Altruism as a motivating force in Gülen’s educational philosophy

Altruism as a motivating force in Gülen’s educational philosophy

Yuksel A. Aslandogan, Muhammed Cetin

Fethullah Gülen’s motivational efforts started initially with teachers and potential sponsors. He went to great lengths to motivate college students to choose education as their profession. He saw altruism as the key to convincing business owners and entrepreneurs of the feasibility of sponsoring educational projects.

Today, a transcending responsibility that falls on our shoulders is to rekindle the altruistic desire to let others live in the hearts of our fellow citizens… In such an activism, there is a need to identify a set of shared values that will form the trajectory of such a broad social action which will include all segments of the society, the villager and the city dweller, the intellectual as well as the merchant, the student as well as the teacher, the lay person as well as the preacher (1).

Gülen motivated his audience by reminding them that each of them was already a teacher. His broader concept of teacher included not only classroom teachers in public schools but many other key personalities, from prophets to parents, from the philosopher to the dervish, from the lover of wisdom to the government administrator (2). According to Gülen behind every great person in history was a great teacher.

Gülen’s message to teachers and prospective teachers was simple: serving your fellow citizens and humanity in general through education is a duty for every responsible human being and fulfills the purpose of our creation. Suddenly, the relatively low-paid, unappreciated, and low social status teachers were being recognized as the key builders of the country’s future. Gülen’s motivational addresses to teachers highlight his vision for the role of education in a better future as well. He encourages volunteers to,

devote themselves to letting others live, [so] the mind and soul will embrace each other once again, conscience and reason will become complementary depths of each other, physics and metaphysics will stop fighting and withdraw to their own realms, and everything will find the opportunity to express the beauty in its own nature through its own language, the intricacy of legislative rules and the principles of creation will be rediscovered (3).

For the faithful in his audience, Gülen drew motivating examples from the Muslim prophetic tradition. He often mentioned the prophetic saying that the only valuable knowledge in God’s sight was the knowledge that benefited humanity (4). He referred to another prophetic saying that curing a person who has a terminal disease may be more valuable than one thousand sessions of optional prayer; he was alluding to the opinion that it was a duty upon every Muslim to alleviate the suffering of fellow human beings regardless of their religion, nationality, or location on the earth. The examples he drew on from Islamic history and other Islamic sources offered abundant examples of how service to humanity was valued by God (5). This perspective empowered Gülen’s audience to commit unprecedented energy and enthusiasm to the service of society through educational projects without religious instruction, indoctrination, or discrimination.

Gülen’s Own Altruism

Another factor in Gülen’s successful motivation of teachers as well as parents and sponsors was his own ascetic life and altruism. Gülen was a distinguished scholar coming from a very modest background. With no ambition for worldly wealth, and as a person of God, a preacher, a man of spirituality, asceticism and profound knowledge, he could have had a very satisfying career simply serving as a community leader and author. However, he concentrated his efforts on motivating the masses to invest in sound education and has led by example. He has never had personal wealth to be able to sponsor educational projects. Instead, he has appeared at fund-raising dinners and visited wealthy individuals to convince them of the importance of sound and modern education. “I have no power, capital, or army—only an unstoppable love and enthusiasm for service. All I can do is explain this, tell those who will listen, and suggest” (6).

In the past, Gülen had served as a teacher, supervised students and personally cared for the social, mental, intellectual, and physical well being of students in dormitories under his supervision. Now, despite health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, he continues to inspire and guide individuals working for educational projects through the media and his writings, editorials and interviews, and private meetings.

In addition to never having any personal wealth, he is reported to have prayed for his relatives to remain poor so as not to raise any suspicions of gaining from his influence. His relatives reputedly laugh and say that “as long as Hocaefendi is alive, we have no hope of becoming wealthy!” (7).

Apart from encouraging people to donate money, Gülen has carefully remained distanced from their financial management and instead encouraged their sponsors actively to oversee the use of their contributions. This has built enormous trust and confidence in Gülen’s honesty and integrity and also in the people employed at the Gülen-inspired institutions.

(1) Ergene, M. Enes. 2006. Gelenegin modern caga tanikligi. Istanbul: Yeni Akademi Yayinlari. Page 330.
(2) Ibid. page 312
(3) Gülen, M. Fethullah. 2004. Love and essence of being human. Faruk Tuncer, ed. Mehmet Unal and Nilufer Korkmaz, trans. Istanbul: Journalists and Writers Foundation Publications. Page 214.
(4) Ünal, Ali, and Williams, Alphonse, eds. 2000. Fethullah Gülen: Advocate of dialogue. Fairfax: The Fountain. Page 331.
(5) Gülen, M. Fethullah. 2004. Love and essence of being human. Faruk Tuncer, ed. Mehmet Unal and Nilufer Korkmaz, trans. Istanbul: Journalists and Writers Foundation Publications. Page 4.
(6) Ünal, Ali, and Williams, Alphonse, eds. 2000. Fethullah Gülen: Advocate of dialogue. Fairfax: The Fountain. Page 326.
(7) Gündem, Mehmet. 2005. 11 Days with Fethullah Gülen: An analysis of a movement with question-and-answers. Fifth edition. Istanbul: Alfa.

Source: The Educational Philosophy of Gülen in Thought and Practice in “Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World: Contributions of the Gulen Movement.” 2007. Edited by Robert Hunt and Yuksel Aslandogan. The Light Inc and IID Press. Pages 36-37, 42-43.

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