Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was an important scholar, thinker, regenerator of religion, and mujahid and striver in God's way. At a very early age he was distinguished by his knowledge of the Islamic sciences, and was famous for both his memorizing those sciences, and his grasp of them. The leading scholars of the time all acknowledged his superior learning.
Bediuzzaman took on himself the troubles of the Umma. He raised the banner of God's message in order to remedy the situation, and led the mujahids in driving the enemy from their country. Subsequently, he led the reform movement, and with supreme effort combatted the currents of atheism and unbelief. The thorns scattered on his path and the oppression he suffered did not break his resolve, and until he departed this world he continued to strive with his thought, knowledge, and chaste life.
Bediuzzaman's purpose in the works he wrote was to serve the Qur'an, inform the whole world of its truths, prove the truths of belief, and dispel the darkness of unbelief.
Any researcher who wants to enter the world of this important thinker and to breathe in the air of his knowledge, must find the keys to open the doors leading to his thought, and must pass down particular ways. These keys may be summarized like this:
1. Studying his life in detail.
2. The Prophet's (PBUH) prayer that he should be given knowledge of the Qur'an.
3. His vow on learning of the explicit threats to the Qur'an of the British statesman Gladstone: "I shall prove and demonstrate to the world that the Qur'an is an undying, inextinguishable sun!"
4. His dedicating his life to the Qur'an. For Bediuzzaman lived his long and difficult life together with Qur'an. It was his only friend and companion in exile and prison; the light of his life, joy of his heart, and guide on his way.
5. His turning his back on the world, and not stooping to its vanities.
6. The serious and original style of his works: Bediuzzaman received his knowledge from the light of belief, his painful circumstances, the mysteries and blessings of the Qur'an, and from the manifestations of the Divine Names. He called the treatises he wrote 'Nur' (light), and their volumes and sections, 'Flashes,' 'Rays,' 'Gleams,' 'Light,' and so on. He did not borrow from other books and sources like other authors, nor did he use the narrative method. These are all keys for those intending to investigate any aspect of this great thinker's life.
When I first proposed to research into Bediuzzaman's contributions to the study of the Qur'an's miraculousness, I was not aware of his works other than Isharat al-I'jaz fi Mazann Ijaz (Signs of Miraculousness). I supposed this to be his only work on the subject. But later I realized how wrong I had been, for some Risale-i Nur students, may God be pleased with them, advised me to read The Words (Sözler), and particularly the Twenty-Fifth Word. On beginning to read it I became aware that he was making references to previous Words and to other works he had written. I continued my study, then I came across a paragraph in which the author referred to a number of treatises dealing with the Qur'an's miraculousness: "Of the innumerable aspects of the miraculousness of the All-Wise Qur'an of Miraculous Exposition, the treasury of miracles and greatest miracle of Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him), I have pointed out close on forty in my Arabic treatises, in the Arabic Risale-i Nur, in my Qur'anic commentary called Isharat al-I'jaz (Signs of Miraculousness), and in the preceding twenty-four Words." I understood from this that it was a subject discussed extensively and from various angles in the Risale-i Nur. So I decided to restrict myself and deal with aspects of the Qur'an's miraculousness about which Bediuzzaman had made original statements. The task I set myself was not easy, for his ideas are truly serious and original. I cannot claim therefore that I have discussed them in all their details; what I have done is to stroll around the garden of this great thinker, collect a bunch of his beautiful flowers, study a few droplets from the ocean of his thought, select a few of his original ideas, and breathe in a little of the fresh air of the Risale-i Nur.
Definition of the Qur'an: I want to start by drawing attention to Bediuzzaman's brilliant definition of the Qur'an, for it indicates his profound understanding of the Qur'an's reality and aims. I cannot describe my delight at Almighty God's bringing me to it. For while during my researches I had studied the well-known definitions of former scholars in the hope of encountering one worthy of the Qur'an's sublimity and reality, I had not been able to find one. It is probable that Bediuzzaman was aware of their definitions, but since his heart and spirit were infused with the Qur'an's light, he preferred one reflecting this:
"The Qur'an is the pre-eternal translator of the mighty book of the universe; the post-eternal interpreter of the various tongues reciting the verses of creation; the commentator of the book of the Worlds of the Seen and the Unseen; the revealer of the treasuries of the Divine Names hidden in the heavens and on the earth; the key to the truths concealed beneath the lines of events; the tongue of the Unseen World in the Manifest World; ... the true wisdom of mankind; and the true guide and leader urging humanity to prosperity and happiness; it is a both a book of law, and a book of prayer, and a book of wisdom, and a book of worship, and a book of command and summons, and a book of invocation, and a book of thought, and a unique, comprehensive sacred book comprising many books to which recourse may be had for all the needs of all mankind..."
These are selected phrases from Bediuzzaman's definition and are sufficient to illustrate what he wrote in his discussions of the Qur'an and its miraculousness. It is understood from it that he did not busy himself with the Qur'an's external attributes like the scholars of logic and the principles of religion, but was preoccupied with its reality, essence, aims, and purposes.
Bediuzzaman states clearly that looking at the Qur'an through a veil of heedlessness and familiarity prevents one seeing the beauty and miraculousness of all its verses. He therefore lays down a condition for perceiving it, which is that the person who is going to ponder over the Qur'an should imagine himself in the Age of Ignorance, before the Qur'an, in the deserts of savagery and ignorance. This mental exercise will cause the veil of familiarity to be lifted and will allow him to appreciate the subtleties of its miraculousness. If he follows any other method, he will not perceive the miraculousness:
"... if you want to see and appreciate how, like shining stars, all the Qur'an's verses scatter the darkness of unbelief by spreading the light of miraculousness and guidance, imagine yourself in the age of ignorance and desert of savagery where everything was enveloped in lifeless veils of nature, under the darkness of ignorance and heedlessness. Then suddenly from the elevated tongue of the Qur'an, you hear verses like: Whatever is in the heavens extols and glorifies God, for He is the Mighty, the Wise.(57:1) * Whatever is in the heavens and earth extols and glorifies God, the Sovereign, the Most Holy One, the Mighty, the Wise.(17:44) See how those dead or sleeping creatures of the world spring to life at the sound of extols and glorifies in the minds of those listening, how they awake, spring up, and mention God's Names!"
The Qur'an is a book of law and guidance which always preserves its youth and freshness and addresses all the centuries. No thought system of human origin is better than the Qur'an. Almighty God said addressing the Arab idolators and the idolators of all times: Say: "Then bring a book from God, which is a better guide than either of them, that I may follow it! [Do], if you are truthful!" * But if they hearken not to you, know that they only follow their own lusts; and who is more astray than one who follows his own lusts, devoid of guidance from God? For God guides not people given to wrongdoing.(28:49-50) For many years people read this verse without being aware of its miraculousness on the level of law. Bediuzzaman, however, dealt with it in his section on the Qur'an's youth, and said:
"This is the Qur'an's youth. It preserves its freshness and youth every age as though newly revealed. In fact, the Qur'an has to have perpetual youth since as a pre-eternal address, it addresses at once all the levels of mankind in every age."
This is in agreement with an Hadith related from 'Ali (r.a.), the meaning of which is that the Qu'ran "never becomes tedious, nor do scholars ever weary of it, nor do its wonders fade." Bediuzzaman explains this aspect of the Qur'an's miraculousness most expertly, and makes a comparison between the Qur'an's laws and modern civilization, the final point reached in human lawmaking. He says that
"Man's works and laws grow old like man, they change and are changed. But the rulings and laws of the Qur'an are so firm and well-founded that they increase in strength as the centuries pass."
Bediuzzaman then compares modern civilization with the wisdom of the Qur'an, and says that modern civilization has taken "force" as its criterion in social life, its aim is "self-interest and benefits," its principle in life is "conflict," society is bonded by "negative nationalism and racialism," and its aim is to "gratify man's lusts and caprices."
"However," says Bediuzzaman, "the mark of force is aggression. And since the benefits are insufficient to meet all needs, their mark is that everyone tussles and jostles over them. The mark of conflict is contention, and the mark of racialism, aggression, since it thrives on devouring others. Thus, it is because of these principles of civilization that despite all its virtues, it has provided a sort of superficial happiness for only twenty per cent of mankind and cast eighty per cent into distress and poverty.
"The wisdom of the Qur'an, however, 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."
At the end of his comparison Bediuzzaman remarks:
"Thus, despite the virtues present-day civilization has acquired from the guidance of the Qur'an in particular, and from the preceding revealed religions, in point of fact it has thus suffered defeat before the Qur'an."
Bediuzzaman chooses four matters with which to elucidate the miraculousness of the Qur'an's laws:
The first is the verse, Be steadfast in performing the prayers, and give zakat,(2:43) and the verse, God has permitted trade and forbidden usury.(2:225) He then says:
"Just as the source of mankind's revolutions is one phrase, so another phrase is the origin of all immorality. The first phrase: 'So long as I'm full, what is it to me if others die of hunger.' And the second phrase: 'You work so that I can eat.'"
"Yes, the upper and lower classes in human society, that is, the rich and the poor, live at peace when in equilibrium. The basis of that equilibrium is compassion and kindness in the upper classes, and respect and obedience in the lower classes. ... Thus, together with all its societies for good works, all its establishments for the teaching of ethics, all its severe discipline and regulations, it could not reconcile these two classes of mankind..."
It is the Qur'an that solves this problem, for it
"eradicates the first phrase with its injunction to pay zakat, and heals it. While it uproots the second phrase with its prohibition on usury and interest, and cures that."
Bediuzzaman also makes a comparison between some of the Qur'anic ordinances and the customs of modern civilization, and discloses the miraculousness in three further matters, polygamy, inheritance, and the representation of forms. But lack of time does not allow us to do more than mention them here.
Bediuzzaman presents under this heading original additions to the interpretation of the Qur'an's miraculousness. For the scholars of former times concentrated their efforts on the Qur'an's rhetorical styles and its manner of exposition. 'Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani, even, who formulated the science of ma'ani (rhetoric), focussed his attention on the rhetorical meanings of the grammatical structures of sentences. Bediuzzaman however, explained the extraordinary comprehensiveness of the Qur'an's words, discussions, and meanings, and the sciences it alludes to. Since it is not possible to set out all these in detail in this paper, I shall discuss only two aspects of the Qur'an's comprehensiveness. The first, the comprehensiveness of its words, and secondly, the comprehensiveness of its discussions.
Bediuzzaman says that
"the words of the Qur'an have been positioned in such a way that all its phrases, words even, and even letters, and sometimes even an omission, has many aspects. It gives to all those it addresses their share from a different door." He quotes the Hadith: 'Each verse has an outer meaning, an inner meaning, a limit, and an aim, and each has roots, and boughs, and branches,"
Bediuzzaman then goes on analyze a number of examples, in order to explain their comprehensiveness and show how every class of men receives its share from them. He gives the verse, And the mountains [its] pegs,(78:7) and demonstrates how with their various levels it is understood differently by an ordinary person, a poet, a tent-dwelling literary man, a geographer, a sociologist, and a scholar of natural science. Bediuzzaman gives several such examples, and then mentions a question that might occur to one, which infers objection:
"If you say: How can we know all the meanings in the examples you have given, which the Qur'an intends and points to?
"We would reply: Since the Qur'an is a pre-eternal address, and sitting above and beyond the centuries, which, layer upon layer, are all different, addresses and instructs all of mankind lined up within them, certainly it will include and intend numerous meanings according to those varying understandings, and will make allusions to what it intends. The numerous meanings contained in the Qur'an's words similar to those mentioned here have been proved in Isharat al-I'jaz (Signs of Miraculousness) according to the rules of Arabic grammar, and the sciences of rhetoric, semantics, and eloquence and their rules. According to the consensus of those qualified to interpret the Shari'a and the Qur'anic commentators and scholars of theology and jurisprudence, and according to the testimony of their differences, on condition they are considered correct by the sciences of Arabic and the principles of religion, all the aspects and meanings which are found acceptable by the science of semantics, and appropriate by the science of rhetoric, and desirable by the science of eloquence, may be considered among the meanings of the Qur'an."
Bediuzzaman explains this distinctive attribute of the Qur'an saying:
"Together with bringing together the extensive subjects of man and his duties, the universe and the Creator of the universe, the heavens and the earth, this world and the hereafter, the past and the future, and pre-eternity and post-eternity ... all these fundamental, important subjects are explained in a way befitting the All-Glorious One Who administers the whole universe as though it was a palace, and opens and closes this world and the hereafter like two rooms, and regulates the earth as if it was a garden and the heavens as though they were a roof adorned with lamps, and beholds the past and the future as though they were two pages present in His sight like a single night and day, and looks on pre-eternity and post-eternity as though they were yesterday and tomorrow, in a form in which the two sides of a chain of events are joined together and touching in present time. ... Indeed, apart from the Maker Who adorns this world with antique arts and fills its with delicious bounties and scatters bountifully over the face of the world together with these wonders of His art so many valuable gifts, and setting them in orderly lines spreads them out over the face of the earth, apart from this Bestower of Bounties, who else could the Qur'an of Miraculous Exposition be fitting for - the Qur'an which fills the world with this clamour of salutation and acclaim, this resounding praise and thanks, and transforms the earth into a place for the recitation of God's Names, a mosque, and place for gazing on the Divine works of art? Whose speech could it be apart from His?"
(The most important aspect of the Qur'an's miraculousness)
Almighty God says: Do they not consider the Qur'an [with care]? Had it been from other than God, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.(4:82) And another verse: God has revealed [from time to time] the most beautiful message in the form of a book, consistent with itself, [yet] repeating [its teaching in various aspects]; the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble thereat; then their skins, and their hearts do soften to the celebration of God's praises.(39:23)
The scholars investigated the mutual proportion of the Qur'an's words and meanings, but sufficed with making a number of allusions and indications, and did not give any satisfying interpretations of it. This aspect of the Qur'an's miraculousness was unfolded to Bediuzzaman, and he explained it with a highly descriptive allegorical comparison which successfully brings distant truths close and makes clear the obscure meanings. He begins his brilliant explanation by saying:
"Let us imagine an extremely strange, vast, and spreading tree that is concealed beneath a veil of the unseen and hidden in a level of concealment. It is clear that there has to be a relationship, harmony, and balance between a tree and all its members like its branches, fruits, leaves, and blossom, the same as between man's members. Each of its parts takes on a form and is given a shape in accordance with the nature of the tree. So if someone appears and traces a picture on top of the veil corresponding to the members of the tree, which has never been seen, then delimits each member, and from the branches to the fruit, and the fruit to the leaves draws a form proportionately, and fills the space between its source and extremities, which are an infinite distance from one another, with drawings showing exactly the shape and form of its members, certainly no doubt will remain that the artist sees the concealed tree with an eye that penetrates and encompasses the unseen, then he depicts it.
"In just the same way, the discriminating statements of the Qur'an of Miraculous Exposition concerning the reality of contingent beings (that is, concerning the reality of the tree of creation which stretches from the beginning of the world to the farthest limits of the hereafter, and spreads from the earth to the Divine Throne and from minute particles to the sun) have preserved the proportion between the members to such a degree and have given each member and fruit a form so suitable that at the depictions of the Qur'an, all exacting scholars have declared at the conclusion of their investigations: 'What wonders God has willed! How great are God's blessings!' They have said: 'It is only you who solves and unravels the talisman of the universe and riddle of creation, Oh All-Wise Qur'an!'"
Bediuzzaman then explains the above in further detail:
"The All-Wise Qur'an has described that luminous reality, the truths of those Names and attributes, and acts and deeds, together with all their branches and twigs and aims and fruits, in a way so harmonious, so fitting for one another, so appropriate for one another, without marring one another or spoiling the decree of one another, or their being remote from one another..."
"Take, for example, the six pillars of belief, which are like a single branch of those two mighty trees which look to the entire sphere of contingency and sphere of necessity: it depicts all the branches and boughs of those pillars -as far as the furthest fruits and flowers- observing such a harmony and proportion between them, and describes them in a manner so balanced, and illustrates them a way so symmetrical that the human mind is powerless to perceive it and stands astonished at its beauty.
"And the proof that a beauty of proportion and perfect relation and complete balance have been preserved between the five pillars of Islam, which are like one twig of the branch of belief, down to the finest details, smallest point of conduct, furthest aims, most profound wisdom, and most insignificant fruits, is the perfect order and balance and beauty of proportion and soundness of the Greater Shari'a of Islam, which has emerged from the decisive statements, senses, indications, and allusions of the comprehensive Qur'an; they form an irrefutable and decisive proof and just witness that cannot be doubted. This means that the expositions of the Qur'an cannot be attributed to man's partial knowledge, and particularly to the knowledge of someone unlettered. They rest rather on a comprehensive knowledge and are the word of One Who is able to see all things together and observe in one moment all truths between pre-eternity and post-eternity."
This is another aspect of the Qur'an's miraculousness that has not been studied by scholars of either the early or recent periods. Those who investigate the Qur'anic sciences, commentaries, and miraculousness may encounter brief indications to this aspect, but Bediuzzaman took the subject and drawing back the veils obscuring it, revealed it with great clarity.
Bediuzzaman begins his discussion with a brief introduction:
"The Qur'an of Miraculous Exposition mostly mentions summaries at the conclusion of its verses which either contain the Divine Names or their meanings; or refer the verse to the reason in order to urge it ponder over it; or they comprise a universal rule from among the aims of the Qur'an in order to corroborate and verify the verse. Thus, the summaries contain indications proceeding from the Qur'an's exalted wisdom and droplets from the water of life of Divine guidance, and sparks from the lightning of the Qur'an's miraculousness."
Bediuzzaman says that his discussion is in the form of :
"only ten of those numerous indications, and that it points out a concise meaning of only one of numerous truths. Most of these ten indications are found together in compact form in most verses and form a true embroidery of miraculousness."
It is not possible here to give all ten indications in full, so we shall suffice with giving brief quotes which will give a clear idea of this aspect of miraculousness:
1. "With its miraculous exposition, the All-Wise Qur'an lays out, spreads out before the eyes, the acts and works of the All-Glorious Maker. Then it extracts the Divine Names from those works and acts, or it proves the basic aims of the Qur'an like the resurrection of the dead and Divine unity. An example of the first meaning is this: He it is Who has created for you all things that are on the earth, then He turned His will to the heavens and ordered them as the seven heavens, for He has knowledge of all things.(2:29) And an example of the second part: Have We not made the earth as a resting place * And the mountains as pegs? * And [have We not] created you in pairs? * .... until, Verily the Day of Sorting Out is a thing appointed.(78:6-17) In the first verse it describes the Divine works, and sets out the mightiest of them, which testify through their order and aims to knowledge and power, like the premises of a conclusion, or a momentous aim. Then it extracts the Name of All-Knowing..."
2. "The Qur'an unrolls the woven fabrics of Divine art and displays them to the human gaze. Then, in the summaries it passes over the weaving within the Divine Names, or else refers them to the reason. The first example of these: Say: who is it that sustains you from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulate all affairs? They will say, "God." Say: Will you not then show piety [to Him]? * This is God, your Sustainer, The Truth..(10:31-2)"
With his piercing insight and subtle perception, Bediuzzaman explains each of the four phrases of this verse, then concludes:
"Thus, the first and fourth phrases say 'God,' the second, 'Sustainer,' and the third, 'Truth.' So understand how miraculously apt are the words: This is God, your Sustainer, The Truth. It mentions Almighty God's vast disposals, the meaningful weavings of His power. Then through mentioning the Names of 'God,' 'Sustainer,' and 'Truth,' it shows the source of those vast disposals of Divine power."
The second example of this sort:
"Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the oceans for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the disposal of the winds and the clouds subjugated between the sky and the earth, indeed are signs for people who think.(2:164) First this enumerates the manifestations of Divine sovereignty in the creation of the heavens and the earth, which demonstrates Almighty God's perfect power and the vastness of His dominicality, and testifies to His unity ... Then, in order to urge the mind to ponder over their details and essential truths, it says: Indeed are signs for people who think. In order to rouse people's minds with it, it refers it to their faculties of reason."
In conclusion of this section Bediuzzaman says:
"Thus, you may understand from these ten indications of miraculousness that in the summaries at the conclusions of verses are numerous sprinklings of guidance and flashes of miraculousness. The greatest geniuses among the scholars of rhetoric have bitten their fingers in absolute wonder and admiration at these unique styles, and declared: 'THIS IS NOT THE WORD OF MAN,' and have believed with absolute certainty that It is no less than revelation inspired.(53:4)"
Much has been written on the eloquence of the Qur'an's wording. However, the method Bediuzzaman followed in doing this was original in so far as he did not follow the customary method which concentrated on single words, but expounded the harmony between the vowels and consonants in verses as a whole, thus revealing brilliantly the mysteries of the exposition. This is an original method, and apart from a few allusions and indications, I have not seen an explanations of this sort in other discussions of the Qur'an's miraculousness. He says:"It would be very lengthy to explain the sources of the All-Wise Qur'an's eloquence in its verses and words and sentences, therefore we shall keep the explanation brief and show by way of example the fluency and eloquence of the wording in one sentence obtained through the position of the letters and a single flash of miraculousness that shines forth from that positioning. Take the verse: Then after the distress He sent down on you a feeling of peace and drowsiness, which overcame a group of you....(3:154) [to the end of the verse] In this verse, all the letters of the alphabet are present. But, see, although all the categories of emphatic letters are together, it has not spoilt the smoothness of style. Indeed, it has added a brilliance and harmonious, congruent, eloquent melody issuing from varied strings. Also, note carefully the following flash of eloquence: of the letters of the alphabet, Alif and Ya, since they are the lightest and have been transposed with one another like sisters, they have each been repeated twenty-one times. And since Mim and Nun are sisters and have changed places, they have each been mentioned thirty-three times. And since Shin, Sin, and Sad are sisters in regard to articulation, quality, and sound, each has been mentioned three times. ..."
Then he concludes:
"Thus, the extraordinary positioning of the letters in the passage mentioned here and their hidden relationships, and the beautiful order and fine, subtle regularity and harmony show as clearly as twice two equals four that it would not be within the limits of human thought to have composed it. As for chance and coincidence, it is impossible that it should have interfered."
To conclude my paper I want again to emphasize the importance of Bediuzzaman's contribution to interpretation of the Qur'an's miraculousness and its methodology, may God have mercy on him. In his studies of the Qur'an and investigations of the mysteries contained in its verses, his intention was to prove that it is the pre-eternal, light-scattering address of Almighty God, which He revealed so that in every age mankind would find right-guidance and happiness through its commands and injunctions, and be illuminated by its wisdom.
I want to say that in this paper I have done nothing more than offer a bunch of blooms from one corner of the garden of his thought, concerning aspects of the Qur'an's miraculousness which had not hitherto been disclosed. Everyone familiar with works of present day Islamic scholars about the Qur'an's mysteries will at once see that Bediuzzaman surpassed them in his discovery of and setting forth new dimensions of this subject. It is regretable that his name is not mentioned in this context. It is my opinion that he should always be remembered in any discussion of new developments in Qur'anic studies.
* * *
|1.||Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said, The Words [Eng. trans.] (Istanbul: Sözler Publications, new edn. 1998) 376-7.|
|2.||The Words, 447.|
|3.||The Words, 419.|
|4.||The Words, 420-1.|
|5.||The Words, 421-2.|
|6.||Imam Ahmad and Tirmidhi narrated this hadith from Ubayy. Also Imam Ahmad narrated it from Hudhayfa, and Tabarani narrated it from Ibn Mas\'ud. See, Kashf al-Khafa\', i, 209.|
|7.||The Words, 451.|
|8.||The Words, 406-7.|
|9.||The Words, 408, 409.|
|10.||The Words, 448.|
|11.||The Words, 449. |
|12.||The Words, 428.|
|13.||The Words, 428-9.|
|14.||The Words, 389-90.|