Gulen Movement: A network of conservatives
Beobachter ("The Observer"), weekly Swiss magazine, Issue of Oct 22-29, 2009
by Peter John Meier and Gian Signorell Click here to view original article.
They propagate a conservative Islam under the catchword "dialog”: The Gulen movement has arrived in Switzerland.
Dialog is their key word; their hub in Switzerland is the Dialog-Institut in Zurich. Here a group of Muslim politicians, media professionals, academics and representatives of other religious communities meet. For lectures and so-called interfaith exchanges of ideas. Emphasizing connections instead of looking for divisiveness: the golden way in a multi-religious society? The media reports favorably on this institute. Individual speakers even leave it in a euphoric state: for example, after a presentation, the head of the Zurich police, Esther Maurer, encouraged her policemen to celebrate Ramadan once. The call will be heeded to some extent. The Zurich Director of Justice, Markus Notter, is scheduled for November 5.
Research of observers shows that behind the Institute and other facilities is a controversial Islamic movement: the network of Fethullah Gulen, which spans from Turkey across the world. The charismatic preacher, who lives in the U.S. wants, with the help of the Turkish middle class, to lead Muslims into the present. Gulen preaches a conservative Islam, which should penetrate society independent of the state. He calls on Muslims not to isolate themselves from Western societies, but rather to move in them successfully. The Gulen Movement works towards this with an estimated five million followers in a loose, global network of foundations, schools, newspapers and TV stations.
"We do not want any frustrated Muslims"
"With a good education, young Muslims can better integrate into our society," says the 34-year-old Cebrail Terlemez, Director of the Dialog Institute. The parents' generation, mostly unskilled workers, is often not able to support their children adequately. "This is where our educational institutions come in. We do not want frustrated Muslims operating in a parallel society" says Terlemez. The Swiss Gulen network includes study halls for students next to the Dialog Institute, operated by the Sera Foundation. In August they opened their first secondary school, in Zurich. Terlemez stressed that the standard school subjects of Swiss schools are taught. "These are not religious schools. Religion is not a school subject." According to Terlemez, these institutions are to a large extent funded by Turkish entrepreneurs in Switzerland.
For the Berlin Gulen expert Claudia Dantschke, there is no doubt that such schools will be used to gain new adherents. "They are run on an informal level. Students are motivated, for example, to move into a Muslim apartment-sharing community. There, they are then encouraged to live in a strictly Islamic way.” Bekim Agai of the University of Halle, who has written his thesis on the Gulen movement, emphasizes the importance of this informal domain for recruiting leaders.
In the various enterprises, Gulen himself is hardly ever mentioned as a spiritual father. Islamic scholars criticize the movement for its opaque structure and finances. "Young people in particular, that are not finding Islam through mosque visits, are approached through educational activities. What is taught in classes, and even more importantly outside them, is opaque," says the Bernese Islamic scholar Reinhard Schulze. His colleague Ralph Ghadban of the Berlin Evangelical Institute goes so far as to ascribe to Gulen an Islamist outlook, which is masked under a "pseudo-modern veneer.” In Germany, the movement is active in almost every city.
Dialog Leader Terlemez confirmed that Gulen’s supporters should not be viewed as reformer Muslims. "We want to show, rather, that a traditional Muslim can be integrated in Switzerland’s society and can have a successful professional life."
First the Koran, then science
Umran Bektas is a member of the force at the Dialog-Institut. A psychology student with Turkish parents, she grew up in Switzerland. “A year before I graduated from high school, I decided to also outwardly live according to my religion.” From that time on, she has worn a headscarf; she has since gotten married. "There have already been strange reactions. A friend let me know that I had only to tell her that I was being forced. But it was my free decision." Gulen does not require women to wear a headscarf. Nevertheless, most adherents do.
Institute Director Terlemez grew up in the Thurgau, and visited the Milli-Gorus Mosque in Burglen. As a student he lived in an apartment with Turkish men. "I experienced a mixed apartment before that. Although I liked the roommates, conflicts were continual. The issues ranged from taking shoes off - we Muslims pray on the rug – to food, to roommates running around wild."
Gulen's followers always stress their interest in scientific knowledge. Reconciling this with a conservative Islamic faith appears to be no problem for them: in common with evangelical movements, they explain evolution with a creationist theory. Gulen himself writes: "The Quran and the Hadith [the traditions of Muhammad] are true and absolute. Scientific facts are true, as long as they are in accordance with Quran and Hadith. As soon as they depart from the Koran and Hadith, they are incorrect. "