The Risale-i Nur
To comprehend this work’s quality and main characteristic, the following experience of Dr. Colin Turner of Durham University, UK, is worth quoting at length. He writes:
As someone born and raised in Britain, I am often asked what we as Muslims have to offer to the West. But before I answer, I should like to ask a question myself: Are we Muslims because we believe in God Almighty, or do we believe in God because we are Muslims?
The question occurred to me during a march through the streets of London, over a decade ago, to protest against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. I’d made a formal conversion to Islam several years prior to this, and it wasn’t my first demonstration. There were banners and placards and much shouting and chanting. Towards the end of the demonstration I was approached by a young man who introduced himself as someone interested in Islam. “Excuse me,” he said, “but what is the meaning of la ilaha illa Allah?”
Without a moment’s hesitation I answered, “There is no god but Allah.”
“I’m not asking you to translate it,” he said, “I’m asking you to tell me what it really means.” There was a long awkward silence as it dawned on me that I was unable to answer him.
You are no doubt thinking, What kind of Muslim is it that does not know the real meaning of la ilaha illa Allah? To this I would have to say: a typical one. That evening I pondered my ignorance. Being in the majority didn’t help; it simply made me more depressed.
Islam simply made sense, in a way that nothing else ever had. It had rules of government; it had an economic system; it had regulations concerning every facet of day-to-day existence. It was egalitarian and addressed to all races, and it was clear and easy to understand. Oh, and it has a God, One God, in whom I had always vaguely believed. That was that. I said la ilaha illa Allah and I was part of the community. For the first time in my life I belonged.
New converts are invariably enthusiastic to know as much as possible about their religion in the shortest possible time. In the few years that followed, my library grew rapidly. There was so much to learn, and so many books ready to teach. Books on the history of Islam, the economic system of Islam, the concept of government in Islam; countless manuals of Islamic jurisprudence, and, best of all, books on Islam and revolution, on how Muslims were to rise up and establish Islamic governments, Islamic republics. When I returned to Britain in early ‘79 from my trip to the Middle East to learn the meaning of la ilaha illa Allah, I was ready to introduce Islam to the West.
It was to these books that I turned for an answer to the question: What is the meaning of la ilaha illa Allah? Again I was disappointed. The books were about Islam, not about Allah. They covered every subject you could possibly imagine except for the one which really mattered. I put the question to the imam at the university mosque. He made an excuse and left. Then a brother who had overheard my impertinent question to the imam came over and said: “I have a tafsir of la ilaha illa Allah. If you like, we could read it together.” I imagined that it would be ten or twenty pages at the most. It turned out to have over 5,000 pages, in several books. It was the Risale-i Nur by Said Nursi.*
Said Nursi saw that modern unbelief did not originate from ignorance, but from science and philosophy. Paradoxically, the Muslims’ neglect of science and technology caused them to fall behind the West economically and militarily. But the same science and technology that enabled the West to achieve global military and economic superiority caused Western people to lose their belief and traditional moral and spiritual values, and fall into pessimism, unhappiness, and spiritual crisis. This was natural, because although the Divine laws of nature (the subject matter of science) are the counterpart of the Divine Scripture or religion, they were separated from each other in the West. Secular morality and economic self interest then replaced religious and other traditional values. Said Nursi viewed nature as the collection of Divine signs. Thus science and religion could not be in conflict, for they are two (apparently) different expressions of the same truth. Minds should be enlightened with science, and hearts need to be illumined with religion.
Initially, Said Nursi based his defense of the religious truths on arguments derived from modern Western philosophy.** Later on, he saw that this way degraded Islam and that its essentials could not be reached by the principles of human philosophy. He then returned to the Qur’an almost exclusively. He writes:
Thinkers accept the principles of human philosophy and the Western way of thinking, and depend on them in their struggle with Europe. I also filled my brain with the philosophical and the Islamic sciences, thinking that the philosophical sciences would lead to spiritual progress and enlightenment, and believing that European thought and philosophy could reinforce and strengthen Islam’s truths. By grafting the shoots of philosophy, which we supposed were deep-rooted, onto Islam’s trunk, we imagined that Islam could be strengthened. However, I abandoned this way, as it is a very hard, an improbable way to overcome anti-Islamic trends, and degrades Islam to some extent. Islam’s essentials are too deep for the principles of philosophy to reach.
In arguing with Islam’s opponents, in resisting and overcoming modern (materialistic) trends of thought, the Qur’an was enough:
While there is a permanent miracle like the Qur’an, my mind considers it unnecessary to search for further proof. While there is an evidence of truth like the Qur’an, would it be heavy for my heart to silence those who deny? (The Twenty-fifth Word)
Although lacking in positive rational argument, unbelief and atheism derived from science and philosophy are harder to deal with and remove than unbelief derived from ignorance. Creating the universe and establishing its parts’ relations clearly require an absolute, all-encompassing knowledge, will, and power. Nature cannot be its own creator: It is a design, not a designer; that which is printed, not a printer; a passive object, not an active agent; a collection of Divine laws, not the lawgiver. Similarly causes or the law of causality— having only a nominal existence without knowledge, will, and power—cannot create anything. If we ask those who attribute creation to causality or causes what makes a flower, they first should tell us how water, soil, and sunlight know what to do, how they do it, and how they enable a flower to grow. The Risale-i Nur removes the veil of “sorcery” that materialist science has laid over creation. In the words of Dr. Turner:
The Risale-i Nur affirms that anyone who sincerely wishes to look upon the created world as it is, and not as he wishes or imagines to be, must inevitably come to the conclusion of la ilaha illa Allah, for he will see order and harmony, beauty and equilibrium, justice and mercy, lordship, sustenance and munificence. And at the same time he will realize that those attributes are pointing not to the created beings themselves but to a Reality in which all of these attributes exist in perfection and absoluteness. He will see that the created world is thus a book of names, an index, which seek to tell about its Owner.
The Risale-i Nur takes the interpretation of la ilaha illa Allah even further. The notion that it examines is that of causality, the cornerstone of materialism and the pillar upon which modern science has been constructed. Belief in causality gives rise to statements such as: It is natural; Nature created it; It happened by chance; and so on. With reasoned arguments, the Risale-i Nur explodes the myth of causality and demonstrates that those who adhere to this belief are looking at the cosmos not as it actually is or how it appears to be, but how they would like to think it is.
The Risale-i Nur demonstrates that all beings on all levels are interrelated, interconnected, and interdependent, like concentric or intersecting circles. It shows that beings come into existence as though from nowhere, and that during their brief lives, each with its own particular purpose, goal, and mission, act as mirrors in which various Divine Attributes and countless configurations of Divine Names are displayed. Consider this: When you stand by a river, you see countless images of the Sun reflecting in the floating bubbles on it. When those bubbles enter into a tunnel, the images are no longer seen. However, other bubbles coming to the point where you stand will also show the same reflections, and when they also go into the tunnel, the reflections will disappear. This evidently demonstrates that those images do not belong to the bubbles themselves: bubbles cannot own them. Rather, by reflecting its images, the bubbles show the Sun’s existence, and through their disappearance in the tunnel they demonstrate their transience vis-à-vis the permanence of the Sun. It is just like this that through their coming into life, impotence, and contingence, their total dependence on factors other than themselves, beings demonstrate beyond doubt that they owe their existence to the One Who necessarily exists, creates, and has power over all things, and that through their transience and death they show the permanence of that One.
The materialists, however, see things differently—they do not see different things. They ask us to believe that this cosmos, whose innate order and harmony they do not deny, is ultimately the work of chance. Of chaos and disorder, of sheer accident. They then ask us to believe that this cosmos is sustained by the mechanistic interplay of causes—whatever they may be, and not even the materialists know for sure—causes which are themselves created, impotent, ignorant, transient, and purposeless, but which somehow contrive, through laws which appeared out of nowhere, to produce the orderly works of art of symphonies of harmony and equilibrium that we see and hear around us.
The Risale-i Nur destroys these myths and superstitions. Given that all things are interconnected, it reiterates, whatever it is that brings existence to the seed of a flower must also be responsible for the flower itself, as well as for the apparent causes of the flower’s existence such as air, water, sunlight, and earth; and given their interdependence, whatever brings into existence the flower must also be responsible for the tree; and given the fact that they are interrelated, whatever brings into existence the tree must also be responsible for the forest, and so on. Thus to be able to create a single atom, one must also be able to create the whole cosmos. That is surely a tall order for a cause which is blind, impotent, transient, dependent, and devoid of knowledge of our purpose.
The attribution of creative power to nature or natural laws is no more than a personal opinion reached not as the result of an objective, scientific investigation. Similarly, denial of the Creator of the cosmos, who has placed apparent causes there as veils to cover His hand of power, is not an act of reason but an act of will. In short, causality is a crude and cunning device with which man distributes the property of the Creator among the created in order that he might set himself up as absolute owner and ruler of all that he has, and all that he is.
Inspired by the verse la ilaha illa Allah, the Risale-i Nur shows that the signs of God, these mirrors of His Names and Attributes, are revealed to us constantly in new and ever-changing forms and configurations, eliciting acknowledgment, acceptance, submission, love, and worship. The Risale-i Nur shows that there is a distinct process involved in becoming Muslim in the true sense of the word: contemplation to knowledge, knowledge to affirmation, affirmation to belief or conviction, and from conviction to submission. And since each new moment, each new day, sees the revelation of fresh aspects of Divine truth, this process is a continuous one. The external practices of Islam, the formal acts of worship, also contribute to this process. Belief is therefore subject to increase or decrease, or strengthening or weakening, depending on the continuance of the process. Thus it is the reality of belief that deserves most of our attention; from there the realities of Islam will follow on inevitably.
The Risale-i Nur also concentrates on the ontological character of man. Each of us is born in total ignorance; the desire to know ourselves and our world is an innate one. Thus “Who am I? Where did I come from? What is this place in which I find myself? What is my duty here? Who is responsible for bringing me into existence? What is that which life and death ask of us?”—these are questions which each of us answers in his own way, either through direct observation or through blind acceptance of the answers suggested by others. And how one lives one’s life, the criterion by which one acts in this world, depends totally on the nature of those answers. According to the Risale-i Nur, all the answers given to these questions, by which each of us determines his own way of living and worldview, are given by either the Divine Revelation manifested in the form of Divine Religions or the ego of everyone. History records the conflicts between these two flows of human life or these two main branches of the tree of humanity, namely religion and human ego. Rejecting to follow the Divine Revelation, ego claims self-ownership in haughtiness, appropriating for itself whatever is given to it by the Creator, and attributing to itself all the accomplishments God Almighty confers on it. This, however, results in the abjection, wretchedness, and unhappiness of man. This branch of humanity has so far yielded the fruits of Pharaohs, Nimrods, Neros, and other tyrants and those who, having given in to their carnal desires, have themselves gone astray and misled others. Opposite to this branch is the branch on which the Prophets, saints, and other examples of virtuousness have grown. This branch lies in one’s being conscious of one’s servanthood, whose power lies in acknowledgment of one’s inherent weakness before God Almighty’s absolute Power, and whose wealth lies in admission of one’s inherent poverty before His Riches. It also requires deep devotion and worship in absolute thankfulness, together with continuous reflection on His signs in the universe, and a never-ending enthusiasm in preaching His religion. The Risale-i Nur is no less than a guided tour of the cosmos, as well as of man’s inner world, and the traveler is one who is seeking answers to the questions above, and indeed finds them.
Dr. Turner continues:
The secular, self-aborted society of the West is designed on all levels to blind and stupefy. To mask the fact that the religion of the self has failed to live up to its promises; that the secular trinity of “unlimited progress, absolute freedom, and unrestricted happiness” is as meaningless as [another sacred] Trinity discarded centuries ago. To cover up the fact that economic and scientific progress, which has secular humanism as its underlying ethos, has turned the West into a spiritual wasteland and ravaged generation after generation. Yet there are those who are beginning to awake, to realize the illusion under which they have been living. It is to these that the disease of ego must be pointed out. One suffering from cancer cannot be cured by giving him a new coat. Yet it is not only modern Western man suffering from this disease; it is common to almost all [people] in the world. What is needed is a correct diagnosis, radical surgery, and constant back-up treatment. The Risale-i Nur provides all of these.
The Risale-i Nur envisages a revolution, a revolution of the mind, of the heart, of the soul and the spirit. It is designed to lead Muslims from belief by imitation to belief through investigation, study of nature and man’s inner self and reflection on them, and worship, and through further intellectual enlightenment. It also aims to lead unbelievers from worship of the self to worship of God Almighty.
* Quoted from Dr. Turner’s paper presented at the 1991 conference on Said Nursi, held in Istanbul.
** The religious truths are defined as Divine Existence and Unity, Resurrection, Prophethood, the Qur’an’s Divine origin, the Unseen World and its inhabitants or immaterial dimensions of existence, the need for worship and morality, humanity’s ontological character, and so on. (Tr.)