The Gulen Movement as the Door Opening to Global Tolerance*

By Begüm Burak

In the contemporary world, the relations between nations have become much more as borders have become less important in a globalizing world. On the other hand today, people around the world share some common values such as the importance of democracy, human rights, rule of law and freedom in a much more challenging way compared to yesterday. However, despite the existence of such hopeful developments, world politics also witnesses inhumane practices that cause global reactions but cannot be ended immediately, like the Esad terror in Syria.

What is obvious is that global problems today – be they political, environmental, economic or related to scarce resources such as poverty and hunger – need the establishment of a global cooperation in order to get solved. That is why charity organizations organize worldwide programs with the aim of helping the needy in different parts of the world, regardless of their nation or ethnic origin. It can be argued that in today’s world, non-state units such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society associations, all play an undisputedly major role in the management of global crises and the establishment of global order and stability.

The Gulen movement is the most reputable and widespread civil society movement in Turkey. Despite having its roots in Anatolia, the movement (which is also called as the ‘Hizmet Movement’[1] – Service Movement: Service for humanity) has succeeded to have a global outreach thanks to the education activities it has been performing for several decades. The Gulen movement and millions of supporters of this movement follow and treasure Mr. Fethullah Gulen’s[2] principles and values. Fethullah Gulen[3] is an authoritative mainstream Turkish Muslim scholar, author, thinker, poet, opinion leader and educational activist who supports interfaith and intercultural dialogue[4], science, democracy and spirituality while opposing violence and turning religion into a political ideology.[5]

The movement[6] is a faith-based movement and it embraces all nations, races, colors, etc. The reason why this is so is that this movement is engaged in education activities all over the world from Africa to Asia and it inevitably has got an embracing character. Some other features of the Hizmet movement can be summarized as follows:

“First of all, Hizmet is a voluntary movement without neatly defined borders, a hierarchy, central organization or membership. It is based on hearts, minds, volunteer work and donations by people from all walks of life. There are of course several organizations, schools, charities and media outlets that are affiliated with the movement, and they employ professional staff, who are salaried. But they can only represent their own institutions if they are in managerial positions. Writers, columnists, journalists and academics working in these institutions are not engaged in social, intellectual and political life on behalf of the movement. They only represent themselves. Sometimes they may agree on certain points so that one can faintly deduce the stand of the movement, but this is not definitive and binding for the movement as a whole.”[7]

On the other hand, the education activities of the movement have been betting stronger and stronger every year. Every year Turkish Olympiads are organized and the number of the participants has been increasing.[8] It is so obvious that the movement treasures education. According to the philosophy of the Gulen movement, education is the key to the solution of our main problems which are ignorance, division, and poverty. The educational activities of the movement can be described as follows:

“Around half of Gulen schools are located abroad, and of those the majority are found in Turkic Central Asia and Azerbaijan, where there are also half a dozen Gulen-sponsored universities and numerous other educational, welfare, and economic institutions and activities. Indeed, the movement’s focus is on Turkic communities, including those of the Russian Federation such as Dagestan, Karachay-Cherkessia, Tatarstan, and Bashkotorstan, and other former Soviet states containing Turkic or formerly Ottoman Muslim minorities such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and in the Balkans. One can readily see why the movement targeted Turkic Central Asia and Azerbaijan for the main thrust of its activities. After all, many in Turkey’s political class made a similar assessment of Turkish prospects in the region in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse. It shares a linguistic and ethnic root with Turkey, and a “folk Islam” that, as in Turkey, incorporates numerous Sufisects and has absorbed pre-Islamic traditions, beliefs, and rituals. Furthermore, the Soviet era left behind a legacy of secular education and a commitment to science and modernity that broadly corresponds with the Gulen movement’s aspirations.”[9]

It can be said that the Gulen movement contributes to global peace through building interfaith dialogue[10] on the basis of education and this contribution is supposed to go ahead in a much more vibrant way in the following years.

You can follow Begum on Twitter at @Begum_Burak_

* I use “the” not “a” in the title. That is because I see the Gulen movement as the only real actor in promoting global tolerance and peace.

[1] For the twitter account, go to!/hizmetmovement, [Last access, June 22, 2012].

[2] In terms of politics, Gulen advises his movement to remain non-partisan and apolitical.Unlike other Islamic groups, Gulen argues that there is no such as thing as a puritan Islamic State, and that therefore there can be no ultimate goal to work for its fulfillment. Instead, Gulen argues that states and governments should follow certain fundamental principles as espoused by Islam, see Ozcan Keles, “Promoting Human Rights Values in the Muslim World: the Case of the Gülen Movement”, Gulen Conference, House of Lords, SOAS, LSE, October 2007, at,%20O.pdf, [Last access, june 22, 2012].

[3] An analysis about M. Fethullah Gulen and his understanding of tolerance : Jane B. Schlubach, “Tolerance Is Love: Gülen, Ghazali, and Rûmî”, Rumi Forum, November 12,  2005, at [Last access, June 22, 2012].

[4] A piece about interfaith dialogue and peace-building: Fr. Thomas Michel, “The Contribution of Interfaith Dialogue to Peace Building”, at

[5] Fethullah Gulen Official Website, “Introducing Fethullah Gülen”, at, June 22, 2012.

[6] For an overview of the movement, see Yuksel A. Aslandogan, “The Gulen Movement”, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, June 17, 2009, at, [Last access, June 22, 2012].

[7] Ihsan Yilmaz, “Hizmet, forming a party and capturing the state”, Today’s Zaman, February 15, 2012, at, [Last access, June 22, 2012].

[8] Turkish Language Olympiads, Wikipedia, at, [Last access, 22, 2012].

[9]  Bill Park, “The Fethullah Gulen Movement”, The Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol.12, No.3, September, 2008, at

One thought on “The Gulen Movement as the Door Opening to Global Tolerance*

  1. Pingback: The Gulen Movement

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