Who Is M. Fethullah Gülen?
A Brief History
A man for all seasons, M. Fethullah Gülen was born in tiny village of Korucuk, in Erzurum Province, Eastern Turkey, in November 1938. His family tree is traced to a noble lineage. He comes from a long line of learned scholars. Born with an insatiable appetite for learning, Gülen received his initial education from his parents who were scholars and teachers in their own right. Later he continued his studies under the tutelage of some of the most prominent Islamic scholars in Eastern Turkey. Sheik Muhammed Lutfi and Sheik Alvarli are two who immediately come to mind. Blessed with extraordinary oratory skills, even at the ripe age of 15, Gülen was recognized as one of the more accomplished preachers in the early 1950s, mentioned in the same breath with some of the more learned scholars, many years his senior, in Eastern Anatolia.
In 1958 he was granted state preacher’s license, receiving the highest exam score and assigned to a mosque in Edirne, Turkey. After a stint in Edirne, followed by military service, and an assignment in Kirklareli, he was promoted to a preaching post in Izmir, the third largest province of Turkey in 1966.
Izmir assignment marks one of the most important milestones in his life, as it was in this city of diverse intellects that he started and crystallizing his theme, expanding his audience base, and emphasizing in sermons and speeches pressing social issues of the times. His initial batch of disciples who currently make up the core of his followers, was trained in Izmir during these formative years.
In Izmir, he did not restrict himself to teaching in the inner city circles alone. Unsatisfied with the small congregation his weekly sermons, he decided to reach a wider cross section of the Anatolian population and started to roam the eastern Aegean shores in a “whistle stopping” style. He lectured not only in mosques but also at town meetings and corner coffee houses. This enabled him to reach a more representative cross section of the population and a larger audience. Also at this time he started to attract the attention of academic community, especially the student body, main target. The subject matter of his, speeches, be they formal or informal, was not only limited to religion but ranging from education, economy, science to social justice and Darwinism. It was the depth and quality of his speeches in a wide range of topics that impressed the academic community most about him and won the respect and attention of intellects.
After Izmir, he continued his official duties as preacher in Edremit , Manisa and Bornova, in Western Turkey, until retirement in 1980. During 1988-91 he gave a series of sermons as preacher emeritus in some of the most famous mosques in major population centers, while continuing his message in the form of popular conferences not only in Turkey but also in Europe. These gatherings attracted tens of thousands of admirers. He has since been concentrating his efforts in establishing a dialogue of understanding and tolerance among factions representing different ideologies, cultures, religions and nations. He attends meetings and conferences to prepare the humanity for the birth of the century of tolerance and understanding which will lead to the cooperation of civilizations. He constantly meets with prominent national and international figures to share this message. Today, he communicates to much broader cross-section of people through media.
He is a prolific writer. He writes the editorial article in Yeni Umit, Sizinti and the Fountain magazines. He has written more than twenty books, hundreds of articles, and recorded numerous audio and video cassettes. Some of his works, such as The Infinite Light (The Life of Prophet Muhammad), The Questions, Criteria, Prophet Muhammed as Commander, The Essentials of Islamic Faith, Towards the Lost Paradise, have been translated into English. Some of his books have also been translated into German, Russian, Albanian and Bulgarian. His Poems have also been compiled in a book titled “Broken Pick”, pick as in playing a string instrument.
M. Fethullah Gülen is familiar with Arabic and Persian. As a student of hadith, tafsir, fiqh, and tasawwuf, he occupies his rightful place among his contemporaries in Islamic sciences. His admirers are estimated to be millions worldwide.
A Man Of Extraordinary Dimensions
Known for his modesty and austere life style, M. Fethullah Gülen, affectionately referred to as Hocaefendi* by his admirers, is a man of extraordinary dimensions. He has taken great pains in communicating to the society the importance of human understanding and tolerance. His efforts since 1960s especially for educational reforms, have made him one of the most well known and respected figures in Turkey. His biography, which was published recently, has made the fiftieth edition.
Gülen has devoted his life in to finding solutions to ills and spiritual deficiencies of mankind. As a peace activist, intellectual, religious scholar, teacher, preacher, author and a poet, he leads by example and lives what he preaches. In himself he offers us an ideal model to emulate.
Gulen As An Educator
Totally dedicated to solving the society’s problems, M. Fethullah Gülen believes the road to justice for all is paved with an adequate universal education of all. Only then would there be sufficient understanding and tolerance to show respect for the rights of others. To this end, he has over the years encouraged society’s elite and the community leaders, industrialists as well as small businessmen to support quality education. With donations from these sources hundreds of schools were established not only in Turkey but also abroad. His tireless efforts in this area have begun to bear fruit for the society as the students graduating from the private schools in Turkey and especially Central Asia, fostered through his inspirations, and run as trusts, have taken top honors in University placement tests and consistently finished at the top in International Science Olympics, producing a number of world champions, especially in math, physics, chemistry, and biology. In fact, recently as July 1997, a chemistry team from Yamanlar High School in Izmir, competed in the Chemistry Olympics, in Calgary, Canada and took the top honors from among fifty nations.
M. Fethullah Gülen has long had a dream of a golden generation, a generation of impeccable moral fiber, in quest of a society – almost a utopia – where peace and harmony will be the rule; a society where no wide disparity shall exist between the haves and have-nots, between the strong and the weak, between the learned and the unlettered, between the selfish and unselfish; where individual rights and freedoms are respected and protected, where equal opportunity for all is more than his dream.
Gülen believes, is not beyond the reach of man provided, however, the attainment of knowledge is accomplished parallel with high moral and spiritual values to protect man against the enemy within, his greed. He warns us against unbridled power, unbridled with moral and spiritual values.
His efforts to establish schools all over the world is aimed at a complete education of tomorrow’s leaders to attain the required knowledge tempered with moral and ethical values, to run the affairs of the world for benefit of the whole mankind.
He maintains, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be”. In the area of education he has inspired the use of mass media, especially television, to inform the public, especially those unable to attain a formal education, of the pressing matters in the society.
View On Politics and Political System
As a political and governing system, democracy is the only alternative left in the world he maintains. In spite of its many shortcomings, according to Gülen, mankind has not yet designed a better governing system than democracy. We must, therefore, be fully committed to Democracy and make it work, as no other alternative is acceptable. Man shall always demand freedom of choice in the way they run their affairs and especially in their expression of spiritual and religious values. For someone with such indubitable views in politics, he has always shied away from involvement in formal politics.
. Do not despair in the face of adversity and do not yield to anarchists,. he emphasizes time and again, and he warns us constantly to guard against despair. To him “hopelessness is a quicksand that devours human progress and kills the will to succeed; it is a noose that chokes and drowns will of man.”
M. Fethullah Gülen attempts and succeeds in bridging the past with his vision of the future. His keen desire to find a solution for the dilemma society is faced today presents, in his writings and speeches, itself as statements coming one after another like a priceless pearls arranged perfectly on a necklace. In his inimitable style and vocabulary in his speeches and writings, he offers a formula for us to find a way out of “material quicksand” in which we find ourselves today.
Today’s man is in search of his Creator and the purpose of his creation, Gülen contends. To questions, why was I born, what is the purpose of my living, he gives very practical yet singularly scholarly and convincing response. In his speeches and writings one encounters statements like “man has come to a crossroads, one leads to despair, the other to salvation; may God give us the wisdom to make the right choice.” He gives us many hints to find the right choice. In his daily life man must maintain that delicate balance between material and spiritual values, he emphasizes. Only then could man enjoy serenity and true happiness. Man must guard against unbridled greed. After all, he adds, is not the greed of man that has brought many a calamity to him throughout the history.
A True Innovator And Social Reformer
At a time when humanity is in acute need of leadership, we find a true innovator and a leader in the person of M. Fethullah Gülen. A unique social reformer, Gülen has brilliantly synthesized the sciences with divinity, reconciling those “apparent” differences between the two. In his writings and oral presentations, he admirably combines the ideology and philosophies of East and the West. As for the method of getting others accept your ways, he tells us, the days of getting things done your way through brute force are over. In today’s enlightened world, the only way to get others accept your ideas is by persuasion through convincing arguments. “Those who resort to brute force to reach their goal are intellectually bankrupt souls,” he quips.
A Man Of Peace Understanding And Tolerance
With his acute perception, M. Fethullah Gülen feels the positive change in the spiritual climate in the world. He envisions a 21st century in which we shall witness the sprouting of a spiritual dynamics that will dust off the moral values dormant for so long. He envisions the birth of the age of tolerance and understanding leading to the cooperation of civilizations and ultimately to the fusion of the two into one body and not some cynical souls believe to be the clash of civilizations. Human spirit shall triumph all obstacles on the way to intercultural dialogue and sharing of values.
Steps taken by Gülen to promote cultural, ideological and religious dialogue, tolerance, and understanding, promises great hope for the future. He started his crusade against those perpetrating tensions for personal gains and struggling for dialogue of friendship and understanding among the people of his own country, Turkey. He pioneered the founding of The Foundation of Journalists and Writers for the promotion of dialogue for tolerance among people. He has been a central figure at meetings and special events with leading journalists, columnists, intellectuals, TV personalities, and politicians.
His All Holiness Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Vatican Ambassador to Turkey, the Patriarch of the Turkish Armenian community and the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community are among his constant companions at important gatherings for inter-religious dialogue and understanding. He has recently intensified his overseas activities and visits with such religious personalities as Cardinal John O. Connor of New York Archdiocese of Roman Catholic Church.
Those who have responded to his call to a universal friendship, understanding, and tolerance, have done so only after being totally convinced by his simplicity of life, moral principles, uniquely sterile life style, and strong conviction to his mission. His devout disciples make great personal sacrifices with no expectations of personal gains to perpetuate his legacy of promoting world-wide dialogue, understanding, and tolerance. “Love and understanding shall overcome over hatred, but the champions of this cause shall have to be steadfast in their stand.” he warns.
His cry gets its strength from the same source, the divine love, as the immortal words of Mawlana Jalaleddin Rumi “come, whoever you are, whatever you are, come join us.” calling everyone to join in universal brotherhood, so eloquently state. Gülen calls on the silent majority of the world who share much in common to make a better world for . ourselves..
A Bunch Of Blooms Of His Inspirations
-More than 500 hundred elementary, secondary schools and courses, almost 200 hundred of which are abroad ranging from Tanzania to Russia, Albania to Yakutsky. -A university in Turkey, Fatih University of Istanbul, and 5 in Central Asia. -A number of non-profit organizations – foundations and associations- Scholarships in tens of thousands by these organizations. -A television network covering a viewing area from Near East, Central Asia to Indian subcontinent. -A daily paper of major circulation in Turkey, Zaman, also published in 16 countries including the USA. -A number of periodicals specialized in various fields, e.g., Ekoloji (Ecology), Sizinti (Scientific), Yeni Umit (Theology), Aksiyon (News magazine) and The Fountain (Scientific).
Gulen-Bartholomew Twosome For Universal Peace And Tolerance
The collaboration between M. Fethullah Gülen and His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is a living testimony to the bright future of the peace movement started by these two great leaders. This outstanding friendship of the two well-respected citizens of Turkey, though of different religious persuasion, but to a large extent of the same culture, offers an ideal example to emulate mankind in the way to a lasting peace and brotherhood.
At the doorstep of the new millennium, these two leaders term the 21st century as the century lasting peace, understanding, tolerance, and cooperation between the civilizations. And, who are more qualified than these two outstanding personalities, as leading figures of two great religions, to lead the world in this long odyssey to peace, prosperity and spiritual awareness?
The two great leaders have already sown the seeds of love and understanding ready to bear fruit. This should be a clear message to those who may hope to profit from a new world disorder, that peoples of the world are ready to follow the wisdom, rhyme and reason of such unselfish, dedicated personalities who have unconditionally dedicated themselves to the cause of lasting peace and friendship. This unshakable relationship between the two outstanding world citizens shall set the tone for a universal understanding that will carry the peace banner beyond the followers of the two great religions they represent.
After centuries of harmony between the great Greek and Turkish nations, these amicable relations of yester years have fallen victim to the latest fashion of animosities currently troubling the leaders of these two great nations. If the enviable friendship between these two leaders, however, is barometer, this is about to change. These two leaders with their unique styles have paved the way to a lasting amicable cooperation between Greece and Turkey. Now it is up to the political leaders to take it a step further.
To this end, bringing together Gülen and Pope John Paul will add another important milestone to the efforts of Patriarch- Gülen twosome in their sacred mission directed to achieving a universal peace. The cause of great wars, so have argued the political leaders of the world for centuries, religion shall be the driving force for the peace movement.
- Pronounced as Hodjaefendi, a term used to describe a learned scholar who is unequally qualified to teach.