M. Fethullah Gülen
Emerald Hills of the Heart

M. Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen, reverently called Hodjaefendi and known for his simple and austere lifestyle, profound learning, and education and inter-cultural dialogue activities, is a scholar of remarkable proportions. He was born in Erzurum, eastern Turkey, in 1941. Upon graduation from divinity school, he obtained his license to preach and teach. His social reform and intellectual, moral and spiritual revival efforts, begun during the 1960s, have made him one of Turkey’s most well-known and respected public figures and gained him a universal reputation as a peace, education and dia­logue activist.

Though simple in outward appearance, he is original in thought and action. He embraces all humanity, and is deeply averse to unbelief, injustice, and deviation. His belief and feelings are profound, and his ideas and approach to problems are both wise and rational. A living model of love, ardor, and feeling, he is balanced in his thoughts, acts, and treatment of matters.

He is acknowledged, either tacitly or explicitly, by Turkish intellectuals and scholars as one of the most serious and important thinkers and writers, and among the wisest activists of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries Muslim or even the entire world. But such accolades do not deter him from striving to be no more than a humble ser­vant of God and a friend to all. “Desire for fame is the same as show and ostentation, a ‘poisonous honey’ that extinguishes the heart’s spiritual liveliness:” is one of the golden rules he follows.

After completing his education, Fethullah Gülen first taught in Edirne, a province in the west border of Turkey with Europe, and was active in religious and social services. After doing his military service and teaching for some time in Edirne, he was transferred to İzmir, which proved to be a turning-point in his life. It was during this time that his total dedication to religious life and his interest in the general human condition became apparent. While in İzmir, he began to travel from city to city to speak on various religious and social subjects, and to visit places where people gathered to convey his message.

Gülen dreamed of a generation that would combine intellectual “enlightenment” with pure spirituality, wisdom, and continuous activism. Being notably knowledgeable in religious and social sciences and familiar with the principles of “material” sciences, he instructed his students in most of these areas. The first students who attended his courses in İzmir became the vanguard of a revived generation willing to serve his ideals.

Fethullah Gülen unequivocally believes and asserts that if you wish to serve people in the best way possible, simply make them thirst knowledge and equip them with love and self-sacrifice or al­truism. “One who wants to live should first try to make others live,” is one of the primary principles he follows. Dedicated to solving society’s problems, he maintains that the road to justice for all is paved with adequate universal education which aims at both intellectual and spiritual enlightenment, for only this will engender a sufficient level of understanding and dialogue in the society for the rights of others. To this end, he has encouraged society’s elite and community leaders, industrialists, and business leaders in his community to support quality education for the needy.

Gülen is well-known for his ardent endeavor to strengthen bonds among people. He maintains that there are more bonds bringing people together than those separating them. Based on this belief, he works without rest for a sincere, sound dialogue and mutual understanding. He was one of the founders of the Foundation of Journalists and Writers, a group that promotes dialogue and understanding both in Turkey and abroad. Gülen envisions a twenty-first century in which we will see the sprouting of a spiritual dynamic that will revive the now-dormant moral values. He envisions an age of happiness for the entire world.

“As for getting others to accept your ways,” Fethullah Gülen tells us, “the days of getting things done by brute force are over. In today’s world, the only way to get others to accept your ideas is by persuasion and convincing arguments. Those who resort to brute force to reach their goal are intellectually bankrupt souls.” In their daily lives, people must maintain the delicate balance between material and spiritual values if they are to enjoy serenity and true happiness. Unbridled greed must be guarded against. He continues to feel, deeply and inwardly, the suffering of both humanity’s intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy and of those who are oppressed by the prevailing materialistic worldview. A true guide who leads by example, he lives as he preaches and presents an ideal living model to emulate. A student of hadith, tafsir, fiqh, Sufism, and philosophy, he occupies his rightful place among his contemporaries in Islamic sciences.

He has taught many scholarly people, and continues to teach in private. His sermons and discourses have been recorded on thousands of tapes, video cassettes, CDs and DVDs, and many books have been compiled from his articles, sermons, and the answers he has given to different questions over the years. Some of his books are as follows:

  • Asrın Getirdiği Tereddütler (4 volumes; vols. I and II have appeared as Questions and Answers about Islam)
  • Kalbin Zümrüt Tepeleri (4 volumes; translated as Emerald Hills of the Heart: Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism)
  • Çağ ve Nesil (“This Era and the Young Generation”)
  • Ölçü veya Yoldaki Işıklar, (4 volumes; a selection has appeared as Pearls of Wisdom)
  • Zamanın Altın Dilimi (“The Golden Part of Time”)
  • Renkler Kuşağında Hakikat Tomurcukları (2 volumes; vol. 1 has appeared as Truth through Colors)
  • Kırık Mızrap (“Broken Plectrum”), a collection of verse
  • Fatiha Üzerine Mülahazalar (“The Interpretation of Sura­tu’l-Fatiha”)
  • Sonsuz Nur (2 volumes, translated as Muhammad: The Messenger of God)
  • Yitirilmiş Cennet’e Doğru (translated as Towards the Lost Paradise)
  • İnancın Gölgesinde (translated as The Essentials of the Islamic Faith)

Some of Hodjaefendi’s books, such as Kırık Mızrap, İnancın Gölgesinde, Sonsuz Nur, and Asrın Getirdiği Tered­dütler have also been translated into many other languages such as German, Russian, Albanian, and Bulgarian.

The Emerald Hills of the Heart or Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism

The aspect of Fethullah Gülen’s “mission” or personality as a trainer of the human soul may be seen most profoundly and comprehensively in Emerald Hills of the Heart, a four-volume compilation of his writings that were published over the years in the monthly periodical, Sızıntı. In this series, Gülen introduces and describes the various stages of the Sufi path or elucidates the principles of Sufism; to be more exact, he portrays the spiritual and moral dimensions of Islam. This is done via a conceptual framework. Those who follow the articles can immediately see that this enunciation or style of analysis of the subject is different from the methods followed by others who have laid emphasis on Sufi concepts.

Those readers who are not familiar with Islam or Sufism should notice the following points.

First, men and women begin to follow the Sufi path when they sense there is something more in and to Islam than what appears on the surface or that they should get nearer to God. They act on this desire by following a stricter way of self-purification in order to penetrate the “inner” dimension and meaning of Islamic acts of worship, to reach a deeper understanding of the meaning and purposes of the Divine Acts, and to acquire thereby knowledge and love of Him. When this point has been reached, God begins to draw them to Himself at a pace appropriate for that particular individual. With the help of a spiritual guide, who does not force but rather only suggests and clarifies matters for the aspirant, the novice Sufi begins the journey back to God by means of the instructions and techniques required for progressing on the path. As the aspirant’s will becomes ever-closer aligned with God’s Will, it is the individual Sufi who freely chooses to progress further. There is no external force or pressure.

Sufism does not consist of only obeying orders, submitting to a spiritual leader, engaging in constant self-criticism sessions, and employing various methods to “reform” or “cleanse” one’s character or mind. It is not a “cult,” in the current pejorative sense that this term has acquired in the West. Although these elements are present in Sufism, no one is predestined or commanded to engage in them. One cannot be coerced into following the Sufi path by threats or promises, whether made by God or another Sufi. God is not a “master” who orders individuals to do what is impossible for them and then punish them when they cannot comply with His “demand.”

But, most important of all, Sufism is a life-long process of spiritual development. The reader will notice throughout this series that each stage or station is a gift of God. This does not mean, however, that the aspirant can sit back and wait for it to be bestowed. Quite the contrary: An individual must actively prepare himself or herself to receive the gift through the method given by his or her spiritual guide. When the individual has accomplished this, the gift will be bestowed.

Second, the author emphasizes such concepts as human innate poverty and powerlessness. These concepts have specific meanings in Sufism, all of which stem from the belief that God is the source of everything. For example, one cannot have true power because all power belongs to God. Therefore, in reality he or she is powerless. One is helpless, because there is no one who can provide assistance other than God. One’s perception and admittance of one’s helplessness and destitution before God, the Source of everything, is the real source of his or her power and wealth. An individual is powerful by the Power of God, and wealthy by the Richness of God.

Understood in this context, one sees immediately that Sufism is a path demanding the individual’s active participation in his or her spiritual growth and development. One is not allowed to be passive, hoping that God will bestow this or that blessing or station. Rather, one does what is necessary to grow spiritually, and God bestows the blessings and stations when the individual is ready to receive them.

Emerald Hills of the Heart, from one vantage point, erects a framework, while from another vantage point it abolishes all limits and frames. As the spiritual life has more of an “inward” nature and as proceeding on the “inward” track is both difficult and strenuous, such a journey must be undertaken within a specific framework. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, a twentieth-century Turkish scholar and reviver, warns that all the factions that have digressed (on the Sufi path) have been led astray by their leaders, who have set out into the inner dimension of existence, who made some progress, but because they did not comply with the Sunna, presumed that what they had received meant that they had reached the apex, and thus regressed, misleading both themselves and others. Since journeying on the spiritual path is risky and this path contains many special characteristics, those who enter it must observe the principles of Islamic jurisprudence strictly and try to advance in the lights it provides in order to be able to avoid possible deviance. Throughout history, stemming from partial ignorance or neglect of these principles, or simply from dissociation with them due to some theoretical considerations, many Sufi sects, deceptive in their inward inclinations, have emerged, while many other deviant sects or factions have sought a safe haven under the protection of Sufism. Hence, for spiritual or Sufi life to advance on the basis of Islamic principles or along the guidelines of Islamic jurisprudence without causing or suffering any digressions, Emerald Hills of the Heart delineates the limits of the spiritual path, illuminating it at the same time with floodlit projectors that it has placed at every stage and station.

While sketching such limits on the one hand, Emerald Hills of the Heart, as we have indicated, destroys, on the other, all limits and borders imposed before the spiritual journeying. Such a spiritual progression is virtually infinite, and is comprised of as many stages and ranks as there are believers, from the most honorable of all creation, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, to the most ordinary Muslim. Furthermore, although on the one hand this path is accessible to all, from another perspective it has particular lanes, along which only very few human beings are able to walk. The school of Muhyi’d-Din ibnu’l-‘Arabi, or the doctrine of Wahdatu’l- Wujud, which literally means “the Unity of Being,” for instance, may be considered to be among the most particular of these lanes. The spiritual path also contains various distinguishing subtle characteristics or particularities that can only be comprehended by those with the ability to brave these rough terrains. Emerald Hills of the Heart, however, is able to evaluate these characteristics within both the boundaries and limits of the Islamic measures and the enormous profundity and infinity of spiritual life.

Emerald Hills of the Heart also presents God through all His Attributes and Names, thus profusely illuminating the way. This feature allows for the sciences of theology, Sufism and wisdom, or Hikmah, as it is termed in Islam, which is different from philosophy, to emerge from within Emerald Hills of the Heart as a science of Ma‘rifah, or knowledge of God. These sciences in unison expound a detailed synoptic map of the Divine manifestation and the relationship between the Creator and the created, which are often alluded to in Islamic Sufism in the shade of certain mysterious symbols and expressions that are difficult to comprehend. In addition, both through the concepts and subjects mentioned and certain other concepts and subjects it discusses such as “Heavenly Realms,” “Metaphysical Realms,” “Archetypes and the World of Representations or Ideal Forms,” Emerald Hills of the Heart presents ontology and a “Sufi” cosmology, drawing a metaphysical road map that can shed a light on physics and astrophysics. In addition to these, by way of utilizing such spiritual ranks as Talib (the Seeker), Murid (the One Who Wills), Salik (the Initiate), and Wasil (the One Who has Reached), and Nujaba (the Nobles), Nukaba (the Custodians), Awtad (the Pillars), Qutb (the Pole), Qutbu’l-Aktab (the Pole of Poles) and Ghawth (the Helper), Emerald Hills of the Heart discusses the relationship between God and His human creation with the most unique and sensitive aspects of this relationship, while at the same time it focuses on human identity as of the best stature and the perfect pattern of creation by making use of the concept of the Perfect or Universal Man.

Another important attribute of Emerald Hills of the Heart, at least as important, if not more so, as the other attributes mentioned above, is that it presents the Islamic spiritual life that constitutes the core of Islam not as a theoretical subject but as lived by the Companions of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them all. It presents this life as a profound experience of the heart, mind, and body described and appointed by Islam. It also investigates how it has taken shape throughout history. Emerald Hills of the Heart bequeaths to future ages—a time in which perhaps apparently different realms of religion and reason, science, technology, rhetoric and welfare will, in cooperation, make unprecedented and inconceivable progress—the legacy of Sufism, with all its dimensions, or the spiritual life of Islam in its immense entirety as a safe and sound road that has been protected against all manners of deviation.

By Ali Unal, Ph.D.