Gülen’s educational philosophy

Gülen’s educational philosophy

Bruce Eldridge

Education, according to Gülen, is a key tool in the development of society. For Gülen, education is an all-encompassing lifelong process. As an educationalist, Gülen does not confine his understanding of education to one particular facet of life. A proper education includes religion. “If [a thing] is a fundamental principle of religion, then [he believes] it should be taught in education.” But religion on its own is only part of one’s education. “We contend”, he writes, “that every requirement of life should be met in schools.”

Making correct decisions is dependent on possessing a sound mind and being capable of sound thought. Science and knowledge illuminate and develop the mind. For this reason, a mind deprived of science and knowledge cannot make the right decisions.

He argues that we live in a ‘global village’ and that “education is the best way to serve humanity and to establish a dialogue with other civilizations.”

In developing his educational philosophy, Gülen places heavy emphasis on those passages from the Qur’an and the Hadith that place the pursuit of knowledge as a religious duty, on an equal footing with prayer and charity. Though a deep believer in the truth of the Qur’an and of its authority as the final arbiter in matters of morality and science, Gülen has been able to accommodate both modernity and post-modernity. While he accepts that extreme modernity and fundamentalist Islam are likely to be incompatible, there is, he believes, a middle way. Just as reason’s excess is demagogy and its deficiency is ignorance, its middle way is wisdom. Gülen has been able to find that illusive middle way between traditional Islam and the modern, globalized scientific world. He believes that for Islam to survive, it needs to live in the Westernized, globalized world as an equal partner and player. Muslims need to be able to rise to leadership positions in industry, in politics and in the bureaucracy, and to this end, he has encouraged the development of schools which emphasize science, language skills and academic excellence. He envisages a ‘golden generation’, able to lead a personal and community life that will showcase Islam and encourages others to follow. Gülen teaches that:

Education through learning and a commendable way of life is a sublime duty that manifests the Divine Name Rabb (Upbringer and Sustainer). By fulfilling it, we attain the rank of true humanity and become a beneficial element of society.

In a very real sense, the Gülen Movement’s schools are engaged in building “social capital”. In these schools Islam is not always emphasized, though there is an emphasis on the teaching of ethics “which is seen as a unifying factor between different religious, ethnic and political orientations. In many ways, Gülen’s educational mission has been likened to that of the nineteenth century Protestant missionaries in Turkey who were often not so much concerned to preach and convert, as to live lives of service and good works, so that they might be a witness and an example to others. Elizabeth Özdalga found a belief among teachers in Gülen Movement schools

that God’s will has to be worked out in silence.” She quotes one teacher as saying, “I think that religious believers essentially are carriers of universal values. That is also perhaps the reason why parents prefer to send their children to our schools.

An example of one of these schools is in Melbourne, Australia. Isik College was established in 1997 by local Turkish migrants. Its website makes no reference to the Gülen Movement, but it describes the school’s aims and philosophy in terms that have been taken directly from Gülen’s writings. Quoting from their website:

The name of Isik College derives from the Turkish word meaning ‘light’ or ‘illuminate’. The aim of Isik College is that our graduates will be the representatives of ‘The Golden Generation’, illuminating the minds and hearts of many…

Our strength lies in the passion and care we have towards the raising of a new generation – the adults of tomorrow. Our devotion and commitment to this duty is based on the firm belief that our students will be raised as the golden generation – the generation with the nobility of mind and spirit and who have the strength to shape the future.

The use of the expression ‘golden generation’ is a clear echo of Gülen’s vision for the future. The goal of preparing a golden generation of leaders of the future would seem to be being met at least in the academic sense.



This paper was presented at the conference titled “Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gulen Movement”, 25-27 October 2007, London. Click here to visit the conference web page.

Bruce Eldridge(graduated in social work at University of South Australia, 1984; some years of social work; then aged care chaplaincy and pastoral ministry with the Uniting Church in Australia) Coordinator of Pastoral Care with Ballarat Health Services in rural Victoria, Australia. He carries responsibility for ensuring that all patients and residents, regardless of religious background, have access to relevant, effective spiritual support. To that end he successfully petitioned for a prayer room at the Ballarat Base Hospital for the use of Muslims – staff as well as patients and their families.

Eldridge has recently completed a course in theology at the Australian Catholic University and is currently doing a Masters programme there. His current area of interest is comparative religion, in particular the three ‘Abrahamic’ religions.

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