Destiny directed Gülen to put into effect all the aptitudes and characteristics brought by creation in a just and balanced manner. In his own words:
My first teacher was my mother. At that time, our village had no elementary school. Later one opened.
I began praying when I was 4 years old, and have never missed a prayer since. One of my teachers was extremely hostile to religion and could not accept this activity. Another teacher, Belma, liked me very much and would say: “One day a young lieutenant will pass over Galata Bridge. It is as if I were watching him now.”
I ran all of the errands for my family, helped my mother with the housework, and herded our cows and sheep. In my free time, I would read a book or memorize the Qur’an. When my father was an imam at Alvar village, I learned how to read the Qur’an with the correct pronunciation and rhythm from Haci Sidki Efendi of Hasankale, our district. I did not have a place to stay in Hasankale, so I had to walk back and forth on the 7 to 8 km. road.
My first Arabic teacher was my father. Later I was taught by Muhammed Lutfi Efendi’s grandson, Sadi Efendi. I was studying at Erzurum when I learned that my grandfather and grandmother had died. I was extremely shaken. Day and night I prayed: “Lord, take my soul too so that I can reunite with them.” Such depth of feeling was common in my family.
One of my siblings died during my chlidhood. For years I visited her grave and cried. One of the most shocking events of my life was Muhammed Lutfi Efendi’s death. With his death, the world saw another void that could not be filled, and this “old mother of humanity” would groan once again.
My father had to leave Alvar. After a period of time in Artuzu, he settled in Erzurum. While studying in Erzurum, I could fit all of my belongings in a box I carried in my hand. I continued my education under very difficult conditions. We prepared our food in the same place where we slept. Most of the time we had to bathe in ice-cold water.
Once, the place we stayed in was so narrow that I would have to stretch my foot toward my friend while sleeping. Considering this disrespectful, I did not lie down. Our books were on the room’s other side. How could I extend my legs toward them? Also, this side faced Mecca. The only other wall faced Korucuk. Thinking that my father might be there and that this would be disrespect to him, I could not extend my legs in that direction either. I sat like this for several nights without sleeping. Not once in my life did I extend my feet toward Korucuk, where my father was born and buried. This is how much respect I have for my parents.While studying the religious sciences, I also read other books and studied the Sufi sciences. For me, traces of the religious sciences and Sufism always produced the same rhythm.Being very energetic and active, I did not neglect physical exercise. I also was very determined, maybe even courageous. I would quickly climb the high cypress tree in front of the Kurşunlu Mosque, and then enjoy the surrounding view. I really liked walking on the top of the minaret’s pinnacles.
I was very careful about my dress. My clothes were very clean and a little expensive for that time. Sometimes I would be hungry for days, but I never wore pants that were not pressed or shoes that were not polished. When I could not find an iron, I would put my pants under the bed so that they would look pressed. [Fethullah Gülen, My Small World, interviewed by Latif Erdogan, Zaman daily]
Gülen is naturally energetic and active, honorable, extremely brave and bold, and a supporter of order and orderliness. In addition, he has a serious historical consciousness and is full of heroic feelings. If his natural abilities had not been disciplined and balanced, he easily could have been a ruthless “ruler.” He is extremely devoted to his friends and relatives, sensitive, compassionate, and kind. However, he and his family have suffered great deprivation and sorrow, such as the simultaneous deaths of a brother, his grandfather, and paternal grandmother. If he had not been brought up in a circle where the religious sciences and spirituality were studied together, he could have retreated into a life of mystical seclusion.
Fethullah Gülen also studied positive sciences, literature, history, and philosophy. His education that began in his father’s home continued in Erzurum. Again, beginning at home and continuing at the knees of Muhammed Lutfi Efendi, his spiritual and religious training have never ended. While in school, he met students of Bediüzzaman Said Nursî and was introduced to the Risale-i Nur, in one respect a complete and “contemporary” Islamic school that contributed a great deal to his intellectual and spiritual formation.
A person is truly human if he or she learns, and teaches, and inspires others. It is difficult to regard as truly human someone who is ignorant and has no desire to learn. It is also questionable whether a learned person who does not renew and reform himself or herself to set an example for others is truly human.
Meanwhile, he continued his “modern” education in science and philosophy, literature and history. While gaining a deep comprehension of the main principles of modern sciences from physics to chemistry, biology, and astronomy, he read the works of such existentialist philosophers as Camus, Sartre, and Marcuse. He also was introduced to other Eastern, Islamic and non-Islamic, and Western philosophies.
All of these produced a man of enthusiastic love and deep spirituality and, at the same time, of broad knowledge, comprehensive logic, discernment, and wisdom. The public knows Gülen as a man of insight and sagacity, clearness, softness and generosity, pain and pleading, dignity and piety, compassion, mercy and tolerance. On the other hand, he is known for his “heroic life,” unending hope, idealism, and measured discipline. Finally, he is a symbol of patience. Those close to him know him as a man of education and deep spirituality.