SAID NURSI WROTE AL-MATHNAWI AL-NURI BEFORE THE MAIN PART of the Risale-i Nur collection. In this book, each thought reveals itself as a shoot, a drop, a bud that would become like a bubbling stream, a perfumed rose garden, a forest murmuring with majesty. They stimulated and excited Muslims’ feelings based on belief and meditation, and led many unbelievers to re-evaluate their opinions.
He says that the greatest truths are belief and God’s absolute Unity. To him, all existence is like a shuttle weaving Unity’s truth, a needle and silk thread crocheting lace, embroidered everywhere with meanings belonging to Him. But everyone cannot grasp, understand, and feel Unity to the same degree:
Belief in God’s Unity has two degrees. The first is the superficial belief that God has no partners and that the universe belongs to Him alone. Such believers may be susceptible to deviation and confusion. The second is the firm conviction that God is One, that everything belongs to Him exclusively, and that only He creates. Such believers see His seal and observe His stamp on all things. Free from all doubt, they feel themselves always and everywhere in His Presence. Their conviction cannot be diluted by deviation or doubt.
Writing that belief is like a prism revealing the true dimensions of the nature of existence and humanity, he says in the Eleventh Ray’s ninth point that belief makes the universe a readable book and an enjoyable show, and humanity an index and proclamation. Although all facets of belief’s truth might appear as separate if they are sensed, perceived, and felt differently, in reality they are tightly connected and different faces of the whole:
Belief in God, the Prophet, Resurrection, and affirming the universe’s existence require mutual belief. That is, there is a perfect relation between these pillars of belief: believing one requires believing the others. Divinity requires Messengership; this world testifies to the other world.
Said Nursi observes in the Risale-i Nur’s Thirtieth Word and Gleams that people who have no depth in their spiritual and emotional lives, who take too much interest in mental and philosophical matters, have a “disease” in their hearts (the center of belief and emotions) that makes them ill.
I have observed that the more people are preoccupied with philosophy, the more their hearts suffer from spiritual disease. I also have observed that the greater this spiritual disease of the heart becomes, the more people are preoccupied with rational sciences. Spiritual diseases lead to preoccupation with rational sciences, and preoccupation with rational sciences gives rise to spiritual diseases.
Another original observation is that while causes must be respected, attributing real influence to them is an aberration and deviation. The true way is to respect them and attribute the result to God, as stated in The Twenty-fourth Word’s first branch.
KNOW, O FRIEND, that attachment to material causes engenders humiliation and rejection. Consider this: Why are dogs, which should be considered blessed due to their many good qualities (notably their proverbial loyalty), considered ritually unclean? Why are other domestic animals, such as hens, cows, and cats, which feel no gratitude and loyalty in return for the we do to them, considered blessed? This is because—provided it is not to backbite dogs and break their hearts— dogs are greedy and so attached to apparent causes that they cannot see the true Bestower of Bounties. Thus, they suppose the means to be truly effective [in procuring their food], and so suffer the stigma of ritual impurity as punishment for their blindness and indifference to the true Owner and Giver of Bounties.
Blessed animals do not recognize means and causes or give them any value or importance. Cats ask for food and, when they get what they want, behave as if they do not know you or you do not know them. They feel no gratitude toward you. Instead, they thank the true Giver of Bounties by saying: “O Compassionate One, O Compassionate One.”
Said Nursi also stresses living in the Sunna’s orbit, reminding Muslims, as do all Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘a scholars,11 that the Prophet is a perfect guide and that only his Sunna leads to happiness in both worlds. He also calls us to unite in the Sunna. A life not based on the Sunna is more like revolving around a whirlpool’s edge. Even if it appears to be like swimming and making progress, in reality it is nothing more than sliding toward death:
KNOW, O FRIEND, that I have observed during my journeying in the “layers of darkness” that the Prophet’s sayings and practices, as well as the principles of Islamic law, are like stars that guide us among innumerable dark and misleading ways. Deviating from his way or Tradition [the Sunna] makes one a plaything of devils, an object of illusion and suspicion, a target of fear, and a mountain of unbearable burdens. Deliverance from such things comes only from following the Sunna.
I have also observed that the Sunna’s principles are like ropes hanging down from heaven. Whoever holds fast to even a part of them can be elevated. Whoever opposes them and relies on their own or even public reason is like one who desires to obtain the means of traveling through the heavens’ spheres in earthly vehicles and is ridiculed like Pharaoh, who said: O Haman. Build for me a tower to obtain the means [of traveling] in the heavens (40:36).
This subject is frequently mentioned in the Risale-i Nur collection. In particular, the Eleventh Gleam’s Third Point discusses it and emphasizes that following the Sunna is the path of God.
Said Nursi puts forth an original idea concerning our relations with and view of the world: The world is not something to be disliked, but rather to be loved. He reminds us of the three elements comprising the basic principles of this love:
The world has three facets. The first relates to God’s Names. With respect to its second facet, the world is the arable field of the Hereafter. These two facets are beautiful. The third facet relates directly and exclusively to the world itself, and is where people gratify their bodily desires and seek to meet the needs of this transient worldly life.
In a related approach, these words greet us later on:
What falls to one’s part from life’s fruits and purposes is proportionate to the degree of one’s part in the ownership and disposal of one’s life. Other purposes and fruits pertain to the Giver of Life, may His Majesty be exalted. Humanity is but the object of His Names’ manifestations. God will display His Mercy’s colors and radiations, which will consist of the fruits growing from the seeds of this worldly life, in Paradise.
The relation of human beings with their individual lives is like that between a navigator and the royal ship he steers. The navigator places his fingers on the instruments that move and steer the ship. What he receives from the ship’s uses and income is proportionate to his relation with the ship and the service he renders. In other words, it is quite small. This is exactly how it is with any living being and the ship of its existence and life. What a living being receives from its life’s uses and purposes is quite small; moreover, what is received has not been earned [but bestowed by the Giver of Life].
Said Nursi further observed that seeing and accepting human beings as greater than they really are is an act of oppression and a step toward idolatry. One who takes this first step may not be able to turn back in some circumstances:
KNOW, O FRIEND, that people unjustly attribute the fruits of a group’s labor to a single person and assume that that individual has produced those fruits. From this injustice arises a kind of secret association of partners with God, for assuming that the result of a community’s labor and the product of their free will has originated from a single person means accepting that that person has an extraordinary power which has reached the degree of creativity. The deities of ancient Greece and other pagan peoples were devised from such devilish assumptions.
Later on, he states that belief is a secret source of strength. Those who possess this source can possess worlds, and through dependence on God realized with belief, individuals can make everything serve them:
Those who submit to God’s Will and pursue His pleasure are served by everything; those who disobey God find that everything turns against them. Those who affirm that whatever exists belongs to Him exclusively and is His property, find that everything serves them.
The Qur’anic verse: Say: “If it weren’t for your prayers, of what significance are you?” proves this truth. Just as a child who cannot reach something asks for help, a servant should take refuge in the Lord with helplessness and need and ask Him for everything. This subject is described in great detail in The Twenty-third Word’s fourth and fifth points.
Prophet Muhammad is of the nature of the universe’s basis, essence, and root. Every point in the universe contains the truth of his light. Just as the spirit and meaning in a seed are found in the body of a tree and shoot, he is a mirror to the First and the Last with respect to his light, which comprises the essence of existence. The Thirty-first Word’s third principle and the Tenth Word’s second part of the addendum spread before the eye of our hearts a special depth and richness on this wonderful subject:
If you see the universe as a great book, you will see the light of Muhammad as the pen’s ink with which that book was written. If you see the universe as a tree, you will see his light as originally its seed and consequently its fruit. If you see the universe as an animate being, you will see his light as its soul. If you see the universe as a macro-human, you will see his light as its intellect. If you see the universe as a flower garden, you will see his light as its nightingale. If you see the universe as a lofty, richly decorated castle with many rooms and apartments showing the splendor of the Eternal Sovereign’s sovereignty and His Glory’s marvels, as well as the beauties of His Grace’s manifestations and the wonderful designs of His art, you will see Prophet Muhammad’s light as a spectator.
According to Said Nursi, nature’s and humanity’s essential character is twofold: a deceiving idol and a secret prism showing the eternal Artist and eternal truth. For the spiritually prepared and aware, both nature as a richly embroidered art work and humanity as a crystal prism are unerring books, eloquent speakers, sources of light illuminating the realm behind the visible world. The Thirtieth Word’s first aim approaches this subject with a unique breadth and richness, while the Twenty-third Gleam, “The Treatise on Nature,” makes it impossible to idolize nature. He puts this observation in the form of a victory song:
For 30 years I have fought two “rebels”: the ego and nature in the outer world. I have seen the former as a shadowy mirror reflecting someone other than itself. But people view it as having an independent existence, showing itself and so becoming an unbending tyrant in rebellion against its Creator.
I have seen nature as a work of Divine art, a painting of the All-Merciful. However, as a result of viewing it heedlessly (i.e., ignoring the Creator), it has come to be seen by materialists as a deity, self-originated and existing by itself, and made into an excuse for an ingratitude resulting in unbelief.
Thanks be to God and praise be to Him, for through the help of the One, Eternally-Besought-of-All, and the enlightenment of the glorious Qur’an, my struggle has ended in the death of these two rebels, the smashing of these two idols.
In the Second Gleam’s first point, Said Nursi portrays sins as the reconnoitering hands of unbelief, nets on the road of unbelief. In places where they are seen frequently, thought “sets sail” for immorality and belief is confronted with danger:
The seed of unbelief is present in the essence of sins, especially those that are committed frequently, for such sins lead to indifference. This attitude leads to addiction, which can be remedied only by abandoning the sin. Those who indulge in sin seek to avoid punishment and so, unconsciously, try to find an excuse to believe in the non-existence of eternal torment. This continues until they deny eternal torment and the abode of punishment. Also, the shame arising from indulging in this sin with no feelings of remorse or seeking God’s forgiveness leads them to deny that the sin is really a sin. This leads to the denial of the existence of those beings—like guardian angels—who oversee people and are aware of their sins. Due to the resulting shame’s intensity, the sinners wish for there to be no reckoning in the other world. When they encounter even a false argument for its non-existence, they take it as a strong proof and deny the final reckoning. Thus their hearts gradually become darker and darker. May God save us from such a consequence. Amen.
Said Nursi sought a deeper understanding of the Qur’an. In a line extending from Isharat al-I‘jaz (Signs of the Qur’an’s Miraculousness) to the Mathnawi and to The Words (particularly the Twenty-fifth Word), he breathed the Qur’an. With new and original interpretations, he frequently displayed its depth and excited thirsty hearts by making Divine truths easily understandable.
In The Twenty-fifth Word, the analysis attains a wonderful state. Its elaboration of what is summarized here in the Mathnawi is like an ocean to a drop, a forest to a seedling. Soon after this brief reminder, a new topic pertaining to the Qur’an whispers to us as if through a door slightly opened and then passes on.
While listening to the Qur’an, each of its melodies assumes a new attitude and mood according to its audience’s degrees of guidance. Try to assume the mood of intermediaries ranging from Gabriel, who brought it to the Prophet, to the one from whom you hear it directly. While listening to the reciter, try to hear it as if listening to the Prophet reciting it at the summit of Prophethood to humanity and other beings throughout the world. Then, assume the manner of Gabriel while he recites it to the Prophet on the “highest horizon.” Finally, if possible, try to hear it as if listening to it from behind 70,000 veils from the Eternally Speaking One, Who speaks to the Prophet at “the distance of two bows’ length.”
Al-Mathnawi al-Nuri resembles an index of many topics, each requiring a separate book, and each of which would be elaborated upon in the Risale-i Nur. Under “Flower,” in notes that would later be discussed in the Risale-i Nur, many important truths are summarized. The “Spark” is like a tiny seedbed of piety and good works that questions our worldly emotions, directs our thoughts to Divine Unity, and shows belief’s vastness. The “Whiff” touches our hearts and points out the depth and richness of the Qur’anic verses. It discusses why human organs were created, and thereby removes habits that can be considered “crust on our eye of discernment.”
The third part of the “Whiff” analyzes Divine Destiny and Decree and the Law of Sparing, and reveals why Qur’anic verses end as they do. Immediately after that we are offered a path to the Truth, one that differs from earlier paths. The offer is made, and our attention is turned to our essential weakness and poverty. A little further on, our unique creation is pointed to, and we are reminded that humanity is an index of existence. After that, our attention is turned to prayer, which is analyzed in great detail in several parts of the Risale-i Nur. The meaning of God’s answering prayers is explained, and our desire to supplicate is excited. Also explained is the difference between self-pride and our proclaiming God’s blessings upon ourselves as a sign of gratitude to Him.
The “Fourteenth Droplet” discusses the Qur’an’s basic issues and essential purposes, which the Risale-i Nur considers pivotal subjects. Under “Radiance,” we are led through the vastness of the Divine Existence, whose “proper” name is Allah, and given a unique knowledge of Him. Elsewhere, the reader is introduced to grace and intercession, which can be considered active prayer. After showing the significance of soil as an element through which God manifests His Names, the concept of humility, or being like the soil upon which one prostrates before God, is raised. Here it is stressed that “a servant is closest to his Lord when prostrating.”
Under “Point,” in the name of the Divine Essence which Said Nursi frequently discusses, a fourth important universal proof is added to the existing three.12 This proof deals with the human conscience, which is regarded as the meeting point of the Unseen and the visible, material world. The impossibility of evolution, mutation, and leaping from one species to another is stressed. Basing his arguments on sound thought, Said Nursi rejects evolution.
It is our earnest desire that these works be examined in depth by members of an institute entrusted with the task of studying the Risale-i Nur.
— M. Fethullah Gülen
11 Those who follow the Prophetic example and the community of the Companions.
12 The universe, the Qur’an, and Prophet Muhammad.