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Known by his simple and austere lifestyle, Fethullah Glen, affectionately called Hodjae-fendi, is a scholar of extraordinary proportions. This man for all seasons was born in Erzurum, eastern Turkey, in 1938. Upon graduation from divinity school, he obtained his license to preach and teach about the importance of understanding and tolerance to society. His social re-form efforts, begun during the 1960s, have made him one of Turkey's most well-known and re-spected public figures. His tireless dedication to solving social problems and satisfying spiritual needs have gained him millions of followers throughout the world.
Though simple in outward appearance, he is original in thought and action. He embraces all humanity, and is deeply averse to unbelief, injustice, and deviation. His belief and feelings are profound, and his ideas and approach to problems are both wise and rational. A living model of love, ardor, and feeling, he is extraordinarily balanced in his thoughts, acts, and treatment of matters.
"Whenever I see a leaf fall from its branch in autumn,
I feel as much pain as if my arm was amputated."
He is acknowledged, either tacitly or explicitly, by Turkish intellectuals and scholars as one of the most serious and important thinkers and writers, and among the wisest activists of twenti-eth-century Turkey or even of the Muslim world. But such accolades of his leadership of a new Islamic intellectual, social, and spiritual revival-a revival with a potential to embrace great ar-eas of the world-do not deter him from striving to be no more than a humble servant of God and a friend to all. Desire for fame is the same as show and ostentation, a "poisonous honey" that extinguishes the heart's spiritual liveliness, is one of the golden rules he follows.
Gulen has spent his adult life voicing the cries and laments, as well as the belief and aspi-rations, of Muslims in particular and of humanity in general. He bears his own sorrows, but those of others crush him. He feels each blow delivered at humanity to be delivered first at his own heart. He feels himself so deeply and inwardly connected to creation that once he said: "Whenever I see a leaf fall from its branch in autumn, I feel as much pain as if my arm was am-putated."
Fethullah Glen and His Mission
Gulen, widely known as Hodjaefendi, was born in Korucuk, Turkey, in 1938. After completing his education, he taught in Edirne and was active in religious and social services. After doing his military service and teaching for some time in Edirne, he was transferred to Iz-mir, which proved to be a turning-point. It was during this time that his total dedication to re-ligious life and interest in the general human condition became apparent. While in Izmir, he began to travel from city to city to speak on subjects ranging from Darwinism to social justice in Islam, and to visit places where people gathered to convey his message to them.
"Applaud the good for their goodness; appreciate those who have believing hearts; be kind to the believers. Approach unbelievers so gently that their envy and hatred melt away; like a Messiah, revive people with your breath."
Gulen had dreamed of a generation that would combine intellectual "enlightenment" with pure spirituality, wisdom, and continuous activism. Being extraordinarily knowledgeable in re-ligious and social sciences and familiar with the principles of "material" sciences, he instructed his students in most of them. The first students who attended his courses in Izmir became the vanguard of a revived generation willing to serve his ideals. The small group that had begun to form around his opinions by the end of 1960s has increased rapidly and steadily ever since. The generation captivated by his tears and sincerity, altruism and love, continues serve without thought of material reward. They preach, teach, and establish private educational institutions all over the world. They also publish books and magazines, dailies and weeklies, participate in television and radio broadcasts, and fund scholarships for poor students. Completely apolitical, they have founded and are operating about 300 high schools and universities from England to Australia, the United States and Russia, and in South Africa. They also operate a television channel that broadcasts from Turkey to India and the Middle East.
"Only those who overflow with love will build the happy and enlightened world of the future. Their lips smiling with love, their hearts brimming with love, their eyes radiating love and the most tender human feelings - such are the heroes of love who always receive messages of love from the rising and setting of the sun and from the flickering light of the stars."
Further remarks on Fethullah Glen's thoughts and mission
Gulen is well-known for his ardent endeavor to strengthen bonds among people. He main-tains that there are more bonds bringing people together than those separating them. Based on-this belief, he works without rest for a sincere, strong dialogue and tolerance. He was one of the founders of the Foundation of Journalists and Writers, a group that promotes dialogue and toler-ance among all social strata and which has received a warm welcome from almost all walks of life. He regularly visits and receives leading Turkish and international figures: the Vatican Am-bassador to Turkey, the Patriarch of the Turkish Orthodox community, the Patriarch of the Turkish Armenian community, the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community, as well as leading journalists, columnists, television and movie stars, and thinkers of varying views.
Fethullah Gulen asserts that if you wish to keep masses under control, simply starve them for knowledge. They can escape such tyranny only through education. He believes that the road to social justice is paved with adequate, universal education, for only this will give people sufficient understanding and tolerance to respect the rights of others. To this end, he has encouraged society's elite and community leaders, industrialists, and business leaders to support quality education for the needy.
"Be so tolerant that your chest becomes wide like the ocean. Become inspired with faith and love of human beings. Let there be no troubled souls to whom you do not offer a hand and about whom you remain unconcerned."
His tireless efforts have begun to bear fruit, as graduates from private schools in Turkey and Central Asia, established by his followers' private donations and run as trusts, have taken top honors in university placement tests and consistently finished at the top in International Knowledge Olympics. They have produced a number of world champions, especially in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. In fact, as recently as July 1997, a chemistry team from Izmir's Yamanlar High School took the top honors in the Chemistry Olympics held in Calgary, Canada.
"A man is truly human if he learns and teaches, and inspires others. It is difficult to regard as truly human someone who is ignorant and has no desire to learn. It is also questionable whether a learned person who does not renew and reform himself so as to set an example for others is truly human."
Fethullah Gulen maintains, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civili-zation, it expects what never was and never will be." In education, he has inspired the use of mass media, notably television, to inform those without a formal education of pressing social matters. "As a political and governing system, democracy is the only alternative left in the world," he maintains. In spite of its many shortcomings, he says that no one has yet designed a better governing system. We must, therefore, make it work. People shall always demand freedom of choice in their affairs, especially in their expression of spiritual and religious values.
"There is a mutually supportive and perfective relation between an individual's actions and his inner life. We may call it a "virtuous circle." Attitudes like determination, perseverance, and resolve illuminate his inner conscience; the brightness of his inner conscience strengthens his will-power and resolve stimulates him to higher horizons."
"Do not despair in the face of adversity, and do not yield to anarchists," he emphasizes, lest we give up hope. To him hopelessness is a quicksand that buries human progress and kills the will to succeed, a noose that chokes and drowns people.
With his acute perception, Glen perceives that the world's spiritual climate is undergoing a positive change. He envisions a twenty-first century in which we shall witness the sprouting of a spiritual dynamic that will revive the now-dormant moral values. He envisions an age of toler-ance and understanding that will lead to the cooperation of civilizations and their ultimate fu-sion into one body. The human spirit shall triumph in the form of intercivilizational dialogue and sharing of values.
Gulen successfully bridges the past with his image of the future. His deep desi