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Muhammed Fethullah Gülen (born 27 April 1941) is a Turkish Islamic scholar, preacher, and a one-time opinion leader (as de facto leader of the Gülen movement: an international, faith-based civil society organization once aligned with Turkey’s government, but since then outlawed as an alleged “armed terrorist group”). Gülen is designated an influential Ottomanist, Anatolian panethnicist, Islamic poet, writer, social critic, and activist–dissident developing a Nursian theological perspective that embraces democratic modernity, as a citizen of Turkey (until his denaturalization by the government in 2017) he was a local state imam from 1959 to 1981. Over the years, Gülen became a centrist political figure in Turkey prior his there being as a fugitive. Since 1999, Gülen has lived in self-exile in the United States near Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.Gülen says his social criticisms are focused upon individuals’ faith and morality and a lesser extent toward political ends and self describes as rejecting an Islamist political philosophy, his advocating instead for full participation within professions, society, and political life by religious and secular individuals who profess high moral or ethical principles and who wholly support secular rule, within Muslim-majority countries and elsewhere. Gülen founded the Gülen movement (known as the hizmet, meaning service in Turkish), which is a 3-to-6 million strong, volunteer-based movement in Turkey and around the world. (All Hizmet’s schools, foundations and other entities in Turkey have been closed by the Turkish government following the 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt.) Along with the movement’s participant’s (Gülenists’) individual piety and/or ethical conduct, they promote education, civil society, and religious tolerance initiatives and establish social networks. These networks self-describe as originating spontaneously, their constituent local entities functioning independently from each other, existing, in the aggregate, as leaderless activist entities. “I really don’t know 0.1% of the people in this movement,” Gülen has said. “I haven’t done much. I have just spoken out on what I believe. Because it [Gülen’s teachings] made sense, people grasped it themselves.” “I opened one school to see if people liked it. So they created more schools.” Inasmuch as the movement includes individuals with advanced theological training serving as “imams” and spiritual counselors on the macro level, with these individuals’ identities remaining confidential (reflecting such positions’ technical illegality in Turkey, under the formerly Kemalist laws there outlawing religious orders), some observers argue that the movement thus includes a clandestine aspect.Sharing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambition to empower religious individuals in civil life previously disenfranchised in secular Turkey, in 2003 a number of Gülen movement participants pivoted from the Turkish political center to become the junior partner with the newly ruling Erdoğan-led and center-right Justice and Development Party (AKP), providing the party political and sorely-needed administrative support. This political alliance worked together to weaken left-of-center Kemalist factions in the judiciary, military, and police (see Ergenekon trials). It internally fractured in 2011, which became common knowledge by the time of the corruption investigations of highly placed members of Turkey’s ruling party in 2013. Turkish prosecutors accuse Gülen of attempts to overthrow the government by allegedly directing politically motivated corruption investigations by Gülen-linked investigators then in the judiciary, who illegally wiretapped the executive office of the Turkish president, and, with assistance perhaps from unnamed individuals in the American intelligence community, Gülen’s alleged instigations or fomentations toward the 2016 coup attempt by factions within Turkish armed forces indeed including Gülenists. Gülen says he did not personally influencing past prosecutions of Justice and Development Party members by judiciary prosecutors from assorted political factions and has said he has “stood against all coups.” A Turkish criminal court has issued an arrest warrant for Gülen. Turkey is demanding the extradition of Gülen from the United States. U.S. government officials do not believe he is associated with any terrorist activity, and have requested evidence to be provided by the Turkish Government to substantiate the allegations in the warrant requesting extradition, frequently rejecting Turkish calls for his extradition.In a February 2019 opinion piece, Gülen said, “[I]n Turkey, a vast arrest campaign based on guilt by association is ongoing. The number of victims of this campaign of persecution keeps increasing […]. Erdogan is draining the reputation that the Turkish Republic has gained in the international arena, pushing Turkey into the league of nations known for suffocating freedoms and jailing democratic dissenters. The ruling clique is exploiting diplomatic relations, mobilizing government personnel and resources to harass, haunt and abduct Hizmet movement volunteers all around the world.” Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as an imam “who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education” and as “one of the world’s most important Muslim figures.” Gülen is wanted as a terrorist leader in Turkey and Pakistan as well as by the governments of OIC and GCC.
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