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Preface

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Speech and Power of Expression

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The All-Merciful. He has taught the Qur’an.
He has created the human; He has taught him speech.[1]
Nun. By the Pen and what they write with it line by line.[2]

The question as to why there is evil in the world has always boggled the mind. Some may be seriously searching for an answer. However, as far as this question is concerned, one part of our souls seem to echo the skeptical side of our nature, which inclines us more towards doing away with responsibilities. Fire is not evil as long as we use it responsibly. Water is a mercy, but if we build our houses upon a riverbed, then we leave ourselves vulnerable to a deadly flood. Just as it is possible to use a knife to carve out of wood a magnificent piece of art, it can also be used as a weapon to destroy yet another work of art, such as the life divinely breathed into our bodies. Speech is just such an instrument, given on all the face of the earth exclusively to humankind. The range of its power can extend in opposite directions, one as far as to revive a mortified soul, the other as deadly as to start a war.

There are words that stop a war
There are words that heal a sore
There are words that just render
A poisonous dish a delicacy

Yunus Emre

Aware of this power, Arabs viewed poets as akin to soothsayers and thought they had connections with the spirits. When they heard the Qur’an for the first time, Meccans of the Age of Ignorance were mesmerized by the power of its words. Yet, blinded by disbelief, they reduced the Prophet to a poet; they were as far distant from the divine as a community could possibly be. Although they were captivated by the Qur’ran, they believed it was sorcery and thought that it should be ignored. But when poets such as Hansa and Lebid embraced Islam and subsequently abandoned poetry out of respect and awe of the Qur’an’s style and eloquence, the unbelievers had to confess: “If we call it a piece of poetry, it is not. If we designate it a piece of rhymed prose, it is not. If we describe it as the word of a soothsayer, it is not.” At times, they could not help listening to the Prophet’s recitation secretly at night; even so, they could not overcome their arrogance long enough to believe in its Divine origin.[3]

The book in your hands is about this unique art of speech and it comes from a master of this skill. While Fethullah Gülen is revered by many for his authority as a scholar and for his achievements in education and dialogue, his power of expression and oratory skills should earn him equal renown. His impact on anyone who has happened to listen to him directly or through an audio recording is primarily because of his excellent oratory abilities, combined with a message that is acceptable to all—an ideal combination the components of which cross-fertilize one another to accomplish the objectives aimed in both. With the exception of misinformed sections of our society, polls show that a great majority supports his sincere message advocating peace, promoting education, reaching out to the poor and condemning terror and violence in all its forms. He has dedicated his entire career to teaching the God-given dignity of humans and all existence, while encouraging believers to selflessly engage with others without forsaking due reverence to respective positions, values, and identity, and by “reserving a seat for all in their hearts.”

For Gülen, nothing in the world is in vain; such is also true of speech. He echoes the Qur’an in this sense, in which glad tidings of paradise are given to believers who “will hear therein neither vain talk nor falsehood” (78:35). Thus, we always find in Gülen’s writings and speeches a conscious orientation of the theme towards what he calls the “conversation of the Beloved” (sohbet-i canan – [sohbat aljanan] in Gülen’s words) or an effort to revive in his audience awareness of our servant-hood to God and of our duties towards humanity and the world.[4]

“One feels as if standing on the side of a waterfall”[5] when he listens to Gülen. His sermons, effervescent with love and submission, have the potential to move thousands, but not in a firebrand style. He is always cautious when he addresses an audience, for he is well aware of the command one can administer over masses by “rhetorical persuasion” frequently utilized for evil ends in the past.

Gülen has commanded distinguished oratory skills from an early age. It is noted in his biography that when he first climbed the stairs to the pulpit, he was “not tall enough to reach over [it].” Enes Ergene explains Gülen’s talent in speech and span of influence as follows:

His public speaking is probably the most outstanding of his many aspects. In fact, many people have come to know him only through his fervent oratory. His knowledge and scholarly interests in Islamic studies and modern Western sciences have been overshadowed for years by his mastery of oratory although his articles and poetry were being published in various magazines. For long years, he studied not only religious fields but also history, philosophy, sociology, literature, and art. However, all aspects of this absorbed knowledge would come to the surface either in molding the masses and transforming them into “teachers,” or in other instances when they could be put into practice.[6]

With all respect to the growing number of academic research on Gülen and the movement inspired by his teachings, Gülen’s thought and sources of knowledge have not yet been thoroughly studied. With essays on language, poetry, woman and mercy, beauty and divine love, Rumi, the Prophet, this book could perhaps slide the gate a bit further ajar, welcoming us into the vast and deep lands of knowledge that beam through his words, and will hopefully provide inspiration for researchers to further explore Gülen.

Translation is an effort to reflect the original text as accurately and as accessibly as possible in the target language. Especially in the case of works by scholars such as Gülen, this “effort” is a real challenge and it demands exhaustive brainwork. This book is the fruit of such meticulous work by Korkut Altay and Erhan Yükselci, who tirelessly dwelled upon Gülen’s essays and did an excellent work in translating them into English. The essay on Rumi was translated by Professor Zeki Saritoprak and previously published as a Foreword to Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought, an important book by late Şefik Can; we are indebted to Professor Saritoprak for his contribution with this translation. The text has been inquisitively edited by Ruth Woodhall and Jane Louise Kandur whose constructive comments extensively contributed to the editorial process and refined the text into its present form. We also thank Makiz Ansari and Lee Flamand who helped with the editing of some of the essays.

[1] Qur’an, 55:1–4
[2] Qur’an 68:1
[3] See M. Fethullah Gülen. The Essentials of the Islamic Faith, NJ: Tughra Books, 2006, p. 223-4.
[4] See the Qur’an 4:84, “Urge on the believers (to take their responsibility).”
[5] Ali Osman Dönmez. “Hocaefendi’nin Edebiyata Dair Fikirlerini Anlama Yolculuğu,” Yağmur, 47, March-April 2010.
[6] Mehmet Enes Ergene. Tradition Witnessing the Modern Age: An Analysis of the Gülen Movement, NJ: Tughra Books, 2008, p. 11.