Education In The School Of Yusuf
The previous chapter dealt with the benefits of the School of Yusuf for the believers. Surely, one of the most important benefits of the School of Yusuf is the spiritual development the believers receive there. There, believers learn to control and restrain their selfish egos, deepen their faith, and improve their morality. The “degrees” earned there will be a source of contentment in the Hereafter, and they will be grateful to Allah for their term.
Patience And Submission In The School Of Yusuf
A true Muslim is always patient and submissive to Allah. The secret of patience and submission lies in the knowledge that Allah ordains all things, according to a predetermined fate, as the 49th verse of Surat al-Qamar states: "We have created all things according to a fixed decree." (Surat al-Qamar, 49) For this reason, time spent in the School of Yusuf serves to strengthen a believer’s patience and submission to Allah.
True patience and submission are two valuable qualities that those who do not believe can never attain. For instance, the inmates of a prison are there as a punishment for their crimes. Throughout their term, they complain, fall into despair, revolt, or “break down,” mentally as well as physically, because of the constraint and adverse conditions, like not being with their families, not having their freedom, and various other factors. Instead of reforming themselves, they often become even worse out of their obstinacy.
The attitude of a believer while in prison is entirely different. First of all, even though he is wrongly imprisoned, he does not complain or rebel. He knows that, whatever happens, it is the will of Allah, and he yields to it with complete submission to Him, as required in the following verse: Say: “Nothing can happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is Our Master. It is in Allah that the believers should put their trust.” (Surat at-Tawba, 51)
As he expects every hardship he experiences in prison to bring him an increase in his reward in the Hereafter, he bears patiently, as the 5th verse of Surat al-Maarij stipulates: "Therefore be patient with a patience which is beautiful." (Surat al-Maarij , 5). He prays for his hardship to be eased, but also receives hardship with a positive attitude, with his thoughts on the Hereafter. For instance, the tightening of his the handcuffs around his wrists, or the patience with which he bears the cold in his cell, makes him ponder upon the Hereafter, and he is gladdened. This is the secret to endure the trials of this life, and it is only the believers who are aware of it.
A believer’s patience under difficult conditions is more than simply enduring. Because, the enduring of the non-religious is fraught with despair and recalcitrance, lacking in submission to Allah. Patience, on the other hand, is comprised of contentment, optimism, or maturity derived from faith. Surely, being confined behind bars is a circumstance that requires patience from believers. However, each time the Muslim looks at the bars, he thinks of the reward he can expect, and is assured. Also, he will bear patiently his separation from his brothers, whether it lasts for days, months and even years. Every time he thinks of his brothers, he will consider Paradise. As he can hope to be with them for eternity in the Hereafter, thinking of his circumstances will comfort and motivate him.
No one can know what the next moment holds. This knowledge rests only with Allah, Who in many verses of the Qur’an reveals that the believers’ final outcome is a happy one, as, for instance, "The Last will be better for you than the First. Your Lord will soon give to you and you will be satisfied." (Surat ad-Duha, 4-5) A believer knows this to be true, and thus awaits patiently and submissively the day when he will be granted his reward.
However, there can be that which will happen that will delay his release from prison. For a non-religious person, this is considered “bad luck” or “misfortune,” whereas, for a believer, who knows that it is a part of Allah’s greater plan, it is something that is ordained with wisdom, and for to a purpose he is not aware of. For this reason, he does not despair or panic. He acquiesces with patience, as one submitting to Allah, to that which has been fated for him. What the matter will be beneficial for him, or how and when it will be, is decided by Allah, and he knows that what our Lord wills is best. He relents in submission to everything that happens, as required in the following verse: "... It may be that you hate something when it is good for you and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know." (Surat al-Baqara, 216)
For example, Yusuf (as) asked a fellow inmate, who was to be released before him, to mention him to his master. However, he forgot to do so, and so Yusuf (as) remained in prison many more years:
He [Yusuf] said to the one of them he knew was saved, “Please mention me when you are with your lord,” but Satan made him forget to remind his lord, and so he stayed in prison for several years. (Surah Yusuf, 42)
Those who do not know to trust and submit to the fate determined by Allah, would consider it as a “misfortune” that this person forget to mention his friend to his master, and would be angered or bothered. But, a man like Yusuf (as), who knows that everything is ordained according to a prescribed fate, who is patient and faithful, will react in a way that reflects his knowing that there is some good to come of it. Most importantly, he will know that there is no one who could bring about his release from prison unless Allah wills it, not even his friend’s master. As with all circumstances, he will turn to Allah and pray.
Every Muslim believes in Allah and knows the importance of faith. Therefore, he is patient and submissive. As there are many instances in the School of Yusuf requiring patience and submission, these qualities will be strengthened and a maturity of faith will emerge.
First of all, believers, who are imprisoned wrongfully, are patient despite the injustice against them, and have faith in Allah. However, when the conditions, means, environment and the prison term are considered, the benefits of patience and submission to Allah become apparent. Days, month or years can be spent in confinement, but for a believer who is patient and relies on Allah, their importance is in the presence of Allah. Every hour endured there in patience, every minute, and even every second, for a believer, will be rewarded with Paradise. Allah reveals that the reward for patience through hardship is Paradise:
Those who believe and migrate and strive in the Way of Allah with their wealth and themselves have a higher rank with Allah. They are the ones who are victorious. Their Lord gives them the good news of His mercy and good pleasure and Gardens where they will enjoy everlasting delight, remaining in them timelessly, for ever and ever. Truly there is an immense reward with Allah. (Surat at-Tawba, 20-22)
Said Nursi wrote in notes to his friends that one who hopes for Paradise can be patient under difficult conditions, and always sees the good in that which happens:
My Dear, Loyal, Constant, and Faithful Brothers!
I am describing some of my circumstances here, not to sadden you or to take any physical measures, but so that I might profit more from your shared prayers, and you might practice greater self-restraint, caution, patience, and forbearance, and earnestly preserve your solidarity. The torment and distress I suffer here in one day is more than I suffered in a month in Eskishehir Prison. The ghastly Masons have inflicted one of their unfeeling fellows on me so that out of anger I should lose patience in the face of their torments, and they could then use it as a pretext and make it the reason for their cruel aggression, and so conceal their lies. As a wondrous mark of Divine grace, I merely offer thanks in patience and I am resolved to continue to do so. Since we have submitted to Divine Determining and in accordance with the meaning of “The best of matters are the most difficult,” and we know these difficulties to be a Divine bounty through which we may gain greater merit; and since we have the absolutely certain conviction, at the degree of “absolute certainty,” that we have dedicated our lives to a truth more brilliant than the sun, as beautiful as Paradise and sweet as eternal happiness; certainly, knowing that we are carrying out this immaterial struggle in Allah’s way, proudly and offering thanks, despite the distressing conditions, we should not complain.11
When Bediuzzaman wrote this letter, he was under duress, old and of ill health, but he showed the morality of a true believer. He endured all the sufferings in patience, he believed that after hardship comes ease, and that all such hardship serves to earn for him a great reward. But he also considered the immediate spiritual rewards.
Obviously, these are all crucial secrets not known to those who conspired to have the believers imprisoned. As the following verse states, "… They love what causes you distress. Hatred has appeared out of their mouths, but what their breasts hide is far worse. We have made the Signs clear to you if you use your intellect," (Surah Al ‘Imran, 118) the unbelievers wish to see the believers suffer hardship, but their cruelty only reinforced the motivation and optimism of the believers, when they consider the reward awaiting them in the Hereafter for their patience. The unbelievers do not understand that the believers know the secret of hoping for Allah’s reward. As, for instance, Bediuzzaman’s letter quoted above can only be correctly understood by those who know true patience, and believe that there is good in everything Allah ordains.
In the Qur’an, Allah reveals that the patient will be distinguished from those who are not. Times of hardship are ordained for this purpose, and through such instances, those who prove their patience also improve their character, and strengthen their drive for the cause of preaching the morality of the Qur’an. Again, this is a further opportunity for others to witness the superior morality of the believers. In Surah Al ‘Imran, Allah reveals that people are tried through such circumstances:
If you have received a wound, they have already received a similar wound. We deal out such days to people turn by turn, so that Allah will know those who believe and can gather martyrs from among you—Allah does not love wrongdoers—and so that Allah can purge those who believe and wipe out the disbelievers. Or did you imagine that you were going to enter the Garden without Allah knowing those among you who had struggled and knowing the steadfast? (Surah Al ‘Imran, 140-142)
Allah reveals in the Qur’an that He loves those who are patient and that He will reward them. For a believer confined in the School of Yusuf, there is nothing better than the love of our Lord and the reward He promises:
What is with you runs out but what is with Allah goes on for ever. Those who were steadfast will be recompensed according to the best of what they did. (Surat an-Nahl, 96)
The Spiritual Development That Results From Hardship
The hardship and suffering endured by believers in this world are important instances for them, because their lot in the Hereafter will be determined according to their responses to it. Times of hardship are the instances when believers may be distinguished from unbelievers. Many say that they are Muslims, that they believe in Allah and Judgment Day, and that they obey the Qur’an, but the majority of them turn away when they are faced with hardship in the cause of Allah. For instance, one who is concerned about his business will give it all his time, and spares no time to teaching the morality of the Qur’an. Or, they side with the Muslims when times are good, but desert them when the slightest adversity strikes. For example, when the non-religious make false accusations or launch physical attacks on the Muslims, these treacherous people suddenly become more concerned about their status in society and for their future. Thus, they will have shown forth the insincerity in their belief. If such hardship had not occurred, they could have persisted among Muslims for the rest of their lives, while their true character would only have been identified in the Hereafter. However, through hardship, the pure are distinguished from the impure, as a mercy of Allah:
What assailed you on the day the two armies met was by Allah’s permission, so that He would know the believers, and so that He would know the hypocrites… (Surah Al ‘Imran, 166-167)
The corrupt become deserters in times of adversity, and Allah’s grace is showered on those who remain steadfast and patient. Great blessing and much good come to believers through every hardship they endure in patience, such as School of Yusuf. The treatment one is exposed to, the living conditions, and the separation from one’s loved-ones and other believers, are examples of the trials they must endure. Every difficulty they are exposed to strengthens their character, and each time they conduct themselves nobly, they feel closer to Allah’s good pleasure, mercy and Paradise. Allah promises Paradise in the Qur’an to every believer who proves his patience in hardship. Allah reveals:
Or did you suppose that you would enter the Garden without facing the same as those who came before you? Poverty and illness afflicted them and they were shaken to the point that the Messenger and those who believed with him said, “When is Allah’s help coming?” Be assured that Allah’s help is very near. (Surat al-Baqara, 214)
Hardship And Suffering Strengthen Morality
Those who have experienced hardship, both mental and physical, are usually more considerate and of better understanding than others who haven’t. For instance, one who has grown up in poverty, better appreciates the things he possesses later on in life, and is grateful to Allah. He is more humble, gentle and accommodating, because of the hardship he had to endure, and does not use force or assail others, but is considerate, respectful and known for his better qualities. He is not wasteful, not even with the property of others, is not prone to vanity, but is hardworking, disciplined, and knows to be content with little.
The above-mentioned qualities earn the love and respect of all decent people. Others are especially touched by his consideration. For instance, when he meets a poor person, he instantly recognizes him by his mannerism and behavior, even if that person tries to conceal his poverty, and helps him without letting him feel it and hurting his dignity.
In short, one of the most important benefits of having to endure hardship and suffering is moral maturity. Others, on the other hand, devoid of these qualities, cannot bear hardship, not even for a cause they genuinely believe in. They are only concerned with their needs and living a life of luxury, and cannot persevere to defend what they believe in. They desert their cause at the first threat to their well-being. For this reason, the ability to endure hardship is a superior quality. However it must also be stated that it is nevertheless possible for those who have grown up in better circumstances to attain moral maturity by relying on conscience and intellect. The examples given here are for the purpose of describing common differences between people who grew up in poverty and those who haven’t.
The hardships of the School of Yusuf are beneficial for the believer in that they reinforce their good character and enhance their level of maturity.
The Hardships Of The School of Yusuf Enhance One’s Appreciation For What He Has
The School of Yusuf is a place where many difficulties can be experienced at once. One is compelled for months, or even years, to live within the same 4 walls, being able to see only certain people, to endure harsh living conditions, such as cold or dampness, a poor quality of food, sharing space with other criminals, murderers, thieves and other unsavory characters, and general environment of discomfort and ill-ease. In addition, a believer’s life can be compounded by illness or financial problems, making it even more difficult to endure.
For one who has spent years under such circumstances, even a small improvement in living conditions can be a great source of happiness. A clean and bright cell is a gift of Allah for someone who has spent years in an unlit one. And cleanliness, healthy food, the company of good people, the ability to move freely outside, or even just a window, can evoke profound gratitude. One who has experienced such a trial will be much more grateful towards Allah for all that he has been granted than one who has not.
One of the most difficult trials to live in the School of Yusuf is the inability to be with other believers. For a believer, to be with other believers, to converse with them, to remember Allah with them, and to serve Allah’s cause together with them, is that which is most enjoyable. But, being in the School of Yusuf separates believers from one another. This is a condition that requires the patience of the Muslims inside the prison, as well as those on the outside. However, this situation makes known to both parties their importance to one another, and helps them to understand that Allah has created believers as a gift to one another. Believers evidently love and respect each other before being confined in the School of Yusuf, but times of hardship and their separation are factors that enhance and strengthen their love and respect for one another. Under such conditions, seeing the face of another believer becomes a great source of happiness.
One of the problems encountered in the School of Yusuf by believers is lack of cleanliness. Bediuzzaman, when speaking of the difficulties of the School of Yusuf, mentioned his illness, old age, and the constraints upon him, because Muslims are as much physically hygienic people as they are spiritually pure. They are cleaner in their homes, in the food they eat, the cloths they wear and their bodies then anyone else. As they consider cleanliness as a form of worship, even in the worst conditions, they are strict in this respect. For instance, as for the Companions of the Cave, whose narrative is related in Surat al-Kahf of the Qur’an, when they woke up after years of sleep, sent one of their own to buy food, but told him also to make sure it was pure and clean (Surat al-Kahf, 19). In another verse, Allah reveals the following to Ibrahim (as):
And We located the position of the House for Ibrahim: “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who circle it, and those who stand and bow and prostrate.” (Surat al-Hajj, 26)
For a believer, the place where he is is like a place of worship, even if it is prison. Because, wherever he may be, he turns to Allah, prays to and worships Him. For this reason, the place where he finds himself must be as clean as Allah commands.
Obviously, in the School of Yusuf, it will be harder to ensure this cleanness. Instead of plenty of warm or cold water from a tap, there may only be drops of water available, dripping out of a pipe. Clothing might be limited to two pieces, but they must be clean. Whatever the situation is, a believer will never complain. He will never consider it a hardship that he has to clean himself with a little water dripping from a pipe. He will consider even this minor detail as Allah’s help and gift, and therefore remain positive. Allah is compassionate and merciful, and supports and aids His beloved servants under the most difficult conditions, sometimes in mysterious ways. A believer confined in the School of Yusuf will always acknowledge the beauty and good of that which He creates for him, and feel great contentment.
Many blessings go unnoticed or are taken for granted in times of prosperity. But for someone in the School of Yusuf, running water, a clean and airy room, good food, and the opportunity to be with believers at any time, are the good things one must be grateful for in this world. Because Bediuzzaman knew this secret, he frequently advised his students to recognize the good of hardship, and to be grateful instead of complaining.
Just as the cessation of pleasure causes pain, so does the cessation of pain give pleasure. Yes, on thinking of past happy, enjoyable days, everyone feels a pang of regret and longing, and says: “Alas!,” and recalling calamitous, unhappy days of the past, experiences a sort of pleasure since they are passed, and says: “Praise and thanks be to Allah, that calamity has left its reward and departed.” He breathes a sigh of relief. That is to say, an hour’s temporary pain and sorrow leave behind a sort of pleasure in the spirit, while a pleasurable hour leaves a pain. Since the reality is thus; and since past calamitous hours together with their pains are no longer existent, and future distressing days are at the present time non-existent, and there is no pain from nothing, to continually eat bread and drink water today, for example, because of the possibility of being hungry and thirsty in several days’ time, is most foolish. In just the same way, to think now of the past and future unhappy hours, which simply do not exist, and to display impatience, and ignoring one’s faulty self, to complain to Allah is also most foolish. So long as the power of patience is not scattered to left and right, that is, to the past and future, and is held firm in the face of the present hour and day, it is sufficient. The distress is reduced from ten to one. In fact, but let it not be complaining, Divine favor pointed out the above fact to me while, during a few days of material and spiritual affliction, illness and trial the like of which I had never before experienced in my life, I was being crushed in particular by the despair and distress of the heart and spirit which resulted from my being unable to serve the Risale-i Nur. I was then content with my distressing illness and imprisonment. For, saying: “It is great profit for an unfortunate like myself who waits at the door of the grave to make one hour which might be passed in heedlessness ten hours’ worth of worship,” I gave thanks. 12
The Value Of Worship Through Hardship
Bediuzzaman often stated that worship during time spent in the School of Yusuf is valuable for the Hereafter. This is good news for the believers confined there. Some of his comments on the subject are related below:
O you unfortunates who are experiencing the misfortune of prison! Since your world is weeping and your life is bitter, strive so that your Hereafter will not also weep, and your eternal life will smile and be sweet! Benefit from prison! Just as sometimes under severe conditions in the face of the enemy, an hour’s watch may be equivalent to a year’s worship, so in the severe conditions you are experiencing, the hardship of each hour spent as worship becomes the equivalent of many hours, it transforms that hardship into mercy.13
Each day spent in prison may gain as much as ten days’ worship, and, with regards to their fruits, may transform those transient hours into enduring hours, and through five or ten years’ punishment may be the means of saving a person from millions of years of eternal imprisonment. For the believers, the condition for gaining this most significant and valuable advantage is to perform the obligatory prayers, repent for the sins that were the cause of their imprisonment, and offer thanks in patience. For sure, prison is an obstacle to many sins; it does not provide the opportunity for them.14
As the words of Bediuzzaman reveal, the School of Yusuf is a source of contentment and enhanced motivation for believers. “A little endurance that can prevent eternal confinement” is in reality gift from Allah. In the School of Yusuf, every act of worship will naturally be performed under more trying conditions. For instance, when Said Nursi was in prison, he had the Risale-i Nur written on matchboxes as paper was not permitted. This is surely a very difficult undertaking. Having these delivered to his friends on the outside to be transcribed was also very difficult. But considering the reward for such deeds, it becomes apparent that every difficulty is a road stretching to eternal good. Allah revealed: "For truly with hardship comes ease; truly with hardship comes ease" (Surat al-Inshirah, 5-6) thus informing believers that hardship is followed by ease.
The School of Yusuf Enhances Sincerity
One of the noblest qualities of a believer is his sincerity or in other words, that everything he does is done for the good pleasure of Allah. A sincere believer, knowing that he will have to account in the Hereafter for everything he does, behaves in a manner most pleasing to Allah, Who revealed this quality of the believers in the following verse:
We purified their sincerity through sincere remembrance of the Abode.(Surah Sad, 46)
In this verse, the word “purify” is used. Everything a believer does is only for the good pleasure of Allah. He has no other goal, or other to please. For instance, when helping the poor, a believer does so only to earn Allah’s good pleasure. He does not seek by it to gain respect in society, to win the approval of others, or to improve his reputation in the business community, whereas a non-religious person will usually do so with the view of winning enhanced status or because he can deduct his charitable contribution from his tax bill. Believers do good only for Allah, because only right actions done in sincerity have validity in the presence of Allah.
The School of Yusuf is a place that helps the believers to become more sincere in everything they do. The most profound impact exercised by the education received there is on one’s self. Because, there is no worldly gain for one in prison. Everything one does is behind closed doors, so there is no opportunity for ostentation. He cannot expect acclaim for his efforts, be they words spoken or acts of worship performed. Only Allah knows and sees what he does. Being that he knows this, he turns to Allah with a pure and genuine heart. Allah refers to such individuals in the Qur’an:
[E]xcept those who repent and put things right and hold fast to Allah and dedicate their religion to Allah alone; they are with the believers. Allah will give the believers an immense reward. (Surat an-Nisa, 146)
Those who disbelieve say, “Why has a Sign not been sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “Allah misguides whoever He wills and guides to Himself all who turn to Him: those who believe and whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of Allah. Only in the remembrance of Allah can the heart find peace.” (Surat ar-Ra‘d, 27-28)
As these verses reveal, one who turns to only Allah in everything he does, seeks to find refuge only with Him, and aims to earn only His good pleasure. Bediuzzaman saw the severance of the ties with the outside world as one of the facets of the wisdom inherent in the School of Yusuf, and one which leads to the proper understanding of devotion:
"My dear, loyal brothers!
… Nevertheless, Divine Determining drove us here for our own good; it called us again to the “School of Joseph,” where, being far more meritorious than the places of ordeal of former times, we could receive a thorough lesson in sincerity and rectify our attachment to the affairs of this world, which in truth are valueless.15
In yet another reflection, he explains that those who witness the hardship of the School of Yusuf attain true sincerity, and transcend all worldly or selfish interest:
Yes, since in the “School of Joseph” they have seen with their own eyes the ten and perhaps a hundred benefits gained for every hardship and difficulty, and the good results, and the extensive and sincere service to belief, they are successful in attaining pure sincerity, and no longer lower themselves by seeking minor, personal benefits.16
Believers In The School Of Yusuf Turn And Pray To Allah With A Pure Heart
Believers know that their only true friend, helper and Lord, is Allah. Throughout their lives, they turn only to Allah in everything they do, and seek only His help. The features that distinguishtheir prayers from that of others is the fact that they show gratitude in their prayer, whether or not they are praying in good or bad times.
Those of weak faith, and those sick at heart, usually pray only sincerely in times of hardship. It is only in those moments that their hearts are free of arrogance or doubt, and they pray to Allah with the recognition that only He can help them. For instance, during a devastating earthquake, all realize their powerlessness, and that only Allah’s help can save them. They therefore turn to Him with a pure heart. Believers, on the other hand, unlike these others, turn to Allah with a pure heart through a disaster, but also afterwards, when the danger has passed.
A believer confined in the School of Yusuf knows that it is only Allah Who can free him from prison, and that He is the best of judges, and therefore asks only for His help. He too will do what he can to attain his freedom, as did Yusuf (as) when he asked his friend to mention him to his master, but with the difference being that he knows it is Allah Who determines the outcome of all things. When Yusuf (as) was confronted with the conspiracy of the unbelievers, he prayed to Allah, Who answered his prayers:
He [Yusuf] said, “My Lord, the prison is preferable to me than what they call on me to do. Unless You turn their guile away from me, it may well be that I will fall for them and so become a man of ignorance.” His Lord replied to him and turned away from him their female guile and deviousness. He is the One Who Hears, the One Who Knows. (Surah Yusuf, 33-34)
The School Of Yusuf Is For The Believer A Retreat
Many Islamic scholars of the past spent time in retreat to withdraw from the world, to meditate deeply and with a pure heart on Allah, to reflect on the Qur’an, in order to attain a more profound spirituality, enlightenment and a perfected faith. Allah said to His Prophet (saas) in the Qur’an:
In the daytime much of your time is taken up by business matters. Remember the Name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him completely. (Surat al-Muzammil, 7-8)
As the verse book reveals, all have work to attend to during the day. For instance, a believer struggling in the cause of Allah may be busy with many things during the day, like teaching the morality of the Qur’an to others, working for the good of others, maintaining contact with other believers, as well as handling various other affairs. He may also be busy in trade. Nevertheless, he is always aware of Allah’s presence, and does not violate His limits. However, in order to ponder the wonders of Allah’s creation, reflect on truth of the Hereafter, Judgment Day, Hell and Paradise, and to read and uncover the wisdom and secrets of the Qur’an, one must transcend everyday affairs, concentrate one’s mind and “devote oneself to Allah completely,” as the verse prescribes. Throughout history, many Islamic scholars found it necessary to withdraw from the rest of society for certain periods of their lives, in order to deepen their knowledge of the Qur’an, to come closer to Allah, and to perfect their faith.
The Qur’an offers many examples of such retreats. For instance, a group of faithful sought refuge in a cave from the oppression of the unbelievers, and Allah covered them with His mercy. When our Prophet (saas) was forced out of Mecca, he too sought refuge in a cave. The Qur’an recounts this instance:
If you do not help him, Allah did help him when those who disbelieved drove him out and there were two of them in the Cave. He said to his companion, “Do not be despondent, Allah is with us.” Then Allah sent down His serenity upon him and reinforced him with troops you could not see. He made the word of those who disbelieved undermost. It is the word of Allah which is uppermost. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat at-Tawba, 40)
As the above verse reveals, Allah helps all believers who live to earn His good pleasure, when they encounter much hardship in His cause. Where the unbelievers finally believe they have the upper hand, that is when the believers succeed, with the help of Allah. The unbelievers are left to wonder how it could have been possible, and to speculate as to what power could have aided the believers. Though, they are ignorant of the fact that Allah is the Muslims’ sole aid.
Another group of believers who had sought refuge was the Companions of the Cave, as revealed in the Qur’an. The Companions of the Cave left a corrupt society mired in denial, and sought refuge in a cave where Allah spread over them His mercy. The following verses reveal this fact:
Do you consider that the Companions of the Cave and Ar-Raqim were one of the most remarkable of Our Signs? When the young men took refuge in the cave and said, “Our Lord, give us mercy directly from You and open the way for us to right guidance in our situation.” So We sealed their ears with sleep in the cave for a number of years. (Surat al-Kahf, 9-11)
[One of them said,] “When you have separated yourselves from them and everything they worship except Allah, take refuge in the cave and your Lord will unfold His mercy to you and open the way to the best for you in your situation.”(Surat al-Kahf, 16)
Allah gave freely of His mercy to the believers who sought refuge in the cave, and eased their burden. The Qur’an defines the cave as a place of good for believers. Islamic scholars have taken advantage of the austere conditions of caves to purify themselves from worldly passions.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi had intended in his youth to one day withdraw to a cave. Finally, when he had become a prisoner of war, during the First World War, he decided to withdraw to such a retreat if he were to be freed. Here he speaks of that desire:
When I was twenty years old I used to say repeatedly: “Towards the end of my life I shall withdraw from the life of society into a cave or onto a mountain like those who abandoned the world and withdrew into caves in olden times.” And when during the former Great War I was being held as a prisoner in the north-east, I took this decision: “I shall spend my life after this in caves. I shall slip away from political and social life. Enough now of mixing in them.” At that point both dominical grace and the justice of Divine Determining were manifested.17
Bediuzzaman stated repeatedly that his wish had come true, by the will and grace of Allah, but in another and better form, by his several terms spent in the School of Yusuf. In another instance, he points out the value of the School of Yusuf for the purpose of worship, and its suitability as a place of retreat:
If the prisoner has been sentenced unjustly, on condition he performs the obligatory prayers, each hour will be the equivalent of a day’s worship, and the prison will be like a recluse’s cell. He will be counted among the pious hermits of olden times who retired to caves in order to devote themselves to worship.18
In yet another instance, Bediuzzaman stated that his time spent in the School of Yusuf was like having withdrawn to a retreat, though that he hoped it would bring him even greater reward than an actual retreat:
It bestowed on me “Schools of Joseph” and places of solitary confinement where my time would not be wasted which were far superior to the mountain caves of ascetics and recluses. It gave both the benefits pertaining to the Hereafter of the cave, and strenuous service of the truths of belief and the Qur’an… In accordance with the verse, “But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you.” And the saying: “Good lies in what Allah chooses,” out of compassion for my old age and in order to make us work harder in the service of belief, duties were given us outside our will and power in this third “School of Joseph.”19
As Bediuzzaman noted, retreat to a cave would be his capacity in his old age and ill health, while under such a condition a prison is more suited for retreat. Bediuzzaman was also punished with solitary confinement during those years. Even the windows of his cell were blacked out, in order to prevent him from seeing anyone. Others would consider this situation as a cruelty, but Bediuzzaman, as always, looked at it from the point of view of faith, and recognized instead the good inherent in it Allah made possible for him. Solitary confinement prevented him from seeing anyone, and thereby enabled him to expand his knowledge of the Qur’an, and to meditate without his attention being diverted. All these factors were recognized as positive by Bediuzzaman, and benefited him greatly.
During his imprisonment, he continued to serve in the cause of Allah, and dictated the fruits of his reflections, the Risale-i Nur, to his fellow students also in the prison. When he had completed his prison sentence, he sought to delay his release, and by the will of Allah, he returned to the School of Yusuf soon after. As Bediuzzaman always maintained, there must have still been much good in the School of Yusuf for him since Allah kept him there.
Bediuzzaman likened the Nur students to the Companions of the Cave, and compared that they had made of the School of Yusuf a cave like that of the Companions. The meaning of this comparison is that the mercy of Allah which covered the Companions of the Cave, blessed the Nur students too. There where the unbelievers placed the believers to punish them, became instead the opportune place for the believers to improve themselves, where they were able to submit to Allah with ever greater faith, and where their hearts were infused with a stronger devotion and determination. The words of Bediuzzaman likening the School of Yusuf to situation of the Companions of the Cave’s are as follows:
… and like the Companions of the Cave, the Risale-i Nur students turned that place of ordeal into a cave of the ascetics of former times; all this, together with their endeavors in writing out and disseminating the Risale-i Nur with easy hearts, proved that Divine grace had come to our aid.20
In yet another of his discussion, Bediuzzaman spoke of the visible aspects and of the true nature of things. He stated that he was driven to Barla, while in retreat in the cave, but that Barla became, by Allah’s grace, a safer and better place of retreat for him:
Having given up politics and withdrawn from the world, I was living in a mountain cave and thinking of the Hereafter when “the worldly” wrongfully plucked me from it and sent me into exile. The All-Compassionate and Wise Creator turned the exile into mercy; He transformed the solitude on the mountain, which was unsafe and exposed to factors that would harm sincerity, into a retreat in the safe and sincere mountains of Barla. While a prisoner-of-war in Russia I formed the intention to withdraw into a cave towards the end of my life and offered supplications for that purpose. The Most Merciful of the Merciful made Barla the cave and bestowed the benefits of a cave, but He did not burden the difficulties and troubles of a cave on my weak being… Moreover, although “the worldly” gave the document in question to all the exiles, and released the criminals from prison and offered them an amnesty, they wrongfully did not give it to me. In order to further employ me in the service of the Qur'an and make me write to a greater extent the lights of the Qur'an called the Words, my Compassionate Sustainer left me in untroubled manner in this exile and transformed it into a great instance of compassion. 21
Bediuzzaman’s reflections are of utmost importance for a believer. Because, when considering matters according to their outward appearance, we would suppose that Bediuzzaman was exiled to Barla as an innocent man, and where, except a few relatives, he was not permitted to receive visitors or to write to them, and was prevented from working in the service of Allah. And, at a time when it was common to grant amnesty to murderers and other violent criminals, he was not pardoned.
These are the outward aspects of things. The reality, on the other hand, is that Bediuzzaman was taken from his retreat in the cave to Barla, a safer, healthier place for him. Allah used the hostility of certain people towards Bediuzzaman, and turned Barla into a retreat. These people’s confinement of Bediuzzaman became the means by which he could not see anyone. In this way, as Bediuzzaman said too, "My All-Compassionate Creator transformed that isolation into a vast mercy for me. It left my mind clear and was the means of my receiving the effulgence of the All-Wise Qur'an as it is, free of all malice and ill-will."22
Every believer confined in the School of Yusuf ought to consider this reality. Even though, at the first consideration, these events might appear as punishment for Bediuzzaman by his tormentors, in reality, Allah transported him into this “cave,” as a retreat, or into this “educational institution,” in order to ease his task by His mercy. Outwardly, it appears to be an injustice, while in actual fact Allah’s good pleasure and mercy is with the believers.
For that reason, Yusuf (as), instead of acquiescing to the conspiracy on the part of that woman and her circle of friends, declared that he preferred imprisonment, and prayed to Allah He save him from their schemes. Allah answered his prayer, and had him thrown into prison. Considering this situation as it really was, it is recognizable that prison, in this instance, was more appealing than the proposals of the unbelievers.
A believer confined in the School of Yusuf must contemplate the true reality of his situation, and act accordingly. Despite the outward appearance by which their enemies seem to have plotted against them, slandered and accused them wrongfully, believers know that their confinement in the School of Yusuf was ordained for even before they were born, or even before their parents. It was known, in the presence of Allah, in its every detail, when they would enter the School of Yusuf, which unbeliever would say what to them, when and under what circumstances they will be released, and what food they would eat there.
For one who considers his reality from this perspective, who acknowledges the truth of fate by submitting himself to Allah at all times, the conditions of the School of Yusuf are for his best interest.
11 The Rays 13
12 The Words 13
13 The Rays 14, Letters
14 The Words 13, Three Letters
15 The Rays 13
16 The Flashes 26
17 The Flashes 26
18 The Words 13, The Second Station
19 The Flashes 26
20 The Flashes 26
21 The Letters 13
22 The Letters 13