Said Nursi during the Ottoman period
During World War I, Said Nursi commanded a volunteers’ regiment on the Caucasian front and in eastern Anatolia. His heroism was admired by Ottoman generals, including Enver Pasha, Minister of Defense and Deputy Commander-in-Chief. Together with his volunteers, known as “The Felt Caps,” he fought heroically against Russian and Armenian forces. He also dictated (to his students) his famous Qur’anic commentary, Isharat al-I’jaz (Signs of Miraculousness), during the war.
Eventually captured, he spent over 2 years in a prisoners’ camp in Kostroma, northwestern Russia. When General Nikolayevich, Commander-in-Chief of the Caucasian front and the Czar’s uncle, passed by, Said Nursi remained seated. When charged with insulting the general, he said: “I am a Muslim scholar with belief in my heart. One who has belief in his heart is superior to one who does not. I cannot act against my belief.” He was sentenced to death by firing squad. Watching him pray before his execution, the general understood that his attitude was due to his belief, and lifted the sentence.
Amid the Russian revolution, Said Nursi escaped and returned to Istanbul. After receiving a medal and rejecting all government appointments, he joined the Dar al-Hikmat al-Islamiya (the religious academy) on the army’s recommendation. When imperial Europe invaded the collapsed Ottoman State to grab what it could, Said Nursi protested the British presence in Istanbul and wrote and spoke against them fiercely. He was never silenced or caught.
In 1922, after receiving 18 official invitations, Said Nursi went to Ankara and was received at the Grand National Assembly. Gradually seeing that most representatives ignored their religious obligations, he addressed them on January 19, 19234. After this, 50 or 60 of them began to pray. Eight months later he moved to Van and devoted himself to meditation and prayer. When the “Eastern rebellion” broke out, he rejected the rebels’ call to support them, saying that Muslims should not fight each other and that many innocent people would die for the benefit of a few criminals.5
The government nevertheless exiled him to Burdur, western Anatolia, where he was kept under strict surveillance. When Ankara learned that he was still spreading his view of Islam, he was exiled to Barla, an out-of-the way place in central Anatolia surrounded by mountains. Instead, he produced the main part of his greatest work: The Risale-i Nur, a 6,000-page Qur’anic commentary.
4 His address to the Turkish Parliament is presented on pp. 155-58. (Ed.)
5 This Kurdish rebellion broke out on August 7, 1924, over whether Turkey or Iraq would receive Mosul and its oil fields. Another one broke out in February 1925. Said Nursi, a Kurd, was falsely charged with being its leader. (Ed.)