Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: The Great Scholar Of Islam Who Learned And Taught In The School Of Yusuf
Throughout history, Muslims were punished with imprisonment by the unbelievers for their good works in the cause of Allah, and for teaching that He is the only Lord. Somehow, breaking the law was not the reason for their imprisonment. Those who fear that Muslims might spread good morality among the people, and that, thereby, their evil might become exposed, and their personal ambitions placed in jeopardy, have always slandered the believers, and provoked the public and justice establishment against them.
Similar circumstances repeated themselves throughout Bediuzzaman’s life. He and his students have always been falsely accused, even though they merely worked tirelessly to teach the morality of the Qur’an, without political ambitions or for seeking status, but calling people to the kind of peace and contentment contrary to the irreligious ideas that were being propagated, and always fighting against those who sought to inhibit the spread of the morality of Islam. As a result, they were investigated and imprisoned. In each instance, their innocence was established. Nevertheless, in the meantime, the prisons they were kept in became schools as they had been for Yusuf (as), and their sincerity, love for one another, and determination were enhanced and strengthened.
The treatment Bediuzzaman was exposed to, and the accusations he was assailed with, were the fulfillment of the verses of the Qur’an. Even if his life is only briefly examined, it becomes apparent that he experienced circumstances similar to the sincere believers had, as revealed in the Qur’an, and that he responded with a level of morality much like them. For this reason, it will be of benefit to consider his life.
The Life Of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
Said Nursi is one of the greatest Islamic scholars and thinkers of recent times. He was born in 1873 in the Nurs village, of the Hizan district in Bitlis, and he died in 1960, in Sanliurfa.
He acquired advanced knowledge of the sciences, as well as religious insight, when he was still young, and he was noticed for his sharp mind, strong memory, and superior abilities at an early age. He began to be called Bediuzzaman for these qualities, meaning “the beauty of the age.”
He never shied from any effort to exemplify the morality of the Qur’an, which is why he was constantly slandered and oppressed by the Masons and other enemies of Islam.
He came to Istanbul in the year 1907, in order to solve what he considered to be the urgent problem of education in the east, by lobbying the authorities for the foundation of a university, which he called Medresetü’z-Zehra, where religious as well as modern sciences would be taught. His profound knowledge gained him the scientific community’s recognition here within a short period of time. He published articles in various newspapers and magazines, and participated in the Liberation constitutionalism arguments of the time. He played a pacifying role in March 31 rebellion of 1909, but was arrested by order of the state of emergency courts, as a consequence of false allegations, and was freed in due course.
Following these events, he returned to the east and formed a militia with his students during the First World War. Bediuzzaman was taken prisoner of war in Siberia, and after 3 years in captivity, he escaped and returned to Istanbul via Leningrad, Warsaw, Vienna and Sofia.
In Istanbul, he was received with great respect by the scientific community and by government officials. He was appointed to the office of Dar al Hikmat-al Islamiya, and from the income he earned, he published his books, and distributed them free of charge. During the occupation of Istanbul, he published a pamphlet called Hutuvat-ı Sitte warning of the occupying forces’ true intentions. He rejected the Fatwa by the Sheikh al-Islam, obtained under duress, and to the effect that the uprising in Anatolia was an unlawful rebellion, and instead defended and supported it. His attitude won the approval of the national assembly formed in Anatolia, after which he was invited to Ankara.
When he arrived in Ankara in 1922, he was received with an official state ceremony. He was offered the posts of minister for religious affairs, Member of Parliament, and preacher for the eastern regions, but he rejected all such offers. When he realized the hostility of some members of parliament towards Islam, he presented to and read out his 10 articles in parliament.
When the Sheikh Said uprising was taking place, during the time of his retreat in a cave in Van, he was arrested and taken first to Burdur, and then to Barla, a district of Isparta, even though he was in no way involved in the plot. There, he began to write his books, which sold a total of 600,000 copies. Until the end of his life, he was persecuted by those who disapproved of his ideas, and was taken to court in 1935 in Eskishehir, in 1943 in Denizli, in 1947 in Afyon, and in 1952 in Istanbul. He was also kept under house arrest in Kastamonu and Emirdag. He spent 30 years of his life in prison or exile, and strove to complete his master work Risale-i Nur, under these circumstances. He completed the work, the best Tafsir (Commentary) of his era, in 1952. Following the case brought against him in the Denizli courts, which lasted 8 years, the Risale-i Nur was examined by the advisory commission of the ministry of religious affairs, which concluded that it was a work of faith, and sanctioned its publication. He was therefore found not guilty of the charges. After his release, the Risale-i Nur was published in the new alphabet by the Democratic Party’s Member of Parliament for Isparta, Tahsin Tola, by the order of Adnan Menderes. His life of 87 years, spent in the cause of Islam, ended in the 1960.
The fact that Bediuzzaman spent a major part of his life either in prison, exile or house arrest, proves the determination and patience of his students. They had dedicated themselves to the service of Islam, and yet were always accused by certain segments of power of trying to undermine the state. These segments tried to discredit them in the public eye through slanderous accusations, though they had only been working of the good of Islam. For instance, these segments, in control of some media and other means of access to power, accused Said Nursi and his students of forming secret religious organizations, of fighting against the regime, and of trying to destroy the republic’s core values. Consequently, Said Nursi and 120 of his followers were apprehended and, according to some journalists of the era, “bundled handcuffed into trucks as if they had started a revolution,” taken to the Eskishehir High Criminal Court.
It must be stated at this point that throughout these proceedings, the Turkish police and the army acted sympathetically towards Bediuzzaman and his Nur students. Through the provocation by some irreligious groups, however, they were forced to do their duty, but without failing to state that they are on the side of truth. For instance, the commander of the military unit that was ordered to transport Bediuzzaman and 120 of his followers to Eskishehir, on the way allowed them to do their daily prayers, removing their handcuffs for this purpose.
Another Islamic thinker, Necip Fazil Kisakurek wrote the following about the apprehension of Bediuzzaman and the Nur students:
Despite that in the raid everything of relevance belonging to Bediuzzaman and his followers was secured, there is nothing that would indict them. Even so, they did not free them but sent him with 15 of his followers to prison as if a consolation to a charge that warranted the death penalty… 105 students are found not guilty.27
The Eskishehir court convicted Bediuzzaman and sentenced him to 11 months in prison. During his term in the Eskishehir prison, Bediuzzaman endured a very difficult time. He was punished with one month solitary confinement, and was exposed to many other cruel practices, some of which are related by various sources as follows:
Said Nursi was in the Eskishehir prison with 120 of his followers where he was taken into solitary confinement and he and his students were subjected to various forms of cruelty and torture. One of his students, Zubeyir Gunduzalp states that they were not given food for 12 days.28
They were looking at us as if we had already been sentenced to the death penalty. No visitors were allowed, saying that anyone who spoke to us would be sentenced to death as well and at night it was not possible to find sleep because of the filth, cockroaches and bedbugs.29
When Bediuzzaman was released from the Eskishehir prison, he was held under house arrest, in a house opposite the police station in Kastamonu. Eight years later, the Denizli court sentenced him to 20 months in prison, and he was then exiled to Emirdag.
Throughout this period, he was subjected to countless instances of torture and cruelty, and poisoned more than once. Bediuzzaman, who was by then suffering from old age and ill-health, was deliberately kept in cold, damp and poorly ventilated cells. Said Nursi relates his prison days as follows:
Then they arrested me during the most intensely cold days of winter on some trite pretext, and put me into solitary confinement in prison in a large and extremely cold ward, leaving me two days without a stove. Having been accustomed to light my stove several times a day in my small room, always having live coals in the brazier, with my illness and weakness I was only able to endure it with difficulty.30
Bediuzzaman continues by saying that, as we related in the previous chapter, he found consolation in the thought of seeing other inmates entering the Islamic faith.
Allegations Against Bediuzzaman
Certain segments of power that disliked the idea of spiritual values gaining in popularity, used the same age-old tactics against Said Nursi, and incited the public, as well as the authorities, against him and his followers, through a comprehensive smear campaign. Various newspapers of the era waged a propaganda war against him and his students by printing untrue stories. Some individuals were bought with money to offer false evidence against them. However, each time the courts found Bediuzzaman and his students not guilty of the charges brought against them, those who concocted these ill-conceived slanderous charges were humiliated in public.
When these slanderous accusations are examined, it becomes clear that they are much like those assailed against the believers of the past, such as “he is abusing religion for personal gain,” “he is misleading people,” “he is corrupt,” “he is mad,” “those who believe him are naïve.” These are just some of the accusations brought wrongly against the believers as pointed out in the Qur’an.
In the past, every believer encountered the opposition of his community’s leading personalities, as every believer will encounter such opposition in the future. As the following verse of the Qur’an reveals, "We never sent a warner into any city without the affluent people in it saying, ‘We reject what you have been sent with.’" (Surah Saba Suresi, 34)This is Allah’s unchanging law and encountering such opposition is proof for believers of being on the right path. The fact that Bediuzzaman and his students were confronted by the same accusation and slanders that the Qur’an speaks of shows that they followed the right path and that their efforts were effective. All believers who work for the cause of the morality of the Qur’an will encounter such accusations. Allah reveals this reality in the following way:
Or did you suppose that you would enter the Garden without facing the same as those who came before you? … (Surat al-Baqara, 214)
Truly, a matter which needs to be considered by all Muslims, is that prophets and believers in the past repeatedly experienced cruelty and false accusations. For this reason, it will be beneficial for Muslims to consider the numerous attacks, conspiracies and accusations Bediuzzaman was exposed to in light of verses of the Qur’an.
Slander Against Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: Abusing Religion For The Purpose Of Personal Gain
One of the gravest accusations assailed against Bediuzzaman was that he sought to obtain material gain or prestige from his activities. Bediuzzaman was accused of fleecing his students, and that he was seeking to satisfy his leadership complex, though he lived a simple and modest life, owned no property, and in his own words, it was his chosen profession to be dissatisfied with himself. We see in the verses of the Qur’an that believers encountered similar accusations in the past:
The ruling circle of those of his [Nuh’s] people who disbelieved said, “This is nothing but a human being like yourselves who simply wants to gain ascendancy over you…” (Surat al-Muminun, 24)
They said [to Musa], “Have you come to us to turn us from what we found our fathers doing, and to gain greatness in the land? We do not believe you.” (Surah Yunus, 78)
Bediuzzaman’s exemplary life and the works he left behind would suggest that these accusations were invented and wholly unfounded.
Bediuzzaman’s Followers Were Belittled
A propaganda campaign was launched against the students of Bediuzzaman, who had listened to him and tried to learn from him. Those who accused them of being naïve, stupid and blind followers of him, showed that they shared the same ill-intent as unbelievers of the past. The Qur’an reveals that the unbelievers responded with the following to those who called them onto the right path:
The ruling circle of those of his [Nuh’s] people who disbelieved said, “We do not see you as anything but a human being like ourselves. We do not see anyone following you but the lowest of us, unthinkingly. We do not see you as superior to us. On the contrary, we consider you to be liars.” (Surah Hud, 27)
When they are told, “Believe in the way that the people believe,” they say, “What! Are we to believe in the way that fools believe?” No indeed! They are the fools, but they do not know it. (Surat al-Baqara, 13)
Accusation of Madness
One of fiercest accusations believers had to face in history was that of madness. Bediuzzaman, who worked for the spread of the Islamic morality, was accused many times of the same. The following are some verses in this regard:
He said, “This Messenger, who has been sent to you, is mad.” (Surat ash-Shu‘ara’, 27)
Before them the people of Nuh denied the truth. They denied Our servant, saying, “He is madman,” and he was driven away with jeers. (Surat al-Qamar, 9)
The example of this in Bediuzzaman’s life took place in 1908, when he was taken to the Yildiz military court, for contesting religious subjects, and where a commission of five doctors, 2 Jewish, 1 Greek, 1 Armenian, 1 Turkish, certified him insane. Subsequently, he was sent to a mental hospital where, following his examination, the psychiatrist said: “if this man is mad, then there are no sane people in the world.” 31
Bediuzzaman was later frequently alleged to be insane by the media, then under the influence of certain circles.
However, everyone who knew him, friend or foe, knew him to be a great scholar, and a man of intelligence, insight and sincerity. The great masterwork on matters of faith and truth of the Qur’an he left behind confirms his true state of mind.
The Allegation That He Was Misleading His Followers
Those far from the religious morality have always accused believers of misleading those they call to the right path. Even though they themselves have gone astray, they accuse those who abide by Allah’s book, demonstrating that it is with the religion itself that they are at war. Allah had revealed:
They said, “These two magicians desire by their magic to expel you from your land and abolish your most excellent way of life.”(Surah Ta-Ha, 63)
Accusation Of Heresy
One of the allegations against Bediuzzaman was that he was promoting a religion other than Islam and that he had invented his own religion. The purpose behind these allegations was to incite the public and religious but ignorant people against him. The verses of the Qur’an reveal that the same allegations were made against believers in the past:
The ruling circle of his [Nuh’s] people said, “We see you in flagrant error.” (Surat al-A‘raf, 60)
For this purpose, they misinterpreted some of Bediuzzaman’s practices and exploited them in their propaganda war against him. Bediuzzaman writes, in one of his letters, that incited by a secret committee, some naïve Imams accused him of not attending the Friday prayers and not growing a beard.32 In response to such provocations, Bediuzzaman always made the appropriate statements and his innocence was thus established.
Plots Against Bediuzzaman: Conspiracy And Slander
Nuh said, “My Lord, they have disobeyed me and followed those whose wealth and children have only increased them in loss.” They have hatched a mighty plot. (Surah Nuh, 21-22)
As the Prophet Nuh (as) states, the unbelievers offered every effort to hinder the believers. Conspiracies and slander are some of these which Bediuzzaman also had to deal with.
One of the conspiracies against him is related in the book titled, Bilinmeyen Taraflariyla Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Bediuzzaman Said Nursi As We Don’t Know Him). The book says that one of the conspirators wrote on a piece of paper “Said’s servant bought Raki (an alcholic drink) for him,” and attempted to collect signatures from the drunken people on this piece of paper in a store that sells alcohol,33 to discredit Bediuzzaman in the Muslim community.
Bediuzzaman relates another example of slanderous attacks on him in one of his letters. According to a man who held public office, Bediuzzaman was partying all night long, consumed tray loads of Baklava (a Turkish dessert), and had prostitutes and dishonorable people frequent his place. Bediuzzaman responded:
"My door was locked from the inside as well the outside at nights and a guard was standing outside my door all night by the order of the evil man who slandered me."34
As we have seen, these people accused Bediuzzaman of drunkeness and womanizing, in order to discredit him in the eye of the public. However, it must not be forgotten that Allah reveals in the Qur’an that such conspiracies cannot harm the believers, and that all will conclude positively for them:
Those before them plotted but all plotting belongs to Allah. He knows what each self earns, and the disbelievers will soon know who has the Ultimate Abode.(Surat ar-Ra‘d, 42)
Bediuzzaman was cleared of all these allegations, while those who slandered him were publicly humiliated.
The ruling circle of those of his people who were arrogant said, “We will drive you out of our city, Shu‘ayb, you and those who believe along with you, unless you return to our religion.” He [Shu‘ayb] said, “What, even though we detest it?” (Surat al-A‘raf, 88)
They said, “Lut, if you do not desist you will be expelled.” (Surat ash- Shu‘ara, 167)
Allah reveals in many verses of the Qur’an, as the ones quoted above, that believers were forced into exile. Bediuzzaman was punished with exile on more than one occasion. Certain circles, like the Freemasons, that could not confront him on an ideological basis, found the solution in having him exiled to remote regions, such as Barla, Kastamonu, Emirdag and Isparta.
He was ordered to remote corners in towns and villages, he was kept under inhumane conditions, and he was forbidden to leave the village of his exile, in order to prevent contact with the outside world. Two days before his death, he arrived in Urfa quite ill, but still they sought to evict him from there nonetheless. With the intervention of his students, and other conscientious people, he was allowed to remain there, but he finally died.
Harassed by Hypocrites
One of the methods used to stop Bediuzzaman and his students was to have hypocrites infiltrate their community. It was the responsibility of these individuals to inform certain irreligious circles of what went on among them, and to provide material for propaganda by the media they controlled.
An example of this was the serial article “Inanc Somuruculeri” (Belief Exploitatives) published in 1964 by the newspaper Cumhuriyet. Yilmaz Cetiner assumed a religious identity in order to infiltrate the Nur community. He was with Bediuzzaman on a number of occasions, and was to produce the most devastating smear campaign against the Nur community. Bediuzzaman speaks in the following way about a spy among them:
There was an evil spy among us who worked to have the students of Nur imprisoned. This man one day admitted freely that he had found nothing to secure their imprisonment and said if he were to find something he would most definitely have them imprisoned. Two days later, he himself did something that got him imprisoned for two years.35
Bediuzzaman never compromised in his struggle, in spite of all the conspiracies, attacks and slander waged against him. What was done onto him and his students served only to strengthen their determination. As the Qur’an promised, the unbelievers’ conspiracies were foiled. Allah states in these verses that He will thwart the plots of the unbelievers:
They desire to extinguish Allah’s Light with their mouths. But Allah refuses to do other than perfect His Light, even though the disbelievers detest it. It is He Who sent His Messenger with guidance and the Religion of Truth to exalt it over every other religion, even though the idolaters detest it. (Surat at-Tawba, 32-33)
Our Word was given before to Our servants, the Messengers, that they would certainly be helped. (Surat as-Saffat, 171-172)
Bediuzzaman is one of the believers who were wronged like many before him. However, it must be acknowledged that, every injustice, every hardship, every hurtful word one would rather not hear, and every slander assailed against the believers, is ultimately in their favor. For as long as the believer remains patient and submissive to his Lord, his standing in Paradise will be improved. Allah has promised victory on Earth to believers, and for this very reason, and regardless of how the unbelievers try otherwise, their efforts will come to naught, and return upon them in the form of suffering in Hell.
Other than Bediuzzaman, Islamic scholars like Imam-i A’zam, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal were sent to the School of Yusuf, subjected to suffering, cruelty and even torture, and attempts were made to inhibit them such as arrest and exile. Bediuzzaman stated the following about Islamic scholars who defied hardship in the School of Yusuf:
It also occurred to my heart that since a great interpreter of the Law like Imam-i A’zam had suffered imprisonment; and a supreme mujahid like Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal had been severely tortured in prison for the sake of a single matter of the Qur’an, and had endured it in perfect patience, not remaining silent about the matter in question; and numerous religious leaders and scholars had been completely patient and unshaken, offering thanks, despite suffering torments far greater than yours; for sure you are obliged to offer endless thanks for the very few difficulties you suffer, although the reward and gain you receive is great for those many truths of the Qur’an. 36
27 Necip Fazil Kisakurek, Son Devrin Din Mazlumlari (Oppressed Men of Religion of the Last Era), p. 223
28 Necmettin Sahiner, Bilinmeyen Taraflariyla Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, p. 298
29 Sahiner, Son Sahitler (Last Witnesses), vol. 1, pp. 82-83
30 The Flashes 26
31 Sahiner, Bilinmeyen Taraflariyla Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Bediuzzaman Said Nursi As We Do Not Know Him), pp. 89-95
32 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Emirdag Letter
33 Sahiner, Bilinmeyen Taraflariyla Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Said Nursi As We Do Not Know Him), p. 346
34 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Tarihce-i Hayat (History of Life), p. 451
35 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Kastamonu Letter
36 The Flashes 26