“Let us get to know one another, for it makes things easier;
let us stop being strangers, let us love and be loved;
for the world is no one’s to inherit.”
Yunus Emre

A person of Anatolia can play an active role in the development of a mutual understanding, being situated between the East and the West, and with a deep awareness of both civilizations. The key difference between the civilizations of the East and West is that while the former is “verbal” and “conscientious”, the latter is “visual” and “rational”. Far Eastern and Sanskrit civilizations may also be counted among the verbal civilizations. The East is an “inner-worldly,” “verbal/auditory” and “meditative” civilization; it is the birthplace of religions and mystic movements. It comprehends life through symbols, and allows interpretations with multiple meanings. Life is improved through “intention”, and the arts are dominated by poetry and literature. The West is an “outer-worldly” and rational civilization, being one that expresses meaning through conceptual thinking. The symbol of Western civilization is the eye of providence –the eye of reason– that through the applied concepts, reduces meaning to a single rather than multiple determination.

The religion with the greatest number of followers in the West is Christianity, which is Eastern in origin. Christianity is descended from the Torah, and adopts a monotheistic position that emphasizes the verbal over the visual, as reflected in the call “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad!” (Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord) (Deuteronomy 6:4, KJV) It is also reflected in the Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” (Exodus 20:4-5, KJV)

In fact, the first verse of the Book of John summarizes the point: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God …” (John 1:1 KJV).

However, despite all these warnings, the rationalist Western world, following the Greek tradition of philosophy and the arts, dressed up the meanings of the Eastern verbal culture, making them visible in contravention of God’s command. Thus, the West built “cathedrals” full of statues and paintings, as opposed to “synagogues”, which contain nothing but the word of God, and built the church organized around strict rules, in contravention to the independent faith doctrine of Jesus.

The ability of the Greco-Roman roots of the Western world to institutionalize all forms of thought –including mystic thought– turned even the spiritual religion of Christianity into a this-worldly, systematized institution.

Accordingly, in the Western civilization, the word “religion” does not have the same connotations as it does in the East. Westerners use concepts in a concrete sense; that is to say, the concepts they use refer to visible phenomena. The word “religion,” thus, reminds a European of “institutionalized religion”, for example, the Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant churches. In contrast, when we in the Eastern world think of “religion”, we do not think of a specific institution. The Directorate of Religious Affairs in Turkey, for example, does not correspond to the church. It is simply an institution that organizes the appointment of religious personnel and the maintenance of places of worship, with a mandate to deal with “religious affairs” rather than with “religion” itself.

In Christianity, on the other hand, there is a distinct class of clergy that serve as “intermediaries” between God and his children (Jesus is a “mediator”). Guides (murshids) in Sufism (tasawwuf), however, not simply a “means” but they are “cause”. In Christianity, the bearer and the protector of the word of God is the “clergy”, which acts on behalf of the church (ecclesia: the assembly of the faithful). In Islam, on the other hand, the “individual” is directly addressed by God’s command, there being no intermediaries. The “scholars” permitted by the Holy Quran do not correspond to the clergy; the “scholars with firm knowledge” that the Quran speaks of are simply “expert scholars”, having no right to interfere in people’s inner lives, and having no mediating role between God and his subjects. “Lâ ruhban-e fiddiyn” (No clergy in religion) is one of the basic tenets of Islam. Religious personnel, such as imams (prayer leaders) and muazzins (who recite the call to prayer), are not clergy, just as “fatwa” and “dogma” are not the same. A person who requests a fatwa –from multiple people if they so desire– only obtains an “opinion” on the subject at hand, and seeks to find the true answer after consulting their own consciences. Dogma, on the other hand, is the “will of the church” that requires unquestioning obedience, having the same power as “verses”. Disregard of dogma results in excommunication.

The Turkish word “vicdan” is derived from the Arabic root w-j-d, which means “to find”, while other Turkish translations of the word include “bulunç” or “duyunç” – literally finding and sensing. In Christianity, the clergy refers to people who lead to the truth; in Islam, on the other hand, the individual is responsible for finding the truth. There is an interesting symbolic counterpart in this comparison: In Christianity, the clergy “baptize” people with water, and the baptized person is thus “initiated” (becomes an adherent of the church); Muslims, on the other hand, “take ablutions” (abdest, Ar. wudu) using water on their own behest, seeking to earn God’s favour alone, with no relation to any institution or community.

All these details together paint an important picture. In the West, the institutional separation of the church and state, which had its roots in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, was ultimately caused by Christianity’s organization as an institution.

Clericus and laicus, that is to say the clergy and laicity, are separated in the house of worship by the temporare –the “threshold of the sacred”– to create a temple. When Jesus says, “I am not of the world” (John 17:16 KJV), he is saying that while he is in this world, he is not of this world. Those who have the “Holy Spirit” are separated from those who do not, although anyone who wishes so can ask for the “Holy Spirit”, which is to be done in the temple. Being initiated means being part of the community.

According to the Christian doctrine, people are burdened with “original sin”, which was what led to Adam being expelled from paradise. This sin is only removed after taking the “baptism of repentance”, as taught by John the Baptist, and obtaining the “Holy Spirit” by accepting Jesus’ “ransom”, as the person willingly follows God’s command. Aside from that, people are both in and of this world, and “spiritless”, but must be filled with “Holy Spirit” if they are to enter the “heavenly realm”, as this is how salvation works.

In the Christian doctrine, Jesus is “Christ” –he is the word made flesh, that is to say Logos– and is tasked with cleansing people of their sins. Other prophets are not tasked with this duty, as “Only he who is without sin can remove sin” is a basic tenet, and it is written in the Old Testament that all of the Israeli prophets sinned in one way or another, like other people.

In the Muslim faith, Jesus is one of the Hebrew prophets, but differs from the others: “The Messiah, Jesus was but a messenger of Allah and His word … and a spirit from Him” (The Holy Quran, An-Nisa 171) and “the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam.” (Ali ‘Imran 59)

When Jesus said, pointing to the drawing of Caesar on Roman coins, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21, KJV) Christians thought he was referring to taxes, but Jesus also said “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24 KJV) Indeed, the Old Testament mentions the giving of “tithes” in addition to making “offerings” to the temple.

In addition to the taxes collected by the earthly states, the church has the right to collect separate taxes from the faithful, and this is the gist of “secularism”. What is meant is not a separation of religious and state affairs, but of the “institution of religion” and the “institution of the state”. In a secular state, no authority other than the state can collect taxes; this is a matter of sovereignty. Secularism, then, rightly refers to the division of sovereignty between two institutions – the church and state.

In Islam, no distinctions are made between the “religious” and “non-religious”, or between the “sacred” and “non-sacred”. The belief that Allah is omnipresent means, together with the principle of “unity” rather than “duality”, that the whole world is a house of worship. In other words, the faithful can “worship” in any place that is “clean”.

Disregarding the “unifying essence” of Islam, and treating it as just another religion among others while painting it as the source of a violent worldview would be a gross injustice. Without the Sufi “wisdom” (irfan), what remains of Islam would be empty rituals, and these can be a source of anger and aggression, being unable to satisfy the human soul. Sufism is the antidote to “bigotry”, and it is through Sufism that the “lust and wrath” of the self can be transformed into “virtue and bravery.”

The Torah says that linguistic unity came to an end with the destruction of the Tower of Babel, and as a result, people were no longer able to understand each other. With the loss of “natural linguistic unity,” people became separated from nature and from one another, and organized themselves into separate tribes and nations.

Only through “consent” can for all these differences lead to tawhid (unity). The Holy Quran says: “If they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.” (Al-Anfal 61) Consent is only possible if people get to know and accept one another. With globalization, people have gained the opportunity to “dwell within the entire Earth,” which requires a common conceptual language. It is possible to construct a conceptual language that could unite all humanity in the form of “a [single] structure joined firmly” (As-Saf 4), a temple of universal ideals made from the bricks of common “wisdom”.

The Holy Quran says, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Al-Hujurat 13)

Let us end this treaty with a quote from Haji (Haje) Bektash Veli: “He who distinguishes between nations is a sinner in the eyes of Allah, though he maybe a teacher to the people.”

The religion in the sight of Allah is Islam, and Islam is “peace”.

* First published in Taraf, on 26 October 2012. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.