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Exploring the Impact of Mr. Fethullah Gulen’s Friday Sermons

“I read a book from the end for the first time. As is my habit, I first looked at the book’s index, then read the preface, and then examined the bibliography. Afterward, as I was flipping through the book, I saw some dates. For example: November 10, 1967, Kestanepazarı; April 12, 1974, Alemizade Mosque, Edremit; October 12, 1979, Central Mosque, Bornova-İzmir. I got excited when I saw these. Why, you may ask? I was introduced to the service in 1976.

Those were the years when Mr. Fethullah Gulen was a preacher in Bornova. We used to go to Izmir with a group from Tavşanlı several times to listen to his sermons and Friday sermons. When we couldn’t go, we would make up for it. We used to listen to the cassette tapes of those sermons, sermons, and the question-and-answer sessions held after the evening prayer together in our dormitory, located across from the Yumurtacılar industrial area.

These listening sessions usually took place on Saturday evenings because the cassette tapes would reach us with a one-week delay. Those who could afford it would buy these cassette tapes, which were copied at the Safa-Zemzem bookstore. Others would borrow them and listen. In essence, I was a person who had listened to Mr. Fethullah Gulen’s sermons, Friday sermons, and conversations many times. But I had never listened to the sermons and Friday sermons of Kestanepazarı or Edremit. That’s what excited me, and I read the Kestanepazarı and Edremit Friday sermons first. That’s why I started reading the book from the end.

Now, let me tell you what I saw: the direction of thought, locking onto a predetermined goal, and the consistency in the style of oratory between ten years ago and ten years later. I was genuinely surprised. I used to think that, like the stages of apprenticeship, journeyman, and master, Mr. Fethullah Gulen’s old style corresponded to apprenticeship, or at least journeyman. Those were the years when he was in Bornova. Because I know the later periods. There is no significant difference in terms of sermons and Friday sermons given in mosques between Bornova and the later periods.

I describe this style as divine grace. It’s called a God-given gift among our people: a God-given gift. He has not received any voice or rhetoric training. But he has such an oratory talent and uses his voice so effectively that it’s impossible not to be amazed.

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Now, let’s talk about the content of the book. The style is the same. He addresses a subject within the standards of a Friday sermon, discussing it thoroughly without leaving any room for objections. That’s one. Two, at the beginning, he sets the minds on the topic of the Friday sermon. He cites an ayah from the Quran as a kind of banner for the topics of the 52 Friday sermons. For example, in the sermon titled ‘Trust in Allah,’ he begins with the Quranic verse ‘So be patient. Indeed, the promise of Allah is truth.’ (Surah Ar-Rum, 30:60) and presents the thoughts inspired by this verse. In the later stages, he presents examples selected from the history of the Prophet or the era of bliss (the time of the Prophet Muhammad).

Here, I think, is the vital point of the matter. He uses fiery language. He gets into the story he narrates, and figuratively speaking, he plays the role of the hero of that event. Fethullah Gulen becomes Mus’ab, Ammar, Khalid—not Fethullah Gulen but the person from the narrative. And most importantly, he does not abandon his intellect even when tears flow from his eyes due to an outburst of emotions, and as a result, not a single sentence, not even a word that his intellect would disapprove of slips from his mouth. Hatip (preachers) would know; in impromptu speeches, such mistakes often happen. A person either succumbs to their emotions and later utters words or even a sentence that their intellect would disapprove of, or, in the absence of emotions, makes statements that exceed their intentions.

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And without exception, in every Friday sermon, he brings the issue to the present day and discusses what we can understand from it, how we can derive an action plan from it. Look, these words are his: ‘Respected Muslims! When we delve into the era of bliss, when we give examples from that time, when we turn our gaze to the condition of those events in our time, it is not for the purpose of stirring our hearts, nor to make us emotional, but to draw back the curtain because of some truth, so that this truth, which was seen in that era, can also be seen in this era.’ (p. 308)

One last point, our bookstores and libraries have many books that reflect a selective reading of Mr. Fethullah Gulen’s narratives about the era of bliss and the Companions. I partially agree with this observation. I think he does to some extent choose a superficial view of the human qualities of the Companions. The human qualities of the Companions are nearly stripped away, and they are turned into angelic beings in his narratives. However, this is a superficial perspective. Maybe in terms of quantity and majority, this might be the case—I say “partially agree” for this reason. But Mr. Fethullah Gulen has often emphasized the human characteristics of the Companions. He has narrated numerous incidents where they were human, had weaknesses, argued among themselves, disagreed, and even disliked each other. You can find examples of this in this book of Friday sermons as well.

But something else caught my attention in this book: while he considers these characteristics of the Companions, he uses a language and style that defends them on one hand and, on the other hand, effectively delivers a message to his audience. For example: ‘Respected Muslims! They were wealthy too… They had property, possessions, and wealth… The world was also tempting for them, and they could have taken pride and shown off with their wealth… But they turned their gaze to the Most Beautiful of the Beautiful. They were not deceived by the splendor and glamour of the world. Satan could not mislead them or lead them astray. Because, once they had turned their gaze to Allah, they had turned to Allah and never left His eternal mihrap (a place for worship), the door of Allah, again. What is possible for a person, they had done comfortably. And with the sweet scenes they depicted for us, they gave sweet lessons for us to learn.’ (p. 327)

Thanks to Süreyya Publications. This ‘Hutbeler book’ takes us back to the past. It means more than nostalgia for those who experienced those days. For those who didn’t, it’s a source of knowledge. It would have been nice if the Friday sermons were arranged chronologically from old to new. But this is also good. At least the dates and places of the Friday sermons have been added below them. Thanks to those who contributed. But the greatest thanks and prayers go to Mr. Fethullah Gulen, who teaches us timeless and enduring statements. May God prolong your life, sir. May He grant you health and well-being.

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AHMET KURUCAN
AHMET KURUCAN
Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.
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