• Said Nursi

    All about Bediuzzaman
  • 1

A synopsis of the main ideas


This volume contains 33 Words written by Said Nursi to instruct people who wish to draw closer to God through acquiring a degree of understanding of how He has unveiled Himself through the universe, humanity and the Qur’an, and Prophet Muhammad.

After briefly mentioning various matters such as the meaning of basmala—In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate—the meaning and importance of five daily prayers, where human happiness lies, the importance of belief and worship, etc. that are discussed at great length later on, in the Tenth Word Said Nursi confronts us with an issue that all of us will face on our own and shorn of all our illusions: the Resurrection of humanity on the Day of Judgment. How could this be otherwise, when the Qur’an and the Prophet tell us repeatedly that this life is no more than a testing arena in which we are to strive to realize our full potential: to reflect the Divine Name or Attribute that we were created to reflect. But his approach is wholly original.

There are no calls for blind belief and unreasoning acceptance; rather, he uses the very laws of nature so loved by scientists to make his points. For example:

There are thousands of suitable analogies for rebuilding and resurrecting human bodies on the Day of Resurrection. Consider, for example, the way in which trees, which are far more numerous than people, are restored with all their leaves perfectly and almost identically to those of the preceding year within a few days after the beginning of each spring. Consider the way in which the leaves, blossoms and fruits of the trees are recreated just like those of the preceding spring with extreme rapidity. Consider the sudden awakening, unfolding and coming to life of countless seeds, kernels and roots, which are the origin of spring growth. Consider the way in which trees, resembling standing skeletons, suddenly begin to show signs of “resurrection after death” at a single command. Consider the amazing reanimation of countless small creatures, especially the resurrection of different species of fly—particularly of those which, continuously cleaning their faces, eyes, and wings, remind us of our ritual ablution and cleanliness, and caress our faces—during a few days despite being far more numerous than all humans. (pp. 125-126)

In The Twelfth Word and elsewhere, he analyzes a subject that continues to bedevil all religion-based civilizations and cultures: how to approach the modern secular and/or atheistic philosophical assumptions underpinning the modern era? He returns to this topic over and over again in all of his writings. His analysis, based upon history and his observations of the times in which he was living, is so attuned to social reality that we can only say: “But of course! How obvious.” He writes:

Philosophy considers force or might to be the point of support in social life, and the realization of self-interest is its goal. It holds that the principle of life is conflict. The unifying bonds between the members of a community and communities are race and aggressive nationalism; and the fruits philosophy offers are the gratification of carnal desires and the continuous increase of human needs. However, force calls for aggression, seeking self-interest causes fighting over material resources, and conflict brings strife. Racism feeds by swallowing others, thereby paving the way for aggression. This is why humanity has lost happiness.

As for the Qur’anic wisdom, it accepts right, not might, as the point of support in social life. Its goal is virtue and God’s approval, not the realization of self-interests. Its principle of life is mutual assistance, not conflict. The only community bonds it accepts are those of religion, profession, and country. Its final aims are controlling carnal desires and urging the soul to sublime matters, satisfying our exalted feelings so that we will strive for human perfection and true humanity. Right calls for unity, virtues bring solidarity, and mutual assistance means hastening to help one another. Religion secures brotherhood, sisterhood, and cohesion. Restraining our carnal soul and desires and urging the soul to perfection brings happiness in this world and the next. (pp. 147-148)

Of special interest to his audience are the sections on God, the Qur’an, and Prophet Muhammad. God is not depicted as a nebulous presence “some­where out there,” a fierce figure waiting to punish us, an undiscriminating figure who bases His decisions upon our sweetened words instead of our concerted efforts, or who lost interest in His creation and, going somewhere else, left us to our own devices.

Said Nursi depicts God as a living Presence within our lives. Why else, he asks repeatedly, was the Qur’an revealed in such a way that any person, regardless of education, sophistication, or era, can find in it whatever he or she needs? Even more, God has made it easy for us to make our will conform to the Divine Will by sending Prophets and Messengers, none of whom were divine or a semi divine, to show us how to live in a way that will earn His good pleasure. And, since all of them were fully human, we can aspire toward an ever-more perfect imitation of them and understanding of their teachings. All of these points are brought out beautifully in a simple story found in The Eleventh Word:

A king had a vast treasury of precious stones and buried treasuries known only to him. He was well-versed in all industries, and had a vast knowledge of all artistic and scientific disciplines and countless fine arts. As anyone with perfect beauty and perfection tend to see and show themselves, that glorious king wanted to open up an exhibition and display his kingdom’s magnificence, his wealth’s splendor and extent, and the wonderful products of his artistry and skill. He so desired in order to behold his beauty and perfection with his own discerning eye and through the eyes of others.

And so he began to build a very large, magnificent palace. Dividing it into many apartments and rooms, he decorated it with his finest and most beautiful works of art, and embellished it with his precious stones. Designing it according to his artistic and scientific principles and disciplines, he furnished it with the miraculous products of his knowledge. Finally, he set up therein tables containing most delicious specific foods and drinks, and specified an appropriate table for each tribe of his subjects. He provided them so elaborately, generously, and artistically that it was as though each table had come into existence through the works of at least a hundred separate skills.

Then, the king invited all his subjects in his dominion to feast and behold the spectacle. Having taught a supreme commander he had appointed why he had built such a palace and the uses and meanings of its contents, he sent him to inform the guests about the maker of the palace—the king—and explain why he had built it, the rules they had to obey, and about the palace’s architecture, decorations, furniture, and ornaments. The supreme commander also had the duty of describing in what ways those contents of the palace demonstrate the king’s skills and perfections, and how the guests could please him.

This supreme teacher had many assistants, each of which was deputed for a certain department, while he himself stood among his students in the largest department, addressing all guests or spectators as follows:

“O people! Our lord, who owns this palace, wants to make himself known to you by building it. In return, know and recognize him properly. He also wants to make himself lovable to you through these ornaments. In return, appreciate his artistry and works, there­by making yourselves loved by him. He demonstrates his love for you through these favorings of his, so love him by obeying him. His offerings display his care and compassion for you, so thank him by showing your respect for him. Through these works of his perfection, he wants to show his beauty and grace. In return, exhibit a great desire to see him and secure his attention. By setting his special, inimitable stamp on everything you see, he demonstrates that he is unique, absolutely independent and without partner, that this palace and its contents are his work and belong to him exclusively. So, acknowledge his uniqueness, absolute independence, and lack of partner.”

The supreme commander or teacher continued his address. Then the audience separated into two groups.

THE FIRST GROUP: Since they were sensible and aware of them­selves, on seeing the palace’s wonders, they concluded that nothing could be purposeless. They asked the supreme teacher about the king’s purposes and demands from them. They attentively listened to the answer of the teacher, accepted his instructions, and acted in a way to please the king. In return, the king, pleased with their conduct and manners, invited them to a far larger and indescribably more beautiful palace, wherein he set out to entertain them permanently in a way worthy of a generous king and fitting for such obedi­ent, well-mannered subjects.

THE SECOND GROUP: They were morally corrupt, and devoid of sound reasoning. Defeated by their carnal souls, they took notice of nothing apart from the delicious foods. They closed their eyes to all the virtues and did not heed the directives of the supreme teacher and the warnings of his students. They concentrated only on eating and sleeping. Drinking of the forbidden beverages, which had been pre­pared for certain other purposes, they became drunk and bothered all other guests. They broke the glorious king’s rules. So, his soldiers put them in prison appropriate for such ill-mannered people. (p. 133-135)

See how easily Said Nursi deals with such difficult topics as how God and humanity relate to each other, the reason for creation, the role of Prophets and Messengers, Divine Revelation, the types of humanity, what God expects of us, and death and the afterlife—several paragraphs understandable to everyone, instead of thick books accessible only to the elite. No wonder his writings find new readers every day not only in Turkey but throughout the world by means of its translations into many languages.

Said Nursi gives advice for living “the good life,” a topic of great interest to philosophers and theologians of every religion, and even of no religion. His advice is simple and practical, so that maximum benefit may be derived: Do everything in God’s name, for it will provide you with an inexhaustible source of energy and blessing; submit to God’s Will and find contentment; realize that this life is transient and strive for the eternal life of the Hereafter; each five pre­scribed daily prayer corresponds to a stage in a person’s life and is the vehicle for seeking God’s aid; and that the path of belief is the only logical choice.

In The Seventeenth Word, Said Nursi explains how our outer states are related to the inner stages through which we pass while on our way back to God. For example, is the onset of old age anything more than His gentle reminder that youth, health, beauty, and so on are only temporary and that now it is time to start contemplating what death means? Are the misfortunes that we suffer some­thing other than opportunities to submit to His testing with patience and trust, thereby deepening our relationship with Him? In other words:

Alas! We have been deceived. We thought that this worldly life is constant, and thus lost it thoroughly. Indeed, this passing life is but a sleep that passed like a dream. This life, having no foundation, flies like the wind. Those who rely on themselves and think they will live forever certainly will die. They race toward death, and this world, humanity’s home, falls into the darkness of annihilation. Ambitions are time-bounded, but pains endure in the spirit. (p. 228)

Such advice resonates with people of all revealed religions, for each true and uncorrupted Message brings the same news: Your life here is only temporary, so use it well to prepare the best possible life for yourself after you die and are brought back to the Source from whence you originally came.

The Twentieth Word contains a penetrating analysis of the Qur’an’s miraculous eloquence and how it refers to modern scientific discoveries. While repeatedly making the point that the Qur’an is not a scientific textbook, Said Nursi points out that the Qur’an relates the miracles of Prophets and Messengers, besides many other reasons, to hint at future scientific discoveries. For example, the Qur’an alludes to trains (85:4-8, 36:41-42), electricity (24:35), aircraft (34:12), tools for tapping underground water (2:60), and other matters. It also points to future discoveries, among them finding a cure for each illness (3:49), teleportation (27:40), and understanding the languages of animals (27:16, 38:19). By determining which Divine Name dominates a particular field of scientific inquiry, great discoveries can be made and the resulting knowledge can be used for the benefit of humanity.

In the Twenty-third Word, Said Nursi deals with belief, unbelief, and the role of prayer in one’s life. Is his view, a person’s destiny can be fulfilled only by belief, for: Surely We have created humanity of the best stature as the perfect pattern of creation; then We reduced it to the lowest of the low, save those who believe and do good, righteous deeds (95:4-5) states that we are to strive to live up to our status as beings of the best pattern. In the absence of our belief in God, which is a fundamental part of our human make-up (fitra), such an attainment is impossible and reduces us to living lives of futility and unbelief.

Belief serves many beneficial purposes. For example, it removes our ignorance as to our true identity (God’s vicegerent on the earth) and purpose (to reflect the Divine Names and Attributes), informs us of our true status in this world (spending a very short time in this guest-house on the way to our eternal and real life in the Hereafter), and shows us that our ego is neither self-originated nor self-existent, but rather a measure given to us by our Creator to use in an attempt to better understand Him.

As Said Nursi writes:

Thus the essential and intrinsic duty of our existence is to seek perfection through learning and to proclaim our worship of and servant-hood to God through prayer and supplication. It is to seek answers for such essential questions as: “Through whose compassion is my life so wisely administered? Through whose generosity am I being so affectionately trained? Through whose favors and benevolence am I being so solicitously nourished?” It is to pray and petition the Provider of Needs in humble awareness of our needs, even a thousandth of which we cannot satisfy on our own. In short, it is flying to the highest rank of being worshipful servants of God on the wings of consciousness of our innate impotence and poverty. (p. 332)

Belief also provides us with the best tool to help us reach this goal: prayer in all of its verbal and action-related aspects.

While explaining the reason for human happiness and misery, Said Nursi advises us to overcome our tendency to indulge our senses in the things of this world instead of the Hereafter:

Our essence is equipped by Power with great potential and is inscribed by Destiny with important programs. If we use our potential and faculties in this narrow world under the soil of worldly life to satisfy the fancies of our carnal, evil-commanding soul, we will, like a rotten seed, decay and decompose for an insignificant pleasure in a short life amidst hardships and troubles. Thus we will depart from this world with a heavy spiritual burden on our unfortunate souls.

But if we germinate the seed of our potential under the “soil of worship” with the “water of Islam” and the “light of belief” according to the Qur’an’s decrees, and use our faculties for their true purposes, we will grow into eternal, majestic trees whose branches extend into the Intermediate World and the World of Representations or Immaterial Forms, and which will be favored with countless bounties and yield innumerable fruits of perfection in the next world and Paradise. We will, in fact, become the blessed, luminous fruit of the Tree of Creation. (p. 338)

When we understand that our suffering arises from the temporary nature of all things, even ourselves, we begin to see that they are only indications of what awaits us in the Hereafter. Our realization that everything here soon will vanish “without saying good-bye” breaks our attachment to them and so closes a major source of our own self-inflicted suffering. This opens up the door to another and even greater realization: that the blessings of Paradise are eternal and therefore will cause us only endless joy.

In The Twenty-fourth Word, Said Nursi discusses why different Prophets and Messengers were sent to humanity, and why saints and other people of high spiritual attainment seemed to stress certain aspects of religion at the expense of other aspects. According to him, such discrepancies are caused by what Names and Attributes they reflect as well as their audience’s level of under­standing. For example, Prophet Muhammad was sent to a polytheistic people who revered eloquence. Said Nursi also emphasizes that in the future reason, logic, science, and eloquence will be more influential in human life. Thus, the Qur’an, as the last Book sent by God to embrace all humanity until the end of time, emphasizes God’s Oneness and Unity and is considered a unique master­piece of Arabic eloquence that can never be equaled or surpassed, as Said Nursi illustrates throughout all of his writings.

Moses, sent to a people who had been enslaved so long that they had lost all sense of self-identity, brought a Divine law designed to turn his people once again to the path of righteousness. And Jesus, sent to a people lost in secondary matters of law at the expense of its spiritual aspect and meaning and more important rules, and having great respect for medicine, spent his time explaining the law’s true meaning, as opposed to its literal one, and healing people in order to reflect God’s Love, Compassion, and Mercy. It is the same with saints and people of great spiritual attainment, for each of them reflects the Divine Names and Attributes according to their own personalities and inclinations in a way to lead their people closer to God. Thus the appearance of many ways leading to God is essentially one way, for differences appear only in matters of secondary importance.

After giving his definition of the Qur’an in the Twenty-fifth Word, Said Nursi relates many examples of the Qur’an’s miraculousness in such areas as eloquence, which was highly prized by the Prophet’s contemporaries. For example, he derives the following from the five short sentences making up Suratu’l-Ikhlas:

This short sura has six sentences, three positive and three negative, which prove and establish six aspects of Divine Unity and reject and negate six types of associating partners with God. Each sentence has two meanings: one a priori (functioning as a cause or proof) and the other a posteriori (functioning as an effect or result). That means that the sura contains thirty-six suras, each made up of six sentences. One is either a premise or a proposition, and the others are arguments for it. (p. 393)

Said Nursi writes that its miraculousness also can be seen in its comprehensiveness (e.g., 78:7, 21:30, 36:38, 2:5), which allows all people to draw closer to their Creator based as much as their level of understanding; its concise and all-inclusive manner of expressing the most elevated and complex truths as well as universal principles through a couple of words or phrases (e.g., 30:22, 12:45-46, 40:36); the information it gives of past and future events, such spiritual realities as the Unseen Divine truths, and the Hereafter’s realities; and its freshness, which allows all generations to find answers to their questions. This last characteristic is especially relevant, for the underlying principles of social life never change. According to Said Nursi:

As for the Qur’anic wisdom, it accepts right, not might, as the point of support in social life. Its goal is virtue and God’s approval, not the realization of self-interests. Its principle of life is mutual assistance, not conflict. The only community bonds it accepts are those of religion, profession, and country. Its final aims are controlling carnal desires and urging the soul to sublime matters, satisfying our exalted feelings so that we will strive for human perfection and true humanity. Right calls for unity, virtues bring solidarity, and mutual assistance means hastening to help one another. Religion secures brotherhood, sisterhood, and cohesion. Restraining our carnal soul and desires and urging the soul to perfection brings happiness in this world and the next.. (pp. 426-427)

Modern civilization teaches and values the exact opposite of all of these, which explains why there is so much strife, hatred, and injustice in the world today. This is a major theme in all of his writings, for the world in which he lived was being moved away from its religious foundations so that it could be reconstructed on alien and secular values and understandings.

He provides other signs of the Qur’an’s miraculousness, such as its overall harmony, even though it was revealed over 23 years in a wide variety of circum­stances; how it emphasizes and summarizes certain points by ending the verses with certain Divine Names or Attributes; using a particular event to summarize a universal principle; and how it warns people against certain actions or views only to end with words of encouragement to abandon their ways and to seek God’s forgiveness, which is always forthcoming in the case of sincere repentance, and specific words of guidance to lead them out of the swamps of darkness, sin, ignorance, and denial into the glorious light and clarity of God’s Presence. In the appendices, Said Nursi shows why the Qur’an’s supposed stylistic weaknesses (e.g., reiteration, overemphasis on certain points, abrupt jumps from Islam’s secondary principles and social laws to elevated and universal truths) are really aspects of its miraculousness.

The Twenty-sixth Word, on Divine Destiny and Decree and human free will, attracts the attention of all those who say that Islam teaches fatalism and predestination and thereby deprives the individual of choice, personal responsibility, accountability, and the freedom to act. Said Nursi refutes all such arguments:

Although our free will cannot cause something to happen, Almighty God, the absolutely Wise One, uses it to bring His will into effect and guides us in whatever direction we wish. He in effect says: “My servant! Whichever way you wish to take with your will, I will take you there. There-fore, the responsibility is yours!” For example, if a child riding on your shoulder asks you to take him up a high mountain, and you do so, he might catch a cold. How could he blame you for that cold, as he was the one who asked to go there? In fact, you might even punish him because of his choice. In a like manner, Almighty God, the Most Just of Judges, never coerces His servants into doing something, and so His Will considers our free will in our actions. (p. 487)

In the Addendum, he describes the way he has derived from the Qur’an (based on 53:32, 59:19, 4:79, and 28:88) to work one’s way back to God, as one that “depends upon our perception and confession of helplessness and poverty before God’s Might and Riches, and upon affection and reflection” (p. 494) and how it differs from all other paths.

Said Nursi devotes The Thirtieth Word to the ego and the movement of atoms. In the first part, he explains that the ego is the trust from which other members of creation shrank from bearing and which humanity agreed to bear (33:72). He writes:

The All-Wise Maker has entrusted each human being with selfhood having clues and samples to urge and enable him or her to recognize the truths about His Lordship’s attributes and essential characteristics. Selfhood is the measure or means of comparison that makes Lordship’s attributes and Divinity’s characteristics known. A measure or means of comparison does not have to have actual existence, for its posited or supposed existence can serve as a measure, just like hypothetical lines in geometry. (p. 554)

Humanity was given this measure so that it could distinguish between light and dark, good and evil, belief and unbelief, and so on, all of which gives us just a slight indication of God’s Names and Attributes. This is a trust, for it is quite easy to take the ego as a self-existent and self-originating entity, instead of realizing that it has only nominal existence and is meant to give us a better understanding of God’s Names and Attributes. Those who fall under its seductive spell (e.g., materialist philosophers, secularists, atheists, polytheists, nature worshippers, and all who deny God’s Unity and Existence) gradually deify it and commit one of the greatest sins: associating partners with God (31:13).

As for atoms, they are no more than tools used by the Creator to display His Existence and Unity. How, Said Nursi asks, could this be otherwise, given that no atom can decide when to move, where to go, which other atom to join with or break from, or what it will do once it enters an animate or inanimate object. Having such knowledge would require the atom to know how to move among other atoms to its intended destination, how to enter that body, exactly where to go and what to do—a whole series of clearly preposterous assumptions. Given that, the only other alternative is that God directs each atom as He sees fit and in order to achieve specific purposes.

In the Thirty-second Word, Said Nursi discusses the role of love in creation:

Due to His love for His Own Beauty, He loves His beloved, who mirrors that Beauty. Due to His love for His Own Names, He loves His beloved, who manifests those Names in a most comprehensive way, as well as all other Prophets. Due to His love for His Art, He loves His beloved, who displays that Art, and those who are like him (the other Prophets). Due to His love for His creatures, He loves His beloved, who welcomes those creatures with due appreciation and applause, saying: “What wonders God has willed! God bless them! How beautifully they have been created!” and those who follow him. Due to His love for the beauties of His creatures, He loves His beloved, who is the most comprehensive embodiment of all those beauties and all moral virtues shared by them, and his followers. (p. 636)

God created humanity out of His sacred Love to make Himself known, sent Prophets and Messengers out of love so that we could obtain some knowledge of Him, created the universe out of love in such a way that we could survive and actually prosper, and created eternal life in Paradise out of love so that we could reach our full potential and exist forever in a state of bliss with those whom we loved while on the earth.

We exist because of God’s Sacred Love, know the way back to Him because all Prophets and Messengers sent to humanity performed their duties out of their sincere love for Him, and interact with all people and creation on the basis of our love for them as fellow creatures created by the same God, One and Eternal. And so the great “circle of virtue,” in which we occupy a central position, is formed and continues to travel through time toward the Day of Judgment. In short: “The essence of the universe is love. All creatures move with the motive of love. All laws of attraction, rapture, and gravity originate in love” (p. 637).