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Chicoans Travel to Study Gulen Movement

ChicoER. Larry Mitchell, December 12, 2009

CHICO — It's not surprising that Jim Anderson and Janet Leslie would take an interest in the Gulen movement, which originated in Turkey.

Both are members of Chico's Quaker community and could be called peace advocates. They are involved in local interfaith work.

The movement, started by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim leader, stresses tolerance, Anderson and Leslie said during a talk they gave recently at Chico State University.

Last summer, they explained, they were among nine people from Chico who went to Turkey to learn more about the Gulen movement.

Turkey has a complex history, with strong influences from both the East and the West, Leslie said. In the early 1900s, a secular, "modernist" state was established. All religious institutions were banned because religion was seen as divisive.

But by the mid-1900s, room was made again for religion, and the government now promotes religious freedom, Leslie said. The great majority of religious Turks follow Islam, but there are Christians, Jews and members of other faiths, as well.

While Gulen doesn't call himself a Sufi, his movement can be classified as a type of Sufism, said Anderson, who is a professor of religious studies at Chico State.

Sufism is often called the mystical branch of Islam.

According to Anderson, Gulen advocates an ascetic kind of Sufism rather than the ecstatic or "intoxicated" kind.

He practices and recommends living simply, he said.

A balanced approach is central in Gulen's teachings, he added. For example, he stresses "cultivating a pure heart," but also emphasizes the authority of Islamic scripture.

Gulen's approach, he said, involves "absolute balance — active and passive, this world and the next."

He advocates "an active and responsible participation in public life for the good of society," Anderson said.

At the same time, "Gulen teaches if you want to reform the world, start by reforming yourself," Leslie noted.

While in Turkey, the travelers from Chico visited museums, schools, mosques, synagogues and churches. They also spent time in the homes of Gulen's followers.

Leslie told of meeting one woman who said she and a group of friends were working to eliminate gossip from their lives.

"Mostly, the movement is a bunch of small community groups who meet and consider how to live out their ideals," Anderson said.

The movement is responsible for starting a number of schools. Several Turkish newspapers promote Gulen's views, as well.

More information can be found on Gulen's Web site, which is at http://en.fgulen.com.

Gulen, who now lives in the United States, "believes Turkey can only effectively enter the modern world through tolerance," Anderson said. "He believes tolerance and interfaith activities are necessary to being a good Muslim."

Gulen is not universally loved, Anderson noted. When he visited the pope, he was denounced by both secularists and Islamists.

It's hard to estimate the size of the movement, Leslie said. She guessed it might include 100,000 to 5 million of Turkey's 71 million people.

"This movement and (Gulen's) teachings have become a major religious and social force in the world," she said, adding that on a published list of "the most influential Muslims," Gulen ranked 13th.

Staff writer Larry Mitchell can be reached at 896-7759 or lmitchell@chicoer.com.


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http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_13983688





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