Belief, knowledge of God, and worship
Said Nursi completed the normal madrasa (traditional religious school) education when he was fourteen. Long dissatisfied with the existing education system, he soon developed comprehensive proposals for reform based on joining traditional religious with modern secular sciences and establishing universities in major Anatolian cities. Although he twice received funds for his university and saw its foundations laid in 1913, the consequences of WWI and the vicissitudes of the time prevented its completion.
Unlike traditional religious scholars, Said Nursi studied natural and social science, mathematics, and philosophy. During WWI, he was captured and held by the Russians for 2 years. After his escape and return to Istanbul, he began expounding Islam’s pillars. But new and irreversible events in Anatolia led to a secular regime, and anti-Islamic trends and attitudes among intellectuals and the young (due to a deliberately positivist—even materialist—system of education) were growing. These factors forced him to focus on the essentials of belief and worship and the Qur’an’s main purposes: explaining and proving Divine Existence and Unity, Prophethood, Resurrection, and the need for worship and justice. He explains in various places of his The Words, The Letters, and Lahikalar (Addenda):
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.
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.
The Qur’an, the universe, and humanity are three kinds of manifestations of one truth. The Qur’an, issuing from the Divine Attribute of Speech, may be regarded as the written or composed universe. The universe, originating in the Divine Attributes of Power and Will, may be considered as the created Qur’an. Since the universe is the Qur’an’s counterpart and, in one respect, the collection of Divine laws of creation, sciences that study the universe must be compatible with Islam. Therefore now (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 or reason and the heart, for it combines reason’s acceptance and affirmation with the heart’s experience and submission.
There is another degree of belief: certainty coming from direct experience of its truths. This depends on regular worship and reflection. Those with such belief can challenge the world. So, our first and foremost duty is to acquire such belief and, in complete sincerity and purely for God’s sake, spread it to others. A hadith relates that it is better for you if one embraces belief through you than for you to possess the world.
In short, Said Nursi argues that belief consists of acquiring Islam in its entirety.