What was the inspiration behind establishing schools and educating a new generation? How did he convince his followers that this was a good idea?

Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen responded as follows:

Since my days of youth, I always thought about the state of psychology we found ourselves in, as if we were inside a cage, by saying like “No person of merit can arise among us, no discoverer, no inventor, no genius can arise from among ourselves.” I used to say I wish we could break this cage, these chains, throw them away, and show ourselves to the world. ... As of lately ... in a sense we have broken this cage. Since the time past, I always attached great importance to education. I wanted to make up for the deficiency. ... In my personal life ... a period came in Turkey when private schools were allowed. This had occurred also before the 70s. But at that time ... I was an insignificant preacher. I knew I could not have an impact on people, but even then, I used to say education! Absolutely education!

Open up schools, I used to say. Produce men of thought, produce the laborers of thought, produce the architects of thought, I used to say. I used to say, we have to bring out the talents of our people. Then, we did not have this opportunity. Neither I was so influential, nor there were people within the circle of my encouragement.[1]

Upon receiving this answer, several other questions arise which many in the public has asked. Where does the water of this wheel come from? People go to the other end of the world to provide education to children, why are they bearing so much of the sacrifices?

Before everything else, Fethullah Gülen points out that the success of the movement does not belong to one person alone, namely himself. He is only an opinion maker, who defines this great mission and inspires the desire of those who would like to participate in the movement. The rest is the concern of those who make up the movement. It is as if Fethullah Gülen is composing the song and his followers are playing the music. He plays his role by giving inspiration and mobilizing the collective reasoning and activities. The rest takes its natural course.

In the area of education, it is well known that Fethullah Gülen was influenced by Said Nursi. But he adjusts the thoughts of Nursi to the new age and provides interpretations that are appropriate to the age. Said Nursi also had dwelled on the three vices which present a threat for the nation: ignorance, poverty, and disunity. He stressed that all of these had to be resolved through nonviolent means and reconciliation.

Fethullah Gülen encourages capital formation by getting together small savings, investment, and trade, and he places great significance on education and defends insistently the expansion of a climate of tolerance. As a motivation behind these goals lies the same desire: to fight against the three diseases mentioned above which keep the country unfruitful. But it should not be forgotten that the society was trying to find a way to free itself from these disasters as well. A need was felt for an opinion maker, a trustworthy guide to orient the individuals. Fethullah Gülen filled this vacuum. In short, Fethullah Gülen’s call, “Let us spread the education so that the ignorance can come to an end; do trade so that the country can get rich; let us show tolerance to everyone so that oppositions and divisiveness can be lifted” and “Be without hands in the face of beating, be without tongue in the face of cursing” are propositions that were made at the right time, at the right place, and to the right persons; and, as such, they have found reciprocity. This movement is the initiative by the civic society, and maintained by it; it is the most comprehensive project with the largest participants, and its impact has been to the same extent.

When asked why he encourages so many schools to be established and foreign students to be educated, Fethullah Gülen gives two separate answers. One is an answer perfectly suiting a man of religion, and the other is the answer of a contemporary civic leader:

In the final analysis, everything depends on the knowledge. Without knowledge nothing can be accomplished. It is important so much that today the source of all the emptiness in Turkey and in the world, even at every place, all the time, of all the problems, is the neglect of an education to be located on a realistic, firm, and sound foundation. While the West was experiencing the Renaissance, we were sleeping. While they were accomplishing the scientific and technological revolution we were again sleeping. These are some of the matters we have to consider seriously. I am sure it has been done from time to time, but the level is important.[2]

He also draws our attention to the fact that in order to integrate into the world, it is imperative to understand it, comprehend the change, and adapt to the new circumstances.

The age in which we live has to be heard perfectly, has to be comprehended, and all the circumstances have to be understood. Then education is very important in integration with the world. Today, no country can be in isolation. The way to the integration with the world has to go through a modern education.

If we are thinking an integration with these friends of us, these institutions of education can be very important platforms. I believe that by virtue of these institutions of education we can better know each other, and establish good, durable, and sounder relationships with the West. For this reason, as long as the state does not prohibit the encouragements and advices I have made so far, I shall continue to do what I am doing. I would not want to be in opposition with my own government. I always think to be with my government in tandem. If our government says, “What you have done is enough now,” then as I am thinking a lot these days, I would go to a corner and pass the rest of my life in retreat, far away from people, in a remote corner.[3]

The existence and the goal of the schools also are related to the role Fethullah Gülen assigns to Turkey:

A nation must have an important place in the balance of power in the world. But at this moment with a sense and thought of a nation which missed the boat, I am hoping that just like a worm becoming a butterfly through metamorphosis, this nation is going to break its shell, again it will branch out to the four corners of the world, it is going to make itself felt with magnificence. Let our nation open up with its dervishes to the four corners of the world, let it take that spirit and meaning. Let it express itself at different platforms and let us regain our status in the balance of power among the nations. Another aim of the schools that we were able to establish in almost every nation of Euro-Asia is exactly this.[4]

In addition to the aforementioned aim, spreading of a peaceful and humane religious understanding holds great significance, in order to prevent gradually increasing radicalism and to prevent some people from achieving legitimacy by exploiting religion and recruiting prospective members. Fethullah Gülen’s philosophy and terminology demonstrates exact opposition to radicalism.

We have to be a light for humanity; even if it is as strong as a candle, we have to seek ways to enlighten our environment with the light of faith. Enlightening the darkness could only be possible through good Muslim attributes.[5]

At this point, another important feature of education is revealed: All of this effort is made to become a good Muslim and to share the highest values of Islam with people from other faiths and nationalities. He explains:

What we mean by education ... is to explain the beauty of Islam to humanity. We will try to stay away from political fights and goals, we are going to learn our religion solely for the purpose of gaining the pleasure of God and then without expecting anything in return, if need be, we will do any work, simple or hard, and earn our livelihood through our own sweat, but in any case and by any means possible we are going to carry the name of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, into the desirous and needy hearts! The purpose of our existence is to know God and to enable others know Him and love Him. This is the reason of our existence. If we do not do this, then there is no sense of being in this world, no sense of breathing anymore.[6]

[1] The interview given to Yalçın Doğan, Kanal D, 16 April 1997.
[2] The interview given to Nicole Pope, Le Monde, 28 April 1998.
[3] Ibid.
[4] The interview given to Taha Akyol and Cengiz Çandar, NTV, 27 February 1998.
[5] Fethullah Gülen 2009c, 93.
[6] Ibid., 96–97.

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fgulen.com is the offical source on the renowned Turkish scholar and intellectual Fethullah Gülen.