Said Nursi’s times and prescribed cures
Said Nursi lived during a time of transition—the Ottoman State’s dying years and the Turkish Republic’s formative years. He traveled widely, seeing firsthand the ignorance, poverty, and internal conflict prevailing in Anatolia and the larger Muslim world. In 1911, in the Umayyad Mosque (Damascus) to about 10,000 people, including a hundred high ranking scholars, he analyzed why the Muslim world was stuck in the “Middle Ages”: growing despair, the loss of truthfulness in social and political spheres; the love of belligerency and ignorance of the bonds proper among believers; pervasive despotism; and egocentricity. He offered his cure—hope, truthfulness and trustworthiness, mutual love, consultation, solidarity, and freedom in accordance with Islam—and stressed the following:
History shows us that the Muslims have progressed to the extent of their adherence to the truths of Islam and have derived their power from the strength of these truths, while they have declined to the extent of their weakness in following them. The reverse of this reality is true for other religions. Their followers have progressed to the extent of their weakness in adherence to their religions and suffered revolutions and decline in proportion to their attachment.
We Muslims, who are the students of the Qur’an, follow proof and accept the truths of belief with our reason, intellect, and heart. Unlike some members of other religions, we do not abandon proof and blindly imitate religious leaders. Therefore, in the future, when reason, sciences, and knowledge will dominate, it will be the Qur’an, the decrees and propositions of which are all confirmed by reason, that will certainly rule. (from “The Sermon of Damascus”, Gleams of Truth: Prescriptions for a Healthy Social Life, (trans.), Tughra Books, New Jersey, pp. 124, 125)
If our actions display the perfection of Islamic moral qualities and the truths of belief, followers of other religions will enter Islam in whole communities. Even some entire regions and states will take refuge in Islam.
During his time and our own, ignorance of God and the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, heedlessness of religious commands, indifference to the Islamic dynamics of prosperity in both worlds, and ignorance of modern scientific knowledge were leading causes of Muslim backwardness. He stated that Muslims could escape this backwardness only through modern scientific and religious knowledge as well as systematic thought, and could protect themselves against deviation only by acquiring true knowledge.
Ignorance was a source of Muslim poverty, internal conflict, and other problems. Ignorance of Islam’s truth, when added to ignorance of science and technology, resulted in vast uncultivated plains and the Muslims’ natural wealth flowing to foreigners. Although the Qur’an demands unity, Muslims remained divided even as their lands were being invaded and their people humiliated.
At the same time, those Muslim intellectuals to whom the masses looked for leadership and salvation were attracted by the violent storm of denial blowing from Europe. Emerging in the previous century from a human-centered worldview rooted in scientism, rationalism, and positivism, as well as from the contradictions between modern science and an anti-science Church, this storm gradually robbed Europe of most of its belief in Christianity. As a result, Revelation was forced to yield to human reason.
This process, unparalleled in history, shook the “building” of an Islam that was already old and decayed in many hearts and minds (individual and communal). Said Nursi believed that this “building” could be protected by presenting Islam’s essentials and their branches to the faculties and reason of modern people. According to him, the Muslim world, so clearly beached on the oceans of modernity, would sail freely again only by undergoing a successful, comprehensive renewal in all fields of Islam.