In the late 1960s, or early 1970s, Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen’s message of deep and practiced faith, altruism and action was being delivered against a backdrop of poverty, corruption and moral decay. Non-democratic interventions on democracy, restriction of religious expression in public life, political and ideological clashes were prevalent. Tensions among the Sunni and Alevi, Turkish and Kurdish, and practicing Muslim versus secular nonpracticing citizens were high. But most importantly, politically/ideologically motivated armed clashes among “communists”, “fascists”, etc. resulted in the deaths of thousands of youth on the streets. In addition, assumed tensions between modernity and tradition and a multitude of other problems besieged the educational system.
What appealed to the first audiences was Gulen’s comprehensive approach to individuals, society, the nation and humanity in general. Gulen identified poverty, rivalries (schisms in Turkey), and lack of sound education as the main problems plaguing the nation. In particular, idea of Hizmet represented and taught the following:
1. Reforming oneself and thus becoming a better believer and practitioner of faith. When examined, it can easily be determined that Gulen’s rhetoric focused on this aspect the most.
2. Serving something greater than yourself. Do not simply care for your own interest, but strive toward a greater vision. Why not a more prestigious Turkey? Why not a humanity in peace? According to Aydin Bolak, the late chairman of Turkish Petroleum Foundation and Turkish Education Foundation, Gulen gave a
new vision to the Turkish youth who were getting trained in fulfilling their personal interests/objectives.
3. Education is the key to the solution of our main problems: Ignorance, division, poverty. And the key to making education work for the better is to have teachers and administrators who “represent” (temsil in Turkish) the values cherished by the people. Invest in education. If you are young, able and willing, choose
teaching as your profession. If you are a business person, support a school financially. If you are a parent, encourage sound education and for that help build a school in your neighborhood. In short, there is a way of contribution to educational initiatives for every person. Later other initiatives, such as media, hospitals, disaster relief and poverty assistance were initiated, and appealed to every segment of the population.
4. Not expecting everything from government. As a participant in a civil initiative, do something yourself, and do not delegate your responsibilities totally to the government, in similar tone to Kennedy’s famous saying “ask not what your country can do for you, but as what you can do for your country.” If you are a business person, do business, form partnerships and holdings, become rich and give charitably, with no expectation in return, back to your community.
5. As opposed to isolation from or being reactionary to public life, being present at every institution of our society with the intention to serve, including the judiciary, bureaucracy, military, media, art and business. The observant citizens of the country have shunned these institutions out of assumed pietistic concerns. They tended to send their children mostly to Qur’an courses and Imam/preacher schools. As a consequence, their expectations or worldview have been seldom valued or represented in the state or public institutions.
6. A successful synthesis or integration of religion, modernity, patriotism, democracy, science, arts, secularism and positive action. According to Bolak, Gulen’s combination of faith, spirituality and sciences offered the best expression of Turkish understanding of Islam.
7. Outreach, inclusiveness, outward looking, integrationist. From a community to a Movement, from the transnational Movement to whole humanity. Accepting everybody as they are, in their respective position.