C H A P T E R F O U R
K A S T A M O N U
Life in Kastamonu
Bediuzzaman was released from Eskishehir Prison in March, 1936 after serving the eleven month sentence and was sent to Kastamonu in the Ilgaz Mountains to the south of the Black Sea. His enforced residence in this the major town of the province of Kastamonu was to last seven and a half years. Under constant surveillance, his movements were more restricted than in Barla, and the harassment and persecution continued. Bediuzzaman wrote further additions to the Risale-i Nur while here, including one of its most important treatises, The Supreme Sign. He attracted new students and Kastamonu and particularly the town of Inebolu on the Black Sea earned the name of “the second Isparta” as a centre from which the Risale-i Nur spread. Bediuzzaman kept up a continual correspondence with his students in Isparta and elsewhere and these letters were gathered together to form the Kastamonu Lahikasi, or Kastamonu Letters. They form an important source for the matters with which Bediuzzaman was concerned at this time, and most of the subjects they discuss will be touched on in the course of this chapter. They were a source of great enlightenment, instruction, and encouragement for Bediuzzaman’s students, now parted from him, and were conveyed from town to town and village to village by ‘Nur Postmen’ with copies being made of them on the way, since it was very often not possible for them to be sent by post.
His first three months in Kastamonu, Bediuzzaman stayed “as a guest” in the police station. He describes what a trying time this was for him as someone who preferred a life of solitude, and also could not abide the compulsory changes in dress.1 Bediuzzaman’s refusal to abandon his Islamic jubba and turban were doubtless made a pretext for the harassment he received there. Following this he was moved to a rented house immediately opposite the police station. On two floors, it was a traditional wooden house with the ground floor used as a store for logs and an outside staircase leading to the two upstairs rooms. Bediuzzaman remained here for the seven years he was in Kastamonu.
It was during his first weeks in Kastamonu that Bediuzzaman attracted the first of those who were to be his closest students here, ‘Çayci Emin’. He was an exile the same as Bediuzzaman. A tribal chief from easter Turkey, he had been exiled to Kastamonu some ten years previously and now made his livelihood by running a tea-stall in the courtyard of the Nasrullah Mosque. It was here that he first saw Bediuzzaman. Bediuzzaman won his heart when he warned him against approaching him, but Çayci Emin was not one to be deterred by any possible harm from officialdom and thereafter did all he could to assist Bediuzzaman.2 Of Bediuzzaman’s other close students in the town of Kastamonu was Mehmed Feyzi,3 who had a scholarly background. These two most constantly attended Bediuzzaman – as far as they were able, securing his daily needs, and Mehmed Feyzi in particular acting as his scribe and assistant with the Risale-i Nur.
Bediuzzaman was virtually confined to his house, going out only once or twice a week either up into the surrounding mountains or climbing up to the citadel which dominates the town. He spent his time either writing the Risale-i Nur or correcting the hand-written copies of existing parts, or in worship, prayer and supplication, or in contemplation. The nights he spent in prayer. He was busy with the same activities when he went out into the mountains, and on the way there even; he never passed an idle moment. Mehmed Feyzi tells how when accompanying him, Bediuzzaman on horseback would be correcting copies of the Risale-i Nur or listening to himself reading them out, or else teaching him and Çayci Emin and any other of his students who were present. Although Bediuzzaman corrected the copies with the greatest care, he never consulted the originals; they were all in his head.
The high altitude of Kastamonu makes the winters very cold. In several letters Bediuzzaman mentions the bitter cold together with the illnesses he suffered. He was afflicted with chronic lumbago and rheumatism, in addition to which he was poisoned on several occasions. He writes that despite suffering these tribulations in addition to all his other hardships, “I offer endless thanks to my Creator that He has sent me belief, the most sacred remedy for every ill, and the medicine of resignation to the Divine Decree, which results from belief in Divine Determining; it has afforded me complete patience and caused me to offer thanks.”4
Bediuzzaman’s indefatigable endurance is illustrated by the following memory of Çayci Emin’s:
“I used to go to Bediuzzaman’s house early to light his stove. One day I went it was extremely cold, and without realizing it I had gone two hours before the call to prayer. He was rapt in worship on his prayer-rug. In candlelight in the pre-dawn cold, he was praying in a sad and touching voice, he was pleading, beseeching. Agitated, I waited on my feet for a full one and a half hours. Shivering and trembling, I watched this elevated sight. Finally the sound of the call to prayer began to come from afar.. but the Turkish call to prayer of that time. He turned to me and said:
“‘Emin, you made a great mistake! I swear that I have certain times that should the angels come even, I would not receive them...’” Çayci Emin apologized saying he had been misled by the light of the bright moon and said he would not come again before the call to prayer.5
Bediuzzaman was subject to constant harassment. Ankara appointed governors to the province whom they knew would keep up the pressure on him. These were the most fearsome days of the Republican People’s Party’s rule, when it was pursuing its Westernization programme and struggle against Islam with all its resources. Governor Avni Dogan was appointed in September of the year Bediuzzaman was sent to Kastamonu. He was the epitome of the new breed of officials grown up under Republican Party rule. An avowed enemy of Islam, he did all he could to inflict torment on Bediuzzaman and his students. He remained in this post for nearly four years and was succeeded in 1940 by Mithat Altiok, whose attitude towards Bediuzzaman was somewhat more conciliatory. Bediuzzaman, however, endured all that was inflicted on him by these officials, even on one occasion preventing harm coming to Avni Dogan, and incidentally gaining for himself an important student in the process.
Briefly, in response to the destruction of the mosques and Sufi tekkes and tombs of saints which was carried out with greater ferocity and efficiency in Kastamonu after Avni Dogan was appointed as Governor, one of the town’s shaykhs, Hilmi Bey, known as ‘the Little Shaykh’, in order to try and put a stop to the destruction, vowed to kill the Governor. He obtained a rifle and laid the plans. Then when all was ready, he was walking plunged in thought before Bediuzzaman’s house when there was a tap at the window, and Bediuzzaman beckoned to him. Wondering what this elderly hoja wanted, he climbed the stairs up to the house. But Bediuzzaman merely gave him a copy of a prayer called the Tahmidiye, and asked him to write out copies of it. Hilmi Bey agreed, and on returning home, sat down immediately and started to write it out. He continued far into the night. When he had finished, his mind had been changed completely, and he had given up all idea of his projected crime. And thereafter, he became a devoted student of Bediuzzaman’s, dedicating himself to writing out the Risale-i Nur and serving its author.6
At Avni Dogan’s instigation, Bediuzzaman’s house was frequently searched by the police for copies of the Risale-i Nur, and they had to hide them in whatever unlikely places they could find. However some of the police officers charged with plaguing him paid for it. One called Hafiz Nuri would come every few days and go through Bediuzzaman’s house with a tooth-comb; he was finally struck down by a mysterious illness and died. Another called Safvet in the time of Mithat Altiok also came to a sorry end. Bediuzzaman wished them no ill; as he told Hafiz Nuri’s family who came to plead for him, they received these blows from the Qur'an.7
Another of Bediuzzaman’s students was Tasköprülü Sadik Bey,8 the local aga or lord. The grandson of Sadik Pasha, one of the heroes of Plevne and educated in the Military Academy in Istanbul, he cast aside his rank and position and devoted himself to serving Bediuzzaman and the Risale-i Nur. His village of Tasköprü became a centre for the writing out of the Risale-i Nur, as did the town of Inebolu. The Risale-i Nur was introduced into Inebolu by two other important students of Bediuzzaman’s, Nazif and Selahaddin Çelebi, who were father and son. Selahaddin recounted this while describing his first visit to Bediuzzaman, when he took to be corrected a copy of the Fourth Ray which his father had written:
“....I climbed the mountain.... under a tree a person dressed in white was performing the prayers. ‘This must be him’, I said to myself. After finishing them, he motioned with his head for me to sit. I knelt down and said ‘Amen’ to his supplications; in a touching voice he was beseeching Almighty God for the peace and happiness in this world and the next of humanity and the Islamic world. Finally I gave him the book I had brought. ‘Welcome, my brother’, he said. ‘Let's correct it.’ It took half an hour. I studied the Hoja Efendi carefully, whom I was seeing for the first time. He was correcting it with great attention, even correcting wrong points and letters in the words. He asked me: ‘Do you know this [Ottoman] writing?’, and got me to write a sentence.
“‘Ma'shallah! You write very well’, he said. ‘Will you write out a treatise if I give you one?’ When I said I would with pleasure, he gave me around nine of the Short Words. And he gave me the Eleventh and Twelfth Words for my father. ‘They must be written out exactly’, he said. I asked his permission, and left him.
“The Risale-i Nur was introduced into Inebolu in this way. Subsequently, hundreds of hands started to write it out....for five years their pens worked like a printing press. The Nur Postmen were organized between Kastamonu and Inebolu. And the various treatises of the Risale-i Nur were sent to Anatolia [by sea] from the port of Inebolu.... These duties were being carried on unceasingly in this way when I saw a duplicating machine in a shop in Istanbul. On learning that it duplicated at the rate of a hundred pages a minute, I bought it immediately and took it to Inebolu. First of all we duplicated the Seventh Ray, The Supreme Sign, which is ‘the observations of a traveller questioning the universe concerning his Creator.’ When I took the first copy to Ustad, he was tremendously pleased. He expressed his feelings at the end of the work with these words:
“‘Oh God, grant happiness in Paradise to Nazif Çelebi and his blessed helpers, who have written five hundred copies with one pen!’”9
In the villages of Isparta the treatises of the Risale-i Nur were being written out by hand unceasingly. Bedre, Ilema, Kuleönü, Islamköy, Sav, and Atabey; hundreds of people in these villages devoted themselves entirely to writing out the Risale-i Nur. ‘Nur Exchange’ Sabri, the ‘Jetty Official’, in the village of Bedre. The parts of the Risale and Bediuzzaman’s letters would come to him. He would make copies immediately and send them by means of ‘Nur Postmen’ to Egridir, and from there they would taken to Hafiz Ali in Islamköy. All were aware of the urgency of the task. In the village of Sav, and elsewhere, the women in particular dedicated themselves with great devotion to writing, while the shepherds carried pieces in their fodder bags so they too could write them.10 We learn from one of Bediuzzaman’s letters that his student Hüsrev, “one of the heroes of the Risale-i Nur”, wrote out in his exceptionally fine hand-writing four hundred copies of various parts of the Risale-i Nur over a period of nine to ten years, as well as three copies of the Qur'an which contained clear examples of the coinciding of Divine Name of Allah (tevafukat).11
Bediuzzaman’s letters to his students, which, like the Risale-i Nur, have a warmth and directness which address all who read them, concern mostly the aims, purpose, and way of the Risale-i Nur and the position its students should take in the face of the political and social conditions of the time. They stress the caution they should practice in the face of their numerous enemies. And stress also the importance of obtaining sincerity and selflessness in their task of serving the Qur'an so as to be able to form strong bonds of brotherhood with their fellows and develop the ‘collective personality’ necessary to combat the joint attacks of those who were inimical to Islam. Many of the letters also describe the importance of the role the Risale-i Nur and its Students had to play, and also the great blessings and benefits associated with it. Bediuzzaman often expresses his gratitude for the students who had been drawn to the Risale-i Nur and their self-sacrificing service; it was a major source of consolation for him in the face of the oppressive conditions under which he had to live and work. Before examining some of the letters concerning the Risale-i Nur, included here are one or two examples illustrating this:
“My Dear and Loyal Blessed Brothers and Sincere, Vigorous, and Renowned Comrades in the Service of the Qur'an and Belief!
“I offer endless thanks and praise to Almighty God that He has affirmed the hopes expressed in the Treatise for the Elderly and proved true the claims in the treatise containing my defence speeches. Yes... He has bestowed on the Risale-i Nur through you thirty Abdurrahmans who are the equivalent of thirty thousand, rather, He has bestowed one hundred and thirty or one thousand one hundred and thirty Abdurrahmans.....”12 And another example:
“My Dear and Absolutely Loyal Brothers!
“You are my consolation and means of joy in this world. If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have been able to endure these four years of torment. Your persistence and fortitude have afforded me a powerful patience and endurance...”13 And again:
“My Dear and Loyal Brothers!
“I was happier at your letters than I can describe. Especially Husrev’s two most valuable letters, that the Risale-i Nur is spreading in extraordinary fashion in Haji Hafiz’s village – they have been kept like copies of the Risale-i Nur and clear proofs, and are being shown to the Risale-i Nur Students in this area as a spur and encouragement...”14
The Way of the Risale-i Nur and its Function
Bediuzzaman wrote to his students that the Risale-i Nur’s function was to save and strengthen belief in the face of the severe and combined attacks against it at the present time.15 In addition to the attacks against Islam and belief carried out by the new regime and its supporters, which have been briefly described in the preceding chapters, Bediuzzaman explained also that what was being suffered at that time was the accumulated objections and doubts levelled against belief and the Qur'an by the European [Western] philosophers over a period of some thousand years. Their aim was to shake the pillars of belief, which are the foundation and key of eternal life and and everlasting happiness. Thus, what was essential was to strengthen belief and transform it from “imitative belief” into “certain belief”.16,17 In one letter he described the enormity of the Risale-i Nur’s role like this:
“The Risale-i Nur is not only repairing some minor damage or some small house; it is repairing vast damage and the all-embracing citadel which contains Islam, the stones of which are the size of mountains. And it is not striving to reform only a private heart and an individual conscience; it is striving to cure with the medicines of the Qur'an and belief and the Qur'an’s miraculousness the collective heart and generally-held ideas, which have been breached in awesome fashion by the tools of corruption prepared and stored up over a thousand years, and the general conscience, which is facing corruption through the destruction of the foundations, currents, and marks of Islam which are the refuge of all and particularly the mass of believers.
“Certainly, for such universal breaches and awesome wounds, proofs and equipment of the utmost certitude and the strength of mountains, and well-proven medicines and numberless drugs of the effectiveness of a thousand remedies are necessary. Emerging at this time from the miraculousness of the Qur'an of Miraculous Exposition, the Risale-i Nur performs this function, and is also the means of advancing and progressing through the infinite degrees of belief.”18
Thus, in the course of time the belief of the mass of believers in the fundamentals of Islam had lost its vitality, primarily as a result of the doubts and scepticism planted in the common mind by Western philosophy. This process had received a powerful impetus with the deliberate policy of Westernization favoured since the establishment of the Republic. It was the Risale-i Nur with its concentration on developing belief from being merely imitative into “certain” belief, and into the degrees beyond this, that had the ability to reverse the decline and help rebuild the structure of Islam. While in Kastamonu Bediuzzaman wrote the Supreme Sign, to which he attached great importance as one of the parts of the Risale-i Nur most effective at developing “certain belief”. We can look at it briefly in order to learn both what Bediuzzaman meant by belief of this kind, and the new method he put forward in the Risale-i Nur by which it could be attained.
The Supreme Sign
The Supreme Sign is a key to understanding Bediuzzaman’s own view of existence and his way of worshipping, for he said of it that he wrote it for himself according to his own understanding.19 The treatise comprises “the observations of a traveller questioning the universe about his Maker”, and describes a journey in the mind through the universe made by a traveller most curious to learn about and become acquainted with “the Owner of this fine guest-house, the Author of this vast book, the Monarch of this mighty realm.” He questions first the heavens with their suns and stars and heavenly bodies, then the atmosphere with its thunder and lightening, winds, clouds and rain, then the earth, and so on, each of which proves the necessary existence and unity of their Maker. With the “thirty-three degrees in the necessary existence and Unity of the Creator” proclaimed by these “thirty-three universal tongues”, it forms thirty-three degrees of belief. That is to say, as the traveller travels through the universe questioning each of its realms and learning of their testimony to the Divine existence and Unity, his belief gains universality and strength with each degree, and passes from being “imitative belief” to the degree of “certain and true belief”, and beyond.
One of the central features in this new way which the Risale-i Nur opened up to renew and strengthen belief in God, is that it “blends” the heart and the mind. That is, both the reasoning faculty and the subtle inner senses are utilized in reaching the truth and in the process are illuminated with the knowledge obtained. We can look first at the first of these, the mind or reason.
It will be recalled that on realizing the extremely severe nature of the threats to the Qur'an and Islam way back at the beginning of the century, Bediuzzaman set himself the task of learning modern science, for he understood that it was only through science, in addition to the Islamic sciences, that they could be truly defended in the modern age. These he mastered, and they became “the steps by which to understand the Qur'an and prove its truths.”20 And while the Old Said strove to find a short path to the truth which would blend science and religion, and also to found the Medresetü’z-Zehra which would teach them in combined form, it was not till the New Said and the writing of the Risale-i Nur that this desire was realized. Yes, the evidence of Bediuzzaman’s knowledge of modern science is to be found on almost every page of the Risale-i Nur. The physical sciences uncover and describe the order in the universe and its functioning. Each branch, such as astronomy, geography, geology, and biology, describes the order in a particular area of the universe. Thus, since the Qur'an was being attacked in the name of science, and science and philosophy were being put forward as alternatives to religion and concepts such as ‘nature’ taking the place of the Creator, benefiting from his knowledge of science, Bediuzzaman also described the universe, but showed that through its order and the infinite wisdom and other attributes manifested in it, it demonstrated the existence and Unity of a Single Maker. It may be seen from this how the Risale-i Nur addresses the reason; the evidence for the reasoned proofs its puts forward for the truths of belief is taken from the functioning universe as described by the modern sciences. For an example of this, we can return to The Supreme Sign:
“Then [the traveller] looks at the rain and sees that within it are contained benefits as numerous as the raindrops, and manifestations of the Most Merciful One as multiple as the particles of rain, and instances of wisdom as plentiful as its atoms. Those sweet, delicate, and blessed drops are moreover created in so beautiful and ordered a fashion, that particularly the rain sent in the summertime, is despatched and caused to fall with such balance and regularity that not even stormy winds that cause large objects to collide can destroy its equilibrium and order; the drops do not collide with each other or merge in such fashion as to become harmful masses of water. Water, composed of two simple elements like hydrogen and oxygen, is employed in hundreds of thousands of other wise, purposeful tasks and arts, particularly in animate beings; although it is itself inanimate and unconscious. Rain which is then the very embodiment of Divine Mercy can only be manufactured in the unseen treasury of mercy of One Most Compassionate and Merciful, and on its descent expounds in physical form the verse: And He it is Who sends down rain after men have despaired, and thus spreads out His Mercy 21...”22
An important element of the Risale-i Nur’s method which is related to the mind is ‘reflection’ or ‘meditation’ (tefekkür). In one of his letters to his students, Bediuzzaman writes that because he took the path of ‘reflection’ at the time the Old Said was being transformed into the New Said, he sought the true meaning of the Hadith, An hour’s reflection is better than a year’s [voluntary] worship. And after twenty years this meaning had found, after The Supreme Sign, its final form in a collection of Arabic pieces which included the well-known Jawshan al-Kabir, and a summarized extract of The Supreme Sign, called the Hulâsatü’l-Hulâsa.23 This reflection entails pondering over the beings in the universe in the manner of the traveller in the Supreme Sign and “reading their tongues”, which proclaim the Unity of their Maker and point to the other Divine Names and attributes. Bediuzzaman described how this form of reflection illuminates the whole universe, on the one hand displaying the baselessness of concepts such as nature on which unbelief is based, and on the other, resulting in a belief which is such that it leads to an awareness of the universal Divine presence and universal worship:
“In the Hizbü’l-Nuri there is both the meaning of An hour’s reflection, and universal worship.... I saw that the Jawshan al-Kabir, the Risale-i Nur, and the Hizbü’l-Nuri illuminate the universe from top to bottom; they disperse the darknesses; they destroy heedlessness and ‘nature’; and they rend the veils under which the people of heedlessness and misguidance want to hide. I observed that they card the universe and all its beings like cotton, and comb them out. They show the lights of Divine Unity behind the furthest and broadest veils of the universe in which the people of misguidance have become submerged....And they show in such a way that from top to bottom the universe reflects the manifestations of the Divine Names like mirrors that no possibility remains for heedlessness. Nothing becomes an obstacle to the Divine presence. I saw that rather than banishing or forgetting or not recalling the universe like the Sufis and mystics [ehl-i tarikat ve hakikat] in order to gain permanent access to the Divine Presence, the universe gains a level of the Divine presence as broad as the universe, and that a sphere of worship opens up as broad and universal and permanent as the universe...”24
Very often while explaining the way of the Risale-i Nur, Bediuzzaman offers comparisons with Sufism, as in the above piece. Founding a new tarikat was something with which he was constantly accused as was mentioned in his defence in Eskishehir Court, so also it was the way with which many of his students were familiar. These comparisons show clearly the differences between them, besides seeing and learning to ‘read’ the universe as the means to knowledge of God rather than casting it into oblivion, the main difference being that while in Sufism it is the ‘heart’ that is the means to reaching reality through illumination and wonder-working, the Risale-i Nur addresses the reason as well as the heart and other subtle faculties. The conditions of the time demand this. With its proofs based on the modern understanding of the universe, it saves belief and raises it to a level of certainty whereby it can withstand all the doubts and assaults made against belief and religion at the present time. So also, Bediuzzaman writes, the Risale-i Nur does not only teach “with the feet of the reason” like the works of the ‘ulama, the religious scholars, “...rather, proceeding with the feet of the blending and combining of the reason and the heart, and the mutual assistance of the spirit and other subtle faculties, it flies to the highest peaks; it ascends to where, not the feet, but the eyes even of the philosophy which attacks [religion] cannot reach; and it shows the truths of belief to eyes that are blind even.”25
Bediuzzaman found that The Supreme Sign with its thirty-three degrees proving the Divine existence and Unity and Hizbü’l-Nuriye in particular illuminated the heart and other inner faculties. He wrote that when he read them, his “spirit, imagination, and heart expanded and unfolded to such a degree that when I gave the testimony ‘There is no god but God’ that each degree declares, I was aware of the Divine Unity on a vast scale as though that universal tongue was mine. Thus, The Supreme Sign can impart lights of belief to the spirit like the sun. I formed the unshakeable conviction, and I saw it.”26
‘Regenerator of Religion’
In connection with its unparalleled role in strengthening and revitalizing belief in this century of severe attacks on religion, Bediuzzaman and the Risale-i Nur came to be recognized by many as fulfilling the requirements of Regenerator of Religion, promised by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the well-known Hadith: “At the start of each century Almighty God will send someone to this community [umma] to renew its religion.”27 In addition to Bediuzzaman’s students recognizing the Risale-i Nur as such, many established ‘ulama and religious scholars also did not hesitate to speak out in its defence, recommending it in the most fulsome terms. We can mention three of these. The first and most important was one of the highest of the Istanbul ‘ulama and former head of the office for issuing fatwas. Fatwa Emini, Ali Riza Efendi. He said after studying The Supreme Sign and the Twenty-Fifth Word on the Miraculousness of the Qur'an, and other parts of the Risale-i Nur:
“Bediuzzaman has performed the greatest service to the religion of Islam at this time. His works are absolutely correct, and no one else has been able to sacrifice themselves in such deprivation at this time, that is, give up the world and produce such a work. He is altogether worthy of congratulation. The Risale-i Nur is the Regenerator of Religion; may Almighty God grant him every success and good.”28
Another was Haji Hafiz Hasan Sarikaya. Known as ‘the Golden Voiced Hafiz’, he had led the morning prayers for Sultan Abdulhamid II in Yildiz Palace before the Sultan’s dethronement, and had known Bediuzzaman at that time. Then after the establishment of the Republic and closure of the medreses, he had persisted in teaching religion and the Qur'an, and had produced many hundreds of students. He told his son:
“The Imam and Renewer of this century is Bediuzzaman..... He is not merely a religious scholar. Every century has its Renewer, and he is the Renewer of this century...”29
A third example is the Mufti of Karaman Maras, Hafiz Ali Efendi. He told Mustafa Ramazanoglu, one of Bediuzzaman’s students, in the 1950’s:
“Such a work has not appeared for two hundred years; and it is not clear whether one will appear again in the future [that is, another will not appear]........I have no doubt that he is the Regenerator of Religion.”30
It is also recorded that Bediuzzaman’s mission as Renewer was foretold in the year of his birth, and this was not by someone in his native East, but by one of the leading figures of the Naqshbandi tarikat in the region of Isparta, Beskazalizade Osman Halidi. The shaykh gave certain news in the year of his death, 1293, that is, 1876 or 7, or possibly the previous year, that “A Renewer who will save belief in God will appear, and he was born this year.” He added that one of his four sons would have the honour of seeing him. And indeed, some fifty years later Bediuzzaman was exiled to the province of Isparta, and his youngest son, Ahmad Efendi, met him. And it was here that Bediuzzaman wrote the greater part of the Risale-i Nur, and from this centre that it was spread.31
Mawlana Khalid-i Bagdadî’s Jubba
Probably in 1940, Asiye Hanim, the wife of the Governor of Kastamonu Prison, brought a hundred-year-old jubba, that is, the gown worn by religious scholars, to give to Bediuzzaman. Knowing that he would not accept it as a gift, she consulted Mehmed Feyzi, and they decided on presenting it to him as a ‘trust’. Bediuzzaman however accepted it readily as though receiving his own property.
Asiye Hanim had inherited the jubba from her father, who in turn had received it from his father, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Khâlidi, well-known by the name ‘Küçük Asik’. From Afyonkarahisar, he had made his way to Baghdad when still of tender years to study under the famous founder of the Naqshbandi Khâlidi Order, Mawlana Khalid Bagdadî. On completing his studies he was sent by the Master as a halife to Anatolia, who gave him the jubba as a gift. Küçük Asik later went on to Egypt where he died in 1884. His family preserved the jubba, and even when they were forced to abandon their home in Afyon in the face of the Greek invasion during the War of Independence, the first thing they took with them was this. Finally Asiye Hanim married an official called Tahir Bey. On his being posted to Kastamonu as Governor of the Prison, Asiye Hanim came to know of Bediuzzaman, and realized that the jubba they had so carefully guarded all these years as a trust had found its true owner, and she handed it over to him.32 Bediuzzaman recalled in a letter that when he had received his diploma on completing his studies, he had been too young to don the scholar’s gown and turban. Now fifty-six years later Mawlana Khalid had dressed him in his own jubba over a hundred year distance.33
Mawlana Khalid was the most important figure in Naqshbandi sufism after Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, Imam-i Rabbani, Bediuzzaman’s spiritual link with whom has been mentioned in several contexts. Born a hundred or so years later than Imam-i Rabbani, who was known the Regenerator of the Second Millenium, Mawlana Khalid was recognized by many as the Regenerator or Renewer of the following century.34 The movement he started was one of renewal and became very influential in the eastern Ottoman Empire.35 In a short piece, one of Bediuzzaman’s students, Samli Hafiz, pointed out some of the parallels, and differences, between Bediuzzaman and Mawlana Khalid, which show that indeed the jubba had found its true owner. The main ones are as follows. The dates are according to the Rumi calendar:
Mawlana Khalid was born in 1193, in 1224 went to the capital of India, Cihanabad, where he entered the Naqshi Order and its revivalist (müceddidî) branch in particular. In 1238 “he attracted the attention of the politicians” and had to migrate to Damascus. Descended from Hazret Osman, the third Caliph of Islam, he was brilliant and highly gifted and before reaching the age of twenty became the foremost scholar of his time. These points coincide with corresponding dates in Bediuzzaman’s life in a way that cannot be attributed to chance. Bediuzzaman was born in 1293,36 in 1224 he went to Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, where he prepared for his struggle in the way of Islam. In 1238 he went to Ankara, saw that he could not work alongside the new leaders, and withdrew to Van, from where as a result of the baseless suspicions of the politicians, he was sent into exile. So too at the extraordinarily early age of fourteen Bediuzzaman received his diploma and started to teach. When it comes to the differences, the most important are that while Mawlana Khalid’s person was the ‘pole’ and guide, Bediuzzaman “dismissed his own person, and showed only the Risale-i Nur”, and while together with attaching great importance to and strengthening the Prophet’s Sunna, Mawlana Khalid’s way was that of Sufism (ilm-i tarikat), Bediuzzaman, “due to the requirements of this fearsome age, favoured the science of reality (ilm-i hakikat) and the way of the truths of belief, and looked at Sufism as being third in importance.”37
More on the Risale-i Nur’s Function and Bediuzzaman’s Advice to his Students Concerning This
While explaining the Risale-i Nur’s functions and duties in his letters to his students, Bediuzzaman frequently stresses that these are concerned with belief and the strengthening and saving of it, and advises them, in the particular conditions of that time, to concentrate all their attention on matters related to these and not to become involved in any degree with political, social, and worldly matters.
This included the Second World War, which although Turkey did not take part in it, was the cause of great dissension in the country. Various reasons for this emerge from the letters like the preservation of absolute sincerity and the harm to service to religion of political bias, and although not expressed, this attitude was demanded by the political conditions of the times and the despotic regime’s persecution of those who worked openly for the cause of Islam. However, in mentioning some of these points, a further underlying reason emerges for Bediuzzaman’s insistence on his students remaining aloof from politics and working solely for belief, and this was in connection with the Risale-i Nur’s function as Renewer of Religion, which he saw in the long view of the future. It can be understood from Bediuzzaman’s letters that during these years he was concerned with ‘the end of time’, and related the War and dreadful events of this century to those foretold to occur at that time. He placed the Risale-i Nur and its mission within this perspective. This becomes clear particularly from his replies to questions put to him concerning the Mahdi, who is to appear at that time. The following letter makes this clearer. It was written by a number of Bediuzzaman’s students to a Hoja who had written to him on the subject:
“...Our Master says: Yes, at this time both belief and religion, and social life and the Shari’a, and public law and Islamic politics, are all in need of a Renewer of great stature. But the duty of renewal in regard to saving the truths of belief is the most important, the most sacred, and the greatest. The spheres of the Shari’a, social life, and politics take second, third, and fourth places in relation to it. Also, the greatest importance in the narrations of Hadith concerning the renewal of religion is in regard to renewal in the truths of belief. But since in the view of public opinion and those caught up in this life Islamic social life and the politics of religion, which are attractive in that they are apparently far-reaching and predominant, appear to be of greater importance, they look from that point of view, through that lens; they give it that meaning.
“In addition, it does not appear to be possible for these three duties to be found together in perfect form in one person or community at this time, and for them not to damage one another. They can only be brought together at the end of time in the Mahdi and the collective personality of his community, which represents the luminous community of the Prophet (PBUH)’s Family. Endless thanks be to Almighty God that in this century He has given the duty of renewal in the preservation of the truths of belief to the reality of the Risale-i Nur and to the collective personality of its students.......”38
In stressing the paramount importance of belief and its strengthening Bediuzzaman writes in another letter that it is not possible to change all these matters together at this time, and so that even if the Mahdi was to come now, he would concentrate on the question of belief:
“At this time there are currents so overwhelming that they draw everything to their own account. So even if the true awaited person, who will come next century, were to come now, my conjecture is that he would forego the situation in the political world and change his goal so as not to let his movement be carried away on those currents.
“Also, there are three matters: one is life, another is the Shari’a, and another is belief. In the view of reality, the most important and the greatest is the question of belief. But in the view of most people at this time, compelled by the world situation, the most important appear to be life and the Shari’a. And so, even if he was to come now, since to change these three matters altogether throughout the world is not in keeping with the Divine laws in force in human kind, he would surely take the greatest matter as the basis, and not the others, so that the service of belief would not spoil its purity in the general view and so that he would not let that service be the tool for other aims in the minds of ordinary people, who are easily deceived...”39
Thus, it is in this perspective that Bediuzzaman establishes the Risale-i Nur’s primary function of renewing and strengthening belief, and it is with this view in mind that he guides his students in its service. For the sake of completeness, included at this point are examples of letters illustrating some of the main points Bediuzzaman made in advising his students in this service. Firstly are examples of those mentioned above, advising them to disregard political and worldly matters. These are followed by examples of some of those warning the students to be above all cautious and circumspect in the face of the plots and intrigues hatched against them by their many enemies. And finally are examples of letters guiding them towards developing complete sincerity (ihlas) in their service and selflessness before their fellow Risale-i Nur Students, so that the ‘collective personality’ necessary to fulfil the Risale-i Nur’s unique functions could emerge. This consciousness of a joint or corporate personality is one of the distinguishing marks of the Risale-i Nur and its Students, and Bediuzzaman himself offered the finest example in his total sincerity and selflessness, always putting this collective personality before himself.
Aloofness from Political Life
Bediuzzaman saw the modern world as having captured man’s soul and plunged him into the life of this world and pointed out that the way to be saved from this abyss was through following the teachings of the Risale-i Nur. One aspect of this was life and the living of it. Bediuzzaman wrote that this vein had become so wounded through the conditions of life becoming burdensome due to inessential needs, wastefulness and greed that it attracted and held all the attention of the misguided, so that the least significant worldly need took preference over the greatest matter of religion. As “the dispenser of the healing remedies of the Qur'an”, the Risale-i Nur “was able to withstand this strange sickness of this strange age”, and “its resolute, unshakeable, constant, sincere, loyal, and self-sacrificing Students were able to resist it.”40 So also the modern world has infected people with a senseless curiosity about “the chess-games” of politics and diplomacy, the most harmful result of which was division in society along political lines.
“While before everything the truths of belief should be the foremost aim at this time and other things remain in second, third, and fourth place, and serving them through the Risale-i Nur should be the prime duty and point of curiosity and main aim, the state of the world has stimulated to a high degree the veins of worldly life, and especially of social life, and of political life in particular, and more than anything of partisanship in regard to the World War, which is a manifestation Divine Wrath in punishment for the vice and misguidance of civilization; this inauspicious age has injected those harmful, passing desires into the very centre of the heart, even to the degree of the diamonds of the truths of belief...” Bediuzzaman continues that this age has implanted these to such a degree that they are the cause of difference and disunity among even the religious. Some religious scholars, for example, give only secondary, or less, importance to matters of belief because of those political and social matters and love an enemy of religion who shares the same view, and at the same time nurture enmity for those following the Sufi path who oppose them. Thus, Bediuzzaman himself completely disregarded current events at that time “in the face of this fearsome danger of this age”, and he urged his students not to allow the chess-games of tyrants to distract them from their sacred duty, nor let them taint their minds.41
The prevailing note in many of these letters is one of encouragement, even cajoling. Bediuzzaman frequently points out the great profit and benefits that the Risale-i Nur had brought with the new and direct way it had opened up in gaining ‘certain belief’, and urges his students to be steadfast and unwavering in their service of it. For the Risale-i Nur movement was still hardly established and the students met with considerable opposition from both the hojas and religious scholars, and from the Sufis and followers of the tarikats, who saw the movement in terms of rivalry, as well as from the enemies of religion. It is in this light that Bediuzzaman’s frequently pointing out the special instances of Divine Favour associated with the Risale-i Nur should be seen. This hostility was on occasion fanned and exploited by the enemies of religion. Thus, Bediuzzaman always urged his students to act tolerantly and peaceably towards followers of other paths and to return any criticism or aggression with good will, above all not allowing political differences cause disunity and thus aid irreligion. Religion should be adhered to as the point of unity:
“Beware! Don’t let worldly currents, and particularly political currents, and currents which look to outside the country sow discord among you. Don’t let the parties of misguidance unified before you cast you into confusion. Don’t let the satanic principle of ‘love for the sake of politics, enmity for the sake of politics’ take the place of the principle of the Most Merciful, ‘Love for God’s sake; enmity for God’s sake’. Don’t agree to the tyranny of displaying hatred for your brother and love and support for a satanic political colleague, and so in effect share in his crime.”42
Bediuzzaman often also insists that politics should be avoided since the truths of belief and the Qur'an can be made a tool for nothing:
“The three supreme matters in the worlds of humanity and Islam are belief, the Shari’a, and life. Since the truths of belief are the greatest of these, the Risale-i Nur’s select and loyal students avoid politics with abhorrence so that they should not be made the tool to other currents and subject to other forces, and those diamond-like Qur'anic truths not reduced to fragments of glass in the view of those who sell or exploit religion for the world, and so that they can carry out to the letter the duty of saving belief, the greatest duty.”43
And in regard to the Second World War, Bediuzzaman wrote that the feelings of partisanship that the War gave rise to were an important reason for his students not concerning themselves with it, because “just as consent to unbelief is unbelief, so too consent to tyranny is tyranny. In this duel, tyranny and destruction so ghastly are occurring that they make the heavens weep.... it has given rise to tyranny so fearsome that in its barbarism its likes never occurred in previous centuries...” It was inappropriate for those occupied with the truths of the Qur'an to follow those events unnecessarily as though applauding the destruction of those tyrants.44
The War years in Turkey saw a worsening of economic conditions, which had in any case been severe throughout the1930’s, and there were serious shortages in many basic essentials. Together with this there had been a decline in moral standards during the years of the Republic as the regime chipped away at the Islamic cement bonding society. These severe conditions are reflected in various contexts in Bediuzzaman’s letters. On the one hand, they were exploited by the authorities to try to distance from religion those who were not well-off, like the majority of the Risale-i Nur Students, through their struggles to secure a livelihood, and on the other, to sow discord among the Students and so break their solidarity. He continually warned them to be vigilant, and not allow themselves to be shaken in the face of this often extreme hardship, and their unity harmed. He urged them to respond with the principles of “frugality and contentment.”45
In regard to the decline in moral standards, Bediuzzaman urged his students to adopt the Qur'anic concept of taqwa, fear of God or piety, as the basis of their actions in the face of the corruption and destruction of that time. In a letter marked “extremely important”, he defined it as “the avoiding of sins and what is forbidden and acting within the sphere of the obligatory good works”, and said that in those severe conditions a few good deeds became like many; those who fulfilled their obligations and did not commit serious sins would be saved. The Risale-i Nur was a “repairer” resisting the destruction. “ With the shaking of the ramparts of the Qur'an,... a dark anarchy and irreligion more fearsome than Gog and Magog have begun to corrupt morality and life...” Righteous action even to a small degree on the part of the Risale-i Nur Students would have extremely positive results. Bediuzzaman concluded this letter by telling them that their greatest strength lay in each strengthening the taqwa of the others:
“...And so, after sincerity (ihlas), our greatest strength at such a time in the face of these fearsome events is, in accordance with the principle of ‘sharing the works of the hereafter’, for each of us to write good deeds into ‘the righteous-act books’ of the others with our pens, and with our tongues, to send reinforcements and assistance to the ‘forts’ of the others’ taqwa..”46
Sincerity and the Collective Personality of the
Students of the Risale-i Nur
As mentioned in the above letter, Bediuzzaman considered their greatest strength to be sincerity. In another letter he described the way of the Risale-i Nur as being “based on the mystery of sincerity.”47 While in Barla and Isparta, Bediuzzaman had explained this principle in detail in two treatises, the Twentieth and Twenty-First Flashes, and the points he makes in these letters are by way of reminders. Just as the acquisition of sincerity was essential so that they could form a ‘collective personality’, so also was it necessary in order to prevent the enemies of religion taking advantage of differences among those following different paths and ways.
“... Since our way is based on the mystery of sincerity and is the truths of belief, we are compelled by reason of our way not to get involved in worldly and social life unless forced to, and to avoid situations which lead to rivalry, partisanship, and dispute. It is to be regretted a thousand times over that now while subject to the assaults of terrible serpents, unfortunate religious scholars and the people of religion make minor faults like mosquito bites the excuse, and assist in the destruction of serpents and atheistic dissemblers and kill themselves with their own hands.”48
The secret of the Risale-i Nur’s success in combatting the destruction of atheism lay in this sincerity:
“The Risale-i Nur’s victorious resistance against so many fearsome and obdurate deniers arises from the mystery of sincerity, and being a tool for nothing, and looking directly to eternal happiness, and following no aim apart from the service of belief, and attaching no importance to the personal illuminations and wonder-working that some followers of the tarikats consider important, and in accordance with the mystery of the legacy of prophethood, only disseminating the lights of belief and saving the faith of the believers, like the Companions of the Prophet, who possessed supreme sainthood... And they do not interfere in things outside their own duties like being successful, which is God’s duty, making the people accept or demand [their service], making it to prevail or receiving the fame, illuminations, or Divine favours they deserve. They work with pure, total sincerity, saying: ‘Our duty is to serve. That is sufficient.’”49 “The true students of the Risale-i Nur see the service of belief as superior to everything; should they be accorded the rank of spiritual pole even, out of sincerity, they would prefer that of service.”50
It was in order to develop a ‘collective personality’, a characteristic of the modern age, that the Students of the Risale-i Nur had to renounce all the demands of the ego; to “transform the ‘I’ into ‘We’, that is, give up egotism, and work on account of the collective personality of the sphere of the Risale-i Nur...”51
“This time is not the time for egotism and the personality for those who follow the path of reality (ehl-i hakikat); it is the time of the community (cemaat). A collective personality emerging from the community rules, and may persist. In order to have a large pool, the ego and personality, which are like blocks of ice, have to be cast into the pool and melted...”52
While in the past, ‘the age of individuality’, individuals of great stature like ‘Abd al-Qadir Geylani, Imam-i Gazzali, and Imam-i Rabbani had been sent to guide the Muslim community in accordance with Divine wisdom, the unprecedented difficulties and conditions of the present time demanded a collective personality to undertake such duties.53
More Glimpses of Bediuzzaman’s Life in Kastamonu
Despite the harassment Bediuzzaman received at the hands of certain officials and his being under constant surveillance, he was held in great respect by the majority of the inhabitants of the town, and a number used to visit him as far as they were permitted. We learn from one of his students, Tahsin Aydin, that among these was the Head of the Town Council. He also tells of an occasion when Bediuzzaman refused the offer of money for his students, even though sent by one of the heroes of the War of Independence.54 Bediuzzaman never broke this fundamental rule of his life, that of never accepting money under any circumstance, even though his situation was so difficult at one point in Kastamonu that he was forced to sell his quilt to pay the rent.55
Bediuzzaman also concerned himself with others in difficulties, and so also there were many drunkards and those who had fallen foul of the law that he saved. An example of the first of these was a family who had been sent into exile from eastern Anatolia after one of the disturbances, one member of which was a thirteen-year-old boy who used to run errands for Bediuzzaman. Necmeddin Sahiner has recorded his account of those days. Since he was a child, he could come and go unquestioned, and relates how besides performing such vital jobs as sending Bediuzzaman’s letters, he would also “prepare the ground” for people wanting to visit Bediuzzaman by conducting them on roundabout routes to avoid being spotted from the police-station opposite Bediuzzaman’s house. He also mentions that on Bediuzzaman’s recommendation his family were able to move to a house which Bediuzzaman had originally been going to live in, but had not been able to because it was in a quiet and secluded spot. The house was still empty and they lived there for nine years without paying any rent. Bediuzzaman helped out this family in numerous ways. On one occasion an unjust complaint was lodged against them by a neighbour, a retired police superintendent called Süleyman. Complete strangers in the town, they were understandably very perturbed. The boy, Nadir, ran to Bediuzzaman to explain, and he sorted out the matter in no time. Since it illustrates the authority Bediuzzaman wielded, despite his position, as well as his concern for the down-trodden, a few lines are quoted in full:
“... When I got there, Ustad met me at the door. On my explaining the situation to him, he said to me: ‘I understood that you were upset. Go and tell the headman of the quarter, Çarikçi Ihsan Efendi, to come here.’ I went and told him and he said he would go immediately with pleasure. He went at once. Ustad told him: ‘Go and tell Süleyman not to bother these people!’ So Ihsan Efendi went to Süleyman and repeated this. And from there he came to us and consoled us, saying: ‘Relax! No one is going to bother you. If you have any difficulties, I’m here!’ And so the matter was solved.”56
Well-known in Kastamonu was the story of how Bediuzzaman saved Araçli Deli Mu'min. Deli Mu'min had not been aptly named and was one of the roughs and rowdies of the district notorious for his acts of banditry. Drink and gambling were his normal pursuits. He had even killed a few people. Then one day, Çayci Emin went in the darkness just before dawn to Bediuzzaman’s house, to light his stove. Going to open the door, he made out a figure slumped on the doorstep. He drew closer and peered at it; it was Araçli Deli Mu'min. He said to him: “What do you want here? You’re drunk again. Do you know whose doorstep you’re on?” Deli Mu'min knew where he was. He started pleading: “I’ve repented! Pray for me! Accept me as your student!” Çayci Emin went up and told Bediuzzaman. And Bediuzzaman did not turn him away. He said: “Yes, my brother”, and received the drunk bandit. But from then on Araçli Deli Mu'min was saved from drink, from banditry, from crime. Now he lived up to his name, he was a believer. And this is just one example of many.57
The Risale-i Nur becomes Established
During these years the Risale-i Nur became firmly rooted in Turkish society, and Bediuzzaman wrote that now it was certain to continue into the future. He was able to feel certain of this as women and children responded so enthusiastically to it, both in the region of Isparta, and in Kastamonu, and so too it began to have readers among schoolboys in Kastamonu. He mentions this in a number of letters, expressing his extreme pleasure at the large numbers of pieces of the Risale-i Nur written out by children, women, and the elderly. In one letter he writes:
“My Dear and Loyal Brothers!
“Copies written out by fifty to sixty of the Risale-i Nur’s young and innocent students have been sent to us, and we have collected them into three volumes. And we have noted down some of them together with their names. For example, Ömer 15 years old, Bekir 9 years old, Hüseyin 11 years old.... We have included their names in a list. Their serious efforts at this time show that.... the Risale-i Nur provides a pleasure, joy, and eagerness that is greater than every sort of amusement and incentive they have created to encourage children to study in the new schools, so that the children do this. It also shows that the Risale-i Nur is taking root. God willing, nothing will be able to uproot it and it will continue in the coming generations.”
In the same letter he writes that they had gathered together the forty or fifty pieces written by the illiterate elderly, who had learnt to write after the age of fifty. So too “harvesters, farmers, shepherds, and nomads” were all putting aside their own pursuits and working for the Risale-i Nur. He goes on to mention that the difficulties in correcting all these copies were compensated for by the fact that he was compelled to read them slowly and carefully, and by the pleasure he received from hearing the Risale-i Nur’s lessons from “their sincere and innocent tongues.”58
In other letters, which encourage these Students of the Risale-i Nur so tactfully and kindly, Bediuzzaman mentions that they had made up five and seven volumes of these pieces, one of which included pieces written out by children which illustrated examples of the coinciding of letters (tevafukat).59 Women too, he said, had a close affinity with the Risale-i Nur and he had long expected them to respond warmly to it. He wrote:
“In fact, since the most important foundation in the way of the Risale-i Nur is compassion, and women are mines of compassion, I had long expected the true nature of the Risale-i Nur to be understood in the world of women. Thanks be to God, the women here are more active and work with greater enthusiasm than the men hereabouts... These two manifestations are a favourable sign at this time that [in the future] the Risale-i Nur will shine and make many conquests in those mines of compassion.”60
Although it was while in the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-Islamiye that Bediuzzaman had written the treatise on the wisdom in Islamic dress for women, which he renamed the Twenty-Fourth Flash while still in Barla, it was only during these years that he consented to receive women from time to time for the purpose of teaching them from the Risale-i Nur. It was also at this time that some of the pieces that were later to be made into the collection published under the name of A Guide For Women were written.61 These most probably formed the basis of his guidance to these visitors.
So also Bediuzzaman was concerned with the youth, as those most susceptible to the influences of the materialist ideologies being propagated with such fury by the authorities. In 1940 or '41, some high school boys started to visit Bediuzzaman, one of which was Abdullah Yegin, who from that time on was a devoted student of Bediuzzaman’s and the Risale-i Nur, and in future years was one of his most active students. Some of the replies to the questions they asked became the basis of various parts of the Risale-i Nur, and it was due to them that Bediuzzaman made the collection of pieces finally published under the name of A Guide For Youth. It was also because of them that Bediuzzaman first gave permission for the Risale-i Nur to be written in the Latin alphabet, thus becoming immediately accessible to the younger generation. Some of the young schoolboy’s impressions of Bediuzzaman are as follows:
“I was in the second class of the middle section of Kastamonu High School, in 1940-1. On hearing Ustad’s landlord and some others who visited us speak praisingly of him, it awoke in me the desire to go and see him. What I heard about him was that he was an important person, did not accept presents, and did not receive everyone.
“One day during the break in school I broached the subject with my bench-mate, Rifat. When I told him there was a famous hoja here worth seeing, he replied: ‘Yes, I know, his house is opposite ours. He’s a very good person, let’s go together. I sometimes visit him.’
“We went together at a convenient time. We knocked at the door and it was opened. We went upstairs, and entered his room by the door on the right. First Rifat and then I kissed his hand and we sat down. He was seated on a high platform like a bed, with a quilt drawn up over his knees and leaning against the back. He was holding a book. His hair came down to his ears. Looking at us over his fine spectacles, he said to us: ‘Welcome!’ He asked my friend about me, who introduced me as his school friend. He asked my name and was very kind. He spoke to us about Islam, the beauty of belief in God, death, and the hereafter. We sat for a while and then we left.
“One day when I went to visit him, I saw Ustad to be very profound and humble. Because of this humility of his, I wondered if he knew anything. Because he always came down to our level and spoke of things that we knew. I even asked Mehmet Feyzi Efendi one day if he knew Arabic. Of course Feyzi Efendi just laughed.
“Ustad’s modesty and humility, and affection and interest in us bound us to him. From time to time I would take other friends to him. He always gave excellent answers to the questions we asked him. I only lost the negative ideas about religion I had acquired from some of the teachers at school when I visited Ustad.
“Another time I visited him, I asked: ‘Our teachers don’t speak about God. Tell us about our Creator.’ Ustad explained at great length about this subject. I can’t exactly remember when the answer to our question was written down. When we went to him, Mehmed Feyzi Pamukçu used to read from The Supreme Sign or the Short Words and we would write them down in our notebooks in the new letters...
“One day at school, it was the geography lesson and the teacher asked the class: ‘Who’s been to that reactionary hoja they call Bediuzzaman?’ Six people raised their hands. He asked why we had gone, and said that Ustad was an enemy of the reforms and didn’t like Ataturk. He sent us to the Disciplinary Council. They asked various questions. As a result, a friend called Suat and myself were banned from school for six days, and the others were given warnings. We said in the statements we gave that we had gone because we wanted to learn about our religion, no one had said anything against anyone, and that we were religious and liked performing our worship. A few days later the police raided the house where I stayed and went through it with a tooth-comb. My statement was taken by the police. I described what had happened to me. The Prosecutor asked: ‘There’s the Mufti and lots of hojas. Why don’t you go to them?’ I said I didn’t know the Mufti....
“I had first gone to Ustad because of this: he did not accept presents from anyone!
“I saw the way he lived; he was really and truly poor! In one of his rooms was a woven rug and a few cloth prayer-mats. And the other was completely bare. If the well-to-do people in the town brought him anything, he would most kindly and graciously refuse it. He did not want to offend anyone. He absolutely would not take anything or eat anything without giving something in return. He really lived what he wrote. What he spoke about was all the Risale-i Nur. The way he acted was like a repetition of what it teaches... ”62
Abdullah Yegin notes also another side of Bediuzzaman’s character, his refusal to compromise his beliefs in any way in the face of threat or tyranny, which was a powerful source of strength and inspiration for others in those dark days:
“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 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...”63
Parts of the Risale-i Nur Written in Kastamonu
Between his arrival in Kastamonu in March 1936 and probably 1940 Bediuzzaman wrote from the Third to the Ninth Rays inclusive.64 Of these, the Seventh Ray, The Supreme Sign, was written in Ramazan of 1938 or '39.65 It was followed immediately by the Eighth Ray,66 and the summary of the Arabic Twenty-Ninth Flash, Hizb al-Akbar al-Nuri.67 Bediuzzaman sent numerous letters to his students in Isparta, and also while in Kastamonu, he did the final drafts of the First and Second Rays, which had been written in Eskishehir Prison. The second part of the Index, which included the parts of Lem’alar (The Flashes) subsequent to the Fifteenth Flash – the Fifteenth Flash forms the Index for all the Words, Letters, and the First to the Fourteenth Flashes – was also written at this time by some of Bediuzzaman’s students in Isparta.68 There followed after 1940 a period of cessation as far as writing new works was concerned.69
As the Risale-i Nur spread and became established Bediuzzaman had some of its parts gathered together in the form of collections, and some of these he had typed out in the new letters. This was in 1942 and 1943. One was a collection of four pieces for the High School boys.70 Abdullah Yegin mentions above their writing out pieces in the new, Latin, script. There were other collections for which he suggested various titles, including what was later published as A Guide For Youth, and another called The Ratifying Stamp of the Unseen.71 Bediuzzaman also brought together other pieces on the resurrection of the dead to be included as addenda to the Tenth Word.72 So too in 1943 Tahiri Mutlu, from the village of Atabey near Isparta, had The Supreme Sign published in Istanbul. Although it was only during Bediuzzaman’s Kastamonu years that he had come to know the Risale-i Nur, Tahiri Mutlu was to be one of its most important students. It was also through his enterprise that hand-written copies of the Hizb al-Qur'an and Hizbü’l-Nuri were printed photographically at this time. Also in 1943, the Fifth Ray concerning Hadiths about the signs of the end of the world and resurrection and the fearsome figures or Antichrists who were to appear at the end of time, began to be sought after. The final draft of this treatise had been made in 1938 from a first draft made while Bediuzzaman was a member of the Darü’l-Hikmet from pieces some of which were taken from Muhâkemat, published in 1909. This Fifth Ray was to be the main cause of his, and a number of his students’ arrest in August of 1943 and their second sojourn in prison.
Increased Harassment and Arrest
Both Bediuzzaman and his students in Kastamonu, and the Risale-i Nur Students in the region of Isparta and other places were under constant pressure from the authorities. This increased as time passed, culminating in widespread arrests and the Denizli trials and imprisonment in 1943-4. On several occasions previous to this copies of the Risale-i Nur were seized after searches, students arrested and then subsequently acquitted and the copies of the Risale-i Nur returned. It was the Fifth Ray in particular that was being searched for. In 1940, thirty to forty were arrested then released. Towards the end of 1941, there was another incident in Isparta involving a Risale-i Nur student called Mehmet Zühtü Efendi, and this was followed by a third incident.73 The closeness of the surveillance under which Bediuzzaman was held, and the pressure on him, also increased. These incidents are reflected in Bediuzzaman’s letters together with repeated warnings to his students to observe the utmost caution and discretion and to guard against the plans and plots that were being hatched against them. These have been mentioned in part above; their principle aim was to break the solidarity of the Risale-i Nur Students by sowing conflict among them, and to distract, tempt, or scare them away from their service to the Risale-i Nur. It was a serious and planned attempt to stop the spread of the Risale-i Nur on the part of the forces within the Government working for the cause of irreligion.
These series of arrests occurred in Isparta and Bediuzzaman was not himself actually taken into custody as well. However, the authorities attempted to solve their problem by more dastardly means: they had him poisoned on several occasions. Çayci Emin stated that from time to time Bediuzzaman suffered severe bouts of illness as a result of being poisoned.74 He also described an occasion when Bediuzzaman was poisoned when alone in the mountains having bought some fruit on the way. Mehmed Feyzi also describes it, as it was he who received word from some unknown source and went up into the mountains and found Bediuzzaman in a semi-conscious state. Bediuzzaman had known the grocer he had bought the fruit from, since he very often got something from there on his way. The wretch had evidently been persuaded by the agents who followed Bediuzzaman wherever he went to give him pieces they had injected with poison. Mehmed Feyzi had taken the horse Bediuzzaman had been riding, which had made its own way back to the town when he was overcome by the effect of the poison, back up the mountain and brought Bediuzzaman back on it. Bediuzzaman was ill for some time following this, which occurred shortly before the final events before his arrest, and another attempt to poison him. This time it was certified by the doctor who attended him.75
In early August, 1943, a Risale-i Nur Student who was active in the area of Denizli was arrested along with several others. He had been informed on by the local Mufti as a result of which extensive searches were carried out in the area and hand-written copies of the Risale-i Nur, including the Fifth Ray, were seized.76 As with the Eskishehir affair, the matter was taken up by Ankara and blown up out of all proportion. President Ismet Inönü, Prime Minister Shükrü Saraçoglu, and Education Minister Hasan Ali Yücel were directly concerned. Instructions were sent to Isparta and Kastamonu in particular, and the houses of numerous Risale-i Nur Students searched. Then the arrests started in Isparta.
Bediuzzaman is Arrested
Meanwhile Bediuzzaman’s house in Kastamonu was searched three times in succession. When after the first time they were unable to find what they were searching for, the Fifth Ray, they determined to do away with Bediuzzaman and succeeded in poisoning him a further time. This was verified by a doctor and when seriously ill with the effects of it and running a temperature of over 40°, his house was searched a second time. This coincided with the start of Ramazan, which in 1943 began on 2 September. This was followed by a third and most rigorous search directed by a number of high-ranking police and officials.77 On this occasion they found some parts of the Risale-i Nur hidden in a strong-box under the coal and fire-wood. They included the Fifth Ray, the collection called The Ratifying Stamp of the Unseen,78 the treatise on Islamic dress for women which had been the pretext of Bediuzzaman being convicted by Eskishehir Court, and another called Hücumat-i Sitte.79 Bediuzzaman was then arrested and held in Kastamonu police station for some two to three weeks.
In the spring of that year Bediuzzaman had had a premonition that he would not remain much longer in Kastamonu. He told this to the school boy Abdullah Yegin before he went away for the long summer holiday. And Abdullah Yegin returned to see Bediuzzaman being driven away by the police. He described it like this:
“It was in the spring of 1943. It was going to be the school holidays and we went to visit him again. I’ll never forget these words he said to us after giving us lengthy instruction on matters to do with belief and morality:
“‘My brothers! For a long time I’ve never stayed more than eight years in one place. It’s now eight years since I came here, so this year I’ll either die or go somewhere else. Perhaps we won’t meet again. A time will come when there will be Risale-i Nur Students everywhere. Don’t part from one another or from the Risale-i Nur.’
“His speaking in this way affected me greatly and I was very upset. When he saw this, he said:
“‘Don't worry. We’ll meet again, God willing.’
“Three months later the holidays came to an end and we returned to Kastamonu from Araç. I wanted to go and visit him. Then he warned Çayci Emin Bey, ‘They are following me. Don’t let anyone come.’ For this reason we could not go to him.
“Then one day we were in the playground of Kastamonu High School for the break. They were taking him in a light open carriage along the street. He had a wicker-work basket, a tea-pot, ewer, and a few possessions with him. Then the carriage stopped and they got out. There were a gendarme sergeant and a few policemen with him. A crowd gathered. He was wearing a black turban and a long gown, also black. It was impossible to go out dressed in such clothes at that time, and above all with the police.
“In the school the others saw me watching him and called me ‘Bediuzzaman follower’. Then the bell rang and we went into class.
“However many days passed after this I don’t know, one night around midnight our house started shaking. The earthquakes had started. The tremors continued in this way for about two weeks. The people said: ‘Hoja Efendi was a good man. They harassed him, treated him badly, and slandered him, so there were earthquakes.”80
Nadir Baysal, some of whose reminiscences were given above, described the air of terror that descended on the town after Bediuzzaman was arrested. He says also that Bediuzzaman was not held in the prison but in his house:
“It was Ramazan in 1943. I was going towards Ustad’s house when in the Shoemakers’ Market I saw them taking him, still with a turban on his head, in a phaeton to the Law Courts. Çayci Emin, Mehmet Feyzi and altogether twenty-two people remained for about two weeks in the prison. Ustad did not stay inside, but returned to his house under police supervision. Two weeks later they transferred them all to Denizli Court. Such an air of terror overwhelmed the town at that time that it was as though anyone who had met with Ustad had committed a crime. Some people did not dare to go out of their houses...
“While Ustad was leaving Kastamonu, the leaves of the calendar showed 1943. A short while later the earthquakes started. A great stone rolled down from the citadel and seven people were killed in the house on which it fell. In the region of Tosya between six and seven hundred people died.”81
Kastamonu – Ankara – Isparta
On the Night of Power, which in Turkey is generally considered to be 25 - 26 Ramazan, and was thus probably 27 September, Bediuzzaman was taken from the police station opposite his house in Kastamonu and put on the bus for Ankara, some 271 kilometres to the south. He is reported to have told the police there:
“Tell that Midhat [the Governor of Kastamonu] to send my defence speeches in both the new and old writing on after me!”82
This, reported by Selahaddin Çelebi, referred to Bediuzzaman’s defence from Eskishehir Court which Bediuzzaman had given to the officials and police while they had been searching his house for the Fifth Ray and other treatises.83
Also present in the bus was an official from Inebolu called Ziya Dilek, who was also later arrested and sent to Denizli. His account of the journey was recorded by Necmeddin Sahiner:
“I had got on the bus to go to my job at Ilgaz. It was stopped by police and gendarmes at Olukbasi [where the police station was] and space for three people cleared at the back. They put Bediuzzaman Hoja Efendi there. When the bus moved off Hoja Efendi felt unwell; he was seventy years old and ill. He said: “Since they consider me to be a political prisoner, I should be sent by a private taxi.” Whereupon a soldier sitting next to me got up and offered his seat to the Hoja, and so they changed places. I was very scared and could not do anything to help him. When he sat down beside me he asked me my name. On my saying Ziya Dilek, he said. ‘Are you our Ziya? Did you come to see me off on behalf of the people of Kastamonu?’ Turning to the policeman Safvet behind him, who had brought him, he said; ‘Safvet! Where in the Qur'an was I reading when you raided my house?’ And asking for a piece of paper, got me to write down the verse, So bear in patience the command of your Sustainer for you are in Our sight, and offer praise and glory.....84 Then saying, ‘Wasn’t I reading this verse?’, he showed it to Safvet and the others. Then he said to me:
“‘Ziya, tell your friends not to worry. We won’t be convicted. They’ll either make a truce or a reconciliation.’ He was sending through me greetings and the good news to his friends who had been arrested. But I was not going there and I had not been arrested.
“Later he said: ‘Would you tell the driver to please stop the bus. There’s no compulsion in religion. I have a few words of advice for the passengers.’ So the driver stopped the bus and Hoja Efendi immediately started to address the passengers:
“‘Tonight is most likely the Night of Power. When recited on other days each letter of the Qur'an yields ten rewards, in Ramazan, a thousand rewards, and on the Night of Power, thirty thousand rewards. If you were told you would be given five gold liras in return for doing something, wouldn’t you want to obtain them?’ The passengers replied that they would, so the Hoja continued: ‘You spend all your strength and energy to gain five gold liras for this transitory life, don’t you want to prepare some provisions for your provisions-bag for eternal life?’ Again the passengers replied in the affirmative. So Bediuzzaman said: ‘In that case, if each Muslim recites Sura al-Ikhlas three times, Sura al-Fatiha once, and Ayat al-Kursi once, he will have prepared some provisions for his bag for eternal life.’
“The driver, Rizeli Lütfü, and the passengers thanked Bediuzzaman, and soon after it was time to break the fast. He stopped the bus at a famous spring in the pine forests in the Ilgaz mountains for a break. There, Hoja Efendi gave me the food given to him by the Town Council and I gave him mine, and we broke the fast in that way. We performed the evening prayers together. In Ilgaz I left Hoja Efendi and went to work. But a while later they arrested me and sent me to Denizli. They still had not brought Hoja Efendi there when I arrived. When the friends in the prison asked me anxiously if I had seen Ustad Hazretleri, I remembered the verse he had got me to write in the bus on the way to Ilgaz. I got it out and read it to them and related what had happened on the journey. They were greatly consoled and pleased.”85
Assigned to accompany Bediuzzaman from Kastamonu to Isparta was a non-commissioned gendarme officer called Ismail Tunçdogan. He noted that on reaching Ankara, he and Bediuzzaman put up at a hotel in the Samanpazari district.86 Soon after arriving, in a manner entirely outside the normal course of events, Bediuzzaman was summoned by the Governor of Ankara, Nevzat Tandogan. There followed an incident which if it had not been for the appalling disrespect shown to Bediuzzaman, would have been quite simply ludicrous. This unhappy man, who was one of the notables of the Republican People’s Party and for seventeen years was Governor of Ankara, had summoned Bediuzzaman in order to force him to take off his turban and put on the ‘official’ peaked cap. Needless to say, he was not successful. Bediuzzaman told him: “This turban only comes off with this head!”87 In addition to the gendarme officer, who noted that Bediuzzaman came out of the Governor’s office carrying a peaked cap, the incident was witnessed by Bediuzzaman’s student from Inebolu, Selahaddin Çelebi, who had been arrested in Ankara some days previously, and was taken after Bediuzzaman to the Government Building. He described it like this:
“It was a hot day towards the end of Ramazan. I was at the door of Nevzat Bey’s office. The officials brought Bediuzzaman and went into the Governor’s office together. Then the officials came out and the door was closed. The sound of angry voices came from inside. Then a bell rang and a servant went in and then came out again. At that point, Bediuzzaman said angrily to Tandogan: ‘I represent your forefathers. I live in seclusion. The dress laws may not be enforced against those living in isolation. I don’t go out. You brought me out by force. I hope you pay for it!’ The servant then returned carrying a twenty-five kurush peaked cap and went into the Governor’s office.”88
According to one account the Governor himself actually physically put this cap on Bediuzzaman’s head, and according to another, he tried to, but could not. In any event, some three years later he came to a sorry end, by committing suicide by putting a bullet through his own head.89 Bediuzzaman was then taken to the station and put on the train for Isparta. Governor Tandogan however did not give up at this point and went also to the station together with some police with the intention of ‘catching Bediuzzaman red-handed’. But the moment they were going to seize him, Bediuzzaman whipped off his turban and climbed into the train. They stopped in amazement, how had he known they were there and what they intended to do? Bediuzzaman later said they they had been defeated by a flea. For just as he was about to board the train, a flea alighted on his head, and he had taken off his turban to scratch it! Thus, they were able to do nothing. Bediuzzaman said it had been an instance not of his own but the Risale-i Nur’s keramet.90
According to the gendarme Ismail Tunçdogan, a large crowd had gathered to greet Bediuzzaman at Isparta. Also on the train had been one of his students from his days in Barla, Çaprazzade Abdullah. He had come and spoken with Bediuzzaman on the journey and as a result was held for questioning for two days in Isparta on arrival.91 Bediuzzaman was taken from the station to the prison, where the Risale-i Nur Students from a number of areas had already been brought. As in all his stays in prison, Bediuzzaman was put into solitary confinement. Then he and the other students were subject to intense questioning and interrogation. They were to remain less than a month in Isparta before being transferred to Denizli Prison for the trials. The Ministry of Justice in Ankara specified Denizli, since it was where the first arrests had taken place.
1. Lem’alar, 251.
2. See, Çayci Emin Bey, in Sahiner, N. Nurs Yolu, 100-3; and, Son Sahitler, i, 108-116.
3. Pamukçu, Mehmed Feyzi, in Son Sahitler, ii, 158-164.
4. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 12.
5. Çayir, Çayci Emin, in Son Sahitler, i, 112.
6. Hilmi Semâ, in Son Sahitler, v, 202-3.
7. See, Çayci Emin, in Son Sahitler, i, 110-111; and, Yalaz, Mehmed Münip, in Son Sahitler, ii, 188.
8. Demirelli, Sadik, in Son Sahitler, ii, 135-157.
9. Çelebi, Selahaddin, in Son Sahitler, i, 138.
10. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 62.
11. Ibid., 72.
12. Ibid., 5.
13. Ibid., 10.
14. Ibid., 53.
15. Ibid., 48, and, 10.
16. Sualar, 140.
17. A closer translation of “certain belief”, in Turkish tahkikî, or according to its Arabic transliteration, tahqiqî, iman, would be ‘verified’, ‘ascertained through enquiry’, ‘resulting from investigation’, or ‘confirmatory’.
18. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 25.
19. Sualar, 82.
20. Sikke-i Tasdik-i Gaybî, 76.
21. Qur'an, 42:28.
22. Sualar, 91; and its English translation, The Supreme Sign, 25-6.
23. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 171.
24. Ibid., 174-5.
25. Ibid., 10.
26. Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 68.
27. For example, in Imam Hakim’s Müstadrak, the Kitab-i Sunan of Abu Da’ud, and Bayhaqi’s Shu’ab al-Iman, quoted in Sikke-i Tasdik-i Gaybî, 14.
28. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 143.
29. Sarikaya, Haji Hasan, in Son Sahitler, iv, 357-8.
30. Ramazanoglu, Mustafa, in Son Sahitler, iv, 225, 229.
31. See, Sikke-i Tasdik-i Gaybi, 41-2.
32. Sahiner, N. Son Sahitler, i, 234-5; Son Sahitler, iv, 351-4; Nurs Yolu, 111-3.
33. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 63.
34. In Sualar, a ‘Renewer’ (mujaddid) is defined in this way: “The high servants of religion which are described in Hadiths as coming at the start of every century are not innovators; they are followers. That is to say, they do not create anything new themselves, they do not bring any new ordinances; they adjust and strengthen religion by way of following to the letter the fundamentals and ordinances of religion and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); they proclaim the true and original meaning of religion; they remove and render null and void the baseless matters which have been mixed up with it; they reject and destroy the attacks made on religion; they establish the Divine commands, and proclaim and make known the nobility and exaltedness of the Divine ordinances. Only, without spoiling the basic position or damaging the original spirit, they carry out their duties through new methods of persuasion appropriate to the understanding of the age, and in new ways and with new details.” Sualar, 563.
35. Mardin, Serif. Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, 57-9, 149.
36. Samli Hafiz gives this as Hijri; in fact, according to most documents, the year of Bediuzzaman’s birth was 1293 Rumi, 1877.
37. Sikke-i Tasdik-i Gaybî, 14-16.
38. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 139.
39. Ibid., 57-8.
40. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 69-71; 73-4.
41. Ibid., 80-1.
42. Ibid., 84.
43. Ibid., 104.
44. Ibid., 31.
45. Ibid., 167; also, 99, 111, 148, 176-7.
46. Ibid., 106-7.
47. Ibid., 186.
48. Ibid., 186.
49. Ibid., 200.
50. Ibid., 190.
51. Ibid., 135.
52. Ibid., 102.
53. Ibid., 6-7.
54. Aydin, Tahsin, in Son Sahitler, iii, 104-5.
55. Tarihçe, 284.
56. Baysal, Nadir, in Son Sahitler, iv, 282-6.
57. Sahiner, N. Son Sahitler, ii, 193-5.
58. Tarihçe, 278-9.
59. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 82-3.
60. Ibid., 62.
61. For example, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 85.
62. Yegin, Abdullah, in Son Sahitler, i, 370-1.
63. Ibid., 380.
64. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 309-10; Kastamonu Lahikasi, 157.
65. Ibid., 26-7.
66. Sualar, 611; 625.
67. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 25-6.
68. Müdâfaalar, 156.
69. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 157.
70. Ibid., 106.
71. Ibid., 166-7.
72. Ibid., 74.
73. Sikke-i Tasdik-i Gaybî, 171.
74. Çayir, Çayci Emin, in Son Sahitler, i, 113-4.
75. Ibid., 114-5; Pamukçu, Mehmed Feyzi, in Son Sahitler, ii, 161; Tarihçe, 288.
76. Müdâfaalar, 97.
77. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 203-4.
78. Lem’alar, 251.
79. Tarihçe, 358.
80. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 335-6.
81. Baysal, Nadir, in Son Sahitler, iv, 285-6.
82. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 338.
83. See, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 203-4.
84. Qur'an, 52:48.
85. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 338-340.
86. Tunçdogan, Ismail, in Son Sahitler, iii, 101.
87. Emirdag Lahikasi, ii, 19.
88. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 340-1.
89. Ibid., 340.
90. Yüksel, Bayram, in Son Sahitler, i, 446.
91. Çaprazzade Abdullah, in Son Sahitler, ii, 116; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 341.