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Bediuzzaman And The Risale-i Nur (2)
Oct 1, 1996

In order to comprehend the quality and main characteristic of the Risale-i Nur, the following experience of Dr Turner of Durham University. U.K. is worth quoting at length. Dr Turner writes:

As someone born and raised in Britain. I am often asked what we as Muslims have to offer to the West. But before I answer, I should like to ask a question myself: Are we Muslims because we believe in God Almighty, or do we believe in God because we are Muslims?

The question occurred to me during a march through the streets of London, over a decade ago, to protest against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. I’d made a formal conversion to Islam several years prior to this, and it wasn’t my first demonstration. There were banners and placards and much shouting and chanting. Towards the end of the demonstration I was approached by a young man who introduced himself as someone: interested in Islam. ‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘but what is the meaning of La ilaha illa Allah?’

Without a moments hesitation I answered. There is no god but Allah.’

‘I’m not asking you to translate it.’ he said. ‘I’m asking you to tell me what it really means.’ There was a long awkward silence as it dawned on me that I was unable to answer him.

You are no doubt thinking. ‘What kind of Muslim is it that does not know the real meaning of La ilaha illa Allah’?’ To this I would have to say: a typical one. That evening I pondered my ignorance: being in the majority didn’t help, it simply made me more depressed.

Islam simply made sense, in a way that nothing else ever had. It had rules of government, it had an economic system, it had regulations concerning every facet of day-to-day existence. It was egalitarian and addressed to all races, and it was clear and easy to understand. Oh, and it has a God, One God, in whom I had always vaguely believed. That was that. I said La ilaha illa Allah and I was part of the community. For the first time in my life I belonged.

New converts are invariably enthusiastic to know as much as possible about their religion in the shortest possible time. In the few years that followed, my library grew rapidly. There was so much to learn, and so many books ready to teach. Books on the history of Islam, the economic system of Islam, the concept of government in Islam: countless manuals of Islamic jurisprudence, and best of all, hooks on Islam and revolution, on how Muslims were to rise tip and establish Islamic governments, Islamic republics. When I returned to Britain in early ‘79 from my trip to the Middle east to learn the meaning of La ilaha illa Allah. I was ready to introduce Islam to the West.

It was to these books that I turned for an answer to the question ‘What is the meaning of La ilaha illa Allah? ‘ Again I was disappointed. The books were about Islam, not about Allah. They covered every subject you could possibly imagine except for the one which really mattered. I put the question to the imam at the university mosque. He made an excise and left. Then a brother who had overheard my impertinent question to the imam came over and said: I have a tafsir of La ilaha illa Allah. If you like we could read ii together. I imagined that it would be ten or twenty pages at the most. It turned out to have over 5000 pages, in several books. It was the Risale-i Nur by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi.

Bediuzzaman had seen that modern unbelief originated from science and philosophy, not from ignorance as previously. Paradoxically, the Muslims’ neglect of science and technology caused them to fall behind the West in economic and military fields. But the science and technology which had provided the West with the power to achieve military and economic superiortiy in the world, had caused Western people to lose their faith and traditional moral and spiritual values and fall into a great pessimism, unhappiness and spiritual crisis. This was natural because although the Divine laws of ‘nature’, which are the subject-matter of sciences. are the counterpart of the Divine Scripture or religion, they had been separated from each other in the West and, consequently, a secular morality and economic self-interest, had replaced religious and other traditional values. Bediuzzaman was of the opinion that nature is the collection of Divine signs and therefore science and religion cannot be conflicting disciplines. Rather, they are two (apparently) different expressions of the same truth. Minds should be enlightened with sciences, while hearts need to be illumined by religion.

In his heroic struggle to argue for the religious truths-Divine Existence and Unity. the Resurrection, Prophethood, Divine origin of the Qur’an, the Unseen World and its inhabitants or immaterial dimensions of existence, the necessity of worship, morality, the ontological character of man. etc.-Bediuzzaman first tried to strengthen Islam with modern Western philosophy. Later, he saw that this way meant degrading Islam and that the essentials of Islam were too deep for the principles of human philosophy to reach. He then returned to the Qur’an almost exclusively. He writes:

Thinkers accept the principles of human philosophy and the Western way of thinking and depend on them in their struggle against Europe. I too have filled my brain with the philosophical as well as the Islamic sciences. I thought the philosophical sciences were the means to spiritual progress and enlightenment, and was of the opinion that European way of thinking and philosophy could be used to reinforce and strengthen the truths of Islam. By grafting the shoots of philosophy, which we supposed deep-rooted, on the trunk of Islam, we imagined that could strengthen Islam. However, I have given up this way as it is very difficult and an improbable way to overcome the anti-Islamic trends, and since it means degrading Islam to some extent. The essentials of Islam arc too deep for the principles of philosophy to reach.

In the struggle with the opponents of Islam, in resisting, even overcoming, modern (materialistic trends of thought. the Qur’an sufficed:

While there is a permanent miracle like the Qur’an, searching for further proof appears to my mind superfluous;

While there is a, roof of reality like the Qur’an, would silencing those who deny it weigh heavily on my heart?

Although wholly lacking in any positive rational arguments, unbelief and atheism coming from science and philosophy are more difficult to deal with and remove from hearts than unbelief coming from ignorance. It is unquestionably evident that creation of the universe and establishment of the relations among parts of it, requires an absolute, all- encompassing knowledge and will and power, and that being a design, not a designer, being something printed, not a printer, being a passive object, not an active agent, being a collection of Divine laws, not the law-giver, nature cannot be the creator of itself. Similarly, causes or the law of causality, being no more than things of nominal existence without any knowledge, will and power, cannot be creators of things either. If we ask those who attribute creation to causality or causes what makes, for example, a flower, they will not be able to say water, earth and sunlight make it. They will not simply because they should first answer how earth or water or sunlight know what exactly to do, how they do that and what qualities they have that enable a flower to grow.

So, the Risale-i Nur removes the veil of ‘sorcery’ that materialist science has laid over creation. In the words of Dr Turner:

The Risale-i Nur affirms that anyone who sincerely wishes to look upon the created world as it is, and not as he wishes or imagines to be, must inevitably come to the conclusion La ilaha illa Allah. For he will see order and harmony, beauty and equilibrium, justice and mercy, lordship, sustenance and munificence: and at the same time he will realize that those attributes are pointing not to the created beings themselves but to a Reality in which all of these attributes exist in perfection and absoluteness. He will see that the created world is thus a book of names, an index, which seek to tell about its Owner.

The Risale-i Nur takes the interpretation of La ilaha illa Allah even further. The notion that it examines is that of causality, the cornerstone of materialism and the pillar upon which modem science has been constructed. Belief in causality gives rise to statements such as: It is natural: Nature created it; It happened by chance, and so on. With reasoned arguments, the Risale-i Nur explodes the myth of causality and demonstrates that those who adhere to this belief are looking at the cosmos not as it actually is, or how it appears to be, but how they would like to think it is.

The Risale-i Nur demonstrates that all beings, on all levels, are interrelated. interconnected and interdependent, like concentric or intersecting circles. It shows that beings come into existence as though from nowhere, and, during their brief lives, each with its own particular purpose, goal and mission, act as mirrors in which various Divine attributes, and countless configurations of Divine Names, are displayed- Consider this: When you stand by a river, you see countless images of the sun reflecting in the floating bubbles on it. When those bubbles enter into a tunnel, the images are no longer seen. However, other bubbles coming to the point where you stand will also show the same reflections, and when they also go into the tunnel, the reflections will disappear. This evidently demonstrates that those images do not belong to the bubbles themselves: bubbles can not own them. Rather, by rellecting its images, the bubbles show the sun’s existence, and through their disapperance in the tunnel, they demonstrate their transience vis A vis the permanence of the sun- It is just like this that through their coming into life, impotence and contingence, their total dependence on factors other than themselves, beings demonstrate beyond doubt that they owe their existence to One who necessarily exists, creates and has power over all things, and that through their transience and death. They show the permanence of that One. The materialists, however, see things differently-they do not see different things. They ask us to believe that this cosmos, whose innate order and harmony they do not deny, is ultimately the work of chance. Of chaos and disorder, of sheer accident. They then ask us to believe that this cosmos is sustained by the mechanistic interplay of causes- whatever they may be and not even the materialists know for sure-causes which are themselves created, impotent ,ignorant, transient and purposeless, but which somehow contrive, through laws which appeared out of nowhere, to produce the orderly works of art of symphonies of harmony and equilibrium that we see and hear around us.

The Risale-i Nur destroys these myths and superstitions. Given that all things are interconnected, it reiterates, whatever it is that brings existence to the seed of a flower must also be responsible for the flower itself, as well as for the apparent causes of the flower’s existence such as air, water, sunlight and earth: and given their interdependence, whatever brings into existence the flower must also be responsible for the tree: and given the fact that they are interrelated, whatever brings into existence the tree must also be responsible For the forest, and so on. Thus to be able to create a single atom, one must also be able to create the whole cosmos. That is surely a tall order for a cause which is deaf and blind, and impotent, transient, dependent and devoid of knowledge of our purpose.

The attribution of creative power to Nature or natural laws is no more than a personal opinion reached not as the result of an objective, scientific investigation. Similarly, denial of the Creator of the cosmos, who has placed apparent causes there as veils to cover His hand of power for certain important purposes, is not an act of reason but an act of will. In short, causality is a crude and cunning device with which man distributes the property of the Almighty Creator among the created in order that he might set himself up as absolute owner and ruler of all that he has, and all that he is.

Inspired by the verse La ilaha illa Allah, the Risale-i Nur shows that the signs of God, these mirrors of His Names and attributes, are revealed to us constantly in new and ever- changing forms and configurations, eliciting acknowledgement,acceptance,submission, love and worship. The Risale-i Nur shows that there is a distinct process involved in becoming Muslim in the true sense of the word: contemplation to knowledge, knowledge to affirmation, affirmation to belief or conviction, and from conviction to submission. And since each new moment, each new day, sees the revelation of fresh aspects of Divine truth, this process is a continuous one. The external practices of Islam, the formal acts of worship, also contribute to this process. Belief is therefore subject to increase or decrease, or strengthening or weakening, depending on the continuance of the process. Thus it is the reality of belief that deserves most of our attention; from there the realities of Islam will follow on inevitably.

The Risale-i Nur also concentrates on the ontological character of man. Each of us is born in total ignorance: the desire to know ourselves and our world is an innate one. Thus “Who am I? Where did I come from’? What is this place in which I find myself? What is my duty here? Who is responsible for bringing me into existence? What is that which life and death ask of us?”-these are questions which each of us needs to answer and answers in his own way, either through direct observation or through blind acceptance of the answers suggested by others. And how one lives one’s life, the criterion by which one acts in this world, depends totally on the nature of those answers. According to the Risale-i Nur, all the answers given to these questions, by which each of us determines his own way of living and world-view, are given by either the Divine Revelation manifested in the form of Divine Religions or the ego of everyone. History records the conflicts between these two flows of human life or these two main branches of the tree of humanity, namely religion and human ego. Rejecting to follow the Divine Revelation, ego claims self-ownership in haughtiness, appropriating for itself whatever is given to it by the Creator, and attributing to itself all the accomplishments God Almighty confers on it. This, however, results in the abjection, wretchedness and unhappiness of man. This branch of humanity has so far yielded the fruits of Pharaohs, Nimrods, Neros and other tyrants and those who, having given in to their carnal desires, have themselves gone astray and misled others. Opposite to this branch is the branch on which the Prophets, saints, and other examples of virtuousness have grown. This branch lies in one’s being conscious of one’s servanthood, whose power lies in acknowledgement of one’s inherent weakness before God Almighty’ absolute Power, and whose wealth lies in admission of one’s inherent poverty before His riches. It also requires deep devotion and worship in absolute thankfulness, together with continous reflection on His signs in the universe, and a never-ending enthusiasm in preaching His religion. The Risale-i Nur is no less than a guided tour of the cosmos, as well as of man’s inner world, and the traveller is one who is seeking answers to the questions above, and indeed finds them.

Dr Turner continues:

The secular, self-aborted society of the West is designed on all levels to blind and stupefy

. To mask the fact that the religion of the self has failed to live up to its promises; that the secular trinity of “unlimited progress, absolute freedom and unrestricted happiness” is as meaningless as Trinity discarded centuries ago. To cover up the fact that economic and scientific progress which has secular humanism as its underlying ethos, has turned the West into a spiritual wasteland and ravaged generation after generation. Yet there are those who are beginning to awake, to realize the illusion under which they have been living. It is to these that the disease of ego must he pointed out. One suffering from cancer cannot be cured by giving him a new coat. Yet it is not only modern Western man suffering from this disease, it is common to almost all in the world. What is needed is a correct diagnosis, radical surgery and constant back-up treatment. The Risale-i Nur provides all of these. The Risale-i Nur envisages a revolution, a revolution of the mind, of the heart, of the soul and the spirit. It is designed to lead Muslims from belief by imitation to belief through investigation, study of nature and man’s inner self and reflection on them, and worship, and through further intellectual enlightenment. It also aims to lead unbelievers from worship of the self to worship of God Almighty.

The Risale-i Nur is according to Dr Turner, the only self- contained, comprehensive Islamic work that sees the cosmos as it actually is presents the reality of belief as it truly is interpretes the Qur’an as the Prophet upon him he peace and blessings, intended, diagnoses the real and very dangerous disesases that afflict modern man, and offers a cure. The Risale-i Nur also covers almost everything related to the essentials of belief, worship and morality, and it provides all the necessary criteria for understanding Islam and the Qur’an in the world we live in. A work such as the Risale-i Nur, which reflects the light of the Qur’an and illuminates the cosmos and man’s inner world, cannot be ignored.

The language of the Risale-i Nur

Before discussing the unique language of the Risale-i Nur, we had better have a look at the style of the Qur’an.

Although there is no problem of any theological value, theoretical or practical, which the Qur’an has not dealt with, and it surpasses all scriptual records of pre and post Islamic ages in the abundant variety of its contents, its method of approach, presentation is exclusive and unique to itself. It never deals with a topic in the way ordinarily used by any author of a theological treatise or even in any (as was once conjectured) apostolic writings. On the contrary it expressly says that it has adopted a special manifold method of its own which may be termed as tasrifi. i.e. display of varieties or changing the topics and shifting from one subject to another or reverting to the previous one and repeating deliberately and purposefully one and the same subject in unique and peculiar rythmic and recitative forms to facilitate the understanding, learning and remembering of it.

The display of varities linked together with a rythm of peculiar pitch is to show forth the signs of the Unity of God. The Qur’an aims to stir up the depth of human intellect to reflect on the unity in variety and harmony in diversity. Through this unique style of its, the Qur’an also shows the interrelatedness, interdependence and interconnectedness of things in the universe. As three ‘books’ of God Almighty, the universe, the Qur’an and man are regarded as the three expressions of the same truth. For this reason, the universe is called macrocosm, while man, microcosm. However, we also call the universe macro-human being and man, micro-universe.

It is a fact that the holy Qur’an deals in its different chapters, each of which has it own rythmic patterns, with different topics in different ways, and this variety adds to its unique beauty and matchless eloquence. An attentive reciter or an intelligent audience of the holy Qur’an while experiencing these varieties of rythmical pattern, enjoy it to the extent that ‘the skins of those who fear their Lord shiver with the recitatio of it and their hearts soften to the remembrance of God’.

In order to judge the language and style of the Risale-i Nur, we should consider the style of the Qur’an and the mission of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. Bediuzzaman was not a writer in the usual sense of the word. He wrote because he had a mission: he struggled against the materialistic and atheistic trends of thought fed by science and philosophy and tried to present the truths of Islam to modem minds and hearts of every level of understanding. Bediuzzaman was a preacher and therefore, rather than writing, he spoke and dictated. It is because of this that some parts of the Risale-i Nur were written in quite a short time. For example, the Nineteenth Letter, called the Miracles of Muhammad, which covers about more than one hundred pages as written in ten hours. He poured out his inspirations coming like welcome rain, without missing a single word.

Second. the Risale-i Nur, like the Qur’an, mainly concentrated on the existence and Unity of God, the Resurrection, Prophethood, the Qur’an, the invisible realms of existence. Divine Destiny and man’s free will, and worship and man’s place and duty among the creation. Everything in the universe, all natural phenomena and events in human history provide signs and arguments for the truth of all these Islamic essentials. In fact, all things and events in the universe and man’s individual and social life originate in God’s Names. These Names manifest themselves in two ways: almost all of them are manifested on a single thing or being hut in degrees. For example, we can observe on man the manifestations of nearly all of such of the Names as the All-Merciful, the Provider, the Protector. the All- Powerful, the All-Willing, the All-Wise, the All-Knowing, the All-Seeing, the All-Hearing, etc. However, on each human being one or a few of these Names excel others in manifestation with the others dependent on them. If for example, the Name the All-Wise is prominently manifested on a man, that man will distinguish himself with wisdom. If the Name the All-Knowing has prominence in manifestation on another one, then that one will have reputation for being knowledgeable. This kind of manifestation is called the manifestation of Oneness. The other kind of manifestation is that a Name manifests itself on all things or beings, which we call the manifestation of Unity. So, while studying different beings and entities to show how they point to the Existence and Unity of God Almighty, you will have to make some repetitions. This is also what the Qur’an does.

Thirdly, in order to remove from peoples’ minds and hearts the accumulated ‘sediment’ of false beliefs and conceptions to purify them both intellectually and spiritually, and also in order to strengthen and reinforce Muslims in belief. Bediuzzaman writes forcefully and makes reiterations. He writes in neither an academic nor a didactic way; rather he addresses both minds and hearts at the same time and frequently appeals to feelings and thus aims to pour out his thoughts and ideas into peoples’ hearts and minds in order to awaken them to belief and conviction and rouse them to wise action in the way of God Almighty. Also, white judging the language and style of the Risale-i Nur, we should also consider why Muslims have to recite surah al-Fatiha in each rak’ah of daily prescribed prayers, in which they pray to God Almighty: Guide us to the Straight Path. They do that because it is probable for man to go astray at any moment of his life and therefore he needs God’s uninterrupted protection of him against deviations throughout his life. It is due to this human reality, namely man’s susceptibility to going astray, that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, declared: ‘Renew and refresh your faith with La ilaha illa Allah.’ So, it is vital for man’s preserving his faith that he should always be reminded of the truths of Islamic faith and his mind and heart should be continuously fed with new arguments for them.

Fourthly, like the Qur’an, the Risale-i Nur addresses all levels of understanding. Since the majority of people are, by definition, of average ability in their power to understand the truths of belief, both the Qur’an and the Risale-i Nur seem at first sight to be simple. They usually speak in parables and comparisons and take into consideration even the weakest understanding. However, they are like an ocean, the deeper you go in them, the more you come to understand that they are too deep to fathom in their entirety. Everyone from the least clever individual to the most learned scholars and scientists have their share in them.

The style and language of the Risale-i Nur are unique. Most of the arguments which Bediuzzaman used are wholly original, and he is also unique and original in many of his approaches. If readers, of whatever intellectual level, study the Risale-i Nur attentively, they will find themselves rewarded and satisfied both intellectually and spiritually. The more you devote your attention to it, the more you will be attracted to it.