Opening the Road to Dialogue: An Amalgamation of Gülen’s and Spinoza’s Ideas on Tolerance and Dialogue Applied to The Situation of Muslims in the Netherlands

Abstract

This paper is a demonstration of how perspectives from different times, locations, and worldviews can still find deep resonance and yield points supporting the necessity for dialogue and tolerance. By amalgamating two perspectives on these issues – one rooted in Islam, the other in secular early-Enlightenment – the authors show that although different they can together point to the same goal. The need for and the relationship between tolerance and dialogue are expressed in the writings of both Fethullah Gülen (1941-), an internationally-renowned scholar of Islam and a prominent teacher of peace and practitioner of dialogue, and Benedictus (Baruch) de Spinoza (1632-1677), the son of Portuguese Jew who sought refuge in Amsterdam during the seventeenth century and became the leader of a ‘radical’ philosophic current which divorced philosophy from theology. The merging of these two men’s ideas demonstrates in itself that a dialogue between ‘civilizations’ is possible and thus defies those who believe that Islam and the Judeo-Christian/secular West are destined to clash. Furthermore, their philosophies can inform public debates, policy development and community-building strategies in western European countries, like the Netherlands, with their growing Muslim populations. Islamophobic and anti-Muslim discourses have had a profound impact on recent developments in integration and naturalization policies in the Netherlands. All across western Europe the doctrine of multiculturalism and the welfare state shaped post-War immigrant related policies, but these policies have since been re-examined due to social problems among first and second generation immigrants and the emergence of what is considered to be ‘theologically’ inspired terrorism. In the Netherlands politicians, policy-makers and citizens struggle to deal with these discourses and especially the perceived tensions between the Dutch secular state and society and the increasing number of Muslim citizens. Thus the amalgamation of Gülen’s Islamic and Spinoza’s secular perspectives on tolerance and dialogue have the potential to contribute to the ‘peaceful coexistence’ of secular and Islamic residents.

by Dr. Ali Ünsal