The ninth hope
In the First World War, I was in the distant province of Kosturma in northeastern Russia as a prisoner of war. There was a small mosque there belonging to the Tatars beside the famous Volga River. I became weary among my friends, the other officers. I wished for solitude, yet I could not stroll about outside without permission. Then they allowed me out on bail to the Tatar quarter, to that small mosque on the banks of the Volga. I would stay in the mosque alone. Spring was close. I would be awake for quite long times during the long, long nights of that northern land. The pathetic splashing of the Volga and the moving patter of the rain and the sad blowing of the wind during those dark nights in that dark exile temporarily awakened me from the deep sleep of heedlessness. I did not yet consider myself old, but those who experienced the World War were considered to be old. For those were the days that, as though manifesting the meaning of the verse, A Day which will turn the children gray-headed (73: 17), made even children old. So, although I was forty years old, I felt as if I were eighty. In those long, dark nights during that sorrowful exile and melancholy, I felt despair of life and for my homeland. In the face of my powerlessness and loneliness, my hope failed.
Then, while I was in that state, the wise Qur’an came to my aid. My tongue uttered, God is sufficient for us; and how excellent a guardian is He (3: 173); and weeping, my heart cried out:
I am a stranger, I am lonely and weak, and I am powerless:
I beg mercy, ask forgiveness, and I cry for help from
Your Court, O my God!
And, thinking of my old friends in my homeland, and imagining myself dying in exile there, like Niyazi Misri, I said as follows:
Renouncing the world’s grief, Taking flight into nothingness,
Flying constantly with ardor,
I call in each breath, Friend! Friend! My spirit was searching for its friends.
In any case, my neediness and weakness became such powerful intercessors and means at the Divine Court in that long, melancholy, pitiful, separation-afflicted night in exile that now I still wonder at it. For, several days later, I escaped in an extremely unexpected manner, on my own, not knowing Russian, across a distance that would have taken a year on foot. I was saved in a wonderful way through Divine favor, which came as a response to my neediness and impotence. Then, passing through Warsaw and Austria, I reached Istanbul. Being saved in this way, so easily, was quite extraordinary. I completed the long flight with an ease and facility that even a Russian-speaking, boldest and most cunning person might not have been able to accomplish.
That night in the mosque on the banks of the Volga made me decide: I will pass the rest of my life in caves. It is enough that I have long mixed in the social life of people. Since, finally, I will enter the grave alone, I will from now on choose solitude in order to become accustomed to loneliness.
But, regretfully, things of no use, like having many and important friends in Istanbul, and the glittering worldly life there, and in particular the fame and honor accorded to me which was far greater than my due, caused me to temporarily forget my decision. It was as though that night in exile was the iris and pupil of my life’s eye, and the glittering white daytime of Istanbul, the lightless, white part of it, so that it could not foresee the future, and fell into sleep again. It was only two years later that Ghawth al-Jilani opened my eyes once more with his book Futuhu’l-Ghayb (“The Conquests Concerning the Unseen”).
And so, elderly men and women! Know that the weakness and powerlessness of old age are means for attracting Divine grace and mercy. Just as I have observed this in myself on numerous occasions, the manifestation of mercy on the face of the earth demonstrates this truth clearly. For the most powerless and weakest of animals are the young. But it is also they who are favored with the sweetest and most beautiful manifestation of mercy. The powerlessness of a young bird in the nest at the top of a tree employs its mother like an obedient soldier as a manifestation of mercy. Its mother flies all around and brings it food. As soon as its wings grow strong and the nestling forgets its powerlessness, its mother says, “Go and search for your own food by yourself!” and no longer listens to it.
Just as this reality of mercy is in force for the very young, so too is it in force for the elderly, who are like the young in weakness and impotence. There have been many experiences that have given me the certain conviction that, in the same way that infants are sent their sustenance in a wonderful fashion by Divine Mercy because of their impotence, flowing forth from the springs of their mothers’ breasts, so too the sustenance of the believing elderly, who have acquired innocence, is sent in the form of miraculous abundance. The part of a hadith which says, “Were it not for the elderly with their bent backs, calamities would descend on you in floods,”10 makes clear that a family’s source of abundance is the elderly among it, and it is the elderly who preserve the family from the visitation of calamities.
Since the weakness and powerlessness of old age are the means of attracting Divine mercy to this extent; since the wise Qur’an through the verses Should one of them, or both, attain old age in your lifetime, do not say ‘Ugh!’ to them (as an indication of complaint or impatience), nor push them away; and always address them in gracious words. Lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy, and say: “My Lord, have mercy on them even as they cared for me in childhood (17: 23–24), calls children, in the most wonderfully eloquent fashion, in five ways to be kind and respectful towards their elderly parents; since the Religion of Islam orders respect and compassion towards the elderly; and since human nature also requires respect and compassion towards the elderly; we elderly people certainly enjoy, in place of the temporary physical pleasures roused by appetites of youth, substantial, continual mercy and respect from Divine Grace and innate human feelings of tenderness, and the contentment of spirit that arises from such respect and compassion. This being the case, we should not wish to exchange this old age of ours for a hundred youths. I can tell you certainly that if they were to give me ten years of the Old or Former Said’s youth, I would not give in exchange one year of the New Said’s old age. I am content with my old age, and you too should be content with yours.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
10 at-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 22:309; Abu Ya‘la, al-Musnad, 11:287. (Tr.)