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It is often noted that Fethullah Gülen was influenced by Said Nursi and the Nur Movement. To what extent has Gülen accepted the teachings and social projects of Nursi? Can we talk about continuity or are there points where he differs from Nursi?

by Doğu Ergil on . Posted in Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen Movement in 100 questions

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Fethullah Gülen

There have been people whom I recognize for their greatness and whom I admire deeply. For instance, I admired and tried to comprehend the intellectual and emotional dimensions and criteria of the great tasawwuf thinkers. Imam Rabbani, Mawlana Khalid, Aktab-i Arbaa [the Four Spiritual Poles], Abdulqadir Ghaylani, especially Syhayhul Harrani, Hasanul Harakani, Akil Menbici, and Muhammad Bahauddin are all great heroes of mine. Following in their footsteps seemed to me like walking behind the God’s Messenger.[1]

He says, “I always mention with admiration the many numerous people from whose thoughts and interpretations I feel that I have benefited. I think of them as my teachers.” However, the place of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi holds special significance. Fethullah Gülen notes, “that he belongs to this age and reads this age well.” He explains the influence of Nursi on himself as such:

The works Nursi produced are a good prescription for those who are searching for answers to their faith-related questions. There are letters which could be characterized as the summary of his correspondence with his students; He had offered there a model of a society without friction, without deviating toward radicalism or violence, without endangering the peace and tranquility of the society. A society based on justice, fairness, and respect for all people.[2]

Fethullah Gülen says that through his upbringing he developed deep respect and love for the great personalities of tasawwuf. He points out that he always mentions their names in his prayers, and asks for their himmet (spiritual support). But, he also acknowledges that when he reads the works of salaf-i salihin (those belonging to the earliest age of Islam), which have benefited him very much, he has found passages that he believes contradict the Islamic understanding of love and respect. But this is not the case with Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. Nursi’s work in challenging the age in which he lived had a great impact on Fethullah Gülen. On this issue, he states:

[Bediüzzaman] is like a mihrab [the semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates direction of Mecca] of the thinking system. If one faces something other than the mihrab in thought, he would be as if leaving the kiblah [direction to Mecca]. But alas! A lot of people in this country have turned their backs on this kiblah, which is just in their houses or very close to them, and directed their faces towards the West. With negligence, which is difficult to understand, they are deprived of him.[3]

The issue of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi which impressed Fethullah Gülen the most was his criticism of the arbitrariness of the administrators. Nursi voiced his criticisms, not because the administration went against his own opinion, but, for the betterment of society. And he voiced his criticism in a time during which it was especially difficult to do so. In all of Nursi’s ideas, one can see an underlying concern for raising the level of spiritual comfort in one’s life. In letters that he wrote to his students, he attempted to convey the importance of building a moral society by starting from the individual. Fethullah Gülen expresses the opinion that what Nursi wanted to do was not to generate a tariqa (Sufi order), but to save the “faith” or the totality of all the necessary beliefs and values that shape a good human being and a good society.

Fethullah Gülen sees Nursi’s collection of Risale-i Nur as the spiritual and mental mortar that holds together an aggregate social mass. According to Fethullah Gülen, with his spiritual and social influence, Nursi is an important leader of a group of thinkers who speaks with a more or less unified voice. His complete works might not have the systematization and discipline of contemporary scholarly works, but the values that he emphasizes and the way he discusses topics and offers solutions have helped many people.

These works do not only awaken the religious enthusiasm in the masses, they also strengthen the bonds of community among people. This bond protects them from the external distractions and internal confusion.[4]

In conclusion, Said Nursi and the Risale-i Nur collection had a great impact on Fethullah Gülen and his movement. This impact, however, was in the spiritual and inspirational dimensions. The praxis of the Gülen Movement (the combination of theory and practice) is rather sui generis and is derived through the circumstances and conditions of our age. Therefore, the influence of the Nur Movement on the Gülen Movement is not direct or organic.

[1] Gündem 2005, 73.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Gülen 2009a, 172
[4] Ergene 2005, 109