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Bilal Kuspinar

I shall endeavour, in what follows, to bring out Nursi’s evaluation of Sufi paths and doctrines in the light of his major works. Before undertaking this formidable task, I would like to offer a few important preliminary remarks concerning his general attitude towards Sufism. To begin with, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was born in eastern part of Turkey in 1873 and died in 1960 after a long life of persecution. He was one of the prominent learned men, whose erudition embraces almost all subjects of Islamic studies, ranging from language to philosophy and mysticism. The bulk of his writings displays the profundity of his pen and the acuteness of his mind. His ideas, which seem to have been the source of inspiration for the intellectual and moral life of his time and today —of course, it will continue to be so in future, so long as the educated class present him in due manner— prove him to be an independent thinker and scholar of Islam. Based on his works, I would tend to depict him as a scholar whose knowledge was encyclopedic, replete with not the facts and truths only, but also with their analytical interpretations which in most cases constitute solutions and remedies for the needs of the time. Therefore, in my view, any idea formulated by Nursi should be studied in connection with his life, character, environment and milieu, all of which have undoubtedly coloured it very deeply. Accordingly, any attempt to give an adequate account of his thought regarding Islamic mysticism would require first a thorough investigation of his background in the light of the historical works and then a complete examination of his entire writings, which fall beyond the capacity of a person, like me, who has been initiated into the field in question through this auspicious occasion. Therefore, in what follows, I would like to present his ideas of Sufism rather in a sketchy fashion.

A general survey of his works would lead us to such an impression that Nursi, though being ever appreciative of all the Sufi schools fostered by the spirit of the Qur’an and of the Prophetic Tradition, nevertheless represents none of them. What is important for him is not to enter necessarily into a certain Sufi path, but rather to attain to the truths. This he has underlined by quoting one of the remarkable sayings of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, known as Imam Rabbani and the Revivifier of the Second Millennium 971/1563-1034/1624), —he calls him also the hero and sun of the Naqshbandi Order—: I prefer to be unveiled to me (inkisaf) of a single matter concerning the realities or truths of faith to thousands of intuitions (ezvâk), ecstasies (rapturous states) (mevâcid), and wondrous deeds and works (kerâmet). 1 In the meantime, Nursi also concedes to the following fact, which has been stated again by Sirhindi: “The ultimate point of all of the Sufi paths is the unveiling and elucidation of the truths concerning faith.” 2

As we learn from a few anecdotes about his life, Nursi, especially in his former days, had gone through a period of hesitation in quest of a way to reach the truth. In one of these hectic times, for instance, when he had been pondering upon the phenomenon of death, his heedless head, as he himself laments, had become a target of terrible and fateful blows. Such compelling situation eventually prompted him to look for a savior who would cure his psychological illness. However, he was baffled and confused once he was confronted with so many diverse ways and Shaykhs around. So, in the hope of choosing one suitable for him, he took omens (tefe’ul) from the book Futuh al-Ghayb by Shaykh Gilani and that of Mektubat by Shaykh Sirhindi. In his omen of the latter book, he has seen the following recommendation of Imam Rabbani after an openning address to Mirza Bediuzzaman: —to Nursi’s surprise, throughout the work the word Bediuzzaman appears only twice, and his father’s name was also Mirza—:

“Make the Tevhid your point of direction (kible). In other words, take one individual as your master and follow him strictly, do not concern yourself with anyone else.” 3

By this guidance, Nursi delivered his soul from the state of perplexity and bewilderment, and thus, his heart has finally found the peace and satisfaction in that the true one, namely Tevhid is only to be found in the Qur’an, which is the most sublime guide and the source for all the masters of Sufi paths. Moreover, as he declares, all that flow from the Qur’an, as The Words or Lights, are the matters, not only pertaining to the intellect, but also addressing to the heart and the spirit. Therefore, those who seek to perceive the truth at any level must first and foremost resort to it with sincere and pure intention along with the utmost care and due attention.

From Nursi’s detailed discussion of various subjects related to the mystical path, which appears to have been scattered throughout his two monumental works, Sözler (Words) and Mektubat (Letters) we can derive a few significant principles, in the light of which we can form what I may call a constructive-dynamic (Sufism) Tasavvuf, a Tasavvuf which is to be an integral part, not an inner dimension as some mystic writers claim, of the Shari‘a. It is this form of Sufism that, as he says, will serve as a vehicle leading to the truths of the Shari‘a that comprises in itself various degrees of knowledge.

In the first place, Sufism (Tasavvuf), Sufi order (tarikat), sainthood (velayet) and spiritual journey on the Sufi path (seyr ü suluk) are, according to Nursi, commonly accepted notions, and each has a telling sacred truth on its own, which was extensively described in the works of the people of intuition and of inspiration (ehl-i zevk ve kesf). In his own lucid definition, Sufism and the Sufi path or order if used in more technical sense, i.e. as an institution, is “a sublime human mystery” and “a human perfection;” and its major goal and aim is to reach gnosis (marife) and the disclosure of the realities of faith through a spiritual traveling with the feet of the heart under the Prophet Muhammad’s ascent and thereby come to experience intuitively and actually, and even to a certain degree by direct witnessing, the realities of faith and of the Qur’an. 4 In other words, Sufism aims at perfecting man by letting him travel on a long spiritual path that leads ultimately to the manifestation of the truths as contained in the Qur’an. This journey takes place through the heart (kalb) of man, which is, as Nursi describes, “the seed and the center of the manifestation of innumerable realities of the universe. It is the heart in a sense that makes man “an all-inclusive index” (fihriste-i camia) in the universe, which is reminiscent of the concept of “microcosm” (âlem sagir), a concept which is widely held among the Sufis and attributed originally to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. 5 And the Creator God demands man to work on his heart so as to transform it from potentiality to actuality. Due to His supreme Will, the heart, like the mind, needs to be activated but by means of the remembrance of God (zikr-i ilahi) during the spiritual journey so that it should be turned towards the realities of faith.

To the heart’s journey on mystical path, Nursi adds, besides the remembrance of God, contemplation (tefekkür). For him, these two elements are the keys to the spiritual progress, for they, apart from their limitless benefits for the Hereafter, are the source of the peace on the earth. Moreover, they bring eternal solace and friendship for the people who are deprived of sociable life, leading rather a solitary life in distant places. Even social gatherings in urban and communal life do not afford an ever-lasting friendship and solace, but only a temporary consolation. Therefore, says Nursi, the people living under these unfavorable circumstances find the true solace, friendship, intimacy and the real pleasure in the remembrance of God and the contemplation. Thus, they really understand that they are not alone and that God is everywhere, and that the life is meaningful only with God.

Meanwhile, Nursi establishes an intrinsic connection between the Prophethood and the Sainthood, making one complementary to the other. He states that “sainthood is a proof of the Prophethood, so is the Sufi path for the Shari‘a.” 6 And the sainthood not only perceives but also confirms all the mysterious realities of Iman (faith) preached by the Prophethood through the contemplation of the heart and the intuition of the spirit at the level of certainty of sight (ayne’l-yakin). Again sainthood and the Sufi path, while both being a proof and evidence of the Prophethood and the Shari‘a, represent the mysterious perfection of Islam and the means leading to its lights, as well as the source of progress (maden-i terakkiyat) and the fountain-head of prosperity (medar-i tafeyyuzat) for humanity. 7 Moreover, the Sufi path in particular, apart from its important and sublime values and spiritual results, serves as the most effective means to strengthening the brotherhood within the world of Islam.

Nursi, on the other hand, while responding to one of the questions concerning the status of the companions vis-à-vis saints, first indicates that there is a consensus amongst the Orthodox Muslim Community (Ehl-i Sunnet ve’l-Cemaat) on the superiority of the Companions over all mankind after the Prophet, and then offers for it three wise explanations, out of which I will mention just one, for it has a direct bearing on our subject. In this particular explanation, Nursi, resorting to the profound language of the Sufis, at first compares the Prophetic companionship or conversation (sohbet-i nebeviyye) to the elixir:

“The Prophetic companionship is just like an elixir; whosoever experiences it even for a minute, attains to the illuminations of the reality, equivalent to years of mystical journey. For in companionship there is a reflection (in‘ikas) and being colored (insibag). As is well known, through reflection and submission one can rise to the highest rank in the Sublime Light of Prophethood. This is seen in the example of a Sultan’s servant, who can rise through submission to the former to such a high level that a king cannot rise to it. Because of this mystery, therefore, the greatest saints cannot reach the level of the Companions. Even saints like Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, who, while they were awake, experienced many times the Prophetic companionship, even if they meet the most noble Prophet (May God’s peace and blessings be upon him) while awake, and are thus honored by his companionship in this world, they still cannot reach {the level of the} the Companions. For the companionship and conversation of the Companions with the Prophet is through the light of the Prophethood of Ahmad (Nübüvvet-i Ahmediyye) as a Prophet (Nebi), whereas the saints’ seeing the most noble Prophet (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him) is a kind of companionship and conversation that takes place through the light of the sainthood of Muhammad (may God’s peace be upon him) (velayet-i Ahmediyye) after his death. In other words, the most noble Prophet’s appearance to them and his manifestation in their visions is due to the sainthood of the Prophet (may God’s peace be upon him), not because of the Prophethood itself. This being the case, however degree the Prophethood is superior to the sainthood, the companionship and conversation of the former should be equally superior to that of the latter too.” 8

Thus, according to Nursi, the superiority of the Prophet’s companions to all saints rests on both the Prophet’s unique office and His supreme personality. This becomes more pronounced in the succeeding lines of the above-quoted text.

Having thus established firmly and eloquently raison d’itre and the significance of the Sufism in comparison with the Prophethood, Nursi now feels morally obliged to respond to the negative attitudes of certain people who always show hostility to the Sufi path. Among them, he targets mainly two groups: The first group consists of what he calls “certain devious sects” (firak-i dalle), who, due to their blindness to the illuminative lights of the Sufism, have gone as far as to its denial. In doing so, they have not only deprived themselves of this important path, but also caused others to be deprived. Yet, it is not this group with which Nursi is very much concerned, and for which he feels pity, since their denial of Sufism as a consequence of their blindness is to some extent understandable. However, what is at stake, or as he himself laments, “the most regrettable group” are certain people who belong exclusively to the Community of Orthodox Islam (Ehl-i Sünnet ve’l-Cemaat). Within this community, Nursi singles out two groups, one constitutes some literalist or externalist scholars (zahiri ulema), the other some ignorant politicians (ehl-i siyaset gafil), both of them exert utmost attempt in order to close up and overthrow this important source of inspiration and water of life by means of such excuses that the followers of the Sufi path allegedly are abusive and mistaken in their practices of religion and that they hold views inconsistent with orthodox Islamic doctrines. At any rate, there are very few things, ways, and paths, which are immune to mistakes and faults; therefore, says Nursi, it would be unfair to judge a certain Sufi path on account of an error committed by its respective follower. Besides, such faults and misuses are mostly committed not by the Masters or full-fledged experienced disciples but by the uninitiated and incompetent novices of the Tarikat. 9 Therefore, the Sufi path cannot be condemned because of the evils and errors associated with the behaviors of certain orders and sects which have wrongly assumed the name of the Tarikat; in reality they remain far beyond the bounds of the Shari‘a. So, what appears to be wrong in, lets us say, one particular Tarikat, cannot be generalized for the rest of the Sufi schools.

In the next step, Nursi moves on to examine the inner dimensions and the psychological stations of the Sufi path. At the very outset, he notes that to undertake a journey on the Sufi path is highly mysterious and fraught with difficulties. Because of its immense hardships, some of the people who travel on this path are sometimes drown, sometimes become harmful, and sometimes mislead others. Above all, it is a long, narrow, and very dangerous way.

At this juncture, Nursi, following strictly the conventional doctrines of the former Sufi Shaykhs, recapitulates the psychological journey (suluk) of a mystic on the Sufi path under two directions. The mystical journey, in Nursi’s view, can be performed generally in two ways:

(i) seyr-i enfusî (vertical journey; “journey via the inner self”),

(ii) seyr-i âfâkî (horizontal journey; “journey via the cosmos”).

In the former way, the mystical journey starts from the soul or the self, and pulling away its gaze from the external reality, turns it exclusively to the heart. Here mystic destroys or breaks his egotism and opens up a way from his heart, and thus finds the reality. Afterwards, he turns back to the external world, which then looks to him luminous. After its completion, the reality that mystic sees in his inner world or self see it on large scale in outer world. This is, as Nursi says, the way of those who practice “inaudible celebration of God” (zikr-i hafî). The very foundation of this method lies in the following triple formula: to break the egotism, renounce the worldly passions, and kill the rebellious soul (the evil-commanding soul). 10

As to the latter way, i.e., horizontal journey, the mystic takes its departure of journey from the external world, and after beholding the manifestations of the Beautiful Divine Names there, he returns to his inner world, namely his heart, where he sees the illuminations of those manifestations on a small scale. At this stage, the heart becomes somehow the mirror of the Samed (Eternally Unfathomable One), so that the mystic arrives at the goal that he was longing for.

Having so far delineated Nursi’s two necessary ways for the spiritual progress of the soul, we now proceed to determine his exact position towards Sufism within the scope of Islam. We immediately notice that Nursi assigns to Sufism a place of third rank after Qur’an and Sunna of the Prophet. Before entering Sufism or Tasawwuf, he declares, one first must safeguard himself or herself from the standpoint of Iman, which is the only way leading to the eternal bliss. So, according to him, if the great Sufi Masters, like Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Gilani (known as Gawth al-A‘zam, the founder of the Qadiri Order, 470/1077-561/1166), Shah Naqshband (Muhammad Baha’u’d-Din Naqshband, the founder of the Naqshbandi Order d. 791/1389) and Imam Rabbani were today alive, they would exert all their efforts and works in order to reinforce and strengthen the truths of faith and the teachings of Islam. For they are the source of and the means to the eternal happiness. No one can enter Paradise without faith, whereas there are innumerable people who would go there without Sufism. In that case, Islam is like a bread, a basic sustenance, without which man cannot live, while Sufism is like a fruit with which man can dispense. 11 In olden days, one might elevate himself so as to reach the truths of belief through a spiritual journey of forty days or even sometimes of forty years; but now, says Nursi, through God’s mercy if we can find a way to attain those truths in forty minutes, we should not stay indifferent to it. 12 In another place where he was questioned if he had taught Sufism, he responded that “Islam is necessary, this is not the age of Sufism.” 13 One could also cite in this context that, when he was accused of having instructed in Sufism and even of having founded a tariqa, his response was that he was always concerned with the truth and faith (hakikat and iman). 14

Upon his reflection on the principle of the Naqshbandi Order that one must quit or renounce four things, the world, the Hereafter (ukba), existence (hesti), the very act of renunciation (terk-i terk), there occur to him these four things, which are later to form the fundamental stones of his own original Sufi doctrine vis-à-vis others, such as Vahdet-i vucud and Vahdet-i suhud: absolute poverty (fakr-i mutlak), absolute inability (acz-i mutlak), absolute gratitude or gratefulness (sükr-ü mutlak), and absolute longing (sevk-i mutlak). 15

According to Nursi, every true way sooner or later leads to God the Almighty; and all real and true ways, irrespective of their length and shortedness in leading to God, are ultimately derived from the Qur’an. This would mean that a path, so long as it draws its method and guidance from the Qur’an, is true and acceptable. As far as Nursi’s own path is concerned, it is by all means based on the Qur’an, and is relatively shorter and safer than the others. His path consists of four progressive stages, beginning with that of inability (acz), then traversing through two intermediate stages of poverty (fakr) and compassion (sefkat), and culminating at last with that of contemplation (tefekkür). Each stage is also regarded by Nursi as an independent path leading to one particular aspect of God, for instance, inability leading to His all-encompassing Love, poverty to His overall-Mercy, compassion to His Compassion, and contemplation to His all-comprehensive Wisdom. This path with four stages differs, as Nursi indicates, from other Sufi paths, say, for instance, from the ones which are constituted of ten stages and characterized as the silent paths (hafi tarikler) on account of their performance of inaudible remembrance of God, and also from the ones consisting of seven stages and practicing instead audible remembrance and thus known as vocal paths (cehri tarikler). Because of its difference as such, Nursi considers it not a Sufi order but a reality and a sort of expression of the Shari‘a, aiming essentially to show one’s inability, poverty and faults before God.

Nursi’s original path, as noted before, has its origin in the Qur’an, and advances steadily at four progressive steps; and each can be explained in brief as follows:

In the first step, the initiate is required to comprehend the verse, “do not justify yourself,” 16 with a sincere attempt to see himself as he is, and not higher than he is. For, as Bediuzzaman says, man, due to his innate nature and disposition, always tends to love and praise himself, and only himself, not anything else; so much so that he acts as if he is devoid of all faults and mistakes, and thus defends himself unreservedly as though worshipping himself, as the Qur’an articulates: “Did you such a one who takes his god his own passion or his own vain desire?” 17 So, his excessive glorification of himself causes him to rely only on himself and further sacrifice everything to his own soul at the exclusion of others. It is therefore the initiate, at the outset, must strive for the full discernment of his weakness.

In the second step, man is demanded to maintain the awareness of himself by persevering the awareness of God in mind and heart, as is displayed in the verse: “And be not like those who forget God, and He therefore makes them forget their own selves.” 18 In other words, man’s forgetfulness of God, as Nursi expounds, results in his forgetfulness of his own soul, and even to some extent, his selfishness, in such a way that, whenever he sees something unfortunate or inconvenience, say, for instance, death, he takes it in relation to others, while forgetting that he may also encounter it too; and in the case of pleasure, however, he acts quite conversely and thinks first of himself. He can be liberated from such evil habit that emanates originally from his evil-commanding soul (nefs-i emmare) through the continuous recollection of God.

In the third step, the initiate begins to see his own imperfection before the most perfect Being, God. He strives to act in contrast to the demands of his evil-commanding soul by attributing all his good qualities to God and all his defects and faults to himself, as this verse teaches: “Whatever good, (O man!) happens to you, (happens to you) from God; but whatever evil happens to you is from your (own) soul (from yourself).” 19 At this stage, he remains ever thankful to God, and instead of being boastful of himself, he turns to lead an extremely humble life; so much so that, as Nursi articulates, he finds “his perfection to lie in imperfection, his ability in ability, and his wealth in poverty.” 20

The initiate completes his journey as soon as he attains to the thorough comprehension of the wisdom that lies in the following famous Qur’anic verse: “Everything (that exists) will perish except His (own) Face (or Countenance).” 21 The full understanding of this profound verse, according to Nursi, will save the person from being deluded by the appearance of the things, and thus facilitate him to see them in their true reality. In other words, a thing, declares he, has two aspects, one in respect to itself (mana-yi ismi), the other in regard to its Creator (mana-yi harfi). In its first aspect, the thing is transient (fani), absent (mefkud), temporal (hadis), and nonexistent (ma‘dum), whereas, in its second aspect, it is like a mirror, reflecting God’s names; and in this sense, therefore, it becomes both a witness (sahid) and the witnessed (mashud), and both an existent (mevcud) and the heedful of the existent (vacid). 22 A person at this stage will have completely given up his egotism, and thereby will be able to attribute all due existence to God, and then finally see that so long as he is a mirror of the manifestation of the true Donor of Existence, he procures an infinite existence. 23

To sum up, the path designed and trodden by Nursi himself, as briefly outlined above, rests entirely on the Qur’an, and is relatively shorter, broader, safer and more universal than the other well-known Sufi paths. It is short, because it consists of merely four stages; again it is safer, since it paves no way for the ecstatic words (satahat) and shocking utterances of the soul; and furthermore, the soul, being mindful of its incompetency, poverty and deficiency, may not trespass beyond its set-limit. 24

The striking characteristic of Nursi’s spiritual path, so far it appears to me, lies in the afore-mentioned division of a thing into two aspects, —which I may render roughly phenomenal (mana-yi ismi) and existential (mana-yi harfi). It is this division that brings Nursi’s own Sufi path to a large extent closer to Ghazali’s orthodox Tasawwuf and yet distinguishes him, though by no means sharply, from Ibn Arabi’s Vahdet-i vucud (the Unity of Existence) as well as from his counter-part mystical thought, Vahdet-i suhud (the unity of witnessing), but not necessarily from his most-esteemed master, Ahmad Sirhindi, who is known as an adherent of the latter school of Tasawwuf.

A person who wants to advance through the spiritual journey of Nursi’s Qur’anic-oriented Sufism is not required, as opposed to the school of Vahdet-i vucud, to imagine the universe as sheer non-existence to the extent that he is compelled to proclaim that “there is no existent but He.” Nor is he demanded to conjecture the universe as imprisoned in such utter oblivion that he cannot help saying that “there is nothing witnessed but He,” which is the dictum of those who uphold the “unity of witnessing” (Vahdet-i suhud). Both of these views fall in conflict with the teaching of the Qur’an, according to which the universe is regarded as real, and not imaginary at all. 25 Or if we put it in the context of Nursi’s own principle that a thing ought to be taken in its existential sense, we are inevitably driven to submit to the same fact as the Qur’an purports; that is, all that exists in the universe are real beings, functioning as mirrors, in the concrete sense, for the manifestations of God’s Beautiful Names and Attributes.

Moreover, the unity of existence, according to Nursi, though it is considered to be the most sublime station (en yüksek makam) by its exponents, stands in fact in the lowest rank, 26 for it essentially reduces the beings to the level of mere imagination; and in so doing, it equally reduces all the manifestations of God’s attributes and names to the level of shadow-like realities, which is contrary to the truth as held in the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet (pbuh). That is to say, the Names of the Necessary Existent, such as all-Merciful (Rahman), Sustainer (Rezzak), Creator (Hallâk), etc., all necessitate in reality and actuality a true application and manifestation according to their respective function. All of these names are as real as the term existent. Besides, the Companions and eminent scholars as well as the Imams of the Prophet's family, Nursi proceeds, have reinforced this truth by unanimously declaring that “the true natures or realities of things are permanent (haqa’iqu’l-ashya’i thabitatun)” and that “God the Almighty manifests Himself truly through all His names.” 27

However, one must bear in mind, warns Nursi, that although all the beings in the universe indeed exist, yet their existence in relation to God is too weak, dark, and shadow; but they are neither imaginary nor fancy at all, simply because God bestows upon them existence through His name, ‘Creator.’ 28 Besides, God, who is absolutely and utterly beyond human comprehension, has nonetheless a relation to the beings, whether visible or invisible, as their Creator. The relationship between the Creator and His creatures, as far as Islam is concerned, rests on the six principles of belief each of which, as Nursi aptly puts it, requires the existence of contingent beings. These principles can in no way be built upon imagination or imaginary entities. Therefore, anyone who is engulfed with the unity of existence or witnessing, when he returns to the realm of sobriety (âlem-i sahv) from the realms of ecstasy (istigrak) and intoxication (sekr), should abandon that state of unity; otherwise, he could act contrary to the reality. 29 Because of this reason, Nursi restores scrupulously the celebrated promulgation of vahdat-i vucud, heme ost (all is He) to its original form, heme ezost (all is from Him), 30 which may represent best the intimate relation between God and all other beings.

Nursi’s assessment of vahdat-i vucudbecomes more substantial in his interpretation of the visions of the Sufis who are immersed in the unity of Existence. Vahdat-i vucud, Nursi says, is no doubt a very important mystical path and state, yet it is deficient and even sometimes perilous. 31 Despite this, most of the people who rose to that state did not want to leave it because of its attraction and pleasure; 32 on the contrary, assuming it to be the highest stage, they remained there for good. 33 These people, like other Sufis and saints, are the people of truth and reality; and they do witness the subtle realities especially in the state of ecstasy and intoxication. However, Nursi proceeds, so long as they remain in such a state, they cannot interpret what they see in their visions, unless they rise to the stage of the Asfiya, who are sober, having full control of themselves. 34

Furthermore, Nursi expounds the difference between the two above-mentioned states with the example of two shepherds, one sleeping and other awake. The one who was awake interpreted the other’s dream in a such way that it entirely corresponds to reality, because he, unlike the sleeping one, was able to dintiguish between the physical world and the world of images. 35 Similarly, the people of vahdat-i vucud may witness, in their state of ecstasy, so many subtle images from the world of Similitudes, which resembles the physical world. And when they return to the state of sobriety, they may declare and even write exactly what they witness in their former state. However, due to their lack of balance, they unconsciously intermingles the images of the spiritual world with the actual entities of the material world.

It is for this reason that the stages of “witnessing” (suhud), Nursi declares, remains much inferior to that of faith in the Unseen. Strictly speaking, all the intuitions, illuminations and unveilings that occur to the people of “witnessing” are far behind the truths of belief of the sober saints and the true scholars who, as the heirs of the Prophet, rely on the Qur’an and Revelation. In short, all the mystical states, intuitions, visions, and illuminations, should be measured on the scale of the Qur’an and Sunna.

Finally, we can conclude that Nursi’s own conception Sufism in general and his assessment of vahdat-i vucud in particular are highly novel and inspired by the spirit of the Qur’an and conceptualized in the context of his Sufi forerunners, like Ahmad Sirhindi. However, since his major aim was not to construct a Sufi theory on his own, as did the latter, his ideas seem to have been dispersed here and there throughout his works with not such a thoroughness and elaboration that we are accustomed to see in other Sufi writers. In spite of such a minor drawback, his originality, especially in determining the exact place of the Sufi paths on the touchstone of the Qur’an and Sunna, as well as in assigning a real status to all other beings, aside God, in terms of existence, deserves to be mentioned with due appreciation.

* * *

* Original English text.

1.Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Mektûbat, Istanbul: Envar Nesriyat 1993, 355.
3.Mektûbat, 355-6.
4.Mektûbat, 443.
5.Nursi’s notion of fihriste-i camia appears to be a replica of Ibn ‘Arabi’s that of kawn jami‘, which occurs originally in his Fusus al-Hikam and is mostly rendered in the Sufi literature as ‘microcosmic being,’ that ultimately stands for the ‘perfect man’ (al-insan al-kamil) through whom God manifests His mystery to Himself. Ibn ‘Arabi’s Fusus al-Hikam, 18.
6.Mektûbat, 444.
7.Mektûbat, 445.
8.Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, Sözler, Istanbul, Envar Nesriyat 1991, 489.
9.Mektûbat, 445.
10.Mektûbat, 446.
11.Mektûbat, 23.
13.Mektûbat, 63.
14.His defence in court of Eskisehir would be enough to recall that he had no intention whatsoever for “training in Sufism (tarikat), but instruction in the direct way to reality (hakikat.)” Sükran Vahide, The Author of the Risale-i Nur: Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Istanbul, Sözler Publications 1992, 240.
15.Mektûbat, 20.
16.Qur’an, 52:32.
17.Qur’an, 25:43; 45:23.
18.Qur’an, 59:19.
19.Qur’an, 4:79.
20.Mektûbat, 460.
21.Qur’an, 28:88.
22.See for the similar division of the thing into two, based on the same Qur’anic verse, by Ghazali, Mishkat al-Anwar, ed. Abu’l-‘Ala ‘Afifi, Cairo, Dar al-Qawmiyya 1964, 55-6.
23.This idea may be traced back to Ibn ‘Arabi, who regards man as “the very principle of the manifestation of God in the universe,” and also proclaims very eloquently, as does Nursi here, that “man, the vice-regent of God, all-encompassing reality, is transient (hadith) is his form, and eternal (azali) in his essence. (See for detail Idem, Fusus al-Hikam, ed. Abu’l-‘Ala ‘Afifi, Beirut, Dar Kitab al-‘Arabi,1946, 50 ff; for English translation, refer to The Bezels of Wisdom, trans. R. W. J. Austin, New York, Paulist Press 1980, 51 ff.
24.Mektûbat, 460.
25.Mektûbat, 461.
26.This is also the opinion of Ahmad Sirhindi, one of Nursi’s spiritual masters, who, like the latter, is highly respectful of Ibn ‘Arabi, but does criticize his doctrine of vahdat-i vucud in a vehement tone. Sirhindi, detaching himself from, for instance ‘Ala’l-Dawla Simnani, the precursor of the doctrine of vahdat-i suhud, who had explicitly denounced Ibn ‘Arabi and his doctrine of vahdat-i vucud, has a mild judgement about him by saying that Ibn ‘Arabi’s statement, “everything is He,” should be seen in the context of ecstatic expression, and therefore, he should never be blamed for it. See for a detailed account, J. G. J. der Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet: Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) as Mystic, Leiden, Het Oosters Instituut 1992, 118-136.
27.Mektûbat, 85.
29.Mektûbat, 448-9.
30.Mektûbat, 84.
31.Mektûbat, 449.
32.The people of vahdat-i vucud desire to remain in their ecstatic state, because, for them, as Nursi notes, this is the ultimate state. In other words, this implies that they love their state (hal) rather than God. One would compare this with Jalal al-Din Rumi’s following couplet: “You are in love with your state, you are not in love with Me; you are attached to Me in the hope of (experiencing) the state.” (The Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi, trans. Reynold A. Nicholson, Cambridge: University Press 1982, vi, 80; Mesnevi, iii, 1428).
33.Mektûbat, 83.
34.The term asfiya’ literally means the purified people; however, in the present context, it is most likely used to denote the Sufis who prefer the state of sobriety (sahv) to that of intoxication (sukr). One can cite as examples Hallaj (d. 922) and Abu Yazid al-Bistami (d. 874) for the latter and Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 910) for the former. In one of the anecdotes narrated by al-Hujwiri in his Kashf al-Mahjub we find speaking to Hallaj: “You are in error concerning sobriety and intoxication. The former denotes soundness of one’s spiritual state in relation to God, while the latter denotes excess of longing and extremity of love, and neither of them can be acquired by human effort...” (Idem., Kashf al-Mahjub: The Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufism, trans. Reynold Nicholson, New Delhi: Taj Printers 1982, 189).
35.See for full coverage of the shepherd story, Mektûbat, 81-2.

Item ID: 187
Item Name: Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s Evaluation of Sufism
Item Authors:
Bilal Kuspinar
Publish Date: 19.04.2006
Nur Web Pages Publish Date: 19.04.2006

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