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Teachers of Wisdom, Knowledge of God, and Dialogue

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

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In Gülen's thought, the teacher is crucially important because he or she prepares the individual and society for the future. Traditionally, teachers were the holy carriers of the Muslim community. They toiled under social and human burden of all types, and thus, their power and social respect were both part of their social identity. The corruption of the educational system affected teachers first. As they lost their quality and social influence, the quality of all people descended with them. Here, the manner of action that defines Gülen seeks to honor the teaching profession and to facilitate the reappearance of the teacher on the stage of history. Gülen's vision is bold and broad in its scope; his vision of the teacher is of someone defined by a healthy balance between material and spiritual yearnings, and of someone who has a sacrificing and sincere identity. For Gülen, such a teacher has never been so necessary in any period in history.

In a way, Gülen has awakened a sleeping giant. It can be said that it is impossible to analyze the Gülen movement unless you properly understand the immensity of the education campaign and the personnel behind it. The teacher has assumed a central role in his system. Teachers are both the transmitters of a virtuous society and examples of the devoted individual, of tolerance and dialogue. As mentioned before, Gülen inspired both a new educational system and a new example of devotion. This new and vast experience is founded in Gülen's blend of Sufi, humanistic, and universalistic fibers. The dedication of these teachers is rooted in their love for humanity and their adaptability to other cultures and geographies. Let's follow Gülen's views on the characteristics and significance of the teachers who have spread humanistic virtue, dedication, and bravery across the world:

From birth until death, the teacher is a holy master who gives shape to the world throughout one's life. On earth, there is no equal to him in guiding his nation to their fate, in refining their ethics and their characteristics, and in infusing his nation with the awareness of eternity.

The influence of the teacher on the individual far exceeds the one exerted by his parents and by society. In fact, it is the teacher who kneads the mother, the father, and all members of society. If he is not involved in the kneading of any piece of dough, it is left formless.

The teacher is a hand, a tongue, God uses to exalt or humiliate humanity. Yes, a nomadic community that found its instructor was sublimed as high as angels and they all ascended to the rank of being teachers for humanity.[1] With a good teacher, Macedonia raised a great conqueror; Anatolia reached its prosperous era; and people like Fatih Sultan Mehmet opened a new age thanks to their teachers. Yavuz (Selim I), a man of great discipline and order, as well as hundreds more like him, was the fortunate apprentice of an eminent teacher.

In a teacher's hands, metals are purified and then turned into solid gold and bright silver. In this mystic hand, the crudest and the most worthless things become invaluable diamonds. No factory can work as fast and as systematic as the teacher does. No one but the teacher can convey the depth of the emotional spectrum to those around him and become a part of their existence.

The teacher is the interpreter of all substances that ooze from the unsurpassable climaxes of the world of secrets; he is the voice and the word for undetectable motions in the world of existence. Through him, people rise like clouds and descend as blessings.

The most trustworthy of the worlds beyond the heavens was a master (Gabriel), and the soul who opened his chest to the master's message was the greatest of teachers (the Prophet). He was the instructor of both the individual and the community, and we all became indebted to him and to the profession of teaching… Today, whatever we know and whatever is known all comes from him; the rest is just rumor…

The teachers manifested themselves sometimes as philosophers, sometimes as ascetics, and at times, as dervishes, and they stamped their presence in their times. Each of them, however, took different forms in proportion to the extent they benefited from the "truth." In early periods, the lovers of wisdom repeated the melodies that belonged to the Prophets. The scholastic scientists and teachers of the Middle Ages added "positivism" to their hymns. In the same age, teachers of the East were in pursuit of discovering the nature of human being and awakening him to his own reality with the divine decree they had in their hands.

After the Renaissance, along with everything, the teacher also changed. He became a callow lover who blindly lost himself in the events. His only pursuit was his own interest, passionately devoted to nothing else but a new discovery or invention as he rushed between his workbench at home and the workshop at the market. During this period, leaders never became teachers for their society. In this era, the masses followed certain directions, as they were deceived with excessive inculcation and exhibitions—they never saw teachers as their leaders. As a matter of fact, at the wedding night of this rebirth, the heart was enslaved by Mephistopheles.

Later came the banal teachers of materialism, who tried to explain everything as functions of matter to be used for technical means. From the telescope to the microscope, these technologies became the means by which humanity defined nebula and penetrated x-rays into particles. At that age, nothing was done in the name of sublimation, and thus it is hard to refer to such teachers in a positive way. However, this highly hard and dark period did not last long, and now has begun a new time of curiosity and exploration.

After a handful of bandits committed serious crimes against humankind, today's army of knowledge and gnosis are suspicious about the recent past. They long to find out the causes and effects of knowledge and to return the teaching profession to the high status it deserves. These teachers will excite the hearts and sharpen the will of society, and they will enlighten minds and strengthen hearts. Under the guidance of such teachers, it will be possible for students to get in touch with the beyond. Thanks to those messages that come from the sublime, students will receive inspirations that are many times beyond their understanding. In fact, science that does not help the student get in touch with the "Absolute" will not shed light upon matter or bring sublime synthesis. Such science leads the heart to suspicion, and drowns the heart with uncertainty. If the teacher puts the student into this situation, he cannot be named a teacher anymore; he is either a non-believer or a skeptic.

For that reason, for a long time, the purest and the most truthful lesson has been represented by the community of prophets, who have never deceived nor been deceived. The school of prophets is open to everyone of all ages, and it covers all spheres of life. The classroom of this school can be anywhere, and everyone has the potential to be either the teacher or the lucky student who drinks from this spring of knowledge.

The state is an academy where the chieftains give and attend lectures. At this great school, which is open to every one, the great statesmen have the spirit and the awareness of statesmanship. This state has no resemblance to Plato's state ruled by philosophers, or to Bodin's state, an opposite form of Plato's. This is a generic state. And this state's foremost feature is that the statesmen have come to that level, at every step in their upward development, from the statesmen's apprenticeship to the stage where they are senior authorities, learning abundantly from life and events. If they did not pass through some levels, and without getting united with the universe, there would be ridiculous results, like the desire to command from the rank of private, or to fill the place of commander-in-chief. Such a situation is the greatest calamity for a nation.

With his sublime feelings, Brahman was an immortal teacher to his followers' hearts. Buddha, on the difficult path to Nirvana, was another exemplary teacher with clean feelings. Confucius was a teacher of ethics; Hormizd was a teacher pointing the secrets of eternity. And Omars, who werecrystallized with the sublime Existence, became teachers thanks to their master. Time could not erode these, and social turmoil would not allow us forget these great teachers, who all still live in people's hearts. Who knows, perhaps one day, humanity will ultimately arrive at this eternal understanding.

It is due to this secret that Jews today rule over the Masjid al-Aqsa and they stand out with their power over neighboring countries, at least until an alternative that is closer to Aqsa's soul comes into existence. The secret of this dominance must be associated with their return to the synagogue, albeit that it is not more than ostentation... and although the synagogue's principles have worn out. Likewise the Church, too, it seems, is heading to a new perspective that is more in line with St. Augustine and one that is stripped of its "Mediaeval" mentality.

The endeavor of our people is to reorganize themselves by finding their real teachers and masters. This would surely bring surprising results. It is hoped that today's teachers would have the spirit of conquerors and discoverers. By observing holy principles and thoughts, a teacher should fulfill his duty fit for the perfect synthesizers: may he consider Nizam al-Mulk and Alp Arslan together, and Fatih and Akshamsaddin side by side; may he not separate Zenbilli from Yavuz; may he not forget Pascal in Ghazali's illuminated skies. While whirling in Rumi's magical words, he is not to neglect to pay a visit to the lab, so as to send his greetings to Pasteur. In short, he should accept the wholeness of body and soul as an emblem.

Countless greetings to those teachers who suffer in order to train and elevate their generations![2]

Gülen emphasizes the positive contribution of the teachers to the history of human civilization. It seems that his concept of a teacher goes far beyond our conceptions of a teacher. For him, the teacher is history. He appears to sum up all of human history from the perspective of a teacher. In his mind, the teacher symbolizes an army of knowledge that ranges from nomadism to civil society, from philosophy to asceticism, and from the dervishes to statesmen. Gülen also explains the historic role of the teacher from ancient Greek philosophy to old Indian Buddhism, from the Judeo-Christian tradition to the European Renaissance, and from our civilization to modern positivist understandings to rewrite the history through the perspective of the teacher. According to Gülen, only an inquisitive and synthesizing army of knowledge can change the course of a corrupted human civilization that is plagued by an unbalanced equilibrium in society. The teacher is central to this vision. Taking a look at the role attributed to the teacher, our mind spontaneously makes an association to the sacred. His imagination stirs so fast and freely that the curves of human history are viewed as sanctification of this concept. According to him, the teacher is literally a holy person. Since teachers share a significant portion of the role of prophets, is the teacher who receives a holy rank. Generally speaking, a new society and a new civilization can only be achieved via the efforts of a serious army of educators based soundly within the teaching profession. For that reason, Gülen frequently speaks of the necessity of such a staff of erudition.

Of course, there are two elements needed to materialize this ideal: the school and the teacher. Gülen considers the school to be a place that combines the different experiences of humanity in unity, and thus, it is a place that protects him from various mental and practical disorders. This, indeed, reflects the picture of the school in his mind. He envisages a veritable laboratory. To his eye, it is not merely a place where teachers and students pay a visit and leave for a considerable part of their lives. The school is a place to subject the teacher and the student to a chemical transformation; it is a laboratory that prepares them to solve all the problems of humanity and civilization. The school is an institution that forms both the child and the teacher, and that shapes the social and ecological environment:

In the beginning of every academic year we cannot help but think about the school and the teacher. How can we not? The school is an essential laboratory, our courses are the elixir of life, and the teacher is the heroic savant of this mystical infirmary.

School is a place for learning, where we learn about this world as well as the next. As a matter of fact, life itself is a school. But we learn about life at school.

The school enlightens the crucial events of society by casting rays of knowledge upon them, by enabling students to perceive their environments. At the same time, it helps us understand the secret of existence and events. It shows humanity the holistic thought and the integrity of contemplation. It helps us see unity in plurality. In this sense, the school is more like a temple, and that temple's saints are the teachers.

A good school that makes the individual develop his feelings of virtue in an angelic pavilion that endows its attendants with spiritual sublimity. Not every school is the same, however; some buildings look wrecked, and thus its students become rough. Some may even become monsters, the products of centipede dens. People have been contorted before these homes of snakes and scorpions for many centuries.

A real teacher protects the pure and healthy seed. His duty is to look after the good and sound, to show ideals, and to direct him in the face of new developments and calamities.

Like a river flowing from all directions, life gains its purpose at school. Similarly, the child finds out the secrets about his own self at school. Like an untidy river flowing around but gathering in a narrow passage and looking with grandeur, or the pure vital liquid crystallizing and establishing an affinity with sun rays, the child attains unity in plurality in the same way that fruit manifests the unity of all the parts of a tree.

It is supposed to be that the school occupies only a small part of human being's life; in fact, it is a home with the duty of showing all the disharmonious things in the school of the universe. It is a home that offers the possibility of studying all the time; it is a home that speaks even when it is silent. For that reason, while it seems to occupy a small portion of life, it is a symbolic home that dominates all times and makes all happenings listen to it. Any student attending school as an apprentice will recite his lesson throughout his life. The things adopted there may have been products of one's imagination, a dream, a reality, or a skill. The essential matter is that whatever is achieved is part of a mystic key that can open locked doors and can lead the way to virtue.

At school, science is absorbed into the self; by means of this, the student passes over the borders of the solid material world and, in a way, is elevated to the borders of eternity. Science not having been integrated into the self is a burden on the back of the human being, an embarrassing one. Such knowledge carries with it certain responsibility; science can appear like Satan, who keeps confusing the consciousness. Any incomplete learning that does not promise one's ascension to the soul and to enlightenment is a rasping file and a blow dealt to the heart.

The best education a school can give consists of bringing external events and internal knowledge side-by-side. In this school, the teacher is an external guide, but he is experience in our soul. It is for certain that the greatest unchangeable science and the most truthful recitation of a lesson is life itself. For those who do not know how to learn from it, however, teachers are needed to serve as intermediaries who bridge life and the self, and who interpret what is dark from what is light.

Newspapers, books, television, and radio are all likely to teach something to people. But they are never able to teach real life and its experience for human being. By gaining the hearts of the students with different means, against all pain and torment every day, and by leaving inerasable tracks in their minds with his lessons as well as with his behavior, the teacher resides in a place that cannot be replaced by any other person. It is for that reason that even if the student learns something from the facilitating methods of the West, no examples of virtue will be presented and purpose in science be taught. These can be taught only by a teacher whose face shines with the truth, whose gazes are extremely profound, and who refines everything he will give in his heart.

If the apostles had not seen the Messiah Christ teaching despite the threat of being crucified, how would they smile as they were being thrown to the lions? If they did not see the greatest guide of all time praying others to be soft-hearted even when he was wounded and bleeding, how would they have known that there is coolness and peace even in flames?

A good lesson is one that is learned at school before a teacher. Such a course not only gives him something but also promotes him to the presence of the unknown and bestows upon him infinity. To the student in this class, every incident is embroidered upon the invisible world; He is the observer of truth behind the mobile slabs.

In such a school, no one can match the utility of the teacher. How could they? Teachers raise their students to the stars and give them breath; they take them beyond the borders they live within.

The real teacher is a person who can see through the veils over the natural phenomena, who establishes a relation between life and conscience, like a conductor discharging to a receiver, hearing the truth out of anything, trying to interpret it in any language, and explaining it to the others.

Rousseau's master was conscience. For Kant, it was a combination of conscience and reason. In the school of Rumi and Yunus, the master is the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him... The Qur'an is an anthology of sayings and hymns from this divine lesson, a collection of mysterious sayings that silence all other words and that show the Unity within multiplicity.[3]

If only we could have taught our people how to express constructive, enlightening criticism. If only we could have taken lessons from the past and from the recurring events in history...

Unless the teacher is beneficial; if the school does not give crucial lessons; an if the books do not reflect the mystery crystallized in the heart of the universe, then that teacher is pitiful, that school is in darkness, and those who attend that school are ill-fated. And if the teacher is on his way to get to know the material and the phenomena with the lens in his hand; if the book emits radiance and functions like an electron-microscope; and if the school works as a laboratory on this mysterious fair, then the teacher is happy, the school is an enlightened place, and the students are very fortunate.

Now I wonder, has the teacher been able to perform his duty in our recent past? Could he assure the enlightenment of his students' souls and their association with the universe? Could he put radiance into their hearts and equip them with lofty ideals? Could he teach them life in every aspect and save their souls from humiliation? Could he make them love books and school, and introduce them to the great aim of science?[4]

To us, the real teacher and guide is the fortunate person who, with the faculty and aptitude to become anything, teaches the truth to all men born into this world, who makes others think positively, who excites their hearts and gives wings to their souls, who unblocks all the impeding darkness, and who takes them to the illuminated vents.

How blessed the teacher is who devotes himself to his students, who follows them step-by-step, in every turn of their life, and who feels exalted by elevating them to humanity; only such a teacher is able to show them the absolute truth with the lens of science, sometimes charged like thunderbolts— one who illuminates his students hearts, and who beams with light as he softens their souls![5]

One cannot be called a teacher if, in the name of science, he leaves his students in doubt; nor can a school be called a school if a student, with the solemnity of a lab, is directed to false outcomes.[6]

This sublime task must be meticulously adopted in every national institution, from the school to the temple, and as far as it is possible, to all voluntary and intellectual souls who have attained unity of the mind and the heart. It is their mission to accomplish these goals because the teacher and the guide is a mature person who has, in the first place, achieved the truth within his soul. Only then is he capable of discharging that truth from his bosom to the hearts of his apprentices. Souls who have not illuminated themselves with the Divine rays that arrive from all corners of the universe have little means by which to elevate the masses to the level of humanity; likewise, confused minds who have surrendered to their doubts have little means by which to give an education to their students. At most, the people in institutions where power is represented find consolation in old epics and folk songs; they take refuge behind folklore and ceremonies in the name of religion, and they howl with others' legends in regard to the human being's relationship with the Creator. They are enraptured by them; but they can never become the ones who can trigger inspirations, who raise souls, and who encourage hearts.[7]

We are charged with the responsibility of endowing our world with a fresh, new spirit, woven from a love of faith, a love for our fellow human beings, and a love of freedom. We have further been charged with the responsibility for being ourselves, connected to the principle of these three loves, and for preparing the ground for the shoots, the pure roots of the blessed tree of Paradise, so that it will be nurtured and grow in the loam of these loves. This, of course, depends on the existence of heroes who will take responsibility for, and protect, the country's destiny and the history, religion, traditions, culture, and all sacred things that belong to the people; this will depend on heroes who are absolutely full of a love for science and knowledge, burgeoning with the thought of improvement and construction, sincere and devout beyond measure, patriotic and responsible, and, therefore, always conscientiously at work, in charge, and on duty. Thanks to these heroes and their sincere efforts, our system of thoughts and understanding, and the fruit of these, will prevail with our people; the sense of devoting oneself to others and to the community will gain prominence; the understanding of the division of labor, the management of time, and assisting and liaising with one another will be revived; all relationships of authority-subject, employer-employee, landlord-tenant, landowner-peasant, artist-admirer, attorney-client, and teacher-student will become different aspects of the unity of the whole; and all this will come about once more, as all our expectations from ages past will come true, one-by-one. We now live in an era in which our dreams are being realized, and we believe that with good timing, each of the responsibilities of the age will have been accomplished by the time its day arrives.[8]

. . . From this point of view, our most crucial aim is to light the fire of "making others live" in the hearts of our fellow countrymen, so as to dispose the alien thoughts that intervene between them and their ideals. We must then activate their inert energy, and with motivation and disciplined activity, make them walk towards their historical ideal. In such a mobilization, it is an utmost necessity to meet people from all walks of life—the intellectual, the artisan, the peasant, the city-dweller, the student, the teacher, the preacher, etc.—on common denominators that can serve as an orbit for this collective movement. Among such common denominators, we can list the following: elevating our country to a position where it can act in a balancing role among other world states; and nourishing our society with the understanding that love for truth and the desire for learning and research can be the means to rise to the Divine...[9]

Footnote[1] Nomadic community refers to the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

[2] Gülen, Çağ ve Nesil, pp. 110–114.

[3] Gülen, Çağ ve Nesil, pp. 101–104.

[4] Gülen, Yitirilmiş Cennete Doğru, p. 125.

[5] Gülen, Buhranlar Anaforunda İnsan, p. 101.

[6] Gülen, Çağ ve Nesil, p. 107.

[7] Gülen, Buhranlar Anaforunda İnsan, p. 88.

[8] Gülen, The Statue of Our Souls, pp. 101–2.

[9] Gülen, Kendi Dünyamiza Doğru, p. 58.