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Theodicy and Justice in Modern Islamic Thought: The Case of Said Nursi (review)

By Nazif Muhtaroǧlu

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 62, Number 4, October 2012
pp. 608-610 | 10.1353/pew.2012.0058

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This book is a collection of seventeen essays written by fifteen authors on Said Nursi's ideas concerning theodicy and justice. There is a significant portion of comparative analysis of Nursi's thought with thinkers of considerable renown, such as Thomas Merton, Jürgen Moltmann, Dante, Kant, and Russell from the Western tradit ion and also with al-Shahid al-Thani from the Eastern. There are also papers dealing with themes in Nursi's work such as resurrection, justice, natural disasters, and animal pain. One of the main weaknesses of this book is its failure to include anything that sufficiently and systematically analyzes Nursi's ideas on metaphysical, physical, and moral evil. There is nothing pertaining to his views on human free will, a significant deficiency for a book aiming to explain Nursi's theodicy. The themes that the book mainly discusses are resurrection and justice. I would like to point out some noteworthy aspects of the analyses within the book regarding these two themes.

First of all, Nursi claimed to have proved the reality of resurrection and the Hereafter. This claim is extraordinary in the face of the orthodox trends in both Western and Islamic philosophies. There are many references in the book to his arguments on this issue, but there is no paper in which the logical structures of his main arguments are exposed completely. Some general tenets underpinning his arguments are mentioned: that this world cannot come into existence out of pure chance and that everything within it indicates God with His names, that this world necessitates the existence of the Hereafter, and that God's beautiful names play a crucial role in proving it. Nevertheless, there are many missing premises and no fully systematic exposition of them. This is understandable to a certain extent because the style of Nursi's written work has its own rhetorical character. His arguments are often mixed with analogies, examples, and parables. The tone of the text addresses not only the reason of the reader but also his emotions and motivations to act. This rhetorical style has value in itself, as emphasized by Dale F. Eickelman, in enabling the reader to "interpret the allegories continuously and apply them to new circumstances as well as to facilitate the understanding of his message in different social and historical contexts" (p. 136). However, this style veils the logical structure of his arguments and requires much more of the reader to understand it.

While this may seem to be a drawback of the text, it is beneficial in terms of requiring an extraordinary care to focus on the text. Nursi warns his readers not to read his books as they would read newspapers. In this regard, Leo de Lefebure's claim that Nursi does not offer "the type of philosophical, metaphysical reasoning that is usually designated 'proof' in Western philosophy" (p. 107) is understandable. However, his contention that "Nursi never offers the rigorous mode of argumentation that Western philosophy considers logically compelling" (p. 110) is an unjustified claim stemming from a superficial reading of Nursi. The inability to clearly and completely expose the structure of Nursi's arguments on resurrection has led many authors to consider his remarks on this issue to be mere reasonable steps based on faith rather than proofs. In other words, they may help the believer to strengthen their belief in the Hereafter but cannot convince an unbeliever. A careful reading reveals that this is not what Nursi had in mind in assembling his arguments, and more substantive studies are needed to shed light on this issue.

Second, Nursi sees a close connection between the universe and human nature following the Sufi interpretation of the former as macrocosm and the latter as microcosm. This is especially apparent in his analysis of justice and was emphasized by several authors. For instance, Bilal Kuspinar (pp. 227-239) draws attention to Nursi's interpretation of justice as balance and order in the universe by calling it...