C H A P T E R S E V E N
A F Y O N
Thus, Bediuzzaman and the Students of the Risale-i Nur entered their third School of Joseph (Medrese-i Yusufiye). And as previously they did transform it into a ‘school’ through persisting in writing out copies of the Risale-i Nur and the long piece Bediuzzaman wrote, Elhüccetü’z-Zehra, and themselves studying and instructing other prisoners, despite the conditions, which in their harshness, far exceeded what they had experienced in Eskishehir and Denizli.
The years of despotic Republican People’s Party rule were drawing to an end, already in 1946 the Democrat Party had been founded. As though to have a final strike at religion and Islam, to which they were now having to make concessions, they inflicted on Bediuzzaman, who virtually alone of all the leading religious figures in Turkey had not only persistently defied them but also with the Risale-i Nur had defeated them, twenty months of the most terrible imprisonment. That he survived the inhuman conditions as well as further attempts to poison him is a further indication that he was under Divine protection.
It is clear that Bediuzzaman and his students’ imprisonment and conviction were a foregone conclusion. After the acquittals of the just court at Denizli, their enemies determined to have them convicted come what may, although this meant “being disrespectful to three major courts, slighting their honour and justice, and even insulting them.”1 For the charges were the same. There are a number of things which point to this. Firstly, as is pointed out in one description of life in Afyon Prison, it was stated “by a Prime Minister” in the Grand National Assembly during the debates on changes to the “elastic” Article 163 of the Criminal Code with a view to making it more comprehensive and carrying heavier penalties, that this would be applied directly against Said Nursi and his students.2
Secondly, the following account of the Governor of Afyon Prison, Mehmet Kayihan, shows that it was a foregone conclusion that Bediuzzaman would be imprisoned:
“...Since it had been established by the Government that Said Nursi was making ‘religious propaganda’, a policeman called Sabri Banazli and some others were sent to Emirdag in civil clothes. One day Banazli came to the prison and said to me, ‘We'll be bringing you someone called Bediuzzaman soon.’ Then some time after this they brought Said Nursi to the prison.”3
That is, he was informing the Governor that Bediuzzaman was going to be sent to the prison before there having been any court proceedings or other formalities.
Then once inside the prison, Bediuzzaman was kept in strict isolation. Rules benefiting prisoners were not applied to him. He was allowed no visitors. He was denied assistance with and information about the court proceedings, and to hinder his defence, the Public Prosecutor held up giving Bediuzzaman the Ankara Experts’ report for six or seven months, on which his own forty-six-page indictment was in part based.4
In addition, the Prosecutor abused his office in various ways in efforts to indict Bediuzzaman and his students, and drag out the proceedings. For instance, it is said he was involved in the creating of disturbances within the prison by means of various prisoners in the hope of implicating the Risale-i Nur Students. And there was a revolt while they were there, but none of the Students was involved.5 And he repeatedly delayed the proceedings, like, for example, holding up the sending of all the documents of the case to the Appeal Court for three months.
After the preliminary proceedings, the hearings of the case began some four months after their arrest and continued for six and a half months. Thirty of the Students were tried not under arrest, and a fluctuating number, nineteen at one point including Bediuzzaman were inside the prison. The decision reached by the Court finding Bediuzzaman guilty on some of the charges in the face of all the evidence showed clearly its purpose. Just as, although the previous ‘committee of experts’ had declared the Risale-i Nur clear of anything legally reprehensible, this time the committee set up the Directorate of Religious Affairs contained certain negative points, also probably due to external pressure, which the prosecution in Afyon was able to utilize against Bediuzzaman and his students.
Life in Afyon Prison
Bediuzzaman was in Afyon Prison for twenty months, and his students for periods varying from a few days to eighteen months; the majority were there six months, one group before the court passed sentence, and others after it. Although summer months intervened in this time, many of the accounts speak of the intense cold, associated with this latest assault on Bediuzzaman and the Risale-i Nur.
As in Emirdag, so now in the trial and in the prison, it was Bediuzzaman’s person that was focussed on and made the object of attack. And again unwittingly Bediuzzaman’s enemies engineered their own defeat. For Bediuzzaman’s sincerity and qualities were such that he willingly endured the extreme conditions and appalling distress he suffered for the sake of the Risale-i Nur and its Students. He not only survived the conditions, he conquered them. Over seventy years of age, petrified from cold, weakened from lack of food, on several occasions on the point of death from poison, alone, untended, suffering distress it is difficult to imagine, Bediuzzaman continued to write for the guidance of his students and the other prisoners, spend his nights in prayer and contemplation, and compose not only his own defence, but direct ‘a publicizing campaign’ of his and his students’ defences, in order to make known the reality of the case and defend the Risale-i Nur against this latest attack. With his indomitable spirit, he defeated his enemies utterly.
The prison consisted of six wards or dormitories. On arrival Bediuzzaman was put in solitary confinement in a seventy-person ward on an upper floor which was in an advanced state of decay. It had forty small windows of which only fifteen had intact glass. Ill with fever, he was left entirely alone in this huge, draughty room in sub-zero temperatures with no stove or heating.6 Later, if he was given a stove, we learn from one of his defence speeches that after three and a half months in total isolation, the Public Prosecutor had still not permitted his books to be given to him.7
It was the Prosecutor and the Governor of the prison, whom Selahaddin Çelebi described a Gestapo chief, that prohibited Bediuzzaman’s students visiting him,8 even penalizing warders that were slack. Nevertheless, his students found ways of circumventing them and would go and assist Bediuzzaman. If caught they were beaten or bastinadoed mercilessly.
Bediuzzaman’s students too willingly endured the appalling primitive conditions in the crowded wards in the way of serving the cause of the Qur'an and belief through the Risale-i Nur, facing also with equanimity the abuse and ill-treatment they frequently received. Their Üstad was a perpetual source of strength and consolation for them. Some tell of how the sound of his supplications at night would console them.9 They all tell of his kindness, even, tenderness towards them in prison. They would see him watching them from his ward on the upper floor when out for their exercise in the yard. He would drop down notes to them to cheer them up and enquire if anything appeared to be wrong.10
During this twenty months, Bediuzzaman also wrote numerous letters, mostly short, to his students in the prison, in addition to notes such as those mentioned above. These are about various matters concerning their life in the prison, like his letters in Denizli Prison. Most importantly they urge the students to look on their imprisonment in positive terms in the light of Divine wisdom, as a trial and test, which presented new possibilities for service to the Qur'an through the Risale-i Nur. Especially when the trial dragged on and they were held for months in those conditions, Bediuzzaman frequently pointed out the benefits in this, since it “expanded the field of the Risale-i Nur”, and urged patience on them. Some of the letters concern the trial and direct the writing out of copies of the defence speeches and their being sent to various government offices and departments, and other aspects of the Students’ “service”. Others warn them of informers and spies, and efforts to sow discord between the Students in order to break their solidarity. Also Bediuzzaman saw an important aspect of their “service” in prison to be the reform of the other prisoners, and a number of his letters address them. Again these showed their effect, for many of the prisoners did reform. These included hardened murderers like the famous ‘Butcher Tahir’.11
As for the Students, they constantly sought ways of visiting Bediuzzaman, and they found various means of exchanging letters. The Students were dispersed through a number of wards. Each group formed it own ‘medrese’ to study together the Risale-i Nur and give instruction to any of the other prisoners who wished. The Students continuously wrote out various parts of the Risale-i Nur. A Student called Mustafa Acet is a good example of someone who benefited from this Medrese-i Yusufiye. A relative of the Çaliskan’s from Emirdag, his arrest had been a case of mistaken identity. He was arrested in place of someone called Terzi Mustafa. But during the eleven months this entirely innocent person spent in Afyon Prison, he learnt from the Risale-i Nur Students not only how to write the Qur'anic script, so that in subsequent years he was employed as a calligrapher by the Department of Religious Affairs, but also how to recite it, so that for ten years subsequent to being released from the prison he acted as imam in a mosque in Emirdag!12
On the ground floor, the stone-floored wards measured twenty to twenty-five metres by eight to ten metres, with three lavatories opening onto the ward. If anyone wanted a bath, they had to find a can of water and take it in these latrines. There were usually seventy to eighty prisoners in any one of these wards. Some food was distributed by the prison, but this had to be paid for. Since the great majority of prisoners were local, they had their food sent and laundry done by relatives outside. But since the Risale-i Nur Students were from other areas and mostly had little money, they subsisted on the very meagrest of rations. Ibrahim Fakazli describes the tarhana (dried yogurt) soup that he subsisted on. The prisoners used to cook this soup on little braziers made of old tin cans. It was made with oil of such low quality that it was inedible if not first scalded. The tarhana was then added to this. He described how the stench of the scalded oil together that of the latrines was so powerful, it almost knocked him unconscious when he first arrived. He grew accustomed to it after two or three days.13 Part of the time, Bediuzzaman’s food was prepared by his students, and sent from the Sixth Ward, where Mehmet Feyzi, Hüsrev, Ceylan, and others were. Bediuzzaman would not eat the bread provided by the prison. Nevertheless he was poisoned on at least three occasions in the prison. There are heart-rending descriptions of him on these occasions. And also his own description in letters, one of which is as follows. It is taken from one of two personal notebooks which Zübeyir Gündüzalp kept in prison:
“My life is in danger, the torments and most severe oppression with which they are torturing me on account of freemasonry and communism in a way which is beyond my endurance and entirely outside the law and contrary to prison regulations, compels us to transfer our case to another court. With all your strength you must inform both the lawyers here, and by telegraph our friends in Istanbul, and Hulûsi in Ankara that my life is in danger. I can no longer endure it, due to being poisoned as part of a conspiracy, and illness, and old age, and solitary confinement, and even [being forbidden] to look and speak with whoever brings my food to the hatch. And now for the third time was yesterday’s incident, a plot. On visiting day, Ceylan is to inform Zübeyir of this and my pitiful condition, and let him do whatever is possible. In my opinion those two men are trying on account of the Masons to force me into making a muddle of things. It is essential in the name of the law to attempt to make the Appeal Court deliver us, in the name of the country and nation, from their extreme oppression and injustice.”14
In his account of Afyon, Ibrahim Fakazli mentions Bediuzzaman’s pitiful condition either on this or a similar occasion and goes on to describe the extreme cold, and how the prison authorities finally moved Bediuzzaman temporarily to another, crowded, ward:
“If we didn’t see Ustad at the window, we would be very worried and wonder the reason. Whatever the price, we would find an opportunity to go up to him and see. One bitterly cold winter’s day, I slipped up to him [secretly] without being seen. Ustad was very ill. He stretched out his hand to me and told me to take it. I took it and kissed it. It was burning and he could not stand the heat of my hand. He said: ‘Ibrahim, I am extremely ill. I’m about to die. But I feel comforted since you’re here.’ At that point Ceylan came. He repeated the same things to him. We wept in bewilderment. Ustad was weeping as well. We were completely at a loss what to do. He embraced both of us and bade us farewell, then he recited a lot of prayers for us and sent us away. On returning to the ward, we explained the situation to the brothers, and we recited a lot of prayers and read Jawshan.15 Later we realized that Ustad had been poisoned.
“It was winter. Everywhere in Afyon was frozen and communications were cut with its surroundings. The railway was closed. For fifteen to twenty days no food or fuel could reach the town, and there was no running water. It was not possible to heat Bediuzzaman’s ward with its broken windows and gaping floor-boards. That day, I saw Hazret-i Ustad under two blankets double-folded with an oil-can in front of him in which was a little bit of charcoal and a kettle and tea-pot...”
While the innocent, elderly, and ill Bediuzzaman was freezing to death in his empty ward virtually open to the elements, the ward opposite was in a good state of repair, with cast-iron stove and hot water. Its inmates were a young man serving a life-sentence for communism, a doctor convicted of rape, and a political prisoner. They received every sort of privilege, the communist even being allowed out into the town in the company of a guard.
The Risale-i Nur Students sent petitions to the prison authorities for coal and a proper stove for Bediuzzaman, but as a consequence they forcibly moved him to the Fifth Ward, the ward for pickpockets, thieves, and vagrants. It was as though they had taken pity on him, but alas, more in keeping with them, they knew he could not abide the crowded, filthy conditions and the noise, and that it would be even greater torment for him. However, the prisoners turned out to be more sympathetic: they divided off a portion of the ward with blankets, set up a stove in it, placed Bediuzzaman in it, and themselves did not make a sound outside. It became the warmest place in the prison, and it was here that Bediuzzaman wrote Elhüccetü’z-Zehra.16
The seriously ill and extremely weak Bediuzzaman wrote that it occurred to him there that since there were Risale-i Nur Students in all the other wards, it was only in this Fifth Ward that the inmates were deprived of the lessons of the Risale-i Nur, so saying “Bismillah” he began to teach the youths there in particular, explaining eleven brief proofs of the Divine existence and unity.17 As for the prisoners, they began to compete with each other as to who could do the most to assist Bediuzzaman and many of them began to perform the five daily prayers.
Bediuzzaman was at first distressed at being forcibly moved to the crowd and din of the Fifth Ward, although “it later turned into a Mercy”, and said by way of a warning to the prison authorities that they would suffer for it and that the cold would become even more intense. One of the prisoners who did much to assist him in the prison, who a bookseller by profession, has described how following this the temperature plummeted even further so that all the drains also became completely frozen. And the people in the town said that “they must have done something to the Hoja again.” At that point he and some others set up a stove in Bediuzzaman’s old ward and made it more inhabitable, and Bediuzzaman moved back there. A while later, a warm wind began to blow and the temperature rose and the ice began to thaw, whereupon the drain pipes began to split and burst and the whole town, including the prison, was flooded by filth and water from the drains. It took days to clean everywhere and rid it of the stench. In this way, Bediuzzaman’s prediction was fulfilled.
Bediuzzaman then wrote the Second Station of Elhüccetü’z-Zehra, and this same prisoner, Kemal Bayrakli, describes how he would convey the parts of it as they were written to Husrev. He and the other Risale-i Nur Students would then immediately write out copies. When complete, these would be returned to Kemal Bayrakli, who being allowed his professional tools in the prison, would bind them into book form.18 This was all carried out in the greatest secrecy. Thus, the work of the Risale-i Nur was continued even in the conditions of Afyon Prison.
A final point that may be mentioned in connection with this is a strange event also described by the same prisoner, and associated with the torments suffered by Bediuzzaman. It was also recalled by Necati Müftüoglu, who acted as Chief Clerk in Afyon Court in 1948.19 Kemal Bayrakli said: “One strange day that strange winter, it was as though there was a growl in the sky. Everybody heard it. When it came to morning, there were waves of stains [on the snow] in the yard. They were blood-coloured. On watching the snow, we saw that it snowed like that all morning, covering up the stains and then the stains appearing again.”20
Bediuzzaman is Seen Outside the Prison
As while in Eskishehir21 and Denizli Prisons, on several occasions while in Afyon, Bediuzzaman was seen outside the prison in a number of mosques. As was usual with his extraordinary powers and miracles, for want of a better word,22 Bediuzzaman always virtually discounted them in regard to himself, concealing his own powers, and rather attributed them to the Risale-i Nur. There are two accounts of his being seen in mosques in the town, one by a prison warder, Hasan Degirmenci, and one by a local inhabitant. The warder said:
“...Although Bediuzzaman was inside the prison, rumours started up that he was being seen in the mosques and in the market-place. I did an ignorant thing at that time, I thoroughly cleaned and polished his shoes to see if they would get dirty or dusty. If they had got dusty, I would have proved that he had really gone. That’s youth and ignorance for you!...”23
Hilmi Pancaroglu, who lived in Afyon and visited Bediuzzaman when he was staying in the town after being released from the prison, gave this account:
“While in the prison, Bediuzzaman asked permission to attend the Friday Prayers, but they would not give it to him. Then, when the warders looked into his ward, they could not see him. In a panic, they started to search the mosques. Police went to various mosques, and different groups of them saw him performing the prayers simultaneously in the Imarat, Otpazari, and Misirli Mosques. Only, when everyone came out after the prayers, they could in no way find him. Then, on returning to the prison, what did they see, but Ustad in his ward. Most of the people in Afyon know of this event.”24
Evidently in reply to a question on this matter, Bediuzzaman confirmed that it had occurred, but as was mentioned above, considered it to be unimportant and wanted attention to be directed away from himself towards the Risale-i Nur. He wrote:
“..One time a famous scholar was seen on numerous fronts in the War by those who had gone to the jihad. They said to him... And he replied: ‘Certain saints are doing this in my place in order to gain reward for me and allow the people of belief to benefit from my teaching.’ In exactly the same way, in Denizli it was even made known officially that I had been seen in mosques there, and the Governor and warders were informed. Some of them became alarmed, saying, ‘Who opened the prison gates for him?’ And exactly the same thing happened here. But rather than attributing a very minor wonder to my own very faulty and unimportant self, The Ratifying Stamp of the Unseen Collection, which proves and demonstrates the Risale-i Nur’s wonders, wins confidence in the Risale a hundred or rather a thousand times more, and ratifies its acceptance. And the heroic students of the Risale-i Nur in particular ratify it with their pens and states, which are truly wonders.”25
The Flag Incident
One ‘Republic Day’, that is, 29 October, while Bediuzzaman was in Afyon Prison, perhaps hoping ‘to provoke an incident’, the Governor had the national flag, the famous star and crescent, hung on Bediuzzaman’s ward, obviously believing that Bediuzzaman would be displeased or discomforted by this, and maybe try to have it removed. How little these officials understood Bediuzzaman! Bediuzzaman, who had been “a religious republican” since an early age, and had spent his entire life striving for the good and salvation of the Turkish nation and country, both on the battlefield and with his pen. So Bediuzzaman wrote the Governor a letter. It went like this:
“I thank you for having the flag of the Independence Holiday hung on my ward. During the National Action in Istanbul, Ankara knew that I had performed the service of maybe a military division through publishing and distributing my work The Six Steps against the British and Greeks, for twice Mustafa Kemal notified me in cypher wanting me to go to Ankara. He even said: ‘We have to have this heroic hoja here!’ That is to say, it is my right to hang this flag this holiday.
Just as in the prison Bediuzzaman and his students were being abused and ill-treated in ways that were entirely unlawful, so too in the trial, the law was subverted and exploited in the clear purpose of the Court to convict Bediuzzaman whatever the reality of the case. As the tide was turning against them, the trial and imprisonment was a last, futile attempt on the part of ‘the forces of irreligion’ to silence Bediuzzaman and stem the flood turning to the Qur'an and Islam due to the teachings of the Risale-i Nur. Their desperation was demonstrated by the fact that the same charges that had been cleared by previous courts, on which Bediuzzaman and his students had been declared innocent, were again put forward – Bediuzzaman described them as “collecting water from a thousand streams”: “exploiting religious feelings in a way that might disturb public order”, “founding a secret society for political ends”, “forming a new Sufi tarikat ”, “criticizing Mustafa Kemal and his reforms”, “spreading ideas opposed to the regime”, and again Bediuzzaman was accused of being “a Kurdish nationalist”; a charge so far from the truth that more than anything it shows the lengths the authorities were prepared to go to in order to discredit him.
Two points the Prosecution made much of in regard to “inciting the people in ways that might disturb the peace” concerned firstly the Fifth Ray, which explains a number of Hadiths alluding to the Sufyan and Dajjal and events at the end of time, and which the authorities again interpreted as referring to Mustafa Kemal. It unfortunately received support for this from the Experts’ Report. Related to this was the ‘hat’ question. And secondly, the brief passages in the Twenty-Fifth Word explaining Qur'anic verses on Islamic dress and inheritance were considered to be inflammatory, as in Eskishehir Court. But once again the plans of the enemies of religion backfired on them, for rather than arousing hostility towards Bediuzzaman, the Risale-i Nur and religion, the widely publicized trial and imprisonment aroused sympathy. In fact, public indignation was such at the heartless, inhuman, and unlawful treatment suffered by the entirely innocent Bediuzzaman and his students that it has been suggested that it contributed to the defeat of RPP in the 1950 elections.
Since the charges were the same as in Eskishehir and Denizli Courts, Bediuzzaman was able to reuse a part of his former defence merely changing some of the wording. Once again he clearly disproved the charges and demonstrated that neither the Risale-i Nur nor the activities of himself and his students had contravened the law in any way. The following are some extracts from his defence speeches. Firstly from those refuting the political society and public order charges:
“The one hundred and thirty parts of the Risale-i Nur are there for all to see. Understanding that they contained no worldly goal and no aim other than the truths of belief, Eskishehir Court did not object to them with the exception of one or two of the parts, and Denizli Court objected to none at all, and despite being under constant surveillance for eight years the large Kastamonu police force could find no one to accuse apart from my two assistants and three others on pretexts. This is a decisive proof that the Students of the Risale-i Nur are in no way a political society. If what is intended by “society” in the indictment is a community concerned with belief and the hereafter, we say this in reply:
“If the name community is given to university students and tradesmen, it may also be applied to us. But if you call us a community that is going to disturb public order by exploiting religious feelings, in response we say:
“The fact that in no place over a period of twenty years in these stormy times Risale-i Nur Students have infringed or disturbed public order, and the fact that no such incident has been recorded by either the Government or any court, refutes this accusation. If the name community is given meaning it might harm public security in the future through strengthening religious feelings, we say this:
“Firstly, foremost the Directorate of Religious Affairs and all preachers perform the same service.
“Secondly, it is not disturbing peace and security, the Students of the Risale-i Nur protect the nation from anarchy with all their strength and conviction, and secure public order and security...
“Yes, we are a community, and our aim and programme is to save firstly ourselves and then our nation from eternal extinction and everlasting solitary confinement in the intermediate realm, and to protect our compatriots from anarchy and lawlessness, and to protect ourselves with the firm truths of the Risale-i Nur against atheism, which is the means to destroying our lives in this world and in the next.”27
Bediuzzaman frequently stressed in his defence speeches that the nature of their service to the Qur'an prohibited them from participating in politics; it was those opposed to the positive and constructive social results of this service who repeatedly accused them of political involvement:
“We Students of the Risale-i Nur do not make the Risale-i Nur a tool for worldly [political] currents, not even for the whole universe. Furthermore, the Qur'an severely prohibits us from politics. Indeed, the Risale-i Nur’s duty is to serve the Qur'an through the truths of belief and through extremely powerful and decisive proofs, which in the face of absolute unbelief which destroys eternal life and also transforms the life of this world into a ghastly poison, bring even the most obdurate atheist philosophers to belief. Therefore we may not make the Risale-i Nur a tool for anything.
“Firstly: It is not to reduce to pieces of glass the diamond-like truths of the Qur'an in the view of the heedless by inducing the false idea of political propaganda.
“Secondly: Compassion, truth and right, and conscience, the fundamental way of the Risale-i Nur, prohibit us severely from politics and interfering with government. For dependent on one or two irreligious people fallen into absolute unbelief and deserving of slaps and calamities are seven or eight innocents - children, the sick and the elderly. If slaps and calamities are visited on the one or two, those unfortunates suffer also. Therefore, since the result is doubtful, we have been severely prohibited from interfering by way of politics in social life to the harm of government and public order.
“Thirdly: Five principles are necessary and essential at this strange time in order to save the social life of this country and nation from anarchy: respect, compassion, refraining from what is prohibited (haram), security, the giving up of lawlessness and being obedient [to authority]. The evidence that when the Risale-i Nur looks to social life it establishes and strengthens these five principles in a powerful and sacred fashion and preserves the foundation-stone of public order, is that over the last twenty years the Risale-i Nur has made one hundred thousand people into harmless, beneficial members of this nation and country. The provinces of Isparta and Kastamonu bear witness to this. This means that knowingly or unknowingly the great majority of those who object to the parts of the Risale-i Nur are betraying the country and nation and dominance of Islam on account of anarchy...”28
In response to the repeated charge of forming a tarikat, Bediuzzaman said:
“The basis and aim of the Risale-i Nur is certain belief and the essential reality of the Qur'an. For this reason, three courts of law have acquitted it in regard to being a tarikat. Furthermore, not one person has said during these twenty years: ‘Said has given me tarikat [instruction].’ Also, a way to which for a thousand years most of this nation’s forefathers have been bound may not made something for which [the members of the nation] are answerable. Also, those who combat successfully those secret dissemblers who attach the name of tarikat to the reality of Islam and attack this nation’s religion, may not themselves be accused of being a tarikat...29
A further matter the Court unjustly found Bediuzzaman guilty of concerned his explanations of certain Islamic laws concerning women. In his defence to the Appeal Court, he wrote defending these:
“One reason they showed for punishing me was my commentary on the Qur'an’s extremely explicit verses about veiling, inheritance, recitation of the Divine Names, and polygamy, written to silence those who object to them [in the name of] civilization.
“..... I say this that if there is any justice on the face of the earth, [the Appeal Court] will quash this decision which convicts someone who expounded [Qur'anic verses] which in each century for one thousand three hundred and fifty years have been sacred and true Divine principles in the social life of three hundred and fifty million Muslims, and expounded them relying on the consensus and affirmation of three hundred and fifty thousand Qur'anic commentaries and following [what have been] the beliefs of our forefathers for one thousand three hundred years. Is it not denial of Islam and betrayal of our millions of religious and heroic forefathers to convict, because he expounded those verses, someone who according to reason and learning does not accept certain European laws applied temporarily due to certain requirements of the times and who has given up politics and withdrawn from social life, and is it not to insult millions of Qur'anic commentaries?30
The Experts’ Report
While the preliminary questioning was being carried out by the Public Prosecutor and Examining Magistrate after the arrests of Bediuzzaman and his students, the collections of the Risale-i Nur, such as Zülfikar, The Staff of Moses, The Illuminating Lamp (Siraj al-Nur), and A Guide for Youth, as well as letters and other documents were all sent to the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Ankara to be scrutinized by another ‘committee of experts’. Although these produced their report in a short time, presenting it to Afyon Court on 16 March, 1948, due to the Prosecutor’s interference, it was not for several months that Bediuzzaman was able to obtain a copy of it. This committee bowed to pressure from the Government, and put forward two main points that the Prosecution was able to use against Bediuzzaman,31 although only three years before the previous ‘experts’ had cleared the Risale-i Nur. Nevertheless, importantly, they rejected the charges of forming a tarikat, organizing a society, and disturbing public security, and concentrated their objections, which Bediuzzaman described as, “unfair, incorrect, and unjustifiable”, on the Fifth Ray.32 The second point they raised, also entirely unfair and mistaken but one which, out of fear, Bediuzzaman’s enemies frequently levelled at him, was being “conceited and vain-glorious”, by which was meant building up by means of his students’ good will towards him, a position of personal prestige and power.
Bediuzzaman answered these objections the committee raised in a “Thank-you Letter”, in which he firstly expressed his gratitude to them for exonerating him of the main charges. He then pointed out in scholarly and reasoned fashion the errors in their objections to the Hadiths in the Fifth Ray and his interpretation of them. Since together with the few lines on inheritance and Islamic dress this was the one part of the Risale-i Nur that was made the pretext for this court case and numerous subsequent cases – since the authorities interpreted it as attacking Ataturk, it is worth mentioning here the history of this extraordinary treatise,which illustrates one reason how Bediuzzaman earned his name, ‘The Wonder of the Age’, and also, unfortunately, how this frequently resulted in rivalry and jealousy on the part of other religious scholars.
The Fifth Ray had originated over forty years previously, from when Bediuzzaman came to Istanbul before the Constitutional Revolution in 1907. At that time, when that “prodigy from the East” had put a notice on his door saying “Here all questions are answered, but none are asked”, the Istanbul ‘ulama put some questions to him about some allegorical Hadith referring to the end of time, which had been asked them by the visiting Japanese Commander-in-Chief. Then, when a member of the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-Islamiye after the First World War, in reply to some further questions on the same subject, Bediuzzaman arranged these replies roughly in the form of a treatise, the purpose of which was to save believers from doubts about the allegorical Hadiths, which superficially appeared to be unconformable with reason.33 Then, in 1922 he was invited to Ankara by Mustafa Kemal, and as is described in the relevant chapter above, Bediuzzaman saw part of what these Hadiths foretold “in someone there”, and for that reason felt compelled to refuse the offers made to him by Mustafa Kemal of various important posts, and withdrew from politics and the world to eastern Anatolia in order to work “solely on the way of saving belief.” And again on being asked questions on these allegorical Hadiths foretelling events at the end of time when in exile in Kastamonu in 1938, Bediuzzaman arranged this treatise in its final form and it was incorporated into the Risale-i Nur as the Fifth Ray.34 That is to say, as time unfolded, the interpretations of some of these Hadiths which Bediuzzaman had given as far back as 1907 became realized; what they prophesied became realized in fact.
For example, one of these Hadiths says: “A fearsome individual at the end of time will rise in the morning and on his forehead will be written: ‘This is a kafir ’.” In 1907, the meaning Bediuzzaman had given this was: “This extraordinary individual will come to lead this nation. He will rise in the morning and put on a hat, and he will make others wear hats.”35 ...“That Sufyan will put on a European hat, and make others wear [similar hats]. But because this will be by compulsion and force of law, the hat will made to prostrate [before God] and God willing will be rightly-guided, and by wearing it – unwillingly – everyone will not become kafirs.”36
It was for this reason, because this was so plain, that Bediuzzaman had suppressed the treatise and not permitted it to be circulated. It was only after the entire Risale-i Nur, including the Fifth Ray, had been declared legally innocuous by the previous Committee of Experts and Denizli Court that he had allowed it to be duplicated.
Now, the present ‘committee of experts’ levelled criticism at the Fifth Ray which Bediuzzaman described as “unfair, mistaken, and unjustifiable.”37 These centred on the nature of the Hadiths, which they said were either “unsound” or “weak”, and on his interpretation of them. In his “Thank-you Letter”, Bediuzzaman answered these criticisms with little difficulty.38 Besides this, Bediuzzaman also described these criticisms as resulting from jealousy and “a vein of Wahhabism”, which points to the reasons for their second point of objection, which was equally mistaken. They criticized the eulogies written to Bediuzzaman and the Risale-i Nur by some of his students.
So Bediuzzaman pointed out it was a long-standing custom among scholars and literary people to write such eulogies about one another’s work, and for these to be included at the ends of the works when they first appeared. If such eulogies had been directed towards himself, Bediuzzaman had changed them to refer to the Risale-i Nur. In any event time was proving what was written about the Risale-i Nur to be true. And even if what they wrote had been excessively exaggerated or even wrong, it would still only have been a scholarly error, and everyone was entitled to his own opinion. Bediuzzaman went on to gently put three questions to the ‘experts’ from the Directorate of Religious Affairs, suggesting that they were busying themselves with trifles while religion and the Qur'an were suffering the fearsome attacks of that time, or even assisting them.39
Nevertheless, despite the unfair criticisms in this report and their consequences, Bediuzzaman maintained a positive attitude towards the Directorate of Religious Affairs, marked by the “Thank-you Letter” above and the fact that in addition to other government departments, he arranged for copies of the defence speeches to be sent also to them.40 In fact, previous to their arrests, and subsequently, he sent students to them to seek their co-operation.41
The Trial Continues
Another fact supporting the claim that the trial was an officially-backed conspiracy against Bediuzzaman and the Risale-i Nur movement was that he was denied all sorts of legal rights in the trial. In addition to being denied access to such important documents as the report, he was even frequently denied the right to speak in the Court itself. His being totally isolated for the first eleven months of his imprisonment, during the trial, was clearly both to prevent him receiving information and assisting with his students. Thus, he was also often not allowed anyone to assist him with the writing out of his defence. Of course, Bediuzzaman never used the Latin alphabet, so he was dependent on his students or others for the reading of all official documents, and also the writing of any document or letter that had to be presented to the Court or authorities. As with his dress, he refused to compromise. Since the Ottoman script was now illegal and invalid, when his signature was necessary on official papers, they used either his finger-print or a rubber-stamp with his name on it in the new letters.
Nevertheless, Bediuzzaman and his students were not in any way intimidated by the wrongs and injustices they suffered. A gendarme who served both in Emirdag and Afyon Court, called Ibrahim Mengüverli, described how on one occasion Bediuzzaman rose to speak in Court, and continued for two hours. Then, when the Judge told him that was enough.. “Bediuzzaman grew exceedingly angry, traced a circle in the air with his hand and jabbed his forefinger at the Judge, saying:
“‘I have the right to speak for eight hours. I’ll speak for as long as I want.’”42
There were three lawyers who acted as defence lawyers for Bediuzzaman and his students at Afyon. One of these, Ahmet Hikmet Gönen, also a student of Bediuzzaman’s, has described the defence speeches of the Risale-i Nur Students. They all gave their own defences in the Court, in addition to writing petitions. Two were particularly noteworthy, Zübeyir Gündüzalp’s and Ahmet Feyzi Kul’s. The latter’s, which continued for a full eight and a half hours, earned him the name of ‘The Risale-i Nur Lawyer’ from Bediuzzaman.43
Bediuzzaman also insisted on his right to perform the prayers at the appropriate times when the Court was in session. Several witnesses have described such occasions in their accounts. One was the above lawyer. Another was Mustafa Acet from Emirdag. He described how during one hearing, the time for the prayers was passing, so presumably not having been allowed to leave the Court earlier for five minutes, Bediuzzaman said angrily to the Prosecutor:
“We’re here in order to protect the rights of the prayers. We are not guilty of anything else!” And he immediately got and walked out. The usher hurried out after him, and he performed the prayers in the Secretary’s Office.44
The trials aroused great interest country-wide, and numbers of people flocked to Afyon from all over.45 One of Bediuzzaman’s students tells of one occasion when Bediuzzaman emerged from the Court, a great mass of people moved forward to kiss his hand... “then in turn they started to kiss it. At that point the Public Prosecutor came out, and unable to stomach such a situation, roared at the police and gendarmes: ‘Why are you permitting this?’ Bediuzzaman was exceedingly angry at this, and said in a loud voice:
“‘What’s this? What’s this? I’ll meet with my brothers if I want!’ And he grew so excited his turban fell off. We picked it up off the ground and put it back on his head. Scared out of his wits, the Prosecutor made off without looking behind him. But in order to provoke an incident, kicked somebody’s leg. This brother felt no pain. But we looked at his leg later, and it was all purple and bruised.”46
At the same time Bediuzzaman was not content to allow the injustices of the trial to pass unnoticed. As in Denizli, he arranged through his students for copies of his defence speeches, and also those of his students and copies of his table of the ninety errors in the indictment and his answers, to departments of government in Ankara, in order to make known the reality of the case. Only here in Afyon, he endeavoured to organize it on a larger scale, sending copies also to Isparta – for his students there to duplicate, to be shown to the Public Prosecutor, and also to Denizli and Istanbul. These were also made into book form and distributed. He also instructed them to send copies to the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Ankara.47
This operation had to be organized in secrecy and under the most difficult conditions of the prison. The copies which Bediuzzaman wanted produced in the new letters had to be typed out on type-writers, which unlike Denizli, they were not permitted. Their lawyer, Ahmad Bey, assisted them with this – Bediuzzaman stressing in his letters the need for accuracy. A soldier stationed in Afyon called Nihad Bozkurt, who used to visit a friend in the prison twice a week, also typed out the defence speeches for them.48
At one point even, the Court had reproduced parts of the indictment “which they imagined were against” Bediuzzaman and his students. In response to this propaganda campaign, which was undoubtedly an abuse of the Court’s powers and was aimed at turning public opinion against Bediuzzaman, Bediuzzaman had duplicated copies of his table of the errors in the indictment, which were little more than slander, in order to have them distributed, and also further copies of their defences so as to inform people of the truth of the matter.49
The Court’s Verdict
With all the delays and hold-ups, the Court finally announced its verdict on 6 December, 1948. Disregarding all the evidence it found Bediuzzaman guilty under Article 163 of Criminal Code of in various respects, “exploiting religious feelings and inciting the people against the Government.” That a court of law should have allowed itself to be used in this blatant miscarriage of justice was a denigration of the law itself and a disgraceful episode in Turkish legal history.50 It sentenced Bediuzzaman to two years’ “penal servitude”, which was reduced to twenty months due to his age. Ahmad Feyzi Kul, who had made the long defence, was sentenced to eighteen months, and twenty others of Bediuzzaman’s students to six months each. Some of these had already been inside the prison for eleven months, others for less. Those who had served their terms were released, while others who had been tried not under arrest, were arrested and put inside.
Then began a long drawn-out legal wrangle that did not reach a final conclusion until 1956. On the Court’s passing sentence, the case was immediately sent to the Appeal Court in Ankara, but as mentioned earlier, the Prosecutor delayed the sending of the documents, only sending them on the intervention of the three lawyers.51 In the prison also the injustices against Bediuzzaman continued, or were even increased, for it was at this time that the weather became so cold and he was forcibly moved to another ward.52 Both he and his students wrote further defences and pieces to be sent also to the Appeal Court. The lawyers gave the defence in the Appeal Court, which gave its decision on 4 June, 1949: since Said Nursi had been acquitted on the same charges by Denizli Court, and this decision had been confirmed by the Appeal Court, it quashed the decision of Afyon Court.
Although Bediuzzaman and his students should have been released at this point, Afyon Court reassembled on the case being referred back to it. They were asked what they wanted. On their replying that they wanted the Appeal Court’s decision to be applied, the Court withdrew for prolonged consideration. Finally, it had no choice but to agree. But then, on 31 August, 1949, the decision was taken to retry the case, and hearings began once again. In this way, with continual postponements and delays, in an entirely unlawful manner, Bediuzzaman was made to serve the full twenty months the Court had originally sentenced him to. Only when he had completed this term did they release him. His students also were released on completing their sentences. In this way, the tyrannical and obdurate Prosecutor perpetrated what was no less than a crime on these innocent people right up to the very last moment he was able. And when it came to releasing Bediuzzaman, they did not permit him to leave the prison at the normal hour, but just before dawn.
The story of Afyon Court does not finish here; the hearings continued with the accused in absentia, until the general amnesty announced after the victory of the Democrat Party in the 1950 general elections. But even then the Prosecutor would not let the matter rest; he insisted on the works in question – the Risale-i Nur – being separated from the criminal proceedings, and the continuation of the case. Thus, the trial of the Risale-i Nur continued.
The Court finally reached a decision that copies of the Risale-i Nur should be confiscated. The case was sent to the Appeal Court. The Appeal Court again quashed Afyon Court’s decision. Afyon Court had no choice now but to comply with the Appeal Court’s judgement and acquit the Risale-i Nur. But the Prosecutor would not accept this, and he sent this decision before the Appeal Court. This time, the Appeal Court quashed Afyon Court’s latest decision due to some technicalities. The case continued. Then Afyon Court ruled that the Risale-i Nur should be acquitted and copies returned to their owners. Whereupon the Prosecutor again sent the case to the Appeal Court.
This time the Appeal Court decided that the entire Risale-i Nur should be rescrutinized by a committee of experts and the Directorate of Religious Affairs was directed to set one up. A new committee produced a report. And finally, relying on this report, in June, 1956, Afyon Court cleared the Risale-i Nur and ruled that all the confiscated copies should be returned to their owners. This time the Prosecutor admitted his defeat, and the decision was made final.53
1. Sualar, 291.
2. Fakazli, Ibrahim, in Son Sahitler, v, 23.
3. Kayihan, Mehmet, in Son Sahitler, i, 19.
4. Sualar, 339; 433.
5. Ibid., 423.
6. Lem’alar, 246-7.
7. Sualar, 322.
8. Çelebi, Selahaddin, in Son Sahitler, i, 148.
9. Fakazli, Ibrahim, in Son Sahitler, v, 30.
10. Ibid.; also Sungur, Mustafa, in Sahiner, N. Aydinlar Konusuyor, 382.
11. See, Pancaroglu, H., in Son Sahitler, iii, 170; Sahiner, N. Nurs Yolu, 54-6.
12. Acet, Mustafa, in Son Sahitler, i, 27-9.
13. Fakazli, Ibrahim, in Son Sahitler, v, 33-4.
14. Sahiner, N. Son Sahitler, i, 24.
15. The Jawshan al-Kabir is the famous supplication revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which, comprising the Divine Names, is related to possess many merits.
16. Fakazli, Ibrahim, Son Sahitler, v, 35-6.
17. Sualar, 502-3.
18. Bayrakli, Kemal, in Son Sahitler, iv, 288-9.
19. Müftüoglu, Necati, in Son Sahitler, v, 82.
20. Bayrakli, Kemal, in Son Sahitler, iv, 289.
21. Tarihçe, 193.
22. Miracles (mu'cizat) are particular to prophets, while in saints and others such ‘wonder-working’ is known as keramet.
23. Degirmenci, Hasan, in Son Sahitler, i, 31.
24. Pancaroglu, Hilmi, in Son Sahitler, iii, 169-70.
25. Sualar, 409.
26. Sualar, 455; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 366-8.
27. Sualar, 305.
28. Ibid., 292-3.
29. Ibid., 313.
30. Sualar, 378-9.
31. Bediuzzaman had surmised that the Experts’ Report had arrived some time previously, because some of the answers in a table he had made out of ninety errors and factual inaccuracies in the indictments and his answers to them corresponded exactly to the Report. In other words, the indictment was in part based on the report (Sualar, 433.) For the table, see Sualar, 342-361.
32. Sualar, 437.
33. Ibid., 296; 383.
34. Ibid., 300-1.
35. Ibid., 300.
367. Ibid., 490.
37. Ibid., 437.
38. Ibid., 338-9.
39. Ibid., 338-341.
40. Ibid., 409.
41. Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 232-3; ii, 6; 9.
42. Mengüverli, Ibrahim, in Son Sahitler, iii, 123.
43. Gönen, Ahmet Hikmet, in Son Sahitler, iii, 178-9.
44. Acet, Mustafa, in Son Sahitler, i, 28.
45. Mengüverli, Ibrahim, in Son Sahitler, iii, 123.
46. Ezener, Mustafa, in Son Sahitler, iv, 180.
47. Sualar, 409; 412.
48. Bozkurt, Nihad, in Son Sahitler, iv, 248-9.
49. Sualar, 453.
50. This is further proved by the fact that subsequently to 1949 the Risale-i Nur and Fifth Ray in particular, which was made the main pretext of the Afyon judges’ decision, have been acquitted more than 1500 times in Turkish courts of law.
51. Sualar, 454.
52. Ibid., 502.
53. Tarihçe, 475-7; 539.