Peaceful Islam: UH Sociologist’s Book Chronicles Gülen Movement of Turkey

Aims to Instruct, Dispel Myths of Muslims and Islam for a Western Audience

The damage wrought upon Muslims following the terror attacks of 9-11 is incalculable.  Many still suffer, linked by outsiders who promote a skewed association to those who claim to represent Islam.  University of Houston sociologist Helen Rose Ebaugh has written a book that examines an Islamic movement that is rooted in education, interfaith exchange and peace.   "The Gülen Movement:  A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam" is the result of two years of research. 

"They are an example of Islam that we do not hear about in the media," said Ebaugh, who teaches a course on world religions.

Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish imam whose works helped start a civic movement in the 1960s to educate young people and inspire Turkish people to invest in that endeavor.   Ebaugh spent two years conducting interviews with Turkish businesspeople, journalists and average people whose support of Gülen's ideas is woven into their personal and professional values.  Ebaugh says she was careful to explain to her hosts and interviewees that she would report on whatever she found. Helen Rose Ebaugh

"What I present is grounded in a sociological perspective that I hope will connect with a Western audience," she said.  "I am a social scientist; I'm not a member of the movement.  You're looking at an objective outsider."

The book contains chapters on Islam throughout Turkish history, the Turkish-Islamic culture of giving, the life of Fethullah Gülen and the financing of his civic movement.

"He called on deeply entrenched Turkish values of zakat and hospitality," Ebaugh said.  "It's a Turkish thing and very much an Islamic thing."  

Ebaugh's research also conveys stories from the many people who benefited from Gülen-inspired schools.  She said many explained that without the schools or dormitories in which to live, they would not have been able to pursue an education.  She said for some, especially in southeastern Turkey, their only other alternatives were those provided by radical religious and ethnic groups.

Ebaugh says that participants in the Gülen movement are now in more than 100 countries, including the United States and the city of Houston. 

 "This is not an isolationist movement.  People want to integrate into the places where they live," she said.  "They hold workshops to share information about their culture and faith.  They take people to Turkey and promote interfaith dialogue.  Here are Muslims promoting peace," she said.   

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