Gülen movement

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The Gülen movement is a transnational religious and social movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen. The movement has no official name, but it is usually called simply Hizmet ("the Service") by its followers and is known euphemistically as Cemaat ("the Community/Assembly") to the broader public in Turkey.

The movement has attracted supporters and critics in Turkey, Central Asia, and increasingly in other parts of the world. The movement is active in education (with private and charter schools in over 140 countries) and self-described interfaith dialogue. It has substantial investments in media, finance, and for–profit health clinics.[1][2] The movement has been described as a "pacifist, modern-minded Islam, often praised as a contrast to more extreme Salafism."[3] Others have described it as "having the characteristics of a cult" and likened its secretiveness and influence in Turkish politics to an "Islamic Opus Dei".[4]

Nature and participation[edit]

The exact number of supporters of the Gülen movement is not known, as the movement is rather secretive to some but to others there is no official membership structure, but estimates vary from 1 million to 8 million.[5][6][7] The movement consists primarily of students, teachers, businessmen, journalists and other professionals. [2]

Some studies claim that the movement is arranged in a flexible organizational network.[8] It has founded schools, universities, an employers' association, as well as charities, real estate trusts, student bodies, radio and television stations, and newspapers.[6] They believe that the schools and businesses organize locally, and link into networks on an informal rather than legal basis.[9] Forbes magazine wrote that the Gülen movement is not seeking to subvert modern secular states but rather encourages practicing Muslims to use to the fullest the opportunities those countries offer.[10] The New York Times has described the movement as coming from a "moderate blend of Islam."[11][12] Prospect magazine reported that Gülen and the Gülen movement "are at home with technology, markets and multinational business and especially with modern communications and public relations."[13] Some believe that In Turkey, the Gülen movement tries to keep its distance from Islamic political parties.[14] The Economist described the Gülen movement as a Turkish-based movement that sounds more reasonable than most of its rivals, and which is vying to be recognized as the World's leading Muslim network.[15] It stated that Gülen has won praise from non-Muslim quarters with his belief in science, inter-faith dialog and multi-party democracy. Nilüfer Göle, professor of sociology at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris, who is known for her studies on modernization and conservatism, has described the Gülen movement as the World's most global movement.[16] According to Lester Kurtz's (of University of Texas, Austin), Gulen schools (see section on Education) are a form of service to humanity designed to promote learning in a broader sense, to avoid explicit Islamic propaganda, and to lay the foundations for a more humane, tolerant citizenry of the World where people are expected to cultivate their own faith perspectives and also promote the well being of others.[17]

In 2010, American journalist Suzy Hansen, writing for The New Republic, visited the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, where Gülen lives. The president of the facility, Bekir Aksoy, explained to her that "our people do not complain... They obey commands completely... Let me put it this way. If a man with a Ph.D. and a career came to see Hocaefendi, and Hocaefendi told him it might be a good idea to build a village on the North Pole, that man with a Ph.D. would be back the next morning with a suitcase."[18] This blind obedience spurs from, not obedience to Fetullah Gulen, but to the one Allah (God) that Muslims follow. It should not be confused with controlling those who are involved in this movement. This movement is a Non Governmental Organization, funded solely by its advocates and followers.

The movement is sometimes accused of being "missionary" in intent, or of organizing in a clandestine way and aiming for political power. About the accusations of a "hidden agenda", members of the movement say "Anybody who accuses us of having a hidden agenda, is welcome to come and quiz us. We have nothing to hide".


Globally, the Gülen movement is especially active in education. In 2009 Newsweek noted that the participants of Gulen Movement run "schools in which more than 2 million students receive education, many with full scholarships".[19] Estimates of the number of schools and educational institutions vary widely, from about 300 schools in Turkey to over 1,000 schools worldwide.[20][21] These schools provide education on a global level, not only for the purposes of providing students with intellectual knowledge, but more importantly, teaching them the conduct of peaceful affairs needed to maintain global relationships.

Two American professors at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and Temple University wrote that "these schools have consistently promoted good learning and citizenship, and the Hizmet movement is to date an evidently admirable civil society organization to build bridges between religious communities and to provide direct service on behalf of the common good".[22] Participants in the movement have also founded private universities.[23]

The greatest majority of the teachers are drawn from members of the Gülen network, who encourage students in the direction of greater piety.[24] A 2008 article in the New York Times said that in Pakistan "they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer",[11] and described the Turkish schools as offering a gentler approach to Islam that could help reduce the influence of extremism.[11] However, schools are not for Muslims alone,[11] and in Turkey "the general curriculum for the network's schools prescribes one hour of religious instruction per week, while in many countries the schools do not offer any religious instruction at all. With the exception of a few Imam-Hatip schools abroad, these institutions can thus hardly be considered Islamic schools in the strict sense."[25]

In June 2011, New York Times shed light on schools in the United States, revealing that "Gulen followers have been involved in starting similar schools around the country — there are about 120 in all, mostly in urban centers in 25 states, one of the largest collections of charter schools in America."[26]

Some people inspired by Gulen constantly invite high-ranking leaders to dinners to speak and lavish them with awards. Hundreds of people around the world, ranging from police officers, lawyers,state lawmakers, congressional staff members to university professors, have taken trips to Turkey financed by Gülen's foundations. The Raindrop Foundation, for instance, paid for State Senator Leticia Van de Putte's travel to Istanbul, according to a recent campaign report. In 2012 she cosponsored a state senate resolution commending Gülen for "his ongoing and inspirational contributions to promoting global peace and understanding." Steve Terrell, a reporter at the Santa Fe New Mexican, found that a remarkable number of local lawmakers had recently taken trips to Turkey courtesy of a private group, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, that is tied to Gülen. In Idaho in 2011, a full tenth of state legislators went on a tour in Turkey financed by the Pacifica Institute, also inspired by Gülen. The Hawaii State Ethics Commission sent a memo to lawmakers reminding them to check with the commission before accepting the all-expenses-paid trip to Turkey to which they'd been invited by Pacifica. "The State Ethics Commission," said the memo, "does not have sufficient understanding of Pacifica Institute, the purpose of the trip, or the state ‘benefit' associated with the trip."[27]

Interfaith dialogue[edit]

Gülen and the Pope.

Gülen movement participants have founded a number of institutions across the World that promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities.[citation needed] For example, in 2006 in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Gülen movement started Dialogslussen which promotes interfaith dialogue in Sweden.[28] Gülen has met with leaders of other religions, including Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.[29] Similar to his role model Said Nursi, Gülen claims to favor cooperation between followers of different religions and different forms of Islam (such as Sunnism vs. Alevism). B. Jill Carroll of Rice University in Houston said in an Interfaith Voices program, an independent public radio program, that "Gülen has greatly impacted three generations in Turkey.". Of the schools she said: "These schools invest in the future and aim at creating a community that offers equal opportunities for everyone."[30]

Other activities[edit]

Movement participants have set up a number of media organs, including Turkish-language TV stations (Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV), an English-language TV station in the United States (Ebru TV), the Turkish-language newspaper Zaman, the English-language newspaper Today's Zaman, magazines and journals in Turkish like Aksiyon, Sızıntı, Yeni Ümit, the English language The Fountain Magazine, and Arabic language Hira, the international media group Cihan and the radio station Burç FM. Since 1998 the Journalists and Writers Foundation non-profit was set up, which claims that its mission is "to organize events promoting love, tolerance and dialogue."[31] The aid charity Kimse Yok Mu? (Is Anybody There?) was established in March 2004 as a continuation of a TV program of the same name that ran on the Gülen movement's Samanyolu TV for some years.

Movement supporters have also formed business lobbying groups and think tanks in Washington and Brussels, including Interfaith Dialogue Institute, Interfaith Dialog Center, and Rumi Forum.[32] Bank Asya, formerly Asya Finans, was founded by Gülen movement participants in 1994. Işık Sigorta (Light Insurance) company describes itself as a partner of Bank Asya.

Fethullah Gülen's and the Gülen movement's views and practices have been discussed in international conferences. In October 2007 in London a conference was sponsored by the University of Birmingham, the Dialogue Society, the Irish School of Ecumenics, Leeds Metropolitan University, the London Middle East Institute, the Middle East Institute and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.[33] Niagara Foundation of Chicago, together with several academic institutions, organized "The Gülen Movement: Paradigms, Projects and Aspirations" conference, which was held at University of Chicago on Nov 11-13 2010.[34]


1941 Fethullah Gülen is born in Korucuk, near Erzurum, Turkey
1950s Gülen's first meeting with people from the Nur movement[citation needed]
1960 death of Said Nursî[35]
1960s Gülen begins attracting disciples while a state preacher in Izmir[citation needed]
1971 Gülen arrested for an alleged crime of organizing and/or participating activities to change the basis of the constitutional system but is released seven months later.[citation needed]
late 1970s Gülen establishes himself independently of other Nurcu organizations; first ışık evleri ("houses of light," i.e., student residences)[citation needed]established[citation needed]
1978 First dershane (study center for university exams) opens[citation needed]
1979 Science journal Sızıntı begins publication[36]
1981 Gülen retires[citation needed]
1982 First "Gülen school" opens[citation needed]
1986 Zaman, a top selling daily newspaper in Turkey,[37] begins publication
1988–1991 Gülen gives lectures in Istanbul and Izmir[citation needed]
1991 Fall of Soviet Union permits establishment of Gülen schools in Central Asia[citation needed]
1994 The (Turkish) Journalists and Writers Foundation, with Gülen as "honorary leader"[citation needed]
1996 Creation of Asya Finans (investment bank aimed at former Soviet Central Asia), with Tansu Çiller as an investor[citation needed]
1998 Gülen meets with Pope John Paul II in Rome[citation needed]
1999 Gülen movement schools in Tashkent closed by Uzbekstan government after a rift between Turkish and Uzbek governments[citation needed]
1999 Gülen emigrates to Pennsylvania after the Turkish government charges him with attempting to set up an Islamist state in Turkey[38]
1999 Establishment of Niagara Foundation[citation needed]
2004 Establishment of Kimse Yok Mu ("Is there anybody there?"), a charitable organization[citation needed]
2005 Establishment of TUSKON (Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists)[39]


  1. ^ "The Turkish exception: Gallipoli, Gülen, and capitalism". Australia's ABC. Radio National. 31 August 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Jenny Barbara White, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: a study in vernacular politics, University of Washington Press (2002), p. 112
  3. ^ Turkey's political imams: The Gulenists fight back
  4. ^ "Turkey: up from the depths". The Guardian. 27 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Bulent Aras and Omer Caha, Fethullah Gulen and his Liberal "Turkish Islam" Movement
  6. ^ a b Morris, Chris (2000-09-01). "Turkey accuses popular Islamist of plot against state". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  7. ^ Abdulhamid Turker, Fethullah Gulen's Influence
  8. ^ Portrait of Fethullah Gülen, A Modern Turkish-Islamic Reformist
  9. ^ Islam in Kazakhstan
  10. ^ "Gulen Inspires Muslims Worldwide". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  11. ^ a b c d Tavernise, Sabrina (2008-05-04). "Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam". New York Times. 
  12. ^ Interview with Sabrina Tavernise, World View Podcasts, New York Times, May 4, 2008
  13. ^ A modern Ottoman, Prospect, Issue 148, July 2008
  14. ^ Clement M. Henry, Rodney Wilson, The politics of Islamic Finance, Edinburgh University Press (2004), p 236
  15. ^ Economist: Global Muslim networks, How far they have traveled
  16. ^ Turkish schools World's most global movement, says sociologist
  17. ^ Lester R. Kurtz, "Gulen's Paradox: Combining Commitment and Tolerance," Muslim World, Vol. 95, July 2005; 379-381.
  18. ^ Infra note, Berlinski 2012
  19. ^ Behind Turkey's Witch Hunt
  20. ^ Turkish Islamic preacher - threat or benefactor?
  21. ^ Turkish Schools
  22. ^ Jon Pahl and John Raines, Professor of the History of Christianity in North America, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. "Gulen-Inspired Schools Promote Learning and Service". 
  23. ^ "Private university". 
  24. ^ Turkish Islamic preacher - threat or benefactor?
  25. ^ Robert W. Hefner, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Schooling Islam: the culture and politics of modern Muslim education (Princeton University Press, 2007) p. 163.
  26. ^ Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas
  27. ^ Supra note, Berlinski 2012
  28. ^ http://en.fgulen.net/conference-papers/gulen-conference-in-washington-dc/3091-the-gulen-movement-gender-and-practice.html
  29. ^ Advocate of Dialogue: Fethullah Gülen
  30. ^ Interfaith Voices: Fethullah Gülen
  31. ^ Journalists and Writers Foundation - About
  32. ^ Funding Gülen-inspired Good Works: Demonstrating and Generating Commitment to the Movement by Helen Rose Ebaugh & Dogan Koc
  33. ^ "Fethullah Gülen's Official Web Site - Contributions of the Gülen Movement". En.fgulen.com. 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  34. ^ Core Design Production, Web designers; Fatih YAZAR, Yunus USLU, Ismail ABAY. "Gulen Movement & Fethullah Gulen". Niagara Foundation. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  35. ^ Ian Markham, Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model of Interfaith Dialogue, p 4. ISBN 0754669319
  36. ^ Son Karakol
  37. ^ "Tiraj". Medyatava. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  38. ^ "Turkey: Erdogan faces new protests over corruption scandal". Digital Journal. 28 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  39. ^ "Hakkında". TUSKON. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 

See also[edit]

Independent Sources[edit]

External links[edit]