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Islamic Ideology ( 28 Jan 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Turkish Theologian and Reformist Bediuzzaman Saeed Nursi’s Islamic Model for Modern Muslims

 Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

23 Jan 2013

Bediuzzaman Saeed Nursi was a Kurdish Sunni Muslim theologian who wrote the Risale-i Nur Collection, a detailed exegesis of the Qur’an exceeding six thousand pages. His ideas inspired an Islamic spiritual community that is one of the most significant religious and social movements in contemporary Turkey with several million followers worldwide. Although he received his religious education in traditional madrasas of East Anatolia region of the Ottomans, he believed that modern science and logic would be the way of the future and, therefore, reinforced the idea of teaching religious sciences in secular schools and modern sciences in religious schools.

Nursi lived one of the most turbulent phases of Islamic history (1878-1960) when Islamic thoughts and beliefs were at stake. He witnessed the tragedies of both the First and Second World Wars, and saw the Ottomans lose all their lands in the Balkans and the Middle East, decline and decay of Islamic state, and finally its complete disappearance from the scene of history.

Since Nursi was endowed not only with scholastic temperament but also with an inner spiritual spark, these consecutive ghastly events shook the very core of his being and filled him with stubborn flame of desire to save Muslim Ummah from the clutches of crisis. To meet this end, he resorted to revive and rejuvenate the universal values of Islam and the Quran among Muslims. With his unshakable faith and courage, vast experience and wisdom, scientific temperament and a deep insight into the Quranic realities and worldly affairs, he exerted all possible efforts to provide the global Muslim community with remedy to all its problems in the modern age.

Bediuzzaman held aloft the torch of Qur’an’s universal message to guide the Muslim Ummah and to take them on the right track on all the moral, material, spiritual and intellectual grounds where their gradual decline and decay was manifest. He promoted universal egalitarian values among Muslims and thus endeavoured to re-establish their lost glory of morality that was once globally known as their redeeming and distinguishing feature.

Nursi closely witnessed three eras of Turkish history; absolute and constitutional monarchical system of Ottomans and secular modern Republic of Turkey. However, his life is divided into two eras: Old Said and New Said. In the New Said era he is under the close scrutiny by the Turkish government and he takes pains to write the epistles named as Risale-i Nur. His ideas about Ijtihad and rethinking in the “Words book” are truly lofty that clarify his position on Islamic reformation and independent jurisprudence in religious issues pertaining to modern times.

Nursi was of the view that the solution to the modernity related problems, both material and spiritual, was not philosophy of religion, but the heart of religion. According to his Qur’anic commentary, Risala-e-Nur, philosophy and reason are not capable enough to embrace all humanity due to their dependency on the material needs. But religion, in accordance with universal principles, can meet all human needs and modern necessities. Thus, Nursi substantiates the point that the need of people for religion is greater than their material needs.

Nursi was very shocked and saddened to see the practical weakness and deficiencies creep into the entire Islamic world. However, he differentiated between the deficiencies of the Islamic world on this point, and Islam itself. Clarifying his standpoint on this matter, he says: “I saw that Islam, which comprises true civilization, was materially backward in relation to present-day civilization; as though Islam was vexed at our bad conduct and was departing for the past.”(1)

Terming the Islamic world as “a disorderly chamber of deputies and council meeting, or one whose order has been spoilt,” (2), he attributes its disorder to the declining spirit of morality and erroneous and ferocious views of the elite of the Islamic world. Then, he suggests effective spiritual and moral cures to its sickness resulting into all-round backwardness of Muslims the world over. In his popular book “The Damascus Sermon” he dwells on the declining spirit of morality putting it into six categories:   

“Firstly: The rising despair and hopelessness in social life. Secondly: The death of truthfulness in social and political life. Thirdly: Love of enmity. Fourthly: Not knowing the luminous bonds that bind the believers to one another. Fifthly: Despotism, which spreads, becoming  widespread  as  though  it  was  various  contagious  diseases.  Sixthly:  Restricting endeavour to what is personally beneficial.”(3)

However, he draws a clear distinction between the virtues of Islam and misconduct of Muslims. Hence, on one hand, he advocates Islam’s supreme emphasis on equity, justice, liberty, women empowerment, and social and egalitarian provisions in the initial period of Islam, known as the Era of Bliss. On the other, he appears to be a severe critique of Muslims’ waywardness, misconduct and deviation from the universal values enunciated in the Quran. He holds that social backwardness and moral decline of the present day Muslims stem from these four causes: 

1. Failure to observe the ordinances of the Illustrious Quranic Sharia.

2. The arbitrary and erroneous interpretations of certain sycophants.

3. The out-of-place bigotry of ignorant externalist scholars, or knowledgeable ignoramuses.

4. Due to misfortune and bad choice, abandoning the virtues of Europe, which are difficult to acquire,  and  imitating  like  parrots  or  children  the  evils  of  civilization,  which  are agreeable to man’s base desires. (4)

Nursi encouraged Muslims to adopt the dynamic spirit, intellectual tradition, and technology of the West but condemned its European colonialism, the economic exploitation of capitalism, the atheism of Marxism, and the moral bankruptcy of secularism. He believed that Islam provided its own religio-political alternative for Muslim societies, and thus he turned to the past to rediscover the humanitarian principles and universal values essential to reconstruct an Islamic model for modern Muslim societies.

1. Iki Mekteb-i Musibetin Sehadetnamesi veya Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, Istanbul, Sözler, Yayinevi 1978, 68.

2. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Münâzarat, Istanbul, Envar Nesriyat 1993, 78.

3. al-Islam wa Usul al-Hukm, Beirut 1966.

4. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 65-6.