Wisdom And Good For Believers In The School Of Yusuf
From here on, the term “School of Yusuf” will be used instead of “prison,” because, as we have previously stated, imprisonment, for believers, is not a punishment but a form of education. Prisons are “universities” for spiritual development. Those devoid of faith are unable to understand why believers do not consider prison as punishment. It is still more difficult for them to understand why believers are even at the rewards they are to receive in the Hereafter for their being submitted to such circumstances. Believers obviously do not wish to be imprisoned, or try to be so, but if they were to be, they would be confident of it as an opportunity for spiritual development. They see Allah’s wisdom, goodness and beauty inherent in every event, big or small He creates.
The reason they regard prison as a School of Yusuf, for seeking Allah’s good pleasure, is that they know there to be good in everything Allah ordains. They know that whatever Allah wills for them, it is in their best interest. At first glance, one would easily suppose that there are a series of technical causes for which a believer is imprisoned, though the truth is altogether different, when events are considered in the light of the Qur’an. A Muslim’s imprisonment, the duration of his sentence, and the moment of his release, are all dependent on Allah’s will. Nothing and no one can be the cause of anyone’s imprisonment unless Allah wills it. A person will be confronted with such a situation only if it written for him according to his destiny. If Allah wills for a Muslim to be imprisoned, there will be much benefit and good in the time he spends there. But this is a truth only those few of profound insight and strong faith can comprehend.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is one whose life is an example in this regard. Every time he was sent to the School of Yusuf, he reflected on the wisdom and good in his imprisonment, and shared his thoughts with all believers. The letters he wrote to his students while in confinement contained much valuable advice. Ultimately, he conveyed his profound wisdom in his master work, Risale-i Nur, which he also wrote in prison. In everything he wrote, he refers to his circumstances as being beneficial, and reminded others that everything must be considered through faith and submission to Allah. Particularly in his later years, when despite his ailing health, Said Nursi was kept in unheated cells through bitter cold of winter days, where he was often barred from any contact with the outside-world, he continued to believe that everything occurred according to fate, and that everything must be acquiesced to with submission to Allah. As he wrote in one of his letters:
Then at that point, just when in those freezing conditions I was most in need of rest and not catching cold and not thinking of the world, I was overcome with anger and vexation at those who had sent me into this intolerable exile, isolation, imprisonment, and oppression, in a way that spelt out their hatred and ill-intentions. Divine grace came to my assistance, and the following was imparted to my heart: “Divine Determining, which is pure justice, has a large part in the wrongful oppression which these people are inflicting on you. And you have food to eat in this prison; that sustenance of yours called you here. It should be met with contentment and resignation. And dominical wisdom and mercy have a large part, which is to illuminate those in this prison and console them, and to gain you reward. This share should be met with endless thanks and patience”… 3
Those who enter the School of Yusuf, do so because it is written in their fate, and they must therefore accept these circumstances with patience, gratitude and submission. Every sincere Muslim who is tried with prison must, like Bediuzzaman, find and uncover the wisdom and good inherent in his confinement, in order to make the most of such an important period for spiritual development. Bediuzzaman also said that in the garden of the School of Yusuf, there are good people as well as bad ones, and reminded the believers to see the good ones but not the evil ones, and not to occupy their minds unnecessarily with such matters:
Secondly: According to the meaning of “Whoever believes in Divine Determining is saved from grief and sorrow,” and “Look on the good side of things,” and, Those who listen to the Word and follow the best [meaning] in it; those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding, (Surat az-Zumar, 19) we should now look on the good side of everything, the aspect that affords ease of mind, so that meaningless, unnecessary, harmful, ugly, distressing, temporary circumstances do not hold our attention and preoccupy our minds. In the Eighth Word, one man entered a garden while another left it. The fortunate man looked at the flowers and beautiful things, and relaxed and enjoyed himself. But the unfortunate one looked only at the dirty, ugly things, although he was unable to clean them up, so he was nauseated and upset instead of resting, and then went on his way. Now, the stages of man’s social life, and especially the School of Joseph, resembles a garden. It contains both ugly and beautiful things, and distressing and happy things. The sensible person is he who busies himself with the beautiful, happiness-inducing things, and ignores the ugly, distressing things, and offers thanks happily instead of complaining querulously. 4
As Bediuzzaman said, those who see the beauty and goodness through that which Allah ordains will live with peace of mind, both in this world and in the Hereafter. An evil person cannot harm them, and no evil deed can cause them to despair. For those who do not believe in Allah, the experience is altogether different. They are quick to despair when faced with adversity, are susceptible to anxiety, and therefore are at loss already in this world, and again in the Hereafter. In the Qur’an, Allah reveals the condition of these people:
Among the people there is one who worships Allah right on the edge. If good befalls him, he is content with it, but if a trial befalls him, he reverts to his former ways, losing both this world and the Hereafter. That is indeed sheer loss. (Surat al-Hajj, 11)
The Wisdom in Yusuf’s (as) Prison Term And The Good It Led To
Yusuf’s (as) life was permeated with events demonstrating that Allah ordains all things according to His wisdom for some specific good. Not only his imprisonment, but every conspiracy waged against him, ultimately turned out in his favor.
For instance, his brothers cast him into the well with the intent of killing him. This however, led to his venture into Egypt, and then, to becoming the treasurer of that country. The governer’s wife’s house, in which he had been living, was where he was slandered by that very woman. But, his subsequent imprisonment led only to further good. Imprisonment due to false accusations would be perceived, by those who cannot comprehend the inherent good and benefits of such an occurrence, as “bad luck” or a “misfortune.” But, in the case of Yusuf (as), the entire city came to recognize him for his superior morality, chastity, his strict adherence to Allah’s limits, as well as his faith and honesty. As well, his words of wisdom reached the ear of the ruler, by which he was eventually appointed to administer the treasury of Egypt. Therefore, the best disposition for a Muslim to adopt is to surrender completely to the fate determined for him by Allah, and to await patiently and in submission what Allah will show him. Allah ordains everything according to a sublime plan, down to the minutest detail, of which we cannot know in advance. Yusuf (as) acknowledged this truth in the following way:
He [Yusuf] raised his parents up onto the throne. The others fell prostrate in front of him. He said, “My father, truly this is now the interpretation of the dream I had. My Lord has made it all come true; and He was kind to me by letting me out of prison and brought you from the desert when Satan had caused dissent between me and my brothers. My Lord is kind to anyone He wills. He is indeed All-Knowing and All-Wise.” (Surah Yusuf, 100)
The Wisdom and Good of the School of Yusuf
As we stated at the beginning of the book, Allah confers countless blessings and much in goodness and wisdom in all things, irrespective whether we recognize it or not. However, Muslims are obliged to turn to Allah, when something happens to them, in order to discover and understand the inherent wisdom and good in it. This is true for all believers in the School of Yusuf. In this chapter, we will speak of the fortitude and edification the School of Yusuf confers upon the believers, and the grace from Allah it leads to.
All Are Witness To The Brotherhood, Loyalty, Determination And Sincerity Of The Believers
Believers come to the School of Yusuf, as it was with Yusuf (as) himself, through slander and false accusations on the part of unbelievers, who want to spread immorality and the denial of the true religion among men. They persecute believers in public, and aim to create false impressions of them, by means of fabricated evidence, false witness, and wrongful allegations, which result in their imprisonment. Islamic scholars, like Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan, and Imam-i A’zam, wound up in the School of Yusuf as a result of similar slander and unfounded accusations.
The allegation most frequently used against devout believers is that they seek personal gain. This false accusation was also made in the past, against all the prophets and their devoted followers. Unbelievers are so certain that believers are united because of greed that they maintain,"... Do not spend on those who are with the Messenger of Allah, so that they may go away..." (Surat al-Munafiqun, 7) As the verse reveals, they consider that believers are allied for the purpose of material gain, and if such gain were withheld, they would disperse.
This is a reflection of the ignorance that considers, “expect them to be as you yourself are.” Those who do not believe in Allah would forsake even their parents, or a long-time friend, if their own interest were at stake even in the slightest way. According to them, it is naivety to make friends with those who cannot provide some material gain, or to be loyal at all. The duration of their friendships depend on the size and importance of what is at stake. As this is how those who are irreligious think, they consider believers to do the same. However, they will surely be astounded when they witness the believers’ determination, loyalty, and fortitude in the face of their aggression, slander, unjustified accusations, and obstructions against them. It is then that they realize that their efforts to impede the believers and to wreak their unity will not have produced the desired results.
Sincere believers, irrespective of the prevailing conditions, do not forsake their faith, prayer, morality and loyalty towards one another. In several verses of the Qur’an, Allah relates the superior qualities of the believers. The following are some examples:
The believers are only those who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then have had no doubt and have strived with their wealth and themselves in the Way of Allah. They are the ones who are true to their word. (Surat al-Hujurat, 15)
Many a Prophet has fought, when there were many thousands with him! They did not give up in the face of what assailed them in the Way of Allah, nor did they weaken, nor did they yield. Allah loves the steadfast. All they said was, “Our Lord, forgive us our wrong actions and any excesses we went to in what we did and make our feet firm and help us against these disbelieving people.” (Surah Al ‘Imran, 146-147)
One of the many benefits resulting from the hardship believers had to endure, like imprisonment, or unjustified aggression, was the reinforcement of their loyalty, and strong bond to one another. These qualities were often witnessed for the first time in their respective societies. Not only those of their own epochs, but also future generations came eventually to recognize the sincere believers’ determination and loyalty to one another, and that they never despair, not even under the most extreme conditions. They knew that, as our Prophet (saas) also said: “Whosoever alleviates a believer's hardship of this world, Allah, the Almighty, would alleviate his hardship and difficulty of the Day of Judgment.” (Muslim) and supported one another in the best way.
In more recent history, the determination shown by Bediuzzaman and his followers, their good spirits and perseverance in the School of Yusuf, were good examples of this. They were role models for believers in their own time, as well as our day. Bediuzzaman, while in the School of Yusuf, wrote the following in his letters to fellow believers:
My Dear, Loyal, Unshakeable Brothers, who do not become dispirited at difficulties and abandon us! … It appears necessary that like in former times the people of reality used to gather together and meet at least once or twice a year, the Risale-i Nur students gather together every few years in the School of Joseph. In keeping with the God-fearing and ascetic way of the Risale-i Nur, and its teaching those most in need, everyone, even those who oppose it, and to allow its collective personality to speak, if it entails a thousand difficulties and tribulations, it is of no importance whatsoever. A few of our weak brothers becoming fed up in our previous prisons and leaving the circle of the Risale-i Nur caused immeasurable loss to them but no harm to the Risale-i Nur. More resolute and sincere students appeared in their stead. Since the trials of this world are transient and pass swiftly, leaving us their fruits and rewards, we should trust in Divine grace and offer thanks in patience. (The Rays 14, Letters)
In yet another letter, Bediuzzaman addressed his loyal friends in the School of Yusuf in the following way:
My Dear, Loyal Brothers! It is my opinion that those who are not shaken by the severe ordeal of these two “Schools of Joseph,” the former and the present, and do not abandon its lessons, and do not give up being its students although their mouths have been burnt by the scalding soup, and whose morale is not broken despite all this aggression, will be applauded by the people of reality and coming generations; just as the angels and spirit beings applaud them. However, since among you are some who are ill, delicate, or poor, the physical distress is excessive. But thinking of the others of you consoling them and being perfect examples in patience and good conduct, and compassionate brothers offering solidarity and kind attention, and intelligent companions in discussing lessons, and mirrors reflecting fine moral qualities, thus reducing the physical hardships to nothing, my concern for you, whom I love more than my own spirit, was allayed.5
In our time, we can look at past events and learn from the experience of sincere believers. That those events constitute examples for believers to follow demonstrates that: the hardship they suffered eventually turned out in their favor. They earned the recognition of their contemporaries, as well as the respect of subsequent generations.
Injustice To Believers Does Not Go Unnoticed By Society And Their Good Morality, Honesty And Trustworthiness Is Revealed
Inevitably, believers will be slandered and vilified, irrespective of the era in which they are in, because the unbelievers find it necessary to find some justification to impede the believers’ efforts, and to win the support of the public against them. In the story of Yusuf (as), the governer’s wife’s accusation was used as an excuse to imprison him, but ultimately to interfere with his mission as messenger.
Effectively, believers will be scrutinized ruthlessly. But, they ought not to worry, unlike others who would become nervous and apprehensive, as they do not live by Allah’s commandments. In fact, many of them harbor a secret or two, which they wish not to have divulged. In other words, they have something to hide, like some corruption they may be guilty for, or fraud, or some other illicit form of activity. Muslims, on the other hand, know that they will be called to account for their every deed, and therefore, live by the morality of the Qur’an, and refrain from any activity for which they will not be able to explain themselves. They do not eye anyone else’s property. They are not unfair towards anyone. They refrain from the prohibited, and they do not pursue personal gain at any expense. Also, they scrupulously avoid fomenting conflict, for which they have been forbidden in the Qur’an, but instead promote dutifulness, and try to set an example of harmonious interaction. For these reasons, they are not afraid to have their lives scrutinized, and enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that, irrespective of how carefully they are investigated, there is nothing corrupt to be found in it. They know that every inquiry will conclude in their favor, and that they will only reveal just how pure, innocent and honest they are.
For instance, Yusuf’s (as) imprisonment resulted ultimately in his superior morality, purity, honesty and his faith in Allah being recognized. When he was called before the presence of the ruler, following the many years he spent in prison, he himself demanded an inquiry, in order to establish his innocence.
It is evident that only an incorrupt and honest person would demand an inquiry with confidence. The ruler assembled the woman who slandered him, as well as the other women privy to the situation, and asked them about Yusuf (as). When the women stated that they had not seen any wrongdoing on the part of Yusuf (as), the governer’s wife admitted her guilt. Thus, Yusuf’s (as) innocence was established by the very people who had originally slandered him. Surah Yusuf recounts this event in the following way:
The King said, “Bring him to me straight away!” but when the envoy came to him, he said, “Go back to your master and enquire of him what happened about the women who cut their hands. My Lord has knowledge of their cunning guile.” He said, “What was this past affair of yours when you solicited Yusuf?” Then they said “Allah forbid! We know no bad of him.” The governer’s wife then said, “The truth has now emerged. Indeed I tried to seduce him then and he has simply told the honest truth.” [Yusuf said,] “In this way he may know at last that I did not dishonor him behind his back and that Allah most surely does not guide the deviousness of the dishonorable.” [Yusuf said,] “I do not say my self was free from blame. The self indeed commands to evil acts—except for those my Lord has mercy on. My Lord, He is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah Yusuf, 50-53)
Yusuf (as) assembled those who knew about this affair to have them admit to his innocence. When the accusations against him had first circulated, after which he was imprisoned, it would have been presumed by others that he was guilty. In the end, however, he was recognized as one worthy enough to assume a very important post, being handed over the treasuries of Egypt.
Allah reveals in the Qur’an that He will bring to naught the conspiracies that have been plotted against the believers, and that they will be proven right after having been wrongly accused. With Allah’s help, believers will be exonerated of all guilt. The verses say:
You who believe! Do not be like those who abused Musa. Allah absolved him of what they said and he was highly honored with Allah. (Surat al-Ahzab, 69)
At every opportunity, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi expressed his belief that there was much good in the many investigations carried out into his and his students’ lives. Because, these devout individuals emerged from these inquiries with their innocence proven, both in their actions and in their writings. As a result of these investigations, their integrity and sincerity was confirmed by the authority of the government. Bediuzzaman had the following to say in this respect:
“But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you.” (Surat al-Baqara, 216) Chiefly, while expecting a severely critical report from the Experts Committee in Ankara, they sent a commendatory one. And although they found less than ten errors in five chests of copies of the Risale-i Nur, we proved in court that the points they had shown to be errors were completely correct, and that they themselves had been in error in the matters they said were wrong; we showed between five and ten errors and mistakes in their five pages of report. And while awaiting severe reprisals in the face of the Fruits of Belief and Defences Collection, which we had sent to seven government offices, and the entire Risale-i Nur which had been sent to the Ministry of Justice, and especially in return for the effective, stinging slaps dealt by the confidential treatises, they responded extremely leniently, and like the even consoling letter sent to us by the Prime Minister, they were most conciliatory and did not attack us. This proved decisively that as a miracle of Divine grace, the truths of the Risale-i Nur had defeated them, making them study its treatises like a guide. It made those broad circles into a sort of study circle and saved the belief of numerous hesitating and bewildered people, causing us spiritual joy and profit far exceeding our distress. 6
Bediuzzaman’s pearls of wisdom point to yet another benefit; during these proceedings, many were introduced to his Risale-i Nur Collections, in which Allah’s existence and unity were explained. Their reading led many to accept faith, as well enabling them to come to better know the writer.
In his writings, Bediuzzaman compared the hardship and severe trials as a form of distillation, where gold and copper are separated. Just as a touchstone distinguishes gold from copper, difficulties will bring out the believer’s superior qualities, and suppress the evil thoughts of the selfish ego. Such trials demonstrate the power of the believer’s faith and make it known in the rest of the society. The hardship experienced by Bediuzzaman and his students revealed them to be as good as gold. It was demonstrated to all that their work served only to teach people about Allah’s existence, without any ill will or selfish interest. In this way, those who had doubts about their intentions recognized their superior morality, despite the difficulty of their circumstance. Bediuzzaman had the following to say on the subject:
Then this morning the following was imparted to me: for us to be set this rigorous examination, and to be struck on the touchstone numerous times to see clearly whether we are gold or brass, and to be tried unfairly in every respect, and to be passed through ever finer sieves three or four times to see whether our evil-commanding souls take a share or are playing any tricks, is extremely necessary for our service, which should be purely and solely in the name of truth and reality, so that Divine Determining and dominical grace permit it. For by being exhibited in this field of trial and examination confronted by obdurate, unjust enemies and their pretexts, everyone has understood that there is no trickery, no egotism, no malice, no worldly or personal interests, nor those that look to the Hereafter, mixed in with our service, and that it is completely sincere and proceeds from truth and reality. If it had remained concealed, it could have been given numerous meanings. The mass of believers would not have had confidence in it. They would have said: “Perhaps they are deceiving us,” and the elite too would have had their suspicions. Thinking that “perhaps they are acting the same as some of those who sell themselves to acquire spiritual rank for themselves and to win confidence,” they would not feel completely certain about it. Now, following the examination, even the most stubborn and obdurate person is compelled to submit. If your hardship is one, your profits are a thousandfold. Allah willing.7
People Come To Know The Believers, And The Better They Know Them, The More They Respect Them
There is much wisdom inherent in a Muslim’s term in the School of Yusuf, one facet of which is that garners public attention. If believers were never imprisoned, they would probably be less well-known, and people would be less knowledgeable of the good they do. With their imprisonment, a great number of people come to know of the believers, and to witness their superior morality.
The condition under which a person’s true character surfaces is one of hardship and affliction. Evidently, one who is wronged, slandered, and abused through much hardship, will be recognized, by those perceiving his situation, for his sincerity, if he has been patient, modest, calm, friendly, forgiving, conciliatory and uncomplaining. In each instance, Bediuzzaman’s imprisonment or exile reflected such good and wisdom. As a result, the writings of Bediuzzaman and his students have become better known, and more and more people have turned to the Risale-i Nur for its insights. Said Nursi relates his thoughts in this respect:
Second Instance of Wisdom and Benefit: The service to belief at this time through the Risale-i Nur has to be through advertising it everywhere and attracting the attention of those in need. Thus, attention is attracted to the Risale-i Nur through our imprisonment; it is like an advertisement. The most stubborn or those in most need find it and save their belief; their obduracy is broken and they are saved from danger, and the Risale-i Nur’s circle of study is widened.8
Yes, since the Risale-i Nur question is of importance for the Islamic world in general and this country in particular, there should be lively gatherings such as that in order to attract everyone’s attention to its truths. For in its glittering fashion, beyond all our hopes and precautions, and our concealing it, and our enemies belittling it, and outside our wills, the Risale-i Nur teaches its truths openly to friend and foe alike. It unhesitatingly divulges its most private secrets to the most distant stranger. Since the truth is this, we should consider our trifling difficulties to be a bitter medicine like quinine, and offering thanks in patience, say: “This too will pass, Allah willing.”9
In The School Of Yusuf, Believers Demonstrate Their Devotion And Support For Each Other, And Find An Opportunity To Purify Of Their Inadequacies
Another positive aspect of the School of Yusuf is the solidarity it reinforces among believers who are inmates. They are together 24 hours a day, in a small building, day or night, knowing each others’ every temperament, but regard each other with compassion, and learn from each others better behavior. They are role models, each in their own way; some by their purity, others with their intellect, relentless effort, knowledge of the Qur’an, devotion, and others yet, modesty. If each were to learn the others’ better qualities, by the end of their prison term, they would have attained a level of heightened spiritual maturity.
Also, while in prison, they come to fully realize the value of friendship and brotherhood. Their bonds of friendship strengthen, and they find the opportunity of reflecting on and appreciating their brothers’ noble morality and tireless efforts in the cause of Allah. While in prison, believers show towards their fellow brothers the best they can, under the circumstances. They prefer their brothers’ safety, comfort, and well-being over their own. These are all examples of the superior qualities possessed by those who have profited from the teachings of the Qur’an. In the following verse, Allah refers to the good character of the believers, their love for one another, and their valuing of others above themselves:
... [Believers] prefer them [immigrants] to themselves even if they themselves are needy. It is the people who are safe-guarded from the avarice of their own selves who are successful. (Surat al-Hashr, 9)
Bediuzzaman considered that one of the benefits of prison life for believers was that it was an opportunity for them to see much more of one another. His brothers which he had the rare opportunity of seeing outside of prison, for one or the other reason, he was able to be with all the time. He could converse with them, and share his reflections. The believers, who were gaining an important education here, became, from the benefit of sharing Bediuzzaman’s knowledge, the leaders of the future. They were able to teach the superiority of the morality of the Qur’an, and the truths they learned from the Risale-i Nur. In one of his many works, Bediuzzaman discussed the benefit of the opportunity of spending much time with his brothers:
Seeing with very little expense true friends more compassionate than brothers, and brothers of the Hereafter like spiritual guides, here in the workless, compounded physical and spiritual winter of this School of Joseph, which is a department of the Madrasatul’-Zahra; and visiting them, profiting from their personal qualities, and receiving strength from their fine characteristics, which like light are diffused through transparent objects, and from their spiritual assistance, joy, and consolation; all changes the form of this calamity, making it a sort of veil to Divine grace. Yes, a subtle facet of this hidden grace is that all the Risale-i Nur students here are called “Hoja;” they are spoken of respectfully as “the hojas... the hojas.” There is a further subtle allusion in this, that just as this prison has turned into a madrasah (religious school), so the Risale-i Nur students have all become teachers, and thanks to these hojas the other prisons will also all become schools, Allah willing.10
From Bediuzzaman’s reflections, we gather that he could recognize good in even the worst and harshest circumstances, that he could face anything with the most positive attitude, that he was optimistic at all times, never fell into despair or hopelessness, and that he was a person of much fortitude and insight. These are the salient qualities of those who believe in Allah, from the bottom of their hearts, who submit to him, and have patience and fear Him. As reward for Bediuzzaman’s positive attitude, Allah made the prison a locale for which to educate himself, from which both he and his students benefited much, and through which other inmates were able to learn as well.
After the passing of many decades, Muslims still remember Bediuzzaman, who learned from as well as taught others in the School of Yusuf, and benefit, even today, from his pearls of wisdom.
3. The Flashes 26, Fifteenth Hope
4. The Rays 14, Letters
5. The Rays 13
6. The Flashes 26
7. The Rays 14, Letters
8. The Flashes 26
9. The Rays 14, Letters
10 The Rays 13