What’s in a Movement? Competing Narratives on Transnational Islam

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Etga Ugur

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Books Reviewed: M. Hakan Yavuz, Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The
Gülen Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Joshua D. Hendrick,
Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World
(New York: New York University Press, 2013); Sophia Pandya and Nancy
Gallagher, eds., The Gülen Hizmet Movement and Its Transnational Activities:
Case Studies of Altruistic Activism in Contemporary Islam (Boca Raton, FL:
BrownWalker Press, 2012).
What makes the ideas of an Islamic scholar from the heartland of eastern Anatolia
relevant to more than 150 countries across the world? To some, it is the
authenticity, dedication, activism, sincerity, and solidarity of the participants
in what Fethullah Gülen, the inspiring figure behind the movement, has called
the “volunteers movement” or simply hizmet (service). This global movement
provides opportunities for education, promotes intercultural dialogue, supports
democratization and human rights, and connects businesses and activists for
community partnership. To others, there is something sinister, something more
than meets the eye, and hence it is a “project” with ulterior motives ranging
from creating an Islamic state to serving the interests of Israel, the United
States, and the Vatican. When there is such disagreement, a social theory perspective
becomes critical to sorting out all of these competing and conflicting
explanations. The three books under review provide various kaleidoscopes to
make sense of such convoluted interpretations and raise interesting questions
for future work in the burgeoning literature.1
The movement began as one of the many Islamic communities in
Turkey’s diverse informal religious sector, which has traditionally offered a
private alternative to the official Islam represented by the Diyanet (Turkish
Directorate of Religious Affairs). By the mid-1990s, however, it had distinguished
itself from most of the rest through its words and deeds. This is the
story of an enigmatic “preacher” who led a core group of seminary disciples ...

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