The Gulen Movement is a civil society movement. It started out as a local service group of students, teachers, parents, and small business owners around the Turkish scholar and preacher Fethullah Gulen in the city of Izmir. For ease of reference, it is now mostly referred to as the Gulen Movement, especially by western scholars because of its main source of inspiration. By its participants, however, it is often called hizmet, or volunteer services (movement). As far as Gulen is concerned, he prefers to refer to it as “the movement of humans united around high human values.”
The Movement originated in late 1960s Turkey as a faith-based (or Islam-inspired) initiative around creating educational opportunities in the form of scholarships, dormitories, schools and tutoring centers. Over the four decades since then, it has grown into a transnational educational, intercultural and interfaith movement, with participants numbering in the millions, comprising of hundreds of foundations, companies, professional associations, formal and informal, but legal, associations of various kinds.
The first group of people who associated with Gulen were college students, local mosque-goers, audiences who attend open-to-all question and answer sessions, seminars, and café meetings.
The students at the Kestane Pazari dormitory/tutoring center in Izmir where Gulen served as the director were also very important at the early stages of the development of the movement.
In this stage, in addition to public speeches, Gulen attended conversation circles around tea. There people, discussed the values and ideals such as promoting and investing in sound education.
The next stage is when institutions were established by educators and business owners inspired by Gulen’s constant encouragement for investing in education. Example institutions include dormitories, K-12 schools, and tutoring centers.
In the next stage, media organizations were encouraged and established. At this stage we start to see the media as a continuation of the educational initiative for the masses. In the next stage professional associations and intellectual/cultural organizations were formed in different locations by like-minded individuals.
After the collapse of the iron curtain in the late 1980s, with the educational institutions established and run there, the movement became transnational, expanding particularly into the Central Asian states with Turkic cultural background.
In parallel to the institutionalization and trans-nationalization, the movement heavily engaged in interfaith dialogue, in anticipation and prevention of the so-called clash theories that would be promoted by others after a while.
Today, as there is no central head quarters of registry, yet based on the media coverage, it is estimated that hundreds of schools exist in Turkey in addition to a similar number of such institutions in five continents. They all are inspired by Gulen’s peaceful life and works.
In every city and town of Turkey, it is possible to encounter some educational facility or other cultural activity that can be associated with or inspired by the movement. The Movement grew from a handful of individuals around Gulen in the late 1960s to millions in the 2000s, most of whom is impossible for Gulen to meet or know.
Values and Ideals
The values Gulen discussed and promoted can be gleamed from the titles of the series of articles he wrote for popular magazines or from the titles of the transcribed sermons and talks he gave. Some of these values include deep-conscious faith, altruism, equity, tolerance, love, hope, modesty, chivalry, the complementary nature of science, rationality and spirituality, interfaith dialogue, and freedom of thought.
A look at the list of sermon series by Gulen is also instructive:
Social Justice – Ictimai Adalet,
Ethics and Morality: values and virtues (Ahlak),
Family and Child Education,
Metaphysical world in the light of the Qur’an,
Virtues that elevate humanity,
the Life of Prophet Muhammad,
Destiny and Free Will,
Messengers of God,
Zakah charitable giving,
Belief in the oneness of God,
The World of the heart,
Qur’an and Science
Reflections on business and economics, and frugality
Noteworthy Stances of Gulen
Public condemnation of 9/11, media interviews, book, and BinLaden.
Promotion of education even at the expense of headscarf for girls.
EU membership of Turkey. Cooperation of civilizations.
No return from democracy.
Women can have any role in the society, including judge and president.
Nonviolence since the inception of the movement, that is since 1970s.
Interfaith dialogue initiative.
Spiritual depth in faith. Called a modern day Rumi by Sefik Can.
Science and faith in harmony.