We may begin the discussion with two important questions:
1. How should the Qur'an be practised in any age?
2. How should the Qur'an be practised in this present age?
We may define in the light of the answers to these two questions both the main features of Islam in all areas of daily life, with regard to the Qur'an being the basis of it; and the main features of the Islamic revival, with regard to the Qur'an being its heart and essence.
In order to understand the validity of the views and ideas of all the regenerators of the Islamic religion and the reformers of the Umma, one has to see how they applied the teachings of the Qur'an in the ages in which they lived.
If we consider the first question, doubtless there is need for scholars to deduce practicable methods from the Qur'an, and apply them to life.
Even in his time, the Prophet (PBUH) pointed out that the revealed scriptures can be made applicable to life only through the existence of scholars. He said: "God Almighty will not take back knowledge from His servants; He will take it back only if the scholars disappear. It may even happen that no scholars will remain and the people will take the ignorant as their leaders. They will ask questions of those leaders, who know nothing, and be given fatwas. As a result they will be led astray and deceived."
Whereupon one of the Companions asked: "Prophet of God! We have the Qur'an which we learn and teach to our children, wives, and servants. So how can it be taken from us?"
Angrily, God's Messenger (PBUH) raised his head and replied: "The Jews and Christians had scriptures, but they did not learn that it was their prophets that had brought them."
Imam al-Munawi said about this Hadith: "Even if the books remain after knowledge has been taken away on the death of the scholars, they cease to have importance since there is no one to understand them."
The books on their own cannot perform any function. So long as there are no scholars, either individuals or groups, to instigate new currents of thought, or people to put their knowledge and the books into practice, the books are valueless.
To come to the second question: How should the Qur'an be put into practice this age? And how can it once again come to have an active role in the lives of contemporary Muslims and in the life of the Umma, and consequently regain its leading role so that then Islamic civilization may re-assume its former leadership of human civilization, and steer world events towards good and truth. This matter and its answer will reply to a pressing need not only of Muslims and the Islamic Umma, but of all humanity in this age which is so far from justice and peace. It is only with this answer that people will achieve what they have so long lost: lives for themselves that befit humanity. The need is indeed urgent when it is only overwhelming force that can make itself heard, and the oppression of the powerful reigns, and sacred values are trampled underfoot. For the world today is dominated by materialist civilization. A new trend, a new method, is therefore necessary so that mankind may find peace, justice, well-being, and a way of life befitting humanity.
One of the prominent figures of the age who studied this question closely was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. He was optimistic about the existence of the Qur'an in the Umma and its preservation:"The Qur'an is undying, it is living. One who has a good share of it is worthy of praise. While he who has no share of it deserves to be detested."
He also said: "So long as the Qur'an continues to be read among Muslims, and to be their revealed book and true leader, it will preserve their true values and their existence, assist them to repulse their enemies, and obtain all those things beneficial to them. We must never doubt that as in its early days, the Umma will return to the Qur'an, reassume the qualities it has lost and regain its stature."
In addition to this optimistic view of al-Afghani about the Qur'an's immortality and its continuing to be the refuge of the Umma and a shield protecting it from dispersal and obliteration, was his belief that it should be resurrected in the minds of Muslims, for it was only by reviving the Qur'an and making it the basis of their resurgence that they could progress.
In his work entitled Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, 'Abd al-Qadir al-Maghribi recounts an interview he held with al-Afghani, parts of which we include here:
al-Maghribi commented that it was encouraging that Muslims had shown signs of progress and development, and the following exchange ensued between himself and al-Afghani:
"al-Maghribi: Your views about the Qur'an and Muslims are very striking.
"al-Afghani: Progress and civilization will bring no good to us Muslim peoples if we do not found them on the rules of the Qur'an and our religion. It is only in this way that we can be saved from our backwardness and decline.
"al-Maghribi: But is there any difference between our situation now and what it was thirty years ago? Would it be true to say that we have progressed in so far as we have had recourse to the means of progress and civilization?
"al-Afghani: Our situation today is nothing other than one of decline and retrogression.
"al-Maghribi: Why is this?
"al-Afghani: Because our present efforts to advance in civilization have not gone beyond imitating the European countries. This has brought us to the point of adulating the Europeans, uniting with them, and acquiescing in their domination of us. Thus, our Islamic colouring has undergone a change, the flag of triumph and mastery was raised over us, and we accommodated the despotism of Europe.
"al-Maghribi: What in your view would be the most effective way of initiating a sound movement for renewal?
"al-Afghani: It must be a new religious movement."
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani then put forward his ideas concerning the dimensions of the religious movement he proposed as a method for those wishing to act in accordance with the Qur'an this age, which he considered was essential if Muslims were to do this. Here, we shall leave aside his ideas and see Said Nursi's proposals concerning the same aim:
Firstly, we see that this question, that of how to act in accordance with the Qur'an in the present age, is dealt with extensively and in many dimensions in Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's thought. There is not one of his treatises that does not emphasize the importance of the Qur'an as the basis of the revival, not only of Muslims, but of all humanity.
Bediuzzaman studied the Qur'an from numerous angles. But what is particularly noteworthy is the fact that in his discussions related to the present age, in awareness of its needs, he drew parallels between the shari'a defined by the Qur'an and the physical shari'a in Western civilization. For it will not be possible to find a way of acting in accordance with the Qur'an this century without knowing the conditions that have stamped their mark on it and have come to dominate every area of life.
In reality, this was what al-Afghani did. For he strove to deliver Muslims from the calamity of Western civilization, the cause of Muslims losing their I Islamic identity, to revive the progress of Islam, and to build a way of life inspired by Islam, overcoming the defeatist mentality.
More than this, Said Nursi employed the same method by drawing parallels between the Qur'anic Shari'a and the physical shari'a. The latter he called "the supreme Divine code of natural laws (Þeriat-ý fýtriyye-i ilahiyye-i kübrâ)." It is Divine because it is from God. It is 'natural' (fitrî), because it is the only shari'a that is in conformity with human nature.
Said Nursi states also that the order prevailing over 'nature' is this very shari'a. For the laws in force in the universe are God's laws. The laws in force in man and the precise order and laws in force in the universe are the same. The preciseness, order, and balance have to be the same for man. The materialists, however, who place their trust in nature, fancy the artefacts to be the maker, the letter to be the scribe, and the creature to be the creator. Said Nursi says:
"If you ask: What is this nature that the misguided and heedless are obsessed with it, so that they have embraced unbelief and ingratitude, and fallen from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low?
"The Answer: The thing they call nature is the Greater Divine Code of Natural Laws, which consists of the totality of the laws of Divine practice ('adatullah), which show the ordering and order of the Divine acts which are apparent in beings. It is well-known that laws are hypothetical, they exist as knowledge and do not have external existence. Driven by heedlessness or misguidance, and because they do not recognize the Pre-Eternal Writer and Inscriber, they imagine the book and writing to be the writer, the inscriptions to be the inscriber, the law to be the power, the pattern to be the source, the order to be the orderer, and the art to be the maker.
"If a savage who had never seen social life were to enter a magnificent barracks and observe the systematic arrangement of the army and its regular actions, he would fancy the soldiers to be tied together with physical string. Of if he were to enter a large mosque at the time of the festival prayers and see the orderly disposition of the congregation of Muslims, he would suppose them to be bound to one another with physical bonds.
"In just the same way, when the people of misguidance, who are far more outlandish than the savage, enter the universe, which is a magnificent barracks of the Monarch of Pre-Eternity and Post-Eternity, the Owner of the armies of the heavens and earth, and when they come into the world, which is the vast mosque of the Pre-Eternal All-Worshipped One, if they call the order of the Monarch 'nature', and if they imagine His supreme shari'a, which is laden with myriad instances of wisdom, to consist of deaf, blind, lifeless, and confused appearances such as force and matter, they cannot be called human, or even wild beasts. Because for that nature which they imagine, they have to ascribe to every particle and every cause power and knowledge sufficient to create all beings, indeed they have to accept that in each particle are all the attributes of the Necessarily Existent, which is misguidance of an infinitely and utterly impossible sort, indeed it is a meaningless delirium arising from the lunacy of misguidance.
"In Short: Since the nature-worshipper does not accept a single god, he has to accept that there are numberless gods. And besides being powerful over all things, all those gods have to unite in the order of the universe, despite being both the opposites of each other, and similar. But nowhere from a fly's wing to the solar system is there room to the extent of a fly's wing for there to be any partner to God so that it could have a hand in it. As a decisive proof, the certain decree of, And if there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides God, there would have been confusion in both! But glory be to God, the Lord of the throne; [high is He] above what they attribute to Him cuts the association of partners with God at the root, and destroys it."
Said Nursi places considerable emphasis on this natural shari'a. He draws attention to God's laws which are clearly defined in the universe and in man. He sets out all the evidences for these in the Qur'an, calling them "the order included in the universe." For the order is found with its fine script in all the verses of the Qur'an which mention the uses and benefits of beings and the instances of wisdom in them. All these verses have thus become proofs and evidences for the order Bediuzzaman investigates. For just as in the order are evidences proving the Orderer's existence, so there are innumerable benefits and instances of wisdom which demonstrate the Maker's intention and wisdom.
"One of the proofs of ... the Maker's existence and unity is the 'proof of Divine Wisdom' (Delilü'l-Inaye). This proof consists of the order and regularity which preserves the universe and all its parts from disturbance, difference, and dispersal, and which, taking all its particulars under order, gives it life. The source of all good things, instances of wisdom, benefits, and advantages is this order. All the verses of the Qur'an which speak of benefits and advantages proceed on this order and manifest it. Therefore, just as an order which is the source of all things good, beneficial, and useful most certainly points to the existence of an orderer, through also pointing to that orderer's purpose and wisdom, it repulses the delusion of blind chance."
After deriving proofs for the Divine laws in the universe from verses like Who has made the earth your couch and the heavens your canopy; and sent down rain from the heavens; and brought forth therewith fruits for your sustenance...(2:22), Said Nursi employs them as rational, effective means of demolishing the foundations of atheism and ascribing partners to God, which are rife this age, and of disclosing the Qur'an's miraculousness this age, which is dominated by materialism on accout of the pre-eternity of matter and its motion.
Here, Said Nursi distinguishes between intentional observation of the Divine laws in nature, and a secondary view. The latter is a superficial view of external beings. It leads to the conclusion that some things are not existent, but merely illusion. Whereas the intentional view penetrates to the true cause.
In reply to being asked the reason people believe in ideas like the pre-eternity of matter and its motion, which lead to misguidance, he says this:
"When looked on not deliberately and attentively but superficially and heedlessly, the impossible and false may appear to be possible. For example, on the evening of 'id (festival) an elderly man was present among those scanning the sky for the crescent moon. When looking intentionally and with all his attention to see the crescent moon with his gaze on the heavens, one of his eyelashes fell on his eye, aand the curved lash lay over the pupil of his eye. He immediately exclaimed: 'I have seen the moon.' He pronounced that what he had seen was the moon."
Then he says:
"If, when man looks at something false and impossible superficially and unintentionally he is unable to find the true cause, there is the possibility he will accept it because he will have to consent to its being either true or false. But if he were to look at it intentionally and attentively as one seeking it or wanting it, he would not accept any of those false things they call philosophical matters. He could only do so if idiotically he supposed all the particles to have the wisdom of all politicians and the intellects of the philosophers."
In reply to the question: "What are nature and its laws and forces that they try to convince themselves with them?", he said:
"The thing they call nature is a printing press, not the printer. It is only [Divine] power that is the printer. It is a law, not a force; the force is only in [Divine] power. Or, just as the Shari'a that we know is the summary of the rules limiting man's voluntary actions, taking them under an order, or the code of laws and rules ordering the affairs of the state; so too, the thing known as nature is the Divine code of natural laws which proceed from the members and parts of the Manifest World. In consequence, just as the Shari'a and state system consist of reasonable, hypothetical matters; so too nature is a hypothetical matter, consisting of the laws of Divine practice in creation...
"In Short: Nature is God's artwork and code of natural laws (Þeriat-i fýtriyye). Its laws are the articles of the code, and its forces, the articles' injunctions."
In this way, Said Nursi took up the Qur'an as a weapon against the concept of materialist nature, and dealt with this important question extensively in his treatises. With his ideas, which were derived from the Qur'an, he made comparisons between the concept of 'the Divine laws' in nature, and the laws which are claimed to exist of themselves in nature.
But what was the reason for all his remarkable efforts to refute the concept of materialist nature? The reason was that with his profound insight and subtle comprehension he had made a fine analysis of Western civilization and understood that it was founded on a materialist understanding of nature, and that this understanding was coursing through the very veins of that civilization. And it is a fact that this materialism is to be observed in all the principles and systems of the West. A person who realizes this will understand that, in order to be able to act in accordance with the Qur'an this age, Western civilization will have to be invalidated together with its materialist concepts. Then a new philosophy taken from the Qur'an may be set up on its ruins and contemporary Islamic life may be renewed.
A link appears here between al-Afghani and Said Nursi in connection with Western civilization and its materialist bases. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani attached the greatest importance to this matter, and in the treatise which is virtually his only work, al-Radd 'ala'l-Dahriyyin, discussed the materialist concept of nature, which he perceived to be the greatest obstacle preventing the re-adoption of the Qur'anic method and a return to the living practice of it in Islamic society.
In the question of the reconstruction of Islamic life, Said Nursi based his Qur'anic philosophy on the following three principles:
Firstly, the saving of belief;
Secondly, the revival of the marks of Islam;
And thirdly, the establishment of the Shari'a, for the implementation of the Qur'anic ordinances. For the Qur'an lays great emphasis on these three matters. Another point that should be noted here is that there are three questions Said Nursi constantly dwells on, the order of which he insists should not be changed. These are belief, life, and the Shari'a. It is not in conformity with the laws of Divine practice in force in human life that these three matters should be accomplished all at once. For which reason, the saving of belief has to come first. He says concerning this:
"Yes, at this time both belief and religion, and social life and the Shari'a, and public law and Islamic politics, are all in need of a Renewer of great stature. But the duty of renewal in regard to saving the truths of belief is the most important, the most sacred, and the greatest. The spheres of the Shari'a, social life, and politics take second, third, and fourth places in relation to it."
Similarly, he says:
"The greatest bounty, and duty, at this time is to save one's belief; it is to work in such a way as to strengthen the belief of others."
In Said Nursi's view, the saving of belief is dependent on two important matters:
1. The refutation of materialist philosophy.
2. The establishment of firm belief in Divine unity and the freeing of this belief from doubts.
We can see clearly in his refutation of materialist philosophy how he demolishes the concept of materialism. He calls for extensive scholarly researches in order to defend the believers against the misguidance and doubts given rise to by the enemies of belief. And he wants the duty to be carried out by sincere students of the sciences who have no worldly expectations or occupations, are decked out with such qualities as loyalty and trustworthiness, and thus in meaning have become an extremely powerful army.
When listing the duties of the Mahdi, whom he describes as the collective personality of an eminent community led by the Family of the Prophet, he mentions the following three important functions: the saving of belief, the revival of the marks of Islam and Islamic unity, and the implementation of the Islamic Shari'a and Qur'anic injunctions.
The first duty he explains like this:
"Since science and philosophy are now dominant and the plague of materialism and naturalism has spread among mankind, before everything belief should be saved in such a way that it silences philosophy and materialism."
He then describes the nature and importance of this duty:
"Since preserving the people of belief from misguidance necessitates leaving aside both this world and everything in it and demands prolonged and devoted study, neither the Mahdi's time nor his situation would permit him to perform this duty himself. Preoccupation with the rule of the Caliphate of Muhammad (PBUH) would not leave him the time. Most probably a group preceding him will perform it in some respect. He will take the work which that group wrote as a result of lengthy study as a ready-prepared programme for himself, and with it will find the first duty to have been performed to the full. The force or spiritual army which has undertaken this duty consists only of a number of students who possess to the full the attributes of sincerity, loyalty, and mutual support. However few they are in number, in meaning they should be counted as powerful and valuable as an army."
As for the second step, which is the saving of belief after the refutation of materialist philosophy, it necessitates the setting of belief in Divine unity on firm foundations and saving it from doubts, which have spoiled the purity of that belief and weakened the belief of Muslims in God.
In connection with this, we see that when analyzing and expounding the first verses of Sura al-Baqara, Said Nursi stated that the Qur'an has four aims, which are, firstly, the affirmation of Divine unity, in order to preserve belief in God, Who is One, and prophethood, the resurrection of the dead, and justice.
"Just as these four aims are seen in the whole of the Qur'an, so they are manifested in every sura; indeed, they are hinted at in every phrase or alluded to every word; because each part is like a mirror to the whole, just as the whole is seen in each part successively."
As stated above, Said Nursi applies this idea in all the suras and verses of the Qur'an, and even the phrases, but chiefly in Sura al-Fatiha, where he explains how the four main aims included in it.
In addition to the saving of belief, the Mahdi's chief function, Said Nursi discusses his other two functions, which complement the former. These concern the enactment of the Qur'an and the renewal of religion, and are:
1. The revival of the marks of Islam in society under the name of the Caliphate of Muhammad.
2. The saving of humanity from dangers material and spiritual, and Divine wrath, basing it on the unity of the Islamic world.
A third duty is the implementation of the Islamic Shari'a and the enactment of the ordinances of the Qur'an.
Said Nursi said:
"Since many Qur'anic precepts have suffered harm with the vicissitudes of the times, and the Shari'a of Muhammad (PBUH) has been suspended to an extent, the person in question will try to perform that mighty task with the moral assistance of all the believers, the help of Islamic unity, and with the participation of all the scholars and saints, particularly the millions of devoted sayyids, who are descended from the Prophet (PBUH) and every century are numerous and powerful."
Here, Said Nursi is indicating that the Mahdi will win the support of all the believers and because of this is urging all Muslims to unite. Perhaps more explicitly, he says that millions of heroic descendants of the Prophet (Al-i Beyt) appear every century and that they will form a focal point for Muslims.
Although Nursi's method of renewal will be accomplished with these three functions, that is, the saving of belief, the revival of the marks of Islam, and will be completed with the implementation of the Qur'anic ordinances, it was to the first function that he gave paramount importance. Although the establishment of Islamic rule over the earth by the armies of the Caliphate of Muhammad (PBUH) and Islamic unity are more acceptable in the popular view, it was on the first duty that Said Nursi concentrated. He says concerning this:
"For sure in reality the second two functions are not of the same degree as the first, but in the view of everyone, particularly the mass of people, and the politicians in particular, and especially in contemporary thought, pursuing Islamic rule on the face of the earth with the armies of the Caliphate of Muhammad (PBUH) and Islamic unity appear a thousand times more extensive that the first function. And when someone is given that name [the Mahdi], the latter two functions come to mind and it is given a political meaning. However, perhaps it infers self-advertisement, or even hints at the wish for fame, glory, and high standing."
This most prominent characteristic of Said Nursi's method of renewal was in fact practised by God's Messenger (PBUH) in the early period of Islam, and is thus entirely in conformity with the Prophet's Sunna. For throughout the early Meccan period from the commencement of his mission, God's Messenger (PBUH) concentrated on strengthening faith, firmly establishing the tenets of belief in order to build the Muslim person. He did not begin by organizing things for the performance of the rites of Islam or for the application of the Qur'an's rulings in every area of life related to the individual, society, politics, and international relations; he only started to do this in Medina after Islamic society had been established and settled.
Anyone who studies the Qur'an will see -as did Nursi- in the verses related to belief that belief is the chief means of making actions acceptable, and is the basis and starting point of Divine messengership. One who responds will proceed to act in accordance with the Qur'an.
Emulating the first Islamic community, which gathered around God's Messenger (PBUH), Said Nursi drew together his students and taught them with the Risale-i Nur, which follows this method of renewal, the ways one may act in accordance with the Qur'an this age. He said:
"Although the reality of the matter is this, since the duty of saving belief, the primary duty and highest way, and instructing the people generally in 'true, verified' belief and even making the belief of the common people thus, is the essence of guidance both in meaning and in reality, - since the Risale-i Nur students have seen this duty fully in the Risale-i Nur, they rightly consider the collective personality of the Risale-i Nur to be a sort of Mahdi, and the second and third duties to be in second and third place. And since they suppose one representative of that collective personality to be a collective personality arising from the mutual support of the Risale-i Nur students, and a sort of representative of that collective personality to the unfortunate interpreter, they sometimes give him that name."
Said Nursi does not object to most of his students calling him the Mahdi of this age: he says that the Mahdi is a collective personality, that he wears the mantle of prophethood, and has three functions. And about himself he says this:
"This is actually a confusion and error, but they are not responsible. For since early days he [Bediuzzaman] has been looked on too favourably, and this was never objected to. So I look on those excessively good opinions of my brothers as a sort of prayer and good wish and a manifestation of the perfect belief of the Risale-i Nur students, and I do not rebuke them."
Nevertheless, Said Nursi hopes that this position, that of saving belief, is the station of the Mahdi. For he states that to be Mahdi one has to be a descendant of the Prophet. He says that he may be included in this circle through spiritual links. However, just as he always held himself aloof from all high ranks and positions, so he avoided seeking such a position. He said concerning this:
"In Denizli Court, the experts' committee said to me in connection with this belief of some of the students: 'If he claims to be the Mahdi, all his students will accept it.' So I said to them: 'I do not know whether or not I am a Sayyid. People's genealogies are not known today. But that great figure of the end of time will be of the Prophet's Family. For sure, I am a sort of spiritual son of Imam 'Ali (May God be pleased with him) and have received instruction in the realities from him, and since in one meaning the family of Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) encompasses true Risale-i Nur students, I too may be counted among his family. But the present time is the time of the collective personality, and in the way of the Risale-i Nur there can be no egotism of any sort, or personalities, or the desire for personal rank or for winning fame and renown. And since it would totally opposed to the mystery of sincerity, and since endless thanks be to God Almighty He did not make me fond of myself, I would not fasten my sights on personal positions and ranks infinitely higher than is my due such as that. Even if I were to be given high rank in the hereafter, I would know myself obliged to refuse it in order not to spoil the sincerity of the Risale-i Nur.' I said this, and the experts' committee were silent."
It is indeed striking that when speaking of the duty of saving belief, which is the primary duty of the regenerator of religion to come this age, and of the Mahdi, as he names him, as far as he can Said Nursi does not accord himself such a position.
The saving of belief is an action taught by the Qur'an. Indeed, it is the chief function of that elevated Book. In some of its first verses it enumerates the characteristics of the pious (muttaqi): Alif. Lam. Mim. * This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear God; * Who believe in the Unseen, and steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.
It is clear that if one or more persons do not emerge every century or age, the book on it own could not perform such an important function. For example, as God's Messenger (PBUH) said, because the previous scriptures were without such persons, they served no purpose, despite the existence of the Jews and Christians. For no one remained among them to teach the truths contained in those holy texts and scriptures and inform others of them. It is understood from this just how necessary it is that a chosen person or persons should inform the people of the truths of the scriptures every age and teach them.
In the Sunna is mentioned a chosen person, called the Mahdi, who will save and revive the belief of the people of the end of time. The Hadiths that mention the Mahdi speak of his many superior qualities. Nevertheless, if such Hadiths and narrations are scrutinized scientifically, we see that they contain a number of problems:
• Has the authenticity been established of the Hadiths mentioning the appearance of the Mahdi at the end of time?
• Will the Mahdi actually appear at the end of time?
• If the Hadiths are not sound, will the Mahdi as a concept cease to be valid?
Contrary to many books of Hadith, and the works of those like Imam Muhammad 'Abduh, Shaykh Rashid Rida, and Muhammad Farid Wajdi who discussed reform movements, Said Nursi did not concern himself much with these aspects of the subject. In order to understand better Said Nursi's method and its scholarly value, we may take a look at the works and ideas of other scholars who have studied the subject. In this way we shall be able to draw parallels between their ideas and the gist of Said Nursi's ideas about the awakening of Islamic society and their effectiveness as a way of acting in accordance with the Qur'an this age.
Anyone who makes a study of the Mahdi will first of all encounter these observations:
1. The Qur'an makes no statements about the expected Mahdi, who will come at the end of time and transform tyranny into justice and fear into security.
2. There are no sound Hadiths narrated from God's Messenger (PBUH) in the main books of Hadiths such as the Sahih of Bukhari and the Sahih of Muslim.
3. The Hadiths about the appearance of the Mahdi at the end of time are found firstly in the Sunan of Abu Da'ud, and in ibn Maja, Tirmidhi, Nasa'i, and Ahmad b. Hanbal.
4. Although some of the relevant narrations contradict each other, others are similar to each other. To give some examples:
Abu Da'ud and Ahmad ibn Hanbal narrated from Ibn Mas'ud that God's MMessenger (PBUH) said: "If nothing remains in the world, God Almighty will create a day on which He sends from my family one whose name is similar to my name, and whose father's name is similar to my father's name. He will fill the world, which is filled with tyranny and injustice, with truth and justice." In another Hadith, God's Messenger (PBUH) said: "Doomsday will break forth only over the wicked. And there is no Mahdi other than Jesus son of Mary."
Muhammad Fu'ad 'Abd al-Baqi said: "In his work al-Mustadrak, al-Hakim narrates this text with the same chain of authorities, and then says that only al-Shafi'i used it and that it was not narrated by anyone else. al-Suyuti said even less on the subject. In short: 'Imaduddin Ibn Kathir says about it: This is a famous Hadith narrated by Muhammad ibn Khalid al-Jundi al-San'ani al-Mu'adhdhin and by al-Shafi'i. Others narrated it from these scholars. It is not an unknown Hadith; it was narrated from Ibn Mu'in, who was highly reliable."
If we compare the two Hadiths quoted above, it is seen -as Imam al-Qurtubi pointed out- that there are no contradictions between them and other Hadiths about the Mahdi. Particularly the second one, it means that Jesus (PUH) is of greater stature that the Mahdi. It is similar to the Hadith "There is no youth other than 'Ali."
There are however other narrations which are apparently not in agreement with the above two. Some state that the Mahdi will be from Medina, others that he will be a descendant of 'Abd al-Muttalib, and others that he will be a descendant of 'Abbas. How can all these apparently different narrations be reconciled? And what connection is there between these and the narrations about the appearance of Sufyani and the Mahdi killing him? Will the Mahdi appear in the lands of the west? If so, will it be in Mount Daylam and Istanbul, and from there will he move on to Antakya? Will all this occur in a period of seven to nine years? As it states in the Hadith Ibn Maja related from Abu Sa'id al-Khudri: "The Mahdi will remain seven or nine years among my Umma."
Ibn Khaldun said that this Hadith and others like it were not sound and should not be considered reliable. Similarly, Muhammad Farid Wajdi said the following, having quoted the Hadiths about the Mahdi:
"Those who read these Hadiths and others like them will find no difficulty in exonerating God's Messenger (PBUH) of such words. For contained in them are historical errors, mistakes, gross exaggerations, ignorance about the conditions of the people, and an almost complete disregard for the laws of nature (Sunnatullah). On a first reading, a person will receive the impression that these Hadiths are not the words of the Prophet (mawdu'), and were for the most part spread in the Arab lands and in the Maghrib by certain propagandists who supported the caliphate, in order to have themselves accepted."
Then came Bediuzzaman Said Nursi; he avoided any such analyses and followed a way particular to himself of proving the existence of the Mahdi. However, his ideas are based not on a specific person, but on a collective personality. But he never rejected the idea of the Great Mahdi who will come at the end of time. In which case there is no conflict between the existence of these two 'manevî' Mahdi's. Before he can fulfil his responsibilities, a collective personality will eliminate various evils. The Great Mahdi will then come, who will reform conditions contrary to Islam.
This idea of Said Nursi is completely in conformity with the idea of the regenerator of religion. He says:
"An eminent and very good student of the Risale-i Nur asked me in the name of many others: 'Some important, sincere students of the Risale-i Nur insistently suppose you to be the great guide from the family of the Prophet who is to come at the end of time, and they persist in this although you avoid it so much. You do not accept these persistent ideas of theirs, and recoil from them. They have a truth and certain proof, yet because of some wisdom and truth you do not agree with them. This is a contradiction which we would like you to solve.' So I say in reply, concerning the many matters that person represents: those select Nurjus have a truth in their possession, but it is in need of interpretation in two respects:
"Firstly: As I have indicated in many of my letters, the collective personality of the sacred community that the Mahdi of the Prophet's family will represent, has three functions. We may await from Divine mercy that if the end of the world does not happen soon and mankind does not stray from the path completely, his community and the community of Sayyids will perform those functions. He will have three major functions."
He subsequently continues:
"Although the reality of the matter is this, since the duty of saving belief, the primary duty and highest way, and instructing the people generally in 'true, verified' belief and even making the belief of the common people thus, expresses the meaning of guidance both in meaning and in reality, - since the Risale-i Nur students have seen this duty fully in the Risale-i Nur, they rightly consider the collective personality of the Risale-i Nur to be a sort of Mahdi, and the second and third duties to be in second and third place. And since they suppose one representative of that collective personality to be a collective personality arising from the mutual support of the Risale-i Nur students, and a sort of representative of that collective personality to be the unfortunate interpreter, they sometimes give him that name."
On reading the above the following question occurs to one: What was it that gave Said Nursi the idea of a 'collective personality' that would be represented in the form of a community, and would undertake the duty of acting in accordance with the Qur'an and its precepts? For this community is such that it carries out the function of the Great Mahdi. It shoulders the Mahdi's responsibilities permanently, even if the Mahdi were to appear. It does not abandon the Umma, which is awaiting the Mahdi, to its social, religious, and political ills, and even appears each century as though it were a number of Mahdis (al-mahdiyun al-ma'nawiyun).
The aspect of these ideas which most affects the logic of the people this age, is their being based on the idea of joint action. In this way, the power of the individual joins with that of his brothers making it incomparably stronger. He expresses it like this:
"This time is not the time for egotism and the personality for those who follow the path of reality (ehl-i hakikat); it is the time of the community (cemaat). A collective personality emerging from the community rules, and may persist. In order to have a large pool, the ego and personality, which are like blocks of ice, have to be cast into the pool and melted. Otherwise the ice-blocks melt and are lost, and the pool too is not benefited from.
"It is both astonishing and regretable that although the people of truth and reality lose in dispute the extraordinary power to be found in unity; the dissemblers and people of misguidance unite in order to obtain that power, despite its being the opposite of their way. And while being only ten per cent, they defeat ninety of the people of reality."
Here, Bediuzzaman is indicating that the most important duty of the community representing the Mahdi, or the Risale-i Nur students, who have undertaken the duty of acting in accordance with the Qur'an this age and shaping their activities accordingly, is the saving of belief. He warns that in the stage of saving belief, they have to be reconciled with the politicians of the times, then they may prevent the materialist ones among them using their political power to cause the failure of the duty of saving belief, a result of which would be leaving the truths of belief open to exploitation by other currents and other forces. He says in this connection:
"Of course, you select Risale-i Nur students know that the Risale-i Nur can be made the tool of nothing, nor be made the means of anything other than God's pleasure, and that before everything it teaches the truths of belief and saves the belief of the weak and unfortunate, and those who have fallen to doubt."
We should note here the shared characteristic of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi in Turkey and Muhammad 'Abduh, who lived in Egypt, which was the avoidance of political activity as far as it was possible. Indeed, there are significant similarities between the two and their methods, particularly regarding their idea that the saving of belief should form the first stage of the deliverance of the Muslim Umma, and the avoidance of activities outside this, particularly political activities. In order to understand just how right they were in this one has only to look at the political intervention in the activities of those reformist leaders this century who did not avoid political involvement, and at the sad fates of both their causes and their own selves.
There are also strong resemblances between the experiences of these two persons, and the difficulties to which they were exposed by virtue of their positions. They even said the same things, down to using the same words and phrases.
Muhammad 'Abduh declared after having suffered the bitter experiences of exile and banishment from his home region, and being restricted in all his activities, "God's curses be upon all the concepts derived from the root sasa and siyasa (that is, politics)." While in similar fashion Bediuzzaman said: "I seek refuge with God from Satan and from politics."
Elucidating the matter, Bediuzzaman said:
"The Risale-i Nur's most powerful force in the face of so many opponents is sincerity, and just as it can be made the tool of nothing in the world, so it cannot be concerned with any currents based on feelings of partisanship, particularly currents connected to politics. For partisanship destroys sincerity and alters the truth. In fact, the reason I have given up politics these last thirty years is this: because of his feelings of partisanship for the current he followed, a blessed scholar insulted to the extent of condemning as iniquitous another righteous, eminent scholar, because he opposed his ideas, and he praised and applauded a famous and aggressive dissembler who agreed with them. I shrank from this with all my spirit. Thinking, if involvement in politics is combined with feelings of partisanship, it gives rise to such extraordinary mistakes, I declared: 'I seek refuge with God from Satan and from politics,' and from that time I gave up politics."
We see that in the realization of his aim of the saving of belief in the light of the Qur'an, Bediuzzaman kept in view the aims of the Shari'a in the Qur'an, and related the Qur'anic Shari'a to the physical shari'a. In respect of this, his cause is noteworthy for its resistance to materialist thought and its struggle against attempts to colour and shape life in a way differently to that given by God. And who could give a better hue [to life] than God...?(2:138)
One of the most striking points is that although Bediuzzaman lived at a time the truths of Islam were concealed in the darkness of the earth, he believed unshakeably that these truths would again emerge into the light of day and would come to dominate all the continents; that Islam would (in his words) rise to the throne of reality and knowledge, and that the veils of misunderstanding and illusion obscuring the sun of Islam would be drawn back.
This method, which Said Nursi derived from the Qur'an in order to offer to the present age a way of acting in accordance with the Qur'an, he hoped would be the means, by way of sincere Risale-i Nur students, of all humanity finding a new truth, under the shade of the Qur'an, which would bring men firm belief, a just law, and a life befitting them.
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