Brief history of the Gulen Movement’s educational activities

Brief history of the Gulen Movement’s educational activities

Helen Rose Ebaugh & Dogan Koc

During his preaching years in mosques throughout Turkey, Gülen stressed education as the center of modernization and social progress. He emphasized continuously that peace, social justice and respect for diverse cultures and religions can be achieved by educated people who are grounded in modern science, strong morality and practical altruism. In his own words, Gülen maintained:

The main duty and purpose of human life is to seek understanding. The effort of doing so, known as education, is a perfecting process through which we earn, in the spiritual, intellectual, and physical dimensions of our beings, the rank appointed for us as the perfect pattern of creation.

While Gülen did not limit education to the formal instruction that schools provide for the youth of society, he advocated the establishment of schools, especially high schools that would provide the best scientific training along with solid moral values.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s in mosques, town squares, public conferences, and anywhere people would listen, Gülen advocated first for the establishment of dormitories where students could live and study together under the tutelage of sincere, dedicated teachers. The next step would be sponsoring college-preparatory courses that would enhance students’ chances to attend university. Finally, Gülen promoted the establishment of secular, private schools that would offer state of the art education, thus preparing students for the annual university entrance exams. His listeners were mostly low-to middle-income businessmen, with a small number of wealthy ones, and university students who would soon be sponsors of and teachers in the Gülen movement’s education network.

By 1982 the first two goals were realized with dormitories and college preparatory courses being offered in many cities throughout Turkey. In that same year, the first two private secondary high schools opened in Izmir and Istanbul, followed by another in Ankara. These projects were envisioned and financed by circles of local businessmen in each of the cities who set up educational trusts that supported the projects until they were able to raise their own revenues through school fees.

In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, Gülen also encouraged the opening of schools in the Central Asian countries that gained independence during the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He convinced his followers to go to these countries. In Kazakhstan, for example, the Gülen community built one university, 28 secondary schools and one primary school. In Uzbekistan, they established 18 secondary schools. Many of the students in these schools, like students in Gülen-inspired schools in Turkey, compete successfully in the International Science Olympics and score very highly in the national university entrance exam. The host countries usually provide the buildings for the schools and modest fees are collected from students. However, Turkish businessmen, many of them with interests in these countries, cover the majority of the costs.

Gülen-inspired philanthropists, starting from mid 1990s till today, have opened many schools in especially poor countries of far-east, Africa, South America and in Latin American countries.

Gülen believes in importance of undergrad and graduate education, as many skills are required at this level. Also, only after graduate education enlightened scholars and intellectuals could be educated. Gülen has encouraged opening universities and research centers since 1990s. First university, Fatih University, was opened in Turkey, followed by 5 universities in former Russian Countries, Georgia, Kazahstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. As of 2012 more than 25 Gülen-inspired universities in different countries are accepting students. Some of these countries are Iraq, Bosnia, Poland, Romania, and Albania.


Summarized mostly from “Funding Gülen-Inspired Good Works:

Demonstrating and Generating Commitment to the the Movement” by Helen Rose Ebaugh & Dogan Koc, presented at the conference titled “Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gülen Movement”, 25-27 October 2007, London

Click here to read/download all the papers presented at this conference.

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