Is the Gülen Movement Apolitical?

Is the Gülen Movement Apolitical?

Graham E. Fuller

The Gülen movement eschews politics in the belief that it leads to social divisiveness and distraction from the essential issues of values and principle. In fact, the movement opposes the creation of political parties founded on religion in general, believing that they end up compromising or contaminating religion and that they only serve to create social strife damaging to the position of religion in society. The movement is comfortable with living within the secular strictures of modern Turkish society—as long as “secularism” is not taken to mean state license to persecute the community’s members or enact legislation hostile to religion.

However, Prof. Yavuz, among others, has suggested that the Gülen movement cannot really be described as “apolitical” at all and that the movement’s every action is, in the end, intensely political. After all, the movement has huge communications enterprises, educational and financial institutions, and major media outlets all able to influence society. There is no doubt that the movement quite explicitly aspires to transform society through transformation of the individual, a process that could ultimately lead to collective calls for the creation of national and social institutions that reflect belief in a moral order. In a very loose sense, it is possible to call this a political project if we consider any attempt to transform society to be a political project. But I would argue that it is just as much a social or moral project. Indeed, the term “political” loses its meaning if applied equally to all efforts to transform society, regardless of means. Promotion of change through teachings, education, and information does not really become political until it formally and institutionally enters the political process.

In this sense, it is correct to describe the Gülen movement as apolitical. But there can be no doubt that it is strong, influential, and active on the public scene and clear in its principles, which it publicizes broadly and transparently.


Fuller, Graham E. 2007. “New Turkish Republic: Turkey As a Pivotal State in the Muslim World.” Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace.

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