World Bulletin / News Desk
As the saying goes, “The death of a wise man is like the death of the universe.” Those who can combine intellectual capacity with a purified spirit are like the enlightening candles of the world. As the Qur'an says, among human beings only the wise men can have a true respect of Allah, because they are unprecedented examples of standing against cruelty, unswerving determination and constant struggle.
Even his dead body was enough to disturb the regime
Bediüzzaman Said Nursî divided his life into three categories: The Old Said, The New Said, and Said the Third. In the era of the Old Said (1876-1927) he was active in daily politics. He had a dream to found a university called “Medresetuz Zehra” in which physical sciences would be educated along with religious subjects. He devoted a remarkable part of his life for realizing this dream. On the one hand, he was defending constitutional legitimacy against oppression and autocracy and on the other he was scrambling to linger the Ottoman Empire's waning time. He was taken as a war prisoner by Russians who were fighting to invade eastern Anatolia. However, this did not stop him from writing booklets to respond philosophic questions posed against Islamic thinking. He wrote his Arabic interpretation of the verses of the Quran “Isharat-ul Ijaz” during the war when he was fighting against Russian forces in the Caucasus under very difficult conditions.
All obstacles hindering Muslims' progress are: Ignorance, Poverty and Secession
Nursi’s burning ambition to establish “Medresetuz Zehra” dominated his agenda in the conferences he attended and books he wrote along with his talks with senior government officials. He thought this institution would offer healing to the century’s intellectual sufferings.
After he decided to embrace a reclusive life in the eastern part of Anatolia following the war, he was forced to re-integrate into social life. Nursi considered this as a warning from Allah and continued to seek finding solutions to the problems of the Islamic world. He was intellectually preoccupied by deliberating on the troubling situation of Muslims around the world. He determined the main problems which caused the heart-breaking defeat of the Muslim world as ignorance, poverty and a lack of unity. According to Nursi, these problems triggered anarchy and infidelity.
As a proposal to solve this problem, he constantly suggested the opening of “Medresetuz Zehra” which would have had its branches in the eastern Anatolian provinces like Van, Bitlis, Siirt and Diyarbakir, which was populated overwhelmingly by the Kurds and Armenians. The language of education would be Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and Persian.
Searching for financial resources to open the university, Nursi found the Sultan as a meaningful starting point. However, after he asked to meet Sultan Abdulhamid II to explain his cause, a sequence of troubles started to occur. His demand was refused. Moreover, since his letter was wrongly interpreted, the Sultan offered him a salary which was actually not Nursi’s intention. When Nursi turned his back to the Sultan’s offer, he was sent to a mental hospital in Istanbul. Last but not least, he was associated with the eruption of the March 31 Movement, an intra-military clash to depose the Sultan, and was brought in front of the court. Although the prosecutor demanded the death penalty, with a well-prepared plea he was acquitted.
Following these troubles, he returned to Van from Istanbul and spent all his time preparing the intellectual ground on which the idea of Medresetuz Zehra would be raised and explaining the need for such an institution in the province. He readied plans including the curriculum and financial feasibility reports and later embarked on a journey to Mecca for pilgrimage. During his journey he gave conferences in each city he went through and lastly he preached in Damascus, in the famous Umayyad Mosque, where he learned that the government in Istanbul had changed. Nursi regarded this as an opportunity and gave up going to Mecca. When he arrived in Istanbul he was welcomed by the new Sultan, Mehmet the fifth.
With his support, the construction of Medresetuz Zehra was launched on the coast of Van Lake. As his dreams started to come true, more trouble knocked the door: The First World War, which accelerated the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Nursi’s aspirations were left unaccomplished with increasing pressure on the Empire, Russian assaults and terror attacks by Armenian militias in the region. After he sstablished a group of volunteers including his students, Nursi joined the war aiming to protect Van. He was taken prisoner as some of his students including his nephew Ubeyd fell martyr. He was able to run away from the prisoner camp in Russia with the help of a man who he said was dressed like an Arab. When he came back to Anatolia he unswervingly went on working to esablish Medresetuz Zehra.
Former British prime minister Gladstone had said “We cannot have control on Muslims as long as they have a lively relationship with the Quran. Either we take this book from them or widen the gap between it and the Muslims.”
Reading this statement, Nursi got angry and said “I will prove the Quran is an unquenchable spiritual sun to the world.” This would be a turning point for Nursi’s intellectual career; he concentrated more on demonstrating the miracles of the Quran and correlate them with scientific facts, believing that Muslims have much stronger and influential tools than they had previously to pursue a sacred cause.
Following continuous invitations, Nursi decided to move to Ankara in 1922, just one year before the declaration of the Turkish Republic. His visit to the Turkish Parliament, then considered illegitimate by the Ottoman Sultanate in Istanbul, was highly welcomed. Despite a warm reception in Ankara, Nursi felt highly disturbed by the indifference of the MPs towards Islamic principles. Aiming to warn them, Nursi wrote a pamphlet and drew their attention to prayer, an Islamic daily ritual. In this pamphlet he explained the principles, values and ideals that an Ottoman Muslim wished their representatives to emulate and win the War of Independence.
It seems obvious that Nursi could not remain inattentive to their un-Islamic lifestyles and put efforts to change it in a gentle and wise manner. Following the regime change and the start of the Republican era, the second period of Nursi’s career began. This phase was replete with exiles and seclusion, during which he was preoccupied with writing on religious thinking to refute the rising influence of positivism. Nursi centered his energy on his training students through letters and pamphlets as the new regime forced him to move from one city to another. He had nothing with him but a basket containing his glasses, a tea pot, a prayer rug and the Qur'an. “My fate makes me travel alone in the mountains” he said, not complaining but expressing his gratefulness to God after each challenge he faced.
In 1935, Nursi and some of his students were arrested and put behind bars. Inspired by the Prophet Joseph, Nursi regarded the prison as an opportunity – Joseph’s Madrasa - to reach out to prisoners and advise them in good behavior. Throughout the rest of his life until his death in 1960, he was either in jail or stayed in remote villages of Anatolia, writing and spreading his letters (Risala) to educate his followers on the fundamentals of Islamic belief. This collection of letters amounted to more than a thousand pages, being reproduced and republished by his disciples in various towns and cities of Turkey.
Finally, he called all his followers in his book 'Munazarat' saying “Do not fear. The balance will gradually turn in our favor when freedom, honor, and civilization become superior in the eyes of humanity. If they kill us by chopping our bodies into twenty slides, we will be back with three hundred. We would shepherd humanity as soon as we get rid of the conflicts that divide us. We do not fear death which would pave the way of an endless life. Islam will survive after we die. Even the most distant future is close.”
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