Fethullah Gülen long dreamed of a young generation, a “golden generation”, who would combine intellectual ‘enlightenment’ with pure spirituality, wisdom, and continuous activism (Gülen 1998: i).
The Islamic reform movement headed by M. Fethullah Gülen, variously known as
the “Gülen Movement“, the “Nurculik”, or simply the “Movement”, is the most important
social force active in Turkey today and has had an increasing global presence since
the 1990s (Kuru 2008). Inspired by the example of an earlier Muslim reformer, Bediüzzaman
Said Nursi (1874-1960) and developed further by Gülen‘s own activities, it is over
a century in the making and aims at transforming the way Islamic thought relates
to the imperatives of modern society. A force for guided, religiously inspired modernization
with long-term legal, political, social, educational, and economic implications,
it promotes a revitalized form of Islamic mysticism that is wedded simultaneously
to traditional Muslim practice and to the scientific, technical, and industrial
methods that have so clearly lifted the material level of Western society (Gülen 1998).
The scope of the Gülen movement is difficult to estimate, but the number of Turkish
followers may reach many millions. Some of the most active and productive members
of Turkish society are participants. An important segment is composed of business
people who respond both to Gülen‘s commitment to traditional Islamic values and
to his defense of free enterprise. Plainly, they have reacted against their perception
of the aggressive secularism of the bureaucratic and military establishment as well
as to the corruption and over-regulation that became a hallmark of Atatürk’s successors.
This group provides much of the funding that fuels the Movement’s educational and
promotional activities. The burgeoning educated classes provide another significant
component. Supporters from this category want to retain their Islamic identity,
but also want to preserve their connection to the professional values, associations,
and infrastructure of their Western counterparts (Hendrick 2006). College students
form a conspicuous subset of this group, for they provide much of the energy that
animates the movement as a whole. (tag: hizmet)
While business people and students form the core of his movement, Gülen also
appeals to a much wider audience. He promotes a particularly sophisticated view
of Turkish identity, claiming it was forged in pre-Anatolian times, then shaped
and honed by the Ottomans into a multi-national, multi-cultural civilization of
extraordinary cosmopolitanism. That interpretation, which satisfies ethnic pride
while avoiding a narrow nationalistic definition, (Williams 2000; 56) resonates
with many Turks. Furthermore, he has taken a very strong stand against the use of
terror (Gülen 2004b: 1-3); moderate Turks who are unsympathetic to Islamic extremism
and secular republicanism find Gülen’s positions very attractive.
This paper analyzes Gülen‘s influence on the movement that bears his name by
using Transformational Leadership Theory. We are convinced that this is a valuable
approach. Placing Gülen’s activities within this theoretical framework brings his
leadership style into clear focus; provides insight into the reasons for his striking
success; and allows a better estimation of the future of the Movement. (tag: hizmet movement)
Leadership has been defined as activity aimed at bringing about change in an
organization or social system in order to improve peoples’ lives (Aldoory & Toth
2004). The concept of transformational leadership was first introduced by James
MacGregor Burns (1978) in his seminal book, Leadership. According to Burns, transformational
leadership is leadership that has the effect of “transforming” followers’ attitudes,
beliefs, and behaviors. He contrasted transformational leadership with the more
commonly occurring transactional leadership, which had previously dominated leadership
research and training. Transactional leadership emphasizes the exchange, or transaction,
of rewards for effort as the key mechanism in influencing and motivating followers;
for example, higher pay for greater effort. The difference between transformational
and transactional leadership is what leaders and followers offer one another (Burns,
1978). The transformational leader’s internal, external, and relational context
of behavior connects with the followers’ own sense of internal motivation. (tag: hizmet)
Good transactional leaders are managers of what they have in hand and make
limited incremental progress on modest goals, making best use of given resources.
What Burns calls transformational leaders, on the other hand, have a teaching
role. They elevate, motivate, define values, offer vision, and creatively produce
reform and at times revolutionary developments in the face of unusual opportunities
and challenges (Abshire 2001:1).
Burns is a political scientist and presidential biographer, and is the recipient
of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his biography of Franklin
D. Roosevelt. Because of his training, he originally examined leadership in the
political context, focusing on the leadership style of U.S. presidents. Bernard
Bass and his colleagues (Bass 1985) extended Burns’ ideas of transformational leadership
and adapted them from the political arena to the organizational context. Bass argued
that transactional leaders “mostly consider how to marginally improve and maintain
the quantity and quality of performance, how to substitute one goal for another,
how to reduce resistance to particular actions, and how to implement decisions (Bass
1985:27). Transformational leaders, on the other hand,
…attempt and succeed in raising colleagues, subordinates, followers, clients,
or constituencies to a greater awareness about the issues of consequence. This
heightening of awareness requires a leader with vision, self confidence and
inner strength to argue successfully what he sees is right or good, not for
what is popular or is acceptable according to established wisdom of the time
The effect of these transformational leaders is often discussed in terms of dramatic
cognitive and affective changes. Bass, for example, says that transformational leaders
arouse intense feelings; “they are inspirational and heighten expectations and engender
excitement” (Bass 1985:10). Transformational leaders offer a purpose that transcends
short-term goals and focuses on higher order intrinsic needs. This results in followers
identifying with the needs of the leader. However, a transformational leader has
to have an intuitive understanding of followers’ needs, especially higher level
needs, and must use communication that appeals to those needs. Communication skills
are crucial for a transformational leader, especially the use of dramatic and inspirational
language. Bass suggests “extra effort is inspired by the appeal of the leader’s
symbols, images, and vision of a better state of affairs along with his persuasive
language” (Bass 1985:66). Transformational leaders use a variety of modes of expression
and make full use of all the available media to communicate to others their shared
identity. They use metaphors and figures of speech; they give examples, tell stories,
and relate anecdotes; they draw word pictures; and they offer quotations and recite
slogans (Zorn 1991).
Another feature of transformational leadership is the articulation of a “vision”.
The transforming leader uses a compelling rhetorical vision to focus followers’
attention and energy, and to build commitment to organizational purposes (Zorn 1991).
Bass (1985) repeatedly equates transformational leadership with the articulation
of a vision of a better world, which is something that Gülen does masterfully. Transformational
leaders are characterized by their risk taking, goal articulation, high expectations,
emphasis on collective identity, selfassertion, and vision. The central role of
the transformational leader is to use his vision to create meaning and symbols for
followers, in order for them to change (Aldoory & Toth 2004).
Because of the powerful impact it can have on followers, transformational leadership
carries the potential for abuse (Tucker & Russell 2004). However, Bass (1999) answered
this criticism by grounding the effectiveness of genuine transformational leadership
in three essential pillars: 1) moral character; 2) ethical values; and 3) morality
of the process of ethical choices. As we will demonstrate, Gülen clearly meets these
three conditions. (tag: hizmet movement)
Bass identified four dimensions of transformational leadership: idealized influence,
inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration.
We will discuss each of these in detail, matching Fethullah Gülen‘s efforts to these
four dimensions. We find that he very precisely meets all of these requirements.
The first of these dimensions is idealized influence. According to Van Eeden:
“Idealized influence implies that followers respect, admire, and trust the
leader and emulate his behavior, assume his values, and are committed to achieving
his vision and making sacrifices in this regard. The leader shows dedication,
a strong sense of purpose and perseverance, and confidence in the purpose and
the actions of the group that helps to ensure the success of the group and gives
followers a sense of empowerment and ownership. He behaves morally and ethically”
It is important at this point to differentiate between “idealized influence”
and “charisma”. Transformational leadership and charismatic leadership theories
have much in common and complement each other in important ways. The terms are often
used interchangeably, but there are important differences. In terms of self schema,
or cognitive generalizations about oneself, a transformational leader allows mutuality
while a charismatic leader has a high need for power and control, and views mutuality
as inappropriate. In perception of success, a transformational leader values mutual
elevation and stimulation, and a charismatic leader does not. Perhaps most importantly,
in looking at power orientation, a transformational leader shares power and believes
in integrating power, but a charismatic leader desires personal power and his power
is based on personal appeal and persuasive skills. This difference has an enormous
impact on the organization’s future success. In an organization led by a transformational
leader, succession is not a problem; however, organizations led by charismatic leaders
often flounder and fail when the leader is no longer available (Miller 2007).
Gülen fulfills a key requirement of idealized influence by instilling a strong
sense of empowerment and ownership in his followers. He definitely shares power
and believes in integrating power, as evidenced by this description of the Movement’s
The Gülen community consists of three circles. At the center of the Movement
is a core group of believers who lead the activities (hizmet) in a spirit of
full and unconditional loyalty to the Gülen Movement. This core group includes
a considerable number of university graduates who specialized in technical subjects
and come from rural areas or small towns in Turkey. The main core of the Movement
consists of around 30 elder brothers (büyük abiler), some of them Gülen’s closest
friends and students, who are highly respected and regularly consulted on major
day to day policies (Yavuz 2003: 189).
A transformational leader does not have to, and often should not, have charisma.
After all, what role does charisma play in identification of transforming leaders?
The theory of transformational leadership does focus on the leader being a change
agent, but the transforming leader’s ‘charisma’ is not the defining characteristic
for the transformational leader. The need to appear larger than life or to embellish
oneself or to distance oneself from others in order to attain status by a charisma
that is larger than life is not characteristic of the transformational leader. The
charismatic aspect of persona is never the major focus in describing transformational
leaders. Mother Theresa and Ghandi are both recognized as being transformational
leaders who exemplify transformation, but who would not fit the criteria of ‘charismatic’
as Max Weber and others used the term. Self-aggrandisement, need for power, and
need for affiliation are central in charismatic leaders. Ghandi, Mandala, and Mother
Theresa probably fall short on need for power and dominance, but then again, they
were transformational, not charismatic, leaders (Miller 2007).
Gülen’s ascetic life and altruism places him in that same company, and his modesty,
self-effacement, and leadership by example are major factors in attracting and motivating
followers. As associates of his have observed:
Gülen is a distinguished scholar who comes from a very modest background.
With very little ambition for worldly wealth, and as a person of God, a preacher,
a man of spirituality, ascetism and profound knowledge, he could have had a
very satisfying career simply by serving as a preacher/teacher and author. However,
he has invested an enormous amount of effort into motivating the masses to invest
in sound education and has led by example (Aslando an & Cetin 2006: 39).
To Gülen, efforts—translated into actual deeds—are far more important than claims.
M. Hakan Yavuz, who has closely studied the Movement, has noted that: “The way of
creating an ethical society, for Gülen, is not to offer courses in religion or ethics
in schools but rather to set good examples, known as temsil, in one’s daily
life, as a teacher, policeman, businessman, and journalist” (Yavuz 2003:187).
In part because of Gülen’s relentless efforts in behalf of valuebased education,
he has a long-established reputation as an important Muslim thinker. His prominent
position was recently acknowledged by Foreign Policy magazine, a publication of
the Washington-based Carnegie Foundation for International Peace that specializes
in researching and analyzing international affairs. Its May/June 2008 issue recognized
Gülen as one of the leading intellectuals in the world
and, after publishing its list of the world’s 100 Top Public Intellectuals, asked
its readers to cast their ballots for the top 20. In this poll, Gülen received more
votes than any one else on the list, and was thus honored as the world’s foremost
intellectual. (tag: hizmet)
In addition to this prestigious recognition, Gülen has received positive international
attention from the world’s press. For example, just in the past two years he has
been given favorable coverage in such diverse newspapers, magazines and journals
as The New York Times; Forbes magazine; the International Herald Tribune; the Journal
of Middle East Women’s Studies; The Economist; U.S. News and World Report; The Irish
Times; The Muslin World, and the Middle East Journal.
Vision is an important component of idealized influence, and Gülen’s vision is
very clear. He believes in a cognitive transformation of society through education
that is to be taught by an elite sensitive to Turkish history and traditions and
the sentiments of the common people. His program is aimed at creating this new elite,
known as the “golden generation” (altin nesil). His moral and ethical behavior
is recognized by admirers throughout the world, and he has been positively received
by such respected leaders as Pope John Paul II; John O’Connor, Archbishop of New
York; Leon Levy, former president of the Anti-Defamation League; the Vatican’s Ambassador
to Turkey; the Patriarch of the Turkish Orthodox Church; the Patriarch of the Turkish-Armenian
community; and the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community. (tag: hizmet movement)
Because Gülen is still alive, no biography of him has been produced that can
have the benefits of a full retrospective on his life and work. However, “it is
undoubtedly the case that Gülen is held in great esteem by those associated with
him, as evidenced by the honorific title of hocaefendi (esteemed teacher)
accorded to him by those who follow his teachings” (Weller 2006:72).
His ability to influence a variety of people, both Muslims and non- Muslims,
can be attributed at least in part to his religious sincerity and personal piety.
When challenged by Islamic critics, Fethullah Gülen has responded in a quite pragmatic,
and typically Sufi, fashion by pointing to his scholarly credentials in the Islamic
sciences and by demonstrating
a very public and completely unwavering devotion to the Qur’an, the ritualistic
requirements of Islam, and the person of the Prophet (Fontenot & Fontenot, 2007).
His obvious authenticity has brought him and the movement he exemplifies a substantial
degree of respect and creditability.
It is Gülen’s personal charisma as a conservative and pious Muslim which
allows both him and the movement to sometimes be more liberal in practice than
in theory. The movement’s conservatist image allows people who would never be
reached by the state’s reformist discourse to participate in new forms of Islamic
engagement. The movement’s practice, moreover, permits the integration of people
into its activities who would never have been reached by any other Islamic group.
Gülen is generally respected for his intellectual prowess as well as for his
moral and ethical actions. Dr. Jill Carroll of Rice University, who recently wrote
a book in which she posited a dialogue between him and five of the world’s greatest
thinkers, was deeply impressed by Gülen:
I remain inspired by his ideas, and after meeting him I see why he has inspired
nearly three generations now of Turkish men and women to create a new world.
He is a man of deep spirituality, integrity, and compassion, and this is amply
evident in his writings and in his person. I have partnered Gülen’s ideas with
those of Kant, Plato, Confucius, Mill and Sartre because I believe they are
worthy discussants for Gülen, and he for them. I interpret all of them as people
with immense knowledge who care about the most pressing and enduring questions
of human existence, and who approach difficult challenges with their whole selves
honestly and without cynicism (p. 101).
In sum, Gülen mirrors the components of Idealized Influence set forth by Van
Eeden. He has the admiration and trust of his followers. They are motivated by his
vision, inspired by his learning, personal piety, and modesty. They feel that they
have influence within the movement and, through their daily efforts in emulating
him, on the world around them. Furthermore, Gülen’s reputation has spread beyond
its Turkishbased areas, a development that bodes well for the future of the Movement. (tag: hizmet movement)
The second essential component of transformational leadership is inspirational
motivation. This refers to the leader’s enthusiasm and optimism in creating
a vision of the future, thus stimulating similar feelings among followers. The leader
is seen to commit to the vision; specific goals and expectations are clearly communicated;
and confidence is expressed in followers’ ability to achieve these expectations
(van Eeden 2008).
Gülen articulates his vision of a “golden generation” both clearly and poetically:
Among wavering crowds that lack sound thinking or reasoning a new type of
people will appear. They will rely equally on reason and experience, but give
as much importance to conscience and inspiration as they do to the former. They
will pursue the perfect in everything, establish the balance between this world
and the next, and wed the heart to the intellect. The coming to be of such people
will not be easy. All births are painful, but these blessed births will take
place and provide the world with a new, brilliant generation. Just as rain pours
to of slowly gathering clouds and water wells up from underground, so too will
the “flowers” of this new generation one day appear among us (Gülen 2004c:81).
He has stated that in the modern world the only way to get others to accept your
ideas is by persuasion. “Those who resort to force are intellectually bankrupt;
people will always demand freedom of choice in the way they run their affairs and
in their expression of their spiritual and religious values” (Gülen 2004c: xii.)
Leaders who are skilled at inspirational motivation challenge followers with
high standards, communicate optimism about future goals, and provide meaning for
the task at hand. Followers need to have a strong sense of purpose if they are to
be motivated to act. It is also important that this visionary aspect of leadership
be supported by communication skills that allow the leader to articulate his vision
with precision and power in a compelling and persuasive way. Bass says, “We restrict
inspirational motivation to leadership that employs or adds nonintellectual, emotional
qualities to the influence process and reserve the factor of intellectual stimulation
to influence processes emphasizing convincing argument, logic and rationality without
appeals to feelings, sentiments, and emotions” (Bass 1985:63).
Gülen’s use of rhetorical invention
closely matches Bass’s category of inspirational motivation. Profiting from an early
exposure to the attitudes and values of Sufis, he has generalized their use of symbolic
expression and extended it into the arena of public discourse. Where Sufis customarily
employed vivid, imaginative, poetic language in order to describe a direct, personal
connection with the Divine, he regularly applies it to the cause of social reform.
Gülen employs metaphors, similes, and allegorical constructions of all kinds in
his arguments for the modernization of Islamic practice. He uses rhetorical invention
as a tool that can penetrate the surface of Islamic injunctions and beliefs so that
their “inner pearl” (2002) can be grasped. “The Qur’an,” he claims, “is like a rose
that develops a new petal each passing day and continues to bloom…. We are all children
of time. We must question the past and the present” (Williams 2000:53).
Inspirational activities by the transformational leader become of particular
importance when effort, self-sacrifice, and initiative is essential for organizational
success; when the work is difficult and frustrating, and followers are likely to
become discouraged by temporary setbacks and lack of progress; and when followers
have ideals and values that are relevant to the activities of the group and will
serve as the basis for inspirational appeals (Bass1985:75). Followers must be moved
to feel that what is wanted of them can be justified, not by receipt of a tangible
reward, as in transactional leadership, but by the prospect of contributing to a
better world and by doing one’s duty to God and country (Bass 1998:74). In an almost
exact copy of Bass’s criterion, Gülen calls for followers that:
…measure and evaluate the work and the deed not through the result attained,
but rather directly by how the duty was performed, whether it has been performed
with a pure heart and whether it corresponds to the approval of God. In this
manner, they do not limit the vastness of their subjection by connecting it
to any price or reward, they do not adulterate divine and holy deeds with deeds
that are bound to the Earth; and these people assess their deeds as being naught
before the infinite power of the All-Mighty, and lead their lives in this expansive
dimension that they feel in their hearts (Gülen 2004c:126).
This separation of service from material reward sometimes led to a re-alignment
of careers within the membership of the Movement:
Gülen promoted a career in education as superior to one in medicine, engineering
or law, despite the prospects of a wealthier future in the others. Gülen’s message
to teachers and prospective teachers was simple but subtle: serving your fellow
citizens and humanity in general through education is a duty for every responsible
human being. Suddenly, the relatively low paid, unappreciated and low status
teachers were being recognized as the key builders of the country’s future (Aslando
an & Cetin 2006: 34).
Yavuz describes Gülen’s rhetorical style as being effective and dramatic.
His emotional preaching style stirs up the inner feelings of Muslims and
imbues his messages with feelings of love and pain. Gülen’s style is effective
and forms a powerful emotional bond between him and his followers. He not only
stirs up the emotions of the faithful but also exhorts them to self-sacrifice
and activism. Thus, he arms his followers with an emotional map of action to
translate their heart-guided conclusions into action (Yavuz 2003:183).
Gülen’s message is one of encouragement for those who follow his path. In describing
the Golden Generation, he says,
This generation will be able to overcome the ideologies of the past. The
West and the East cannot chain his feet or capture him. Also, the ‘isms’ that
are against his soul’s origins will not change the directions of his path or
even touch him (Agai 2003:58).
He is able to communicate to them the importance of their mission when he asserts,
If you wish to keep masses under control, simply starve them in the area
of knowledge. They can escape such tyranny only through education. 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 (in Michel 2003: 74).
Gülen skillfully uses imagery and symbolism in his rhetoric. According to Yavuz:
Gülen is an accomplished poet; his poetry invokes a romantic nostalgia for
the Ottoman past and elucidates its relevance for contemporary Turkish society.
Furthermore, his poetry seeks to construct an ethno religious (Turkish-Islamic)
consciousness that calls for the mobilization of youth to realize a historical
mission, namely the creation of a powerful and prosperous Turkey that once again
will play a leadership role in the Islamic world as it did during Ottoman times
Gülen’s poetic style is clearly evident when he describes one of his most popular
Love is the most essential element of every being, and it is the most radiant
light, and it is the greatest power, able to resist and overcome all else. Love
elevates every soul that absorbs it, and prepares these souls for the journey
to eternity (Gülen 2004c:1).
Actually, love is a sultan, the heart is the throne, and the groans of hope
and longing uttered on the prayer rugs in the remotest corners are the voices
of that sultan (Gülen 2004c: 5).
As was the case with Bass’s category of Idealized Influence, Gülen matches the
requirements for inspirational motivation. He communicates his vision clearly and
eloquently, inspires his followers, and instills confidence that their joint cause
The next requirement for transformational leadership is intellectual stimulation.
This implies a leader who values the intellectual ability of followers, encourages
innovation, and promotes creativity. Others are encouraged to reframe problems,
use a holistic perspective in understanding issues, question the status quo, and
approach problems from different angles. This creates readiness for change and develops
the ability to solve current and future problems (van Eeden, 2008). Intellectual
stimulation includes the use of logic, the construction of convincing arguments,
and rational thinking to arouse and change follower problem awareness and problem
solving. Thought is promoted, imagination is fired, and beliefs and values are modified
and strengthened. (tag: hizmet)
Gülen has been particularly successful in articulating a cohesive argument that
bridges the perceived dichotomy between tradition and modernity and religion and
He witnessed rationalism devoid of spirituality that focused exclusively
on self-interest. The other extreme was a blind adherence to tradition. His
middle way in this context was underlining the necessity of sound reasoning
for every individual while promoting spiritual values as a guide for the intellect.
Between self-centered individualism and selflessness he defined a middle way
that inculcated a sense of social responsibility that did not neglect or deny
individual rights. He promoted serving one’s community as a responsibility of
being human and conduct pleasing to the Creator. At the same time, he framed
individual rights as uninfringeable for the greater good without an individual’s
consent (Aslando an & Cetin 2006: 36).
Gülen powerfully argues that religion and science not only can, but must, co-exist:
Neglect of the intellect…would result in a community of poor, docile mystics.
Negligence of the heart or spirit, on the other hand, would result in crude
rationalism devoid of any spiritual dimension…It is only when we the intellect,
spirit, and body are harmonized, and man is motivated towards activity in the
illuminated way of the Divine message, that he can become a complete being and
attain true humanity (Gülen 1995:105-106).
Yavuz describes Gülen’s method of argumentation as being very allegorical.
He constantly refers to nature as ‘the book’. He does not offer literal interpretation
of the Qur’an but rather reads it through the lens of the phenomenal world.
This literary interpretation softens the language of religion and makes it more
amenable to practical life (Yavuz 2003:191).
For example, Gülen writes:
Firstly, the Universe is a book written by God for us to study over and over
again. Man is a transparent index of all the worlds, a being able to discover
the depths of existence. As for life, it is the manifestation of the meanings
filtered from that index and book, and reflected by Divine Expression throughout
the Universe. If man, life, and the Universe are three aspects of a single reality
with each having a genuine color of its own, then a partial approach to them
will be a disrespect to both man, in particular, and the whole creation, in
general, as it will demolish the harmonious composition of reality (Gülen 1998:
The impact of transformational leadership is influenced by the degree to which
the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks and solicits followers’ ideas. Leaders
with this trait stimulate and encourage creativity in their followers. Systematic
differences exist between transactional and transformational leaders in intellectual
stimulation. Transformational leaders may be less willing to be satisfied with partial
solutions or to accept the status quo. They are more likely to be proactive rather
than reactive in their thinking; more creative, novel and innovative in their ideas;
more radical in their ideology; and less inhibited in their solutions. Gülen exemplifies
transformational leadership because of his creativity and innovative thinking. For
example, Yavuz presents an excellent comparison of Gülen’s skill in this area compared
to traditional Islamic scholars, or ulema:
Three main characteristics differentiate Gülen from the traditional ulema.
First, unlike the ulema, whose references are the Qur’an and sunna, the reference
points for Gülen and the new class of Muslim intellectuals include rational
reasoning and European Enlightenment thought. Second, Gülen encourages independent
thinking (the ulema, in contrast, guide the community and seek to preserve tradition
whereas these new Turkish Muslim intellectuals seek to encourage critical thought).
Gülen in fact has managed to juggle a remarkable mix of these two traditions.
Another major characteristic of this modern hybrid of ulema-intellectual is
his ability to interpret Islamic precepts within the context of modern social
conditions. Gülen is well versed in works of such world writers as Kant, Shakespeare,
Victor Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, and Kafka, and he uses their ideas to reinforce
his reinterpretations of Islam to meet contemporary needs (Yavuz 2003:185).
Gülen strongly encourages creativity and independent thought in his followers,
and he believes that if people are educated properly to think for themselves and
to espouse the positive values of social justice, human rights, and tolerance, they
can be agents of change to implement these beneficial goals (Michel 2003:74). However,
although he believes in using reason and intellect to solve problems and improve
the world, he clearly does not see rational thought as substituting for religion
Regardless of changes, advancements in science and technology, and new ways
of thinking, the feeling of attachment to a religion always has been the primary
factor in forming humanity’s scientific and intellectual life, developing human
virtues, and establishing new civilizations. With its charm and power, religion
is still and will be the most influential element and power in peoples’ lives
Gülen sees no contradiction between science and religion, and rejects the argument
that a choice must be made between the two.
Humankind from time to time has denied religion in the name of science and
denied science in the name of religion, arguing that the two present conflicting
views. All knowledge belongs to God and religion is from God. How then can the
two be in conflict? (Gülen 2004c:xiii.)
When Bass discussed the component of intellectual stimulation, he meant:
…the arousal and change in followers of problem awareness and problem solving,
of thought and imagination, and of beliefs and values, rather than arousal and
change in immediate action. The intellectual stimulation of the transformational
leader is seen in the discrete jump in the followers’ conceptualization, comprehension,
and discernment of the nature of the problems they face and their solutions
Gülen is particularly adept at conceptualizing issues and problems in innovative
and thought-provoking ways. For example, he provides a provocative analysis of forgiveness:
The greatest gift that the generation of today can give their children and
grandchildren is to teach them how to forgive—to forgive even when confronted
by the worst behaviors and the most disturbing events. However, thinking of
forgiving monstrous, evil people who enjoy making others suffer would be disrespectful
to the idea of forgiveness. We have no right to forgive them; forgiving them
would be disrespectful to humanity. I do not believe that there is any probability
that anyone could see an act that is disrespectful to forgiveness as being acceptable
Consider also his argument against terrorism: “Just as Islam is not a religion
of terrorism, any Muslim who correctly understands Islam cannot be or become a terrorist”
Many researchers have noted the extent to which transformational leaders have
to serve as teachers. As a profession, teachers often play the role of transformational
leader, sharply changing the beliefs and values of at least some of their students
(Burns 1978). For the greater part of his life, Gülen has been teaching and influencing
others. It is quite possible that his effective use of logic, his reliance on reasoned
argumentation, his insistence on broadened perspectives, and his emphasis on creative
problem-solving are connected to his educational experience.
The last component of transformational leadership is Individualized consideration.
This concept implies that the leader considers the ability of followers and their
level of maturity in order to determine their need for further development. He acts
as a mentor, giving personal attention, listening to others’ concerns, and providing
feedback, advice, support, and encouragement. The leader designs appropriate strategies
to develop individual followers to achieve higher levels of motivation, potential,
and performance (van Eeden 2008).
The leader’s effectiveness is affected by the degree to which he attends to each
follower’s needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower, and listens to the
follower’s concerns and needs. This also encompasses the need to respect and celebrate
the individual contribution that each follower can make to the group because it
is the diversity of the group that gives it its true strength. Whereas the transactional
leader functions primarily as a manager, the transformational leader takes a developmental
orientation, similar to that found in the Confucian concept of the leader as a moral
example and Plato’s image of the leader as shepherd. The transformational leader
sets examples to be followed and will consciously or unconsciously serve as a role
model for followers.
Gülen not only believes in individual consideration and practices it in his own
life, but he counsels others, especially teachers, to do so as well. He feels strongly
that each person should be treated as an individual:
Real teachers sow the seed and preserve it. They occupy themselves with what
is good and wholesome, and lead and guide the children in life and whatever
events they encounter…. In addition to setting a good example, teachers should
be patient enough to obtain the desired results. They should know their students
very well, and address their hearts, spirits, and feelings. The best way to
educate people is to show a real concern for every individual, not forgetting
that each individual is a different ‘world’…. Teachers should know how to find
a way to the student’s heart and leave indelible imprints (Gülen 2004d:208).
The Gülen movement is based on three coordinated tiers: businessmen, journalists,
and teachers and students. The first tier has been discussed previously in this
The second circle of people support Gülen’s religious-national goal and (in)
directly participate in the creation of eser (good work) activities through
charities (himmet). This circle includes esnaf (small and medium sized merchants)
and isclami (businessmen who constitute a board of trustees of the movement’s
numerous foundations. They support the movement’s activities in their area through
fundraisings organized by local volunteers (Yavuz 2003: 189).
Even though the contributions of individuals in each group differ, Gülen makes
sure that they know their work is valued and important to achieving the vision of
the Movement. According to Yavuz, he has followed this policy since the beginning
of his teaching. Even though teachers and other academics were the focus of his
vision, he acknowledged the work of the business people who supported them.
He drew much of his support from engineers, the new Anatolian bourgeoisie, academics
and other professionals. In his speeches, he carefully stressed the role of merchants
and businessmen as the sources revitalizing Turkey as a regional power (Yavuz 2003:
Gülen is inclusive in his teaching and in his vision, and he sees a role for
all people. Gülen’s vision for women is based in Islam and shares similarities with
that of Atatürk. His support of Islamist women’s education, employment, and world
travel encourages the possibility for them to attain the best education and go on
to public professions (Stephenson 2006:125).
The Gülen Movement has become an international one, and it has shown a remarkable
ability to transcend cultural differences. Schools have been established in more
than 50 countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Australia.
In addition, six universities have been created in Turkey and Central Asia. These
schools have shown a remarkable ability to respect the language, norms, customs,
laws, and culture of the individual countries while at the same time being true
to the ethical underpinnings of Gülen’s vision. That characteristic has impressed
knowledgeable observers. For example, Fr. Thomas Michel, ecumenical secretary of
the Federation of Asian Bishops and a member of the Indonesian Province of the Jesuits,
has visited many of the schools, and he remarks, “The schools established in countries
as diverse as Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Denmark and Brazil are necessarily very different
from one another, but they are all inspired by the same humanistic vision” (Michel
According to Lam (2002), many studies have demonstrated that applying transformational
leadership may be universally more effective than other methods because a preference
for transformational leadership over transactional leadership exists in many different
cultures. In studying the Gülen Movement schools, Agai observed,
The most striking point about these schools is that they do not teach religion,
even though religious faith is a primary motive for their creation. Rather,
they stress the teaching of ethics (ahlak), which are seen as a unifying factor
between different religious, ethnic, and political orientations. (Agai 2003:48)
Thus, the Gülen Movement has managed to strike an effective balance between individualized
attention at a personal, group, and societal level and, simultaneously, adherence
to universal norms and values. That interesting conjunction of particularized attention
and generalized practice helps explain the extraordinary success of the Gülen-inspired
As we can see, Gülen’s leadership style clearly conforms to Bass’s four dimensions
of transformational leadership. If Gülen is not a transformational leader and the
Movement is not a transformational one, no such things exist. The fit is so exact
that, chronological contradictions aside, Bass could have had Gülen in mind while
crafting his theoretical framework.
Implications of Gülen’s Transformational Leadership
Transformational leadership has many advantages over transactional leadership.
One prominent benefit is the promotion of a greater degree of personal and organizational
satisfaction among members, which in turn promotes increased loyalty and cooperation.
This intensified commitment is a precondition for the realization of strong and
permanent change, which is the hallmark of transformational leadership as well as
the hallmark of the Gülen Movement. Beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors have been
transformed by Gülen’s example; unlike what occurs in transactional leadership,
the changes he initiated have been internalized by his followers.
Bass (1985) argues that transactional leadership results in “first order” changes,
or changes in degree; in other words, as a result of receiving rewards based on
their performance of tasks, followers may work somewhat harder, faster, or produce
somewhat better quality. However, he contends that a higher order of change, a second
order of change, is possible. Second order changes will result in revolutionary
changes in attitudes, values, and beliefs, and “quantum leaps in motivation and
performance” (Zorn 1991:179). These second order changes can result only from transformational
leadership (Bass 1985). According to Burns, “the result of transforming leadership
is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into
leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents” (1978:4). This higher level change
means that an organization can proceed even when the leader is no longer available.
The recent history of the Movement tends to bear this observation out. Increasing
health problems have caused Gülen to become less active; nevertheless, the Movement
shows no sign of faltering.
Transformational leaders not only influence the culture among their supporters,
but their influence also extends beyond the organization to the outside culture.
One of Gülen’s most attractive ideas is that each follower, in the simple course
of daily life, influences the world for the better. His description of such people
reaches lyrical heights:
Endeavoring to enlighten every part of the world with a devotion that is
suitable for the companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him,
disregarding their own desires and acting in order to live for others without
ostentation—on the contrary, always acting humbly—these legendary heroes are
displaying today, despite many negative factors, a generosity rarely matched
in history; they have come to serve humanity. They are whispering something
from the bottom of their hearts, creating a Paradise on Earth by planting new
saplings everywhere, trying to express themselves and inviting everybody to
eternity—always faithful, determined, decisive, and hopeful for the future.
In a fine example of transformational influence, a woman teaching in a “Turkish
school” in Houston, Texas reduced that passage to its essentials. In describing
her Gülen-inspired sense of mission, she said that “we should leave ‘footprints’
behind us in this life” (Stephenson 2006: 128).
Transformational leadership originates in the personal values and beliefs of
leaders, not in an exchange of commodities between leaders and followers. Both Burns
(1978) and Bass (1985) believed that transformational leaders operate out of deeply
held personal values systems that include such values as justice and integrity.
By expressing their personal standards, transformational leaders are able both to
unite followers and to change followers’ goals and beliefs. This form of leadership
results in achievement of higher levels of performance among individuals than previously
thought possible (Bass 1985).
This higher level of performance is clearly seen in the Movement’s confident
assault on one of the most perplexing problems of the modern world—that is, the
reconciliation of science and religion. Gülen’s Movement is, above all, directed
to the production of a citizenry that is not only morally informed and values an
interior life of the spirit, but is also scientifically orientated. From an instrumentalist
point of view, the prime objective of the Movement is the successful interweaving
of science and religion; Gülen insists that reason and Islamic revelation are not
only compatible, but also complementary. “All principles of Islam, being a revealed
religion originating in an All-Encompassing knowledge, certainly can be confirmed
by reason (Gülen 1995:160). Furthermore, (tag: Gulen Movement)
The light of the intellect is scientific knowledge while the heart of the
spirit derives its light from religious knowledge. Scientific knowledge without
religion usually causes atheism while religious knowledge without intellectual
enlightenment gives rise to bigotry. When combined, they urge a student to research,
further and further research, deepening in both belief and knowledge (Gülen
The Movement is not simply concerned with producing Sufis or scientists; it wishes
to produce Sufi scientists that can steer advances in science and technology into
humane and productive channels. Gülen has pinned his hopes on this emerging “Golden
Generation” and we can see, from the following quotation, that his appeals can reach
a rare level of intensity: “O long-awaited generation! Rise, for the love of the
Creator, to your sacred task, and replace the choking darkness around us with the
light of your love, hope, and nobility! Rise and force back the “monsters” of the
age to their dens!” (Gülen 1998:107) The increasing public support for Gülen’s goals
and the swelling number of Güleninspired schools that aim to dispel that “choking
darkness” testify to his stature as a transformational leader.
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 For a description of Gülen’s early education, see Ali Ünal and Alphonse Williams, Advocate of Dialogue, Fethullah Gülen (Fairfax, Va.: The Fountain, 2000), p. 15. We should note that he was deeply influenced by Muhammed Lütfi Efendi, who worked within the Mawlana tradition associated with Jalaladdin Rumi.
 Invention—inventio, to the ancient Romans—is the creative effort involved in explaining, re-stating, enlarging, or repositioning an argument in order to increase its effectiveness or strengthen its appeal. The term refers to the imaginative aspect of an illuminating intellectual process, with the strong implication that it is expressed in an original or striking fashion. Invention was a significant component of Aristotle’s Rhetoric.
Karen A. Fontenot, Ph.D. Department of Communication Southeastern Louisiana University Hammond, LA, USA 70402
Michael J. Fontenot, Ph.D. Department of History Southern University at Baton Rouge Baton Rouge, LA, USA 70813