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Fethullah Gulen as a “Servant” Leader

fethullah-gulenAt the “2nd International Conference on Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethullah Gulen Movement in Thought and Practice” in 2006, Gurkan Celik (Inholland University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands) and Yusuf Alan (Tughra Books) presented their work on Fethullah Gulen by looking at his leadership type. As a result, they were able to classify him not only as an Islamic scholar and spiritual guide but also an example of a leader possessing such extraordinary competences such as intuition and foresight. From their analysis they have concluded that Fethullah Gulen has led his community (or the followers of the Hizmet Movement) successfully in various fields at intellectual, spiritual, and social levels and has transformed a great traditional social movement in Turkey to a worldwide community that is in touch with modernity.

Although some scholars describe him as a charismatic figure, he rather describes himself as a servant. He has also been seen as a community leader, who has profound appreciation of the Islamic sciences and contemporary/modern thought and as a passionate activist. In Fethullah Gulen’s own words, he distinguishes the characteristic of his leadership style by saying that “for us action precedes thought”. As a successful leader, he is both able to represent and express what he desires to reach through his words, and then translates his words into action with inspiration and dedication.

Celik and Alan (2006) underline two important leadership characteristics of Fethullah Gulen. First, regarding his clear vision, which has been developed his own philosophy by defining his path very well. Second, regarding his deliberate actions, which is due to devotion and commitment to his ideals as referred in the saying that “the whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going”. He also accompanies his leadership principles to inspire and excite others to follow his ideals.

The greatest and most influential commanders, statesmen, community leaders, religious leaders, and spiritual guides in human history are born with various leadership qualities and are recognized as leaders not only in one aspect of life, but also by leading their community or organization to success in every field. From this point of view, Celik and Alan (2006) characterize Fethullah Gulen as a “servant” leader of his community in particular and of the humanity in general.

Since effective leadership requires the development of a compelling personal and spiritual vision that engages others by offering meaning, dignity, and purpose, Celik and Alan (2006) summarizes Fethullah Gulen’s leadership based on a deep understanding of faith and due to caring for the values that drive his actions. From their perspective, Fethullah Gulen is a living example of a spiritual and religious leader, an Islamic intellectual scholar, and a pioneer activist in the contemporary world. One of the primary aims of his leadership is the building of a more humane society through cordial relationships between people and organizations. Authors believe that lesson from Fethullah Gulen’s example is that effective leaders need to develop the dynamism and critical imagination required to embrace individual, organizational, and global change from a stance of action, hope and courage. I cannot agree more with his meaningful commitment to this ideal in this day and age of conflict.