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A Movement that Produces its Own Values

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

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The Gülen movement did not rise upon the values of a past movement or period of crisis. The movement has produced its own appearance, structure, social and moral values, and institutions. No school of thought has had a dominant influence on the structural and religious-spiritual dynamics of this movement.

One cannot deny the way that the Risale-i Nur (Epistles of Light) has fed the inner dynamics of the movement both in spiritual and intellectual terms. The Risale-i Nur is one of the set of books written on Islamic belief and faith in recent centuries which has had a great spiritual-social influence over the masses in Turkey. In that respect, its influence over the larger community of Turkish Muslims is clear and evident. This set of books might not have the organizational framework that one can find in contemporary scientific works, but in the manner in which it treats the issues, and in the way that it offers fundamental solutions to human and social life, it affects the masses more quickly and deeply than other works. It not only stimulates belief and religious commitment, but it also inspires feelings of solidarity and cooperation. This is the contribution of the Risale-i Nur to the Gülen movement.

The social and action-related dynamics of the Gülen movement have been shaped around Gülen's strong spiritual character, his articulate teachings, and his broad sphere of social influence. That is what we mean when we say that "the movement originates from itself." It is true that the religious activity and mission of the movement is fed by Islamic awareness, historical traditions, and the past experience of Muslims. But, in order to present these different historical experiences and the values decreed by the essentials of the faith with a new face, interpretation, and action—and thus confront contemporary gains and experiences—one must incorporate wide scientific knowledge and have the ability to interpret and provide insight into contemporary practices. This is where Gülen's personal store of knowledge, experience, and intellect come into play. His teachings marry the past with the future—religion with social practices. He has never looked at the current situation or the indeterminate future without taking into account the heritage of the past. Below, we will try to interpret his idealizing of the Age of Happiness (Asr-i Saadet).[1] This idealization, in truth, manifests his loyalty to Islam and the depth of his religious activity. On his part, the issue is not a mere interpretation of tradition, which would have amounted to narrow intellectual striving. Rather, his life completely represents the values he articulates. That is, he practices what he preaches.

As is with other movements, there is a tendency to compare the Gülen movement with other Islamic movements and to categorize it in the same group of Islamic groups. According to some Western analysts, the foundations of all religious radicalism are the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Jamaah Islamiya (the Islamic group or fellowship) in Pakistan. Even the revolution in Iran is considered to be a radical branching out of these movements. Most religious movements in the Islamic world are analyzed as if they share similarities with either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Pakistani Jamaah Islamiya. It is true that these two movements, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaah Islamiya, have been an indirect source of inspiration for the recent religious/political revival movements in the Islamic world; however, one cannot speak of a significant level of influence by these movements on Islamic communities in Turkey. The basis of the Gülen movement does not represent any economic class or ethnic group as opposed to some Islamist movements in other countries. The masses that it is based upon, vis-à-vis religious and social determinants, are neither oppressed nor excluded sections of society. It enjoys support both from the rural and urban sections of society, and its grassroots level is made up of individuals from the lower-middle, middle, and upper classes. The main actors of the movement are from the educated classes, individuals educated in big cities and first-class universities. They do not carry any feelings of vengeance against the governing elite, or against the socio-economic circles that are considered to be the carriers of Western values. That is why they do not display a radical severing, like "formulation of an oppositional ideology," as is observed in classical movements. In all fields, rather than formulating an alternative, it adopts the formulation of solutions, a formulation that is reconciliatory and open to negotiation. From the start, the Gülen movement has neither sought nor obtained a political identity. On the contrary, the movement has been criticized by some religious circles for staying outside of politics more than necessary.

Footnote[1]Asr-i Saadet refers to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.