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Muhammed Fethullah Gülen

Muhammed Fethullah Gülen (born 27 April 1941) is a Turkish writer,[3] former imam[4] and preacher[4] and Islamic opinion leader. He is the founder of the Gülen movement. He currently lives in a self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg,[5][6][7] Pennsylvania, United States. Gülen teaches an Anatolian (Hanafi) version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Bediüzzaman Said Nursi's teachings and modernizes them. Gülen has stated his belief in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy.[8] He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations.[9]Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as "one of the world's most important Muslim figures."[8] In the Turkish context Gülen appears relatively conservative and religiously observant.


Gülen was born in the village of Korucuk, near Erzurum.[10] His father, Ramiz Gülen, was an imam. Gülen started primary education at his home village, but did not continue after his family moved, and instead focused on informal Islamic education.[11] He gave his first sermon when he was 14.[12] He was influenced by the ideas of Said Nursi and Maulana Jalaluddeen Rumi.[13]Comparing Gülen to leaders in the Nur movement, Hakan Yavuz said, "Gülen is more Turkish nationalist in his thinking. Also, he is somewhat more state-oriented, and is more concerned with market economics and neo-liberal economic policies."[14]His pro-business stance has led some outsiders[who?] to dub his theology an Islamic version of Calvinism.[15] Oxford Analytica says:
"Gülen put Nursi's ideas into practice when he was transferred to a mosque in Izmir in 1966. Izmir is a city where political Islam never took root. However, the business and professional middle class came to resent the constraints of a state bureaucracy under whose wings it had grown, and supported market-friendly policies, while preserving at least some elements of a conservative lifestyle. Such businessmen were largely pro-Western, because it was Western (mainly U.S.) influence, which had persuaded the government to allow free elections for the first time in 1950 and U.S. aid, which had primed the pump of economic growth."[16]
Gülen retired from formal preaching duties in 1981. From 1988 to 1991 he gave a series of sermons in popular mosques of major cities. In 1994, he participated in the founding of "Journalists and Writers Foundation"[17] and was given the title "Honorary President" by the foundation.[18] He did not make any comment regarding the closures of the Welfare Party in 1998[19] or the Virtue Party in 2001.[20] He has met some politicians like Tansu Çiller and Bülent Ecevit, but he avoids meeting with the leaders of Islamic political parties.[20]

In 1999 Gülen emigrated to the United States for medical treatment,[21] though arguably it was in anticipation of being tried over remarks (aired after his emigration to US) which seemed to favor an Islamic state.[22] In June 1999, after Gulen had left Turkey video tapes were sent to some Turkish TV stations with recordings of Gulen saying, "the existing system is still in power. Our friends who have positions in legislative and administrative bodies should learn its details and be vigilant all the time so that they can transform it and be more fruitful on behalf of Islam in order to carry out a nationwide restoration. However, they should wait until the conditions become more favorable. In other words, they should not come out too early."[23] Gülen complained that the remarks were taken out of context,[24] and questions were raised about the authenticity of the tape, which he accused of having been "manipulated". Gülen was tried in absentia in 2000, and acquitted in 2008.[21][25]


Gülen does not advocate a new theology but refers to classical authorities of theology, taking up their line of argument.[26] His understanding of Islam tends to be conservative and mainstream.[27][28] Though he has never been a member of a Sufi tarekat and does not see tarekat membership as a necessity for Muslims, he teaches that Sufism is the inner dimension of Islam and the inner and outer dimensions must never be separated.[29]His teachings differ in emphasis from those of other mainstream, moderate Islamic scholars in two respects, both based on his interpretations of particular verses of the Quran: (1) he teaches that the Muslim community has a duty of service (Turkish: hizmet)[30] to the "common good" of the community and the nation[31] and to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world;[32] and (2), the Muslim community is obliged to conduct interfaith dialogue with the "People of the Book" (Jews and Christians).[33] Although this does not extend to other religions and atheists. In fact he appears to be intolerant of atheism, as in 2004 Gülen commented to the effect that terrorism was as despicable as atheism.[34] In a follow-up interview he explained he did not intend to equate atheists and murderers; rather, he wanted to highlight the fact that according to Islam both were destined to suffer eternal punishment.[35]

Service to the common good

The Gülen movement is a transnational civic society movement inspired by Gülen's teachings. His teachings about hizmet (altruistic service to the "common good") have attracted a large number of supporters in Turkey, Central Asia and increasingly in other parts of the world.[36]


In his sermons Gulen has reportedly stated: "Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God."[21] Gulen's followers have built over 1,000 schools around the world. In Turkey Gulen's schools are considered among the best: expensive modern facilities, equal gender treatment and English taught from the first grade.[21] However, former teachers from outside the Gülen community have called into question the treatment of women and girls in Gülen schools, reporting that female teachers were excluded from administrative responsibilities, allowed little autonomy, and—along with girls from the sixth grade and up—segregated from male colleagues and pupils during break and lunch periods.


Gülen has criticized laicism as a politics rooted in a philosophically reductionist materialism. But he has also argued that Islam and democracy are compatible and he encourages greater democracy within Turkey.[by whom?][citation needed] He argues that a secular approach that is not anti-religious and allows for freedom of religion and belief is compatible with Islam.[41]
According to Gulen in democratic-secular countries, ninety-five percent of Islamic principles are permissible and practically feasible, and there is no problem with them. The remaining five percent are not worth fighting for.[42]

Turkey bid to join the EU

Gulen supports Turkey's bid to join the European Union and argues that neither Turkey nor the EU have anything to fear, but have much to gain, from a future of full Turkish membership in the EU.[41]

Women's roles

According to Aras and Caha, Gülen's views on women are "progressive" but "modern professional women in Turkey still find his ideas far from acceptable."[19] Gülen says the coming of Islam saved women, who "were absolutely not confined to their home and ... never oppressed" in the early years of the religion. He feels that western-style feminism, however, is "doomed to imbalance like all other reactionary movements ... being full of hatred towards men."[43]
However, Gülen's views are vulnerable to the charge of misogyny. As noted by Berna Turam, Gülen has argued: "the man is used to more demanding jobs ... but a woman must be excluded during certain days during the month. After giving birth, she sometimes cannot be active for two months. She cannot take part in different segments of the society all the time. She cannot travel without her husband, father, or brother ... the superiority of men compared to women cannot be denied."[44]


Gülen condemns any kind of terrorism.[45] He warns against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians, that is terrorism, which has no place in Islam and which militates against its very foundational tenets of reverence for human life and for all of God's creation. Fethullah Gulen was the first Muslim Leader to openly condemn the 9/11 terrorist attacks.[citation needed] He wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on September 12, 2001, just the day after the attack, and stated that "A Muslim can not be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim."[46][47] Gülen lamented the deplorable hijacking of Islam by terrorists who claimed to be Muslims and acting out of religious conviction. He counseled that "One should seek Islam through its own sources and in its own representatives throughout history; not through the actions of a tiny minority that misrepresent it.[9]

Gaza flotilla

Gülen criticized the Turkish-led Gaza flotilla for trying to deliver aid without Israel's consent. He spoke of watching the news coverage of the deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and multinational aid group members as its flotilla approached Israel's sea blockade of Gaza. "What I saw was not pretty," he said. "It was ugly" He continued his criticism. The "organizers' failure to seek accord with Israel before attempting to deliver aid "is a sign of defying authority, and will not lead to fruitful matters."[48]

Syrian civil war

Gülen is strongly against Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war.[49]

Influence in Turkish society and politics

Gülen's Hizmet movement has millions of followers in Turkey. Beyond the Hizmet schools, it is believed that many Gülenists hold positions of power in Turkey's police forces and judiciary.[50] Turkish analysts believe Gülen has sympathizers in the Turkish parliament and at the Zaman newspaper.[51]Gülen affiliates claim the movement is "civic" in nature, but does not have political aspirations.[51]Analysts believe that a number of arrests made against allies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reflect a growing power struggle between Gülen and the prime minister.[50]


Gülen has authored over 60 books[52] and many articles on a variety of topics: social, political and religious issues, art, science and sports, and recorded thousands of audio and video cassettes. He contributes to a number of journals and magazines owned by his followers. He writes the lead article for the Fountain, Yeni Ümit, Sızıntı, and Yağmur, Islamic and philosophical magazines. Several of his books have been translated into English (see: Books by Gülen Books on Gülen and the Gülen Movement and Conference papers on Gulen and the Movement).


Fethullah Gulen topped the 2008 Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll and came out as the most influential thinker.[53]Fethullah Gulen named in TIME magazine's World's 100 Most Influential People for 2013.[54]Fethullah Gulen was listed as one of the the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.[55]
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