Peaceful Muslim–Non-Muslim Co-existence in a Secular Context

Peaceful Muslim–Non-Muslim Co-existence in a Secular Context

Farhod Alimuhamedov

This paper is about the conditions of inter-ethnic, inter-religious and inter-class relations in Gülen schools and looks into their operation in non-Turkish and non-Muslim settings. It aims to examine the relations among young people coming from different groups. The initial and main steps of the integration processes among different ethnic and religious entities are well observed at school — we hypothesize that it is much easier to transfer knowledge and values to young people with the same or closely similar identities. We look at the case of Russia because Russian society offers an interesting context for the observation of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. There we observe the strong ethnic identity arising after the collapse of the Soviet Union with concomitant rise in social rivalry among different groups. The students at Gülen schools are initially selected on academic merit, and the results then obtained by the schools make their reputation. That reputation increases the attractiveness of the schools and the best young people from different ethnic groups try to get placed in them. However, the major focus of my research is to check the level of social integration rather than of academic success and to observe how Muslim-based schools can transmit values in non-Muslim context. The example of these schools could be useful for ethnically changing societies like the French one. French society should be reassured by the ‘republican school’ model, and should question the academic and social effectiveness of its methods and approaches rather than the ethnic or religious beliefs of the young French students who attend such schools.

Schools in contemporary Russia

The secondary education remains one of the high priorities of Russian education system. The country achieved almost 100 per cent of alphabetization even before 1990s. Therefore, basic and general level of education was high in the country.

Gülen schools entered Russia as to other ex-communist countries from a very beginning of the independence as an actor partly linked to Turkey and less to Turkish education system. In fact, they were aware of the fact that Turkish education system did not achieve much success until the recent years. However, with the small number of establishment, the schools achieved academic success in different fields. For example, in 2007, Ms. Katya Bikova, pupil of International Moscow Lyceum 56, obtained the second place in Russian National Ecology Olympiad. The list of success is long and it is permanent each year. For example, only Tatar Turkish Girls School obtained 52 winning places within 10 years, which indicates that each year they obtain more than 5 winning places in Olympiads. University entrance statistics of Schools are also high. More than 90% of pupils enter the university from the first tentative a statistics that is extremely high in comparison to national level.

The strength of the schools resides not only in academic, but especially humanistic aspects. In his article “Changing values: Russian youth in transition,”

Surprisingly, the relations between teachers and students are very good. Turkish teachers gain respect very quickly in spite of cultural and religious differences. Studying the local languages and traditions let the young [Turkish] teachers earn rapidly respect and trust of the parents and authorities.

Teacher selection for Gülen schools is not based only in academic criteria. Before being a teacher, young people try to understand the teachings of Gülen and the aim of educating. Gülen believes that

“those who want to reform the world should reform themselves first.”

Therefore, teachers are well-educated and competent ones. [Gülen] schools offer not only academic success, but also transfer good moral education.

Mikhail F. Chernys talks about the rapidly changing post-soviet Russian youth. He indicates the rise of consumption among the younger people. They start to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, etc. much younger than the previous generation. He notes that a sharp change within the several years created a great antagonism between two generations living together. Many parents in Russia noted that the choice of sending their children to Turkish schools was linked to the moral education. Some parents openly say that they prefer these school for their English and non-smoking education. [Turkish columnist] Hulusi Turgut notes that many pupils stopped drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes after starting studying [at a Gülen school].

Another aspect of the schools is about resolving multi-ethnic or multi-cultural problems within the society. Gülen schools are attractive by having several ethic groups. Kuznetsov noted that the Moscow school has pupils from 12 different origins. In Tataristan Muslim and non-Muslim pupils continue studying together. In spite of rising ethnic view all over the Russia, the schools keep attracting diverse ethnic groups. The schools have almost the same prestige in big cities or in smaller ones and even in central cities like Moscow or Saint Petersburg although the ethnic portrait is completely different. These cities are the centers of competing educational institutions; therefore it remains very difficult to get known. It is notable that ethnic Russians from these cities choose Gülen schools in spite of the large choice of different international schools.

The Movement in Europe

Gülen movement in Europe has other priorities actually. They are concerned with moral education and academic support to the local citizens of Turkish origin. Turkish Diaspora is one of the biggest in Europe. I suppose that the movement is aiming to multiply the number of schools in Europe because there is an increasing need for them.

The need is coming from the gap left by the society in the formation of the individuals. The society is getting lesser role in human upbringing. Its role is reduced by its non-recognition as an institution like school, university or kindergarten. Therefore its share is partly taken by primary and secondary schools that have an important role in human development in European context. Parents leave all the responsibility to schools, which should play today the double role. If the task of the modern school is centered on knowledge transmission, the educating aspects are becoming more and more important. The schools are facing this problem in many European countries and this is clearly seen especially in immigrant families who are coming from the different backgrounds where society is still have a word to say in human upbringing.

For example, the French education system is known as being republican, egalitarian. The state controls majority of primary, secondary schools and higher education institutions. The “égalité” is written in French constitution and it is guaranteed in France by the equal conditions of education. But French sociologist Bourdieu has already shown that “egalitarian machine” was not working well throughout the years. The sector of education is the main factor of social stratification in the country. Recent studies show that primary and especially secondary education results vary from one part of the city to another. The so-called “creation of ghetto schools” within the “ghetto districts” resulted in a very low degree of the pupils studying there. The school is reflecting social problems, which are based on class, ethnic and religious tensions.

Actually, many critics come towards the school and education institutions in general as they are giving no chance to change the social status. Besides, the school is becoming the area of the conflict based on religious or ethic means. These conflicts show the different perceptions of the role of the school by diverse groups and the incapacity of the “republican school” to satisfy the needs of the new generation.

It is no more surprising when we find some Muslim parents sending their children to Catholic schools in the search of the better education and qualification. The purpose is to avoid the risks and giving their children good moral education. However, Catholic schools are also known well for their academic success that means parents prefer them not for being religious but effective. One can go to Christian University of Paris to search for Christianity, but he/she find that the majority of the students are there not for Christianity, but the quality of higher education. Parents trust these schools, whereas the trust to “republican school” is diminishing especially in certain districts.

Today’s France is a multicultural, multi ethnic and multi religious society. Although major political drive tries to keep ancient identity vision, they are aware of the need of reforms in society, which is transforming. The best reforms go through the education, as it is better and easier to educate the younger than the older one.

France and Russia resemble much in their vision of society, central governance and actually more and more multi ethnic society. The experience of Gülen schools in Russia may be tempting for French educators in search of rapid reforms nowadays.


summary of the paper “Peaceful Muslim – non-Muslim co-existence in a secular context,” which was presented at the conference entitled “International Conference on Peaceful Coexistence: Fethullah Gülen’s Initiatives for Peace in the Contemporary World” was held at Erasmus University of Rotterdam on 22-23 November 2007. A .pdf version of the papers as a whole can be found at the conference web site.

Farhod Alimuhamedov

Currently in the fourth year of studies for his PhD in political sciences at Dauphine University of Paris, France. After studying in the faculty of International Relations of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, he obtained in 2001 a scholarship to do graduate studies in geopolitics and international relations at the Institute of Political Studies of Toulouse, France, where he was invited to continue his studies in following years.

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