If we look at the sociological definition of a social movement in the broadest sense it refers to collective action by a group of people brought together over a shared desire or interest to impact social change or bring about primary changes to a society. When we consider various sociological definitions of social movements, we find that they typically frame social movements as confrontational—as collective action against the dominant political, cultural, and/or social arrangements in a society whether it is seeking to change a law, a social policy, or leadership—collective action done by the less powerful in society who through joining together seek to challenge the existing order. When we look at the Hizmet Movement, it does not readily fit into typical sociological ideas of social movements. On the one hand, we can say that the Hizmet Movement is seeking social change in the sense that it is a organization whose ultimate goal is world peace. Thus, they seek to replace the notion of “clash of civilizations” with the idea of “peaceful coexistence.” But this abstract goal is much different than say a social movement seeking more gun control or educational reform or a social movement seeking a regime change.
At some level, we can say that the Hizmet Movement is confrontational in that it is rejecting the dominant motif in this conflict-ridden world that we cannot get along, that deep divisions by religion, tribalism, or state interests cannot be overcome. Thus, it is asking for change. But what kind of change? It is not seeking a political agenda or a certain social policy change. Certainly members vote for and might even align themselves with politicians and policies that reflect their values, but this is very different than a social movement with an active and specific political agenda. This is the case because, simply, in free and democratic societies, most voters tend to cast votes for politicians whose views and values most align with theirs. Even, it is evident that movement members avoid confrontation. For example, Fethullah Gulen expressed concern about the May 2010 “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” stating that “diplomatic channels should have been exhausted” (fgulen.org). There is also the fact that the Hizmet Movement is active in over 130 countries. If it was a confrontational movement, this could not be the reality.
In fact, as I have written elsewhere, the Hizmet Movement functions within the status quo of each country and adapts its approach to the specific needs of that country all while maintaining its core values. When I visited Hizmet in Nigeria, a member picked me up from the airport located well outside the capitol city of Abuja. It was about 1:30AM, and we drove down the road leading to the city only to be stopped by a police car blocking the road. The police officer was situated there knowing that an international flight was arriving and likely the only travelers on that road from the airport would be those arriving from abroad. Why was he there? Well, in his words, as he repeatedly ask the hizmet brother in the driver’s seat, “What have you got for me?” Clearly he wanted money and was asking for a bribe for us to go on our way without hassle. The hizmet brother each time, simply replied “My prayers.” After a few minutes of this back and forth, we were finally allowed to proceed, and I asked the brother if he had ever given a bribe. He said “No, absolutely not; I have lived in Nigeria for three years, and I have never given a bribe.” Given how widespread corruption is there, I found this quite remarkable that as a foreigner he was able to achieve all the necessities of not just his personal family life, but also the work life of the schools and businesses without ever paying anything to smooth the way.
You see the Hizmet Movement seeks to change people’s hearts through living sincerely with pure hearts and living to serve others. They seek change not through demanding a new law or a new head of state, but by penetrating individual’s hearts and minds by the way they live their lives and by serving others with pure dedication and sincerity. This is a grass roots , bottom-up approach, and it is transforming, but certainly, not in the way we typically think of social movements.
So, is the Hizmet Movement a social movement? Yes and no. Yes, it is a group of individuals engaged in collective action seeking to challenges the predominate materialistic worldview, but no in the sense that it does not fit easily into the typical sociological framework of social movements. We can say that the Hizmet Movement is a non-confrontation social movement working within the laws, culture, and social framework of each country in which it operates, seeking to transform the world towards world peace by transforming people’s hearts through the movement members’ own struggle to perfect his or her own character so that they might serve in the most sincere and dedicated way.
Want to know more about this topic of social movements? Please refer to the book where author and now Turkish Parliamentarian Muhammed Çetin takes on this very topic for 371 pages as to exactly what is the nature of this social movement in The Gulen Movement: Civic Service Without Borders