Who is Fethullah Gulen?
M. Fethullah Gulen is one of the most influential scholars in the Muslim world today. His ideas have inspired millions to take part in a movement of intercultural and interfaith dialogue and educational activism, which produced hundreds of quality schools and dialogue organizations in more than 110 countries.
Gulen was born in 1938 in Eastern Turkey to a humble and pious family. His father was an imam at a local mosque and his mother took unto herself to educate the children in her village along with 6 of her own. Fethullah Gulen completed his elementary education in the village of his birth and started a traditional religious education. He studied all Islamic disciplines in a short time and started preaching at the age of 14. He did not neglect keeping up with the contemporary issues and maintained a keen interest in the western world as well as the well being of his countrymen.
Shortly after completing his military service, Gulen started preaching in the Agean region of Turkey. He was a very passionate and eloquent speaker; he delivered sermons to which tens of thousands attended every time. People didn’t mind traveling long distances to listen to him speaking on the pulpit.
Gulen gained a countrywide fame because of his extraordinary style. Not only did he speak about faith and religious issues, but also touched on social issues such as education, poverty, social justice and peace. Gulen placed a great deal of emphasis on education because he believed that Muslims in particular and humanity in general could come out the current social crisis by spreading high quality education. To this end he encouraged his congregation to invest in education from elementary schools to colleges and universities worldwide. Today Gulen (or Hizmet) movement’s volunteers have opened and currently operate more than 1000 schools in over 100 countries.
What distinguished—and still does– Gulen from other religious figures in Turkey was that he always advocated a marriage between science and religion. Gulen said that science was one of many languages through which God spoke to people and to understand it Muslims should know the language and its rules. He urged educators to put more emphasis on math and science education despite the general tendency towards a religious education that was prevalent among Muslims. Gulen showed his people that the religious values could be taught along with natural sciences and math. Moreover it was necessary to keep up with scientific developments to survive in the modern world.
As his ideas evolved, Gulen embraced modern paradigms as democracy, tolerance and dialogue. He stressed the importance of human dignity, peace, human rights, social justice, women’s right and many other values.