Feb 19 2018

War of words between Turkish religious orders

Preachers from two of Turkey’s influential Islamist orders have entered a war of words after one of them used a political slur to refer to one of the earliest Muslim caliphs, the left-wing Turkish newspaper SoL reports.

Fatih Nurullah, the leader of the Uşşaki order, likened the seventh century founder of the Umayyad Dynasty, Muawiyah I, to the Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETO), an alleged terrorist network led by the Turkish Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen that is blamed for the failed July 2016 coup attempt directed at the Turkish government.

Muawiyah, who succeeded Hassan to become the sixth caliph, is a controversial figure in Sunni Islam for his opposition to the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin Ali and for ending the period when caliphs were chosen by Muslims.

Ahmet Mahmut Ünlü, a popular preacher from the İsmailağa order of Naqshbandi Sufis, harshly condemned Nurullah for his words during a filmed speech to his congregation. “What kind of a sheikh is he?” asked Ünlü, commonly known in Turkey as Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca, recalling that he had refused a visit from Nurullah while imprisoned in the early 2000s. He went on to shower invective on the Uşşaki leader for almost ten minutes of his speech.

Ünlü is one of the most distinctive popular preachers in Turkey, known as much for his scriptural knowledge as for his rapid-fire, humorous delivery during sermons.

Nurullah’s response did little to calm the tone. “Who do you think you are, boy?” he demanded during a speech to his followers, touching on Ünlü and the matter of Muawiyah.

“For the İsmailağas, Muawiyah is like Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk)”, he said, referring to the founder of the Turkish Republic, whose figure is legally protected against insulting rhetoric in Turkey.

He went on to call the order “foul-mannered, shameless, discredited scholars”.

Religious orders are important parts of Turkey’s cultural and societal landscape, with Naqshbandi Sufi orders traditionally playing a hugely significant role in these areas since Ottoman times. Recently, it has been suggested that some of these orders may be gaining great influence over government ministries, filling the gap following the great purge of Gulenists which has been going on since early 2014, but accelerated after the failed coup attempt of 2016.

The Uşşaki order follow the teachings of the twentieth century Kurdish scholar Said Nursi, who became influential despite his opposition to the ruling Kemalist state and years in prison.

Uşşaki leader Nurullah's one of recent sermons captured in a video also created a buzz in Turkey's social media when it turned out that Nurullah is heralding his followers by giving a guarantee to enter the heaven afterlife if they kissed his hands here, in this world.