Bediüzzaman Said Nursi and the Risale-i Nur


BEDIUZZAMAN SAID NURSI’S (1877–1960) achievements, personality, character, and continuing influence make him an important twentieth-century Muslim figure. A most effective and profound representative of Islam’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths, he spent most of his life overflowing with love and ardor for Islam, pursuing a wise and measured activism based on sound reasoning, and following the Qur’an and the Prophetic example. Much has been said and written about the lofty ideal he pursued and his deep familiarity with the world and his times, as well as his simplicity, austerity, tenderness, loyalty, chastity, modesty, and contentedness.

Though outwardly simple, many of his ideas and activities were wholly original. He embraced humanity; opposed unbelief, injustice, and [religious] deviation; and struggled against tyranny—even at the cost of his life. His deep belief and feeling, when combined with his wise and rational ideas and problem solving methods, produced an example of love, ardor, and feeling. His balanced thought, acts, and methods of acting made him a farsighted man who assessed and judged surrounding conditions and solved problems.

Many contemporaries explicitly or tacitly acknowledged him as the most important thinker and writer of twentieth-century Turkey, or even of the Muslim world. Despite this and his leadership of a new Islamic intellectual, social, and political revival, he remained a humble servant of God. His life exemplified his understanding of humility: Desire for fame is the same as show and ostentation, a “poisonous honey” extinguishing the heart’s spiritual liveliness.

Born in a small mountain village in eastern Anatolia, Said Nursi voiced the sighs and laments of the whole Muslim world, as well as its belief, hopes, and aspirations. He said:

I can bear my own sorrows, but the sorrows arising from the calamities visiting Islam and Muslims have crushed me. I feel each blow delivered to the Muslim world as delivered first to my own heart. That is why I have been so shaken.... During my life of over 80 years, I have tasted no worldly pleasure. I have spent my life on battlefields, in prisons or other places of suffering. They have treated me like a criminal, banishing me from one town to another, keeping me under constant surveillance. There has been no persecution I have not tasted, no oppression I have not suffered. I neither care for Paradise nor fear Hell. If I see my nation’s belief secured, I will not even care about burning in Hell, for while my body is burning my heart will be as if in a rose garden. (Tarihçe-i Hayat [Biography], Nesil, Istanbul: 1996, volume: 2, p. 2206)

Said Nursi lived during a global crisis: Materialism was triumphant, communism was popular, and Muslims were being urged to reject Islam. Shocked by the West’s scientific and military victories and influenced by modern thought, Muslims were discarding their roots and sometimes their belief. Many intellectuals left the Straight Path and pursued Western ideas. Said Nursi, how­ever, pointed people to the source of belief and inculcated in them a strong hope for an overall revival. His writings showed Islam’s truth and opposed the growing deviation. Relying on God and his firm conviction in Islam’s truth, and driven by his belief in the Muslim world’s bright future, he defended Islam and sought to raise a new generation that would realize his hopes.

At a time when science and philosophy were used to produce young atheists and nihilism was popular; when such things were done in the name of civilization, modernization, and contemporary thinking; and when resisters were persecuted, Said Nursi worked for a people’s revival, infusing them with modern and traditional education as well as spiritual training.

Said Nursi diagnosed the Muslim world’s longstanding “diseases” and offered the most effective cures. Basing his activity on the Qur’an and Sunna (the Prophet’s traditions), as well as the Islamic tradition and natural phenomena (considered signs of Divine Existence and Unity), he concentrated, respectively, on proving the pillars of Islam; the necessity of belief, worship, morality, and good conduct; and socioeconomic issues facing contemporary Muslims.