Turkish language fest shows preacher's global reach

Sun Jun 7, 2009 4:15am EDT
 
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By Alexandra Hudson

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - "I want to see your hands," little Bangaina Jose from Mozambique shouts in confident Turkish to an auditorium of piously-dressed Turks clapping along to her song routine.

The Turkish Language Olympics -- in its seventh year -- has drawn 700 children from 115 countries to Turkey to compete in singing, poetry reciting and prose composition, and receive encouragement in their studies with a visit to the president.

The competitors are the product of the schools of a powerful socio-religious community associated with the Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen -- revered by many as a tolerant, moderating force in Islam, but suspected by some secularist Turks of harboring a political agenda.

Attitudes to the Gulen movement reflect the wider struggle for Turkey's identity: Gulen gleans much of his support from a rising group of religious-minded professionals who are the same people who helped sweep the Islamist-rooted AK Party to power in 2002 in a state founded with explicitly secular ideals.

Of the audience watching the singing competition in Istanbul, the vast majority of the women wear the Muslim headscarf and ankle-length coats.

MODERN FAITH

The reclusive Gulen, 68, who has met Pope John Paul II and other religious leaders, advocates a faith rooted in modern life, and his teachings have inspired millions of Turks to dedicate their time and money to groups active in publishing, charity and above all education.

These Gulen-inspired groups have built up a network of some 500 private schools around the world, from Poland to Nigeria, teaching a full curriculum including Turkish and urging pupils to aim high. They say they do not teach Turkish in order to spread Islam.   Continued...

 
<p>School girls perform during the singing competition of the Turkish Language Olympics in Istanbul June 3, 2009. The Turkish Language Olympics -- in its seventh year -- has drawn 700 children from 115 countries to Turkey to compete in singing, poetry reciting and prose composition, and receive encouragement in their studies with a visit to the president. REUTERS/Halit Omer Camci</p>