As one raised in traditional educational institutions, how did you become a pioneer in modern educational institutions inside and outside of Turkey?
First let me clarify it that I'm not a pioneer in anything. In my childhood I wasn't able to think of anything outside the influence of the system in which I was raised. I don't know if what a school gives a child allows for questioning the system. In my opinion, the formal education system in Turkey has never been promising. Muallim Naci has a very good book. He compares state schools with madrassas, and claims that the old, worn-out madrassas still are more advanced in some ways than state schools.
Yes, this separation began in very early periods at the Nizamiye madrassas. For this reason, some researchers blame Imam Ghazali, who struggled against Peripatetic philosophy. However, at that time philosophy and experimental sciences were studied together. (In recent times, philosophy and the positive sciences were separated.) His stance against philosophy affected the sciences, as well as those based on rationalism and their methods of thought. Imam Ghazali openly stated that he was not criticizing the scientific findings of the philosophers he opposed, and that these were not harmful to religion. However, his struggle against this type of theoretical knowledge caused certain damage in the Islamic world during that time, because it was misunderstood as a stance against the positive sciences as well as philosophy. Those who opposed the positive sciences, who had made themselves known from time to time, began to make their presence felt more acutely.
For example, in the Ottoman period the Qadizade group dismissed positive sciences from the madrassa curriculum. The Qur'an frequently refers to natural phenomena in relation to principles of belief and appointing certain times for the daily prescribed prayers, fasting, and pilgrimage. But after a certain period, the madrassa closed its ears to such Qur'anic expressions. Although God says in the Qur'an: "Our signs and proofs will be shown to them externally and internally," research and investigation of things and events were not done thoroughly. In Bediuzzaman's approach, the universe and truths of creation pointing to God, His existence and Unity, and other tenets of faith should be studied as much as the Qur'an. Scholars forgot (or ignored) that the Qur'an comprises the basis of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and astrophysics, and that half of a believer's responsibility is to study natural phenomena like a book.
In fact, doesn't Bediuzzaman say that the consequences of not studying the Book of the Universe and not studying the Qur'an are different?
Yes, he indicates that studying these two books is meritorious, and that not studying them is sinful. The punishment for not studying the Book of the Universe well is given in this world, whereas the punishment for not studying the Qur'an generally is given in the afterlife. This shows that these two books are two faces of the same truth. Very few people expressed this point, and they did so indirectly. Bediuzzaman, however, insistently emphasized this. On the one hand, we have the Book of the Universe. On the other hand we have the Qur'an, a guidebook and a translation that enables us to understand the universe, to move safely amidst its corridors, and to walk comfortably in the tide of events without stumbling and banging into things. In addition, there is the esoteric truth-discovering and seeing the universe's vastness in our own conscience. I think these are the triad of our civilization.
Our Prophet declared: "A time will come when the Qur'an is in one valley and humanity in another." This happened in our history. We must rediscover the valley where the Qur'an is and walk in its light. The spirit of the madrassa education and the spirit of the modern education can come together. They can make a new marriage, and the mind's radiance and the heart's light can be reunited. With their union and integration, the student's zeal will take wing and fly.
Did the madrassa throw out only the positive sciences?
No, at the same time it threw out Sufism, which we can call Islam's spiritual life. It restricted itself to religious sciences, and so everything stagnated. Objects and events were evaluated from a narrow perspective of the universe.
Catastrophes in our life of thought
What is your opinion of Islamic thought today?
There are several great catastrophes in this area. One is closing the Islamic education institutions to the positive sciences. This was true for the madrassas, partially for the Imam-Hatip secondary schools, and completely for the Theological Faculty. They also are closed to Islam's spiritual life. The unifying spirit of Islam has disintegrated. Some were contented with telling the lives, especially "miracles" of past saints in the name of Sufism; others regarded a superficial study of religious sciences as the acquisition of the whole of Islam; and a third group, based on scientific materialism, rejected Islam in all its aspects. [Eyup Can, Zaman daily, August, 1995]
From Madrassa to University
Turkish entrepreneurs from almost all walks of life pioneered in schools, colleges, and universities. Fethullah Gülen only gave advice to these charitable businessmen. To those who said: "We're going to build a mosque in our country," he replied: "I'd like to see a school beside it." In fact, in most places he recommended building a school instead of a mosque.
Fethullah Hodja explains his views of Turkish entrepreneurs' opening schools within Turkey and abroad:
"Due to recent developments in communication, the world resembles a globalized village. Our continued existence, and especially our becoming a country with some say in the existing balance of power, is only possible through alliances with our neighbors and the countries with whom we have much in common.
"Establishing natural alliances and being surrounded by a circle of friends rather than enemies would benefit Turkey. In such a framework, I would support opening schools even in Armenia and Israel, if so permitted.
"As for my relationship with the schools that have been opened, there is a lion in everyone's heart a purpose hidden in one's nature since birth. This purpose can be different for everyone. When I was 12 or 13 years old and studying in Erzurum, I had a book in one hand and a map in the other. I would ask: "My God, how can we become a country whose problems have been considerably solved?"
"I have never even thought of having a house, children, or a car. You can't oppose natural laws: water flows, condenses at 100 degrees, and freezes at zero degrees. If there is such a characteristic in my nature, and if it's not harmful, what could be more natural than for this seed to flourish?
"As one who grew up with the desire and objective to serve my country, and if now this service can be realized through education, my interest in education is as natural as the flow of water, the rising and setting of the sun, and the activity of the world. However, I have no power, capital, or army only an unstoppable love and enthusiasm for service. All I can do is explain this, tell those who will listen, and suggest. Such service to others resembles a 'bazaar of those seeking God's approval.'" [Hulusi Turgut, Yeni Yuzyil, 1/27/98]
That's just the point I wanted to come to. It is said that every day, schools belonging to you are being opened and that this is a kind of organization. This, too, is making a lot of people think.
Wherever I go I make some suggestions. Without being at all discriminatory, I tell our citizens: "Open university preparatory courses and raise the level of our people." (In a foreign country) I told some people who had come to listen to a teacher from Turkey: "Stay here. Prepare your children for attending a university. Let them study sciences. If the level of general culture and education isn't high enough, open university preparatory courses. Put your means together. A world that is becoming globalized will bring certain things with it. For example, small trades and small business are going to disappear. Build big business enterprises."
But what do you think about the fact that those who open schools are all people close to your views?
I talk with everyone. I am sorry to say that the government doesn't have a special policy on this issue. I met with some fellow citizens regarding this matter. Thus an opportunity was born to end this nightmare. It was understood that private schools are very beneficial. As a result of encouragement, some people who came to perceive the importance of quality began opening private schools. But some thought that they were my followers or sharing my opinions on all subjects. [Ertugrul Ozkok, Hurriyet daily, 1/23-30-95]
Relationships with Education and Media Organizations
You say you are poor. But we know that everywhere in Turkey you have special courses, schools, universities, a daily newspaper, and a television channel.
I have no organic or material connection with any of them. My only worldly possessions are the clothes I wear and my bed sheets. I donated all of my books to a foundation.
OK. How is it that you can do what the government cannot? And for what objective? On top of this, for example, children attending your school in Tiflis aren't even Turkish or Muslim. What's your aim?
The schools are not mine. I'm a poor man with nothing more than the clothes on my back. Behind the institutions you mention are many people and companies from almost all walks of life regardless their worldview, beliefs, and lifestyles. If they wish, they sometimes ask for my advice. [Oral Calislar, Cumhuriyet daily, 8/20-26/95]
Educational Rush to Asia
We hope that our understanding of Islam and Turkish culture will provide for the conditions for a mutual, vital dialogue in the world. I think we're at a fateful point of history. Actually, the expected friendship has developed to a large extent among the students. The indigenous peoples and governments must be pleased with the schools the Turkish entrepreneurs have opened; they must have left a good impression. For example, the Yakutian principal expelled the Turkish teachers from the technical school because of jealousy but later sent a message: "Come back, and you can open any kind of technical school you want under your own management." However, I don't know whether they opened such a school. Yakutia is far away...
There are different factors. In fact, our people have a spirit of enterprise. But in order to display this, they have to believe. If someone like me even whispers something like a bee's buzzing, the collective conscience can become active immediately.
What I have done is only to encourage people. I believe that the cooperation between Turkey and Central Asia will be beneficial to both parties and also will contribute to regional and global peace. People from diverse walks of life have responded to my call. They really believed. I believed once more in the precious quality of a nation's spirit.
Turkey is a well-established state. Democracy is, at least, in the process of settling down. Instead of dreaming about unity that currently seems impossible with people and countries who look down on us and see themselves as better Muslims than us, I found it more beneficial to turn toward people who have been looked down upon and oppressed for years, even centuries, and who are closer to us in many respects.
Everything takes place in accordance with Destiny. When there's a conjuncture where the apparently necessary means and causes, human free will and decision and Divine Destiny are agreed and united on a thing, surprising and only dreamed-of things can take place.
I have been looking forward to a better world resembling Paradise, where humanity can live in peace and tranquility. Our world is tired of war and clashes. It direly needs mercy, affection, spiritual well-being, and peace more than air and water. I believe that people in every country are ready for such a world. For example, we made an offer to the Greek government: "Don't be afraid of us. Come and open a school in Turkey, send your children here, we'll take care of them and give them scholarship. In return, we'll send you students and open a school in any city you wish."
Our efforts and enterprises are completely for humanity's sake. In a world becoming more and more globalized, we are trying to get to know those who will be our future neighbors a little earlier. Telecommunication and transportation systems are going to make us all like people in the same room.
When Turkey was knocked out by its adversaries technologically, it was decided to turn all superior minds in this direction so that they would study physics and chemistry and transfer high technology to Turkey as soon as possible. But it seems that some who gave priority to the social sciences also will be among those who will manage the future.
Raising a leader is tied, in part, to respect for free thought. A seed has the strength to sprout in the soil's bosom and grow. If the air is beneficial to growth and if it reaches water, the sapling will grow taller. People are like that. There shouldn't be any pressure. People should be able to express themselves. People, even geniuses, are not directed to their essential capabilities. This system must change. Students should choose what they want to study. Both high school and the university need this flexibility. An untalented, incapable team is controlling this nation's destiny. [Nevval Sevindi, Yeni Yuzyil daily, August, 1997]
Any political aims?
We are all human. Today everyone and every organization is working for some specific goal. I serve other people in a way appropriate to myself within the framework of my beliefs. As stated above, human beings are the most honorable of creatures. Those who want to increase their honor should serve this honorable creature. As regards international relations and humanity, one of the most important factors here is to eliminate factors that separate people, such as egoism, self-interest, and discrimination based on color, race, belief, and ethnicity. When idealized, these can cause conflict and be exploited by big powers. We can uproot these evils with education.
Also, education is the most effective and common tongue for relations with others. We are trying our best to do this; we have no other intention. I would prefer a million times over to gain permanency in this transient life with faith and service to others and to gain eternal happiness, rather than ruling this world, even if it united with others and became a single state.