The Gülen movement (Hizmet in Turkish) is a global network active in the educational and humanitarian sector, rooted in the spiritual and humanistic tradition of Islam and inspired by the ideas and activism of Mr. Fethullah Gülen“(official website).  After the fall of the Soviet Union,  Hizmet succeeded to outsource its educational programs mainly to Central Asia, but also to the non-Muslim world – today, more than 1500 Gülen schools are run in more than 140 countries. This is due to the very active and committed Turkish diaspora of the movement and its unhierarchical, flexible organizational structure.

The international reception of the movement's work is controversial – it is on the one hand praised for excellent academic programs and the promotion of tolerance and interreligious dialogue. However, secular critics denounce widely applied sex seggregation in schools, implicit promotion of conservative values and gender stereotypes and the lack of the network's transparency. The first schools in Turkey opened in 1982, the creation of a science journal, a newspaper (Zaman) and an investment bank (Asya Finans) followed progressively. Hizmets founder, Feytullah Gülen (born Apr 27, 1941) is a Sunni conservative follower of the Hanafi school and former Imam.  He is currently residing in Pennsylvania due to a  self-imposed exile, as a result of the recent break between Hizmet and the ruling AK Party. On its official website, the organization states, that it is „non-political, cultural and educational“. However, it has been perceived to be highly involved into national Turkish politics since the  Mavi Marmara incident in 2009 and accused of following a religiously motivated geo-political agenda. It is widely known that starting from the 70's, members of the Gulen movement were working actively on holding a majority of positions in administrative offices and the police in order to diminish the power of the military. This creation of a „parallel state“ has been subject to public criticism and fed conspiracy theories from the pro-AKP wing.  

AKP and Hizmet share a  history of cooperation by promoting religious-conservative values and finally toppling the ultra-secularist regime  in 2002. In the past decade however, the groups fought a passive power struggle that culminated in December 2013, when Gülen civil servants revealed the involvement of Erdogan's government in the biggest corruption scandal of Turkey's history. This triggered political outrage and mass protests in Turkey, while investigations of party civil servants are still in progress. However, Erdogan’s popularity and support by a large majority of the population weakened Gülen's influence in Turkey. Earlier this year, a bill passed to shut down all Gülen schools in Turkey until September 2015. While Erdogan claims that the law should be regarded as 'a reform of an "unhealthy" educational system', many Turkish in favour of Gülen prefigure a decrease in Turkey's overall academic performance. The Gülen movement is currently undergoing a shift towards a more international identity, a stronger cooperation with the governments of the countries in which they operate and an opening towards regional traditions.

Aurelie Mattmüller 

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