Fethullah Gulen was born in the year of 1941 in a village near Erzurum on the Northeast part of Turkey. His father was a preacher and his mother was a spiritual woman who had a profound impact on Gulen’s spiritual and intellectual development. At a young age, he moved to another village where there was no public institution, which caused him to undertake an informal education. He studied many subjects ranging from the Islamic sciences to the natural sciences to various philosophies from both the East and West on his own. Specifically, he learned an informal non-designated Islam, which diverged from what the Turkish government (who took steps to control the exercise of religion) appointed.
Young Gulen took numerous exams and attained high academic achievements in the field of Islamic studies. Due to these achievements, Gulen was licensed to be a Muslim preacher or imam at the age of 18. As time progressed, he became popular for his eloquent speeches that were relevant, impactful, and those that integrated many contemporary sciences. Simultaneously, he discovered the works of author Said Nursi whom he never met, but ended up having a large impact on his life. Gulen tackled many issues within his community based on three culprits for the failure of contemporary Muslims given by Nursi: poverty, ignorance, and disunity—similar to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s triple evils. Gulen preached a moderate Islam whereas he strived to teach people the inner values of faith and humanity instead of preaching politically antagonizing messages. From then on, he was moved from one preaching post to another as his popularity began to rise.
His messages inspired many Turkish citizens to set up better educational institutions; young college students volunteered to be full-time teachers and businessmen funded many of these schools. Significantly, all of the altruistic activities known as Hizmet were unconditionally run by whoever volunteered—leaving Gulen only as an inspirer rather than a controller. As Hizmet grew, many Turkish-based community organizations found themselves in foreign countries. Amidst the socially inclusive culture that Gulen inspired, there was the Turkish government, which has been described as secular and militaristic. Gulen preached amidst three military coups and in 1970, he himself was arrested without charge for nine months. During other times, the government cut his preaching abilities. The Turkish government’s fear that his influence would intervene with the government’s ventures has been deemed one of the reasons for ill intentions against Gülen.
By the year 1990, most in Turkey knew of Gulen; and those who were committed towards altruistic services inspired by him were named under the “Gulen Movement”—a name that Gulen himself has avoided using. As technology progressed, different parties spread many recordings of Gulens lectures around Turkey. However. by the year 2000, he was tried by a Turkish prosecutor for secretly plotting to gain political leverage in Turkey. For many years Gulen dealt with the case and by the year 2008, he was acquitted by all charges. Since the late 1990’s, he has been residing in the United States for reasons pertaining to health.
Gulen has been a proponent and symbol of peace and dialogue between peoples from all cultures and religious traditions; in the year 1998, Gulen even met with Pope John Paul II. He himself has lived an ascetic life while promoting Hizmet to others throughout the world. Those who would not have been able to get a quality education due to their socioeconomic class, especially in Turkey, have been given the opportunity to do so in schools established by Hizmet volunteers. Moreover, these schools have produced students who have won many international academic; as well, he inspired schools have been applauded for producing well-disciplined and good-mannered students.