Many things have been said and written about education. We will approach this subject from three interrelated angles: human-psychological, national-social, and universal.
We have been under the serious influence of contemporary Western thought, which undoubtedly has many superior aspects, for several centuries. However, it also has some defects stemming especially from the historical period it passed through and the unique conditions it created. In the Middle Ages, when Europe was living under a theocratic order ruled by the Church or Church-appointed monarchs, it came into contact with the Islamic world, especially through Andalusia and the Crusades. In addition to other factors, this opened the door for the Renaissance and Reform movements. Together with such other factors as land shortages, poverty, the drive to meet growing needs, and some island nations like England being naturally inclined to sea transportation, it also led to overseas geographical discoveries.
The primary drive in all of these developments was to satisfy material needs. As the accompanying scientific studies developed in opposition to the Church and medieval Christian scholasticism, Europeans were confronted with a religion-science conflict. This caused religion to split off from science and many people to break with religion. This development eventually led to materialism and communism. In social geography, humanity was faced with the most striking elements of Western history: global exploitation, unending conflict based on interest, two world wars, and the division of the world into blocs.
The West has held the world under its economic and military control for several centuries. In recent centuries, its religion-science conflict has occupied many intellectual circles. Enlightenment movements beginning in the eighteenth century saw human beings as mind only. Following that, positivist and materialist movements saw them as material or corporeal entities only. As a result, spiritual crises have followed one after another. It is no exaggeration to say that these crises and the absence of spiritual satisfaction were the major factors behind the conflict of interests that enveloped the last two centuries and reached its apex in the two world wars.
As possessors of a system of belief with a different history and essence, we have some basic things to give to the West, with whom we have deep economic, social, and even military relationships, and to humanity at large. At the head of these are our understanding and view of humanity. Actually this view is neither exclusive to us or subjective; rather, it is an objective view that puts forward what men and women really are.
A person is a creature composed of not only a body or mind or feelings or spirit; rather, he or she is a harmonious composition of all of these elements. A person is a body writhing in a net of needs. He or she is also a mind that has more subtle and vital needs than the body, and is driven by anxieties about the past and future to find answers to such questions as: “What am I? What is this world? What do life and death want from me? Who sent me to this world, and for what purpose? Where am I going, and what is the purpose of life? Who is my guide in this worldly journey?”
Moreover, each person is a creature of feelings that cannot be satisfied by the mind, and a creature of spirit, thorough which he or she acquires his or her essential human identity. An individual is all of these. When a man or a woman, around whom all systems and efforts revolve, is taken into consideration and evaluated as a creature with all these aspects, and when all his or her needs are fulfilled, he or she will be able to reach true happiness. At this point, true human progress and evolvement in relation to our essential being is only possible with education.
To comprehend education’s significance, look at only one difference between us and animals. At the beginning of the journey from the world of spirits that extends into eternity at the earthly stage, we are weak, in need, and in the miserable position of waiting for everything from others. Animals, however, come to this world or are sent as if they have gained perfection in another realm. Within 2 hours or 2 days or 2 months after their birth, they learn everything they need to know, their relation with the universe and the laws of life, and possess mastery. On the other hand, the strength to live and the ability to work that it takes us 20 years to acquire is attained by a sparrow or a bee in 20 days. More correctly, they are inspired with them.
On the other hand, we need to learn everything when we come into this world, for we are ignorant of the rules of life. In fact, in 20 years or perhaps throughout our whole life we still cannot fully learn the nature and meaning of life’s rules and conditions, or of our relationship with the universe. We are sent here in a very weak and helpless form. For example, we can stand on their feet only after 1 or 2 years. In addition, it takes us almost our whole life to learn what is really in our interest and what is not. Only with the help of social life can we turn toward our interests and avoid danger.
This means that our essential duty, as a creation that has come to this passing guesthouse with a pure nature, is to reach stability and clarity in thought, imagination, and belief so that we can acquire a “second nature” and qualification to continue our life in “the next, much more elevated realms.” In addition, by performing our duties as servants, we have the duty of making our hearts and spirits work and activating all our innate faculties. By embracing our inner and outer worlds, where innumerable mysteries and puzzles reside, we must comprehend the secret of existence and thus rise to the rank of true humanity.
Second, the religion-science conflict and its product, materialism, have seen nature, like humanity, as an accumulation of material created only to fulfill bodily needs. As a result, we are experiencing a global environmental disaster.
Consider: A book is the material manifestation via words of its “spiritual” existence in the writer’s mind. There is no conflict between these two ways of expressing the same truth and contents in two different “worlds.” Similarly, a building has a spiritual existence in the architect’s mind, “destiny or pre-determination” in the form of a plan, and a building in the form of material existence. There is no conflict among three different worlds’ ways of expressing the same meaning, content, and truth. Looking for conflict is nothing more than wasted effort.
Similarly, there can be no conflict among the Qur’an, the Divine Scripture, (coming from God’s Attribute of Speech), the universe (coming from His Attributes of Power and Will), and the sciences that examine them. The universe is a mighty Qur’an deriving from God’s Attributes of Power and Will. In other words, if the term is proper, it is a large, created Qur’an. In return, being an expression of the universe’s laws in a different form, the Qur’an is a universe that has been codified and put on paper. In its true meaning, religion does not oppose or limit science and scientific work.
Claims are made today that religion is divisive and opens the way for killing others. However, no one can deny that it is not religion, especially Islam, that has led to the last several centuries’ merciless exploitation, and especially the twentieth century’s wars and revolutions that killed hundreds of millions of people and left behind even more homeless, widows, orphans, and wounded. Scientific materialism, a view of life and the world that has severed itself from religion, and a clash of interests have led to this exploitation.
Serving humanity by means of education
A related matter is the following. Among the people there is a saying: “A neighbor is in need of his/her neighbor’s ashes.” If you have no ashes needed by others, no one will attach any value to you. As mentioned above, we have more to give humanity than we have to take. Today voluntary or non-governmental organizations have founded companies and foundations and are serving others enthusiastically. The mass acceptance of the educational institutions that spread all over the world, despite the great financial difficulties they have faced, and their competing with and frequently surpassing their Western peers in a very short period of time should be proof that what we have said cannot be denied.
In short, our three greatest enemies are ignorance, poverty, and internal schism. Knowledge, work-capital, and unification can struggle against these. As ignorance is the most serious problem, we must oppose it with education. Education always has been the most important road of serving our country. Now that we live in a global village, it is the best way to serve humanity and to establish dialogue with other civilizations.
But first of all, education is a humane service, for we were sent here to learn and be perfected through education. Saying: “The old state of affairs is impossible. Either a new state or annihilation,” Bediuzzaman drew attention to solutions and the future. Saying that “controversial subjects shouldn’t be discussed with Christian spiritual leaders,” he opened dialogues with members of other religions. Like Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, who said: “One of my feet is in the center and the other is in 72 realms like a compass,” he drew a broad circle that encompasses all monotheists. Implying that the days of brute force are over, he said: “Victory with civilized persons is through persuasion,” thus pointing out that dialogue, persuasion, and talk based on evidence are essential for those of us who seek to serve religion. By saying that “in the future humanity will turn toward knowledge and science, and in the future reason and word will govern,” he encouraged knowledge and word. Finally, putting aside politics and direct political involvement, he drew the basic lines of true religious and national service in this age and in the future.
In the light of such principles, I encouraged people to serve the country in particular, and humanity in general, by means of education. I called them to help the state educate and raise people by opening schools. Ignorance is defeated through education, poverty through work and the possession of capital, and internal schism and separatism through unity, dialogue, and tolerance. However, as every problem in human life ultimately depends on human beings themselves, education is the most effective vehicle regardless of whether we have a paralyzed social and political system or one operating with a clockwork precision.
After the government allowed private schools, many people voluntarily chose to spend their wealth on serving the country, instead of passing on to the next world after a frivolous existence. In fact, they have done so with the enthusiasm of performing worship. It is impossible for me to know about all of the schools that have been opened both here and abroad. Since I only recommended and encouraged this, I do not even know the names of many of the companies that opened them or where the schools are located.
However, I have followed this matter to a certain extent in the press and in the series of articles by such worthy journalists as Ali Bayramoglu, sahin Alpay, and AtIlgan Bayar. Schools have been opened in places ranging from Azerbaijan to the Philippines and from St. Petersburg (the capital of Czarist Russia) and Moscow (the capital of communist Russia, and with the help and reference of our Jewish fellow citizen and prominent businessman uzeyir Garih) to Yakutsky. These schools have been opened in almost all countries, except for those, like Iran, that don’t give their permission.
The writers and thinkers who have visited them state that these schools are financed by Turkish voluntary organizations. In many or all of them, student fees are an important part of this financing. Local administrators contribute sizable assistance by providing land, buildings, principals, and teachers when necessary. The teachers, who are dedicated to serving their country, nation, and humanity and have found the meaning of life to be in serving others, enthusiastically work for a small salary.
Initially, some of our foreign mission officials were hesitant to give their support, for they did not really understand what was going on. Today, however, most of them support the schools. In addition to Turkey’s last two presidents, the late honorable Turgut ozal and the honorable Suleyman Demirel, former Chairman of the Parliament Mustafa Kalemli and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Hikmet cetin showed their support by actually visiting the schools.
It is appropriate here to present Ali Bayramoglu’s observations. A journalist who has visited many of these schools, he states: “These schools don’t give religious education or encompass educational activities with a religious environment, as is assumed. They have been established on the model of “Anadolu high schools” with superior technical equipment and laboratories. Lessons are given within the curriculum prepared by the Ministry of National Education. Religious subjects are not even taught.” In fact, journalist Ali Bulac, who visited these schools, related his impression that the toilets were purposely not kept sparkling clean to avoid the idea that praying might follow cleanliness. Activities take place within the framework of each country’s current laws and educational philosophy. For example, in Uzbekistan, after students learn Turkish and English in the preparatory class, they study science in English from Turkish teachers and social subjects in Uzbek from Uzbek teachers. Giving religious knowledge or religious education is not the goal.”
Local administrators are just as sensitive to secularism, or even more so, than the Turkish government. It has been explained by our enlightened journalists like Alpay, Bayar, and many others in a way similar to Bayramoglu’s observations, that these countries do not feel the slightest concern for their future regarding these schools. In fact, speaking at the opening ceremonies for the school in Moscow, the Head of the Moscow National Education Office said: “There are two important events in Russia’s recent history. One of these is Gagarin’s landing on the moon. The other is the opening of a Turkish school here.” He described this as an historic event.