In Berlin, inside a Gulen “light-house”

Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.
Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.


Date posted: December 16, 2016

Naomi Conrad

Turkey has detained thousands with alleged links to the Gulen movement – a religious network that spans the globe. Students often live in shared flats, so-called lighthouses. Naomi Conrad gained access to one of them.

Talk to Germans of Turkish descent and many recall childhood friends who gravitated towards religious conservatism and, having donned headscarves and more modest customs, slowly and quietly drifted away. “Gulen”, they say, and shrug.

They’re referring to the religious movement of the US-based Turkish Sunni cleric Fetullah Gulen, built around the notion of Hizmet, or “service”, which runs hundreds of educational establishments across the world, spanning from Afghanistan to Tanzania and the United States.


Kristina Dohrn, a cheerful, outgoing anthropologist, who has been studying the movement for almost ten years in Germany and Africa, pauses for a second when asked to characterize the movement: “It’s a global, conservative network with a strong focus on education.” And yet, Dohrn is convinced that there is no grand master plan to take over and Islamize the world: “At the most, there’s a shared vision of an ‘ideal’ society, but it’s one that remains vague.”


It’s a secretive movement which originated in Turkey, whose structures remain largely opaque and who members are unwilling to profess their adherence to Gulen. This has resulted in criticism that the movement lacks transparency and has an agenda of indoctrination and Islamization through its network of schools and free tuition centres.

In Germany, the movement was long a darling of politicians, given its focus on free education among the German-Turkish community, nurturing bright students and helping them access higher education and high-level jobs.

Expert: no grand master plan

But in recent years, it has received more scrutiny, not least after its long-time alley, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, publicly split with the group, accusing it of infiltrating state institutions and even outright “terrorism”.

Germany’s intelligence services disagree: In 2014, they published an assessment outlining that while some elements within the movement gave room for concern, such as statements made by Gulen which “conflicted with core principles of the democratic order”, they didn’t warrant an observation of the movement.

Kristina Dohrn, a cheerful, outgoing anthropologist, who has been studying the movement for almost ten years in Germany and Africa, pauses for a second when asked to characterize the movement: “It’s a global, conservative network with a strong focus on education”, she finally says. “But you could also call it a kind of work ethic.”

Members, who meet in weekly prayer sessions and study the teachings of Gulen, are expected to “find jobs which are good for the community” – and for many that means serving the wider community through education: Many become teachers, and are sent to the movement’s many schools and free tuition centres across the globe, “which are supposed to raise the religious elites of tomorrow, which are then expected to move into positions of power.”

And yet, Dohrn is convinced that there is no grand master plan to take over and Islamize the world: “At the most, there’s a shared vision of an ‘ideal’ society, but it’s one that remains vague.”

Inside a light-house

The group’s elites of tomorrow, the bright students who are expected to work hard and progress into important positions in society, often live in so-called “light-houses”, shared flats, strictly separated by gender and financially supported by the Gulen movement.

In the past, the Gulen movement was wary of giving media access to such flats, which host weekly seminars and study meetings. But today, thousands of its members – both actual and suspected – are being rounded up and imprisoned in Turkey among accusations that they were conspiring to take over the country in a failed coup attempt earlier this year.

As the conflict quickly spread outside Turkey, dividing the Turkish community in Germany into camps supporting either Erdogan or Gulen, DW has been finally allowed access to one of the five light-houses in Berlin, which houses female students.

Outside the nondescript block of flats in central Berlin, a family of five scurried home, as the boom of a premature New Year’s Eve firecrackers reverberated through the narrow street.  Inside the tidy flat, a polite, eloquent young woman with a light-blue headscarf and long tunic, who DW agreed to call Özlem, made a pot of ginger tea, while on the table a tiny Christmas carrousel of angels and shepherds danced around a flickering candle.

Split in Turkish community

Özlem is a Gulen supporter who defies the conspiracy theories surrounding the group. She is a young, educated woman with a degree in linguistics who plans to work in educational policy. She also doesn’t shy from criticizing the movement she joined when she was fourteen, after an uncle introduced her mother to the movement. Men rather than women, she conceded, often held important positions, and she was quick to condemn the anti-Semitic remarks Gulen made in his earlier writings.

When she moved to Berlin from a small town in rural Bavaria, joining a lighthouse seemed a logical step for Özlem. She calls the five women who share immaculate rooms, books and copies of the Quoran neatly stacked on desks, as well as daily prayer meetings, her “surrogate family”.

She is, she says, a conservative Muslim, who prays five times a day and is opposed to sex before marriage.

But some of her views, she concedes, may clash with those of the wider movement and indeed other light-houses, particularly more conservative Turkish leaders: Gay marriage, for Özlem, who says that many of her friends are atheists and Jews, is a good thing, and politics and religions should be separated.

No one, she said, had ever instructed her to take on a certain profession or join a political party.

As a flatmate wandered in to the small kitchen to make dinner, Özlem shook her head. Life, she said, had become difficult for Gulen supporters in Germany. Some mosques have banned known Gulen supporters, labeling them “traitors” and many of her friends now attend mosques in neighbourhoods where no one knows about their secret affiliation.

But worst of all, the rift has spilt into her family, too: “My father’s not religious, and he told us to leave that ‘terrorist network’.” Özlem and her four siblings refused and, after several heated rows, the family reached a shaky truce: “At home, we simply don’t talk about Gulen and politics any more.”

But, she said, her father still jokes that his children are “terrorists”. She shrugged.

Source: Deutsche Welle , December 16, 2016


Related News

Attempting to discredit Gülen by linking him to Israel

A typical example of black propaganda is the “anti-reactionaryism action plan” prepared in cosmic rooms with the intention of destroying the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Gülen community in 2009, which was initially denied and passed off as a “piece of paper,” but which led to the trial and sentencing of those who prepared it.

Turkey further from EU accession than in 2007, Swoboda says

Swoboda said “The main problem is that there are severe accusations from Erdoğan against the Gülen movement over infiltrating the judiciary and the police. He is using this argument to change a lot of personalities in the judiciary and police, trying to restrict the independence of the Constitutional Court and the HSYK. Therefore, we fear for the independence of justice,”

Who staged a coup against whom on Dec. 17?

When its involvement in corruption and bribery became public, and that this seemed like the tip of an iceberg, the government thought that it must cover up the subsequent investigation, fearing that yet more investigations would be started — and so crushed the police force and the judiciary like a steamroller.

Abant Platform calls for ‘respect for sacred’ in Africa meeting

The 32nd Abant Platform, which took place in Addis Ababa over the weekend, confirmed its commitment to the respect for sacred values and the encouragement of freedom of religion by international and regional organizations.

Turkish consulate in Rotterdam seized passports of Gulen-supporters

The Turkish consulate in Rotterdam confiscated the Turkish passports of a number of Dutch-Turkish people believed to be affiliated with the Gulen movement. The people involved were told that they are now classified as a fugitive and were given a one-day passport to fly to Turkey and prove their innocence in front of a judge.

Ministry of Defense and Orizont High School to Cooperate in the Educational Area

The Ministry of Defense and Orizont High School concluded a cooperation agreement in the educational area. The document, signed by Defense Minister Vitalie Marinuta and general director of Orizont High School, Turgay Şen, highlights the cooperation between the two institutions in the military patriotic education domain.

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

Parents protest demolition of Fatih College wall

Canadian Journal Interviews Erdogan’s Victims in Greece: Fleeing oppression in Turkey

Doctors Worldwide Turkey, Kimse Yok Mu set to help Gazans

CHP deputy calls Erdoğan’s order to bring down Hizmet ‘crime’

Gülen condemns Pakistan attack, asks Muslims to protect minorities

German intelligence did not warn against Hizmet Movement

Alevi demands remain unfulfilled as their disappointment grows

Copyright 2022 Hizmet News