What is the quality of education?

Fethullah Gülen

Before everything else, these schools impart every good and quality education. This matter has been proven by all the students graduating from these schools to have a good chance of entering one of the universities. It is also confirmed by their successes in the Scientific Olympiads held in the region or internationally, by winning the highest levels and therefore bringing the medals home. In the Scientific Olympiads, these schools have become competitors with their counterparts in Turkey and they are contesting among themselves now.[1]

The schools under consideration are very successful in the respective countries. For that reason, the foreign mission representatives in the respective countries, in general, prefer these schools to enroll their children. For example, the mission chiefs in Romania, who represent Czechoslovakia, Indonesia, Congo, South Africa, India and Iran, as well as other diplomats and businessmen, have enrolled their children in these institutions.

The curriculum in the schools does not prioritize Turkey or Islam. Indeed, this would not possible according to domestic laws. A secular education is provided, and there is no religious education, only the history of religions. Therefore, it is not possible to disseminate the jamaat values, as some claim. The educational model adopted seeks to reconcile the divisive approaches between secular education and faith, reason, modernity, and tradition.

Despite the fact that the main language of instruction is in English, through the inspiration and encouragement of Fethullah Gülen, the goal is to make the Turkish language also an international language of communication. In all Gülen schools and universities, an intensive education of Turkish is maintained. Fethullah Gülen sees the language as a cultural bridge and wants it to be built firmly. Diligent teachers between 22 and 35 years old, originating from Turkey, perform this task and believe what they are doing is part of their worship to God. All of them, men and women, are well educated and fluent in English. They are young; mostly coming from a rural background and from families with meager means, but they had the opportunity to be educated in high quality universities in Turkey. For most, the Gülen Movement gave them this chance. They believe that they are doing a service to humanity by being in the movement. They also believe that they are repaying the movement for the opportunities provided to them, by showing fidelity to it, when needed. They reserve most of their time to their students. Their salaries vary between 400 and 600 US dollars.

Another thing that circulates about the Gülen schools is that these schools not only impart an education at the highest level of quality, but also that they provide a good education in the fields of social relations and human values. For example, when foreign students who are being educated in these schools are interviewed, some remark that they did not get along with their parents prior to the admittance into these schools, but now they have good relationships with them. Some report that they quit bad habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking. In general, students say that they gave up thinking about themselves only and now feel more sensitive and responsible towards others. Fethullah Gülen attributes these changes to the fact that these students are being raised with the customary and traditional manners of the Turkish nation.

In this educational endeavor, the aim is not to give religious knowledge or to inculcate the consciousness to establish a religious regime, but to make the students gain an ethical and moral worldview which sits on universal human values. Of course, the teachers and administrators are sensitive in making sure that these values do not violate the basic Islamic values. But these values are imparted as a cultural element, not as an infrastructure for a political project.

One of the areas where extra care is taken is that the education provided is to form a setting of peace where the operation is in progress for reconciliation, societal peace, and tolerance. When the students diffuse the values in society that they have acquired in school, everyone is proud of their achievements and the youth raised in these schools become role models for others. This state of affairs makes it possible for others, who did not have the chance to enter these institutions, to be won over, who otherwise would be left on the street, prone to any radical extreme ideology. For example, since the majority of the Gülen schools in the Southeastern Turkey are boarding schools, parents know where their children are and feel secure and safe; they know what their children are doing and live in peace, feel at ease.

What is understood is that Turkish schools, which have spread to many parts of the world, have indirect effects, in addition to imparting the values of becoming fine individuals and good human beings. For instance, after the collapse of the Soviet system, a period of ambiguity took place in Central Asia. In this milieu, in Central Asia and Azerbaijan, the impact of fundamentalism was felt strongly. By the interference of the movement, through its schools and foundations, religious extremities were to a great extent prevented.

There is a Turkish school in Zamboanga, Philippines, where one half of the students are Muslims and the other half, Christians. Its name is Philippine Turkish Tolerance High School. The city is located in a region where the anti-government forces are effective in their fight and struggle against government forces; the region is unstable and going through a civil war. The school in this region selected its students from among both Muslims and Christians. Along with providing education to over one thousand students, the school is teaching tolerance and living peacefully together. Thus, the school has become a source of stability in a place of instability; it shows that peace and the culture of shared living are possible. The society has embraced this peacemaking school and supports it.

In the schools, Gülen’s philosophy is reflected in the culture of shared living that it tries to impart; the dominant thought among the participants is to leave behind the ethical notions that is derived from militant secularism and materialist and the modernist ideology which alienates human beings and separates them from spiritual foundations, and instead, to erect a contemporary ethical understanding derived from Islam. Then later, the effort is to establish a marriage between this and the daily or contemporary technology and scientific thinking which has been lost in the classical religious institutions. If this cannot be achieved, Fethullah Gülen fears that our national unity will be destroyed.

The movement’s educational projects are neither backward nor reactionary, as some claim. Fethullah Gülen believes that there was “a golden age” in the past, and it was the time of Prophet Muhammad and his Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. He takes as his reference point the period in which the society ruled itself; the notions of justice and morality and individual virtues were derived from the shared common interpretation of the religion, and these were not defiled by politics. Nevertheless, his referencing of this time is limited to the dominant ethical norms and the notion of justice, that is all. He does not seek to go back or to establish a political system that resembles the one at that time. In fact, Fethullah Gülen severely criticizes fundamentalists who hold these views.

He remarks that the expression he often uses like “spirituality” and “spiritual values” do not signify an aspiration to make the religion dominant in the secular societies, as some believe. Spirituality for him comprises virtues such as morality, logic, spiritual balance, empathy, and an open heart.

Therefore, in his definition of spirituality, justice and peace-loving are included. He defines a genuine Muslim as one from the hands and tongue of whom no one is disturbed, no one is harmed. The function of education is determined accordingly—both equipping the student with knowledge and skills, necessary in later life, and, at the same time, making these virtues a second nature for that student.

What he expects from the teachers is to have the students gain a good personality, beyond their courses to enable that student to see the world in a holistic manner. What he offers in character building is to enable the students to become useful individuals, to have empathy, to think of others, to be tolerant, supportive, and not going to extremes in passions.

Fethullah Gülen sees teachers, who teach only, in return for a salary, without taking any interest in formation of their students’ character, as “shepherding the blind by the blind.”

In short, the schools, established by following the inspiration and exhortations of Fethullah Gülen and according to his philosophy, are trying to repair the broken relationships between secular institutions and faith. In this sense, he represents a modern and national illustration of the Turkish Islamic identity.

[1] Doğu Ergil’s interview with Fethullah Gülen.

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