A Universal Islamic Phenomenon in Turkish Religious Practice: the Fethullah Gulen Case


May 30 ’13

How Does Fethullah Gulen manage to oversee the network of institutions in the movement

How does Gulen manage to oversee a network of schools, media companies and other for-profit or non-profit organizations that are run based on his teachings?

First of all, the word “oversee” means, “supervising (a person or work), especially in official capacity”. Therefore, by definition, it is not possible for Mr. Gulen, a man residing in rural Pennsylvania, to “oversee” partially or fully a network of institutions or organizations, the founding of which have been inspired by Mr. Gulen’s thoughts, and which now spans across more than hundred countries. As such, it would be misleading to say or imply that “Gulen oversees a network of schools, media companies and other for-profit or non-profit organizations.”

An alternative explanation of Mr. Gulen’s relationship to the institutions or organizations altogether making up what is called Hizmet (Service) Movement is in the answer to this question as to whether Gulen has any influence over those organizations: As a Thinker, an author, a preacher, and an intellectual, Mr. Gulen has been one of the foremost and influential opinion makers in Turkey as a result of his prolific writing, public conferences, televised remarks etc. One has to understand that Mr. Gulen is known to anyone living in Turkey, be it an opponent, supporter, or indifferent.

The underlying theme of his work and ideas is the notion of “Hizmet” – service – to humanity. The theme and his firm subscription to it is rooted in his pious and firm Islamic understanding, which warrants that “service to the Almighty means, and is through, service to humanity”. The “Hizmet” can be perceived as a “way of life”, which Mr. Gulen has been advising his audience and readers to adopt. That is, wherever they are, whatever they do, whoever they are in life as a professional, they should prioritize serving humanity, and putting the interests of humanity, community, before their own individual interests.

So, notwithstanding the possibility of individuals here and there who are seeking personal gains, as it might be the case in any social movement, it is safe to argue that anybody involved in the Hizmet Movement at any level is inspired and guided by these principles put forth and constantly advocated by Mr. Gulen. Once individuals are mobilized with these ideas, the administration of the institutions wherever they may be is something local and practical, and maintained by such like-minded individuals, who have come together as a result of their belief in those principles and ideals.

In the end, does Gulen have an influence over the institutions and organizations associated with the Hizmet Movement? The nature of his influence is not over the practical matters or administration of these institutions. Rather, it is over their vision. Again, how much influential he may be over a particular institution is up to the individuals who have founded and are running that particular institution. After all, President Woodrow Wilson inspired the founding of the League of Nations and later the United Nations; but it was, and has always been the nation states who decided on the nature of these organizations, and run them.

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