Dr. Greg Barton*
Gülen is generally seen to draw directly on the intellectual heritage of the influential and greatly loved Sufi scholar and writer Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. And indeed, an examination of Gülen’s writing reveals it to be substantially built upon the foundation laid by Nursi, who in turn drew upon the great Anatolian Sufi Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi (d. 1276) and the Indian writers Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (1564-1624) and Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi (1703-1762) amongst others.
Members of the Gülen movement, like hundreds of thousands of other admirers of Nursi meet regularly to read and discuss his multi-volume thematic commentary on the Qur’an, the Risale-i Nur, or Treatise of Light. For this reason the Gülen movement is seen to represent a significant component of the broader so-called Nurcu movement. Gülen is, however, not simply a follower of Nursi. Rather he is a significant thinker, writer and leader in his own right. Much of Gülen’s work essentially takes the form of a synthesis, re-articulation, or fresh application of the earlier work of Nursi and others. And like Nursi and many other Islamic scholars, Gülen frequently returns in his writing to the lived example the Prophet Muhammad for inspiration and direction. Nevertheless there are several significant areas where Gülen is a thinker and leader of striking originality and innovation.
In general terms Gülen, like Nursi before him, can be described as a Sufi and his thinking is richly infused with Sufi imagery, values and ideas, including most notably focus on the heart, the inward being, the seat of both wisdom and spirituality. Growing up in the small village of Korucuk Gülen, however, is not a traditional Sufi and does not align with any particular Sufi order, or tarekat, rather he is, in the evocative formulation of Zeki Saritoprak, ‘a sufi in his own way’.
Source: Summarized from PREACHING BY EXAMPLE AND LEARNING FOR LIFE: UNDERSTANDING THE GÜLEN HIZMET IN THE GLOBAL CONTEXT OF RELIGIOUS PHILANTHROPY AND CIVIL RELIGION by Greg Barton
This paper was presented at the conference titled “Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gulen Movement”, 25-27 October 2007, London. Click here to visit the conference web page.
* Greg Barton: from January 2007, Herb Feith Research Professor for the Study of Indonesia, Monash University. In 2006 he was Associate Professor at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he continues to be an Adjunct Professor. 1993 to 2005 he taught comparative religion, Islamic studies and politics at Deakin University. Research interests and publications: Professor Barton has written about Jemaah Islamiyah and other radical Islamist groups in Southeast Asia; his central research interest is progressive Islamic thought and its contribution to civil society and politics, to which he has added a focus on comparative study of progressive Islamic thought in Turkey and Indonesia. He has widely published in this field. Currently working on two book projects: Islam’s Other Nation: a Fresh Look at Indonesia and Progressive Islamic Thought and Social Movements in Indonesia and Turkey.