Madame Blossom's Book of Poems

Monday, April 30, 2012

Character Building and Values Education

I attended a lecture last Saturday morning at MUIS, titled as above. The speaker, Dr Salih Yucel is currently residing in Australia and has worked with the Gulen Movement for about 9 years. The lessons or tips on character building and values education is shared from the Gulen's movements story.

Dr Salih Yucel himself, is a very humble man, masyaAllah. He asks audience to ask him questions or give him feedback on how he can improve himself, if they find any shortcomings in his presentation. I can sense his sincerity and he is a very confident person. Confident with the values that he has in him, which is Islam.

He speaks about how the Gulen movement began and progressed with these very Islamic values. Islamic values that were shown through actions, not so much printed words or titles. There is no mention of the word 'Islam' in the movement's schools or hospitals and other entities' names. However the values of Islam is strongly felt and acted upon by the people in these organisations, be them Muslims or non-Muslim volunteers or employees.

Dr Yucel stressed that character building and values education happen most effectively through having a role model. A teacher's sincerity for a child's success will have a strong impact on the child. Other than just teaching the subjects, the teacher should be a role model for the child to emulate.

The role model can also be the volunteer mentors who meets the child on a regular basis. If the parents agree, they have some after school programs for the child - which may even include learning the Qur'an. The mentor visits the home of the child they are in charge of, 1-2 times a year, to talk to the parents and see the living and studying conditions at home, to fully understand the child's situation. Mentors are also available 24/7 for the child to call and speak to, if they have any difficulties. It's very personal.

The values that these mentors and all volunteers of the Gulen movement are suppose to practise and show, includes being sincere, humble, caring, kind to parents and others generally, generous etc. (can't recall a few more).

The Gulen movement is a very successful and rich movement with branches in many other countries. However the employees do not get very rich from the movements. They earn enough to have a decent life - but even then most of them donate a portion of their salaries back to the movement. Even the founder, Fethullah Gulen - does not live in a mansion. He lives in a small flat and he dedicates his earnings and himself to the movement as much as the others do. He refuse to be called the leader - he insists that he is a servant of the movement just as the others are.

Dr Yucel says that in a study to compare the dedication of teachers towards students, he found that volunteer teachers and tutors, are more dedicated compared teachers who are rewarded with a (good) salary. (a point to ponder).

He also mentioned about trade. Successful businessmen involved in Gulen, instinctively gives back a portion of what they earn back to the community. As Islam teaches us, we are not to hoard wealth but to let the wealth circulate through trade, and charity.

These are a few of the interesting questions asked, during the Q&A session that I'd like to touch on.

1) This question came from a Catholic Christian Chinese woman. She is pleased with the presentation and the idea brought forth. She said, 'giving' as the volunteers do with their time and money, can be quite stressful. How does the Gulen Movement help their volunteers overcome the stress?

2) An old Chinese man, a Catholic priest said that he is impressed and very much inspired by the idea and the work of the Gulen movement. He acknowledges that Christians and Muslims, share some common history, both being a branch of the Abrahamic faith. However he sense that the Muslim's spirituality in how the Gulen's movement is carried out, is far more advanced that what he sees in his own Christian community. What, he asked, does the speaker think, is missing from them, that they for now, are not able to match the vigour that exists in Islam?

It was towards the end of the Q&A session and to save time, the moderator wanted to collect two questions, before Dr Yucel answers, so above were among the pair of questions collected. I forgot exactly how Dr Yucel answered the two questions. I believe he told some inspiring stories about the sincerity of people and how they are rewarded in other ways, through other means, with the grace of Allah SWT.

3) A Muslim sister said, she was moved to tears by the presentation. She asked, if Dr Yucel could give some tips on how to start such movement.

4) Another Muslim young man asked, Dr Yucel, if he could, provide in summary e.g. 7 steps to creating such movements.

There were other questions along that line too. Someone else asked how to start such movement or promote such ideas in a country or place that has already in place, a very organised education system (set by the government).

Basically as an answer to all these kind of questions, Dr Yucel says, start small. You need some 'mad men' he says, who will sacrifice most of himself, to start this movement. And then there is faith in the reward of the Hereafter, and sincerity and of course hard work.

Importantly he said, start with oneself, renew ourselves every single day. He says that Fethullah Gulen reads the Quran every day and does tahajjud. It's important that we keep ourselves in check regularly. He also mentioned that when we succeed in something or become rich or smart - we must remember that it does not belong to us. Always be humble and know that it can only come from Allah SWT and Allah can take it back anytime. So make use of Allah's gifts to us as His servants, as best as we possibly can by giving back to other people.

As to the questions asked by the Christian audience, I think the answer can be one. It's strong faith. How strong is the faith in an Almighty God? How strong is the faith of the people in the Hereafter? It's only when people have such clear faith in these, that they are willing to sacrifice their all - because they are sincere and they don't hope for reward in this life. For most of them, their hope is in the reward in the Hereafter and the blessings of Allah SWT.

As such, I don't think the case of helping a volunteer overcome their stress - is a big issue. They feel tired, they face difficulties sometimes - but they face it with faith that Allah gives us tests in this life and they hope for Allah SWT's reward in Hereafter. I would imagine if individually anyone feels so tired and stressed out that they would take a short break. But if the volunteer is always 'renewing' himself by guarding his relationship with Allah SWT regularly (regular prayers, reading Qur'an), there shouldn't be a problem not manageable by the people involved.

I think one very strong point and reason why this movement has worked and come so far - is the sincerity and dedication of the leader (even though it is claimed that he hates being called that). He practises what he preach. He is being a role model to all his other fellow volunteers. Oh yes, Dr Yucel also mentioned this point - imagine if a school seek some help from parents, and the parents come and see the principal and the teachers doing hard labour in building or doing something for the school - it would naturally incline the volunteers to do as much.

However imagine a principal asking for help, and then parents come and see a teacher instructing parents what to do, while the principal is sits in his office doing paper work, the drive, is not the same - it's much weaker.

I think if people are eager to start this project with an objective to be as successful as the Gulen movement, they will not get far, because the objective is not set right in the first place. However if the people start small, with the truest intention to help the others, and not care about how big it will get or if it can get as big as Gulen - insyaAllah they'll move forward.

We need to make an effort, then let the result be determined by Allah SWT. What matters for us is sincerity and effort and don't let the 'KPI's bother the volunteers with their work.

There is so much more I want to say - including a look at our current help organisations. I want to find an organisation where the 'leader' is as humble as Dr Gulen or Dr Yucel. A leader who is not just mostly talk and less action. I want to see a leader who REALLY does the thing that other normal volunteer does. Not just for a Kodak moment, but for real. I want to know of an organisation whose leader can name one of the people their organisation is helping - because it's personal, there is real empathy, real connection, where the recipients are not just another statistic to improve on.

Whatever our position and work, it still goes back to our truest intention. Our intention should be for Allah SWT. Not caring about recognition or wealth in this world. Not caring about what others think or say. However, this can only be achieved when our iman in strong. So again - it all starts with the strength of our iman.

I was also personally very moved by the talk. Yes, I cried. I cried was because I was so impressed by their dedication and I realise my own shortcomings - I have so much room for improvements. There are so many people so much better than I, and I must try to be like them or better than them.

I truly hope we all will benefit from the lecture in a REAL and CONCRETE manner. Aamiin.

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