Civil society is an arena of friendships and associations. It provides citizens with opportunities to learn the democratic habits of free assembly, non-coercive dialogue, and socioeconomic initiative. It covers a broad array of organizations that are essentially private, that is, outside the institutional structures of government. These include voluntary associations that are beyond the household but outside the state.
For these reasons the Gülen Movement is now best described as a civic initiative or a civil society movement that started as faith-initiated, non-contentious, cultural and educational service-projects. It is not a governmental or a state sponsored organization. It is an apolitical, social, altruistic action. It centers on the individual, individual change and the education of the individual. Part of this education is also focused on raising consciousness about legality, lawfulness, human rights and one’s constitutionally defined rights. It also works for the consolidation, therefore, of pluralist participatory democracy and equal rights.
The SMOs and institutions within the Gülen Movement are civic initiatives that are also distinct from business organizations: they are not primarily commercial ventures set up principally to distribute profits to their directors or owners. Unlike other private institutions, they are set up to serve the public, not to generate profits for those involved in them. They are self-governing and people are free to join or support them voluntarily. They embody a commitment to freedom and personal initiative. They emphasize solidarity for service projects and collectively organized altruism. They encourage and enable people to make full use of their legal rights of citizenship to act on their own authority so as to improve the quality of their own lives and the lives of others in general. They embody the idea or ideal that people have responsibilities not only to themselves but also to the communities of which they are a part.
Within the legal space as given, the Movement combines private structure and public purpose, providing society with private institutions that are serving essentially public purposes. The institutions’ connections to a great number of citizens and their multiple belonging and professionalized networks within the civil society sector, enhance the Movement’s flexibility and capacity to encourage and channel private initiatives in support of public educational purposes and philanthropic services.