F O R E W O R D
As in the authors’ introduction to Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s ‘official’ biography, written in the last years of his life, the first thing to state about the present biography also is that it by no means describes comprehensively this unique figure the importance of whom is increasingly being understood both within the Islamic world and beyond, as his life, works, and approach to the problems facing the Islamic world, and indeed all humanity, become better known.
One reason why the present work may be best described as an ‘Introduction’ to the life of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is the many-sidedness of his character and the diverse and exceptional nature of his abilities, all of which he developed to the highest degree. Bediuzzaman was a religious scholar of the highest standing who unusually among such scholars had wide knowledge of modern science and many areas of modern life and learning. He was a great mujahid; he fought for the defence of Islam and the Ottoman Empire on the battlefield. He fought also with his pen, producing many works, writing too for newspapers and journals. He gave sermons and speeches and addressed gatherings large and small. He was a famous debater, and was known as the solver of the most complex problems. And while engaging in these active and scholarly struggles for the cause of Islam, he was also by nature a lover of solitude; he would retire into seclusion to devote himself to the worship and contemplation of his Maker. Foremost, Bediuzzaman was the last of the great saints, a spiritual figure of the greatest stature who takes his place in Islam alongside the Gazzali’s, the ‘Abd al-Qadir Geylani’s, the Imam-i Rabbani’s. Indeed, he was their heir, carrying forward their legacy inherited from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and presenting it to the people of this age and the future.
Another reason why this biography may best be described as an ‘Introduction’ to Bediuzzaman’s life was the length of his life and the variety of the periods through which he lived: under the Ottoman Empire, Bediuzzaman saw the absolutist rule of Sultan Abdulhamid, and the Constitutional Revolution of 1908 and ascendancy of the Committee of Union and Progress, which came to an end with the collapse of the Empire following the First World War, then the War of Independence and birth of the modern Republic of Turkey, in all of which he was actively involved in some respect. This was the period of what he termed ‘the Old Said’. The second main period of his life, that of ‘the New Said’, began in the years following the First War. It coincided with the founding of the Republic and coming to power of the new regime, whose basic intention was to Westernize Turkey and extirpate Islam, and the next twenty-five years were ones of exile, imprisonment, and oppression for Bediuzzaman. They were followed in 1950 by an easing of conditions, and the emergence of a ‘Third Said’. These last ten years of Bediuzzaman’s life, from 1950-1960, differed from the New Said in so far as Bediuzzaman once again took a closer interest in social and political matters.
A further factor limiting the present biography is that a number of areas of Bediuzzaman’s life, particularly that of ‘the Old Said’, remain unknown. When his ‘official’ biography was being written, Bediuzzaman instructed the group of his close students who were preparing it to cut out the majority of passages describing himself and his personal achievements and adventures – for indeed his life reads like an adventure story – and to include only parts which looked to the “the fruit” of his life, the Risale-i Nur and its service to belief and the Qur'an.
As the conditions of the times required, the Old Said’s struggles for the cause of Islam in the face of the attacks to which it was then subject were largely active; in the public domain and in the realm of politics. But on the emergence of the New Said, Bediuzzaman virtually discounted this colourful early period of his life and withdrawing from social and political life, concentrated on the struggle to save and stengthen belief in God and the other truths of belief which were themselves then under threat. It was during this period and for this purpose that Bediuzzaman wrote, rather, was inspired to write, the Risale-i Nur. Despite the attempts to suppress the Risale-i Nur, a Qur'anic commentary proving the truths of belief by a method developed by Bediuzzaman which blends science and the truths of religion and uniquely addresses the mentality of modern man, and the attempts to silence Bediuzzaman and his students, the Risale-i Nur had unparalleled success in strengthening belief and combatting atheism and materialist philosophy, so that by the 1950’s it had hundreds of thousands of ‘Students’ in Turkey, and beyond.
Bediuzzaman wrote that his life was “a seed” out of which in His Mercy, Almighty God had created “the tree of the Risale-i Nur.” Thus, when his biography was being prepared, he wanted attention to be directed towards this service to belief, rather than to his own self and personality. That is to say, particularly in regard to the Old Said, among his varied activities and exploits, Bediuzzaman wanted recorded only those which in some way looked directly to the service to the Qur'an and belief of the New Said through the Risale-i Nur, although the personal qualities and virtues of the Old Said were exceptional and of the highest order and his life and activities had all been in the cause of Islam and Ottoman Empire. For this reason, there are many ‘blank spots’ in the period of Bediuzzaman’s life known as the Old Said. Bediuzzaman himself never illuminated them, and it is largely due to the researches of Necmeddin Sahiner and his indefatigable tracking down and interviewing of anyone who met, saw, or heard of Bediuzzaman in this period and later, that a fuller picture of these years has emerged. The two main sources in addition to these are Bediuzzaman’s own works and his ‘official’ biography. Bediuzzaman’s early years in this biography are taken from the biography written under Bediuzzaman’s direction by his nephew, Abdurrahman, which was first published in 1919. The official archives and other material relating to this period remain largely unexplored.
A further point which should be borne in mind while reading the first part of this biography concerns the Old Said’s insistence that in apparent contradiction to the dire situation into which the Ottoman Empire and Islamic world had fallen, the Qur'an and Islamic civilization would dominate the near future, and various other predictions. In later years as the New Said Bediuzzaman wrote that these repeated and insistent predictions of the Old Said were not in error, but in need of closer interpretation. He writes that “in order to dispel despair” at that time, the Old Said frequently stated that “he saw a light in the future”, and along with others he had striven for its achievement in the field of politics and social life. This light had proved to be the Risale-i Nur. That is to say, his predictions of a turn in the fortunes of the Islamic world and that Islam’s future was bright, not gloomy, had been correct, but his interpretation of them had not been correct. And in the 1950’s he wrote that “the certain good tidings” he had given in his sermon in Damascus in 1911 of the supremacy of Islam, which he had shown would occur in the near future, had been “delayed by the two World Wars and twenty-five years of despotism”; there were then signs of them being realized. Thus, through reasoning and “premonition”, the Old Said had foretold the resurgence of Islam and rise of the Islamic world, which began in the 1950’s and continues at the present time and in which the Risale-i Nur plays an increasingly important part, but had sought their achievement through active involvement in politics and social life.
All Bediuzzaman’s endeavour throughout his long life was for the advancement and prosperity of Muslims and the Islamic world, and their happiness in this world and the next, and that of all humanity. These he believed to lie in the Qur'an. In his search to find a way of relating its truths to modern man, he was inspired by it to write the Risale-i Nur, which expounds and explains in a unique way the Qur'an’s teachings concerning belief in God and the other truths of belief. For he believed that the root of man’s problems in the present age lies in weakness of belief in these truths, and that the problems facing the Islamic world in particular would be solved only through renewal of belief. Thus Bediuzzaman turned his back on politics and dedicated all his endeavour to this end. With his profound knowledge of both the religious, and modern, sciences, the new way to the truth that Bediuzzaman opened up with the Risale-i Nur was so successful in the renewing and strengthening of belief that it is accepted by many to be the Regenerator of Religion promised each century in the well-known Hadith. Now, thirty years after Bediuzzaman departed this life, the Risale-i Nur is continually finding thousands of new Students within Turkey, particularly among the young, and so too it continues to spread rapidly throughout the Islamic world, where it is acclaimed by the scholars of al-Azhar and elsewhere.
However much Bediuzzaman shunned acclaim and wanted all attention to be directed away from himself to the Risale-i Nur, he embodied the Islamic virtues of courage, enterprise, self-sacrifice, humility, and unbending resolve in the face of the enemies of religion to such a high degree, reflecting in his life the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to a degree rarely achieved this age, that the present work describes him and his characteristic practices at every stage of his life. Since the intention is to portray a model Muslim, like a Companion of the Prophet (PBUH) in the modern age, and his unmatched struggle for the cause of Islam, it is hoped it will be forgiven. Whatever the deficiences of the work, and they are bound to be many, they should be attributed to the author. Wa ma tawfiqi illa billah.