Fethullah Gulen is an authoritative mainstream Turkish Muslim scholar, thinker, author, poet, opinion leader and educational activist who supports interfaith and intercultural dialogue, science, democracy and spirituality and opposes violence and turning religion into a political ideology. Fethullah Gulen promotes cooperation of civilizations toward a peaceful world, as opposed to a clash:
“Be so tolerant that your bosom becomes wide like the ocean. Become inspired with faith and love of human beings. Let there be no troubled souls to whom you do not offer a hand and about whom you remain unconcerned.” (Fethullah Gulen, Criteria or Lights of the Way. London: Truestar.)
We believe Mr. Fethullah Gulen and the civil society movement inspired by his views, which is known as the Fethullah Gulen movement, are significant and deserve attention for the following reasons:
Fethullah Gulen’s Authority and Impact
Mr. Fethullah Gulen is known and respected among Turkish Muslims as well as Muslims from around the world as an authoritative mainstream Muslim scholar of the Sunni tradition, to which 87–90% of the world’s Muslim population belongs. He is also a thinker, a poet, a prolific author, an educational activist and an opinion leader. His readership in Turkey is estimated at several million. His influence outside Turkey is growing daily as his works are translated into many languages including English, Arabic, Russian, German, Spanish, Urdu, Bosnian, Albanian, Malay and Indonesian. In addition to printed publications, his ideas are accessible to an ever increasing world population through private radio and television networks sympathetic to his views.
Public Stance against Violence, Terror and Suicide Attacks
Fethullah Gulen has been recognized for his consistent stance against the combination of violence and religious rhetoric. More specifically,
- He was the first Muslim scholar to publicly condemn the attacks of 9/11 (in an advertisement in the Washington Post).
- He helped publish a scholarly book on the Islamic perspective on terror and suicide attacks, condemning such acts on humanitarian and religious grounds.
- He did not express these views only to Western readers but voiced them in mosque sermons with congregations of thousands of Muslims.
- He unequivocally rejects suicide attacks.
- He has given interviews to Turkish, Japanese, Kenyan and American newspapers in which he categorically condemned the use of political, ideological and religious reasons to justify acts of terror.
- He has appeared on numerous national television shows publicly condemning such acts.
Pioneer in Interfaith Dialogue
Fethullah Gulen has been actively promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue for over a decade, starting long before the tragedy of 9/11. In Turkey, he has been credited with bringing about a positive atmosphere in relationships between the majority Muslim population and the various religious minorities such as Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish communities. Outside Turkey, his ideas on interfaith dialogue have inspired many to establish organizations engaging in dialogue with the same objectives of mutual understanding, empathetic acceptance, peaceful coexistence, and cooperation. His efforts for dialogue and tolerance were recognized by a personal audience with the late Pope John Paul II and an invitation from the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, as well as meetings with the leaders of various Christian denominations.
For Cooperation of Civilizations
Fethullah Gulen promotes the cooperation of civilizations as opposed to clash, through dialogue, mutual understanding and gathering around shared values. As a civil society opinion leader he supports Turkish efforts toward joining the European Union and says that this relationship will benefit both parties.
Emphasis on the Spiritual Dimension of Faith
Owing in part to his early education in the spiritual discipline, Fethullah Gulen is known for his emphasis on Islamic spirituality (known in the West as Sufism), and the embracing attitude towards fellow human beings that this emphasis brings. Due to his representation of love, compassion and an open-hearted approach to all issues concerning humanity, he is known by some as a “modern-day Rumi.” He was asked by Şefik Can, a late Sufi master, a descendant of Rumi and author, to write the foreword for his book on Rumi’s life and teachings. Fethullah Gulen’s own two-volume book on Sufism is used as a textbook for university courses on the spiritual traditions of the world.
Science and Faith in Harmony
Fethullah Gulen sees science and faith as not only compatible but complementary. He therefore encourages scientific research and technological advancement for the good of all humanity.
He is well-versed in the leading thinkers of the Western tradition and can converse with them comfortably through his writings and addresses.
Fethullah Gulen recognizes democracy as the only viable political system of governance. He denounces turning religion into a political ideology, while encouraging all citizens to take an informed and responsible part in political life of their country. He stresses the flexibilities in the Islamic principles relating to governance and their compatibility with a true democracy.
Solutions to Social Problems Working on the Ground
The most striking feature of Fethullah Gulen’s life is the fact that his vision and ideas have not remained rhetorical but instead have been realized globally as civic projects. By some estimates, several hundred educational organizations such as K-12 schools, universities, and language schools have been established around the world inspired by Fethullah Gulen and sponsored by local entrepreneurs, altruistic educators and dedicated parents. Notable examples of such schools include those in southeast Turkey, Central Asia, several countries in Africa, the Far East and Eastern Europe Regardless of their location, these schools are symbols of harmonious interfaith and intercultural relationships, successful unification of faith and reason, and dedication to the service of humanity. Especially in conflict-ridden regions such as the Philippines, southeast Turkey and Afghanistan, these institutions help reduce poverty and increase educational opportunities, which in turn decrease the appeal of terrorist groups with exclusivist agendas operating in these countries. In addition to contributing to social harmony, these schools produce winners in international science and math competitions.
Other Civil Society Projects
Other civic projects inspired by Fethullah Gulen’s ideas and encouragement include relief organizations, sustainable development organizations, media organizations, professional associations, and medical institutions.