BEDİÜZZAMAN SAİD NURSİ (1877–1960), WHO IS ONE OF THE MOST effective and profound representatives of Islam’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths, spent most of his life overflowing with love and ardor for Islam, pursuing a wise and measured activism based on sound reasoning, and following the Qur’an and the Prophetic example.
Said Nursi lived during a time of transition—the Ottoman State’s dying years and the Turkish Republic’s formative years. He traveled widely, seeing first-hand the ignorance, poverty, and internal conflict prevailing in Anatolia and the larger Muslim world. In the sermon he gave in the Umayyad Mosque (Damascus) in March 1911 to about 10,000 people, including
100 high-ranking scholars, he analyzed why the Muslim world was stuck in the “Middle Ages”: growing despair, the loss of truthfulness in social and political spheres, the love of belligerency and ignorance of the bonds proper among believers, pervasive despotism, and egocentricity.
On the same subject and concerning the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman State in the WWI, he wrote in his Sunuhat (“Occurrences to the Heart”) and Lemeat (“Gleams”) as follows:
Humankind’s misguided thinking, Nimrod-like obstinacy, Pharaoh-like haughtiness grew and grew on the earth until they reached the heavens. Humanity also offended the sensitive mystery of creation. It caused the shudders of the last war to pour down from the heavens like the plague and deluge; it caused a heavenly blow to be dealt to the infidel. So the calamity was the calamity of all humankind. The common cause, inclusive of all humankind, was the misguided thinking that arose from materialism, bestial freedom, and the despotism of carnal desires and fancies. Our share in it resulted from our neglect and abandonment of the pillars of Islam. For the Creator the All-Exalted wanted one hour out of the twenty-four. He ordered us, willed that we, for our good, assign one hour for the five daily Prayers. But out of laziness we gave them up, neglected them in heedlessness. So we received the following punishment: He made us perform Prayers of a sort during these last five years through a constant, twenty-four hour drill and hardship, keeping us ceaselessly moving and striving. He also demanded of us one month a year for fasting, but we pitied our carnal souls, so in atonement He compelled us to fast for five years. He wanted us to pay as Zakah either a fortieth or a tenth of the property He gave us, but out of miserliness we did wrong: we mixed the unlawful with our property, and did not give the Zakah voluntarily. So He had our accumulated Zakah taken from us, and saved us from what was unlawful in our property. The deed causes the punishment of its kind. The punishment is of the same as the deed. (Gleams of Truth: Prescriptions for a Healthy Social Life [trans.], Tughra Books, New Jersey, 2010, pp., 47–48)
Two of the All-Majestic One’s Attributes of perfection give rise to two sets of laws. One is the law of life or of the creation and operation of the universe, which proceeds from the Attribute of Will, and the other, the well-known Shari‘a, which proceeds from the Attribute of Speech. Just as the commands or laws of the well-known Shari‘a are obeyed or disobeyed, so too do people obey or disobey the law of life. The reward and punishment for the former is received mostly in the Hereafter, while the penalties and rewards of the latter are suffered mostly in this world. For example, the reward of patience is success, while the penalty for laziness is privation; and the reward of labor is wealth. The reward of steadfastness is triumph. The punishment of poison is illness and the reward of its antidote is health. (We neglected both of these laws and got our merits.) (ibid, pp., 69–70)
The crisis was a global crisis and the basic cause of this crisis was unbelief. As Collin Turner from Durham University of England notes, “Said Nursi saw that modern unbelief did not originate from ignorance, but from science and philosophy. Paradoxically, the Muslims’ neglect of science and technology caused them to fall behind the West economically and militarily. But the same science and technology that enabled the West to achieve global military and economic superiority caused Western people to lose their belief and traditional moral and spiritual values, and fall 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 were separated from each other in the West. Secular morality and economic self-interest then replaced religious and other traditional values. Said Nursi viewed nature as the collection of Divine signs. Thus science and religion could not be in conflict, for they are two (apparently) different expressions of the same truth. Minds should be enlightened with science, and hearts need to be illumined with religion.”
Having discovered the main problem of humanity, Said Nursi concentrated on belief, worship, morality, and good conduct. While, according to Turner, the numerous Islamic movements of the past 150 years have had little if anything to do with the resurgence of religious faith and most of these have actually been political movements, with leaders whose underlying goal has been to solve a specific problem: the problem of the perceived backwardness of the Muslim peoples and their subservience, politically and culturally, to the West, Said Nursi drew the attention to the following points as the main issue of all humanity:
Creation’s highest aim and 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 knowledge of Him; the spirit’s purest joy and the heart’s purest delight is spiritual ecstasy contained within love of God. All true happiness, pure joy, sweet bounties, and unclouded pleasure are contained within the knowledge and love of God. (The Letters, [trans.], Tughra Books, New Jersey, 2005, pp., 239–240)
Belief is not restricted to a brief affirmation based on imitation; rather, it has degrees and stages of development. It is like a seed growing into a fully grown, fruit-bearing tree; 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 God’s Names and the realities contained in the universe that the most perfect science, knowledge, and virtue is belief and knowledge of God originating 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. (Emirdağ Lahikası [Addendum of Emirdağ], Istanbul, 1959, vol., 1, pp., 102–103)
He offered his cure—hope, truthfulness and trustworthiness, mutual love, consultation, solidarity, and freedom in accordance with Islam—and stressed the following:
History shows that Muslims increased in civilization and progressed in relation to how firmly they adhered to Islam. In other words, the strength they drew from Islam’s truth was proportionate to their adherence to it.
We Muslims, students of the Qur’an, follow proof. We do not abandon proof for blind obedience and imitation of the clergy, as do some adherents of other religions. Equipped with sciences, knowledge, and the virtues of true civilization, the human tendency to seek the truth, fairness and the feeling of justice in human nature, as well as love of humanity, are beginning to defeat and remove the obstacles before Muslims and all humanity.
Since the tendency toward perfection is ingrained in human nature, if humanity does not suffer total destruction due to its faults and injustices, the truth of Islam will bring happiness to the Muslim world in particular, and the whole world in general, and will thus serve as atonement for the past and present vices of humanity.
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. (Gleams of Truth, 125–128)
Though outwardly simple, many of Said Nursi’s ideas and activities were wholly original. He embraced humanity; opposed unbelief, injustice, and (religious) deviation; and struggled against all kinds of tyranny—even at the cost of his life. His deep belief and feeling, when combined with his wise and rational ideas and problem-solving methods, produced an example of love, ardor, and feeling. His balanced thought, acts, and methods of acting made him a far-sighted man who assessed and judged surrounding conditions and solved problems.
Said Nursi died in Urfa on March 23, 1960, which may well have been the Night of Power in Ramadan. The coroner fixed his estate as a turban, a gown, and 20 lira. The real legacy of this hero of Islam was the 6,000-page Risale-i Nur Collection. This collection is a most widely read one after the Qur’an in Turkey and has so far been translated in several languages.