February 16, 2016

The Sufi character of Gulen’s philosophy of education and the teacher as spiritual mentors

Muhammed M. Akdag

Gulen suggests pursuing an ethos of self-control and self-restraint as well as a life style according to the good manners described in Islamic morality education. He describes the Sufi as the “model of the self-cultivation” (Yavuz, 2003:34). In his model spiritual education is very important, for the personal faith and “self-cultivation” indicate that there has to be an engagement to the “education of the inside”. The aim is to set up a practical method of self-realization, which is based on cleaning of the mind and searching for religious fulfillment in new secular life forms in daily life and to build up healthy relations within the whole society (Toguslu, 2007b; Ozdalga, 2003b).

Actually, this method to transmit knowledge in a fine manner and by examples, does not contradict to the classical Sufi methods of Yasawī and Naqšbandī and within the scope of a good education the schools of the movement practice this method as a principal purpose of education without any specific orientation (Özdalga, 1999; Aras and Caha, 2000; Helminski, 2000: 32; Michel, 2002; Aslandogan and Cetin, 2006).

According to Gulen, further success of education is hidden in the heart and mind of the teacher, and it is taken up by the pupils. Therefore, teachers are with their modest, tolerant, personable and intelligent behaviors at school or in their private life models for the children and in this system they take a central position. For this purpose, school administrations choose teachers who are equipped with these attributes (Boyd, 2006). For instance, the movement recruits its teachers from the circle of its graduates in Denmark.

But how do these teachers lead their pupils? Do their methods deal with the Sufi Iršād (spiritual and moral education)? Furthermore, can one see the teachers as muršid (spiritual and moral masters)?

Concerning education, the key concepts for The Hizmet Movement are morality, identity and tamṯīl (acting as a model). The role of teachers consists of supporting pupils by development and forming their character. In this sense, he educates them spiritually (iršād). The concept refers normally to lead the pupils in the learning process of Islamic methods traditionally. Nevertheless, as it was mentioned above, the Movement has extended this proposal by lessons in secular schools, rather having it done according to a specific ethics. In this sense Agai even states that being an idealistic teacher (especially in schools of The Movement) is a kind of religious service (Agai, 2003: 59).

For Gulen, a school is basically a sort of holy place with the teacher as a “holy road guide” (Gülen, 1996e: 36). In this connection we can compare Gulen’s convictions about the teacher with the muršid figure of the Sufism, who acts as a spiritual leader, teacher and instructor with his competence in all areas. Therefore, these leaders should be trained with spiritual and religious sciences. Besides taking care of their own perfection, the teachers have to worry about their pupils’ perfection and love them (in a metaphorical sense). However, it is not enough for a school to make the character development of pupils only dependent on a good model, because character-education is not only dependent on a good model, but also dependent on what the pupils learn in their life and lessons. From numerous perspectives learning is a process in which active knowledge is developed and methods are prescribed. Although learning mostly begins with observation, the observation should – if possible – generally be carried out by actions to confirm the learning (Nelson, 2007).

According to Gulen, education should be embedded in values, and the teachers must live these values. The reform process must start with the person itself, and who wants to reform the world, must reform himself first. This apprenticeship is based on the Sufi understanding “man ʿarafa nafsahū fa qad ʿarafa rabbahū” which has become known as ḥadīṯ and means “„Who knows himself, knows God“ (Sakhawi, 1956; al-ʿAṭṭār, 1933).

Today Gulen interprets this phrase anew and stresses that education is a manner of “self-reform” and that it leads everyone to improved and changed social and cultural connections. That is why Gulen could be labeled as “socially deliberated Sufi”. Besides, that is what makes the Gulen model unique: the “inside education” which causes the social and global change. In the second step the self-reform leads to transforming and reforming the social and cultural context. And this transformation will be from an internal manner of learning to an external manner of service in the world. This agrees not only with Sufi ideals, but also with the images and lifelong efforts of Gulen himself. Accordingly Boyd stated that the Hizmet movement stands under the influence of Sufism (Boyd, 2006). In addition, Gulen introduced active contents of Sufism in modern education and interprets concepts like “yaqīn” new (Erken, 1995: 102).

Gulen’s educational philosophy and model could be entitled as ʿulamā-intellectual model too, which includes not only the internal mobilization of new social and cultural actors, but also represents a new liberal version of the action. In this sense Nelson finds similarities in his philosophy with what Russell (1967) and Hübner (1999) maintain (Nelson, 2005). Gulen claims that most people inform, but only a few can educate completely (Gülen, 2004a:208).

Under this moral code of behavior a model function is understood, to which self-control belongs, such as in avoiding of smoking or consuming alcoholic beverages etc. (Clement, 2007: 582).

Besides Gulen’s model is stamped by moral bases such as; profound ideas, clear thoughts, intensive feelings, cultural recognition and spiritual values. These ideas should also be based on the high qualities of education and a mixture of modern secular education with traditional spiritual values. According to him, one has the biggest opportunity to become a better Muslim with this kind of education. And it contains not only religious education but also scientific education as well as the secular arts of education. Morality and discipline exist not least of the willingness to make sacrifices, the sense of responsibility, idealism and diligence, and these global values are carried out in the educational projects of the Hizmet Movement (Krause, 2007: 171; Levinskaya, 2007; Saritoprak, 2007)

Excerpted from the article: Akdag, Muhammed M. “The roots of Fethullah Gulen’s theory of education and the role of the educator.” Hizmet Studies Review 
Vol. 2, No. 3, Spring 2015, 55-70

Refer to the original article for references used in this excerpt.

Published http://www.gulenmovement.us/the-sufi-character-of-gulens-philosophy-of-education-and-the-teacher-as-spiritual-mentors.html, 7 February 2016, Sunday