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Who is Fethullah Gulen?

?"Who is Fethullah Gulen?"

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Fethullah Gulen

Who is Fethullah Gulen?

Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish Muslim scholar, thinker, author, poet, opinion leader, educational activist, and preacher emeritus. He is regarded as the initiator and inspirer of the worldwide social movement of human values known as the Hizmet (Service) Movement or the Gülen Movement . He is respected by his readers and listeners as a living model of high values like wisdom, faith, love, ardor, respect, sincerity, piety, sensitivity, and service to humanity. Gülen is considered among the most influential intellectuals not only of the modern Turkey but also of the entire globe. In July 2008, Fethullah Gülen was listed among the top hundred public intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine . Despite the high regard millions hold for him, Gulen considers himself only one of the volunteers of the civil society movement he helped generate and denounces being its leader. He spends most of his time reading, writing, editing, worshiping, and receiving medical care. Feeling sadness with the falling leaves and sharing the suffering of humans in every corner of the world, he has always been known for his deep respect for and connection to all creation. “Living to let others live” is the core principle of his understanding of service. His position of dialogue, empathic acceptance, and harmonious coexistence can best be reflected in a comparison with that of Rumi, one of his sources of inspiration. While the latter calls, whirling, "Come, come, whoever you are; ours is not the caravan of despair," Gülen announces, walking, "I am coming, whoever you are; is not ours the journey of hope?"

Gülen was born of a humble family in Erzurum, Turkey, in 1941, and was raised in a spiritually enriching environment. He attended a public elementary school for three years but could not continue due to the appointment of his father to a village where there was no public school. He later obtained his diploma by self-studying and passing a comprehensive examination. His religious education consisted of studies in classical Islamic sciences such as Qur’anic recitation and memorization, exegesis (tafseer), Arabic language, Prophetic Tradition (hadith) as well as the spiritual tradition of Islam (tasawwuf), which he studied under renown scholars and spiritual masters around his hometown. After passing an exam administered by the Turkish State’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet Isleri Baskanligi) in 1958, he was awarded a state preacher license and began to preach and teach in Edirne, a province on the European part of the country. In this period of his youth, he had the opportunity to deepen his knowledge in the Islamic tradition, informally study social and natural sciences, and examine the classics of both Eastern and Western philosophy and literature. Among the historic figures who had the most impact on his intellectual life we can mention Ghazali, Rumi, Yunus Emre, and Nursi. It was his broad-ranged reading attitude that equipped him for his well-known comprehensive interpretations. In the age of twenty-eight, he was promoted to a post in Izmir, the largest province of the west coast of Turkey, where Gülen’s outstanding discourse began to crystallize and his audience to expand. He traveled from city to city to give sermons in mosques, speeches at gatherings in various places including theatres and coffee houses. Speaking on essential subjects ranging from peace and social justice to philosophical naturalism, his primary aim always remained as urging the younger generation to harmonize intellectual enlightenment with spirituality anchored in the faith tradition, and to serve fellow humans altruistically.

Gülen’s discourse, which had been easily distinguished by its being full of sensitivity, knowledge, logic, proper referencing and stellar eloquence, attracted the attention of the academic community, especially college students, as well as common people all around the country. His speeches were recorded in tapes, distributed even in villages, and zealously embraced. As he frankly asserts, he simply thought to cultivate this public credit, “though he never deserved it,” by channeling good intentions and devotional energy towards a positive end. Fethullah Gulen describes this initially national and subsequently universal ideal as “gathering around high human values” by means of education and dialogue. Regarding this ideal, Gülen has always named his function as “advisor” or “motivator” at most. His audience in Izmir initially served as a seed to form a community of like-minded citizens from all walks of life and later expanded to citizens from very different backgrounds, including non-Muslims who share the humanistic dimension of Gulen’s vision if not its Islamic roots. The ever-expanding public response to Gulen’s message culminated in a social phenomenon which could not be described as a community any more and instead transformed into a civic movement with pietistic roots, often referred to as “Hizmet” (The word for “service” in Turkish). Volunteer participants in the movement, consisting of students, academicians, business owners, professionals, public officials, farmers, men and women, young and old, contributed to multiple ways of service, which crystallized in tutoring centers, schools, colleges, hospitals, a major relief organization, publishing houses, and media institutions, both in Turkey and in more than a hundred countries of the world.

As a preacher emeritus, Fethullah Gülen gave his most celebrated series of sermons between 1988 and 1991 in the biggest mosques of the country which were packed in the early hours of the morning. Due to health concerns, he retired from preaching but continued small conversation circles in his residence, which often consisted of answering questions from members of the audience at the time. Starting in 1994, Gülen pioneered a rejuvenation of the Interfaith Dialog spirit in the Turkish-Muslim tradition, which was forgotten amidst the troublesome years of the early twentieth century. The Foundation of Journalists and Writers , of which Gulen was the honorary president, organized a series of gatherings involving leaders of religious minorities in Turkey such as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Armenian Orthodox Patriarch, Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Vatican’s Representative to Turkey and others. Another platform named “Abant” brought together leading intellectuals from all corners of the political spectrum, the leftists, the atheists, the nationalists, the religious conservatives, and the liberals, providing for the first time in recent Turkish history a place where such figures could debate freely about the common concerns of all citizens and pressing social problems. The growing influence of Fethullah Gulen and the significance of the civic movement he helped generate worried some circles in the country who benefited from a closed society with government-favored enterprises, a monopoly on the intellectual life and an isolationist approach to foreign affairs. These circles accused of having long-term political ambitions and eventually persuaded an ultra-nationalist prosecutor to bring charges against him. While these charges were found to be baseless and eventually dismissed, the case caused a set-back in the interfaith and intercultural dialog spirit that Gulen helped re-kindle. Upon the recommendation of his doctors, Fethullah Gulen moved to the U.S. to stay away from the politically charged atmosphere of the 1997 post-modern coup and to receive medical care for his diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a host of other health problems. He currently lives at a retreat facility in Pennsylvania together with a group of students, scholars and a few visitors who consider it a “good” day in terms of his health if he is able to have a half-hour conversation answering their questions.

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About Fethullah Gülen - Fethullah Gülen's Biography

This statement is mainly based on Gülen’s biographical interview, Küçük Dünyam (Istanbul: Ufuk, 2006), his latest publications, the series of Kırık Testi (7 volumes, Istanbul), and the biographical analysis about Fethullah Gülen by Ali Ünal, Bir Portre Denemesi (Istanbul: Nil, 2002).

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