June 28, 2016

Gülen’s Idea of Education for Peace

Prof. Dr. Maniruzzaman


The religion Islam is currently perceived to be a dangerous faith to the civilized west. The people of the west see the irrationality of Islam considering its rigidity in incorporating others as an alternative belief system. The civilization Islam, because of its orthodoxy, is constantly facing ridicule by the non-Islamic world and scholars as well. Samuel Huntington, in his famous essay on the Clash of Civilization tried to portrait the irrationality of Islam and thus putting bar on human progress. In Foreign Affairs article Huntington conceived “Islam has bloody borders”. It is no exaggeration that some Muslims, in the name of political Islam, showing some kind of tenacity in committing destruction in the non-Muslim world. It does not represent the majority of Muslims behavior though. It is in this situation the study of Gülen would give us an alternative overview of Islam. Gülen of village korucuk in Turkey, born in 40’s in the last century, is regarded as one of the most influential Muslim thinkers of the present day world. He was supposed to be a follower of Said Nursi Bediuzzaman (died in 1960), whom he never met. He preached neo-Islamic ideas i.e., an “Anatolian version of traditional mainstream Islam”, deriving from Nursi’s teachings and modernized them. His institution finally took an independent shape of his own and stood as a safeguard of Islam from its misuse. However, his countrymen who alleged him for promoting insurrection and playing with Islam misunderstood Gülen. In the long run, he had to leave his own country for US, where he is living an unmarried life with a preaching zeal for establishing peace in the face of globalization and terrorism in particular, across the world. He thus built his fame abroad as a freethinker and lover of mankind but at the same time was also criticized as a conservative Muslim too. Since 1990, he began to advocate for tolerance and dialogue among the interfaith i.e., Abrahamic faiths. This colored him to be a preacher of Islam in Calvinist mixture. His critiques, therefore, takes the opportunity to generally look upon his preaching to be a misnomer. They blame him for Christianizing the Muslims.

It is in this way “Gülen Movement” is taking its shape with a grain of salt in the face of all its criticisms. On the one hand, some people view him with considerable hesitation, on the other hand, other group of people feel attracted for its all-encompassing ideas. The later groups have possibly developed deeper fascination and conviction towards his ideas of changing the world, which undermined the opinion raised against him.

The object of this paper is to focus on Gülen’s arguments against the involvement with intolerance and violent activities by the people of some Islamic countries, caused in the name of Islam, which is resulting misunderstanding among the non-Muslim countries especially the West. The aim is also to describe the ways and means of establishing peace delineated by Gülen against the terrorism to minimize the gap between the non-Muslim west and the Muslim of the east.

Background of Gülen’s thought

Gülen, son of a Muslim village Imam in Turkey is a true Muslim indeed. He started his preaching career since he was 19 years old. He soon realized that Islam is being identified by the Western countries as a terrorist religion or religion with a zeal of terrorism in itself, along with intolerance and communal/political murder etc. He noticed that a great misunderstanding and distance have already been created between the theory and practice in regard to Islam in the present era. Therefore, he thought it a necessity to bring out the ways refining and purifying the status of Islam urgently with a new ventilation of modern idea in an organized way, developing towards a homogeneous and fraternal world with peace.

Gülen attached himself with Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s ideology for this purpose. Poet Rumi was the founder of Sufism. But Gülen was never been a follower of Sufi thoughts or the“Tariqat”, nor did he believe in its membership to be an obligatory for the Muslims. He followed the teaching of the Quran and preached “hizmet”.(in Turkish this is a duty conferred on the Muslims by the all mighty Allah), meaning “common good” to be done towards the fellow brothers who follow the Books revealed from Allah Himself. i.e., the Jews and the Christians and humanities as a whole.

Here in this point terrorism is despicable to Gülen. Actually he condemns any social chaos and communal clash caused by intolerance among the people, which take place in the name of Islam or using Islamic reasoning. Therefore, he comes forward for assessing an inter-faith dialogue as a remedy.

Thrust for peaceful Islam

Gülen insists on inter-faith dialogue to respect the followers of other religion (Abrahamic and others) as an expression of a divinely inspired love. He describes himself primarily as an educator. “Most human beings can be teachers”, he states, “but the number of educators is severely limited”. He comes with a new philosophy of education to meet the social, cultural and also the spiritual needs of the present intellectually numbed society in the Muslim world. The schools are modeled on a hybrid of modern secular and old form of religious education. The boys and girls are allowed in Western dress code in the schools. The road to social justice is paved with universal education. Lack of proper education hinders the establishment of justice. Therefore, he elevates the new idea of learning meaning that human rights and tolerance to others is enhanced by ‘education’. Gülen feels that through an educational process in which religious scholars are exposed to science and scientific learning along with religion would come to a fruitful end. Achieving a perfection in human beings by abandoning the nature wrought with feelings and other complexities within them became the part of his goal with this new gesture of education and the development. Therefore, he believes that dialogues are inevitable and explored that dialogues can wash away the differences.

Gülen and Gandhi

Gülen is a political thinker without being a politician. Actually his ambition stretches beyond political to cultural arena. Here, he meets Gandhi and differs too. Intellectually and politically when Gülen is closer to Gandhi of India, he provokes a peaceful movement for freedom from the clutches of traditionalism and also for fraternal ties among the people of different faith and social status. Thus Gülen’s ideas touched the mind of the people even outside of his own country Turkey. The leaders in the Russian Academy of Science and scholars like Vladimir Jirnovski of Oriental Studies Institute, Duma, in Russia and the great international scholars including Igochubins, Yevgeniya Ynolova, Ali Sami, Yaldirim and Rivokov and also Muslim scholar like Leonid Sukyanin and many other scholars of the world mentioned that Mr.Gandhi and Gülen were similar in their approach in opposing violence and intolerance in the society and also in love for the low born people (the ‘Subaltern’). In Sukyanin’s words, “ Gülen was not a politician like Gandhi, but however, Gülen’s teaching produces solutions for the problems of the society in his time similar to what Gandhi did for his countrymen in a period of turmoil and violence in British India.” In supporting Sukyanin we can also add “Gülen is the spiritual wealth of not only of Turkey but of the Muslim world as a whole.” He dreamt of a peaceful world with good mind and good soul in a healthy human frame.

Gandhian philosophy, however, later on never led to non-violence and non-agonistic politics in the every day intercourse of the Indian political discourse. It neither was able to give birth to any ideal situation in the state to incorporate both Hindus and Muslims in one entity. Here is the difference between Gülenian and Gandhian idea of non-violence in the practical field. To Gülen, man cannot be perfect or a pure “Insan Kamil” without any spiritual urge in him. Gülen’s idea emerged from the spirituality of pious Rumi, which is persuasive as well as influential in every human mind. Thus, he made the base of his inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue to meet the present day world crises.


The Muslim world is now divided into several blocks. One is not allowed or able to share each other’s crises critically. Muslim scholars like Zakir Nayer, Abu Naimen or Riasat Hasan and many others who are engaged in explaining the inner truth of Islam and significance of it, are also failing in their aims in building up a cohesive and uniform Islamic world. Because their premises rest on limited Islamic sources. Therefore, all of their efforts in creating consensus/harmony among the people remain unfulfilled. That is why; they are unable to initiate interfaith dialogue among the religious groups.

The purpose of this article is to introduce Fetullah Gülen, the great Muslim scholar who along with his religious zeal, armed with humanity and liberal thoughts, wants to establish such type of Islam where people would be peaceful, cooperative, tolerant and prosperous. Islam in the present day is blamed for giving birth to intolerance, terrorism, and ignorance. A proper Islamic education based on spirituality of Sufism and with a modern outlook, could be a meaningful means to take away Muslims from all these derogatory portraits. Within Islam, people could find the ways of fighting modern evils i.e., materialism, egoism, and lack of humanity of the West. Islam has the unique provision for maintaining universal social justice, which could be taught by implementing restructured (Gülen’s idea) Islamic education based on the paradigm taking account of the epistemological implications of the latest findings in the techno-scientific advancement of knowledge of the time. This is where Gülen has attracted many followers in search of peace. Could we incorporate this saint like person’s idea in the social context of ours? If not, then what is our alternative in removing all the evils from the Muslim community as well as humanity as a whole?

Paper presented in conference entitled "The Significance of Education for the Future: The Gülen Model of Education" held on 19-21 October 2010 at UIN Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

Retrieved from fgulen.com