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 140 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] However, an editorial in the The Guardian described his Gülen movement as having "some of the characteristics of a cult".[4]

Description and membership[edit]

The movement has been characterized as a "moderate blend of Islam."[5][6] Gülen and the Gülen movement are technology-friendly, work within current market and commerce structures, and are savvy users of modern communications public relations."[7] Within Turkey the Gülen movement keeps its distance from established Islamic political parties.[8]

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.[9] 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."[10]

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.[11][12][13] 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.[12]

The movement's structure has been described as a flexible organizational network.[14] Movement schools and businesses organize locally and link themselves into informal networks.[15] 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.[16]

Critics have complained that members of the Gulen movement are overly compliant to the directions from its leaders.[17] The movement has been accused of being "missionary" in intent, organizing in clandestine ways, or aiming for political power.[18]


Schools established by the Movement[edit]

The Movement is active in formal education (K-university) as well as in informal opportunities for education such as interfaith dialogue, humanitarian aide, media, finance, and health.[1]

Most Gülen Movement schools are private; its educational footprint extends to over 140 countries. In 2009 it was estimated that members of the Gülen Movement run schools in which more than two million students receive education.[19] 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.[20][21]

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 private schools as well as charter Gülen schools operated by members of the Gülen Movement.[22] The Movement denies that the charter schools have a direct affiliation.[23]

Gülen schools have received both criticism and praise.[24]

Interfaith dialogue[edit]

Gülen and the Pope.

The movement's avowal of interfaith dialogue grew out of Gülen's personal engagement in interfaith engagement, 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.[25] 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.[26]

Gülen movement participants have founded a number of institutions across the World that claim to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities.[citation needed] For example, in 2006 in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Gülen movement started Dialogslussen which purports to promote interfaith dialogue in Sweden.[27]


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.

Other activities[edit]

Since 1998 the Journalists and Writers Foundation, a non-profit organisation was established, the claimed mission is "to organize events promoting love, tolerance and dialogue."[28]

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-owned Samanyolu TV for some years. Another charity organization Embrace Relief was established in NJ,US and active in Americas,Asia and Africa.

Both the Journalists and Writers Foundation and Kimse Yok Mu? have consultative status as non-governmental organizations of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.[29][30]

Movement supporters have also formed business unions and lobbying groups such as TUSKON member organizations in Turkey, and think tanks in many capitals, including Interfaith Dialogue Institute, Interfaith Dialog Center, and Rumi Forum.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

Allegations of cult-like behavior[edit]

Some commentators have been wary of alleged cult-like aspects of the organization.[4] 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.[34]

Sex segregation[edit]

There is debate about the level of sex separation within the movement.[35][36][37] While some women in the movement do not wear the Islamic head covering,[38] the vast majority of members do, and most female participants and family of members conform to a high level of sex segregation in the movement and wear clothing that does not expose any part of the arms and legs.[39] Gender segregation practices are implicit and are not explicitly discussed. Practices of gender separation can vary with the type of social activities the movement engages in. Participants' practice can be more liberal at events such as press releases and donation drives in which the gains from open socialization outweigh gender segregation and "modesty".[37]

Political involvement[edit]

Outside of Turkey[edit]

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.[22] 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, tied to Gülen.[22] 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."[40]

In Turkey[edit]

Questions have arisen about the Gülen movement's possible involvement in the ongoing Ergenekon investigation,[41] which critics have characterized as "a pretext" by the government "to neutralize dissidents" in Turkey.[42] In March 2011, seven Turkish journalists were arrested, including Ahmet Şık, who had been writing a book, "Imamin Ordusu" (The Imam's Army),[43] which alleges that the Gülen movement has infiltrated the country's security forces. As Şık was taken into police custody, he shouted, "Whoever touches it [the movement] gets burned!".[44] Upon his arrest, drafts of the book were confiscated and its possession was banned. Şık has also been charged with being part of the alleged Ergenekon plot, despite being an investigator of the plot before his arrest.[45]

In a reply, Abdullah Bozkurt, from the Gülen movement newspaper Today's Zaman, accused Ahmet Şık of not being "an investigative journalist" conducting "independent research," but of hatching "a plot designed and put into action by the terrorist network itself."[46]

According to Gareth H. Jenkins, a Senior Fellow of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center at Johns Hopkins University:

From the outset, the pro-AKP media, particularly the newspapers and television channels run by the Gülen Movement such as Zaman, Today's Zaman and Samanyolu TV, have vigorously supported the Ergenekon investigation. This has included the illegal publication of "evidence" collected by the investigators before it has been presented in court, misrepresentations and distortions of the content of the indictments and smear campaigns against both the accused and anyone who questions the conduct of the investigations.
There have long been allegations that not only the media coverage but also the Ergenekon investigation itself is being run by Gülen's supporters. In August 2010, Hanefi Avcı, a right-wing police chief who had once been sympathetic to the Gülen Movement, published a book in which he alleged that a network of Gülen's supporters in the police were manipulating judicial processes and fixing internal appointments and promotions. On September 28, 2010, two days before he was due to give a press conference to present documentary evidence to support his allegations, Avcı was arrested and charged with membership of an extremist leftist organization. He remains in jail. On March 14, 2011, Avcı was also formally charged with being a member of the alleged Ergenekon gang.[41]

The Gülen movement has also been implicated in what both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well as the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) have said were illegal court decisions against members of the Turkish military, including many during the Ergenekon investigation.[47]

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.[48][49] Due to the high level of political influence by the Gülen movement in Turkey, believed by many analysts and much of the Turkish population to be facilitated by the movement's infiltration of the Turkish police force and the judiciary,[50] the investigation was considered to be a result of a break in previously friendly relations between the Islamist-rooted government and the movement.[51]

Prime Minister Erdoğan has since denounced Gülen and the movement as "foreign agents" and members of his government have accused the Gülen movement of "plotting against" Turkey.[52] Fethullah Gülen responded to these accusations by releasing a video, saying

"If those who go after these negative things.. I don’t know who they are.. If those who go after these [corruption allegations] because it is essential for the law as well as the system, for the religion as well as democracy and if they [police officials] … have done things that are in contrary to the spirit of the religion… and they’re counting us in so that I will also refer to us.. if they have done things that are in contrary to the spirit of the religion, if things they have done are in contrary to the fundamental disciplines of Quran, if it is against the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, if it is against the Islamic law, against the modern law, against the accepted rules of democracy today.. then may God bury us and them into the earth, bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes. But if this is not the case, those who don’t see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don’t see the murder but try to defame others by defame innocent people -- may God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unities, keep their feelings [wishes] within their chests, block their path, prevent them from being something."[53][54]

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 charges of "forming, leading and being a member of an armed terrorist organization."

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."[55][56]

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".[57]

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.[58]


  • 1938 – Fethullah Gülen is born in Korucuk, near Erzurum, Turkey
  • 1950s – Gülen's first meeting with people from the Nur movement[59]
  • 1960 – death of Said Nursî[60]
  • 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[61]
  • 1981 – Gülen retires[citation needed]
  • 1982 – First "Gülen school" opens.[62]
  • 1986 – Zaman, a top selling daily newspaper in Turkey,[63] 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 [64]
  • 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[65][66]
  • 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[48]
  • 2004 – Establishment of Niagara Foundation[67][not in citation given]
  • 2004 – Establishment of Kimse Yok Mu ("anybody is there?"), a charitable organization;[68] 2010, receives "special" NGO status with United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.[69]
  • 2005 – Establishment of TUSKON (Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists)[70]
  • 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[71]

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. ^ a b "Turkey: up from the depths". The Guardian. 27 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Tavernise, Sabrina (2008-05-04). "Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam". New York Times. 
  6. ^ Interview with Sabrina Tavernise, World View Podcasts, New York Times, May 4, 2008
  7. ^ A modern Ottoman, Prospect, Issue 148, July 2008
  8. ^ Clement M. Henry, Rodney Wilson, The politics of Islamic Finance, Edinburgh University Press (2004), p 236
  9. ^ Economist: Global Muslim networks, How far they have traveled
  10. ^ Turkish schools World's most global movement, says sociologist
  11. ^ Bulent Aras and Omer Caha, Fethullah Gulen and his Liberal "Turkish Islam" Movement
  12. ^ a b Morris, Chris (2000-09-01). "Turkey accuses popular Islamist of plot against state". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  13. ^ Abdulhamid Turker, Fethullah Gulen's Influence
  14. ^ Portrait of Fethullah Gülen, A Modern Turkish-Islamic Reformist
  15. ^ Islam in Kazakhstan
  16. ^ "Gulen Inspires Muslims Worldwide". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  17. ^ name="Infra note, Berlinski 2012">Infra note, Berlinski 2012
  18. ^ name="HurriyetPlotting"
  19. ^ Behind Turkey's Witch Hunt
  20. ^ Turkish Islamic preacher - threat or benefactor?
  21. ^ Turkish Schools
  22. ^ a b c Stephanie Saul (6 June 2011). "Charter Schools Tied to Turkey's Gulen Movement Grow in Texas". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ "Gulen Movement Charter School Myths". 
  24. ^ Interfaith Voices: Fethullah Gülen
  25. ^ Advocate of Dialogue: Fethullah Gülen
  26. ^ Interfaith Voices: Fethullah Gülen
  27. ^ http://en.fgulen.net/conference-papers/gulen-conference-in-washington-dc/3091-the-gulen-movement-gender-and-practice.html
  28. ^ Journalists and Writers Foundation - About
  29. ^ United Nations Economic and Social Council (October 3). "List of non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council as of 1 September 2013". United Nations Economic and Social Council. p. 3
  30. ^ "CSO-Net". 
  31. ^ Funding Gülen-inspired Good Works: Demonstrating and Generating Commitment to the Movement by Helen Rose Ebaugh & Dogan Koc
  32. ^ "Fethullah Gülen's Official Web Site - Contributions of the Gülen Movement". En.fgulen.com. 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  33. ^ Core Design Production, Web designers; Fatih YAZAR, Yunus USLU, Ismail ABAY. "Gulen Movement & Fethullah Gulen". Niagara Foundation. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  34. ^ Claire Berlinski, City Journal, Autumn 2012, Vol. 22, Issue 4: "Who Is Fethullah Gülen?"
  35. ^ Berna Turam, Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford University Press 2006) p. 130
  36. ^ Berna Turam, Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford University Press 2006) p. 125
  37. ^ a b Robert W. Hefner, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Schooling Islam: the culture and politics of modern Muslim education (Princeton University Press, 2007) p. 163.
  38. ^ Berna Turam, Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford University Press 2006) p. 130
  39. ^ Berna Turam, Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford University Press 2006) p. 125
  40. ^ Supra note, Berlinski 2012
  41. ^ a b "Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program". Silkroadstudies.org. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  42. ^ Behind Turkey's Witch Hunt, by Soner Cagaptay, Newsweek, May 16, 2009
  43. ^ Turkish authorities launch raids to censor book before publication in the Guardian of 5 April 2011; accessed on 11 April 2011
  44. ^ Arsu, Şebnem (2011-03-03). "7 More Journalists Detained in Turkey". The New York Times. 
  45. ^ Details can be found in English on the site of the Democratic Turkey Forum; accessed on 5 April 2001. In the footnotes to translated passages of the book you can find other works on the subject.
  46. ^ The alleged terrorist network is the Ergenekon organization, see Article of 29 March 2011; accessed on 5 April 2011
  47. ^ Arango, Tim (26 February 2014). "Turkish Leader Disowns Trials That Helped Him Tame Military". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 February 2014. In 2005, years before the trials, a man affiliated with the Gulen movement approached Eric S. Edelman, then the American ambassador, at a party in Istanbul and handed him an envelope containing a handwritten document that supposedly laid out a plan for an imminent coup. But as Mr. Edelman recounted, he gave the documents to his colleagues and they were determined to be forgeries. 
  48. ^ a b "Turkey: Erdogan faces new protests over corruption scandal". Digital Journal. 28 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  49. ^ İstanbul'da yolsuzluk ve rüşvet operasyonu
  50. ^ "Profile: Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet movement". BBC News. 18 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  51. ^ "The Gulen movement: a self-exiled imam challenges Turkey's Erdogan". The Christian Science Monitor. 29 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  52. ^ "PM's adviser accuses Gülen movement of plotting against Turkish army, nation". Hürriyet. 24 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  53. ^ "Erdogan vs. Gulen: Who has God on his side?". Al-Monitor. 14 January 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  54. ^ "For first time, Gülen curses purge of police officials in emotional speech". Today's Zaman. 23 December 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  55. ^ "In Turkey, police arrest journalists and executives". CNN. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  56. ^ "Court rules for release of Zaman chief editor, Samanyolu manager arrested". Today's Zaman. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  57. ^ "Turkey media arrests: Mogherini leads EU criticism". BBC. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  58. ^ "Turkey arrests dozens suspected of eavesdropping on president". Retrieved $1 $2.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  59. ^ Unal & Williams, Ali & Alphonse, ed. (2000). Advocate of Dialogue: Fethullah Gulen. Fairfax, VA: The Fountain. p. 15. 
  60. ^ Ian Markham, Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model of Interfaith Dialogue, p 4. ISBN 0754669319
  61. ^ Son Karakol
  62. ^ ""100 soruda Fethullah Gülen ve Hareketi" (Gulen and its movement in100 questions)". HaberTurk. 2010-04-16. Retrieved 2014-04-18. 
  63. ^ "Tiraj". Medyatava. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  64. ^ Fuchs Ebaugh, Helen Rose (2009). "The Gulen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam". Springer. p. 89. 
  65. ^ Salih, Yucel (Dec 2013). "Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Nostra Aetated and Fethullah Gulen's Philosophy of Dialogue". Australian eJournal of Theology: 200. 
  66. ^ Michel S.J., Thomas (Oct–Dec 2007). ""Fethullah Gulen and Pope John Paul II: "Two Frontrunners for Peace"". Dialogue Asia-Pacific (14): 6–8. 
  67. ^ 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. 
  68. ^ Michel, S.J., Thomas. "Fighting Poverty with Kimse Yok Mu". Fethullah Gülen's Official Web Site. 
  69. ^ 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 |url= missing title (help). 
  70. ^ "Hakkında". TUSKON. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  71. ^ 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". United Nations Economic and Social Council. p. 3. 

External links[edit]