By Thomas Michel
1. A need for spirituality
In a recent survey held in Europe, respondents showed a decreasing interest in “religion” but, surprisingly, a corresponding increasing interest in “spirituality.” Although this would appear to be an inconsistency, I believe that there is an explanation. In expressing a lack of interest, the respondents were probably thinking of religion as connoting unattractive elements of religiosity such as dry ritual, external conformity to social expectations, legalistic obedience, and repetition of dogmatic formula. Conversely, in their show of interest for spirituality, the respondents were expressing a need for something transcendent in their lives, for internalized ethical norms, for a discipline which would give structure and order to their behavior, for a way to discover the Divine in the midst of modern life, for an opening to encounter eternal values and wisdom.
Such felt needs underline the relevance of spirituality in modern life. A working definition might assert that spirituality is the way one internalizes the teaching and practice of religion so that it shapes, informs and transforms that person’s behavior. Without a spirituality, one’s religious practice remains at the level of repetition of dry ritual, external to one’s interior life and incapable of contributing to spiritual growth. It is spirituality that gives depth and roots to one’s experience of God, without which that experience remains ephemeral and superficial. Spirituality implies a discipline, a conviction of the rightness of what one is doing that inspires a strong motivation. In this way, spirituality provides a solid foundation on which one can build habits of behavior and persevere at times of discouragement, boredom, and doubt.
Finally, it is spirituality that enables the believer to apply the lessons he has learned from faith to the trials and challenges that inevitably arise in daily life. It is one’s spirituality that comes to the fore at moments of crisis, when the normal patterns of activity, work and relaxation are disrupted, when relationships are strained, when things are not “the way they should be.” At such times, a person without faith must fall back on his own resources, but those resources are too often inadequate to face the challenge; the person gives up, admits defeat, and falls into despair. However, through his spirituality, the believer is rooted in the Divine message and nourished by faithful practice and as a result has access to additional resources of God’s guidance and grace which can strengthen him to face the critical moment.
2. Illness and spirituality
One moment of crisis that afflicts everyone at some point in their lives, and afflicts most people more than once, and some for lengthy periods, is physical illness. Even those fortunate few who manage to pass a whole lifetime in unbroken good health must still face the multiple crises which arise from illness as they accompany and care for spouses, parents, children, friends, and relatives who have been struck with poor health. A person’s approach to this most common of human crises tells much about that person’s spirituality. The way one approaches the disruptive reality of illness displays the attitudes and perspectives that have been produced inside individuals through their internalization of the message of their faith.
My decision to try to learn what might be revealed about the spirituality of Said Nursi in his approach to the question of illness did not originate solely from academic interest. A year ago I had a mild heart attack and my doctor sent me immediately to the hospital for emergency bypass surgery. While I was recovering, I was encouraged by the sympathy and kind words of various readers of the Risale-i Nur, who also shared with me some of the insights they had discovered in the writings of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. This experience pushed me to read and study the Risale-i Nur more deeply in order to understand what Said Nursi’s approach to sickness and human infirmity might disclose about his Qur’anic spirituality.
At one point in his treatise, “Message for the Sick,” Nursi coins a startling paradox. “For you,” he tells the readers of the Risale-i Nur, “illness is good health, while for some of your peers good health is a sickness.”1 In this paper, I would like to explore Said Nursi’s thought on the question of illness, to see what he wants to teach by this apparently unreasonable assertion. I hope to show that Said Nursi has a serious point to make, a point that is consistent with the way his Qur’anic spirituality leads him to regard the common human reality of illness.
3. Sickness of the heart
First of all, it should be noted that Said Nursi is more concerned about what he calls “spiritual sickness” or “sickness of the spirit” than about physical illness; he is more interested in the causes of social ills than individual complaints.2 He regards the identification of the weaknesses and incapacities of modern culture as one of the principal tasks of the community of his disciples, along with the presentation of Qur’anic teaching as a healing message for this world. As he stated in his defense in the Afyon court: “The collective personality of the Risale-i Nur has diagnosed the social, spiritual, and religious sicknesses of this age, and at a Divine command has offered to all humanity at this time the truths of the All-Wise Qur’an in a way that will cure its chronic social ills.”3
The sickness of the heart that Nursi sees as afflicting modern men and women is one caused by a lack of faith. It is the sense of ennui, a feeling of being without direction or hope, the incapacity to love and a conviction of the absurdity of life that afflicts those whose life is not informed by faith. Positivist materialism, belief in nothing beyond what one can see and touch, is thus a common spiritual sickness of our time.4 This basic disorder arising from the lack of faith in God and a transcendent system of values precipitates multiple societal ills: Istanbul politics is a type of spiritual illness “like the Spanish flu”5; racism is a disease6; even frigidity in marriage can be said to be a type of spiritual sickness.7
It is not only unbelievers who suffer from spiritual sickness; there are other sicknesses of the spirit, such as innovation,8 scruples,9 exclusivist and partisan mentalities,10 or desire for acclaim,11 which can afflict believers. Even saints and conscientious worshipers have lamented over the sickness of heart experienced in moments of tranquility.12 One might ask whether in this last point Nursi is referring to the well-known state of soul described by the Sufi masters as qabd, the “dark night,” when the believer is tested by God who, for a time, withholds from the murid all sensible delight in prayer and worship. Whether or not Nursi is referring to the Sufi state of qabd, there is no doubt that he regards Sufism as an effective remedy for treating the sickness of the heart.13
In this the Sufis have followed the example of the prophet Jesus who was granted the twin blessing of being able to act as God’s agent to heal both physical and spiritual illnesses. However, Nursi saw this blessing not as a gift granted exclusively to Jesus; rather, it is one which the students of the Risale-i Nur can also obtain if they ask God and strive conscientiously for it. He states:
Just as the Qur’an explicitly urges man to follow Jesus’ (Pbuh) high morals, so it encourages him towards the elevated art and sovereign medicine of which Jesus was the master. “Remedies may be found for even the most chronic ills.” ...Don’t despair! Whatever the ill, its cure is possible. Search for it and you will find it...God is saying through the figurative tongue of this verse: “I gave two gifts to one of My servants who abandoned the world for Me. One was the remedy for spiritual ills, and the other the cure for physical sicknesses. Moribund hearts were raised to life through the light of guidance, and sick people who were as though dead found health through his breath and cure. You too may find the cure for every ill in the pharmacy of My wisdom. Work to find it! If you seek, you will certainly find.”14
4. Praying for health and illness
There is much more that could be said about Said Nursi’s approach to sicknesses of the spirit, but the above will have to suffice, for the main focus of this paper is not on spiritual sickness, but rather on physical illness. It is to this aspect of Said Nursi’s spirituality that I will now turn.
The first point to be noted is that Said Nursi does not idealize sickness in the manner of some 19th Century Romantic poets. He is quite realistic in holding that good health is a blessing from God for which the believer should hope and pray, whereas illness is never to be sought for its own sake, nor brought about by one’s own effort. It is a pious act to ask that if it be God’s will, one may enjoy good health. In one of his prayers included in the Risale-i Nur, Nursi makes such an appeal: “Forgive me my sins, O God, bear with me, and heal my ills ... Pardon all my sins, and grant me health from all sicknesses, and be pleased with me for all eternity!”15
On the other hand, good health is not an absolute good. The believer can also find himself asking God to grant ills and their remedies, if that be God’s will. Nursi alludes to a prayer made in the Shafi’i rite during the tasbihat following the daily namaz, in which the faithful ask God to bestow on the family of the Prophet both ills as well as the remedies for those ills.
“O God! Grant blessings to our master Muhammad and to the family of Muhammad, to the number of ills and their remedies; bless him and them, and grant them unending peace.” ... Just as illnesses are the most effective whip driving a person to the Divine Court, so also remedies, healing, and good health are the chief of the sweet bounties prompting him to give thanks earnestly and to truly offer praise. It is for this reason that this benediction is most meaningful and widely accepted. Sometimes when reciting the phrase “to the number of all ills and their remedies,” I see the earth in the form of a hospital and sense the clearly obvious existence of the True Healer, Who supplies the remedies for all ills, physical and spiritual, and answers all needs, and His universal clemency and sacred all-embracing compassion.16
Nursi defends this unusual prayer by saying that just as illnesses are one of the surest means to drive someone to come before God in supplication and worship, so also release from illness is a privileged occasion for thanking and praising God. He goes on to note that the prayer inspires him to see the world as a huge hospital, full of sick people, who come before God as the compassionate Healer who answers the needs of all. His spirituality leads him to understand that since both health and illness come from God, true faith consists of accepting willingly and patiently whatever God sends and placing one’s trust in God who is the healer of bodies and souls.
5. Wisdom arising from experience
Said Nursi’s understanding of physical illness is not the theoretical speculation of someone who has very seldom or never suffered from pain and infirmity. In the Risale-i Nur there are many references, too numerous for all of them to be cited, to the various illnesses that he experienced during his life. He experienced not only physical pain, but the lack of strength and stamina needed to accomplish the work he felt called to do. Because of his bad health and physical weakness, he had to refuse invitations to speak in the mosque17, and often felt too weak to teach and write.18 At times he felt assailed by five or more illnesses at once.19 Sometimes, the physical illness was compounded by the oppression and bad treatment he received during his periods of imprisonment, and he notes that several parts of the Risale-i Nur were written in such situations of psychological stress combined with physical pain and the discomfort of deprivations and mistreatment.20 As he grew older, old age aggravated his illnesses 21 and made it more difficult to recover from them.
Beyond the purely physical effects of his illnesses, Nursi suffered the depression and anguish frequently experienced by those in poor health. He felt frustrated at being unable to continue his work. He tasted the powerlessness of ill persons who know that they can do nothing on their own to restore their health. He experienced the difficulty of concentrating and the mental exhaustion that often accompanies illness.22 He was not a stranger to the common psychological effects of illness and a heightened awareness of the proximity of death, such as insomnia, nameless anguish, the feeling that one has wasted one’s youth. He knew the loneliness, the feeling of being cut off from healthy friends and relatives that so often accompanies illness, a neediness that God alone can assuage. All this left him in a weakened, fragile condition that a tragedy such as the death of his nephew and spiritual son 23 could bring him almost to the point of despair.
In an intensely personal passage in the Risale-i Nur, Nursi shares his experiences of old age and sickness so that others might find in the teaching of the Qur’an the same hope that enabled him to endure and survive the spiritual crisis. He expresses beautifully the anguish and loneliness that are frequently the felt reality experienced by the aged in poor health. Nursi articulates his misery, and alludes to the universal human reality experienced therein, by quoting the 17th Century Mevlevi poet Niyazi Misri. Because of its eloquence, I include the passage in full:
“Old age and illness attacked me in concert. Hitting me over the head, they chased away sleep. I had nothing binding me to the world like family, children, and possessions. Having wasted the fruits of my life’s capital through the giddiness of youth, I saw those fruits to consist only of sins and mistakes. Crying out like Niyazi Misri, I said:
I had concluded no trade; the capital of life was all lost;
I came to the road to find the caravan had moved on, unaware.
Lamenting, I continued down the road, all alone, a stranger;
My eyes weeping, my heart in anguish, my mind bewildered, unaware.
I was in exile at the time; I felt despairing sorrow, a regretful penitence, a longing for assistance. Suddenly, the All-Wise Qur’an came to my aid. It opened a door of hope so powerful and afforded a light of consolation so true that it could have dispelled despair and darknesses a hundred times more intense than mine.”24
It is to Said Nursi’s credit that he does not hide or gloss over such weaknesses and spiritual crises, but includes them in the Risale-i Nur in the hope that such trials will serve as guidance and comfort for others similarly oppressed by age and poor health. Even at moments of what he acknowledges to be “extreme weakness, wretchedness, and powerlessness,”25 he never doubted the truth of the Divine favor and compassion he was receiving. It was this unshakeable conviction of God’s power in his life which enabled Nursi to take consolation in God’s presence, accept the illness, learn patience, and even “be content” with his situation of helplessness.
Divine favor pointed out the above fact to me while, during a few days of material and spiritual affliction, illness and trial the like of which I had never before experienced in my life, I was being crushed in particular by the despair and distress of the heart and spirit which resulted from my being unable to serve the Qur’an and belief with the Risale-i Nur. I was then content with my distressing illness and imprisonment.26
6. Lessons to be learned in time of sickness
Nursi’s view is that even though sickness is never to be sought, much less brought about self-destructively by one’s own misuse of the body, when God in Divine wisdom nevertheless allows illness to befall a person, there are some positive spiritual benefits which can be reaped and lessons to be learned. First of all, sickness is a salutary reminder of mortality without which people could go on for years in heedlessness and foolish complacency. “Since old-age, illness, disaster, and death open up frightful pain and are a reminder that even if the people who follow misguidance and vice enjoy a hundred thousand pleasures and delights, they most certainly experience a sort of hell in their hearts, although a profound stupor of heedlessness temporarily makes them insensible to it.”27 It is experiences like sickness, old age and natural disasters that can be an occasion for egoistic, misguided people to wake up and realize the hellish existence they have made for themselves.
Secondly, sickness makes one appreciate the blessing of health. Those who enjoy unbroken health can easily take this great gift of God for granted and presume that it is the normal state for all humankind. It is only when one undergoes a period of bad health that one is able to understand the great favor that is contained in good health. Nursi quotes the proverb: “Light is indebted to darkness; pleasure is indebted to pain; there is no health without illness.”28
In one passage of the Risale-i Nur, Nursi offers advice on why those who have been struck with sickness should not complain.29 He offers three reasons. Firstly, sickness, like hunger, is necessary so that God can display His beautiful names and qualities. God is the Compassionate One who consoles the sick, the Healer who takes away illness, the Provider who gives food to the hungry. Secondly, illness is one of those events that show the value of life. Unbroken good health can become monotonous, flat, and empty; it resembles non-being more than the richness and fullness of life. Illness breaks the monotony and in doing so enriches, strengthens, and moves life forward. The third reason is that this world is a field of testing and service. Illness encourages the sick to become aware of their own powerlessness and their need for God, the compassionate Sustainer. Their helpless situation leads them to take refuge in God, to meditate on God, and to offer petitions.
For the believer, states Nursi, sickness is like a veil30 which shields humans from the harsh reality of death. Were people to live constantly in good health, death would loom as an ever more terrible prospect, a horrifying reality which no one would be prepared to face. The fears and complaints about death would take over one’s consciousness and destroy the pleasure of life. However, sickness veils the horrors of death and serves to prepare people psychologically for its eventual reality.
Should the sick pray that they be healed? Nursi sees great value in this and takes the prophet Job as an example. Job prayed to be healed of his illness, not for selfish reasons of comfort and release from pain, but so that he would be able to worship and serve God better.31 However, Nursi notes that the sick person should ask for healing with humility and trust, instead of accusing God and complaining about the unfairness of his situation. In contrast to complaining, which implies a criticism of God’s nature as Sustainer of life, trust in God is a form of worship by placing confidence in God’s goodness and willingness to heal.
7. “Message for the Sick”
In addition to the many pieces of religious instruction found throughout the Risale-i Nur as regards the spirituality of illness, Nursi also devoted a lengthy treatise in the Risale-i Nur specifically aimed at offering guidance to those languishing in the throes of poor health and disease. This is his “Message for the Sick,” found in the 25th Flash of the Flashes Collection. In this treatise, he brings together much of the teaching found dispersed in the Risale-i Nur and elaborates what he has said elsewhere at greater depth, and then adds new material and original observations.
In his introduction, Nursi confesses that he wrote this Flash more quickly than his other writings and he did not find the time to correct the treatise. In fact, he comments that he chose not to revise the text so that it would retain the “natural” and provisional quality of a rough draft rather than the polished character of a finished manuscript. As a result, one should not expect a logical, carefully organized thesis on remedies for illness; instead, it is a collection of 26 remedies from which a sick person might draw profit.32 The term “remedy” could be misleading. The reflections which Nursi offers are not remedies in the sense of medicinal or physical cures which are meant to remove the illness, but are rather remedies for the types of despair and distress to which those in poor health are often inclined. As such they are spiritual remedies for the sickness of the soul that can sometimes follow upon that of the body.
Nursi recognizes that the two central problems for all those who suffer poor health are anxiety and impatience. Anxiety arises from a sense of helplessness, the inability to do anything to change the situation, the nagging fear that the illness will not be a transient state from which one will recover, but a permanent disability and ongoing affliction. Impatience comes from the sick person’s feeling that time is passing too slowly and that he is wasting time that could be more profitably spent on other activities; consequently, the invalid harbors a desire to change the situation precipitately.
Most of the 26 remedies which Nursi offers are aimed at helping the sick person to overcome anxiety by accepting his afflicted state tranquilly and to find patience by placing his trust in God. By internalizing the implications of faith in God, the sick person can achieve peace of mind which, since it is conducive to physical well-being, can also help to bring about bodily recovery. The very personal nature of the remedies that he proposes indicates that these are reflections and insights that helped Nursi himself during his many periods of poor health. I will here briefly summarize each of the remedies.
1) Illness actually lengthens one’s life. A life passed without trial or hardship is fleeting and insubstantial. The sick person should realize that God has given this opportunity to come to a deeper and richer appreciation of life.
2) The sick person who does not complain, but accepts illness patiently and takes refuge in God - that person is actually worshiping God. For worship is of two kinds: there is active worship, such as the daily namaz that one prays, or the Ramadan fast. Then there is what might be called passive worship, which consists of those periods of illness where the believer is simply aware of one’s own weakness and powerlessness and of God’s power and compassion. By submitting to God’s will and trusting in God’s power to heal, the invalid is performing a very pleasing form of worship to God.
3) Illness is an occasion for the believer to give witness that we are not on this earth to enjoy ourselves. We are here to work hard and prepare an everlasting life. Moreover, sickness is a reminder of death. Heedless people, whose attention is fixated on a trivial pursuit of pleasure and success, do not want to think about death. Illness forces one to reflect on more serious questions of what life is all about.
4) Your body, its members and functions, do not belong to you. It belongs to God who provides for it in God’s own time and manner. Sickness is an occasion to learn that one’s body is not a private possession to be disposed of according to one’s whims, but is subject to the decrees of its true Owner and Provider.
5) Sickness can make people more mindful of their dissolute habits and of their duties to God. Illness is a time for waking up to what life is really about. For many sick people, Nursi states, the time of sickness is a privileged occasion of God’s grace leading to conversion; for them, “illness is good health, while for some of their peers good health is a sickness.”
6) Sickness brings into sharp relief the previous times of good health and should lead one to thank God for such moments of happiness. Rather than giving in to bitterness and despair, the sick should reflect on the transient nature of their illness and place their hopes in God who will eventually restore the person to new times of good health and enjoyment.
6 bis) Sickness reminds one that our bodies are not indestructible, we have no claim to immortality. By shattering the “myth of invincibility,” illness is an antidote to natural human pride and an invitation to recognize humbly one’s powerlessness before God.
7) Illness makes a person appreciate the great blessing involved in good health. Those who enjoy good health constantly are not able to value properly what they have. Good health is a wonderful blessing of God, but in order that people appreciate it fully, God allows illness to afflict people from time to time.
8) Sick people tend to bemoan their fate, but the really serious diseases are those of the soul, those that arise from unbelief and disobedience. By patiently accepting one’s illness and placing one’s trust in God, the sick person is actually distancing himself from these greater and more eternally threatening diseases.
9) Much of the anxiety felt by the sick is based on a fear of death. The believer, however, can overcome this fear by reflecting on the good things that await a person at death: rejoining friends and relations, returning to one’s true homeland, accepting the invitation to the gardens of Paradise extended to those who remain faithful to God. By concentrating on what faith teaches about the reward awaiting steadfast believers, the invalid can come to accept death as a reality that need not be feared.
10) Many sick people make their situation worse by worrying about it constantly. The only way to stop excessive worry is to hand over one’s life and cares to God. God is wise and compassionate and powerful. A believer can find no better solution to the self-destructive tendency to worry than that of placing one’s trust in God, whereas obsessive anxiety is actually an accusation against God by implying that God is neither able nor willing to help.
11) This is an exhortation to remain patient and focused on the present moment. When the sick person thinks of the past, he should be grateful to God because he has been able to endure the illness up to this time. He should refrain from uselessly dwelling on future suffering, since that is something that does not exist and perhaps may never come to pass.
12) Sickness brings the benefit of knowing how much one is in need of God and how little one can count on one’s own strength. The sick person discovers one’s true significance and value in relation to the Creator. By pushing one to pray to God, sickness helps one to become aware that one’s true glory is to be found, not in what one might have accomplished in life, but in one’s very nature as creature of God.
13) Since no one knows one’s appointed hour of death, sickness is beneficial in that it reminds a person to be heedful. Because of their suffering in this life, sick people are led to reflect on the life to come. Sickness thus increases their fear of God and leads them to be faithful and obedient, thus acting as a good preparation for eternity.
14) The loss of physical sight enables one to see spiritual realities more clearly. Physical sight can act as a veil which blinds one from a contemplation of Paradise. Moe broadly, whatever one lacks in the physical world can be used by God to teach and enlighten the sick person about deeper spiritual truths.
15) If illness were not good, God would not have granted it to God’s most favored servants. Like the prophet Job, those holy people who suffer their illness as a kind of worship of God become, in a certain sense, martyrs. “They result in a degree of sainthood like martyrdom.” Moreover, by lessening one’s attachment to the world, sickness eases the pain of one’s departure from the world.
16) Illness makes one more compassionate. Constant good health can make one feel self-sufficient. Sickness shows people their own weakness and need for others. They grow in respect and affection for those who help them and visit them. As a result of their own miseries, they experience greater fellow-feeling and are more ready to be compassionate toward other sick people and to disaster victims.
17) Some sick people complain that their illness deprives them from the opportunity of performing good deeds. However, in reality their illness makes them an occasion for others to do good works by assisting and visiting them and by praying for them. Especially in the case of close relatives, caring for the sick is an important act of worship. When the sick person prays for healing, that person’s prayer is always heard and answered, but not always in the way the person seeks. However, the prayer, being sincere, is always acceptable to God.
18) Too often the sick person compares himself to those who are in good health and feels that his rights are being violated. However, the truth is that no one has the right to good health, which is a free gift from God. It is more advantageous to compare oneself to those who are worse off, so that one will be led to thank God that one’s health situation is not worse.
19) Life spent in permanent good health becomes monotonous and boring. It is change and variety in conditions of life that one can realize life’s value and come to appreciate its true pleasures.
20) People make their health worse by confusing real and imaginary illnesses and treating them in the same way. In the case of real sicknesses, one must follow the advice of conscientious, believing doctors. On the other hand, hypochondria should be given no importance for, if one dwells on it, one’s morale is destroyed and one is in danger of actually damaging one’s health through excessive concentration on the imagined illness.
21) The invalid should try to identify and enjoy the pleasures that come with illness, such as the signs of affection and human kindness that come from friends and relatives and the opportunity to rest from taxing duties. If one focuses on such pleasures, the pain of sickness will seem less burdensome.
22) Illness reminds people of the fleeting nature of human life in this world. Through belief and submission to God, one can reap spiritual benefit from even the most serious illness.
23) One who feels lonely and abandoned in time of sickness should contemplate the compassionate presence of the Creator. The loneliness felt by a faithful believer in time of illness is not true loneliness. True loneliness, which no human medicine can cure, is separation from God, but the believer who has faith in God’s healing presence is never really alone.
24) This remedy is directed toward care givers. Those who tend sick children and elderly should be aware that transient childhood illnesses are granted by God to build character in the child and are an integral part of the child’s natural growth. Those who care for elderly parents will reap a special reward from God, both in this life and in the hereafter; care for aged parents is a form of worship especially pleasing to God.
25) Believers should take advantage of their illness to deepen their faith in God. Illness should be an occasion to cut down one’s appetites, grow in heedfulness and reflection, and to deepen one’s prayer life.
Nursi concludes his treatise by praying for the sick: “May God restore you to health and make your illnesses atonement for sins. Amen.”33
8. Said Nursi’s spirituality
Nursi’s attitude toward physical illness should have become clear from this summary of the remedies proposed, and from them one can glean insights into his spirituality. For Nursi, sickness is a human reality which, like all human realities, should lead the believer to God. The frailty of the body is a forceful argument against all human tendencies toward self-sufficiency and complacent self-satisfaction. The sick person must confront a harsh but ultimately liberating reality, that one can do nothing to heal oneself, but must submit to what God ordains.
Nursi’s appeals to the sick person to accept one’s illness must not be construed as some kind of fatalism or defeatist passivity. He is very clear that when one is ill, that person must follow the prescriptions and advice of a well-trained doctor, must take proper care of oneself, and must pray for healing.34 However, medical science cannot guarantee immediate cures and in many cases cannot bring about any improvement in fighting the disease. However, by working together with medical science, religious faith can often produce results that are impossible for the unbeliever. By accepting the fact that one is in the hands of a loving and compassionate God, the believer can overcome natural anxieties and attain peace of mind, which physicians agree to be the emotional and psychological state most conducive to bodily healing.
Moreover, Nursi is not guilty of romanticizing the sick person. In saying that “sickness makes one more compassionate,” or “the sick person comes to a richer understanding of life,” Nursi is not claiming that sickness gives people an inside track to virtue or that greater understanding and loving compassion are the automatic results of illness. What he is saying is that God can and does produce spiritual fruits such as compassion and understanding in the sick person who cooperates with God’s grace, who submits to God’s decrees, and who patiently accepts his condition without complaining or accusing the Creator. For such a person, God is able to use the time of illness to make that person more compassionate, for example, or to understand better what is really important in life.
Nursi sees that for someone without faith, the time of illness is often regarded as time wasted, an aberration from “normal” life when productive activity becomes impossible, an unhappy situation when pain, fear and anxiety threaten to eliminate joy from life, a bitter condition where frustration, anger and resentment can make a person irritable and disagreeable to others, a time of loneliness and alienation when one is tempted to despair and misery. However, faith in God provides the sick person with spiritual resources with which to transform the spiritual context of the illness. When the sick person is aware that he is worshiping God by his very act of submission and humility, this precludes his thinking of sickness as time wasted. By realizing that his life is in the hands of a just and compassionate God, he can overcome fear of death and obsessive worry about his state of health. Reflecting on the loving presence of God the Healer brings hope to the sick person and can prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness from leading to depression and despair. Rather than dwelling on pain and loss, the invalid should see the time of sickness as an opportunity, a chance to learn spiritual truths which would otherwise be hidden from him.
By allowing the basic teachings of the Qur’an to shape one’s attitudes and reactions to this most common of human hardships, Nursi offers a spirituality that is practical and suited to the needs of ordinary believers. With the advice he offers, he shows his followers how the unhappy condition of illness can be transformed by God’s guidance into an opportunity and occasion for spiritual growth and deeper submission to God’s will.
1 The Flashes, 25th Flash “For the Sick,” p. 269.
2 Nursi refers to “sicknesses of the spirit, mind, and heart” but often uses the terms interchangeably. In this paper, I will make no attempt to distinguish between these terms. Cf. The Flashes, 11th Flash, p. 87.
3 Said Nursi, The Rays, The Fourteenth Ray, p. 441.
4 The Words, “A Flower of Emirdag,” p. 474. Cf. Also, The Rays, Conclusion to 10th Topic, p. 272.
5 The Letters, “Seeds of Reality,” p. 549.
6 The Letters, 29th Letter, 6th Section, p. 495.
7 The Rays, 15th Ray, 1st Station, p. 587.
8 The Flashes, 6th Flash, p. 44, 11th Flash, p. 80.
9 The Words, 21st Word, 2nd Station, pp. 281-283.
10 The Words, “Gleams,” p. 753; The Letters, 22nd Letter, 1st Topic, p. 317.
11 The Flashes, 21st Flash “On Sincerity,” p. 220.
12 The Letters, 26th Letter, 4th Topic, p. 387.
13 The Letters, 5th Letter, p. 41.
14 The Words, 20th Word, 2nd Station, p. 263.
15 The Words, 32nd Word, p. 682.
16 The Rays, 2nd Ray, 1st Station, p. 16.
17 The Flashes, 24th Flash, p. 265.
18 The Rays, 15th Ray “The Shining Proof,” p. 614.
19 The Flashes, 24th Flash, p. 260.
20 The Letters, 28th Letter, 7th Matter, p. 440. Cf. also The Letters, 28th Letter, p. 423 and The Rays, 7th Ray, p. 124.
21 The Flashes, 26th Flash “For the Elderly,” p. 289.
22 The Rays, 15th Ray “The Shining Proof,” 2nd Station, p. 622.
23 The Flashes, 26th Flash “For the Elderly,” p. 310.
24 The Flashes, 26th Flash “For the Elderly,” p. 289. Cf. a similar passage in The Rays: “Once, when a period of heedlessness coincided with my being shaken by various indispositions like old age, exile, illness, and defeat, I was overcome by a grievous anxiety that my very existence, to which I was intensely attached and by which I was captivated, would cease to be. Again I had recourse to the verse: For us God suffices.” The Rays, 4th Ray, p. 78.
25 The Flashes, 24th Flash, p. 260.
26 The Rays, 14th Ray, p. 475.
27 The Words, 13th Word, 2nd Station, p. 156. Cf. also, The Damascus Sermon, p. 130.
28 The Words, “Gleams,” p. 754.
29 The Flashes, 2nd Flash, Points 2-5, pp. 23-26.
30 The Words, 22nd Word, 2nd Station, p. 301.
31 The Flashes, 2nd Flash, 5th Point, p. 26.
32 The remedies are numbered 1-25, but there are two separate remedies under #6.
33 The Flashes, 25th Flash, p. 285.
34 The Flashes, 25th Flash, p. 282.