Fethullah Gulen was born in a small village near Turkey's Erzurum province in 1941. Mr. Gulen's father Ramiz Gulen, was an imam in the region and his mother, Refia Gulen, was the primary caregiver of the family and a major influence on Mr. Gulen's spiritual and religious upbringing. Mr. Gulen attended his formal primary education in his home village, and after the family moved to a nearby village he began an informal religious education.
He was known to have an insatiable hunger for reading and knowledge of every subject on his curriculum and during this informal religious education, Fethullah Gulen maintained high interest in contemporary issues of his time. He also studied the classics such as Faust, Les Misérables, Of Mice and Man and many others to gain a better understanding of the western world; moreover, he had a keen interest in fine arts, enjoyed Turkish classical music and found painters such as Picasso and DaVinci awe inspiring. Fethullah Gulen has described the abstract style of Picasso to be in close congruence to the Islamic understanding of art.
Although he earned his preaching license at the age of 21 to deliver lectures in the western province of Edirne, Fethullah Gulen was allowed to start preaching much earlier in Erzurum due to his extraordinary achievements as a student. Mr. Gulen's (Hodja Effendi as his followers refer to him) sermons and lectures were followed by mostly university students and intellectuals. Hodja Effendi's artful and eloquent use of the Turkish language attracted an impressed audience and helped his reputation grow immensely throughout western Turkey.
During the late 1950s, Mr. Gulen discovered the works of another Turkish Muslim Scholar named Said Nursi. Nursi had diagnosed the key problems plaguing the Muslim world and humanity in general and labeled them as, poverty,ignorance and disunity. According to Nursi, these problems had to be tackled first if a revival of human values was to be achieved. Although they never met, Nursi became one of the few intellectuals who helped shape Fethullah Gulen's take on contemporary issues.
Gulen teaches an Anatolian version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Bediuüzzaman Said Nursi's teachings and modernizing them. Gulen has stated his belief in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy.
He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations. Gulen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as "one of the world's most important Muslim figures."In the Turkish context Gulen appears relatively conservative and religiously observant.