On every Saturday, for almost two years in the row, my friends and I residing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, held late morning sessions on the Magnus opus (great works) of Said Nursi’s Risale-r-Nur –The Seedbed of Light or Epistles of Life. After reading and holding discussions about the equally great human behavior-molding epistles, I saw in Said Nursi a person out of the ordinary – somebody who lived at least one century ahead of his time.
Ethically, here was a person who could objectively look into the pupils of another person’s eyes for the prime purpose of pointing an accusing finger at one self, at the very first opportunity. “Oh! Said”, criticisms abound in Risale-r-Nur, addressing his own weaknesses related to a subject he was addressing. He was sincere even to himself. He had no reservations when it came to sincerity.
Said Nursi did not harbor political power ambitions. Twice in his career he has turned down political leadership offers. I wish I knew a bit of Turkish, but his stand, to the nearest conceptualization, was something like: “I seek refuge in Allah (away) from Satan and politics”.
This is how one can understand the way he escaped a death sentence by firing squad at the hands of the Russian government and subsequently set on a long march to safety back home all the way to Istanbul. This stance has influenced some other people, the like of Fethullah Gulen, leading them to be susceptible to high suspicions from those in power. Neither Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of Turkey, nor current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan –I don’t know the type of respect he has made for himself – have come to terms with this.
It is in the third week of March, 2021. It’s about six decades since the death of Said Nursi. A friend, who normally led the sessions, sends me a WhatsApp message.
After reading it my mind recalls the African saying that “where there are trees, there are no builders.” I remember reading in my Bible knowledge studies in the New Testament about Jesus (pbuh) being snubbed by his own people in native Nazareth. “No prophet is accepted at home.”
I imagine: “If political leaders, who have come on and gone off the Turkish political stage, were to adopt and adapt even one percent of what Said Nursi had to say, what a “promised land” would the country be for their people?
Now, what message did that chat carry?
It quoted Said Nursi, the great scholar, ‘renewer’ (Mujaddid) and the Wonder of the Age (Bediuzzaman) counseling the world: “I do not deny that there are numerous virtues in modern civilization, but they are neither the property of Christianity nor the invention of Europe. Nor are they the product of the present century. (Said Nursi lived between 1878 and1960.)
“They are the property of all humankind, produced by the meeting of minds and the pooling of ideas, developed in accordance with the laws revealed religions and in response to innate need. And not least are they a result of the revolution brought about by the advent of Islam and the Sharia of Muhammad. Thus no-one can claim ownership over them; they belong to everyone.”
Said Nursi dwelt with what can be called modern interpretation of the Qur’an and in some quarters is recorded to have attracted members to the tune of more than 20 million, involving more than 135 million publications and engaging in more than 700,000 research papers!
His life and intellectual career has embodied theological thoughts and approach to Islamic disciplines of jurisprudence and systematic theology. Said Nursi’s is a summary of hard but fruitful life, spent in the way of faith, truth and philanthropy.
He lived in Turkey during a troublesome transition witnessing the last days of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of a secular Turkish republic. He lived in an age when materialism was at its peak and many crazed after communism, and the world was in great crisis. It was at a time when science and philosophy were used to mislead the young generations into atheism and nihilistic attitudes had a wide appeal.
It was at a time when all this was done in the name of civilization, modernization and contemporary thinking and those who tried to resist them were subjected to the cruelest of persecutions. How different are the Erdogan times?
Said Nursi strove for the overall revival of a whole people. Even though his non-violent stance was clear, he was seen as a potential danger and exiled to different corners of Anatolia. During the exile he started writing his Magnum opus, the Risale-i-Nur (Epistles of Light), by which he aimed to guide people to the truth of faith and make them understand the Qur’an correctly.
The book is there providing a rich summary of his hard but truthful life, spent in the way of faith. Turkey is there. The people and their leaders are there. The need for peace throughout the entire world is there. Why is Turkey still the country of heart-breaking stories like: “I lost my father, chained to his bed around his ankle?”
Until modern presses came on stage, the epistles from Said Nursi were written by hand and distributed underground, on foot, so that the people could get the right information. The Erdogan regime has not only closed some of the presses. As I was writing this article, a story landed on my desk of a Tanzanian Muslim leader who took all the pride of having a transit in an Islam faith respecting country, Turkey, only to end up with a shock of his life.
Said he: “I was in Mauritania for two weeks attending the Scientific Committee meeting of the Mohamed VI Foundation of Africa Oulemaa. On my way back I made a stop-over in Istanbul at the airport. While in the checking process, a security officer found me with Adh-Kaar booklet compiled by Hazrat Allaamah Mohammad Fat-Hullaahi Gulen. He took it, made consultation with other officers (for) more than half an hour and finally decided to confiscate it, telling me that the author is a terrorist and an enemy of Turkey and its Muslim population…”
If this man were Turkish, definitely he would be in jail now. Could such a thing find room in the country of Said Nursi? The person who used every chance to make sure people had access to literature for guiding them to the truth of faith and making them understand the Qur’an correctly?
This was not the right way to remember Said Nursi. It disturbs his bones. If I were to go by anything, I would revert to what a Turkish friend communicated to me by saying: “His soul should be left to remain at peace with prophets and the saints. And may his teachings continue to enlighten and enchant all who become acquainted with them.”