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Is the worldview or collective action of the Gülen Movement an isolationist withdrawal into a pure community-based structure?

Fethullah Gülen

A sect creates ideological and existential separations, divisions and ruptures that cannot be overcome. Its identity politics and appeal tend to cover up or deny the fundamental dilemma of living a social life in complex systems. Being an exclusivist organization, a sect demands a long novitiate, rigid discipline, a high level of unquestioning commitment, and intrusion into every aspect of its members’ lives. If a society or people that are searching for fulfillment within specific closed networks find themselves unable to handle the flow of information that they are exposed to, they withdraw from social life and transform their spiritual needs into intolerant mysticism. If a movement’s identity claims are pushed too far, the movement eventually evolves into a conflictual sectarian organization with an intolerant ideology; the movement then tends to fragment into self-assertive and closed sects. If certain issues or differences become political and contradictory, and if the movement’s political decision-making is limited and incapable of resolving the differences, it breaks up into sectarian groupings.

The worldview or collective action of the Gülen Movement, however, is completely different from that of a sect. It is not an isolationist withdrawal into a pure community-based or sect-like structure. Fethullah Gülen recognizes and welcomes the nature of social life in today’s complex global systems. He has said, “We should know how to be ourselves and then remain ourselves. That does not mean isolation from others. It means preservation of our essential identity among others, following our way among other ways. While self-identity is necessary, we should also find the ways to a universal integration. Isolation from the world will eventually result in annihilation.”

The Gülen Movement participants find fulfillment within service networks and are enabled to handle information flow more comfortably. They therefore do not withdraw from social life, and their spiritual needs are not transformed into intolerant mysticism. Since participants’ identity needs and claims are not pushed too far by an intolerant ideology in service networks, the Movement does not evolve or fragment into a conflictual, self-assertive and closed sects or any kind of sectarian organization. Since issues or differences in the Movement are not politicized but are handled with a cooperative rather than conflictual attitude, and since decision-making is collective and consensual, the Movement remains capable of resolving the differences arising from multiplicity in complex societies. This is why the Gülen Movement has never broken up into sectarian groupings.

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