What differentiates Fethullah Gülen from other men of religion, enabling him to become the inspiration source of an increasingly widespread, modernizing movement?

Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen does not accept, nor give himself the title, “a societal leader or social leader,” which can be expressed in various forms. However, in sociological terminology, he fits the description of a “leader of a civic society.” When asked why people gather around him, expecting guidance from him, Fethullah Gülen replies that, perhaps, the reasonable projects embrace all of humanity and people consider religious rewards, and seek the pleasure of God. He categorically rejects the attribute of being a religious leader. He describes himself as:

I am someone who tries as best as he could to practice his religion, not the one who is able to practice, but the one who is trying to practice. For that reason, namely since I am unable to perfectly represent the religion, I could not be considered a man of religion. Secondly, the status of the man of religion as an intermediary between the servant and the Creator is in contradiction with the Islamic precepts. In Islam there are no clergymen. Everyone can be pious, and from this perspective no one can be different from no one else in status. Only in terms of practicing the religion, and in the eyes of God at that, some people might be better than others. But, in fact people are, for sure, looking for a leader or an organization in the activities to be carried out or the services performed [in order to make them to be durable or reliable]. Whereas, just like in pilgrimage, millions of people are gathered by the commandment of religion, or these commandments bring together many people in a congregation during the Friday prayer or festival prayer. Today, some services which are falsely attributed to me are in fact certain things consisting of the services according to the circumstances of the country, carried out by the people who comprehended the value of the service for humanity. Nevertheless, it might be the case that they might have been inspired by some of my sayings or encouragements. But for some unknown reasons, people are looking for a leader behind this, as they do in every other case.[1]

Fethullah Gülen, who sees himself as only a message carrier, says:

There are many, valuable, prominent and worthy scholars in the divinity schools of theology. I am not fit to hold the candle to them. I am much inferior. Despite that fact, those who sought a definite leader in the activities and services of the people, the people who are pulled together by the religion and the circumstances without their deliberate attempts, have assigned a role for me. Otherwise there is neither a considerable clergyman nor leadership displayed.[2]

Fethullah Gülen views his fame as such:

I consider fame like honey which is in fact poisonous, killing one’s spirituality. If my Lord is going to cause me to serve, let me be at his service. But I do not desire to see that Hizmet to raise its head and be seen like a flower or a plant raising their heads from inside the soil for the fear of allotting a share for my own carnal soul as if I had something to do with it. This is the consequence of my special relationship with my Lord. This might not be understood by everyone. In order to understand it, one has to firmly believe in God.[3]

What does he understand from hizmet?

Since my childhood, I believed that the greatest service for humankind has to go through education. I believed it to be necessary to embrace all humanity. I believed in the necessity of tolerance, dialog, and acceptance of everyone as they are. I believed having tolerance and approving everyone as they are is the necessary ingredient for preventing the division in society and a strong barrier to the quarrels. Many number of people who shared the same belief set out to serve in this vein.[4]

As it is understood, Fethullah Gülen thought that with this belief and aim he would be received with widespread approval regarding the things he was going to undertake, but again in his words:

The things accomplished oriented some people to unthinkable, groundless fear and fancy. Since those who look at the world, the events and things through their own windows tend to see everyone in their own image, are caught baseless worries. The despots, those who had the intention of interfering with the administration began seeing them as a threat, those whose activities and intentions are never this worldly, never in favor of obtaining power, and even in tendency of running away from it and who only thinks of the pleasure of God, and therefore the only way to reach that aim has to go through “serving humanity.” Even though they submit this as a threat for the state, in actual fact, they began seeing it as a threat lying before their plans. At least they should have thought of this that our use of power and theirs are not similar. One of us is in the path of justice, mercy, compassion, love and serving others; the other uses it on behalf of oppression, mischief, divisiveness, exploitation, and hatred. There remains the fact that we have nothing to do with power and force. We see the real power in faith, worship, ethics, living for others and in the servanthood to God. Those who see us in other ways are making life miserable for others, out of fear and worry. It is because they fear even the things which are not to be feared, they worry about the things which are not worth worrying. They are accepting things which did not occur as if they occurred and they are probable and they are making their own lives miserable.[5]

A new social leadership typology that is observed in the conception of leadership in the Gülen Movement can be understood as an effort to submit a new alternative to the society. As we often hear, “the world which lost its conscience,” and the necessity to establish relationships with others that are not based on self-interest, as well as the need to submit a new alternative to the individual and to society, which has lost the capability to understand others.

[1] The interview given to Nicole Pope, Le Monde, 28 April 1998.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

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fgulen.com is the offical source on the renowned Turkish scholar and intellectual Fethullah Gülen.