My Encounter with Risale-i Nur
By Mohammed Asim Alavi
How Everything Started?
It was on a sunny Sunday morning, probably in the month of February 2010, in the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, while sitting in the veranda of my home after concluding routine morning rituals, I came across a brochure that was lying under the stool unattended for a long time. On that morning I did not have any serious engagements and was thinking on how to organize the day. The brochure was given to me on the preceding Eid festival at the International Islamic University mosque in Kuala Lumpur. My hand stretched to the brochure to ‘just have a look’. The Purpose and Wisdom of Ramadan’, produced by Turkish-Malaysia Cultural Association captivated my attention by its content and I immediately called the number found on it. My intention was to find out more on the said association. On the phone I fixed appointment with the caller to meet in their Centre right after Maghrib prayers.
Indeed it was at a time I was curiously making serious inquiries on and observing closely the developments and revival currents prevalent in Turkey.
On that evening I waited in my car outside the condominium where Turkish-Malaysia Cultural Association is based, for the brothers to come and lead me to the Centre. In the apartment I met Brothers, Mustafa, Ibrahim and Ceydet and several others. All where bright faced and welcomed me with politeness and smile. To my astonishment, instead of a ‘Centre’ in the commonly understood sense of the word, I found myself in a spiritual environment with all necessary arrangements for prayers and seeking Islamic knowledge. We sat for a Turkish Çay and dinner and engaged in a long discussion on the activities of the association.
Subsequently I was briefly introduced to Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and his magnum opus Risale Nur. This brought my memory back to 1980s and 90s when we were introduced to this great Mujaddid of Islam, in our Islamic study circles conducted by elders of Sri Lanka Jama’at E Islami. Thereafter I was invited for Risale Nur discussion on weekends.
I made my second visit few days later for the purpose of reading Risale Nur. This is where the turning point came in my life. Until then I took the matters fairly casually.
As we started reading Risale Nur we engaged in friendly discussions surrounding the subjects dealt with in it. I am no new reader to Islamic literature, especially by contemporary Islamic revivalist scholars. Ever since I enrolled myself in the activities of Sri Lanka Jama’at E Islami in 1984, reading Islamic books had become an integral part of my life. Hence I am not new to Islamic revival ideas. I do always have the opportunity to learn such ideas from different perspectives from a host of scholars. This exposure helped me a great deal in reading Risale Nur on a comparative analytical basis. Every time I read I found myself comparing the thoughts of Imam Bediuzzaman with that of Imam Maududi or others.
THE GLARING ASPECTS IN THE RISALE NUR THAT ATTRACTED ME THE MOST
I would describe Risale Nur in a nutshell as ‘a thematic commentary to specific verses of the Qur’an that address the questions arising in the mind of the modern man with intensely forceful arguments and proofs by an author who is utterly sincere, forthright, brave and devoted to the cause in absolute humility in front of his Lord’.
My initial feeling on reading Risale Nur was one of wonder and astonishment. I felt to have entered a garden with a large number of various beautiful flowers and found myself confused on what to choose. Every subject I read in Risale Nur was very important. This confusion reflected even in prioritizing as to which book I should start translating first.
1. Mystical depth – I do not claim to be a highly learned person on Islam, however with the little Islamic knowledge I acquired, I can say that Risale Nur contains a mystical depth in all aspects it deals with. Many of my questions on Tawheed(Oneness of God), the power of Allah Almighty, Akhira, mysteries of the Qur’an and the mysteries hidden in the creation of the universe and mankind were answered to my utmost satisfaction. Due to my unfamiliarity with this mystical depth I faced difficulty in understanding the matters the author trying to explain. I had to repeat my reading over and over again until I catch a grasp of the matter.
2. Precedence over other Reformers – I constructed my ideas on the blessed Islamic revivals based on my reading, primarily, of Imam Maududi’s books and other scholars such as Shaheed Seyed Qutub. All my progressive Islamic ideas, if I possess any, came from these great thinkers. When I started reading Risale Nur I was astonished to find those ideas presented in a different and wider perspective. One case in point is the concept of ‘Medressetuzzehra’. This concept seeks integration of all human and natural sciences with the concept of Tawheed in general terms. In my understanding it was Imam Maududi and others who proposed this concept for the first time. Such unity of thought among the reformers and thinkers of Islam is among the outstanding aspects of this divine religion.
3. A combination of spiritual and rational approaches – Another outstanding feature I found in Risale Nur is the combination of spiritualism and rationalism. It addresses human intellect from spiritual as well as rational angles. Through this it kindles all human senses that seek answers to numerous questions on the purpose of man’s life on earth. Risale Nur’s intellectual onslaught is so forceful that a reader would find himself pushed to a corner from where escape is possible only by accepting its proposals or declaring war on it with outright obstinacy. It does not leave an iota of excuse for the modern man to stand in front of Allah Almighty in the Day of Judgment and complain that his intellect could not comprehend Islam.
4. Between Two Extremes – Secularism and atheism are two extremist ideologies by virtue of their rejection of the existence of God and life after death. This extremism sits on one corner. Its arguments are short-sighted and irrational from a universal perspective. On the other corner stands the traditional Muslim approach to worldly life that rejects human experiences and discoveries based on science & technology. The post-Ottoman Turkey, that was found on the principles of separating religion from state and social life, witnessed a fearsome struggle between Islam and the secular state edifice. Imam Bediuzzaman launched his mission at a time when Islam faced one of its hardest tests in history, both intellectually and physically. It was so explosive a situation that could push ardent Muslims to taking up arms against the state for the sake of protecting their religion. As a charismatic and prolific reformer, had he wished, Imam Bediuzzaman could have easily instigated his thousands of disciples for an armed engagement against secular elements in defence of Iman. But instead of promoting such radical and extreme ideas he preached prudence, use of Hikma(wisdom), consistency, Tawakkul(Reliance on Allah) and steadfastness. These are the finer qualities of an Islamic preacher. Had this been the methods of Risale Nur movement at its early stages, the movement would have been crushed conveniently and thrown into the dustbins of history now. It is because of this rightly balanced (Wasatiyah) approach the movement thrives to date.
THE TURNING POINT IN MY LIFE
- Translation – The sooner I began reading Risale Nur a strong urge came in my mind that this message should reach the Tamil speaking Muslims and others all over the world. Without giving time for a second thought I searched for the most suitable books for translation. I selected three as an initial step with justifications I developed in my mind:
- Damascus Sermon – to address the Muslim intellectuals and community leaders on the challenges of the Ummah,
- Short Words – to be used by parents and teachers to teach children with the purpose of strengthening Iman,
Sincerity & Brotherhood – primarily for workers and volunteers of Islamic Da’wah as this book addresses root causes of disunity, ailments of the heart and ways to cure them.
It’s indeed a great honour bestowed on me by Allah Almighty to be the first translator of any Risale Nur books into Tamil.
Turkish visit – During the summer of 2010, Turkish-Malaysian Cultural Association organized a study tour of Risale Nur Movement in Turkey. The delegation consisted members from Malaysia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Usbekistan, Iran, Bangladesh and China. The tour was so wonderful that we covered many regions where Risale Nur Movement is active. The most remarkable aspect of the tour was the visit to Barla followed by the meetings with Imam Bediuzzaman’s students. I had some advance information about Barla, that helped me to have a blurred visualization of Imam Bediuzzaman’s life in Barla. In my assumption we had to travel over 50 KM through uninhabited mountainous territory to reach Barla. Reaching Barla I was stunned and fell numb. I told myself that no ordinary person could resist this ruthless terrain 70-80 years ago with a mission that does not bring any worldly benefits. I concluded that Barla is a miracle and it was Allah Almighty who chose Barla for Imam Bediuzzaman to endure divine tests for the heavier mission of serving the Qur’an.
I had the opportunity to deliver talks almost in 17 places for a highly motivated and enthusiastic audience.
Included in the tour were interviews and TV discussions on Risale Nur by Dost TV, Ankara.
Among those who worked hard for the success of the tour were Emri, Ceydet(Malaysia), Yakop, Receb and many others in Turkey.
- At the tail end of the tour I decided to remain in Turkey for another 45 days. Our brothers were generous and kind enough to accommodate me in Yozgat almost for a month and in Ankara for the rest of my stay. I was in a good and pleasant company. During my stay, by the grace of Allah I was able to conclude the translation of three books.
- We were able to bring two students from Sri Lanka for undergraduate studies and they are presently enrolled at the Ankara University.
- Three of the translated books were published by RUBA VAKI, Istanbul. Now the books are in circulation in Sri Lanka. Measures are being taken to distribute them in India, Malaysia and other places. Soon we will get a progress report on this from Sri Lanka
Mohammed Asim Alavi – Sri Lanka