Monash University

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The Gülen Hizmet Movement’s educational philanthropy: schools as enterprises of a civic society

posted on 2017-02-21, 00:04 authored by Polat , Cemen
The Gülen Hizmet Movement (GHM) is a largely progressive, pluralistic and transcontinental civic movement inspired by Islam, which makes it unique in the Muslim world. Similar movements exist but they are confined to single nations (eg. Indonesia’s Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama) and there are other transnational movements but they are not progressive in outlook (eg. Tablighi Jemaat). The financial dynamics of the movement, particularly the economic resources raised and deployed by Gülen-inspired schools (GISs) and how they function as business enterprises continues to be the subject of debate, criticism, and curiosity across the public sphere in its native Turkey, and research discourses on a global scale. The relatively few studies on the financial aspects of the GHM that have been published tend to arrive at widely varying conclusions. Not surprisingly, in general, scholars who are sympathetic to the movement and write from an insider’s viewpoint arrive at different conclusions to those who are outside of and are generally more critical of the movement. While the former argue that funding for the schools comes largely from within the greater Turkish community, the latter claim that the sources of funding include foreign agencies with their own agendas. Although these studies arrive at sharply contrasting positions, what they share in common is a lack of empirical evidence. This thesis interrogates the financial transparency of GISs, the economics of altruism, and motivations behind the philanthropic acts of financial supporters based on examination of financial bookkeeping and semi-structured interviews with 72 participants — mainly sponsors, financial managers and administrators of a GIS in Istanbul, Turkey, and in Melbourne, Australia — between 2012 and 2015. The empirical findings of this thesis elucidate the manner in which the people of Anatolia contribute their financial resources to the Gülen-inspired educational institutions until the institutions are financially self-sufficient. In addition, the findings of this research provide evidence that the adherents of Gülen live in order to give; hence their giving is not limited to zekat or ‘tithing’, the charity that is compulsory in Islamic faith. I argue that there is a significant difference between ‘giving zekat’ and ‘living to give’. In the difference between giving and living to give, the hizmet concept emerges and finds its foundation and meaning: endless service. One of the most important questions about the movement are those investigating how GISs function as businesses and about which sector the movement’s schools fit. The findings of my research challenge the studies that examine the role of money within the GHM and that categorise GISs as social businesses or profit oriented capitalist enterprises. I address queries through the lens of economic theories and conclude that while GISs share some similarities with ‘social businesses’ such as those promoted by Muhammad Yunus, they overwhelmingly do not meet the criteria of social businesses or for-profit businesses. Rather they are civil society enterprises of that operate with their own models originating from the hizmet concepts of philanthropy, voluntarism, and generosity, which in turn arise out of traditional Anatolian Islamic tradition.


Principal supervisor

Gregory Barton

Additional supervisor 1

Anna Halafoff

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Politics and International Relations


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts