Beyond the ‘modern’: Sa id al-Nursi’s view of Science
The advancing tide of Western scientific thought, which began to spread in the Muslim world at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was one of the most pressing challenges faced by Muslim intellectuals of that time and it continues to have major implications for our own times. Many Muslim scholars of Ottoman Turkey, with its capital, Istanbul, lying halfway between Europe and the East, viewed this tide as a threat to the Islamic worldview and tried to form barriers to curtail this intellectual onslaught. However, by the time they realized its impact, the encroachment had already gone too far, leading to a confusion in knowledge which often weakened their responses and stances. This confusion was experienced first hand by Bedi uzzaman Sa id al-Nursi (1873-1960), one of the most important Turkish scholars of the period whose intellectual journey and torments were not unlike those experienced by a great many Sufis of previous centuries, al-Ghazali (d. 1111) in particular. This article provides an overview of the historical and intellectual milieu in which al-Nursi lived and experienced, worked and evolved. It explores some of his spiritual and intellectual struggles as well as ideas which bring into relief his general response to modern scientific thought.
Keywords: Qur’anic view of science; Sa id al-Nursi’s view of science; Islamic science; secularization; cosmos; ayat; al-Ghazali; logic; Prophethood; revelation; harfi and ismi meanings; shirk; human philosophy of science; cosmic revelation; causation; universality.
The Ottoman architects of the reforms, the tanzimat (1839-76), were greatly impressed by the success achieved by the nations of Western Europe, particularly by their military and economic strength and by their advances in science and technology. Convinced that the very survival of the Ottoman state could only be secured by following the pattern of countries like France or England, they launched an unprecedented program of modernization and secularization. By the 1840’s, Turkey–or at least its capital Istanbul–was a bustling laboratory for an experiment in Westernization on a scale not witnessed anywhere outside Europe, perhaps excluding Russia. The modernization that the early reformists hoped to achieve depended heavily on the upward participation of the citizens. For that participation to be effective, it was imperative for the state to ameliorate the education of its citizens in order to recruit from their midst cadres to fill executive positions in the administration and in the corps of the army. To this end, new institutions of learning, a new concept of education, that of education ‘as a means for progress’, and a new concept of knowledge, that of ma arif as opposed to the traditional concept of ilm, began to emerge.
This bifurcation marked the beginning of a gradual secularization of education that continued unabated until well after the tanzimat period. Beginning from the early 1870’s, an intensive publishing activity combined with a more accelerated translation movement contributed to an unprecedented popularization of modern science as well as modern Western philosophy. By the end of the 1890’s, Turkish litterateurs and intelligentsia in the Ottoman capital were inclined to accept unquestioningly the premises of Western scientific thought en masse, leading to the emergence of a new class of intellectuals and new trends of thought that presented a serious challenge to Islamic culture and values.
As opponents to the ‘Westernist’ reforms of the tanzimat (New Regulations), both Young Ottomans and the regime of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) were aware of the growing disdain for religion and made many attempts to counter the intellectual encroachments of the West. However, the secularization, particularly in the field of education, continued unabated during this period as neither saw any conflict between the principles of Islam and those of modern science. When Sa id al-Nursi (1873-1960) first lived in Istanbul from 1907 to 1909, and later during the Young Turk rule, he was often in the midst of these apologetic debates. He named this early period of his life the ‘Old Sa id’.
After the fall of the caliphate, which was followed by the birth of the New Republic, the ongoing process of secularization that had commenced nearly a hundred years ago and which had transformed most aspects of religious life, was supported by a new zeal absent in the earlier period. The unprecedented fanaticism with which the Kemalist regime proceeded to implement its Western model of society had far-reaching consequences for education. The year 1924 saw the dissolution of the medreses and all other kinds of religious schools, as well as the proscription of the teaching of religion in all state schools. In 1925, laws were passed to officially close all Sufi orders; the scant religious education that remained at the higher level was effectively terminated with the closure of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Istanbul in 1933. (1)
In 1928, a prominent thinker of the Kemalist period wrote:
The function of religion is not to provide men with
knowledge but with the will and power to live … The more
religion leaves explanation of the events of the universe
and the search for the means of influencing them to
science, the more it assumes this pragmatic and moral
appearance…. Then, it is faith which manifests itself as an
absolute subjugation to a moral ideal that can develop in
harmony with the present-day conditions of civilization
and science. (2)
While this trend of secularism looked somewhat askance at the Islamic intellectual tradition, a peculiar kind of atheistic rationalism underpinned by the claims of modern science was about to launch a more aggressive onslaught on religion and its scripture through other intellectual quarters. The very essentials and springs of religion, such as belief in the existence of God, in His power to create, in prophecy, and in the Day of Judgment were painted as mere superstitions in many intellectual circles and schools. Sa id al-Nursi’s resistance to the Western intellectual infringement presented by positivism, materialism, or atheistic rationalism took place against the background of these important transformations in a polarized intellectual atmosphere. In what follows, his arguments against the premises of modern scientific thought, which formed the basis of those philosophies, are emphasized.
Understanding the position of Sa id al-Nursi vis-a-vis modern science and philosophy is not a straightforward task and may elicit confusion. Confusion may arise from oversights related to al-Nursi’s intellectual developments. Al-Nursi had divided his life into two distinct periods: the time of the ‘Old Sa id’, a person devoted to politics and speculative philosophy, and that of the ‘New Sa id’, who repudiated the ‘Old Sa id’, taking a new intellectual direction. (3)
Another source of confusion might be the Risale-i Nur (4) (The Epistles of Light), al-Nursi’s major work. Although the text of the Risale is replete with the poetry and terminology of the Sufi narrative, it boasts of myriads of proofs, arguments, and demonstrations. Al-Nursi warns us against rushing to judge his demonstrative proofs (al burhan al-istidalali) as nazar (speculative thought). He says:
Know that the issues you come across upon studying my
work, although they present themselves in the forms of
demonstration and proofs, can hardly be called
speculation or ‘nazar’. No! They are but intuitive insights
which were recorded, bound and then retained by the
lights of certitude that overflow from the Generous
The ‘rational mood’ of the Risale could easily lead one to label its author with a rationalism or for that matter a ‘modernism’ that is far from being accurate. (6) Indeed, this confusion may very well arise from the modern understanding of aql (intellect) that has become preponderant in Muslim scholarship, which is generally alien to al-Nursi’s particular type of intellection i.e. al- aql al-imani.
The Risale is an exegesis and elucidation of the message of the Qur’an written for an age in which ‘disbelief and misguidance are advocated in the guise of science and knowledge’ (7). The discourses of al-Nursi present arguments with the aim of showing the absurdity and ‘illogicality’ of the modern paradigm and the truth and universality of the Qur’anic worldview. From this point of view, al-Nursi is really addressing a crisis of meaning. Consequently, his critique of science could not confine itself to an ‘offense’ but had to serve as a means for ‘collective salvation’ (8). Hence, it had to go beyond ‘offence’ and attempt to ‘redeem’ (9) this modern scientific mind. This semblance of ‘rational discourse’, al-Nursi argues, ought not be seen as ‘acquiescence’ to the demands of the modern mind, but rather as a ‘mercy’ and a ‘cure’ to the ills of the ‘modern mind’ caught in the webs of ‘human’ philosophy. (10) al-Nursi says, “given that the issues [of the Risale], present themselves in the guise of demonstrative proofs, they could serve as ‘rescue ladders’, saving those who have erred in the path of thought and knowledge from slipping into the abyss of philosophy.” (11) Thus, when we read in the Risale statements like: “At the end of time, mankind will spill into science and learning. It will obtain all its strength from science (ilm). (12) Power and rule will pass to the hand of science (ilm),” we may be facing utterances that are more problematic than meet the eye. Likewise, frequently blurry difference between the ‘offensive’ and the ‘redemptive’ approaches of al-Nursi deserve more attention than we tend to give.
The Crucial Role of the Universe in the Risale
In one of his early works, Muhakamat, first published in 1911, al-Nursi lays down the methodological principles for understanding the Qur’an. One important principle directly related to the issue of science (13) is the role of the universe in confirming the veracity of revelation since imitation in matters of faith is regarded as unacceptable by many quarters in Islam. Al-Nursi asserts that the Qur’an and the cosmos cannot be understood separately; he describes the Qur’an as “the eternal interpreter of the various tongues reciting the verses of creation” and as “The revealer of the treasuries of the divine names hidden in the heavens and on the earth; the key to the truth concealed beneath the lines of events.” (14) That is, the Qur’an recites the cosmic signs (ayat) (15), which pervade the world, in such a way that it creates a meaningful activity out of the constant flux, change, and renewal of the cosmic processes. For al-Nursi the cosmos is not just a metaphor for the Qur’an: it is the Qur’an in viva vox. The Risale spares no effort, through proofs and cogent arguments, to demonstrate that the meaningful activities in the cosmos are a kind of speech; each being an event, each change is like a word and their constant flux a never ending testimony to the glory of God. (16)
In short, just like the Qur’an is God’s speech through word and discourse, the cosmos is His speech through deed and act. (17) Al-Nursi says that the Creator makes the cosmos speak through the Qur’an, which is “the tongue of the unseen world in the manifest world.” Both have a common origin: the preserved tablet, which contains the heavenly Book, but whereas one proceeds from God’s attribute of speech, the other proceeds from His attribute of ‘will’. In other words, what He says is what He wills in kun!’ (Be), and what He wills is what He says in Qul! (Say).
Al-Nursi explains that ‘in order to describe His act to both eye and ear, the Maker describes His act while performing it: as a true artist, He unravels His art as He works it, and as a true Bestower of bounties He displays His boons in the very act of bestowing. As such, His very word constitutes His very act and vice versa. The Creator speaks as He creates; and thus He unites word and act through the ‘audible’ Qur’an and the cosmic Qur’an in one revelation. Following this vision, it can be said that on the one hand the Qur’an interprets or rather translates the speech of the cosmos in its ayat al-takwiniyyah (cosmic signs, verses), while on the other, the cosmos witnesses to the truth of the ayat al-tadwiniyyah (Qur’anic verses) and reveals their import. Given the importance of the cosmos for al-Nursi, it is not difficult to understand that until the First World War, he was favourable to science through which he sought to mediate the revelation of the Qur’an in the hope that it would eventually help uncover the signs of God in the world. (18)
The Old Sa id and the Islamic Tradition of Knowledge
The Qur’an speaks extensively of the cosmos and invites its readers to seek God’s signs ‘in the horizons,’ that is, in the outer world, ‘and in themselves’. (19) Annemarie Schimmel notes that this verse could legitimately be understood as encouraging Muslim scholars and scientists ‘to look deeper and deeper into the marvel of nature, as well as the marvels which the human being contains in himself, and to invent ever new ways for a profounder understanding of the world.” (20) She also mentions al-Ghazali (1058-1111), who wrote in his Ihya’ ulum al-din that the real muwa’hhid (monotheist) is the one who looks at the world because it is created by God, and because it gives him the possibility of seeing God in His signs and worshipping Him. (21)
Al-Ghazali, a representative of the Ash ari school of kalam, is well known for his critique of Greek metaphysics because it was incompatible with fundamentals of the Islamic beliefs. Osman Bakar contends that al-Ghazali disagreed with the Muslim philosophers on certain metaphysical issues: he argued against the use of the philosophical method of the falasifah, which he found wanting particularly when it was brought to bear on issues of a metaphysical order. However, Bakar reminds us that al-Ghazali warned Muslims not to oppose science just because it had been associated with the philosophers. (22) Al-Ghazali thought that the influence of the Muslim philosophers was due to their pragmatic success in natural sciences. In order to solve this problem, he excluded philosophy from his classification of the sciences. (23)
His approach was to put forward the a priori and a posteriori character of science and establish the speculative character of philosophy. From this standpoint, al-Ghazali maintained that the philosophers were right insofar as the mathematical and natural sciences were concerned but not in the field of speculative philosophy and metaphysics. In his al-Munqidh min al-dalal, al-Ghazali accepted science on the ground that it can be useful to mankind and referred to the services provided by medicine to underscore his point. Hence, in his classification, science fell under the category of fard al-kifayah, that is, a knowledge that a section of the population was required to acquire. As opposed to philosophy, he viewed the pursuit of this knowledge as ‘harmless’, in that science was inherently relative (i tibari) with no claim to ultimate knowledge of reality or haqiqah. What is noteworthy, though, is that al-Ghazali in spite of his criticism of the philosophers, accepted Aristotelian logic as universally valid and most of all neutral. This position casts a different light on al-Ghazali’s final stance on science particularly from the vantage point of the modern era. Al-Ghazali’s position on logic continued to have a significant influence over the intellectual developments in the Muslim world, despite the important critique of Ibn Taymiyyah. Indeed, its epistemological traces can be gleaned in al-Nursi’s early works. (24)
The end of the First World War and that of the Ottoman Caliphate terminated the first part of al-Nursi’s life (25), the period of the “Old Sa id”, as he himself later calls it. For many reasons that exceed the scope of this paper, al-Nursi entered a completely new phase in his life; he was as he himself confessed, a ‘New Sa id.’ New Sa id admits that Old Sa id was not very aware of the philosophical underpinnings of modern science, and like al-Ghazali, had taken its logic prima facie. Unwittingly, he came to view science as a ‘candid student’ of the universe and hence as potentially helpful in uncovering the cosmic signs and verifying the veracity of the cosmic reality of tawhid. Like the Muslim philosophers, Old Sa id, too, took the principle of combining human philosophy with Qur’anic wisdom for granted. (26)
Al-Nursi describes one of his spiritual awakenings right after the First World War. He searched the Islamic sciences and also philosophy and the sciences he had learned up to that time for consolation and hope. He describes the sciences and Western philosophy as “in part misguidance and in part trivia or superfluous.” He says:
Quite erroneously, I had imagined those philosophical
sciences to be the source of progress and means of
illumination. However, they had sullied my spirit and
been an obstacle for my spiritual development. Suddenly,
through God’s mercy and munificence, the sacred wisdom
of the Qur’an came to my assistance. As is explained in
many parts of the Risale-i Nur, it washed away and
cleansed the dirt of those philosophical matters. The
spiritual darkness arising from science had drowned my
spirit in the universe. Whichever way I looked seeking a
light, I could find not a gleam in those matters, I could
not breathe. And so it continued until the instruction in
divine unity (tawhid) given by the Qur’anic phrase ‘There is
no deity but He’ dispersed all those layers of darkness. (27)
It is here that the New Sa id starts. Al-Nursi had by then “shed his old philosophical guise, and put on a new one, the robe of wisdom. Here we see the death of al-Nursi the philosopher and the birth of al-Nursi the sage”. (28)
One of the radical changes New Sa id had undergone has a direct bearing on his views on modern science. He now felt the need to get deeper at the roots of the philosophy underpinning this science. Al-Ghazali’s stance on science coupled with his convictions about Aristotelian logic might have constituted a somewhat ‘acceptable’ position in an intellectual climate in which medieval science was at least searching for an anchor in religion. Eight centuries later, however, in an age where secular modern science had become the dominant paradigm, science, as it developed in the West, was in the main identified with ‘truth and objective reality’ and religion with ‘superstitions and subjective faith’. Al-Ghazali’s approach to logic and by extension to science needed, therefore, an overhaul. As for the approaches professed by such philosophers as al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd, they needed to be ‘repudiated’. Although abstract rational inquiry allowed for the combination of philosophy and wisdom at some point in history, the social and political upheaval that shook history and undermined society with a shocking effect on humanity refuted the possibility of such combination.
Al-Nursi was aware that this sociopolitical upheaval was but an effect of the impact on Western societies of the intellectual revolution carried out by modern philosophy against religion. Taha Abdel Rahman says that:
Such strange contradiction between reason’s permission
for the combining of philosophy and wisdom and the
refutation of this possibility by the lived reality
preoccupied al-Nursi’s thought for a long time,
prompting him to review his philosophical position and,
consequently, to reconsider the established view among
Islamic philosophers that philosophy and wisdom are
connected interpenetratively like sisters or associatively
like friends. (29)
One of the major merits of New Sa id’s new intellectual journey is his rigorous refutation of the very logic of modern science and the cognitive claims of its philosophy. (30) His critique of the theory of causation (31), which formed the ontological foundation of modern science, may be considered as one of the most important achievements of modern kalam. (32)
The Weight of Science in the Scales of New Sa id
Historically, the horizontal dimension of life refers to the point in time when Man has forsaken his vertical dimension, heaven, to realize his ‘earthly’ utopia instead. The horizontal dimension, whose origin may be traced back to the renaissance, marks the time when human fulfillment was seen as no longer above the cosmos but ‘down here’ in time and space. The way nature has been studied and understood in the context of this ‘horizontal’ dimension typifies the modern mind whose main characteristics are “its going ahead in the world which is determined by time and space, causality and substance … indefinitely, without any termination”, and its endless attempt at “controlling nature … without ever asking about the purpose of this controlling.” Also, typical of this mind are its obsession with “making everything into calculable objects which can be described in terms of numbers, [so that] they can be managed, divided, and put together again … it is a calculating reason … a tool [in the hand] of the business man, the technician, or of scientific analysis.” (33) Hence, for the modern mind nature is not to be contemplated, but coerced. Things that lie in this ‘open Book of Nature’ are truncated and cut off from their vertical connection, causing them disfiguration and loss of their ‘symbolic’ meaning.
Al-Nursi argued that the modern scientific formulation and vision of reality is anchored in a faulty understanding which delivers a distorted meaning of being. As early as 1926 the New Sa id took the hermeneutical dimension of science to task. Commenting on the verse, And he who has been given wisdom has been given great good, (34) he compared ‘sacred Qur’anic wisdom’ with the philosophy of science at an ontological level and used a parable to illustrate the great difference between the knowledge imparted by ‘human’ philosophy and the one diffused by revelation. A king, he relates, one day showed a heavenly book embellished with art and jewels to a philosopher and a sage and asked them both to write a paper about its value and wisdom. As the philosopher in the parable had little knowledge of the language in which the book was written, he confined his deliberations to the shapes of the letters, their numbers, and their inter-relationships, to the chemical composition of the ink and paper and so on. (35)
The point of al-Nursi’s parable is that, unlike the sage, the student of ‘human’ philosophy does not realize that words are symbols and views them as ‘words’ per se, or as essences pointing each to a unique self. In this way, it does not even dawn on him that he is before a Book whose words convey meanings beyond the shape, size and the form of their appearance. Having failed to be aware that words are symbols, let alone grasp their meaning, whatever advances human philosophy makes, it cannot be said that it has knowledge of the ‘Book of Nature’. Hence, for al-Nursi
Human philosophy, [be it natural philosophy, the
philosophy of life, existentialism or modern science],
looks at things from that aspect that pertains to their
essences and their causes. It regards them as objects or
concrete beings bearing meaning in themselves (ma na ismi).
Wisdom [the knowledge revealed by God] on the other
hand, perceives beings as bearing the meaning of another
(ma na harfi): they are collocations or ‘letters’ of a ‘mighty
Book’. Confined to its ismi method, modern science ‘sunk’
into the ‘decorations’: the external and literal meaning of
the cosmic text. Eventually, it veered away from the path
of the truth. (36)
For al-Nursi, then, a philosophy that is not guided and ‘reigned in’ by Divine wisdom “is a sophistry divorced from reality and an insult to the Universe.” (37)
During that period which saw him fall into a deep existential and spiritual crisis, the Old Sa id had often revisited modern science and philosophy in search of a light or a cure. But, in the end he deplored what he perceived to be the utter poverty of these branches of learning, which hardly addressed the ultimate questions facing humanity. Whenever these branches of learning dealt with these questions, he found them wanting due to their tendency to fall into what he saw to be the “quagmire of doubt”, making his struggles even more difficult. (38) Astronomy, he says, is busy with ‘learning what the rings around Saturn are like’, while statistics frets over ‘how many chickens there are in America’, (39) and other branches of knowledge according to al-Nursi are similarly engrossed in nonessential issues. However, to the primordial questions which arise from our existential predicament: ‘What is the meaning of my being and of all beings which I am surrounded by? Where do I come from and where am I ultimately going? How can I save myself and break free from the mechanical chain of causes and their determinacy? For such questions, modern science and the philosophies that embrace it are utterly bankrupt, offering neither solace nor a path toward human perfection. (40)
Al-Nursi says that in times past, misguidance had come from ignorance and hence it was easy to eliminate. In modern times, misguidance is not easily eradicated because it arises from science and learning, and so he felt the need to expound the truths of belief with many comparisons “proceeding from the effulgence of the Qur’an”. The Qur’an urges the intellect to investigate the signs in the universe and calls on the heart to testify to the divine messages they bear. (41)
The darkness and ‘nihility’ of ‘human’ philosophy is for al-Nursi often the most effective backdrop to bring into relief the light of the wisdom of revelation, therefore it is no surprise to find in the Risale numerous comparisons between those two avenues of knowledge. How each views and understands existence is often the main theme of this type of exposition. For example, the Qur’an, he says, speaks of the sun as a revolving lamp; it does not speak of the sun for itself, but as the center of a system, that mirrors the Maker’s attributes of perfection. By declaring, And (We) set the sun as a lantern, (42) the Qur’an depicts the world as a home prepared for humanity and other living beings. It infers that the sun is a subjugated servant, and thus reveals the mercy and bestowal of the Creator. As for the “foolish and prattling philosophy” and science, it speaks of the sun as “a vast burning liquid mass that storms through the universe, causing the planets which have been flung off from it to revolve around it. Its mass is such-and-such. It is this, it is that.” (43) Apart from terrible dread and bewilderment, al-Nursi wonders whether the human spirit can derive anything else from such ‘delirious’ expositions.
As we will see, al-Nursi does not so much object to the subject of science as he does to the way it deals with its subject. Modern science just misses the meaning of the world and that is why, despite all ‘its pretentious claims, its inside is hollow’. (44) For al-Nursi only revelation can impart knowledge of the reality of the world to man. Human reason is not a source of knowledge but only a tool. On the other hand, sound intellect, ‘the intellect of faith’, commands that revelation be followed because all that revelation says is ‘reasonable’, as all that revelation witnesses can be observed in the universe, and attested by the heart. (45)
The Way of Prophethood Versus the Way of Human Philosophy
For al-Nursi there have always been two main paths to knowledge, two main currents in the world, from the time of Adam up to the present. One path he calls the way of Prophethood and religion, the other the way of human philosophy in its various forms: Whenever those two ways have been united in agreement, that is to say, whenever philosophy sought refuge in religion and obeyed it, humanity has experienced happiness and a blissful social life. Whenever the gap between the two paths widened, and they reached a bifurcation, light and goodness rallied around the way of Prophethood, religion and wisdom on the right side, while evil and misconceptions rallied behind the way of ‘human’ philosophy on the left. (46)
In al-Nursi’s works, philosophy or science become wisdom when they serve the worldview of Prophethood, that is when they study the universe in accordance with the revealed purpose of creation. Al-Nursi contends that given the limitations of human reason, there is no other way to reach reality. The Prophetic teachings tell us that human ownership of life is only apparent and temporary. The continuance of existence depends on another Being beyond the human realm. When one accepts that the essence of one’s existence has a harfi (symbolic) (47) meaning, one understands that one’s being does not pertain to one’s self, but carries the meaning of another. Consequently, he realizes that all things have a harfi meaning; they are like mirrors to the attributes of the ‘wholly-other’. As darkness is the mirror to light, likewise, created beings act in many respects as mirrors to the attributes of the Maker. Due to the contrast of opposites, all things reflect His power through their intrinsic powerlessness, and His perfection through their deficiency. (48)
When Man listens to the ‘cosmic prayers of inherent powerlessness’, he witnesses how these prayers are instantly and constantly answered with ‘cosmic sustenance and mercy’. He himself is then beckoned to open up to ‘the grace of the Divine Names’, and begins to prepare himself to hand over all things to their real owner and attain true affirmation of tawhid. (49) Whoever is blessed with this ‘living faith’ understands the reality of divine unity in the cosmos and in the Qur’an because one then lives in constant witness to it.
To be sure, the harfi meaning is no mere cogitation, nor is it a product of speculative thought, although the Risale often assumes the garb of demonstrative arguments and proofs. Harfi meaning is an outcome of ‘fruitional tastes’ (fuyudat Qur’aniyyah) unbosomed from the Qur’an. Indeed, these ‘tastes’ and lights, as al-Nursi explains in many parts of his Mathnawi, shine only upon an impotent intellect of the one who accepts his or her intrinsic weakness (ajz wa faqr). It is an outcome of divine ‘grace’, rather than of ‘genius’, for the intellect that is witness to the truths of the harfi meaning is not the intellect that knows ‘by and of itself’, but the one that ‘knows by and from God’. Not only is this intellect guided by revelation; it constantly experiences and witnesses its lights.
The way of philosophy, which has not yielded to the way of Prophethood, represents the one who walks the path of heedlessness and forgets the wisdom behind his creation, and assumes his existence purports strictly to an ismi (nominative) meaning. Such a person claims that he owns his existence and his life and imagines himself to be the real master in his dubious sphere of volition. This second attitude echoes Heidegger’s Dasein who is unable to stand the thought that he is not his ‘own’ creation. Richard Rorty explains that when Heidegger says that Dasein is guilty, he has in mind the fact that he speaks somebody else’s language rather than his own, and lives in a world he never made, a world, which, for this reason, is not his home. Dasein knows he is only contingently there, ‘thrown’ in the universe as it were, where he does not mean what he says. (50)
Al-Nursi explains that when one does not surrender to the ultimate Reality and pretends that one’s existence is independent of one’s Sustainer, one is bound to compare everything to oneself, claiming that everything owns itself. Such a person assumes that beings have an ismi (nominative) function only; they carry no meaning other than themselves. Dasein’s estrangement in the world stems from this self-understanding and essentialism. He fails to see their divine origin and vertical connection, he cannot but see them as objects ‘thrown’ in the world, left to their own devices, like orphans having to fight for their own survival This, for al-Nursi, is the typical predicament of the Man of shirk (i.e. the one who ascribes partners to God and divides His Sovereignty among created things), leading Man to fall into darkness, committing not only “a great transgression” (51) against himself but against the whole of creation by relegating everything to a state of meaninglessness. Under the sway of his delusion, such a man is in absolute ignorance even if one knows ‘thousands of branches of sciences.’ For, whatever lights one’s senses and thoughts may gain from the cosmos while in this state, “those lights are soon extinguished because one does not find anything within oneself by which to confirm, illuminate and perpetuate them. (52) Even if one encounters pure wisdom as claimed, that ‘wisdom’ takes the form of futility, due to its ascribing partners to God or denying Him”. (53)
Al-Nursi asserts that the ‘great genius’ of modern science and the guidance of revelation cannot be reconciled. They each arose from fundamentally different origins:
Guidance descended from the heavens, genius emerged
from the earth. Guidance enlightens the heart, which then
stimulates the intellect to work. Genius works in the mind
and confuses the heart. Guidance illumines the spirit,
making its seeds sprout and flourish; dark nature is
illumined by it. Its potentiality for perfection suddenly
advances; it makes the carnal soul a docile servant; it gives
aspiring man an angelic countenance. As for genius, it
looks primarily to the soul (nafs) and material being, it
plunges into nature, making the soul an arable field.
Under its sway, the animal potentialities develop and
flourish; it subjugates the spirit, desiccating its seed; and
brings out the evil in mankind. As to guidance, it gives
happiness to life, it spreads light in this life and the next;
it exalts mankind. (54)
If Old Sa id had sought to establish a connection between human philosophy and divine wisdom, the Qur’anic inspiration of the New Sa id brought him to see their ‘disjunction or subordinating separation’, as Taha Abdel Rahman puts it. The New Sa id makes philosophy subservient to wisdom in cases where they agree and wisdom the substitute for philosophy when they contradict each other. (55) Al-Nursi’s critique of ‘human’ philosophy has three dimensions: logical, moral, and figural for the reason that the sage is not content with logical criticism alone. (56) The focus of the remainder of this paper will be on the logical aspect of al-Nursi’s arguments since we have already briefly mentioned other dimensions.
Al-Nursi and the Classical and Contemporary Muslim Philosophical Debates
Know O Dear friend! There is an important difference
between the path I have followed in the epistle entitled
“droplet”, a boon unbosomed from the Qur’an, and the
path of those professing ‘thought’ and ‘human’
philosophy. In my path, that most precious water of life will
gush forth whenever and wherever I choose to dig and
beat my staff, while those who are besotted by the glitter of
philosophy cling to the idea of putting up pipes and
aqueducts to channel water within the confines of the
universe. To this end, they are forever tying up chains and
setting up ladders and more, for having succumbed to the
principle of causation, they are compelled to erect and
post millions of waterproofs to protect their exiguous
proofs against the destructive attacks of doubts and
misgivings. Praise be to God, the Qur’an has given to us the
equivalent to the “staff of Moses”, and taught us how to use it
that we may extract that water of life from anywhere, even from
underneath a rock. Hence, the proof of the Qur’an has saved me
from undertaking that futile journey beyond the world and into
outer space. It has exempted me from the futile and officious chore
of ensuring the up-keep of those long pipes and has removed
from my heart the fear of falling from breaking ladders or
jagging pipes in that long and winding road. (57)
Nearly a thousand years ago, the Muslim world was confronted with philosophical and scientific views that seemed to reduce the role of God to a prime mover–a view not compatible with the Qur’anic notion of God. At that time, many Muslim philosophers were dedicated to Greek philosophy, which depicted the world as a system operating on natural principles. (58) The God described by al-Farabi and Ibn Sina is very unlike the God of Islam. The God of the Muslim philosophers is “not capable of listening to his creatures or even knowing what they do, he does not resurrect the dead.” (59)
Leaman compares the role of this God to that of a monarch in a constitutional monarchy who has no significant power to influence events. “No law in Britain is a law unless the Queen signs the necessary documents, but the Queen always signs whatever has been approved by the parliament.” (60) The philosophers believed in a deterministic view of the world, which left little for God to do. Majid Fakhry notes that the determinism of Ibn Rushd “can hardly leave any scope for the belief in an effective providence of God. Averroes, it is true, concedes that God plays the role of Author and Preserver of the universe; but it is difficult to see how this role can be interpreted in any but deistic terms.” (61)
The Ash’ari theologians including al-Ghazali reacted strongly to the philosophers’ understanding of the world and therefore of God. They refuted horizontal causation because it is incompatible with the omnipotence of God as stated in the verse: God has power over all things, (62) a phrase that appears in the Qur’an many times. They rejected that causes had an efficient role in creation but they did not deny causality and order in the world. (63) They endorsed a kind of vertical causation, according to which, every thing is directly related to an effective agent who creates both the cause and the effect in an orderly way. (64)
Ash’ari position “not only survived all criticism leveled at it, but succeeded in attaining a key position in Sunni Islam”. (65) Admittedly, it based its doctrines primarily on Qur’anic precepts. All that Ash’ari discourse did was merely to project the Qur’anic conclusions onto the world without justifying them. They did not engage in a parallel reading of the cosmic signs even though the Qur’an constantly refers the interlocutor to the world and teaches how it should be looked at in order to gain knowledge of the cosmos, oneself and God. Unwittingly, in their drive to assert God’s sole agency, the occasionalism that Ash ari discourse erected as a counter to causation served to undermine knowledge of God that can be gained through knowledge of ‘causal relations’.
Al-Nursi, following the Ash’arite tradition, states that to attribute the effects (66) to causes (i.e. created things) is to ascribe to them the power to create and thus to associate partners with God. However, al-Nursi does not refute causation and determinism merely on the ground that they are incompatible with divine unity and omnipotence. Rather, he moves to show that the very horizontal logic of causation is unsubstantiated. In fact, al-Nursi explains that it is a corollary dogma of the ismi approach, which ventures to act as a pressio veri to the ‘speech of the universe’. In doing so, he does not feel the need to abandon knowledge (ma rifah) that can be gained through the eliciting of causal relations, nor does he feel the need to bestow ‘agential power’ to causes. His approach is not about imposing a logic on the cosmos, but ‘listening’ to its logic: the harfi logic. Although the ismi attitude ventures to act as a blind to the harfi logic, this in the end ransacks it and illumines its dark chains with the bursting light of the vertical ‘lightenings’ of the meta-cosmic text. Al-Nursi’s harfi approach is based on a parallel reading of the world under the light of revelation, which is the light that supplies the intellect with intuitions, which in the case of al-Nursi are unraveled proofs. The conclusions of the Qur’an are not taken for granted but verified through observation of the world. (67)
Al-Nursi establishes that the uniformity of causal sequences is evidence for the significant, symbolic quiddity of things; it does not justify belief in a horizontal causal nexus. The proponents of the ismi approach among contemporary Muslims thinkers react vehemently to the refutation of causation. Their reason is exactly the same as that of Ibn Rushd’s who objected to al-Ghazali some eight centuries earlier under the alleged reason that knowledge was the necessary concomitant of causation. A contemporary Muslim scholar, Mehdi Golshani contends that the negation of causation, which he identifies as the corollary of determinism, implies that “nothing would be the requisite of another, and anything could be derived from anything, so there would be no room for science.” (68)
Golshani’s view is that God creates through intermediary causes. But if the world operates on natural principles, and if causes are necessarily connected to the effects, where does God fit in except as prime mover or first cause? If causes produce the effects naturally, necessarily, and immutably, how then are things in the world to lead us to witness to the reality and ‘Life’ of their Creator? In other words, if things do not function as signs and symbols to the constant renewal of the divine reality, as in this ismi model of the world, how can we then turn and say that ‘everything’ is a sign of God as held by Golshani? If we simply reply: ‘because the Qur’an says so’, there is then some difficult reconciling to do. The harfi meaning of things is not an inherent feature of the ismi model, unless it is introduced ad hoc with no precise role to fulfill. (69)
Muslim proponents of the ismi approach recognize the significance of causality in connection with knowledge, but they, too, like the falasifah start, according to al-Nursi, with their preconceived notion of causation and interpret experience and the world accordingly. But al-Nursi believes that such interpretation is akin to putting the cart before the horse, since we cannot say anything about the status of causation before we observe the world. Observation however, does not appear to suggest that causation is true. That is why attempts to reconcile causation with the Qur’anic concept of divine unity and omnipotence involve great difficulties and remain conjectural and paradoxical.
‘Allamah Sayyid Tabatabai writes that “whatever is caused by natural causes is really caused by Allah … The causes do have causality (which he defines as natural causation) because Allah has given it to them … Every cause has been given the power to create the relevant effect; but the real authority is yet in the hands of Allah.” (70) >From al-Nursi’s harfi perspective this last statement is paradoxical: if a cause has the power to create an effect, it has necessary properties with which it produces the effect. But if something is necessary, it exists of itself and from itself; it has not been given existence at any point in time. This means it is not contingent. However, all observed causes are contingent. (71)
The harfi approach does not deny causality and the order in the world, which is one of the major designata of unity, but it refutes the fact that a cause could create anything as groundless. It does not dismiss causes but employs them as signs in attaining knowledge, in the way revelation teaches. It is concerned with showing how every cause and effect and particularly their relationships are signs pointing to the knowledge of the divine attributes and to the laws of the manifestation of those divine names in this world. In other words it is by showing that causation is untrue because it is unfounded that al-Nursi’s approach reveals the harfi nature of things and hence the truth of the teachings of the Qur’an. For al-Nursi, things are not signs (ayat) just because the Qur’an states so, rather the Qur’an says so because things actually function as signs as it can be verified through observation.
Al-Nursi’s Analysis of Ismi Science
Know that most of Man’s ‘earthly’ (72) cogitations, his
incontrovertible and even self-evident truths are built on
‘customariness’ (ulfah), the source of compounded
ignorance. A corruption of serious consequences therefore
resides in the very foundations of his knowledge. It is
owing to this almost perpetual state of affairs, that the
Qur’an constantly directs the gaze of mankind towards the
recurrent vicissitudes (adiyat), beckoning them fervently
to look closer at the veils of the ‘ordinary’. For the
recurrent, the ordinary, and the mundane conceal
beneath that ‘extra-ordinary’ activity transiting the very
vicissitudes (adiyat) of life and the world. Indeed, it is
through these that the lights of the Qur’anic stars pierce
the dark vaults and tenebrous shrouds of the mind
succumbed to ‘customariness’ (ulfah). (73)
Know that due to ‘customariness’, many have ceased to
mull over the recurrent vicissitudes (adiyat’) (74) of the
world, although, these are but inroads of the miracles of
Divine power. Having instead confined their gazes to the
surface of these perpetually flowing manifestations, they
have taken an attitude similar to those who upon perusing
the surface of the ocean have failed to bring themselves to
see in the ocean anything beyond the mere undulations
brought about by the caressing of the air and the
twinkling of the sunshine. How can they who rely only on
these superficial observations reach to the conclusions
about the depth of the ocean, the might of its Owner and
Creator whose tremendum reigns the heavens and the earth
and all that lies between? (75)
Understanding and interpretation of the world is for al-Nursi a mode of being. Ismi science, that is the science that proceeds from the intellect of philosophy, is based on a flawed understanding of being, dictated by the whims of the soul and cannot lead to reality. Its so-called scientific knowledge is ignorance masquerading as knowledge. (76) Scientific knowledge is based on causation, which is a corollary dogma of ismi (the nominative) meaning. Causation is neither elicited by experience, nor logically justifiable. While dealing primarily with the ‘ills’ of his own soul, al-Nursi argues extensively against its intellectual claims, demonstrating in various contexts and from many perspectives that there are challenging difficulties in accepting both its claims to ‘divinity’ and its consequent teaching, namely, causation: knowledge presupposes universality, but there can be no universality if the horizontal line of causation is assumed.
Causation is taken to mean that the existence of an effect is necessitated by its causes; it is more than just causality. The ismi meaning takes it for granted that causes are efficient, that is, they produce the effect and sustain its existence. However, al-Nursi argues that the occurrence of one effect calls for the existence of the whole cosmos and not only its apparent causes, because things are inseparable and inter-related in the cosmos.
Know that an atom may bear the sun and run with it while
it could not, in essence, accommodate another atom as
attested by evidence. Being similar to the rain drizzles
blazing in the sun, atoms of these living beings and their
compounds are fit to become vessels for the flashes of the
manifestations of the luminous, pre-eternal, absolute, and
encompassing power of His pre-eternal infinite knowledge
and absolute will. Or else, how could an atom of one of
the cells in your eye be the source and origin of the
potency, the sensibility, and the volition enabling it to
carry out its ever-increasing duties in the complex arenas
of its operations? Particularly, as we bear in mind that
atoms carry out numerous functions and duties. Indeed!
Doesn’t it travel in the sensing nerves of the eye, in the
veins, and the arteries, and is involved in the operations of
visualizing, and intercepting visuals, and many more
bewildering activities like these? Seeing this wonderful
and precise work, this orderly and adorned sculpting, this
profound and far-reaching wisdom, one is left with the
following question. Either every atom and every
compound in creation are the origin and the source for
these comprehensive and perfectly consummate attributes,
or else they are the locus and mirrors to the rays of the
manifestations of the ‘Pre-eternal Sun’ to whom appertain
these Attributes. The first consideration entails difficulties
by the number of atoms and their compounds in the
In other words, the production of the tiniest effect requires a knowledge, power, will, and so on that encompass the whole world, not only in space but also in time. “The One Who created the mosquito created both the sun and the Milky Way; and the One Who ordered the flea’s internal organs clearly set in order the solar system.” (78) If it is not accepted that causes and effects are being made and cannot produce anything, (79) then it has to be accepted that within each contingent cause there resides infinite creative power, knowledge, and will; this is nonsensical and contradictory because each cause being also an effect would have to be both dominant under the domination of all other beings. (80)
From another point of view, al-Nursi refers to the countless events (creative acts) occurring in countless places all at the same time and without intermediaries, such as the advent of spring, hatching of the eggs, and so on. These events, these creative acts proceed from a law of creativity that encompasses all those events. That is, the one who gives life to an insect must be the one who creates and gives life to all insects and animals, and whoever spins particles must be the one who sets the celestial bodies in motion, for the law of creativity is a chain and creative acts are tied to it. Al-Nursi concludes that each thing ascribes every other thing to its own Maker, and each creative act attributes all acts to its author. (81)
In respect to the ismi meaning, beings in themselves are transitory and accidental. They do not possess in themselves anything that can perpetuate and sustain their existence. But in respect to the harfi meaning, the existence of every thing is directly connected to its Maker and through that connection it is related to all other things in space and in time. The particular gains universality through this vertical connection. Al-Nursi affirms that it is through its connection to the Creator that ‘a fly did away with Nimrud, an ant destroyed Pharaoh’s palace, and a fig seed bears the load of a fig tree’. (82) Within the context of the harfi approach, we may say that universality exists only in relation to the Creator. Were it not for that connection, things would all be like orphans, alien to all the rest of beings and they all would become ‘estranged particulars’ and ‘logically nothings’. (83) The so-called causes and effects would have been horizontally related to each other if they had been necessarily related i.e. if it had been possible to deduce the effect from its cause(s) through a purely rational process, without referring to past observation, which is obviously not possible.
In science, universal statements are inferred from particular ones inductively, while from a logical point of view, universal statements cannot be inferred from particulars, no matter how numerous and ubiquitous. Inductive inferences could have been justified if an empirical relation between a cause and effect, i.e. a purely logical truth were necessary. Inductive logic conjectures that induction is valid, and then concludes that horizontal causation is true; whereas, induction can only be justified if causation i.e. a one to one relation between cause and effect is true. According to Karl Popper, the difficulties of inductive logic are insurmountable. To justify induction, inductive inferences should be employed, and then these will have to be justified by invoking a new principle of induction, and so on ad infinitum. The attempt to base the principle breaks down since it leads to infinite regress. (84) This means that science has no valid method to move from the particular to the universal. A scientific law is the recurrence of particular events, but there is no reason why a collection of contingent particulars should result in a universal law. One of the most important results of the problem of induction is that the cognitive claims of inductive logic, in other words the scientific method, are unjustifiable.
The point al-Nursi makes is simply that scientific laws are unjustifiable, but more broadly, that every single statement of the form ‘A causes B’ is also unjustifiable. This, nevertheless, neither leads him to deny ’causes’ and ‘effects’, nor their relations. His concern and arguments are directed against the nature and interpretation of such relations: the uniformity and order in the universe is wrongly attributed to causation. What is observed is causality, the principle that nothing happened without being caused, and not causation i.e. cause produces an effect.
For al-Nursi it is not evident at all how one can maintain that unconscious, conflicting, deaf and blind causes can be the agents of effects full of meaningful art and adornment, while maintaining le hazard and a theory of chaos at the same time. The wise benefits from effects dismiss causes from ability to create, and instead reveals them as the aqueducts (85) of His mercy and will, handing them over to a Wise Maker Who wants to make Himself known and loved through His ‘cosmic personal and intentional mercy’. (86) Although causes seem adjacent to effects, they are far from reaching one another although they reach out to each other through His mediation. Effects have been tied to causes so that great numbers of Divine Names may be manifested along the distance that separates them, when it is ‘realized’ that causation is an illusion of the ismi vision. Then, it becomes clear that infinite essential power, knowledge, will, compassion, and many other Divine Names are manifestly involved in those relations. (87)
Al-Nursi repeatedly states that causes and things are not efficient, and that to maintain the contrary amounts to attributing a kind of divinity to them. (88) Moreover, horizontal causation is an impediment to the true knowledge, which is the knowledge of God and not the detailed knowledge of the things themselves. But as mentioned earlier, al-Nursi’s harfi approach is not in favor of abandoning the search for causes. On the contrary, it is in uncovering the relations between causes and effects that one may be a witness to the Divine Names and obtain knowledge of God, which is, according to the Qur’an, the aim in the creation of humanity. Al-Nursi often quotes Read and ponder carefully the lines of this creation; For they are sent to you as missives from the supreme heavenly realm. (89)
The ismi meaning looks to things in their horizontal relations and thus ignores the many other levels of existence. The harfi meaning looks at the ‘effects’ of beings as windows to infinity, to the Divine Names and Attributes of their Maker. (90)
The Qur’an does not bring out the conditions of the things in existence insofar as they point to their ‘selves’, but insofar as they point to the One who endows them with existence: what is essential in its eyes are those conditions in which they are looking up to their endower. Human philosophy and modern science, on the other hand, exploit them for their own dead end, and masquerade them as ‘reals’, objects and nomen agentis, so much, that what gains utmost importance in the eyes of the devotees ought to be devoted to the conditions in which they are pointing to their own essences. Thus, al-Nursi highlights that the two approaches are world apart. (91)
Qur’anic wisdom teaches that an atom or a bee or a flower are signs bearing the meaning of another and therefore they should be looked at on account of that ‘wholly-other’ according to the meaning of the Qur’anic verse: There is nothing but extols His limitless glory and praise. (92)
The Qur’an Reveals the Meanings of the Cosmic Recitation
Know that among the signs of His absolute universal
divinity and mercy towards humanity are the inscriptions
of a word, a locution, or even a whole book in the upper
or lower case letters of this cosmos in order that they
become a ‘manifest’ sign for the thoroughness and
comprehensiveness of His knowledge and caring. Take for
instance, His creating the fish in the large inscription of
the ocean, and His creating the small ant in the lines of
the trees, or His creating animals in this minute particle
that we call earth. See now without heedlessness all those
insects you find in those seemingly lifeless, unattended,
and totally abandoned places. Really, some of the Maker’s
creatures bring to mind the calligraphy of the letters ‘Ya’
and ‘Sin’ within which is inscribed in miniature the whole
of the verse Yasin. (93)
According to al-Nursi, the Qur’an interprets the cosmic speech in a way that is congenial to its interlocutors. The Qur’anic verses not only refer to the meanings of the signs in the universe but they also teach how to uncover those meanings. For al-Nursi, the true meaning of the universe can only be understood through a universal view revealed by the Qur’anic verses. Reflection (tafakkur) for al-Nursi is not so much on the verses, but essentially by means of the verses (tafakkur bi;l-ayat). (94) In his view the interpretation of the cosmic signs should proceed under the guidance of the very logic of Qur’anic verses, and is effected by the operations and effulgence of its cosmic signs. Man reaches self-understanding and that of the beings around him when his intellect is in the ‘mode of listening’ to the Qur’an’s cosmic revelations.
The Risale does not claim that God is the creator of beings because the Qur’an says that He is the Creator of everything. (95) To use the conclusions of the Qur’an to support one’s views, which may or not be compatible with the messages of the Qur’an, is different from confirming the truth of the Qur’an. Although such claim refers to the Qur’an, it does not follow a Qur’anic approach but Aristotelian logic. (96) Similarly, to say that God creates ‘all’, without witnessing how ‘every single’ being is proclaiming to that reality, is no safeguard against the heedlessness (ghaflah) and the nonchalance of the soul. Man’s primordial duty consists of “experiencing the meaning of the words concerning the Creator’s Unity and Maker’s Lordship uttered by each of the beings in the world in its particular tongue.” (97)
Al-Nursi insists that true affirmation of divine unity requires that one sees the seal of divine power and Lordship (rububiyyah) on every single thing, and opens up from every thing a window directly onto the light of the divine attributes of perfection or the divine names and thus attain to perpetual awareness of the divine presence. (98) Some of the salient arguments of this affirmation of tawhid as already mentioned are: “Nothing can exist without everything else”; (99) and “Without holding the universe in one’s hand, one cannot create a single particle.” (100) Moreover, al-Nursi appeals that his teachings on the nature of tawhid are consistent not only with the spirit of the Qur’an, but with the path of walayah inaugurated by the Prophet. Commenting on the mi raj, he says:
There is within this particular journey a general one and
universal ascent during which the prophet heard and saw
the Dominical Signs and wonders of Divine Art that
encountered his eyes and ears within the universal degrees
of the Divine Names … (101)
He adds further that this was an invitation by way of which God “made [the prophet’s] journey through both the external face of the world of existence and the face that looks to its Creator.” (102)
The world occupies a vital place in al-Nursi’s hermeneutical approach to the Qur’an: the world is referred to, in the manner the Qur’an itself instructs and not according to one’s own preconceptions, in order to understand the Qur’an and confirm its truth. There are signs in every single thing, in every event in the universe; each thing glorifies God by reciting Say, he is God, the One, the Besought. (103) The whole world recites the Qur’anic verses and express there is no deity but He. (104) Therefore, to be a witness to the truth of tawhid is to be witnessing the reality of that truth in the cosmos.
Let us reiterate, nonetheless, that al-Nursi urges his readers not to interpret this cosmic text as mere ‘thinkers’ but as ‘witnesses’ (shuhada’). He urges them to open with the ‘keys’ of faculties placed in their primordial nature the secrets of the Divine names, of consciously witnessing the tasbihat and the takbirat of the living beings to their Creator, as they transit in and out of existence respectively, and of observing their worship of the Bestower of life and joining them. Surely this joining is not without worship and humility of heart and intellect, nor is the reading of this cosmic Qur’an possible and accessible without the effulgence of the ‘ideal reader’: the excellent Man of mi raj, to whom all beings send their blessings and greetings of peace. Ultimately, the tawhidi journey that al-Nursi wants to evince reaches its peak through this tazkiyah (purification) and awareness of the Prophet’s cosmic reality. Only then the objects of observation are no longer the outward ismi things, but the soul of the experimenter itself. Al-Nursi explains that through the insight of belief and one’s union with all beings through the connection to the Eternal One, one experiences a boundless existence apart from one’s personal existence. (105)
Harfi Science: Towards a Science of the Future
It is often argued that science explains how things occur in terms of causation but it cannot explain why they exist the way they do. Everything depends for its ultimate explanation on something outside the universe and that is God. Thus, the story goes that things are the way they are because God has so willed. To answer ‘how’ is the domain of science and ‘why’ is that of religion. Within the harfi attitude, we are part of the cosmos and hence we can learn only by asking ‘how’ questions. In order to answer a ‘why’ question that cannot be reduced to a ‘how’, we either have to go outside the universe to investigate it, which is impossible, or we have to accept that God has so willed, given that we know Him.
Since the harfi approach seeks knowledge of God by means of His signs in the world, it is concerned with answering ‘how’ questions. It proceeds in agreement with the Qur’anic verses, which repeatedly bid the reader to consider how things are created. Do they never gaze at the clouds pregnant with water, (and observe) how they are created? And at the sky, how it is raised aloft? And the mountains, how firmly they are reared? And the earth, how it is spread out? (106) Do they not look at the sky above them, how We have built it and made it beautiful and free of faults? (107)
The harfi approach is concerned with how things are being made, for, as pointed out earlier, it is by establishing the relations between causes and effects that the Divine Names can be witnessed and knowledge of God can be reached. Belief in God, as taught by the Qur’an, is a confirmation of His attributes of perfection in every observed cause-effect relationship. The Qur’an does not restrict the realm of religion to the ‘unseen’ or ‘hidden’ so that belief in ghayb entails belief in the ‘unknowable’. Ghayb does pertain in many ways to that which transcends human perception and the categories of speculative thought, but the Qur’an is not for blind faith, as other aspects of ghayb look to our condition, and there is a way ‘from God to humans’ (whether through the Qur’an, the cosmos or the prophets) called wajh Alaah. In this sense, there is no bar between this world and ‘the transcendental world’.
The Qur’anic speech is described by al-Nursi as lisan al-ghayb fi ‘alam al-shahadah i.e. ‘the tongue of the world of the unseen in the manifest world’. It clearly shows that there are cosmic evidences for the ‘matters of faith’ such as belief in resurrection. For instance, the Qur’an says:
Behold, then, the signs of God’s grace, how He gives life
to the earth after it had void of life! Verily, this Selfsame
(God) is indeed the One that can bring the dead to life:
for He has power to will anything! (108)
And He it is Who sends forth the winds as a glad tiding of
His coming grace, so that, when they have brought heavy
clouds, We may drive them towards dead land and cause
thereby water to descend; and by such means do We cause
all manner of fruit to come forth. Even thus shall We
cause the dead to come forth: (and this) you ought to bear
in mind. (109)
In the context of the harfi approach there is no distinction between physics and metaphysics as it is the case with the ismi attitude. All attainments, all learning, all progress, and all sciences have for al-Nursi an eminent reality, which is based on at least one of the Divine Names, which are the ‘weft and warp’ of the tapestry of the cosmic text. Science finds its perfection and becomes reality when it serves the sacred aims of revelation and makes known the Divine Names that should constitute its roots matrix.
For instance, medicine fulfils its reality and embodies wisdom when it is based on the name Healer, and Man becomes a student of this science when he is seeking the grace and the healing of that lofty Name. Al-Nursi says that “through observing that name’s compassionate manifestations in the vast pharmacy of the earth, medicine finds its perfection and becomes reality.” (110) Al-Nursi emphasizes that ‘without these perfections, science is transformed into superstition and trivia, or else it gives rise to misguidance like the one spread by naturalist philosophy.’ (111) Harfi science–whether it is physics, anthropology or religion–instigates wisdom and perfection; ismi science in contrast, yields superstition and misconception.
At this point, we can safely conclude that science is not a neutral phenomenon for New Sa id, nor is the cosmos. So what did al-Nursi mean with his response to high school students who complained to him that their teachers did not mention God, “The sciences you study speak of God and make Him known, each with its own particular tongue. Do not listen to your teachers; listen to them.” (112) As is clear from all that he said, al-Nursi was actually inviting the students to forgo the ismi interpretation of the cosmic signs which were often force-fed to them by the academy. Indeed, he went on to explain to them how to ‘listen to science’, he was initiating them to the harfi science; he wanted to show them how to look critically with the harfi logic at the so-called natural phenomena and see that they are signs pointing to their Maker and glorifying Him. Given his critique of the very foundations of modern science, al-Nursi cannot have thought that ismi positive science speaks of God. He himself says, “Through the lights of belief, I have razed the sturdy bastions they call positive sciences and Nature.” (113)
Harfi science, as al-Nursi understands it, is an activity within the universal scope of religion. (114) It is not an alternative to religion but an integral part of it. Al-Nursi suggests that the Qur’anic verse, And He taught Adam the names, all of them (115) indicates that the greatest miracle upon which the supreme vicegerency of mankind revolves is the gift of true knowledge that can be gained by means of the grace of the Names. Hence, humanity’s most pressing duty is to rise to the heights of divine wisdom by means of spiritual progress and the harfi sciences. In his commentary, al-Nursi argues the above Qur’anic verse addresses our age in the most particular terms; it is as if it were urging us to renounce our ways of understanding knowledge and beckoning us to other worthier directions:
Come on, step forward, adhere to all My Names and rise
[it says]! Your forefather (i.e. Adam) was once deceived by
Satan, and temporarily fell to the earth from a state akin
to Paradise. Beware! In your progress, do not follow Satan
and from the heaven of divine wisdom thus fall into the
misguidance of ‘Nature.’ Continuously raising your head
and studying carefully My beautiful names, make your
sciences and your progress steps by which to ascend to those
heavens. Then you may rise to My divine names, which are
the realities and sources of your sciences and attainments,
and you may look to your Sustainer with your hearts
through the telescope of the Names. (116)
Al-Nursi, it may be added, is inviting us to contemplate anew to reach a new understanding of ‘being’. The progress, to which he now calls us, is none other than ‘spiritual progress’ that leads Man towards fulfilling his perfections and raison d’etre. The science which he finally proposes for us is that science which yields yaqin (tranquility of the heart from certitude) and dispels doubt, leading Man to the presence of the Divine and His ma’rifah. The merit of Sa id al-Nursi in this task is his use of an intellectual discourse that is commensurate to our present predicament and cultural condition. This should not lead us in the end to see him as one who was mesmerized by the ‘modern Mind’, but as an intriguing ‘modern’ enigma, fittingly known by the sobriquet of Bedi’uzzaman, “the non-pareil of his time”.
(1.) M. Pacaci; Y. Aktay, “75 Years of Higher Religious Education in Modern Turkey” in The Muslim World, Vol. LCIX, No. 3-4 (Jul-Oct 1999), 389.
(2.) Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (London: Hurst & Co, 1998), 497, quoting Mehmet Izzet, Yeni Ictimaiyat Dersleri (2nd ed.; Istanbul, 1928), 278.
(3.) About fifty years ago, Old Sa id, who had been steeped too deeply in intellectual and philosophical sciences, tried to find the ultimate truth following the teachings of the great Sufis as well as that of the investigators of ultimate reality from among the philosophers (ahl al-tariqah, ahl al-haqiqah). He could not be satisfied like most of the followers of tariqah with an impetus coming from the heart because he was already under the spell of the ‘intellect of philosophy’. He was confused as to which path to follow and had to be cured…. The Imam al-Rabbani (Sirhindi) transmitted to him an encrypted message, urging him to ‘unify his qiblah’ and find a single master. The Old Sa id surmised, “the true master is the Qur’an.” … Soon, his soul (al-nafs al-ammarah) with its knack for refractoriness forced him to a spiritual and intellectual showdown. He confronted it not with his eyes closed; rather, he journeyed through his ordeal with his eyes open just as al Ghazali, Mawlana Jalaluddin, and the Imam al-Rabbani had journeyed with the eyes of their heart and intellect open in places where others had closed them. Praise be to God … he found an unfrequented path to truth through the guidance of the Qur’an. B. S. Al-Nursi, al-Mathnawi al- Arabi al-Nuri (Istanbul: Sozler Yayinevi, 1999), 29; henceforth Mathnawi. All translations from the Mathnawi are by the authors; other translations from al-Nursi’s works based on existing translations but have been amended by the authors.
(4.) Risale-i Nur is the title Sa id al-Nursi has given to his Qur’anic commentary, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati (Istanbul: Nesil Basim Yayin, 1996); henceforth, Risale.
(5.) Mathnawi, 318.
(6.) Professor Taha Abdel-Rahman argues that an erroneous differentiation is often made between al-hadath al- aqliyy (rational intuition) and al-hath al-mitafiziqiyy (metaphysical intuition), in that the latter could also be of a ‘rational’ nature, relying on peculiar forms of demonstration which he calls alistidlal al-matwiyy (a pregnant demonstration), the latter being a form of demonstration that does not lay out all the premises that are concomitant to that intuition. Intuition, he maintains, depends on the condition and intellectual ability of the interlocutors. While some might understand them without the mediation of premises and demonstrations, others would be in need of them, until these turn, in their case, into intuitions. Thus, he says: if someone asked what was intuition, my answer to him would be: it is an istidlal matwiyy (a pregnant demonstration), and if he then asked me: what is dhawq (fruitional taste), my answer would be aql matwiyy (pregnant intellect), and if he went on asking ‘what is istidlal in this instance? I would say: al-istidlal hadth manshur (demonstrative proof is an unraveled or unpacked intuition), similarly, should he ask what is ‘aql, I would retort: al- aql dhawq manshur (the intellect is intuition in the mode of unraveling). On this point see, Taha Abdel-Rahman, Hiwarat min ajli l’Mustaqbal (Casablanca: Matba at al-Najah Al-Jadida, 2000), 107-09.
(7.) Al-Nursi, The Supreme Sign: The Observations of a Traveller Questioning the Universe Concerning his Maker, trans. by H. Algar (Istanbul: Sozler Nesriyat, 2002), 102-03; Risale, 711; 1683.
(8.) “As opposed to personal salvation only, it has become a question of collective salvation as misguidance is being spread in the name of science,” al-Nursi writes. The Risale-i Nur is not only repairing some minor damage of some small house; it is repairing vast damage of the all-embracing citadel which contains Islam, the stones of which are the size of mountains. And it is not striving to reform only a private heart and an individual conscience; it is striving to cure with the medicines of the Qur’an and belief in the Qur’an’s miraculousness the collective heart and generally-held ideas, which have been breached in awesome fashion by the tools of corruption prepared and stored up over a thousand years, and the general conscience, which is facing corruption through the destruction of the foundations, currents, and marks (sha ir) of Islam which are the refuge of all and particularly of the common believers.” al-Nursi, The Supreme Sign, 96.
(9.) Here, ‘offense’ refers to that ‘offensive critique’ in which something like science is attacked and nullified, but without presenting the student of science, or the age of science for that matter, with remedies and ways of ‘picking up the pieces’, as it were, resulting from the critique. As for ‘redemptive’, it is used in the sense that although al-Nursi’s conception of science is completely different from that of modern science, he still uses an intellectual discourse, strives for ‘universality’, and displays a demonstrative ability that can help modern science change its course. Redemptive, thus, purports to the intellectual task of addressing the problems modern science has failed to resolve, but in a language it can understand and adopt.
(10.) The authors have borrowed the term “Human Philosophy” from Prof. T. Abdel Rahman, who uses it to refer to the knowledge acquired by human beings without revelation and thus it is in contrast to what he calls “Qur’anic Philosophy”.
(11.) Mathnawi, 226.
(12.) Risale, 107. It is important to highlight here a confusion that might arise as a result of relying solely on translation when dealing with al-Nursi. His use of the word ilm, which is usually understood as knowledge, is often translated as science, whereas al-Nursi himself would use the word fen for modern science.
(13.) Not necessarily modern ern science for as we will see al-Nursi has his own Qur’anic understanding of science beyond the modern.
(14.) Al-Nursi, The Words, trans. S. Vahide (Istanbul: Sozler Nesriyat, 2002), 376-77, 728; al-Nursi, Isharat al-i’caz (Istanbul: Sozler Yayinevi, 1999), 22.
(15.) The Qur’an refers to its verses as well as to beings and events with the same word, ayah, which means sign. The word ayah and its plural (ayat) occur in the Qur’an 380 times, mostly referring to the creation, beings and events in it.
(16.) Al-Nursi, The Letters, trans. S. Vahide (Istanbul: Sozler Nesriyat, 2001), 339-340. There is a verse in the Qur’an that says, They will reply: God, who gives speech to all things, has given speech to us (as well). Fussilat: 21.
(17.) Al-Nursi, The Rays, trans. S. Vahide (Istanbul: Sozler Nesriyat, 1998), 146-49.
(18.) Al-Nursi, Isharat al-i jaz in Risale, 1216.
(19.) Fussilat: 53.
(20.) Annemarie Schimmel, “Reason and Mystical Experience in Sufism” in Intellectual Traditions in Islam, ed. F. Daftary (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000), 143.
(22.) Osman Bakar, History of Islamic Philosophy, ed. S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (London: Routledge, 1996), Vol. II, 938-39.
(23.) Al-Ghazali, The Book of Knowledge of Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din, trans. N.A. Faris (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1962), 36-37.
(24.) Ta liqat, an early work of al-Nursi, is in fact a commentary on Aristotelian logic.
(25.) The years of destruction caused by the First World War, followed by the momentous demise of the Ottoman Caliphate pushed al-Nursi into an acute spiritual crisis that prompted the overall transformation of his intellectual outlook. The parallels between al-Nursi’s intellectual journey and that of al-Ghazali are beyond the scope of this paper, but is worth noting here that both had undergone a long spiritual crisis as a result of their accepting some of the precepts of philosophy. In both, one takes notice of that spiritual struggle, that ‘dark night of the soul’, which ends in their case with the victory of the ‘heart’ over the ‘soul’ (nafs), culminating in a birth of a ‘new’ intellect, as it were, and a new Qur’anic Man.
(26.) In a treatise written sometime between 1928 and 1932, the New Sa id explains why his style differed from that of the Old Sa id as follows: “The Old Sa id and certain (Muslim) thinkers in part accepted the principles of man-made modern philosophy. For even when they argued against the proponents of this philosophy they used their weapons, thus accepting those principles to a degree. They submitted to some of their principles in the form of the physical sciences, believing them to be unshakable and therefore could not demonstrate the true worth of Islam. It was quite simply as though they were grafting Islam to philosophy, the roots of which they supposed to be very deep; as though strengthening it.” Risale, 560-61.
(27.) Risale, 711.
(28.) T. Abdel Rahman, “The Separation of Human Philosophy from the Wisdom of the Qur’an” in Sa id al-Nursi’s Islam at the Crossroads, ed. I. M. Abu Rabi’ (Albany: SUNY, 2003), 202.
(29.) Ibid., 201-2.
(30.) One of the salient features of al-Nursi’s critique of science is that it does not confine itself to the destruction (and deconstruction) of modern science. As mentioned earlier, al-Nursi’s ‘offense’ combines an attempt to ‘redeem’ science and cure what Paul Tillich called the ‘schizophrenic split in our consciousnesses’. It strives to show that sound reasoning and logic and a more critical understanding of the very processes of creation themselves point to the Divine and uphold the truth of revelation as the ultimate expounder on the secrets and finality of creation.
(31.) The Asha ri tradition of refuting causation has been maintained not only by the scholars of kalam but also by the great Sufis like Ibn Arabi and Rumi. The latter argued in his Mathnawi that the main mission of the prophets had always been their resistance against the worship of apparent causes, since this delusion opened the gates of polytheism and ungratefulness.
(32.) It should be made clear that a number of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars had been aware of the limits of the modern scientific mind and argued eloquently against a number of its claims. Aside from al-Nursi, we are not aware, however, that the ontology of the modern scientific mind has ever been debunked on the basis of its very premises and on its own turf as concisely and as cogently. See, for example, al-Nursi’s treatise on ‘Nature’ and also Y. B. Mermer, “Induction, Science and Causation: Some Critical Reflections” in Islamic Studies, Vol. 35 (Autumn 1996) no. 3. and Y. B. Mermer, The Muslim World, Vol. LCIX (Jul-Oct 1999) no. 3-4, 270-96.
(33.) Paul Tillich, The Irrelevance and Relevance of the Christian Message, ed. Durwood Foster (Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1996), 24-25.
(34.) al Baqarah: 269
(35.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 143-45; Mathnawi, 456-57.
(36.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 145, emphasis added.
(38.) For a detailed autobiographical account of these intellectual crises and spiritual struggles of Sa id al-Nursi, see his Mathnawi.
(39.) Risale, 111.
(40.) Risale, 96, 711.
(41.) Al-Nursi, The Supreme Sign, 102-03 and Risale, 1683.
(43.) Risale, 96, and The Words, 252.
(45.) Risale, 171, 1963.
(46.) Risale, 242.
(47.) To the extent that words serve to convey a meaning they are symbols like characters in musical notation. Thus, what is meant by ‘symbolic’ in this paper does not relate to what is conveyed by ‘token’ nor is it in any way related to symbolic logic or symbolism. Al-Nursi borrowed the term ‘ma na harfi’ from the glossary of Arabic grammar. There, a preposition such as a harf al-jarr, or an isolated letter, has no meaning in itself, but serves to point to a meaning beyond itself (Al-harf ma dalla ala ma na fi ghayrihi) Mathnawi, 270. Al-Nursi uses harfi to allude to both aspects of things, which looks to their Maker, as well as to the intellect, which as a result of its being cleansed of its ismi vision is made to witness their ‘symbolic’ activity. By contrast, ‘ma na ismi’, pertaining to ‘ism’ (noun), bears a meaning in itself and points to itself (ma dalla ‘ala ma na fi nafsihi). Mathnawi, 270. As in the English language the nominative ‘I’, for instance, is a pronoun denoting a case expressing the ‘subject’ of the verb, one may, in the figurative sense at least, propose ‘nominative mood’ as an English equivalent to ma na ismi’. Al-Nursi uses ma na ismi or ‘nominative mood’ to allude to the view that holds that Man actually does exert power over things and produces effects, a view which, according to al-Nursi, leads Man to either ascribe some ‘divinity’ to himself or to the things in his horizon. Mathnawi, 221. Thus in al-Nursi’s usage ma na ismi is often used to convey ‘ego-philosophy’, speculative thought (nazar), Greek philosophy and the like, all of which cause Man to view beings as independent agents or ‘essences’ contained within concrete objects.
(48.) Al-Nursi, The Letters, 286-87.
(49.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 557-59.
(50.) R. Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 108-11.
(52.) While things in the book of nature and the horizons are open, they are locked if the receptacle, the ‘I’ in Man, remains hostage to ‘essentialism’. Al-Nursi, The Words, 557-69. The secret for al-Nursi lies in unlocking this talisman through worship and prayers. He says: “Know that knowledge received from the horizon of the ‘outer world’ is not free from doubts and delusions. Only when it is remitted to the scanning filters of the heart and the fundus anima (wijdan) is it purified from the disturbing scruples and ascertained. Therefore, as you contemplate this world, perceive it from the centre to the circumference and then the outskirts, and be aware of the reverse, lest you retrogress.” Mathnawi, 226.
(53.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 550.
(54.) Ibid., 747.
(55.) Abdel Rahman, “The Separation of Human Philosophy from the Wisdom of the Qur’an”, in Islam at the Crossroads, op. cit, 206-09.
(56.) Ibid., 202.
(57.) Mathnawi, 170, emphasis added.
(58.) O. Leaman, Averroes and His Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 1-42.
(59.) O. Leaman, “Al-Nursi’s Place in the Ihya Tradition” in The Muslim World, Vol. LCIX (Jul-Oct 1999) No. 3-4, 315.
(61.) Majid Fakhry, Islamic Occasionalism and its Critique by Averroes and Aquinas (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1958), 121.
(62.) There are other verses that attribute the creation to God: Say: God is the creator of all things (al-Ra d: 16) and Surely His is the creation and the command (al-A raf: 54).
(63.) R. M. Frank, “The Structure of Created Causality According to al-Ash’ari: An Analysis of the Kitab al-Lum a”, 82-164 in Studia Islamica XXV (1969), 14.
(64.) M. Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philsophy (New York & London: Columbia University Press, 1970), 234.
(65.) H. Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy, trans. L. Sherrad (London: Islamic Publications Ltd., 1993), 120.
(66.) Note that each effect is also a cause and vice versa.
(67.) Al-Nursi describes the proofs he expounds in his Risale to be at the degree of knowledge of certainty (fi martabati ilm al-yaqin) at the level of witnessing (shuhud) and certainty. The resulting confirmation (tasdiq) of the truths of belief is the outgrowth of both the mind and the emotions of the heart which in this scheme unite and become one, i.e. the Qur’anic intellect. Al-Nursi, al-Malahiq fi Fiqh Da wa al-Nur, trans. I. Q. al-Salihi (Istanbul: Sozler Yayinevi, 1995), 112.
(68.) M. Golshani, “Philosophy of Science from the Qur’anic Perspective” in Toward Islamization of Disciplines (Herndon: International Islamic Publishing House, 1995), 88.
(69.) In relation to this point al-Nursi writes: “Know dear friend of mine! Sadly, the majority of mankind, it appears, has failed to give this great ‘visible book’, the cosmos, and this highly venerable ‘audible book’, the Qur’an, their due esteem, largely, as a result of ill-conceived thoughts diffused by some of the philosophers and literati in our midst. Infatuated and absorbed by their ‘I am ness’, as is often the case, philosophers tend to accord ‘the Necessary Being’ only the thin husk of His entire creation. Then, following this ‘wishful thinking’ and absurd ‘tokenism’ they overreach themselves daring to stretch their hands to divide the remains of His Kingdom among imaginary, if not impossible causes, and contrived names and shares that refer back to no real nominee”. Mathnawi, 307.
(70.) M. H. Tabataba’i, Al-Mizan: An Exegesis of the Qur’an, Vol. I, trans. S. S. Akhtar Rizvi (Tehran: WOFIS, 1973), 112-13.
(71.) “Know O friend still under the spell of causes! The creation of a cause with its precise determinations as well as its constant supply with the necessary requisites that makes it fit to bring into being the effect, is not at all easier and worthier, nor is it more perfect and loftier than the creation of the effect within the cause in an instant by the order ‘Be’, from He who, before Whom stands as equal the atoms, as well as, the solar system.” Mathnawi, 212.
(72.) Al-Nursi usually uses the term ‘earthly’ to refer to ‘human’ philosophy, which resists the ‘heavenly knowledge’ or revelation.
(73.) Mathnawi, 324.
(74.) This interesting passage reveals that the author was keen to take the challenge of the materialist philosophers of his time into their own grounds, explaining that the Qur’anic appraisals of matter were more conclusive and ‘positive’ than those of the positivists. Comparing the cognitive value of the wisdom of the Qur’an with that of the philosophy of science, al-Nursi holds that the Qur’an shatters the veil of customariness instigated by the ismi vision of modern science and makes us wonder at the divine names manifested in things and events. Al-Nursi, The Words, 150-54.
(75.) Mathnawi, 323.
(76.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 576.
(77.) Mathnawi, 226.
(78.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 732.
(79.) The Qur’an states this very clearly: Those they invoke beside God cannot create anything, since they themselves are but being created. (al-Nahl: 20-21); Will they, then, ascribe divinity, side by side with Him, unto that which does not create anything since they themselves are created? (al-A raf: 191); And yet, some choose to worship instead of Him, (imaginary) deities that cannot create anything but are themselves being created, and have it not within themselves to avert harm from, or bring benefit to, themselves, and have no power over death, nor over life, nor over resurrection! (al-Furqan: 3).
(80.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 303. Al-Nursi presents this line of argument as a development of the logic of the Qur’anic verse, Which is more reasonable: belief in the existence of numerous divine lords, each of them different from the other, or (in) the One who holds absolute sway over all that exists? (Yusuf: 39).
(81.) Al-Nursi, The Letters, 392-93; Mathnawi, 240.
(82.) Al-Nursi, The Flashes (Istanbul: Sozler Nesriyat, 1995), 241.
(83.) Mathnawi, 107, 271.
(84.) K. R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1959), 37.
(85.) When causation is removed whilst causal relations are maintained, what remains are aqueducts of mercy and will.
(86.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 172, 687, 712-13.
(87.) Risale, 312-13, 191-92.
(88.) Risale, 121, 122, 320, 501, 570, 813; The Letters, 542.
(89.) Risale, 482. Mathnawi, 227.
(90.) Risale, 244; The Words, 565.
(91.) Mathnawi, 74.
(92.) al-Isra’: 44.
(93.) Mathnawi, 323. It has been reported in many prophetic traditions that surah Yasin is the heart of the Qur’an. Many calligraphers have put themselves to the task of writing the full content of this verse in miniature inside Arabic letters ‘Ya’ and ‘Sin’. Through this imagery, the author expresses the fact that as a small surah of the Qur’an may comprehend the whole content of the Book; also a small particular creature from the cosmic Qur’an may contain the whole truth of the universe and be an ayah or a major sign of God. This is following the logic that the particulars are in al-Nursi’s tawhidi system ‘particular universals’ enjoying a value akin, and identical, to that of the universal.
(94.) Mathnawi, 257.
(95.) As found in al-An am: 102; al-Ra d: 16; al-Zumar: 62; al-Ghafir: 62.
(96.) Al-Nursi believes that Greek philosophy springs from a mythological and speculative worldview, and for this reason it is essentially alien to the Qur’anic spirit of inquiry and the nature of tawhid (Divine Unity) that nurtures and enlightens that spirit. For al-Nursi, Greek thought has been an impediment to Islamic thought and “has opened a way from tahqiq (realisation) to taqlid (imitation)”. He says that, “They (some Muslim thinkers) conjured up a resemblance and compatibility between the true logic of the Qur’an and the Hadith, and this fictitious and false (Greek) philosophy and interpreted the Qur’an accordingly. However, the meaning of the Book of Miraculous Exposition is within it. So seek the meanings of the Qur’an in its luminous words, rather than those gimmicks and artifices you sneak in the back-pocket of your mind.” Risale, 1989.
(97.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 140-41
(98.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 731.
(99.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 733.
(100.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 584, emphasis added.
(102.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 304.
(103.) For more on this, see Risale, 121.
(104.) al-Tawbah: 31. Also see al-Baqarah: 163, 255; Al- Imran: 2, 6, 18; al-Nisa’: 87; Al-An am: 102, 106; al-Tawbah: 129; Hud: 14; al-Ra d: 30; Ta Ha: 8, 98; al-Mu’minun: 116; al-Naml: 26; al-Qasas: 70, 88; al-Fatir: 3; al-Zumar: 6; al-Ghafir: 3, 62; al-Dukhan: 8; al-Hashr: 22; al-Taghabun: 13; al-Muzzammil: 9, as elaborated in al-Nursi, The Words, 728.
(105.) Al-Nursi, The Rays, 72.
(106.) al-Ghashiyah: 17-20.
(107.) Qaf: 6
(108.) al-Rum: 50
(109.) al-A raf: 57
(110.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 270-71.
(111.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 271.
(112.) Risale, 954.
(113.) Ibid., 379.
(114.) The word for ‘religion’ in Arabic is ‘din’; it means primarily “obedience, in particular, obedience to a law or to what is conceived as a system of established usages, i.e. something endowed with moral authority.” In this sense everyone has a ‘din’ of moral law as the Qur’an states when it says, Unto you, your din and unto me my din! (al-Kafirun: 6). Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus Ltd, 1980), 981.
(115.) al-Baqarah: 31
(116.) Al-Nursi, The Words, 270.
Yamine Mermer, Indiana University, Bloomington USA; Email: email@example.com; Redha Ameur, University of Melbourne, Melbourne Australia; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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