What is the Gulen Movement
The Gulen movement (Hizmet in Turkish) is a worldwide civic initiative rooted in the spiritual and humanistic tradition of Islam and inspired by the ideas and activism of Mr. Fethullah Gulen.
It is a faith-inspired, non-political, cultural and educational movement whose basic principles stem from Islam’s universal values, such as love of the creation, sympathy for the fellow human, compassion, and altruism. The movement is not a governmental or state sponsored organization. It focuses on the betterment of the individual toward a positive change in society. The movement is distinguished for its support of democracy, its openness to globalization, its progressiveness in integrating tradition with modernity, and its humanistic outlook. Gulen describes it as “a movement of people united around high human values,” and disapproves of the attribution of the movement to his name.
The bases of the movement are diverse service projects that are initiated, funded, and conducted by people who are motivated to various extents by Gulen’s humanitarian discourse. Ranging from private schools to poverty aid programs, these projects are independent of each other in operational terms, so the movement has no hierarchical structure. The Gulen Movement has paved an exemplary way of working together to overcome the problems of humankind, regardless of religious, ethnic or cultural differences. The movement sets a precedent, not only with its activities, but also through its ways of generating financial support, thanks to its revivification of the Islamic values of giving and hospitality. Research shows that the average financial contribution of participants in the movement to the service projects is 5 to 10 percent of their annual income.
Although the movement’s origins are tied to the Turkish-Muslim identity, the Gulen Movement is now active in as many non-Muslim as Muslim countries and attracts participants of diverse faiths and cultures. The explanation for this, as sociologist Helen Rose Ebaugh writes, is that the infrastructure of the movement, in terms of organizational leadership, volunteers, financial donors and the inspiration behind the movement, is transported by the Turkish diaspora, ie. by Turkish immigrants settling in countries all over the world as students, professionals and businessmen. The result is that the movement is now transnational in its outreach and impact.
For further reading: Helen Rose Ebaugh, The Gulen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam, New York and Heidelberg: Springer, 2010
Brief History of Gulen Movement
The Gulen movement incubated in1960s, became nationwide in 1980s when it was recognized by masses and started to globalize in 1990s through educational initiatives in many countries.
The Gulen Movement (also known as Hizmet Movement) started off late 1960s in Izmir, Turkey. We can better analyze Gulen movement if look at it in 10-year periods. Hizmet, a Turkish word, which means simply ‘service’ refers to altruistic service to the ‘common good’ in our context. We will use that word in this article for the name of the movement.
1970 – 1980 Hizmet, Gulen Movement
Focus on Education
The movement’s focus for the past four decades has been to address local needs with universal human values. At the end of 1960’s, in Turkey, there was a great need for better educational opportunities throughout the country. Not only there was great room for improvement in terms of educational quality, but also education was not available to every child. Although the state was working hard towards addressing both matters, more could have been done. Gulen, and those inspired by his ideas, showed an excellent example of civic engagement by filling in to help with these two crucial issues of Turkey’s secondary school education system.
To address this shortcoming, they put together the first project of what would be later called Hizmet Movement, Gulen Movement, which comprised few university students and a handful of small-business owners back then. The project’s aim was to find ways to accommodate out-of-town students in whose hometowns there was a lack of a school, or a good one. At the beginning, the project started by the aforementioned students and businessmen setting aside funds from their own pockets for educational and living expenses of these out-of-town students, and building dormitories that these students can live in while away from their families.
These dormitories also served as shelters against bad habits like drug use and involvement in violent political extremisms. Many leftist and rightist groups were killing each others before 1980 and more than 5000 people were dead in these incidents. That’s why many families, those years and later, considered the Gulen movement the best tool to protect their children.
Eventually, the project proved to be successful as the number of such out-of-town students grew all the while the number of those inspired by Gulen also grew. As these students were closely watched for their schoolwork, graduates started to become extremely successful in college entrance exams, and went on to the best universities in Turkey. In just a little over a decade, families who never planned to send their children to a middle school, now had their children attending the best universities in the country. This enormous success opened the doors for further projects.
In addition to schools, 1970’s also marked the beginnings of college entrance exam preparation institutions.
1980 – 1990 Hizmet, Gulen Movement
With the success of dormitories, and willingness of the movement’s volunteers to do more good came the idea of starting new schools. First three schools were opened in 1982 in different cities. Although, due to financial limitations, the beginnings of the first schools were rather difficult, as the number of people inspired by Gulen grew, and as people from various cities started to visit and witness first hand dormitories and schools, they formed their own independent boards to start dormitories and schools in their own cities.
One important strength of schools was that they were able to recruit graduates from universities who entered there through Hizmet, Gulen Movement, related schools and educational institutions called Gulen Schools. This created a very young and dynamic environment where they could give back to the movement that helped them getting there. Instead of going into much better paying careers, they were choosing to become teachers to educate next generations of students.
Students of Gulen schools proved to be also successful in their social lives. They were respectful to their parents, and teachers; they were educated with ideals of living for others, being self-sacrificial, and hard working. They were free of bad habits like smoking and drinking were protected from being part of radicalism and violent political movements.
Although Gulen schools are directed by Hizmet inspired people, they are regulated by the state like any other private or state school.
In the meantime, Fethullah Gulen and participants of Hizmet, Gulen Movement, started to work on a whole new project, which turned out to be highly influential in today’s Turkey. They saw a need for publications that address values that they have been working for tirelessly. Thus first came Sizinti in 1979, a monthly magazine of science and culture, and then came Zaman in 1987, the daily Turkish newspaper that today has the highest circulation in Turkey by a large margin.
1990 – 2000 Hizmet, Gulen Movement
Following the collapse of Soviet Union, Hizmet, Gulen Movement, saw a great need for education in the newly formed Turkic countries. With the same ideals, and using similar methods, volunteers of the movement, once again, showed great civic engagement, this time at an international level, to establish schools just like the ones that they established in Turkey. This required great amount of self-sacrifice as hundreds of newly college graduates and small-business owners left their beloved country to move to Turkic countries for their ideals and principles of education. As these educational institutions were extremely well received, and also supported by the Turkish state and local states, and as their success became prominent, Hizmet, Gulen Movement, started to be internationally known, and appreciated. This led volunteers to work with many different states and countries where there is need for better education and establish similar schools following the same ideals and principles. Thus, today, there are Gulen schools in more than 140 different countries. They are all regulated by state officials, and run by local and independent board of directors that comprise Hizmet, Gulen Movement, inspired individuals as well as those who are not.
Start of intercultural and interfaith dialogue era in Hizmet, Gulen Movement
While volunteers have been working tirelessly all around the world for better education for everyone, Gulen, once again, made a call for yet another vital social/cultural issue, namely conflict and disunity among people. In 1990’s, one could easily observe that in Turkey, many different fractions of the social, political, and cultural life were in strong conflict with each other, or so did it seem. Leftist/rightist, Turkish/Kurdish, Sunni/Alevite, religious/secular, liberal/conservative, among many others seemed to be forming the conflictual ends of sociocultural and sociopolitical fabric of the country. There were countless misconceptions, and stereotypical essentializations about each other. Most importantly, the divisions seemed to deepen by the hour. Observing and analyzing this local social rupture, Gulen, himself initiated the movement, which will later be called “dialogue”, and met with religious authorities – including various Christian and Jewish leaders – politicians, artists, state officials, and public intellectuals, among others.
On the other hand, Hizmet, Gulen Movement, volunteers, through establishing institutions such “Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi” (Journalists and Writers Associations) reached out to every possible corner of the society, and organized small and large scale events to bring people together. Key here was not to change or modify anyone’s opinion about any issue, but it was to be able to sit together with each other, and to be able to interact with each other.
Today, Abant Platform under Journalists and Writers Associations functions like a think tank that bring intellectuals, academics and experts on a regular base to discuss vital issues of not only Turkey but also of the world.
2000-2010 Hizmet, Gulen Movement
While, conflict and disunity seemed to be the local problem in Turkey, once Hizmet, Gulen Movement, turned its attention also to other countries through schools, it saw the same problem persisting all around the world. Thus, came the global dialogue activities. It started out as Interfaith Dialogue as religious leaders proved to be the most receptive to the idea at first. Then, as in Turkey, many from various backgrounds started to embrace the principles of dialogue. Today, around the world, through local partnerships, Hizmet, Gulen Movement, volunteers are co-organizing small and large scale, weekly, monthly and yearly events and meetings in which people from various backgrounds come together, share food with each other, and interact with one with another.
The sociohistorical, cultural and interreligious ruptures, especially after 9-11, seem to be addressed only through such efforts where differences are appreciated, and commonalities are emphasized in peaceful gatherings. Learning to be able to live together is a process that people all around the world has to go through in order to solve global conflicts and to establish peace in this world. Hizmet, Gulen Movement, volunteers gather themselves and others around this principle to serve humbly for the world peace. Thus, earlier projects, such as schools, or media outlets, also focus on establishing this principle in their daily workings. For instance, in various different countries, Gulen schools are constituted by students and teachers from many different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Hizmet, Gulen Movement, inspired publications are effectively sensitive to matters of understanding, togetherness, and global peace.
Humanitarian aid projects in Hizmet, Gulen Movement
This decade also experienced yet another project by Gulen calling for help for those who need it the most. By establishing organizations such as “Helping Hands” and “Kimse Yok Mu” (is there anybody out there), volunteers answered this call, and started fundraising activities and relief fund efforts around the world. These organizations were able to provide millions of dollars to areas of hunger, poverty, or to areas hit by earthquakes and tsunamis. People around the world are volunteering to actually go these areas to bring help first hand through such organizations. Key here, again, is the attention to local needs. In some areas, volunteers are working to build hospitals, in others; they bring food to the hungry, yet in others; volunteer doctors are helping to cure illnesses. From Darfur to Haiti, hundreds of Hizmet, Gulen Movement, inspired volunteers are working tirelessly to bring help to those who need it the most.
What once started as a local project in one neighborhood with universal human values in mind, now, reaches out to the whole world for a better and peaceful future.
2010-Present Gulen Movement
What this decade holds for Hizmet, Gulen Movement, movement is yet to be experienced. As the number of people, organizations, institutions, and partnerships grew, harsh criticisms are also articulated through various means. Volunteers of the movement engage these criticisms, reflexively, through proactive work, so that the precious work that they have been involved in is known true to its nature.
Values of Gulen Movement
A major focus of the movement is the need to create bridges between the Muslim world and the West, between the poor and the wealthy by embracing and practicing certain values, spiritual and material, such as love, tolerance, human rights, democracy, synthesizing science and religion etc.
Gulen’s teachings, which the movement put into practice, are based on the belief that as we close the gap between the East and West, the poor and wealthy, the educated and less educated, etc. we will have a peaceful and prosperous world where everybody respects and accepts each other as they are.
Below are some of the values and views, in his words, Fethullah Gulen has advocated throughout his life, in all platforms. As you explore this site, you will find out more about the values and how they are put into practice by the participants of the movement.
Love according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement
If we do not plant the seeds of love in the hearts of young people, whom we try to revive through science, knowledge, and modern culture, they will never attain perfection and free themselves completely from their carnal desires…
Even if we have different feelings and thoughts, we are all people of this society. Even though we may not have common grounds on some matters, we all live in this world and we are passengers on the same ship. In this respect, there are many common points that can be discussed and shared with people from every segment of society.
Tolerance according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement
Be so tolerant that your heart becomes wide like the ocean. Become inspired with faith and love for others. Offer a hand to those in trouble, and be concerned about everyone. Applaud the good for their goodness, appreciate those who have believing hearts, and be kind to believers.
Remember that you travel the best road and follow an Exalted Guide, upon him be peace. Be mindful that you have his guidance through the most perfect and expressive revelation. Be fair-minded and balanced in your judgment, for many people do not enjoy these blessings.
Return good for evil, and disregard discourteous treatment. An individual’s character is reflected in his or her behavior. Choose tolerance, and be magnanimous toward the ill-mannered.
The most distinctive feature of a soul overflowing with faith is to love all types of love that are expressed in deeds, and to feel enmity for all deeds in which enmity is expressed. To hate everything is a sign of insanity or of infatuation with Satan…
Take note of and be attentive to any behavior that causes you to love others. Then remind yourself that behaving in the same way will cause them to love you. Always behave decently, and be alert…
Humanity according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement
When interacting with others always regard whatever pleases and displeases you as the measure. Desire for others what your own ego desires and do not forget that whatever conduct displeases you will displease others. If you do this you will be safe not only from misconduct and bad behavior but also from hurting others…
There is no limit to doing good to others. Those who have dedicated themselves to the good of humanity can be so altruistic that they will even sacrifice their lives for others. However such altruism is a great virtue only if it originates in sincerity and purity of intention and if it does not define the “others” by racial preferences…
Those who regard even the greatest good they have done for others as insignificant while greatly appreciating even the least favor done to themselves are perfected ones who have acquired the Divine standards of behavior and found peace in their conscience. Such individuals never remind others of the good they have done for them and never complain when others appear to be indifferent to them.
Integrity according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement
Those who want to reform the world must first reform themselves. If they want to lead others to a better world they must purify their inner worlds of hatred rancor and jealousy and adorn their outer worlds with virtue. The words of those who cannot control and discipline themselves and who have not refined their feelings may seem attractive and insightful at first. However, even if they somehow manage to inspire others which they sometimes do the sentiments they arouse will soon wither.
If we cannot accept the criticism of those we love and who love us, we may lose our friends and remain unaware of our defects. Do not remember the promises that others have failed to keep; instead, remember your own promises that you did not fulfill. Do not blame others because they are not doing good to you; instead, remember the chances you missed of doing good to someone else.
Education according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement
Right decisions depend on having a sound mind and being capable of sound thought. Science and knowledge illuminate and develop the mind. For this reason, a mind deprived of science and knowledge cannot reach right decisions, is always exposed to deception, and is subject to being misled.
We are only truly human if we learn, teach, and inspire others. It is difficult to regard those who are ignorant and without desire to learn as truly human. It is also questionable whether learned people who do not renew and reform themselves in order to set an example for others are truly human. Status and merit acquired through knowledge and science are higher and more lasting than those obtained through other means.
Given the great importance of learning and teaching, we must determine what is to be learned and taught, and when and how to do so. Although knowledge is a value in itself, the purpose of learning is to make knowledge a guide in life and illuminate the road to human betterment. Thus, any knowledge not appropriated for the self is a burden to the learner, and a science that does not direct one toward sublime goals is a deception.
Hizmet, Gulen Movement, Bringing Up the Young
Educators who have not been apprenticed to a master and have not received a sound education are like blind people trying to light the way of others with lanterns.
A child’s mischief and impudence arises from the atmosphere in which he or she has been raised. A dysfunctional family life increasingly is reflected upon the spirit of the child, and therefore upon the society.
In schools, good manners should be considered just as important as other subjects. If they are not, how can children grow up with sound characters? Education is different from teaching. Most people can be teachers, but the number of educators is severely limited…
Our humanity is directly proportional to the purity of our emotions. Although those who are full of bad feelings and whose souls are influenced by egoism look like human beings, whether they really are human is doubtful.
Almost everyone can train their bodies, but few people can educate their minds and feelings. The former training produces strong bodies, while the latter produces spiritual people.
Freedom according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement
True freedom is civilized freedom. It wears the diamond chain of religion and morals, and the golden collar of sound thinking.
True freedom is the freedom of the human mind from all shackles that hinder it from making material and spiritual progress, as long as we do not fall into indifference and heedlessness.
Freedom allows people to do whatever they want, provided that they do not harm others and that they remain wholly devoted to the truth…
True freedom, the freedom of moral responsibility, shows that one is human, for it motivates and enlivens the conscience and removes impediments to the spirit.
Efforts to suppress ideas via pressure or brute force have never been truly successful. History shows that no idea was ever removed by suppressing it. Many great empires and states were destroyed, but an idea or thought whose essence is sound continues to survive.
Democracy according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement
Democracy has developed over time. Just as it has gone through many different stages in the past, it will continue to evolve and improve in the future. Along the way, it will be shaped into a more humane and just system, one based on righteousness and reality.
If human beings are considered as a whole, without disregarding the spiritual dimension of their existence and their spiritual needs, and without forgetting that human life is not limited to this mortal life and that all people have a great craving for eternity, democracy could reach the peak of perfection and bring even more happiness to humanity. Islamic principles of equality, tolerance, and justice can help it do just this…
Democracy is undergoing a process of development. It’s a process of no return that must develop and mature. I don’t know how true Darwin’s theory of evolution is, but we undoubtedly experience an evolution of thought in our spirit.
As a result, democracy will one day attain a very high level. But we have to wait for time’s interpretation.
Art according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement,
Art is the spirit of progress and one of the most important means of developing emotions. Those who cannot make use of this means are unfortunate indeed, and live a numbed, diminished life…
It is art, which manifests and defines the power and deepest potentials of the human psyche and soul. It is by means of art that the most profound emotions and thoughts, the most striking observations and discoveries, and the most heart-felt desires have been preserved as if recorded on a tape and gained eternity…
Art makes iron more valuable than gold and copper more valuable than bronze. Thanks to art, the most worthless metals become more valuable than gold, silver, and diamonds.
Environment and Nature according to Hizmet, Gulen Movement,
Nature is, in its particulars and as a whole, an exhibition of Divine miracles. However, rather than call it an exhibition, we prefer to call it a ‘book’. This ‘book’ or exhibition was once much more dazzling; like a magnificent vessel sailing in the ocean of love and ecstasy or a chandelier with one thousand and one light, it was beautiful beyond imagination.
What a pity it is that this magnificent book, this charming exhibition, which the infinitely Merciful One has created and presented to man to observe and study and to be exhilarated by, is no longer given any more care than is given to a heap of junk or rubbish. Worse than that, it is more and more becoming a wasteland and like a dunghill.
Like everything else entrusted to us, we have deplorably treated this ‘book’, this magnificent exhibition, which is an embodiment of Divine grace and mercy.
How deplorably and awkwardly we have treated plains and residential places, which we have changed into deserts and heaps of ruin. How deplorably and gracelessly we have treated seas and rivers, which we have polluted.
Unless we improve this world, whose order we have destroyed and which we have polluted, and restore it to its essential beauty and magnificence, it will inevitably collapse on us in heaps of wreckage.