February 1, 2017
By  Sebnem Unlu

gulenThe Hizmet (the Turkish word for service) movement was inspired by the Turkish Muslim scholar M. F. Gulen about 40 years ago in Turkey. For decades, this global, non-political, non-partisan, non-profit civic movement has reached out to every corner of the globe to take education to the masses, specifically to remote, disadvantaged and war-torn areas, like Siberia, Central Asia, and Africa. Thousands of children have been granted scholarships, exposed to science and technology and provided with opportunities that no other organization provided in their countries. As called by Gulen, ‘the caravan of divine yearning’ has healed blind eyes (due to severe stages of cataracts) of thousands in Africa, established hospitals, and water wells in regions that have no access to clean, hygienic water, and rescued thousands from starvation by enduring the heat, disease and conditions unknown in our developed worlds.

Businessmen inspired by Gulen’s teachings became philanthropists and helped sponsor the building and establishment of more than 1000 schools globally. They understood by the teachings of Gulen that to undertake altruistic service, without any material expectation is an act of sincere worship to God. Their goal is to earn the pleasure of the Divine, and to not expect any publicity, fame, recognition, or award from anyone or any entity.

The movement opened itself to all communities, inspired by Gulen’s teachings on altruism, dedication and sincerity: “Open your heart as much as you can, be as wide as the ocean. Become inspired by faith and love the human being! Let there not be any lonely soul whom you are not concerned with!”

However, after July 15th, 2016, the Hizmet movement’s institutions, schools (about 1000 schools in Turkey), 15 universities and thousands of academics, teachers, judges, journalists, doctors and soldiers have been targets of a witch-hunt by the current Turkish government.

Using a staged coup as a pretext, thousands have been fired or expelled from their positions, the passports of all academics have been revoked, and more than 40,000 people have been imprisoned. Hundreds of businessmen’s property has been confiscated and their accounts frozen. The witch-hunt has become so merciless that the legitimate diplomas of teachers from Gulen-inspired schools have been revoked, forcing teachers to either emigrate from Turkey or to work as very low-paid janitors.

Since then, thousands have been forced to emigrate from their homeland into an unknown future, leaving everything they had behind: jobs, houses, cars, businesses, and property. Some even emigrated without taking their wives, children, or husbands with them. Hence, families have been torn apart, forced to separate from one another.

The worst part of the witch-hunt hit at core human values: many disowned their family members who they deemed were the instigators of ‘a coup!’ All TV channels and news media established by the Hizmet to bring unbiased, factual news to the public have been shut down. Currently, no dissenting voices are left to inform the masses that they are being exposed to biased news that feeds into the governing power’s agenda.

Amongst the detainees are mothers with children, pregnant women, and even women who have recently given birth. Housewives and mothers who do not have any specific titles or formal positions have been detained or imprisoned simply because they organized a fundraising bake sale or other social event to raise money for students.

The dedication and devotion of Hizmet-affiliated teachers is epic, to say the least: teachers who traveled to countries like those in Central Asia sometimes constructed the schools themselves, taught for very little wages and ate potatoes for months (there was nothing else they could eat when they arrived in Central Asia in 1990s). Most of them did not know the language of the country they were going to, and had to learn it from scratch.

After decades of service, dedication, and devotion of the Hizmet movement, most members of parliament in the Turkish government know full well the Hizmet-affiliated community. They had even registered their own children to Hizmet-affiliated schools, knowing full well the quality of education they will receive. The betrayal of this movement dedicated to the well-being of communities was absolutely shocking, unacceptable, and a great crime against basic human rights.

As people of faith and conscience, it is our duty to ensure that freedom of expression, religion, thought and way of life is an inviolable right of every human being, that world powers and governments are responsible and accountable for their actions. As power is a trust from The Most Gracious Creator of all, its abuse cannot be overlooked or ignored.


Sebnem Unlu is a founding member of the Greater Pittsburgh Interfaith Coalition.