Bediüzzaman Said Nursi & Prescriptions for a Healthy Social Life


The legacy of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877–1960) achievements, personality and character, and his continuing influence make him an important figure in the twentieth-century Muslim world. In a most effective and profound way

Bediüzzaman represents Islam’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths. He spent most of his life overflowing with love and ardor for Islam, employing a wise activism that is based on sound reasoning, and which was developed in the shade of the Qur’an and the Prophetic example.

Much has been said and written about the lofty ideals which he pursued and his deep familiarity with the world and his times, as well as his simplicity and austerity, human tenderness, loyalty to friends, chastity, modesty, and contentedness.

Though strikingly simple in outward appearance, many of his ideas and activities are wholly original. He embraced humanity and was deeply opposed to unbelief, injustice, and deviation; Bediüzzaman strove against all kinds of tyranny, even at the cost of his life. His profound belief and feeling, when combined with his wise and rational ideas, and his problem-solving methods, produced an example of love, ardor, and feeling. He was extraordinarily balanced in his thoughts, acts, and methods of dealing with various matters; Said Nursi was a far-sighted man who assessed and judged the surrounding conditions and tried to solve the problems confronting him.

Many of his contemporaries acknowledged, either tacitly or explicitly, that Bediüzzaman was the most important thinker and writer of the twentieth-century Turkey, or even of the Muslim world. Despite this and his indisputable place in a new Islamic revival in the intellectual, social, and political conditions of his time, he remained a humble servant of God. His life exemplified his understanding of humility: “Desire for fame is the same as show and ostentation, and it is a ‘poisonous honey’ that extinguishes the vitality of the heart.”

Born in a small mountain village in eastern Turkey, Bediüzzaman voiced the sighs and laments of the entire Muslim world, as well as its belief, hopes and aspirations. He said:


I can bear my own sorrows, but the sorrows that arise from the calamities visited upon Islam and Muslims have crushed me. I feel each blow delivered to the Muslim world as if it were delivered first to my own heart. That is why I have been so shaken.

He also said:

During my life of over eighty years, I have tasted no worldly pleasure…. There has been no persecution I have not tasted, no oppression I have not suffered. I neither care for Paradise nor fear Hell. If I see my nation’s faith secured, I will not even care about burning in Hell, for while my body is burning, my heart will be as if in a rose garden.

Bediüzzaman lived at a time of global crisis. Materialism was at its peak, Communism had a wide following, and Muslims were being urged to reject Islam. Shocked by the West’s scientific and military victories, and influenced by modern thought, Muslims were discarding their historical roots and sometimes their faith. Many Muslim intellectuals deviated from the Straight Path. Bediüzzaman, however, directed people to the source of belief and inculcated in them a strong hope for an overall revival. His writings displayed the truth of Islam and opposed the growing deviation.

At a time when science and philosophy were being used to produce young atheists and Nihilism was popular, when such things were done in the name of civilization, modernization, and contemporary thinking, Bediüzzaman strove for the overall revival of a people, breathing into their minds and spirits both modern and traditional education as well as spiritual training.

Bediüzzaman diagnosed the long-standing “diseases” that afflicted the Muslim communities and offered the most effective cures. Basing his activity on the Qur’an, the Sunna, the Islamic tradition, and natural phenomena (considered to be signs of Divine Existence and Unity), he concentrated, in order of importance, on supporting the pillars of Islam; the necessity of belief, worship, morality, and good conduct, as well as discovering the socio-economic issues facing contemporary Muslims.


The Essence of Bediüzzaman’s Thinking and Activities

During Bediüzzaman’s time and our own, ignorance of God and the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, heedlessness of religious commandments, indifference to the Islamic dynamics of prosperity in both worlds, and ignorance of modern scientific knowledge have been among the primary factors of the backwardness of the Muslim world. Bediüzzaman maintained that if Muslims did not acquire modern scientific and religious knowledge or the ability to think systematically, and if they could not protect themselves against misleading trends of thought by acquiring true knowledge, they would never escape the backwardness into which they had fallen.

Ignorance was a source of Muslim poverty. Ignorance of the truth of Islam, when added to the ignorance of scientific and technological knowledge, resulted in vast plains remaining uncultivated and the natural wealth of Muslim lands flowing into the treasuries of others. Ignorance was a major reason for the internal conflicts of the Muslim world, as well as other problems. Although the Qur’an demands unity, Muslims were quarreling with each other even as their lands were being invaded by foreign forces and their people were being humiliated.

At the same time, those Muslim intellectuals to whom the masses looked for leadership and salvation were attracted by the violent storm of denial that blew in from the West. Emerging in previous centuries from a humanity-centered world-view that was rooted in scientism, rationalism, and positivism, as well as from the contradictions between modern scientific findings and a Church opposed to science, this storm gradually robbed Europe of most of its belief in Christianity. Consequently, the Revelation was forced to yield to human reason.

This process, unparalleled in history, shook the “edifice” of Islam, which was already perceived as being old and decayed in many hearts and minds (both individual and communal), to its roots. Bediüzzaman believed that this “edifice” could be preserved from further destructive influences by presenting the essentials of Islam, with all its branches, to the minds and reason of modern men and women. According to him, the Muslim world, so clearly beached on the oceans of the modern world, would be able to sail freely again only if it underwent a successful, comprehensive renewal in all fields of Islam.

Bediüzzaman dedicated himself to expounding the pillars of Islam. Anti-Islamic trends and attitudes among intellectuals and the young, as a result of a deliberately positivist – even materialist – system of education, were on the rise. These factors forced Bediüzzaman to concentrate on the essentials of belief and worship and the main purposes that were pursued in the Qur’an, which he described as explaining and proving Divine Existence and Unity, Prophethood, Resurrection, and the necessity of worship and justice. He explains:

The highest aim of creation and its most sublime result is belief in God. The most exalted rank of humanity is knowledge of God. The most radiant happiness and sweetest bounty for jinn and humanity is love of God contained within the knowledge of God; the purest joy for the human spirit and the purest delight for the human heart is the spiritual ecstasy contained within the love of God. Indeed, all true happiness, pure joy, sweet bounties, and unclouded pleasure are contained within the knowledge and love of God.

Belief is not restricted to a brief affirmation based on imitation; rather, it has degrees and stages of expansion or development. It is like a seed growing into the state of a fully grown, fruit-bearing tree, or like the sun’s image in a mirror or in a drop of water to its images on the sea’s surface and to the sun itself. Belief contains so many truths pertaining to all the Names of God and the realities contained in the universe that the most perfect human science, knowledge, and virtue is belief and knowledge of God that originates in a belief based on argument and investigation. While belief based on imitation can be refuted through doubt and questions raised by modern thought, belief based on argument and investigation has as many degrees and grades of manifestation as the number of Divine Names. Those who attain certainty of belief coming from direct observation of the truths on which belief is based study the universe as a kind of Qur’an.

The Qur’an, the universe, and humanity are three different manifestations of one truth. The Qur’an, having issued from the Divine Attribute of Speech, may be regarded as the universe written or composed. The universe, having originated in the Divine Attributes of Power and Will, may be considered as the Qur’an created. Since the universe is the counterpart of the Qur’an and, in one respect, the collection of Divine laws of creation, sciences that study the universe cannot be incompatible with Islam. Therefore, in the present time (when science prevails) and in the future (the age of knowledge), true belief should be based on argument and investigation, on continual reflection on God’s “signs” in the universe, and on natural, social, historical, and psychological phenomena. Belief is not something based on blind imitation; rather, it should appeal to both the intellect/reason and the heart, for it combines the acceptance and affirmation of reason and the experience and submission of the heart.

There is another degree of belief, namely, certainty coming from direct experience of its truths. This depends on regular worship and reflection. One who has acquired such belief can challenge the entire world. So, our first and foremost duty is to acquire such belief and, in complete sincerity and purely for the sake of God, communicate it to others. A hadith relates that it is better for you if one embraces belief through you than for you to possess the entire world.

As scientific studies and uncountable experiences clearly show, what is dominant in the order of the universe and in the basic purposes of the All-Majestic Maker for its existence are good, beauty, and perfection. For every branch of science that studies the universe indicates such a magnificent order and perfection with the general principles on which it is based that minds cannot conceive of something better than this universe. It is also an observable and experienced fact that evil, ugliness, falsehood, and badness are secondary and subordinate in creation. They are not the purposes of creation; rather, they exist indirectly and as measures of comparison. For example, ugliness serves for beauty to be manifested in various forms and degrees. Evil, and even Satan, have been allowed to attack humans so that they may function as a means for the development and perfection of human beings. In short, ugliness and evil have been created to serve as means for universal beauty and good.

Good, perfection, and beauty are essential to the existence of the universe. So, humankind, who has sullied the earth with its injustices and unbelief, will not be able to go to non-existence without first suffering the punishment for such atrocities and then without being the means for the realization of the basic purposes for the existence of the universe (by observing the Divine order).

In short, Bediüzzaman argues that belief consists of acquiring Islam in its entirety.

Bediüzzaman saw that modern unbelief originated from science and philosophy. Paradoxically, the neglect of science and technology by Muslims is what had caused them to fall behind the West in economic and military fields. But the same science and technology that enabled the West to achieve global military and economic superiority had caused Western people to lose their faith and traditional moral and spiritual values, thus falling 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 had been separated from one another in the West. Consequently, secular morality and economic self-interest had replaced religious and other traditional values. Bediüzzaman viewed nature as a collection of Divine signs, which meant that science and religion could not be in conflict; rather, they are two (apparently) different expressions of the same truth. Minds should be enlightened by science, while hearts need to be illumined by religion.


Bediüzzaman’s prescriptions for a healthy social life

Bediüzzaman lived in a time of transition – the dying years of the Ottoman State and the formative years of the Turkish Republic. He completed the normal medrese (traditional religious school) education by the age of fourteen. However, even in his early years he was dissatisfied with the existing education system. Contrary to the centuries-old practice of religious scholars, he also studied natural and social sciences. He soon developed comprehensive proposals for reform, at the heart of which was his call for joining traditional religious sciences with modern secular sciences and establishing universities in major Turkish cities in which his proposals could be implemented. Although he twice received funds for his university and saw its foundations laid in 1913, it was never completed due to the consequences of the First World War and the vicissitudes of the time.

During the earlier period of his life which coincided with the last years of the Ottoman State, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi was involved in the socio-political life of the country. He traveled much, held meetings with Kurdish leaders and religious scholars in the south-east of Turkey, visited the Balkans and the Caucasus, and saw first-hand the ignorance, poverty, and internal conflict prevalent in Turkey and the greater Muslim world. He was in Istanbul when Sultan Abdulhamid II was dethroned and Constitutionalism was declared. He severely criticized despotism in all fields of life and supported a constitutionalism based on the Islamic principle of consultation. He wrote many books or booklets during these years, such as Sunuhat (“Occurrences to the Heart”), Tulu‘at (“Flashes of Thoughts Rising in the Heart”), Rumuz (“Subtle Allusions”), Isharat (“Indications”), and Munazarat (“Discussions”). In these books or booklets, Bediüzzaman analyzed the condition of Muslims, the reasons why it was thus and discussed the ways this could be improved. He offered valuable prescriptions for a healthy social life. His two other books, Hakikat Çekirdekleri (“Seeds of Truths) and Leme‘at (“Gleams of Truth – Flowers from Seeds of Truths”), in which he offered very valuable criteria for sound thinking, can also be included in this series of works.

In 1911, he delivered a sermon in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus to approximately 10,000 people, including 100 high-ranking scholars. In this sermon which was later published under the title of Khutba-i Shamiya (“The Sermon of Damascus”), and in the other books mentioned, Bediüzzaman analyzes why the Muslim world had remained immured in the “Middle Ages”: the growth of despair, the loss of truthfulness in social and political spheres, the love of belligerency and an ignorance of the bonds that is proper among believers, despotism in all fields of life, and egocentricity. He offered his cure: hope, truthfulness and trustworthiness, mutual love, consultation, solidarity, and freedom in accordance with Islam. He also emphasized the following points:

History shows us that the development and civilization of Muslims is proportionate to their adherence to the truth of Islam, while the development and civilization of others is inversely proportionate to their religion. Also, the truth informs us that the awakening of humankind cannot be without religion. Particularly, a person who has awakened to the truth, coming to know true humanity, and who is a candidate for the future and eternity, cannot be so without religion.

We Muslims, who are the students of the Qur’an, follow proof and accept the truths of belief with our reason, intellect, and heart. Unlike some members of other religions, we do not abandon proof or blindly imitate religious leaders. Therefore, in the future, when reason, sciences, and knowledge will dominate, it will be the Qur’an, the decrees and propositions of which are all confirmed by reason, that will certainly rule.

No period of history, from the Age of Happiness until the present time, tells us of a Muslim who has preferred another religion over Islam, based on sound reasoning, and entered that religion based on a sound proof. It is true that there have been some who have left Islam; but this has been through imitation and is of no importance. If we demonstrate the perfections of Islamic morality and the truth of Islam through our acts, the followers of other religions will continue to enter it in greater numbers; even some whole regions and countries of the earth will accept it.

Look, time does not move in a straight line so that its beginning and end grow distant from one another. Rather, like the movement of the earth, time moves by drawing a circle. It sometimes displays progress as an embodiment of spring and summer and sometimes displays decline as an embodiment of winter and a season of storms. So, just as every winter is followed by spring and every night by the morning, so too humankind will, God willing, also live a new morning and spring. From the Divine Mercy we can expect to see the true civilization marked by a general peace in the sun of the truth of Islam.

After the First World War, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi completely withdrew from socio-political life. He referred to himself when involved in socio-political life as the Old or Former Said, and now was wholly devoted to explaining the truths of Islamic faith and the meaning and importance of worship and good conduct. However, after 1950 he revised those works belonging to his earlier period, and published them again. This book in your hand is the translation of a compilation made from these works.

— Publisher