1873-1960. This is the period of time during which Bediuzzaman Said Nursi lived. It was a period which saw numerous momentous events. It saw too the appearance of Bediuzzaman as a regenerator of religion, a guide, and a teacher. He trained very many students and made a significant mark on the society in which he lived.
The efforts to bring down the Ottoman Caliphate and State yielded their results in this period, and they dealt severe blows at all the Islamic world, crushing the Muslims under the harshest of conditions. The material power was on the increase of the countries influenced by Christian thought. They extended their colonies, spreading ideas of nationalism and the nation-state. Communism reached out its tentacles to every corner of the globe, and Zionism spread. As a result of the agreements drawn up between them, the Marxist eastern bloc on the one hand and the liberalist and capitalist western bloc on the other took up their places on the stage of world affairs. While this was in progress, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi embarked on efforts to renew Islamic thought. His idea was based oon the miraculous aspects of the Qur'an, and aimed to eliminate the harms of the many negative developments and ideologies that were threatening mankind.
Without doubt, Said Nursi's knowledge was the summary of his profound study of the verses of God's Book, the gist of his extensive thought and reflection on the mysteries of the All-Wise Qur'an. This thought and study of his links reason and belief, and were represented in an astonishing style of writing, and manifested as an unprecedented way of expounding the Qur'an.
In the Risale-i Nur, Said Nursi proved and expounded the truths of the Qur'an to all the world, and in doing this employed a style acceptable to all times and all cultures, including modern culture. In the face of the aggressive ideological currents of this century, his were firmly grounded ideas by which he demonstrated that renewal and change could be brought about in Islamic thought without departing from the unshakeable Qur'anic principles.
The question that attracted my attention most while reading Said Nursi's works was that of the People of the Book and Christianity and Judaism. The various views he expresses on this subject are each like summaries of Qur'anic verses.
Said Nursi did not make general statements when discussing the People of the Book, he made certain distinctions. He classified them as "the people of the trinity," "the people of misguidance," "the heedless," "the people of guidance," "the believers," and "the people of the Qur'an." Each of these forms a group which has its own method and way, its own particular thought, and own way of understanding Divine revelation. In respect of these different understandings and positions, these groups may be divided into three categories:
The First: The members of this category have understood the aims of revelation, are conscious of the truths of the Divine message, and have not changed or corrupted the Divine texts sent to them.
The Second: Following their own whims and desires, these have changed God's word, and have moved from one position to another. Among this category is a group that seeks out God's true way. The people of this group will certainly come to co-operate with the first category and join them in the war against atheism.
The Third: These have embraced misguidance as a method and way. Their end can only be perdition.
Said Nursi includes a group of the People of the Book in the second category. They feel great need for the Qur'an's guidance, and may draw close to belief in Divine unity. Concerning this he says:
"Christianity will either erupt or be extinguished. It will surrender and submit to Islam.
It was split repeatedly until finally Protestantism appeared, but in that it did not find what would rectify it.
The veil was again rent, it fell into absolute misguidance. However, a part of it approached the affirmation of Divine unity; in that it will find salvation.
It is preparing to be split again. If it is not extinguished, it will be purified and will join Islam.
In this lies a mighty mystery to which the Glory of the Messengers alluded when he said: 'Jesus will come and follow my Shari'a; he will be of my community.'"
This Qur'anic truth encompasses the People of the Book, as well as the principles of the beliefs they accept. Since the religion taught by all the prophets from Adam (PUH) to the Seal of the Prophets (PBUH) is Islam; and since the function of prophethood is one and the same; and since the source is the same; what falls to the People of the Book is to purify their beliefs and return to the true affirmation of Divine unity. According to Said Nursi, what the People of the Book have to do in order to return to their roots and purify their beliefs is refer to the Qur'an. Christianity may find its true essence only in the Qur'an, and by once again embracing its origins. If the People of the Book study verses of the Qur'an, they will reach the truths of their own scriptures. They will then realize that it is only through this Book (the Qur'an) that they can perfect their beliefs. Said Nursi explains this truth in this way:
"Indeed, this present age and the People of the Book this age, who have more than any other relied on themselves and stopped up their ears to the words of the Qur'an, are so in need of its guiding address of, O People of the Book! O People of the Book! that it is as if it addresses this age directly, and the phrase O People of the Book! comprises also the meaning of O People of the Modern Science Books! It delivers its shout of, O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you to the ends of the world with all its strength, all its freshness, all its youth."
The reconciliation of the people of the Qur'an and the People of the Book is a development that the Qur'an looks on favourably and the principles of which it defines. The conditions are these:
1) To worship God alone.
2) To associate nothing with Him as partner.
3) To take no one as lord over oneself besides God.
A reconciliation which does not include these conditions would be unacceptable. Its result is described in the verse: But if they turn back, God has full knowledge of those who do mischief.
Said Nursi says that together with all its elements and aspects, the term People of the Book, and modern culture and the modern civilization that goes with it, are basically built on the good things of past religions. Indeed, the Qur'an calls on man to ponder over these past religions and draw lessons from them. If the People of the Book do not approach the Qur'an from this angle, they will not benefit from its wisdom. For its wisdom is such that it ..
"takes as its point of support 'truth' in stead of force, and in place of benefit has 'virtue and God's pleasure' as its aims. It considers 'the principle of mutual assistance' to be fundamental in life, rather than conflict. In the ties between communities it accepts 'the bonds of religion, class, and country,' in place of racialism and nationalism. Its aims are to place a barrier before the illicit assaults of the soul's base appetites and to urge the spirit to sublime matters, to satisfy man's elevated emotions and encourage him towards the human perfections."
The Qur'an describes the bonds linking all the past prophets and messengers, and the sacred scriptures:
Say: "We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in [the Books] given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord; we make no distinction between one and another among them, and to God do we bow our will [in Islam]."
The Qur'an is thus a book which in the most balanced way and with the most miraculous styles encompasses all the truths contained in the previous scriptures. Since it is thus, both the Jews and Christians from among the People of the Book, who adhere to their own scriptures despite their now being changed and corrupted, and the followers of modern culture, who base their philosophies and methods on the positive things of previous religions, are invited to the Qur'an's immortal truths, to the religion of Islam, which includes within itself the essence of Christianity and Judaism. For The religion before God is Islam [submission to His will], and, Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in faith, and bowed his will to God's will, [which is Islam], and he joined not gods with God. The second verse forms a reply to those who claim Abraham was a Christian or a Jew, and indicates the bases on which the Abrahamic call should be founded in the modern age.
It was Said Nursi's opinion that the knowledge about the fundamentals of the previous scriptures in the Qur'an had come from a Divine source, and were also evidence for the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH). This is a point the People of the Book may understand if they read their own scriptures critically, and read the Qur'an. According to Said Nursi, the revealed scriptures still retain aspects indicating their origins and sources, despite all the corruptions. This characteristic could even encourage them to purify them of the corruptions. He also considers it a certain and necessary fact that the previous revealed scriptures predicted the coming of Muhammad (PBUH). For since they mention minor events, it is impossible that they should not give news of the most important event in the history of mankind. While expounding the verse, And who believe in the revelation sent to you, and sent before your time, and [in their hearts] have the assurance of the hereafter, Said Nursi says:
"O People of the Book! Believe in Muhammad (PBUH) and the Qur'an as you believe in the previous prophets and books. For just as they gave the glad tidings of Muhammad's coming, so the evidences for their veracity and his veracity are found in spirit and in reality in the Qur'an and in Muhammad. In which case you should accept in the best way that the Qur'an is God's Word and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His Messenger."
Bediuzzaman also cites a number of passages in the Gospels and Torah which give the good news of the coming of the Final Prophet:
"Yes, since they would certainly speak of it, they would either denounce it as a falsehood and so save their religions from destruction and their books from abrogation, or they would affirm it, and through that man of truth, save their religions from superstition and corruption. Now, both friend and foe agree that there is no sign of any such denouncement in the scriptures, in which case there must be affirmation."
The good news of the previous scriptures is accepted by the Qur'an, as may be seen clearly in the following verse, where it is spoken by Jesus (PUH):
And remember Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O Children of Israel! I am the Messenger of God [sent] to you, confirming the Law [which came] before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.
Said Nursi quotes numerous narrations about the People of the Book. For example:
"Also, many Jewish and Christian scholars acknowledged and admitted that the attributes of Muhammad the Arabian (Upon whom be blessings and peace) were written in their Books. The famous Roman Emperor Heraclius, who was a non-Muslim himself, said: 'Jesus foretold Muhammad's coming.'"
If the People of the Book were to accept the truths of the Qur'an and the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), this would not necessitate their parting from the substance of their own religions. For their scriptures still contain predictions related to God's Messenger. If they were to affirm these predictions, they would assent to the Qur'an's truths and believe that it comes from a Divine source. For instance, while expounding verse 4 of Sura al-Baqara, Said Nursi says this:
"O People of the Book! There is no difficulty for you in accepting Islam; do not let it appear hard to you. For the Qur'an does not order you to abandon your religion completely, it proposes only that you complete your faith and build it on the fundamentals of religion you already possess. For the Qur'an combines in itself the virtues of all the previous books and the essentials of all the previous religions; it is thus a modifier and a perfecter of basic principles. As for its nature as establisher, this concerns only such details as are subject to change and alteration because of differences of time and place; and this is in no way unreasonable or illogical. With the change of seasons, food and dress and many other things are changed; so too in the stages of a person's life the manner of their education and upbringing changes. Similarly, as necessitated by wisdom and need, religious ordinances concerning secondary matters change in accordance with the stages of mankind's development."
The correspondence between some of the matters of the Qur'an and of the other revealed scriptures will prompt Muslims and a group of the People of the Book to draw closer to each other and to unite against their joint enemy of atheism. Said Nursi says the following concerning this matter:
"With the complete awakening of the Islamic world and with the New World acting in conformity with true Christianity, and its uniting with the Islamic world, and the Gospels following the Qur'an and uniting with it, withstanding with heavenly assistance those two fearsome future currents, they shall prevail, God willing."
Here, Bediuzzaman is setting out an important strategy regarding co-operation with the People of the Book. Besides putting a halt to questions of dispute and conflict between them, this strategy is based on the important fact of the rapprochement of truly pious Christians and the people of the Qur'an in the face of atheism.
The final stage of this rapprochement and co-operation is the surrender of Christianity to Islam. The realization of this is alluded to by the statement of God's Messenger that Jesus (PUH) will descend from the skies, join his community, and follow his Shari'a.
The most important difference between Islam and other religions, is as Bediuzzaman Said Nursi pointed out, the pure affirmation of Divine unity. This is such a belief that it distances Muslims from despotism, and both rulers and ruled from pride and arrogance, and leaves no intermediary between a Muslim and his Creator. Since this belief in Divine unity is fundamental, in the end the People of the Book are bound to understand the truth of it.
In short, in his discussions of the People of the Book, Said Nursi puts forward views that are completely in harmony with the Qur'an's statements on the subject. In conclusion it is seen that at the end of time, the People of the Book and the people of Islam will act together and in this way the wisdom of the Qur'an will triumph.
But if they turn back, God has full knowledge of those who do mischief. * Say: "O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you; that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than God." If then they turn back, say you: "Bear witness that we [at least] are Muslims [bowing to God's will]." * You People of the Book! Why dispute you about Abraham, when the Law and the Gospel were not revealed till after him? Have you no understanding? * Ah! You are those who fell to disputing [even] in matters of which you had some knowledge! But why dispute you in matters of which you have no knowledge? It is God Who knows, and you know not! * Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in faith, and bowed his will to God's, [which is Islam], and he joined not gods with God.
Concerning the question of the People of the Book living in a Muslim state, Said Nursi believes in the necessity of equality being established between the people-between the subjects of the Muslim state. This equality is based on principles taken from the Qur'an. Indeed, examples of this are to be observed in the history of Islam. Nevertheless, Bediuzzaman said that Muslims living now in the Christian states of Europe should be accorded the same equality.
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