How Hizmet Works: Islam, Dialogue and the Gülen (17 pages)

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Hizmet Studies Review v.1 n.1


senior members serving as trustees (mütevelli), and in their personal commitment

(himmet) enjoying remarkable social capital and sense of purpose (ibid.: 548-9).

The various business enterprises associated with Hizmet such as the Zaman news-

paper group, Samanyolu Television and Işık Publishing, to name just three of the

largest, are autonomous enterprises linked by social ties rather than by any formal

business connections. The same can be said for the many NGOs associated with


A close examination of the development of Hizmet in Australia reveals these

underlying dynamics very clearly. It is precisely because what has happened in

Australia is not unique that it is instructive to look carefully at this particular case

study. As is the case with many parallel developments in the Hizmet movement

around the globe, the early story of Hizmet in Australia is tied up very closely

with the story of one individual. This story and this person, Orhan Cicek, and his

family, are simultaneously both remarkable and ordinary at a number of levels.

Remarkable because what has been achieved and the manner in which it has been

achieved exceed the usual expectations that one might apply to religious philan-

thropy. Similarly, the determination and vision of the individual involved and,

one might say – invoking another religious philanthropic tradition – the sheer

chutzpah, are truly remarkable. And yet, the pattern in Australia is a familiar one

to people studying the Hizmet movement around the world. And the individual

involved is genuinely modest and unassuming. Because of the central role played

by this individual, particularly in the first two decades of Hizmet activism in

Australia, and because of the illustrative nature of this story, it is worth devoting

a little attention to the personal story.

By 2008, the Hizmet movement in Australia was estimated to involve sev-

eral thousand people, including dozens who worked full-time for its schools and

NGOs. In 1980, when Cicek left Ankara for Melbourne, Hizmet had no pres-

ence in Australia. By the end of the decade, a small but enthusiastic Hizmet com-

munity had been established and the foundations laid for future growth. In 1985,

prompted by concerns about delinquency amongst second-generation Turkish

young people, Cicek established The New Generation Youth Association, based

in the Melbourne suburbs of Richmond, Sunshine, Broadmeadows and Dande-

nong. Two years later, in 1987, the Light Tutoring Centre, a free tuition centre

aimed at Muslim students, was set up in inner-city Melbourne. Around this time,

in December 1989, senior Gülen movement leader Mehmet Ali Şengül began to

make regular visits to the community in Australia and in 1990, less than ten years

after the first Hizmet schools were established in Turkey, the Selimiye Foundation

was established with the aim of building a school in Melbourne, an aim that was

fulfilled with the opening of Işık College in 1997, one year after Şule College was

opened in Sydney.

When Cicek arrived in Australia in 1980, not only was there no Hizmet in

Australia, the sense of there being a broad social movement associated with Gül-

en, even within Turkey itself, was a very novel concept. Between 1969 and 1980,

Gülen, then employed as a state imam (a civil service position in Turkey where the

state preferred to control public religious affairs), had concentrated on building

up small communities in the cosmopolitan Mediterranean port city of Izmir in-

volving summer camps for young people, sponsored ışık evler ‘lighthouse’ student

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