The thirteenth hope
Here I will recount an important scene from the course of my life. It has to be somewhat lengthy, but I hope it will not become boring or tax your patience.
After being saved from captivity in Russia during the First World War, service to the Religion in the Darul-Hikmet kept me in Istanbul for two or three years. Then, through the guidance of the wise Qur’an and the spiritual assistance and influence of Ghawth al-A’zam al-Jilani and the awakening of old age, I felt wearied by the civilized life of Istanbul and troubled by its busy social scene. A longing for my native land drove me there. Thinking, since I am bound to die, let me die in my native land, I went to Van.15
I went first to visit my medrese in Van, the Horhor. I saw that the Armenians had burned it down during the Russian occupation, like all the other buildings of Van. It was adjacent to Van’s famous fort, which is a huge, mountain-like monolith. My true friends, brothers, and close students of the medrese, which I had left seven or eight years before, were embodied before my eyes. Some of those self-sacrificing friends of mine had truly become martyrs, while others had died due to that calamity and become martyrs by default.
I could not help weeping. I climbed to the top of the fort, which overlooks the medrese, towering above it to the height of two minarets. I sat down there. I went back in memory seven or eight years. Having a powerful imagination, I wandered all around that time in my mind. Being alone, there was no one around to distract me from these imaginings or draw me back from that time. I saw enough changes over seven or eight years to fill a century.
I saw that the parts of the town at the foot of the fort and surrounding my medrese had been completely burnt and destroyed. Seeing this filled me with such sadness; it was as if two hundred years had passed between then and the time I had seen it before. Most of the people living in those houses had been my friends and acquaintances. The majority of them had died in the migrations, may God have mercy on them; they had become wretched in exile. Apart from the Armenian quarter, all the Muslim houses of Van had been demolished. My heartfelt a very sharp pain. I was so sorrowful that if I had had thousands of eyes, they would all have wept together. I had returned to my homeland from exile and supposed that I had been saved from exile. But alas! The most woeful exile I suffered was in my homeland. I saw that hundreds of my students and friends, with whom I had been connected in spirit, like Abdurrahman, who is mentioned in the Twelfth Hope above, had entered the grave and their places were all in ruins.
There was a saying that had long been in my mind, but which I had not been able to understand completely. Now in the face of that sorrowful scene I understood it completely. The saying was this: “If there were to be no separation from friends, death could find no way to our souls enabling it to take them.”16 That is to say, what causes humans to die most is separation from friends. Nothing had caused me as much suffering or sorrow as that situation. If help had not come from the Qur’an and belief, my grief and suffering would have almost made my spirit fly away.
Since early times, in their verses poets have lamented the destruction wreaked by time on the places where they were together with their beloveds. Now I witnessed this with my own eyes in the most painful form. With the sorrow of one passing by the residences of beloved friends after two hundred years, my heart and spirit joined my eyes, and they all wept together. Then, one by one, the pleasing scenes of the life I had spent for nearly twenty years working with my dear students, when the places now lying in ruins before my eyes had been prosperous, joyful, and happy, came to life before me like pictures at the movies, then died away and vanished. These embodied scenes continued to pass before my eyes for some time.
Then I felt greatly astonished at worldly people: how can they deceive themselves? For the scene mentioned showed clearly that the world is transitory and that human beings are guests in it. I saw with my own eyes how true the continuously repeated words of the people of truth are: “The world is cruel, treacherous, evil; do not be deceived by it!” I also saw that just as humans are connected to their own bodies and households, so too are they connected with their town, their country, indeed with the whole world. For while weeping with just two eyes out of sorrow for the old age of my own being, I wanted to weep with ten eyes not only at the old age of my medrese, but also at its death. And I felt the need to weep with a hundred eyes at the half-death of my beautiful homeland.
There is a hadith that every morning an angel calls out, “You are born to die, and construct buildings to be destroyed.”17 I was not just hearing this truth with my ears now, but also seeing it with my eyes.
Ten years later when I recall that situation of mine, I still weep in the same way that it caused me to weep at that time. The houses at the foot of the old citadel, which had been standing there for thousands of years, were all in ruins, the town had aged eight hundred years within eight years, and my medrese, which had been quite prosperous and had acted as the gathering place of friends, had died with the great monolith of Van’s fort becoming a gravestone to it, indicating the spiritual grandeur of its corpse; this was a sign of the death of all the medreses in the Ottoman State.18 It was as if my students, who had been together with me in the medrese eight years before, were weeping in their graves together with me. Indeed, the ruined walls of the town and its scattered stones were weeping with me. I saw them weeping.
Then I understood that I could not bear that exile in my homeland. I thought that I would either have to join them in the grave, or retreat into a cave in the mountains and await my death there. I told myself, “Since there are unbearable, burning separations which break patience and resistance in the world, surely death is preferable to life. Such a severe aspect of life cannot be endured.”
I then cast my eyes in the six directions and saw them all to be dark. The unawareness of truth that arose from my intense grief showed me the world as a terrifying, void, desolate place that was about to collapse over my head. My spirit sought a point of support in the face of uncountable hostile calamities, and a source of help to satisfy its endless desires extending as far as eternity, and awaited consolation in the face of the sorrow and grief that arose from endless instances of separation, devastation, and death. All at once, the reality expressed by the following verse of the Qur’an of miraculous exposition manifested itself: Whatever is in the heavens and the earth glorifies God; and He is the All-Glorious with irresistible might, the All-Wise. To Him belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. He gives life and causes to die. He has full power over everything (57: 1–2).
It saved me from that pitiful, separation-stricken, terrible, sad imagining and opened my eyes. I saw that the fruits at the tops of the fruit-bearing trees were looking upon me with a smile. “Note us as well; do not look only at the ruins!” they were saying. The truth expressed by the verses brought the following thought to mind:
Why does a letter in the form of a town, which was inscribed by the hands of people who were guests on the page of Van’s plain, and finally fell and was wiped out in a disastrous torrent called the Russian invasion, sadden you to this extent? Instead, consider the Eternal Inscriber, the True Owner and Master of everything, and see how His missives on this page of Van continue to be written in the same splendid fashion as you used to see. Your weeping because these places have become desolate ruins arises from the error of forgetting their True Owner, from not thinking that people are guests, and from imagining them to be in lasting possession.
A door to the truth opened up from that error and that burning scene, and my soul was prepared to accept it completely. Just as iron is put in the fire so that it becomes pliable and may be given a useful form, it was in the same way that that sorrowful state and terrible situation functioned as the fire that shaped my soul. Through the truth of the above verses, the Qur’an of miraculous exposition showed to my soul the radiation of the truths of belief, causing it to accept them.
All praise and thanks be to God, as is convincingly demonstrated in parts of the Risale-i Nur like the Twentieth Letter, through the radiation of belief, the truth expressed by the verses mentioned gave such a point of support to the spirit and heart—a support which can be developed in proportion to everyone’s strength of belief—that it equipped me with the power to be able to resist calamities a hundred times more dreadful than the situation I then experienced. It reminded me: Everything is subjected to the command of the True Owner of this country, Who is your Creator. The reins of all things are in His hands. Your connection with Him is sufficient.
When I came to recognize my Creator and rely on Him, all the things that had appeared hostile no longer were so; and the sorrowful situations that had made me weep started to give me happiness. As we have demonstrated with sure proofs in many parts of the Risale-i Nur, the light issuing from belief in the Hereafter afforded such a source of help against my countless desires that it was sufficient not only for my attachment to my friends and connection with them in this insignificant, transient, and brief, worldly life, but also for my innumerable far-reaching desires in the world of permanence and eternal happiness. For through one manifestation of His Mercy, the All-Merciful and All-Compassionate One every spring lays on the table of that season innumerable delightful, artful bounties on the face of this earth, which is His temporary guesthouse and one of the mansions in the universe, in order to please His guests for one or two hours. Then, after presenting these to them as an appetizer, He fills eight eternal Paradises with innumerable varieties for the eternal life of His servants. So, those who rely on the Mercy of such an All-Merciful and Compassionate One through belief and are aware of their relation with Him certainly find such a source of help that even its least degree provides for innumerable ambitions that extend as far as eternity, enabling their realization.
Furthermore, through the truth expressed in the above-mentioned verses, the light issuing from the radiation of belief showed itself so brightly that it lit up the six dark directions like daytime. It removed my sorrow that arose from the death of my students and friends and the destruction of my medrese, reminding me, “The world where your friends have gone is not dark. They have merely changed locations; you will meet with them again.” It brought an end to my tears and made me understand that I would find others who resembled them and who would take their place in this world.
All praise and thanks be to God, with the medrese of Isparta He raised to life the dead medrese of Van, and, in one sense, He raised my friends there to life with the more numerous and valued students and friends here. So I came to know that the world is not void or meaningless, and that my thinking of it in the form of a ruined wasteland had been wrong. Rather, as required by the Wisdom of the True Master, the world changes its scenes that are made by people and renews His missives. Like the new fruit of a tree taking the place of those that have been harvested, death and separation in humankind are in fact renewal and refreshment. From the perspective of belief, they are a renewal which should not cause painful sorrow due to the want of friends, but a sweet sorrow that arises from parting in order to meet again in another, better place.
The verses also illuminated the face of the beings in the universe which had appeared dark because of the former appalling situation. Therefore, I wanted to offer thanks for this, and the following lines occurred to me in Arabic; they described that very reality. I said:
All praise be to God for the light of belief, which shows that those who were thought to be strangers, antagonistic, lifeless, terrifying, and weeping orphans, in fact are lovable ones, brothers and sisters, living companions, employed for meaningful results, joyful, glorifiers of God and reciters of His Names.
Since I have the right to think of all the beings in my personal world, as well as in the entire world, as engaged in the praise and glorification of God, and through the intention to make use of them in these duties, together with all those beings, who praise and glorify God individually and collectively through the tongue of their disposition, I say, “All praise and thanks be to God for the light of belief.”
Moreover, the true pleasures of life, which had been reduced to nothing because of my former heedless and appalling state of mind, and my hopes which had withered up entirely, and the bounties bestowed on me, which had been constricted, as has been explained in many other parts of the Risale-i Nur, so expanded that narrow sphere around my heart all at once through the light of belief that it contained the whole universe. In place of the bounties which had withered up in the garden of the Horhor Medrese and which had lost their taste, they made this world and the Hereafter each a merciful table of bounties. The light of belief showed not the ten or so human members like the eyes, ears, or the heart, but rather each of the hundred members in the form of such an extremely long arm which believers might stretch out each according to their degree that they could gather the bounties from all sides of those two tables of the All-Merciful. Therefore, in order to express this elevated truth and to give thanks for these limitless bounties, I uttered the following words:
All praise and thanks be to my Creator for the bounty of the light of belief, for it shows the two realms of the world and the Hereafter as being full of bounties and mercy, from which every believer can rightfully benefit with their numerous senses able to develop by the leave of their Creator.
Since belief has so great an effect in this world, in the Realm of Eternity it will certainly have such fruit and radiation that they cannot be comprehended or described by the mind in this world.
And so, you elderly people who, like me, suffer the pains of separation from numerous friends because of old age! However much older than me in years the oldest of you is, in effect, I must be older than he. For since I feel extreme pity for my fellow beings due to the excessive compassion ingrained in my nature, and, because of that very compassion, I have suffered the pains of thousands of my brothers in addition to my own, I feel as though I have lived for hundreds of years. In addition, however much you may have suffered from the disaster of separation, you cannot have been exposed to that disaster to the degree that I have. For I have no child that I should think only of him or her. My deep innate feeling of pity and compassion causes me to feel pain and sympathy in the face of the sorrows of thousands of children, and even innocent animals. Neither do I have a house of my own that I should care for it only. Rather, being a Muslim, I am deeply bound to this country, and, in fact, the whole Muslim world, as though each were my own house. I feel great pain at the suffering of my fellow Muslims in these two great houses, and I am sorrowful at being separated from them.
And so, in the face of all these sorrows of mine that result from old age and the calamity of separation, the light of belief was enough for me; it gave me an inextinguishable hope and light and unending solace. So, it must certainly be more than enough for you in the face of the darkness, heedlessness, sorrow, and pains brought on by old age. In reality, the old age that is utterly dark and bereft of light and solace, and the most painful and terrible separation, is the old age and separation of the people of misguidance and the dissipated. In order to experience the belief which gives such hope, light, and solace, and its effects, one should be in a consciously worshipful attitude that is worthy of old age and appropriate to Islam. We cannot experience this by trying to imitate the young, plunging our head into heedlessness, and forgetting old age.
Consider the hadith, the meaning of which is, “The best of the young among you are those who resemble the old in care and avoidance of vice, while the worst of your elderly are those who imitate the young in vice and heedlessness.19
My elderly brothers and sisters! There is another hadith which says, “Divine Mercy is ashamed to leave unanswered the prayers offered to the Divine Court by an elderly believer of sixty or seventy years.”20 Since Divine Mercy holds you in such respect, be respectful towards this respect by worshipping Him!
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
15 Van is a province of Turkey in Eastern Anatolia, bordering western Iran. (Tr.)
16 This saying is from Abu Tayyib al-Mutanabbi, al-Hamawi, Hizanat al-Adab, 1:136. (Tr.)
17 al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, 7:396; ad-Daylami, al-Musnad, 4:51. (Tr.)
18 All the medreses were banned and abolished in the early years of the Republican Era in Turkey. (Tr.)
19 at-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 22:83; Abu Ya‘la, al-Musnad, 13:467. (Tr.)
20 at-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Awsat, 5:270. (Tr.)