Moving beyond Binary Discourses: Islamic Universalism from an Islamic Revivalist Movement’s Point of View

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The resurgence of religion worldwide proved that secularization is not a de facto reality of modernity and the initial chaos that came along with the birth of postmodernity evolved into uniquely developing combinations that recognized cosmopolitan, multicultural, and hybrid (i.e., fluid and hyphenated) identities. Universal values became more instrumental than ever to connect members of hyper diverse societies while ethnocentric, nativist and exclusivist patriotism expired (and only recently starting to attract far right and white supremacist groups alone). Most Islamic revivalist movements emerging from this context have had minimal interactions with non-Muslims and influence on mainstream societies. Being in search of a solution to respond to the overwhelming effects of the West on Muslim societies, these revivalist movements could not change (and maybe contributed to) the binary positioning of Islam and the West. On the contrary, the Hizmet movement, inspired by Muhammed Fethullah Gülen and his predecessor Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, appeared in the global arena as an Islamic revivalist movement whose discourse resonated with the commonly shared universal values of every culture, ethnicity, and religion. The Hizmet movement did not position itself as an antithesis to Westernization, secularism, and modernity; the movement adopted a universalist and all-inclusive attitude, which re-introduced to the world that Islam is universal religion with the capacity to accommodate people of diversity and meet the needs of every age. This paper explores the Hizmet movement’s historical, theological, and social roots as a transnational Islamic revivalist movement. It analyzes the movement’s outreach across multicultural societies and its capability to adapt to a changing world through its educational and interfaith and intercultural activities across the globe. While unpacking thirty years of the Hizmet movement’s activities and the contribution to the literature, the paper also addresses some of the criticisms that have emerged regarding the movement and its activities, particularly in the wake of the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey. It should be noted that much criticism toward the movement emerged in recent years, and the movement did not face much backlash in its early years of development. With this in mind, this paper explores the development of the Hizmet movement and how much of its initiatives rapidly left a positive mark on diverse societies around the world. The paper is thus structured chronologically, tracing the birth, growth, stagnation, and transition (or according to some collapse) of the movement. The paper, by extension, too, positions the Hizmet movement within the phenomenon of contemporary Islamic revivalism as this movement is born out of similar conditions as are other Islamic revivalist movements but taking a slightly different direction, which is that it challenges the prevailing binary ‘us and them’ discourses produced mostly in ethno-centric political discourses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number821
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


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