In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Muhammed Fethullah Gülen

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Conference and Symposia Proceedings
  • Journals
  • Life and Works
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Society and Politics
  • Women’s Issues
  • Influence
  • Criticism

Islamic Studies Muhammed Fethullah Gülen
Alparslan Açıkgenç
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0106


Gülen (pronounced as ‘geulan’, “eu” as in French “u”) is a religious leader from Turkey. He was born in a small village, Korucuk, in the province of Erzurum in 1941. He belonged to a family of traditional religious scholars. Thus, he was taught in the medrese (traditional Islamic schools and seminaries) style first by his father and then by other traditionally medrese-trained scholars in the nearby villages. Gülen may be considered a self-trained intellectual because—after completing his madrasa education—he applied himself to a strict study of works of contemporary thinkers of the Orient and the West. After the 1960s, he began his official career as a preacher but has always been active in community affairs. In 1966, Gülen decided to volunteer as the administrator of a Qurʾan school near a mosque in İzmir where he was a preacher. Thus, he began his educational activities at the dormitory of this Qurʾan school. The people who were inspired by his sermons and private lessons sponsored his educational activities. By about the early 1980s, hundreds of educational dormitories were opened. In his work Gülen emphasized that one must always renew oneself with fresh ideas, with new insights into community service in particular, and humanity in general. This is his ideal and understanding of life, which the Turkish call hizmet. After 1979, Gülen entered the world of publication also. In a journal called Sızıntı (Droplets), he wrote editorials explaining the meaning and purpose of his educational activities. In the early 1980s, the first high school was established in İzmir by Gülen. More new schools were built in Turkey, and soon thereafter, in many parts of the world, schools were established according to the same model. In the 1990s, this educational venture was topped by the establishment of universities that embodied the aspiration toward world-class scientific achievement oriented toward improving the plight of humanity—particularly those most in need of every category of assistance. Those inspired by Gülen’s ideals continued to establish multimedia structures, such as daily newspapers, radio and TV stations, as well as banks and other economic establishments that operate around the globe. His overall role seems to be that of a spiritual guide and advisor on how to maintain and constantly activate ethical standards in all spheres of life. Hocaefendi (pronounced as hodja effendi, meaning “revered master), as Gülen is called in Turkish, may be more specifically described as an opinion leader in Turkey—an intellectual, poet, and religious scholar who dedicated himself to the betterment of humankind not only in this world but, in his own words, “above all in the life to come.”

General Overviews

The most useful starting point of Gülen studies would be a number of conference proceedings that address many of Gülen’s ideas and thought and their impact on Turkish society, within which Gülen followers form a community that is now referred to as the “Gülen movement.” Gülen is revered as the prototypical modern intellectual and at the same time a traditional scholar (âlim) who focuses on achievement in the outside world (Bulaç, 2007). Çetin 2009 elaborates on the community-level civil achievements of Gülen by describing firsthand the educational activities of those inspired by Gülen’s spiritual message. Gülen is revered for his opinions and reactions to scholarship as well as outside reality, and people look to him to formulate their own opinions, as represented by Ergil 2010, which also portrays a modern religious leader generating a Turkish renaissance by first establishing peaceful coexistence in the homeland. Hendrick 2009 examines the reasons and motivation behind these achievements. As elaborated by El-Hussari 2009, the Gülen approach prioritizes human rights as prescribed by the Qurʾan as a solution to sociopolitical malaise around the world, including terrorism. Sevindi 2008 introduces Gülen’s ideas through direct quotations obtained from interviews. Sociologically, Yavuz and Esposito 2003 contextualizes the movement in its historical and sociopolitical milieu by analyzing secularism and other relevant issues with the concepts of public sphere and diaspora as primary components.

  • Bulaç, Ali. Din-Kent ve Cemaat: Fethullah Gülen Örneği. Ufuk Kitap. Istanbul: Yayınevi Genel Dizisi, 2007.

    Offers an explanation of the nature of religious communities in their urban context, which adds new, modern dimensions to old settings. The author examines the life of Gülen and concludes that he represents a new breed of Muslim scholar, which he calls “intellectual ʿâlim.” The success of this ulama prototype is proved by Gülen’s continuous record-breaking achievements in worldwide education.

  • Çetin, Muhammed. The Gülen Movement: Civic Service Without Borders: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam. New York: Springer, 2009.

    Includes a foreword by Akbar S. Ahmed with a general background on Islamic movements, particularly in Turkey. The author presents a comprehensive survey of the Gülen movement within its sociocultural, political, and religious milieu both locally and throughout the world.

  • Ergil, Doğu. 100 Soruda Fethullah Gülen ve hareketi. Istanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2010.

    The book introduces Gülen as a model religious leader in the Muslim world, representing his community to the best of his ability in terms of the knowledge and achievement of civilization today. He encompasses all arts and sciences as much as they relate to his mission. The book begins with questions about the master, followed by answers and analysis. Ergil’s approach is critical, his perspective at once sociological and political.

  • Hendrick, Joshua D. “Globalization, Islamic Activism, and Passive Revolution in Turkey: The Case of Fethullah Gülen.” Journal of Power 2.3 (2009): 343–368.

    DOI: 10.1080/17540290903345849

    An examination of the dynamics of the Gülen movement accounting for its global success in education, media, and business. A case study is based on the multiethnic composition of Turkey, as revealed by ethnographic fieldwork, with a comparison to the US “melting pot.” The author attempts to illustrate how Muslim networks have taken advantage of economic globalization to transform the present forms of social hegemony in contemporary Turkey.

  • El-Hussari, Ibrahim A. “The Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge.” Central European Journal of International and Security Studies 3 (2009): 64–78.

    An attempt to show Gülen’s efforts to improve the image of Islam not only to non-Muslims but also to Muslims; also an attempt to discover how basic concepts of Islamic belief such as love for humanity and human rights can solve the problem of terrorism in a way appropriate to Gülen’s perspective. Concludes that the Gulen movement needs a new strategy for its global activities, or it will fall short of its mission.

  • Sevindi, Nevval. Contemporary Islamic Conversations: M. Fethullah Gülen on Turkey, Islam, and the West. Edited by Ibrahim Abu-Rabi; translated by Abdullah Antepli. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

    After presenting a brief outline of Gülen’s life and works, the book explores his ideas based on interviews by the author. Her interest is largely in his views on Islam and the West, Islam and violence, and religion and the future of the nation-state in Turkey and the Muslim world.

  • Yavuz, M. Hakan, and John L. Esposito, eds. Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement. Contemporary Issues in the Middle East. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003.

    A collection of scholarly essays on the educational ideas of Gülen and their impact on his followers as a civil movement. This is by far the most scholarly treatment of the Gülen movement yet available.

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