What were the original goals of the circle gathering around Fethullah Gülen at the beginning?

Fethullah Gülen

The main factor directing what members of the Gülen Movement do is, in their own words, earning the “pleasure of God.”

Fethullah Gülen exhorts his followers to open dialog and develop cooperation and understanding, in order to support the education of the needy and to decrease the conflicts between different faith-groups. Members have never neglected to work in this direction. In the end, an international enterprise emerged. Those foreigners who took their place in this enterprise found it significant to act in harmony, seeking compatibility of the scientific with the moral, stressing common human values, speaking the Turkish language, mixing their culture with the Turkish culture, and reaching a world view that transcended the local. It cannot be denied that this enterprise carries an Islamic message that does not in conflict with the modern world.

The projects that members embark upon result in a synergy and spirit of togetherness, and the resources from the projects facilitate the expansion of the field of their activities.

According to Fethullah Gülen, no matter how much one is equipped with material means,

One always needs God Almighty. More than needing His blessings, one needs His support and guidance and His overseeing and protecting. The human beings who need things like air, water, and food, more than these material blessings, they need the nourishments along the lines of heart and spirit. Even if one is 60 or 70 years old and up until that time he led an impressive life to be envied, still he might make mistakes, he might be at fault. Then a believing heart should turn to God Almighty. He should say, “My Lord! Do not separate me even if for a moment from your guidance; do not leave me in error, in my words, conduct, speech, movements of my hands and feet, even with my mimics, no matter how small they may be.[1]

Fethullah Gülen also tells us that one has to filter his thoughts and closely examine his reason and his conscience; he should try to see his mistakes and rectify any that he finds. Then, he should place his trust in God. In other words, one should first act according to one’s reason and conscience. If he believes that he is acting properly, he should also believe that God is going to give him a reward. Success is measured by God’s approval of the right act. No matter how much gain one has in the enterprise one undertakes, he should not be spoiled; he should not show off his successes; he should help others and work for goodness and kindness.

Fethullah Gülen’s teaching is reminiscent of the relationship between the Protestant ethic and the development of the market economy, proposed by the German social scientist Max Weber. According to Weber, the Catholic Church’s tight control over the individual and its world view which constrains free will, did not allow the free market economy to develop. Furthermore, the church set a bad example in utilizing its resources by extravagant spending and showing off. On the other hand, Protestantism teaches its followers to be modest, hardworking, moderate, frugal, to use material resources productively, and to avoid conspicuous consumption—all very similar to Fethullah Gülen’s teachings and his thought. Both of these views see moral conduct, solidarity, work and rewarding them as a divine equation. Both try to achieve a balance by bringing together this world and the other world.

This teaching has created a shared bond among Fethullah Gülen’s circle of followers, from the beginning until now. What has made the strength of this tie possible is not the accomplishments that have been undertaken, but the soundness of the offer Fethullah Gülen has made to the participants to be frugal, modest, altruistic and, especially, Fethullah Gülen’s exemplification of these traits in his personal life. His lifestyle forms an unshakable and trustworthy bond between the spiritual leader of the movement and its members.

Fethullah Gülen expresses the character traits to be carried by the participants by the following words:

In this short life, to carry the goals, like to be known and famous, to be recognized as great and thus to receive respect or to be after some passions like benefiting from the blessings of the world is a shameful act against the Lord. While we have a duty of servanthood in terms of explaining Him and exaltation of our great religion, appropriating worldly aims would be infidelity to God.

I, for one, am considering, all worldly desires from having a passion for position or power to having a fame to be an esteemed person, as disloyalty to my Lord, my Prophet, and my religion. I do not want to have any passion or desire other than to renew ourselves as a nation over time, to display a brighter image, especially to know, to expose and present our cultural accumulation of the last one thousand years and explain our religion.

The sense of service to my religion and nation envelops my entire horizon, I am not thinking of anything else other than this. I even think that it is haram [religiously prohibited] for me to think of it or desire it. I am considering this world as a “place of service” and as long as I am alive I am performing the corollary requirement of this consideration.”[2]

After making this choice for himself, he gives this advice to his followers:

Today, according to the horizon of our knowledge, conscience and understanding, one more time we have to renew our faith. ... In the environment where we live, if renewals take place, the thinking changes, the logic and philosophy of science becomes something else, and despite that if we are still staying where we are, may God forbid, we would fall down. We have to constantly renew ourselves, and while doing this renewal, we have to walk together with our hearts. Our hearts should not be left even one step behind our minds; the heart has to maintain its vitality. We should not forget that if one, who has a progressive mind and has become a man of demagogy and dialectic, does not maintain a heart at the same level of development, then it means his dry logic and dialectic have swallowed up his heart. He has killed his life of heart and deprived himself of latife-i Rabbaniye [the spiritual faculty sensing God directly]. For that reason, you should paint one night of yours with the color of your daylight so that He would transform your night into daylight. You should make your worldly nights into days so that He would metamorphose your darkness in the hereafter into light.[3]

[1] Fethullah Gülen 2009c, 160–161.
[2] Ibid., 76–77.
[3] Ibid., 136–137.

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