Risk Taking and Disciplined Adventurism in the Life of Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
Bravery gives birth to risk taking and disciplined adventurism. When talking about adventurism one should not visualize daredevil performers, nor about powerful countries trying to be jingoistic in dealing with weaker nations. The disciplined adventurism we try to deliberate here is broad and objectively discharged for sacred causes. Equally, risk taking too has its own merits. It’s one of taking calculated risks with the purpose of moving ahead. These are, in fact not found in every leader; these are rare leadership traits one can find only in special breeds of leaders. A person with these traits would not be afraid of failures, rather takes his failures as stepping stones to walk towards success. If one path is shut upon his face, he would try to find another; then another, until he reaches his goal or perish on its way. It’s a proven rule that a person unwilling to take risks will not achieve higher goals.
Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) had displayed these traits to a marvellous extend. The way his mission to Taif was conducted illustrate a graphic picture on his disciplined adventurism and risk taking moves. Sheikh Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri, a famous prophetic biographer gives the following graphic description of the Taif adventure. The reader can understand the proper meaning of risk taking and disciplined adventurism that we deliberate here. The intension here is to give him an opportunity to compare with certain episodes of Imam Bediuzzaman’s life related to this. A Muslim leader’s adventurism is blended with Iman and in his risky actions he heavily depends on the help of Allah.
‘In Shawwal, ten years after receiving his mission from his Lord, the Prophet [PBUH] set out towards At-Ta’if, about 60 kilometres from Makkah, in the company of his freed slave Zaid bin Haritha inviting people to Islam. But contrary to his expectations, the general atmosphere was terribly hostile. He approached the family of ‘Umair, who were reckoned amongst the nobility of the town. But, to his disappointment, all of them turned deaf ear to his message and used abusive language as regards the noble cause he had been striving for. Three brothers from the chieftains of Thaqeef—‘Abd Yaleel, Mas‘ud and Habeeb — sons of ‘Amr bin ‘Umair Ath-Thaqafy met the Prophet [pbuh], who invited them to embrace Islam and worship Allâh, but they impudently jeered at him and refused his invitation. “He is tearing the cloths of Al-Ka‘bah; is it true that Allâh has sent you as a Messenger?” said one of them. “Has not Allâh found someone else to entrust him with His Message?” said the second. “I swear by Allâh that I will never have any contact with you. If you are really the Messenger of Allâh, then you are too serious to retort back; and if you are belying Allâh, then I feel it is imperative not to speak to.” said the third.
…The Messenger of Allâh [PBUH], finding that they were hopeless cases, stood up and left them saying:
“Should you indulge in these practices of yours, never divulge them to me.”
For ten days he stayed there delivering his message to several people, one after another, but all to no purpose. Stirred up to hasten the departure of the unwelcome visitor, the people hooted him through the alley-ways, pelted him with stones and obliged him to flee from the city pursued by a relentless rabble. Blood flowed down both his legs; and Zaid, endeavouring to shield him, was wounded in the head. The mob did not desist until they had chased him two or three miles across the sandy plains to the foot of the surrounding hills. There, wearied and exhausted, he took refuge in one of the numerous orchards, and rested against the wall of a vineyard. At a time when the whole world seemed to have turned against him, Muhammad [PBUH] turned to his Lord and betook himself to prayer and the following touching words are still preserved as those through which his oppressed soul gave vent to its distress. He was weary and wounded but confident of the help of his Lord:
“O Allâh! To You alone I make complaint of my helplessness, the paucity of my resources and my insignificance before mankind. You are the most Merciful of the mercifuls. You are the Lord of the helpless and the weak, O Lord of mine! Into whose hands would You abandon me: into the hands of an unsympathetic distant relative who would sullenly frown at me, or to the enemy who has been given control over my affairs? But if Your wrath does not fall on me, there is nothing for me to worry about.”
“I seek protection in the light of Your Countenance, which illuminates the heavens and dispels darkness, and which controls all affairs in this world as well as in the Hereafter. May it never be that I should incur Your wrath, or that You should be wrathful to me. And there is no power nor resource, but Yours alone…’
We shall report here several important anecdotes from the life of Imam Bediuzzaman, as they are, to give a glimpse of these traits of his. They are highly fascinating as in thriller movies, however are objective and insightful.
One among several character of determination from the part of his life is that no situation, no matter how terribly volatile and chaotic they may be, would prevent him from engaging in constructive works. His aligned focus on his mission and love of it gave him much needed stamina to forget all kinds of hardships. Lack of resources and non-availability of conducive environment have never been excuses for him. It was amidst the heat of the battle, during the 1st World War, that he wrote, Isharaatul I’jaz Fi Mazanil Ijaz(Arabic), which is regarded as a unique Tafsir proving the miracles of the Qur’an. Ihsan Qasim Assalihi reports: ‘ During the time of those battles, he used to return to his bunker and dictate Isharaatul I’jaz Fi Mazanil Ijaz to his wise disciple, Molla Habib. Sometime he used to dictate on horseback or while they were in the extreme frontlines of the skirmishes…..’.
Prisons life too with their extreme hard conditions had provided pleasant opportunities for his mission. He said, ‘surely our situation outside the prison under these hostile conditions a hundred times worse than inside of it. Because, there will be no more freedom for us after this absolute despotism and oppression’. Hence, prisons were transformed into Madrasat al Yusufiyah, that we shall discuss later.
A self sacrificing brave person is not of complaining. As the Prophet (PBUH) said, ‘a believer is not one of complaining nor one of lamenting….’. In a couplet recorded by Ihsan Qasim Assalihi, Imam Bediuzzaman says, ‘Surely complaint is a scourge’; nay scourge upon scourge, and is sin upon sin, upon scourge… abandon complaint and enrich gratitude like bolbol ..…. Complaining and lamentation are the traits of a passive person. A strong believer in the Qadr of Allah would not display these kinds of negative traits. He would attribute all his successes to Allah and failures to his own wrong choices. In another occasion he said: ‘Understand! Complaining is an explicit objection of Qadr and gratitude is a sign of accepting it’.
A leader requires extraordinary resolve and determination to remain fasten to his stances. Signs of slackness and weakness emerge from shaky resolve. Such a leader might be showing various sorts of physical weaknesses, but his spiritual strength and determination would shroud them off. It was his extraordinary spiritual strength that sustained bulk of Imam Bediuzzaman’s body in amazing ways. In one of his letters to Risale Nur students, he wrote, ‘even if I hold thousands and thousands of souls; even if I was tested with thousands of diseases; even if I was afflicted with thousands of varieties of pains and calamities, certainly, my decision – and of course our decision - that is to remain where we are in the service of Iman (Belief) would stay firm. We would strive to bring permanent happiness on this Ummah through our service; this is what we have learned from the teachings of the Qur’an’ . On numerous occasions Imam Bediuzzaman expressed such powerful statements. In all of them one point he had firmly mentioned was that there will be absolutely no abandonment of the mission, or withdrawal in any situation. To the extreme, he was put in solitary confinement for twenty whole months on several occasions; He was poisoned more or less seventeen times – all these brutal pressure tactics did not work to stop his march.
Here we shall reproduce the graphic descriptions by Sukran Vahide, of Imam Bediuzzaman’s adventurous encounters as a prisoner of war (POW) and escape from Russian under the wrath of appalling winter conditions. As indicated earlier, the reader will find here how a Muslim leader’s daring adventures lead to positive outcomes for his cause. Although it’s quite lengthy, it’s brought here to benefit the reader.
‘..One of those four surviving students of Bediuzzaman’s was Ali Aras from the village of Çoravaniş near Van. Also known as Ali Çavus, he wrote down his memories of Bediuzzaman at the fall of Bitlis and they were published in the newspaper, Ittihad six years after his death, in April 1971. They also give a lively account of Bediuzzaman and his Russian captors after they had been taken prisoner. ‘ The Russians occupied Muş before we reached it. The people who had evacuated Muş said when we met them on the road that all the ammunition together fourteen heavy guns had remained there. Ustad Bediuzzaman divided up the three-hundred man force according to the fourteen guns and assigned a six-man squad to capture the ammunition. We captured the guns and ammunition and handed them over to a regular regiment which was posted on the Bitlis Tatvan road. At this point the Russians began to attack from three sides and left us cut-off in the Bitlis valley. The defence against the Russians continued day and night for seven days. Three shells hit Ustad. Of these, one hit the handle of his dagger,….. and the third his right shoulder. Kel Ali, the commander of the regular troops, witnessed this and said to Ustad:
‘’’Bullets have no effect on you either, Bediuzzaman!’ To which Bediuzzaman replied: ‘if Allah protects a person, even the shells of a heavy gun cannot kill him!’
‘’At the end of a week’s fierce resistance, the Russians still could not enter Bitlis, so they evacuated the Papşin Han on the Tatvin road and withdrew. Then it was seen that guided by Armenians, they had skirted round the south of Bitlis by the Guzeldere road by way of Simsek, had cut the Bitlis-Siirt road, and were holding the Arab Bridge. After midnight they started the attack on Bitlis. There was very fierce fighting. At this point, Ustad’s nephew, Ubeyd, of whom he was very fond, and many of his students, and our friends, were killed.
‘’since the Russians had taken the town’s three bridges, Ustad wanted to get to the other side of the town. We jumped down from on top of a conduit which passed beneath a large building next to what is now Kazimpasha primary school. Because the water was entirely covered by snow and it was also night-time, we could not estimate the ground, and Ustad hit his leg on a stone and broke it. Showing me a more suitable place underneath the conduit, he said: get me in there Ali, then go. I give you permission. God willing, you will get away. I got him there and sat him. He continued to insist that I go, but when I said I was not going and that I wanted to remain and die as a martyr alongside him, he stroked my head with his hand, and said: Fate(Qadr) has made us prisoners. I declared that I too had surrendered to fate.
‘’We remained in the water for about thirty six hours. The Russians had occupied the building over the conduit and their voices could be heard from below. We were busy planning ‘how could we get out of there when a squad of fifty Russian soldiers arrived. They pulled us out and took us to a building which was a hotel beneath and in which the Russian Second Army was billeted’.
The above accounts give a vivid picture of how daringly a military leadership Imam Bediuzzaman gave in the battle front. In critically tense situations he had effectively managed his forces and heroically engaged the enemy in fierce battle until all resources and strengths were exhausted. Such an avowed enemy of Russians would prefer suicide to being captured by them, which was to be a sure humiliation. But Imam Bediuzzaman did not choose that destructive path, because, firstly it was not allowed for a Muslim to commit suicide and secondly, Imam Bediuzzaman had a greater mission ahead. Hence, being captured was a prudent decision at that time.
Afterwards, he was held captive (POW) for two and half months by the Russians.
The end of second part of this account would reveal his daring escape and return to Istanbul and finding his way to being appointed to the highest religious body under the Uthmaniyah Khilafa, the Darul Hikmah Al Islamiyah.
Sukran Vahide reports the account of one, Major Ali Haydar Bey:
‘Bediuzzaman and I crossed the Volga(River) in the most miraculous fashion. While crossing the river, we sank into the water sometimes up to our ankles, sometimes up to our knees, as though our feet were sinking into snow. I became very excited. When we crossed it, Bediuzzaman turned to me and said:
‘’’Ali Haydar, my brother! Just us Almighty God subjugated the sea to Moses (Peace be upon him), so too out of respect for you, did He subjugated the River Volga to us. He wanted to allay my bewilderment and astonishment. I said to him: ‘ I do not know how we crossed and were saved, but you know, Ustad. Once again it is as you say…….
.…Having reached Petersburg in this manner, Bediuzzaman made his way to the border with Poland, and crossed over into the part which was then under German control. He took asylum with the Germans, who were, of course, the allies of Ottomans. As an officer and escaped prisoner of war, Bediuzzaman was given every assistance by the Germans. He then went to Berlin by way of Warsaw….. In June 1918, Bediuzzaman returned to Istanbul by way of Vienna and Sofya…. .
These amazing events give one important conclusion that it was the will of Allah that drove Imam Bediuzzaman back to Istanbul, in preparation for the greater role he was to play in defending Iman against a powerful tyranny and atheist current at home.
A leader imbued with the traits of risk taking and disciplined adventurism sometime takes decisions that are so perilous and dangerous that an ordinary person cannot imagine of. For him the defence of his mission is the top most priority. He contextualises his approaches and one action at one time may be seen important and at another the same action loses its importance. Viewing from the situation he would attach uncompromising importance to issues which may be seen less significant religiously at other times. We come across another thrilling episode in the life of Imam Bediuzzaman and that is the ‘Hat issue’. During the period of great religious repressions in Turkey, wearing of a particular European style hat was made obligatory upon every male. This was regarded as an act in the chase of demolishing all sorts of religious signs and their roots from peoples’ lives, hence resistance against it gained vital significance. ‘ Hat Act of November 1925 stated that all men should wear European-style hats making the wearing of all other headgear a criminal offence. ….Characteristically, Bediuzzaman resolutely refused to discard his turban and gown, and persisted in defying attempts to make him to do so till the end of his days, even making his court appearance in them. ‘’This turban comes off with this head!’’ he told Nevzat Tandogan, the Governor of Ankara, in 1943 after a very sharp exchange. He was taken from Governor’s Office and transported to prison in Denizli’
A leader’s ability to withstand terrible forms of tyranny and fending off of relentless repressions become powerful sources of psychological strength and morale booster for the followers; while boosting the followers’ morale they act as rallying point for them. Some events, as the one below, are crucial in building confidence about the mission among the followers and salvaging them from the abyss of defeatism. They are a reflection of the leader’s charisma.
‘ …(Abdullah Yegin notes)…. like his speech, Ustad’s manner was unique, and everyone used to look at him in amazement. For his dress, his manner, and his actions resembled no one else’s…I’ll never forget the way in that time of repression when the police and the gendarmes were much feared, Ustad walking towards the Governor’s residence escorted by the police with firm and resolute steps in exactly the same dress he had always worn and the way the onlookers stared at him in wonder, a shiver passing over the crowd watching him…..
(Excerpts from, ‘ The Positive Warrior’)
M. Asim Alavi, Editor, Trend, Sri Lanka
 The Sealed Nectar – S R Mubarakpuri, p 82
 Ihsan Qasim Assalihi – ibid, p 124
 Ibid – p 340
 Ibid – p 224
 Ibid – p 352
 Ihsan Qasim Assalihi – ibid, p 362
 Sukran Vahide – ibid, p 129-130
 Sukran Vahide – ibid, p 139-140
 Sukran Vahide – ibid, p 202
 Sukran Vahide – ibid, p 269