A Universal Islamic Phenomenon in Turkish Religious Practice: the Fethullah Gulen Case

Gülen studied religious and sufi sciences, then focused on positive sciences, literature, history, and philosophy that contributed to his intellectual and spiritual formation.

Destiny directed Gülen to put into effect all the aptitudes and characteristics brought by creation in a just and balanced manner. In his own words: “My first teacher was my mother. At that time, our village had no elementary school. Later, one opened. I began praying when I was 4 years old, and have never missed a prayer since.

I ran all of the errands for my family, helped my mother with the housework, and herded our cows and sheep. In my free time, I would read a book or memorize the Qur’an. My first Arabic teacher was my father. Later I was taught by Sadi Efendi, Muhammed Lutfi Efendi’s grandson.

While studying the religious sciences, I also read other books and studied the Sufi sciences. For me, traces of the religious sciences and Sufism always produced the same rhythm.”

Fethullah Gülen also studied positive sciences, literature, history, and philosophy. His education that began in his father’s home continued in Erzurum. Again, beginning at home and continuing at the knees of Muhammed Lutfi Efendi, his spiritual and religious training have never ended. While in school, he met students of Bediüzzaman Said Nursî and was introduced to the Risale-i Nur, in one respect a complete and “contemporary” Islamic school that contributed a great deal to his intellectual and spiritual formation.

Meanwhile, he continued his “modern” education in science and philosophy, literature and history. While gaining a deep comprehension of the main principles of modern sciences from physics to chemistry, biology, and astronomy, he read the works of such existentialist philosophers as Camus, Sartre, and Marcuse. He also was introduced to other Eastern, Islamic and non-Islamic, and Western philosophies.

He says, “When I was at the army there was a very good commander who insisted that I read the Western classics. As a result, I read both Western and Eastern Islamic and non-Islamic classics.”

All of these produced a man of enthusiastic love and deep spirituality and, at the same time, of broad knowledge, comprehensive logic, discernment, and wisdom. The public knows Gülen as a man of insight and sagacity, clearness, softness and generosity, pain and pleading, dignity and piety, compassion, mercy and tolerance. On the other hand, he is known for his “heroic life,” unending hope, idealism, and measured discipline. Finally, he is a symbol of patience. Those close to him know him as a man of education and deep spirituality.

Ex-Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit  comments about Gulen’s intellectuality: “An important contribution of Gulen’s ideas to daily debates and the search for solutions is his emphasis that we can open up to the West without breaking away from our national identity, but that we also must strengthen our ties with Central Asia. Such an emphasis is very appropriate at a time when Europe and Asia are rapidly uniting in a “Eurasia” liaison, when concepts of modernity and globalization are replacing Westernization, and when it is possible for Turkey to serve as a key or a bridge.”

Famous journalist Ali Bulac who has works on scholars and intellectuals in Islamic world states that Fethullah easily refers to the Islamic sciences, has a distinct style, and knows the heritage of Islamic historical thought, knowledge, and art. He also is close to the actual problems of today’s world. Moreover, he is developing a vision of world politics, Turkey’s current situation, and the general shape that Turkey, the region, and the world will take in the coming period. This can be considered the profile of a true intellectual-scholar.