Fethullah Gülen and Said Nursi

Greg Barton

Gülen is generally seen to draw directly on the intellectual heritage of the influential and greatly loved Sufi scholar and writer Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. And indeed, an examination of Gülen’s writing reveals it to be substantially built upon the foundation laid by Nursi, who in turn drew upon the great Anatolian Sufi Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi (d. 1276) and the Indian writers Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (1564-1624) and Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi (1703-1762) amongst others. Members of the Gülen Hizmet, like hundreds of thousands of other admirers of Nursi meet regularly to read and discuss his multi-volume thematic commentary on the Qur’an, the Risale-i Nur, or Treatise of Light. For this reason the Gülen movement is seen to represent a significant component of the broader so-called Nurcu movement. Gülen is, however, not simply a follower of Nursi. Rather he is a significant thinker, writer and leader in his own right. Much of Gülen’s work essentially takes the form of a synthesis, rearticulation, or fresh application of the earlier work of Nursi and others. And like Nursi and many other Islamic scholars, Gülen frequently returns in his writing to the lived example the Prophet Muhammad for inspiration and direction. Nevertheless there are several significant areas where Gülen is a thinker and leader of striking originality and innovation. In general terms Gülen, like Nursi before him, can be described as a Sufi and his thinking is richly infused with Sufi imagery, values and ideas, including most notably focus on the heart, the inward being, the seat of both wisdom and spirituality. Growing up in the small village of Korucuk Gülen, however, is not a traditional Sufi and does not align with any particular Sufi order, or tarekat, rather he is, in the evocative formulation of Zeki Saritoprak, ‘a sufi in his own way’.

Source: Excerpted from Preaching by example and learning for life: Understanding the Gülen Hizmet in the global context of religious philanthropy and civil religion by Greg Barton. This paper was presented at the conference titled “Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gulen Movement”, 25-27 October 2007, London

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