According to Fethullah Gülen: “Poems, like entreaties, express the ups and downs and enthusiastic and sorrowful moods in one’s inner world. To the degree individuals are concentrated on exalted truths, they become like divine breaths.” Gülen, a scholar, philosopher, and poet, faced such a world when he was born in November 1941.
One important operative rule in God’s universe is that the biggest things grow in the bosom of the smallest things. For example, the seeds of the approximately 30-ton sequoia trees in Ecuador weigh only 0.7 mg. Hiding an ocean in a drop, God uses an invisible sperm as the basic material of the human organism. In the same way, to the degree that people understand their helplessness, poverty, and nothingness before God, they will be powerful with His strength, rich with His wealth, and exist with His eternal existence.
People who have had an impact on history appear in unexpected places. According to legend, Rome is said to be founded by two brothers, Romulus and Remus, who sucked milk from a wolf. Considering the criteria of human greatness, as the French historian Lamartine said and as modern computers say, Muhammad, the greatest person to ever live, was raised in an arid valley in the middle of the desert. The Ottoman Empire rose on the shoulders of a small, unimportant Seljukid principality. Even though Gülen attributes no greatness to himself, he is a very important person.
He was born in the small Anatolian village of Korucuk, comprised of 50-60 houses, in the Hasankale district of the Erzurum region. His ancestors came from Ahlat, a small town in Bitlis province situated among the mountains near Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Escaping from Umayyad and Abbasid oppression, the grandchildren of the Prophet had settled in the mountainous eastern region of Turkey, where they “blossomed like snow flowers” and established certain spiritual ways. Bitlis and its surroundings thus attained the distinction of being the region where the Turkish tribes and Islamic spirit first mingled and fused.
Gülen awoke to life in a hearth permeated with Islam’s spirit. He describes his family and childhood impressions as follows:
The first person from our family to settle in Korucuk was my great-grandfather Molla Ahmed, son of Hursid Aga, son of Halil Efendi. Molla Ahmed was an extraordinary person distinguished by his knowledge and piety. During the last 30 years of his life, he never stretched out his legs to lie on a bed and sleep. It was said that when he became sleepy, he would sit down, rest his forehead on his right hand, and nap a little.
My grandfather Samil Aga resembled his father in some ways, for he was also like a man of the next world. His seriousness and dignity made the village people feel awe. In addition to his influence, my grandmother Mûnise HanIm had perhaps an even greater influence upon me. She was a unique woman who spoke very little and tried to fully reflect Islam with her state of being. My father also had a great influence on me. He lived carefully, had eyes full of tears, and did not waste time. Although raised in a small village amidst material poverty, scarcity, and drought, according to one who knew him closely, he seemed to have received an “royal upbringing.” This generous, noble lover of knowledge had an agile mind that revealed itself in subtleties and was tied to Islam with all his heart. My maternal grandmother, Hatice HanIm, was a monument of purity in every respect. Her daughter Refia HanIm, my mother, was a symbol of compassion and profundity. She taught the Qur’an to all the village women and to me at a time when even reading it was difficult.
Guests, especially scholars, were frequent in our house. We paid great attention to them. During my childhood and youth, I never sat with my peers or age group; instead, I always sat with older people and listened to them explain things that satisfied the mind and heart.
My father constantly adorned his comments with witty remarks he had heard or made up. This shows that he had a fine mind. I was impressed that he would never step over the line of what was proper. In both his love and his anger, he protected that boundary. He was bound to the Prophet’s Companions to the extreme, and instilled in me and my siblings his love of them.
Outside of my family, Muhammed Lütfi Efendi had a very great influence on me. Every word coming out of his mouth appeared as inspiration flowing from another realm. We listened attentively whenever he talked, for it was as if we were hearing celestial things that had previously come down to Earth.
I cannot say that I fully understood him, because he passed away when I was not even 16 years old. Despite this, because he was the one who first awakened my consciousness and perceptions, I tried to grasp his points with my mind and natural talents, since my age prevented me from comprehending him. My intuition, sensitivity, and feelings of today are due to my sensations in his presence. [Fethullah Gülen, My Small World, interviewed by Latif Erdogan, Zaman daily]
As Gülen points out, this unique hearth was like a guesthouse for all knowledgeable and spiritually evolved people in the region, who would stay for a while and then move on. As a result of this early contact with older people, young Gülen found himself in a circle of knowledge and spirituality almost from birth.
Gülen received his first Arabic and Persian training from his father, who enjoyed reading books and constantly read the Qur’an or murmured poems. Ramiz Efendi was obsessed with Prophet Muhammad and the Companions, and his books on them were either worn or torn from being read so often. He instilled this love of the Companions in his son, which was to be one of Gülen’s most important sides. This explains his great love of the Prophet and his Companions, which rose like the smoke from an incense burner in his father’s house.
Our Old Villages
The deep silence, contemplative calm, and magical nature that surround our imagination when thinking about our old villages no longer exist.
The slice of silence that we sense and become exhilarated by today in a cove or a grove was always the natural and permanent atmosphere of our old villages. There was such a warm bond and sweet balance between former villages and cities that villagers did not envy the city and city dwellers, and city dwellers did not look down upon villagers. In fact, city dwellers sometimes actually came to live in the villages. The village, considered a small city at that time, was a place of divine beauty where city dwellers went for amusement and relaxation, and to be close to nature. A pleasant silence and calm always dominated the old villages. The morning sunlight, the mewing of sheep and lambs, and the cries of insects and birds would strike our hearts in sweet waves of pleasure and add their voices to the nature’s deep, inner music. In the evening, existence would shroud itself in the covers of dusk, a mysterious condition that would cast a spell on people and produce dreams. The nights always resonated with a song of silence and calm.
In this world-the next-door neighbor to the next world-the call to prayer and the prayer litanies, the language of the beyond, would call us to a different concert and take us around in a deeper and more spiritual atmosphere. As long as we sense thoughts and ideas belonging to that sacred period, we cannot break with our past and remain detached from our future [The Golden Period of Time, Izmir, 1994, 37-42]