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Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gülen Movement by M. Hakan Yavuz (review)
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This is a richly nuanced, balanced analysis of the influential Gülen movement, a “transnational religious network of schools, finance and community services” (p. 248) that “might be termed the first quasi-Protestant version of Islam” (p. 10). Spawned from the philosophy of Said Nursî (1873–1960), an enlightened Kurdish Sufi mystic, Fethullah Gülen’s (b. 1941) “key and controversial assumption is that individuals must be pious in order to be good citizens… that scientific curiosity is compatible with Islamic concerns …[and] that one can be a democrat and in favor of civil society out of religious convictions” (p. 8). Thus, “the significance of the Gülen movement is that it has not only vernacularized the ideas of Enlightenment, but … also turned them into a religio-social movement” (p. 6). “Gülen has forged a cohesive …social movement stressing individual character formation and community building, with the goal of catalyzing an Islamic renaissance compatible with the needs of the modern world” (p. 15).

Following its contextually stimulating introduction, Professor Yavuz’s study consists of three parts: Man, Movement, and Meaning. The shorter first part examines Gülen’s life story and key concepts such as Islam, morality, the good life and community, modernity, democracy, pluralism, and nationalism within Islam.

The second part delves into the structure and activities of the cemaat (community) or hizmet (collection of altruistic service organizations) of the Gülen movement. Most impressively, the movement has developed a print and electronic media that includes the two largest newspapers in Turkey (Zaman and Today’s Zaman), six TV channels, two radio stations, a worldwide news agency, several publishing houses, a number of periodical magazines and journals on such subjects as culture and science, scientific and spiritual thought, literature, environmental issues, and religious sciences. The hizmet also runs hundreds of schools and colleges, private hospitals and health clinics, an insurance company, and a non-interest-bearing Islamic bank, among many other charitable services. This powerful “multifaceted phenomenon” (p. 91) makes it in effect “a religious group, political action pact … [and] civil society organization” (p. 90).

Part Two also focuses on the Gülen movement’s process of cultivating a “golden generation … to be constituted from those who are educated in sciences and religion, and who have reconciled the tensions of living in modern secular societies without compromising their faith in religion” (p. 98). To accomplish this goal, “Gülen has assigned a special mission to teachers and defined their teaching activity as akin to a religious mission” (Ibid.). Concentrated in Turkey, Central Asia, and parts of the Middle East — with some even in the United States — these Gülen schools and colleges have by many accounts maintained high academic standards, but “fallen short of encouraging critical thinking and being truly open to alternative lifestyles and modes of being” (p. 116).

The final chapter in Part Two comes close to equating Max Weber’s spirit of capitalism with the Gülen movement’s stress on developing a successful and dynamic capitalist ethos: “There is an emergence of elective affinity between the spirit of capitalism and the ascetic morality of the Gülen movement, as Weber argued in the case of Europe … the foundation blocks for the construction of Calvinist Islam” (p. 123). Turkey’s new position as the 16th largest economy in the world and its emerging class of Anatolian bourgeoisie may be “viewed as evidence of God’s blessing upon those who devoted their labor and wealth to please god” (p. 122). After all, “the Prophet Muhammad was a successful merchant who engaged in the competitive and free market in Mecca and Medina” (p. 118).

Part Three argues that it is “theoretically useful to bring into the debate Jürgen Habermas’s recent writings on the political role of religion in the public sphere, to better understand how Gülen seeks to bridge secular and religious arguments” (p. 135). More concretely, from 1998–2010, the 22 Abant meetings “have become pathbreaking public forums for debate and discussion among diverse and contending segments of society that had rarely entered into dialogue before … to discuss challenges and issues facing Turkey and the larger Muslim world” (p. 144). Another chapter...

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