guide. For example, if you are a student attending a school, you must have a guardian, who is most often a parent. The moment you become a mature person, an adult person, you become free of guardianship. The Turkish word vali for governor is also derived from the same root. A vali protects and guards in the visible, external world, and a wali [Turkish word is veli] provides spiritual protection and guidance. But you need to graduate from guidance. Someone under guidance is not considered mature, has not yet proven their maturity. What does that mean? It means they cannot take responsibility, and have to keep asking for guidance. What happens when someone who is not really mature starts acting as if they are mature? Cacophony results. An individual or a society that is not mature can start taking responsibility only after they achieve maturity. What happens when you give responsibility to a society that has a child-like consciousness? You can look at history to see what happens. Now, here is a witty remark, but he himself has no such intention. He talks about the age of humanity’s rushd (physical maturity) and kamal (spiritual maturity), and he was also known as Kemal of Rushdiyah. There is something like a milestone here; he marks an end.
“Humanity in the first period, just like a child or youth, requires close and material attention.”
This is his observation regarding humanity’s age of childhood and youth: tutelage and guidance. They need protection and looking after, but they also need it through material things. For a society to become a proper society, it needs both knowledge and material things, as well as authorities. Once it becomes mature, however, a society tries to get rid of them. Ataturk continues:
“Allah takes it upon Himself, as Divinity, to take necessary care of his servants until they reach the required level of maturity.”
He makes a very clear point. This is a soldier speaking, not a clergyman. We know he is a victorious commander, a statesman, a revolutionary, and the best-dressed person in the world, but he is making such a deep theological comment here that we cannot help but wonder.
He says “the required level of maturity”. He says Allah has helped His servants with prophets, saints and holy people until they were mature enough to take responsibility for themselves. What happens once you reach maturity, then? Here is his response:
“He no longer felt the need to contact humanity indirectly.”
When? In the second period, the period of maturity. People who became mature, who took responsibility also achieved self-government; this is how you “achieve maturity”. These people accepted choosing their own government themselves. Despite all the difficulties of transition, despite all the deep-seated habits, and despite a major revolution that shook historical foundations, people accepted that. A society under occupation, a society on the brink of destruction, a society facing a life or death question clawed its way out of that predicament through its own hard work; no one came to its rescue, no royal armies or foreign powers came to its rescue. The people formed militias, which then transformed into the National Forces, organized from within, and saved themselves. Similar to what Kant said, similar to how Napoleon coronated himself, people fought for their own sovereignty, took upon the great powers of the world, and decided to self-govern through an assembly. At this point Ataturk says, “He will now contact humanity directly without intermediaries.” No more intermediaries. Who will contact humanity? Allah (swt). Isn’t this interesting? Look at what comes next.
“When humanity reaches the required level of understanding, is enlightened and spiritually mature, He considers each and every servant to have the capability for direct contact with divine inspiration.”
I have never seen any theologian in the world make such clear observations. Now, this issue of individual wisdom is in perfect harmony with the essence of the Quran, with the spirit of the Quran. However, overshadowed by the Umayyad, Abbasid, Seljuk, and Ottoman empires, the religion of Islam lost this individual wisdom, this freedom that existed in the beginning. It was reminded of this freedom. The people themselves fought for their own liberation, gained sovereignty, and became mature. Something interesting starts from this point onwards; he says no one else can rule your conscience any more. Your conscience is now in direct contact with divine inspiration. You have now assumed responsibility; you are an individual now. See how he provides the theological foundations as well. If he were a mere imitator of the French Revolution, he would not be able to utter these words. He builds upon his own historical roots.
This society knows about typological hermeneutics. Typological hermeneutics became a separate discipline after Dilthey, but the entire history of the prophets is in fact typological hermeneutics. In a sense, the Quran is a history of the prophets too; it contains twenty seven names ─or more, depending on the interpretation. There are twenty seven types of prophets, and this is typological. Education through exemplary characters is typological, not conceptual or philosophical; it proceeds through examples because this society uses its intuition to comprehend things through this typology. They are not of a single type, if you are paying attention; there are multiple prophets and each represents a different type, each is considered to be the manifestation of a different name of God. The Holy Quran explains how this typology constitutes or influences a society. Ataturk mentions this in his speech by underlining two important figures:
“Moses manifested the tendency of the Jews, who were suffering under the yoke of the Egyptians, to get rid of this oppression and slavery.”
As I have mentioned previously, societies that lack the capability for change cannot be changed. Let’s remember that one more time. Remember the Egyptian period; at the time, Egypt was the only sovereign state in the world. It was even more powerful than the United States today because the US faces many rivals, including China and Turkey. At that time, however, though later the Hittites could be considered rivals for a period, Egypt practically ruled the world. In that society, large masses were enslaved ─some of the slaves did become bureaucrats, but this is beside the point─ and forced to work for their masters. Now, we know that this people’s yearning for freedom was represented and realized by Moses, who, after leaving that society, went to the land of Canaan by travelling for 40 years in the desert and surpassing rivers and seas. Doesn’t Ataturk know of this as a religious phenomenon? He does. He knows Moses was a prophet. He knows Moses was sent to this tribe by Allah and conveyed Allah’s commands to the tribe. Everyone knows these things, but Ataturk looks at the issue from a different perspective: He adopts a realistic point of view; those people were slaves, were oppressed, and had a great yearning for liberation.
So, Moses was the leader of that liberation. This is how he reads, typologically. What did they save? If they saved anything, what was it? Using contemporary terminology, they saved their lives and their existence; they migrated to their own freedom; from the house of slavery, they moved to the house of freedom. Alright, but there is something interesting in this religious teaching. There is something called neshama. It is neshama, not ruah; not spirit. What became “the Holy Spirit” later in the narrative of Jesus was called neshama at the time. What does that mean? It means “God’s command.” The Holy Spirit is God’s command, God’s will. Whoever accepts God’s will has neshama. It is nephesh in Hebrew and nafs in Arabic; they did not save their nafs. They certainly removed their bodies, they certainly had nafs; they got married, and ate and drank; they had nafs. They also had individuality, but they saved their neshama, meaning that these people saved their faith. It was a society that was saved under the leadership of Moses, and then, with Jesus, the individual was saved. This is the emergence of the individual, and Ataturk has the following to say:
“Jesus chose to use the narrative of religion to call attention to the emerging worldwide need for compassion at an age of common suffering and endless misery.”
How is that for an observation? There is endless misery and oppression. The Romans are bringing destruction everywhere. People lament. Egyptians abuse their slaves. Everywhere it goes, Rome does the same thing. In the middle of all this misery, like Moses, Jesus looks for an opportunity to create a new society, a new state, and a new legal order so that oppressed spirits can be liberated and emancipated, no matter who the rulers are. This is Ataturk’s reading, and he says the following about Jesus: “He chose to use the narrative of religion to call attention to the emerging worldwide need for compassion at an age of common suffering and endless misery.” Religion means a way of living. Using religion means that he wanted to build his way of life on compassion. Compassion as a way of life. If you look at the Holy Bible, religion is defined on the basis of three principles: “Faith, hope, and love,” it says, but it should be compassion (shafaqah). Now, when you say “love”, its meaning is impoverished. What the word actually means is charity; it is mentioned in Surah Maryam, and it means feminine compassion, motherly compassion. For example, the Quran describes Mary, in Surah Maryam, as the “greatest of all women”. Jesus is the “Spirit of Allah” (Ruhullah); according to the Quran, he represents individuality. His mother was the mother who gives birth to freedom; his mother was compassion. Motherly compassion is divine, it is not learned. You can call it divine, natural, or instinctual, but whatever it is, it is not learned. “Mothers are the greatest of all women”; this is the gist of Surah Maryam. However, if we start thinking that there is this woman called Mary and she is the greatest of all women, this would mean leaving typology behind; we would be leaving hermeneutics behind, we would be absolutizing. A prophet; a type, a character… Each of us is asked to take similar actions, following the example of that character. The moment we sanctify that character and assume that those actions do not apply to us, we engage in shirk. Shirk is the state of glorifying a character while leaving oneself out. Now comes the conclusion; Ataturk concludes this speech of his as follows:
“In short, the force that moves people at will is ideas and the people who shape and spread these ideas.”
Here is Ataturk for you. He says that ideas rule the world, and it is educators, philosophers, and ideologues who spread these ideas and thus are the most powerful people. He is making a very important point. In other words, people tend to fear tanks, rifles, aircraft carriers, etc., and keep asking what to do about them, but he says ideas are more powerful. In fact, he won the War of Independence with people wearing sandals for shoes. We know he is not a philosopher, but he examines ideas and says the following:
“What characterizes the idea is that over time, it gains an absolute acceptance that cannot be shaken by any objections; this happens when an idea slowly turns into a feeling then into belief.”
Other ideas may be open to debate; you can change them or you can come up with new ideas, for example in philosophy, but an ideology emerges when an idea turns into faith or religion. Philosophy that fails to get in touch with human emotions through literature, poetry, novels, or other literary works cannot shape life. This is why Jean Paul Sartre, after producing a great philosophical text, also wrote literary works, poems, and plays to introduce living versions of philosophical concepts into society, versions that fire the imagination. The rational must meet the imaginative to be powerful. Pure rationality forms the basis of our judgments only; we cannot turn it into action. Passion is also required, and for passion to exist, you must believe and have faith in the idea. Belief and faith… Let me repeat the quote:
“What characterizes the idea is that over time, it gains an absolute acceptance that cannot be shaken by any objections.”
The word absolute here means it is not conditional; it refers to Kant’s categorical imperative, to a desire for being moral out of your own will, without any compulsion. “Virtue means wanting to be moral of one’s own free will. Adopting religious morality is not virtue,” says Kant. On the face of it, it appears to be an insult to religion, a rejection of religion. But no, he says following a morality provided by an ideology or a religion, a morality imposed from the outside and not produced within one’s own conscience, is not virtue. Is this difficult to understand? Not at all. Virtue means following what you find in your conscience. Virtue means living by the values that originate from your own conscience. This is what virtue is, what wisdom is. He then adds, “This happens when an idea slowly turns into a feeling then into belief.” Once this happens, no other logic or reasoning can shake an idea.
“Now, what are the desires, ideas, and forces hidden in the spirits of the people we are to guide and govern? Which desires of the people we are to govern are we to manifest and embody in our own selves to win their hearts and gain their confidence, and to suggest to them means of inspiration for spiritual force? Are we to use visible means to address in people the invisible faculties that become centralized only through the imagination and ideal?”
I sincerely want every Turkish youth to examine this analysis and maybe write an article or book about it.
“In any case, as it is a duty to win the spirit of our people, is it first to create a spirit, a desire, and a character…”
He underlines three things: “spirit” meaning individualism, “desire” meaning social participation, and “character” meaning trustworthiness.
“…to create a spirit, a desire, and a character is our duty after God and His Prophet resting in Medina.”
These quotes are from Volume II of Zabit ve Kumandan ile Hasbihal (Conversations with the Officer and Commander), published by Türkiye İş Bankası Press. You can check it out and read it for yourselves. We have been sharing these with people in Turkey for the last twenty years, but these are among the least well-known of his ideas. He wrote this book at the age of 33 when he was a military attaché in Sofia. Take this and study it; it has such a deep, succinct, unique narrative that explains what should be done without going into unnecessary detail or tiring the reader. And here is the last quote:
“It is a well-known fact that earthly ranks and titles mean nothing to the people who know, deep in their hearts’ conscience, no pleasure other than spiritual and holy ones.”
* This article has been reproduced from a speech Metin Bobaroğlu gave at the Anatolian Enlightenment Foundation on October 30, 2017. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.