Engin Sezen, The Circle

On any given day, we hear words and phrases such as Islamic, Islamists, Muslim terrorist, Muslim militant, Islamic fundamentalist, Muslim radical, Muslim extremist, and the list goes on. ‘Islamism’ is one of the most argued over, variously defined words, and probably the most controversial one. As Ihsan Yilmaz states, the distinction between Islam, Islamic and Islamism is sometimes quite blurred.[1]

In this essay, I will explore Fethullah Gulen’s ideas and thoughts on Islamism. Gulen is a Turkish scholar who has been living in exile in the U.S.A since 1998. He became an alternative voice in the Muslim world today by declaring his innovative thoughts and ideas on several social issues, from politics to art, economics to religion.

Firstly, I will evaluate the different definitions of Islamism. Secondly, I will recount Gulen’s biography and describe the movement which has grown from his ideas. Lastly, I will analyze Gulen’s position on Islamism and his understanding of the term by examining both his own writings and the articles and the books written about him, and his movement.

The Muslim world extends from South Asia to North Africa, from the Balkans to the Middle East. The diversity of this vast geographical entity is particularly exemplified in Islamic thought and philosophy.  Different interpretations of the Koran (the Holy Book), and Sunnah (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) are found amongst today’s Muslims. For this reason, it is not a surprise to see various definitions and approaches to Islamism, not only in the non-Muslim world, but in Muslim spheres as well. Although Islamism has been discussed for more than a century by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, a consensus on its definition has not been reached. Islamism is adapted from the French term Islamiste, replacing the term Islamicist that was previously in use in the English language.[2] The term ‘Islamism’ first appeared in French in the mid-eighteenth century. It did not, however, refer to the modern use of Islamism and it was used as a synonym for the religion of Islam which was then known in French as mahomtisme, a religion created by the Prophet Muhammad. [3]  Today, for many scholars, Islamism has been used as an umbrella term that covers variety of Islamic thoughts, identities, and movements.  The following part of the essay will discuss the various definitions of the term in order to underline the importance of accurate nomenclature in Islamic studies.

Muhammet Cetin defines Islamism as; “Politically motivated understanding among Muslim activists who believe in evolutionary or revolutionary transformation in society and political systems”[4]. Mumtazer Turkone says; “Islamism has taken a dominant position in the ideological spectrum of the Islamic world as an alternative societal and political project”.[5]   As an ideology, Islamism has long been the main political backbone of Islamic societies. Despite Islamism’s 150-year history, and its importance amongst Muslim scholars and communities, this ideology has always remained as merely an  opposition movement.[6]  Ihsan Yilmaz also agrees that the term generally refers to political Islam and suggests that the term  also downgrades the religion to a level of an ideology, which is an instrumental use of Islam in politics. He asserts: “Islamism is a set of ideologies enunciating the view that Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system”.[7]  Yilmaz, as a Muslim scholar himself, is very much opposed to political representation of the religion. [8]

Western scholars mostly emphasize the political and ideological aspects of the term in their academic writings. Martin Kramer defines Islamism as such: “It is Islam reformulated as a modern ideology. Islamism is a response to ideologies that emerged in the modern West – communism, socialism, or capitalism”. [9] Graham Fuller’s version of Islamism is synonymous with political Islam, too.[10]  Renowned Islamic studies scholar John Esposito defines Islamism as “an ideology to support political and social activism”.[11] In these definitions generally, the word of ‘activism’ comes into prominence. Activism adds social and political meanings to Islamism, rather than only adhering to its spiritual aspects, and promoting the individual experience of Islam. The main question here remains as how to define ‘activism’. Importantly, scholars defined Islamism as synonymous with Islamic activism. Daniel Pipe’s definition is that Islamism is “a response by modern people to modern problems and ideologies”.[12] From this definition, one must ask what that response will be.  Pipes answers this question as he argues that Sharia (the Islamic law) is the heart of Islamism, so the most essential thing for Islamists  is leading a   life according to Islamic values, beliefs and moral systems, and revitalizing Islamic culture.[13] Berman defines Islamism “the belief that Islam should guide social and political, as well as personal life”[14].

It is fair to say that lack of consensus over the definition of Islamism amongst scholars creates confusion around the term. Martin Kramer again: “In summation, the term Islamism enjoyed its first run, lasting from Voltaire to the First World War, as a synonym for Islam. Enlightened scholars and writers generally preferred it to Mohammedanism. Eventually, both terms yielded to Islam, the Arabic name of the faith, and a word free of either pejorative or comparative associations. There was no need for any other term; not until the rise of an ideological and political interpretation of Islam challenged scholars and commentators to come up with an alternative to distinguish Islam as modern ideology from Islam as a faith”[15].  These varying definitions prove that Islamism is not a united movement.

Alternatively, one could define the term according to Islamic references and the historical contexts of the religion.  In order to do that, we should explore and explain basic Islamic vocabulary and the terminology. For instance, Jihad, Sharia, Umme, Darul Kufr, Darul Selam , tejdid, ilm – i siyase, Islamiyye, Caliphate and  other Islamic terminology will shed light on the discussions.  Clear and accurate definitions for Islamic references are often overlooked and, as a result, the religion of Islam has been interpreted into Western ideological contexts with non-Muslim terminology.

Before concentrating on Fethullah Gulen’s perspective in Islamism, it is important to briefly introduce Islamism’s historical background and context. First of all, Islamism is used interchangeably with different names in the Muslim world: Tecdid (revival), Pan-Islamism, and Ittihad-i Ummet are a few names that are in use today in the Muslim world. Modern Islamism first emerged in Egypt, under the leadership of Jamal- al Din Afghani, (1839- 1897) who was originally Iranian. Afghani believed that the Muslim world had fallen behind the West in last three centuries because of  intellectual stagnation[16].  He stated that; “A major crisis in Islamic history and in Muslim identity was precipitated by the advent of colonialism” [17]. Since then, things have gone awry.  Finding what went wrong became a major question, not only for Afghani, but for other Muslim scholars.  Afghani and his devout student Muhammad Abduh (1845-1905), as the advocates of Islamism, expanded this ideology further over the Muslim world. “Afghani considered nationalism and pan-Islamism two sides of the same anti colonial coin; for him, adopting one or the other was a matter of tactics, to be determined largely by the different context in which anti colonial movements operated”[18].

Since Afghani and Abduh had seen colonialism as a greatest disaster in the Muslim world, they sought for Islamic solutions to this problem. Their views on colonialism were also the primary reasons behind their criticism of the renowned Indian Muslim scholar and reformer Sir Seyd Ahmed (1817-1898), because of his pro-British stance. Another prominent Islamic group, Tablighi Jammaat, was founded in India in the 1920s. This Islamist movement did not aim to create any political transformation in India, rather it emphasized moral regeneration, ethics, and it focused on educational activities. The group became a grassroots movement of religious revival and it went global after the Second World War.[19] Today, Tablighi Jammaat conducts religious services and activities in the Western countries.

Hassan al Benna (1906-1949) founded the Muslim Brotherhood ( Ihvanul Muslimin) in Egypt in 1936, which is the world’s most influential Islamic movement. Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) in Egypt and Mawdudi (1903-1979) in Iran became the most notable Islamist scholars during the Cold War. Another important international Islamist movement, Sunni Hizbut-Tahrir, was founded in 1953 by the radical Palestinian Shaykh Taqiuddin al- Nabhani (1909-1977). The goal of Hizbut-Tahrir is the eventual unification of all Muslim nations in a single Islamic state or Caliphate, headed by an elected caliph[20]. As a prime example of the transnational Islamist movement, Hizbuttahrir aimed to revitalize the Sharia and to recreate a universal Islamic state by restoring the Caliphate peacefully. [21]

The terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda, was founded by Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011) on the basis of transnational Jihadi ideology.  This is a radical Sunni Muslim movement that calls for global Jihad and interprets Sharia law strictly. [22] Since Al Qaeda has historically been a terrorist organization, it is out of the scope of this paper; however its name is often mentioned during discussions of Islamism. At this point, the fundamental difference between the transnational jihadi movements and other Islamist movements comes out on the concept of Jihad, or holy war. For Al Qaeda, Jihad’s definition is different than many other Islamist movements. Al Qaeda focuses on the meaning of the lesser Jihad, which means fighting with non-Muslims, and for this purpose their goal is to kill innocent people.  Small transnational jihadi groups harm the international image of political Islam, and even the religion itself, because they engage in the violent acts in the name of Allah across the globe. For this reason, they have the most dramatic impact outside the Muslim world, helping to shape the image of political Islam globally as a violent and extremist ideology[23].

Several Islamic revivalist movements have appeared throughout history. There were many Muslim scholars who advocated unity of all Muslims around the world, regardless of ethnicity or any other cultural differences. Those scholars take Islamic values to center without limiting themselves with political borders. Islamism, in this sense, is a transnational ideology. There are continual Islamic movements operating amongst the Muslim people in all parts of the world that promote the betterment of Muslims. Within these groups, however, Islam has been interpreted sometimes very differently. As result of that heterogeneity, various kinds of Islamisms and Islamists occur.

Fethullah Gulen offers one of these unique interpretations of Islam.  Gulen was born in Erzurum in 1941 and after taking private courses from several local scholars, he graduated from a divinity school (madrasa), in Erzurum. HakanYavuz, a pioneering scholar of the Gulen movement, argues that the regional culture in which Gulen was raised and the influences of his religion teacher Muhammad Lutfi, shaped Gulen’s character and his understanding of Islam. Gulen obtained a preaching license and started his official functions under the Turkish State’s Directorate of Religious Affairs in 1958. Despite growing up in a conservative home town , he worked and served all his life in the most modern cities of Western Turkey: Kirklareli, Edirne, and especially Izmir, where he gained great fame as a religious activist. In Izmir, while he was serving as a teacher and preacher, he regularly traveled to different places to talk about ethics, science, and education in order to ignite religious excitement and generosity in the public.

In 1968, Gulen began organizing meetings in coffee-houses, villages, community centers and lecture halls throughout the provinces of the Aegean region. He made his name known around Izmir as a religious leader and he organized summer camps for high school students who would later become Gulen’s leading disciples. In 1974, he launched the first university preparatory course in Manisa, where he was posted as a preacher. He was sent to Europe in 1977 by the state to observe the Turkish immigrants’ situations there. He encouraged immigrants in Germany both to preserve their cultural and religious values and to integrate into their host country.

In 1979, he started to publish the monthly journal Sizinti, which was very popular amongst young readers. The periodical educated the community and became a trademark publication of the movement. In September 1980, Gulen took a leave of absence from his work, just one week before the infamous military coup, as he was being sought by authorities for his suspicious religious activities. When the movement set up its first private high school in Izmir in 1982, Gulen was hiding from the state’s police. After the removal of the legal warrant against him in 1986, Gulen again started  preaching, this time  the largest mosques of Istanbul, Suleymaniye and Fatih where he remained until 1991. Over thirty years he preached as a state imam in various places and most of his sermons were videotaped and broadcast across the country to reach out to larger communities in Turkey. Gulen himself, as a pious Muslim, strove to practice the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad in his own life and conveyed Muhammad’s messages through his sermons.

In 1994, Fethullah Gülen started giving interviews to journalists and appearing in the media more often. The same year, he launched The Foundation of Journalists and Writers. The Foundation organized high level events involving leaders of religious minorities, intellectuals, politicians, and journalists with different world views in Turkey. In March 1999, Fethullah Gulen moved to the U.S. to receive medical care for his cardiovascular condition. Since then, he has stayed in the U.S. to continue to receive medical care, and he currently lives at a retreat facility in Pennsylvania.

Over the years, Fethullah Gulen developed his own philosophy without limiting himself to any thought of school, and created his own community which depended upon his personal charisma and innovative ideas about religion and education. As his own philosophy has been shaped over the years, Gulen has been influenced by the works of many socially conservative and nationalist intellectuals in Turkey such as Necip Fazil, Nurettin Topcu, and Sezai Karakoc. The influence of the three literary minds is very evident in Gulen’s writing.  On the other hand, Zeki Saritoprak insists that Gulen incorporated many of Nursi’s (the founder of the main stream Islamic movement in Turkey, called Nurculuk) ideas into his own teaching and philosophy[24].

Broadly speaking, Hakan Yavuz identifies the socio-historical stages of the Gulen movement in three phases[25]. The first period from the 1970s until 1983 (the embryonic period) could be characterized as a time of community building. Then, from 1983 to 1997, Gulen focused on educational projects, such as building dormitories for college students, establishing primary and secondary schools, and universities with a focus on achievements in math and science. In the last stage, from 1997 to the mid-2000s, the Gulen movement was faced with persecutions and trials in Turkey, while at the same time the movement was becoming a transnational phenomenon.

Fethullah Gulen himself is a controversial individual for many in Turkey, although he tries carefully to keep himself distant from public debates about his personality and the movement in general. Staying away from these general discussions and accusations, he keeps working on his ongoing educational projects like opening schools, community centers, hospitals . The  public, however, constantly questions his true intentions.   Does he have a hidden agenda? Is he contemplating the creation of a Khomeini-like Islamic republic? Is he under U.S. influence after residing in America for years? Is he a Turkish nationalist rather than an Islamist and is he using the religiosity of the Turkish people for his own ends in an attempt to revitalize the Ottoman Empire?  Gulen and his movement’s leading cadre have responded several times these allegations, while at the same time trying to stay away from creating more controversy. However, when it comes to discussing larger subjects such as modernity, democracy, laicism, terrorism, westernization, ethnic and religious problems in Turkey, Gulen shares his opinions on these topics throughout his own media

As a leader of a transnational Islamic movement, Fethullah Gulen denies that he is either the leader of an Islamic group or that he leads a movement of any kind.  He has never accepted s that there is a movement associated with his name and he suggests calling it Hizmet (service), or Gonulluler Hareketi (Volunteers’ movement).[26] He says that today there are many styles of Islam spread across the globe, like  Qaddafi’s Islam, Qutup’s Islam, Imam Khomeini’s Islam , Iqbal’s Islam, Ali Shariati’s Islam, and so on. Gulen holds to the opinion that there is no need to add another to this list, such as Gulen’s Islam[27]. However, Turkish and non-Turkish social scientists continue to refer to this Islamic group as the Gulen movement. Gulen, at any opportunity, expresses his uneasiness with this affiliation.  He stresses that this label is the one most bothersome to him, since he does not see himself as a person who can influence a group.  By contrast, his supporters calls him Hocaefendi (Holy Master), and refer to their movement as Hizmet (religious service).The supporters also see Gulen as the ‘smiling face, (Gulen means smiling in Turkish) of Islam.  Gulen, as a non-political, social and educational activist[28] insists that he does not want to politicize Islamic values and beliefs, as is the policy of revolutionary reformist leaders like Khomeini of Iran, so he denies allegations that he has already formed an organization, and he further emphasizes the importance of being a pious individual Muslim without embracing political affiliations, or having political ambition. [29]

Richard Penaskovic uncovers five main points in Gulen’s philosophy and identifies these core elements from Gulen’s writings. He lists these theses as: 1) Gulen emphasizes that we live in a global world today. 2) Islam and the west have become estranged. 3) Dialogue, particularly interfaith dialogue, is key. 4) Love conquers all. 5) The future looks hopeful[30]. These core principles in Gulen’s philosophy can be used as a framework to in order to understand his perspective about Islamism. As a Global Imam[31] Gulen says that we all live in a global world today, so we cannot divide the world; we cannot see it as half Darul -Kufr (Infidel territories) and the other half  Darul-Selam (Muslim territories). We must live in peaceful coexistence[32] with one another as Muslim, Christian, Jews, or atheist.  Gulen very often is called a modern Rumi[33]  – a reference to a famous 13th century Sufi in Anatolia. Despite the disparities between Western civilizations and Islamic civilization, we must focus on similarities, and celebrate them, because he believes that these differences constitute the very richness of humanity.[34]

Gulen encourages transnational marriages between his supporters, and he believes this is beneficial for building future peace. He emphasizes interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities as the most important way to provide mutual understanding in the world.[35] For this reason he travelled to Rome and met with Pope John Paul in 1998. Until that time, when he was living in Turkey, several religious leaders and foreign mission representatives regularly visited Gulen in his home in Istanbul. Gulen maintains that he is hopeful about the future because reasonable people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world, communities, and institutions expend great efforts to achieve the goal of a peaceful future.[36]

Fethullah Gulen’s chief activities centre around education (tarbiyah) which he sees as a key tool in the development of society. In Gulen’s worldview, there are three major enemies of not only Muslims, but also humanity as a whole: ignorance, poverty and disunity.[37] As an educator, he encourages Turkish business people to  build schools first in Turkey, and later abroad, and to create educational bridges between different cultures.  His educational philosophy synthesizes tradition and modernity, religion and science. [38] Gulen’s schools don’t teach religion in traditional sense, so they are not Islamic schools. Rather, the schools’ programs focus on character education, lightly tempered with the Islamic values.  In more than 140 countries, over a thousand Gulen schools[39] don’t teach Islam. Instead, the schools are run under the host countries’ state regulations and follow their curricula, which do not include Islamic teachings. However, Uzbekistan and Russia still banned these schools because of their religious agendas.

Gulen “sees education as requisite for social, economic and political modernization and advocates that individuals will respect democratic law and human rights only if they receive a sound education”[40]. Agai claims here that although Gulen’s teachers don’t teach Islam, they live the religion and set religious examples for the students in the schools, and living the religion becomes more influential than preaching and teaching it. Interestingly, Agai says Gulen propagates an ‘educational Islamism,’ as opposed to a ‘political Islamism’[41].  But Gulen’s main goal is to raise a “Golden Generation” in these schools[42]. He preached about the main attributes of this generation in the 1980s, and created great furor in the general public. What he meant by the term ‘Golden Generation’ is that it was special , and that this generation must combine science with religion, and devotionally work for his/her country and for the greater good of humanity. He believed that a person can be both religious and science-minded at the same time.. Gulen thought that the Golden Generation was a long term project that could take years to come to fruition.  To this end, he encouraged wealthy Turks to donate money and prepare educational facilities for the poor and intelligent children of the country.  He called these regular donation gatherings with the rich ‘himmet’, which simply means giving. With these donations, the movement built and opened thousand of private schools in Turkey, and did not charge tuition for impoverished children.  After twenty some years, tens of thousands of these children occupy important positions in Turkey.

Gulen does not propose a specific ideology in his teachings. He focuses on what he calls authentic Islam based on a Sunni Sufi tradition and with high regard for Rumi, the 13th century Sufi who preached peace and love. Gulen asserts Islamism taken as a political ideology creates unwanted political connotations such as communism, capitalism, nationalism, liberalism, and even the replacement of religion with secularism.  He sees religion as an individual lifestyle choice, rather than focusing on its social aspects and creating a political power or ideology from it[43].  He is evidently opposed to political Islam, as he always says: “I don’t have any political ambition, or any desire for politics; but my only ambition is to serve my country”[44].  Cetin believes that the movement “fits the description of non-political, so despite being a collective action or mobilization, it cannot be said to be a political movement”[45]

Gulen also positions himself ‘above any kind of politics,’ and he tries to stay away from the daily political polemics, and avoids being affiliated with any political party, leftist or rightist, religious or secularist. During election times, he and his movement become a center of attention for politicians, but he does not typically make any comment in favor of any party. While he does not endorse political party, he highly encourages his supporters to be part of the election system and support democracy. In the 2010 elections and referendum, the Gulen movement for the first time became closely associated with the AKP, the current ruling, mildly Islamic party in Turkey. Gulen said the 2010 elections were very important for the future of the country and that he was beyond having any personal political entity with any party. It is popularly thought that the Gulen movement and AKP work closely, even though there are tensions between the two groups from time to time.

Gulen does not talk about Sharia (Islamic law) in his writings or speeches. In fact, he is very careful about this word, and he does not even pronounce the word, because Sharia invokes negative thoughts in the minds of many people, both Muslim and non-Muslim.  He believes Muslim can live their religion freely in every condition while they coexist with the other people from different cultures. He holds that there is no need to establish a Sharia system, but there is a need for justice, mutual understanding, and a need to help the neediest. He says all mosques are open and there is a democratic system in Turkey, and he finds this is enough to live a Islamic life-style and contribute to society[46]. Gulen is not in favor of the political implementation of Sharia,[47] He also does not propose an Islamic state, but advocates democracy. Overal, he stays away using Sharia for its negative connotations, same as it is in Islamism.

Gulen sees no contradiction between Islam and modernity.  He supports Turkey’s accession to European Union, as opposed to the views of many Turks. He was among the first and strongest supporters of full European Union membership and integration. The majority of Turkish people see the European Union as a Christian club and a threat to Turkish national and Muslim identity. While almost half of the Turkish people are against EU membership, Gulen believes that EU’s criteria will expand human and minority rights in Turkey.  “Gulen’s pro-Western attitude has played a key role in the domestication and softening of other Islamists [who] eventually came closer to embracing this idea, [after] a majority of them initially criticized Gulen for his pro-Europe views.” [48] Gulen’s views here are opposite to those of the Islamic Parties, SP, and BBP, the nationalist party MHP, and the Republican Party CHP.

In the Muslim world, modernization usually has been perceived as synonymous with Westernization. During both colonial and post-colonial times, the majority of the Muslim population developed a hatred for modernity and especially toward Western values. Westernization and modernism became a major dilemma to be dealt with amongst the Muslim scholars who have been discussing the subject matter for more than two hundred years without any concrete result. “The question of Islam’s response to social change is much misunderstood both within the Muslim world itself and outside it”[49]. Gulen is very proactive rather than reactive in embracing modernity and Western values.  In particular, he has recently advised his supporters around the world not to isolate or assimilate, but to integrate and even contribute to the foreign cultures. As a cultural nationalist, Gulen has become more global-minded since he left Turkey in 1998, and moved to the U.S. His ideology has shifted from an ethnocentric Turkish identity towards “global educational activities that encourage the national identities of the countries in which it is operating.”[50] In Turkish schools abroad, universal values are being taught, rather than Turkish and Islamic values.

 In Turkey, ideological debates between aggressive secular and extremist Islamic groups have been going on for a century. The establishment Republican elite “advocates the existing French model of an assertive secularism”[51]. in order to protect the Republic, the state and the army organized military coups in 1960, 1970, and 1980 against the religious and leftist groups.  In the1990’s, Gulen became a major threat to the state because of his increasing numbers of supporters; however Gulen positioned himself as a peaceful social activist and as an individual who is capable of working with not only the current political system, but also the army, instead of being labeled as a Islamist and being marginalized, as many others religious activist have been.   He assured the public that he is not aiming for an Islamic state or reviving the Caliphate back in past years.[52] Even though he has made it clear that he has no a political agenda and that he is against the instrumentalisation of religion in politics, the protectionist elite generally still don’t believe him and accuse him of being a major threat to the state.[53] The state is of the opinion that  Gulen is practicing taqiyya (subterfuge) in his rejection of Islamism.[54]

 Gulen does not believe that there is a Muslim world as such. Instead, there are geographies in which Muslims reside. He sees no need for unification of all Muslims; however Muslims must live their true religion to make a difference in an unjust world. He harshly criticizes the Ottomans, yet he frequently glorifies the Ottoman Empire because he believed the Ottomans maintained  peace and order in the most difficult territories over at least three hundred years. He believes the Ottomans did what they needed to do during their Six Thunders reign, for better or for worse.. When the movement gradually became more global, Gulen accommodated a softer discourse regarding national issues and he started talking less about Turkish-ness, and began emphasizing universal values and diversity.  From his conversations, however, it is clear that he still draws inspiration from Ottoman history. “Although the thinking of Fethullah Gulen has continued to evolve, with an intensified emphasis on the philosophy’s more universalistic, pluralistic, liberal, and democratic qualities in recent years, it remains rooted in the Turkish-Ottoman experience.”[55]  It is very obvious that both Gulen’s thinking and the movement’s philosophy is becoming  less traditionally Turkish and more liberal.

 Gulen uses the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an opportunity to declare his thoughts about terrorism at a higher volume. He was the first Muslim leader who condemned the attacks by sending a condemnation message to the Washington Post on September 21st, 2001. He said that he hates Osama Bin Laden, because he stained Islam forever and it will take years to recover Islam’s image in the minds of the Western people. His most important message in this condemnation was that; “A true Muslim cannot be a terrorist, and a terrorist cannot be a Muslim.” [56]

In conclusion, it is hard to deny the Gulen’s movement’s Islamic nature, despite the movement’s variety of non-religious activities such as transnational business, scientific Olympiads, academic conferences, health institutions, and educational activities. While it is an Islamic movement at its root, todaythe movement has become a strong network, able to successfully combine tradition and modernity in an authentic way, and embrace social life as whole.  It is believed Gulen, as a visionary religious leader, opened doors for Turkish people in the modern world. And during last three decades he has become much more than a religious leader for many Turkish people who are inspired by Gulen’s thoughts.

After careful examination of Gulen’s writings and speeches, one can conclude that he identifies himself as a devout Muslim, instead of an Islamist. In fact, he rejects being labeled as Islamist. His most crystal clear remark: “Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam established fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances”[57]. According a Gulenist scholar and now a federal MP in Turkey, Dr. Cetin, Gulen directly criticizes Islamist political thought and ideology in his many books and articles [58].  Cetin claims that Gulen argues in favor of democracy, and the modernization and consolitaditon of democratic institutions in order to build a society where individual right are respected and protected [59]

Fethullah Gulen respects the Koran and thinks that the Holy book must be treated as a divine script, not an ideological manifesto.  He states that “…such a book should not be reduced to the level of political discourse, nor should it be considered a book about political theories of forms of state.”[60]

Besides Gulen’s concrete remarks about Islamism, we find greater details about his thoughts on Islamism in Turkish media from the writers, journalists and scientists who come from his movement. Academic and journalist, Ihsan Yilmaz, a supporter of the Gulen movement, explains his ideas about Islamism by saying: “Islamism is a modern political ideology. It is not equal to Islam, it is only one of the interpretations. I am a practicing Muslim, but not an Islamist. I don’t think that Quran and Sunnah offer a detailed blueprint for a political system. For me, Islam is overwhelmingly about spirituality, self-discipline, worshipping, ethnics, morality, justice and public order.” [61] To me, it seems it is exactly thus for Gulen.


[1] Ihsan Yilmaz, ‘ Pluralism in Turkey,’ Today’s  Zaman, June 07, 2012

[2] Gilles Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim Extremists in Egypt (New York: University of California Press,1986),  14.

[3] Martin Kramer, “Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?”  Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003, 65-77.

[4] Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 176.

[5] Mumtazer Turkone, “The Birth and Death of Islamism” Insight Turkey 14(2012):87-100

[6] Turkone, “The Birth and Death of Islamism” Insight Turkey 14( 2012):87-100

[7] Yilmaz, ‘Pluralism in Turkey,’ Today’s  Zaman, June 07, 2012

[8] Yilmaz, ‘Pluralism in Turkey,’ Today’s  Zaman, June 07, 2012

[9] The Middle East Quarterly, December 1999

[10] The Middle East Quarterly, December 1999

[11] The Middle  East Quarterly, December 1999

[12] The Middle  East Quarterly , December 1999

[13] The Middle East Quarterly, December 1999

[14] Berman, S., “Islamism, Revolution and Civil Society, Perspectives on Politics,” American Political Science Association Vol. 1, 2 (June 2003), 258.

[15] Martin Kramer, “Coming to terms: Fundamentalist or Islamist,” Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2003), 65.77.

[16] John Voll, Modern Movements in Islam.  Edith Kamrama, (London:  University of California Press,2011) Chapter 12.

[17]  John Esposito, Voices of Resurgent Islam. Edith Esposito (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 5.

[18] Muhammed Ayoob, Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World (University of Michigan Press, 2008), 134.

[19] John Voll, Modern Movements in Islam.  Edith Kamrama, (London:  University of California Press, 2011) Chapter 12.

[20] Zeyno Baran,  “ Fighting the War of Ideas,” Foreign Affairs, (November-December 2005): 77.

[21] Muhammed Ayoob, Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World (University of Michigan Press, 2008), 138.

[22] Darko Trifunovic and Jill Starr, Bosnian Model of Al Qaeda Terrorism (Banja Luka, 2002), 41.

[23] Muhammed Ayoob, Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World (University of Michigan Press, 2008), 132.

[24] Zeki Saritoprak, “ Fethullah  Gulen and the People of the Book: A Voice from Turkey for Interfaith Dialogue,” The Muslim Word, 95 ( July 2005),329-340.

[25] Hakan Yavuz, “The Gulen Movement,” Edith. Yavuz and Esposito, Turkish Islam and the Secular State ( New York:Syracus University Press:,2003),19-47

[26] Fethullah Gulen, Kirik Testi , ( Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari, 2005), 182.

[27] Gulen,Kirik Testi, (Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari,2005), 233

[28] Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 124

[29] Fethullah  Gulen,Gurbet  Ufuklari ( Istanbul: Nil   Yayinlari,2007), 181.

[30] Fethullah Gulen, Umit Burcu, (Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari, 2010), 275.

[31] Suzy Hansen, “The Global Imam,” The New Republic, (2010):  32.

[32] Fethullah Gulen, Umit Burcu ( Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari,2010), 12

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[34] Fethullah Gulen, OlumsuzlukIksiri ( Istanbul: 2011,Nil Yayinlari), 164

[35] Gulen, Umit Burcu ( Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari,2010), 159

[36] Gulen, Umit Burcu (Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari,2010)  161

[37] Fethullah Gulen,Fikir Atlasi ( Izmir, 2006), 87.

[38] Fethullah Gulen, Dirilis Cagrisi, (Istanbul: 2010),141.

[39] “Hangi Ulkede Kac Turk Okulu Var,” last modified May 16,2010, http://www.seyfislam.com/forum/image-vp150023.html

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[41] Agai B. , The Gulen Movement’s Islamic Ethic of Education. In M.H. Yavuz and J.L. Esposito,eds. Turkish Islam and The Secular State: The Gulen Movement ,( New York: Syracuse University Press,2005), 50.

[42] Fethullah Gulen, Dirilis Cagrisi, ( Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari, 2010),37.

[43]  Fethullah Gulen, Vuslat Mustusu, ( Istanbul: Nil Yayinlari,2009), 93

[44] Fethullah Gulen,Sohbet-i Canan ( Istanbul: Nil  Yayinlari, 2006), 284.

[45] Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 100

[46] Fethullah  Gulen, Dirilis Cagrisi ( Istanbul: NilYayinlari,2008), 211.

[47] William Park,Fethullah Gulen Movement as a Transnational Phenomenon, Panel at University of London, The Gulen Movement in Redefining Turkey and Anatolian Muslimness, (London: 26,10, 2007)

[48] Hasan Kosebalan, The Gulen Movement’s Islamic Ethic of Education. In M.H. Yavuz and J.L. Esposito,eds. Turkish Islam and The Secular State: The Gulen Movement ,( New York: Syracuse University Press,200),176

[49] John Esposito, Voices of Resurgent Islam. Edith Esposito (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 230.

[50] Agai B. , The Gulen Movement’s Islamic Ethic of Education. In M.H. Yavuz and J.L. Esposito,eds. Turkish Islam and The Secular State: The Gulen Movement ,( New York: Syracuse University Press,200),63

[51] Kuru, Ahmet, Changing Perspectives on Islamism and Secularism in Turkey: The Gulen Movement and AK Party, Panel at University of London, The Gulen Movement in Redefining Turkey and Anatolian Muslimness, (London: 26,10, 2007)

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[53]  Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 148

[54] Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 140

[55] William Park,Fethullah Gulen Movement as a Transnational Phenomenan, Panel at University of London, The Gulen Movement in Redefining Turkey and Anatolian Muslimness, (London: 26,10, 2007)

[56] http://en.fgulen.com/press-room/nuriye-akmans-interview/1727-a-real-muslim-cannot-be-a-terrorist

[57] Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 167.

[58] Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 167.

[59] Muhammet Cetin,Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Gulen Movement (New York: Blue DomePress,2012), 168.

[60] An interview with Gulen by Zeki Saritoprak and Ali Unal. In The Muslim World Special Issiue, 95 (3), 447-67, 2005: 456

[61] Yilmaz, Ihsan, Pluralism in Turkey, Todays Zaman