However, portraits of Gülen, who currently lives in the United
States, are not to be seen. Students interviewed I interviewed
claimed that they only know about the cleric from reading newspapers
stories and books; Fatih Koleji, which has students ranging in age from
four to 18, does not offer specific instruction about the movement's
founder, they said.
The methods and approach of Gülen schools toward religious
instruction has fueled lots of speculation about the movement's
intentions. Governments in Central Asia in particular are suspicious that the Islamic values espoused by the Gulen movement could potentially pose a challenge to the political status quo in the region.
Hoping to dispel misconceptions, the 37-year-old vice-principal of
Fatih Koleji, Metin Demirci, who taught for five years in the movement's
schools in Kazakhstan, stressed that all the schools closely follow the
curriculum of the public schools in whichever country they are
In Turkey, he said the basic tenets of Islam are taught in a weekly
class lasting 80 minutes that also offers instruction on other world
religions. "Students learn our religious principles and other religious
principles," Demirci said. Faculty members, he claimed, try to serve as
role models of Islamic piety, leading by example.
While Fatih Koleji has a prayer room, no student is forced to pray,
Demirci continued. Out of 200 students at the school, only about 10
percent of the children follow the Muslim practice of prayer five times a
day, he estimated. "They must want it."
One foreign teacher at another of the movement's estimated 30 schools
in the Istanbul metropolitan area commented that most students are
drawn from religious families, but their faith does not appear to "rub
off" on more secular classmates.
One ritual from Turkey's ardently secular public schools, though,
appears less prominent at Fatih Koleji. Demirci played down the
importance of "Our Oath," a nationalist pledge that students usually
recite daily. "It is related to democracy and improving democracy," he
said. "I believe in the next two years, we will stop saying this because
we don't need it. With democracy, every small child has the right to
say anything they choose."
Whether secular or religious, Fatih Koleji's students appear to hail
from wealthier families. Tuition stands at 20,000 Turkish lira per year,
or about $11,325, nearly the equivalent of Turkey's average per capita
income of $14,600. The fee does not include books or transportation to
school. Financial assistance is available to qualifying students.
Eager for their children to gain an educational edge amid an
overcrowded and underfunded public-school system, many Turkish parents
willingly swallow the relatively high cost. "In Turkey . . . the private
schools of Gülen are incomparably more successful than the public
schools," emailed Bayram Balci, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, who has tracked the
movement for several years.