C H A P T E R    T H R E E



Bediuzzaman was saved from his place of custody in Istanbul and taken secretly to Salonica.1 There he stayed as a guest in the house of Manyasizade Refik Bey, who was to be Minister of Justice in the first Cabinet following the proclamation of the Constitution, and was at that time Chairman of the Central Committee of the Committee of Union and Progress in Salonica. Through him Bediuzzaman made the acquaintance of the leading figures of the CUP.2

Another figure of some fame, or notoriety, got to hear of Bediuzzaman and his activities, and that was Emanuel Karaso, later the Jewish deputy for Salonica, and Grand Master of the Macedonia Risorta Masons’ Lodge. No doubt wanting to find a way of influencing such a talent and using it for his own purposes, he sought a meeting with Bediuzzaman. Bediuzzaman agreed, but the Grand Master left abruptly half way through the conversation, and confessed to those waiting for him outside: “If I had stayed any longer, he would have made a Muslim of me!”3

In July, 1908, the events in Macedonia leading to the proclamation of the Constitution followed on one after the other. During a meeting of the Central Committee of the CUP, it was decided that the first speech should be given by Bediuzzaman. This decision is recorded in the memoirs of Atif Bey, also present.

“Despite it [Freedom] being first proclaimed in Manastir, the original decision was for it to be in Salonica, which we called the Cradle of Freedom. We had met in Manyasizade Refik Bey’s house. There were eleven of us, of whom eight were in the Army. Refik Bey was in the chair, and there was Bediuzzaman Said Efendi representing religion, and Hafiz Ibrahim Efendi, who had supported the CUP in every respect from the start and was later Deputy for Ipekli. It was decided that the first speech should be given by Bediuzzaman, who attracted attention with everything he did. When Fethi Bey (later CUP General Secretary, and, as Fethi Okyar, was Prime Minister under the Republic) suggested we fix its subject, Refik Bey replied pointing to Bediuzzaman: ‘I am of the opinion that whatever the Hazret says, it will be applauded.’ In truth, I still recall the speech. I was astonished, he spoke not about different forms of government and the like, but said that the real need of the country was for roads, bridges, aeroplanes, railways, trade, factories, and institutions of science and learning.”4

Indeed, in the speech he gave, firstly impromptu in Beyazit in Istanbul immediately following the proclamation of the Constitution, and subsequently in Freedom Square in Salonica, Bediuzzaman explained to the people the meaning of constitutionalism, and how they should regard it, and that if the Shari’a was made the source of it, “This oppressed nation will progress a thousand times further than in former times.”

‘Address to Freedom’

The text of the speech, entitled ‘Address to Freedom’, is too long to include here in its entirety, so we shall rather briefly point out the main ideas it describes, and include parts of it by way of illustration. But first, it is worth noting the importance Bediuzzaman attached to illuminating and mobilizing the ordinary people and community of believers in the struggle for progress, as is illustrated by the few introductory sentences to the Address to Freedom. For while the proclamation of the Constitution was greeted with jubilation it was still believed by many that the new Government was irreligious and that it was not permissible to obey it, a belief that was clearly open to exploitation by its opponents.5

In addition, in regard to politics, the fundamental ideas that Bediuzzaman adhered to was that all the community should participate in the political process, and that the government should reflect the nation’s will, and that, furthermore, government based on these principles was enjoined by Islam. Following the proclamation of the Constitution, therefore, Bediuzzaman expended much effort addressing the ordinary people, and especially his fellows Kurds, who had been subject to negative propaganda about the Constitution and were deeply suspicious of it, in order to explain to them its meaning, and their own rights and responsibilities towards it. And so, in an introductory passage to the Address to Freedom, Bediuzzaman addresses his audience directly and asks them to participate mentally in what he is going to discuss. Let their hearts be open...“For there is work to do for your zeal, religious feeling, and endeavour; they are going to discuss certain matters; they are going to kindle a light from the dark corners of the heart.”6

Rather than being merely an ode in praise of Freedom, the Address to Freedom7 is primarily an exhortation to adhere to Islam and its morality in the new era. With the advent of Freedom, the Ottoman nation has been given the opportunity to progress and establish true civilization as in former times, but this will only be achieved if they make the Shari’a the foundation of Freedom.8 It points out the detrimental effects of despotism on the one hand, and the possibilities for progress that Freedom provides on the other. Together with this, it constitutes a programme of what must be achieved and what must be avoided in order to preserve Freedom and secure progress. In doing this it describes some of the causes of the Ottoman decline.

“O Freedom! ... I convey these glad tidings to you, that if you make the Shari’a, which is life itself, the source of life, and if you grow in that paradise, this oppressed nation will progress a thousand times further than in former times. If, that is, it takes you as its guide in all matters and does not besmirch you through harbouring personal enmity and thoughts of revenge... Freedom has exhumed us from the grave of desolation and despotism, and summoned us to the paradise of unity and love of nation...”

“...The doors of a suffering-free paradise of progress and civilization have been opened to us... The Constitution, which is in accordance with the Shari’a, is the introduction to the sovereignty of the nation and invites us to enter like the treasury-guard of Paradise. O my oppressed compatriots! Let us go and enter!”

So, having pointed out that sovereignty will now lie with the nation, Bediuzzaman goes onto describe “five doors” that have to be entered, or five principles to which the State should be bound so that this paradise might be attained. The first is “the union of hearts”. This has been described as preserving the consciousness of the Ottoman State’s unity and wholeness, especially in the face of the nationalist and separatist movements of the minorities. The second door is “love of the nation”. That is, the individuals who make up the nation being aware of their nationhood and nurturing love for one another. Remembering that “The foundation and spirit of our true nationhood is Islam.”9 The third is “education”, which refers to the cultural and educational level of the nation being raised to a satisfactory point. The fourth is “human endeavour”; that is, everyone being guaranteed work, and receiving fair recompense for their labour. And the fifth door is “the giving up of dissipation”, which is understood as the giving up of ostentation and extravagance, both on an individual level and as a society, which cause discord, and were a malaise afflicting state officials in particular at that time.10

Bediuzzaman points out the harmful effects of the vice and immorality that result from despotism, material as well as moral, while “The voice of Freedom and justice... raises to life our emotions, hopes, exalted national aspirations, and fine Islamic character and morality, all of which were dead.”

After immediately warning against killing these again “through dissipation and carelessness in religion”, Bediuzzaman predicts that unity, adherence to Islamic morality together with the successful functioning of the constitutional government and genuine practice of the Islamic principle of consultation will result in the Ottoman nation soon “competing neck and neck with the civilized nations.” The metaphors for progress Bediuzzaman uses in the passage demonstrate his own belief in science and technology.

Bediuzzaman lays great stress on the need to adhere to Islamic morality for true progress and civilization to be achieved, and next voices his constant fear that if Freedom is understood as licence, it will be lost and will result in a return to despotism, “for Freedom flourishes and is realized through the observance of the ordinances and conduct of the Shari’a, and good morals.”

Bediuzzaman next warns against acquiring “the sins and evils of civilization” and abandoning its virtues. The Ottomans should imitate the Japanese in taking from Western civilization what will assist them in progress, while preserving their own national customs:

“We shall take with pleasure the points of Europe – like technology and industry – that will assist us in progress and civilization. However,.... we shall forbid the sins and evils of civilization from entering the bounds of Freedom and our civilization with the sword of the Shari’a, so that the young people in our civilization will be protected by the pure, cold spring of life of the Shari’a. We must imitate the Japanese in acquiring civilization, for in taking only the virtues of civilization from Europe they preserved their national customs, which are the leaven of every nation’s continuance. Since our national customs grew up within Islam, they should be clung on to in two respects.”

By contrasting conditions under the old and new regimes, Bediuzzaman goes on to describe five indestructible truths on which Freedom will be established. They are as follows: the First Truth is unity, the Second, science, learning, and civilization. The Third Truth is a new generation of able and enlightened men to lead and administer the nation. Bediuzzaman describes how with “the rain of Freedom”, the abilities and potentialities of everyone, even common villagers, will develop and be expanded so that “the vigorous field of Asia and Rumelia well produce the crops” of the brilliant and superior men so badly needed. “And the East will be to the West what dawn is to sunset. If, that is, they do not wither up through the languor of idleness and poison of malice.”

The Fourth Truth is the Shari’a. Bediuzzaman explains: “Since the Illustrious Shari’a has come from the Pre-Eternal Word of God, it will go to Post-Eternity.” For it is dynamic. The Shari’a adapts and expands in relation to man’s development. It comprises equality, justice, and true freedom with all its relations and requirements. The initial period of Islam is proof of this. Therefore, Bediuzzaman says, their present unfortunate condition results from four causes: failure to observe the Shari’a, arbitrary and erroneous interpretations of it, bigotry on the part of certain “ignorant externalist scholars”, and fourthly, “abandoning through ill-fortune and bad choice, the virtues of Europe, which are difficult to acquire, and imitating like parrots or children the sins and evils of civilization, which are agreeable to man’s base appetites.”

The Fifth Truth is the Parliament, and the Islamic principle of mutual consultation. In this complex modern age, it is only through a constituent assembly, consultation, and freedom of thought that the state can be upheld, administered, and guided.

Bediuzzaman completes the Address with three “warnings”. Firstly state officials who are prepared to adapt to the new regime must be treated with respect and their experience must be benefited from. Secondly, he points out that the sickness afflicting the Empire has spread from the centre of the Caliphate, from Istanbul, and goes on to urge reconciliation between “the three main branches of the ‘public guide’”, the scholars of the medreses, those of secular schools, and the Sufis in the tekkes. This point was discussed above, as was the following, third warning, which concerns the preachers. Again, Bediuzzaman is urging them to renew their ideas and methods, and speak conformably with the needs of the times.

Bediuzzaman’s Ideas on Freedom and Constitutionalism

What, then, was the relationship between constitutionalism and Islam? For in this speech, and in all his speeches and writings of the time, Bediuzzaman was at pains to make clear to the people that the Constitution, which was the 1876 Constitution, was in no way contrary to the Shari’a. He describes it as the “Kanun-u Shar'i”,11 or Islamic Constitution, and “the Constitution which is founded on the Shari’a.”12 “Constitutionalism and the Constitution about which you have heard,” explained Bediuzzaman, “consists of true justice and consultation enjoined by the Shari’a.”13

Bediuzzaman very often gives clear definitions of constitutionalism by contrasting it with despotism:

“Despotism is oppression. It is dealing with others in an arbitrary fashion. It is compulsion relying on force. It is the opinion of one person. It provides extremely favourable ground for exploitation. It is the basis of tyranny. It annihilates humanity. It is despotism which reduces man to the most abject valleys of abasement, has caused the Islamic world to sink into abjection and degradation, which arouses animosity and malice, has poisoned Islam – and in fact sows its poison everywhere by contagion, and has caused endless conflict within Islam by giving rise to its deviant sects like the Mu’tazila, Jabriyya, and Murji'a...”14

Constitutionalism, on the other hand, is “the manifestation of the Qur'anic verses ‘And consult them in affairs [of public concern],15 and ‘Whose rule in consultation among themselves’.16 It is the consultation enjoined by the Shari’a. This luminous body’s life is truth, in place of force. Its heart is knowledge, its tongue, love. Its mind is the law, not an individual. Indeed, constitutionalism is the sovereignty of the nation...”17 And again, “...the real meaning of constitutionalism is that power lies in the law...”18

On another occasion Bediuzzaman stated: “I expounded and commented in detail on the authentic connection between the Shari’a and constitutionalism in numerous speeches. And I explained that tyrannous despotism has no connection with the Shari’a. For according to the meaning of the Hadith, ‘A nation’s ruler is its servant’, the Shari’a came to the world in order to extirpate oppression and despotic tyranny... And I said that essentially, the true way of the Shari’a is the reality of constitutionalism in accordance with the Shari’a. That is to say, I accepted constitutionalism on proofs from the Shari’a...”19 “...I claimed that it is possible to deduce the truths of constitutionalism explicitly, implicitly, permissibly, from the Four Schools of Islamic Law.”20

A further argument was: “The consensus of the community constitutes a certain proof in the Shari’a. The opinion of the mass of the people forms a fundamental principle in the Shari’a. The public wish is esteemed and respected in the Shari’a.”21

On the question, “Some people say [constitutionalism] is contrary to the Shari’a?” being put to him, Bediuzzaman replied: “The spirit of constitutionalism is from the Shari’a. And its life is from it. But under force of circumstance it may be that some details fall temporarily contrary to it. Also, it is not necessary for all situations that arise during the constitutional period to have arisen from constitutionalism. And what is there that conforms to the Shari’a in every respect...?”22

Thus, Bediuzzaman’s approach can be seen to be realistic. While in essence constitutionalism did not differ from Islamic principles, the extremely difficult circumstances of the time demanded a measured and balanced approach. It was a question of “making constitutionalism conform to the Shari’a meticulously and in a balanced manner taking into account what is required.”23

As for consultation, which, as is shown above, is enjoined by Islam, Bediuzzaman frequently stressed it as a constituent of constitutionalism. He described it as “the key to the good fortune, felicity, and sovereignty of Islam.”24 Because, due to the nature of constitutionalism, consultation is practised in all areas of the state and society. “Yes, this is the time of constitutionalism; consultation rules in everything.”25 That is to say, when constitutionalism is adopted by a government, it spreads throughout the state and manifests itself as consultation, the supremacy of public opinion and consensus. These and their accompanying unity, co-operation, and brotherhood are fundamental to progress:

“When constitutionalism falls to the lot of a government, the idea of freedom awakens constitutionalism in every respect. It gives birth to a sort of constitutionalism in every area and walk of life, according to the calling of each. It results in a sort of constitutionalism among the ‘ulama, in the medreses, and among the students. Indeed, it inspires a particular constitutionalism and renewal in all walks of life. It is flashes of consultation, then, hinting of the sun of happiness, and inspiring desire, mutual attraction, and harmony, that have caused me to love the Constitutional Government so much...”26

Bediuzzaman also describes scientific progress in terms of ‘historical consultation’, and stresses its importance:

“Just as the consultation of the ages and centuries that mankind has practised by means of history, a ‘conjunction of ideas’ or ‘meeting of minds’, formed the basis of the progress and sciences of all mankind, so too one reason for the backwardness of Asia, the largest continent, was the failure to practise that true consultation. The key and discloser of the continent of Asia and its future is mutual consultation. That is to say, just as individuals should consult with one another, so must nations and continents also practise consultation..”27

As regards Freedom, as is clear from the Address to Freedom, it could only be the source of progress if the Shari’a was taken as the basis of it. It did not consist of absolute freedom or licence. While technology and industry could be imported from Europe, which in any case were not the property of the West, the Ottomans stood in no need of their culture, morals, and “the evils of civilization”.

“I declare with all my strength,” said Bediuzzaman, “that our progress will only occur through the progress of Islam, which is our nationality, and through the manifestation of the truths of the Shari’a. Otherwise we shall confirm the saying, ‘he abandoned his own way of walking, and did not learn anyone else’s.’”28

Bediuzzaman defined Freedom as follows:

“Delicate Freedom is instructed and adorned by the good manners of the Shari’a. Freedom to be dissolute and behave scandalously is not Freedom. Rather, it is animality. It is the tyranny of the Devil. It is to be the slave of the evil-commanding soul. General Freedom is the product of the portions of individual Freedom. The characteristic of Freedom is that one harms neither oneself, nor others.”29

“Freedom is this: apart from the law of justice and punishment, no one can dominate over anyone else. Everybody’s rights are protected. In their legitimate actions, everyone is royally free. The prohibition: ‘Take not one from among yourselves as Lord over you apart from God’ is manifest.”30

That is to say, “Freedom springs from belief in God.” for, “belief requires not degrading others through tyranny and oppression, and abasing them, and not abasing oneself before oppressors. Someone who is a true slave of God cannot be a slave to others.”31 “That is to say, however perfected belief is, Freedom will shine to that degree.”32

Bediuzzaman says that Freedom is not to be absolved from all the ties of social life and civilization, “Rather, what shines like the sun, is the beloved of every soul, and is the equal of the essence of humanity is that Freedom which is seated in the felicitous palace of civilization and is adorned with knowledge, virtue, and the good manners and raiment of Islam.”33

The positive results of Freedom with regard to progress were in part noted above in the Address to Freedom: unity, love of the nation, the end to “personal enmity and thoughts of revenge”, and also to extravagance and vice; the elimination of the chains on human thought; the rearing of a new generation of able men to run the country. In another work he says it is Islamic Freedom “which teaches mankind exalted aims in the form of competition for exalted things, and causes them to strive on that way; which shatters despotism; and excites exalted emotions and destroys jealousy, envy, malice, and rivalry, and is furnished with true awakening, the eagerness of competition, the tendency towards renewal, and the predisposition for civilization.... It has been fitted out with the inclination and desire for the highest perfections worthy of humanity.”34

Indeed, Freedom was the means of “the progress of Islam”. Bediuzzaman declared that “Freedom is the only way of delivering three hundred and seventy million strong Islam from captivity.”35 And that: “The Ottomans’ Freedom is the discloser of mighty Asia’s good fortune. It is the key to the prosperity of Islam. It is the foundation of the ramparts of Islamic unity.”36

Bediuzzaman explains this in terms of a reawakening of the consciousness of “Islamic nationhood” among individual Muslims. That is to say, as a result of Freedom, sovereignty now lies with the nation, or Islamic community, and “each individual Muslim possesses an actual part of the sovereignty.”37 Bediuzzaman’s use of scientific language and metaphors in the first of the following passages shows that he wanted to demonstrate that this was the first step on the road to scientific advance and civilization:

“Freedom has made manifest nationhood. The luminous jewel of Islam within the shell of nationhood has begun to appear. It has given news of Islam’s stirring and motion [showing] that each Muslim is not independent like an atom, but is part of a compound, interconnected and ascending. Each is united with all the other parts through the general attraction of Islam.”38 And:

“Islamic Freedom and the consultation enjoined by the Shari’a have made manifest the sovereignty of our true nationhood. The foundation and spirit of our true nationhood is Islam... Thus, through the bond of this sacred nationhood, all the people of Islam become like a single tribe... They assist one another morally and if necessary, materially...”39

A further point Bediuzzaman frequently stressed was that in this modern age material progress was the most effective way of ‘upholding the Word of God’, with which every believer is charged. In other words, it was a fundamental duty of all Ottomans and Muslims to work for progress.

“Each believer is charged with ‘upholding the Word of God’. In this age, the greatest cause of this is to progress materially, for the Europeans are morally crushing us under their tyranny with the weapons of science and industry. We, therefore, shall wage holy war with the weapons of science and industry on the greatest enemies of ‘upholding the Word of God’, which are ignorance, poverty, and conflicting ideas. And we shall refer external holy war to the diamond sword of the certain proofs of the Illustrious Shari’a. For the civilized are to be conquered through persuasion and being convinced, not through compulsion as though they were savages who understand nothing.”40

For Bediuzzaman, then, “Constitutionalism within the sphere of the Shari’a” was “the means of upholding the might of Islam and exalting the Word of God.”41

Bediuzzaman Combats Disunity

There followed after the proclamation of the Constitution a period of open and vigorous debate made possible by the new freedom of thought and expression. Bediuzzaman took every advantage of this, endeavouring to further the cause of Islam and unity through every means possible. He gave speeches, addressed gatherings, and published articles in many of the newspapers and journals that appeared with the advent of Freedom, together with publishing a number of independent works.

Although the debate centred on the old questions of how progress could be secured and the Empire saved, the tension created by external and internal pressures caused a polarization and hardening of ideas. There were broadly seen to be three main answers: westernization, Islam, and increasingly, in reaction to the separatist activities of the minorities, Turkish nationalism. These did not necessarily run parallel to the political parties which developed, and adherents to all three currents were to be found within the Committee of Union and Progress, though the image it acquired was predominantly secular and Western. Following the Revolution the CUP remained in the background with its headquarters in Salonica, largely making its presence felt through established figures.

The proclamation of the Constitution had been met with widespread rejoicing and optimism; it was seen to be the cure for all the many and serious ills afflicting the Empire. But those high and fervent hopes were soon to be dashed. Almost immediately there were substantial losses of territory, and rather than serving unity, the first parliament opened five months later, intensified division. In pursuing its aim of holding the Empire together through its strong centralist policies, the CUP increasingly resorted to force. The 31st of March Incident provided it with the opportunity to disband the opposition parties and restrict political freedom. Though the opposition re-formed, within five years the CUP had set up the military dictatorship that was to lead the Empire to its final collapse in 1918.

In the first months of Freedom, opposition to the CUP was centred in the Liberals, or Ahrar, who, with hasty preparations, were the only party to challenge the new regime in the first elections at the end of 1908. Their leader was Prince Sabahaddin Bey, a nephew of Sultan Abdulhamid and rival in their days of exile in Paris to Ahmad Riza, who became one of the main ideologues of the CUP. While the CUP were committed to a policy of strong central government, following a different school of French philosophers, Sabahaddin Bey had developed what he believed would be the solution for the Empire based on the totally opposite principles of ‘Personal Initiative and Decentralization’. These ideas, which involved a devolvement of power from the Government to the various millets and religious and ethnic minorities, aroused extreme opposition.

Included in Bediuzzaman’s first work, Nutuk, (Speech) published in 1910, is an open letter to Sabahaddin Bey entitled, Reply to Prince Sabahaddin Bey’s Good but Misunderstood Idea.42

In it Bediuzzaman points out that a federal system for the Ottoman Empire was theoretically acceptable but because the level of development of the different millets and groups varied greatly, it was not practicable at that time. “Life lies in unity”, he wrote. It is interesting to note that at that time of mudslinging, intimidation, and political violence, Sabahaddin Bey himself commented on Bediuzzaman’s “intellectual excellence”, describing his manner of address as “the very model of polite discourse.”43

Bediuzzaman likened “love of the nation” to the attraction between particles; just as the latter caused the formation of a mass, so did “love of the nation” result in the formation of a cohesive whole. It was through strengthening these bonds of unity and awareness and love of the nation that a harmony of progress could be achieved. Bediuzzaman did not believe that national differences should be erased, on the contrary as we have seen, it was his view that the Government should be working to raise all the elements of the Empire to the same level through programmes geared to “the intellectual capacity and national customs of each.” This would result in healthy competition.

Quite correctly as it turned out, Bediuzzaman warned Sabahaddin Bey that the idea of decentralization and “its nephews” the political clubs and organizations of the various minorities, would lead to autonomy, and “rending the veil of Ottomanism and constitutionalism”, to independence and an army of small states. Bediuzzaman could not equate the breaking-up of the Empire, stirring up of discord, and destruction of the future with the patriotism and nobility of such a gifted and highly-educated person. As believers in God’s Unity, they were charged with establishing unity and cultivating love of the nation. Islam was sufficient. Solutions should be sought within the framework of Islam.44

Reflecting the attitude of many of the CUP and their followers in this period, there was a general air of laxity, excess, and carelessness in matters of religion. In the face of the circulation of many new ideas from Europe, this was coupled with uncertainty and confusion as to religion and its role. It is in this light that Bediuzzaman’s enormous concern to address the intellectuals and to educate as many people as he could reach from all levels of society about the true meaning of Freedom, constitutionalism, and the vital role of Islam in progress should be seen.

Another open letter Bediuzzaman wrote was in December 1908 to Hüseyin Jahid, the editor of the Tanin, the chief press organ of the CUP. He was at the same time one of their leading ideologues. An influential proponent of cultural as well as material Westernization, Hüseyin Jahid campaigned for the cause of seculaRization, that is, the separation of religion from all state affairs. It was in answer to his broaching this vexed question in a leading article in the Tanin on medrese reform that Bediuzzaman wrote his open letter.

The gist of the letter was that, having failed to grasp the true nature of Islam, Hüseyin Jahid had made the mistake of attempting to compare it with Christianity. Bediuzzaman quoted the maxim ‘There is no clergy in Islam’ and explained that it was a basic tenet and not open to dispute. It was not possible to compare Christian sects and orders with Sufism, because Islam is a total order and system of living. The duties of worship which Islam imposes cannot be separated from the Shari’a, because the Shari’a does not leave them as theoretical, but makes them the very order of life. Islam is the only religion the ordinances of which provide “eternal criteria” for its members in both the life of this world and the Hereafter. Bediuzzaman understands too that change is necessary and points out that the reinterpretation of the Shari’a is a duty that should not be restricted to non-particular matters, but also applied to particular ordinances based on custom and usage. He urges Hüseyin Jahid to realize and appreciate the dynamic nature of the Shari’a, “which accepts the principle of change in judgements in the face of changing times.”

Bediuzzaman concluded his open letter by advising Hüseyin Jahid to save himself the pointless trouble of examining imported goods such as secularism when there is “the magnificent entity and power” of the Shari’a, “which provides for every aspect of the community’s life, and came into existence only through the Qur'an, the perpetual miracle of the religion of Islam.”45

“Europe is pregnant with Islam”

In the autumn of 1908, one of the leading members of the famous al-Azhar University in Cairo, and at one time Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Muhammad Bahid46 visited Istanbul. The Istanbul ‘ulama, who themselves had been unable to better Bediuzzaman in argument and debate, asked Shaykh Bahid if he would be prepared to meet him. The shaykh accepted, and an opportunity was found one day after the prayers in Aya Sophia. Bediuzzaman was seated in a tea-house. Other ‘ulama also being present, Shaykh Bahid approached Bediuzzaman, and put the following question to him:

“What is your opinion concerning Freedom and the Ottoman State, and European civilization?”

Bediuzzaman’s unhesitating reply revealed his realism and insight.

“The Ottoman State is pregnant with Europe, and it will give birth to an European state one day. And Europe is pregnant with Islam; one day it will give birth to an Islamic state.”

Shaykh Bahid applauded this answer.

“One cannot argue with this young man”, he said. “I am of the same opinion myself. But only Bediuzzaman could express it so succinctly and eloquently.”47

Bediuzzaman Maintains Public Order

As the great effusion of optimism at the coming of Freedom was transformed into disillusion and views and parties became more polarized, the situation generally became increasingly volatile and unstable. Thus, in order that constitutionalism could become established and its benefits be obtained, Bediuzzaman did whatever he could to maintain public order and harmony. There are many examples, such as the following.

The first major blows to the Empire under the new regime occurred soon after the Constitution was proclaimed. On 5 October, 1908, Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzogovina, and Bulgaria proclaimed independence, while on the 6th, Greece annexed Crete. In response to this, on the 10th October, the people of Istanbul declared a boycott on all Austrian goods and the places where they were sold. The twenty thousand or so Kurdish porters on whom the commercial life of Istanbul depended defied their foremen and were preparing to go on strike. The whole business started to get out of hand. To avert this threat to Istanbul’s trade and business life, Bediuzzaman went immediately to the tea-houses and places the porters frequented and persuaded them to avoid any extreme action.

In one place, the Ashiret Han, immediately gaining command of the situation with his fine voice, Bediuzzaman said the following to the porters:

“You are all from the East like me, and you have all crossed the Tigris and the Euphrates on rafts. You know too that on one occasion a group crossing the Tigris on a raft tried to get rid of some of the ropes and cross-beams of which the raft was composed in order to lighten the load and move more swiftly. Of course, on doing this the main planks of the raft came apart and both themselves and their belongings ended up in the water.

“In the same way, your foremen are like the ropes and cross-beams; they do not appear to serve any purpose but in fact they are vital. If they were to go, your harmony would be spoilt and your work confused. Just like the raft that sank, you would be compelled to split up and disperse.”

With this the insurrection came to nothing. The porters understood their mistake, and obeying their foremen, returned to work immediately. The Istanbul Chief of Police later came in person to offer his thanks to Bediuzzaman for preventing a harmful situation developing.48

Another occasion Bediuzzaman played a similar role was at a lecture given by the well-known figure and owner of the Mizan newspaper, Mizanci Murad Bey, in the Ferah Theatre in Shehzadebashi in Istanbul. The subject of the lecture was the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and as the lecture progressed it became clear that Murad Bey, who had previously represented the ‘Islamist’ group of the Young Turks, was comparing the Committee of Union and Progress and the Government to the Roman state. His comparisons became more explicit, and the CUP supporters among the audience started muttering and grumbling. Murad Bey continued with this criticisms unperturbed, not wavering even when threatened by a man with a revolver. But when the muttering developed into shouting and stamping, his opponents had their way and he was unable to continue. He withdrew into the wings, and the curtain was lowered. But the hubbub did not abate. On the contrary, the audience, now divided into two camps, started pushing and shoving and flinging insults and abuse at each other. No one attempted to leave, and no one attempted to intervene.

Suddenly, someone sprang nimbly onto his seat and shouted above the din: “O you Muslims one and all!” It was Bediuzzaman. Having commanded the attention of the whole audience, he pointed out that freedom of speech had to be respected, it was shameful for members of a nation that had just proclaimed Freedom and constitutionalism to exceed the bounds of good behaviour and prevent a speaker from lecturing in this way. The religion of Islam also commanded that ideas be respected. He supported what he said with verses from the Qur'an and Hadiths, gave examples from Islamic history, and told them of how the Prophet Muhammad used to consult the ideas of others and related his teachings and words, then advised them all to disperse quietly and go on their way.

Bediuzzaman spoke so well and convincingly that no one objected. Even the roughs and rowdies who a few minutes earlier had been hurling invective and abuse said nothing. Everyone left the theatre thoroughly subdued and contrite.49

The writer of the work from which the description of the above event is taken, Münir Süleyman Çapanoglu, had further memories from that time, which he told Necmeddin Sahiner in an interview in 1972. He said:

“... Certainly, he [Bediuzzaman] was someone who knew his theories well and could defend them well. He began way back at that time, he began in the Constitutional Period. He went at the same tempo, at the same speed, in the same direction, and defended the same ideas... They were frightened of him at that time the same as in this period, because whenever he came out onto the street, he was immediately surrounded by a crowd.”

On being asked if these were his own students who flocked round him, Münir Çapanoglu continued:

“Both his students and the ordinary people. But mostly the people; they wanted to see him, they wanted to hear him speak. I myself witnessed this many times. He spoke beautifully. He spoke persuasively...”50

We learn from one of his works that on the Constitution being proclaimed, Bediuzzaman sent fifty to sixty telegrams to the Eastern Provinces through the Grand Vizier’s Office urging all the tribes to accept it, saying: “Constitutionalism and the Constitution about which you have heard consists of true justice and the consultation enjoined by the Shari’a. Consider it favourably and work to preserve it, for our worldly happiness lies in constitutionalism. And we have suffered more than anyone from despotism.”51

The Constitution was not without opponents, particularly in the East where those whose interests were threatened were seeking to turn all the tribes against it with negative propaganda. While Bediuzzaman spent several months in the summer of 1910 travelling among them explaining its vital importance both for the Kurds and the Empire and Islamic world, as we shall see, at this point his efforts were confined to the written word.

In Istanbul, too, profiting from their ignorance and naivity, opponents of constitutionalism were trying to provoke the Kurdish porters against the Constitution. In response, Bediuzzaman took every opportunity to combat this negative propaganda and illuminate them concerning it. The text of one of his addresses to them is included in Nutuk. In this speech it is unity that Bediuzzaman is most insistent on. He told them that they had three enemies that were destroying them “poverty, ignorance, and internal conflict”, but that they now had to secure “three diamond swords” with which to rout the three enemies and preserve themselves. These were “national unity, human endeavour, and love of the nation”.

That is to say, first the Kurds had to achieve unity among themselves, then making over the resulting “mighty force” to the Government and expending it outwardly, they would make themselves worthy of justice, and in return for it would demand justice and their rights from the Government. “...The Turks are our intelligence, and we are their strength, together we make a whole person. We shall not resist them, nor rebel against them. With this resolution of ours, we shall be a good example to the other minority peoples [elements] of the Empire... If we obeyed [the Government] ‘to the degree of one batman’ during the time of despotism, now ‘ten batman’s worth’ of obedience and unity are necessary. For we shall see only benefits, because the Constitutional Government is in truth government based on the Shari’a... In unity lies strength; in union, life; in brotherhood, happiness; in obedience to the Government, well-being. It is vital to hold fast to the strong rope of unity and bond of love.”52

A further occasion Bediuzzaman calmed a tense situation was at a mass protest organized by the medrese students in Beyazid in Istanbul in February 1909. Traditionally, students of the religious schools were exempt from military service of any kind, but following the proclamation of the Constitution, the Government had decided to introduce an examination on the pretext that the privilege was being abused. Students who passed the examination were to be exempt from military service, while for those who failed it military service would be compulsory. The students had organized the meeting ostensibly to protest at the very short time they had been given to prepare for the examination.

The meeting was becoming fairly turbulent by the time Bediuzzaman reached it. Well-known to the students, he addressed them explaining the authentic relationship between the Shari’a and constitutionalism and pointing out that despotism could in no way be associated with the Shari’a. In a short time he calmed the situation and prevented any serious disturbance occurring.53


1. Kutay, Cemal, Bediüzzaman, 186

2. Ibid., 310; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 98.

3. Ibid., 99-100.

4. Kutay, Cemal, Bediüzzaman, 260-1, fn.18, quoted from, Memoirs of Atif Bey, Millet Mecmuasi.

5. Vakkasoglu, A. Vehbi, Bediüzzaman Said Nursî’den Siyasi Tesbitler, Istanbul 1977, 17.

6. Asar-i Bedi’iye, 347.

7. Ibid., 347-356; Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 56-70.

8. The term Shari’a should be understood as signifying not only the injunctions and prohibitions of the Law in a narrow sense, but the entire body of Islamic teaching. Bediuzzaman’s arguments demonstrating the conformity of constitutionalism with the Shari’a are given following the speech.

9. Hutbe-i Samiye, 47.

10. Mürsel, Safa, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi ve Devlet Felsefesi, 249-252; Kutay, Cemal, Tarih Sohbetleri, i, 207.

11. Hürriyet’e Hitab, in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 348, and, Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 57.

12. Op. cit. 349, and, 59.

13. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 12.

14. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 406.

15. Qur'an, 3:159.

16. Qur'an, 42:38.

17. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.) in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 407.

18. Ibid., 415.

19. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 13.

20. Ibid., 16.

21. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 417.

22. Ibid., 416.

23. Ibid., 417.

24. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 41.

25. Muhâkemat, 20.

26. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 411.

27. Hutbe-i Samiye, 52-3.

28. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 34.

29. Münâzarat, 15-16.

30. Ibid., 17.

31. Hutbe-i Samiye, 53.

32. Münâzarat, 19.

33. Ibid., 18.

34. Hutbe-i Samiye, 29-30.

35. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 41.

36. Münâzarat, 21.

37. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 41.

38. Münâzarat, 23.

39. Hutbe-i Samiye, 47.

40. Hakikat, Volkan No. 70, 26 Subat 1325/5 March 1909, in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 368.

41. Lemean-i Hakikat ve Izale-i Shübehat, Volkan No. 101, 29 Mart 1325/11April 1909, in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 393.

42. Asar-i Bedi’iye, 356.

43. Kutay, Cemal, Hakikat Pirlantilari, Köprü Magazine No. 36, March 1980, 33.

44. See also, Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 114-115; Kutay, Cemal, Bediüzzaman, 199-211; Kutay, Tarih Sohbetleri, iv, 224.

45. Kutay, Cemal, Tarih Sohbetleri, v, 198-202; Kutay, Bediüzzaman, 226-232; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 108-110.

46. For further biographical details of Shaykh Bahid, d. 1935, see Sahiner, Son Sahitler, iv, 363-4.

47. Tarihçe, 49-50; Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 108; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 105-6.

48. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 111-112, as related by historian Cemal Kutay.

49. Çapanoglu, Münir Süleyman, Türkiye’de Sosyalizm Hareketleri ve Sosyalist Hilmi, as in Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 110-111.

50. Sahiner, N. Nurs Yolu, 131.

51. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 12-13.

52. Asar-i Bedi’iye, 358-9; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 112-113.

53. Ibid., 115-116; Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 17.

The Author of the Risale-i Nur Bediuzzaman Said Nursi by Sukran Vahide, Sozler Publication