The Turkish Imam and His Global Educational Mission

Photograph by Uluc Kecik for TIME

Students learn about blood circulation in biology class at a Gulen-affiliated school for girls in Kazakhstan

October, 1992. the Soviet Union has disbanded and chaos reigns in its former territories. Three times a week, a rattly Russian charter plane filled with young Muslim devotees flies east from Istanbul across barren, low-lying steppes to the capitals of Central Asia. The men are clean-cut, sharply dressed in dark suits and ties, trim of mustache and purposeful. It is the first foray out of their hometown for most, let alone on a plane, but such is their faith in Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish Muslim imam they revere. "Fly like swallows," Gulen exhorted, "to these countries that are newly free, as...

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