General Principles in the Risale-i Nur Collection for a True Understanding of Islam



AUTHOR     :Ali Unal

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Principles in the Risale-i Nur provide people with the essentials or basic principles on which the branches of Islamic knowledge and Islamic science are based.

The Risale-i Nur Collection offers general principles relating to all aspects of Islamic life, jurisprudence, and fields of knowledge. With its source as the Divine Wisdom, or the Divine Name of the All-Wise, its purpose is to provide guidance on thinking, believing, and living according to the precepts of Islam. Additionally, it explains the essential truths that form the foundation for Islamic knowledge and science.

Brilliantly organized and highly readable, this book serves as a compilation of general principles and standards extracted from the Risale-i Nur Collection. It is a handy introduction to the conceptual framework of Said Nursi’s thoughts.

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, the Risale-i Nur and “General Principles” in Islamic Religious Sciences The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries constitute a crucial era from the viewpoint of world history, particularly as far as the Islamic world is concerned. The thinkers of this period in the Islamic world, whose prominence in terms of material power through almost eleven centuries had long been failing, began searching for the causes of, and remedies for, this calamity. They proposed several approaches to pinpoint and treat the problem, yielding attitudes that paved the way for the birth of many currents of thought.

The years we speak of were also years that witnessed heated discussions within Islam regarding numerous issues, the influence of which is felt even today. Just as post-Renaissance developments in rational and experimental sciences sparked off discussions regarding the many truths of Christianity, and the Old and New Testaments, this era similarly opened the door to a variety of approaches and multi-faceted discussions concerning Islam, the Qur’an, Islamic history, and Islamic sciences. Certainly, the focal point of these discussions was the issue of “how to present the Qur’an or Islam for the understanding of the period.” While some who spoke from within this perspective were under the spell of modern scientific and technological developments, and the economic and military superiority of the West, thus advocating the reinterpretation of the principles of Islam and the Qur’an according to this criterion, despite the obvious risk of subjecting those principles to alteration and distortion, others were overly-fervent in proposing projects of sociopolitical reform, and in the name of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, actually turned their back on the Sunnah, and on the expanse of Islamic history. This was the atmosphere in which Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (18771960) was born and lived.

Bediuzzaman, the author of the Collection of the Risale-i Nur (the Collection of the Treatises of Light), about the lofty ideal of whom and whose deep familiarity with the world and his times, as well as his simplicity, austerity, tenderness, loyalty, chastity, modesty, and contentedness, much has been said and written, is a most effective and profound representative of Islam’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths. In the face of the “avantgardists,” who evidently perceived Islam as a hindrance to development and associated the West’s scientific and military advances with its “negative” outlook on religion, Bediuzzaman declared, “I will prove to the world that the Qur’an is a sun that cannot be extinguished.” It was in such an atmosphere that Said Nursi worked towards the construction of an indestructible fortress around the Qur’an, undeterred by blasts, detonated internally or externally, and thus opted to be a tireless servant in the implementation of the Divine declaration, “Indeed it is We, We Who send down the Reminder (i.e. the Qur’an), and it is indeed We Who are its Guardian.”1 As a scholar who had studied almost all the positive or natural sciences of his day, he reflected, to a certain extent, the influence of modern scientific data and philosophy used to corroborate the truths of the Qur’an in his early works, where he addresses others using their own brand of logic. Later on, he asserts, “Only what has been sanctified by the Qur’an may act as corroboration for the Qur’an. Substantiating the Qur’an with whatever is not in accord with it means demoting it to a degree.” However, he never despised or ignored any truth, wherever it was found, in accordance with the Prophetic Tradition: “Wisdom is like the lost property of believers. Wherever they find it, they have a greater right to take it.” He was the embodiment of a distinguished spiritual master and a noble character full of respect for his history and predecessors, attached to tradition but open to new developments, endowed with love of truth, uncompromising in the face of imitation, sober and vigorous in evaluating ideas and situations, and dignified by the highest degree of faith. He carried only the purest of intentions—to earn the good pleasure of God or to serve humanity.

During the earlier period of his life, which coincided with the last years of the Ottoman State, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was involved in the sociopolitical life of the country. He traveled much, held meetings with Kurdish leaders and religious scholars in the south-east of Turkey, visited the Balkans and the Caucasus, and saw first-hand the ignorance, poverty, and internal conflict prevalent in Turkey and the greater Muslim world. He severely criticized despotism in all fields of life and supported a constitutionalism based on the Islamic principle of consultation. He wrote many books or booklets during these years, such as Sunuhat (Occurrences to the Heart), Tuluat (Flashes of Thoughts Rising in the Heart), Rumuz (Subtle Allusions), Isarat (Indications), and Munazarat (Discussions). In these books or booklets, Bediuzzaman analyzed the condition of Muslims, the reasons why it was thus and discussed the ways this could be improved. He offered valuable prescriptions for a healthy social life. His two other books, Hakikat Cekirdekleri (Seeds of Truths) and Leme‘at (Flashes of Truth— Flowers from Seeds of Truths), in which he offered very valuable criteria for sound thinking, can also be included in this series of works.

In 1911, Bediuzzaman delivered a sermon in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus to approximately 10,000 people, including 100 high-ranking scholars. In this sermon, which was later published under the title of Hutbe- i Samiye (The Damascus Sermon), and in the other books mentioned, Bediuzzaman analyzes why the Muslim world had remained immured in the “Middle Ages”: the growth of despair, the loss of truthfulness in social and political spheres, the love of belligerency and an ignorance of the bonds that are proper among believers, despotism in all fields of life, and egocentricity. He offered his cure: hope, truthfulness and trustworthiness, mutual love, consultation, solidarity, and freedom in accordance with Islam.

In the second phase of his life, which began after the foundation of the Turkish Republic, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi devoted himself wholly to defending and explaining the truths and essentials of the Islamic faith based on religious, rational, and scientific arguments. He also elucidated Islam’s main principles of thought, worship, morality, and way of life. Being one who launched an Islamic revival at the beginning of the second quarter of the twentieth-century, he emphasized the Prophetic way in serving Islam. In addition, he revised, interpreted and explained the basic principles of all Islamic religious sciences such as Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Tafsir (the Interpretation of the Qur’an), Hadith (the Prophetic Traditions), Kalam (the Islamic Theology), and Tasawwuf (Sufism), as well as developing new ones based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. He made extensive and profound analyses and explanations concerning the nature of humanity, things, and events. Thus, he brought up many students whose minds and hearts were re-formed in the mold of Islam or the Divine Revelation. The books he authored in this period of his life are published under the titles of Sozler (The Words), Mektubat (The Letters), Lem’alar (The Gleams), and Sualar (The Rays). Al-Mathnawi al-Nuri (The Seedbed of Light), which he wrote in the transitional period between the collapse of the Ottoman State and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, is like the seed of the Risale-i Nur Collection, as it succinctly contains almost all truths elucidated in the other books of the Collection.

The topic of “General Principles” in Islamic sciences and General Principles in the Risale-i Nur

The Islamic Jurisprudence or Law is the most developed one among the Laws of the world. Due to Islam being universal, and addressing all times, places, and conditions, Muslim jurists have developed it based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah to the extent that it can answer all questions concerning worldly and otherworldly life. It can solve all problems in accordance with the approval of God Almighty. One of the most significant dimensions or divisions of the Islamic Jurisprudence is the subject of al- Qawaidu’l-Kulliyya (General Principles). According to some scholars, such as Shihabu’d-Din al-Qarafi (1228–1285) and Ibn an-Nujaym Zaynu’d-Din ibn Ibrahim, it is through the full comprehension and knowledge of these principles that a jurist is elevated to the status of performing ijtihad (deduction of new laws from the Qur’an and the Sunnah).

According to the definition of the scholars, General Principles are the concise principles based on which jurists can draw conclusions concerning particular matters which allow the Shari‘ah to achieve its goals (maqasid). These principles are based on and deduced from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In addition to applying to many particular matters under its scope in the field of Law, a general principle has references to many other fields of knowledge and dimensions of life as well.

For example, the Qur’an declares: No soul, as bearer of burden, bears and is made to bear the burden of another.2 This verse has been the basis of many legal, moral and spiritual principles. For example, it announces the privity of crime and presumption of innocence. That is, every person is responsible for his or her crime and no one can be blamed and punished because of the crime of another. This principle is so important that, for example, in our time even the “most civilized” states can punish not only a family or village or city, but a whole nation, and can invade a country because of the crimes of a few persons. This is the greatest of crimes. Whereas Islam judges that even if there are nine criminals and one innocent person on a boat, that boat cannot be sunk in order to punish the nine criminals so long as the innocent one is on the boat. Secondly, everyone is innocent until he or she is legally proved to be guilty.

This principle also categorically rejects the Christian beliefs of original and inherited sin, and God’s incarnation of Jesus to die on the Cross for the redemption of humanity from these sins. According to Christianity, by disobeying God’s order not to eat from the forbidden fruit of knowledge, Adam sinned. The sin of Adam is inherited by all the children of Adam, and so all human beings are born sinful. Thus, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came from Heaven, shed his holy, sinless blood, suffered indescribable agony, and died to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity. This dogma is utterly refutable by the legal principle that every person is responsible for his or her crime or sins and cannot be called to account for others’ crimes or sins.

This principle also has a significant implication in morality and human social life. For example, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi likens faith and Islamic life in a person to the Ka‘ba and Mount Uhud, and certain shortcomings in him or her to pebbles. So, rancor and enmity for a Muslim, and condemning him or her because of a shortcoming or an attribute which we do not like in him or her, is enormous injustice and means preferring pebbles over the Ka‘ba and Mount Uhud.

This is only a single example for the General Principles, which function like projectors illuminating people’s way.

General Principles in the Risale-i Nur Collection

The Risale-i Nur Collection is full of “general principles,” not only related to the Islamic Jurisprudence but also to all the fields of Islam or Islamic life and Islamic branches of knowledge. Based on or specially favored with profound wisdom having its source in the Divine Wisdom or the Divine Name of the All-Wise, the Risale-i Nur Collection contains numerous principles, precepts, or maxims which are standards or brilliant criteria enabling people to think, believe, and live according to Islam, and to evaluate and judge things and events in Islam’s light. They also provide people with the essentials or basic principles on which the branches of Islamic knowledge and Islamic science are based. Thus, we have tried to collect many of these principles in this book under certain titles, and in certain parts or sections according to the fields of thought and branches of knowledge to which they have a greater relevance.

The first part of this book contains certain general principles related to Islamic thinking; these help us think and believe according to Islam. The second part is composed of the principles teaching us how we must believe in and support the truths concerned with the Divine Being, the Resurrection and Afterlife, the Divine Destiny with its relationship with human free will, and the metaphysical dimension of existence, to which angels, jinn, and Satan belong. The principles showing us the way to knowing and believing in the Divine Revelation and the Divine Books, including primarily the Qur’an, and instructing us in interpreting the Qur’an, comprise the third part. The fourth part consists of the brilliant standards to approach, understand, and know Prophethood and Divine Messengership and, accordingly, the Prophets and Messengers, including, first and foremost, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. These standards also provide us with significant knowledge about the acts and sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, or the Science of Hadith. The fifth part is constructed of the rules and standards related to our religious or everyday actions, and the types of worship such as Prayer, Fasting, Giving Alms and Pilgrimage, and to our relationship as His creatures and servants with God Almighty as our Creator and Lord. The sixth part is assigned to the principles and standards that instruct us in the matters concerned with Islamic Sufism and the inner dimension of Islam and Islamic life. The principles of serving Islam in accordance with the Prophetic way (Sunnah) and guidelines for a good, Islamic social life form the seventh part. The last, eighth part, contains certain important principles of eloquence, and the correct and effective use of language.

It is my hope and prayer to God Almighty that this humble study may help people understand Islam both theoretically and as a way of life.

Ali Unal

Ali Unal is a renowned scholar and a prolific translator of works with an Islamic theme into English. He has written for many periodicals and is a columnist for Zaman daily newspaper. His published books include Living in the Shade of Islam, Islamic Perspectives on Science, Islam Addresses Contemporary Issues, The Resurrection and the Afterlife, and The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English.



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