Who is Fethullah Gülen? by Hakan Yavuz

Who is Fethullah Gülen? by Hakan Yavuz

M. Hakan Yavuz*

The question of just who Fethullah Gülen is has vexed many. According to his own declaration, he is a stranger in his own land, a political and spiritual exile in his birthplace, as well as not fully at home in any particular era. He is a stranger (garip) steeped in anxiety, a religious critic, a social innovator. However, he is much more than an observer; he is a builder, shaper of ideas, and leader of his own movement. Gülen is not a radical activist who would seek to destroy what already exists in order to create a new world. On the contrary, he is conservative and his conservatism leads him to value the preservation of existing institutions and norms-while at the same time working to reform them. He is open to organic change, which reflects the historical identity and moral grammar of his given society. Bridges should be built, not burnt; a new language and cultural identity should not to be introduced as in the case of Atatürk’s “Sun Language Theory,” but the lexicon may be updated. Gülen values orderly change that seeks to expand and reform traditional values while appreciating the highpoints of Ottoman Islamic history and civilization. He is highly critical of the positivist/Jacobin attempt at a top-down deracination and transformation of Turkish and other Muslim societies associated with the likes of Ataturk and Reza Shah Pahlavi. At the same time, he has also been a strident critic of the Wahabi/Taliban style of fundamentalism and obscurantism.

In order to understand the ideas, goals, and character of Gülen, we need to contextualize his process of becoming a Turkish Muslim leader in the context of larger political and intellectual debates with contemporaries. In other words, Gülen’s ideas cannot be separated from the prevailing socioeconomic changes and intellectual debates that transformed Turkish state and society over the last 30 years.


Yavuz, M. Hakan. 2013. “Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gülen Movement.” Oxford University Press, New York. Page: 25.

M. Hakan Yavuz, the University of Utah, offers in his new book an insightful and wide-ranging study of the Gulen Movement, one of the most imaginative developments in contemporary Islam. Yavuz says in the introduction, “This book is an outcome of a ten-year long observation and interviews with different groups and leaders, followers  and sympathizers, as well as critics and passionate “haters” of the movement in different countries.”

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