Turkey’s Fethullah Gulen movement, for some others a sect or a cult, promoting service to the common good, may have grown into the world’s biggest Muslim networking community. Is it the modern face of Islam, or are there more sinister motives?
From Kenya to Kazakhstan, from USA to Sudan and Nepal, a new Islamic network is attracting millions of followers and apparently billions of dollars. Inspired by a Turkish imam, Fethullah Gülen, who resides in the USA, the Gulen movement is linked to more than 1,000 schools in more than 130 countries as well as think tanks, newspapers, TV and radio stations, universities – and even a bank.
The massive network is really unique. It has no formal structure, no visible, no tracable accounts or organisation and no official membership. Its followers state they simply work together, inspired by the message of charismatic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who tries to convince to promote a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education.
Turkish businessmen are attracted by what they see and hear as his international outlook and pragmatic approach to issues like using a finance credit.
In Turkey currently the movement is thought to have up to 10 million supporters. A recent study shows many are dedicated in giving between 5%-20% of their monthly income to many sub-groups affiliated with the movement.
Critics are centered that the movements aim is nothing but to gain power, to spread socially conservative Islamic attitudes on issues like marriage and alcohol around the world, and to suppress any opposition, just like any other radical islamist organisation.
Fethullah Güven A threat to Turkey’s Secularity?
In the past year, three of its most prominent critics have been sentenced to prison in Turkey, revealing claims that it has become a sinister controlling might in Turkey.
Mr Fethullah Gulen’s critics hint to a video from 1999, in which he preaches his followers that they should purposely attempt to infiltrate mainstream structures:
“You must move within the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centres. You must wait until such time as you have got all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institution in Turkey.”
The following year, Fethullah Gulen faced charges of trying to sabotage Turkey’s secular state.
He left then for the United States, claiming the recording had been tampered with. He was later cleared in absentia of all charges.
Today Fethullah Gulen is 70 years old and lives a secluded life on a country estate in Pennsylvania, USA.
Fethullah Gulen has urged his followers to build schools instead of mosques, and encourages interaction with people of other faiths through dialogue societies, including one in the UK and many in the United States.