By Ehsan Masood
Is it possible to be a true religious believer and at the same time enjoy good relations with people of other faiths or none? Moreover, can you remain open to new ideas and new ways of thinking?
Fethullah Gülen, a 67-year-old Turkish Sufi cleric, author and theoretician, has dedicated much of his life to resolving these questions. From his sick bed in exile just outside Philadelphia, he leads a global movement inspired by Sufi ideas. He promotes an open brand of Islamic thought and, like the Iran-born Islamic philosophers Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Abdolkarim Soroush, he is preoccupied with modern science (he publishes an English-language science magazine called the Fountain). But Gülen, unlike these western-trained Iranians, has spent most of his life within the religious and political institutions of Turkey, a Muslim country, albeit a secular one since the foundation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s republic after the first world war.
Unusually for a pious intellectual, he and his movement are at home with technology, markets and multinational business, and especially with modern communications and public relations—which, like a modern televangelist, he uses to attract converts. Like a western celebrity, he carefully manages his public exposure—mostly by restricting interviews to those he can trust.