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 referred to as Hizmet ("the Service") by its followers or as Cemaat ("the Community/Assembly") by the broader public in Turkey.

The movement has attracted supporters and critics in Turkey, Central Asia, and in other parts of the world. The movement is active in education with private schools and universities in over 180 countries as well as many American charter schools operated by followers. It has initiated forums for interfaith dialogue. It has substantial investments in media, finance, and for–profit health clinics.[1][2] Some have praised the movement as a pacifist, modern-oriented version of Islam, and as an alternative to more extreme schools of Islam such as Salafism.[3]

Description and membership[edit]

The movement has been characterized as a "moderate blend of Islam."[4][5] Gülen and the Gülen movement are technology-friendly, work within current market and commerce structures, and are savvy users of modern communications public relations."[6] Within Turkey the Gülen movement keeps its distance from established Islamic political parties.[7]

Sources state that the Gülen movement is vying to be recognized as the world's leading Muslim network, one that is more reasonable than many of its rivals.[8] The movement builds on the activities of Fethullah Gülen, who has won praise from non-Muslim quarters for his advocacy of science, interfaith dialogue, and multi-party democracy. It has earned praise as "the world's most global movement."[9]

The exact number of supporters of the Gülen movement is not known as the movement has no official membership rolls; estimates vary from 1 million to 8 million.[10][11][12] The membership of the movement consists primarily of students, teachers, businessmen, academicians, journalists and other professionals.[2] Its members have founded schools, universities, an employers' association, charities, real estate trusts, student organizations, radio and television stations, and newspapers.[11]

The movement's structure has been described as a flexible organizational network.[13] Movement schools and businesses organize locally and link themselves into informal networks.[14] The Gülen movement works within the given structures of modern secular states; it encourages affiliated members to maximize the opportunities those countries afford rather than engaging in subversive activities.[15]

Critics have complained that members of the Gulen movement are overly compliant to the directions from its leaders.[16] The movement has been accused of being "missionary" in intent, organizing in clandestine ways, or aiming for political power.[17]


Schools established by the Movement[edit]

The Movement is active in education (Kindergarten-university) as well as civic opportunities in other areas such as for interfaith dialogue, humanitarian aid, media, finance, and health.[1]

Most Gülen Movement schools are private; its educational footprint extends to over 160 countries. In 2009 it was estimated that members of the Gülen Movement run schools in which more than two million students receive education.[18] Estimates of the number of schools and educational institutions vary widely; it appears there are about 300 Gülen Movement schools in Turkey and over 1,000 schools worldwide.[19][20]

Beyond the borders of Turkey, many Gülen schools can be found in countries with large populations of people of Turkish descent. Gülen schools in predominantly non-Turkish Muslim countries provide families with an alternative to madrasa education. In 2011 it was estimated that in the United States, stretched over 25 states, mostly concentrated in urban centers, there are about 120 educational institutions including charter Gülen schools operated by participants of the Gülen Movement.[21] The Movement denies that the charter schools have a direct affiliation.[22]

Gülen schools have received both criticism and praise.[23]


Gülen and Pope John Paul II.

The movement's avowal of interfaith dialogue grew out of Gülen's personal engagement in interfaith dialogue, largely inspired by the example of one his influences, Said Nursi. 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.[24] Gülen advocates cooperation between followers of different religions as well as those practicing different forms of Islam (such as Sunnism or Alevism).

Gülen's call for interfaith dialogue has influenced three generations of movement followers.[23]

Gülen movement participants have founded a number of institutions across the World that claim to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities. Among them the major ones are istanbul based Journalists and Writers Foundation, Washington based Rumi Forum and New Delhi based Indialogue Foundation.


Movement participants have set up a number of media organs to promote its core values such as love, tolerance, hope, dialogue, activism, mutual acceptance and respect. These media organs include TV stations (Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV), (Ebru TV) (English), the newspapers Zaman, Today's Zaman(English), magazines and journals in Turkish like Aksiyon, Sızıntı, Yeni Ümit, The Fountain Magazine(English), Hira(Arabic), the international new agency Cihan and the radio station Burç FM.

Humantarian Aid[edit]

The movement runs charity and humanitarian aid organizations which are transnationally active. Among them the leading one is the Istanbul based Kimse Yok Mu Association (KYM). KYM organizes charity campaigns to help those in need in different parts of the world. Like any other activities of the Gulen movement, KYM runs local projects responding to specific needs. KYM holds UN Ecosoc Special status.

Another charity organization Embrace Relief was established in NJ,US and active in Americas,Asia and Africa.

Professional Associations[edit]

Being both praised and criticized for being market friendly, the Gulen movement established various professional associations and business networks. Among them Istanbul based TUSKON is the major non-profit business confederation which claims to promote economic solutions as well as social and political ones.


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.[25] 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.[26]

The movement is frequently criticised by authoritarian secularists of Turkey (Kemalists) on the one hand, and by ultra-conservative on the other. The dialogue activities of the movement is considered problematic by authoritarian secularists because they recognize diversity which is against the homogenization efforts of the society. It is also considered problematic by ultra-conservatives for is promoting public visibility of non-muslims.

According to a BBC article on the movement's founder, Fethullah Gulen, dated 18 December 2013:,[27] the organisation, "has been in the spotlight again in Mr Gulen's home country, where a feud between his followers and other members of the political class has been blown into the open by a series of arrests". The founder of the Gulen movement has often been in the spotlight of both Turkish and American attention, to the extent that his 8 year trial in his home country of Turkey (from 2000 to 2008) inspired James. C. Harrington to publish Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gulen.[28] The author's sympathetic portrayal of the movement's founder as a moderate, whose critics have yet to substantiate their reservations towards the Gulen movement, is quoted at some length on the Gulen movement website, as "Four criticisms directed towards the Gulen movement".[29] Further serious allegations of government influence, leading to pressure on individuals and even imprisonment, was published on the New York Times website by Dan Bilefsky and Sebnem Arsu, in April 2012.[30] As in many other articles, media influence is cited as part and parcel of Fethullah Gulen's extensive influence. It is important to note that in the latter article: "Sympathizers say the notion of Mr. Gulen as a cultish puppet master is a malicious caricature. The group consists of an informal network of followers and has no formal organization or official membership...". In a review of Dogan Koc's Strategic Defamation Of Fethullah Gulen, it is said that a campaign against the movement is well documented and that certain elements in the Turkish government engaged in a smear campaign against the moderate political aims of the Hizmet movement. [31]

Some commentators have been wary of alleged cult-like aspects of the organization.[32] In 2008, the Dutch government investigated the movement's activities in the Netherlands. Following the investigation, the Dutch government concluded that the Gülen schools promoted "anti-integrative behavior" and reduced their public funding.[33]

However it is not easy to put his together with activities of the movement in concrete.

In the US[edit]

Taking into account the fact that these charter schools managed by Gulen followers attract considerable public funding, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story on March 20, 2011, entitled “U.S. charter-school network with Turkish link draws federal attention”, in which it was suggested that certain schools had not been acting in the best interest of the public.[citation needed] Of more serious concern is whether the these charter schools provide adequate and equal education for pupils in view of the fact that they are funded by the American taxpayer. [34]

Political involvement[edit]

The movement lacks any kind of homogeniety or even regularity when it comes to political affiliations. Being a movement of diverse participants it has various and sometimes conflicting political attitude. Some analysts attribute this rather puzzling situation to diverse backgrounds of its members but some others see it as a pragmatic attitude on behalf of the movement.

The critics of the movement put forward that it lacks transparency on its internal administration and funding. The advocates of the movement explain this with the inadequacy of Turkish democracy that in recent history of the country there have been 4 military coups and state has been restrictive in terms civic rights and freedom of expression. Tendency perhaps is towards a better transparency as one of the advocates of the movement defines it as "from passive to active transparency"[35]

An influential NGO affiliated with the movement (JWF) claims that the movement does not create partisan loyalties, and it has equal approximation with all political parties in Turkey. The political loyalty lies in values and principals like; democracy, rule of law and rights and freedoms. [36]

2013 corruption scandal[edit]

On 17 December 2013, an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by several bureaucrats, ministers, mayors, and family members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey was uncovered, resulting in widespread protests and calls for the resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[37][38] Due to the high level of political influence by the Gülen movement in Turkey, it is rumored to be facilitated by the movement's influence on the Turkish police force and the judiciary,[39] the investigation was considered to be a result of a break in previously friendly relations between the Islamist-rooted government and the movement.[40]

2014-2015 crackdown[edit]

On 14 December 2014 Turkish police arrested more than two dozen senior journalists and media executives connected with the Gülen movement on on various charges.

A statement by the US State Department cautioned Turkey not to violate its "own democratic foundations" while drawing attention to raids against media outlets "openly critical of the current Turkish government."[41][42]

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that the arrests went "against European values" and "are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy".[43]

On 20 January 2015 Turkish police launched raids in Ankara and three other cities, detaining some 20 people suspected of illegally eavesdropping on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials. The suspects are linked to Turkey's telecommunications authority and to its scientific and technological research center TUBITAK. Local media said the move was aimed at the "parallel structure" — the term Erdogan uses to refer to Gulen's supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions.[44]


  • 1941 – Fethullah Gülen is born in Korucuk, near Erzurum, Turkey
  • 1950s – Gülen's first meeting with people from the Nur movement[45]
  • 1960 – death of Said Nursî[46]
  • 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 in 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 Nurju 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[47]
  • 1981 – Gülen retires[citation needed]
  • 1982 – First "Gülen school" opens.[48]
  • 1986 – Zaman, a top selling daily newspaper in Turkey,[49] 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 (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi), with Gülen as honorary president [50]
  • 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 the Vatican[51][52]
  • 1999 – Gülen movement schools in Tashkent closed by Uzbekistan 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[37]
  • 2004 – Establishment of Niagara Foundation[53][not in citation given]
  • 2004 – Establishment of Kimse Yok Mu ("anybody is there?"), a charitable organization;[54] 2010, receives "special" NGO status with United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.[55]
  • 2005 – Establishment of TUSKON (Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists)[56]
  • 2012 – Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi) receives "general consultative status" as a Non-Governmental Organization of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "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. ^ Tavernise, Sabrina (2008-05-04). "Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam". New York Times. 
  5. ^ Interview with Sabrina Tavernise, World View Podcasts, New York Times, May 4, 2008
  6. ^ A modern Ottoman, Prospect, Issue 148, July 2008
  7. ^ Clement M. Henry, Rodney Wilson, The politics of Islamic Finance, Edinburgh University Press (2004), p 236
  8. ^ Economist: Global Muslim networks, How far they have traveled
  9. ^ Turkish schools World's most global movement, says sociologist
  10. ^ Bulent Aras and Omer Caha, Fethullah Gulen and his Liberal "Turkish Islam" Movement
  11. ^ a b Morris, Chris (2000-09-01). "Turkey accuses popular Islamist of plot against state". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  12. ^ Abdulhamid Turker, Fethullah Gulen's Influence
  13. ^ Portrait of Fethullah Gülen, A Modern Turkish-Islamic Reformist
  14. ^ Islam in Kazakhstan
  15. ^ "Gulen Inspires Muslims Worldwide". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  16. ^ Infra note, Berlinski 2012
  17. ^ name="HurriyetPlotting"
  18. ^ Behind Turkey's Witch Hunt
  19. ^ Turkish Islamic preacher - threat or benefactor?
  20. ^ Turkish Schools
  21. ^ Stephanie Saul (6 June 2011). "Charter Schools Tied to Turkey's Gulen Movement Grow in Texas". The New York Times. 
  22. ^ "Gulen Movement Charter School Myths". 
  23. ^ a b Interfaith Voices: Fethullah Gülen
  24. ^ Advocate of Dialogue: Fethullah Gülen
  25. ^ "Fethullah Gülen's Official Web Site - Contributions of the Gülen Movement". En.fgulen.com. 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  26. ^ Core Design Production, Web designers; Fatih YAZAR, Yunus USLU, Ismail ABAY. "Gulen Movement & Fethullah Gulen". Niagara Foundation. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  27. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-13503361
  28. ^ http://www.amazon.com/Wrestling-Speech-Religious-Freedom-Democracy/dp/0761854614
  29. ^ http://www.gulenmovement.us/four-criticisms-directed-to-the-gulen-movement.html
  30. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/world/middleeast/turkey-feels-sway-of-fethullah-gulen-a-reclusive-cleric.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  31. ^ http://www.gulenarticles.com/review-dogan-kocs-strategic-defamation-fethullah-gulen-english-vs-turkish/
  32. ^ "Turkey: up from the depths". The Guardian. 27 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  33. ^ Claire Berlinski, City Journal, Autumn 2012, Vol. 22, Issue 4: "Who Is Fethullah Gülen?"
  34. ^ http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/why-its-wrong.html
  35. ^ http://www.zaman.com.tr/yorum_pasif-bir-seffafliktan-aktif-bir-seffafliga-dogru-rafinelesen-bir-hareket-olarak-hizmet_2244167.html
  36. ^ http://www.hizmetesorulanlar.org/what_is_gulens_stance_on_political_issues.html
  37. ^ a b "Turkey: Erdogan faces new protests over corruption scandal". Digital Journal. 28 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  38. ^ İstanbul'da yolsuzluk ve rüşvet operasyonu
  39. ^ "Profile: Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet movement". BBC News. 18 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  40. ^ "The Gulen movement: a self-exiled imam challenges Turkey's Erdogan". The Christian Science Monitor. 29 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  41. ^ "In Turkey, police arrest journalists and executives". CNN. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  42. ^ "Court rules for release of Zaman chief editor, Samanyolu manager arrested". Today's Zaman. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  43. ^ "Turkey media arrests: Mogherini leads EU criticism". BBC. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  44. ^ "Turkey arrests dozens suspected of eavesdropping on president". Retrieved 20 january 2015newspaper=Aljazeera.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  45. ^ Unal & Williams, Ali & Alphonse, ed. (2000). Advocate of Dialogue: Fethullah Gulen. Fairfax, VA: The Fountain. p. 15. 
  46. ^ Ian Markham, Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model of Interfaith Dialogue, p 4. ISBN 0754669319
  47. ^ Son Karakol
  48. ^ ""100 soruda Fethullah Gülen ve Hareketi" (Gulen and its movement in100 questions)". HaberTurk. 2010-04-16. Retrieved 2014-04-18. 
  49. ^ "Tiraj". Medyatava. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  50. ^ Fuchs Ebaugh, Helen Rose (2009). "The Gulen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam". Springer. p. 89. 
  51. ^ Salih, Yucel (Dec 2013). "Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Nostra Aetated and Fethullah Gulen's Philosophy of Dialogue". Australian eJournal of Theology: 200. 
  52. ^ Michel S.J., Thomas (Oct–Dec 2007). ""Fethullah Gulen and Pope John Paul II: "Two Frontrunners for Peace"". Dialogue Asia-Pacific (14): 6–8. 
  53. ^ Niagara Foundation. "History Niagara Foundation". Niagara Foundation. The Niagara Foundation was created in 2004 by a group of Turkish-American businessmen and educators in order to realize the vision of their spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, himself a Turkish Muslim scholar and poet, as well as an educational and humanitarian activist. Today the Niagara Foundation is active in nine Midwestern states with 22 branches. 
  54. ^ Michel, S.J., Thomas. "Fighting Poverty with Kimse Yok Mu". Fethullah Gülen's Official Web Site. 
  55. ^ United Nations Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs http://esango.un.org/civilsociety/simpleSearch.do?method=search&searchTypeRedef=simpleSearch&sessionCheck=false&searchType=simpleSearch&organizationNamee=kimse+yok+mu&Submit=Go.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  56. ^ "Hakkında". TUSKON. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  57. ^ United Nations Economic and Social Council (October 3, 2013). "List of non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council as of 1 September 2013" (PDF). United Nations Economic and Social Council. p. 3. 

External links[edit]