Is the Gülen Movement a Sufi tariqa?

A tariqa is a Sufi order. A tariqa has a shaykh, a murshid or “guide” who plays the role of leader or spiritual director of the organization. A tariqa consists of a group of murids, (murid, Arabic for “desirous of, desiring of knowing God and loving God”). In most cases, during his lifetime the shaykh nominates his successor who will take over the order. Every tariqa has a chain or lineage of shaykhs. Every murid on entering the tariqa is assigned daily recitations authorized by his murshid (usually to be recited before or after the pre-dawn prayer, after the afternoon prayer and after the evening prayer). Usually, these recitations are extensive and consist of reciting a certain formula at certain times. The recitations change as a student (murid) progresses from being a mere initiate to levels (usually requiring additional initiations).

Being in the spiritual traditions of Islam loosely referred to as Sufism, tariqas provide accepted avenues for expressions of faith. Tariqas have spread to all corners of the Muslim world. It is important to note that membership of a particular Sufi order has never been exclusive and cannot be likened to ideological commitment to a political party. Unlike Christian monastic orders which are demarcated by firm lines of authority and sacrament, Sufis are often members of more than one order. The non-exclusiveness of Sufi orders has important consequences for the social extension of Sufism. Tariqas are a cumulative body of tradition, rather than individual and isolated experiences, and mostly refrain from indulging in direct politics. They are seen as preventing Islam from becoming a cold and formalistic doctrine by constantly infusing it with local and emotionally popular input, including deductive stories, fables and rituals, which literalists see as not part of Islam proper.

The Gülen Movement, on the other hand, is not a Sufi tariqa. Fethullah Gülen does not function as the shaykh (Sufi master). Unlike in classical tariqas, there is no requirement of initiation, no restricted or esoteric religious practices, procedures, ceremonies and no arcane mystic terminology that marks membership in the Movement. The Gülen Movement does not fit into any characterization of a tariqa in any classical social or organizational sense.

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