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Islamic Scholar Voted World's No 1 Thinker

Guardian. Robert Tait, June 23, 2008

A hitherto largely unknown Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gülen, has been voted the world's top intellectual in a poll to find the leading 100 thinkers.

Gülen, the author of more than 60 books, won a landslide triumph after the survey - which is organised by the British magazine, Prospect, and Foreign Policy, a US publication - attracted more than 500,000 votes.

The top 10 individuals were all Muslim and included two Nobel laureates, the novelist Orhan Pamuk, who is also Turkish, at No 4, and the Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, in 10th.

The result surprised organisers, who attributed it to a sustained campaign by Gülen's followers, known as the Gülen Movement, after Turkey's biggest-selling newspaper, Zaman, publicised the poll.

Prospect's editor, David Goohart, admitted to not having previously heard of Gülen and said his supporters had "made a mockery" of the poll. But he said the result flagged up significant political trends in Turkey.

"The victory of Gülen draws attention to the most important conflict in Europe, played out in Turkey between the secular nationalist establishment and the reforming Islamic democrats of the AK [Justice and Development] party," he said.

The AKP, which is allied to Gülen, is contesting a case brought by Turkey's chief prosecutor to shut it down and ban it from politics for allegedly trying to usher in Islamic rule, in breach of the country's secular constitution.

A Gülen supporter, Bulent Kenes, who is editor-in-chief of Today's Zaman newspaper, denied the poll had been hijacked. "There are many people who promote Gülen's ideas, which contribute to world peace by urging international dialogue and tolerance."

Gülen, 67, is known for a modernist brand of Islam. He was cleared of trying to topple the state in 2006 after being charged over footage in which he apparently urged civil service supporters to await his orders to overthrow the system. He said the film had been doctored.

Gülen, who has lived in the US since 1998, is credited with establishing a global network of schools which preach Islam in a spirit of tolerance. He has been praised in the west for promoting dialogue and condemned Osama bin Laden as a monster after September 11.

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