July 31, 2015

Channels through which Hizmet disseminates its core teachings

Ozcan Keles and Ismail Mesut Sezgin

In this section, we cover how Hizmet movement popularizes its core teachings, which act as a positive counter-narrative to violent extremist ideologies and mindsets that seek to appeal to Muslims claiming an Islamic justification.

First, Hizmet (aka Gulen movement) is one of the most dynamic Muslim-led civil society movements in the world with a presence in over 160 countries through a significantly wide range of activities. This means it has reach through which to disseminate its message.

Second, Hizmet’s substantial investment in print and broadcast media enables it to popularize its discourse.

Third, Hizmet’s faith-centric justification for all its activities, be it those geared towards wider society, which are faith-neutral in character and content (i.e. its schools, dialogue activities, relief work etc.) or those geared towards Muslims and Hizmet participants, which can be more faith/religion centric in nature (i.e. its sermons or religious publications and religious TV stations), has the potential to have a powerful impact on Muslims’ interpretation of Islam and Islamic activism in the twenty-first century. This is especially so in relation to Hizmet activities that are faith-neutral and faith- inclusive in practice – the vast majority of Hizmet’s work.

More specifically, the following are some channels through which Hizmet instills, disseminates and popularizes its core teachings among the wider Muslim public. Where the work is religious in nature, then Hizmet’s views and core teachings are popularized directly by way of its content. Where the content of the work is not religious, the core teachings are indirectly communicated through the example of the values that underpin that work. In both cases however, Hizmet’s core teachings are also expressed through the example of the volunteers and staff undertaking it.

Sermons and talks: Hundreds of Gülen’s key sermons have been recorded, copied and disseminated on cassettes across the country. Now these sermons are available on iPods and via the Internet on YouTube reaching far and wide and overseas. Today, Gülen continues to give weekly talks (Bamteli and Herkulnagme), which are made public by being uploaded to Herkul.org. His current weekly talks are downloaded by some 20–50,000 listeners. Laden with emotional plea and scholarly discourse, these sermons provide Gülen and his views with ‘street credibility’. They are also important as they speak to both the urban and rural, the highly educated and the general public. Although the majority are in the Turkish language and without voice over or subtitle translation, transcribed and translated texts of Gülen’s weekly talks are starting to be made available in English. (1)

Books: Gülen has authored over sixty books, some of which are required reading for certain degrees at Universities such as Al-Azhar, a considerable number of which have been translated into English, Arabic and other languages, including his work on the biography of the Prophet, the revival of Islamic thought in our time and his Key Concepts of Sufism. For over two decades Gülen has been working on this latter title, a multi-volume collection of essays methodically exploring the roots between the key concepts associated with Sufism in the Qur’an and Sunna. This is one measure of his commitment to strengthening the inner dimensions of Muslim practice and is targeted at Muslim societies. In this way, Gülen helps re-orientate the focus of Muslims from form to meaning and from outward criticism to inner reflection.

Other print publications: The movement publishes many books and magazines through its publishing houses and bookstores. Some are produced by its Istanbul-based ‘Akademi’, an institute of Islamic scholars. Hizmet’s religious magazines and periodicals include Yeni Umit in Turkish, The Fountain in English, Ebru in French and Hira in Arabic. Established in 2005, Hira is a quarterly magazine in Arabic with an editorial by Gülen, and articles by Turkish and Arab writers on theology, culture, science and education. The magazine is printed in Turkey, Egypt and Morocco. In 2011, Hira had a worldwide subscription of 40,000 distributed as follows: Saudi Arabia – 10,000; Egypt – 7,000; Morocco – 5,000; Yemen – 4,000 and Turkey – 3,000 and growing interest in other parts of the Muslim world including Jordan, Syria, Pakistan and Sudan.

Media: In 2006, the movement owned one international TV station, Samanyolu TV. Today, it has nine channels, including: Mehtap (cultural– religious); Irmak (religious); Hira (Arabic, cultural); Dunya (Kurdish, cultural); Samanyolu Haber (twenty-four-hour news); Ebru (English, US-based); and Yumurcak (children’s TV). In 2006, the movement launched its first English-language daily, Today’s Zaman, now the best-selling English newspaper in Turkey; Zaman itself has the largest circulation among newspapers published in Turkish and since 2011 the movement has published Turkish Review, an English-language bi- monthly news magazine. Gülen’s official website is accessible in twenty languages including Arabic, Persian and Urdu. A growing number of popular TV series produced and broadcast in Turkey including those by the movement’s production companies are being dubbed in Arabic and broadcast in the Middle East.

Religious circles: Participants in the movement network among themselves and with others through regular meetings called sohbets. A sohbet (literally, ‘conversation’) is usually held weekly and attended by a small group of people. Sohbets consist of discussions on faith, religion, society and new and on-going Hizmet projects. The main function of these gatherings is to inform and invigorate belief, to develop social responsibility and to move awareness towards activism. Out of these sohbets, smaller informal groups may emerge between people who are willing to further commit themselves to discuss and contribute to Hizmet-related projects. These gatherings are usually called istishare, derived from shura (literally, ‘consultation’, ‘deliberation’). The sohbets are an excellent mechanism through which Hizmet’s core teachings are taught and demonstrated.

Schools: While it is difficult to give exact numbers as the movement is decentralized and dynamic, it is estimated that Hizmet operates approximately two thousand schools, including primary, secondary and tertiary education, in over 160 countries. These schools do not target students of a particular race or religion. That said, given their number and spread, these schools exist where there is a significant Muslim minority presence, including in the US and western Europe, as well as in the Muslim world – in at least forty-three of the fifty-seven member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, for example, including thirty in Northern Iraq, twenty-five in Pakistan and five in Yemen.

Except for rare exceptions, these schools are non-denominational and follow the national curriculum of the country in which they are based. Where there is state funding for private school enterprise, the schools opt for that route. Where there is not, they are founded as fee-paying independent schools with scholarship and bursary quotas available for girls and boys. In addition, the movement runs university prep centres, supplementary schools, free tuition centres and one-to-one tuition and mentoring services for low-income families.

These schools support upward social mobility, providing the confidence and skill-sets for students to change their own circumstances; expose students to different religions and cultures through mixed classes and support particularly vulnerable students through bursary and supplementary education. They exemplify positive role models and positive activism, and thus provide students with an attractive and convincing alternative to the ‘victimized’ self-image and the false sense of idealism which is preyed on and presented, respectively, by violent extremists.

Dialogue: Another significant activity for Hizmet is dialogue. Hizmet began encouraging interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities and organization from the mid-1990s onwards. Today there are literally thousands of dialogue organizations across the world. Their activities include discussion forums, courses, outreach, research and publications.

They impact on two levels. The first effect is on the ‘service-recipients’ and end-users who attend the events or read the material, by helping them to overcome their misconceptions by meeting new people or appreciating new perspectives. Since such end-users include Muslims, they also benefit from this form of outcome. The second effect is, however, more significant and it occurs by way of the justification for their work. These Hizmet-inspired dialogue organizations make it clear that they are invested in long-term sustainable and genuine dialogue because they believe it is not just permitted but necessitated by their Islamic faith. They make this clear on their websites, in their public identity and by publishing on the issue. The London-based Dialogue Society published a book titled Dialogue in Islam: Qur’an, Sunnah, History in a question-and-answer format to make the theological case for dialogue in Islam. As a result, through their praxis and their justification, these organizations are continuously pushing the message that Islam necessitates dialogue and dialogic values, which empowers Muslims against exclusivist interpretations of Islam.

Relief Work: A major venture for the movement was the foundation in 2004 of a relief and development charity, Kimse Yok Mu (‘Is Anybody There’ in Turkish). Now a member of UN ECOSOC as a consulting institution, with twenty-nine branches (as of 2012) and tens of thousands of volunteers in Turkey and ninety countries around the world, its work spans seven areas: aid for disasters, aid for health, aid for education, aid for significant religious days (Eid), individual aid campaigns, aid for Africa and ‘family pairing’ aids. The charity continues to run campaigns for and delivers aid and services in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Darfur, Niger, Palestine and Haiti. Its commitment in Somalia is very significant; it includes setting up and running refugee camps, providing hot meals to 90,000 people daily, restoring the Benadir hospital, providing emergency and routine health care services, providing clean water supplies, and beginning the construction of a sixty-bed hospital and medical institute. As of 2012 the charity was also planning to found and run two new schools in the region. Relief charities in Europe and other parts of the world are also being set up by the movement with a great many of them in Europe adopting the name Time to Help. (2)

Relief work is a significant advance for the movement. Its cultural projects naturally led to an enlargement of its capacity, credibility and network of sympathizers and participants. Involvement in poverty and disaster relief is an indicator of the movement’s commitment to help in the Muslim world and the Global South.

In conclusion, therefore, Hizmet’s core teachings are conveyed directly where the content of the work is religious in nature (as in sermons, talks, books, print and broadcast media) and indirectly, in all instances, as values manifested in the nature of the work done and the character and disposition of the participants undertaking it. It is self-evident how a person who internalises Hizmet’s core teachings through such conveyors cannot be lured by violent extremist ideology since they are by nature, mutually exclusive. It is less clear how these core teachings and practice impact upon certain mindsets that violent extremists manipulate to win over recruits, which will be covered in the conclusion drawing all three parts of this publication together.

Source: Keles, Ozcan and Sezgin, Ismail Mesut. 2015. “A Hizmet Approach to Rooting out Violent Extremism.” Thought & Practice Series, Centre for Hizmet Studies.

(1) See: http://www.herkul.org/this-week/.
(2) Kimse Yok Mu website, accessed 8th August 2012, www.kimseyokmu.org.tr/?lang=en

Published on http://www.gulenmovement.us/channels-through-which-hizmet-disseminates-its-core-teachings.html, 29 May 2015, Friday