Baklava, the Bosphorus, and Turkey's Big Society

Wed, 29 Dec 2010 00:00 | Written by Frances Sleap in Articles
Frances Sleap

The trip to Turkey was an extremely educational experience for me. Aside from learning that I can always find room for another piece of baklava, I learnt a great deal more about Turkey, about Turkish democracy with its aspirations and remaining challenges, and about the Gülen movement.

We visited a variety of organisations rooted in some way in the values of dialogue and service expounded by Fetullah Gulen. These values were very much being put into practice, through dialogue at the Journalists and Writers Association and in various organisations offering concrete services. We visited a charity working on varied and impressively ambitious humanitarian projects, and Fatih University, which creates a strong multi-cultural student community by charging overseas student half the fees, not double.

I was particularly impressed by the Gulen-inspired schools we visited. They were obviously doing very well in terms of results and there was a clear sense of pride in the school’s quality and its strong ethos. The facilities were pretty exceptional. (It is not every child that can take a tiny working train round her school and have a go on the merry-go-round at break-time!) But one of the principals, when asked, put the success of his school down to the dedication of teachers, which sounded really out of the ordinary. Our visits were brief but I left with the strong impression of very committed people taking pride in providing the next generation with something of real quality.

I very much enjoyed our meal with the family of an Istanbul businessman who supports the Gulen movement. It was a chance to appreciate some amazing Turkish food and hospitality. But it was also a chance to place somebody’s involvement with the movement in the context of the values behind it as lived and experienced in family life. The family evidently shared their home with a lot of guests like us and did so in a real spirit of warmth, generosity and dialogue. They felt that their involvement in the movement, grounded in faith and commitment to dialogue and education, had brought them all sorts of blessings.

My lasting impressions of the Gulen movement from the trip are of the compelling warmth and sincerity of people involved and of the ambition and quality of the Gulen-inspired organisations we visited. The character of the movement and its strength seem to me to make it something profoundly and seriously hopeful.

About Frances SleapBrowse Author's Arhive

After spending a year living and working with adults with learning disabilities in an ecumenical L'Arche community in France, Frances studied Philosophy and Theology at Oxford University. She pursued her growing interest in different religions and interfaith relations through a Master’s in the Study of Religions and is now a project coordinator at the Dialogue Society.