This paper attempts to locate Gülen’s thought beyond the framework of tradition and modernity and argues that his philosophy of education provides an alternative to both the classical Islamic educational system and the modern educational system. The key to the success of his educational discourse lies in his three formulations. First, he shifted the Muslim discourse from ‘seeking Islamic education’ to ‘education as the most noble Islamic value’ and an essential condition for securing one’s own Islamic faith. Second, Islam is essentially a discourse, not a matter of identity. Thus a Muslim can maintain his\her faith even while operating in the hostile secular milieu without bothering about the form in which Islam has to be practised. Third, by undertaking a very comprehensive but flexible understanding of Islam that makes God, Qur’an, the Universe and Humanity manifestations of the same, single Truth, and by emphasising Islamic value in terms of ‘good moral and ethical conduct’, he opens the door for the Muslim community to secure their faith in multiple ways.
The Muslim intellectual class throughout the Muslim world since the eighteenth century has grappled with a central question: how to be a Muslim in the modern secularized world. In other words, how to secure a Muslim way of life in the increasingly Godless, modern, secular world. In particular, the focus of Muslim scholars and reformers has been on securing the Islamic faith of Muslim youth who appeared to them to be enslaved by aggressive secularism and materialism. Against the background of this question, the Muslim intellectual class also debated the issue of relationship between revelation (faith) and reason, religion and science and Islam and modernity with an objective ‘to arrest the rapid decline of Muslim power and deteriorating condition of Muslim communities’ across the world. Education is the most important site of these debates, and views concerning education emanate from their theoretical engagements with these issues.
Fethullah Gülen (b.1941 and affectionately called hocaefendi), a Turkish Islamic scholar presently living in the United States, is also a part of chain of Islamic and other Muslim scholars who have reflected on this set of questions. Through his writings and public actions he is considered to have demonstrated the possibility of ‘being Muslim and modern together’ both at the level of theory and of praxis. The key to the resolution of this Muslim dilemma lies in his articulation of his philosophy of education, not to be misunderstood as ‘Islamic education’, derived mainly from his reading and understanding of Islamic foundational texts – Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith, Islamic history, philosophy, values and narratives of Prophet’s life, and an understanding of ‘modern world’. In his articulation of Islamic thought, including his philosophy of education, Gülen has been influenced by many Islamic and non-Islamic sources and personalities.
However, it is Badiuzzaman Said Nursi (1878-1960) and his work Risale Nur who is considered to have decisively shaped Gülen’s ideas to the extent that many scholars and activists within the movement believe that Gülen is merely the executor of Nursi’s ideas. In the specific terms of the educational field, Nursi’s formulation of ‘education as an antidote to ignorance, poverty and disunity’ is considered to have shaped Gülen’s educational thought. However, notwithstanding the subtle influence of Nursi over Gülen’s Islamic thought, it would be grossly misleading to claim that Gülen is merely a practitioner of Nursi’s ideas on education. This paper, while acknowledging Nursi’s contribution in shaping Gülen’s thought on various issues, also seeks to throw light on the qualitative difference between the two in terms of approach towards Islam, education, dialogue, pluralism, public sphere and state, in the subsequent pages.
Gülen’s ideas on education have inspired many and have gradually led to the development of a kind of civic-social movement called Hizmet in Turkey, which in turn resulted in a proliferation of educational institutions that range from coaching institutes to elementary and higher schools to university, mostly modern-secular and informally recognized as Gülen institutions, in many parts of the world over a relatively short period. The movement also registers its powerful presence in the domains of the media, publishing houses, charity works and inter-faith dialogue both within and outside Turkey. These institutions have become a practical site for demonstrating the harmony and unity of religion and science as well as mind and heart, without declaring a discourse of ‘Muslim modernity’. Hizmet’s success in the educational domain has led one scholar to call this movement ‘educational Islamism’ (Agai 2002).
What makes Gülen’s Hizmet movement a successful educational enterprise in a way that had eluded previous generations of Muslim scholars and reformers (Islamic and non-Islamic both) despite their repeated preaching about the central value of education in the Qur’an and Hadith? Or is it merely the coincidence of ‘right time and context’ that makes Gülen’s interpretation of Islam and his appeal for education receptive among good numbers of Turkish population in a way which was lacking previously? Or is it that Gülen’s writings and speeches provide an ‘alternative philosophy of life process’ that first caught the imagination of a section of the Turkish population and is gradually making its presence felt in other parts of the world?
Before I spell out the ideas and principles underlying Gülen’s philosophy of education and the reasons for the success of his educational mission in order to reflect upon the questions raised above, it is important first to reflect critically upon the pattern of responses of Islamic scholars and movements to the issue of modernity, particularly the ‘discourse of educational reform’, as these have important bearings upon his philosophy of education.
Islamic Responses to Modernity and Its Consequences
What has been the dominant response of Islamic/Muslim intellectuals to the challenges of ‘modernizing Europe’? Three dominant Islamic responses can be discerned: apologetic rejectionism (political), apologetic synthesism (social-educational) and withdrawal (apolitical). The first claimed that all the virtues of European modernity – nationalism, democracy, representative government, patriotism, equality, liberty, fraternity/brotherhood and so on – are enshrined in Islamic foundational texts, the Qur’an and Hadith, and rejected the European\modern paradigm of development. This model was personified by Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) and its political-ideological reading of Islam culminated in the ‘concept of Islam state’ and ‘Islamization of knowledge’ as a dominant discourse of twentieth-century Islamic movements represented chiefly by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world, by Jaamat-e- Islami in South Asia and by many other radical Islamic militant groups. Paradoxically, it rejected modernity but appropriated moden conceptual categories in the interpretation of Islamic texts. In this model, the state emerged as the essential condition for maintaining or promoting Islamic identity and for securing the Islamic way of life. Thus the educational discourse of this model was a part of a political project. This model sustained its appeal largely due to its anti-western/imperial platform and remained confined to a segment of the restless petite-bourgeois section of Muslim society.
The second trend was represented by Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) of Egypt, the mufti of al Azhar, the famous Islamic seminary of the Muslim world, and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) of the Indian sub-continent, the founder of the Anglo-Mohammaden College at Aligarh (later became Aligarh Muslim University), which sought the synthesis of the religio-cultural values of Islamic civilization and the rational-scientific values of western civilization. This trend sought to realize the goal of synthesis by introducing social and educational reform in Muslim society with a particular focus on its English-medium course, reform of the curriculum and the establishment of a university, and by undertaking a hermeneutic reinterpretation of Islamic foundational texts in order to demonstrate the doctrinal compatibility of faith and reason and religion and science. However, this intellectual trend could not ensure a breakthrough at the cognitive level in Muslim societies as it turned out to be merely an Islamic legitimization of western rationalism and materialism, or resulted in the marginalisation of the Islamic education system, or kept the two forms of educational system running parallel to each other without any synthesis. As a consequence, it suffered from a lack of being ‘sufficiently Islamic’ in the public perception for the vast numbers of Muslims who could entertain the idea of ‘educational reform’ without compromising their faith, as well as a lack of being ‘sufficiently modern’ to the westernized section of Muslim societies who pinned their hope on the discourse of modernity for any churning within Muslim societies.
The third trend was exemplified by an intellectual trend that demanded the complete withdrawal of the Muslim community from interaction with non-Muslim subjects/spheres, particularly the western. This trend sought to preserve the ‘Muslim life’ and ‘Muslim identity’ by creating a self-imposed cognitive boundary around itself, by living in isolation with a fear of interacting with the outside world lest the interaction should corrupt Islamic morality and value. One consequence of this trend was the transformation of madrassas from a ‘place of study’ into a place of exclusive Islamic religious learning by discarding subjects belonging to natural science and the humanities as they increasingly came to be identified with the ‘western educational system’. Ulema sought to preserve Islamic identity in the form of Islamic madrassas that gradually became the most important symbol of Islamic identity. In other words, Ulema sought the refuge of Islam in madarassas and mosques.
The net effect of the interaction of Islam (including these intellectual trends) with the west during the colonial period was that Islam closed itself off, erected a boundary around itself, became defensive, reactive and past-oriented in outlook, fearful of interacting with outside world or engaging with this world on its own terms and conditions. In the process of closing itself off, it strongly identified itself with spiritualism and internalized the colonial discourse of ‘Spiritual East’ vs ‘Material West’. It sought to compensate its material deprivation by contrasting its ‘vibrant spiritualism’ against the moral, spiritual and ethical bankruptcy of western materialism. Islam became the discourse of ‘other world’, and west/modernity became the discourse of this world. In the process, Islam began to lose its balanced outlook between the material and spiritual realms. It may be noted that one of the key aims of Gülen’s educational discourse is to restore the balanced outlook of Islam as represented in the Mujadidi-tajdidi model of Islam that combines the integrated principles of Salfi- Sharia-Sufi in the interpretation of Islam texts, ethics and conduct as personified by such Islamic personalities as Imam Ghazali, Imam Rabbani, Shah Wali Ullah, Imam Khalid Al Bagdadi and Badiuanzaman Said Nursi.
How does Gülen see these Islamic intellectual responses to modernity? It is interesting to note that none of these models of Islamic responses to the challenges of modernity caught the imagination of Gülen; neither did they find a place in the list of Gülen’s heroes of Islam, who range from the Prophet Muhammad to Badiuzaman Said Nursi and included not only Islamic religious scholars but also such diverse personalities as Sinan (the famous architect of Ottoman times) and some rulers of the Seljuk and Ottoman Empire (Gülen 2009a: 68-83). With hindsight, it can be argued that the political overtones of these Islamic intellectual trends must not appeal to Gülen as he firmly believes that any form of politicization of Islam harms none but Islam itself. Given Gülen’s comprehensive, non-ideological, flexible and inclusive understanding of Islam, he must have found these models of Islamic resurgence not only fragmentary and exclusionary but ideologically and politically loaded and therefore insufficient to address the challenges of humanity.
Locating Fethullah Gülen: Beyond Tradition and Modernity
I contend that Gülen provides an ‘Islam-inspired alternative philosophy of life process’ that cuts across the binary framework of Tradition vs Modernity. He calls his ‘alternative philosophy of life’ a ‘system of thought’ that has been lacking in the Muslim community for a long time. In his opinion, the regeneration of human civilization is not possible without a ‘system of thought’ or a ‘philosophy of life’ that has been lacking in previous Muslim generations for several centuries (Gülen 2009a: 135-43). In his ‘system of thought’, he visualizes Islam as an ‘organic whole’, the parts of which are inter-related, each part deriving its meaning and existence by virtue of being part of whole (Gülen 2009a: 12-13). He states that “The Qur’an, like the universe and humanity, is an organic entity, for every verse is interrelated with the others. Thus the first and foremost interpreter of the Qur’an is the Qur’an itself. This means that a complete and true understanding of a verse depends on understanding all other relevant verses” (Gülen 2006: 49). Thus only a balanced holistic reading of Islam – its foundational texts, its dominant practice, principles, values and norms – can enable a Muslim to understand the ‘Truth’ of God, the Universe, the Qur’an and Humanity: all interrelated manifestations of a single Truth having the same value.
Any deviation from this understanding of Islam and Islamic history results in a fragmented, lopsided understanding of ‘Islamic Truth’ and hinders the growth of Muslim civilization. Therefore, neither the traditional, scholastic, legal-institutional method nor the framework of modernity, characterized by ‘mechanical application of fixed rules and principles’, is adequate enough to understand Gülen’s system of thought. In fact, much of the dominant western-centred social movement theory, particularly the theory of resource mobilization, that has been applied to understand the Gülen movement, suffers from the limitation of the political economy approach of modernity and therefore is thoroughly incapable of understanding the normative dimensions of the movement. In fact, it focuses only on the outer dimension of movement – the institutional capability of the movement – without unearthing the philosophical foundations of the movement.
Gülen addresses the challenges of modern civilization – selfishness, greed, hedonism, violence, terrorism, peace, love, mutual living and tolerance – but finds its resolution in the non-traditional and non-modern perspectives which are based on the ethically and morally guided material process of life. The ‘non-traditional’ does not become modern, nor does the non-modern becomes traditional. Both categories entail a ‘discursive space’ that combines a continuum of tradition and modernity within each category. Hence the relationship between the two is didactic and interactive, not antagonistic as is commonly understood. Thus, ‘modernity and west’, unlike the writings of modern-day Islamicists, does not appear as ‘other’ in Gülen’s narrative of Islam and Islamic history. More specifically, by ‘non-traditional’, I mean the discursive space that is engaged with the process of ‘community formation’ without following the routes of traditional Islam with its excessive focus on ritual and identity discourse, whereas ‘non-modern’ reflects an approach that seeks an engagement with modern institutions, ideas and values without internalizing the discourse of modernity.
Thus the Islamic narratives of Fethullah Gülen attempt to form ‘a virtuous global Muslim community’ without any exclusive focus on identity or the ritualistic dimension of such a process of community formation. The ritualistic discourse of Fethullah Gülen is confined to what he calls the ‘Essentials of Islamic Faith’ (Gülen 2009b) which is an exposition of the basic principles of Islam. Gülen’s Islamic discourse does not hinder his followers from interacting and working in a modern setting. Similarly, the Gülen movement engages itself with the institutions and ideas of modernity such as secularism, democracy, human rights, nationalism and gender equality without indulging in the exercise of ‘Islamicizing modernity’ as reflected in the latter half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century intellectual trend of ‘Islamic modernism’ in the Muslim world, or currently in the writings of Rashid Al-Ghannushi, Tariq Ramadan and others, without accepting the ontological and normative vision of modernity. Many see the perspective of post-modernity operating in Gülen’s philosophy of life as deriving particularly from his discourse on pluralism, tolerance, peace and inter-faith dialogue. However, I am apprehensive about calling Gülen’s philosophy a variant of post-modernism as he believes in the principle of relative truth that not only obfuscates the ‘realm of good’ and the ‘realm of bad’, but is in direct opposition to Gülen’s innate belief in the Islamic principle of ‘Absolute Truth’.
Similarly, there are many who identify the success of his educational initiative in his resurrection of ‘classical Islamic education’ which combines the study of transmitted sciences (Qur’an, hadith, theology, jurisprudence and so on) and natural sciences (logic, mathematics and so on). In other words, Gülen’s educational success lies in the harmony and unity of the sciences (religious science and secular science) that was prevailing during the period of classical Islamic education (from the eighth to the tenth centuries) (Afsaruddin 2005). However, this understanding of Gülen’s educational thought does not correspond to the empirical reality of the Gülen schools that have spread all over the globe. Nowhere in his writings has Gülen referred to such Islamic educational practices in history, nor he has mentioned the Nizamiyya madarassas or Ibn Khaludun’s scheme of education or al-Farabi’s philosophy of education that highlighted the distinction between the two knowledge systems. Further, if one were to detect the Islamic point of view in the modern sense of the term in Gülen’s educational discourse, one might stretch Gülen’s educational philosophy to the current ideological project of the ‘Islamization of knowledge’ that flows from the discourse of political Islam/Islamism, which is antithetical to Gülen’s understanding of Islam and Islamic history. Moreover, the notion of ‘classical Islamic education’ retains a ‘hierarchy of values’ (that entails superiority of transmitted sciences over natural sciences), which is completely missing in Gülen’s educational thought, notwithstanding the fact that Gülen draws inspiration from the classical period of Islam, particularly the period of the Prophet Muhammad and the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. For Gülen, knowledge is knowledge and its utility is measured by its approach to serving humanity.
In fact, any attempt to bring Gülen’s education discourse under the rubric of ‘Islamic education’ would be a gross injustice to Gülen’s Islamic thinking, for it is the paradigm shift from ‘seeking Islamic education to education as an Islamic universal value’ in Gülen’s Islamic epistemology that partly explains what appears to be a paradox in modern thinking about an Islamic movement running the secular educational institutions. Although the Kemalist Turkish law that prohibited the opening of religious schools or madarassas might have played a role in directing Gülen’s attention towards the establishment of secular schools, the fact of the proliferation of Gülen schools abroad or in countries (such as India) that do not place any ban on the opening of religious schools, testifies to the ‘paradigm shift’ in Gülen’s Islamic thinking that flows from his understanding of Islam than the shift occurs because of the constraints of law.
In fact, for Gülen, the things called ‘secular’ are an embedded aspect of Islam and hence the modern distinction between religious/Islamic and secular studies or even the notion that one is dominant over the other is erroneous and harmful for the balanced growth of individual, community, society and nation. As Bekir Kaya pointed out, ‘there was no madarassas during the times of Prophet Muhammad and His Companions’, thus not only deriving legitimacy from Islam for such a (secular) initiative and also underlining the point that education does not have any colour (religious or secular). Gülen himself highlighted the secular educational engagements of Prophet Muhammad: ‘The Messenger’s method of education does not just purify our evil-commanding selves; rather, it is universal in nature and raises human hearts, spirits, minds and souls to their ideal level. He respected and inspired reason; in fact, he led it to the highest rank under the intellect of Revelation. … His universal call encompasses, in addition to the rules of good conduct and spirituality, all principles of economics, finance, administration, education, justice, and international law. He opened the doors of economic, social, administrative, military, political and scientific institutions to his students, whose minds and spirits he trained and developed to become perfect administrators, the best economists, the most successful politicians and unique military geniuses’ (Gülen 2002a : 3). It is in the light of this that Gülen draws the attention of Muslims to the educational legacy of Islam and calls upon them to champion education: ‘we must raise generations who comprehend their time, who are able to consider the past, present, and future together. Otherwise, God forbid, our nation will be crushed in the merciless gears of history. Just as species become extinct when they fail to adapt to their environment, nations also pass away when they do not respond to the demands of their age’ (Kurt 2014 : 126).
Further, Gülen’s ‘alternative perspective of life processes’ should not be confused with closing or bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. There are many who have detected the middle ground in Gülen’s writings that combines the moderate interpretation of tradition and modernity. This explains, according to them, Gülen’s success in closing the gap between Muslim (a religious identity) and modernity (a secular identity) and bringing the two together without being apologetic (Kuru 2003). However history is full of moderate and extremist interpretations of text, context, time and space but that does not enable such a hermeneutic interpretation to sustain beyond a time. It is only a discourse that brings a ‘paradigm shift’ in the domain of a knowledge system or what is called an ‘ontological rupture’ at the level of epistemology that manages to sustain itself and serve humanity for all times and places.
I contend that Gülen has brought a paradigm shift in the domain of knowledge whose full potential cannot be explored or even understood by merely highlighting ‘moderation’ in its exposition. Gülen univocally asserts that Islam is a religion of moderation and therefore extremism of any kind does not have any place in the legacy of Islam. This does not mean that he is highlighting the moderate dimension of Islam. He remarks that, ‘Islam, being the middle way of absolute balance between all temporal and spiritual extremes and containing the ways of all previous Prophets, makes a choice according to the situation’ (Gülen 2006 : 145). It is this understanding of Islam that led him to declare that ‘a Muslim cannot be terrorist and a terrorist cannot be Muslim’ in the wake of the 9/11 incident. By emphasising the moderate character of Gülen’s thought, one makes him nothing but an exponent/advocate of ‘moderate Islam’ (Ebaugh 2010 : 2). This further indirectly legitimizes the existence of radical Islam. Such an understanding of Gülen’s thought is not appropriate as he firmly believe in a balanced-organic-holistic understanding of Islam as opposed to the fragmented understanding of Islam as an Islamic discourse that focuses upon ‘moderate vs radical Islam’. In an interview, he categorically stated that ‘Islam has no political prescriptions. Moderate Islam implies political Islam’ (Sevindi 2008 : 74).
Locating Gülen’s Educational Thought
It is in the framework described above and subject to the truth of Islamic faith as envisaged in the Orthodox mainstream Sunni Islam that one is free to pursue the infinite domain of knowledge in Gülen’s scheme of education. Unlike the materialist philosophy, Islam recognizes four sources of knowledge: revelation, reason, experience and intuition. Education, according to Gülen, is required to ensure a balance between all these sources of knowledge. It was belief in the value of education, whatever its sources, that allowed for the borrowings from Greek science which drove the explosion of scientific achievement that characterized medieval Islam (Turner 1995: 26) and later travelled in translated form to Europe to play an important role in enabling the Reformation, the Renaissance and industrialization in the western parts of Europe.
Gülen envisages a similar kind of forward-looking integrated knowledge system, if not an imitation of the trajectory of European modernity, which draws inspiration from the Islamic past and attempts to obliterate the false distinction between ‘Islamic education’ and ‘secular education’ that has come to stay in the modern era by considering the study of Qur’an or history or physics or mathematics or any other discipline as essentially an Islamic universal value. Education in the hands of Gülen is primarily an Islam-led universal ethical and moral discourse to guide human beings’ actions in various fields of life. The primary objective behind Gülen’s educational discourse is to produce an action-oriented ethical and moral being. A general interaction with the volunteers working in the Gülen schools and other fields confirms this prescription of Islam, as has been summed up by Ozmen Ozugun: ‘We do not teach religion in our school. We provide our service to all, irrespective of religious and other identities, with an intention to contribute to making him or her a good human being; albeit we consider our actions to be Islamic ones’.
There are broadly two inter-related dimensions of Gülen’s educational thought: general and particular. In general, he identifies an ‘educational deficit’ world-wide, including the advanced western nations, and emphasises the value of education as the ‘best tool’ to serve humanity and a necessity for an inter-cultural understanding of communities and for living together in the increasing globalised world. He first and foremost identifies education as a universal democratic value that ‘empowers’ people to achieve the goals of freedom and development. As he emphatically states, “If you wish to keep the masses under control, simply starve them of knowledge. The only escape route from tyranny is through the attainment of knowledge” (Quoted in Ünal 2004 : 33). A second source of his educational thought comes from his holistic understanding of human beings. According to Gülen, “we are creatures composed of not only of a body or mind or feelings or spirit; rather we are harmonious compositions of all of these elements. … Each individual is all of these. When a man or a woman, around whom all systems and efforts revolve, is considered and evaluated as a creature with all these aspects, and when all our needs are fulfilled, we will reach true happiness. At this point, true human progress and evolvement in relation to our essential being is only possible with education” (Gülen 2002b : 78). Education is, therefore, required for the balanced growth of all aspects of human beings.
Third, he defines Islam in the broadest possible terms in which universe, humanity and Qur’an are inseparable. Each human being, as God’s vicegerent on earth, is expected to improve things on earth in order to serve humanity. To serve humanity means serving God. Education and knowledge is required to serve humanity in the most effective manner which in turn amount to serving God. As God’s vicegerents on earth, all human beings are required to improve their educational faculty so as to understand and discover the sign of God.
Fourth, his educational discourse provides a critique or an alternative to both the dominant Islamic educational system and to the western/modern/scientific educational system. He found the Islamic schools (madrassas) and the Sufi brotherhood (tarikat) too obsessed with the legal-metaphysical and ritual dimensions of Islam and other issues of Islamic identity whilst ignoring the inner spiritual and scientific dimension of Islam; hence their inability to address the challenges of contemporary society. On the other hand, he saw in the western/modern educational system the development of high professionalism but without the culture of humanism. Further, he detected the violence and destruction in the positivist materialist philosophy of life, which, according to him, ‘if allowed to run unchecked will lead to nihilism and survival of the humanity will be at the stake’. Thus he remarked, “due to humanity’s growing arrogance and egoism, arising from its accomplishments, we have lived through worldwide colonialism, immense massacres, revolutions that cost millions of lives, unimaginably bloody and destructive wars, racial discrimination, immense social and economic injustice, and iron curtains built by regimes whose ideology and philosophy sought to deny humanity’s essence, freedom, merit, and honor” (Ünal 2004: 43). In an interview, he declared that ‘my main objective is to create global education, which will become an alternative to the Western model of cultural imperialism’ (Sevindi 2008). Thus for Gülen, both forms of educational system – traditional Islamic and modern western – have failed to produce a ‘perfect moral being’ who combines ‘mind and heart’ or a balanced understanding of materialism and spiritualism.
Gülen’s educational discourse sought to achieve the goal of the ‘perfect moral being’ or what he calls ‘a movement from potential human to perfect human’. The idea of perfect man (insan-i-kamil) as embodied in the Prophet Muhammad requires a balance and harmony between the functions of mind, heart, spirit and body which in turn entails a balance and moderation among the three faculties of human being: reason, anger and lust, each of which consists of two opposite elements the excess of which utility can prove to be harmful. In short, he envisages an educational system that synthesises religious and scientific values, with each inspiring the other and binds the two in harmony in order to serve humanity, universe, God or Islam – all manifestations of the single transcendental Truth – and not mechanically closing the gap between the two by offering simultaneous teaching of religious and science subjects in an educational institution, as the trend had been in Muslim society in the past. As Gülen said, “In a new style of education, fusing religious and scientific knowledge together with morality and spirituality will produce genuinely enlightened people whose hearts will be illuminated with religious sciences and spirituality. Their minds will be illuminated with positive sciences, characterized by humane merits and morale values, and cognizant of current socioeconomic and political conditions” (Unal and Williams 2000 : 47). The scope of Gülen’s educational project is therefore, as Fabio Vicini put it, to ‘form individuals with a strong inner Islamic ethic which can guide humanity toward the correct use of scientific discoveries’ (Vicini 2007).
So behind the establishment of Gülen-inspired schools and universities lies an Islamic imagination: to establish an ‘example’ through deed and actions following the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad and the creation of a ‘golden generation’. As Professor Sadi Colenli from Erzurum has put it, ‘one should not compare this movement with namaz, haj, religion. This movement is about the creation of a golden generation on the principle of original tasauf (sufi Islam), original Islam (scholasticism) and science’. So Gülen’s educational discourse is intrinsically connected with an idea of a golden generation – a generation capable of becoming ‘inheritors of the Earth’ who will combine the virtues of faith, love, science, mathematical thinking, freedom of thought, self-criticality, consciousness of responsibility and culture as the legal way of doing things (Gülen 2009a, see chapter Status of Soul). Ali Unal described the golden generation as ‘one who knows the age in which he lives very well’. The golden generation is expected to re-establish Islamic glory in the world and will prepare a better future for the next generation. This partly explains why, unlike many other commercial educational enterprises, all of Gülen’s darshane, schools and universities have parallel facilities of dormitories and light-houses where students are socialised in Islamic moral and ethical values that comprise the fundamentals of Islam, Sufi training of asceticism and principles of living under God’s conciseness, the ethic of hard work and responsibility, the desire to acquire knowledge, self-discipline and altruism through the mechanism of the sohbet readings of the works of Said Nursi and Gülen.
In particular, his educational discourse primarily aims to secure the ‘Islamic faith’, particularly of the Muslim youth whom he sees as becoming enslaved in the culture of materialism and hedonism of high modernism represented by Kemalism in Turkey. In Kemalist Turkey, the government imposed a ban on all forms of Islamic educational institution. This created a serious institutional crisis not only in terms of imparting Islamic education, but also secular education, as large numbers of Muslims in Turkey, particularly in Anatolia, refused to enrol their sons and daughters in Kemalist state schools on account of their fear that their children would be affected by the secular philosophy of the school and might in the process become ‘un-Islamic’. In other words, they found these schools lacking in Islamic moral values and hence refused to send their children to a government school. Gülen saw in Kemalist Turkey a nation internally torn between two world views: an aggressive, ideological secular world view and a defensive, insular Islamic world view, with each distrustful of the other, and therefore resulting in the ‘stunted growth’ of Turkish society. This situation came about, according to Gülen, partly because of centuries of misunderstanding of the idea of progress by a dominant section of modern secularists, in other words, that scientific progress is possible only by dominating and eliminating religious values, and partly because of the hurried attempts of the Kemalist state to ‘modernize Turkey’ along European lines, which led to the establishment of the state’s strict control and regulation of religious life and of Islam in particular, which in turn gave the impression that science and secularism were inimical to Islam.
Gülen found a solution to ‘this impasse’ by advocating a particular kind of education that even if it teaches secular subjects at the same time, could instil among students Islamic ethics and morals. He did not offer any criticism of the state secular institutions but identified the lack of ‘educators’ in those schools. Ismail Gouulalan (b. 1933), recalling his days with Gülen in Edrine, stated that ‘among other things we also used to talk about condition of education in Turkey, but Gülen was more concerned about small numbers of educators’ he maintained a distinction between a teacher and an educator. Gülen notes that “education is different from teaching. Most human beings can be teachers, but the number of educators is severely limited” (Quoted in Ünal 2004: 34-35). The difference between the two lies in the fact that although both teachers and educators impart information and teach skills, the educator is the one who has the ability to help the students’ personalities to emerge, who fosters thought and reflection, who builds character and enables the student to interiorize qualities of self-discipline, tolerance and a sense of mission. He describes those who simply teach in order to receive a salary, with no interest in the character formation of the students, as “the blind leading the blind” (Ünal 2004). In short, by ‘educator’, he means a teacher who is not only qualified in his/her subject but also embodies good moral and ethical conduct, is humane and compassionate, and represents the value of humanism in general.
For Gülen, therefore, what matters is not the secular orientation and physical space of the educational institution, but the ‘cognitive map’ of the teacher who interacts with and retains the power of transmitting knowledge and value to students. Such a teacher with Islamic sensibilities can impart Islamic value through his/her ethical and moral conduct even in the hostile secular atmosphere of the institution. In this sense, a teacher of any discipline is a living representative of Islam, humanism and universalism. In other words, the focus in Gülen’s philosophy of education is on temsil (example) not tabligh (preaching). Preaching does not attract, it alienates; representation, not presentation, attracts people (Yasin 2007 : 559). Teachers should embody universal values, know their learners well, and appeal to their minds and their hearts. In short, hizmet with its educational core is a tabligh in the form of temsil.
Unlike Nursi, Gülen did not seek to secure ‘Islamic faith’ or ‘teaching of Islam’ by withdrawing from the Kemalist state educational system into private houses, notwithstanding the fact that a unity of theological, spiritual and scientific knowledge was taught in such Nurcu private houses. Rather he preferred to implant a ‘teacher with Islamic sensibilities’ in a secular educational institution as he clearly recognised that the secular form of educational institution has become hegemonic and the most acceptable form for imparting education in society. Any other institutional form, including madrassas, lacks the legitimacy to provide ‘good quality education’ in accordance with the demands of the modern world. He soon recognized the futility of confining educational ideals to Islamic circles and this led him to advocate, unlike many contemporary Islamic scholars and movements, the necessity of elite secular schools rather than the mosque and madrassas within and outside Turkey. Gülen repeatedly affirms that “If there is no adaptation to new conditions, the result will be extinction”. In his understanding, previous attempts to reintepret the Islamic texts failed to understand the mood, temperaments and requirements of modern times.
In his advocacy for opening ‘secular schools’, he also differed from the previous generation of Islamic scholars, including Nursi, who sought to arrest the moral and cultural decline of Muslim society by reforming university education or creating new universities. In other words, Nursi and others conceived an ‘educational crisis’ only in terms of a ‘crisis of higher education’ without attempting to reform Muslim society from within. Thus the approach underlying educational reform to regenerate Muslim society was top-down, mechanical, rather technical in nature, in which the juxtaposition of Islam and western science was premised on their fixed, technical understanding of each other.
On the other hand, Gülen conceives education primarily as ‘social value’, which is an open-ended, life-long process beginning with family and school. The underlying approach in Gülen’s educational discourse is bottom-up, moral and ethical, rather than technical, and is concerned with the inculcation of universal values (such as altruism, elements of sacrifice, honesty, truthfulness, justice, peace and so on), the ethics of social responsibility, legal sensibilities and individual accountability. Although conceptually Gülen’s educational discourse comes closer to the perspective of ‘value education’ in terms of its emphasis on character building, it goes beyond that as it is geared towards the creation of an holistic but balanced personality, or achieving a mean balance by avoiding excess.
By implication, the focus of educational discourse of Islamic modernists has been institutions and structures, whereas the focus of Gülen’s discourse is human agency: the creation of action-oriented moral and ethical beings from below. So unlike the Islamic modernists whose ‘top-down discourses of reform’ led to the marginalisation of sufistic values, Gülen’s Islamic values of ‘love’, ‘compassion’ and ‘selfless service’ are principally derived from the principles and practices of Sufism, what Gülen calls the spiritual dimension of Islam. It is for this reason that he laid great emphasis on the opening of secular modern schools within the framework of national law for the first two decades – the products of which today are serving in many institutions of higher learning, including universities across the world. It would be a futile exercise to have an institution of higher learning or university with an humanistic vision without a resource base of educator.
Second, his advocacy for opening secular educational institutions also partly comes from his understanding of Islam as essentially a realm of discourse, not an identity to be preserved in a particular form: behavioural or institutional. A Muslim can maintain his\her faith even while operating in the hostile secular milieu without bothering about the form in which Islam has to be practised. Therefore he is reported to have remarked that if the hijab becomes an obstacle in seeking education, a girl should prefer education rather than the hijab. From this perspective, Gülen does not consider the veil or the beard as essential elements of faith or as indispensable to the accomplishment of Muslim life. As he remarked, “I see the robe, turban, beard and loose trousers as details. Muslims should not be drowning in detail … Choosing not to wear them should not be construed as weakening the Muslim Turkish identity. No one should be categorized as a sinner because of such things” (quoted in Ünal 2004 : 62).
In order to achieve his educational goal, he shifted the discourse from ‘seeking Islamic education’ (as exemplified by the institutions of madrassas and tariqa which focus on the theological dimension of Islam) to ‘education as Islamic value’. In this way, he established the inter-linkage between education and Islamic faith. In this relationship, education and its various facets such as science become an instrument to perfect one’s own faith (iman) and explore God’s creation. By investing education with the ‘noblest Islamic value to seek’, he makes Islam relevant for this world as well as for the other world. Islamic faith (iman) is thus secured by seeking ‘good education’ (irrespective of the field) or setting ‘good example’ or ‘good conduct’ which was hitherto confined to the paradigm of ‘Islamic education’ that was being imparted by madrassas, makhtab, khankha, tariqa and tekkie or any other structure that was considered ‘Islamic’ in the Muslim public imagination. Gülen, by interpreting Islamic faith primarily in terms of moral and ethical conduct and education, not Islamic education as traditionally understood, as the essential condition to secure Islamic faith, abolished the Islamic hierarchy of values that came to lodge between Islamic knowledge as imparted through the traditional Islamic institutions and other knowledge imparted by other non-Islamic institutions. Thus an educated person, irrespective of his/her field, with good moral and ethical conduct can retain his/her Islamic faith without undergoing the prescribed Islamic training of traditional Islamic institutions. This opens the door for many conservative Turkish parents to send their children to the state secular educational institutions.
With this diagnosis of Turkish society, he first embarked upon delivering a series of lectures mostly related to the principles and history of Islam, the life of the Prophet Mohammad, Islamic ethics and conduct, and the relationship between religion and science in his capacity as an imam of various mosques in order to restore recognition of and respect for Islam and to dispel the perception that Islam is opposed to science, progress and development in the public sphere. His sermons on Islam and his advocacy for education performed the ‘function of moral opposition’ (Gürbüz 2007) in the view of the established Kemalist order without directly intending to do so, and attracted critical public opinion, and others who were increasingly becoming alienated from the Kemalist order in view of its perceived failure to manage the economic, social and sectarian crisis of Turkish society in the 1970s. He then successfully persuaded a number of Anatolian businessmen to invest in establishing a preparatory coaching classes with facilities of hostel, dormitory and light-houses in order to enable the students, mostly from the Anatolian region, to become enrolled in a higher educational institution in Turkey. Gülen personally encouraged the students to go into the field of education in order to fill the dearth of educator in Turkish educational institutions.
In particular, he encouraged students to pursue science education so as demonstrate the complementarity between Islam and science as well as to remove the perception in the conservative section of the Muslim community that education in science promotes atheism. In fact, unlike Nursi and many Nurcu factions, he did not simply argue that religion and science were complementary; rather in his educational philosophy, science accomplishes a central role not only because of its connection with revelation, but because it is considered a great instrument in the hands of men to make a better world. From this perspective, Gülen shares with Western thinkers the connection between science and the idea of progress, and also advocates that the Muslim community should learn from the scientific and technological legacy of the West. In Gülen’s words, “the real problem consists in the fact that we have been unable to assign a true direction to science and thus confused revealed knowledge with scientific theories and sometimes scientific knowledge with philosophy … . One result is that the younger generation became alienated from their society. After a while these inexperienced generations lost their religious and moral values, and the whole nation began to decline in thought, ideals, art, and life … and evil aspects of modern civilization were propagated” (Ünal and Williams 2000 : 97).
Initially, Gülen, because of the dominance of the concept of ‘Islamic education’ among religious Turkish (Anatolian) Muslims, encouraged Anatolian Muslim parents to send their children to Imam Hatip schools as ‘good Muslims grow in Imam Hatip’. Additionally, the underlying reason for Gülen to exhort Muslim parents to send their children to Imam Hatip schools was to get access to at least some education rather than no education at all. It was only at later stage when the sharp differences between ‘Islamic education’ and ‘secular education’ began to get diluted and the idea began to filter down that one would still be Muslim despite receiving a secular education or studying in a government secular educational institution, partly due to Gülen’s discourse on Islam and education, that many Muslim Turkish parents began to send their children, mostly sons, to state secular educational institutions. However, it was only when the option for Hizmet-linked darshane, hostels, coaching institutes, dormitories, schools and other educational institutions became legally available in the post-1980 context of economic and political liberalization that allowed the private players to enter and steadly exapand into the educational field owing to the demand for quality education and the restrictive quota policy of the Turkish government, that the Anatolian Muslims began to enrol their children, now including girls, in large numbers in the secular educational institutions as parents trusted the Hizmet-linked institutions for ‘security of faith’ and for providing a morally and ethically safe environment to their children.
Gradually, the Gülen movement has transformed the concept of education into an everyday Islamic value and service ethic of Turkish society. This created a ‘resource base’ within Turkish society to support the educational activities of the Gülen movement within and outside Turkey. As sections of ‘Muslim Turkey’ strongly came to be identified with an educational cause as the most ‘noble Islamic cause’ and one of the best ways to serve Islam, they generously funded and supported, even going beyond their economic capacity, the movement’s initiatives in opening schools and other educational institutions abroad. On the other hand, the larger number of teachers associated with the movement are already religiously motivated to serve abroad, even in the most difficult situations, as they identify themselves in the role of Sahaba (Companions of Prophet) and thus undertake hizrat to perform the most fundamental duty of Islam: dawa through education. In addition, the Turkish volunteers in the movement also found a gainful employment. The emerging model of ‘business-teacher-jihad-hicrat’, derived from the Prophetic model, transformed the Turkish Gülen movement into a world-wide Islamic movement within a short period. It is through this process that education in the Gülen movement has emerged as the prime instrument to serve the Turkish nation, Muslims, Islam and people throughout the world. Enes Ergene, one of the prominent intellectuals associated with the Gülen movement, stressed this unity of trade and Sufi Islam, which had once prevailed during the Selzuk and Ottoman period, as the reason for the success of Gülen movement.
In lieu of a conclusion
Gülen’s educational discourse has a powerful transformative impact at the level of state and society. Within the Turkish setting, the movement has demonstrated that a religious student is capable of mastering secular knowledge and can achieve a high degree of professionalism in what aree considered secular and worldly matters. To this extent, the movement broke the barrier between religious/Islamic studies and secular studies that had come to lodge in the modern world. The movement demonstrated this by producing large numbers of Muslim students of Imam Hatip and other schools into the university system through rigorous coaching, and helped them to secure lucrative positions in the state employment opportunity structure which had hitherto been the monopoly of the secularised segments of Turkey. Mehmet Bey, a gold and diamond businessman from Izmir, underlined this contribution of the Hizmet movement, saying that because of Gülen, most students from a theology background (Imam Hatip) successfully moved to different science subjects and became engineers, doctors, architects and so on. In part, the movement also secured upward mobility for a section of religious women in Turkish society.
To this extent, the movement has helped in the democratic allocation of national resources and has saved the Turkish nation from the ‘theatre of civil war’ between some religious and secular segments of the population, reminiscent of many Muslim nations over the last three decades. Access to the public employment structure provided many hitherto excluded Turkish Muslims with a new sense of identity, social recognition, respect and dignity, enhanced family status and gave them a new sense of identification with the nation. In part, the participants in Gülen’s educational discourse and enterprise also visualised themselves as playing an important role in the ‘Muslim’ transformation of Turkey through education. However, as Gülen-inspired ethically, morally and legally-oriented public servants became an obstacle for corruption-lashed Turkish polity under the leadership of President Erdogan, the state in turn has launched a sort of illegal war to finish off the movement, particularly by targeting its educational resources within and outside Turkey, and that has resulted in large numbers of arrests of Hizmet-linked public servants among others in the name of parallel structure over last two years. Despite the hardship and the onslaught that the movement is currently undergoing, Hizmet continues to carry out its educational and other missions peacefully and legally.
Second, at a general level, Gülen’s idea of education is very relevant for the globalised contemporary world, particularly for the Muslim world, the large part of which is still soaked in an ideological understanding of Islam and the politics of Islamic identity. The relevance of his educational ideas lies not merely in his advocacy of peace, brotherhood, tolerance and living together; far more important is his philosophy of education based on the principle of pluralism. The modern educational system has evolved in the context of European mono-culture (at the cost of diversity), leading to the development of ‘uni-dimensional man’. One consequence of this modern development is that science and secularism have become highly intolerant and refuse to coexist with other philosophies of life and this has resulted in high levels of violence and destruction in the name of ‘progress’. As the world becomes more globalized, more interlinked and more interdependent, the need for understanding each other and living together has become a necessity. It is in this context that Gülen’s philosophy of education based on the principle of pluralism and living together becomes a necessity for the survival of humanity.
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* This is a revised and enlarged section of my earlier published article entitled ‘The Roots of Fethullah Gülen’s Educational Discourse’ in International Symposium, Global Perspectives on the Religious, Cultural, and Societal Diversity in the Balkans: Fethullah Gülen Experiences as a Model and Interfaith Harmony in Albania, Universiteti Tiranes, Prizmi, 2012), p.26-40 (in Turkish), and pp.302-316 (in English).
 There is no precise number of these educational institutions. The total number of Gülen educational institutions is considered to more than 1000 spread all over world. Writing in 2010, Thomas Michel provided the following estimates of the movement’s educational activities: ‘there are about 800 elementary schools, high schools, college preparatory institutions, student dormitories, and more than ten universities in almost 110 countries that are associated with this movement’ (Michel 2010). Within Turkey, the movement is considered to constitute 25% of all dershane (private coaching institutes) and 3-5% of all educational activities.
 Interview with Bekir Kaya, a businessman and volunteer in the Gülen movement, 17 March 2011, Izmir.
 Interview with Mustafa Ozcan, 9 March 2011, Istanbul.
 Interview with Ozmen Ozugun, a volunteer who worked in Gülen schools in Kenya and Madagaskar for about ten years, 12 November 2014, Zirve University, Gaziantep.
 Gülen draws the classification of human faculties from Ibn Miskawayah, a tenth-century Muslim philosopher. For details see, Ali Unal and Alphonse Williams (2000: 306-308).
 Interview with Professor Sadi, Erzurum,10 March 2011.
 Interview with Ali Ünal, 2 March 2011, Istanbul.
 Within the Gülen movement, Sohbet refers to a regular meeting of volunteers for a collective reading of Islamic texts, particularly Nursi’s Risale Nur and the writings of Gülen, as well as to discuss ongoing and future projects of the movement. They are organized along gender, neighbourhood, class and professional lines on an almost weekly basis.
 Interview with İsmail Gönülalan, who was closely associated with Gülen during his stay in Edirne. Edirne, 4 March 2011.
 Ismail Gönülalan (b.1933) narrated his encounter with Gülen on this issue: ‘When I sought his advice about the education of my child after finishing high school, Gülen suggested sending him to an education faculty but later, looking at my face, he advised for medicine’. Professor Dr Recep Kaym of Sarkaria University also confirmed that Gülen encouraged and motivated students to pursue careers in the field of education by obtaining BEd and MEd degrees (interviews with Ismail Gönülalan, Edirne, 4 March 2011 and with Professor Dr Recep Kaym, Sakarya University, 28 February 2010.
 An Imam (someone who leads the prayers of a congregation) Hatip (preacher) school is a semi-public funded educational institution in Turkey where all subjects of the government (secular) schools are taught in addition to Islamic subjects (such as Qur’an, hadith and Sunni Islamic History). However, 60-70% of the physical structure of Imam Hatip schools has been built by private Muslim contributions. The purpose behind the creation of Imam Hatip schools was to produce ‘Islamic religious professionals’, whose numbers were steadily declining under the Kemalist regime, to perform rituals connected with the Islamic religion under state supervision. The number of Imam Hatip schools has steadily multiplied in part due to the need to deal with the communist threat of the Soviet Union and in part due to the introduction of multi-party democracy in Turkey in the late 1940s. All political parties and the government have made significant contributions to the proliferation of Imam Hatip schools in order to ensure the electoral support of religious Turkish Muslims. According to Yavuz, ‘The number of middle imam-hatip school and high imam-hatip schools rose from 7 in 1951 to 604 and 558 in 2001 respectively. The student enrolment in middle and high imam hatip schools also rose from 876 and 889 in 1951 to 219,890 and 134,224 in 1999 respectively, whilst the combined strength of teachers in both middle and high imam hatip schools went from 27 to 15,922 during the same period’ (Yavuz, 2003 : 127). In 2011-2012, the total number of Imam Hatip High Schools was 493 and the total numbers of teachers and students were 235,639 and 112,608. See Engin Aslanargun, E., Abdurrahman Kılıç Sinan Bozkurt (2014). According to the Daily Hürriyet, the number of Imam Hatip schools increased from 493 in 2010-2011 to 854 in 2013-2014, which is almost a 73% jump in comparison with vocational High Schools and Anatolian High Schools which had registered increases of 23% and 3% respectively. See Barçın Yinanç, ‘Rise in imam-hatips shows AKP’s favoritism for religious education’. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/rise-in-imam-hatips-shows-akps-favoritism-for-religious-education.aspx?PageID=238&NID=70225&NewsCatID=338 accessed on 14 October 2014.
 The privatisation of education grew rapidly after 1980 in both schools and higher education. It grew from 164 primary school and 76 secondary schools in 1965 to 642 and 487 in 2001 and then to 728 and 650 in 2005 respectively. The number of students increased from 25,727 primary school students and 12,867 secondary school students in 1965 to 171,623 and 73,136 in 2001 and then to 180,090 and 76,670 in 2005 respectively. See Fatma Gök, History and Development of Turkish Education, p.248, quoting Akyüz, Y. (1993) Türk Eğitim Tarihi. İstanbul: Kültür Koleji Yayınları, p.286. Similarly, in the field of higher education the number of private foundation universities has grown steadily since 1986, reaching 3 in 1995, 17 in 1997, 23 in 2003, and 28 in 2006 (see Gok p.253, quoting YÖK (2006) www.yok.gov.tr, 10 August 2006) and had increased to 72 in 2014. Today, Turkey has a total of 190 higher educational institutions, comprising 104 public universities, 72 foundational university, eight foundation higher educational institutes other than universities and six public higher educational institutes other than universities. See Durmus Gunay, Turkish Higer Education System: New Developments and Trends, http://int-e.net/kis2014ppt/DurmusGunay.pdf. accessed on 20 November 2014).
 Interview with Enes Ergene, 28 December 2010, Istanbul.
 Interview with Mehmet Bey, 16 March 2011, Izmir
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