Rituals for promotion inside the cult and followers' collections of Gülen's personal effects show how the terror cult's leader, accused of the July 15 coup attempt, created a sacred personality
For a small-town imam with a penchant for fancy words and teary-eyed antics in his sermons, Fethullah Gülen came a long way to rule the most notorious terror cult in Turkey. Gülen, the alleged mastermind of the July 15 coup attempt, enjoys warped devotion. His followers have sought to have a piece of hair from his rapidly balding pate and he awarded his most devout underlings with his sweaty underwear, according to accounts from former followers.
Gülen's followers view him as a messiah, a savior of humankind and a companion of Prophet Muhammad with whom he claims to communicate in dreams. It is regarded as natural that every follower would seek a literal piece of the 75-year-old cleric. According to Hüseyin Gülerce, a former member who spoke to Daily Sabah on Aug. 9, Gülen is "like a prophet" to followers. Other insiders who spoke to Turkish media say the retired imam enjoys a sacred status and any criticism of his remarks from followers result in ostracism.
Ahmet Ramiz Gülen, a nephew of the U.S.-based leader of the terrorist group, was among those with a sacred reverence for the man with whom he shares a last name. When he was arrested in the city of Gaziantep days after the bloody coup attempt, Ahmet Ramiz Gülen was in possession of boxes and jars containing human hair, fingernails, small stones and soil. He was allegedly in the city for a secret meeting with fellow Gülenists on how to act after their foiled putsch attempt. He was carrying these jars along with documents implicating him with the terror cult. Turkish media outlets reported the hair and fingernails belonged to the elder Gülen and were esteemed as divine objects like Prophet Muhammad's relics on display at an Ottoman palace in Istanbul. Police are yet to confirm the origin of the hair and other items, but for former followers, they are sacred objects shown to followers at conventions, as a way to remember Gülen, who has been living in the United States since 1999.
A more bizarre discovery related to Gülen's cult-leader status was two hands made of plaster found in a Gülenist-run school in western Turkey shortly after the July 15 coup attempt. The hands were "modeled after Gülen's hands and kissed by cult members in order to show their commitment to Gülen," Turkish media outlets reported. It was claimed the school in İzmir where Gülen worked as an imam in the 1960s and gathered a significant following was a recruitment ground for "chosen" members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) placed in military schools. Gülenists are accused of cheating on military school exams thanks to high-ranking military officers linked to the cult helping would-be cadets. FETÖ members, before cutting off any visible connections to Gülenists, kissed the hands and put their foreheads on them as a traditional Turkish sign of respect in order to pledge lifetime allegiance to Gülen.
Along with plaster hands and fingernails, Gülenists purportedly hold their leader's bodily fluids in high esteem as well. Describing Gülenist marriage rituals, former members say the groom is given a wedding gift of an unwashed, sweaty undershirt from Gülen and the bride is given a golden ring or headscarf. Ahmet Keleş, who was one of Gülen's aides before he severed ties with the cult, told a more disturbing story of devotion among cult members. Speaking to Habertürk TV, Keleş said being at the same table with Gülen during dinner or lunch was almost a sacred event for the devoted and some Gülenists would "eat paper tissue Gülen discarded after wiping his mouth," attributing reverence to everything Gülen.
Former and current Gülenists say marriages of devout members are strictly arranged by imams or senior members of the cult and a Gülenist man cannot marry a woman they have not approved.
Although not as personal as his underwear or fingernails, Gülen also has a way of blessing and recognition for his followers in the form of the currency of his favorite country: The United States. Authorities were baffled by the discovery of $1 bills with almost all Gülenists detained or arrested after the recent coup attempt. The truth revealed with further investigation and accounts from former Gülenists was simple. Serial numbers on the bills showed the rank of its bearer within the group and two Gülenists who do not know each other due to the group's secrecy could recognize each other from the bills in their wallets. A Gülenist military officer escaped being killed by Gülenist coup plotters when he showed the $1 bill in his wallet to coup troops storming an officers' club in Istanbul on the night of the coup. Former Gülenists say the bills are also a way of "prosperity" for cult members as "Hodja efendi" as his followers call him, would bless the bills with his prayers before distributing them to minions around the world.
Gülen started out promulgating interfaith dialogue in his sermons, but in time as his clout in Turkey expanded, he rose to the status of a cult-like leader whose personality is more revered than his teachings, according to experts. Bent on creating an esoteric version of Islam catering to his ambitions of seizing power in Turkey, Gülen once claimed Prophet Muhammad appointed his movement was as the representative of Islam in Turkey.
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