What was the Gülen Movement at its inception and how can it be described today?

Fethullah Gülen

This structure has never started as a movement, the grass root activities at the bottom started as small and moved into big projects, from the local to the global. In the reasonableness of these projects many people united, worked together and it became a movement. It did not have to be this way. For this reason, it would not be accurate sociologically to assess this set of activities as the “Gülen Movement.”[1]

At the beginning, there was a group following Fethullah Gülen as an imam and interested in his interpretations. Later in metropolitan areas such as İzmir and İstanbul, other individuals whose socio-economic situation was better, started searching for a spiritual leader, in order not to be trapped by immoral settings in their new lives and in the modern network of relationships of the cities.

Besides accepting Fethullah Gülen as a man of religion, the more wealthy followers also began to consider him as an intellectual leader or a “life coach.” Fethullah Gülen’s encouragement to transcend the local coincided with their national, or even international, aspirations. This role as an intellectual leader who could guide them enabled Fethullah Gülen to transform his thoughts, recommendations, and exhortations from theory into reality. To the extent that the ventures and the projects he inspired became successful, Fethullah Gülen’s area of influence expanded.

Additionally, the Gülen Movement began “talent hunts” and “utilizing what was discovered,” in order to perform the duty of educating the youth, especially those who were talented and hard working. They sought youth living in rural areas and the squatter quarters of the big cities, who wanted upward mobility and to receive an education. The movement provided them with support and established an infrastructure, including dormitories, scholarships, and peer groups.

Those young people who were enrolled in the countryside universities were encouraged to transfer to distinguished universities in the cities. But as time passed, even these efforts were found to be insufficient to spread the message of peace. Fethullah Gülen advised that these talented boys and girls should attend prestigious universities throughout the world. So inspired, his followers helped to establish a network of support at global scale.

Now, with the encouragement of Fethullah Gülen and through the support of his followers, students from Turkey study at universities around the world. Some of the students who graduate from these universities are encouraged to settle down in the respective countries where they completed their studies, get married, establish businesses, and support those who would follow after them; they also are encouraged to disseminate the humane Islamic values in the environment in which they live.

The so-called “Gülen communities,” which exist in various countries, have established such good relations with the rulers and public that the administrators have sent their children to the Gülen schools, the standards of which are, in many cases, are superior to that of local schools.

Over time, the graduates of these schools have become fluent Turkish-speaking, volunteer members or sympathizers of the “Gülen community.” Some of these graduates have come to power in their own countries and have been helpful to Turkish businessmen and investors arriving in these countries.

A Gülen community becomes a lobby establishment, a guide which solves the problems of and show the way to the Turkish businessmen. Some portion of the economic value produced in the process is returned back to the movement, thereby establishing a kind of “circulating capital.” It augments the capital power of the community and provides the financial infrastructure to educational investments and humane projects.

Thus, the Gülen Movement has followed a line of activities from the local to the national, from the national to the global. It could be argued that this movement has become the most important and the largest export of Turkey.

[1] Doğu Ergil’s interview with Gülen.