Fethullah Gülen, 1998
27 April 1941 |
Pasinler, Erzurum, Turkey
|Orthodox Islamic thought, Islamic conservatism, education, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, Sufism|
Muhammed Fethullah Gülen (born 27 April 1941) is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer, and Islamic opinion leader. He is the founder of the Gülen movement (sometimes known as Hizmet). He currently lives in a self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, United States.
Gülen teaches an Anatolian (Hanafi) version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursî's teachings. Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy. He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations.
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 an imam "who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education" and as "one of the world's most important Muslim figures." In the Turkish context, Gülen appears as a religious conservative.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Theology
- 3 Activities
- 4 Views on contemporary issues
- 5 Influence in Turkish society and politics
- 6 Publications
- 7 Reception
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Gülen was born in the village of Korucuk, near Erzurum. His father, Ramiz Gülen, was an imam. His mother taught the Qur'an in their village despite religious instruction being banned by the Kemalist government. Gülen started primary education at his home village, but did not continue after his family moved. He took part in Islamic education in some Erzurum madrasas and he gave his first sermon when he was 14. Gülen was influenced by the ideas of Said Nursî and Maulana Jalaluddeen Rumi.
Comparing Gülen to followers of the Nursî-inspired Risale-i Nur or "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."
"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 [sic] and U.S. aid, which had primed the pump of economic growth."
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" and was given the title "Honorary President" by the foundation. He did not make any comment regarding the closures of the Welfare Party in 1998 or the Virtue Party in 2001. He has met some politicians like Tansu Çiller and Bülent Ecevit, but he avoids meeting with the leaders of Islamic political parties.
In 1999, Gülen emigrated to the United States, claiming the trip for medical treatment, although arguably it was in anticipation of being tried over remarks (aired after his emigration to U.S.) which seemed to favor an Islamic state. In June 1999, after Gülen had left Turkey, videotapes were sent to some Turkish television stations with recordings of Gülen 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."
Gülen complained that the remarks were taken out of context, and his supporters raised questions about the authenticity of the tape, which he accused of having been "manipulated". Gülen was tried in absentia in 2000, and acquitted in 2008 under the new Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Gülen does not advocate a new theology but refers to classical authorities of theology, taking up their line of argument. His understanding of Islam tends to be moderate and mainstream. 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."
His teachings differ in emphasis from those of other mainstream Islamic scholars in two respects, both based on his interpretations of particular verses of the Quran. He teaches that the Muslim community has a duty of service (Turkish: hizmet) to the "common good" of the community and the nation and to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world; and that the Muslim community is obliged to conduct dialogue with not just the "People of the Book" (Jews and Christians), and people of other religions, but also with agnostics and atheists.
The Gülen movement is a transnational Islamic 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.
In his sermons, Gülen has reportedly stated: "Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God." Gülen's followers have built over 1,000 schools around the world. In Turkey, Gülen's schools are considered among the best: expensive modern facilities and English taught from the first grade. 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.
Interfaith and intercultural dialogue
Gülen movement participants have founded a number of institutions across the world which claim to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities. Contrary to claims by some scholars, Gülen has positive views towards Jews, and Christians, and condemns anti-semitism. During the 1990s, he began to advocate interreligious tolerance and dialogue. He has personally met with leaders of other religions, including Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.
Views on contemporary issues
Gülen has criticized secularism in Turkey as "reductionist materialism". However, he has in the past said that a secular approach that is "not anti-religious" and "allows for freedom of religion and belief, is compatible with Islam."[unreliable source?]
According to one Gülen press release, in democratic-secular countries, 95% of Islamic principles are permissible and practically feasible, and there is no problem with them. The remaining 5% "are not worth fighting for."
Turkey bid to join the EU
Gülen has supported Turkey's bid to join the European Union and has said 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.
According to Aras and Caha, Gülen's views on women are "progressive". 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 extreme feminism, however, is "doomed to imbalance like all other reactionary movements" and eventually "being full of hatred towards men."
Gülen has condemned terrorism. He warns against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians and said that it "has no place in Islam". He wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on September 12, 2001, one day after the September 11 attacks, and stated that "A Muslim can not be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim." Gülen lamented the "hijacking of Islam" by terrorists.
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. He said, "What I saw was not pretty, it was ugly." He has since continued his criticism, saying later that the organizers' failure to seek accord with Israel before attempting to deliver aid was "a sign of defying authority, and will not lead to fruitful matters."
Influence in Turkish society and politics
The Gülen movement, also known as Hizmet or Cemaat, has millions of followers in Turkey, as well as many more abroad. Beyond the schools established by Gülen's followers, it is believed that many Gülenists hold positions of power in Turkey's police forces and judiciary. Turkish and foreign analysts believe Gülen also has sympathizers in the Turkish parliament and that his movement controls the widely-read Islamic conservative Zaman newspaper, the private Bank Asya bank, the Samanyolu TV television station, and many other media and business organizations, including the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON). In March 2011, the Turkish government arrested the investigative journalist Ahmet Şık and seized and banned his book The Imam's Army, the culmination of Şık's investigation into Gülen and the Gülen movement.
In 2005, a man affiliated with the Gülen movement approached then-U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric S. Edelman during a party in Istanbul and handed him an envelope containing a document supposedly detailing plans for an imminent coup against the government by the Turkish military. However, the documents were soon found to be forgeries. Gülen affiliates claim the movement is "civic" in nature and that it does not have political aspirations.
Split with Erdoğan
Despite Gülen's and his followers' claims that the organization is non-political in nature, analysts believe that a number of corruption-related arrests made against allies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reflect a growing political power struggle between Gülen and the prime minister. These arrests led to the 2013 corruption scandal in Turkey, which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s supporters (along with Erdoğan himself) and the opposition parties alike have said was choreographed by Gülen after Erdoğan's government came to the decision early in December 2013 to shut down many of his movement's private Islamic schools in Turkey.
The Erdoğan government has said that the corruption investigation and comments by Gülen are the long term political agenda of Gülen's movement to infiltrate security, intelligence, and justice institutions of the Turkish state, a charge almost identical to the charges against Gülen by the Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Turkey in his trial in 2000 before Erdoğan's party had come into power. Gülen had previously been tried in absentia in 2000, and acquitted in 2008 under Erdoğan's AKP government from these charges.
In emailed comments to the Wall Street Journal in January 2014, Gülen said that "Turkish people ... are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed", but he denied being part of a plot to unseat the government. Later, in January 2014 in an interview with BBC World, Gulen said "If I were to say anything to people I may say people should vote for those who are respectful to democracy, rule of law, who get on well with people. Telling or encouraging people to vote for a party would be an insult to peoples' intellect. Everybody very clearly sees what is going on."
Gülen's official website lists 43 publications by him; these are, however, more akin to essays and collections of sermons than books on specific subjects with a specific thesis. He is also said to have authored 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 philosophical magazines. Several of his books have been translated into English.
- Robert A. Hunt, Yuksel A. Aslandogan, Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World: Contributions of the Gulen Movement, p 85. ISBN 1597840734
- Erol Nazim Gulay, The Theological thought of Fethullah Gulen: Reconciling Science and Islam (St. Antony's College Oxford University May 2007). p. 57
- Erol Nazim Gulay (May 2007). "The Theological thought of Fethullah Gulen: Reconciling Science and Islam" (PDF). St. Antony's College Oxford University. p. 56.
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- Helen Rose Fuchs Ebaugh, The Gülen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam, p 26. ISBN 1402098944
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- "Turkish investigation into Islamic sect expanded". BBC News. 21 June 1999. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
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- Guest Editor Zeki Saritoprak (Editor) (2005-01-01). "Saritoprak, Z. and Griffith, S. Fethullah Gülen and the 'People of the Book': A Voice from Turkey for Interfaith Dialogue, The Muslim World, Vol. 95 No. 3, July 2005, p.337-8". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-08-24.
- In Lester Kurtz's (of University of Texas, Austin) words, "One of the most striking operationalizations of Gulen's fusion of commitment and tolerance is the nature of the Gulen movement, as it is often called, which has established hundreds of schools in many countries as a consequence of his belief in the importance of knowledge, and example in the building of a better world. The schools are a form of service to humanity designed to promote learning in a broader sense and to avoid explicit Islamic propaganda." Kurtz also cites in the same work the comments of Thomas Michel, General Secretary of the Vatican Secretariat for Inter-religious Dialogue, after a visit to a school in Mindanao, Philippines, where the local people suffered from a civil war, as follows: "In a region where kidnapping is a frequent occurrence, along with guerrilla warfare, summary raids, arrests, disappearances and killings by military and para-military forces, the school is offering Muslim and Christian Filipino children, along with an educational standard of high quality, a more positive way of living and relating to each other." Kurtz adds: "The purpose of the schools movement, therefore, is to lay the foundations for a more humane, tolerant citizenry of the world where people are expected to cultivate their own faith perspectives and also promote the well being of others... It is significant to note that the movement has been so successful in offering high quality education in its schools, which recruit the children of elites and government officials, that it is beginning to lay the groundwork for high-level allies, especially in Central Asia, where they have focused much of their effort." See, Lester R. Kurtz, "Gulen's Paradox: Combining Commitment and Tolerance," Muslim World, Vol. 95, July 2005; 379–381.
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- Arango, Tim (26 February 2014). "Turkish Leader Disowns Trials That Helped Him Tame Military". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
In 2005, years before the trials, a man affiliated with the Gulen movement approached Eric S. Edelman, then the American ambassador, at a party in Istanbul and handed him an envelope containing a handwritten document that supposedly laid out a plan for an imminent coup. But as Mr. Edelman recounted, he gave the documents to his colleagues and they were determined to be forgeries.
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- Hurriyet Daily News, 16 November 2011, Banned book goes on sale in Istanbul book fair
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Whether the corruption charges are justified or not — there has been plenty of leaked evidence, especially wiretapped conversations, that appears incriminating — the corruption probe has laid bare the influence of the Gulen movement within the Turkish state, which had largely been suspected but hard to prove.
- "Turkey's Fethullah Gulen denies corruption probe links". BBC News. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
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- "2008 top 100 public intellectual poll"
- "World's 100 Most Influential People for 2013"
- "The 500 Most Influential Muslims"
- Schleifer, Abdallah (2011). The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims, 2012. Amman, Jordan: The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. p. 55. ISBN 978-9957-428-37-2.
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- The New York Times - Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam
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- The Gülen Movement: a modern expression of Turkish Islam
- The Nurcu Movement in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
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