The Gülen Movement and Islam

by Enes Ergene on . Posted in An Analysis of the Gülen Movement

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It is important for me to underline that the Gülen movement is not an ideologically driven organization. Gülen is against the use of religion as a political ideology. It would be wrong to perceive the Gülen movement as akin to political Islamism. The colonial period was the major factor that transformed Islamism into an international issue. "Orientalism" was a political and ideological product of colonialism, and it targeted not only the Muslim world, but the less developed countries in general. This movement defined all cultures and civilizations that were outside the geography of Western civilization as being backward, barbaric, and exotic—as "Third World." Orientalism was an ideology produced in an effort to facilitate a cultural transformation that would assist the political, military, and economic expansion of the West. Thus, at its core, Orientalism was both exploitative and colonial. Islamist ideology was born, therefore, as a political identity opposed to exploitation. The present circumstances of our day are certainly very different than when classical Orientalism and Islamism appeared.

The current international juncture and action have abandoned many of the classical Orientalist foundations, and have begun to direct themselves toward more human-based, ethical, and universal values. This development has transformed Islamic movements around the world. No doubt there are still marginal groups that act with political and ideological concerns; however, such groups have no vision and are often weak in regard to material power, general support, and ideological organization. Thus, it would be wrong to brand all formations in the Muslim world as movements that act with the political concerns and that present a direct threat to international relations. This is especially true of the Gülen movement. The most basic dynamic of this movement has a religious, social, and cultural identity which is totally independent of any political or ideological structure. Throughout his life, Gülen has stayed away from involving himself in politics and has never sought political ends. He has never subscribed to a presentation of Islam as political ideology. In fact, he has underlined that such an attitude poses a genuine threat for the communication of Islam. He has voiced this opinion in his public addresses and in his books.[1]

In contrast to the most common misperception, the Gülen movement is not a solely religious movement. In order to read the Gülen movement correctly, however, we need to incorporate more than just social movement analysis. First of all, the Gülen movement is not a reactionary movement, and it has no relation to the alienated reactionaryism. The individuals at the center of this movement come from select circles of Turkish society. These selflessly serving individuals come from urban areas, and have a high level of education, and have imbibed modern and contemporary values. Just as their goal is not driven by a political ideology, the individuals who comprise the Gülen movement are not reactionaries against official state ideologies. They do not act out of feelings of deprivation, as in radical or reactionary movements. On the contrary, their relationships are based on consensus, dialogue, and tolerance. Their personal and social relations are rooted in the principle of positive action, as they seek to transform social relations by producing alternatives without disturbing the order, destroying forcefully, or overthrowing the existing system. In their efforts to broaden the horizon of existing social relations, the general ideal of the Gülen movement is to serve the individual, society, and humanity.

Footnote[1] See M. Fethullah Gülen, The Statue of Our Souls, NJ: The Light, Inc., 2005, p. 122, 145, 159.