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  • Radhi H. Al-Mabuk & Harun Parpucu

Promoting Peace Through Education: Hizmet Schools as a Model

Bio:

Dr. Radhi H. Al-Mabuk is a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Northern

Iowa, a position he has held since 1990. Dr. Al-Mabuk served as the Department Head for four

years and directed the Master Program in Professional Development for teachers for more than a

decade. Currently, Dr. Al-Mabuk serves as the Director of the Ad Astra Institute in Chicago,

formerly known as the Future Institute Research Center. This Center, which currently consists of

9 research fellows, conducts research on transitions students make from grade to grade, and from

formal schooling into higher education and the world of work. Dr. Al-Mabuk’s current research

interests are threefold: comparative education; academic transitions; and psychology of

forgiveness and revenge.


Dr. Harun Parpucu is an instructor at the College of Education, the University of Northern Iowa.

He teaches classroom assessment, child development, and learning and motivation classes. Dr.

Parpucu’s current research interests include teacher professional development, child

development, and learning.


Abstract:

The paper will first provide statistics on illiteracy around the world and its impact on peace. 

This will be followed by a discussion about the general role of education as an instrument of

peace.  The rest of the paper will describe the role of Hizmet schools in promoting world peace. 

More specifically, Hizmet Schools' curriculum, pedagogy, and relationship building between

students and teachers, home and school, school and community will be examined.  The paper

will conclude with some recommendations for universalizing the Hizmet educational model for

promoting peace.


Key-Words:

Peace education, Hizmet schools, Global peace, Peace curriculum


Text:


“Education is the best way to serve humanity and to establish dialogue with other civilizations.”

Fethullah Gulen (2004, p. 198)



One of the most important goals of education is to help children to develop the knowledge,

attitudes, dispositions, and skills they need to create the conditions for a more peaceful society

and world. Translating this noble goal of education into action calls for a thoughtfully-planned

curriculum and a dedicated and well-trained teaching faculty that also serve as models of

peacebuilders, peacemakers and peacekeepers. In this paper, the topic of educating for peace

will be addressed through examining one educational model practiced by a transnational civic

movement known as the Hizmet Movement. The paper is organized in six sections: 1) global

illiteracy; 2) education as an instrument of and for peace; 3) Hizmet schools' peace curriculum

and pedagogy; 4) relationship building between students and teachers, home and school, and

school and community in the Hizmet model; and 5) universalizing the Hizmet educational model

for promoting peace.


We begin by surveying the global illiteracy landscape.


Global Illiteracy


According to UN statistics (2023), more than 244 million children around the world are

denied access to education. Hundred and thirty million of those are girls (2023). In underscoring

the importance of educating women, somebody said, “If you teach a boy, you teach an

individual. You teach a girl, a woman, you teach a community”. That is where the activism for

the right of all children to education by the 17-year-old Pakistani 2014 Nobel Prize recipient,

Malala Yousafzai, is truly phenomenal, especially when looked at and considered against these

numbers of children who are denied the right to education. Moreover, it is estimated that only 87

percent of adults around the world are literate. Put together, almost a billion people, nearly one-

seventh of the population of the earth, is illiterate, and is denied a basic human right to education.


It would take $5 billion a year for several years to achieve universal literacy, and to

reduce the huge economic and social repercussions of illiteracy. The economic costs of illiteracy

are enormous and estimated to be about $1.9 billion a year. The social consequences of illiteracy

to the individual, society, and the world are as, if not more, massive than the economic ones.

Hence, in educating for peace, efforts must first focus on ensuring that the human right to

education is available to everyone (Bhat and Jamatia, 2022; Page, 2008). The second step is to

ensure that we go beyond literacy to inculcating universal values and principles of peace in

students. That is, once literacy is achieved, we must imbue and overlay it with peace literacy.

Why and how peace literacy can be promoted through education are discussed in the next

section.


Education as an instrument of Peace


Many thinkers, educators, researchers, and organizations around the world envisage

education as the path to a global culture of peace. Maria Montessori (1949) asserted that

“preventing war is the work of politics, peace is the work of education”, (p.24). Velez and

Gerstein (2021) and Harris & Synott (2002) highlight the role of education in promoting peace.

More specifically, they stress that educating for peace must consist of teaching encounters that

engender a desire for peace and a disposition toward nonviolent and constructive alternatives to

managing and resolving conflict. In post-conflict settings, attention is given to the pivotal

capacity of education in building and sustaining peace (Bajaj, 2019; Vartan, 2012; Velez, 2021).


Organizations such as Teachers Without Borders (TWB), asserts that “if wars begin in

the human mind, then it is through our minds—through education—that war can be vanquished

by peace” (teacherswithoutborders.org). Teachers Without Borders is also an impactful

contributor to the growing movement toward a global culture of peace by providing teachers

with both a minds-on and hands-on framework for peace education. Similarly, Education

International (EI), which is the world’s largest global federation of teachers’ trade unions, views

education as “the key to uniting nations, bringing human beings closely together,” and promotes

education as a human right and public good (EI, 2015). Likewise, Pathways to Peace considers

education as “the foundation of a peaceful society (Pathways to Peace, 2015). The United

Nation has been pioneering peace education for a long time. The former UN Secretary General

Ban Ki-moon underscored the role of education in promoting peace as follows “Let us pledge to

teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect. Let us invest in the schools and

teachers that will build a fair and inclusive world that embraces diversity. Let us fight for peace

and defend it with all our might” (Pathways to Peace, 2015).


The foregoing begs an answer to the question: what type of education promotes

peace and, how is the education done?


There is a spectrum of focal points in educational programs for peace that seems to

revolve around three major themes: conflict resolution training, democracy education, and

human rights education. Researchers (i.e., Bhat and Jamatia, 2022, Higgins and Novelli, 2020;

Reardon, 1988, 1997, 1995; Roche, 1993, Van Slyck, Stern, and Elbedour, 1999) who focus on

these three themes all view education as the vehicle to promulgate a culture of peace.


Many (i.e., Montessori) assert that “without explicit and intentional moral and spiritual

education, mankind would inevitably revert to its habit of war” (Duckworth, 2006, p.40). Martin

Buber believed that “education worthy of the name is essentially education of character” (Buber

and Smith, 1951). In a similar fashion, the Gulen-inspired Hizmet educational project believes in

educating the whole person: mind, heart and soul. The next section first provides a brief

background about the Hizmet movement before delving into how Hizmet schools serve as a role

model for fostering peace.


Hizmet Schools


Hizmet is a Turkish word which means “service,” and stands for a transnational civic

movement inspired by the Islamic Turkish scholar, Fethullah Gulen. Gulen was influenced by

the peaceful activism, thinking, teachings and writings of Said Nursi, an Islamic scholar who

died in 1960. He wrote the Risale-i Nur Collection (Letters of Divine Light), which consists of

more than six thousand pages of commentary on the Qur’an. Nursi identified three major

challenges and obstacles to humanity’s progress toward peace: ignorance, poverty, and disunity

or conflict (Markham and Pirim, 2016; Rahim and Akhmetova, 2019). He proposed a solution

for each: education to dispel ignorance; opportunity, relief, and charity to eradicate poverty; and

tolerance, understanding and dialogue to bring about unity and solidarity. Fethullah Gulen put

the three solutions Nursi proposed into action. The Hizmet movement he inspired established

charitable and relief organizations to help the poor, founded dialogue centers to build bridges

among people of diverse backgrounds, and founded schools to eradicate ignorance. To achieve

the monumental task of uprooting ignorance, Gulen, much like leading thinkers in education

such Horace Mann, John Dewey and Ernest Boyer, stresses the need for schools to be as

concerned with developing, shaping, and nurturing character as with academics (Nelson, 2005;

Osman, 2010).


There are currently over 540 Hizmet schools operating in more than 107 countries around

the world. These schools first started in the 1980s in Turkey, and in the early 1990 spread to

Central Asia and gradually to every continent. Many of the schools are in regions and countries

that have experienced or are still experiencing hostility, war, social, ethnic, and religious conflict,

poverty such as in Bosnia, Nigeria, Philippine, Pakistan, Somalia, Ethiopia. The schools,

especially in conflict-ridden and war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan, served as sanctuaries of

peace that nurture and expand children’s and adolescents’ capacity for tolerance, peaceful

coexistence, and mutual understanding. In following with Gulen’s guidance, the schools have a

two-pronged mission: to illuminate the mind with knowledge and kindle the heart and soul in

faith and virtue. The schools help children to become caring, empathic, compassionate,

principled, and self-disciplined by meeting their psychological needs for belonging, autonomy

and competence. The school personnel are well aware that their students will identify and

engage more readily with the school and its initiatives when the school satisfies their

psychological needs. This is in line with recommendations of character development researchers

and educators. For example, Schaps, Battistich & Solomon (1997) stated that schools can satisfy

students’ intellectual development and social and ethical growth by providing opportunities for

membership in a caring community of learners as well as important, challenging, and engaging

learning opportunities. Indeed, Hizmet schools provide such opportunities to their students in a

concerted, intentional, and comprehensive fashion to enable and empower them to become

effective moral agents who know the good, desire the good, and do the good.


Peacebuilding is promoted in Hizmet schools through a number of factors: (1) inspiration

and attentive guidance of Hizmet’s spiritual guide, Fethullah Gulen—the master teacher who is

affectionately called Hocaefendi by his followers and sympathizers; (2) caring, concerned, and

compassionate teachers, administrators and staff members; (3) a curriculum and a pedagogy that

engages students’ minds and hearts; (4) educating through modeling; (5) cultivation of

constructive attitudes and ways of dealing and living with others; and (6) engendering a mastery

learning orientation in students. Each of these factors is briefly discussed next.


Fethullah Gulen, Peace Inspirer


Fethullah Gulen is an influential figure in peace education and has advanced a vision and

pedagogy for peace. Hizmet educational system derives its inspiration from Fethullah Gulen’s

faith-based action-oriented philosophy of education. The ultimate goal of education for Gulen is

not to produce an individual who will feed the materialistic machine, to land a good-paying job,

or to live the good life and enjoy a higher standard of living than those who do not “earn” a

degree. To him, the aim of education is to fuse science with spirituality and to raise what he

calls a “Golden Generation.” The Golden Generation is one that will use knowledge to: guide its

life, strive to continually refine and perfect its development, and serve selflessly so others (all

human beings) can live in peace and harmony. They will, in addition, be good citizens who have

deep regard for themselves and others, who are committed to democracy and the core values of

justice and caring, and who strive to be civil and considerate in their interactions with others.


“Tolerance, a term which we use in place of the words respect, mercy, generosity, or

forbearance, is the most essential element of moral systems; it is a very important source of

spiritual discipline and a celestial virtue of perfected people” (Gulen, 2004, pp.33-34).


Faculty & Staff


The administrators, teaching faculty, and school staff in Hizmet schools view their work

as a sacred duty. They view educating students as an awesome responsibility which they assume

with a high level of commitment and dedication. Teachers, in particular, believe that in addition

to helping students to become top performers in every academic subject, they also deem it their

utmost duty to help students in their personal, spiritual and character development. They

empower their students to become moral agents who engage in systematic and intentional pro-

social behavior. Moreover, the teachers deliberately seek to cultivate virtue in the minds, hearts,

and souls of their students. This practice is in line with Lickona’s (2012) thinking, particularly

his description of character as comprised of a cognitive, an affective, and a behavioral

dimension. The cognitive component is responsible for moral knowing; the affective part carries

out the moral feeling; and the behavioral aspect carries out moral action. Thus, an individual

with good character knows the good, desires the good, and does the good. Put another way,

Lickona (2012) views the cognitive as the place where habits of mind are cultivated, the affective

as the site for habits of heart, and the behavioral as the stage where habits of actions or behaviors

are activated and enacted. Teachers in Hizmet schools address all of these three dimensions.


Dual-Focused Curriculum & Pedagogy


Hizmet schools deliberately strive to integrate science and knowledge with spirituality.

In Gulen’s view, the emphasis on cultivating students’ mind and heart metaphorically imparts

two wings to the learner with which to fly while firmly anchored in universal ethical values.

Repeatedly in his writings, Gulen points out the need to blend and adorn knowledge with love so

that students become well versed in the modern sciences and acquire the skills to thoughtfully

and wisely apply what they learn for the sake of others. In this regard, Gulen’s perspective of

adorning knowledge with self-sacrificing love is similar to Bertrand Russel (1961) who asserted

that “There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is:

Science wielded by love. Without science, love is powerless; without love, science is

destructive” (p.158).


Educating Through Modeling


Teachers, administrators, school staff, student mentors and volunteer teachers are

selected and hired for their strong academic qualifications and moral and ethical dispositions.

The schools fully recognize the potent impact of seeing in addition to hearing. That is, the

school personnel are devoted to representing what they preach in action before they preach it or

teach it to students. When they speak about universal values such as altruism, honesty, integrity,

trustworthiness, courage, respect, tolerance, responsibility, love, and compassion, teachers follow

Gulen’s guidance of internalizing these values and model them before they instill such values in

their students (Yucel, 2010). Gulen strongly urges teachers to represent and model the values

before they communicate and inculcate them in their students. Teachers diligently follow this

instruction as attested to by the following words of an observer of Gulen-inspired schools “Gulen

schools excel in academics because the instructors strive for perfection not only in having a

command of their subject matter but also in (1) loving and caring for their students and (2)

developing their own character as much as, if not more than, their students’ character”

(Woodhall, 2009).


Constructive Attitudes & Actions


Students are socialized in the ideals of tolerance and dialogue, which Gulen regards as

“the two roses of the Emerald Hills.” This is accomplished by nourishing students with the moral

lesson of “without hands against those who strike you, without speech against those who curse

you” (Gulen, 2004, p. 54). This dictum is modeled and practiced in schools. Focus is given to

the role of self-disciplined training to deepen one’s sense and capacity for love and compassion

and to put them into action to embrace others. Emphasis is placed on adopting constructive

means to resolve differences and conflicts with others.


Mastery-Learning Orientation


Peacebuilding is also fostered by Hizmet schools through making students associate

learning with positive outcomes so that they gradually become passionate about learning—both

scientific knowledge and self-sacrificial love. The students strive to excel so that they can be

instruments of mercy for humanity. The different types of Olympiads that Hizmet schools

participate in internationally and locally are an outward expression of students’ continual and

diligent endeavors to perfect their knowledge and skills and their untiring struggle to refine their

character (Dayan and Yildiz, 2022).


To conclude, the worldwide Hizmet educational initiatives are promoting peace in the

more than 107 countries they operate in. These schools help boys and girls gain an education

and shower them with hope. They also equip them with universal moral values that instill in

them love, respect, peace, and service-oriented ethic for all people of the world.


The Hizmet schools remain committed to being at the forefront of waging global peace.

Its educational model is worth emulating by others who aim at educating students to be effective

and better prepared to promote the cause of peace in their respective communities.


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