Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen
Born Fethullah Gülen
(1941-04-27) 27 April 1941
Pasinler, Erzurum, Turkey
Residence Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nationality Turkey
Religion Non-denominational Muslim[1]
School Hanafi[2]
Main interests
Orthodox Islamic thought, Islamic conservatism, education, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, Sufism
Notable ideas
Gülen movement

Muhammed Fethullah Gülen (Turkish: [fetuɫˈɫɑh ɟyˈlen]; born 27 April 1941) is a Turkish preacher,[4] former imam,[4][5] writer,[6] and political figure.[7] He is the founder of the Gülen movement (known as Hizmet meaning service in Turkish), and the inspiration figure for its largest organization, the Alliance for Shared Values. He currently lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, residing in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.[8][9][10]

Gülen teaches a Hanafi version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursî's teachings. Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy.[11] He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican[12] and some Jewish organizations.[13]

Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as an imam "who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education" and as "one of the world's most important Muslim figures."[11][14]

Gülen was an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before 2013. The alliance was destroyed after the 2013 corruption investigations in Turkey.[15][16][17][18][19] Erdogan accused Gülen of being behind the corruption investigations.[20] He is currently on Turkey's most-wanted-terrorist list and is accused of leading what the current Turkish officials call the Gulenist Terror Organisation (FETÖ).[21] A Turkish criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Gülen.[22][23] Turkey is demanding the extradition of Gülen from the United States.[16][24][25] However, U.S. figures in general do not believe he is associated with any terrorist activity, and have requested evidence to be provided by the Turkish Government to substantiate the allegations in the warrant requesting extradition.[26][27][28]


Gülen was born Fethullah Gülen in the village of Korucuk, near Erzurum,[29][30] to Ramiz and Refia Gülen.[31] There is some confusion over his birth date. Some accounts, usually older ones, give it as 10 November 1938, while others give 27 April 1941.[29][32] Some commentators point to the 10 November 1938 date coinciding with the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded modern Turkey, and suggests that it was deliberately chosen for its political significance.[29][33] An alternative explanation for the discrepancy offered by one of Gülen's close students, and biographer, was that his parents waited 3 years to register his birth.[34] State documents support the 1941 date,[29][32] and Gülen's English website now uses that;[29] it is now the accepted date.[29][32]

His father was an imam.[35] His mother taught the Qur'an in their village, despite such informal religious instruction being banned by the Kemalist government.[36] Gülen's formal schooling ceased when his family moved village.[35][37] He took part in Islamic education in some Erzurum madrasas[38] and he gave his first sermon when he was 14. Gülen was influenced by the ideas of Said Nursî.[39]

Comparing Gülen to followers of the Nursî-inspired Risale-i Nur or "Nur movement," Hakan Yavuz said, "Gülen is more Turkish nationalist in his thinking. Also, he is somewhat more state-oriented, and is more concerned with market economics and neo-liberal economic policies."[40]

Oxford Analytica says:

"Gülen put Nursi's ideas into practice when he was transferred to a mosque in Izmir in 1966. Izmir is a city where political Islam never took root. However, the business and professional middle class came to resent the constraints of a state bureaucracy under whose wings it had grown, and supported market-friendly policies, while preserving at least some elements of a conservative lifestyle. Such businessmen were largely pro-Western, because it was Western (mainly U.S.) influence, which had persuaded the government to allow free elections for the first time in 1950 [sic] and U.S. aid, which had primed the pump of economic growth."[41]

Gülen retired from formal preaching duties in 1981. From 1988 to 1991 he gave a series of sermons in popular mosques of major cities. In 1994, he participated in the founding of "Journalists and Writers Foundation"[42] and was given the title "Honorary President" by the foundation.[43] He did not make any comment regarding the closures of the Welfare Party in 1998[44] or the Virtue Party in 2001.[45] He has met some politicians like Tansu Çiller and Bülent Ecevit, but he avoids meeting with the leaders of Islamic political parties.[45]

In 1999, Gülen emigrated to the United States, claiming the trip for medical treatment,[46] although arguably it was in anticipation of being tried over remarks (aired after his emigration to U.S.) which seemed to favor an Islamic state.[47] In June 1999, after Gülen had left Turkey, videotapes were sent to some Turkish television stations with recordings of Gülen saying,

"The existing system is still in power. Our friends who have positions in legislative and administrative bodies should learn its details and be vigilant all the time so that they can transform it and be more fruitful on behalf of Islam in order to carry out a nationwide restoration. However, they should wait until the conditions become more favorable. In other words, they should not come out too early."[48]

Gülen complained that the remarks were taken out of context,[49] and his supporters raised questions about the authenticity of the tape,[50] which he claimed had been "manipulated." Gülen was tried in absentia in 2000, and acquitted in 2008 under the new Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[46][51]

Gülen procured a green card in 2001.[52]

On 19 December 2014, a Turkish court issued an arrest warrant for Gülen after over 20 journalists working for media outlets thought to be sympathetic to the Gülen movement were arrested. Gülen was accused of establishing and running an "armed terrorist group."[53]

Influence in Turkish society and politics

Main article: Gülen movement

The Gülen movement, also known as Hizmet or Jamaat, has millions of followers in Turkey, as well as many more abroad. Beyond the schools established by Gülen's followers, it is believed that many Gülenists hold positions of power in Turkey's police forces and judiciary.[54][55] Turkish and foreign analysts believe Gülen also has sympathizers in the Turkish parliament and that his movement controls the widely read Islamic conservative Zaman newspaper, the private Bank Asya bank, the Samanyolu TV television station, and many other media and business organizations, including the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON).[56] In March 2011, the Turkish government arrested the investigative journalist Ahmet Şık and seized and banned his book The Imam's Army, the culmination of Şık's investigation into Gülen and the Gülen movement.[57]

In 2005, a man affiliated with the Gülen movement approached U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric S. Edelman during a party in Istanbul and handed him an envelope containing a document supposedly detailing plans for an imminent coup against the government by the Turkish military. However, the documents were soon found to be forgeries.[55] Gülen affiliates claim the movement is "civic" in nature and that it does not have political aspirations.[56]

Split with Erdoğan

Despite Gülen's and his followers' claims that the organization is non-political in nature, analysts believed that a number of corruption-related arrests made against allies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reflect a growing political power struggle between Gülen and Erdoğan.[54][58] These arrests led to the 2013 corruption scandal in Turkey, which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s supporters (along with Erdoğan himself) and the opposition parties alike have said was choreographed by Gülen after Erdoğan's government came to the decision early in December 2013 to shut down many of his movement's private pre-university schools in Turkey.[59]

The Erdoğan government has said that the corruption investigation and comments by Gülen are the long term political agenda of Gülen's movement to infiltrate security, intelligence, and justice institutions of the Turkish state, a charge almost identical to the charges against Gülen by the Chief Prosecutor of Turkey in his trial in 2000 before Erdoğan's party had come into power.[56] Gülen had previously been tried in absentia in 2000, and acquitted of these charges in 2008 under Erdoğan's AKP government.[46][51]

In emailed comments to the Wall Street Journal in January 2014, Gülen said that "Turkish people ... are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed", but he denied being part of a plot to unseat the government.[52] Later, in January 2014 in an interview with BBC World, Gülen said "If I were to say anything to people I may say people should vote for those who are respectful to democracy, rule of law, who get on well with people. Telling or encouraging people to vote for a party would be an insult to peoples' intellect. Everybody very clearly sees what is going on."[60]

According to some commentators, Gülen is to Erdogan what Trotsky was to Stalin.[61] Ben Cohen wrote: "Rather like Leon Trotsky, the founder of the Soviet Red Army who was hounded and chased out of the USSR by Joseph Stalin, Gulen has become an all-encompassing explanation for the existential threats, as Erdogan perceives them, that are currently plaguing Turkey. Stalin saw the influence of “Trotskyite counter-revolutionaries” everywhere, and brutally purged every element of the Soviet apparatus. Erdogan is now doing much the same with the “Gulenist terrorists.”[62]

Extradition request. U.S.-Turkey tensions

Gülen in 2016

Shortly after the botched coup attempt of 15 July 2016, the Turkish government claimed that the coup attempt had been organized by Gülen and/or his movement. Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım in late July 2016 told The Guardian: "Of course, since the leader of this terrorist organisation is residing in the United States, there are question marks in the minds of the people whether there is any U.S. involvement or backing. So America from this point on should really think how they will continue to cooperate with Turkey, which is a strategic ally for them in the region and world."[63] Gülen, who denied any involvement in the coup attempt and denounced it,[64] has in turn accused Erdoğan of "turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government."[65] On 19 July, the Turkish prime minister stated that an official request had been sent to the U.S. for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen: “We have sent four dossiers to the United States for the extradition of the terrorist chief."[66] On the same day, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that president Obama had earlier in the day had a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart and the "status of Mr. Gülen was discussed on the call"; he further elaborated on the extradition issue:

"I can tell you that also earlier this morning, separate from the phone call, there were materials presented by the Turkish government in electronic form to the U.S. government related to Mr. Gülen's status. And the Department of Justice and the Department of State will review those materials, consistent with the requirements of the extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey that's been on the books for more than 30 years now. But the President also made clear a couple of other things. The first is that the United States doesn't support terrorists. The United States doesn't support individuals who conspire to overthrow democratically elected governments. The United States follows the rule of law. And as it relates to Mr. Gülen's status, there is a process that is established in the extradition treaty that we will follow. There also is due process to which people who live in the United States are entitled. And we'll make sure that that due process is followed as well. The decision about Mr. Gülen's status and the decision to extradite him is not a decision that is made by the President of the United States. It is a legal decision that is made pursuant to a legal process, part of which is codified in a longstanding treaty between the United States and Turkey. So that's the process that we'll follow. Again, I can't say definitively at this point that a formal request has been made. We're still reviewing the materials that were submitted by the Turkish government, and we'll do that consistent with the process that's been established both in U.S. law and in the extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey."[67]

At the end of July, the Turkish prime minister in his interview with The Wall Street Journal expressed frustration over the perceived lack of support on the part of the U.S. administration regarding the extradition request saying that the evidence against Gülen was "crystal clear".[68] On 4 August 2016, the U.S. State Department said it had received what would amount to a formal extradition request as well as documents purported to be the incriminating evidence and was "in the process of going through those documents".[69][70] According to senior U.S. officials, the evidence only pertained to certain alleged pre-coup criminal activity.[71] U.S. Vice president Joe Biden intends to visit Turkey on August 24 2016, and the Gülen extradition request will be on top of the agenda.[72] Ahead of the visit, Erdogan has requested that Gülen be placed under temporary arrest.[73]

Besides, the Turkish government reportedly sought to pressure a number of foreign governments into shutting down schools and medical facilities allegedly associated with the Gülen movement including in Somalia, Germany, Indonesia, Nigeria and Kenya.[74] In Somalia, two large schools and a hospital linked to the movement have been shut down following a request by the Turkish administration.[75] Albania and Bosnia have also seen requests by Turkey to close or investigate Gulen linked schools.[76]

Egypt asylum proposal

In Egypt, MP Emad Mahrous called on the Egyptian government to grant asylum to Gülen. In the request, sent to Speaker of the House of Representatives Ali Abdel-Aal, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on 24 July 2016, Mahrous notes that "[Turkey] was a moderate Muslim country that has become an Islamist dictatorship at the hands of [Turkish president] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his affiliated Muslim Brotherhood political party", arguing that it was highly distasteful that Erdoğan has requested Gülen's extradition from the United States while at the same time "... giving shelter to hundreds of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organisation and members of other bloody militant Islamist groups which attack Egypt by day and night". Mahrous argues that Erdoğan has not only accused Gülen of plotting the failed coup attempt, but also used this allegation as an excuse to engage in mass purges against public institutions allegedly loyal to Gülen - "but at the same time Erdogan has decided to turn Turkey into a media battleground against Egypt, with Turkish intelligence providing funds for several Muslim Brotherhood TV channels to attack Egypt". Mahrous stated that his advice to Gülen is to not wait until his extradition, but instead leave the US and obtain permanent asylum in Egypt.[77]


Gülen does not advocate a new theology but refers to classical authorities of theology, taking up their line of argument.[78] His understanding of Islam tends to be moderate and mainstream.[79][80] Though he has never been a member of a Sufi tarekat and does not see tarekat membership as a necessity for Muslims, he teaches that "Sufism is the inner dimension of Islam" and "the inner and outer dimensions must never be separated."[81]

His teachings differ in emphasis from those of other mainstream Islamic scholars in two respects, both based on his interpretations of particular verses of the Quran. He teaches that the Muslim community has a duty of service (Turkish: hizmet)[82] to the "common good" of the community and the nation[83] and to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world;[84] and that the Muslim community is obliged to conduct dialogue with not just the "People of the Book" (Jews and Christians), and people of other religions, but also with agnostics and atheists.


The Gülen movement is a transnational Islamic civic society movement inspired by Gülen's teachings. His teachings about hizmet (altruistic service to the "common good") have attracted a large number of supporters in Turkey, Central Asia, and increasingly in other parts of the world.[85]


In his sermons, Gülen has reportedly stated: "Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God."[46] Gülen's followers have built over 1,000 schools around the world.[86] In Turkey, Gülen's schools are considered among the best: expensive modern facilities and English language is taught from the first grade.[46] However, former teachers from outside the Gülen community have called into question the treatment of women and girls in Gülen schools, reporting that female teachers were excluded from administrative responsibilities, allowed little autonomy, and—along with girls from the sixth grade and up—segregated from male colleagues and pupils during break and lunch periods.[87]

Interfaith and intercultural dialogue

Gülen with Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Contrary to claims by some scholars, Gülen has positive views towards Jews, and Christians, and condemns anti-semitism. During the 1990s, he began to advocate interreligious tolerance and dialogue.[13] He has personally met with leaders of other religions, including Pope John Paul II,[12] the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.[88]

Gülen has said that he favors cooperation between followers of different religions as well as religious and secular elements within society. Among his strongest supporters and collaborators has been for years the Greek Orthodox Turcologist, professor at the University of Ottawa, Dimitri Kitsikis.

Gülen has shown sympathy towards certain demands of Turkey's Alevi minority, such as recognising their cemevis as official places of worship and supporting better Sunni-Alevi relations; stating Alevis "definitely enrich Turkish culture."[89][90][91]

Views on contemporary issues


Gülen has criticized secularism in Turkey as "reductionist materialism". However, he has in the past said that a secular approach that is "not anti-religious" and "allows for freedom of religion and belief, is compatible with Islam."[92]

According to one Gülen press release, in democratic-secular countries, 95% of Islamic principles are permissible and practically feasible, and there is no problem with them. The remaining 5% "are not worth fighting for."[93]

Turkey bid to join the EU

Gülen has supported Turkey's bid to join the European Union and has said that neither Turkey nor the EU have anything to fear, but have much to gain, from a future of full Turkish membership in the EU.[92]

Women's roles

According to Aras and Caha, Gülen's views on women are "progressive".[44] Gülen says the coming of Islam saved women, who "were absolutely not confined to their home and ... never oppressed" in the early years of the religion. He feels that extreme feminism, however, is "doomed to imbalance like all other reactionary movements" and eventually "being full of hatred towards men."[94]


Gülen has condemned terrorism.[95] He warns against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians and said that it "has no place in Islam". He wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on September 12, 2001, one day after the September 11 attacks, and stated that "A Muslim can not be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim."[96][97] Gülen lamented the "hijacking of Islam" by terrorists.[13]

Gaza flotilla

Gülen criticized the Turkish-led Gaza flotilla for trying to deliver aid without Israel's consent.[98] He spoke of watching the news coverage of the deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and multinational aid group members as its flotilla approached Israel's sea blockade of Gaza. He said, "What I saw was not pretty, it was ugly." He has since continued his criticism, saying later that the organizers' failure to seek accord with Israel before attempting to deliver aid was "a sign of defying authority, and will not lead to fruitful matters."[99]

Syrian Civil War

Gülen is strongly against Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War.[100] While rejecting the Turkish government's desire to topple the Syrian government of President al-Assad, Gülen supports the military intervention against ISIS.[101][102]


Gülen's official website[103] lists 44 publications by him; these are, however, more akin to essays and collections of sermons than books on specific subjects with a specific thesis. He is also said to have authored many articles on a variety of topics: social, political and religious issues, art, science and sports, and recorded thousands of audio and video cassettes. He writes the lead article for The Fountain, Yeni Ümit, Sızıntı, and Yağmur Islamic philosophical magazines. Several of his books have been translated into English.[104]


Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College awarded its 2015 Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award to Gülen in recognition of his lifelong dedication to promoting peace and human rights.[113][114][115]

Gülen topped the 2008 Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll and came out as the most influential thinker.[116]

Gülen was named as one of TIME magazine's World's 100 Most Influential People in 2013.[117]

In 2015, Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player Enes Kanter claimed that he was excluded from the Turkish national basketball team for his public support of Gülen.[118] Kanter was disowned by his family in 2016 due to his support for Gülen.[119]

Gülen was listed as one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.[120][121]

Rise Up (Colors of Peace) album

Cover of album Rise Up (Colors of Peace)

Rise Up full title Rise Up (Colors of Peace) was a musical project to turn Gülen poems and writings in Turkish language into songs. A selective collection had already been published as English language translations under the title Broken Plectrum. A total of 50 poems were sent to various Muslim and non-Muslim artists coming from various countries with the artists given freedom to pick, and then compose and vocalize the poem chosen, record it in their own country studios and send it back for inclusion in planned album. Reportedly, no restrictions were put on the artists in using of instrumentation, despite reservations by stricter Muslim interpretations about music and use of musical instruments. The album titled Rise Up (Colors of Peace) turned into a veritable international album of world music encompassing various genres like jazz, pop, flamenco, rai, Indian music amongst others.[122] The artists appearing (in order of appearance on the tracklist) were: The Good Morning Diary, Maher Zain, Faudel, Cristelo Duo featuring Bruno Gouveia, Ryan Shaw, Natacha Atlas, Bon Bon, KK & Reet, Mazachigno featuring Ely Bruna, Bahroma, Carmen Paris, Kobi Farhi & Ruba Shamshoum. The project took more than two years to realize and the album was released in 2013 by Nil Production and Universal Music.


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