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Hizmet and Fethullah Gulen

Hizmet: Historical Context

A Hizmet volunteer provides healthcare services to children in Somalia

Hizmet is a transnational civil society initiative that advocates for the ideals of human rights, equal opportunity, democracy, non-violence and the emphatic acceptance of religious and cultural diversity. It began in Turkey as a grassroots community in the 1970s in the context of social challenges being faced at the time: violent conflict among ideologically and politically driven youth, desperate economic conditions and decades of state-imposed ideology of discrimination where the un-elected members of the state penetrated excessively in people’s lives and mandated a particular lifestyle.

Over the years, Hizmet has transformed from a grassroots community in Turkey to a wider social effort around the world where participants come from all walks of life — they are culturally, geographically, linguistically and religiously diverse. Their work centers on:

  • Promoting philanthropy and community service
  • Investing in education for cultivating virtuous individuals
  • Organizing intercultural and interfaith dialogue for peaceful coexistence
Mr Gulen and Pope John Paul II, February, 1998

Hizmet is not a religious effort; it is open to every person who shares its core values regardless of whether their values are rooted in Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, or any other faith. In fact, in areas where Hindu, Buddhist or other religions are a majority, Hizmet supporters include members of those faiths.

One of the core ideals of Hizmet is not just an emphatic acceptance of religious, cultural, social and political diversity, but actual celebration of this diversity because Hizmet participants consider this diversity as divine will. Hizmet participants believe that such acceptance is not contrary to one’s devotion to religion, but indeed respecting and embracing fellow humans at the level of our common humanity is part of one’s devotion.

Hizmet participants are inspired by the ideas, life example and vision of Fethullah Gulen, who advocated for deeper personal spiritual devotion that is expressed in social work through the understanding that serving fellow humans is serving God.

About Fethullah Gulen

Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate, whose decades-long commitment to education, altruistic community service, and interfaith harmony has inspired millions in Turkey and around the world. Described as one of the world’s most important Muslim figures, Gulen has reinterpreted aspects of Islamic tradition to meet the needs of contemporary Muslims. He has dedicated his life to interfaith and intercultural dialogue, community service and providing access to quality education. He was the first influential Muslim public figure to publicly condemn the 9/11 attacks and express sympathy for the American people.

Born into a humble family in Erzurum, Turkey in 1941, Gulen studied natural science, Eastern and Western philosophy, as well as Islamic tradition in his early years. He moved to Edirne in the late 1950s and to Izmir, Turkey’s third largest province, in 1960s, where he started to crystallize his views. His activism and discourse attracted the atten¬tion of learned citizens, includ¬ing the academic community and college students, as well as common people. From mosques to conference halls, Gulen discussed issues ranging from religion, peace, education and science, to the economy and other pressing social issues of the time, especially social justice.

In the following two decades, Gulen’s efforts in mobilizing fellow citizens around the cause of providing access to quality education, which had long been available to the wealthier students from urban centers, made him one of the best-known and respected figures in Turkey. By inspiring the establishment of scholarships, free tutoring centers, college prep courses, schools and student hostels, Gulen gave disenfranchised rural students access to education, thereby helping transform the social landscape of Turkey.

In the last two decades, Hizmet participants have expanded education opportunities around the world — from Central Asia to South Africa, from Australia to the Balkans— building schools, dormitories and tutoring centers, teaching college preparatory courses, mentoring students, and providing financial aid to those in need.

The private, non-sectarian schools founded by Hizmet participants focus on science, math, literature and multicultural understanding, and many of their students have won major international math and science competitions. In conflict-ridden regions of the Philippines, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia, hundreds of Hizmet schools have become bastions of inter-religious and interethnic harmony.

Gulen has also advocated for the education of women and advocated for their empowerment, a progressive view that stands in contrast to the views of more literalist Islamic leaders.

Hospitals built by Hizmet’s supporters have provided affordable access to quality health care while volunteer doctors brought free medical care to areas in desperate need. A major relief organization within the Hizmet initiative has mobilized thousands of volunteers and hundreds of millions of dollars in bringing aid to disaster victims in Southeast Asia, South America and Africa.

Gulen rejuvenated the Turkish tradition of interfaith dialogue and strongly advocates pro-democracy, equal opportunity, pro-science, non-violent stances. One of the core tenets of his teachings is the celebration of religious, cultural, social and political diversity. Gulen considers this diversity divine will; according to him, “you must have a seat for every person in your heart.”

Gulen’s lifelong work on interfaith cooperation has earned him recognition from Christian and Jewish leaders in his homeland Turkey and a personal audience with the late Pope John Paul II. He is also the recipient of New York-based East West Institute’s 2011 peace award. His efforts have also been praised by other global leaders who recognize his vital role in fostering mutual understanding and peace as well as his leadership in humanitarian initiatives. In 2008, Gulen was ranked among top 100 in Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines’ joint poll of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals.” In April 2015, he was awarded with 2015 Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award by Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in recognition of his life-long dedication to promoting peace and human rights.

Gulen currently lives in relative solitude at a retreat facility in Pennsylvania, where he dedicates his time to reading, writing and personal worship, and to promoting shared values, dialogue and peace.

For detailed information about Gulen’s biography, please refer to his Biographical Album from Gulen Institute and his CV.