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In the beginning, the movement was sustained by private contributions. What are the financial resources of the movement today and how is the global network of activities now maintained?

by Doğu Ergil on . Posted in Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen Movement in 100 questions

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Fethullah Gülen

Since this question is reminiscent of the polemics which has been going on for a long time, Fethullah Gülen enters the conversation:

They have tried to blacken with different various slanders and libels from USA’s material support to being engaged with various intelligence services. These people who work with the philosophy of “Stain them with mud, if it does not stuck with them, at least there will be traces of it later,” they never succeeded in their ideas [because they could never prove these]. Our head is high and our face is clean and clear. In no period of our life, we never entered into this sort of things at all which would embarrass us later. God willing from now on we are determined not to in the future.

Yes, it is a truism that for these kinds of things to be accomplished, there is a need for material resources. We always tried to proceed on this matter the same way we saw in the Sunnah of our Prophet, by relying on the public support. We worked together and on many occasions, we resorted to the help of the people. They in turn provided the support needed. In this issue there is not a single penny worth matter we cannot account for, before God or before the public.[1]

No matter how categorical his answer is, some still argue that “A movement, increasingly growing and spreading to the face of the earth, would be taken to different directions, and it would be impossible not to meddle in politics or trapped by other organizations.” What is the answer of Fethullah Gülen about this issue?

The greatest capital we have in the sight of God is our awareness of our weakness and poverty, our need of God, being aware of our insufficiency and with these considerations opening our hands and pray for His help and strengthen. It is not possible to explain away the services accomplished through miracles, with incredible intuitions or geniuses, it is unshakable determination of our people to support. So, mostly without our knowledge or will, God is taking us to some point in order to give us a chance to serve our people. He is having us do good things, and we are filled with the sense of appreciation toward Him.

As for independence, again we have to express our thanks and gratefulness to God that the point on which the native and foreign academicians pay attention the most was the independence of the movement. It is very important for this movement to be independent. To make this movement to open its hands to others or to be directed in any way, for instance to get it meddle in politics would be a way to destroy it. This would be indeed very dangerous.

If this issue is one of faith, if it is an issue that only the volunteer heroes could carry out in terms of presenting the Turkish culture of several thousand years, ... if it is a matter of making the Turkish language a world language, the things like running after a worldly position or pursuing a future political intention would destroy it, would make that cause futile in the end.[2]

They say, “Why are the courses offered in English?” If you do not implement the curriculum of the country where you are, would they allow you what you want to do? Would they permit you to offer Turkish language in some places as an elective course and in some others as requisite?[3]

Fethullah Gülen understands that in terms of sources of funding, there has to be transparency. Some people wonder, in particular, where the material support comes from for the schools to be established and operated, because it might determine what is the purpose and goals of these schools. This is a natural human reaction.

From his explanations, it is understood that the schools do not have central financing. Every school is financed by individuals in a city or town in Turkey or by wealthy businessmen. More accurately, those members of the community who take responsibility for the schools keep in touch with the directorate general of the schools in those foreign countries and send money that they collected from the wealthy merchants and members of the community.

As for the young teachers who offer the instruction generally in English, they are educated in Turkish universities, predominantly the Middle East Technical University, Marmara University, and the Bosporus University. Their salaries are low, between 400 and 600 US dollars a month, and it is nearly impossible for them to save. Almost all of the volunteers prepare themselves for this mission during their secondary and college level education.

This material support is provided with a sense of self-sacrifice and generosity, equal to that felt and performed during the War of Independence:

Behind this project lie the support of the philanthropist people in all the villages, towns and cities of Turkey ... and sweat of youthful teachers who work for a salary, equal to the amount of a scholarship, the youth yet graduated from the most prominent universities of Turkey. ... Up until today, not even a single proof was shown indicating the receipt of any amount of money coming from other places, while hundreds of these schools are established and operated in front of the eyes of everyone, openly.

The reason being that there is no funding resource other than the pure contributions of ... the sacrificing Anatolian men and women. ... This is a movement of volunteers, namely an enterprise of a civic society which does not depend on any foreign power.

Those, who are unable to do anything without taking either several domestic establishments or a foreign nation behind them, might have difficulty to understand the movement of volunteers which does not rely on anything other than the public’s attraction and approval and the grace of God. Those who do not know how to give without anything in return, might not be able to conceive the notion of sacrifice in order to serve firstly their own nation but also all humanity in general. But what is clear is that everyone knows, in actual fact, very well that these efforts, of which I am a part only in encouragement, is a public’s enterprise and “water of this wheel” comes from the pure chest of Anatolia. But those who could not make the water of this Anatolian fountain flow in the direction of their choice, are trying to dry it through their jealousy, hatred, and envy.[4]

After this clear and absolute response, Fethullah Gülen brings up another polemical subject: the movement’s activities concerning the diffusion of a culture of dialog and tolerance. To the criticisms of, “Why are you so close to the foreigners, why are you accepting the strange ways of the foreigners?” he responds:

If you do not take a step towards them, be respectful to them, if you do not conduct yourselves maturely enough to be able to share certain things with them, they would not come close to you either. Approaching them would be the kind of a thing to facilitate for us to explain to them the values belonging to us. If not, even if the organization of the matters belong to you, if you retain the rigidity in your conducts, it would not be possible to explain anything to others. The reason for our inability to explain certain things after a period in our history is due to the artificial gap between them and us, anyway. We were unable to stand next to each other, how then one expects us to explain anything to them?[5]

Fethullah Gülen understands the criticisms of those people who are not open to the world, those who do not even know their own society and its problems. But he does not attach much significance to the reaction of these people who cannot comprehend the enormity of the aim in this business. He says:

Even though today some people find strange the things carried out, all these are being done for the sake of that lofty ideal, to express ourselves, and to contribute to the new formations in the world, and to prevent the likely future clash of civilizations that people like Huntington had pointed out, with every effort we can make within our means.[6]

The conversation then turns to another area of activity outside the cultural activities of the movement, namely, economic activities. At the center of these economic activities is the institution of Asya Finans. The questions arise: Why did the movement feel the need for such an institution? Who were the founders and where did they find the money to establish it?

Fethullah Gülen states that for a long time (25–30 years) his friends felt the need for an institution where they could pool small savings together at a central place, believing that this would make up a considerable amount of a capital.

I always used to say: Business activities in the future could not be carried out like corner store activities. In a little shrinking world, the small stores ... are leaving their places to the supermarkets. Play big, by bringing together their commitments. I had even asked some friends who would listen to me to open up several supermarkets in İzmir, when I was residing there. I said, “Establish supermarkets, you bring whatever you have, and you also bring some, and you can do it.”

But my circle of influence and encouragement was narrow, then. It had consisted of three supermarkets. During the period of opening the schools in Asia ... again from the pulpit of the mosques, from the pulpit of Süleymaniye ... “Go to Asia and invest there ... If you cannot do it alone, by bringing together all the means you have, go there and invest; establish industrial plants, trade, do something there … export from Turkey,” I said. These words were only the encouragements for the necessary things to be carried out for the enrichment of the lives of the people of Turkey.

There are people that I know at the Asya Finans. I could only know ten of them, personally, bodily and by name. But I do not know their numbers. I think the share holders are above 200. ... It is not that I had them establish Asya Finance. Those who were influenced from the general encouragements, I think, took these encouragements seriously. There were finance organizations before that, like Al-Baraka, Faisal Finans, Kuwait Finans, Anadolu Finans, İhlas Finans. ... These had awakened a desire and enthusiasm among the public. When those desires and enthusiasms came together with the encouragements of this poor man from the pulpits of mosques ... they decided to establish this institution.

Relating me to this matter ... originated from that at the opening ceremony of Asya Finance, 5 to 10 people who knew me invited me to the opening but I think that day there were thousands of people there, and the former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller was there, too. But ... I became the subject of talk in the media, as if I had something to do with it; that became the perception.[7]

These answers show that Fethullah Gülen, rather than he doing it, he encourages others to do; rather than owning, he encourages others to own; rather than saying “come and follow me” to those who are looking for a way to follow he manifest an example of leadership that guides people to the path he believes is the correct one. This is what leadership is all about. It is convincing others and moving them toward “a vision of a good future” and “good conduct,” which he carries in his mind and heart. Fethullah Gülen’s special role is to present a vision which unifies the material and the spiritual, which consist of mind, conscience, and morality. He encourages people and helps them to understand the necessity of not deviating from spiritual values, while working in this world.

[1] Fethullah Gülen 1997b, 75.
[2] Gündem 2005, 137–138.
[3] Ibid., 139.
[4] Fethullah Gülen 2009a, 94–95.
[5] Gündem 2005, 139.
[6] Ibid.
[7] The interview given to Yalçın Doğan, Kanal D, 16 April 1997.