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· "The Strongest Voice will be Islam's"




In the December of 1919, Bediuzzaman had a "true dream" or sort of vision, which he subsequently recorded and included in Sünuhat. l He tells us there that he was at the time greatly distressed at the course of events and was "searching for a light in the dense darkness." In his dream, Bediuzzaman was summoned by "a great assembly" made up of representatives of the leading figures of Islam from each century and called upon to give an account of the present state of Islam. Contrary to what might be expected, Bediuzzaman's reply pointed out positive aspects of the defeat, including the strengthening of Islamic brotherhood and the Ottomans' being saved from being carried away to a greater extent on "the tyrannical current" of capitalism. Then, in order to show why Islam rejects modern Western civilization, which was epitomised by the ugly and exploitative capitalism and aggressive imperialism of the time, he made a comparison of the principles on which Western civilization and Islamic civilization are based and their results. This extremely interesting and original exposition was greeted with approval by the Assembly in the dream, and one of the deputies declared:


"Yes, be hopeful! The loudest and strongest voice in the coming upheavals and changes will be that of Islam!"


The same comparison of Western and Islamic civilizations appears in different contexts in a number of Bediuzzaman's works of the period. And from these and from other references to the same subject, we see in greater detail his views on the subject, and also the reasons for the optimism and hope for the future engendered by the dream.


It should be noted firstly that Bediuzzaman frequently pointed out that just as modem civilization was not the product or property of Christianity, neither was decline and retrogression in keeping with Islam: "To consider civilization to be the property of Christianity, which it is not, and to show decline, which is the enemy of Islam, to be its friend, is to suggest that the firmament is revolving in the opposite direction." As we have already seen, Islam enjoins progress and comprises all the necessities of civilization: "I declare with all my strength that there is nothing which is in reality good in civilization that is itself, or what is better than it, not guaranteed either explicitly or implicitly by Islam..." And in another work he wrote: "The things known as the virtues of civilization are each a transformed matter of the Seriat.” Further to this, Bediuzzaman pointed out that Islam had played a fundamental and significant role in the development of modem civilization:


"I cannot deny this: there are numerous virtues in [modern] civilization, but they are neither the property of Christianity, nor the creation of Europe, nor the work of this century. Rather, they are the property of all. They arise from the combined thought of mankind, the laws of the revealed religions, innate need, and in particular from the Islamic revolution brought about by the Seriat of Muhammed (PBUH)." And in another work he put it in even stronger terms: "The good things and great industrial progress to be seen in Western civilization are entirely reflected and derived from Islamic civilization, the guidance of the Qur'an, and the [other] revealed religions...."


However, in the West, the evils of civilization had come to preponderate over its beneficial aspects. Bediuzzaman gave two reasons for this. The first was the permissive attitude of Western civilization towards "dissipation" and "the appetites of the flesh", which arose from "not making religion and virtue the principles of civilization." While the second was "the appalling inequality in the means of livelihood", which also ultimately resulted from lack of religion. These would eventually lead to its destruction.


Thus, Bediuzzaman predicted that because Western civilization had become distant from true Christianity and was based not on the principles of revealed religion, but on those of Greek and, primarily, Roman philosophy, it would eventually "be dispersed" and "change its form", and make way for the emergence of Islamic civilization. His comparisons, then, are between the "positive" principles and results of revelation, and the "negative" principles and results of philosophy, or between divine guidance (hüda) and genius, meaning 'reason' (deha), as he sometimes calls them. Western civilization he describes as follows:


"It takes as its point of support force, which manifests itself in aggression. Its aim and purpose is benefit and self-interest, after which everyone jostles and pushes without restraint. Its principle in life is conflict, which manifests itself in contention and discord. The tie between different groups is racialism and negative nationalism, which thrives on devouring others and which manifests itself in ghastly clashes. Its alluring service is encouraging lust and passion, satisfying desires, and facilitating the attainment of whims. And as for lust and passion, they make man descend from the level of the angels to that of a dog. They cause him to become a beast. If most of these civilized people were turned inside out, the skin of a wolf, bear, snake, pig, or ape would appear. Or so it seems to the imagination."


The principles on which Islamic civilization is based, on the other hand, are the reverse of these:


"Its point of support is truth instead of force, which is manifest as justice and equity. Its aims are virtue and God's pleasure in place of benefit and self-interest, which are manifest as love and friendly competition. Its means of unity are the bonds of religion, country, and class instead of racialism and nationalism, which are manifest as sincere brotherhood and reconciliation, and co-operation in only defending against outside aggression. The principle in life is that of mutual assistance and co-operation instead of conflict, which is manifest as unity and mutual support. In place of lust is guidance, which is manifest as progress for humanity and being perfected spiritually. It restricts the passions, and instead of facilitating the base desires of the carnal soul, it gratifies the high sentiments of the spirit.”


Of the various aspects of civilization of which there are more detailed comparisons in Bediuzzaman's works, we shall briefly mention two. The first of these is literature.


In a piece on the subject in Lemeat, a collection of writings in free verse on various subjects which was published in Istanbul, probably in 1921, Bediuzzaman makes a comparison between the Qur’an as literature and European literature. This literature is represented by the novel, for which there had been a strong vogue among 'Europeanized' Ottomans since the time of Abdulhamid. Bediuzzaman states that there are three areas of literature. These are concerned with love and beauty, heroism and valour, and thirdly, the depiction of reality. As regards European literature, he says that in the first sort it does not know the meaning of true love, and merely excites the carnal appetites - though it purports to be high-minded and condemn such things as unfitting for man, while in the second, it does not favour right and justice, but exalts the concept of force.


In the depiction of reality, Bediuzzaman describes the Western view in greater detail. He points out that since European literature regards the universe not as Divine art, but from the point of view of nature, it prompts materialism and the worship of nature. And the novel, whether in book form, or as theatre or cinema, is the only remedy it has been able to find for the distress of the spirit arising from this misguidance. He goes on to say that both produce feelings of sadness, but while the sadness produced by the Qur'an is of a lofty and elevated nature, that caused European literature offers no hope. This again springs from the view of existence it expresses. The world is a wild and ownerless place; what inspires the sorrow is "deaf nature" and "blind force". It is the pathetic woe of an orphan, of the lack of friends, rather than their absence. And while both give pleasure and stir the emotions, where the Qur'an stirs the spirit and moves the higher emotions, European literature stimulates man's animal appetites and affords pleasure to his lower nature only.


The second aspect to be considered here is of a socio-economic nature. It concerns the injustice inherent in Western civilization and the remedy for its grievous consequences provided by Islam.


Bediuzzaman summarizes the root cause of the great social upheavals man has suffered, particularly this century, in two phrases. One is: "So long as I'm full, what is it to me if others die of hunger." And the other: "You struggle and labour so that I can live in ease and comfort." And he demonstrates that if they are to be eradicated, it will be through applying the Qur'anic injunction of almsgiving (vucub-u zekat) and prohibition on usury and interest (hurmet-i riba). His argument is as follows:


Through urging the wealthy classes to act in a cruel, oppressive, and arrogant manner towards the poor, the first phrase has been the cause of such sedition and strife that it has come close to overturning humanity. And the second phrase, through driving the poor to harbour hatred and envy towards the rich, has for several centuries destroyed public order and security, and this century, due to the struggle between capital and labour, has given rise to disaster and disorder on a vast scale. The role of zekat and the prohibition on interest in rectifying this situation is this:


The most important factor in maintaining the order of society as a whole is not allowing an unbridgeable gulf to develop between the various classes. The upper classes and the rich should not become so far removed from the lower classes and the poor that the lines of communication are broken, as happened in European civilization. "Despite all its societies for good works, all its establishments for the teaching of ethics, all its severe discipline and regulations", it could neither reconcile those two classes, nor heal the two wounds in human life caused by the two phrases above. However, through making the payment of zekat obligatory and prohibiting interest, Islam establishes relations between rich and poor, and forges links of respect and sympathy between them. By not allowing the classes to draw far apart, it maintains the order and balance of society. It "uproots" the two phrases and heals the wounds they have caused in mankind.


How is it then that while Islam comprises true civilization, it was materially defeated by Western civilization? In his dream, Bediuzzaman was questioned concerning this. He was asked by one of the deputies in the Assembly: "With which of your actions did you issue a fetva to Divine Determining so that it ordered this disaster for you?" Bediuzzaman replied that it was their neglect of three of the 'pillars of Islam' - the prescribed prayers, fasting in Ramadan, and payment of zekat- that had brought it upon them. And he afterwards added a note to this, including neglect of the Hajj.




· The Absolute Sovereignty of the Qur'an




Many reasons have been touched on in describing Bediuzzaman's thought and works up to here for the decline of the Islamic world and the Ottomans in particular. Broadly speaking they can be classed under two main headings. One is despotism and the other is religion, or rather the failure to adhere to its principles in various areas. The two are interconnected. Despotism, together with its numerous, far-reaching, and negative consequences, and the solutions for them in the form of Constitutionalism and Freedom within the sphere of the ,Seriat worked for with such dedication by Bediuzzaman, we have discussed in some detail. With regard to religion, many areas of decline may be included under this heading, and these too, together with their solutions, have been described in various places. For example, the decline in the field of learning and medrese education, and the solutions put forward by Bediuzzaman for this which would also heal the deep rifts that had developed between the ulema, the Sufi community, and those with a secular, Western educational background. The negligent attitude towards the 'pillars of Islam' mentioned in the dream above. And the various "sicknesses" in the social life of Muslims, and in the field of morality, and the "remedies" offered by Bediuzzaman in his sermon in Damascus. However, rather than attempting a comprehensive analysis of all the reasons Bediuzzaman put forward for the decline and relative backwardness of the Islamic world, we shall just make the following points.


In Muhakemat, a work written to establish the principles of Qua’nic exegesis (tefsir) and published in 1911, Bediuzzaman attributes the decline to the fact that the heart or true meaning of the teachings of Islam had been abandoned for its externals. He wrote:


"...Abandoning the essence and kernel of Islam, we fixed our gazes on its exterior and shell. And through misapprehension and ill-manners, we did not afford Islam its right nor pay it the respect it was due. So in disgust, it swathed itself in clouds of illusion and delusion, and concealed itself. And it had the right, for we mixed Isra’iliyat with the fundamentals of belief, and stories with the tenets of faith, and metaphors with the truths of belief, and did not appreciate its value. So to punish us in this world, it left us in abasement and penury. And what will save us, is again its mercy.’’


Later in the same work, Bediuzzaman expands on this, explaining how some Isra’iliyat, and a portion of Greek philosophy, had been incorporated into Islam, and "appearing in the apparel of religion", had thrown minds into disarray. Explaining how this happened, he concludes that when commenting on the Qur'an, some 'externalist' ulema had expounded certain of its verses (nakliyat) by making them fit the Isra’iliyat. "Whereas", he wrote. "What will explain and expound the Qur'an is again the Qur'an, and sound Hadiths. Not the Gospels and the Torah, whose ordinances have been superseded, just as their stories are corrupted."


As for Greek philosophy, it had sprung from fables and superstition, and just as it had caused confusion, so also had it opened up a way to mere imitation (taklid) in place of investigative and dynamic scholarship. Supposing there to be points of similarity and agreement between philosophy and matters of the Qur'an which demand the use of reason (akliyat), externalist scholars explained these verses in terms of the philosophy and adapted them to it. Bediuzzaman then said:


"God forbid! ...For the criterion of the Book of Miraculous Exposition is its miraculousness. Its expounder and commentator is its parts. Its meaning is within it. Its shell, too, is of pearl, not clods...."


And so to return to Sunuhat , published in 1919-20 , and a piece concerned with the Qur'an and the decline of Islam. Entitled, The Absolute Sovereignty of the Qur'an, it describes what Bediuzzaman considered to be "the most important cause of the Islamic community displaying carelessness and negligence in the precepts of religion."


The gist of Bediuzzaman’s argument is that while it is the sacredness (kudsiyet) of the Qur'an, rather than reasoning, that drives the mass of ordinary believers to conform to the precepts of religion, the way Qur'anic commentaries and books on the Seriat have developed in the course of time is such that they have come to act as a veil to the Qur’an’s sacredness.


Firstly in his argument, Bediuzzaman states that although the fundamentals of belief and pillars of Islam, which are the 'personal' property of the Qur'an and the Sunna of the Prophet (PBUH), which expounds the Qur’an, form ninety per cent of the religion, and controversial matters which are open to interpretation (ictihadi) form only ten per cent, in the course of time the former have been "placed under the patronage" of the latter, have been combined with them, and become subordinate to them.


Then, while "the books of those qualified to interpret the law (muctahidin) should be like means and display the Qur'an as though they were glass; they should neither act on its behalf nor obscure it", it is on these books that the attention of the mass of believers became focused. They have only thought of the Qur'an in a hazy sort of way. They have read these books in order to understand not what the Qur'an says, but what the authors say. As a result of this the ordinary believer's conscience "has become accustomed to being indifferent, and has become lifeless and unresponsive." However, Bediuzzaman continues:


"If the Qur'an had been shown directly in the fundamentals of religion, the mind would have naturally perceived its sacredness, which urges conformity (to the precepts of religion), is the rouser of the conscience, and is [the Qur'an's] inherent property. In this way the heart would have become sensitive towards it, and would not have remained deaf to the admonitions of belief."


Bediuzzaman then states that there are three ways to direct the attention of the mass of believers towards the Qur'an - "the exemplification of the Pre-Eternal Address, which shimmers with the attraction of miraculousness, has a halo of sacredness, and constantly stirs the conscience through belief." The first he describes as dangerous, the second as needing time, while the third is to remove the veils obscuring the Qur'an and display it directly to the ordinary believers; to seek its "pure, unmixed property" from itself alone, and only its secondary (bilvasita) decrees from the means.


That is to say, the fundamentals and essentials, which as we saw form ninety per cent, should be sought from the Qur'an itself and from the Sunna, while matters of secondary importance, which are open to interpretation and form ten per cent, sought from the works of those qualified to interpret them, that is, the muctahids. If that had been the case, the demand shown for these truly numerous commentaries and books on the Seriat and divided up between them would have been directed towards the Qur'an itself, indeed, the demand would have been greater because of need. And in that way the Qur’an would have been dominant and influential in its full meaning over the Muslim community.


Bediuzzaman had a significant dream shortly after writing this piece, and included it at the end of it. We also include it:


"One night shortly after writing this matter, I dreamt of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). I was in a medrese in his blessed presence. The Prophet was going to instruct me in the Qur'an. On their bringing the Our'an, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) rose to his feet out of respect. It occurred to me at that moment that he rose in order to guide his community.


"Finally I related this dream to a righteous member of his community, and he interpreted it in this way: 'It is a powerful sign and certain good news that the Qur'an of Mighty Stature will acquire the exalted position of which it is worthy throughout the world.’’




· Birth of the New Said




Some two years after his return to Istanbul from the prisoner-of-war camp in Russia, Bediuzzaman underwent a radical interior change, "a strange revolution of the spirit", and out of this inner turmoil, the New Said was born. Indeed, it is clear from Abdurrahman's biography and from his own requests for leave of absence from the Daru’l-Hikmet that from his return Bediuzzaman suffered certain difficulties. The strains of war and harsh conditions of his captivity had taken their toll on his health, while the Ottoman defeat and foreign occupation were sources of great distress. However, as we saw at the end of the piece describing his "awakening" in the little mosque beside the River Volga, Bediuzzaman considered the first two years of his return, despite all his activities, to be a period of heedlessness, during which his fame and the acclaim he received made him temporarily forget his decision to withdraw from social life and concentrate on the inner life. Bediuzzaman described the major turning-point that then occurred in some detail in various places in his works, and we shall chart its course from these.


It seems that a few flashes of realization restarted the process of "spiritual awakening". These occurred on high vantage points overlooking the city of Istanbul and took the form of realizing the stark realities of death and separation, old age and the transitoriness of things. Bediuzzaman says that then, before anything, he tried to find consolation and a ray of light in his learning and the things he had studied for so many years. But rather than providing this, he found that they had "dirtied his spirit", and been an obstacle to his spiritual progress.


Until this time, Bediuzzaman had "filled his brain with the philosophical as well as the Islamic sciences", for he thought that "the philosophical sciences were the means to spiritual progress and enlightenment." In addition, he was of the opinion that European science and philosophy could be used to "reinforce" and "strengthen" Islam. He described it like this:


The Old Said together with a group of thinkers accepted in part the principles of human philosophy [as opposed to revealed knowledge] and European science, and fought them with their own weapons; they admitted them to a degree. They accepted unshakeably some of their principles in the form of the positive sciences, and thus could not demonstrate the true value of Islam. Simply, they supposed philosophy's roots to be extremely deep, and grafted Islam with its branches, as though they were strengthening it. But since the victories were few, and it depreciated Islam, I gave up that way. And I demonstrated [in the Risale-i Nur] that Islam's principles are so profound that those of philosophy cannot reach them; indeed, they remain superficial beside them.’’


And, now, when overwhelmed by the realization of his own increasing years and the fleeting nature of everything to which he was attached, Bediuzzaman's learning afforded him no light, no hope. "The spiritual darkness arising from the sciences of philosophy plunged my spirit into the universe, suffocating it. Whichever way I looked seeking light, I could find no light in those matters, I could not breathe...''


Bediuzzaman's spiritual crisis prompted him to withdraw from the society of men and seek solitude in places removed from Istanbul life. He retreated to Yusa Tepesi, a high hill on the Asian side of the Bosphorus near its junction with the Black Sea. Here, he tells us, he would not permit Abdurrahman even to attend to his essential needs. Following this he took a house in Sariyer, on the European side, and it was here in this old wooden house which is still standing that Bediuzzaman's crisis was resolved and he found what he was searching for.


It was Gavs-i A'zam, Abdulkadir Geylani, who came first to Bediuzzaman's aid. A copy of his Futuhu’l-Gayb came into Bediuzzaman's possession "by a happy coincidence", and on opening the pages at random to take an omen from it, these lines came up:




166’daki arabca ibare konulacak




or, as Bediuzzaman interpreted them:


"Oh, you unfortunate! As a member of the Daru'l-Hikmeti’l-Islamiye you are as though a doctor curing the spiritual sicknesses of the people of Islam, whereas it is you who is sicker than anyone. You first of all find a doctor for yourself, then try to cure others!" Bediuzzaman continued:


"So I said to the Seyh: 'You be my doctor!' And I took him as my doctor, and read the book as though it was addressing me. But it was most severe. It smashed my pride in the most fearsome manner. It carried out the most drastic surgery on my soul. I could not stand it. I read half of it as though it was addressing me, but did not have the strength and endurance to finish it. I put the book back on the shelf. Then a week later the pain of that curative operation subsided, and the pleasure came in its place. I again opened the book and read it right through; I benefited a lot from that book of my first master. I listened to his prayers and supplications, and profited abundantly.


The second work which was instrumental in transforming the Old Said into the New Said was the Mektubat of Seyh Ahmed Sirhindi, Imam-i Rabbani. Some time after his "cure" through the mediation of Gavs-i A'zam, Bediuzzaman opened Imam-i Rabbani’s Mektubat to take an omen from this too. He wrote:


"It is strange, but in the whole of Mektubat, the word Bediuzzaman appears only twice. And those two letters fell open for me at once. I saw that written at the head of them was: Letter to Mirza Bediuzzaman, and my father's name was Mirza. Glory be to God! I exclaimed, these letters are addressing me. At that time the Old Said was also known as Bediuzzaman. Apart from Bediuzzaman Hamadani, I knew of no one else in the last three hundred years famous with the name. Whereas in the Imam's time there was such a person and he wrote him these two letters. This person's state must have been similar to mine, for I found these letters to be the cure for my ills. Only, the Imam persistently recommended in many of his letters what he wrote in these two, which was: 'Make your kible one.' That is, take one person as your master and follow him; do not concern yourself with anyone else.'


Bediuzzaman wrote that this most important piece of advice seemed inappropriate for his state of mind, and he was bewildered as whom to follow. In the Introduction to the Mesnevi-i Nuriye, he explained this in greater detail:


"Since the Old Said proceeded more in the rational and philosophical sciences, he started to look for a way to the essence of reality like that of the Sufi’s (ehl-i tarikat) and the mystics (ehl-i hakikat). But he was not content to proceed with the heart only like the Sufis, for his intellect and thought were to a degree wounded by philosophy; a cure was needed. Then, he wanted to follow some of the great mystics, who approached reality with both the heart and the mind. He looked, and each of them had different points of attraction. He was bewildered as to which of them to follow.” None of the great figures, such as Imam Gazzali, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, or Imam-i Rabbani, answered all of his needs.


While in this state, "it was imparted to the Old Said's much wounded heart" that the one true master was the Holy Qur'an. It occurred to him "through Divine Mercy" that "the head of these various ways and the source of these streams and the sun of these planets is the All-Wise Qur'an; the true single kible is to be found in it. In which case, it is also the most elevated guide and most holy master. So I clasped it with both hands and clung on to it.”


Thus, we can say that Bediuzzaman's enlightenment occurred in three stages. Firstly, he realized the deficiency of the "human philosophy" he had studied and how it had been an obstacle to his enlightenment and progress. And secondly, as Bediuzzaman himself confessed, through the "bitter medicine" of ,Seyh Abdulkadir Geylani 's Futuhu'l-Gayb: "I understood my faults, perceived my wounds, and my pride was to a degree destroyed.” Then to complete the process of his transformation into the New Said. he understood through the Mektubat of Imam-i Rabbani that he should take the Qur'an as his sole master. The instruction in Divine Unity he then received from the Qur’an through the phrase There is no god but God was "a most brilliant light" scattering the darkness in which he had been plunged and allowing him to breathe easily. Bediuzzaman describes how the Devil and his 'evilcommanding soul' would not brook this, and "relying on what they had learnt from philosophers and the people of misguidance, attacked his mind and his heart", but that the ensuing debate resulted in "the heart's victory.’


Bediuzzaman notes that he now proceeded "through an alliance of mind and heart". That is, through the guidance of the Qur'an he found a way to the essence of reality through employing both the heart and the mind. And since it employed both heart and mind, he found that before anything it cured his wounded spirit and heart, and silencing Satan and his evil-commanding soul, rescued him from doubts and skepticism. This then was the way of the New Said. It was also to be the way of the Risale-i Nur. In fact, the first work the New Said wrote was a collection of eleven or so treatises in Arabic called the Mesnevi-i Nuriye, which he described as "a kind of seed of the Risale-i Nur", and as "the seedbed" and the Risale-i Nur as "its garden."


As will be recalled, Bediuzzaman had undergone "a radical change in his ideas" at the turn of the century on learning of the explicit threats to the Qur'an and Islamic world made by the British Colonial Secretary, and had understood that he should dedicate his life to the defence of them with his learning. However events and his youth had served as "obstacles", preventing him "taking up the duty.” From Bediuzzaman's own accounts of his transformation into the New Said quoted above it is seen that his first realization was of the deficiency of "human philosophy" as opposed to revealed knowledge. And so. in addition to the other “obstacles” which had prevented him from "taking up his duty to defend the Qur'an and Islam" was his preoccupation with "philosophy". Now some twenty years later at the age of forty-three or four, through what was clearly an overwhelming mental and spiritual upheaval, he had found what he had been searching for. Near the end of his life, he described this search in the presence of his close student, Mustafa Sungur:


"Sixty years ago, I was searching for a way to reach the truth and reality at the present time. That is, I was searching for a short way to obtain firm faith and belief and a complete understanding of Islam which would not be shaken by the attacks of the numerous negative and damaging currents. Firstly, I had recourse to the way of the philosophers; I wanted to reach the truth with just the reason. I reached it only twice with extreme difficulty. I looked and saw that even the greatest geniuses of mankind had gone only half the way, only one or two had been able to reach the truth by means of the reason alone. Then I said: 'A way which even the greatest geniuses had been unable to take cannot be made general for everyone', and I gave it up. For numerous philosophers, even Ibn-i Sina [Avicenna], Farabi, Aristotle and others had only got half way. I saw that only one or two had been able to rise to the truth. Then I understood that a path and way by which not even the great geniuses had been able to rise, could not be the way for everyone. Then I had recourse to the way of Sufism and studied it. I saw that it was most luminous and effulgent, but that it needed the greatest caution. Only the highest of the elite could take that way. And so, saying, neither can this way be a way for everyone at this time, I sought help from the Qur'an. And thanks be to God, the Risale-i Nur was bestowed on me, which at this time is a sound and short way of the Qur'an for the believers."

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