Nurcu movement founded by Said Nursi (1873-1960) is probably
one of the most important religious organizations in Turkey.
After Nursi's death in 1960, the Nurcu brotherhood fragmented
into several sub-communities with different interpretations
of religion, different goals and different positions on political
issues  . Nowadays, Fethullah Gülen controls the most powerful
of these groups. His followers are also active in Central
Asia but, with the possible exception of Turkmenistan, the
movement is unable to operate in an open and public manner.
Gülen was born in Erzurum in eastern Turkey in 1938. Deeply
influenced by his family, his religious environment and by
the writings of Nursi, Gülen began his career as an official
preacher for the government in 1953. In 1966, he was sent
by the direction of religious affairs to Izmir, where he created
a brotherhood with a small group of students and disciples.
His community, or cemaat, is designated as the Fethullahci
movement, alhough its members do not appreciate this term.
Basically, Fethullah Gülen's ideas serve to accomplish three
intellectual goals: the islamization of the Turkish nationalist
ideology; the turkification of Islam; and the Islamization
of modernity. And therefore, he wishes to revive the link
between the state, religion and society.
of an educational network
one knows exactly the size of Gülen's enormous community of
followers and sympathizers, but most agree on an average estimate
of 3 million members. The movement obtains much of its support
from young urban men, especially doctors, academics and other
professionals. The movement has grown in part by sponsoring
student dormitories, summer camps, colleges, universities,
classrooms and communication organizations. Without any doubt,
education is central to the identity of the community and
favoured its growth in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Turkic
world in general. However, Central Asian Turkic Republics
enjoy a special position in Gülen's strategy
collapse of the Soviet Union opened opportunities for Turkey.
The state and private companies quickly designed special policies
to develop their presence and influence in Central Asia. But
very soon, Fethullah Gülen took the lead with his businessmen,
supporters and his community teachers. Economic and cultural
networks were established between the cemaat (groups
within the movement) and the different social and economic
actors. Several Nurcu delegations visited these countries
and invited Uzbek, Kazakh, Turkmen and Kyrgyz officials in
Turkey to convince them to advocate the replication of Nurcu
educational structures in their home countries.
early connections helped to inaugurate in each of the Central
Asian republics dozens of schools. Statistics show that in
January 2001 the movement In Kazakhstan had already 30 high
schools and one university, welcoming 5,664 pupils and employing
580 teachers from Turkey. In the same period, 11 high schools
and one university were established in Kyrgyzstan, with more
than 3,100 pupils and 323 Turkish teachers. In Turkmenistan,
the community controls 14 high schools and one university
for 3,294 pupils and 353 teachers. Finally, in Uzbekistan
(until September 2000, when all were closed because of a diplomatic
crisis) 17 high schools and one intemational school, employing
210 teachers and welcoming 3,334 pupils, had been founded.
schools can be said to focus on modem and scientific education.
Religious matters are completely absent from their curricula.
In all these countries, as a consequence of the Soviet legacy
and of the local leaders' suspicion, religion has no place
in the educational system. The movement's schools are managed
by Turkish and national administrators and teachers. Usually
scientific matters (e.g. biology, physics, and computer science)
are the main courses and are taught in English and Turkish
languages The national language is of course very much present,
as is the Russian language, which is still maintained as a
language of communication throughout the area.
Nurcu community is considered elitist in Turkey, and this
is also true for Central Asia. Selective competitions are
organized every year to identify the best pupils. As a consequence
of the conservatism of the cemaat, 95% of the schools
are restricted to boys, with only one or two schools in each
republic for girls, although all three universities accept
both male and female students. Thanks to the modern scientific
education, the opportunities for learning English and Turkish,
and the favourable chances in passing the universities' entry
exams, Nurcu schools have a very good reputation among the
local populations. The crisis of the national educational
systems partly explains the high performance of the Nurcu
schools' raison d'être
media have very often interviewed Fethullah Gülen and his
followers about their intentions for Central Asia. They were
always given the same answer: "We are here to help
the sister republics of Turkey." This supposes the
creation of "cultural bridges" between Turkey and
Central Asia. Detailed research on the activities and the
project of the communIty shows that the Nurcu movement in
Central Asia is a real missionary movement. Its mission is
to reestablish Islam in the region, which has been dominated
for the last 70 years by an atheist power persecuting Islam.
To that objective, the Nurcu employ methods similar to those
of the Jesuits. Indeed, like Jesuits, the Nurcu have developed
an elitist method of recruitment; they wish to change society
through education; and they perceive education as a global
supervision of pupils in and out of school. Also, the missionary
movement entertains excellent relations with the target populations
too in order to "convert" them.
similarities, the Nurcu missionary method has its distinctive
characteristics. Schools, in spite of allegations in the Turkish
media – especially in the Kemalist media – , are not
a direct instrument of proselytism. Because it is too dangerous
for the existence of the community itself In Central Asia,
Nurcu missionaries never openly or directly proselytize.
hocaefendi, or "respected lord", Gülen advocates
two main ways of spreading Islam, tebligh and
temsil. The first, and very classical, tebligh is to profess and teach openly the "good" mission.
But since nowadays tebligh activities are developing
everywhere, the temsil method seems to be preferred.
With temsil, Gülen expects his followers to represent
in their daily activities the proper and exemplary way of life. Through temsil the Nurcu will never profess
openly the philosophy of Islam, rather they live it. For example,
teachers of the movement's schools have to be polite, immaculate,
and respectful. These ethics of life demand from the missionaries
both hard work and the acceptance of hizmet insani ("in
service"), or helping others. They must respect the country,
its flag, its history, and must prove to be good examples,
in particular for the young generation. They are not allowed
to pronounce the name of Gülen or Nursi, nor are they permitted
to spread Nurcu literature, at least not openly. While in
some cases a minority of pupils in some small cities (not
very well controlled by the central educational authorities)
are subjected to more direct proselytism (tebligh),
the most important aim ofthe cemaat is to spread
the message without expressing it directly.
future of the community
Balci is a French scholar, who received his political degree
in political science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques (Grenoble)
in October 2001. His doctoral thesis was devoted to Fetullah
Gülen's schools in Central Asia.
article was originally published in ISIM Newsletter,
No. 9, 2002. Posted on Religioscope with permission.
We highly recommend ISIM
Newsletter (http://www.isim.nl/newsletter/). About
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