Said Nursî

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Said-i Nursi

Üstad Bediüzzaman
Born1877 [1]
Died23 March 1960 (aged 8283) [4]
Religion Islam
Ethnicity Kurdish
Era19th–20th century [5]
Region Anatolia
Denomination Sunni
Jurisprudence Shafi`i
Creed Ash'ari [6]
Main interest(s) Theology, [7] Theosophy, Tafsir, [7] Revival of Faith [8]
Notable work(s) Risale-i Nur [9]
Senior posting

Aziz Üstad Bediüzzaman Said Nursi (Ottoman Turkish : سعيد نورسی / Sorani Kurdish : سەعید نوورسی; 1877 [1] – 23 March 1960), also spelled Said-i Nursî, officially Said Okur [13] and commonly known with the honorific Bediüzzaman (بديع الزّمان, Badī' al-Zamān), meaning "wonder of the age"; or simply Üstad, "master") [14] was a Kurdish Sunni Muslim theologian. He wrote the Risale-i Nur Collection, a body of Qur'anic commentary exceeding six thousand pages. [15] [16] Believing that modern science and logic was the way of the future, he advocated teaching religious sciences in secular schools and modern sciences in religious schools. [15] [16] [17] Nursi inspired a religious movement [18] [19] that has played a vital role in the revival of Islam in Turkey and now numbers several millions of followers worldwide. [20] [21] His followers, often known as the "Nurcu movement" or the "Nur cemaati", [22] often call him by the venerating mononymic Üstad ("the Teacher").

Ottoman Turkish, or the Ottoman language, is the variety of the Turkish language that was used in the Ottoman Empire. It borrows extensively, in all aspects, from Arabic and Persian, and it was written in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet. During the peak of Ottoman power, words of foreign origin heavily outnumbered native Turkish words, with Arabic and Persian vocabulary accounting for up to 88% of the Ottoman vocabulary.

Sunni Islam denomination of Islam

Sunni Islam is the largest denomination of Islam, followed by 85–90% of the world's Muslims. Its name comes from the word sunnah, referring to the behaviour of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims arose from a disagreement over the succession to Muhammad and subsequently acquired broader political significance, as well as theological and juridical dimensions.

Theology Study of the nature of deities and religious belief

Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also especially with epistemology, and asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind. While theology has turned into a secular field, religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship.


Nursi displayed an unusual ability to learn from an early age, completing the normal course of Madrasa (religious school) education at the early age of fourteen, when he obtained his diploma. He became famous for both his prodigious memory and his unbeaten record in debating with other religious scholars. Another characteristic Nursi displayed from an early age was a dissatisfaction with the existing education system, which when older he formulated into comprehensive proposals for its reform. [23]

Education Learning in which knowledge and skills is transferred through teaching

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of educators, however learners may also educate themselves. Education can take place in formal or informal settings and any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational. The methodology of teaching is called pedagogy.

He was able to recite many books from memory. For instance "... So then he [Molla Fethullah] decided to test his memory and handed him a copy of the work by Al-Hariri of Basra (1054–1122) — also famous for his intelligence and power of memory — called Maqamat al-Hariri. Said read one page once, memorized it, then repeated it by heart. Molla Fethullah expressed his amazement." [24]

Abū Muhammad al-Qāsim ibn Alī ibn Muhammad ibn Uthmān al-Harīrī, popularly known as al-Hariri of Basra was an Arab poet, scholar of the Arabic language and a high government official of the Seljuk Empire.

Early life

Said Nursi was born in Nurs, a Kurdish village in the Bitlis Vilayet (province) of the Ottoman Empire, in eastern Anatolia. [25] He received his early education from scholars of his hometown, where he showed mastery in theological debates. After developing a reputation for Islamic knowledge, he was nicknamed "Bediuzzaman", meaning "The most unique and superior person of the time". He was invited by the governor of the Vilayet of Van to stay within his residency. [26] In the governor's library, Nursi gained access to an archive of scientific knowledge he had not had access to previously. Said Nursi also learned the Ottoman Turkish language there. During this time, he developed a plan for university education for the Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. [27] By combining scientific and religious (Islamic) education, the university was expected to advance the philosophical thoughts of these regions. However, he was put on trial in 1909 for his apparent involvement in the Ottoman countercoup of 1909 against the liberal reform movement named the Committee of Union and Progress, but he was acquitted and released. [28] He was active during the late Ottoman Caliphate as an educational reformer and advocate of the unity of the peoples of the Caliphate. He proposed educational reforms to the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid aiming to put the traditional Madrasah (seminary) training, Sufism (tasawwuf) and the modern sciences in dialogue with each other. [7] [29] During World War I, Nursî was a member of the Ottoman Empire's "Special Organization". [30] In January 1916 he was captured by Russian forces and taken to Russia as a prisoner of war, where he spent over 2 years. He escaped in the spring of 1918 and made his way to Istanbul. [29] [31] His return was welcomed and he was chosen to be a member of Dar-al Hikmat al-Islamiye, an Islamic academy seeking solution for growing problems of ummah [32]

Hizan Place in Bitlis, Turkey

Hizan is a district of Bitlis Province, Turkey. The mayor is İhsan Uğur (BDP).

Bitlis Vilayet Ottoman province

Bitlis Vilayet was a first-level administrative division (vilayet) of the Ottoman Empire. Before the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) it had been part of the Erzurum Vilayet, it was then made a separate vilayet by the Porte. It was one of the six Armenian vilayets of the Empire.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known to its inhabitants and the Eastern world as Rome (Rûm), and known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

Nursi was a worrying-enough influence for the incipient leader of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, [33] to deem it necessary to seek to control him by offering him the position of ‘Minister of Religious Affairs’ for the eastern provinces of Turkey, a post that Nursi famously refused. [34] [35] This was the beginning of his split from the Kemalist circle. Conversely, the secular government in the Republic of Turkey would later stigmatize his attempts to renew traditional faith. Modernization of intellectual culture in Anatolia thusly bifurcated along two approaches: assimilation of occidental understanding; and functionalization of extant liturgics. Nursi was the major contributor to the latter approach, and his early life as a memorization savant enabled him to use scripture for teaching with mnemonic metaphor. Friction between the two spheres of thought led to breakdowns of civility and the eventual reclusion of Nursi.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Founder of the Republic of Turkey

Kemal Atatürk, commonly referred to as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was a Turkish field marshal (Mareşal), revolutionary statesman, author, and founder of the Republic of Turkey, serving as its first President from 1923 until his death in 1938. His dictatorship undertook sweeping liberal reforms, which modernized Turkey into a secular, industrial nation. Ideologically a secularist and nationalist, his policies and theories became known as Kemalism.

After arriving in Istanbul, Said Nursi declared: "I shall prove and demonstrate to the world that the Quran is an undying, inexhaustible Sun by updating it to meet modern life requirements!", setting out to write his comprehensive Risale-i Nur , a collection of Said Nursi's own commentaries and interpretations of the Quran and Islam, as well as writings about his own life. [36]

Quran The central religious text of Islam

The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Allah). It is widely regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. The Quran is divided into chapters, which are subdivided into verses.

The Risale-i Nur Collection is a tafsir on the Qur'an written by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, a Kurd from Bitlis region of Turkey between the 1910s and 1950s. The commentary does not keep to the order of the ayah as is done in classic Islamic exegesis, as it makes comments on their meanings. It is rather a thematic tafsir which deals with the doubts surrounding the basic doctrines and principles of Islam. The collection includes fourteen books.

Distribution of works and movement

Said Nursi was exiled to the Isparta Province for, amongst other things, performing the call to prayer in the Arabic language. [37] After his teachings attracted people in the area, the governor of Isparta sent him to a village named Barla [38] where he wrote two-thirds of his Risale-i Nur. [39] These manuscripts were sent to Sav, another village in the region, where people duplicated them in Arabic script (which was officially replaced by the modern Turkish alphabet in 1928). [37] [39] After being finished, these books were sent to Nursi's disciples all over Turkey via the "Nurcu postal system". [40] Nursi repeatedly stated that all the persecutions and hardships inflicted on him by the secularist regime were God's blessings and that having destroyed the formal religious establishment, they had unwittingly left popular Islam as the only authentic faith of the Turks. [39]

Besides these writings themselves, a major factor in the success of the movement may be attributed to the very method Nursi had chosen, which may be summarized with two phrases: 'mânevî jihad,' that is, 'jihad of the word' or 'non-physical jihad', and 'positive action.' [41] [42] Nursi considered materialism and atheism and their source materialist philosophy to be his true enemies in this age of science, reason, and civilization. [43] He combated them with reasoned proofs in the Risale-i Nur, considering the Risale-i Nur as the most effective barrier against the corruption of society caused by these enemies. In order to be able to pursue this 'jihad of the word,' Nursi insisted that his students avoided any use of force and disruptive action. Through 'positive action,' and the maintenance of public order and security, the supposed damage caused by the forces of unbelief could be 'repaired' by the 'healing' truths of the Quran. Said Nursi lived much of his life in prison and in exile, persecuted by the secularist state for having invested in religious revival. [44]

Later life

Alarmed by the growing popularity of Nursi's teachings, which had spread even among the intellectuals and the military officers, the government arrested him for allegedly violating laws mandating secularism and sent him to exile. He was acquitted of all these charges in 1956. [39]

In the last decade of his life, Said Nursi settled in the city of Isparta. After the introduction of the multi-party system, he advised his followers to vote for the Democratic Party of Adnan Menderes, which had restored some religious freedom. [39] Said Nursi was a staunch anti-Communist, denouncing Communism as the greatest danger of the time. In 1956, he was allowed to have his writings printed. His books are collected under the name Risale-i Nur ("Letters of Divine Light").

He died of exhaustion after travelling to Urfa. [45] He was buried in a tomb opposite the cave were prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) is widely believed to have been born. [46] [47] After the military coup d'état in Turkey in 1960, a group of soldiers led by the later right-wing politician Alparslan Türkeş opened his grave and buried him at an unknown place near Isparta during July 1960 in order to prevent popular veneration. [48] [49] His followers are reported to have found his grave after years of searching in the area, and took his remains to a secret place in an effort to protect his body from further disturbance.

See also

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  1. 1 2 Sukran Vahide, Islam in Modern Turkey(Kurdistan): An Intellectual Biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, p 3. ISBN   0791482979
  2. A documentary about his village Nurs (in Turkish)
  3. Ian Markham, Globalization, Ethics and Islam: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Introduction, xvii
  4. Ian Markham, Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model of Interfaith Dialogue, p 4. ISBN   0754669319
  5. Islam in Modern Turkey, Sukran Vahide (Suny Press, 2005)
  6. Ozgur, Koca. Said Nursi's Synthesis of Ash'arite Occasionalism and Ibn 'Arabi's Metaphysical Cosmology: "Diagonal Occasionalism," Modern Science", and "Free Will". UMI Dissertations Publishing. p. 217. ISBN   9781303619793.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Gerhard Böwering, Patricia Crone, Mahan Mirza, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, p482
  8. Robert W. Hefner, Shari?a Politics: Islamic Law and Society in the Modern World, p 170. ISBN   0253223105
  9. Al-Mathnawi Al-Nuri, Introduction
  10. 1 2 3 David Livingstone, Black Terror White Soldiers: Islam, Fascism and the New Age, p. 568. ISBN   1481226509
  11. M. Hakan Yavuz, John L. Esposito, Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement, p. 6
  12. Juan Eduardo Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam, p 268. ISBN   1438126964
  13. Bediüzzaman ve Risale-i Nur Hizmeti
  14. From Said Nursi's Life: Birth and Early Childhood
  15. 1 2 Gerhard Böwering, Patricia Crone, Mahan Mirza, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, p. 482. ISBN   0691134847
  16. 1 2 Ian S. Markham; Suendam Birinci; Suendam Birinci Pirim (2011). An Introduction to Said Nursi: Life, Thought and Writings. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, p 194. ISBN   978-1-4094-0770-6.
  17. Said Nursi, Munazarat, p. 86 "The religious sciences are the light of the conscience; the modern sciences are the light of the mind; only on the combining of the two does the truth emerge. The students’ aspiration will take flight with those two wings. When they are parted, it gives rise to bigotry in the one, and skepticism and trickery in the other."
  18. Omer Taspinar, Kurdish Nationalism and Political Islam in Turkey: Kemalist Identity in Transition (Middle East Studies: History, Politics & Law), p. 228. ISBN   041594998X
  19. Serif Mardin, Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, p. 23. ISBN   0887069967
  20. Sukran Vahide, Islam in Modern Turkey: An Intellectual Biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, p. 425. ISBN   0791482979
  21. An article from First Things Archived 7 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  22. Balci, Bayram (June 2003). "Fethullah Gu¨len's Missionary Schools in Central Asia and their Role in the Spreading of Turkism and Islam". Religion, State and Society. 31 (2): 153. doi:10.1080/09637490308283.
  23. "Who is Bediuzzaman Said Nursi?". Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  24. Şükran Vahide. (2005). Islam in Modern Turkey. State University of New York Press, ISBN   0-7914-6515-2
  25. Vahide, Sükran (2005). Islam in modern Turkey: an intellectual biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. SUNY Press. p. 3. ISBN   978-0-7914-6515-8. They [Said Nursî's parents] were among the settled Kurdish population of the geographical region the Ottomans called Kurdistan.
  26. Vahide, Şükran (2011). Bediuzzaman Said Nusri. Islamic Book Trust. p. 28. ISBN   978-967-5062-86-5.
  27. Abu-Rabi, Ibrahim M. (2003). Islam at the crossroads: on the life and thought of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. SUNY Press. p. xvii. ISBN   978-0-7914-5700-9.
  28. David Livingstone, Black Terror White Soldiers: Islam, Fascism and the New Age, p. 568-569. ISBN   1481226509
  29. 1 2 David Tittensor, The House of Service: The Gulen Movement and Islam's Third Way, p 35. ISBN   0199336415
  30. Hakan Özoglu, Osmanli Devleti ve Kürt Milliyetçiligi, Kitap Yayinevi Ltd., 2005, ISBN   978-975-6051-02-3, p. 146.
  31. Andrew Rippin and Zeki Saritoprak, The Islamic World, Chapter 33, p. 398
  32. Ian S. Markham; Suendam Birinci; Suendam Birinci Pirim (2011). An Introduction to Said Nursi: Life, Thought and Writings. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 46. ISBN   978-1-4094-0770-6.
  33. David Tittensor, The House of Service: The Gulen Movement and Islam's Third Way, p 37. ISBN   0199336415
  34. David Livingstone, Black Terror White Soldiers: Islam, Fascism and the New Age, p. 569. ISBN   1481226509
  35. Vahide, Sükran (2005). Islam in modern Turkey: an intellectual biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. SUNY Press. He offered Nursi Shaikh Sanusi’s post as ‘general preacher’ in the Eastern Provinces with a salary of 300 liras, a deputyship in the Assembly, and a post equivalent to that he had held in the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-Islamiye, together with various perks such as a residence. Part 1;Childhood and Early Life,chapter 8
  36. "Said Nursi'nin Yeşilay'ın kurucusu olduğu doğru mudur? Bu teşkilatın Kurtuluş Savaşı ile hiçbir ilgisinin olmadığı söylenmektedir. Buna ne dersiniz? | Bediüzzaman Said Nursî".
  37. 1 2 David McDowall (14 May 2004). A Modern History of the Kurds: Third Edition. I.B.Tauris. pp. 210–211. ISBN   978-1-85043-416-0.
  38. Sükran Vahide, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, p. 230. ISBN   967506286X
  39. 1 2 3 4 5 Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P.; Lecomte, G. (1995). Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition). Volume VIII (Ned-Sam). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. p. 144. ISBN   978-9004098343.
  40. Awang, Ramli; Yusoff, Kamaruzaman; Ebrahimi, Mansoureh; Yilmaz, Omer (2015). "A Challenge from Teaching to Social Movement: Bediüzzaman Said Nursi's Struggles for Modification in Turkey". Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences. 6 (6): 446. doi:10.5901/mjss.2015.v6n6s1p444.
  41. Ian S. Markham, Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model of Interfaith Dialogue, p 15 [Quoting Sukrane Vahide, The Biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: the author of the Risale-i Nur (Istanbul, Sozler Publications 1992), p. 352]. ISBN   0754669319
  42. Arvind Sharma, The World's Religions After September 11. p 92. ISBN   0275996212
  43. Ian S. Markham, Suendam Birinci, Suendam Birinci Pirim, An Introduction to Said Nursi: Life, Thought and Writings. p 46. ISBN   1409407713
  44. Gerhard Böwering, Patricia Crone, Mahan Mirza, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, p. 482.
  45. Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi, Islam at the Crossroads: On the Life and Thought of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, p. xxiv. ISBN   0791457001
  46. Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi, Islam at the Crossroads: On the Life and Thought of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, p. xxiii. ISBN   0791457001
  47. Ian S. Markham; Suendam Birinci; Suendam Birinci Pirim (2011). An Introduction to Said Nursi: Life, Thought and Writings. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, p 17. ISBN   978-1-4094-0770-6.
  48. Nursi's Letters Found in Yassiada Archives Archived 5 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine , Zaman
  49. Yes to 27 May No to 28th (in Turkish), Turkish Newspaper Yeni Şafak, 16 August 2003, last accessed 17 June 2014


Further reading