Education in General

by Enes Ergene on . Posted in An Analysis of the Gülen Movement

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1. Revival in the spirit and in the essence

Gülen considers the problem of poor or absent education to be the most important problem of the century. In most of his writings, he directly or indirectly touches upon this important subject. When he speaks of revival, "resurrection," renewal, returning to the historical roots, and revival of our values, he refers to the education. For Gülen, the only way to overcome this great problem is by educating new generations who have completely dedicated themselves to the good of their nations, who are ready to make sacrifices, and who are motivated by both material and spiritual motives. Without educating and preparing such enlightened individuals, neither material nor a spiritual revival is possible.

For Gülen, there are certain obstacles inhibiting this revival. First, Muslims in the modern world have fallen from their spiritual and historical roots, which produced a crisis of identity. As a result of this crisis there are mounting weaknesses and cleavages in the Muslims' perception and transmission of their cultural heritage as alienated subjects.

What causes this process? Undoubtedly, this transformation occurs in the way Islam is perceived and practiced. Blind imitation of tradition and cultural heritage based on memorization rather than comprehension is the root cause behind this transformation and backwardness of the Islamic world. Education in the Muslim world forced recent generation to separate their cultural and technological lives from their historical identity, and thus their subconscious was besieged by Western influence. Blind imitation and dry memorization of tradition can be observed in the perception of Islamic values, as well as in the perception of Western civilization.

Alienation enslaved almost all intellectual, cultural and institutional fields. This was a common problem shared by peoples in all underdeveloped (or, not allowed to develop) countries. Besieged by Western civilization, the Muslim world experienced a deep identity and personality crisis, and subsequently experienced political, cultural and social transformations. Muslim societies sought solutions to recover from this devastating blow. However, they could not employ our historical-traditional sources and human-societal potential in the right direction to overcome this process. This was due to the fact that this inauspicious mental transformation caused a crack in the perceptions toward our spiritual roots and historical identity.

All said, the Islamic world had both human and social potential. Over centuries they developed a globally appreciated civilization; they possessed the holy revelation of the Qur'an, which encouraged all kinds of intellectual, spiritual, legal, and international relations; and they sit on a marvelous heritage of historically accumulated experience. But under the influence of the West, many considered their historical legacy dead and useless. They were reluctant to benefit from their cultural and historical legacy as they struggled to build their contemporary identities and organize their social and cultural lives. Most thought that the only way to achieve economic and technological development was by completely adapting to Western lifestyle and civilization. For a long time, these processes forced Muslims into a crisis, whereby they felt alienated from their culture, history, and traditions. The political elite quickly integrated their lifestyle with those of the West without much resistance. But their blind imitation of Western civilization did not enable the Islamic world to progress toward political freedom, nor did it give them any serious economic and technological advantage.

Undoubtedly, the cultural search for identity in the Islamic world continues. This inauspicious process necessitates a national revival of spiritual institutions. In the last two centuries, the Islamic world has endured various attempts at "progress," but these attempts never possessed an inclusive or continuous character. They were limited to certain political, administrative, and technological fields. The Turkish experience was not different. Although Turkey made some technological advances, these have never reached a level of enabling the nation to revive its spiritual institutions. Gülen in one of his essays touches upon this subject in general terms:

For centuries now the Islamic world has squirmed in the vicious grasp of error and has remained unable to turn for succor in any way to its own spirit and essence. Whenever it has broken free and succeeded in taking two steps forward, it has immediately taken several steps back and lost itself in the byways. Such whimsical wandering or deliberate deviation, in which there is more harm than good and in which the harmful sweeps away the beneficial, hinders society's efforts to seek and find itself within itself and deeply disturbs the work done and the people who do it. We have seen everything in this wide world deteriorate beyond recovery and the wheels of the states and nations turn against their own selves.

Therefore we believe in the necessity to investigate the Islamic world with its understanding of faith, its own acceptance and interpretation of Islam, its consciousness of the Divine, its zeal and yearning, its reason, logic, mode and system of thinking, its style of expressing and communicating itself, and its own institutions, which will make humanity acquire these attributes and skills. In this way we may direct our world to a thorough renewal in all its aspects and elements.

The fundamentals of our spiritual life are religious thought and imagination. Not only have we sustained our life with these, but we have also taken action by relying on them. If we were to be parted from them, we would find ourselves a thousand years back. Religion is not only an assemblage of rituals and worship, its goals include giving meaning to humanity and the universe, becoming open to human nature in its essence and spirit, realizing the desires which go beyond this world, and responding to the intimations of eternity in human conscience. Religion embraces the whole of individual and collective life; it intervenes in everything we have of mind, heart, and soul; it gives its tincture to all our acts according to our intentions, and imbues everything with its color.

The axis of every act of a believer is worship, every striving has a dimension of the struggle against one's carnal desires—greater jihad—and every effort is directed at the Hereafter and seeking God's pleasure. There is no separation of this world and the next in the believer's life: there are no obstructions between the mind and the heart; the believer's emotions are always united with their reason, and their inspirations are not ignored by their judgment. So, in their mental world, experience is a ladder made of light, stretching up to the mind; knowledge is a high bastion, reinforced with understanding, wisdom, and intuition. The believer is an eagle, continuously soaring to infinity on the giant wings of love; they are the embosser who embosses all existence with their stamp and mallet of intelligence on that bastion. There can be found no gap in any place in such an understanding, nor is there any neglect of humanity, either individually or collectively.

Those who perceive religion as being contradictory to science and reason are the afflicted; they are unaware of the spirit of both religion and reason. Moreover, it is absolutely fraudulent to hold religion responsible for clashes between different sections of society. Conflicts between peoples and groups of people arise from ignorance, from ambition for personal advantage and profit, or from the vested interests of particular groups, parties, or classes. Religion neither approves nor condones such qualities and ambitions. In fact, there are conflicts and clashes between some religious individuals, but this is because, even though they have the same spirit, they do not hold the same degree of belief, they cannot preserve sincerity; sometimes they cannot overcome their feelings and are defeated by them. Otherwise, virtue with faith cannot approve of nor lead to such calamities. Indeed, the only way to avoid falling into such misfortunes is to establish religion with all its institutions within our daily life so that it becomes the life-blood of society as a whole.

The Islamic community needs a resurrection; it needs a serious reform in its mental, spiritual, and intellectual faculties. To use a more positive expression, it needs to be revived, combining serious efforts to preserve the original principles of the religion with extensiveness and universality as far as permitted by the flexibility of the divine decrees, so that it meets the needs of people from all walks of life, in all places and times, and so that it embraces the whole of life.

Since the advent of Islam—and may God never cause us to be deprived of its shelter—this blessed system has opened its doors to renewals many times, and experienced many revivals. Schools of doctrine (madhhab) in general, certainly the great majority of them, represent new developments in the fields of jurisprudence and law; the religious Sufi orders worked on the paths to heart and soul and turned them into broad highways; schools and colleges, during the times when they functioned properly, were mostly occupied with making sense of the universe and the beings in it. As to the renewal and revival hoped for in the present time, it must be the combination of all these; it will be possible only by bringing all these together, by leaving off the outward molds for the inner core, leaving off the outward forms for the soul—that is, by turning to certainty in faith, sincerity in deeds, and God-consciousness in thought and feeling.

Quantity in acts of worship should be complete and quality should be the goal: words should be the means of the prayer and the soul and sincerity are essential; the Sunna should be the guide, and consciousness is a necessity. In all of these God should be the goal. The prescribed daily prayers are not a set of physical exercises of sitting up and bending down; giving alms is not giving up a small tax on one's income or goods to allay the misfortunes of some unknown people in unknown places for unknown purposes; fasting is not dieting or merely abstaining from eating or drinking; and pilgrimage, the hajj, is not traveling from one town to another to spend one's savings in a foreign currency in a different country. If all these acts are not performed within their own axis and courses and spirit, how are they different from comparable mundane activities? Concentrating on quantity in acts of worship can only be a childish game; crying out and yelling without spirit in one's petitions is for those who are looking only to exercise their vocal cords; going on pilgrimage while unaware of its essence is only an effort to comfort oneself with the of pilgrim and some anecdotes of the journey. How can one make sense of acts of worship performed in that way?

The way not to waste away in the web of such negatives is by mobilizing to raise the "physicians of the soul and essential reality" which can fill the vacuum in us, eradicate our weaknesses, rescue us from being slaves to our body and carnal desires, and direct us to the level of the life of the heart and soul. We need physicians of the soul and reality whose hearts are open to all fields of all knowledge: perspicacity, culture, spiritual knowledge, inspirations and divine blessings, abundance and prosperity, enlightenment; from physics to metaphysics, from mathematics to ethics, from chemistry to spirituality, from astronomy to subjectivism, from fine arts to Sufism, from law to jurisprudence, from politics to special training of religious Sufi orders: journeying and initiation in Sufi terms.

We are not in need of this or that particular quality or ability, but rather the whole comprehensive mind. Just as the brain has connections and interactions with all the parts and cells of a body, from the nearest to the farthest, from the smallest to the biggest, by means of nerve fibers, so too will such a cadre of minds be connected, communicating and interacting with the atoms, molecules and particles of the nation-body. So will it reach all the units and organs that constitute society. So will its hand be in and over the vital institutions. So will it convey gently, to everyone in all walks of life, certain things from the soul and reality, which come from the past and gain more depth with the present and stretch into the future.

Such a cadre of physicians of the soul will embrace all, from the attentive and well-behaved children in school to those idling on the streets, and by conveying the messages of their soul to all of them, and by elevating them to the level of people who have knowledge, skills, and genius for the future, they will present them for the common good and benefit of society. In all student houses, hostels, schools, institutions of higher education, and places of repose, worship, and spiritual enlightenment, they will purify everyone, from all sections and levels of society, of the foulness of the age, and channel them to human perfection.

Moreover, this cadre will tame the powerful weapons of the media, such as newspapers, journals, the radio and television, and will make them the voice and breath of national and religious life, and through these media, they will teach the owners of the darkest feelings, thoughts, and voices ways to become human.

Moreover, this cadre will save our institutions of education and training, which now change their forms and directions according to internal deviations and foreign pressures, which sway with the wind from the command and control of others, and will make them instead open and responsive to the requirements of the present, re-ordering and organizing them according to historical perspectives, and raising them by use of styles, methodologies, and a high standard of planning, to be places of great quality and purpose.

Thus, in sum, we will rise from the misery of rigid and empty formalism to true scientific understanding; from dignifying diverse vile and disgraceful works with the of "art" to true art and aesthetics; from customs, addictions, and obsessions of unknown origin to the consciousness of a morality based on history and religion; from the snares of various gnawing thoughts in our hearts to the oneness of service, submission, consciousness, as well as resignation and reliance on God.

The world experiences this rush of reformations. However, we do not believe that anything new will emerge from the tatters of capitalism, or the fantasy of communism, or the debris of socialism, or the hybrids of social democracy, or old-fashioned liberalism. The truth of the matter is that if there is a world open to a new world order, it is our world. Coming generations, looking back, will probably consider it our "Renaissance."

This revival will make our feelings and horizons of thought, and also of understanding of art and aesthetics, gain depth and variety greater than it has had until now. In this way we will find our own aesthetic pleasures, reach our own music, and discover our own romanticism. By establishing our own people on a strong foundation in every field, from science to art, from thought to morality, we will secure their future.[1]

2. Revivification in history and future

The sources of Gülen's philosophy about culture and education are marked with his emphatic approach to history and tradition. This approach is radically different from those who carefully barricade themselves from their history so as not to have a conscious, warm relationship with their tradition. Conceptual disputes often make isolate history and traditional inheritance to the point that it resembles a farm that dried from years of agricultural exploitation.

"Revivification in history and future," without a doubt, is as huge a topic as it actually needs a thick book just to discuss its implications. In order to fully grasp and work out the subject, we need to go through our whole intellectual and cultural history. The conceptual and theoretical analysis of the past and future constitutes a long caravan of thoughts that go far beyond the limits of this book. The reason we feel the need to touch upon this subject is that when Gülen speaks about the matters of culture and education he normally addresses an audience who already have a background of certain mentality and education to enable them grasp what he is referring to. He is not in favor of quarreling or using dialectics as a method. In his writings, essays, and talks his style and manner of argumentation are carefully isolated from dialectics. Every reader that has entered his world sees the implications he makes concerning discussions of method and mentality in the last two centuries.

From these implications we can infer that in a general way, in the Islamic world as well as in Turkey, there are two kinds of approaches to history. One focuses on traditional legacy, and the other focuses on relations with the West. The first suggests that the roots of resurrection are found only in the dynamics seen in history and tradition. The other assumes that imitating the Western world's values and lifestyles will save us without making any reference to resurrection (of our tradition). These two inclinations survive today as two different experiences. However, both inclinations represent sometimes conservative and sometimes modernist perspectives toward the past culture and toward Western civilization.

In the recent past these disputes left an exhausted intellectual legacy. After a comprehensive confrontation with the West, a tradition of two opposing intellectual spheres formed that were usually defined as being modern versus conservative, nationalist versus Westerner, graduates of madrasa versus graduates of secular schools, etc. The methods of thinking and analysis and the conceptual materials differed from each other in correlation with one's ideological affiliations. For the same problem each side produced a different solution. On the one hand, there were Westernist intellectuals who supported (organized) a secular lifestyle under the terms Westernization, modernization, and advancement. On the other hand, there were conservatives who emphasized traditional legacy and who used concepts such as reform, renewal, and resurrection. Westernist intellectuals developed a mentality towards Islamic legacy based on reformism and rejection of heritage. In all parts of the Muslim world this pattern repeated itself.

Let us go into more explanation about the relationship between the modern intellectual with the tradition. The modern intellectual reduces tradition to modern terms, and uses information and epistemology that was not existent at that time. He does not use the traditional information system, traditional methods, or traditional experience based on that long history. Totally independent from traditional epistemology, he only uses the world of modern terms. For such a mind, the past is past, and there is no possibility and sense to carry it to the modern times. This can only be achieved by modernization and by reforming information systems. Even though this process distorts tradition, the modern intellectual does not change his attitude. Modernization and reform imply more than just an interpretation of tradition. If this interpretation does not deal with tradition in its interpretational and methodological form, it takes us to experiences that were not perceived in the past. The phenomenon of historicity originates from this approach.

There is a point that is generally overlooked: there are epistemological borders by which every tradition is engulfed. These borders define the basic characteristics of tradition, the lines of its formation as well as the forms of how it is understood, interpreted, and transmitted. Any attempt to interpret that does not take into account these borders will cause serious distortion of tradition. Modernist approaches generally do not like to be restricted by such borders. They prefer to overrun these borders by Western thought patterns and to transform the values and information systems upon which the tradition is based.

This indifference to the tradition causes even more serious problems in the handling of Islamic culture, legacy, and sources. As explained before, the Holy Qur'an is the most important manifestation of Islam, and Sunna transmits this final divine revelation to believers in a way to guide them how to practice it. These two sources have always influenced the individual, social, spiritual, ontological, and epistemological aspects of all Islamic societies. This is the most important characteristic of Islamic culture and what makes it different from all other cultures. Hence approaching Islamic culture and traditional legacy is not the same as approaching an ordinary cultural legacy since Islam appears to be the most essential system that justifies the existence of man on earth.

Ignoring this fact, the Westernist intellectual could not attain a real result out of his endeavor to establish a relationship with Islamic culture. The modern intellectual always followed an ideological posture towards Islamic inheritance. Hence the epistemological basis he presented was weak and fragile. The second-class activities that such intellectuals presented depended upon terms that lacked experience and practical use. The debates over the last two centuries give us an image of land exhausted out of excessive use.

The minimizing attitude of the modern intellectual towards the perception of tradition has also caused a rift in his conception of history. This is because when the Turkish modernist intellectual builds his identity he inclines towards the West, not towards his own history and past. Therefore, whenever Gülen refers to resurrection and a new Renaissance, he always emphasizes the past, tradition, and cultural legacy. Gülen suggests to those who want to implant peace in the world to study the history of Muslim societies, which can feed countless positive narrations, attitudes, and inclinations in terms of living in a harmony in multicultural contexts.

3. Renewal, revival, and renaissance

As we explained before, Gülen does not enter into conceptual debates about the process of Westernization. However, indirectly when he explains his views on certain concepts, he exposes the cornerstones of his projects. In most of his articles, as main topics and between the lines, he touches upon the subjects of resurrection, renewal, revival, reawakening, and the characteristics of his renaissance. We have seen some examples in the citations made above and as follows from the article "Toward Tomorrow"; even the implies his ideas in regard to renewal and revival:

…[w]e believe in the necessity to investigate the Islamic world with its understanding of faith, its own acceptance and interpretation of Islam, its consciousness of the Divine, its zeal and yearning, its reason, logic, mode and system of thinking, its style of expressing and communicating itself, and its own institutions, which will make humanity acquire these attributes and skills. In this way we may direct our world to a thorough renewal in all its aspects and elements.[2]

Whenever he mentions renewal (tajdid) and resurrection (ba'su ba'dal-mawt), Gülen begins by stating that renewal is a basic Islamic dynamic. Because he believes that without renewing and developing our Islamic understanding on issues ranging from the essentials of faith to our reflections on the cosmos, the resurrection that Muslim societies need will not be realized:

The fundamentals of our spiritual life are religious thought and imagination. Not only have we sustained or life with these, but we have also taken action by relying on them.[3]

According to him the basis of our resurrection will be found in our religious and spiritual dynamics.

Schools of doctrine (madhab) in general, certainly the great majority of them, represent new developments in the fields of jurisprudence and law; the religious Sufi orders worked on the paths to heart and soul and turned them into broad highways; schools and colleges, during the times when they functioned properly were most occupied with making sense of the universe and the beings in it.[4]

Renewal and revival will happen in every field by "leaving off the outward molds for the inner core, leaving off the outward forms for the soul—that is, by turning to certainty in faith, sincerity in deeds, and God-consciousness in thought and feeling."[5]

In the past Muslims developed a comprehensive and deep-rooted renaissance in religious science, technology, and architecture. From natural sciences to theology, from Sufism to logic, from city planning to aesthetics, teams of geniuses appeared. They realized the renaissance of their times. Gülen states that when the basic dynamics of this renaissance is understood, it will be possible to motivate "by mobilizing all its bright minds and souls, our nation may shortly realize a second and third renaissance."[6] In his essays titled "The World We Long For" Gülen says the following:

Starting from the recognition of the soul and essence of Islam, and by reaching toward the reinterpretation of all existence, from the boundless divine climates of Sufi path to universal metaphysics; from Islamic self-accounting and self-supervision to the vigilance, circumspection, and self-possession which make man gain lofty values; from the cities and urbanization, in which our inner world takes repose and where we can breathe, to the aesthetics which will be the property of all; from the art which embroiders the essence and reality everywhere and seeks infinity in all it embroiders to the true pleasures of aesthetics, which becomes more and more other-worldly, more and more refined and integrates with the beyond, by all these means, this nation can open a new chapter.[7]

Even though this is a real possibility Gülen emphasizes that it is not an easy process:

For so many years, our spiritual life has to a great extent been extinguished; our religious world has become dysfunctional; the tongues of our hearts have been tied by making people forget intense, love (ashq) and ecstasy (wajd); we have perverted all minds which read and think into a hard positivism; bigotry has been installed in the place of firmness of character, strength of religion, and perseverance in truth; even in asking for the Hereafter and paradise, with a distorted mentality, petitioners have in mind some continuation of the ordinary happiness in this world. It is therefore impossible to open a new chapter without ripping such misdirected, deep-rooted thoughts and ideas out of ourselves.[8]

Gülen explains the causes of corruption and dissolution is due to feelings of greed, laziness, desire for fame, desire for rank and position, egotism, and worshipping the world... these feelings kill any civilization in its birth bed. In opposition to these harmful feelings, Gülen places the ideals of renunciation (istiğna, refuting greed), courage, altruism, spirituality, and devotion to the divine ends (rabbani) can stand against these harmful feelings. These are the essential dynamics of the Gülen-inspired activism. In short, Gülen searches for the roots of resurrection and renaissance in our own past. If we do not study our past, and if we do not bring these roots to the modern world with a renewed spiritual enthusiasm, the resurrection we are so badly in need of will not be possible. In all his essays and works, Gülen states that only a large group that possesses the above characteristics could ever achieve this resurrection. Through these voluntary laborers in education, we can catch a new resurrection and realize a new renaissance.

However, in debates and projects throughout the last two centuries, there has been an unspoken consensus that our revival and renaissance could only be achieved by a limited number of intellectuals and elite circles. This is one of the essential points on which Gülen disagrees with others. He believes that resurrection can be achieved by a large group of educators, through their work as selfless spirits. This explains why he always emphasizes the significance of education and insists on the necessity of unselfish and faithful teachers.

Undoubtedly, Gülen's intellectual and conceptual world is embellished with a style, content, and profundity particular to himself. Therefore, let us ponder on the concepts of renewal (tecdid), reform[9] (islah), imitation (taklit), and conventionalism (şablonculuk).

These concepts occupied the agenda of early Islamic legal schools, as well as theological, political, and philosophical currents. Questioning sources did not first start with Westernization. This process continued through Islamic history among individuals and groups. Therefore, these concepts possess rich historical and intellectual depth. Naturally, we will not enter into a long intellectual and conceptual discussion about the past and future of these concepts. We will only make some general remarks about the causes of intellectual misunderstanding.

The problem in the contemporary use of these terms is two-fold. First, we must ask ourselves, "How do we revive tradition?" Second, "How do we recover from backwardness and move toward advancement." Undoubtedly, factors that triggered intellectual activity concerning traditional heritage and essential sources, in the second, third, or fifth centuries following the advent of Islam, were far different than the contemporary issues, like "civilization, modernity, and advancement," that we face today. Nonetheless, the social and socio-cultural problems of change defined all intellectual activities of the time. As new lands opened to Islam, Muslims came into contact with foreign civilizations under circumstances such as war and peace, political and cultural embassies, and trade. These confrontations caused changes in the social, cultural, and religious aspects of the Islamic world. Confrontation and social change deeply affected Islamic intellectual activities. Thus, debates in regards to the Islamic cultural heritage are a legacy of activities throughout history.

These debates aimed to differentiate the invariable (ahqam al-thabita) and variable aspects (ahqam al-mutahawila) of Islam in a general sense. This effort represented intellectual activities under the banner of revival, reform, and renewal on the one hand, while on the other, showing the capacity of Islamic tradition to survive under changing conditions. We stated before that the most central manifestation of Islamic culture is the Holy Qur'an, the Divine revelation. Indirectly, this means that divine revelation contains eternal realities (that are unchangeable). Hence, every movement directed toward Islamic cultural heritage—whether it takes renewal and revival, or reform, resurrection, and renaissance—should be in line with the spirit of these unchangeable realities. In other words, in classical Islamic culture, it is obligatory for every activity of interpretation (ijtihad) to follow the principles and methodology over which a scholarly consensus has been attained over centuries with regard to perceiving, understanding and practicing the Islamic doctrine. Every effort toward renewal, resurrection, or reform is, in a sense, a new construction, a reproduction of the past and cultural legacy in a new social and political conjunction. This is a human activity, and it should be in accordance with the spirit of divine revelation. As a human endeavor, this cannot be classified only as a matter of change. It is also an activity of searching for reality. It should be directed toward understanding divine intention, the pleasure of God, and His Will. Although this attitude seems to be overly cautious, it is necessary to observe the boundaries of the above-mentioned search and direction, since it directs human's voyage to eternity. Invariables stand for essentials of Islamic belief/doctrine and its normative structure, and they are perfectly rooted in Islam.

Despite the presence of invariables in the Islamic cultural legacy, Islam has the potential for renewal, reform, and resurrection. There were always necessities in cultural and social life that forced change and renewal. Any Islamic renewal that emerged within the doctrinal, legal, and epistemological framework has always revived personal and social life. Just as in the past, comprehensive renewal and revivification movements can be repeated today, and a new manifesto of Islamic revival can be initiated—on the condition that the spirit of the divine text is not abused. Such an activity, however, requires comprehensive intellectual perfection and depth. We should discriminate intellectual activities intended for the enlargement of Islamic culture from reform activities affecting the essential sources of the Islamic heritage. Reformation directed toward Islamic essentials is a slippery domain because reform is not directly equal to renewal and revival (tajdid, ihya, and islah).[10]

Tajdid, ihya, and islah are not more than activities that originates from within the tradition. They should stay within the boundaries of basic Islamic texts and method. Reform, too, is a call for renewal; however, it envisages a change which replaces the building blocks of the tradition and the essential discipline of needs. Tajdid does not feel obliged to explain itself because it refers only to renewal from inside; reform, on the other hand, has to explain itself to the masses. Because it has no relation with the tradition, neither at the intellectual level nor on the basis of collective inherent references, it has to resort to evidence from outside tradition in order to legalize itself. Between reform and tradition, there is an epistemological and ontological incompatibility and gap. Reform has an ideological nature, rather than an epistemological or methodological nature. The Reformation first appeared in the history as the end result of a long period during which the essential sources of Christianity went through alterations. The Reformation, in its context, aimed to discriminate truth from falsehood in the Christian tradition. Christian Reform and renaissance started as a movement that questioned the sources and dogma of Christianity. This movement later expanded to other fields. This never happened in Islam. Islam today is present with its authentic sources and the traditions of fourteen centuries. Reformation could not attain success without touching upon the dogmas and essentials of the official discourse of the Church, which had sovereignty over thoughts, ideas, and scientific truths. As far as Islam is concerned, the same activity is equal to a distortion of uncontaminated sources. Hence, reformation is an antidote for Christianity, but it turns out to be poison for Islam. Therefore, as for Islam and its fundamental sources, we can only speak about renewal (tajdid). As often repeated, tajdid is an endeavor to enlarge the commentary on religious texts from the inside. Although the cultural legacy of Islam has elements affected by relations of power, authority, and ideology across a long history, Islamic methodology kept the essential values of Islam intact. Hence, Muslim thinkers, jurists, and renewers (mujaddid) spoke of renewal and new interpretation rather than reformation. However, they always approached reform with caution.

Undoubtedly, this analysis and conceptual perspective does not give a sufficient depth and framework to Islamic law, theology, and methodology. The language and style I use in this issue is that of social sciences. Such matters have been dealt with more precisely and with greater detail in Islamic literature, with its more comprehensive terminology and epistemological borders. My aim here is only to direct the attention of the readers to the social aspects of the phenomenon. Some concepts used for certain social and cultural issues are nourished in Islamic methodology (usul) from a deeper background than they are in the social sciences.

When Gülen speaks about renewal, revival, change, and resurrection, he uses contemporary language, while pointing to their Islamic methodological content and background. Although he is aware of historical and conceptual debates, when he speaks about resurrection as a nation, he does not enter into such debates. This is felt in the sensitivity he shows when choosing words, and in his cautious style. He also believes that the elements of our resurrection as a nation are hidden in our cultural legacy. If this cultural legacy is studied and reinterpreted in depth, in accordance with the necessities our times, so that solutions to modern problems will be found in the long or short term—and if these solutions are put into practice with patience, according to comprehensive master plans—then we can speak of a possibility of resurrection. Gülen consistently calls our attention to the fact that, above all, there is a need for a group of people who will selflessly serve their nation and their religion. Without first educating such a group of selfless people, devoted to serving humanity, no cultural legacy alone can provide the means for resurrection. Only such a generation will transmit our resurrection to the masses. This is why he does not enter into long discussions on such magical concepts; rather, he emphasizes the need to raise such a generation.

3. History in Gülen's thought

Gülen's interpretation of history and the Ottoman past indicates that he has a different perspective. In interviews conducted in the 1990s, he did not enter into a detailed analysis of his historical viewpoint. He, rather, presented an important perspective as far as his philosophy of history was concerned, in simple, short sentences. Gülen explained that he does not consider history to be merely something that has passed. For Gülen, history is more than that which shaped our identity; that is, it cannot be limited only to what has been done. The philosophy of history should also deal with the overall objectives and the imagination of historical figures that made their mark. He looks into historical events from the perspective of a representative individual who had a leading role in that event. As an example, let us have a look at the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih (Sultan Mehmet II). This was not an ordinary event in history; it closed one age and opened a new one. The opening of Istanbul was a great success, a product of exemplary thinking and enterprise. Gülen looks into the imagination of the hero at this opening. For him, what made Fatih a great man was not the conquest of Istanbul, but the vision he displayed as a leader. His endeavor was not limited to the city walls of Istanbul, which, from our contemporary perspective, was akin to conquering a village. Fatih Sultan Mehmet II's vision reached further than this, and in comparison to what he dreamed, the things he accomplished were insignificant:

For those who submitted their hearts to the ideals of the Prophet, the opening of Istanbul is as insignificant as the conquest of a little village. Fatih was great in his ideals, not with the things he did. We should judge his greatness with the ideals bared in his mind. His dreams were not mere utopia. If we look at what he realized, we can easily understand that he would have achieved his dreams if Allah gave him a longer life. We look at Fatih's dreams and, therefore, we greatly appreciate him.[11]

The philosophy of history deals with what falls in the objective domain—i.e., events that took place and that exist in history. From this perspective, Gülen's approach could be classified as subjective. In this way, he highlights the hidden reality in subjective history. He objects the trend to reduce history to events, intellectual activities, and objective phenomena only:

Objective elements seem to be prevalent in history. However—I will tell you a different thing—objective principles grow and develop in the bosom of the subjects, like an enigma that is born out of a paradigm. In particular, they are born in the imagination of people who can develop such ideas and systematize them. In other words, historical thinking and historicity take their first steps in the form of imagination (tahayyul). It reaches its childhood in the form of description (tasawwur). Through reasoning (taaqqul), it reaches its youth. When put into practice, it becomes a plan or project, and it is now in its state of maturity. Hence, we should not narrow down incidents by reducing them to mere objective facts. Although it looks different, this way of thinking is relevant with historical events in the sense that it points to where they originate from and where they lead to.[12]

Gülen underlines the necessity of reading history not only by looking into what has been realized, but by also taking into consideration the thoughts and ideals of historical figures which did not have the opportunity to come to the surface. In this way, history will become vibrant and more informative.

Gülen continuously stresses the meanings of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. For him, the past is a spring, today is a river, and tomorrow is an ocean. For him, yesterday is a source of messages for humanity:

It is not that we do not judge the present by looking into the past and future. The past is an important spring, and the present is its river, and the future is an endless ocean. All these should be evaluated in the most lucrative way in their own perspectives. We cannot think like some materialists. For example, Omar Hayyam states:

Do not cry for yesterday in vain,
Do not praise tomorrow in vain:
The past and the future are all tales—
Only think of your pleasure,
Do not spoil your life.

This is a state of contraction akin to entering a cage. The generations of today have managed to smash this cage, and even the materialist people have realized that the present situation is not satisfactory for humanity. Hence, some of them take refuge in the past, and some in the future. Those who can think deeper do not see the past as a grave. The past is the capital of our ancestors. The present is the offshoot of the spirit and meaning of the past, and it is respectful of the dynamics of history. This respect is not theoretical. We give the past its due values and want to protect it. We do not put it into the museum of ethnography. Rather, we consider the past as a living body that speaks for us, thinks for us, and whispers words to us. We see a world that speaks through streams, rivers, seas, hills, and plateaus. In reality, the future is a world where opportunities come one after another.[13]

Footnote[1] Gülen, The Statue of Our Souls, pp. 19–24.

[2] Gülen, The Statue of Our Souls, p. 19.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 21.

[5] Ibid., p. 21.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Reform is a word that must be used with caution. Throughout the text, we use this word to correspond islah. It is by no means intended with this usage to refer to the Reformation experience of Christianity, which targeted the essential elements of the Church. "Reform" forislah is written as it is. When we refer to attempts directed toward the essentials of Islam, which is unacceptable in the case of Islamic experience, we spell "re-form" with a dash or Reformation with a capitalized initial.

[10] Please note that in this context "re-form" is loaded with a different meaning than "reform" which we use for islah. The former connotes to a colossal change by reconstructing the essentials of Islam, however, islah implies any social activity that is geared toward the proliferation of the society while preserving the essentials as the main source of reference.

[11] Can, p. 65. See also Gülen, Fasildan Fasila, Vol. 3, p. 190.

[12] Ibid, p. 66.

[13] Ibid. See also Gülen, Çağ ve Nesil, p. 122; Zamanin Altin Dilimi, pp. 29, 48, 53, 54, 68, 69; Yitirilmiş Cennete Doğru, p. 43; Yeşeren Düşünceler, pp. 88–92, 57, 103; Işiğin Göründüğü Ufuk, pp. 90–95, 120, 98; Beyan, p. 23; Örnekleri Kendinden Bir Hareket, pp. 67, 104; "Faniliklerle Kuşatilan Ruhlar," Sizinti, No. 311, December 2004.