Fethullah Gülen’s teaching methodology in his private circle

Fethullah Gülen

1. Introduction

History has witnessed great mindbuilders who have constructed human civilization and led us down new pathways with their ideas and projects of universal scope. Just as many leaders have changed the course of history through their actions. Rare, however, are those who have been able to convert their atlas of thought into action and put forth an excellent model to be followed. In our time, Fethullah Gülen is one of the most prominent of those who have embraced all of humankind with thought and action. Symposiums and panel discussions organized in different parts of the world are dedicated to the exploration of his ideas and activities, and he has been the subject of a number of academic research projects.

In the large collection of books and articles he authored and in the talks, conferences, and interviews he has delivered, Fethullah Gülen presents himself as a scholar who holds in his possession a myriad of knowledge, wisdom, and culture. At the top of the list are his works on basic Islamic disciplines, both classic and modern, such as tafsīr (Qur’anic exegesis), sīrah (the Prophet’s life and relations with non-Muslims), fiqh (jurisprudence), tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism), and kalam (systematic Islamic theology), which have been nourished and developed from the Qur’an and Hadith (Prophetic traditions), two basic sources of knowledge in Islam. Fethullah Gülen’s discourse also reveals his vast knowledge of humanities ranging from literature, history, sociology and East-West classics to philosophy and the history of science and thought.

From Fethullah Gülen’s books, articles, recorded speeches, and sermons as well as the interviews conducted with him, one can find evidence that he has investigated the works of Eastern thinkers like Rumi, Sadi, Hafiz, Mulla Jami, Firdawsi, and Anwari as well as many Western figures such as Shakespeare, Balzac, Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Zola, Goethe, Camus, and Sartre; that he has read from Bernard Russell to Pushkin, Tolstoy and many others; that he refers to a variety of sources like Bacon’s method and Russell’s mathematical logic; and that he has examined the works of important cornerstones of Western thought and cultural life like Pascal, Hegel, and Dante. At the same time, he has read and analyzed in depth the works of greats from classical Turkish literature like Fuzuli, Baki, Nef’i, Shaykh Galip, and Leyla Hanım and modern writers and poets like Namık Kemal, Şinasi, Tevfik Fikret, Mehmet Akif Ersoy, Yahya Kemal, Necip Fazıl, Nureddin Topçu, Cemil Meriç and Sezai Karakoç.

Before turning to the books and teaching method employed by Fethullah Gülen in different fields of Islamic disciplines, I think it would be beneficial to mention basically what kind of education he received and which books he read during this period, as much as I have been able to determine. Dr. Ahmet Kurucan had partially touched on this subject in the preface to Fethullah Fethullah Gülen’s book entitled Fasıldan Fasıla 1, published in Turkish.

His educational background certainly has a role in the list of books he continues to teach today. The names of some of these books were mentioned earlier by Professor Ibrahim Ghanim Bayyumi in the conference “Future of Reform in the Muslim World: Comparative Experiences with Fethullah Fethullah Gülen’s Movement in Turkey” (Cairo, October 19–21), who pointed out that Fethullah Gülen’s service model was based on the Qur’an and Sunnah (the Prophet’s practice and traditions).

2. Fethullah Gülen’s earlier education

After Ottoman madrasahs (traditional schools) were closed down in 1924, teachers raised in that system continued to teach Arabic grammar and religious legal sciences in the classical madrasah education system in different places in Anatolia. Thus, Fethullah Gülen received his earlier education in this madrasah educational system during his years in Erzurum, a province in eastern Turkey.

The works he studied during his training period in Erzurum can be categorized into two fields of study: The first are works related to Arabic grammar and rhetoric ( balagat). The second are related to different Islamic disciplines.

In terms of morphology in Arabic grammar (word knowledge, word anatomy), he studied Amthila, Bina, Maqsud, Izzi and Marah; in regards to grammar and syntax, he studied Awamil, Izhar, Kafiya, and Mulla Jami’. Among the mentioned works, he memorized Awamil and Kafiya.

Regarding Islamic disciplines, he read Multaqa al-Abhur from the science of law, Mir’at al-Usul from the methodology of jurisprudence, Talkhis from the science of rhetoric, Mukhtasar al-Ma’ani, and the complete rhetoric book from, Majma’ al-Mutun. He also studied Ūshi’s Bad al-Amali in the commentary of Aliyy al-Qari and Qadi Baydawi’s Tawali al-Anwar from the discipline of systematic theology. From among the books he read Fethullah Gülen memorized the texts of Talkhis and Bad’ al-Amal.

Among exegetical works, he studied Jalalayn and Qadi Baydawi’s Anwar al-Tanzil, and in regard to the science of logic, he studied Mughni al-Tullab and Imam Busiri’s Qasida al-Burdah with Kharbuti commentary.

The teaching method of the above mentioned books was as follows:

Amthila was memorized by the student down to the finest point. Bina, Maqsud, and Izzi were first be read by the mentor in class and necessary explanations were made. The student both repeated the previous day’s lesson to the teacher and presented the concepts in summary form. The sections and subsections in Bina and the forms and conjugation rules in Maqsud were fully memorized.

The teaching method of syntax books—Awamil, Izhar, Kafiya, and Mulla Jami—was the same. The student repeated the previous lesson to the mentor and presented a summary of its concepts. The texts of Awamil and Kafiya were memorized. Izhar would have to be known and presented as a concept.

After studying the grammar books, Amthila, Bina, Maqsud and Izzi, Fethullah Gülen began syntax books. After finishing Awamil and Izhar, his teacher had him skip Kafiya and join the students studying Mulla Jami. Fethullah Gülen memorized Kafiya, although he was exempt from it. His teacher did not think it was necessary for Fethullah Gülen to study the books after Mulla Jami, thus introduced him to Mukhtasar al-Ma’ani, a book on rhetoric, while at the same time he asked Fethullah Gülen to memorize the text of Talkhis. In the madrasah system of that day, a student studying an upper level book supervised those studying a lower level book. Thus, a student monitoring a lesson many times with other students would have also memorized it. In Fethullah Gülen’s words, he even knew the marginal notes and annotations.

Fethullah Gülen studied with the method briefly mentioned above under very difficult conditions in Erzurum during his youth. Later on throughout his career, he taught curious and eager students in places where he was assigned to duty. The following books, mentioned in accordance with their classification, are what I have been able to record and learn from others; I cannot claim it to be a full list. Still, I hope this serves as initial material for broader research to be conducted in the future.

3. Books taught by Fethullah Gülen

3.1. Exegesis (tafsīr)

The following are books in this field that were taught by Fethullah Gülen who said, “Although almost every individual who knows its language can grasp something from the Qur’an, a true and comprehensive understanding of it can be achieved by those experts of exposition and commentary (tafsīr and ta’wil) who have attained the required and correct level of knowledge.”[1]

1. tafsīr al-Jalalayn. This very short and eloquently written single-volume exegesis was begun by Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli (864/1459)[2] and completed by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (911/1505). This work is attributed to both authors in the title, which means “The tafsīr of Two Jalals.”

2. Nasir al-Din Abd Allah b. Umar al-Baydawi’s (864/1286) exegesis entitled Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil (2 volumes). This work is better known as the Baydawi’s tafsīr. It is a famous, short, to-the-point exegesis that summarizes the views of commentators with an emphasis on the Qur’an’s literary miraculousness and eloquence.

3. Abu al-Fida Ibn Kathir’s (774/1341) commentary entitled Mukhtasar Tafsīr al-Qur’an al-Azim (3 volumes), which was summarized by Muhammad Ali al-Sabuni. It is one of the most important tafsīr works, explaining the Qur’an by referring to the Qur’an and hadith and to what the Companions (Sahaba) and Successors (Tabi’un) were recorded to have said. Fethullah Gülen taught this tafsīr several times to different groups of students over the years.

4. The introduction of Zamakhshari’s (538/1143) exegesis entitled al-Kashshaf an Haqa’iq al-Tanzil.

5. Sayyid Qutub’s (1966) Fi Zilal al-Qur’an (6 volumes). This is a tafsīr written with literary, sociological, and psychological depth that gives important measure in understanding the Qur’an. Often, Fethullah Gülen could not contain his tears when he taught this work to his students. Nevertheless, he emphasized at times that he did not agree with some of viewpoints in Qutub’s commentary, which he felt could have been caused by the very difficult conditions under which Qutub lived.

6. Muhammad Ali al-Sabuni’s (contemporary) Rawa’i al-Bayan Tafsīr Ayat al-Ahkam (2 volumes). It is a legal exegesis, presenting a new method and arrangement of judgments from legal verses.

7. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi’s (1960) Isharat al-I’jaz fi Mazann al-Ijaz. This original tafsīr comments on the Chapter Fatiha and Baqara up until verse 32. Fethullah Gülen read this exegesis in its original edition in Arabic at different times with his students.

8. M. Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır’s (1942) Hak Dini Kur’an Dili (9 volumes). Regarding this commentary Fethullah Gülen said, “No commentary equal to [Yazır’s], including the ones in Arabic, has been written; not even the Mafatih al-Ghayb (Tafsīr al-Kabir) of the great commentator Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, from whom Yazır himself quoted in his exegesis Hak Dini Kur’an Dili in great detail.”[3] Formerly, he taught this commentary by having his students summarize it. Recently he included it again in his comparative tafsīr teaching sessions in addition to the following commentaries: Imam Maturidi’s Ta’wilat al-Qur’an, Zamakhshari’s al-Kashshaf, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Mafatih al-Ghayb, Baydawi’s Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil, Abu Hayyan’s Bahr al-Muhit, Abu al-Suud’s Irshad Aql al-Salim ila Mazay al-Kitab al-Karim, Tantawi Jawhari’s al-Jawahir fi Tafsīr al-Qur’an al-Karim, Sayyid Qutub’s Fi Zilal al-Qur’an, Mulla Badr al-Din Sanjar’s Abda al-Bayan, and Bediüzzaman Said Nursi’s Risale-i Nur.

9. Ibn Bazish’s (1145), al-Iqna’ fi al-qiraat al-Sab’a (2 volumes). This work explains famous forms of Qur’anic recitation that are known through a reliable chain of narration. Strongly emphasizing at every opportunity that every Muslim must learn to recite the Qur’an at least to a degree that is acceptable for prayer, Fethullah Gülen stresses that recitations and variant readings are an important wealth in the revelation-based Islamic culture and that this richness must be revived. He studied this book with his students so that the recitations would be known theoretically at least.

10. Imam Maturidi’s (333/944), Ta’wilat al-Qur’an. This exegesis is comprised of the interpretations of Imam Maturidi, who is the most important imam in aqidah (Islamic creed) and kalam (theology) in mainstream Islam. As soon as this volume was massproduced, Fethullah Gülen immediately began to teach it to his students. In addition to these exegetical works, Fethullah Gülen taught Muhammad Abd al-Azim al-Zarqani’s (1367) Manahil al-Irfan (2 volumes) in relation to methodology of exegesis. In addition to taking up matters of former exegetical method, this is a useful work with a new method and approach that answers many questions today.

3.2 Hadith

1. Several times Fethullah Gülen taught Muhammad b. Ismail Bukhari’s (194/810) collection known as Sahih al-Bukhari, which is known to be the most authentic work after the Qur’an. Fethullah Gülen conducted Bukhari classes by having students sometimes read Bukhari’s main text while at other times present his work in the light of various commentaries on it, which were:

  • Qastallani’s (923/1517), Irshad al-Sari li Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari. This book was also taught in Ottoman madrasahs. It contains essential knowledge about many names, terms, and various expressions in several prophetic traditions that are mentioned in Bukhari’s work.
  • Badr al-Din al-Ayni’s (855/1451) Umdat al-Qari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (20 volumes). It is one of the most important commentaries on Bukhari. It is also the most voluminous commentary made on Bukhari in regard to narration and verification and the best arranged commentary in terms of investigation and analysis. Based on the Hanafi school of thought, this important commentary presents the views of different schools. While studying Bukhari’s text with his students, Fethullah Gülen also followed this commentary. As far as I know, he studied Umdat al-Qari twice at different times with a different group of students.
  • Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani’s (852/1448) Fath al-Bari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari. This work has been regarded as the best Bukhari commentary in terms of hadith knowledge, the beauty of its delivery, and the superiority of its statement of purpose. It is the most famous Bukhari commentary and comprises 14 volumes. With his students, Fethullah Gülen read this commentary from beginning to end together with special reference to the chain of transmitters.

2. Abu al-Husayn Muslim b. al-Hajjaj’s (261/874) al-Musnad al-Sahih (5 volumes) a hadith collection called Sahih. Its arrangement is perfect, and it is famous for its systematic presentation of different variations of hadith.

3. Abu Dawud al-Sijistani’s (275/888) Sunan (4 volumes). Sunan is a generic name for select hadith books whose main characteristic is that they include judicial hadiths categorized according to legal issues. One of the most important sunans is that of Abu Dawud. Fethullah Gülen taught this book at different times with following commentaries:

a. Khalil Ahmad al-Saharnafuri’s (1346/1927) Badhl al-Majhud fi Hall Abi Dawud (10 volumes) is a commentary which takes the Hanafi school as a basis and combines hadith and fiqh disciplines, studying matters related to hadith in a manner compatible with the classical hadith methodology. It was used as a textbook; the students read the hadith, and Fethullah Gülen read related passages from commentary.

b. Mahmud Muhammed Khattab al-Subki’s (1352/1933) Manhal al-Azb al-Mawrud Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud (10 volumes). This commentary of Abu Dawud covers views of different legal schools of thought. It is a very systematic and well arranged work. However, it remains only halfway completed. Fethullah Gülen read Abu Dawud’s Sunan with a group of students to a certain place by following this commentary.

4. Muhammad b. Isa b. Thawrah al-Tirmidhi’s (279/892) Sunan Tirmidhi or al-Jami’. Fethullah Gülen taught this hadith book together with the commentary of Muhammad Abd al-Rahman b. Abd al-Rahim al-Mubarakfuri (1353/1934) entitled Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi (10 volumes). From time to time Mubarakfuri criticizes the approaches of the Hanafi school of thought. At Fethullah Gülen’s request, one student presented these sections in summary form or by reading from the text together with I’lau al-Sunan of Tahanawi, a well-grounded book on Hanafi legal thought.

5. Malik b. Anas, (179/795) al-Muwatta (2 volumes). It is one of the earliest classification works ( musannaf) organized according to fiqh topics. This work is especially important, for it includes narrations that are mawquf and maqtu’ in addition to some that are marfu.[4]

6. Ahmad b. Ali b. Shu’ayb al-Nasa’i, (303/915) Sunan (2 volumes). It is famous for its arrangement and for giving the slightest nuances in narrations and, most importantly, for giving extreme importance to the narrators and choosing the most reliable individuals according to the author’s own criteria.

7. M. Ali Nasif (contemporary), al-Taj al-Jami’ (5 volumes). Arranged according to legal chapters, this hadith book is a compilation of hadith selected by the author from the collections by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and Nasai. As for the topics he did not find in these five books, he selected from Ahmad b. Hanbal’s Musnad, Imam Malik’s Muwatta, Ibn Majah’s Sunan and Hakim’s Mustadrak. This book was taught by Fethullah Gülen to several different groups.

8. Murtada al-Zabidi (1205/1790), Uqud Jawahir al-Munifah (2 volumes). This book critiques variations of hadith used in the Hanafi school of thought’s legal deduction as found in Kutub al-Sittah. Fethullah Gülen continuously recommends that this book should be read and taught.

9. Ali al-Muttaqi (975/1567), Kanz al-Ummal (16 volumes). Comprised of more than 46 thousand hadith, this work is one of the largest collections of hadith to date. Fethullah Gülen once taught his students ten volumes of this work during the month of Ramadan and the remaining 6 volumes in the following 6 months.

10. Zakariya al-Nawawi’s (676/1277) Riyad al-Salihin min Kalam Sayyid al-Mursalin. While teaching this work, Fethullah Gülen focused on the most comprehensive hadiths related to every subject and had his students memorize them. The hadiths marked for memorization number around 550.

11. Qadi Iyad (544/1149), al-Shifa bi ta’rif huquq al-Mustafa (2 volumes). This famous book introduces the diverse qualities of the Prophet and teaches us how to show respect and adopt good manners while remembering him.

12. Muhammad Fuad Abd al-Baqi (1388/1968), al-Lu’lu wa al-Marjan (2 volumes). This is a work comprised of hadiths that are agreed upon by Bukhari and Muslim and are regarded as the most reliable.

In addition to these works, Fethullah Gülen taught Ahmad Muhammad Shakir’s ‘al-Ba’is al-khasis’, which is Ibn Kathir’s Ikhtisar Ulum al-Hadith enriched with footnotes. In addition, he indicated that the work of late Ottoman scholar Ahmad Naim, Tecrid-i Sarih Mukaddimesi (composed during early Turkish republican period), was very important, and he recommended strongly that his students read it.

3.3. Jurisprudence (fiqh)

“Ours is a centurieslong civilization of jurisprudence, and its methodology welcomes everyone into its orbit of thought, intelligence, logic, and reasoning.”[5] This quote from Fethullah Gülen emphasizes the important place this discipline holds. He pointed towards a horizon in the name of what needs to be done when he said, “The studies on the methodology of jurisprudence in our history are the most serious initial enterprise in respect to developing the most perfect legal system and the most flawless science of law that can address every century.”[6] Fethullah Gülen states that methodology of jurisprudence is not given enough importance; whereas, without knowing methodology it is not possible to escape from contradiction and obtain sound thought. He recommends that one should read at least thirty books written in this field.

The following are works on jurisprudence and methodology of jurisprudence that Fethullah Gülen taught over the many years of his teaching:

1. Quduri (d. 428/1037), Mukhtasar (1 volume). It is one of the basic books of Hanafi legal thought.

2. Abu al-Fadl al-Mawsili, (683/1284) al-Ikhtiyar li ta’lil al-Mukhtar. This is a commentary of Mukhtar, which is one of the four basic texts of Hanafi legal thought. The work takes up proofs and causes of legal judgments in respect to methodology of jurisprudence. Fethullah Gülen taught this book twice.

3. Abu al-Hasan Burhan al-Din al-Marghinani (593/1197), al-Hidaya (2 volumes). This is one of the most famous and important legal texts of the Hanafi school of thought. For centuries it was taught in Ottoman madrasahs as one of the cornerstone books in jurisprudence. Fethullah Gülen taught this important legal text to various student groups three different times together with the famous commentary made on al-Hidaya written by Kamal Ibn al-Humam (861/1457) entitled Fath al-Qadir.

4. Ala’ al-Din Ibn Abd Zadah, (1306/1889) al-Hadiyyat al-Aliyyah. A very concise book takes up matters related to branches of this discipline in the Hanafi school of thought.

5. Ibrahim b. Muhammad al-Halabi (956/1549), Multaqa al-Abhur. Arranged according to qawl al-asahh (the most authentic view) in the Hanafi school of thought, this work was used as a textbook and was taught for a long time in Ottoman traditional education.

6. Wahba Zuhayli (contemporary), al-Fiqh al-Islami wa adillatuhu (9 volumes). This work is an encyclopedic legal text written by a contemporary author according to well-grounded approaches of various mainstream Muslim schools of thought. Fethullah Gülen taught this book up to the sixth volume.

7. Asad Muhammad Said Sagharji (contemporary), al-Fiqh al-Hanafi wa adillatuhu (3 volumes). This work tries to apply Hanafi legal thought to a new method.

8. Ali al-Qari (1606), Fath bab al-inaya bi sharh al-nuqaya (3 volumes). This magnificent book of Ali al-Qari, who is considered to be a complete authority in the fields of tafsīr, hadith, and kalam, compares proofs of the four schools with special emphasis on Hanafi legal thought. Fethullah Gülen teaches this book in comparison with the following books: al-Wiqayah of Taj al-Shari’ah, al-Muhit al-Burhani of Burhan al-Din Maza, Hidaya of Marghinani, Majma’ al-Anhur of Shaykhzada, Hashiya Radd al-Mukhtar of Ibn Abidin, and Istılahat-ı Fıkhiyye Kamusu of Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen.

3.4. Methodology of jurisprudence

Fethullah Gülen taught the following works related to the methodology of jurisprudence:

1. Mulla Husraw (885/1480), Mir’at al-Usul. Part of the curriculum in Ottoman traditional schools for a long time, Fethullah Gülen taught this methodology text, reinforcing his students’ active participation of reporting to him each chapter.

2. Abd al-Karim Zaydan, al-Wajiz. Fethullah Gülen taught this methodology book to his students by translating it sentence by sentence. He had the previous lesson summarized during each class.

3. Ibrahim al-Shatibi (790/), al-Muwafaqat (4 volumes). One of the top works in the discipline of methodology of jurisprudence, this book was read by students, translating it sentence by sentence and later on summarizing it from beginning to end.

4. Sayyid Bey, Madkhal. This methodology book written in the Ottoman language was read in Fethullah Gülen’s presence. He made explanations where needed and answered questions. He stated that he did not agree with the approach of Sayyid Bey on some topics like maslahat (public benefit or affair).

In addition to those mentioned, Fethullah Gülen said he would like to teach Abd al-Aziz al-Bukhari’s Kashf al-Asrar, which he read at different times.

3.5. Islamic mysticism (tasawwuf)

Pointing out the fact that Islamic disciplines complete each other like different faculties in a university, Fethullah Gülen states that darwishes and Sufis in the field of tasawwuf, which he calls “Islam’s heart and spiritual life,” have contributed to this university in their own capacity: “Many legal scholars, traditionalists, and interpreters of the Qur’an produced important books based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Sufis, following methods dating back to the time of the Prophet and his Companions, also compiled books on austerity and spiritual struggle against carnal desires and temptations, as well as states and stations of the spirit. They also recorded their own spiritual experiences, love, ardor, and rapture. The goal of such literature was to attract the attention of those whom they believed restricted their own practice and reflection to the ‘outer’ dimension of religion and to direct it to the ‘inner’ dimension of religious life.”[7] Taking into consideration that they have written books related to the action of the heart based fully on experience, Fethullah Gülen recommends that one of these works be taught in every class circle. In addition to the fields like exegesis, hadith, jurisprudence, and theology, he taught books explaining “Islam’s heart and spiritual life” as much as opportunity allowed. The following are books he taught at different times related to this field:

1. Qushayri (514/1120), al-Risala al-Qushayriyyah fi Ulum al-Tasawwuf. This work from the early periods deals with the mystical dimension of Islam and Sufis in line with the Qur’an and Sunnah.

2. Imam Rabbani, Maktubat (2 volumes). One of the most important works that opens horizons in regard to Islamic disciplines in general, especially mysticism, Fethullah Gülen dealt with this work with deliberateness and frequently shared his interpretations.

3. Harith al-Muhasibi (243/857), al-Ri’aya li Huquq Allah. This book includes very sensitive and important criteria for a Muslim’s constantly taking himself to account and living a life on a straight path. Fethullah Gülen recommends that this book be read at least once or twice.

4. Murtada al-Zabidi (1205/1791) Ithaf Saadat al-Muttaqin (14 volumes). This is a commentary on Imam Gazzali’s famous Ihya Ulum al-Din. Fethullah Gülen commended this author for his comprehensive knowledge and for his authority on hadith and other Islamic disciplines. He further indicated that this commentary added up to the value of Ihya. Fethullah Gülen continues to use this book in his classes.

5. Abd al-Rahman al-Jami’ (Mulla Jami’) (898/1492), Nafahat al-Uns. This work covers mystical terms and biographies of great Sufis.

6. Abd al-Hakim Arwasi, al-Riyad al-Tasawwufiyyah. This is a book in the Ottoman language that discusses the history of Islamic mysticism in broad terms, including other related topics and biographies of great Sufi masters.

3.6. Arabic grammar

As far as I can determine, Fethullah Gülen accommodated a student’s level when teaching. During the early stages, he taught his students Arabic grammar from classical works. Later on he taught from books published in modern times.

The books he taught are as follows:

1. Amthila. Anonymous, this small book containing verb and noun forms and conjugations attempts to explain rules and regulations by means of examples. Memorized for centuries in the classical madrasah system, this small grammar book was memorized by Fethullah Gülen’s students.

2. Bina. Anonymous, this book explains 35 rules that facilitate word derivations. A basic grammar book in the Ottoman madrasahs, Fethullah Gülen has students memorize it.

3. Maqsud. Anonymous. Taught in Ottoman madrasahs, this book on grammar examines the morphology of Arabic words. Fethullah Gülen lectured (taqrir) on this work.

4. Izz al-Din Abd al-Wahhab b. Ibrahim al-Zinjani, (1257) Izzi. This famous work covers the topics of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Fethullah Gülen also lectured on this work.

5. Imam Birgiwi (981/1573), Awamil. This concise book covers basic syntax topics, like words that affect the ends of other words, such as particles, prepositions, and case endings (i’rab). Fethullah Gülen had his students memorize the text.

6. Imam Birgiwi’s (981/1573) Izhar al-Asrar fi al-Nahw is a book on syntax or Arabic sentence structure. It is actually a commentary on the author’s own work Awamil. It was taught as a textbook in Ottoman madrasahs. Fethullah Gülen lectured on this book by making a very broad commentary on it, and he had the text memorized.

7. Ibn al-Hajib, (646/1249), al-Kafiya. Taught for centuries in Ottoman traditional schools, this book on syntax explains syntax rules with examples and goes into the philosophy of language from time to time. It is an advanced level textbook.

8. Abd al-Rahman al-Jami’, (898/1492), al-Fawaid al-Diyaiyyah. This work is a commentary on al-Kafiya. It became famous under the commentator’s nickname of Mulla Jami’. It was the last and most comprehensive book on syntax that was taught in madrasahs throughout the Islamic world, Ottoman madrasahs in particular. Fethullah Gülen taught this book in his early period.

9. Ali Jarim-Mustafa Amin, al-Nahw al-Wadih (2 volumes). A very systematic grammar book that was prepared with a modern Arabic teaching technique and which covers both grammar and syntax. Fethullah Gülen taught this book many times.

10. Baha al-Din Abd Allah b. Aqil (729), Sharh Ibn Aqil ala Alfiyat Ibn Malik. This is one of the most important commentaries on Malik’s Alfiya which explains Arabic grammar in a thousand verses. It was Fethullah Gülen’s goal to have his students memorize the Alfiya text when this book first began to be studied. In consecutive lessons, he listened to the verses each student had memorized from beginning to end. However, after they memorized 30–40 verses, memorization was put aside at the students’ request because they were having difficulty with it. “Memories are blown,” Fethullah Gülen regretfully said. Briefly the book is read as follows: First the student reads the verse and translates it; then the verse’s case endings are explained, followed by commentary.

11. Mustafa Ghalayini’s Jami’ al-Durus al-Arabiyyah is a grammar book written in recent times. Fethullah Gülen taught this book twice by having his students read and translate it sentence by sentence, give meaning to the poems, show the point of proof in the poem, and do the exercises.

12. Muhammad Muhy al-Din Abd al-Hamid, Mabadi al-Durus al-Ara-biyyah.

13. Mehmed Zihni Efendi (1846-1913), al-Muntakhab wa al-Muqtad-ab fi Qawa’id al-Sarf wa al-Nahw. This work was written in the Ottoman language and takes up Arabic grammar and syntax in a broad and comprehensive way with plentiful examples.

14. Takallum (3 volumes). Fethullah Gülen prepared this book for practical Arabic speaking. He taught this to his students by explaining it to them and having them practice it. In addition to teaching an Arabic grammar book in study groups, Fethullah Gülen also taught a work related to rhetoric. Pointing out the importance of the knowledge of rhetoric in order to benefit from the Qur’an and Sunnah, Fethullah Gülen indicated that this branch of knowledge was not well known and practiced, and he continually recommended it. The textbooks he taught in this field are as follows:

15. Khatib al-Qazwini(1338), Talkhis al-Miftah. This is an abridged book on the science of rhetoric which was taught in madrasahs until very recently. Fethullah Gülen taught this book during his early teaching years.

16. Ahmad al-Hashimi, Jawahir al-Balaghah fi al-Ma’ani wa al-Bayan wa al-Badi’. Presenting the science of rhetoric in a method different from the classical one, this book provides plentiful examples and exercises. Students were taught this book by Fethullah Gülen by reading and translating it sentence by sentence and by doing the exercises.

17. Ali Jarim-Mustafa Amin, al-Balagha al-Wadiha. This book explains topics of the science of rhetoric with a new method. It was also taught with the method used for the previous book. Fethullah Gülen taught this book at different times to various student groups.

3.7. Systematic Islamic theology (kalam)

Fethullah Gülen described the science of kalam (theology) as follows: “Kalam is the totality of disciplines that defends the Islamic system of faith with reason and narrative proofs, protects the integrity of believers’ thought, eliminates doubts and apprehensions regarding religion that are put forth from time to time or that may come up in the future, and protects and maintains truths formerly called ‘aqa’id al-haqqa al-islamiyyah’ (true Islamic creeds or faith) within the framework of the Sunnah al-Saniyya, the splendid practice of the Prophet.”[8] He indicated that as one of the “basic sources of our cultural heritage,” the discipline of theology should be evaluated within the framework of secondary sources of Islamic law.[9] He taught some works from this field and summarized others. In particular, he recommends teaching Maturidi kalam, whose works, Fethullah Gülen thinks, have been neglected. The works he taught regarding kalam are as follows:

1. Saad al-Din al-Taftazani, Sharh Aqa’id al-Nasafiyyah. This is a famous work explaining Maturidi creed.

2. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Risale-i Nur Collection. Fethullah Gülen taught this work, which treats theology subjects with a very different style and very rich perspective, and he had his students make presentations by summarizing it.

3. Mehmed Vehbi Efendi, al-Aqa’id al-Khayriyyah. The kalam section in this book, which is very detailed, was taught alongside the commentary on Ihya Ulum al-Din called Ithaf al-Saada al-Muttaqin.

Among the books Fethullah Gülen taught, some books are related to more than one field of basic Islamic disciplines. I have listed them below under the heading of “miscellaneous works.”

3.8. Miscellaneous works

1. Hasan al-Banna (1949), al-Rasail.

2. Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari (1952), Maqalat. A collection of Kawthari’s articles published in different places at the beginning of the twentieth century that responds to different problems related to Islam, doubts meant to confuse people’s minds, and the degeneration of ideas.

3. The Fourth Caliph and the Prophet’s cousin, Ali (40/661), Nahj al-Balaghah (Compiler: Abu al-Hasan Sharif al-Radi). This work includes the sayings and sermons of Caliph Ali. While teaching this book, Fethullah Gülen benefitted from Ibn Abi Hadid’s (655/1257) Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah when needed.

4. Kharbuti, Sharh Qasida al-Burdah. This is a commentary on Imam Busiri’s famous eulogy to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, which has been recited for centuries.

4. Books that are summarized

In addition to the books Fethullah Gülen taught – even if he calls it holding discussion with his friends – he had the students in his study circles summarize other books. Explaining that there are many books that need to be read and that it is very difficult for a single person to read them all, Fethullah Gülen recommended that every person who participated in the class present a summary that is not longer than one twentieth of the book or even smaller, and he implemented this method with his students. Thus Fethullah Gülen enabled even the study circle to benefit from the power of collective consciousness. Among these books, we see many texts written in Turkish or translated into Turkish. Some of the books summarized are as follows: Yusuf Has Hacip’s Kutadgu Bilig; Mustafa Sabri Efendi’s Mawqif al-Aql wa al-Ilm wa al-Alam min Rabb al-Alamin wa Rasulihi; Suat Yıldırım’s Peygamberimiz’in Kur’an’ı Tefsiri; Orhan Türkdoğan’s Alevilik-Bektaşilik; Imam Maturidi’s Kitab al-Tawhid; Jabiri’s Arap Aklının Oluşumu; İsmail Fenni Ertuğrul’s Maddiyun Mezhebinin İzmihlali, Vahdet-i Vücud ve İbn Arabi; İrfan Yılmaz’s Evrim Teorisi; Shurnubi’s Hikem-i Ataiye-Şerhi; Toshihiko’s İbn Arabi’nin Füsusundaki Anahtar Kavramlar; N.S. Banarlı’ Türkçe’nin Sırları; Mehmet Ali Işım’s Upanişatlar; M. Ajjaj al-Khatib’s al-Sunnatu Qabla al-Tadwin; Alparslan Açıkgenç’s Bilgi Felsefesi; Ahmed Cevdet Pasha’s Mecelle-i Ahkam-ı Adliye; M. Tahir Ibn Ashur’s Maqasid al-Shariah al-Islamiyyah; Izz al-Din b. Abd al-Salam’s Qawa’id al-Ahkam fi Masalih al-An’am; Sayın Dalkıran’s Ahmet Feyzi Çorumi’nin el-Feyzü’r-Rabbani’si Işığında Osmanlı Devleti’nde Ehl-i Sünnet’in Şii Akidesine Tenkitleri; and some editions of periodicals such as Sızıntı, Yeni Ümit, Yağmur and Hira magazines.

To conclude this section, Fethullah Fethullah Gülen studied under the classical madrasah style, learning from scholars in his home area. Later the knowledge he acquired in a very short period of time was transformed into a very broad perspective that he taught various students in the places he went. As can be understood from the books he taught, he introduced his study groups to many books that are not in the classical madrasah method or today’s educational system. In fact, from time to time Fethullah Gülen taught as textbooks those publications that are otherwise used as reference books.

In this section, I have attempted to pass on as much as I could determine regarding the books on various Islamic disciplines taught by Fethullah Gülen. The following section will focus on his teaching method.

5. Fethullah Gülen’s teaching method

It is not very easy to reflect and contain in words the far reaching extent of what I prefer to call the “culture of presence” of Fethullah Gülen’s lesson and teaching method. Alongside his documented teaching method, his students personally experience and benefit from his presence; they witness the vastness of his horizons and enthusiasm and are colored by his influence. The degree to which one benefits from that atmosphere depends on a person’s capacity, intention, concentration, and abilities. Considering this, I will describe Fethullah Gülen’s lesson and teaching method to the extent that I am aware of it.

In the lesson and teaching method of classical madrasahs—and various lesson groups today that, in a sense, we can call the continuation of these traditional institutions—classical books are usually studied. The teacher explains the lesson, the students listen, and then there is mutual exchange within the framework of questions and answers. Again, in this method in every class an abstract of the previous lesson is presented and then the new lesson begins.

Also in the madrasah system, an assistant to the teacher or senior students facilitate student discussions of the lesson. In today’s schools of theology, professors do not prefer to follow a classical work but present their own notes and compilations followed by questions and answers.

Fethullah Gülen, who received lessons from mentors trained in the madrasah educational system, has followed the practice of teaching according to the student’s level during his teaching life of half a century. He lectures more during the initial periods of a student’s instruction. According to the qualifications of a student in terms of a good command of the language and knowledge in related disciplines, he may be ready to present the lesson to Fethullah Gülen. Before his presentation, the student studies the text with a senior student or students. As students present the text, Fethullah Gülen intervenes from time to time commenting over the passage while respectfully crediting other scholars’ approaches. Although Fethullah Gülen humbly says, “I discuss books with my friends,” undoubtedly there is a teacher-student relationship. It is also possible to understand Fethullah Gülen’s reference to “discussion” as a student’s attention on the class, his further research and comparative analysis with different works, active participation, and asking questions that can lead to yet further inquiry and explanation. In addition, Fethullah Gülen never leaves a question unanswered. As the Prophet remarked, “A good question is half of knowledge,”[10] asking an appropriate and good question is very important in regard to gaining benefit from the lesson.

Before describing Fethullah Gülen’s teaching methods according to each discipline, let us take a brief look at how he selects books and determine the teaching hours.

5.1 Selection of books

Fethullah Gülen gives great importance to the feelings and inclinations of others in certain matters. He follows this method when choosing a book as well. He observes students’ approach to a certain course and whether they embrace it whole-heartedly and want to do it, and he follows their feelings. In this respect, he takes their responses seriously and decides accordingly. When Fethullah Gülen wants to teach his students a book in some field he usually says, “There are books on this subject with such characteristics; we can read one from among them that you prefer.” Sometimes he mentions the qualities of a book he thinks are very important, thus drawing attention to it. For example, he mentioned at different times that Kanz al-Ummal is one of the most comprehensive of hadith books and that it could be covered rather quickly as a textbook. Upon students’ interest in the book that grew over time, he made it a textbook. Sometimes a book is chosen when students want to read a particular book like al-Fiqh al-Islami wa adillatuhu, and it overlaps with Fethullah Gülen’s choice.

5.2. Teaching hours

Lessons are generally held between the morning and noon prayers. Lessons were also held many times in the afternoon. During one period, lessons began after breakfast and continued until noon. In another period, it began after the morning prayer and continued following a break for breakfast. In addition, at one time the lesson began one hour before the morning prayer and continued until the prayer. In fact, Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi was studied in this way. The ten volumes of Kanz al-Ummal were finished during the month of Ramadan during which lessons were held after the morning, evening, and tarawih (special prayer during Ramadan) prayers and after sahur (predawn meal before fasting starts) for approximately 7–8 hours a day.

5.3. Students’ preparation

Before each class students are expected to have fully examined the passages by extensive use of dictionaries (particularly Munjid, Mu’jam al-Wasit, Lisan al-Arab, and Taj al-Arus) and other references on exegesis, legal texts, and commentaries. They pay utmost attention to read Arabic sentences and words grammatically correct in the text. Fethullah Gülen is very sensitive to reading correctly, especially with verses from the Qur’an and hadith texts, as well as pronouncing accurately the names of the transmitters and narrators. His approach to this subject is: “One may read Arabic incorrectly, but do not read Qur’anic verses inaccurately.”

During the presentation, Fethullah Gülen listens and in places that need correction, he humbly mentions the correction in a very polite manner. If he feels the text needs verification, he dwells on it. At such times, he asks other references dealing with this matter to be brought in, and he explains the matter by referring to them. Or he asks that references be checked before the next lesson. When students inquire about a matter, Fethullah Gülen first respectfully states the general view of scholars on the subject, and then he expresses his own interpretations, particularly addressing the present conditions. Some of the most attractive aspects of the lessons are these explanations and interpretations of Fethullah Gülen, which are in a sense dependent on the student’s curiosity, the quality of his questions, and the vastness of his vision. Fethullah Gülen takes his addressees’ level of comprehension and their capacities into consideration and goes as deep in a matter as he perceives their capacities can accommodate. By all means, Fethullah Gülen tries to keep his students engaged with the class and actively participating. He encourages them to read more, to develop skills in dealing with challenges posed by intense texts and concepts, to introduce them to varying ideas, methods, disputes, and debates, to help them adopt a holistic approach to all sciences, and to teach them not to limit themselves to one field of expertise but to be familiar with other sciences at least at the level of encyclopedic entries. Studying in this manner first of all facilitates the mapping of knowledge in the student’s mind, allowing him to assume a broader perspective on disciplines and thus retrieve knowledge when needed.

With this method, 40–50 pages of text can be read in a lesson of approximately 3–4 or 2–3 hours. Very important to this teaching technique is also Fethullah Gülen’s patience in listening to his students with few interruptions.

Fethullah Gülen gives importance to reading analytically. Always reserving his deepest respects for former scholars, he approaches a text by testing it against the logic of revelation, the essentials of religion, the criteria of narration, and common sense, through which the knowledge generated in our time is filtered and new interpretations are reached.

Together with all of these, Fethullah Gülen continually emphasizes that students should immerse themselves in what they read, deeply analyze it, and make it a source of life. Their studies should become a profound part of their nature, and they should voice their experiences speaking from the heart.

There is almost no book that was begun in Fethullah Gülen’s study circle that was not finished, unless there was a very compelling reason.

5.4. The beginning of a lesson

Lessons always begin with mentioning the name of God, praising and glorifying Him, and praying for and sending greetings to the Prophet. Some of the prayers recited before the class are as follows:

“Our Lord, increase our knowledge, faith, certainty, trust, surrender, entrustment, reliability, tranquility, sincerity, loyalty, faithfulness, ingenuity, affection, decency, chastity, intelligence, wisdom, memory, and our trust in You and our love and desire for meeting You. My God, we ask You for perfect and permanent health and wellbeing and a sound heart. Bestow your power and might on us. O most compassionate of the merciful.”

“My God, open the doors of wisdom to us. Pour your mercy on us, O Possessor of Majesty and Honor. I believe in God who is Unique, One, Truth, and Manifest. He has no equal. I reject everything considered to be equal to His divinity and lordship. My Lord, make things easier, not more difficult. My Lord, complete this with goodness. We seek help only from Him.”

When a new book is introduced, Fethullah Gülen reads all of its sections, including the foreword and introduction as well as the copyright page.

6. Teaching specific subjects

In this section, we will focus on how Fethullah Gülen teaches basic Islamic disciplines in his study circle. Although we have already mentioned some of the books he has taught, here we mainly deal with not what he has taught but how he has taught.

6.1. Teaching grammar

Fethullah Gülen has taught almost every group of students a book related to the structure of Arabic grammar. The books taught were listed in the previous section. In particular, several times he taught Imam Birgiwi’s grammar book entitled Izhar during his early teaching period to students of different levels using the lecture method. One of these classes especially was conducted like a very broad open commentary.

Fethullah Gülen pays attention to students’ work on vocabulary and grammar before the class. He is especially careful with the variations of word forms in the root, past, present, and other derivatives, as well as the new meanings verbs assume with different prepositions (huruf al-jarr). He insists on the accurate pronunciation of the names, translation of poems, and providing from these poems evidence for grammar rules. During the lesson they read, translate, and do the exercises, if available. A summary of the lesson is usually given by several students at the beginning of the following day’s lesson.

In Fethullah Gülen’s words, today the science of rhetoric is not taught well enough to allow students to sufficiently benefit from the breadth of the Qur’an and Sunnah. He taught works on rhetoric using a method similar to the method used with grammar.

6.2. Using dictionaries

From time to time Fethullah Gülen says, “I do not know about you, but I look up several words in the dictionary everyday.” He wants students to gain the habit of frequently using the dictionary so they will learn the language correctly and memorize words with their nuances. For example, at one time, he corrected his students’ usage of k-dh-b with references to dictionaries. The infinitive and noun form of the k-dh-b is known more as “kidhb” and is generally used as such. Fethullah Gülen pointed out that the infinitive “kadhib” is more in line with classical Arabic because this word is used as “kadhib” in several verses in the Qur’an (Yusuf 12:18, An’am 6:21) and that, in addition, when the word’s infinitives are given in dictionaries, it is given in first place.[11] He constantly has al-Munjid at his side during the lessons. When he needs to, he turns to reference books like Lisan al-Arab, Taj al-Arus, and al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith. To find the Turkish equivalent of an Arabic word, he uses dictionaries like Asım Efendi’s Qamus-u Okyanus and Akhtar Kabir and has his students look up the words in them. For Persian words he uses dictionaries like Farhangi Farisi. He stated that he likes and frequently uses the 3-volume dictionary entitled Misalli Büyük Türkçe Sözlük for Turkish words.

6.3. Hadith and methodology of hadith

Fethullah Gülen has certainly taught almost every group a book on hadith. In addition to teaching basic hadith books like Kutub al-Sitta regularly, as mentioned in the previous section, he also teaches some among them repeatedly (like Bukhari). Together with this, he fully covers during his teaching commentary and reference books like Kanz al-Ummal, Umdat al-Qari, and Fath al-Bari.

If a hadith is not sound or authentic—many have witnessed that Fethullah Gülen immediately notices this—he investigates which book it originated from and the critiques of the jarh and ta’dil scholars who either refuted or rectified the narration.[12] Regarding narrators and hadith, he uses books like Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, al-Kashif, Mizan al-I’tidal, Siyar Alam al-Nubala, Majma’u al-Zawaid, and al-Matalib al-A’liyah. If it is a popularly known hadith, he recommends that books like Kashf al-Khafa and al-Maqasid al-Hasanah be consulted. He is sensitive on the subject of teaching primary sources about hadiths.

Umdat al-Qari fi Sharh al-Bukhari (20 volumes): He taught Umdat al-Qari twice at different times to different students. In the first class students read hadiths from Bukhari’s text, and Fethullah Gülen read from the commentary he deemed necessary and gave his views and led the discussion. He explained unfamiliar words in the hadith, intervened when necessary regarding the names of the narrators, and read the richness of meaning included in the hadith and judgments derived from the hadith.

Fethullah Gülen gives great importance to the hadith narrator’s name being pronounced correctly and to knowledge of evaluations made regarding their lives and persons. In his youth, he recorded biographies of the hadith narrators in his notebooks and memorized them. He dwelled in particular on these people in his hadith classes and made notes from books of translators and men of learning and added them to the information in the commentaries. Later he again taught Bukhari together with the Umdat al-Qari commentary to another group. Before coming to class, students prepared file cards for each narrator mentioned in the hadiths according to the system in Dhahabi’s al-Kashif book on important persons. These file cards included the teachers and students of the narrator and those who took the hadith from him and the views of the jarh and ta’dil scholars on the hadith. The cards prepared by the student were read by Fethullah Gülen after the hadith chain of narration (sanad) and text ( matn) had been read in class.

Fath al-Bari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (14 volumes): Fethullah Gülen taught this famous commentary on Bukhari from beginning to end with a different study group. The teaching method was basically the same as that followed earlier with Bukhari’s Umdat al-Qari commentary, but a few additions were made. With Dhahabi’s al-Kashif as a basis while reading hadith narrators, books like Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, Siyar A’lam al-Nubala, Hilyat al-Awliya, Sifat al-Safwa, and Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat were also benefitted from. In order to enrich the information with things like the narrator’s teachers, those who took narration from him, striking examples of virtue from his life, examples of hadiths reported by him, and the views of jarh and ta’dil scholars, a word file on the computer was created and shown on a screen during class. In addition to a short biography of the Companions in the chain of transmission, their asceticism, worship, piety, and devoted spirit were presented as exemplary messages for today. Examples were given of hadiths they transmitted and those who reported from them were mentioned.

Fethullah Gülen made some short additions in some places while information regarding narrators and transmitters was being read. For example, the wife of the Prophet, Aisha’s nickname is mentioned in some books as “Umm Abd Allah al-Faqiha (the jurist mother of Abd Allah)” [Abd Allah: God’s servant]. Fethullah Gülen added, wahiya umm ibad Allah ajma’in, “She is the mother of all of God’s servants.”

Today, in hadith studies not much attention is given to the chain of transmission and only the text is reported. Fethullah Gülen’s method of teaching the narrators together with the hadiths and his efforts to inculcate respect and affection for them are extremely important. When it was mentioned to some prominent scholars of the Arab world that Fethullah Gülen has these distinguished people’s names read along with the hadith, they were greatly impressed expressed their amazement and approval. They said, “This science has become obsolete even with us. Not many teach the hadith narrators. Fethullah Gülen’s giving this much importance to it in his teaching is very important for the revivification of this discipline.”

Knowing the Companions and hadith narrators as a model of knowledge, wisdom, worship, and dedication, Fethullah Gülen treats them as most precious guests in his heart and memory. Fethullah Gülen has used every opportunity to introduce, teach about and make these people known and appreciated by anyone who listens to him and especially those attending his classes. He wants them to be a beautiful example to students in regard to their concern for knowledge and the depth of their service to God, their worship and piety and their seeking God’s approval in their learning. Just as he holds up the prominent figures of our history—especially the Companions—in his sermons, talks, and books as a model to follow, he wants to engrave in the memory and subconsciousness of the students the important virtues of the narrators.

Sunan Abi Dawud: Fethullah Gülen has taught this book several times. He did this together with commentaries on the book entitled Badhl al-Majhud and Manhal al-Azb al-Mawrud. After the students read the hadith’s chain of transmission and text, they focused on explanations of words from the commentary, a critique of the narrator, commentary of the hadith, comparison of it with other hadiths, judgments (ahkam), and epigrams (nukta). Fethullah Gülen gave his own interpretation from time to time in response to a question regarding it.

Sunan al-Tirmidhi: While teaching the Tirmidhi commentary Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi (10 volumes) to a group of students, Fethullah Gülen asked one student to compare the section of the book that criticizes from time to time the proofs of the Hanafi school of thought’s approaches with Tahanawi’s book entitled I’la al-Sunan, which takes up the subject of Hanafi jurisprudence in a broad and well-grounded way. As another method of teaching hadith, Fethullah Gülen chose the most comprehensive hadiths from every chapter while teaching Riyad al-Salihin and had students memorize them. He said, “Put these in your reservoir; you will see abundance from them.” Fethullah Gülen taught Ahmad Muhammad Shakir’s al-Bais al-Khasis from hadith methodology by having students prepare before class and read in his presence. At the same time, the preface to the Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi commentary is also a broad hadith methodology. With his method of reading hadith books together with their commentaries, Fethullah Gülen has actually been teaching hadith methodology by practicing it. Fethullah Gülen states that in this field the late Ahmad Naim’s Tecrid-i Sarih Mukaddemesi is a very good work.

6.4. Exegesis (tafsīr) and the methodology of exegesis

As they do in other disciplines, students are well-prepared before class for the texts which they read to Fethullah Gülen. Fethullah Gülen offers explanations in places he sees necessary or about which there is a question.

Among Turkish commentaries, Fethullah Gülen gives great importance to the great scholar Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır’s Hak Dini Kur’an Dili. Once, together with students, he summarized all of Elmalılı’s exegesis to students in the study group. Each student read and summarized a part of the tafsīr equivalent to one page of the Qur’an and presented it in class. First the student recited the page of the Qur’an and then presented the summary he had prepared. During the presentation, Fethullah Gülen shared his views regarding the recited verses with the students. The book Kur’an’dan İdrake Yansıyanlar is one of the fruits of this. Recently Fethullah Gülen has begun to teach Hak Dini Kur’an Dili comparatively with other tafsīrs. Each student studies a different tafsīr, and in the class they present the differences between Elmalılı’s work and the respective tafsīr. Fethullah Gülen makes further comments when he feels necessary.

Tafsīrs read in comparison with Elmalılı’s are the following: Imam Maturidi’s Ta’wilat al-Qur’an, Zamakhshari’s Kashshaf, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Mafatih al-Ghayb, Baydawi’s Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil, Abu Hayyan’s Bahr al-Muhit, Abu al-Su’ud’s Irshad Aql al-Salim ila Mazay al-Qur’an al-Karim, Tantawi Jawhari’s al-Jawahir al-Qur’an, Sayyid Qutub’s Fi Zilal al-Qur’an, and Mulla Badr al-Din Sanjar’s Abda’ al-Bayan.

Covering Elmalılı’s entire tafsīr with this reading method takes a long time. The real aim is to encourage the comparative reading method by showing an example of it. Fethullah Gülen recommends that almost all the Islamic sciences, hadith in particular, are studied using the same method.

6.5 Jurisprudence and the methodology of jurisprudence

In every study group, Fethullah Gülen teaches a book related to jurisprudence along with hadith, exegesis, and grammar. He once stated the truth that “one cannot become a scholar without knowing jurisprudence.” In general, legal texts in Fethullah Gülen’s class are covered by students’ reading and translating every sentence or paragraph into Turkish. Together with this, some juristic books were only read in Arabic. In fact, Wahba Zuhayli’s work, al-Fiqh al-Islami wa adillatuhu, was only read in Arabic and was not translated because its language is plain in comparison with classical fiqh books, and its style can be understood by today’s readers.[13] While reading legal texts, Fethullah Gülen advises students to refer to concisely stated legal judgments or approaches to other juristic books which take up the matter in a broader and well-founded way. He points out that it is necessary to know well the assertions of legal schools regarding which legal judgments (fatawa) have been made and that there has been neglect on this subject. He points to the differences in approach that occurred from time to time between the former and latter jurists. Although he is tied to the Hanafi school, he is extremely respectful of the other legal schools of thought. He states that the Hanafis have produced a broad body of jurisprudential collective works, and these texts are a result of extensive brainstorming, addressing not only historical facts, but also developing judgments on events that may take place; they were never fruitless works as some critics claim.

As always and especially during a lesson, he gives great importance to the respectful reading of the names of various Imams from different legal schools, expounders of the law, and jurists, like Imam A’zam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi‘i, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, and two great pupils of Abu Hanifa, namely Abu Yusuf and Muhammad al-Shaybani.

Fethullah Gülen taught some classical legal texts together with their commentaries. While the students read the texts, he read what he thought was important and necessary from the commentaries and gave his ideas from time to time.

Fethullah Gülen taught al-Hidaya by al-Marghinani with its commentary Fath al-Qadir by Al-Kamal ibn al-Humam, a work that holds a very important place in Hanafi legal system, three times to different study groups. Just as reading Elmalılı’s Hak Dini Kur’an Dili with other commentaries comparatively, he teaches Aliyy al-Qari’s Fath Bab al-Inayah in jurisprudence by comparing it with other legal texts. After Fath Bab al-Inayah is carefully translated, it is compared with other legal books. Different approaches and interpretations are noted and presented in summarized form. The legal texts that are addressed in the comparison are as follows: Sadr al-Sharia’s al-Wiqayah, Burhan al-Din al-Mazah’s Muhit al-Burhani, Marghinani’s al-Hidaya, Shaykhzadah’s Majma’ al-Anhur, Ibn Abidin’s Hashiya Radd al-Mukhtar, Ibn Abidinzadah’s al-Hadiyyah al-Ala’iyyah, Wahba Zuhayli’s al-Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuhu, Diyanet İslam İlmihali (the Islamic Catechism) prepared by a committee from the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs, and Asad Muhammad Said Sagharji’s al-Fiqh al-Hanafi wa Adillatuhu.

6.6. Islamic mysticism ( tasawwuf)

Fethullah Gülen always includes a Sufi work explaining “Islam’s life of heart and spirit” in each study group parallel to the other Islamic sciences. Students prepare and then read in his presence Sufi works like Qushayri’s al-Risala, Harith al-Muhasibi’s al-Ri’ayah, and Imam Rabbani’s Maktubat. When appropriate in these lessons, Fethullah Gülen emphasizes the most important dynamics that take a person to a higher level of heart and spiritual life. He also shares his ecstatic experiences on this subject.

According to Fethullah Gülen, one of the illnesses of today is to take a position against the friends of God, pretending not to see their greatness and evaluating them as if they were ordinary people on our own level. Such a view is a terrible lapse of thought. Some say, “Imam A’zam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi‘i, Ahmad b. Hanbal, Imam Malik, Imam Ghazzali, Imam Rabbani, Shazili, and Abd al-Qadir Jilani were as ordinary as we are; the legendary stories regarding them are not really true.” Although they want to belittle them, they are not successful and remain deprived of the spiritual light and prosperity of those great people, and the paths to greatness become closed to them. For people who try and pull Abd al-Qadir Jilani and Imam Rabbani down to their own level close down their own horizons by doing this. Because they consider themselves on a par with these giant figures of history, they cannot advance and find themselves at the end of the road. People who do not believe that the spirit and heart have their own degree of life and that there are great ones in that field will absolutely not be able to ascend to those degrees.

On the other hand, Fethullah Gülen points out that mentioning the heart and spiritual life of those great men of spirit like Abd al-Qadir Jilani, Ahmad Rifai and Hasan Shazili but not trying to emulate them and being satisfied with their life stories only is another disaster. According to Fethullah Gülen, what actually needs to be done is to learn what made these men great in the spiritual realm and to implement this in our own lives.

6.7. Respect for the former scholars (predecessor/salaf)

While teaching his students, Fethullah Gülen is extremely respectful towards the interpretations and approaches of scholars from the time of the Age of Happiness to the present. He shows great respect towards the Companions, their Fol-lowers, those coming after the Followers, the imams of the schools of thought, and great men of spirit like Abd al-Qadir Jilani, Hasan Shazili, Ahmad Rifai, Shah-i Naqshiband, Imam Rabbani, and Bediüzzaman Said Nursi and to their interpretations and approaches. He frequently emphasizes that the interpretations and approaches must be very respectfully taken into consideration regardless of which Islamic discipline the scholars are from. Furthermore, paying utmost attention to the essentials of faith, he humbly voices his own views saying, “Ibn Kathir (‘the son of abundance’) had this view, but Ibn Qalil (‘the son of little’ referring to himself) has this approach,” or “This poor soul has this interpretation or view.”

He states that students in the class may have/should have interpretations and approaches towards scholars on an axis of respect and in a way that does not contradict the basic disciplines of religion, for everyone in a sense is an “ibn al-zaman” (child of his or her own time). Every era has assets which are open to interpretation and which can be interpreted according to the conditions of the current period. It is the responsibility of every Muslim to read the signs of the time well and, taking that asset, to put the values he believes in into practice. Meanwhile, it is very important not to take scholars lightly and disrespectfully ridicule them saying things like, “They did not understand this matter.”

6.8. Book summarization

This method was explained in the previous section. The summarization and presentation of the book are conducted as follows: Fethullah Gülen gives books and magazines he deems beneficial to his students and participants in the class. Each work is read carefully, summarized, and then presented in class. Books that are summarized are from different branches of the Islamic disciplines, literature, history, philosophy, and so on. During summarization, Fethullah Gülen expresses his satisfaction of dissatisfaction with the author. Many students find this way of studying exceptionally fruitful.

6.9. Conclusion

Fethullah Gülen studied in the tradition of the madrasah system and later, while maintaining his loyalty and respect for the past, he expanded it with new techniques.

His teaching method is oriented towards the student. He is always open to new and different methods. In addition to using computers and other forms of retrieving sources, he also gives great importance to students’ being able to find relevant passages in books. Together with technology’s facilitating the rapid access of information, what is essential is reading the book and taking notes when necessary. Another important point he emphasizes is that technology should be a backup source for accessing information, but depending too much on it, a student runs the risk of technology becoming an obstacle to the development of a person’s aptitudes and capabilities.

Fethullah Gülen has expressed by different means that remembering one’s honorable ancestors and scholars with good words and one’s approaching their efforts and interpretation with respect are a Muslim’s moral and religious obligation. Fethullah Gülen points out, many times accompanied by tears, that those people have surpassed their own times and that we are indebted to them. Fethullah Gülen believes every age has its own benefits; thus, every individual of this age should make use of the inspirations God grants to our hearts and to reveal them always seeking endorsement from the essentials of the religion. This, according to him, is an expression of making the best of our willpower, appreciating the inspiration Allah gives to hearts and minds, and showing gratitude for the blessings we have received.

From time to time Fethullah Gülen has said, “I have no rights over you. If I did I would ask in return that you teach students like this until you pass away.” Regardless of how much his students grow up and become teachers, he encourages them never to give up learning and remain as students in this regard. As an example, he gives Nur al-Din al-Haythami, a lifelong student to Zayn al-Din al-Iraqi. From time to time he says humorously, “Angels take the souls of truthseeking students by feeding them honey and cream without hurting them,” thus encouraging them to remain as students with the desire to constantly learn. In short, according to Fethullah Gülen, the essential purpose of teaching and learning is to carry our faith to the horizon of marifat (divine knowledge), to deepen our knowledge with love, and to soar above by gaining His pleasure with our voluntary and devoted spirit in the path of His blessed word, never pausing even for a moment.

[1] Quoted from Fethullah Gülen 2006e, p. xli.
[2] Dates are After Hijra (Islamic calendar) / Common Era.
[3] Fethullah Gülen 2006c, p. 36.
[4] Hadiths are classified as mawquf, maqtu’, or marfu according to the top person recorded in the chain of transmission. Hadiths whose transmitters are recorded up to a Companion are mawquf; those that are attributed to a Successor are maqtu’; and if they can be traced back to the Prophet, they are called marfu.
[5] Quoted from Fethullah Gülen 1999b.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Fethullah Gülen 2004e, p. xix.
[8] Fethullah Gülen 2000g.
[9] Fethullah Gülen 2010b, p. 101.
[10] Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Kabir, 25/7; Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa, 1/179.
[11] Ibn Manzur. Lisan al-Arab; Zabidi. Taj al-Arus, “k-dh-b.”
[12] Jarh and ta’dil is critiquing a narrator’s position as a narrator. While jarh refers to deficien-cies in a narrator, like being known as a liar, fabricator, having a poor memory, etc., ta’dil affirms a narrator as acceptable based on his or her being trustworthy, having a strong memory, etc.
[13] Fethullah Gülen 1995b, pp. 21–24.

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