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Fethullah Gulen's Influence
?"why are there so many people that like Fetullah Gulen's Ideas ? why is he so appealing ? to turks and many others."
Dear Mr. Davis,
Thank you for your question. Several articles have written to address to your question, before I refer to those articles, I would like to address your question briefly, but you can get a more detailed answer from those articles.
While there is no doubt that Mr. Gulen has influenced many people, there is no a certain number of those people. There are some studies that suggest millions of people, but there has not been any research conducted to give the total number of people that are influenced by the ideas of Fethullah Gulen, or more specifically, number of people in the Gulen Movement.
As you would agree, this is a difficult task. How would you determine who is influenced and who is not? There is no membership in the movement, therefore, how would define membership?
However, there are some surveys that show strong support to the ideas Gulen. According to a recent survey by Akbar Ahmed of American University, 84 percent of Turkish society has a highly favorable opinion of Gulen and the civil society initiatives Gulen has inspired[i][ii]. Turkey’s most circulated daily newspaper Zaman is also affiliated with the Gulen Movement, and it has close to a million daily circulations in Turkey. Millions of students attend to educational institutions that are established by the Gulen Movement. While all these numbers can tell that millions of people are influenced by the ideas of Fethullah Gulen and support Gulen Movement’s activities, they won’t be able to give us a certain number. Matter of fact, it might be impossible to get that certain number.
The Gulen Movement originated in 1970s Turkey as a faith-inspired (or Islam-inspired) initiative to improve educational opportunities for a local community; over the three and half decades since then, it has grown into a transnational educational, inter-cultural and interfaith movement, with participants numbering in the millions, as well as securely established, respected institutions (of different kinds, but mostly schools) on every continent[iii].
Your question is “why and how” this is the case. I think we can address this question by grouping all the factors in three main categories:
1- Characteristics of Gulen’s ideas, and the success of projects
2- Potential in the Turkish social and historical context
3- Reaching out to overall population
Due to combination of all these three factors, Fethullah Gulen’s ideas have influenced millions of people both in Turkey and abroad.
Characteristics of Gulen’s ideas, and the success of projects:
Gulen’s ideas are universalistic and pluralistic[iv]. The movement is moderate which embraces liberal democracy and promotes inter-faith tolerance and dialogue[v]. Gulen sees no contradiction between Islam and modernity. Indeed, he insists on the desirability of Islam's embrace of science, reason, democratization, and tolerance[vi].
Gülen is 'critical of the instrumentalization of religion in politics', and has constantly opposed direct participation in party politics because the modern world exists in a 'pluralistic experience rather than within an assumed homogeneity of truth'. He is against those who have created 'a negative image of Islam by reducing Islam to an ideology'[vii].Through words and deeds he underlines the distinction between Islam, a religion, and Islamism, a profoundly radical political ideology that seeks to replace existing states and political structures, either through revolutionary or evolutionary means:
Gulen opposes the use of Islam as a political ideology and a party philosophy, and polarizing society into believers and nonbelievers. He calls for those who believe and think differently to respect and tolerate each other, and supports peace and reconciliation[viii].
Gulen has distanced himself equally from all political parties and ideologies. The Gulen Movement represents its understanding through formal and institutionalized organizations. As these institutions are mostly educational they do not take sides with political parties[ix]. Rather than being distant to some, Gulen says, they are equally near to all[x]. Therefore, the ideas of Gulen have been embraced by many people regardless of political affiliations.
Activities of the movement have been very successful in general and supported by people from different groups. This success and support helped Gulen to gain a good reputation in the Turkish society.
For more information in this matter, see:
Reductionist Approaches to the Rise and Aims of the Gülen Movement by Muhammed Cetin
Potential in the Turkish social and historical context:
Both the ideas of Gulen and the society that is attracted by those ideas were influenced by two important factors: Ottoman experience and Turkish interpretation of Islam. In a way, while Turkish society found a leader in Gulen that expresses its mind and spirit, Gulen also found a society that could grasp and carry out the philosophy into action. In this sense, ideas of Gulen and the potential in the Turkish society for Gulen’s ideas coincide, and complete each other.
Therefore, Turkish society’s social and historical experiences enabled Gulen’s ideas to influence millions of people in that society.
For more information in this matter, see:
What Made the Gülen Movement Possible? by Mustafa Akyol
Reaching out to overall population:
Gulen Movement has been able to reach every strata of the society regardless of class, ideology, political, ethnic and religious affiliations. In his teachings, Gulen emphasizes finding commonalities with everybody and establishing ideologue and relationships.
In its methodology of reaching out to everyone, movement has been able to adapt modern conditions. Gulen Movement has successfully turned its spiritual, intellectual and human resources into effective social capital in three areas: education (establishment of institutions from primary school to university level, attracting students of diverse backgrounds); the media (a wide range of products in print and audio-visual communication, from a mass circulation daily to TV and radio channels); and civil society organizations (foundations and associations to promote democratic participation and dialogue among various sections of the society)[xi].
For more information in this matter, see:
Social and Spiritual Capital of the Gülen Movement by Talip Kucukcan
There might be some other reasons to add to these factors to explain why there are so many people that like Fethullah Gulen's ideas and why he is so appealing to millions of people both in Turkey and abroad. This question itself requires a specific research.
Staff writer, Fethullah Gulen Forum
[iii] Cetin, Muhammed. 2008. Reductionist Approaches to the Rise and Aims of the Gülen Movement
[iv] Park, Bill. 2007. The Fethullah Gülen Movement as a Transnational Phenomenon
[vi] Park, Bill. 2007. The Fethullah Gülen Movement as a Transnational Phenomenon
[vii] Voll, John. 2003. Fethullah Gulen Transcending Modernity in the New Islamic Discourse; Yilmaz, Ihsan.2005. Law, Civil Society and Islam In Contemporary Turkey; Ashton, Loye. 2005. Defending Religious Diversity and Tolerance in America Today: Lessons from Fethullah Gülen.; Zeybek, N. K. 1997. The Hodja Spoke; Ünal & Williams. 2000. Fethullah Gülen: Advocate of Dialogue.
[viii] Webb, Lynn. E. 2000. Fethullah Gülen: Is There More to Him Than Meets the Eye
[ix] Michel, Thomas. 2006. Gulen as Educator and Religious Leader; Ünal & Williams. 2000. Fethullah Gülen: Advocate of Dialogue; State, Yilmaz, Ihsan.2005. Law, Civil Society and Islam In Contemporary Turkey; Çetin, Muhammed. 2009. The Gulen Moment: Civic Service without Borders
[xi] Kucukcan, Talip. 2007. Social and Spiritual Capital of the Gülen Movement