C H A P T E R T W O
B A R L A
Isolation in Barla
Barla, Ankara had indeed found a remote spot removed from easy contact with the outside world. With its low, red-rooved houses nestling on a hillside among the green-sprinkled mountains to the west of Lake Egridir, this small village could only be reached on foot, or by horse or donkey; there was no motor road. The road was to come to Barla in later years, as was the telephone and electricity. The authorities in Ankara were not to know, however, that in unjustly exiling Bediuzzaman to this distant spot that they were serving the very cause they were intending to extirpate. They were not to know that their injustice in not only exiling him, but in imposing these conditions of isolation on him would be “transformed into a Divine Mercy”. They allowed him only the occasional visitor, and spreading rumours and slander about him in the area of Barla they frightened off the local people and tried to prevent them approaching him; they had him watched, followed, and harassed continuously; and when after a time the Government granted an amnesty to those exiled with Bediuzzaman, they denied him this right, too. But these repressive measures were merely serving the purposes of Divine Wisdom. For in this way Bediuzzaman was isolated from all distraction and his mind was kept clear, so that he could “freely receive the effulgence of the Qur'an” and be employed to a greater degree by his “Compassionate Sustainer in its service.”1 Bediuzzaman was to remain nearly eight and a half years in the gardens and mountains of Barla, and during this time he wrote the greater part of the one hundred and thirty parts of the Risale-i Nur. Barla became the centre from which irradiated the lights of the truths of belief at a time when the darkness of absolute unbelief was gathering force to completely stifle the Islamic faith of the people of Anatolia.
The Risale-i Nur
Within a month or two of arriving in Barla, Bediuzzaman wrote a treatise proving the Resurrection of the Dead and existence of the Hereafter; it was the first part of the Risale-i Nur to be written. This was followed by a succession of others, one of the most significant being ‘The Miraculousness of the Qur'an’, which proves the very points by which its enemies had attempted to discredit the Qur'an to be the sources of its “eloquence” and “miraculousness”. By 1929 the first collection of the treatises, thirty-two in number, was completed, the thirty-third was added later, and Bediuzzaman gave it the name of Sözler, The Words. Thus began Bediuzzaman’s silent struggle against the forces of irreligion.
The way the Risale-i Nur was composed was unique, just as its form and manner of exposition are unique. It was inspired directly by the Qur'an at this time when foremost in Turkey the Qur'an faced severe threats, and the greater part of the Islamic world too was under foreign domination and suffering dissension of all kinds. Bediuzzaman wrote:
“Unlike other works, the Risale-i Nur was not taken from the sciences and branches of learning or from other books; it has no source other than the Qur'an; it has no master other than the Qur'an; it has no authority other than the Qur'an. Its author had no other book with him when it was written. It was directly inspired by the effulgence of the Qur'an, and descended and was revealed from the skies of the Qur'an and the stars of its verses.”2
The Risale-i Nur is a commentary (tafsir) on the Qur'an that expounds it not according to the order of the verses and the immediate causes for its revelation, but explains those verses which concern the truths of belief. For commentaries on the Qur'an are of various sorts. As the Pre-Eternal Word of God, the Qur'an addresses all people of every age; it has a face that looks to each century and age, and speaks according to the conditions and needs peculiar to each. The Risale-i Nur expounds that face which looks to the modern age, and by virtue of its source possesses certain characteristics which uniquely qualify it to address contemporary man and his needs.
Firstly, it is almost entirely concerned with expounding the truths of belief, as opposed to verses concerning social and ‘fiqh’ or ‘Shari'’ matters; it explains and proves ‘the pillars of faith’, like the existence and Unity of God, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Hereafter, and Prophethood, together with such questions as the true nature of man and the universe. For while in the past these were secure, it was these very bases of faith which were now under attack. The method it employs to do this is reasoned argument and logical proof – since they had been attacked in the name of reason, and also in the manner of the Qur'an, through the use of comparison and allegory. That is to say, the Risale-i Nur answers the attacks made on the Qur'an and belief in the name of science and Western philosophy and civilization, and through comparisons of the two demonstrates the rationality of belief and logical absurdity of materialist philosophy, and that man’s happiness and salvation lie only in the former.
Furthermore, through these comparisons it explains matters from the simplest to the most profound and abstruse in such a manner that everyone can grasp them in accordance with their level of understanding. This last point is of fundamental importance: the Risale-i Nur is ‘populist’. That is to say, just as the Old Said had striven to make his message heard to ordinary people and to involve them in the great movement of the time, so too the New Said in his new struggle strove to reach the ordinary people and to renew and strengthen their belief. The Risale-i Nur makes available in this age of mass communication the truths of belief, and even the most profound aspects of them which were hitherto available only to the few, to the whole community of believers, so that all may gain firm and true belief. For it is only through true belief that the assaults of the various forms of misguidance at the present time may be withstood. The many further points about the Risale-i Nur and the new way to the truth that it opened up will become clear in later chapters. Before examining the Tenth Word, the Treatise on Resurrection and the Hereafter, which illustrates many of the points made above, let us return briefly to Bediuzzaman and his life in Barla.
Bediuzzaman lived the life of a recluse in Barla, thinking and writing. The first week he spent as a guest of one of the villagers, Muhajir Hafiz Ahmad, who together with his family was later to perform great services for Bediuzzaman and the Risale-i Nur.3 On Bediuzzaman’s request for somewhere quieter and less-frequented, a small, two-roomed house was suggested, that had formerly served as the village meeting-house. This humble dwelling was more suitable to Bediuzzaman’s needs and he stayed there for the next eight years. In his own words it became his “first Nur Medrese”, that is, “Risale-i Nur School”. Beneath it ran a stream, summer and winter, and in front stood a truly majestic plane tree. Among its great boughs Bediuzzaman had made a small tree-house, which in spring and summer he used as a place for contemplation and prayer. His students and the people of Barla used to say that he would remain there all night, neither rising nor sleeping, and at dawn the birds would fly round the tree as though drawn by the sound of his supplications and join their songs to his prayers.4
Barla’s situation is one of great beauty. Mountains rise up behind it, and before it the land falls away to Lake Egridir, with orchards and fields along the curve if its valley. Bediuzzaman spent much of his time walking through this country and down along the lake. High above the lake some four hours’ distance from Barla is Çam Dagi, the Pine Mountain. Here Bediuzzaman spent much time, particularly after 1930, staying weeks on end in complete solitude. Here too he had tree-houses made, two of them, one in a pine tree and one in a cedar, where he would write and also correct the hand-written copies of ‘The Words’, and other parts of the Risale-i Nur, which by that time were becoming increasingly numerous as it became better known and more widely spread.
The way the Risale-i Nur was written and disseminated was another of its unique aspects. Together with his extraordinary learning and abilities, Bediuzzaman himself had very poor hand-writing, so that he described himself as “semi-literate”. He interpreted this as a Divine bounty, however, because as a consequence of this need, Almighty God sent him students who were “heroes of the pen”.5 He would dictate at speed to these scribes, who would write down what he dictated with equal speed. The actual act of writing, therefore, was very fast, so that some of the parts of the Risale-i Nur were written in an incredibly short space of time, like one or two hours. This shall be discussed at greater length later. And Bediuzzaman himself was busy with the actual writing for only an hour or two each day. Copies of the original were written out by hand, and distributed. These then were copied and passed on to others who would write out further copies. In this way ‘The Words’ passed from village to village, and in the course of time, from town to town, and throughout Turkey, as we shall see.
‘Resurrection and the Hereafter’
Since the New Said had emerged from the Old Said in the years following the First World War, Bediuzzaman had immersed himself in the Qur'an in his search for a new way to reach and relate its truths in the fast-changing conditions of the times. He had withdrawn from public life of every sort and given himself over to an intense inner life of worship, thought, and contemplation. Thus, what was to be known as the Tenth Word, the Treatise on Resurrection and the Hereafter, was the first fruit of those five or six years of inner search, the answer to his prayers and supplications.
On revisiting Barla in 1954 with some of his students, Bediuzzaman described to them how it was written. They had gone to the fields and orchards on the slopes to the east of Barla down towards Lake Egridir when Bediuzzaman rose to his feet and pointing to the orchards, told them:
“My brothers! It was about thirty years ago and just the same season. I was walking through these orchards and the almond trees were in blossom. Suddenly the verse, ‘So think on the signs of God’s Mercy, how He gives life to the earth after its death; indeed, He it is Who will give life to the dead, and He is powerful over all things’6 came to mind. It became clear to me that day. I was both walking and repeating that verse over and over again at the top of my voice. I recited it forty times. Then in the evening I returned and together with Samli Hafiz Tevfik wrote the Tenth Word. That is, I dictated and Hafiz Tevfik wrote it down.”7
Unlike most subsequent parts of the Risale-i Nur when they were first written, Bediuzzaman was able to have the Tenth Word printed. Immediately it was written, a local merchant, Bekir Dikmen, took the manuscript to Istanbul and gave it to one of Bediuzzaman’s old students from the East, Müküslü Hamza Efendi, who had a thousand copies printed. When the sixty-three-page books were ready, Bekir Dikmen brought them back to Egridir, from where they were taken by boat to Barla, and there handed over to Bediuzzaman. Bediuzzaman then corrected each copy and had them distributed.8
A number of these copies Bediuzzaman had sent to Ankara and distributed among the Deputies in the National Assembly and top government officials. It happened that this coincided with moves in government circles to officially inculcate ideas denying bodily resurrection in the Turkish people.9 Bediuzzaman later described this as follows:
The Council for Education had met in Ankara in order to discuss their programme for uprooting religious ideas and imposing their atheistic views on school children and students. They decided that this should be carried out through the teaching of philosophy and denial of the resurrection of the dead. A short time after this meeting, one of the members of the Council encountered a Deputy who had with him a copy of Bediuzzaman’s treatise at the door of the Assembly. He spotted the book and told the deputy: “Said Nursi is receiving information about our work and is writing works to counteract it.” Kazim Karabekir Pasha informed Bediuzzaman of this. But Bediuzzaman explained it like this:
“I had received no such information, that the Council for Education had taken that decision. Rather, Almighty God bestowed the Treatise on Resurrection on me on account of their decision. I did not write it out of my own desire or at my own whim. It was written as a consequence of need.”10
This was an instance of an extraordinary property associated with the Qur'an and which was manifested particularly in the Tenth Word, and in other parts of the Risale-i Nur, which may be mentioned briefly at this point, and that is what is known as ‘tevafuk’, that is, ‘coinciding’ or ‘agreement’. This consists of the coinciding of events or more usually of certain letters or words in written copies of these works. The most well-known is the Divine Name of ‘Allah’ in copies of the Qur'an written according to the pagination of Hafiz Osman, which on some pages takes up positions forming vertical lines or other patterns. It is a most striking and clear indication of its miraculous nature. In regard to the Risale-i Nur, Bediuzzaman wrote:
“My brothers! We are in need of truly great moral strength in the face of misguidance and heedlessness at this time. But regrettably, I personally am extremely weak and bankrupt, I do not possess any wonderful spiritual powers with which to prove these truths, nor do I have any saintly powers with which to attract hearts. I do not possess an elevated genius with which to subjugate minds. I am like a suppliant servant at the court of the All-Wise Qur'an. Sometimes I seek help from the All-Wise Qur'an’s mysteries in order to smash the obduracy of the stubborn people of misguidance and make them see things fairly. I perceived a Divine favour in this ‘coinciding’, as instances of the miraculous power of the Qur'an, and I embraced it with both hands...”11
In the Tenth Word, this appeared both in the timing of its being written, and in hand-written copies of the work in particular, written by Bediuzzaman’s students, where, in a manner entirely outside their will, the letter ‘alif’, the first letter of the word ‘Allah’, displayed this ‘coinciding’ to such a degree that it could in no way be attributed to chance. Examples in other parts of the Risale-i Nur will be given later.
Bediuzzaman attached the greatest importance to this treatise, which, as he said, “explained to ordinary people, and even to children”, truths of belief which even a genius of philosophy like Ibn-i Sina had confessed his impotence before. Ibn-i Sina (Avicenna) had declared that ‘resurrection cannot be understood by rational criteria.’12 Bediuzzaman wrote also in a letter in the early 1930’s that its “value had not been fully appreciated.” And that he himself had “studied it perhaps fifty times, and each time I have received pleasure from it and felt the need to reread it.”13
What form then does Bediuzzaman’s Treatise on Resurrection take that it is able to prove such difficult matters so simply and clearly? He himself described it like this:
“Each [of the ‘Twelve Truths’ of which the main part of the work is composed] proves three things at the same time. Each proves both the existence of the Necessarily Existent One, and His Names and attributes, then it constructs the resurrection of the dead on these and proves it.” Bediuzzaman then continues: “Everyone from the most obdurate unbeliever to the most sincere believer can take his share from each Truth, because in each, the gaze is turned towards beings, works. Each says: ‘There are well-ordered acts in these, and a well-ordered act cannot be without an author. In which case it has an author. And since that act has been carried out with order and balance, its author must be wise and just. Since he is wise, he does nothing in vain. And since he acts with justice, he does not permit rights to be violated. There will therefore be a great gathering, a supreme tribunal.’ The Truths have been tackled in this way. They are succinct, and thus prove the three things at once.”14
At the end of the Conclusion of the Tenth Word itself, this is enlarged upon. Bediuzzaman explains that the proofs for resurrection rest on Divine works in the universe which proceed from the manifestation of the Greatest Divine Name and the greatest degree of manifestation of the other Names and are therefore vast and immense. He writes:
“Since the Resurrection and Great Gathering occur through the manifestation of the Greatest Name, they are to be proved as easily as the spring, and submitted to with certainty, and believed in firmly, through seeing and demonstrating the immense acts which are apparent through the manifestation of God Almighty’s Greatest Name and the greatest degree of all His Names.”15
Thus, Bediuzzaman explains that it is because of this great breadth and profundity that the matter of resurrection is difficult to comprehend rationally. But he adds that thanks should be offered that the way had been shown by the Qur'an where man’s reason on its own had remained impotent. For readers who wish to see an example of this, included as the first Addendum to this work is the Ninth of the Twelve ‘Truths’, which Bediuzzaman described as the “summary” of the work.
Life in Barla
Barla’s spring and summer rains are famous. The sunny skies suddenly cloud over, the thunder crashes, the lightening flashes, and the heavens open. Then the air is filled with the sweet smell of the soaked earth.
On one of the early days of the first summer he was in Barla, Bediuzzaman was walking alone in the surrounding country when the skies darkened and just such rain started to fall. Finding nowhere to shelter in the mountains, he made his way back to Barla drenched to the skin. On entering the village, he slowly climbed the narrow streets to the common water tap with his by now ripped black rubber shoes in his hand and white woollen stockings soaked in mud. There, a group of the villagers were gathered together chatting. One of them, seeing the ‘Hoja’ in this sorry and lonely state, parted from the group and came up behind Bediuzzaman.
Sensing there was someone behind him, Bediuzzaman turned, and seeing Süleyman as he was called, said to him: “Come, my brother!” Süleyman hurried forward, and taking the torn and muddy shoes, washed them in the trough, then together they climbed on up the hill to Bediuzzaman’s house. This Süleyman attended to Bediuzzaman’s needs with complete willingness and faithfulness for the next eight years. Bediuzzaman called him ‘Siddik Süleyman’, Süleyman the True. The Twenty-Eighth Word, about Paradise, was written in his garden. To this day it is known as the Paradise Garden.16
Bediuzzaman continued to suffer from bad health all the time he was in Barla. It was also his habit to eat only just sufficient to keep body and soul together. This had always been his practice and had often been noted by those who knew him. Generally a small bowl of soup and a small piece of bread. The first four years he was in Barla, his soup came from Muhajir Hafiz Ahmad’s house, brought by his two seven and eight year old children, who were ‘hafiz’es of the Qur'an like himself. Bediuzzaman would always without fail give them the price of the soup in return, ten kurush in those days. The four years following this it was provided by another of the villagers, Abdullah Çavus.17
Particularly the first years Bediuzzaman was in Barla, he was very much alone, and he described this isolation in several letters, two of which are given below. However he also raised a lot of interest in the area, and on occasion received visits from local people from all walks of life. One of these was by a local District Official called Ihsan Üstündag, who visited Bediuzzaman together with the District Doctor, the Finance Officer, and a chemist, sometime between 1926 and 1930. As a firsthand account as well as because of its interest, his description of the visit is included here:
“While on the way to Barla in the boat, a conversation started up on religious matters. The chemist had little religious belief, and he said to us: ‘You say God exists, so why did He create evil?’, denying God. We could in no way convince him. So we spoke to him of Bediuzzaman, and told him: ‘Don't say anything else, or we’ll throw you in the lake! We’re going to Barla, so ask the Hoja Efendi there; he’ll give you your answer.’ We went the District Chief’s house and before drinking our coffee even, sent word that we wanted to go to Bediuzzaman. He received us gladly, greeting us standing. ‘While it should have been I that visited you, you have come to visit me’, he said, and before we could ask any questions, opened the subject of good and evil. He continued: ‘Now I’ll explain to you how evil can be good.’ We gasped in amazement. He gave this example: ‘Cutting off an arm infected with gangrene is not evil, it is good. Because if it isn’t cut off, the body would go. That means Allah created that evil for good.’ Then he turned to the doctor and the chemist, and said: ‘You are a doctor and a chemist, you know this better than I do.’ On hearing this, the chemist turned as white as chalk. He was completely tongue-tied. [They had not said who they were.] Hoja Efendi then gave an additional example: ‘If a number of eggs are put under a turkey and nothing comes of some of them, but from the others chicks hatch, can it be said that this is evil? Because each chick that hatches is worth five hundred eggs.’ Finally he described the heart from the medical point of view, giving a lot of scientific facts. Several days later, Dr. Kemal Bey said to me: ‘I had never before heard such a fine scientific exposition of the heart from professors even!’”18
The following are extracts from the two letters describing Bediuzzaman’s solitude. All his letters begin with the words, “In His Name, be He glorified”, and are followed by the verse: “And there is nothing but glorifies Him with praise.”19
“My Dear Brothers!
“I am now on a high peak on the Pine Mountain, at the top of a mighty pine tree in a tree-house. In lonely solitude far from men, I have grown accustomed to this desolation. When I wish for conversation with men, I imagine you to be here with me, and I talk with you and find consolation. If there is nothing to prevent it, I would like to remain alone here for one or two months. If I return to Barla, I shall search for some means for the verbal conversation with you I so long for, if you would like it. For now I am writing two or three things which come to mind here in this pine tree.
“The First: this is somewhat confidential, but no secrets are concealed from you. It is thus:
“Some of the people of truth manifest the the Divine Name of Loving One, and through that manifestation at a maximum degree look to the Necessarily Existent One through the windows of beings. In the same way, but just when he is employed in service of the Qur'an and is the herald of its infinite treasuries, this brother of yours who is nothing, but nothing, has been given a state that is the means to manifesting the Divine Names of All - Compassionate and All-Wise. God willing, The Words manifest the meaning of the verse: He who has been given wisdom, has been given great good.20
“The Second: This saying concerning the Naqshbandi tarikat suddenly occurred to me: “On the Naqshbandi way, one must abandon four things: the world, the hereafter, existence, and abandoning itself.” Together with it, the following arose in my mind:
“On the way of impotence four things are necessary: absolute poverty, absolute impotence, absolute thanks, and absolute ardour, my friend...”21
Another example is Bediuzzaman’s famous ‘Gurbet’ letter. There is no direct equivalent for the word ‘gurbet’ in English; it denotes the idea of being away from home, exile, and strangeness, and has long been a much-worked theme in the literatures of the Islamic lands. After starting in his customary way, Bediuzzaman writes:
“My hard-working brothers, zealous friends, and means of consolation in these lands of exile known as the world!
“...These last two or three months I have been very much alone. Sometimes once every two or three weeks I have a guest with me. The rest of the time I am alone. And for nearly three weeks now there have been none of those working in the mountains near me; they have all dispersed...
“One night in these strange mountains, silent and alone amid the mournful sighing of the trees, I saw myself in five exiles of different hues.
“The first: due to old age, I was alone and a stranger away from the great majority of my friends, relations, and those close to me; I felt a sad exile at their having left me and departed for the Intermediate Realm [the grave]. Then another sphere of exile was opened within this one: I felt a sad sense of separation and exile at most of the beings to which I was attached, like last spring, having left me and departed. And a further sphere of exile opened up within this, which was that I had fallen apart from my native land and relations, and was alone. I felt a sense of separation and exile arising from this too. Then through that, the lonesomeness of the night and the mountains made me feel another pitiable exile. And then I saw my spirit in an overwhelming exile, which had been prepared to journey to eternity both from this exile and from the transitory guest-house of this world. I said to myself suddenly, My God, how can these exiles and layers of darkness be borne? My heart cried out:
“My Lord! I am a stranger, I have no one, I am weak, I am powerless, I am impotent, I am old;
“I am without will; I seek recourse, I seek forgiveness, I seek help from Your Court, O God!
“Suddenly the light of belief, the effulgence of the Qur'an, and the grace of the Most Merciful came to my aid. It transformed those five dark exiles into five luminous and familiar spheres. My tongue said:
“God is enough for us, and He is the best disposer of affairs.22
“While my heart recited the verse:
“And if they turn away, say: God is enough for me, there is no god but He; in Him do I place my my trust, for He is the Lord of the Mighty Throne...”23
Bediuzzaman goes on to quote lines of poetry, and concludes that: “through impotence and reliance on God, and poverty and seeking refuge with Him, the door of light is opened and the layers of darkness dispersed...” “What does the one who finds God lose? And what does the one who loses Him find?”24
And in another letter Bediuzzaman wrote: “I have understood and believe firmly that this world is a guest-house undergoing rapid change. It is not, therefore, the true homeland and everywhere is the same... Since everywhere is a guest-house, if the mercy of the guest-house’s Owner befriends one, everyone is a friend and everywhere is friendly. If it does not befriend one, everywhere is a load on the heart and everyone an enemy.”25
Abdurrahman’s Death and Bediuzzaman’s Students
These letters were written to Hulûsi Yahyagil,26 “the first student of the Risale-i Nur”. Then serving as a captain in the army stationed at Egridir, he first visited Bediuzzaman in the spring of 1929. From Elazig in eastern Turkey, he was to perform enormous services for the Risale-i Nur when he returned there eighteen months later. He formed a very close bond with Bediuzzaman identifying completely with ‘The Words’, and “his zeal and seriousness was the most important cause for the last of The Words (Sözler) and most of the Letters (Mektubat) being written.”27 More than this, Bediuzzaman considered him to be successor to his nephew, Abdurrahman.28
Yes, together with all the other hardships he suffered at this time, Bediuzzaman was struck too by this heavy blow: the death of his spiritual son, companion, and helper, Abdurrahman. Let us hear it from Bediuzzaman’s own pen:
“One time I was being held in the district of Barla in the province of Isparta in a distressing captivity under the name of exile, in a truly wretched state suffering both illness, and old age, and absence from home, and in a village alone and with no one, barred from all social intercourse and communication. Then, in His perfect, mercy, Almighty God bestowed a light on me concerning the subtle points and mysteries of the All-Wise Qur'an which was a means of consolation for me. With it, I tried to forget my pitiful, grievous, sad state. I was able to forget my native land, my friends and relations, but, alas, there was one person I could not forget, and that was Abdurrahman, who was both my nephew, and my spiritual son, and my most self-sacrificing student, and my bravest friend. He had parted from me six or seven years previously.... Then, out of the blue someone gave me a letter. I opened it, and saw that it was from Abdurrahman, written in a way showing his true self....It made me weep, and it still makes me weep. The late Abdurrahman wrote in the letter seriously and sincerely that he was disgusted with the pleasures of this world and that his greatest desire was to reach me and look to my needs in my old age just as I had looked to his when he was young. He also wanted to help me with his capable pen in spreading the mysteries of the Qur'an, my true duty in this world. He even wrote in his letter: ‘Send me twenty or thirty treatises and I’ll write twenty or thirty copies of each and get others to write them.’....
“He had obtained a copy of the Tenth Word on belief in the Hereafter before writing the letter. It was as if the treatise had been a remedy for him curing all the spiritual wounds he had received during those six or seven years. He then wrote the letter to me as if he was awaiting his death with a truly strong and shining belief. One or two months later while thinking of once again passing a happy worldly life by means of Abdurrahman, alas, I suddenly received news of his death. I was so shaken by the news that five years later I am still under the effect of it.... Half of my private world had died with the death of my mother, and now with Abdurrahman’s death, the other half died. My ties with the world were now completely cut....”29
Once again Bediuzzaman found consolation through the Qur'an, this time through the meaning of the verse: Everything shall perish save His countenance; His is the command, and to Him shall you return,30 and the phrase, “The Eternal One, He is the Eternal One”. And Bediuzzaman completes this piece, taken from his Treatise for the Elderly, by saying that Almighty God gave him thirty Abdurrahman’s in place of the one He had taken.
The most important of these new students was Hulûsi Yahyagil, who first visited Bediuzzaman a year or so after Abdurrahman’s death. Another was Kuleönlü Mustafa, whom Bediuzzaman found waiting for him when he returned home to Barla after hearing the news.31 There were also a number of army officers, besides Hulûsi Bey. One of these was Re'fet Bey,32 a retired captain, another was Binbasi Asim Bey,33 who died under interrogation in Isparta in 1935 when Bediuzzaman and over a hundred of his students were rounded up and arrested. There was also ‘Santral Sabri’,34 the ‘jetty keeper’ at the village of Bedre on Lake Egridir, who played a central role in distributing the parts of the Risale-i Nur to the surrounding villages. He was the prayer-leader in the village mosque, and shared with Bediuzzaman a “seal of brotherhood”, in the form of the second and third toes of one foot being webbed. And Hüsrev35 from Isparta, who had very fine handwriting and entirely devoted himself to writing out copies of the Risale-i Nur and to its service.
Bediuzzaman’s relations with his students were quite unlike the usual formal, distant relations between teacher and students or shaykh and followers. He considered himself to be a student of the Risale-i Nur the same as them, and besides having close personal relations with them – true to his belief in consultation – consulted them concerning all matters to do with the writing and dissemination of the Risale-i Nur. And just as he was most awe-inspiring and utterly uncompromising in the face of unbelief and the enemies of religion, towards those who served the truth, he was most kind and compassionate. Bediuzzaman was also extremely modest with his students, and courteous, and personally would accept no superior position, or praise or adulation. “I don’t like myself”, he used to say, “and I don’t like those who like me!” He would only accept praise in so far as it belonged to the Risale-i Nur or the Qur'an. Bediuzzaman also kept in constant touch with his students and an unceasing flow of letters passed between them. These thousands of letters were gathered together and form a substantial part of the Risale-i Nur. The following is part of a letter, from the collection of those written while Bediuzzaman was in Barla.
“My brothers Hüsrev, Lütfi, and Rüshtü,
“... In one respect – beyond my due – you are my students, and in one respect you are my fellow students, and in one respect you are my assistants and consultants.
“My dear brothers! Your Üstad [Master] is not infallible.. It is an error to suppose him to be free of error. One rotten apple in an orchard does not harm the orchard. And one worn coin in a treasury does not negate the treasury’s value. If good points are reckoned as ten and bad points as one, it is fair in the face of the good points not to upset the heart and object because of the one bad point and error...
“Understand this, my brothers and fellow students! I shall be happy if you tell me freely when you see a fault in me. If you hit me over the head with it even, I shall say, May God be pleased with you! Other sakes should not be considered in preserving the sake of the truth. I will accept it immediately because of the egotism of the evil-commanding soul, not to defend a truth which I did not know was for the sake of the truth. Understand that at this time, this duty of serving belief is most important. It should not be loaded on a wretch who is weak and whose thought is dispersed in numerous directions; assistance should be given as far as it is possible. Yes, the absolute and succinct truths emerge and I am the apparent means, and the ordering and clarifying and giving of form are up to my valuable and capable fellow students...
“ You know that in summer the heedlessness of this world prevails. Most of my fellow students become slack and are compelled to cease from their occupations. They cannot be fully occupied with serious truths. In His perfect Mercy for two years now Almighty God has granted a favour to our minds with the subtle ‘coincidences’ [tevafukat], which are like fruits in relation to the serious truths; He has given joy to our minds. In His perfect compassion, through the fruits of those subtle ‘coincidences’, He has driven our minds to a serious Qur'anic truth, and made those fruits food and sustenance for our spirits. Like dates, they have been both fruit and basic sustenance....”36
It is important to all the time bear in mind when reading these pages the extremely difficult conditions under which Bediuzzaman and his students were working at this time. It will be recalled that the plans had been laid to entirely root out Islam from the fabric of Turkish society, and that these plans were being progressively, and forcibly, put into practice. First the medreses and Sufi tekkes had been closed. Then a final stop had been effectively put to the teaching of religion with the banning of the Arabic alphabet in 1928 and its substitution by the Latin letters. Subsequent to this those caught teaching or reading books in the old alphabet were treated as criminals, and very often suffered imprisonment, exile, or even death as a consequence. This was also true for the Qur'an. The teaching and learning of it were carried on in secrecy. Imprisonment and torture were the lot of the persecuted Hojas caught teaching it. It was a nightmare time for people of Anatolia, so bound to the religion of their fathers. This official terror and persecution increased in severity throughout the 1930’s and 40’s.
In reading the letters of those who were introduced to the Risale-i Nur at this time, it becomes clear how greatly they benefited from it. Their belief became firm and strengthened as they read its treatises and they gained great strength and courage. So also they had the example of Bediuzzaman and his proverbial courage and persistence, so that they bore all the hardships, attached no importance to the persecution, and like Bediuzzaman devoted themselves entirely to writing out copies of the treatises of the Risale-i Nur and passing them on to others. The following are two examples of letters to Bediuzzaman from his students. The first is from Hüsrev of the “graceful pen”, who for years wrote innumerable copies of the Risale-i Nur.
“My Dear and Respected Master!
“Each of your Words, that is, your treatises, is a mighty cure. I receive great blessings from your Words. So much so that the more I read them the more I want to read them. And I can’t describe the sublime delight I feel each time I read them. I am certain that one who takes, not all, but even one of your Words and reads it fairly will be obliged to submit to the truth; and if he is a denier, he will be obliged to give up the way he has taken; and if he is a sinner, he will be obliged to repent...”37
The second is from Kuleönlü Mustafa, who as mentioned above visited Bediuzzaman after he had received news of Abdurrahman’s death, and was a forerunner of the many hardworking students who were to devote themselves to the Risale-i Nur in place of Abdurrahman. Included here are only several extracts of his long letter, which is interesting in that it describes both how he himself found his “guide” in the Risale-i Nur, and how others like him responded to it in the same way and found how it “cured their wounds”, and also how the hojas, not known for their readiness to accept anything new, recognized its unique value. This letter also makes the important point that at that time when the medreses had been closed and the people were deprived of any opportunity of learning Arabic, the language in which all teaching of religion had been carried out, the Risale-i Nur now took the place of the medreses, teaching the truths of belief and the Qur'an both in Turkish and in a way suitable for their needs.
“ My Revered Master!
“...My spirit was searching for a perfect guide, and while searching it was imparted to me, ‘You are seeking the guide far away, while close by there is Bediuzzaman. His Risale-i Nur is like a regenerator. It is both the spiritual pole, and the Zu’l-Karnayn, and the deputy of Jesus (upon whom be peace), who is to come at the end of time; that is to say, it brings the good news of him.’ Whereupon I approached the respected Master. He gave me the order to write out the treatises. So I wrote out fifteen or so of The Words and I am reading them... I began to benefit from them immensely... Eventually young people gathered around me...
“My Esteemed Master! The treatises cure the material and spiritual wounds of these hundred friends of mine.. Sometimes even those from far off are submerged in doubts and they come here; if this impotent student of yours reads a treatise to them, their doubts are dispelled and disappear...
“This impotent student of yours never studied Arabic nor saw the inside of a medrese. He used to read books in Turkish written long ago and could find no remedy to cure his material and spiritual wounds.... [But] just as Almighty God creates a Paradise-like time in a Hell-like time, and creates solutions appropriate for each time and bestows remedies appropriate for each wound, so too in this time of ours which lacks medreses He is causing the treatises [of the Risale-i Nur] to be written by means of our Esteemed Master, in Turkish, for those wounded like us. ... Countless and innumerable thanks be to Almighty God, and may He give our Esteemed Master success in the service of the Qur'an and exalt him in this world and the next. Amen! Although I received no education in Arabic nor had ten to fifteen years’ medrese education and have only written out the treatises of the Risale-i Nur and studied them seriously, I imagine myself to have studied in a medrese for twenty years. The reason is this: many Arabic hojas now come to this impotent, humble wretch and are in wonder at what he has studied. Those who have previously received training from perfect guides come and are captivated by the words they hear from me. Many hojas come in all humility and get me to read the Risale-i Nur. If my voice was sufficiently powerful I would shout with all my strength to the young people on the earth: “Writing and studying the Risale-i Nur seriously is superior to studying in a medrese for twenty years and more beneficial!......”38
The Risale-i Nur Spreads
By degrees the Risale-i Nur was disseminated as the writing of it became more widespread. Particularly in the area of Isparta, there were eventually thousands of Students of the Risale-i Nur, men and women, young and old, who devoted themselves to writing out copies of it. Of these Students, there were some who did not emerge from their houses for seven or eight years. In the village of Sav even, which came to be known as the Nur School, the treatises of the Risale-i Nur were duplicated by literally a thousand pens. And this continued for a considerable number of years. A duplicating machine was first used continuously in Inebolu in 1946 or '47,39 while it was not till 1956 that it was possible to print the whole Risale-i Nur Collection, and in the new script.40 The number given for hand-written copies of the various parts of the Risale-i Nur is six hundred thousand.
Radiating out from Bediuzzaman himself through these Students of the Risale-i Nur was a courage and hope which countered the pervading air of defeat and despair engendered by the pressure, propaganda, and terror directed against Islam and those who practised it. This courage and hope were contagious and generated a positive movement which eventually spread through the whole country. And so too all these Students were undaunted by the intimidation and official efforts to prevent them. They suffered every sort of persecution. They lived under the constant threat of having their houses raided and searched for copies of the Risale-i Nur. Many were taken time and again from their houses to police stations, where they suffered imprisonment, torture, the bastinado.
The women too played a vital and heroic role in this extraordinary movement. Some taking on their husband’s work to leave them free to either write or serve the Risale-i Nur in some other way. Some assisting their husbands in writing. Many wrote out copies by simply tracing the letters. Many others now learnt to read and write for the first time and wrote out copies of the treatises themselves. Others read the Risale-i Nur themselves and then read it to other women in the vicinity. Undaunted like their husbands at the intimidation, they found their strength from the firm belief they obtained through reading and listening to the “lessons” of the Risale-i Nur. The children too played an important part in writing out the treatises.41
It may be seen from this how the Risale-i Nur contributed to preserving the Qur'anic script in Turkey when the authorities were attempting to exterminate it entirely. And more than this, in the face of the so-called language reforms which followed in the 1930’s and aimed at removing all words of Arabic and Persian origin from the Turkish language, it played a truly important role in maintaining and even reinvigorating traditional, Islamic, culture. It may even be said that the Risale-i Nur movement contributed significantly to increasing the literacy rate and raising the cultural level of thousands of people, quite apart from its duty of preserving and renewing the Islamic faith. In connection with this Bediuzzaman wrote: “...Just as the Risale-i Nur works to protect the truths of belief against atheism, so also one of its duties is to preserve the letters and script of the Qur'an against innovations...”42
What was it about the Risale-i Nur that attracted these people to it, causing them to undertake so many risks and hardships and very often leave aside their own concerns so as to devote themselves to its service? What was the source of its power to strengthen their belief in this way? Or was it in fact Bediuzzaman that attracted them and infused them with this zeal? Or did the the Risale-i Nur itself possess some attractive power that drew them and held them? First we can say that Bediuzzaman always directed attention away from his own personality and self towards the Risale-i Nur, shunning any sort of adulation that would damage the absolute sincerity he considered necessary for the task to which he had been appointed. Also, he considered that all of himself had gone into the Risale-i Nur. And as was mentioned before, he saw himself, not as the source of the Risale-i Nur, but merely as its “translator”, as the means of its being written. He said of himself: “Just as an ordinary private can announce the commands of a field marshal, and a bankrupt can shout out the wares of a shop full of priceless jewels and diamonds, so too I announce the wares of the sacred shop of the Qur'an.”43 And he also wrote: “I do not say about The Words out of modesty, but to state a fact, that the truths and perfections in The Words are not mine, they are the Qur'an’s, and have issued from the Qur'an.”44 Thus, it may be said that it was the lights of the Qur'an shining through the Risale-i Nur that were attracting and illuminating ever-increasing numbers of people.
“Divine Favours” Associated with
the Writing of the Risale-i Nur
As a form of thanks and also in order to encourage his students in their work in the difficult conditions of the time, Bediuzzaman dedicated a long section of one of his letters to describing a number of “divine favours” associated with the writing of the Risale-i Nur which strengthen this claim. He told them that without their knowledge and beyond their will, someone was employing them in these important matters. And his evidence for this was these favours and the fact that things were made easy for them. He then enumerated some of them, calling them ‘Indications’.45
Firstly was the question of the ‘coincidences’ (tevafukat), mentioned above in connection with the Tenth Word. Here Bediuzzaman takes the Nineteenth Letter as an example, which in certain hand-written copies displayed some truly extraordinary examples of these ‘agreements’ or ‘coincidings’. He also used it as an example for others of the points, including the great ease and speed with which most of the Risale-i Nur was written, for the most part when Bediuzzaman was suffering most from illness and the torments of the authorities. Briefly, the Nineteenth Letter, entitled The Miracles of Muhammad (PBUH), describes more than three hundred of the Prophet’s miracles, very often citing the narrators of the Hadiths quoted. Despite being over a hundred pages long, it was written entirely from memory, without recourse to any books for reference, outside in the countryside, and within the space of three or four days working only for two or three hours each day, thus making a total of about twelve hours. When the first copies were made, it was before they knew about these ‘coincidings’, and in copies written by eight different, inexperienced, scribes, who were in different places and did not communicate with each other, the alignments and positioning of the phrase “the Most Noble Prophet, Upon whom be blessings and peace,” turned out to be so clear and well-ordered that it was impossible to attribute them to chance. As though positioned by an unseen hand, this arrangement of the phrase was itself a sort of miracle or wonder of the Miracles of Muhammad (PBUH).46
The Second Indication was “the brothers, each of whose pens were like diamond swords”, whom Almighty God had bestowed on Bediuzzaman as helpers. They themselves formed a sort of ‘coincidence’, and the fact that they dedicated themselves to serving the cause of the Qur'an through the Risale-i Nur, “never flagging and with total enthusiasm and enterprise, at that time when the alphabet had been changed and there were no printing-presses and everyone was in need of the lights of belief, and there were many things to destroy their enthusiasm, was itself a sort of miracle of the Qur'an and a clear Divine favour.”
A further Indication was that the Risale-i Nur proved all the most important truths of belief and the Qur'an in the most clear fashion, and Bediuzzaman cited a number by way of example. For instance, the Tenth Word, about the resurrection of the dead and the hereafter, before which, as we have seen, even Ibn-i Sina had confessed his impotence. Another is the Twenty-Sixth Word, which solves the problem of Divine Determining, sometimes called fate or destiny, and human will, in a manner that everyone may understand. Others are the Twenty-Fourth Letter, and the Twenty-Ninth Word, which is a brilliant exposition on the angels, the immortality of man’s spirit, and the resurrection of the dead, and the Thirtieth Word, on the human ‘I’ or ego, and the transformations of minute particles, all of which “uncover and explain the talisman of the astonishing activity in the universe, the riddle of the creation or the world and its end, and the mystery of the wisdom in the motion of minute particles.”
The Fourth Indication to the Divine favours associated with the writing of the Risale-i Nur, Bediuzzaman writes modestly, was that the various parts of it explain, by means of comparisons, the most profound and inaccessible truths of belief to even the common people, in a way beyond his own abilities and outside what the conditions of the time allowed. These comparisons, which are an important feature of the Risale-i Nur and are “reflections” and “similitudes” of the comparisons in the Qur'an, “bring the most distant truths close and teach them to the most ordinary person.” So also, although the Risale-i Nur had by then become widespread, its treatises had not been the object of criticism, by religious scholars or anyone else, and everyone from religious scholars and those who followed the tarikats to atheistically-minded philosophers and the ordinary people had benefited from it according to their degree; it addressed everyone according to their level.
The Sixth Indication is very significant, and it shall be mentioned again later; it was that Bediuzzaman’s whole life had been as though in preparation for the Risale-i Nur. He wrote: “I am now certain that my life has passed in such a way, beyond my will and power, consciousness and planning and has been given so strange a course, so that it would yield the result of these treatises to serve the All-Wise Qur'an. It is quite simply as though all my scholarly life has been an introduction to them and in preparation of them. It has passed in such a way that the displaying of the Qur'an’s miraculousness through The Words [the Risale-i Nur] would be its result...” And now his isolation in Barla and the persecution he suffered from the authorities, not even being allowed his books for study, had concentrated all his attention on the Qur'an and the writing of the Risale-i Nur.
So also “almost all the treatises had been bestowed on the spur of the moment and instantaneously due to some need arising out of [Bediuzzaman’s] spirit, without any external cause.” After they had been read by others, Bediuzzaman learnt from them that the treatises met the needs of the times and were a cure for its ailments.
And final indication of the Divine favour directed towards them was the easiness and assistance they experienced in all the matters concerned with the writing, copying, and disseminating of the Risale-i Nur. Bediuzzaman described this as being “extraordinary”, and said that he had no doubt it emanated from the Qur'an. So also they found that they received an ease and plenty in their livelihoods as a result of serving the Risale-i Nur.
The Authorities Increase Their Pressure on Bediuzzaman
As the Risale-i Nur became more widely spread and it became clear to the authorities that they had failed to stifle Bediuzzaman’s endeavors in the cause of Islam, they stepped up their pressure on him. The aim was by constantly needling him – unlawfully, to provoke a reaction which would provide them with the excuse to further curtail his freedom. With this aim, two officials were posted to Barla in 1931, one was a new Chief District Officer, while the other was the teacher. Although these two were a constant thorn in the flesh for Bediuzzaman, they failed in their attempts to provoke him. Even when they arranged for his small mosque to be raided while he and a few others were worshipping, and then closed it, Bediuzzaman contained his righteous wrath. They had anyway previously barred him from it on occasion in their efforts to make his isolation total, as well as preventing him from holding his ders or readings with one or two of his students in his own room even.
When Bediuzzaman had first come to Barla, he had repaired a small mosque which had fallen into disuse, and thereafter, on the strength of his certificate which dated from before his exile, acted as imam or prayer-leader to a small congregation of three or four people. Thus these two officials staged a raid on the mosque making the new law imposing the Turkish call to prayer the pretext.
According to Cemal Can, the District Chief, when Bediuzzaman refused to have the call to prayer and the kamet given in anything other than Arabic in his mosque, he received repeated directives from Ankara on the subject and finally arranged the raid.47 On 18 July 1932, then, gendarmes were concealed in various dark corners of the mosque, and on the Arabic words being uttered, sprang into view with bayonets fixed surrounding Bediuzzaman and his small congregation of innocent villagers. Four of these were then arrested and marched off to Egridir. They were however later released after questioning and being ill-treated. Bediuzzaman described the affair like this:
“The aggression of the heretics behind the scenes recently has taken on a most ugly form; they have assaulted the people of belief in a most tyrannical and irreligious manner. During the private and unofficial worship of myself and one or two friends in the mosque I myself repaired for my own use, they intervened in the call to prayer and kamet. ‘Why are you saying the kamet and call to prayer secretly in Arabic?’, they demanded.” He then went on to make a verbal attack, not on “those lacking conscience” who planned the raid, whom he said were not worth addressing, but on “the heretics and innovators” who were the instigators of these moves, “the heads of the committees who, following the path of pharaoh, are playing in arbitrary and tyrannical fashion with the nation’s destiny.”48
Tevfik Tigli, the teacher, said of Cemal Can that he made every effort to have Bediuzzaman moved from Barla. And he too took it on himself to pester and harass him. In fact, both sharing the pettiness and desire to domineer characteristic of minor officials, they mostly combined their efforts to that end. However, as very often happened with those whose intention was to harm Bediuzzaman, the Chief District Official received a blow from the Almighty: totally unexpectedly, he was arrested in connection with some quite different matter and was sent to prison for two and half years.49
In regard to the changes to the call to prayer, Bediuzzaman supported his adamant opposition to ‘Turkifying’ the practices of Islam with various reasoned arguments. Particularly in regard to the Qur'an, when the authorities announced it was to be translated in the early thirties, he wrote various letters and treatises arguing the impossibility of translating it, and pointing out the evil intentions of those who were urging it.
For example, some people said that words of the Qur'an and those used by the Prophet (PBUH) in various prayers and supplications illuminate man’s inner faculties and are spiritual sustenance for him. Just the words are not enough if their meaning is not known. The words are like clothes; if they are changed, would that not be more beneficial? To which Bediuzzaman replied:
“The words of the Qur'an and those of the glorifications of the Prophet (PBUH) are not lifeless clothes; they are like the living skin of a body. Indeed, with the passage of time, they have become the skin. Clothes can be changed, but if skin is changed it is harmful to the body. Indeed, the blessed words like those in the prescribed prayers and in the call to prayer, for example, have become the signs and marks of their accepted meanings. And as for signs and names, they cannot be changed.” Bediuzzaman then goes on to say that whenever they are repeated, each of man’s subtle inner senses takes its share from these phrases, whereas if they are in a language other than the revealed Arabic of the Qur'an, man’s spirit remains in darkness, and he becomes heedless of the Divine presence. So also Bediuzzaman provides arguments stating it to be contrary to the Shari’a to change these ‘marks of Islam’.50
In another letter after pointing out that it was blind imitation of Europe that was the source of these attempts to change the ‘marks of Islam’, as in all bad things, Bediuzzaman stressed the importance of an environment which constantly reminds Muslims of the meanings of these sacred phrases, and instructs them in them51 – these phrases which are “each a seed of the pillars of belief.”52
Bediuzzaman said that when the proposal was first made to translate the Qur'an, it was part of the conspiracy against the Qur'an and was made with the direct intention of discrediting it. “But,” he wrote, “the irrefutable arguments of the Risale-i Nur have proved that a true translation of the Qur'an is not possible. No other language can preserve the subtle points and fine qualities of the Qur'an in place of the grammatical language of Arabic. The trite and partial translations of man cannot hold the place of the miraculous and comprehensive expressions of the words of the Qur'an, each letter of which affords from ten to a thousand rewards; [such translations] may not be read in mosques.”53 While some aspect of this fact is shown to be true in many places in the Risale-i Nur, it is chiefly the Twenty-Fifth Word,54 called the Miraculousness of the Qur'an, which in demonstrating forty aspects of the Qur'an’s miraculousness, proves this decisively to be the case. This astonishing treatise, which demonstrates Bediuzzaman’s profound and extensive knowledge of the Qur'an, unique this age, shows its miraculousness in respect of the eloquence of its word order, meanings, styles, manner of exposition, the comprehensiveness of its words, meanings, subjects, styles and conciseness; its giving news of the Unseen, preserving its youth, and addressing all classes and levels of men, and in various other respects.
The more they increased the pressure on Bediuzzaman with their arbitrary and unlawful oppression, the greater was his endeavour and the more the Risale-i Nur spread. Just as by unjustly exiling him, and unlawfully isolating him and preventing him from all social intercourse, the authorities in Ankara had unwittingly served the cause of the Qur'an, now too in Barla their persecution of him served only to “make the lights of the Qur'an shine brighter.” Indeed, the same was true for the next twenty years; the spread and successes of the Risale-i Nur were in direct proportion to the continual increase in the severity of the treatment meted out to Bediuzzaman and his students. Bediuzzaman points this out in the conclusion to the following letter, describing some of the injustices he received in Barla.
“The treatment I have received this seven years has been purely arbitrary and outside the law. For the laws concerning exiles and prisoners and those in prison are clear. By law, they can meet with their relations and they are not prevented from mixing with others. In every nation and state worship and prayer are immune from interference. Those like me stayed together with their friends and relations in towns. They were prevented neither from mixing with others, nor from communicating, nor from moving about freely. I was prevented. And my mosque and my worship even were raided. And while it is Sunna to repeat the words, There is no god but God in the prayers following the prescribed prayers according to the Shafi’ school, they tried to make me give them up. Even, one of the old exiles in Burdur, an illiterate called _ebab, and his mother-in-law, came here for a change of air. They came to me because we come from the same place. They were summmoned from the mosque by three armed gendarmes. The official then tried to hide that he had made a mistake and acted unlawfully, and apologized, saying: ‘Don't be angry, it was my duty.” Then he gave them permission and told them to go. If other things and treatment are compared to this event, it is understood that the treatment accorded to me is purely arbitrary, and that they inflict vipers and curs on me. But I don’t condescend to bother with them. I refer it to Almighty God to ward off their evil. In fact, those who instigated the event that was the cause of the exile are now back in their own lands. And powerful chiefs are back at the heads of their tribes. Everyone has been discharged... Whereas they put me in a village and set those with the least conscience on me. And just as I have only been able to go to another village twenty minutes away twice in six years, so too they did not give me permission to go there for a few days’ change of air, crushing me even more under their tyranny. Whereas whatever form a government takes the law is the same for all. There cannot be different laws for villages and for different individuals. That is to say, the law as far as I am concerned is unlawfulness. The officials here utilize the government influence in their own personal grudges. But I offer a hundred thousand thanks to Almighty God, and by way of making known His bounties, I say this: ‘All this oppression and tyranny of theirs is like pieces of wood for the fire of ardour and endeavour which illuminates the lights of the Qur'an; it makes them flare up and shine. And those lights of the Qur'an, which have suffered that persecution of theirs and have spread with the heat of endeavour, have made this province, indeed, most of the country, like a medrese in place of Barla. They supposed me to be a prisoner in a village. On the contrary, in spite of the atheists, Barla has become the teaching desk, and many places, like Isparta, have become like the medrese..’”55
Bediuzzaman’s Relations with the World and the Worldly
In early February 1934, Bediuzzaman wrote this letter to Re'fet Bey in Isparta:
“My Dear, Loyal, Meticulous, and Ardent Brother, Re'fet Bey!
“However much you want to talk with me, I want to talk with you probably more. But unfortunately, I am in a distressing situation afflicted with numerous difficulties. When I find the opportunity, I try to write seven or eight letters in the space of one or two hours. Galib too, who used to come from time to time, has been prevented. Only poor Samli remains, and he cannot come all the time. Also they wound these vipers and make them attack us like savage beasts. They try to cause annoyance at every opportunity.... And because they have made me think of the world, the ideas that come to me have ceased. Let it be the end of them, thinking of the worldlys’ world is poison for me... I implore Almighty God to bestow on me firm patience and to abstract my mind so I do not think of it ....”56
The New Said had withdrawn from the world and politics. The Ankara Government had aimed to isolate him from all contacts with the world beyond the village of Barla, and indeed within it too, but this was also what the New Said had chosen. It was after all from the cave in Mount Erek near Van that he had been taken to exile. But now the authorities would not leave him in peace. They would not leave him alone. They could not pin anything on him, he did not break any of their laws, yet the religious treatises he was writing were being duplicated in hundreds of homes in the province of Isparta and beyond at a time when the production of books and writings on Islam had been suppressed virtually entirely. They were extremely agitated by Bediuzzaman and the Risale-i Nur, interpreting his writings only in political terms. According to their way of thinking – Bediuzzaman calls them ehl-i dünya, the worldly whose view is restricted solely to the life of this world – the Risale-i Nur was being written as a means to political ends. Hence their constant provocation and harassment of him and his students. Bediuzzaman answered these suspicions of the politicians and the authorities in several letters, stating clearly that he was compelled to explain the matter to them “in the tongue of the Old Said, not that of the New Said”, in order to save not himself, but his friends and the Risale-i Nur from “the unfounded suspicions and torments of the worldly.”57 In the Sixteenth Letter, Bediuzzaman made clear his attitude towards politics like this:
“The New Said flees from politics so vehemently in order not to sacrifice for one or two years of dubious worldly life..., his working for and gaining eternal life, which lasts millions of years, and so also to serve belief and the Qur'an, which is the most important and necessary, the most sincere and loyal duty. For he says, I am getting old, I don’t know how much longer I shall live. For me the most important matter, therefore, has to be working for eternal life. And the first means of gaining eternal life and the key to eternal happiness is belief in God, so one has to strive for them. But because I am bound by the Shari’a to be beneficial to others in regard to learning, I want to perform that duty. Therefore, I gave up the other way and chose the way of serving belief, which is the most important, the most necessary, and the soundest....
“But if you ask: ‘Why does service to the Qur'an and belief bar you [from politics]?’, I would reply: Since the truths of belief and the Qur'an are each like diamonds, if I was polluted by politics, the ordinary people, who can be deceived, might wonder: ‘Isn't he making political propaganda in order to win supporters?’, and they might look at those diamonds as though they were common glass. Then I would be wronging those diamonds by being in contact with politics, and would be as though reducing their value....”58
A passage in the Thirteenth Letter59 enlarges on this, pointing out that politics were not the way to bring the guidance of the Qur'an to the majority of people at that time, in fact, they formed an obstacle. It shows Bediuzzaman’s acute awareness of the state of Turkish society and its needs. In the face of the misguidance which had permeated all aspects of life, most people were not opposed to the truth, they were confused and uncertain; what they needed was to be drawn to the truth through the lights of the Qur'an, whereas politics frightened them off. Only a minority embraced misguidance, but all the attention was focussed on them, while the “bewildered” majority remained deprived of the guidance of which they were in need. Bediuzzaman’s concern was for this majority. He also pointed out that there were supporters of the truth in all the political currents; thus, one showing the truths of the Qur'an had remain outside all partisanship, so that the Qur'an should not be left open to attack by his political opponents.
In the summer of 1934 Bediuzzaman wrote to one of his students in Isparta, a calligrapher called Tenekeci Mehmed, saying that things had become intolerable in Barla. He wrote:
“My brother, the torments of the teacher and Chief District Officer here have made my situation unbearable. They discomfort me incredibly. I can’t even go out into the countryside. I live in my damp room as though living in the grave...”
This student took the letter immediately to the Governor, Mehmed Fevzi Daldal, and the next day, 25 July, Bediuzzaman was collected and taken to Isparta. He was to remain there till the following April, staying first in the medrese he had used before being sent to Barla. He moved then to a two-storey house set amid gardens where his student Re'fet Barutçu was staying, and afterwards rented a wooden house belonging to another student, Shükrü Içhan.60
These months in Isparta Bediuzzaman was held under very close surveillance. There were police permanently posted on his door and in the vicinity. One particularly obnoxious police officer has found his place in history, called Dündar. He used to make whatever trouble he could for Bediuzzaman and his students, so that Bediuzzaman called him Murdar, ‘Foul’. Often his students could not approach Bediuzzaman, he was kept under such strict surveillance. For a time just one, called Mehmed Gülirmak, was permitted to remain with him to attend to his needs. He also acted as ‘Nur Postman’, collecting or distributing the Risale-i Nur as required. In Isparta, Bediuzzaman wrote several more parts of Lem’alar, The Flashes, the third collection of the Risale-i Nur. When completed, The Flashes numbered thirty treatises, and the complete Risale-i Nur, one hundred and thirty. Bediuzzaman loved the province of Isparta, as the centre from which the Risale-i Nur irradiated by means of his numerous students. He expressed this to a number of them sometime later: “...Because of you, I love Isparta and the surrounding country together with its very stones and soil. I can even say that if the Isparta authorities were to impose a prison sentence on me and another province was to acquit me, I would still choose Isparta...”61
In the town of Isparta were some of Bediuzzaman’s closest students such as Hüsrev and Re'fet Bey. They remained with him as far as they were able now that he had been moved there, principally acting as his scribes and writing out copies of the Risale-i Nur. Among Re'fet Bey’s reminiscences of this time were these:
“Hüsrev and I were writing out copies of the Risale. Ustad was in the upstair’s room. Suddenly the door clicked and opened, and what did we see but Ustad entering with a tray and two glasses of tea. We were overcome with confusion and embarrassment and sprang to our feet wanting to take the tray from him. But he lifted his hand and said, ‘No, no. It’s me that has to serve you.’ My goodness, and he added ‘has to’. What modesty! What courtesy! I never saw such courtesy and modesty anywhere...”
“We were studying the truths of the Qur'an and writing them. We were benefiting enormously. To tell him this one day, we said to him: ‘What would we have done, Ustad, if we had not found you?’ And again with that tremendous modesty he replied to us: ‘What would I have done if I had not found you? If you are happy once over that you found me, I should be happy a thousand times that I found you.’”62
Of the three parts of the Risale-i Nur written here, among which were the Nineteenth, Twenty-Fifth, and Twenty-Sixth Flashes, called the treatises On Frugality, For the Sick, and For the Elderly, respectively, Re'fet Bey recalled the following about the writing of the Treatise for the Elderly. In the event only the first thirteen ‘Hopes’ were written due to Bediuzzaman and his students being taken into custody by the authorities:
“One day Ustad called us, and saying: ‘The Twenty-Sixth Flash is about the elderly. It consists of twenty-six 'Hopes'. The First Hope...’, he began to dictate.
“He dictated five or six Hopes, and it stopped at that. Some time passed and certain parts of other treatises were written in the interval. Then one day he called us, and without asking, without saying something like, ‘Where did we stop, just read out a bit’, he continued to dictate from where we had left off.” That is to say, it was still fresh in Bediuzzaman’s mind as though they had broken off five minutes earlier. Re'fet Bey then went on:
“I used to go to him early, to assist him. One day I was a bit late. When I arrived, he said to me, ‘Brother! If only you had come a bit earlier, what I have just told this person (indicating the Kadi Zeynel Efendi beside him) would have made an excellent addendum to the treatise on Divine Determining.’ He had answered the Kadi’s questions about Divine Determining and taught him on the subject of Fate. We understood from all this that his works were born in his heart through Divine inspiration. And he would write at that time only.”63
1. Tarihçe, 155; Mektûbat, 43-4.
2. Sualar, 598
3. MuHajir Hafiz Ahmad, in Son Sahitler, ii, 101-2.
4. Tarihçe, 147-8.
5. Barla Lahikasi, 178.
6. Qur'an, 30:50.
7. Sungur, Mustafa, in N. Sahiner, Aydinlar Konusuyor, 395.
8. N. Sahiner, Said Nursi, 272-3.
9. Barla Lahikasi, 171.
10. Gümüs, Ahmet, in Son Sahitler, i, 324.
11. Barla Lahikasi, 99.
12. Sözler, 85.
13. Barla Lahikasi, 169.
14. Ibid., 160.
15. Sözler, 85.
16. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 278-9.
17. Ibid., 281.
18. Üstündag, Ihsan, in Son Sahitler, iv, 300.
19. Bediuzzaman explained his reason for heading his letters with this verse as follows: “It is that this was the first door opened to me from the sacred treasuries of the All-Wise Qur'an. Of the Divine truths of the Qur'an, it was first the truth of this verse that became clear to me and it is this truth which pervades most parts of the Risale-i Nur. Another reason is that the masters in whom I have confidence used it at the head of their letters.” See, Sahiner, Said Nursi, 285, and, Barla Lahikasi, 179.
20. Qur'an, 2:269.
21. Mektûbat, 18.27. Qur'an, 3:173.
22. Qur'an, 3:173.
23. Qur'an, 9:129.
24. Mektûbat, 22-4.
25. Ibid., 68.
26. Yahyagil, Haji Hulûsi, in Son Sahitler, i, 33-55.
27. Barla Lahikasi, 18.
28. Abdurrahman had remained in Ankara when Bediuzzaman left it for Van in 1923, finding himself a position as a scribe in the National Assembly. He married and had one son, called Vahdet. He died in Ankara in 1928, and is buried in what was at that time the village of Solfasol (Zü’l-Fazl) near Ankara. See, Sahiner, Said Nursi (8th edn.), 202; ( 6th edn.), 190 fn. 1.
29. Lem’alar, 232-5.
30. Qur'an, 28:88.
31. Lem’alar, 235.
32. Sahiner, N. Nurs Yolu, 89-97.
33. Önerdem, Ahmad Asim, in Son Sahitler, iv, 144-6.
34. Arseven, Sabri, in Son Sahitler, ii, 112-4.
35. Altinbasak, Hüsrev, in Son Sahitler, ii, 196-8.
36. Barla Lahikasi, 98-9.
37. Tarihçe, 184.
38. Barla Lahikasi, 100-6.
39. See Chapter 6 below.
40. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 389-391.
41. Tarihçe, 144-6.
42. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 48.
43. Mektûbat, 329.
44. Ibid., 344.
45. Ibid., 345-50.
46. Ibid., 81.
47. Can, Cemal, in Son Sahitler, i, 212.
48. Mektûbat, 402.
49. Ibid., 314; Son Sahitler, i, 212-3.
50. Mektûbat, 316. See also, Mektûbat, 370-1.
51. Ibid., 405-6.
52. Asâ-yi Mûsa, 48.
53. Sözler, 430.
54. See, Sözler, 338-431.
55. Mektûbat, 337-8.
56. Barla Lahikasi, 181.
57. Mektûbat, 57.
58. Mektûbat, 58-9.
59. See, Mektûbat, 45-6.
60. Sahiner, N. Son Sahitler, i, 83.
66. Sualar, 248.
67. Re'fet Bey, in Sahiner, N. Nurs Yolu, 93.
68. Ibid., 95-6