A Movement of Volunteers – Gulen Movement

hands-in-the-air

Abstract

Today, one of the most important criteria indicating the position of a country
on the index of development is the existence and impact of non-governmental organizations.
Various associations and foundations established within the framework of the Movement
of Volunteers, lead by Fethullah Gülen since 1960s in Turkey can be defined as NGOs.
The volunteers involved in this movement conduct activities geared toward promoting
dialogue that bring all social sections closer together, with a particular emphasis
on education; today such activities are extensively organized in various parts of
the world. To this end, educational institutions have been established world-wide,
offering new opportunities for different nations, with no political motives whatsoever
being involved. This movement rejects the idea of the clash of civilizations, and
aims to live in a peaceful world; departing from the principle of simply accepting
everyone as they are, national and international meetings have been organized to
discuss the issues and problems that present, or likely to present obstacles to
an atmosphere of peaceful cohabitation and coexistence from developing. Everybody
who takes part in this voluntary movement, from every walk of life, has made enormous
self-sacrifices. In a world that is becoming increasingly global, these activities
act as models of coexistence and cohabitation for all people, irrespective of individual
race, language, religion, color, character or nationality with the help of education
and dialogue, and it is hoped that these activities will accelerate and become more
widespread.

Historical Perspective

During the 20th century, humanity hoped that its scientific and technological
achievements would eventually eliminate material and spiritual problems. However,
with the increase in the number of wars, famine, natural disasters, poverty and
other problems, humankind has become utterly desperate. The fact that famine cannot
be prevented even though cereal production has increased, and that unfair distribution
and social and political imbalances cannot be eliminated despite numerous legal
measures, suggest that the solution should be sought not in the system, but in education.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the death toll from wars, famine, and massacres,
i.e. in only five years, has exceeded one hundred and fifty million. Humanity entered
this long-awaited new century facing problems that caused social disintegration
and violence to increase, strategic balances to change, world disorder to intensify,
and a great variety of exploitation to become systematic.

The new world order is seen as the victory of technological civilization. Yet,
this victory has planted seeds of dissatisfaction. The absolute supremacy of technology,
its domination of humanity, and the occasional threats it offers to human existence
have disrupted the harmony that humanity finds within itself and the environment.

The Importance of Education

Despite all the existing systems, humanity has not yet been able to find the
peace it has sought. The fact the crime-level is high, even among educated people,
suggests that existing educational policies should be reviewed. The need for a new
educational philosophy which gives weight to both reason and spirit in science has
been emphasized by many scholars. The most important issue of the contemporary education
system is how to ensure that science comprehends life as a whole and serves the
basic values of humanity with an emphasis on the natural balance. Now that all problems
can be routed back to “man” himself, the main point is to know man and educate him
it in the best manner possible. An important aim of education is to ensure that
individual abilities are developed and potential traits are transformed into profitable
behavior. In this process, the basic purpose should be to develop the individual
personality, to make each person amenable to teamwork, to adopt the culture of coexistence,
a sense of responsibility, and ethical values, and to make these principles the
center of human life. Knowledge without real life is, in a sense, useless. Therefore,
education should endow individuals with behavioral education that will ensure their
easy integration into society and enable them to live in peace with the world.

A Movement of Volunteers

Departing from these considerations, a new and original volunteer movement was
inspired and initiated by Fethullah Gulen, a man who has educated himself extensively
in various fields and who is well aware of contemporary problems; the movement was
begun in 1968 in Turkey. The basic principle of this movement is to emphasize dialogue
with all and accept all as they are. The basic purpose is to ensure respect for
objective and universal human values, to never have ulterior motives to seek material
interests nor to impose any ideology or to seize power through politics in any country.
Since the inception of this movement, nearly 40 years, no act that has been contrary
to these principles has been performed anywhere in the world. The authorities in
respective countries are well aware of this fact, and accordingly support this movement.

This movement is completely non-governmental, like NGOs; people from various
age groups and different races establish foundations and associations that have
a particular emphasis on education. Such activities, which first were carried out
in the form of dormitories and then later concentrating on schools, expanded at
first throughout Turkey, and then onto Central Asia, from where the movement went
on to become world-wide.

Significant success was attained in these activities at both national and international
levels. People from every walk of life, including the businessmen who had contributed
financially to the establishment of these institutions and the teachers who took
an active part in this venture, made significant self-sacrifices. Those who attended
these educational institutions performed extremely well at both local and international
scientific contests and Olympiads. Those who resided in the dormitories were raised
as young people who had respect for their families, their nation, and humanity;
they were able to avoid such bad habits as drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc. As the
young people who were educated at these institutions started to work at the same
institutions as their teachers and administrators, the process accelerated.

International Aspects

Following the breakdown of the Soviet Union and upon inspiration from Fethullah
Gülen, businessmen and teachers lost no time in going to the newly emerging republics
in the same sense of responsibility without losing any time. The educational institutions
established in these countries have accomplished unparalleled achievements, which
allowed them to win the confidence of high-ranking officials in these countries.
These institutions continued their services as multicultural, multilingual, and
secular educational institutions. The medium of education was English, Turkish,
Russian, and the national language of the respective country. No religious or nationalistic
propaganda was or is allowed.

Ten years have passed since the establishment of these institutions. The children
of the high-ranking officials of the respective countries have attended these institutions.
They have even graduated from university and now these young people are working
for their native lands, and for all of humanity, with love, respect, tolerance,
and the quality to accept all people as they are. Thus, in other countries, as well,
where these institutions have been established (in Europe, Africa, the Pacific and
in other areas), a generation of young people who have become integrated with the
world, who live in peace and tolerance toward each other, has emerged. They have
already started to make efforts to make the world a peaceful place for future generations
and their efforts will surely bear wonderful fruit in the near future.

Thanks to the educational institutions that have been founded by this movement
of volunteers in European countries, that the younger generation, in particular
that of Turkish background, have been saved from alienation to their own culture
and history, becoming well-adjusted people who will be a benefit to the future of
Europe. They attend universities, realizing that serious work is expected of them,
without running the risk of falling into all kinds of indulgence including drug
abuse. These educational institutions have helped young people to complete their
undergraduate and postgraduate studies and to participate in active integration
in the society where they live. Having seen these young people also called as the
third generation, the high-ranking figures of our country and of these countries
can now look to the future with hope and pride.

Philosophy

In a world full of hatred, violence and evil, this movement of volunteers, which
focuses on human love, will play a significant role in the creation of an atmosphere
of peace and tolerance that will spread throughout the world in the future. The
educators, who are working in the institutions established by the movement, see
each student as a separate world and consider one-to-one interaction with individuals
to be the basic tool of education; they allocate most of their time to their students.

These educational activities are continually improved by taking into consideration
new challenges, technological innovations, and cultural particularities. One cannot
help wishing that everybody could contribute to this movement and that this movement
could advance and blossom in full. No national, racial, religious, linguistic, or
cultural difference matters, and indeed this system runs smoothly by itself.

In addition to these education activities, there are also attempts at establishing
dialogue at every level, with a view to ensuring that people in Turkey and in the
world become acquainted with each other, leading to a better understanding.

Dialogue

The Journalists and Writers Foundation, with Fethullah Gülen as honorary chairman,
organizes meetings called Abant Platform where different opinions and ideas
on important issues concerning the societies are discussed in a suitable manner,
and the collective ideas that emerge from these meetings can be shared with the
wider society. This platform has acquired an international identity with participants
and followers from all over the world, particularly from the US, Europe, and Russia.
Also, the Intercultural Platform, which is affiliated to the Foundation, ensures
the exchange of ideas between different cultures. In this framework, the Foundation
conducts activities with journalists, writers and artists, irrespective of their
world views or ideologies.

As also initiated by Fethullah Gülen through this Foundation, the organization
of meetings with various religious and national leaders of Catholic, Protestant,
Orthodox, Jewish, and Assyrian communities of Turkey has helped to eliminate some
long-lasting tensions between various sections of society. In this respect, Gülen’s
visit to late Pope John Paul II and their agreement on the possibility of undertaking
certain joint projects had significant implications. Gülen has also met with political
leaders of Turkey, in his own words, “as a simple citizen,” and these meetings have
been both very useful and provided examples of conduct for other citizens.

Finance

This movement is carried out by individual contributions from volunteers and
without any affiliation or support, tangible or intangible, with any local or foreign
government body or any other organization, and it operates within the framework set forth above.

Concerning the financing of the movement, it is secured for the most part by
complimentary contributions from businessmen who have chosen to support this movement
and by the tuition paid by students. The fact that the movement has no source of
finance other than these, in any form, is a well-known fact, and government officials
of the respective countries are aware of this.

As for the management of affairs, every institution that is established is a
corporate body that is independent of the others and is managed by those people
who are taking part in the volunteer movement. There is no organic relationship
among educational institutions or the other institutions, both within and without
the country. The only connection among these institutions is the exchange of positive
and beautiful ideas and thoughts that arise from a commitment to the same feelings.

Fethullah Gülen

The role of Fethullah Gülen in this movement is that Gülen initially provided
suggestions for the initiation of such a movement, thus providing the stimulus.
His inspiration still continues. His ideas on the basic principles and his suggestions
for this movement are available to all in the form of more than twenty books, some
of which consist of several volumes, audio cassettes, video cassettes, CDs, and
on the Internet, most of which have been translated into many languages. At the
same time, he gave lectures for more than 30 years on these and other social issues,
in the form of sermons in the mosques, and he also presented his ideas on important
subjects in a clear and understandable manner in many national or international
conferences. Currently, he continues to disclose his views on various issues in
various languages on some websites, particularly on www.fethullahgulen.org.
He always stresses that any dispute, great or small, could and should be settled
through reconciliation, that war and killing should be eliminated, and that everybody
should strive to live together in a peaceful world.

Aim

The ultimate aim of this movement is in no way to seize economic, political,
or cultural power by establishing or participating in a political party inside or
outside the country; rather, it is to serve humankind with self-sacrifice, without
expecting anything in return for the service. Indeed, in response to questions asked
to Fethullah Gülen about the political party he allegedly was supporting before
the 3 November 2002 elections, he said the following in the Turkish newspaper
Zaman:

“As in the past, I am currently maintaining the same distance to all political
parties. Even if power, not only in Turkey, but that of the entire world, were to
be presented to me as a gift, I have been long determined to reject it with contempt.”

Employees

The members of this movement of volunteers do not merely follow educational affairs
and work at these institutions. They also have jobs and positions outside these
institutions (as doctors, lawyers, businessmen, civil servants, laborers, etc.).
They support these educational activities, financially, physically, and spiritually
as well as carrying out their normal jobs.

A Non-Governmental Organization

There are numerous non-governmental organizations that work similarly for various
purposes all around the world (i.e., anti-smoking associations, several medical
foundations, women’s rights associations, environmental organizations, etc.). Everybody
admires and appreciates such organizations and supports them if they are financially
capable of doing so. In the same manner, this movement of volunteers aims to provide
service for humanity as one of the many non-governmental organizations that promote
universal humanistic values, such as respect for human dignity, human rights, the
rule of law, preservation of environment, democracy, etc.

Volunteers of the movement do not expect to reap any benefit from anyone in return
for their sacrifices. Even long-serving members have no seniority to newcomers.
There is no ranking in the movement (the members of the movement expect to be given
their rewards by God in the Hereafter). Their primary motivation during their service
in this movement is the  inner contentment and the blessings of God they expect
to attain in it. Thus, the works progress in a continuous loop.

Sharing and Self-Sacrifice

The model provided by the modern education institutions that have been established
by Turkish entrepreneurs, both at home and abroad, has led to the sharing of the
educational philosophy that acts as an elixir for success in these institutions
with the rest of the world.

The material structure built with self-sacrifice by businessmen, artisans, teachers,
civil servants, and workers is filled with altruism and self-sacrifice from managers,
teachers, students, and their parents. Here are the true motives that lie behind
the success of these institutions: spiritual and ethical gain, altruism, self-sacrifice
and love…

The bridges established by the Turkish educational institutions have helped Turkish
businessmen, s scientists, tourists and students to become open to the rest of the
world. Thus, relations between countries have been reinforced, and societies can
become acquainted with one another. The societies that know each other can develop
a culture of living in harmony, peace, and tolerance.

These institutions have a corporate identity and their management is in the hands
of real people. However, having been appointed as a manger though a social contract,
these people are not allowed to utilize the institutions for their own benefits.
Those who are now unable to work actively in the movement give over their role to
the young people who will carry the torch of the altruistic services of the movement.

Conclusion

A person who lives in a peaceful and happy world is an instrument against terrorism,
conflict and threats. “Shared cultural premises” that have been created with friendship
and tolerance by people with different languages, religions, races and cultures,
are a guarantee for the future of the world.

by Dr. Ali Ünsal