Why does the Gülen Movement attach so much significance to education? Why does it run an educational mobilization?

Fethullah Gülen

Behind the educational mobilization of the movement, which was inspired by Fethullah Gülen to spread around the world, lies the notion that, it is possible by a society to become strong only with the help of humans who are self-sufficient and beneficial for others. Let us elaborate on this point.

If the individual is not learned, he would neither understand himself nor the society in which he lives. He could not discover his innate talents and trigger them to move. In this case, he would not be self-sufficient. A person, who is not equipped with necessary skills, would be a hireling to somebody else. He would be a subject to the chief of his tribe, his boss, his party leader, and authorities; he could not be independent. From a herd would emerge a nation, neither powerful, nor respected.

To be self-sufficient and to contribute to a shared life is only possible through knowledge. Knowledge is realized through education. Therefore, education is as important as the act of worship, because the self-sufficiency of the created, doing goodness and kindness, results in gaining the pleasure of God.

The Gülen Movement, which takes this philosophy as its foundation, ventured into educational activities by first establishing university preparation courses in Turkey. Later, it diffused to the rest of the world, and now it is educating over 100,000 Turkish and foreign students in more than 100 countries.

The movement, which started educational activities at the end of 1970s, spread to five continents in a 30-year-period. In addition to schools and universities in various countries, Fethullah Gülen’s followers opened up many cultural centers and language courses.

In these schools, which try to give a better quality education compared to their counterparts in the countries in which they are operating, the quality of the teacher is very high. The majority of the teachers are graduates of universities in Turkey, such as Middle East Technical University, Boğaziçi University, and Marmara University, where the language of instruction is English.

The curriculum and the course programs are approved by the ministries of education of the country of operation and English language is dominant. Of course, the language of those countries is taught. In addition, the Turkish language is taught to the extent that a student upon graduation becomes fluent writing and speaking Turkish.

The second focus in the course programs are positive sciences such as Math, Physics, and Chemistry. The students in these courses have achieved international success. For example, one of the students in Zamboanga, one of the remotest cities in the Philippines, won third place in the International Mathematical Olympiad held in South Asia. Students from South Africa school participated in a math competition with 30,000 other students and placed three students in the top 100. In Kenya, in the fields of Physics and Biology, the task of forming the team to participate as a national team was given to the Gülen school there.

Due to these successes in the countries where the Gülen schools operate, many parents from among the wealthy families prefer to send their children to these schools. The children of governmental officials in Central Asia countries prefer the Turkish schools as well. Most of the children of ministers or deputy ministers attend Gülen schools. Many of the graduates are achieving high government positions in their countries. Most of the schools charge tuition fees, but they have no difficulty recruiting students. Bright and talented children, who cannot pay tuition, are provided scholarships.

These schools establish not only cultural, but also educational and commercial bridges. Teachers and administrators of Turkish schools, by penetrating the societal fabric of the countries in which they are working, established friendships. If the students’ parents are employed by the government, the administrators of the schools encourage Turkish businessmen to invest in these countries. By the help of these schools, the exportation of culture and capital are achieved simultaneously. Turkey’s influence is spreading through civil actors. When this unofficial diplomacy and these economic relationships come together with official channels, Turkey is expanding the area of its influence as never before in its history.

Turks are seeking to be influential in many areas. For instance, Turkish businessmen are receiving contracts worth millions of dollars. Indeed, there are those who attribute the increase in Russian tourists to Turkey to the positive influence of Gülen schools in Russia.

How did the adventure of first opening up schools and its subsequent spread to the world begin? The mobilization of schools began in the mosque. The acceptance of this idea began in the 1970s through Fethullah Gülen’s sermons in the mosques. What Fethullah Gülen did was to encourage. Those who believed in the importance and the merit of education started an educational mobilization, spreading to five continents, through their service, effort, or material support. Of course, the dissemination of Turkish values also was highly significant to them. These educators believe that they are accomplishing a contemporary mission, appropriate for their faith. Like Prophet Muhammad migrating from Mecca to Medina and spreading the Islamic faith, they adopted the same method by migrating to other countries, in order to carry their culture and made this a goal of their lives. The majority of the teachers are former students of these schools and, therefore, very close to this cultural endeavor.

Today, the Gülen schools are operating in a vast geography extending from Central Asia to Japan, from the Far East to the United States of America. Looking back, only 35 years have passed since the beginning of Fethullah Gülen and his followers’ interest in the field of education.

As a result of perseverance, selecting the right individuals, a quality curriculum, adapting to the political structure and the local culture, and maintaining an educational level desired by the students’ parents has resulted in amazing achievement and success.

Why were these schools established? A series of conclusions can be drawn from Fethullah Gülen’s writings and conversations:

1. The people who had labored in the establishment and the operation of the schools believe that they have undertaken a religious and human task. These sacrifices require a devoted spirit that can come only through a firm fidelity to one’s religion. In Fethullah Gülen’s words,

In this world, this is the sole thing which could be done for Islam. And this can be accomplished by the altruistic people who forsake their own pleasure for living for giving the pleasure of living to others.[1]

2. The ideal of a “Grand” Turkey is a second source of enthusiasm. This greatness does not depend on the vastness of land. What is desired is for Turkey to reestablish its cultural influence.

The Turkish nation, had never experienced this much weakness and incompetence, during history, especially in its geography and later in the world in the face of the events taking place. It had never before in its history, it was excluded from the process, from the circle of power. This disgrace and dishonorable situation has to be overcome. ... The time to repossess the honorable position we had in history has arrived.[2]

Starting from this aim, Fethullah Gülen says:

We are in love with Turkey. We feel an obligation on our shoulders to strengthen it again and return the honor it deserves, to make its weight felt at the world scale. If I will not be able to serve my motherland, nation, religion, and culture, I would consider living anymore absurd. If I am living for these aims, then there is a meaning of my life.[3]

3. [Through these schools,] … today in the four corners of the world we have many friends and brothers. At a critical juncture of decision making, there are innumerable people who would use their preferences in the direction of friendship and cooperation with Turkey. In the future world, these are very important bases, namely basic building blocks for Turkey.[4]

At this point, Fethullah Gülen states:

Do not forget it is no longer possible for a Turkey, isolated from the world to promise a future nor even to retain its existence. Now these educational activities in this sense have been securing the future of Turkey. Who knows so many friends meanwhile gained in the process, will form very strong lobbies in the future. There will be friends who will work as honorary workers, Catholics, Orthodox, Buddhist, Hindu, men or women, black or white, intellectual or common, at every level.[5]

4. Fethullah Gülen seems to take the position that there are far more similarities between all religions of the world than differences. If politics and material interests do not pit societies against each other on insignificant matters, a new philosophy of faith will emerge based on these common values. This new philosophy will not be unfamiliar to the monotheistic religions. Gradually, the mutual agreement that we are all the servants of the same Divine Being will develop and mature. This, in turn, will form the basis of solidarity among societies and world peace.

Fethullah Gülen firmly believes that the notion of the unity of God is nothing other than this:

Winning with the civilized people has to be through conviction. Through power and force you cannot direct people toward anything. With your superpower, you can go occupy a place, destroy, burn, and kill; but you would attract the dire hatred of people. On the other hand, if you go in with reason, logic, and universal values, you would become a sultan in the hearts.[6]

These four conclusions inspired Fethullah Gülen to start an educational mobilization. But only one flower in the hand of a person does not bring spring. Some followers—who understand him and who comprehend that his encouragement and inspiration will open many opportunities—believe that, through their support, they are accomplishing a spiritual task. It is common saying, “There is nothing stronger than the idea whose time has come.” Let us add to this the proposition, “There is nothing stronger than a person who has conviction and the rising class who is searching for a new world for itself.” Through them, an enormous power comes into existence. Moreover, this is a civic power and it produces its own means; it makes its own decisions through its own free will.

[1] Fethullah Gülen 2010a, 59.
[2] Ibid., 60.
[3] Ibid.
[4] 410
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 62.

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