Friday, May 25, 2012

The reach of Gulen Schools

by Salman Hameed

There is a lot of talk about the Gulen Movement in Turkey. You can get as wide a range of reactions as possible. Some have said that this is a fantastic example of a group that preaches tolerance and emphasizes inter-faith dialogue. The schools it runs are good in math and science, as the founder of the movement believes that science is essential for modern Muslims and that building schools is better than building mosques. On the other hand, some people call the movement a cult and are concerned that it may have an insidious agenda. One thing is clear: The Gulen movement has a lot of influence in Turkey.  But how this influence is going to be used? I don't know. But it is interesting that Gulen schools are all over the world, including the US (they are called Harmony schools and are part of charter school system). They are indeed good in math and science, and couple of these are amongst the top schools in the US. But they have come under the spotlight because of visa issues. Now 60 Minutes has done a report on them. Here is the video (tip from Kamil Pasha - an excellent blog for all things Turkish):

Also, The Atlantic has a recent article about a visit to a Gulen school in Istanbul. I don't think it illuminates much, but here is a bit that is a source of friction in Turkey:

The methods and approach of G├╝len schools toward religious instruction has fueled lots of speculation about the movement's intentions. Governments in Central Asia in particular are suspicious that the Islamic values espoused by the Gulen movement could potentially pose a challenge to the political status quo in the region
Hoping to dispel misconceptions, the 37-year-old vice-principal of Fatih Koleji, Metin Demirci, who taught for five years in the movement's schools in Kazakhstan, stressed that all the schools closely follow the curriculum of the public schools in whichever country they are operating. 
In Turkey, he said the basic tenets of Islam are taught in a weekly class lasting 80 minutes that also offers instruction on other world religions. "Students learn our religious principles and other religious principles," Demirci said. Faculty members, he claimed, try to serve as role models of Islamic piety, leading by example. 
While Fatih Koleji has a prayer room, no student is forced to pray, Demirci continued. Out of 200 students at the school, only about 10 percent of the children follow the Muslim practice of prayer five times a day, he estimated. "They must want it."
One foreign teacher at another of the movement's estimated 30 schools in the Istanbul metropolitan area commented that most students are drawn from religious families, but their faith does not appear to "rub off" on more secular classmates. 
One ritual from Turkey's ardently secular public schools, though, appears less prominent at Fatih Koleji. Demirci played down the importance of "Our Oath," a nationalist pledge that students usually recite daily. "It is related to democracy and improving democracy," he said. "I believe in the next two years, we will stop saying this because we don't need it. With democracy, every small child has the right to say anything they choose."
Read the full article here.

Just yesterday, Pakistan's Express Tribune also carried an oped piece that talked about Gulen schools in Pakistan as well as the relief efforts of the movement after the earthquake a few years ago and the floods in 2010. I know that Karachi definitely hosts Gulen schools. The author of oped piece was invited on a trip to Turkey by the Gulen movement (don't know why...) and the article is about the trip. Here is a bit about aid connection to Pakistan:

The movement is run by volunteers and our visit was no exception. Almost every evening one of these volunteers, all personal friends of Koken, used to invite us for dinner. This enabled us to savour genuine Turkish cuisine and to see the homes of middle-class professionals. What impressed us was the warm hospitality of which food was just one aspect. Most people, especially the few women whom we met, could not speak English but the translation was always available and the conversation never slackened. What impressed me most was a visit to Kimse Yok Mu. This humanitarian organisation has 23 branches in Turkey and around 200,000 volunteers. They have carried out relief work in 63 countries out of which one is Pakistan. Soon after the 2005 earthquake, 29 trucks were sent to Pakistan and eventually $11 million worth of aid was provided. The most enduring legacy is the establishment of 12 schools which will benefit thousands of children in the years to come. Nor was this the only time Kimse Yok came to Pakistan. In 2010, in the wake of devastating floods, they came again with $12 million worth of goods and services. The Turkish volunteers were both courteous and efficient, something I witnessed myself during my two visits to Muzaffarabad in 2005. 
The Fatih University, although a private, fees-taking body, charges foreign students less than those who live in Turkey. It teaches most subjects in English and, therefore, may become a likely destination for Pakistani students who are on the lookout for higher education at lower cost.

Well...okay. Yes, but we also need to know a bit more about the organization. Also, I hope that they focus on developing scientific thinking rather than just the applications of science and hope they keep religion out of science. In addition, I'm curious if they include biological evolution in their biology curriculum - otherwise, their science will stay quite limited, especially for the 21st century. If they don't have an agenda beyond providing a good education, then, yes, it may turn out to be a good destination for Pakistani students.


Anonymous said...

Nice Work on Explaining the Gulen movement. but there are still useful information on these two sites too

Anonymous said...

I think it is fair to say that Gulen movement is absolutely against evolution - not just human evolution. There have been a series of articles on how evolutionists are misled in their methods/conclusions in Sizinti, the movement's monthly Turkish periodical which focuses on the "interface" between science and Islam. The articles are written by a Turkish professor.

Salman Hameed said...


Is rejection of evolution an official position of the Gulen movement? Or is it considered as the general position of the members of the Gulen movement?

Anonymous said...

I think one can easily say that rejection of evolution is the official position of the movement. Otherwise, Sizinti would not have published 19 articles so far (one per issue) on various arguments against evolution by prof Arif Sarsilmaz (a pseudo name) who has been an ardent opponent of evolution. It is unconceiveable to get such a long series of articles published in Sizinti without the approval and endorsement of Gulen.

Anonymous said...

"I'm curious if they include biological evolution in their biology curriculum - otherwise, their science will stay quite limited, especially for the 21st century."
If this sentence was said in the 20th century I could understand the owner of this sentence. Please follow the scientific progress, come today's world. Wake up my friend, wake up!

Anonymous said...

It is absurd to say rejection of evolution is the "official position". There are tendencies for sure, but a movement as eclectic as Gulen movement which includes people from various orientations cannot accomodate an offical position such that. Moreover, I am confused what constitutes "anti-evolutionary" argument. Surely, these are religous people and take creation by God and the purpose in creation seriously. If someone counts any article that mentions creation by God as anti-evolutionary, be my guest and call them anti-evolutionary. Sure, they have their struggles with these issues, but calling that they have the official position for being anti-evolution is far fetched. Finally, keep in mind that in Turkey evolution is equated with atheism. Against those who bring arguments for atheism using evolution, religious folks, including Gulenist, sometimes attack evolution to attack the atheism.

Anonymous said...

This is in response to the previous comment. I don't know if you have read the series of articles by Sarsilmaz in Sizinti but he is not only mentioning creation by God but also denying all evidence supporting Darwinian evolution. He argues that the scientists supporting evolution have an agenda and twist the evidence in favor of evolution.
Obviously there are numereous followers of Gulen. They all can't have a single opinion on this but judging from their publications one can easily conclude that the popular opinion is rejection of evolution not embracing it. I am sure Gulen himself is at least following what is being published in Sizinti and other periodicals.

Anonymous said...

I was educated in one of the first "Gulen" schools ever. It was( and still is) a private school. My education was financed solely by my late father who used to brake his back to do that. We were taught the "theory" of evolution (in English). So yes "Gulen" schools teach the theory of evolution. But if you are talking about "promoting" it, as curriculums are about teaching not siding with one theory or another.

Anonymous said...

* But if you are talking about "promoting" it, they did not as curriculums are about teaching and not about siding with one theory or another.

Salman Hameed said...

`There are so many anonymouses here...

But to one of them:
"It is absurd to say rejection of evolution is the "official position". There are tendencies for sure, but a movement as eclectic as Gulen movement which includes people from various orientations cannot accomodate an offical position such that."

Yes, for the movement itself that is correct. However, the official position may come from somebody like Fethullah Gulen. One can think of the "official position" of the Catholic Church. It would indeed be absurd to think of the same position for all Catholics. But we can potentially get an official position either from the Pope or one of his advisory councils. And this is exactly what has happened over the past several decades.

Your next point about what do people mean by when they say that they are anti-evolution is an important one. We are trying to investigate exactly that, and what kind of factors (political, cultural, etc) shape these responses. At the same time, I am interested in knowing about the specific response to biological evolution (common descent) and not about "creation".

Another Anonymous:
It is interesting that theory of evolution was taught in english in a Gulen school. Where was it? In Turkey or outside?

Anonymous said...

(This is anonymous#1) After a quick search I found that there is book titled "The Truth of Creation, and Evolution" Here is the link (in Turkish):

In conclusion, he basically says that there is no strong evidence for evolution, some fossils are fabricated, and according to all Holy Books humans and other beings are created by God. Those not convinced by my translation can read the online book to find out whether Gulen himself supports evolution or rejects it. To me it is pretty obvious.

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