By Faruk Arslan
Knowledge, as understood in the Sufi tradition within Islam, is generally described in
terms of gnosis acquired through unveiling. And indeed, the writings of Fethullah Gülen are
grounded in his multiple experiences of unveiling. Gülen points to these experiences in different
parts of his works through the use of a number of concepts and phrases such as ilham
(inspiration), sünuhat (accesses), hads (spiritual analogy), tuluat (offshoots) and tahattur
(remembering). Besides these references to unveiling in the writings of Gülen, four sources of
gnosis, namely Muhammad (pbuh), the Universe, the Quran and Conscience appear as other
important aspects of Gülen’s Sufi epistemology (Eris, 2006, p. 100).
In Sufism, knowledge is a type of information which can be obtained through the human
senses or through the revelations and inspirations of God. A key understanding of Sufi life or a
Sufi order means remove unnecessary needs from your life and solve the ego problem with your
heart. Sufism emphasizes a spiritually meaningful life in contrast to a materialized
and monotonous life style. Sometimes Sufism is understood as information that is relevant to an
unseen reality or to gaining true understanding of a subject. Knowledge in Islam can be
categorized in different ways according to different bases.
When categorized according to its methods, Gülen divides it into two groups: knowledge
that is obtained through the intellect and knowledge that is obtained through transmission.
Knowledge that is obtained by transmission is also of two kinds and that knowledge which is
called discovered through Islamic spirituality and inspiration can be either abstract or direct
(Eris, 2006, p. 103). Gülen states that at the beginning of unveiled knowledge, the inner faculties
of the Sufi’s heart begin to face toward God (Gülen, 2001). He explains that the Sufi begins his
journey with abstract knowledge, and this knowledge leads the Sufi to belief. Then, belief
generates detailed knowledge; and detailed knowledge leads to an intense spiritual life. Finally,
this practice generates direct knowledge and perfect goodness (Gülen, 2006. p 59).
According to mainstream Sufi understanding and also Fethullah Gülen, there are five
spiritual layers between us and Gods essence, and the realm of qualities ranks at the third level.
The first layer between us and Gods essence is Gods actions, followed, second, by His names.
The third layer is his qualities. The fourth is Gods affairs (şen) and the fifth one is His essence.
In this picture, each layer inclines towards the closest upper layer; and finally, all of them incline
towards Gods essence (Gülen, 2005, p.321).
For Gülen, God’s essence is unknowable to humans. The knowledge which we can obtain
about His essence is through His qualities, names, and actions. God is known to us through His
names, and He encompasses us with His qualities. This is the final point of human knowledge
about Him. What is beyond this point can be known only by certain people who have been given
the gift to understand Allah through their feelings, intuitions, and spiritual tastes. However, this
type of knowledge is a special type of knowledge and is not attainable for most human beings
(Eris, 2006, p. 130). For Gülen, the qualities of God are separate from Gods essence, and they
are a curtain for His essence. Although Gülen accepts the statement of Sunni Muslim
Theologians that Gods qualities are neither joined with him nor separate from him, in his Sufi
approach he prefers to consider them separate from Gods essence. Therefore, according to
Gülen, God is not alive because of the quality of hayat (life). Instead, He is alive because of His
essence. Similarly, He is not a knower due to the quality of ilm (knowledge), but He is a knower
due to His essence. On the other hand, His qualities are a curtain for His essence and thereby not
His essence. As Gods inaccessibility necessitates making causes in nature a curtain for His
actions, the radiance of His essence necessitates making qualities as a curtain before His essence
too. Gülen also asserts that human qualities are a shadow of Gods qualities; however, there are
some differences between the two. Although human qualities are reflections of Gods qualities,
they have a beginning and an ending. Moreover, their continuation is dependent on Gods
qualities (Eris, 2006, p.130).
For Gülen, there are four forces for self-actualization, for instance, main core conscience
(vicdan) is a mechanism that comprises four different faculties: will, lordly ability (rabbaniye),
consciousness, intellect and senses. Will is a part of vicdan through which a human being
differentiates, and then chooses, right from wrong. "Lordly ability" is a dimension of the heart.
Consciousness colored intellect is another tool of vicdan, and the senses are its hands. The
human being feels through them. Human beings feel desire for belief, gnosis, love, and
knowledge as long as the faculties of vicdan are alive (Gülen, 2003, p.290).
One of the functions of vicdan is to feel its poverty, helplessness, and its needs, in
addition to recognizing that God is the only power who can help it fulfill its needs. Because of
that function, vicdan can turn to its Lord with belief and thank the bounties of God by means of
gnosis, love, and enthusiasm (Gülen, 2003, p.290). Spiritual intellect and senses takes the
training of the ego as its primary discipline, and for this to occur, Sufi tradition has developed
diverse spiritual practices. Gülen elaborately details various spiritual practices in his
comprehensive study of Sufi terminology, The Emerald Hills of the Heart, to show the ways the
heart is oriented toward love for humanity and divinity. Many of his writings, including The
Emerald Hills of the Heart, refer to how this was accomplished by great Sufi saints like Jalal al
Din Rumi, Yunus Emre, Ahmad Sirhindi and Khalid al-Baghdadi. Gülen directs the readers to
those who are appreciated not simply for their respective spiritual practices, but more as heroes
or spiritual giants of love, tolerance and humanism, who demonstrate how “love is the ultimate
station of the spiritual journey” (Gülen, 2003, p.153).
Gülen’s writings, as noted earlier, are the most comprehensive source of information
about Sufi therapy, and can be profitably mined in order to extract data and insight for the
purposes of gaining new knowledge. An important characteristic of Gülen’s approach to Sufism,
however, is his tolerance about issues most often criticized by orthodox Muslims. Thus Gülen
does not envisage a Sufi life as an ascetic one, living on the mountains. Today’s ideal Sufi
should live among the people and manage to be with God, that is, he or she should strive in the
way of God, while at the same time representing Islam in the best way (Gokcek, 2006, p. 64).
The Sufi life becomes very pure, as in the gardens of heaven; the heart becomes content with joy
and serenity, and the Sufi feels as if he or she lives the life of the angels.
In every moment of this life, the Sufi comes face to face with his/her Lord, and every
meeting contains a different joy from the previous one. Gülen explains this beautifully as
follows: "Let the philosophers and scholars be content with their knowledge, the Gnostic drinks
serenity in each moment from radiant cups of gnosis!" (Gülen, 2006, p. 199). According to
Gülen, self-possession, steadfastness, seriousness, profundity and resolution are the main aspects
of the gnostic. Therefore, in his Sufi teaching, there is no room for any laxity, impertinence, or
conceit. For him, the more the Sufi knows and obtains gnosis, the more he follows self
possession and steadfastness (Gülen, 2009, p. 147). The methods of attaining gnosis consist of
mind, conscience, heart, and reflection (Gülen, 2009, p. 148). Methods of attaining gnosis are
generally considered to be comparable to faculties of consciousness in spiritual psychology.