This paper traces the development of the Fethullah Gülen movement as Turkish women who come to live in America experience it. My paper draws on my friendships and observations of this community dating back to 1997 during which time I have witnessed the Gülen community in Texas grow from but a handful of people to a veritable community. Despite the size and breadth of this community, little has been written in general about the women’s side of this movement in Turkey in English, and still less has been written about their experiences in America. Elisabeth Ozdalga’s work with Gülen adherents in Turkey has informed a great deal of this paper, and the ideas presented here are a sort of dialogue with her work. While much has been written about “Turkish Islam” as it is understood in the context of Fethullah Gülen’s writings at a more theoretical level, little or no scholarship has focused on how this “Turkish Islam” is negotiated in the daily lives of his adherents in an American context. This paper seeks to fill this very interesting space of experience in the Gülen movement, those everyday life experiences of Turkish women living in America.
There is a well known quote taken from Fethullah Gülen’s writings that has come to represent his perspective on how human beings are to treat one another: “Be so tolerant that your bosom becomes wide like the ocean. Become inspired with faith and love of human beings. Let there be no troubled souls to whom you do not offer a hand, and about whom you remain unconcerned”. This is the idea by which Gülen’s adherents, women and men, orient their lives. This effort to be tolerant and expansive in thought is the essence behind Gülen’s notion of a Turkish Islam. Women play a very important role in modeling Turkish Islam through the hospitality they offer their guests and in the friendships they build with their American neighbors and acquaintances. Commenting on women’s role in society, Gülen states that,
“In my opinion, women and men should be the two sides of truth, like the two faces of a coin. Man without woman, or woman without man, cannot be; they were created together. Heaven is a real Heaven when both are together. Man and woman complement each other. Our Prophet, the Qur’an and Qur’anic teachings don’t take men and women as separate creatures.” (Ertugrul Ozkok, Hoca Effendi Anlatiyor, Hurriyet, 1/23-30-95)