A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam
Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh is a professor of sociology at the University Houston and has written extensively on Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen Movement. Her latest book, The Gülen Movement, attempts to describe the transnational movement to a western audience.
Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh's most recent book, The Gülen Movement attempts to describe the transnational movement that began in Turkey to a Western audience. Her initial idea was to focus on the financial aspect of the movement with a concentration on discovering who and where a majority of the funding originated. As few of her readers understood the origin and purpose of the movement, she was forced to alter her project into a more descriptive approach. Through her years of research on the movement, Dr. Ebaugh interviewed supporters of the Gülen Movement and visited schools, hospitals, and other Gülen-inspired institutions. These experiences helped Dr. Ebaugh describe the foundations of this movement to an audience mainly unfamiliar with Fethullah Gülen and his teachings.
Fethullah Gülen, the inspirational source of the Hizmet movement, came to realize the importance of providing a quality education for the future generations during his time in Izmir, Turkey as an Imam. Dr. Ebaugh highlighted the generosity of wealthy Turkish businesspeople who came to support Gülen's ideas and vision. With their generosity, these few businesspeople were able to build private schools throughout Turkey that provided an exceptional quality of education. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gülen and people inspired from him took advantage of the vacuum created in the region and the surrounding countries by building new, effective schools and hospitals. This initial expansion out of Turkey led to a vast network of schools inspired by Gülen throughout the world. Dr. Ebaugh predicts that there are currently at least 500 private schools in Turkey along with 500 more schools built by the movement around the world. The Gülen Movement is active in 180 countries including every country in the continent of Africa. 130 of those countries have Gülen inspired schools.
While the Gülen Movement has been instrumental in creating quality educational opportunities and medical assistance, there are people who are critical of the movement's perceived intentions. One of the main criticisms of the movement is the perceived lack of transparency within its operations and finances. Some critics, as Dr. Ebaugh explains, fear that the movement has ulterior political motives and receives funding from state institutions for political gain. Dr. Ebaugh however believes that much of the movement's perceived lack of transparency or ulterior motives stem from cultural differences. She also argued that due to direct efforts of Fethullah Gülen, the movement has intentionally remained apolitical.
In conclusion, Dr. Ebaugh discussed the questions people have regarding the potential longevity of the movement without the leadership of Fethullah Gülen. She stated that, unlike most other movements, the Gülen Movement has a very lateral hierarchal structure. Its decentralized structure gains its strength from the loosely connected network of small groups led by motivated people inspired by Gülen's ideas. Each group seeks their own funding and caters their approach to the needs of the community they serve. Together, these groups serve as the engines of the movement and are critical for its longevity in the absence of Fethullah Gülen.