Gulen and Turkey


In July 2016, there was an attempted coup in Turkey. With everything going on in our lives in general and this event being a world away, events like this often seem irrelevant or they are just not something you have the time or inclination to understand since they don’t affect you directly. But understanding world events is important, especially this event — it hits a lot closer to home than you realize.

Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, lives a self imposed exile in Poconos, Pennsylvania in the United States. In Time magazine 2013,  Gulen was named as one of "the world's 100 most influential people" in the world. They described him as "the most potent advocate of moderation in the Muslim world." Time presented him as a cleric who "preaches a message of tolerance that has won him admirers around the world."  Gulen’s name is most associated with “Harmony Schools” in the United States. Harmony Schools are public charter schools with ties to Gulen and his movement. And this is relevant because President Erdogan of Turkey accuses Gulen and his movement for the attempted coup on July 16, 2016.

Please watch this short video (about 13 minutes) about Gulen. It is very important for several reasons:

1. We need to be knowledgeable about this powerful Gulen movement, which is spreading around the world. It is one of the modern trends in Islam.

2. It helps us understand the complexity of the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey.  

On the first day of the course that I teach at seminaries on "Islam and Current Events," we watch this video and discuss questions such as:

1. Gulen advocates religious freedom and democracy. From his point of view, does this apply to Christians in Turkey? Can a Muslim in Turkey choose to believe in Christ?

2. Who runs the Harmony Schools in the States and in the West?

3. What is their agenda?

4. Who are its leaders in the States and the various countries of the world, and what do we know about them?

5. Are they trying to penetrate America and the West with cultural Islam?

6. How are Harmony Schools different from Protestant and Catholic schools in Muslim countries?

7. What kind of Islam will be more open to the gospel: a Gulen kind of Islam or ISIL?

Fethullah Gulen was born in 1941 in Turkey. He is a Turkish Muslim scholar who is considered by some people to be a progressive preacher rooted in tradition. He is a prominent Sufi thinker, writer, poet and pious intellectual. He is an author, a philanthropist, a moral leader and an advocate of education.

I have read only one book about his life and his movement written by James Harrington, Wrestling With Free Speech, who presents Gulen in a positive light. According to this book, radical Muslims believe Gulen is too soft on Christians and Jews, and not Muslim enough. For New Nationalists in Turkey, he is a threat to the secularist nature of the Turkish republic and has a secret agenda to steer the nation toward Shari’a law or even toward an Islamic theocracy.

According to Harrington, “Any fair and objective evaluation of the corpus of Gulen’s spoken and written word supports his oft-stated position that he consistently promotes democracy and does not espouse an Islamic state. In fact, one would be hard pressed even to argue that Gulen promotes Islam, except as a personal moral option. He certainly does not proselytize. Rather he advocates a way of life within a Turkish Muslim tradition, influenced by Sufi thought.”

What might be the consequences of the failed coup in Turkey?

1. Some people think that with President Erdogan’s increasing power where —more than 15,000 of his opponents were detained for their alleged responsibility for the coup, included 10,000 from the military, 8,000 arrested, of whom 5,000 are from the military. In addition to that more than 20,000 teachers were suspended and 130 media outlets shut. Some assume that Turkey might move away more and more from moderation toward Islamization. Some, go even further and claim that many who are dismissed from their positions are not only soldiers, but judges, civil servants, police and academics."

2. President Erdogan’s government requested the U.S. administration to extradite Gulen to face trial in Turkey. At one time, the alliance between Gulen and President Erdogan was very strong. Now they are facing a nasty “divorce.”

3. Turkey is very important  to NATO and to the U.S. in fighting ISIL. To start with, Turkey has a huge number of refugees from Syria, and if not for Turkey, most of these refugees would have likely gone to Europe. Furthermore, NATO and U.S. fighter planes fly from bases in Turkey to bomb ISIL targets in Syria. President Erdogan has powerful bargaining leverage to demand Gulen’s extradition from the States. Can/Should the U.S. administration demand irrefutable evidence of Gulen’s "responsibility for the coup?" 

4. Rumors are spreading in Turkey that Gulen has been used by the CIA and the United States government in the attempted coup. If Gulen does ot get extradited, then this rumor will be reinforced and more Turks will believe it as truth. This will result in dangerous consequences.   

I do not know how people in authority manage to sleep well at night when there are SO many problems in our broken world. Although I know that the Bible clearly teaches that I should pray for people in authority, I fail to do it most of the time.

1 Timothy 2:1-2: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” When Paul wrote this letter, Nero was the emperor of the Roman Empire.

The Apostle Paul urges us to pray for people in authority. If you have not watched this video yet, I urge you to please watch it and learn about Gulen and his movement. 

Dr. Nabeel Jabbour