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[1], 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”[2] 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[3] 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[4])

This paper explores the attitudes of those opposed or indifferent to the Gülen Movement (GM) in Turkey. It pays particular attention to ongoing shifts in understanding the nature of the Turkish public sphere and civil society.

The goal of this analysis is to examine how innovation and reform are introduced in the Turkish public sphere and the growing capacity of Turkish civil society to accept change. This approach highlights the importance of an open civil society and of public spaces that provide an arena for peaceful political and religious encounters. It is also intended to facilitate an understanding of the creation of consensus, providing people with new insights towards developing their capacity for action.


In Turkey, important transformations are taking place in different sectors of the state apparatus and society [1]. The pressures of social changes and the increasing autonomization of the political system have brought into light crises in the traditional functioning of bureaucratic institutions.

Particular features have been emphasized by observers when describing the management of the political system in Turkey: special interventions under the pressure of particularist demands, the clientelistic management of power, compromise with the traditional elite, the unabashed spending of public funds for political purposes, the diversion of publicly owned industry to private gain, state economic enterprises, state agencies, and the banking system by political entities, and the partisan control of information and the media. Within the so-called elitist-statist-secular attitudes of the dominating logic, the heterogeneous block of interests have mobilized around certain parties, while the existing logic of Turkey’s model of development, the imbalances between the eastern and western Turkey, the state of separation and exclusion that exists between the status quo and the traditional and modernizing groups, the need for faith and the role of Islam, and the place and significance of civic initiatives have been rarely called into question. At the same time, it has become necessary to respond piecemeal to the demands that have been created by development. Hence, Turkish citizens are convinced of the failure of reformist policies and the ineffectiveness of the multitude of specific and particularistic legislative provisions. (Aliriza, 2000:2-5; 2001:1-5)


Focusing on the acquisition of knowledge considered to be essential to future careers, schools rarely consider ethics and values as part of the curriculum. This lack, coupled with a materialistic perspective toward educational outcomes, has contributed to the sense of a moral crisis in the U.S. and in its schools. In response to this crisis, a character education movement has attempted to instill virtue into U.S. students. Similarly, another education movement has arisen, that of Fethullah Gülen. This movement has founded hundreds of schools around the world, seeking to integrate science and spirituality in an attempt to raise a “Golden Generation” of individuals who will usher in a world of peace and harmony. Working toward this goal, Gülen-inspired teachers prefer to teach ethics by example rather than by lecture in order not to create conflict between themselves and community expectations. In a culture of individualism and Wall Street and political scandals, however, it is not clear whether U.S. students in general would be inspired sufficiently by moral exemplars alone to inquire into the reasons for their behavior, much less to be transformed into a “Golden Generation.” Consequently, this paper explores educational research findings and the writings of Fethullah Gülen, concluding that in a U.S. setting, at least, Gülen-inspired educators should consider incorporating practices of moral reasoning, intention, and self-determined action in their schools.


What should be the end of education? Almost all students in my experience, when encountered with this question have responded, “to get a good job and make money.” As a teacher, I can only recall two, perhaps three, students who saw school primarily as an opportunity to learn. In fact, only recently have I myself begun to consider education as more than a means to obtaining a better job that brings a higher standard of living.


Islam is frequently characterized as a “religion of the Book,” the Book in question being the Qur’an, the central revealed scripture of Islam. The first word said to have been uttered by the angel Gabriel in roughly 610 CE which initiated the series of divine revelations to the Prophet Muhammad was Iqra’! (“Recite” or “read). The full verse (96:1) commands “Read in the name of your Lord Who has created [all things].” The act of reading or reciting, in relation to Islam’s holy book and in general, thus took on an exceptionally sacrosanct quality within Islamic tradition and practice as did the acquisition of particularly religious knowledge by extension. “Are those who know and those who do not know to be reckoned the same?” asks the Qur’an (39:9). The Qur’an depicts knowledge as a great bounty from God granted to His prophets and their followers through time (2:151-52; 4:113; 5:110;12:22; 28:14, etc.).

Believers also took to heart the Prophet’s counsel, “Seek knowledge even unto China,” which sacralized the journey, often perilous, undertaken to supplement and complete one’s education, an endeavor known in Arabic as rihlat talab al-‘ilm (“journey in the search for knowledge”). The “seeker of knowledge” (Ar. talib al-‘ilm) remains until today the term used for a student, normally in its abbreviated form (talib [masc.]/ taliba [fem.]) for all levels of education. Another equally well-known statement of the Prophet exhorts, “The pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim, male or female,” a statement that has made the acquisition of at least rudimentary knowledge of religion and its duties mandatory for the Muslim individual, irrespective of gender. “The scholars are the heirs of the prophets” is another important hadith invoked as proof-text to underscore the extraordinary importance of learning and its dissemination in the shaping of communal life and as a basic, integral part of an individual’s religious growth. Sanctioned by both the word of God and the words of His prophet (the latter recorded in what is known in Arabic as hadith, lit. “speech”), the pursuit of knowledge (Ar. ‘ilm) is regarded as a religious obligation on a par with prayer, charity, etc. It is customary to find these sacred proof-texts extolling the merits of ‘ilm assembled and recorded in many treatises on learning and education in both the pre-modern and modern periods in order to exhort the believer to embark on the noble pursuit of knowledge.[1]

In this article, I will first provide a brief survey of classical Islamic education and its institutions, formal and informal, as well as identify its underlying principles and rationale. I will then discuss some of the key features of Gülen’s perspectives on what constitutes ideal Islamic education. The strong correspondences between the classical views and Gülen’s perspectives will be indicated, establishing thereby a continuity and innovative engagement on the latter’s part with the classical heritage.

Much ink has been spilled in American politics about the “culture wars” between the secular left and the religious right. However, the real cultural conflicts in America lie much deeper. They are more often within religious traditions and pit “orthodox” against “progressive”, or increasingly, “moderates” against “fundamentalists.” In the political discourse in America today, one cannot help but notice a growing vocal objection to the ideals of religious diversity and tolerance. For instance, many conservative evangelical Christians publicly criticize terms such as “tolerance”, “diversity”, and “multi-culturalism”, arguing that these are part of a “politically-correct” liberal discourse biased against evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and their public advocacy of absolute truths. These are truths, which, in the perspective of these Christians, ultimately support the cultural and theological superiority of Christianity. The concern of these Christians is that any tolerance that advocates respect for another’s religious beliefs and willingness to allow those beliefs to co-exist alongside the absolute truths of Christianity is anti-Biblical and contrary to the kind of love Jesus sought to impart to his followers (McDowell & Hostetler, 1998). In other words, religious tolerance, according to these Christians, inevitably results in allowing people to follow falsehoods that would imperil their salvation and therefore the loving thing to do is to try and prevent these alternative religious teachings from achieving validity in the public sphere. For them, tolerance is synonymous with decadence, antithetical to true religion. The problem that the United States faces now, for this segment of the Christian population, is that liberality, inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance with respect to matters religious pose a greater threat to the social order and Christian identity of America than anything else, including terrorism (Robertson, 2005).