Fethullah Gülen and Islamic Literary Tradition


The paper will provide an assessment of Gülen‘s relationship with the rich Islamic literary tradition, by way of analysis of direct and indirect references to both classical and modern Muslim scholars in his works. Major questions to be addressed are the following: Who are the authors cited or referred to by Gülen in his works? To what end does he appear to take recourse to directly citing or alluding to a specific precursor in Islamic tradition? Are these allusions aimed at reconciling distinctively modern approaches with tradition? Can the writers in question be regarded as household names of traditional Islamic scholarship or education in Turkey?

Subject to analysis are Gülen’s major works on Islam in general, which are also widely distributed in the West in English and German translations. Thus, this is to the exclusion of Gülen’s trilogy on Sufism, where necessity and purpose of citing and referring to specific Sufi masters and writers are more obvious. (tag: Fethullah Gulen)

Such a survey not only gives an indication of the breadth and depth of Gülen’s own scholarship, but also of his own position within Islamic literary tradition and his attitudes towards Islam’s diverse intellectual history. Although probably best known for his Sufi leanings, which are often regarded as the foundation of Gülen’s remarkably tolerant message, he is by no means content with solely referring to figures pertaining to Islamic mysticism. Indeed scholars of hadith are figuring prominently in his work, and Qur’an commentators, philosophers and even Muslim historians are similarly appearing in Gülen’s writings. Even though he is normally referring to other writers in positive terms, his allusions are not always affirmative, and especially issues on which Gülen explicitly voices his disagreement, or persons, which are assessed by him in negative ways, are warranting attention.


Recent years have witnessed a flourishing of scholarly literature on Fethullah Gülen and especially on the religiously inspired voluntary mass movement which has grown out of a community of his followers and came to be commonly denoted as the Gülen Movement (Yavuz & Esposito 2003; Yilmaz 2007). Public and academic interest in Gülen and the movement in the West was paralleled by the wide distribution of Gülen’s works in western languages, for both diasporic and native consumption. Analysis of the latter, when concerned with idealistic influences and forbearers, has usually emphasized the role of Sufism and eminent figures in its history such as al-Ghazali (d. 1111) and Rumi (d. 1273) (Aslandoğan 2007; Schlubach 2005; Michel 2005), as well as of the Turkish 20th century reformer Said Nursi (Mardin 1989; Agai 2004: 209-211), whose method of synthesizing both religion and science as well as tradition and modernity is considered to be carried on by Gülen (Weismann 2007: 159). This situates Gülen at the contemporary end of a long tradition. Notwithstanding the many indeed progressive aspects of his thought, he is usually described as a traditional Muslim scholar emerging out of a likewise traditional Islamic educational background, which however says hardly anything about the depth and breadth of his scholarship nor about the actual relevance of Islamic literary tradition and all its aspects as displayed in his literature, nor about his use of the thought and exemplars of other scholars to support his own views. Thus this study seeks to highlight the diversity and assess the importance of authors, works and genres of Islamic literary tradition referred to, cited or used by Gülen. Moreover, it will be questioned to what end he appears to take recourse to directly citing or alluding to a specific precursor in Islamic tradition and whether these allusions are aimed at reconciling distinctively modern approaches with tradition. Additionally, given both Gülen’s as well as academic scholarship’s emphases of the concept of a distinctively Anatolian Islam, it will be asked, which of the authors in question are to be regarded as figures pertaining to this brand of locally circumscribed Islamic tradition, or were prominent in Ottoman and Turkish traditional Islamic education. As not all exponents of Islam’s diverse history of literature are assessed in positive terms by Gülen, a commentated look at such criticized figures and their rejected views will likewise be included. (tag: Hizmet Movement)

Subject of analysis and methodology

This survey involves a total of six works by Gülen[1], all of which can be regarded as works of a general character, pertaining not to a specialized or clearly delineated field of Islamic sciences, as it is the premise of this analysis to trace the importance of figures and strands of Islamic intellectual history in Gülen’s overall discourse rather than in specific fields. In line with this approach his trilogy on Sufism[2] has been excluded, as it appears to be more rewarding to assess the relevance of figures of Islamic mysticism vis-à-vis representatives of other branches of religious knowledge in a general framework rather than in one focusing on mysticism. More specifically our selection encompasses different genres of books, namely a work on the basics of Islam (2005a), a collections of essays on diverse topics (2004a)[3], one of the author’s works in classical Islamic question and answer style (2005b)[4], books with ethicalreligious content (1996, 2005d) and one of his biographical works on the prophet (2005c). The latter, though arguably belonging to a specific field and thus being less general in character, has been chosen mainly due to two reasons. Firstly, the importance of its subject informs all levels of Gülen’s discourse, and secondly, despite its natural emphasis on prophetic tradition (Sunna), it is a goldmine as far as references to Islamic scholars belonging to a variety of fields and eras are concerned, as it can rightfully be regarded as the most scholarly of the works in question. Moreover, it presents not only an analysis of the prophet’s life but also of the whole concept of Sunna and its vehicle, the study of hadith. As will become evident in this effort, this latter branch of Islamic sciences also holds an important position in most discussed works. (tag: Gulen Movement)

Methodologically, appearances of specific figures of Islamic literary tradition in the surveyed books were first classified concerning frequency of occurrence and their character (either in form of a joint reference, individual allusion, paraphrase or quotation). Subsequently, the scholars thus emerging as more relevant in Gülen’s discourse will be discussed in seven different categories:

a) scholars appearing extraordinarily frequent
b) figures of Islamic mysticism
c) legal scholars
d) scholars of hadith
e) commentators of the Qur’an (mufassirun), historians, exponents of scholastic theology (kalam) and other multi-faceted scholars
f) Turkish scholars
g) Subjects of explicit criticism

Two towering figures: Said Nursi and Jalal al-Din Rumi

Indeed the two dominant figures in the analyzed works are the great Sufi master Rumi (d. 1273), and even more important, the Turkish reformer Said Nursi (d. 1960), who similarly was strongly influenced by Sufism, albeit rejecting its institutionalized form (Weismann 2007: 156). Both have not only left behind influential literary works, but are the starting points of significant Turkish religious groups, Rumi as eminent figure of the Mevlevi brotherhood and tradition[5], the epitome of the image of Turkish Sufism in the West, and the latter as point of departure for the most important exponent of a new kind of Islamic community organization, arising out of the context of the founding of the offensively secular Turkish republic, the Nurcu cemaat (community), built on the activism of devoted followers of Said Nursi with his major work, the Risale-i Nur (Epistle of Light), as spiritual literary basis[6]. The two scholars are by far the most frequently quoted and alluded to in Gülen’s surveyed works, with Nursi appearing twice as often as Rumi[7].

Especially Nursi’s treatment is unique throughout Gülen’s works, betraying their author’s close identification with this character, with whom he shares a common desire to reconcile religion with science and modernity without sacrificing the former to the latter. Nursi is being directly quoted, paraphrased and alluded to on a variety of subjects including theological questions, socio-historical issues such as the factors behind the emergence of revolutions and conflicts (2005a: 115), Muhammad and the Qur’an (for example 2005a: 169, 226; 2005c: 298), love as the essence of creation (2004a: 60), and his personal self-sacrificing devotion to his reforming mission (2004a: 93; 2005c: 151). However, of greater relevance for both Gülen’s as well as the Movement’s mission appear to be Nursi’s thought on their pressing concerns of inter-religious dialogue (2004a: 74, 198-199) and furthering knowledge and science in accordance with Islamic ideals to evade both Muslim stagnation and science-based materialism (2004a: 197; 2005d: 34; 1996:6). Nursi’s paramount position in Gülen’s thought is further exemplified by the fact, that he has modeled a whole section of a book (under the sub-heading “Arguments for divine unity”) on Nursi’s exposition of the topic in his Sözler (Words) (2005a: 9-16). He further includes, contrary to his usual practice of making use of only short quotations or two to four lines of poetry, a long quotation of Nursi even exceeding a whole page (concerning the existence of angels) (2005a: 84-85), derives one of his section titles (“devotees of love”) from the reformer’s words (2004a: 91), and elsewhere provides the reader with an intellectual biography of his great forbearer (2005d: 74-83). Mention of Nursi is often accompanied with a remark on his merits as cause for a “major Islamic revival” (2005a: 115) and “great saintly scholar of our time” (2005c: 151). Indeed, Gülen lists him, al-Ghazali and Ahmad Sirhindi as “revivers and renewers of religion” (2005c: 2004), with Nursi being tirelessly praised as “far-sighted thinker” (2005d: 75), “man with a broad vision [..] almost tantamount to that of the great prophets” (Ibid.: 81) and engaging in “efforts [..] outstanding and almost superhuman” (Ibid.: 76).

On the other hand Rumi is mostly invoked and quoted for his all-encompassing love for creation and his related virtue of (inter-religious) tolerance (2004a: 6, 58, 93, 179, 199; 2005d: 87), similarly two important facets of Gülen’s discourse, as well as for his presumed deep religious understanding and conscientious lifestyle (2004a: 97; 2005d: 25-26), and obviously also for his qualities in allegorical Sufi poetry (2004a: 126; 2005c: 100). Presumably mostly due to Rumi’s legacy of tolerance, Gülen stresses the relevance of his interpretation of Islam for the future (2004a: 60). As Rumi is mentioned in this regard together with Yunus Emre[8], and both are subsequently presented as examples of a historically tolerant Turkish way of Islam (2004a: 181), the reader is hereby getting a clear indication of Gülen’s conception of Anatolian Islam as it has evolved and should be preserved, an argument further strengthened, when Gülen indeed speaks of a specific “school of the Mawlana [Rumi] and Yunus [Emre]” in which “the teacher was the Prophet Muhammad” (1996: 191).

Figures of Islamic Mysticism: The great saints and the Naqshbandi legacy

Apart from Rumi, Gülen makes mention of around 40 figures primarily known to posterity for their attachment to Islamic mysticism, clearly testifying to his own thorough engagement with this current within Islam and its relevance in his thought. Many of the persons quoted and referred to of this category, especially early Sufis such as Bayazid al-Bistami (d. 784), his contemporary Ibrahim b. Adham or the female mystic Rabi’a al-Adawiyya (d. 801) have not left us any works, yet aspects of their thought and lives, as well as snippets of poetry and sayings have been preserved in later biographical Sufi literature. Thus, whereas all these figures need not occupy us here any further, it must be kept in mind, that their treatment by Gülen appears to be just as well an indication of his acquaintance with relevant classical works such as Hilyat al-Awliya’ (The Saints’ Adornment[9]) by Abu Nu’aym al-Isfahani (d. 1037) and Abd al-Rahman al-Jami’s (d. 1492) Nafahat al-Uns (Breaths of Intimacy), which built on al-Sulami’s (d.1021) Tabaqat al-Sufiyya (Classes of Sufis). In fact, apart from hadith collections, Abu Nu’aym’s work, as its exposition of the pious begins with Muhammad and the companions, is one of Gülen’s most important sources for his discussed biography of the prophet (2005c), among whose sources also al-Jami appears. (tag: Hizmet Movement)

Leaving Rumi aside, the most frequently cited and invoked Sufi by Gülen is clearly al-Ghazali (13 times), followed by Ahmad Sirhindi (10 times), Yunus Emre, Ibn ‘Arabi (both 9 times) and Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (8 times). Admittedly, al-Ghazali was an expert in various other fields apart from Sufism[10], which is also explicitly appreciated by Gülen, when he hopes for the advent of “people with [..] the [scholarly] breadth of Imam Ghazali” (2005d: 87). Nevertheless, although often alluded to in general terms, when praising his exemplary sincerity and profundity (2005d: 34; 1996: 6), it is obviously in Sufism and his famous Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences) that Gülen sees his greatest achievements.

This is supported by his inclusion of al-Ghazali in a “line of representatives” serving as an extension of the prophetic mission “up until the modern day” (2004a: 254), which otherwise features only the great Sufis Ibn ‘Arabi, Ahmad Sirhindi and Khalid Diya’ al-Din al-Baghdadi as well as Said Nursi, who is similarly associated with Sufism by Gülen (2005c: 304). The only explicit reference to al-Ghazali’s endeavors in kalam and philosophy, is a casual remark to the effect that both al-Ghazali’s Tahafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers)[11] as well as Ibn Rushd’s answering Tahafut al-Tahafut (Incoherence of the Incoherence) (van den Berg 1954) are something to become “entangled in” (2005d: 139). Just as is the case with Nursi and Sirhindi, Gülen fully endorses al-Ghazali’s label as outstanding figure of his time, specifying him as “one of the few great revivers of Islamic religious sciences and one of our greatest religious guides” (2005c: 351).

The Indian founder of the Mujaddidi branch of the Naqshbandiyya brotherhood, Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624), is considered by Gülen to be the figure among revivers or renewers[12] lying between Al-Ghazali and Nursi. The denomination of these scholars as the renewing figures of their respective eras (sg. mujaddid) is highly traditional in nature[13]. Al-Ghazali, the most eminent mujaddid, has been labeled “renewer of the sixth (Islamic) century”, Sirhindi was (according to Mujaddidi tradition) already adorned with the epithet of “renewer of the second millennium” (pers. mujaddid-i alf-i thani) by Abu l-Hakim Siyalkuti (d. 1657), scholar at the court of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658)[14], shortly after his death (Friedman 2000: 14 n.7, 103)[15]. Similarly, Nursi came to be referred to as Bediüzzaman (the wonder of the time)[16] early in his life (Weismann 2006: 156-157). However, perfectly in line with historically molded orthodox Sunnism, Gülen sees the cycles of great renewals most recently embodied by Nursi and Sirhindi not as beginning with al-Ghazali but rather with the Ummayad caliph ‘Umar (II.) b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (r. 717-720)[17]. Consequently, Gülen views Islam as “preserved [..] through a devoted self-sacrificing community in every period”, concentrated every time in different locations (Damascus, Baghdad, Istanbul) around different outstanding figures (‘Umar II., al-Ghazali, Ahmad Sirhindi) (2005c: 354-355)[18]. It is noteworthy, that Gülen similarly cherishes Sirhindi’s most outstanding adherents, the renowned Indian hadith scholar Shah Wali Allah (d. 1760) and the founder of the Naqshbandiyya’s Khalidi sub-branch, Khalid Diya’ al-Din al-Baghdadi (also al-Shahrizuri) (d. 1827) of Iraqi Kurdistan (2005d: 34; 1996: 6; 2004a: 254). All three are referred to as regarding love as the ultimate goal of the Sufi’s spiritual journey (2004a: 59, 180). It is significant, that Sirhindi is nevertheless, unlike Rumi, Yunus Emre, al-Yasawi[19] and Nursi, not included in the group of exemplary figures, who Gülen terms the “people of love” (2004a: 93) or “pillars of love and affection” (2004a: 179). This might indicate, that Gülen, as one of the main Muslim figures behind inter-religious dialogue, disapproves of Sirhindi’s intolerant trait regarding adherents of other faiths[20].(tag : Fethullah Gulen)

Significant references to Yunus Emre (d. around 1321) have already been discussed above. Gülen’s appreciation of Yunus’ thought imbued with love for creation and tolerance is further exemplified by the content of the quotations chosen from this poet, which centre around love, the rejection of retribution for unjust deeds or words, and wholeheartedness even towards wrongdoers (2004a: 46, 70). Moreover, the importance of Yunus for the concept of Anatolian/Turkish Islam can hardly be overestimated, as he is its first major truly Turkish figure, or at least the first to produce genuinely Turkish mystical verses in Anatolia, which came to form a lasting legacy (Schimmel 1985: 396, 463ff.).

Al-Jilani (d. 1166) and Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240) are undoubtedly two of the most widely known personalities of Islamic mysticism, yet whereas the former was mostly considered beyond dispute also among orthodox scholars critical of Sufism, the latter, albeit being highly influential for centuries throughout Sufi circles from the Arab to the Malay-Indonesian world, was and still is on the other hand also a highly controversial figure[21]. However, it has to be noted, that this was much less the case in the Turkic world (Tahrali 1999) than in the Arab heartlands (Knysh 1999), which could be regarded as another hint at a justified scheme of Anatolian/Turkish Islam. Indeed Ibn ‘Arabi holds a more prominent position in Gülen’s discourse than al-Jilani, who is mostly invoked in a symbolical and nominal manner in connection with other Sufis[22]. On the contrary, Gülen reproduces a story out of Ibn ‘Arabi’s collection of anecdotes, Muhadarat al-Abrar wa Musamarat al-ahyar (Expositions of the Dutiful and Nightly Conversations of the Chosen Ones) (2005c: 373)[23], praises his fundamental al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya (The Meccan Openings), and highlights the saint’s alleged abilities of communication with the dead and unborn (2005a: 59) as well as prediction of future events (2005a: 57, 194). Moreover, given Rumi’s role in Gülen’s discourse and Anatolian Islam, the story of his meeting with the Andalusian saint, related by al-Jami, is also noteworthy (2005c: 135).

Although Gülen was never affiliated with a Sufi brotherhood, and, like Nursi, harbors doubts concerning the validity of contemporary organized Sufism[24], he nevertheless expresses his reverence for some Sufi masters who became eponyms for major brotherhoods. While these figures were neither adherents of a tariqa themselves nor culpable of what might be viewed as deviances from Islamic dogma by some of the respective brotherhoods which came to use their names as emblems, joint reverences to Abu l-Hasan al-Shadhili (d. 1258), Ahmad al-Badawi (d. 1278), Ahmad al-Rifa’i (d. 1178), al-Jilani, and Baha’ al-Din Naqshband (d. 1390) (2005c: 169, 283) seem to be implicit acknowledgements of the established brotherhoods and the particularities in their traditions and practices[25].

As far as brotherhoods are concerned, Gülen clearly stands out as an heir to the Naqshbandiyya tradition, as is evident from his references to figures associated with this brotherhood and its Mujaddidi and Khalidi sub-branches, which represent the vast majority of mentioned Sufis affiliated with any specific tariqa. Apart from the afore-mentioned Baha’ al-Din Naqshband, Ahmad Sirhindi, Shah Wali Allah, and Khalid Diya’ al-Din, these also include Mir ‘Ali Shir Nawa’i (d. 1501) (1996: 83), contemporary and friend of al-Jami in the Timurid capital of Herat, where they were the chief representatives of the Naqshbandiyya (Schimmel 1985: 516-517)[26]. Moreover, Qasim b. Muhammad as well as the Baghdadi Sufis Ma’ruf al-Karkhi (d. 815) and al-Junayd (d. 910), whose definition of Sufism is quoted by Gülen (2004a: 164), are links in the spiritual chains of the Naqshbandiyya going back to the prophet, which is even explicitly stated in the former case (2005c: 381, 303)[27]. Still, it has to be stressed, that, even though he later discarded the brotherhood framework altogether, also Said Nursi was the pupil of several Khalidi masters (Weismann 2006: 156).

Finally, it must be noted, that the most frequently quoted piece of Sufi literature in Gülen’s assessed works is not as one might expect Rumi’s Mathnawi (Doublets), but the famous al-Burda (The Mantle) of al-Busiri (d. 1298)[28]. However, this finding has to be qualified in the light of the fact, that all the quotations of this ode of love for Muhammad are confined to Gülen’s biographical-analytical work on the prophet (2005c: 31, 37, 86, 142, 265, 402 n. 2). As Abu Hanifa stands out, together with al-Ghazali, as the third most frequently mentioned scholar in Gülen’s works (13 times) after Nursi and Rumi, closely followed by al-Shafi’i as sixth (11 times), we may now turn to the category of legal scholars (fuqaha’).

The place of the fuqaha’ and the Hanafite school

Compared to the large number of Sufis appearing in Gülen’s works, the share of scholars of law is minimal (around one fourth of the former). However, given Gülen’s identification with the Mujaddidiyya and Khalidiyya traditions, which both stressed the importance not only of activism, but likewise of complying to the precepts of law, we might assume that Islamic law is not at all a negligible component of Islam for Gülen, which is further exemplified by his many references to figures like Abu Hanifa (d. 767) and al-Shafi’i (d. 820). Although the latter ranges not far behind the former, Gülen makes clear whom he considers superior, when he remarks, that Abu Hanifa is “generally accepted as the greatest Muslim jurist” (2005c: 393)[29]. Moreover, Gülen specifically highlights his background as an “emancipated slave”, which did not keep him from becoming a great scholar (2005c: 302). The importance of this character for the author (and probably also his prospective readership) is also discernible in another instance. As he sets out to confirm the liability of Abu Hurayra, one of the most important narrators of prophetic traditions, Gülen makes clear that he regards reported doubts of Abu Hanifa concerning the former as a mere lie (2005c: 382). Obviously, reservation towards Abu Hurayra by such an eminent scholar would seriously weaken Gülen’s supportive presentation of the narrator. (tag: Hizmet Movement)

Generally, Gülen, in line with the Sunnite orthodox view, as it has developed since the 13th century[30], presents the schools of law (madhahib, sg. madhhab) and especially its founders as being on equal footing (2005c: 303; 1996: 83). Nevertheless, a subtle gradation is not absent, as was shown by the above instance, and will be shown through further examples. More importantly, better acquaintance with or even preference for the Hanafite school, certainly due to both Gülen’s Turkish origin and his cherishing of Anatolian Islam, of which Hanafism, as official madhhab of the Ottoman empire[31] and quasi-official one of modern Turkey, also has to be a main ingredient, is easily detectable.

Contrary to Abu Hanifa and al-Shafi’i, Malik b. Anas (d. 795) and Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 855) are not exclusively referred to as fuqaha’ but also, or in Ibn Hanbal’s case even mostly, as hadith collectors. Subtracting these references from their totals, the Central Asian Hanafite al-Sarakhsi (d. 1090) emerges to be more often mentioned in connection with Islamic law (five times) than these two madhhab eponyms. His Kitab al-Mabsut (The Book of Expatiation) is additionally the only work of fiqh mentioned more than once, which could indicate that Gülen indeed regards it as the major such book. This is noteworthy regarding the predominant position of al-Maghinani’s (d. 1197) al-Hidaya fi l-Furu’ (The Guide to the Rules of Law) in both the Ottoman and Mughal empires as well as in post-Mughal India[32]. Gülen’s awe of the Mabsut might be grounded less in its superiority from the juristic point of view, but rather in its monumental size (30 volumes) and the assumption, that it basically contains what Abu Hanifa himself had dictated to his pupil Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 805) (2005c: 303), and that the imprisoned al-Sarakhsi in turn dictated the whole of it to his students from memory (2005c: 359)[33].

Concerning the above-mentioned grading regarding different scholars’ expertise and standing, two more interesting examples merit attention. Firstly, Gülen informs the reader without reservation, that Ahmad b. Hanbal “was not considered an expert jurist” by the great historian, Qur’an commentator, and, as is less widely known, also legal scholar and eponym of the long defunct Jariri school of law[34], Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 923). Nor was Ibn Hanbal, according to Gülen, given “the same status” as the other three founders of surviving Sunnite madhahib, Abu Hanifa’s student and early Hanafite authority Abu Yusuf al-Kufi (d. 798) and unspecified others, by some likewise unspecified authorities (2005c: 359-360). Secondly, it is emphasized, again without qualification, that al-Sarakhsi regarded himself as knowing forty times more prophetic traditions by heart than al-Shafi’i (2005c: 303, 359).

However, Gülen‘s commitment to the Hanafite school is best exemplified by a look a the persuasions of the scholars mentioned by him in connection with fiqh living during or after the consolidation of the schools of law[35]. In fact, apart from the other three Imams (here as eponyms of schools of law), we are confronted with an almost exclusively Hanafite club, encompassing, in addition to the afore-mentioned (Abu Hanifa, Abu Yusuf al-Qadi, al-Sarakhsi and al-Tahtawi), the eponym’s students Zufar b. al-Hudhayl (d. 774) and al-Shaybani (2005d: 25; 2005c: 302), Ibn al-Humam (d. 1456) (2005c: 382), al-Maghinani (2005d: 25) and al-Taftazani (d. 1390) (2005b: 157)[36].

There are moreover some instances, in which Gülen explicitly introduces the Hanafite standpoint on specific issues, such as the definition of the Sunna (2005c: 315) and regarding the necessary procedure for the cleansing of bowls earlier used by dogs (Ibid.: 353). Elsewhere Gülen has made clear that he regards keeping the madhahib separate and accordingly sticking to one’s madhhab as the proper way, albeit emphasizing the possibility of following another school’s ruling in specific cases out of immediate necessity (ar. darura) (Yilmaz 2005: 201-202). Yet, he shows himself to be far from uncritical to his own madhhab, when he stresses, that a certain hadith involving the prophet’s alleged praise for Abu Hanifa, is inauthentic and “must have been fabricated for sectarian considerations” (2005c: 348).

Establishing the Sunna: The hadith collectors and later authorities

A closer look reveals that Gülen relies heavily on hadith in all but one of the surveyed works, in which they are almost absent (2005d). This applies naturally for the most part to his analysis of the prophet’s life (2005c) but also to the other works in question. Accordingly, a book like 2005a includes 68 citations from the six canonical hadith collections and Ahmad b. Hanbal’s al-Musnad alone[37], thus not including the numerous citations of hadith out of other collections, whereas traditions from the works of al-Bukhari and Muslim alone are appearing 379 times in 2005c. Al-Bukhari’s Sahih (The Authentic) is generally the most frequently cited collection followed by Muslim’s Sahih, except in 2005a, where the number of citations is equal. On the third position we usually find Ibn Hanbal’s al-Musnad, except in 2005a, where al-Tirmidhi’s Sunan appears two times more often[38], with the other three canonical collections, especially al-Nasa’i’s, mostly ranging far behind. Such a dominant position of the Sahihayn (the two Sahihs) is far from unusual, and their long established uncontested predominance[39] can also be inferred from curricula of Ottoman times. Thus, the syllabus for imperial medreses drawn up under Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566) commissioned study of twelve works of hadith, of which seven were the Sahihayn and commentaries thereupon (Ahmed & Filipovic 2004: 199-202). More striking seems to be the prominence of Ibn Hanbal’s Musnad, yet the latter is accepted and valued by Sunnism as an authentic book of tradition and even included by some (excluding Gülen [2005c: 365]) among the six canonical works and regarded as more reliable than Ibn Maja’s and al-Nasa’i’s (apparently including Gülen). More importantly, its author is within Sunnism in general, and not only among the Hanbalis, an almost legendary figure due to his alleged unfaltering stance during the inquisition (mihna) of the Mu’tazilite caliphs al-Ma’mun (r. 813-833) and al-Mu’tasim (r. 833-842) (Cooperson 2000: 107-153)[40].

However, the role model among the early hadith scholars for Gülen is obviously al-Bukhari. Whereas the other five canonical traditionists are merely referred to in joint references concerned with their place in the science of hadith (2005c: 303, 347, 365), which also goes for Ibn Hanbal, except that his keen memory and importance in the classification of hadiths are highlighted (2005c: 345, 365), the author furnishes much more information on al-Bukhari, who is mentioned seven times in the works in question (excluding statements merely introducing hadith such as “al-Bukhari relates..” and containing no information on the traditionist nor on Gülen’s attitude towards him whatsoever). Biographical details are conveyed to testify to al-Bukhari’s impeccable character and supreme knowledge (2005c: 360-361), as well as to the high standards of morality he demanded of transmitters in order to accept them as trustworthy and reliable (2005c: 365). Intriguingly, the traditionist is also portrayed as having been able to ask the prophet for his approval concerning each hadith to be written down (2005c: 345). Moreover, not only his Sahih but likewise his al-Ta’rikh al-Kabir (The Great History) is mentioned, as Gülen elaborates on collections of biographies of companions of the prophet (sahaba) and their immediate successors (tabi’un) (2005c: 346). Apart from the early authorities Gülen also allots space for later scholars of hadith. In fact, the most frequently invoked figure in this field belongs to that category, while others are still receiving a more thorough treatment than the early authorities other than al-Bukhari. The eminent scholar here is Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d. 1449), an important figure in Ottoman education[41], who is mentioned nine times and therefore ranges on the same level as a Yunus Emre. The former is presented as an indeed extraordinarily devoted scholar. He is credited with reading the whole Sahih of Muslim several times, and appears as one of four incredibly productive authors (the others are to be discussed below), who, according to the author, must have written more than twenty pages a day (2005c: 359) and are thus prime examples of outstanding scholarly activity for Gülen. Ibn Hajar’s al-Isaba fi Tamyiz al-Sahaba (The Appropriate Concerning the Distinction of the Companions) is, like al-Bukhari’s aforementioned history, listed among the most significant biographical works on sahaba and tabi’un, and his work of hadith criticism al-Qawl al-Musaddad fi Dhabb ‘an al-Musnad li l-Imam Ahmad (The Gap-Filling Word Regarding the Defense of the Musnad of Imam Ahmad)[42] is similarly referred to, yet without mentioning its title. More importantly, al-Isaba is quoted on a topic as relevant as the definition of who can be rightfully labeled as a companion of the prophet (2005c: 369).

Other “leading hadith experts” for Gülen, mentioned together with Ibn Hajar, are Ibn al-Madini (d. 849), Ibn Hibban (al-Busti, d. 965), Abu Khatim (al-Razi, d. 938), and Shams al-Din al-Dahabi (d. 1348) (2005c: 397). A particularly valuable field for the author is obviously hadith criticism, as whose prime exponents he regards again Ibn Hajar and al-Dhahabi as well as “the great scholar of Muslim Spain (2005c: 343)” Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (d. 1071)[43], the Hanbalite Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1200) and Zayn al-Din al-‘Iraqi (d. 1404)[44]. Here it is noteworthy, that, whereas Ibn Hajar, al-Dhahabi and Ibn al-Jawzi were indeed upholders of the more critical approach and methodology of rigorous critics of hadith (and especially of the backgrowth of isnads to the prophet[45]) such as Abu Khatim al-Razi (who is surprisingly absent from this list), Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr and al-‘Iraqi are on the contrary representatives of a much more permissive attitude, which came to dominate in Sunnism (Brown 2007b)[46].

Two other hadith scholars appearing in Gülen’s works should be mentioned here. Firstly, al-Hakim al-Naysaburi (d. 1014) from whose Ma’rifat ‘Ulum al-Hadith (Knowledge about the Sciences of Hadith) Gülen takes his division of the companions into twelve ranks (2005c: 370). Gülen further refers to his al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn (Restoration of the two Sahihs), yet not without pointing to its re-evaluating glosses by al-Dhahabi (2005c: 347), who criticizes al-Hakim severely for the inclusion of certain traditions in it (Goldziher 2004: II, 274). Against this background, the fact, that al-Hakim is, contrary to al-Dhahabi, absent from both aforementioned enumerations of leading experts and “illustrious critics of hadith“, can be taken as an indication that Gülen is indeed well acquainted with the works he discusses, and that the over twenty traditions out of the Mustadrak, which Gülen includes in 2005c, 2004a and 2005a are not among those decried by al-Dhahabi. (tag: Gulen Movement)

In order to demonstrate the breadth of the Sunna, Gülen chooses to point to a piece of hadith literature of a more recent date than all the foregoing or otherwise mentioned, and highlights the exact number of traditions contained in the Kanz al-‘Ummal of the Indian Ali al-Mutaqqi al-Hindi (d. 1556), without naming its author (2005: 388). Although neither the latter, who also commented on a major work of Shadhili Sufism[47] (Schimmel 1985: 356-357), nor his collection is appearing elsewhere in Gülen’s work, it is noteworthy, that it represents one of his top ten sources in his analytical biography of Muhammad (2005c), and was likewise used for 2005a and 2004a.

All above references to hadith scholars are exclusively derived from 2005c. We may conclude, that Gülen, albeit showing himself to be strikingly well acquainted with the development and content of hadith literature, uses their works mainly as a tool for argumentation, which he feels free to pursue, thanks to their efforts of establishing an authentic Sunna devoid of fabrications (2005c: 347-348)[48]. Otherwise, as can be inferred from their absence in the bulk of analyzed works, Gülen does not feel compelled to allude to any individual characters of this field (apart from their role as collectors of an individual tradition), but rather to the concept of Sunna itself and the inspirations derived from it (2005c: 320-324; 2004a: 40, 76, 86).

Al-Suyuti and other multi-faceted scholars of tafsir, historical writing and kalam

Another scholar with a special place in Gülen’s writings is the Egyptian Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 1505), “a commanding figure in the Sunni tradition” (Brown 2007b: 36), probably the last of its kind, and additionally one of its most prolific writers, who rose above mere compilation work in a variety of fields such as tafsir, history, hadith, law, and linguistics. That Gülen also especially holds the breadth of his scholarship in high regard is evident from his remarks about al-Suyuti, which are, unlike in al-Ghazali’s case, not merely concerned with his achievements in one discipline. Thus, the former is presented as last link in an exemplary chain of ongoing hadith criticism stretching over three centuries from Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1200) to al-Suyuti’s al-La’ali’ al-Masnu’a fi Ahadith al-Mawdu’a (The Artificial Pearls among the Unreliable Hadiths) (2005c: 347; see n. 48 above), and is further listed among tradition’s most famous memorizers (2005c: 345) and leading commentators of the Qur’an (2005c: 303). Moreover he reproduces al-Suyuti’s view, that all sciences and branches of knowledge are grounded in the Qur’an (2005a: 229). His extraordinary output of literature is honored by Gülen through including him among his quartet of most prolific Muslim authors (2005c: 359). Although passing in silence over al-Suyuti’s overly complacent claims to the rank of mujaddid (Goldziher 1967:57-58), Gülen nevertheless puts trust into his alleged meetings with the prophet (2005c: 25, 346).

We may now turn shortly to the field of Qur’anic commentary. In a joint reference Gülen lists those whom he presumably considers as the most eminent in this field. Alongside al-Suyuti[49] we find here al-Tabari (d. 923)[50], Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209), Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), and two modern commentators, the Turkish Muhammad Hamdi Yazır (d. 1942)[51], and surprisingly, Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966). Al-Tabari is never alluded to in his capacity as historian, yet the above-mentioned report of his assessment of Ibn Hanbal might derive from his famous history (al-Tabari 1979), which also serves as a source for Gülen (in 2005c and 2004a), though by far not to the same extent as Ibn Kathir’s history of Islam[52], entitled al-Bidaya wa l-Nihaya (The Beginning and the End), which in fact ranges at the eighth position among Gülen’s sources in 2005c[53]. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, who also wrote on theology, philosophy, ethics and usul al-fiqh (sources of law)[54], is after Ibn Hajar, al-Tabari and al-Suyuti the fourth author highlighted as incredibly prolific (2005c: 359). He is further invoked regarding his view on a linguistic problem posed by a Qur’anic verse (2005c: 146)[55]. Although never mentioned in the works in question, it is evident, that Gülen similarly holds the al-Jami’ fi Ahkam al-Qur’an (The Comprehensive One Regarding the Regulations of the Qur’an) of the Andalusian al-Qurtubi (d. 1272)[56] in high esteem, as it is comparably often cited (in 2005c and 2005d). It is noteworthy, that neither the once dominant tafsir of Ottoman times, the Kashshaf (Discoverer) of Jar Allah al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144), nor its successor, Anwar al-Tanzil (Lights of Revelation), a bowdlerized version of the former by al-Baydawi (d. 1286), are ever mentioned or used by Gülen. This is perhaps due to al-Zamakhshari’s attachment to the Mu’tazilite school of theology[57], of which Gülen is highly critical (see below). The inclusion of Sayyid Qutb may seem startling to the observer who regards the radical thinker of the Muslim Brotherhood and Gülen as two hardly reconcilably figures. In this respect, it has to be emphasized that Qutb’s Fi Zilal al-Qur’an (In the Shadow of the Qur’an) is slightly less activist in character than his Ma’alim fi l-Tariq (Signposts, also often translated as Milestones), which came to be an inspiration as well as bone of contention for subsequent generations of Islamists and Salafist thinkers. Although Gülen obviously does not share Qutb’s view (most clearly expressed in Signposts) that the lifestyles of contemporary Muslims and many of the institutions of modern society are akin to those of the pre-Islamic era (jahiliyya) to the same extent, Qutb’s socio-political and rather concept than verse-based approach to exegesis, seeking to “provide a new perspective on the relevance of the Qur’an to today’s Muslims” (Saeed 2006: 30), was apparently not lost on Gülen, who, like Nursi, has at least the latter agenda in common with Qutb[58]. More specifically, the notion of jahiliyya (cehalet in Turkish), understood as ignorance, resonates in both Gülen’s and Nursi’s thought on education (Agai 2004: 333-335).

Scholars of scholastic theology are not particularly well-represented in Gülen’s works, though not completely absent either. Sunnism, although always encompassing currents shunning or rejecting the field of kalam altogether (especially, though not exclusively, the Hanbalite school), came to recognize two theological schools, which were formerly opponents, as equally orthodox (Madelung 1985; Rudolph 1997: 1-12). One is the comparably well-studied Ash’arite school, the other that named after Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944), which was always connected to (Eastern) Hanafism[59], and thus prevailed, at least nominally[60], among the Ottomans and Mughals. The therefore expected subtle support of Gülen for this school is detectable though not explicitly voiced. Indeed, Gülen introduces the two schools as equals and without preference, when discussing the question whether belief in god’s existence necessitates revelation or not (2005b: 119-120), an issue of marked difference between the two schools, as the question is generally positively answered by Ash’arism but negatively by the Maturidiyya. However, contrary to al-Maturidi, al-Ash’ari (d. 941) is not even mentioned by name in this instance nor elsewhere. When presenting eminent theologians, dubbed as “heroes of reasoning and intelligence” (2005d: 26), Gülen lists al-Maturidi, al-Taftazani (d. 1390), al-Jurjani (d. 1413) and al-Dawwani (d. 1501), all of which are, except al-Maturidi, famous for their commentaries on both Ash’ari, Maturidi and also “independent” creeds and kalam works[61], which were all used in Ottoman and Mughal education, but are themselves not specifically associated with a particular school. (tag: Fethullah Gulen)

Scholars of philosophy, medicine and the natural sciences

Out of this category we find thirteen scholars in the works in question, with al-Biruni (d. 1048), the great Andalusian physician al-Zahrawi (d. 1009) and the philosopher Ibn Sina (d. 1037) as most frequently mentioned (five, four and four times respectively). The former, wellknown for his history of India[62] as well as for his treatment of Indian philosophical and religious thought (a common interest with Gülen), is highlighted by the author as “one of the greatest scholars of medieval Islam” (2005c: 305). The list of mentioned medieval scholars of natural sciences features further the mathematicians Ibn Haytham (d. 1038) and al-Khwarizmi (the earliest tangible Arab authority in arithmetic and geometry, d. 846), the physicist al-Khazini and the astronomers Ibn Shatir and Ulugh Beg (d. 1449)[63]. The reason for their appearances in Gülen’s works is obvious, given his and Nursi’s emphasis on both reconciling Islam with science and (re-)embedding the latter in the former. Here Gülen’s argumentation is strongly bolstered in the light of such illustrious historical precedents, which have however tended to be forgotten or at least neglected in Muslim discourse. It is therefore only natural, that he also stresses the influence on Western thought of a figure such as Ibn Haytham (2005c: 305), who was probably the greatest experimental scientist in Muslim history even informing philosophical and theological works by al-Razi and al-Iji (van Ess 1966: 175). Incidentally, when the rector of Cairo’s al-Azhar eventually had to concede to calls for the inclusion of modern subjects in the university’s curriculum in 1888, a text of Ibn Haytham was selected for the field of mathematics (Dodge 1974: 133), a choice which would have most certainly not been approved by the educationally modern-oriented Gülen notwithstanding his admiration for the medieval scientist. (tag: Hizmet Movement)

The inclusion of the major Muslim philosophers Ibn Sina, al-Farabi (d. 950), al-Kindi (d. 873), Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) and Ibn Miskawayh (d. 1030)[64], clearly shows that Gülen is not considering the philosophers and their Neo-platonic (or in Ibn Rushd’s case Aristotelian) views about the eternity of the world or incorporeal resurrection as unbelief, the standard view in kalam circles and naturally likewise among kalam and philosophy critics, but rather regards their thought as valuable contribution to Islam’s diverse heritage, albeit clearly expressing reservations concerning some of their views (2005d: 138). Accordingly, he remarks that a truly belief-based state “would be even better than al-Farabi’s city” (2005a: 135), relating to the latter’s work Ara’ Ahl al-Madinat al-Fadila (Opinions of the People of the Virtuous City).

The national hero Mehmed Akif Ersoy and other Turkish scholars

Apart from Yunus Emre and Said Nursi, Gülen alludes to, quotes and includes poetry from a number of Turkish scholars of different periods and fields. Among this group the number of reproduced verses and quotes is disproportionately high, which is certainly due to the fact, that their literature was composed in Gülen’s mother tongue. Among those more often mentioned we find the Mevlevi Sufi Ghalib Dede (d. 1799), one of the last great classical Turkish poets (Schimmel 1985: 460), and the afore-mentioned Muhammad Hamdi Yazır, whose “marvelous Qur’anic commentary” is praised by Gülen, as he presents a short biography of this scholar (2005d: 71-72), and Ibrahim Hakkı Erzurumlu (d. 1780). The latter was the author of a notable handbook of mystical knowledge (Marifetname), which due to its encompassing approach of integrating disciplines such as (then remarkably state of the art) astronomy as well as geography, mathematics and other disciplines into its expositions fits well with the ideas later expressed by both Nursi and Gülen. As most important of the three mentioned scholars in the surveyed works, this “saint [..] and scholar” (2005c: 126) is quoted on prophecy (2005c: 23, 126) and the uniqueness of god (2005b: 5-6). However, the outstanding character of this category is the poet, Turkish national hero and composer of the national anthem Mehmed Akif Ersoy, who is in fact mentioned just as often as al-Ghazali and Abu Hanifa. Akif’s role in Gülen’s ethical-religious discourse is far from being merely symbolic. Maxims contained in his religious poetry are quoted regarding Gülen’s notion of the ideal human (2004a: 115, 127)[65], the deficiencies of life without faith (2004a: 137) and of materialism (2004a: 152), and the capacity of just and believing humans to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles (2004a: 187). Yet, Akif is indeed likewise of great symbolical importance for a Turkish intellectual and religious scholar such as Gülen, as he is the epitome of the pious nationalist, unanimously valued even among Kemalists, standing out in a Kemalist frame. It is in this light, that one has to measure the relevance of a quotation from Akif to the effect, that nations without spirituality have no chance of survival in the long-run (2005d: 99). Accordingly, Akif is presented as an archetypical “son of [the] Turkish nation, who lived in piety like the companions of the prophet and walked to the Hereafter completely destitute of any worldly possessions” (2005d: 71), which furthermore locates him close to Sufi austerity. (tag: Gulen Movement)

Subjects of Gülen’s criticism

As will be shown below, instances in which Gülen expresses critical opinions regarding other Muslim scholars, groups and their thought are mostly serving well to demonstrate Gülen’s remarkably nuanced views. A case in point is the Mu’tazila school of kalam, most notorious for their doctrine of the created-ness of the Qur’an, which has come to be unanimously regarded as heretic by Sunnite orthodoxy, which in earnest consolidated itself in the wake of Mu’tazilite decline in the 9th century. Gülen dismisses the school not as heretic but as plainly “heterodox” (2005c: 391). However, his critique of the Mu’tazlite scholar al-Jahiz (d. 868) deals exclusively with his opposed standpoint concerning the authenticity of a specific prophetic tradition, and al-Jahiz is here mentioned together with the scholar Ibn Abi l-Dunya (d. 894), who held the same view as the former, yet is described by Gülen in positive terms. Eventually Gülen concludes that neither al-Jahiz nor the latter were specialists in hadith, and that their doubts concerning the otherwise widely accepted tradition are therefore negligible (2005: 391). In a similar manner, and again without personally attacking the scholars in question, Gülen criticizes and seeks to deconstruct claims made by the Shiite historians al-Ya’qubi (d. 898) and Abu Ja’far al-Iskafi, that (in Sunnism) highly-regarded transmitters of hadith were fabricating traditions at the behest of the Umayyads (2005c: 395-396)[66].

Another criticized group are the Hurufis, who concerned themselves with theories of the symbolism of letters, and influenced certain Sufi (most notably the Turkish Bektashiyya and Persian Nuqtawiyya) and (early) Shiite currents (Schimmel 1985: 578-602; Daftary 2004: 72ff., 455-456; Arjomand 1981: 8-9). Gülen refers to the Hurufis as extreme (2005d: 41), and connects their ideas correctly with Shiite extremist (ghulat) circles, whom he characterizes as lying outside of Islam (2005b: 238). As both Alawites, Druzes and the Turkish Alevis could easily be counted among Shiite ghulat, we might assume, that Gülen’s explicit support for dialogue with and full acceptance of the Alevis in Turkey (Ünal & Williams 2000: 68-69), is thus rather a matter of inter-religious than inner-Islamic dialogue and harmony. Moreover, it is of significance that Gülen is not at all categorically rejecting the thought of figures connected with the Hurufis and implicated groups. Actually, he even includes a poem (2004a: 18) by Nesimi (d. 1417), the greatest Hurufi poet.

However, Gülen’s nuanced approach towards figures, whom he highly-regards while not fully appreciating all aspects of their thought, is best demonstrated with regard to the defunct, overtly literalist Zahiri school of law. In the surveyed works they are only alluded to in one sole instance, when Gülen laments that those Muslims which are emphasizing violence, “ignore the essence” of the Qur’an but read it instead in the manner of the Zahiris (e.g. focusing only on its outward literal meaning) (2004a: 72). Elsewhere, he specifies his view of the Zahiris, and mentions them as negative examples of a dogmatism otherwise not found in Islam (2004b: 108). He further notes, that their thought has lived on and influenced a number of acclaimed personalities and scholars, including notable Hanbalis such as Ibn Taymiyya and his (Shafi’i) students al-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir, and eventually also inspired the emergence of Wahhabism (2004b: 108-109)[67]. As was shown above, the two mentioned scholars are important and revered figures in the fields of hadith, historical writing and Qur’anic commentary for Gülen. Still, he does not hesitate to voice his rejection of what he regards as their literalist-dogmatist trait, which is hardly reconcilable with his own ideals.


From the foregoing it becomes evident, that Gülen indeed displays a remarkable breadth of scholarship encompassing all fields of Islamic knowledge from earliest up to modern times. Especially in Sufi and hadith literature the depth of his scholarship is striking. In many ways he shows himself to be both a devoted adherent of Islamic mysticism and its ideals as well as a highly traditional Turkish Sunni scholar. This includes his explicit reliance on the Hanafi school of law (and especially its Central Asian figures such as al-Sarakhsi), his nominal preference for Maturidi kalam (likewise of Central Asian origin), and his views regarding the Sunna and the Mu’tazilites. However, his thought on education, inter-religious dialogue and especially regarding the projected symbiosis of science and Islam, strongly resonating in the former, are distinctively modern and clearly rooted in Nursi’s discourse, albeit by no means free from historical antecedents. In parallel to Nursi, also Gülen, albeit inclusive towards most currents of Sufism, appears to be mostly connected to Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi-Khalidi tradition as molded over the centuries in Central Asia, India and Turkey, with its emphasis on balancing the esoteric inner world of Islam and its exoteric counterpart, the realm of ritual practice and law. The significance of Rumi to Gülen should not be interpreted as an counterargument in this respect, as studying the Mathnawi and cooperation with the Mevleviyya, which was from the start (although its foundation was laid by a foreigner) always an exclusively Turkish affair, characterized the brotherhood’s Anatolian branches ever since (Weismann 2007: 46, 76-77). Similarly, Ibn ‘Arabi always held a prominent position in most Naqshbandi circles, and the brotherhood’s overt reliance on the latter’s and Rumi’s works is even considered to have been a hindrance for its spread among Arab peoples (La Gall 2005: 93-94). As (apart from the Qur’an) recourse to mystical thought (including that of Nursi) and hadith are standing out as both major inspirations as well as principle tools in argumentation, and the capacities of reason are similarly stressed, one might be reminded of Shah Wali Allah pursuing the synthesis of ‘aql (reason), naql (report, e.g. Qur’an, Sunna and consensus [ijma’]) and ma’rifa (mystical knowledge) (Metcalf 1982: 43) in Delhi two centuries earlier, when faced with an earlier form of globalization, namely encroaching British colonialism. (tag: Gulen Movement)

Displays of Islam’s diversity are frequent and clearly intended in Gülen’s works, effectively blurring the boundaries between at times severely differing views of different schools of thought and disciplines, such as Sufism, kalam, philosophy and traditional as well as modern currents more or less rejecting all three of the foregoing. As far as Anatolian Islam is concerned, the Hanafi-Maturidi-Mevlevi-Naqshbandi axis may again be invoked. To this one has to add the relative historical absence of staunch Hanbalites, anti-Ibn ‘Arabi polemicists and later revivalist movements influenced by Neo-Hanbalism, which all shaped Islamic discourse in the Arab world, South and even Southeast Asia. Similarly, the unique case of the inclusion of a Sufi tafsir in highest level official madrasa curricula[68], is also telling regarding Ottoman intellectual atmosphere which surely informed Anatolian Islam. Of greater importance for Gülen’s discourse are however certainly the reforming missions of the Khalidiyya[69], Nursi and the Nurcus in late Ottoman and republican times, and the figure of Akif as predecessor as bridge between secular-nationalist and religiously minded Turkey. What lies at the root of Gülen’s references to past authorities and the notion of Anatolian Islam, is a desire to display both continuity, of similar importance for all religions, as well as the lack thereof, where a return to better past ways (such as the height of Islamic civilization with its mastery of both the sciences and the religious realm, and the projected tolerance of Ottoman times) is recommended. Generally, Gülen’s clear attachment to traditional Turkish concepts of Islam combined with his espousal and purveying of moderate progressive ideas, perhaps otherwise not reflected on by the traditional mainstream, appear to be the pillars of his mass appeal in Turkey and elsewhere.


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[1] The included books are Towards the Lost Paradise (1996), Toward a Global Civilization of Love & Tolerance (2004a), The Essentials of the Islamic Faith (2005a), Questions and Answers about Islam 1 (2005b), An Analysis of the Prophet’s Life: The Messenger of God Muhammad (2005c), and Statue of our Souls: Revival in Islamic Thought and Activism (2005d).

[2] Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism. Emerald Hills of the Heart, 3vols. (2004-2008).

[3] Actually a collection of essays, articles, letters and speeches from a twenty year period (1984-2004).

[4] The so-called Masa’il (Questions) style in Arabic and Islamic literature in general has been and still is employed in a variety of fields from law to philosophy. Here the author had to rely on the German translation of Gülen’s work entitled Fragen an den Islam (Questions to Islam).

[5] In line with Weismann’s approach the present author refrains from using the inappropriate and misleading term “order” as equivalent for the Arabic tariqa (literally “way”) (Weismann 2007: 9-10). On the Mevlevi brotherhood see Trimingham 1971: 60-62.

[6] On the establishment and structure of this cemaat and the second notable such community, the Süleymancı cemaat, see Agai 2004: 64-78.

[7] The exact ratio is 38 to 19 instances, while counting longer sections devoted to Nursi, inexistent in Rumi’s case, only once.

[8] The third character referred to in this context is the Khalwatiyya Sufi Niyazi al-Misri (d. 1697), another figure of Turkish mystical poetry and commentator of several of Emre’s poems (Schimmel 1985: 470-472, 482-483). On the Khalwatiyya brotherhood see Trimingham 1971: 74-78.

[9] Hilya is indeed a technical term denoting the genre of elaborating on the merits of the prophet or saintly figures.

[10] For a chronology and brief description of his works on law, kalam, philosophy, logic, Sufism and other topics see Hourani 1959.

[11] The author himself describes this work as belonging to the field of kalam in his Jawahir al-Qur’an (Jewels of the Qur’an) (Frank 1994: 28).

[12] Characterized as those, who “combined in themselves the enlightenment of sages, the knowledge of religious scholars, and the spirituality of great saints” (2005c: 304).

[13] On the hadith-based origin and the historical development of the concept of mujaddid as well as for an enumeration of scholars regarded as such see Goldziher 1967: 53-62.

[14] Siyalkuti’s fame rests mostly on his endeavors as a glossator. His gloss on the commentary of al-Taftazani (see below for this figure) on the creed of Najm al-Din al-Nasafi (d. 1142) was also used in Ottoman schooling (İzgi 1997: 96, 169) and went into print in Istanbul early on.

[15] Hence the name of the Mujaddidi branch of the Naqshbandiyya.

[16] Gülen frequently employs this sobriquet when referring to Nursi.

[17] On the construction of ‘Umar II. as mujaddid and the likening of the Abbasid al-Mutawakkil (d. 861) to this role and persona, as a consequence to the latter’s lifting of the Mu’tazilite inquisition (mihna), see El-Hibri 1999: 108, 122-123. Intriguingly, the status of mujaddid of al-Shafi’i (eponym of the Shafi’ite school of law) seems to be implicitly questioned, if not rejected, by Gülen, as he merely remarks, that the former is “regarded”, and elsewhere “regarded by some” as such (2005c: 303, 359), without making an effort at confirmation.

[18] It is unclear, whether the places Baghdad and Istanbul are here intended to be connected with al-Ghazali and Said Nursi or rather with rulers highly esteemed by Gülen such as the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid and the Ottoman sultans Mehmet II., Selim I. and Süleyman I. (2005c: 301).

[19] Ahmad al-Yasawi (d. 1166), originating from modern-day Uzbekistan and eponym of the Yasawiyya brotherhood is also of importance for the notion of Anatolian, or in this case rather Turkish Islam. The Yasawiyya established itself initially especially among the Turkic peoples in the Central Asian steppe, and later the Turkish Bektashiyya branched of from it (Weismann 2006: 20-21; Trimingham 1971: 68-69; 80-83). Al-Yasawi’s Hikam (Wise Maxims) represents the first work of mystical thought to have been laid down in Turki (Eastern Turkish), and he is therefore considered the first great exponent of Turkic mystical literature and a main figure in the formative period of Turkish Islamic tradition (Schimmel 1985: 463; Trimingham 1971: 58).

[20] Sirhindi expressed markedly negative attitudes towards Sikhs and Jews in his letters and, more importantly, actively lobbied among Mughal officials to keep Hindus out of government. His treatment of Hindus in his correspondence with other Sufis was however rather mild and he began to express more conciliatory statements about them later in his life, as can be inferred from his chronologically collected letters. See Friedman 2000: 69-75.

[21] For controversies centering around Ibn ‘Arabi’s teachings and persona in the Arab world see Knysh 1999, for the Indian subcontinent Rizvi 1965 & 1980: 60-62, for the Malay-Indonesian world see Azra 2004.

[22] For example among “leading saints” (2005c: 303) and “spiritual masters” (1996: 83).

[23] The text misnames this book Musamarat al-Abrar (Nightly Conversations of the Dutiful). Both the terms abrar and ahyar (the dutiful and chosen ones) refer to specific categories of an hierarchical structure of Muslim saints (Trimingham 1971: 164).

[24] Hence his remark that narrowness has crept into the lodges (2004a: 186).

[25] Especially Rifa’iyya and Badawiyya are known for the excessive rituals of the former (including snake- and scorpion-charming) and practices strongly influenced by local Egyptian, partly pre-Islamic, traditions prevalent among the latter. See Trimingham 1971: 37-40, 45, 79-80; Schimmel 1985: 352-354. For example the Egyptian Shadhili shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani (d. 1565) attacked both orders for contravening Islamic law (Trimingham 1971: 223).

[26] Al-Nawa’i is moreover considered the “virtual founder of the Chaghatay Turkish literature” (Weismann 2006: 33; Trimingham 1971: 94).

[27] Admittedly, al-Junayd and Ma’ruf al-Karkhi are main figures in the silsilas (spiritual chains) of Islamic mysticism, both appearing in the earliest preserved silsila in the Fihrist (Index) of Ibn al-Nadim (d. 995) (Stewart 2007: 381), and are thus far from being exclusively Naqshbandi figures. Yet Gülen’s explicit allusion to the Naqshbandiyya spiritual chain seems to support the present author’s point. Actually, the Naqshbandi lineage encompasses three different chains of transmission (Weismann 2007: 22-25).Oe of them starts with Abu Bakr (d. 634), the first of the rightly-guided caliphs and grandfather of the mentioned Qasim b. Muhammad.

[28] Al-Busiri was affiliated with the Shadhiliyya.

[29] A similar, yet more cautious statement appears earlier in the same work, stating that he is “perhaps the greatest Muslim jurist, and still shines like a sun in the sky of Islamic jurisprudence” (2005c: 348).

[30] The trend towards an equal treatment of the schools of law by the ruling elites in the Arab world is already evident in the cautiously accommodating politics towards all madhahib by the Ayyubids and Zangids, even though being Shafi’i in the former and Hanafi in the latter case was still most advantageous (Talmon-Heller 2005), and in the 1233 foundation of the first multi-madhhab madrasa in Baghdad (Ephrat 2005: 87). The cause was then championed by the Mamluk sultan Baybars (r. 1260-1277), who appointed a grand qadi (judge) for all the schools of law at the expense of the formerly exclusive officeholder, the Shafi’ite grand qadi, which still incurred the wrath of the great scholar al-Suyuti (d. 1505) two centuries later (Geoffroy 1997: 914).

[31] That the Ottoman state did not provide for training of legal scholars of any other school of law, is best exemplified by the different curricula of Ottoman schools preserved from the 16th to early 19th centuries. For these see İzgi 1997: 163-177; Ahmad & Filipovic 2004: 196-206 (regarding law 202-204, 213-215); Demir 2005: 66-72. On the molding of official Ottoman Hanafism and its relationship with the other madhahib after the conquest of Arab lands under Selim I. see Peters 2005.

[32] Regarding the Ottoman empire see the sources mentioned in the foregoing note, for the Indian case see Sikand 2005: 103-104.

[33] Another directly mentioned Hanafite work on fiqh is “the commentary of al-Tahtawi” (2005b: 185), meaning in fact the latter’s supercommentary (Hashiya) on al-Haskafi’s Durr al-Mukhtar (The Chosen Pearls).

[34] The Jariri school is listed by Ibn al-Nadim in his Fihrist (written in the late 980s), but appears to have vanished less than a century later, as it is absent from the work Tabaqat al-Fuqaha’ (Classes of Legal Scholars) of Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi (d. 1083) (Stewart 2005: 373).

[35] On the formation and spread of the schools of law see Melchert 1997; Tsafrir 2004; Halm 1974.

[36] Although, al-Taftazani also wrote on Shafi’ite fiqh, and was thus at times mislabeled as such, he indeed adhered to the Hanafite school. See Madelung 2000: 89. The only reference concerning fiqh dealing with a scholar other than the four Imams or Hanafites is an implicit allusion to the Shafi’ite Muhyi l-Din al-Nawawi (d. 1277), as the “Minhaj of the Shafi’ites” (2005b: 185), by which is meant the Minhaj al-Talibin (The Open Way of the Seekers) of the latter is mentioned.

[37] Being the collections of al-Bukhari (d. 870), Muslim (d. 874), Abu Dawud (d. 883), al-Tirmidhi (d. 892), Ibn Maja (d. 886) and al-Nasa’i (d. 915). Musnad is a technical term originally denoting collections arranged according to the names of the final transmitter of a hadith and not according to its subject. For the classification and denomination of the different types of traditional hadith collections see Saeed 2006: 36. If a certain hadith is listed as being found in more than one collection (which is more often than not the case) it was counted for each. However, no double counts were made for hadiths appearing in one collection more than once under different topics/chapters.

[38] Sunan collections are devoted to legal hadith and arranged according to the standard legal chapters.

[39] See Brown 2007.

[40] The mihna persisted and even intensified under al-Wathiq (r. 842-847), but was no longer actively concerned with Ibn Hanbal. See further El-Hibri 1999: 95-177.

[41] Ottoman curricula featured both his commentary on al-Bukhari’s Sahih, entitled Fath al-Bari (The Grant of the Creator) (Ahmed & Filipovic 2004: 200), and more frequently his Nuzhat al-nazar fi tawdih Nukhbat al-fikar as a standard work of usul al-hadith (sources of hadith) (İzgi 1997: 169, 173; Demir 2005: 72). Both works are not used as sources by Gülen, who instead endorses three other books by the author.

[42] A critical re-evaluation of certain traditions of the Musnad responding to an earlier effort by Ibn al-Jawzi.

[43] Famous for his commentary of Malik’s Muwatta’, entitled al-Tamhid li-ma fi al-Muwatta’ min al-Ma’ani wa l-asanid (Facilitation of what is found in the Muwatta’ concerning contents and chains of transmission).

[44] Al-‘Iraqi also appears among another enumeration of hadith capacities, yet erroneously called Sayf al-Din (2005c: 303). His Alfiyya Ibn al-Salah, was the other of two major works studied in Ottoman schools in the area of usul al-hadith (İzgi 1997: 166, 169, 173; Demir 2005: 72).

[45] This concerns statements of early Muslims, which were recorded as such by the earliest sources of hadith predating the canonical collections, such as Malik’s Muwatta’ (and were also relied on even by figures such as Ibn Hanbal in the absence of prophetic hadiths), which are suddenly appearing at later times as prophetic statements in a presumed attempt to bolster their (legal) authority. This state of affairs was not only discussed by modern Western scholarship (Goldziher 2004: II, 1-274; Schacht 1975) but also critically confronted by Muslim scholars contemporaneous with these developments (late 9th and 10th century), whose position however came to be marginalized by the Sunnite mainstream. See Brown 2007b.

[46] Similarly, Gülen himself does not refrain from citing hadiths with defective chains of transmission, yet informs the reader of such deficiencies while stressing the relevance of their content for his argument (2005b: 159).

[47] The Hikam of Taj al-Din b. ‘Ata’ Allah (d. 1309).

[48] Intriguingly, Gülen provides the reader with an example of the long painstaking process of reevaluation of collections of traditions, which runs from Ibn al-Jawzi’s and later Ibn Hajar’s scrutinizing of traditions deemed inauthentic in Ibn Hanbal’s Musnad and ends with another review of the same by the significantly less critical Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (see n. 44) and the latter’s conclusion, that in fact all of these were authentic. This scheme implicitly leaves the last word on hadith criticism with al-Suyuti (d. 1505), whom the critical Moroccan hadith scholar and Sufi Ahmad b. al-Siddiq al-Ghumari (d. 1960) assesses harshly as having absolutely no grasp of this discipline (Brown 2007: 36).

[49] His al-Durr al-Manthur fi l-Tafsir bi l-Ma’thur (The Dispersed Pearls in Tradition-based Exegesis) as well as his short Tafsir al-Jalalayn (Tafsir of the two Jalals – a continuation of a work begun by his teacher Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli [d. 1459]) were studied in Ottoman schools, the former at least after Süleyman’s reform (Ahmed & Filipovic 2004: 198), the latter in the 18th century (İzgi 1997: 177).

[50] Al-Tabari is also specifically referred to concerning his heavy reliance on the companion and narrator Ibn ‘Abbas (d. 687) in his commentary (2005c: 383).

[51] He will be discussed below in the section on Turkish scholars.

[52] Explicitly introduced as “renowned historian” is only Ibn al-Athir (d. 1233) (2005c: 364), whose biographical work on the sahaba, Usd al-Ghaba (Lions of the Forest), is also mentioned (2005c: 346).

[53] Closely followed by Ibn Sa’d’s (d. 845) biographical dictionary of the first generations of Muslims, al- Tabaqat al-Kubra (The Great Classes).

[54] For a chronology and brief description of most of his works see Shihadeh 2006: 7-11.

[55] What could be taken as another appearance of Fakhr al-Din in Gülen’s works, appears to be rather a reference to the Kubrawiyya Sufi Najm al-Din Daya Razi (d. 1256), as he is mentioned with a number of other Sufis (2005d: 25). The latter is however also connected to the field of Qur’anic commentary, as he continued the tafsir of his master Najm al-Din Kubra (d. 1220) (Schimmel 1985: 360-361).

[56] It was also included in sultan Süleyman’s curriculum, where it constituted its only legally-oriented work of Qur’anic exegesis (Ahmed & Filipovic 2004: 198, 211).

[57] A recent critical re-evaluation of the Kassaf has shown, that it is much less “staunchly Mu’tazilite” and more traditional in character than has been claimed by both medieval Islamic and present-day Western scholarship (see Lane 2006).

[58] Gülen further remarked in an interview, that in the 1970s he also read works of the Indian Abu l-A’la Mawdudi (d. 1978) (Agai 2004: 143), besides Qutb the most notorious 20th century voice of Islamism coming from outside the ranks of the ‘ulama’, whose exegetical work Tafhim al-Qur’an (Understanding the Qur’an) has a modern approach comparable to that of Qutb. He also had his own educational agenda, which was however markedly different from Gülen’s. Mawdudi called for mimicry of Western education in terms of sources of knowledge, educational techniques and scientific facts, yet combined with abstaining from borrowing Western values and instead Islamizing the sciences (see Ahmad 2008; Sikand 2005: 196ff.). On Mawdudi in brief see Saeed 2004: 144-146. It has to be noted that, even though both Qutb and Mawdudi are unquestionably important figures informing radical Islamic discourse, their thought and influence cannot be reduced to aspects and interpretations drawn on by radical thinkers, as their works are more widely read than is often assumed and are indeed notable works of 20th century tafsir. Moreover, as will be shown below, Gülen does not hesitate to voice explicit criticism about specific aspects of the thought of scholars otherwise highly regarded by him. Such is even the case with Ibn Kathir, of whom he uses four different works as sources.

[59] After the foundational phase of the Hanafi school lasting into the 9th century, the following century witnessed the establishment of three distinct intra-madhhab academic networks (mashayikh) based in Iraq, Balkh (presentday Afghanistan) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan), of which the latter became lastingly most influential during the 11th/12th centuries. See Kaya 2005: 27-30. Some of the Bukhara network’s major figures, such as Abu l-Mu’in al-Nasafi (d. 1114), were similarly prominent scholars of Maturidi kalam. See Rudolph 1997.

[60] Ottoman and Mughal preference for the Maturidiyya is not reflected in their respective curricula, in which just as many Ash’arite standard works are included. Yet, it was indeed mostly Ottoman and Mughal scholars which became the guardians of Maturidi heritage, a process in which reverence for the scholars of Central Asian ancestral lands, which were also home to most of the Maturidiyya’s original writers, seem to play a decisive role. See Bruckmayr forthcoming.

[61] Al-Taftazani, albeit with al-Maqasid fi ‘Ilm al-Kalam also producing an original work on kalam, is most famous for his commentary on the Maturidi creed of Najm al-Din al-Nasafi, al-Dawwani for commenting on the Ash’ari creed of ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji (d. 1355), and al-Jurjani for his commentaries on kalam works by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 1274) and al-Iji. Jurjani and Taftazani, who is also quoted by Gülen regarding the question of free will (2005b: 157) as well as referred to elsewhere with other notable figures of various branches of Islamic scholarship (1996: 28-29), were undoubtedly the two major figures of Ottoman schooling (excluding its highest grades), as a variety of their works on rhetoric, logic, kalam, and law were included in the system. See İzgi 1997: 163-177; Demir 2005: 66-71. The two were and still are similarly prominent in Mughal and many contemporary Indian syllabi. See Malik 1997: 522-541.

[62] The first Ottoman historical works dealing with India still based themselves largely on al-Biruni. See İzgi 1997: 138.

[63] Ulugh Beg was the son of the Timurid sultan Shahrukh (d. 1447). On the Timurids of Herat, patrons of important scholars in Gülen’s discourse such as al-Taftazani, al-Jurjani, al-Jami and al-Nawa’i see Manz 2007.

[64] Ibn Miskawayh, although alluded to with regard to a philosophical question (2004a: 203), was likewise a renowned historian, and is credited with producing the “most important universal history” in the early period after al-Tabari (Daftary 2004: 149).

[65] Related to this notion and that of the golden generation (turk. Altın Nesil), which are both to be brought about through Gülen’s and the Movement’s efforts as well as through those of likely-minded individuals (Agai 2004: 254-256), is also a chapter entitled “The Happy Future”, which intriguingly starts with a quotation from Akif (1996: 22).

[66] It is noteworthy, that Shiite figures, apart from the imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (an important character in Sufi silsilas) and Zayd b. ‘Ali (mentioned among early hadith collectors [2005c: 314]), are hardly represented in Gülen’s works. The exceptions being these two historians, the aforementioned theologian-philosopher al-Dawwani, and most notably al-Shahrastani (d. 1153), from whom he quotes an alleged saying of Zarathustra (2005a: 156), certainly out of his famous heresiography Kitab al-Milal wa l-Nihal (The Book of Schools and Sects). Shahrastani was, despite his renown as Ash’ari theologian, in fact an Isma’ili Shiite (Daftary 2004: 368-369; Tusi 1999: 3; Badakhchani 1999: 55-56 n. 4). Additionally, Gülen’s unfounded charge, that the Orientalist Goldziher based his research about hadith not on works of hadith proper, but solely on books such as Kitab al-Hayawan (The Book of Animals, written by al-Jahiz) and al-Aghani (The Songs), contains an implicit reference to a Zaydi Shiite scholar, as Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani (d. 967), the (unmentioned) author of the latter work, was of that persuasion (Cooperson 2000: 87).

[67] On the Zahiris see Goldziher 1971, on Wahhabism and its eponym Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab see Delong-Bas 2004.

[68] The work in question is the Sufi tafsir of Kamal al-Din al-Kashshani (d. 1329), intriguingly an adherent of the Ibn ‘Arabi strand of Sufism, and was commissioned for study under Süleyman (Ahmed & Filipovic 2004: 199, 211).

[69] Just as parts of the Ottoman Mujaddidiya had strongly supported the reforms of Selim III. (r. 1789-1807), the Khalidiyya did the same with regard to Mahmud II. (d. 1839). See Weismann 2007: 87ff. and Hourani 1972.

by Dr. Ali Ünsal