October 21, 2009
Rising Islamist movements challenge secularism in Turkey

Almost all of 77 million people in Turkey are Muslim, but signs of Islamic faith are noticeably divorced from everyday life. But a growing number of Turks are joining conservative movements that believe religion should play a greater role in the country’s ethical and moral values. Secular critics brand these religious groups as fundamentalist.

Correspondent Gizem Yarbil and producer Bryan Myers report on how traditional religion and modern democracy are trying to coexist in Turkey today.

For more on secularism in Turkey:

For more Worldfocus coverage of Turkey, visit our extended coverage page: Turkey between East and West.




[…] 15 Worldfocus Signature Stories of 2009 16 03 2010 My feature story from Turkey about the rising Islamist movements in Turkey was highlighted as one of the 15 […]


And these are the people who want to be part of the EU? You’ve got to be kidding.


I recently saw this video that was broadcasted back in October 2009, and wanted to respond correspondent Ms. Yarbil’s ideas. I believe Ms. Yarbil should have had a better prepared research on her work for the traditional religion and modern democracy. One of the readers “CHARISMAN” simply well-documented the truth about Mr. Gulen and his wonderful work on peace, dialog and democracy in the World. I believe covering Gulen work together with so-called Mustazaflarder (as a Turkish-American, never heard this name) and giving any type intention or impression to the West that two factors would be mutually connected is an awful mistake and ill-conditioned study. In fact when you look at the some comments from our American fellow friends who may not have a knowledge about the subject, we can see this misconception after watching the video.
Reg Pecen, Ph.D.


Mrs. Yarbil’s report does not seem to be reflecting the truth. In contrary, it seems to be prepared with ill intentions. As a person from Turkey who is continuously reading about socio-political dynamics in Turkey, this is the first time I have heard about Mustazaflarder organization. Gulen Movement is one of the most influential Muslim movement in the world that is supporting the coexistence of religion and democracy, that of different cultures and religions not only in Turkey but also in the world. Surprisingly, it is reported together with this new Mustazaflarder organization possibly to imply a relation between them. Gulen and Gulen movement is a chance for the World peace in my opinion and completely different from Mustazafder organization, if correctly reported in this movie. The report is far from providing correct and healthy information about the case as it seems to be aiming for the degradation of Gulen Movement in sneaky ways. There is an imbalance between the speakers from the movement and its opponents. Media should not be used for shaping public opinion with some agenda, it should just inform the public.


This video is very misleading. By putting the very well known, peaceful Gulen Movement in the same basket with the unknown and allegedly Hizbullah tied Mustazaflarder, it tries to portray the Gulen Movement in a bad fashion. This is either ill-intentioned or it is very unprofessional. I would like to believe that it is an honest mistake and expect the producers of this video to create a new video that clarifies this.


Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic scholar now living in the United States, was voted the world’s top public intellectual in the 20008 FOREIGN POLICY

A modernist Islamic scholar and leader of the movement named after him, Gülen is widely considered one of the most important Muslim thinkers alive today. He has authored more than 60 books.

Fethullah Gulen is a provincial Turkish preacher who has inspired a worldwide network of Muslims who feel at home in the modern world.

Gulen personally met with religious leaders, including Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.

According to Gülen his theological views lie solidly within the Turkish Sunni mainstream while being more responsive to modern world than other Islamic movements.

Gülen claims the modern world is plagued by individuals’ lack of faith, and in particular, the failure to adopt scientific methods while in the same time preserving moral values and belief in God. Gülen argues that faith can be scientifically proven, and that science can benefit from or requires a moral foundation from religion.

He has guided his supporters to open over a thousand educational institutions in more than 90 countries in Europe, Asia Africa and North America.

The Gülen movement consists of volunteer organizations that are ideologically connected under the leadership of Gülen.The predominantly Turkish volunteers, who are educated or have received support from the institutions founded by the movement, run more than a thousand schools all over the world. It has founded universities of its own, an employers’ association, unions, and hundreds of sub-organizations, lobby groups, and student bodies. The movement as a whole counts several hundred thousand of members, making it one of the largest Islamic movements in Turkey.

One of the main characteristic of the movement is that it is faith-based but not faith-limited. There are many Christians, even at the community leadership level, in several countries feel themselves close to or inspired by the movement.
In an article in The Economist, the Gülen movement is reported as a Turkish-based movement, which sounds more reasonable than most of its rivals, is vying to be recognized as the world’s leading Muslim network . It is also stated that Gülen has also won praise from many non-Muslim quarters, with his stated belief in science, inter-faith dialog and multi-party democracy. He is an intensely emotional preacher, whose tearful sermons seem to strike a deep chord in his listeners; but the movement he heads is remarkably pragmatic and businesslike. As a global force, the Gülenists are especially active in education. A conference staged in London, October 2007 was co-hosted by four British universities, plus the House of Lords, yielded a slick, 750-page report of the proceedings.

Ann Munley, president of Pennsylvania’s Marywood University, has stated that “Turkish people establish schools all across the world and show great self-sacrifice in educating people of all races and religions. The Gülen movement considerably contributes to the establishment of these schools.”In a recent article titled ‘Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam’, in New York Times, it is stated that the Turkish schools, which have expanded to seven cities in Pakistan since the first one opened a decade ago, offer an alternative approach that could help reduce the influence of extremism.

Professor Thomas Michel from Georgetown University expressed belief that the Gülen movement is not political in nature.

Doctor B. Jill Carroll of Rice University in Houston, has noted in an Interfaith Voices program, an independent public radio show that promotes interfaith understanding through dialoge, that the Gülen movement has become a global and transnational one:’Gülen has greatly impacted three generations in Turkey. He also influences considerable masses all across the world with his speeches and deeds. He leads a very modest life. Thousands of institutions have been established all around the globe by the Gülen movement, but he doesn’t undertake the administration of even one of them. When people see such aspects of this movement, they say ‘these are not Muslims in words, they are real Muslims’ . She also praised Turkish schools, established around the globe with Gülen’s pioneering. ‘These schools invest in the future and aim at creating a community that offers equal opportunities for everyone.’

A world-famous Turkish sociologist Nilüfer Göle, known for her studies on modernization and conservatism, classified the Gülen movement and the schools governed by the movement as the world’s most global movement. She stated that Turkish schools bring people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds together in peace.
A recent article titled ‘A modern Ottoman’ says: ‘Fethullah Gülen leads a global movement inspired by Sufi ideas. He promotes an open brand of Islamic thought and he is preoccupied with modern science.’ It also states, ‘He and his movement are at home with technology, markets and multinational business and especially with modern communications and public relations.

Gulen Thoughts on Terrorism
“ A real Muslim cannot be a terrorist”
Gülen does not approve use of Islam and terrorism together. That is, he agrees that such terrorism exists but argues that it is not Islamic or Muslim. He has written an article in response to the September 11 attacks saying:
We condemn in the strongest of terms the latest terrorist attack on the United States of America, and feel the pain of the American people at the bottom of our hearts.
“One of the people in the world I hate the most is [Osama] Bin Laden, because he spoiled the bright appearance of Islam. He created a dirty image. Even if we try to fix that terrible damage with all our best, it would take years.We will tell about it everywhere in different platforms. We will write books about it. We will say, ‘this is not Islam.’ Bin Laden replaced Islamic logic with his feelings and desires. He is a monster, as are the men around him. If there is any one similar to them, they too are nothing more than monsters.”


I don’t think this video would get the Oscar if it was a movie. Because there is no connection between it’s start and end. It is talking about Gulen movement in the beginning, with a relatively objective approach I might say, but then it goes on to the some minor radical group, and then to an atheist who hates any kind of religious sign. The first half looks like an objective report, but what is the second half? Totally irrelevant.

This should be known that Turkey is not a secular country. The word ‘secular’ is not used in Turkey, and it’s on purpose. Turkey’s system is ‘Laicism’, not secularism or laicite. That means the State governs religion. There is no equal separation between the State and religion. Turkish State has been interfering with religious people’s personal life, showing no respect to them, and insulting them in the last century. Young women with head scarf are not allowed in universities in the name of ‘Laicism’. Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s wife was one of them. Surprised? Expect more. President’s wife IS NOT allowed to attend ANY military ceremony, she is NOT even allowed in a military HOSPITAL. The reason? She wears a head scarf due to her religious beliefs. And she is President’s wife, just think about an ordinary religious woman.

So people who don’t know Turkey should not talk about Turkey. What is and has been in jeopardy in Turkey is not ‘secularism’, it’s ‘religious freedom’.


Well, why would reporter(s) be contented with one so-called famous artist and one professor of so-called ‘great’ university? Why would reporter(s)present two pieces of related-looking-but-in-fact-separate pieces of news together?
It’s a single story.



I have seen dozens allegations, manipulative speeches,proactive actions about ” the one of most influential man in the world” Fethullah Gulen. none of them has been proved and approved. the ridiculous thing, he is been threat to politics. someone who longs for a better society, better education system, better living standard will have do nothing to do politics. Fethuallah Gulen is an inspirational, modern scholar and master. nobody has contributed peace and tolerance and dialogue to the world like him.


Turkey dictates Eastern Orthodox restrictions since it has a Greek root history. They refuse to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate as worldwide patriarchate identical to Rome’s Vatican. They do not allow election of other than native born Turk citizen. They closed the Halki Theological School after allowing it to open and be remodeled after a long closing. The Patriarch must ask for permission to visit his parishes overseas and Metropolitanates. Their attitude is similar to China’s anti-Christian suppressions. Eastern Orthodoxy (Constantinople in particular) dates from 4th century, before any Turkish political entity existed or Islam. No EU membership until they stop controlling Christianity and the five Ecumenical Patriarchates founded by Christ’s apostles are free to God’s work, not secularism.


Thanks for the coverage. It is really an interesting story. However seeing the two different groups as acting together seems to weird, because recently a book I read claims different things for Gulen. I suggest the book for those who are interested in this issue : “The Fethullah Gulen Movement” by Helen Rose


If this video was in YouTube, I would flag it. It includes not only elements of defamation, but also misinformation. The correspondent says “groups like the Gulen movement causes enormous anxiety.” I’ve lived in Turkey for the last two years; however, I have never sense such an anxiety. Neither Bahcesehir University, nor Bedri Baykam are known around the world. I believe that Nilufer Narli and Berdi Baykam represent conservative extremists who cannot digest a Turkey that is moving full speed towards being a global player.

In my experience Turkey is an exemplary country in which people from various ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds live together in peace.

I have never heard of Mustazaflarder. I felt that this is a conspiratorial attempt to associate Gulen movement with suspicious groups and organizations.


Everybody writes about Gulen, whether they know or they don’t. Fethullah Gulen offers a modern and also traditional interpretation of Islam. It is true that He is regarded as a Sufi, however, he does not accepts it.
As an Imam (preacher) in western Turkey in 1960s he encouraged people to open schools which are teaching modern sciences. People around him (later called as Gulen Movement) opened close to a thousand schools in more than 90 countries.
Lately, his teachings and the activities of the Gulen Movement are studied by academics and Gulen conferences are organized in many western universities.There is even an institute by the name of Gulen Institute at the University of Houston Social Work Department.
Several leading news papers and magazines ran cover page stories about Gulen and the Gulen Movement. For instance, New York Times covered the story of Gulen Schools in Pakistan. The Economist analyzed the Gulen movement under global Muslim networks. The Guardian also ran stories of Gulen and Gulen Movement. According to Guardian:

“Gülen, the author of more than 60 books, won a landslide triumph after the survey – which is organised by the British magazine, Prospect, and Foreign Policy, a US publication – attracted more than 500,000 votes.”

According to Foreign Policy poll Gulen was selected as the top intellectual of the world in 2008.
In addition to his encouragements in education, Gulen is also known for his promote of dialogue, especially interfaith dialogue. Gulen encourages Muslims to engage in dialogue by using Islamic sources.


I don’t know how many times we’ve seen such news taking place all over the place, yet they were never proved/evidenced. Even staunchly-secular Turkish courts were not able to find any evidence to, actually, penalize him. Please, next time focus on what he actually preaches and what he does instead of what he might be doing and conspiracy theories.


Contrary to some posted comments, Mr. Fethullah Gulen only teaches about peaceful coexistence, dialog and accepting everybody as they are. He condemns violence in any form. There has not been any single incident not only in Turkey but also around the world that shows that anybody who is inspired by him involved in use of force even in the smallest scale. Mr. Gulen’s message is the antidote for the religious violence, hatred and animosity. He has been portrayed as a “controversial figure in Turkey” because of the fact that his name has been used by ultranationalists and status quo to create a smoke screen for their illegal establishment, which is being revealed one by one these days.
If you want to read about what is happening in Turkey these days, read the following link. I found it very useful.


World Focus is known for its good coverage on world issues. Thanks for the hard work. However, I must indicate that the real intention of this video is very confusing, at least not clear.  In the first part the focus is Fethullah Gulen and his message, and in the second part the focus becomes Mustazaflar-Der (the organization for the oppressed). The narrator inserts that most of its members are former members of Hizbullah. Anyone who knows Ergenekon Organization in Turkey (Turkish Gladio) will also know that Hizbullah was formed by Ergenekon in South East Turkey against PKK terrorist organization.  It came very ill-intentioned to me that two religious movement in Turkey that are far apart from each other as black and white, are presented without providing any explanation about the differences to the audience. I think that the World Focus owes an explanation to the audience in this regard.

Again, keep up the good work World Focus….  


Thanks to World Focus for the coverage on Turkey. I cannot pass without pointing our a few discrepancies in the content.
When talking about an issue about religion, or to critique a religious group, I think a qualified expert will be a professor of religious studies or somebody from Presidency of Religious affair, but not definitely an artist such as Bedri Baykam. It is a social sickness in Turkey that everbody can talk about anything. Mr. so-called Social Scientist- Bedir Baykam not only inserts his subjective anti-religious sentiments in his comments, but also he stretches his role a little more to act as TV anchorman, which we have seen in 1999, who did not feel any shame to broadcast doctored video recordings of Fethullah Gulen.
Anyone who follows what is happening in Turkey, will know that it was very common to create doctored video and voice recordings to blame Muslims.
It seems like Bedri Baykam is still living in 1999. He does not only have issue with Islam but also with all religious. He is an ATHEIST to start with…..
I can only suggest to World Focus that it was a very bad choice to pick an ATHEIST to comment on religious life in Turkey.
Turkey is a secular country and will stay like that forever. No force will change Turkey’s direction…


It is very funny that in Turkey this fellow had been accused of being an ‘American Servant’, a ‘CIA Spy’, and a ‘friend of christians’ :)…


There are a few mistakes in these news. Some of the facts are technically wrong, for example,`Bahcesehir University` is mentioned as the biggest university in Turkey. This is not only wrong, it is also ridiculous.. One might think of the ‘Bosphorus University’, the ‘Middle East Technical University’, the ‘Istanbul Technical University’ , the ‘University of Istanbul’, the ‘Koc University’, the ‘Bilkent University’ etc. as the biggest university in Turkey. This university may be 70th or 80th in a rank of 140. And remember, Turkey has just about 140. The second false information is about the artist Bedri Baykam. Have you ever heard his name? The news present him like a ‘Jeff Koons’. He is an incredibly nationalist socialist, quasi a ‘Turkish Nazi’. Being the son of a famous politician who used his connections to send him abroad to get a higher education in art, Bedri returned to Turkey as a sympathisan of the military coup… And he is one of the famous fellows of the nationalist party CHP.
There is a group in Turkey that struggles to change the country’s direction towards the ‘Shanghai Fives’. Their members were dreaming of becoming a world power if Turkey entered the Shanghai Fives together with Iran and India.
A few years ago retired generals and some academicians were debuting this idea in public. Now they are facing imprisonment. And this article seems to be the result of this group’s conflicts.


It is very encouraging to me to see that there are even more successful groups following Hezbollah’s model of charitable works and social development. Promoting Islamic values in government and society is important, but must always take a back seat to the humanitarian imperative. True Muslim groups must stand up for the poor while promoting Islamic resistance to outside pressures.


That is just what the USA needs…..this guy!


This has been going on for some time and I’m glad to see some coverage on it outside of Turkey…


“God is Great!”

Wonderful report, however, having spend quite a few months in Turkey very recently, WorldFocus may wish to explore the nexus of present U.S. policies that support the AKP and Gulen (Mr. Gulen has resided illegally in the northeastern U.S. with the full knowledge and consent of U.S. authorities)?

The Turkish people are being manipulated internally and externally — all the while, human rights and many other concerns go wanting.

This not a conspiracy theory, this is actual cooperation (Government-to-Government) predicated on military/industrial considerations. There are those in the U.S. and Europe that would like to make this a Islam versus us argument, which is misleading and adopting the propaganda that some U.S. and European government officials make. It is NOT! This is about money, dominion over resources, and the Turks triangulating their geographical proximity to maximize internal Turkish interests, whether it be Dogan, Sabanci, Koc, and a sundry list of other corrupt “secularits.”


I am just looking at this web site for the 1st time, after developing respect for the WorldFocus journalism program on our (US) public television network. I very much value the efforts to show the *people* of every situation we see only briefly in our normal television and newspaper media.

Bravo to World Focus, and also the comments on Turkey, of course. I have spent time in Turkiye, and have friends there and “here” also. I remember the days of young people my age (at the time) celebrating the “modern” country and freedoms.

I value hearing from those there now, and the comments are intelligent and respectful which makes this a very valuable online resource, in my opinion. (I will encourage people to see this site!) Yes, Benny Chua… headaches, poverty, religion, and death… universal challenges.


Well thanks for the program. So, REPUBLIC OF TURKIYE population over 70 million people, full blood ISLAM, but recover with the DEMOCRASY.We beleive our BELEOVED HERO MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATURK feeling about TURKEY. We follow him. Relegion is another part of the living standats. As a matter of fact AKP party very close to the ISLAMIC rules
but doesnt make any difference, about changing DEMOCRASY in TURKİYE. TURKIYE never become as an


I was In Turkey for over one year about 35 years ago and travelled extensively throughout the country and, except for the primtive far SE, I never saw women wearing the Burka and even there rarely. Something BIG is going on in Turkey that could eventually pose a major threat to Europe particularly to those European nations, who foolishly permitted, large numbers of Moslems, such as Britian,France,Germany to settle in their countries. Their leaders obvioulsy ignored the Moslems at the gates of Vienna!Anyone who thinks that this Islam movement isn’t a planned take over of Turkey and eventually Europe isn’t reading the tea leaves!


Here in the USA fundmentalist Christians want to take over South Carolina and then expand it to take over the world. The Islamic folks in Turkey have the same dream. Secular sentiments are also no answer for the deepest longings of the human heart, but neither is religion. Both chase after the external “material world”. For the secularists it is Madona, for the fudamentalist it is a palace full of Madonas. Actually, meditation and a universal ideology is the only cure, since the truth is hidden inside of everyone. Humanity is one, so lets move on and love the rest of the universe too.


I think Turkey will have their share of Islamic Headaches sooner than expected.

People do turn to their religion for help whenever poverty hits them hard. These Imam takes advantage of the poverty situations by teaching the wrong ways to their followers…

Life after death and martyrdoms…

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