01: Most people glancing at the newly-published volume Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement, edited by M. Hakan Yavuz and John L. Esposito (Syracuse University Press $24.95), won’t know who the man is pictured on the cover of the book, but perhaps they should.
Fetullah Gülen (b. 1938) is an important figure in Islam far beyond his Turkish base. The book is a welcome and well-informed introduction written by Western and Turkish experts on the Gülen movement — a movement which sometimes looks more like a network. This movement is one of the eight major groups derived from the work of reformer Said Nursi (1873-1960). Its impact is not limited to Turkey: Nursi’s educational ideals have put into practice in some 300 modern, high-quality schools (including high schools) in several other parts of the world (primarily Central Asia, Balkan, etc.).
Those schools do not have any explicit Islamic content. Gülen aspires to create an educated elite and does not see any conflict between reason and revelation. The schools also contribute to the development of Turkish influence abroad. At the end of two remarkable introductory chapters which put the movement into context, co-editor Hakan Yavuz (University of Utah) claims that “this movement opens new venues for the radical reimagination of tradition.”
Interestingly, explains Berna Turam (McGill University), Gülen’s community combines Islam and Turkish nationalism; moreover, it is “secularization-friendly”. And also American-friendly, which is not very common in the Muslim world today. Indeed, the Nur movement (i.e. the different groups derived from Said Nursi’s thinking) “has been the major pro-NATO and pro-American Muslim group in Turkey”, stresses Yavuz. Gülen considers friendly relations with the USA as imperative, and also sees American hegemony as more preferable for Turkish interests than a rise in power of Russia or China.
— Reviewed by Jean-François Mayer