Fethullah Gülen’s educational philosophy in action

Fethullah Gülen’s educational philosophy in action

Fabio Vicini

The members of the movement I met and frequented in Istanbul during my brief fieldwork in summer/autumn 2005, are all teachers in a school linked to the movement. There they prepared high school graduates to the entrance exam to Turkish state university. All of them live in a dormitory not very far from the school. They teach physics, chemistry and biology that are very “secular” subjects, but the way they conduct their daily life makes this compatible with Gülen’s requirements.

They spend most of the time between the dormitory and the school. They usually wake up at 6 a.m. in the morning to perform the namaz, and until 8 they prepare their lessons or read a book. Then they go to school, where they spend most of the day giving lessons, individual additional teachings, or optional courses. Usually they go back to the dormitory around 7 p.m., change their clothes, go out again to the mosque, pray and have something to eat. Then if they do not have to attend a collective meeting (1) they return to dormitory. Here they read again, receive students for additional explanations or meet informally. Finally they perform the last namaz and go to bed.

In their daily schedule, having a rest, relaxing, or satisfying more vital needs such as eating and sleeping, are some of the less contemplated aspects. The discussions I had with my interlocutors reveal they were trying to eat the least possible. Often they told me they had eaten nothing during the day, or they said that they should not have eaten even the little they did. About sleeping, they told me how Gülen in his writings often recommends one to sleep the least possible, because there are many other things to do instead. Therefore, they were trying to sleep very few hours, around 5, per night (2).

For my interlocutors, being a teacher is a real mission to accomplish. They spend all their time performing this task, continuously looking for something more to do. They do everything they can to be busy and they are very active. If they are not teaching, they are very concerned about learning more in order to perfect themselves and to have more knowledge to pass on to their students.

Dedication and self-sacrifice are central aspects of their daily life, and activism is at the same time both the outcome and the way to embody these values. Indeed according to my observations, by being active the members of the community feel themselves fully dedicated to the project of the movement. It is the way they perceive that they are accomplishing a good deed according to Gülen’s ideas. Therefore, it is also the way of embodying important virtues such as humility and self-sacrifice, that are central to the constitution of a morally-responsible Islamic subject.

If their striving in action without a rest is the outcome of an embodied sense of responsibility toward society, at the same time it is also a form of discipline by which adherents construct their religious experience. Indeed the virtues of humility and self-sacrifice are central to community members’ life because they continuously remind them of their responsibility. In this sense those virtues are at the basis of their religious experience too.

Being Islamic, Being Citizen

Surely volunteers of the movement are pushed by a strong faith in the accomplishment of their daily tasks. However this does not impede their actions to have a very mundane character. What is singular about Gülen’s proposal is that the pattern of action he prescribes is not only based on secular ideas of responsibility and morals. Even the scope of these activities is socially-oriented. That is, they aim at improving the welfare of society in its totality and not, as usual in Islamic tradition, only of the Islamic ummah . What I suggest is that Gülen movement has a very worldly preoccupation, which is to turn this world into a paradise.


Excerpted from Gülen’s Rethinking of Islamic Pattern and Its Socio-Political Effects by Fabio Vicini. This paper was presented at the conference titled “Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gulen Movement”, 25-27 October 2007, London

Fabio Vicini (MA in anthropology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, 2006 on the Gülen movement; BA in social sciences, University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, Modena, 2003): On the editorial board of ACHAB, Rivista Italiana di Antropologia. Research interests: anthropology of Islam, with a focus on human agency, ethics and emotions; and, secondarily, anthropology of secularism in Ottoman and Turkish history.


1-    These meetings are finalized at organizing teachings and other administrative questions relative to schools and dormitories.

2-    Komeçoğlu (1997) says that from interview with persons living in the houses of light came they were trying to sleep less and to reduce meals. They even told him they fast two days per week, as it seems the Prophet did according to one hadith.

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