Gulen Movement – Part 2

Continued from part one here. Read part one before you read part II.

I am now asked to comment and tell people what I think of the Gulen movement. The people in the Gulen movement themselves ask me what I think about the movement. Before are some first thoughts – still not organized- still not fact checked- treat it as first impressions. Coming from my knowledge of the Jewish community, I can only evaluate them based on analogy to Jewish parallels.

My basic questions for evaluating the Islam of the Gulen movement is what will the next generation look like. Even knowing that next generations can turn out the opposite of the prior ones, the vantage point of projection allows evaluation. This is where I am stumped as to how to evaluate my experiences.

Vignette 1 –I am speaking to a 21 year old economic major who describes how the movement took Islam from the folkways and tradition in his small town and made it into a religion. Now the religion of Islam that he follows is by conscious choice and he sees that it can be treated as Turkish-Islamic culture. This would sound like a religion of self-conscious traditionalism. Their own newspaper quotes the anthropologist Ruth Benedict that “Our faith in the present dies out long before our faith in the future.” They are a transition that is still taking place in which the plausibility structure of the past has died and the Gulen movement offers the potential of a future plausibility structure that works.

Vignette 2- I am speaking to an 18 year old recent graduate of the Gulen boarding prep school in CT. He explains to me how Islam was not part of the curriculum but they have prayer and chaplains. He tells me that he is going to study Political Science and pre-law in a major Midwestern mega-university. I wonder how is he going to keep his Islam on a college campus? Will he change due to the influence of the Muslim-chaplain on campus? Will be forced to either assimilate or stake out a more public form of Islam to maintain his identity? What can I use to evaluate this kid as a success story of Gulen Islam?

Vignette 3- I am speaking to a 50 year old teacher of the movement. Someone shows him a keychain and asks: what is written on it? He says he thinks the first Sura of the Koran but that he cannot translate it and would need to look up its meaning. Since the first Sura is known to every school child who learns Koran-and even to any Jewish studies teacher who has ever taught the second Sura because of its Judiac sources- what do I make of his lack of knowledge of the Koran? it is not hard to remember
In the name of the merciful and compassionate God.
1 Praise belongs to God, the Lord of the worlds,
2 he the merciful, the compassionate,
3 he, the ruler of the day of judgment!
4 Thee we serve and Thee we ask for aid.
5 Guide us in the right path,
6 the path of those Thou art gracious to;
7 not of those Thou art wroth with; nor of those who err.

In general, they say to trust one’s own heart in religion. Don’t be a hypocrite and try to be sincere in your practice. They have created an Islam of knowledge of the basic rules and Mosque etiquette but no real learning of Islamic sources. They say to trust the heart for matters of interpretation. Imama, kadis, and scary sources of authority do not play a role in their thinking. How can I evaluate if the next generation will return to sources of authority and which ones they will choose?

They affirm the need for salat (worship) five times a day, yet they also say that God wants you to be engaged in medicine or business or community work so that if you miss some of the prayers it is OK. Once or twice a day is enough is one is busy with other service of God such as helping people. There is a form of osek be mitzvah patur min hamitzvah and rahmana leba bai.

When asked about restrictive fatwas, salafi interpretation or about Islamic reformers, they tend to shrug it off and say: Dont question others or engage in polemics- love all – don’t fight with the right or the left.

So how do I evaluate them? Where will they be in 20 years? 40 years? Are they like the Conservative movement of 1940’s – traditionalists following accepted practices of the people? Are they renewal and romantic for their setting as their base a universal reading of Sufism as tolerance, love, and intercultural understanding? Are they Modern Orthodox for their insistence on women covering their hair and everyone only eating OU kosher as their halal– both inside and outside the home? (There is money to be made by the OU giving them seminars in what to look for in ingredients and how to navigate American Kashrut.)
What happens when the kids open the books? Will they?

To offer a comparison: Teaneck has a new Muslim Mayor affiliated with the local Mosque and Muslim day school. In the Teaneck al-Ghazzali school they have half a day religious studies and half a day general studies. The Gulen schools all have only secular studies and one period a week of religion. To teach classes in al-Ghazzali, they sometimes have less than modernist teachers and the textbooks are produced in Pakistan. In the Gulen school, every teacher is bright-eyed and supportive of Gulen’s vision of love, tolerance, and purity of the heart. Here in Teaneck, the Muslim women do not all cover their hair but in the Gulen movement they do.

So how do I evaluate the movement? How are they similar or difference than the American Jewish entrance into modernity? Where will they be in 20 years?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

2 responses to “Gulen Movement – Part 2

  1. edited by site-owner

    Gulen’s school in Maryland closed. It was so bad when Chesapeake closed. The director (a sexist Turkish man) was excorted out the door by the police.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/29/AR2006032900704.html

    this principal was moved to Gulen’s TV station ERBU TV. Remember Gulen owns Zaman, Fountain and bunch other media to CONTROL propaganda about him and his movement.

    Vanessa Kachadurian, Fresno, CA

  2. I thought about this question over the weekend and now believe that it is inappropriate to use a Jewish or Christian historical paradigm to understand the Gulen movement, in America or in Turkey. Conservative in the 1910’s & Modern Orthodox Judaism in the 1950’s are not like a Muslim movement in 2010. There are too many factors, both external & interal, involved to make any serious judgements.

    However, upon reflection, i thought that perhaps one could apply Christian Smith’s Sub-culture Identity Theory (Quoted Below):

    Propositions:
    1) The human being drives for meaning and belonging are satisfied primarily by locating human selves within social groups that sustain distinctive, morally orienting collective identities.
    2) Social groups construct and maintain collective identities by drawing symbols between themselves and relevant outgroups.
    3) Religious traditions have always strategically renegotiated their collective identities by continually reformulating the ways their constructed orthodoxies engage the changing sociological environments they confront.
    4) Because the socially normative bases of identity-legitimation are historically variable, modern religious believers can establish stronger religious identities and commitments on the basis of individual choice than through ascription.
    5) Individuals and groups define their values and norms and evaluate their identities and actions in relations to specific, chosen reference groups; dissimilar and antagonistic outgroups may serve as negative reference groups.
    6) Modern pluralism promotes the formation of strong subcultures and potentially “deviant” identities, including religious subcultures and identities.
    7) Intergroup conflict in a pluralistic context typically strengthens in-group identity, solidarity, resources, and membership retension.
    8) Modernity can actually increase religion’s appeal, by creating social conditions which intensify the kinds of felt needs and desires that religion is especially well-positioned to satisfy.

    In addition to Smith’s “Subculture Identity Theory”, he has also formulated a related “subcultural identity theory of religious persistence” and “subcultural identity theory of religious strength”.

    The subcultural identity theory of religious persistence:
    Religion survives and can thrive in pluralistic, modern society by embedding itself in subcultures that offer morally orienting collective identities which provide adherents meaning and belonging.

    And the subcultural identity theory of religious strength is this:
    In a pluralistic society, those religious groups will be relatively stronger which better possess and employ the cultural tools needed to create both clear distinction from and significant engagement and tensions with other relevant outgroups, short of becoming genuinely countercultural.

    So on the one hand, the fact that Gulen movement encourages its members to perform culturally distinctive acts & markers does increase their distinctive identity.

    My question then is who are their measuring themselves against?

    Not other Muslims. Nor Americans or American society.

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