Educational services are spreading throughout the world

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Education

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Fethullah Gülen: Educational services are spreading throughout the world

Why education?

Many things have been said and written about education. We will approach this subject from three interrelated angles: human-psychological, national-social, and universal.

We have been under the serious influence of contemporary Western thought, which undoubtedly has many superior aspects, for several centuries. However, within this thought there are also some defects, stemming in particular from the historical periods it has passed through and the unique conditions created by it. In the Middle Ages, when Europe was living under a theocratic order ruled by the Church or Church-appointed monarchs, Western thought came into contact with the Islamic world, especially through Andalusia and the Crusades. This was one of the factors that opened the door for the Renaissance and Reform movements. Some of the other factors, such as land shortage, poverty, the drive to meet evergrowing needs, and the fact that some nations, like England, were naturally inclined to sea travel, all culminated in Western thought leading to overseas discoveries.

The primary drive behind all these developments was the satisfaction of material needs. The accompanying scientific studies developed in opposition to the Church and medieval Christian scholasticism, and thus Europeans were confronted with a conflict between religion and science.[1] This caused religion to split off from science and many people to break with religion. This development eventually led to the development of materialism and communism. In social geography, humanity was faced with the most striking elements of Western history: global exploitation, unending conflict based on interest, two world wars, and the division of the world into political or economic blocs.

The West has held the world under its economic and military control for several centuries. In recent centuries, the conflict between religion and science has occupied many intellectual circles. Enlightenment movements that began in the eighteenth century saw human beings as consisting of the mind only. Following that, positivist and materialist movements saw humans as solely material or corporeal entities. As a result, spiritual crises have followed one after another. It is no exaggeration to say that these crises and the absence of spiritual satisfaction were the major factors behind the conflict of interests that enveloped the last two centuries and that reached its apex in the two world wars.

As possessors of a system of belief with a different history and essence, we have some basic values and concepts which can be given, not only to the West, with whom we have deep economic, social, and military relationships, but also to humanity at large. At the top of the list is our understanding and our concept of humanity. This view is neither exclusively ours, nor is it a subjective view; rather, it is an objective view that puts forward what humans really are.

Humans are creatures composed not only of a body and a mind, or feelings and a spirit; rather, we are harmonious compositions of all these elements. Each of us is a body writhing in a network of needs; but this is not all, we also possess a mind that has more subtle and vital needs than the body, and each of us is driven by anxieties about the past and the future in a search for answers to such questions as: "What am I? What is this world? What is the purpose of life and death? Who sent me to this world, and why? Where am I going, and what is the purpose of life? Who is my guide in this earthly journey?"

Moreover, each person is a creature made up of feelings that cannot be satisfied by the mind, and a creature of spirit; it is through the spirit that we acquire our essential human identity. Each individual is a combination of all of these factors. When a person around whom all systems and efforts revolve is considered and evaluated as a creature with all these aspects and when all needs are fulfilled then this person is able to attain true happiness. At this point, true human progress and evolution in relation to our essential being is possible only through education.

To comprehend the significance of education, we need only to look at one difference between us and the animals. At the beginning of the journey from the world of spirits that extends into eternity at the earthly stage, we are weak, in need, and in the miserable position of being dependent on everything from others.

Animals, however, come to this world as if they have gained perfection in another realm. Within two hours, two days, or two months after their birth, they have learned nearly everything they need to know, they have developed a full relationship with the universe and the laws of life. The strength to live and the ability to work that takes us 20 years to acquire is attained by a sparrow or a bee in 20 days. More correctly, they are inspired with this ability and strength. This means that the essential duty of an animal is not to become perfect through learning and evolving by gaining knowledge or by seeking help; these things imply a weakness that is not inherent in the nature of an animal. Rather, it is the duty of an animal to work according to its natural ability and it is in this way that it actively serves its Creator.

On the other hand, we humans must learn everything when we come into this world, for we are ignorant of the rules of life. In fact, in 20 years, or perhaps even throughout our life, we still cannot fully learn the nature and meaning of the rules and conditions of life nor can we completely understand our relationship with the universe. We are sent here in a very weak and helpless form. For example, we can stand on our feet only after one year. In addition, it takes us almost our whole life to learn what things are really in our interest and what are not. Only with the help of a social life can we turn toward our interests and avoid danger.

This means that our essential duty as a creation that has come to this passing guesthouse with a pure nature is to reach stability and clarity in thought, imagination, and belief so that we can acquire a "second nature" and qualify to continue our life in "the next, much more elevated realms." In addition, by performing our duties as servants, we must activate our hearts, spirits, and all our innate faculties. By embracing our inner and outer worlds, where innumerable mysteries and puzzles reside, we must comprehend the secret of existence and thus rise to the rank of true humanity.

The religion-science conflict and its product, materialism, have seen nature, like humanity, as an accumulation of material created only to fulfill bodily needs. As a result, we are experiencing global environmental disasters.

Let us consider this point: A book is the material manifestation, in the form of words, of a "spiritual" existence in the writer's mind. There is no conflict between these two ways of expressing the same truth and ideas in two different "worlds." Similarly, a building has a spiritual existence in the architect's mind; it has "destiny" or "predetermination" in the form of a plan; the material form is in the form of a physical structure. There is no conflict among the ways of expressing the same meaning, content, and truth of these three different worlds. To look for conflict would be nothing more than a wasted effort.

Similarly, there can be no conflict among the Qur'an, the Divine Scripture, (coming from God's Attribute of Speech), the universe (coming from His Attributes of Power and Will), and the sciences that examine them. The universe is a mighty Holy Book (Qur'an) derived from God's Attributes of Power and Will. In other words, if we can be forgiven for using such a prosaic comparison, the universe is just a large Qur'an that has been physically created by God for our instruction. In return, as it is an expression of the laws of the universe in yet another form, the Qur'an is a universe that has been codified and written down. In its actual meaning, religion does not oppose or limit science or scientific work.

Religion guides sciences, determines their real goal, and puts moral and universal human values before science as guides. If this truth had been understood in the West, and if this relationship between religion and knowledge had been discovered, things would have been very different. Science would not have done more harm than good, nor would it have opened the way for producing bombs and other lethal weapons.

Claims are made today that religion is divisive and opens the way for the killing of others. However, it cannot be denied that religion, in particular Islam, did not lead over the last few centuries to merciless exploitation: in particular the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century that killed hundreds of millions of people and left behind even more homeless, widows, orphans, and wounded were not down to Islam. Scientific materialism, a view of life and the world that had severed itself from religion and a clash of interests caused this exploitation.

There is also the matter of environmental pollution, which has been caused by scientific materialism, a basic peculiarity of modern Western thought. Underlying the global threat of pollution is the concept, brought about by scientific disbelief, that nature is an accumulation of things that has no value outside its ability to meet physical needs. In fact, nature is much more than a heap of material or an accumulation of objects: it has a certain sacredness, for it is an arena in which God's Beautiful Names are displayed.

Nature is an exhibition of beauty and meaning that displays profound and vast meanings; trees taking root, flowers blossoming, the taste and aroma of fruit, the rain, streams flowing, air being inhaled and exhaled, and soil nurturing innumerable creatures. Thus, a person's mind and heart become like a honeycomb; the nectar presented is made up of judgments and the faculty of contemplation. This travels all over the world, like the pollen that attaches itself to the honeybee. The honey of faith, virtue, love of humanity and all creatures for the sake of the Creator, the nectar of helping others, sacrificing oneself to the extent that one foregoes the passion of life so that others can live, and providing service to all creation—this is what oozes from this honeycomb.

As stated by Bediüzzaman, there is an understanding of education that sees the illumination of the mind in science and knowledge, and the light of the heart in faith and virtue. This understanding, which makes the student soar in the skies of humanity on two wings and seek God's approval through service to others, has many things to offer. It rescues science from materialism, from being a factor that is as harmful as it is beneficial—both from material and spiritual perspectives—as well as preventing science from becoming a lethal weapon. Such an understanding, in Einstein's words, will not allow religion to remain crippled. Nor will it allow religion to be perceived as being cut off from intelligence, life, and scientific truth, nor as a fanatical institution that builds walls between individuals and nations.

Serving humanity through education

Due to rapid developments in transportation and communication, the world has become a global village. Nations have become like nextdoor neighbors. However, we must remember that in a world like this, national existence can be ensured only by protecting the specific characteristics of each nation. In a unified mosaic of nations and countries, those that cannot protect their unique characteristics, "patterns," or "designs" will disappear. As with all other nations, our essential characteristics are religion and language, history and the motherland. What Yahya Kemal, a famous Turkish poet and writer, expressed with great emotion in The Districts without a Call to Prayer, was that our culture and civilization had been brought from Islam and Central Asia and had been kneaded for centuries in Anatolia, Europe, and even Africa.

All people need one another. As mentioned above, we have more to give humanity than we have to take. Today, voluntary or nongovernmental organizations have established companies and foundations and are enthusiastically serving others in the name of Islam. The largescale acceptance of the educational institutions that have spread all over the world, despite the great financial difficulties that they have faced, and the fact that they are competing with, and frequently surpassing their Western peers in a very short period of time, should be proof that what we have said cannot be denied.

The Turkish people have accumulated many problems over the past few centuries. At the base of these problems lies our mistaken concentration on the exterior of Islam and the neglect of its inner pearl. Later on we began to imitate others and surmised that there was a conflict between Islam and positive science. We arrived at this conclusion despite the fact that the latter is no more than discoveries of Divine laws that manifest God's Attributes of Power and Will; it is nothing but a different expression of the Qur'an derived from God's Attribute of Speech. This neglect, in turn, led to despotism in knowledge, thought, and administration; a hopelessness that led to a disorder that encompassed all individuals and institutions; a confusion in our work; we no longer paid any attention to the division of labor.

In short, our three greatest enemies are ignorance, poverty, and an internal schism. Knowledge, workcapital, and unification can struggle against these. As ignorance is the most serious problem, it must be opposed with education, which always has been the most important way of serving our country. Now that we live in a global village, education is the best way to serve humanity and to establish a dialogue with other civilizations.

But above all else, education is a humane service; we were sent here to learn and be perfected through education. Bediüzzaman drew attention to possible solutions and the future by saying: "The old state of affairs is impossible. Either a new state or annihilation is needed." Saying that "controversial subjects should not be discussed with Christian spiritual leaders," he opened dialogues with members of other religions. Like Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, who said: "One of my feet is in the center and the other is in seventytwo realms (i.e. in the realm of all nations) like a compass," he drew a broad circle that encompassed all believers. Implying that the days of brute force were over, Bediüzzaman said: "Victory with civilized persons is won through persuasion," thus pointing out that dialogue, persuasion, and discussion based on evidence are essential for those of us who seek to serve religion. By saying that "in the future humanity will turn toward knowledge and science, and in the future reason and words will govern," he encouraged knowledge and dialogue. Finally, by putting aside politics and direct political involvement, he drew the basic lines of the truly religious and national service in this age and in the future.

In the light of such principles, I have encouraged people to serve the country in particular, and humanity in general, through education. I called on them to help the state educate and help people to develop by opening schools. Ignorance can be defeated through education, poverty through work and the possession of capital, and internal schism and separatism through unity, dialogue, and tolerance. As the solution of every problem in this life ultimately depends on human beings, education is the most effective vehicle, regardless of whether we have a paralyzed social and political system or we have one that operates like clockwork.


After the government granted permission for the opening of private schools, many people voluntarily chose to spend their savings on serving the country instead of passing into the next world after having spent this life in pursuit of a frivolous existence. In fact, people have done so with the enthusiasm normally given to worship. It is impossible for me to know about all of the schools that have been opened both here and abroad. Since I have only recommended and encouraged such actions, I do not even know the names of many of the companies that opened schools or where the schools are located.

However, I have followed this matter to a certain extent in the press and in series of articles written by such worthy journalists as Ali Bayramoğlu, Şahin Alpay, and Atilgan Bayar. Schools have been opened in places ranging from Azerbaijan to the Philippines, from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and with the help of our Jewish fellowcitizen and prominent businessman Üzeyir Garih, and with reference to his knowledge, in Yakutsky. These schools have been opened in almost all countries, except for those like Iran, where permission has not been given.

Writers and thinkers who have visited the schools confirm that these schools have been financed by voluntary organizations in Turkey. In most or all of them, student fees are an important part of this financing. Local administrators contribute sizable assistance by providing land, buildings, principals, and teachers when necessary. The teachers, who are dedicated to serving their country, nation, and humanity, and who have found the meaning of life in serving others, work enthusiastically for a low salary.

Initially, some of our foreign affairs officials were hesitant to give their support, for they did not really understand what was going on. Today, however, most of them support the schools. In addition to Turkey's last two presidents, the late honorable Turgut Özal and the honorable Süleyman Demirel, as well as the former Chairman of the Parliament, Mustafa Kalemli and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hikmet Çetin, all gave their support to these efforts by actually visiting the schools.

Local administrators are just as aware of secularism, or even more so, than the Turkish government. It has been explained by enlightened journalists like Şahin Alpay, Atilgan Bayar and many others, in a way similar to Ali Bayramoğlu's observations, that these countries do not feel the slightest concern regarding these schools for the future. In fact, speaking at the opening ceremonies for the school in Moscow, the Head of the Moscow National Education Office said: "There are two important events in Russia's recent history. One of these is Gagarin's journey to the skies. The other is the opening of a Turkish school here." He described this as an historic event.

For some, this life consists of the few days passed in this earthly guesthouse in pursuit of the fulfillment of the ego's desires. Other people have different views, and so give life a different meaning. For me, this life consists of a few breaths on the journey that begins in the world of spirits and continues eternally either in Heaven or, God forbid, Hell.

This life is very important, for it shapes our afterlife. Given this, we should spend it in ways designed to earn the eternal life in Paradise and gain the approval of the Giver of Life. This path passes through the inescapable dimension of servanthood to God by means of serving, first of all, our families, relatives, and neighbors, and then our country and nation, with finally humanity and creation being the object of our efforts. This service is our right; conveying it to others is our responsibility.

[1] This opposition was due to two factors: the Catholic Church refused to come to terms with new scientific discoveries and concepts, and the emerging new middle class wanted to be free of the disciplining rules of religion.