The Hizmet discourse of the Gülen Movement

Fethullah Gülen

A mature person is one who would say, “After you, sir!” while both exiting from Hell and entering into Heaven.
M. Fethullah Gülen

The concepts that constitute Fethullah Gülen’s outlook, and thus the vision of movement activists, in this analysis, are wrapped up in the overarching concept of hizmet (service to one’s fellow human beings). Each principle that underlies Fethullah Gülen’s teaching derives directly from the idea of living to serve. These principles include gaye-i hayal (the purpose of one’s life), diğergamlık (altruism) and başkası için yaşama (living for others), mes’uliyet duygusu (sense of personal responsibility) and adanmışlık ruhu (spirit of devotion). This chapter looks at how Fethullah Gülen elucidates these core concepts in his work and how they are put into practice in the conduct of the movement participants. Similarly, it tries to identify both the underlying philosophy and the operational concepts that are put into practice to analyze how the movement has spread, for looking at both structural and operational concepts provides a clearer picture of the conduct of the participants in the movement. These operational concepts include sohbet and hizmet (conversation and service), istişare and mütevelli (collective decision making and board of trustees), and himmet and verme tutkusu (personal commitment and passion for giving). Throughout the analysis, this chapter uses Fethullah Gülen’s original terms for these concepts, along with their English translations.

Core concepts

Gaye-i Hayal (Purpose of One’s Life)

Fethullah Gülen considers gaye-i hayal (purpose of one’s life) the key to living: one’s ultimate purpose in life should be seeking the Creator’s pleasure by serving the created (humanity). However, serving the created and being productive for other human beings depends on whether a person can preserve his or her well-being. What determines whether one can and does preserve one’s well-being is whether one has a purpose. In his book, Buhranlar Anaforunda İnsan (The Human in the Whirlpool of Crisis), originally published in the 1980s, Fethullah Gülen argued:

Human generations can preserve their well-being only if they have high ideals and goals. Those who do not have goals eventually turn into walking cadavers. Every being in Nature can be fruitful, productive and benefit other beings only if it preserves its well-being. Similarly, a human can preserve his or her well-being only with high ideals, goals and his or her constant struggle and action to achieve those goals. Just like inactive materials that gradually corrode, human generations without ideals and goals, and hence inactive, are destined to be dispersed.[1]

In another work The Statue of Our Souls, published in English translation in 2005 (first published in 1998 as Ruhumuzun Heykelini Dikerken), Fethullah Gülen explains the characteristics of the mefkure insanı (person of ideals) as follows:

A person of ideals is, first of all, a hero of love, who loves God, the Almighty Creator devotedly and feels a deep interest in the whole of creation under the wings of that love, who embraces everything and everybody with compassion, filled with an attachment to the country and people; they care for children as the buds of the future, they advise the young to become people of ideals, giving them high aims and targets; they honor the old with wholehearted regard and esteem, develop bridges over the abysses to connect and unite the different sections of society, and exert all their efforts to polish thoroughly whatever may already exist of harmony between people.[2]

Gaye-i hayal is not a concept that originates with Fethullah Gülen. The concept has been scrutinized by other scholars prior to Fethullah Gülen. Traditional Islamic teachings suggest that one’s will and carnal self are in constant struggle with each other. While the former instructs people to do what is beneficial to the self and to fellow humans, the latter instructs the person to do whatever is pleasurable and whatever satisfies his or her desires. Hence, the latter feeds selfishness. Gaye-i hayal is seen as an instrument that can prevent a person’s mental capabilities from being captured by his or her carnal self. In other words, gaye-i hayal is the concept that makes a person live for others instead of living only for himself or herself. Fethullah Gülen demonstrates the practical application of gaye-i hayal in contemporary modern life.

Gaye-i hayal is one of the most frequently repeated themes in Fethullah Gülen’s writings and public speeches. He articulates his gaye-i hayal as achieving global peace through helping nations educate their new generations with such universal ethical values as dialogue, tolerance, altruism, and positive patriotism. Patriotism seems contradictory to the former values, given that nationalism has been the main driving force behind most of the wars and conflicts in the last three centuries.

Thomas Michel stresses that the Gülen-inspired schools aim to raise patriotic individuals who are well-versed in their own nations’ histories and have national pride but are not prejudiced about other nationalities.[3] Michel argues that Fethullah Gülen views national pride as the sine qua non for new generations to determine a clear vision for their nations. Fethullah Gülen believes that his gaye-i hayal of achieving global peace can only be fulfilled by raising individuals who share common ethical values that are shared by all religions, races, and nationalities. According to Ali Ünal, Fethullah Gülen’s advising his audience to open schools is only a strategy employed to fulfill that gaye-i hayal.[4]

How does gaye-i hayal relate to the chief criticism usually leveled at Fethullah Gülen that he aims to create a state based on Islamic principles? The ultra-secular factions of the state establishment[5] in Turkey have consistently speculated that Fethullah Gülen’s ultimate goal—and thus the basis of his teachings—is to establish an Islamic state. When the movement reached out first to countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus and then to those in Southeast Asia by the late 1990s, the same small group in the establishment accused Fethullah Gülen of conspiring to establish a global Islamic state. Fethullah Gülen has responded to these accusations by advising people to visit the schools and institutions that have been associated with him and see with their own eyes whether any sort of Islamic agenda is being carried out. In 1997, Fethullah Gülen proposed that the Turkish state take over the schools if they were a threat to the secular regime, and he suggested that he would even encourage the local entrepreneurs, educators, and parents who had established these schools to turn them over to the state. In addition, he has consistently stressed that he has no ties to these schools other than merely encouraging people to establish similar schools as often as they can. During the same year, the political Islamist Welfare Party, which was the ruling party at the time and was later banned by the country’s Constitutional Court, sought to build a mosque in the middle of Taksim Square, the most liberal and secular part of Istanbul. Fethullah Gülen criticized the Welfare Party for its policy and suggested that it build a school.[6]

There is also some evidence that people in the secular camp who initially opposed Fethullah Gülen have changed their views about him and the movement as they have familiarized themselves with the schools and other institutions. My own informants stressed the transformation of their own views over time. Cengiz Aydoğdu, a prominent journalist in Mardin notes, “We, the social democrats, heard about Fethullah Gülen initially through the media only, and hence viewed him as a fanatical Muslim leader. However, as we have had a chance to observe the educational services that the movement has provided, and as we have participated in their cultural activities, we have realized that the Gülen Movement is nothing other than an ‘education campaign’ and Fethullah Gülen is a sincere Muslim in his own way.”[7] Similarly, Ziya Ayhan, a senior member of a small business association states, “I am politically leftist and do not share Fethullah Gülen’s worldview. However, I find the Gülen Movement volunteers quite successful in the field of education and occasionally participate in their activities. My daughter goes to the Sur university preparatory course which has been founded by Gülen movement volunteers. I trust them.”[8] In a similar vein, Ahmet Yusuf, a practicing lawyer in Istanbul, stresses that “the Gülen-inspired schools all around the world have been under the strict scrutiny of about ninety countries, and none of these countries has considered these schools a threat to themselves. Therefore, what a militant secularist group in Turkey says does not make any sense.”[9]

Diğergamlık and Başkası İçin Yaşama (Altruism and Living for Others)

Altruism or selflessness and living for others in the broadest sense, are prerequisites for a person to dedicate himself or herself to an overarching gaye-i hayal of serving fellow humans:

Just like a tree can grow in direct proportion to the strength of its roots, man can improve himself and elevate spiritually in proportion to his ability to avoid selfishness and thinking of self-interest.[10]

According to Fethullah Gülen, diğergamlık (altruism) is an essential characteristic of a person who is dedicated to a grand ideal, such as serving society. He considers diğergamlık a source of strength that prepares a person to face all sorts of difficulties that can be encountered when trying to live for something beyond oneself:

Those who strive to enlighten others, seek happiness for them, and extend a helping hand, have such a developed and enlightened spirit that they are like guardian angels. They struggle with disasters befalling society, stand up to “storms,” hurry to put out “fire,” and are always on the alert for possible shocks.[11]

Fethullah Gülen views the individual of gaye-i hayal as such an altruist that he or she is willing to tackle society’s most burdensome problems on behalf of its other members. According to Enes Ergene, the grand ideal of living for others is the main dynamic that Fethullah Gülen thinks can lead to a society’s revival. Ergene argues that without the heroes and heroines who are dedicated to the grand ideal to the extent that Fethullah Gülen describes, it is impossible for society even to preserve its identity and values inherited from historical experience, let alone carry out a renaissance or revival.[12]

With regard to the prerequisites of a social revival, Fethullah Gülen describes the characteristics of those heroic individuals who would carry out that revival:

Today, more than anything else, we need heroic individuals who will say, “I will be happy to step into the Hellfire for the happiness and well-being of my fellow humans,” …who, putting their interests and selfishness aside, are devoted to society, …who will willingly suffer on behalf of society, …who, with the torch of science and reason in hand, illuminate people and struggle against ignorance and unkindness, …who, with a great resolve and dedication, extend help to anyone in need, …who, without losing their hope in the face of the difficulties on their way, will continue to do so, …who, forgetting their desire to live, will rejoice in the pleasure of letting live.[13]

Fethullah Gülen emphasizes that just as important as having altruistic and dedicated heroic individuals is the necessity of these individuals’ collective action; a collective revival is possible only through the individual revival that must precede it. In this way, Fethullah Gülen views collective and individual revival as mutually dependent:

Every plan and project for individual revival without a motivation for collective revival and vice versa is nothing but wishful thinking.[14]

For Fethullah Gülen, individual life and collective-social life are strictly dependent on each other. Even if for a period of time each could occur independently, neither would be able to preserve its own existence without the other. Ergene argues that Fethullah Gülen’s heavy emphasis on collective action results from the Qur’anic teaching on human nature, “Humanity is not fond of charity by default; rather, humanity is inclined to obstruct it naturally.”[15] In other words, not only are individuals not inclined to do charity work without an immediate incentive, but they are also inclined to prevent others from doing the charity work that they fail to do. Even if some individuals want to do charity work, it can be quite difficult for them to do so consistently unless there are others doing the same thing. However, collective action eliminates such obstructive individual tendencies that would sooner or later halt individual efforts to live altruistically. Fethullah Gülen considers reviving the ideal of living for others in the minds and hearts of individuals as the ultimate responsibility. He believes that once individuals adopt and keep struggling to fulfill such an ultimate responsibility, their idle energy will be activated and hence collective action will be sustained.

Reading Fethullah Gülen’s statements selectively about the characteristics of individuals who have gaye-i hayal could naturally make one inclined to ask whether Fethullah Gülen is seeking to create a sort of vanguard of individuals who possess all of these merits and hence would lead the rest of society. After all, it would be quite optimistic, even if Fethullah Gülen does not seem to think it so, to imagine the majority of society being as dedicated as those Fethullah Gülen describes in his teachings. If this is the case, is he trying to single out a select group of people who can seize control of society?

Fethullah Gülen avoids specifying a certain group or socio-economic class as his target audience. Instead, he seeks to convey his message to any individual of any socio-economic status or of any ethno-religious identity. Similarly, instead of one’s features present at birth, he exalts certain values and characteristics that every person can adopt and develop through individual effort regardless of ethnicity, religion, nationality or socioeconomic status. The “person of heart” (gönül insanı), for instance, seems to be the ultimate definition that Fethullah Gülen uses to describe the characteristics of people dedicated to serving their fellow humans:

The person of heart is a monument of humility and austerity, who is adjusted to spiritual life, who is constantly alert against material and physical desires, and who is resolute to stay away from hatred, vanity, jealousy, and selfishness.[16]

One can observe that Fethullah Gülen’s universal call has been received by people of different identities, backgrounds, and socio-economic strata. Individuals who become involved with the Gülen Movement adopt its vision in proportion to their adoption of Fethullah Gülen’s values. Therefore, the variation among individuals’ involvement and responsibilities within the movement depends on how much responsibility they are willing to assume. The accessibility of Fethullah Gülen’s ideas to everyone involved in the movement and subjection of these ideas to individual interpretations ensure checks and balances within the movement and, hence, the absence of a certain vanguard that interprets and applies rules.

Mes’uliyet Duygusu (Sense of Personal Responsibility)

The sense of personal responsibility (mes’uliyet duygusu) is a crucial concept in both adopting and practicing the hizmet discourse. The concept is derived from the Islamic belief that every individual will be held accountable for the way he or she has lived and has spent the time and energy bestowed upon him or her in this world. The Qur’an offers the belief that simply states that every individual will be resurrected in the afterlife and held accountable for every moment that he or she spent in this world.[17] The Qur’an urges believers to use their lives wisely and invest in the afterlife. In a similar fashion, Prophet Muhammad says, “The world is the field of the afterlife,” that is, whatever one sows in this life will be harvested in the afterlife.

Subscribing to this school of thought, Fethullah Gülen notes:

For me, the worldly life is only a small part of the life that has started in the realm of souls and will continue indefinitely either in Heaven or in Hell in the afterlife. And since one’s afterlife is shaped by it, the worldly life is of the utmost importance. Therefore, the worldly life should be used in order to earn the afterlife and to please the One who has bestowed it. The way to do so is to seek to please God and, as an inseparable dimension of it, to serve immediate family members, society, country, and all of humanity accordingly. This service is our right, and sharing it with others is our duty.[18]

If there is one concept that explains the individual mobility that has brought the Gülen Movement into being, it is mes’uliyet duygusu, the sense of personal responsibility, regardless of whether others fulfill their responsibilities or not. In other words, individually mobilized by the mes’uliyet duygusu, people come together and constitute a collectively mobilized group.

While explaining the difference between cemaat (community) and cemiyet (social organization), Fethullah Gülen says that the community associated with his ideas is a natural outcome of the gathering of those individuals who have independently felt responsible for serving others. That is, while cemiyet is a result of individuals who have organized or been brought together in a hierarchical structure in order to achieve certain common objectives, the movement inspired by Fethullah Gülen’s ideas is, in contrast, a result of the gathering of those who have felt personally responsible for fulfilling a similar objective.

Fethullah Gülen suggests that the community gathered for a certain prayer is basically a natural outcome of the gathering of ordinary (and not necessarily related) individuals who have felt the need to be there and perform that prayer at that time. By the same token, he explains, ordinary, unrelated individuals have come together to establish schools and carry out cultural activities due to their belief in the necessity of education, dialogue, and tolerance. What Fethullah Gülen has provided, then, is a road map for transforming collective energy into productive endeavors directed toward all of humanity. As we will see in detail in the following chapters, the most notable end result of such a transformation has been the proliferation of schools, university preparatory courses, and reading halls established by individuals who share Fethullah Gülen’s ideas.

Adanmışlık Ruhu and Gönül İnsanı (The Spirit of Devotion and the Person of Heart)

According to Fethullah Gülen, adanmışlık ruhu (the spirit of devotion) is the state of living in complete dedication to the service of humanity and seeking to please God in so doing. In relation to adanmışlık ruhu, Fethullah Gülen introduces another concept, gönül insanı (the person of heart), to describe a person who is dedicated to serving humanity and the Creator. Gönül insanı is simply one who possesses adanmışlık ruhu and hence lives a life fully dedicated to serving humanity and God. He stresses that nothing other than this could be such a person’s goal:

The most significant features and the most reliable strength of those who have dedicated themselves to the ideal of spending their lives in the quest to please God and be loved by Him are that they have neither material nor spiritual expectations. In the reckonings and plans of those dedicated to seeking God’s pleasure, the concepts of cost, benefit, labor, revenue, wealth, and comfort on which many worldly people put great emphasis have absolutely no significance. These concepts never constitute a criterion.[19]

Moreover, he describes the implications of adanmışlık ruhu (the spirit of devotion) for one’s daily activities:

The philosophy of devotion instructs the individual to live in adherence to high ideals, self-sacrifice from the simplest pleasures such as eating and drinking, preferring a rather simple life for the well-being and comfort of society.[20]

It is easy to observe the same philosophy of devotion ruling the lives of ordinary individuals ranging from teachers working in the Gülen-inspired schools to local people sponsoring the schools and all other cultural activities. Thomas Michel, the Vatican representative for interfaith dialogue, illustrates the extent of this devotion by reporting on a blacksmith he met during his visit to southeastern Turkey who said, “I have a school that I am sponsoring in South Africa, and that’s why I am working.”[21] Similarly, Vahit Atak, a Mardinian businessman who sponsored the construction of Atak High School in Mardin, notes, “The well-educated teachers whom we saw in the university preparatory courses opened by the volunteers of the Gülen Movement could normally earn a salary at least three times greater than they earned in Mardin. Yet, they preferred to come to Mardin, where nobody would come unless they had to.”[22] Such self-sacrifice is likely to be seen at every level within the movement, regardless of one’s socio-economic status or gender. To a greater or lesser extent, every individual affiliated with the movement has the ideal of achieving the spiritual status of gönül insanı (the person of heart).

Being a gönül insanı (person of heart) means simply that the person is involved in a constant struggle with his or her carnal self and material and spiritual pleasures; it is to have no motivation other than pleasing God through serving His subjects, all humanity:

A person of heart constantly struggles with himself or herself. Since such people are always busy seeking their faults and fallacies, they do not seek to find others’ faults and fallacies. They tolerate others’ faults. They respond with a smile to the misbehavior of others and with good deeds to mistreatment, and never consider breaking the heart of anyone, even if their own hearts have been broken fifty times.[23] Similarly, people of heart carry out their every action and activity in the belief that this world is the realm of service but not of reward. They view serving humanity as the most crucial duty on the way to pleasing the Creator. And no matter how big and important are the accomplishments that they achieve, they never think of attributing the success to themselves and never seek a reward for that accomplishment.[24]

So, gönül insanı (person of heart), just like gaye-i hayal (purpose of one’s life), diğergamlık (altruism), başkası için yaşama (living for others), mes’uliyet duygusu (sense of personal responsibility), and adanmışlık ruhu (spirit of devotion), can be viewed as a key concept that elucidates certain patterns of behavior one can observe within the Gülen Movement. It is difficult to explain in any way the local people’s resolve to sponsor the movement’s educational activities other than to say that they view the values that Fethullah Gülen has put forth as the core values of their faith and seek to deepen their faith by practicing those values in their daily lives. One can simply conclude that these are the core concepts that explain the motivations of individuals who somehow participate in and promote the activities of the movement.

Structural and operational concepts

Beside the core concepts that elucidate the behavioral patterns of those inspired by Fethullah Fethullah Gülen, there are certain concepts that underlie the structure and operations of the movement. These concepts include hizmet (service), sohbet (conversation gathering), istişare (collective decision making), mütevelli (board of trustees), himmet (personal commitment), and verme tutkusu (passion for giving).

Sohbet and Hizmet (Conversation and Service)

If hizmet is the sum of values and practices that instruct one to serve one’s community, sohbet is the medium through which the necessity for hizmet is communicated to individuals. Sohbet has various meanings, such as “pleasant conversation, verbal exchange on a certain subject within a group of individuals, and engaging in fellowship.” Operationally, however, within the practices of the Gülen Movement, the meaning of sohbet goes beyond mere conversation and becomes a routine activity utilized by the movement participants to cultivate a sense of service, reach out to ever more individuals, and share the educational vision with new people. Sohbet is a platform where individuals find an opportunity to socialize, chat, and exchange ideas about their projects (either education- or business-related), but absolutely nothing about politics or such potentially divisive subjects as nationalism, ethnicity, and regionalism. These are generally avoided in the sohbet, since participants’ differences of opinion concerning secondary issues might eventually impede their cooperation on the primary issue: building educational facilities and carrying out cultural activities to promote dialogue and tolerance among different segments of society. Therefore, the movement volunteers seek to use the sohbet forum to cultivate a sense of commonality, address common needs and goals as opposed to differences, and communicate the necessity of hizmet (literally “service,” used to mean “altruistic service for the good of others”).

The sohbet groups are mostly organized according to the participants’ occupation, as long as there is a sufficient number of people, which could be as low as three or four participants. For instance, public servants group together with their fellows, while businessmen do so with other business owners. The main idea of grouping the same or similar job holders, which is not ultimately necessary, is again to increase the commonalities among the sohbet meetings’ participants so that they can better socialize, share their experiences, and network with each other. For the businessmen, these meetings also provide an opportunity to get to know potential business partners, customers or suppliers.

Efforts of volunteers in the Gülen Movement to awaken a sense of hizmet at the public level have had broad implications for the community in Mardin, the main focus of my empirical research. Sohbet meetings with those involved in the health-care sector emphasize such values as self-sacrifice, altruism, and living for others rather more when compared to those meetings involving workers or businessmen. Sohbet participants in the health-care services seek to encourage each other to stay in Mardin or at least in southeastern Turkey, instead of leaving for either their hometowns or for the bigger cities in western Turkey. They consider their service as doctors or clinicians in Mardin as a way to express their devotion and self-sacrifice to the Creator through serving their fellow humans.

Participants study passages from various sources, but mostly from Fethullah Gülen’s works, since his teachings directly promote the values of the hizmet discourse. The reading activity is not necessarily led by one person. Most of the time, participants take turns reading and leading the discussion during the meeting. The participants I have met reported that these weekly meetings keep them motivated to serve in a region where resources are quite limited, the patient–doctor ratio extremely high, and social life almost non-existent.[25]

The sohbet meetings among local businessmen and workers are carried out in a way similar to those carried out among health-care specialists, for the same values of self-sacrifice, altruism, and living for others are emphasized. However, in contrast to the health-care sohbet meetings, which aim to keep those service workers dedicated to serving in southeastern Turkey, those of the businessmen are intended to encourage participants to devote themselves to developing educational facilities in Mardin. The main reason for this is that workers and businessmen are mostly local Mardinians, as opposed to the health-care specialists, who are mostly from the more developed western cities.[26]

The sohbet meetings also serve as a seminar to help moderate the views of some local mosque imams, who sometimes sympathize with radical Islamist groups. One local businessman, who volunteers to organize such meetings with the imams, stresses the moderating effects of the sohbet meetings on those imams who are fond of such groups as Hizbullah[27] and al-Qaeda. He notes, “In the beginning, some of the imams despised us as ‘light’ Muslims. They criticized us for not taking up arms and embarking on an armed struggle or establishing a political party to pursue an Islamic regime. Fethullah Gülen’s teachings about Islam seemed sort of heretical to them. However, as we kept reading and discussing the values of Islam as Fethullah Gülen has interpreted them clearly in his writings, those imams gradually moderated their opinions and realized that violence is not the way of Islam. Now they are asking why we did not start those sohbet meetings earlier.”[28] The meetings’ moderating effect on the radical-leaning imams, promises minimization, if not eradication, of Islamist fundamentalism in Mardin, where it is believed that there are still forty to fifty unofficial religious schools.[29]

İstişare and Mütevelli (Collective decision making and board of trustees)

The sohbet meetings where the hizmet discourse is communicated to the local people provide a pool of individuals who volunteer to come together in istişare (collective decision making) meetings to ponder how to carry out the education projects. Fethullah Gülen reportedly consults and is consulted by his immediate friends and the community in general on issues ranging from his daily life to the activities and projects of the movement participants. Also, he urges everyone to do the same both in their daily lives and in everything regarding the projects of the movement. Fethullah Gülen advises:

The important things which should be noted are: consultation is the first condition for the success of a decision made on any issue. We have all seen how all decisions made without having been thought through thoroughly, without having taken into account the views and criticisms of others, whether related to individuals in particular or to society in general, have resulted in fiasco, loss, and great disappointment. Even if a person has a superior nature and outstanding intellect, if they are content with their own opinions and are not receptive and respectful to the opinions of others, then they are more prone to make mistakes and errors than the average person. The most intelligent person is the one who most appreciates and respects mutual consultation and deliberation (mashwarat), and who benefits most from the ideas of others.[30]

Fethullah Gülen’s sensitivity to consulting with his friends is emulated by the individuals who are, to varying degrees, involved with the movement. The more involved they are with the activities of the movement, the more they seem to strive to apply the principle of istişare in their conduct. As we will see in detail in the following chapter, in Mardin the teachers in the university preparatory courses and the local Mardin people who have sponsored the various educational projects have repeatedly held istişares before opening each university preparatory course and private school, as well as organizing public events where they share their vision with the rest of the Mardin community. Given the role of istişare within the Gülen Movement and the emphasis on collective decision making, the movement seems to function horizontally rather than vertically.

Operationally, the concept of mütevelli, or essentially a board of trustees, has meant that the movement relies on several small groups of individuals who have volunteered to take on relatively more responsibility, whether overseeing more projects or donating more money when compared to other individuals. The mütevelli circle is open to anyone who consistently carries out the responsibilities that fall on his or her shoulders.

Himmet and Verme Tutkusu (Personal commitment and passion for giving)

Personal commitment (himmet) is another key concept that relates to both istişare and mütevelli. In essence, it refers to one’s personal commitment to carrying out the duty at hand, be it sponsoring a school project or reaching out to as many people as possible to share the movement’s educational vision. Operationally, himmet seems to be a sine qua non for one’s contribution to fulfilling the educational vision. In other words, the more one commits—be it money, time or effort—the more one cares about the success of the education projects. The act of giving or committing itself seems to be more important than the amount given or the sort of commitment. Himmet is, in this way, a sort of instrument to tame one’s carnal self through sacrifice. However, himmet does not seem to be a prerequisite for involvement in the activities of the Gülen Movement.

“Those who sense the pleasure of giving become sort of crazy for giving,”[31] remarks Asılsoy, a local Mardin businessman who donates a sizeable proportion of his annual income to the ongoing education projects carried out in Mardin. He recalls that he promised himself that he would donate ten times more the following year than the amount he had donated the first time he had participated in a himmet meeting (at a fundraising dinner), which had been for the construction of the first university preparatory course in Mardin. For Davut Bey, another local Mardinian who has been active in carrying out educational projects from the very beginning, himmet (personal commitment) does not mean only “donating whatever you have on your own, but it also means promising to procure.”[32] In this regard, he recalls his and his friends’ frequent trips to such large cities as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir to solicit support from wealthy businessmen who are originally from Mardin in the form of both cash and supplies. For those who have willingly assumed the responsibility to donate and procure resources, himmet seems to have turned into a passion for giving (verme tutkusu). Among these people who are “crazy for giving,” as Asılsoy puts it, the common denominator of both a peddler and a prominent business leader is the passion for giving. What varies is only the amount of their donations or the extent of their commitment.

In conclusion, having a gaye-i hayal is one of the most emphasized subjects in Fethullah Gülen’s writings and public speeches. He considers it to be crucial to one’s life and suggests that one’s ultimate goal should be seeking the Creator’s pleasure by serving humanity. Fethullah Gülen finds a direct relation between one’s having a gaye-i hayal and one’s well-being. That is, one can live a productive life only if one has an ultimate ideal that serves the common good of society or all of humanity. An individual who lacks such an ideal, glorifies his or her own interests, and judges himself or herself according to the standards of society essentially becomes a walking cadaver who will, sooner or later, lose his or her spiritual essence, even if he or she remains physically alive. With regard to this, Fethullah Gülen attributes the utmost importance to having a gaye-i hayal for one’s spiritual development.

Fethullah Gülen introduces two complementary concepts that enable one to live one’s life dedicated to an overarching gaye-i hayal (purpose of one’s life): diğergamlık (altruism) and başkası için yaşama (living for others). He considers altruism and living only in order to be of benefit to fellow human beings as the essential source of strength for a person with gaye-i hayal. Fethullah Gülen never specifies a certain group of people based upon their socio-economic status, ethnicity, religion or nationality; rather, he promotes universally accepted ethical values that anyone can adopt.

Furthermore, he introduces the concepts of mes’uliyet duygusu (sense of personal responsibility), and adanmışlık ruhu (spirit of devotion) as two mobilizing factors that enable one to adopt the notion of serving one’s fellow human beings as a grand purpose. Although gaye-i hayal and diğergamlık (altruism)/ başkası için yaşama (living for other) complement each other and enable one to dedicate oneself to serving humanity, mes’uliyet duygusu (sense of personal responsibility) is the notion that encourages the individual to adopt the former two concepts and practice them in daily life. Adanmışlık ruhu (spirit of devotion) is another complementary characteristic that instructs one to remain motivated and focus one’s attention on pleasing the Creator through serving His subjects.

[1] M. Fethullah Gülen, “İdealsiz Nesiller” (Generations without Ideals), in Buhranlar Anaforunda İnsan (Izmir: Nil Yayınları, 1998), 85.
[2] M. Fethullah Gülen, “Ideal Generations,” in The Statue of Our Souls (New Jersey: The Light Inc., 2005), 125
[3] Michel, “Fethullah Gülen as Educator,” 70.
[4] Ali Ünal, M. Fethullah Gülen: Bir Portre Denemesi (Istanbul: Nil, 2002), 484.
[5] It is difficult to define this segment of Turkish society, which has arduously opposed everything Gülen and the movement have done. The concept of “secular” is not the appropriate word for them because a sizeable part of Turkish society, which both approves of Gülen’s vision and supports the relevant education activities either verbally or with their donations, identify themselves as “secular.” In addition, the Gülen-inspired schools have been running in secular states since the early 1990s. So, it is important not to view supporting Gülen’s vision and being secular as mutually exclusive. Perhaps “militantly secular” or “laicist” would be more suited than “ultra-secular.”
[6] In an op-ed piece titled, “Diyalog Zorluðu,” Milliyet (November 3, 1997), Melih Aþık describes the resistance from both radical secularist and Islamist groups toward the movement’s dialogue efforts in Turkey. (accessed April 7, 2006)
[7] Excerpt from the author’s interview with Cengiz Aydoðdu, head of the Civil Society Organizations and of the Mesopotamia Journalists Association in Kızıltepe-Mardin, on February 9, 2006, in Kızıltepe-Mardin.
[8] Excerpt from the author’s interview with Ziya Ayhan, a senior member of the Small and Medium Business Association in Kızıltepe-Mardin, on February 9, 2006, in Kızıltepe-Mardin.
[9] Excerpt from the author’s interview with Ahmet Yusuf on January 31, 2006, in Istanbul.
[10] Fethullah Gülen, “Ruh’un Zaferi,” Sızıntı (July 1983): 383.
[11] M. Fethullah Gülen, Ölçü veya Yoldaki Işıklar (Istanbul: Nil Yayınları, 1985): 208; cited in Ünal. M. Fethullah Gülen, 211.
[12] M. Enes Ergene, Gülen Hareketinin Analizi: Geleneğin Modern Çağa Tanıklığı (Istanbul: Yeni Akademi Yayınları, 2005), 373.
[13] M. Fethullah Gülen, Yitirilmiş Cennete Doğru (Istanbul: Nil Yayınları, 1988), 128; cited in Ergene, Gülen Hareketinin Analizi, 374.
[14] M. Fethullah Gülen, Işığın Göründüğü Ufuk (Istanbul: Nil Yayınları, 2000), 194.
[15] See Qur’an 50:25; cited in Ergene, Gülen Hareketinin Analizi, 338.
[16] M. Fethullah Gülen, “Bir Gönül Insanı Portresi” (Portrait of a Person of Heart), Sızıntı, Cilt 22, Sayi 259 (Ekim 2000)
[17] Qur’an 2:56, 22:7, 6:36.
[18] M. Fethullah Gülen. Yeni Türkiye 15 (1997): 688; cited in Ünal, M. Fethullah Gülen, 267.
[19] M. Fethullah Gülen, Örnekleri Kendinden Bir Hareket (Istanbul: Nil Yayınları, 2005), 37.
[20] See “Adanmışlık Ruhu Çok Önemlidir,” in Fethullah Gülen’le 11 Gün, ed. Mehmet Gündem (Istanbul: Alfa Press, 2005), 221.
[21] Excerpt from my conversation with Fethullah Gülen in Pennsylvania on March 31, 2006.
[22] Excerpt from my interview with Vahit Atak in Istanbul on January 28, 2006.
[23] Gülen, “Bir Gönül Insanı Portresi” (accessed March 4, 2006).
[24] Ibid.
[25] I attended the sohbet meeting with the health-care workers on the evening of February 5, 2006, and had a chance to interview them in Mardin.
[26] This information is based on my observations during the sohbet meeting I attended in Nusaybin, Mardin, on February 8, 2006.
[27] The Hizbullah in Turkey is not to be confused with the group in Lebanon of the same name but otherwise unconnected.
[28] Excerpt from my interview with the respondent in Kızıltepe, Mardin, on February 9, 2006.
[29] This information is based on a report from a local Mardinian who is related to these religious schools and seems to be fond of Hizbullah.
[30] M. Fethullah Gülen, The Statue of Our Souls, (New Jersey: The Light Inc., 2005), 44.
[31] Excerpt from my interview with Fatih Asılsoy in Mardin on February 5, 2006.
[32] Excerpt from my interview with Davut Bey in Mardin on February 7, 2006.

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