The 10-minute-long story by PBS correspondent Luck Severson gave information on the movement, which is a group of volunteers engaged in interfaith and intercultural dialogue inspired by the ideas of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar well known for his teachings promoting mutual understanding and tolerance between cultures.
Defining Gülen as “a 69-year-old Turkish Islamic scholar and author, apparently in poor health, who came to the US seeking medical treatment,” the story tried to uncover why he was voted by his admirers in a survey by Foreign Policy magazine as the most significant intellectual in the world.
American sociology professor Helen Rose Ebaugh, who has written a book analyzing the Gülen movement, and Professor William Martin were the two academics who spoke during the program. Ebaugh recalled that when Gülen began preaching in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in Turkey, his message was, “We don’t need more madrassas.” Ebaugh explained, “We need[ed] schools that would promote science and math and secular subjects, and [Gülen’s] contention was that one can be modern and one can be scientific and still be a good Muslim.”
According to Professor Martin, it’s fair to say that Islam has had difficulty in coming to terms with modernity, and in that he thinks that the Gülen movement offers a much more positive picture of what Islam can be.
“Gülen has always emphasized education, and that really lies at the core of this movement. To be a good Muslim meant being well educated, and to be a good Muslim who participated in modernity meant being conversant and well educated in science, math, and technology,” he said. The professor said the Harmony schools, which are public charter schools, are an outstanding example of what Gülen followers have been able to accomplish in particular with respect to education. According to the story, in Texas there are 33 of these nationally recognized public charter schools with over 16,000 students grades K through 12. “About 60 percent of the kids in the Texas Harmony schools come from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The schools say they have a 100 percent graduation rate. No wonder there are 21,000 kids on the waiting list,” Severson said.
Commenting on criticisms directed at the movement in Turkey, which allege that Gülen wants to take power and impose Shariah law, Martin said: “I think that, frankly, is an absurd fear.” Alp Aslandoğan from the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue also spoke during the program and said, “Personally, [Gülen] is definitely very knowledgeable, very sincere in wanting the best for the people—not just Turkey, but for all humanity.”
Correspondent Severson concluded the story with these remarks: “For the time being, those who follow Gülen, both critics and admirers, seem to agree that he is leading one of the most important movements in Islam.”