In the first-ever comprehensive biography, Fethullah Gülen: A Life of Hizmet – Why A Muslim Scholar in Pennsylvania Matters to the World, author Jon Pahl gains unprecedented access to Fethullah Gulen’s inner circle as well as to Gülen himself.
This year officially marks 20 years since Gülen’s self-imposed exile in the Pocono Mountains. In 1999, Gülen traveled to the U.S. from Turkey. Despite living in a remote retreat center in Pennsylvania, Gülen continues to be a source of inspiration for hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.
Gülen is a scholar and public figure who has been recognized for his peace efforts (Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award, 2015; EastWest Institute Peace Building Award, 2011); listed by Time magazine among the world’s 100 most influential leaders (2013); and the top public intellectual by Foreign Policy journal (2008). Today, Gülen is often remembered with the dispute in his homeland, Turkey, especially after the brutal crackdown on his followers in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016. However, the story of Gülen’s upbringing and rise to global recognition has seldom been explored. Pahl offers a new spotlight on Gülen’s rise from a young boy in a tiny Turkish village to a scholar whose teachings have generated a movement of education and interfaith dialogue.
The Gülen movement, also known as Hizmet, is dedicated to literacy, social enterprise and interreligious dialogue. The movement funds thousands of schools and religious centers throughout the world, championing Islam’s commitment to spiritual and scientific literacy. This transnational movement is a centerpiece of social and political discussion in Turkey and around the world.
Drawing on extensive interviews from supporters and critics, Pahl offers an analytical account into Gülen’s life, whose work and activism continues to stir controversy in the Turkish presidential palace, the Middle East and beyond. Though many of Gülen’s followers venerate him, others perceive him as a controversial political figure. In this insightful new book, Pahl explores these dueling identities.
In the midst of Turkey’s harsh crackdown on dissent and press freedom, comes a one-of-a-kind book exploring the life and mission of Erdogan’s most despised enemy.
“To frame him as a political figure is to miss who he is,” says Jon Pahl, who spent 9 years researching Gülen and talking to people close to him.
Advance Praise for 'Fethullah Gülen: A Life of Hizmet'
“As the most fascinating and influential Islamic leader alive today, Fethullah Gülen has stirred controversy. Jon Pahl is keenly aware of the accusations that have dogged Gülen, and in this remarkable biography he deals with them as scrupulously and convincingly as a self-confessed admirer of the man and his movement can. More than that, Pahl offers a provocative meditation on the part that religion can play in leading us to serve our fellows rather than setting us apart from one another. Most of all, he tells an inspiring story of a modern saint.”
—Michael Zuckerman, PhD
Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
“Jon Pahl has delivered an important gift to the English-speaking world. Often described in the U.S. media as ‘the exiled cleric,’ Fethullah Gülen’s life and Islamic teachings are relatively unknown. Pahl provides a comprehensive history of this one man and his movement of ‘service.’”
—David D. Grafton, PhD
Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary
“Jon Pahl's new book makes a substantial, significant and distinctive contribution to the literature around Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet movement inspired by his teaching and person. As a biography written by someone with the skills of an historian of religion it differentiates itself clearly from a hagiography. At the same time, it seeks to deploy an appropriately spiritual understanding of a leading Muslim scholar whose life is revered by hundreds of thousands of Muslims and others, and whose teachings have inspired them. In the wake of the July 2016 and following events in Turkey, Fethullah Gülen has become the focus of a campaign of defamation that seeks to justify the misappropriation of assets, summary dismissal from employment, and arbitrary imprisonment of many tens of thousands of people in Turkey, and to the practically enforced exile of many others. In contrast to this, while engaging with a number of the key charges made against Fethullah Gülen, Pahl’s summative evaluation of his subject’s life in terms of its essentially Qur’anic roots, Sufistic interiority, and consultative engagement with individuals and groups that has resulted in many hundreds of big and small positive initiatives in education, dialogue and the relief of poverty, makes what is a very a timely contribution to public debate. In underlining that, for Fethullah Gülen, both his life and all these things take place within a divine and eternal horizon, Pahl’s book also fulfills what its author expresses as his hope for it – namely that it is indeed both ‘critically-sound and spiritually-inspiring.’”
—Paul Weller, PhD
Emeritus Professor, University of Derby, UK
“Pahl’s book does a masterful job of rich description of the people, places and historical events that shaped the life and spirit of one of the outstanding religious scholars of the modern age and the movement he inspired. Unique and noteworthy in Pahl’s biography is the brilliant way in which he places the events in Mr. Gülen’s life in the historical context of the swirling and complicated politics of modern day Turkey.
—Helen Rose Ebaugh, PhD
Professor Emeritus, University of Houston
“This readable and well-researched book is an appreciative biography by an outsider to the movement that Fethullah Gülen has spawned, and helps us understand the form of Islamic modernism that he represents and why some political leaders find it challenging. If you want to understand Gülen and his movement, this is the place to begin.”
—Mark Juergensmeyer, PhD
University of California, Santa Barbara
Author of Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State
“Jon Pahl’s biography of Fethullah Gülen, A Life of Hizmet sheds light on the Hizmet Movement with an extraordinary openness, touching on curious and crucial issues, and responding them in a freely flowing and constructive manner. A must-read that clarifies our understanding on the Hizmet Movement of Islam through the biography of Gülen towards universal values, peace, interfaith, empathy for the world’s problems, and altruism in service to community at a most needed time.”
—Züleyha Çolak, PhD
Lecturer and Coordinator of Turkish Language Program in the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies Department, Columbia University
“Jon Pahl's Fethullah Gülen: A Life of Hizmet is the first scholarly study of the Turkish Islamic reformer's emergence into a beloved and controversial global leader of values-based education, transformative business practices, and principled religious pluralism.
“The genius of Pahl's book is his lucid translation of Gülen’s vision into a contemporary idiom that modern readers can relate to and understand. Akin to Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Pahl effectively analyzes the tension in Gülen’s life between creative fidelity to a revealed tradition and generous openness to present-day education, science, technology, business, and society.
“Eminently readable, bracingly fast-paced, originally researched, and replete with Gülen’s own inspirational speeches and writings – this new book is a must read for anyone interested in the relevance of civic Islam in the clash between religion and politics in the world today.”
—Mark I. Wallace, PhD
Department of Religion, Environmental Studies Program, Swarthmore College, PA
“With clear, interesting, and often moving prose, Jon Pahl narrates the story of Fethullah Gülen, a fascinating person with qualities of Mahatma Gandhi and other great spiritual leaders. As one who has seen outstanding people in the Hizmet movement in a number of countries, this book helps me understand how a great role model can lead to human empowerment and social betterment. Gülen has given women courage and opportunity to be educated and live up to their full potential. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Gülen has empowered people with education that has led them to civic engagement. This has been helping to transform societies. While dictatorial repression has caused challenges for the Hizmet movement at this time, truth, justice, and compassion will prevail. I am grateful for this important biography which has material that can enrich historical, interfaith, gender, sociological, and religious studies.”
—Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D.
Professor, University of the Incarnate Word
About the Author
Jon Pahl is the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor in the History of Christianity at the United Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia, Gettysburg.
Pahl is a historian of religions, a public theologian, and an award-winning teacher, pastor, and community activist. He received his B.A. from Valparaiso University, M.T.S. from Trinity Lutheran Seminary, and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Dr. Pahl has spoken with audiences at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Stanford, Yale, Princeton and many other academic venues around the globe. He has worked with diverse community groups, including most recently as a pastor at Union Congregational United Church of Christ in Green Bay, WI.
Dr. Pahl has published dozens of articles, essays, columns, and reviews; has appeared on media outlets from the BBC to ABC, and is author or editor of six books, including Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces: Putting God in Place (Wipf and Stock) and Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence (NYU). He is working on a book with the title A Coming Religious Peace.
Fethullah Gülen: A Life of Hizmet – Why A Muslim Scholar in Pennsylvania Matters to the World
By Jon Pahl
Blue Dome Press
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