Popular televised series produced and aired by Gülen-affiliated TV channel showered with criticism over its exploitation of Prophet Muhammad for its own benefit.
The Gülen Movement is blatantly using religious rhetoric for self-defense with a constant buildup of pressure as more controversial recordings are revealed and controversial programs televised. A scene in the latest episode of “Şefkat Tepe” (Hill of Compassion), a TV series aired on Samanyolu TV (STV) shocked viewers and enraged many.
The movement has previously been widely criticized for tapes including conversations between Fetullah Gülen, the movement’s leader and his followers. In one of these tapes, the conversation between Mustafa Günay, the secretary general for the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON) and Fethullah Gülen covers a vast range of topics. Gülen suggests that members of the parliament resign from the AK Party. In a Nov. 22, 2013 dated tape recording, a follower of the movement mentions that he dreamt about the Prophet, who told him to double the number of – anti-government – tweets. Gülen reaffirms and says that his followers should do whatever the Prophet told them to.
On the other hand, a number of students came out and confessed that they were given the answer key to questions in university placement exams. They were also told that Fethullah Gülen allegedly “dreamt” the answers.
More importantly, STV televised a controversial scene that angered and disappointed many. In the most recent episode of the series, a soldier under intensive care dreams of a gathering with his teammates and chants the name of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet is portrayed as a beam of light descending from the sky down to a throne positioned on the back of a truck. The truck then takes off with the soldier and his friends chasing the truck to stop it. The soldier is hit by the truck and injured. His wound is healed by the light, which then disappears.
This scene received significant backlash from a number of people, including Ahmet Tezcan, who was a scriptwriter for another TV series on the channel until he saw the scene. Tezcan was petrified to see that the blessed Prophet was exploited to such degree, he said in a press statement. As a result, he announced his resignation from his position as scriptwriter at STV.
On the other hand, in an interview with Sabah English Eda Tezcan, also a scriptwriter, criticized the scene for being inappropriate by religious standards and for being of poor quality in terms of technical standards: “I did not quite get what they were trying to explain here… There are certain things that you could get away with not including in the script and this was definitely one of those scenes,” she said. Tezcan inferred that the scene could be a message from Fethullah Gülen, living in self-imposed exile, to viewers to convey the idea that they are a community capable of achieving anything through prayers. Furthermore, Tezcan stated that the Prophet cannot be degraded to be a subject on a TV series, resembling that of a former children’s show, “Selena” – a fairy – whereby a group of children gather and call for her when they need help.
She explained that such scenes are not only absurd but also disturb the society and our common sacred values. Tezcan referred to the scene as “impertinent and disrespectful” and stated that she would be ashamed to write such scene if she was asked to do so.
On a call to Turkey’s Ministry of Religion’s fatwa phone line – dedicated to answering questions regarding Islamic rulings on anything from everyday matters to more complicated issues – Daily Sabah asked if the scene was in accord with Islamic values. The scholar confirmed that it is wrong to associate the Prophet with superhuman attributes and that he is a human being born from a mother just like any other person. He continued to say that the scene in question was nothing but fiction and should not be interpreted as the truth. Moreover, he also noted that great care must be taken when interpreting dreams in Islam. Dreams cannot be taken as divine revelations as they are highly subjective to the individual’s subconscious and therefore people should not base their lives around them.
A great number of scholars also criticized the scene for being inappropriate and misguiding. Yusuf Şevki Yavuz, a professor of Islamic Theology at Istanbul’s Marmara University expressed his dismay with the scene and criticized it for misleading the public: “The Qur’an refers to the Prophet as ‘light,’ but this is a spiritual description and should not be taken out of context as is the case here.” He expressed that by Islamic guidelines, it would be inappropriate to draw such an extraordinary and unrealistic figure of the Prophet. Mr. Yavuz also stated that it is not appropriate to exploit the Prophet by using him as a tool to defend one’s self in terms of worldly issues: “In the past, those who lived a pious life would never disclose their own spiritual experiences and it is immoral to use such sacred figures to defend a social or political movement.” On the other hand, Servet Bayındır from the Faculty of Religion at Istanbul University noted, “There is nothing else to say except that this scene has no basis in the Islamic faith.” Vehbi Vakkasoğlu, also a scholar, stated that the Prophet is one of the most sensitive topics for Muslims, because he is the honor of Islam: “I find it very unpleasant to see him used in ways that could be misinterpreted by a number of people.”
In addition, Dr. Mustafa Öztürk stated that he considered the scene as an exploitation of the Prophet and was nothing but rarely found superstition. Dr. Hüseyin Hatemi also criticized the scene and said that according to the standards of the scene, it would be totally normal to expect the Prophet to go to Gülen’s house in Pennsylvania and was intentionally produced to make people believe their scenarios.
Both STV and producers and scriptwriters of the series refused to comment on the subject.
Muslim authorities have claimed that images of animate objects and beings are forbidden and disliked. More importantly, Islam strictly prohibits depicting pictures or figures of the Prophet, who is considered to be the greatest creation of God, and the perfect role model for humankind, which simply cannot be expressed via visual works.