SHALL BE ISLAM’S, AND ISLAM’S ALONE”
Bediuzzaman Heads East
Bediuzzaman did not remain long in Istanbul after his acquittal. He set off for the East by way of the Black Sea accompanied by two of his students. It was the spring of 1910. It is recorded that on the way, the boat stopped off at Inebolu, and on visiting the town Bediuzzaman had a warm reception from its leading religious figure, Haji Ziya, and others. And on leaving, was accompanied as far as the boat by a large crowd.1 And Bediuzzaman himself related the following incident, which occurred in Tiflis, the capital city of Georgia, while he was making his way from Batum to Van.
Bediuzzaman had climbed a prominent hill known as Shaykh Sanan Tepesi, which has a commanding view of the city of Tiflis and the valley of the River Kura in which it is situated together with all the surrounding countryside. He was gazing at the view plunged in thought when approached by a Russian policeman. The following exchange ensued, which began with the policeman asking:
“Why are you studying the land with such attention?”
Bediuzzaman replied: “I am planning my medrese.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Bitlis.”
“But this is Tiflis!”
“Bitlis is one of Tiflis’ brothers.”
The policeman was bewildered: “What do you mean?”
Bediuzzaman explained: “Three lights are beginning to be revealed one after the other in Asia and the world of Islam. While with you three layers of darkness will start to recede one over the other. This veil of despotism shall be rent; it will shrink back, and I shall come and build my medrese here.”2
This only increased the policeman’s bewilderment. “I’m sorry for you,” he said. “I’m astonished that you should entertain such a hope.”
“And I am astonished at your not understanding!”, replied Bediuzzaman. “Do you think it possible that this winter will continue? Every winter is followed by spring, and every night by day.”
“But the Islamic world is all broken up and fragmented.”
“They have gone to study. It is like this: India is an able son of Islam; it is studying in the high school of the British. Egypt is a clever son of Islam; it is taking lessons in the British school for civil servants. Caucasia and Turkestan are two valiant sons of Islam; they are training in the Russian war academy. And so on.
“You see, after these noble sons of Islam have received their diplomas, each will lead a continent, and, waving the banner of Islam, their just and mighty father, on the horizons of perfection, they will proclaim the mystery of pre-eternal wisdom inherent in mankind in the view of pre-eternal divine determining and in the face of obstinate fate.”3
This short anecdote gives the note for Bediuzzaman’s main message for the tribes of eastern Anatolia, and of his celebrated sermon in Damascus early the following year; namely, encouragement and hope for the future. That is to say, despite his disillusion with developments in Istanbul, Bediuzzaman was unwavering in his conviction that constitutionalism was the way to further the cause of Islam and preserve the Empire by securing progress and unity. Indeed, as we shall see when examining the Sermon, Bediuzzaman predicted that according to all the signs, Islam and Islamic – or, true – civilization would prevail in the future, and that the majority of mankind would accept and join the religion of Islam. He said: “In the future when reason, science and technology hold sway, that will surely be the time the Qur'an will gain ascendancy, which relies on rational proofs and makes the reason confirm its pronouncements.”4
Among the Tribes of Eastern Anatolia Bediuzzaman spent the summer of 1910 travelling throughout the Eastern Provinces. “Making a medrese of mountain and plain,” he wrote, “I gave lessons on constitutionalism.” He found that the general understanding of the subject was “extremely odd” and confused, and therefore suggested the people ask the questions, which he then answered. He afterwards made a compilation of these and published it in Turkish in 1913 under the title, Münâzarat, or The Debates. He also prepared an Arabic version with the title Reçetetü’l-Avam, Prescription for the Common People.5
The questions cover a number of subjects related to Freedom and the new regime, and its consequences for the tribespeople and their leaders. The answers constitute one of the main sources for Bediuzzaman’s ideas on the subject, and form a substantial and fascinating work which space does not allow us to examine in detail. Although those relating specifically to constitutionalism and Freedom have been described in some detail above, here we shall mention a few additional points which explain further how, through the people “awakening” and becoming conscious, as autonomous, enterprising, self-sacrificing individuals, of their being members of the “the nation of Islam”, the new order would secure the progress – in this instance – of the Kurds, and the unity of Islamic world and the Empire. But first it should not go unnoticed that Bediuzzaman did not spare himself in this struggle, nor did he restrict it to the pen or to the theoretical. He had pursued it as far as Istanbul, publicizing in particular the needs of the East and doing what he could to further his plans for educational reform. Now he had returned to his native country and proceeded to travel all over that wild, mountainous, backward, and impoverished region. And it was primarily the ordinary people he was seeking to address, the ordinary people who through the adoption of the Constitution had been raised to the rank of “sovereign”, and were the builders of the future.
On giving definitions of despotism and constitutionalism in response to the people’s questions, Bediuzzaman was asked by them why they had not seen the great benefits he described. He replied that it was problems associated with the area such as ignorance, poverty, internal enmity, and lack of civilization that was preventing it. What he wanted to make plain was that the onus lay with them, but added that he only pointed out their faults “to deliver them from laziness.” “If you want constitutionalism to come quickly, build a railway out of learning and virtue so that it can mount the train of attainment and achievement called civilization, and riding on the seeds of progress, surmount the obstacles in a short time and greet you. However quickly you build the railway, it will come with the same speed.”6
It is appropriate here to relate the following anecdote: during his travels through the region, Bediuzzaman had arrived at Urfa from Diyarbakir. He then set out to make a tour of the surrounding area, and returning to Urfa, addressed a large gathering in the courtyard of the Yusuf Pasha Mosque. He began his address by describing how in one of the places he had visited, a villager he had questioned on the state of local agriculture had replied: “Our aga [feudal landlord or tribal chief] knows” to whatever he had been asked. Bediuzzaman had told him: “Well, in that case, I shall talk with your intelligence which is in your aga’s pocket!”, and had proceeded to explain that he should not refer everything to the aga but should be enterprising and have initiative, and himself be informed about all the matters concerning the village. He made this the basis of his address.7
It can be seen from these examples that Bediuzzaman wanted to impress on the people that the way forward now lay in their own hands. The sovereignty of the nation was this. When asked about the position of their chiefs and leaders, for traditionally tribal society had been dominated by the chiefs, elders, and religious figures, he replied as follows:
“Each era has its own rule and ruler. According to your terminology, an aga was necessary to make the machine of the former era turn. Thus, the era of despotism’s immaterial rule was force. Whoever had a sharp sword and hard heart rose. But the era of constitutionalism’s spring, spirit, force, ruler, and aga is truth; it is reason, knowledge, the law, and public opinion. Whoever has a sharp mind and luminous heart will rise, and only he. Since knowledge increases as it advances in years, and force decreases, medieval governments, which rely on force, are condemned to extinction. While since governments of the modern age rely on science, they shall manifest immortal life.”
Bediuzzaman was not attacking the chiefs and elders as such by speaking like this, but describing the way the modern world was taking, and the way they, too, had to take if they were not to remain outside the stream of time. Under the new order, leaders were the servants of the people and the nation. He continued:
“And so, O Kurds! If through relying on force their swords are sharp, your beys and agas, and even your shaykhs, will of necessity fall. And they will deserve it. But if, relying on reason in place of compulsion, they employ love and make the emotions subject to the mind, they will not fall; indeed, they will rise.”8
In another place in the work we learn of the main criticism Bediuzzaman was levelling at the chiefs, though here he specifies that it is at the former chiefs that he is “throwing his stone”, and describes it as another of “the evils of despotism”. This was that “certain chiefs, and some imposters who posed as patriots sacrificing themselves for the nation, and certain unqualified, phoney shaykhs who claimed exceptional spiritual powers” had drained the nation of material and moral resources, thereby extinguishing the sense of nationhood, and breaking up and destroying the collectivity of the nation.9 This idea of the collectivity, or the “collective personality” or “corporate identity” (shahs-i mânevî) of a nation or social body, is frequently encountered in Bediuzzaman’s writings. He described the modern age as “the age of the group or social body (cemaat)... If the ‘collective personality’, which is the spirit of a social body, is righteous, it is more brilliant and complete [than that of an individual]. But if it is bad, it is exceedingly bad...”10 That is to say, Bediuzzaman is explaining to the people of eastern Anatolia that what falls to them now is to transcend their narrow traditional interests and loyalties, expand their ideas, and develop, or rather regain, a consciousness of Islamic nationhood. He told them:
“If only those who hold their lives in little account for some benefit, or minor matter of reputation, or imaginary glory, or to hear the words: ‘So and so’s a brave hero’, or to uphold the honour of their agas were to awake, would they not hold their lives in little account, and thousands of souls too if they possessed them, for the nation of Islam, which is worth treasuries; that is, the nation of Islam which gains them the brotherhood and moral assistance of three hundred million Muslims?...”
Bediuzzaman went on to say that the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the nation was essentially part of the high morality of Islam, and a requirement of it, which had been stolen from them by non-Muslims. It was the foundation of modern progress. He continued: “We must declare with our spirits, lives, consciences, minds, and all our strength: ‘If we die, Islam, which is our nation, lives; it will live for ever. Let my nation be strong and well. Reward in the Hereafter is enough for me. My life as part of the nation will make me live; it will make happy in the world above.’”11
Thus, to recapitulate, with “the destruction of the barrier of despotism”, constitutionalism and the idea of Freedom had spread throughout the Islamic world and had caused a thorough awakening, and had brought about progress in ideas and great changes. This was because it had “showed up the existence of the nation,” and in turn, “the luminous jewel of Islam within the shell of nationhood had begun to be manifest.” Islam was vibrating, stirring to life. This had made it clear to all Muslims that each was not isolated and disjoined, but connected to all the others through shared interest and fellow-feeling. The whole Islamic world was bound together like a single tribe. This vibrating was also making Muslims aware that they had at their disposal a source of great strength and support. This had given birth to hope, which had revived their morale, previously destroyed by despair.12
It may be seen from this why Bediuzzaman was insistent on the present regime, despite the objections that could legitimately be raised concerning the CUP. He answered the uncertainties and objections put to him by the tribesmen, pointing out that it was “the lesser of two evils” and that “if consultation now deviates from the Shari’a one finger, formerly it did so one hundred yards.”13 Also through explaining it in this way, he allayed their fears concerning religion, which they had understood to be under threat by the Revolution. On the contrary, constitutionalism was the way to protect Islam. The feeling for Islam and sense of religion which lay behind the public opinion of the nation was a much surer, more effective, and exalted way to protect religion than leaving it to “an unhappy, defeated Sultan, or sycophantic officials, or a few unreasonable policemen.”14
Questions on Minority Rights
As is to be expected, the tribesmen asked a number of questions concerning the Armenians, and non-Muslims generally, and the conformity with the Shari’a of their gaining equality of rights under the Constitution. Because both of the universal relevance of the matter, and how it further makes plain Bediuzzaman’s enlightened and realistic views, we include a few of the main points.
First, however, to put the questions in context it should be remembered that although the Armenians in their millet had been contented to be part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, and many of them continued to be loyal to it despite the rise of nationalist sentiments, following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Russians supported by the British intensified their policy of inciting the Armenians to revolutionary acts of terrorism against the Ottoman State as a way of further dismembering it. The acts of terrorism and slaughter were carried out primarily for propaganda purposes: by provoking retaliatory attacks by the Muslims, the Armenians intended to portray themselves as innocent victims and thus to ignite European feeling against the Turks and gain support for the setting up of an Armenian state in eastern Anatolia, even to force Russia and Britain to intervene in their support.15
After listening to Bediuzzaman’s definitions of Freedom, the tribesmen accepted it as a good thing, but said that the Greeks’ and Armenians’ freedom seemed to them to be “ugly” and made them think. They wanted to learn Bediuzzaman’s opinion. His reply was in two parts:
“Firstly, their freedom consists of leaving them in peace and not oppressing them. And this is what the Shari’a enjoins. More than this is their aggression in the face of your bad points and craziness, their benefiting from your ignorance.”16
It may be understood from this that again Bediuzzaman is impressing on the Kurds that their real enemy is the situation into which had fallen: “Also, our enemy and what is destroying us is Aga Ignorance, and his son, Poverty Efendi, and grandson, Enmity Bey. Even if the Armenians have opposed us in hatred, they have done so under the commandership of these three corrupters.”17
In the second part of his answer to the question, Bediuzzaman pointed out that even if the Armenians’ freedom was as bad as they thought, Muslims still do not cause harm. The Armenians and the total number of non-Muslims in the Empire were relatively few compared with the whole Muslim nation of more than three hundred million. And these three hundred million had been bound with “three dreadful fetters of despotism” and were being “crushed, captive under the Europeans’ tyranny.” “Thus,” continued Bediuzzaman, “the non-Muslims’ freedom, which is one branch of our freedom, is the bribe for [the price of ] the freedom of all our nation [the Islamic world]. It is the repeller of that despotism, and the key to those fetters. It is the raiser of the dreadful tyranny the Europeans have made descend on us.” Bediuzzaman considered they could afford this price, for as we have seen, “the Ottomans’ freedom is the discloser of mighty Asia’s good fortune. It is the key to Islam’s prosperity. It is the foundation of the ramparts of Islamic Unity.”18
Bediuzzaman Addresses the Generations of the Future
Bediuzzaman’s eyes were on the future. It was a time of defeat for the Islamic world, a period of regression and darkness. But he knew the spring would come, and a golden age would dawn bringing true happiness, progress, and civilization for mankind. This return to life had begun. Flashes of light, signs of life could be seen. Bediuzzaman’s view was so clear, he became impatient with the reluctance of the tribesmen to grasp it; rather, he expressed his impatience with his contemporaries generally:
“Why should the world be the world of progress for everyone else, and the world of decline and retrogression only for us? Is that the case? See, I shall not speak to you, I am turning this way; I shall speak to the people of the future:
“O you Said’s, Hamza’s, Ömer’s, Osman’s, Tahir’s, Yusuf’s, Ahmad’s and the rest of you who are hidden behind the high age of three centuries hence, and listening silently to my words, watch us with a secret, unseen gaze! I am addressing you! Raise your heads and say: ‘You are right!’ And it should be incumbent on you to say it. Let these contemporaries of mine not listen if they do not wish. I am speaking to you over the wireless telegraph that stretches from the valleys of the past called history to your elevated future. What should I do? I was hasty, I came in winter, but you will come in a paradise-like spring. The seeds of light sown now will open as flowers in your ground. And we await this from you as the recompense for our service that when you come to go to the past, pass by my grave, and place a few of those gifts of spring by the citadel of Van, which is the gravestone of my medrese and houses my bones, and is the custodian of the Horhor’s earth. We shall warn the custodian; call, and you will hear the cry: ‘Good health to you”...
“If they wish, let the children who have sucked milk together with us at the breast of this age and whose eyes look behind them at the past, and whose imaginings are disloyal and alienated like themselves, fancy the truths of this book to be delusions. Because I know that with you the matters in this book will prove to be true.
“O my listeners! I am indeed shouting, for I am standing at the top of the minaret of the thirteenth century [of the Hijra], and calling to the mosque those who in ideas are in the deepest valleys of the past.
“And so, O you miserable two-footed mobile mausoleums who have left Islam, which is like the spirit of the two lives! Do not stop at the door of the generation that is coming. The grave awaits you. Retreat into it and let the new generation come forth, which will wave the reality of Islam over the universe in earnest!...”19
The Damascus Sermon
In the autumn of 1910, Bediuzzaman moved south and until the following spring, made “a winter journey through the Arab lands,” continuing “to give lessons on constitutionalism.”20 He visited Damascus in early 1911, where he stayed as a guest in the Salahiya district. It was during this stay that, on the insistence of the Damascus ‘ulama, he gave his famous Damascus Sermon in the Umayyad Mosque. Bediuzzaman’s fame must have been considerable, for close on ten thousand people, including one hundred ‘ulama, packed into the historic building to listen to him.21 The text of the sermon was afterwards printed twice in one week.
If one considers the backwardness of the Islamic world at that time in relation to the West and its resulting subjection to the European Powers, and the accompanying feelings of hopelessness and helplessness on the part of the educated Muslims in particular, it is not difficult to see why Bediuzzaman’s message of hope and certain predictions supported by argument of the future supremacy of the Qur'an and Islamic civilization met with the enthusiastic response that they did. The Sermon is in the form of “Six Words” taken from “the pharmacy of the Qur'an”, which constitute the cure or medicine for the “six dire sicknesses” which Bediuzzaman had diagnosed as having arrested the development of the Islamic world. He described it as follows:
“In the conditions of the present time in these lands, I have learnt a lesson in the school of mankind’s social life and I have realized that what has allowed Europeans to fly towards the future on progress while it arrested us and kept us, in respect of material development, in the Middle Ages are six dire sicknesses. The sicknesses are these:
“Firstly, the coming to life and rise of despair and hopelessness in social life. Secondly, the death of truthfulness in social and political life. Thirdly, love of enmity. Fourthly, not knowing the luminous bonds that bind the believers to one another. Fifthly, despotism, which spreads like various contagious diseases. And sixthly, restricting endeavour to what is personally beneficial.”22
Bediuzzaman had started by quoting the verse: Do not despair of God’s mercy,23 and the Hadith: “I came to perfect good moral qualities”, which provide the theme of the six Words of which the Sermon is composed. The First Word is Hope, and we shall describe it in some detail for in it Bediuzzaman sets forth the reasons for his optimism concerning the future of the Islamic world. It consists of “one and a half preliminary arguments” to support his “firm conviction” that “the future shall be Islam’s, and Islam’s alone, and the truths of the Qur'an and belief shall be sovereign.” The premises of his arguments are that “the truths of Islam are able to progress both materially, and in moral and non-material matters, and possess a perfect capacity to do so.”24 The first aspect is progress in moral and non-material matters, and contains five or six main points.
Quoting the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese army, who in 1905 had defeated Russia at war, Bediuzzaman begins by making this point:
“History shows that the Muslims increased in civilization and progressed in relation to the strength of the truths of Islam; that is, to the degree that they acted in accordance with that strength. And history also shows that they fell into savagery and decline, and disaster and defeat amidst utter confusion to the degree of their weakness in adhering to the truths of Islam.” Bediuzzaman then points out:
“As for other religions, it is quite to the contrary. That is to say, history shows that just as they increased in civilization and progressed in relation to their weakness in adhering to their religions and bigotry, so were they also subject to decline and revolution to the degree of their strength in adhering to them.”
Thus, in contradistinction to other religions, Islam has the capacity to progress, it contains within it everything necessary to achieve true civilization. And it is significant that this acute observation was made not only by a non-Muslim, but a Japanese. For the Japanese were held up by many supporters of constitutionalism as an example to be followed in their taking only science and technology from the West in their drive for progress and civilization while retaining their own culture and morality. Following this, Bediuzzaman continues his argument by stating that history presents no evidence for any Muslims having embraced other religions on the strength of reason, whereas as a result of “reasoned argument and certain proofs”, the followers of other religions are “gradually drawing close to and entering Islam.” Bediuzzaman then lays this challenge before the believers:
“If we were to display through our actions the perfections of the moral qualities of Islam and the truths of belief, without doubt, the followers of other religions would enter Islam in whole communities; rather, some entire regions and states, even, on the globe of the earth would take refuge in Islam.”
Next, Bediuzzaman describes modern man’s search for true religion. He says that developments in science together with the terrible wars and events of this century have aroused in man a desire to seek the truth. Man has been awakened by these, and has understood “the true nature of humanity and his own comprehensive disposition.” He has thus realized his need for religion, for “the only point of support for impotent mankind in the face of the innumerable disasters and the external and internal enemies that plague them, and the only point from which they may seek help and assistance in the face of the innumerable needs with which they are afflicted and their desires which stretch to eternity despite their utter want and poverty is in recognizing the world’s Maker, in faith, and in believing and affirming the Hereafter. There is no other help for awakened mankind apart from this.” And he goes on to say that, like a human being, countries and states have also now begun to realize “this intense need of mankind.”
For the next stage in his argument, Bediuzzaman points out that the Qur'an repeatedly “refers man to his reason”, telling him to use his intelligence, and ponder over and take lessons from his own life and the events of past ages. And so, after advising his listeners to heed these warnings of the Qur'an too, Bediuzzaman makes the conclusion that the Qur'an will prevail in the future:
“We Muslims, who are students of the Qur'an, follow proof; we approach the truths of belief through reason, thought, and our hearts. We do not abandon proof in favour of blind obedience and imitation of the clergy like some adherents of other religions. Therefore, in the future, when reason, science and technology prevail, that will surely be the time that the Qur'an will gain ascendancy, which relies on rational proofs and invites the reason to confirm its pronouncements.”
To complete this First Aspect, Bediuzzaman describes “eight serious obstacles” which “prevented the truths of Islam completely conquering the past”, but which are now dispersing, and follows this with quoting the testimony to the truth of Islam of two ‘enemies’ by way of proof of his argument.
Before describing the obstacles, Bediuzzaman says that “the veils which eclipse the sun of Islam... and prevent it illuminating mankind have begun to disperse.” The signs of dawn were appearing then, in 1911. He later added that the true dawn began in 1371, that is, 1951, when a number of Islamic countries were gaining their independence.25 Or even if that was the false dawn, the true dawn would break in forty to fifty years’ time. He was absolutely insistent on it. The obstacles were as follows:
The first three obstacles were “the Europeans’ ignorance, their barbarity at that time, and their bigotry in their religion. These three obstacles have been destroyed by the virtues of knowledge and civilization, and they have begun to disperse.”
The fourth and the fifth were “the domination and arbitrary power of the clergy and religious leaders, and the fact that the Europeans obeyed and followed them blindly. These two obstacles have also started to disappear with the rise among mankind of the idea of freedom and the desire to search for the truth.”
The sixth and seventh obstacles were “the despotism that was with us, and our immorality and degeneracy that arose from opposing the Shari’a... The fact that the separate despotic power residing in a single individual is now declining indicates that the fearful despotism of larger groups in society and of committees will also decline in thirty to forty years time. And the great upsurge in Islamic zeal together with the fact that the ugly results of immorality are becoming apparent show that these two obstacles are about to decline; rather, that they have begun to do so. God willing, they will completely disappear in the future.”
The eighth obstacle was that “since certain positive matters of modern science were imagined to oppose and be contrary to the apparent meanings of the truths of Islam, it prevented, to some extent, their prevailing in the past.” That is to say, scientists and philosophers opposed Islam because they did not understand its true meaning, but, “after learning the truth, even the most opinionated philosopher is compelled to submit to it...”
Bediuzzaman concludes the First Aspect of his argument by quoting a few short passages from the 19th century Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, and from the famous Prussian, Prince Bismarck (1815-1898). They testify to the truth of Islam and the Qur'an’s being the revealed word of God. On the strength of their testimony, Bediuzzaman repeated the prediction he had made previously to shaykh Bahid in Istanbul:
“Europe and America are pregnant with Islam. One day, they will give birth to an Islamic state. Just as the Ottomans were pregnant with Europe and gave birth to a European state.” He then concluded:
“O my brothers who are here in the Umayyad Mosque and those who are in the mosque of the world of Islam half a century later! Do the introductory remarks, that is, those made up to here, not point to the conclusion that it is only Islam that will provide true, and moral and spiritual rule in the future, and will urge mankind to happiness in this world and the Hereafter? And that true Christianity, stripping off superstition and corrupted belief, will be transformed into Islam; following the Qur'an, it will unite with Islam?”26
The Second Aspect of Bediuzzaman’s argument “offers strong proofs for Islam’s material progress and supremacy in the future.” These proofs he describes in the form of “five extremely powerful, unbreakable Strengths”, which having “blended and fused”, “are established in the heart of the Islamic world’s ‘collective personality’.” But before describing them he makes the very important and interesting point that the Qur'an instructs man in progress and urges him towards it. By mentioning the miracles of the prophets, he says, “the Qur'an is informing mankind that events similar to those miracles will come into existence in the future through progress and is urging them to achieve them, saying: ‘Come on, work! Show examples of these miracles! Like the Prophet Solomon (PUH), cover a journey of two months in a day! Like the Prophet Jesus (PUH), work to discover the cure for the most frightful diseases!...’”, and cites further miracles as examples.
Of the Five Strengths, the first is “reality of Islam”, the second is “an intense need, which is the real master of civilization and industry” together with “utter, back-breaking poverty”, while the third is “the Freedom which is in accordance with the Shari’a”. The fourth Strength is the “courage” or “valour of belief”, and the fifth, “the pride of Islam, which proclaims and upholds the Word of God.” And, as we have seen, “in this age, proclaiming the Word of God is contingent on material progress.”
Bediuzzaman then infers that it was because in the drive for modernization so far pursued in the Ottoman Empire it was not the beneficial aspects of civilization that had been taken but its “evils and iniquities” which had been “imitated”, that the empire had been reduced to the state of defeat it was then in. And it was also because the iniquities of civilization had prevailed over its benefits that mankind had suffered the bloody and calamitous wars of this century. “God willing,” said Bediuzzaman, “through the strength of Islam in the future, the virtues of civilization will predominate, the face of the earth will be cleansed of filth, and universal peace be secured.”
Continuing, he says: “Powerful indications and means” to the future supremacy of Asian civilization are the facts that European civilization is founded on the negative virtues of “lust and passion, rivalry and oppression,” rather than virtue and guidance, that its evils have predominated over its virtues, and that “it has been infiltrated by revolutionary societies like a worm-eaten tree.”27
And so, Bediuzzaman asks his audience: “How is it that while there are such powerful and unshakeable ways and means for the material and moral progress for the believers and people of Islam, and the road to future happiness has been opened up like a railway, you despair and fall into hopelessness in the face of the future and destroy the morale of the Islamic world?... Since the inclination to seek perfection has been included in man’s essential nature, ... in the future truth and equity will show the way to a worldly happiness in the world of Islam, God willing, in which there will be atonement for the former errors of mankind.
“Indeed, consider this: time does not run in a straight line so that its beginning and end draw apart from one another. Rather, it moves in a circle like the motion of the globe of the earth. Sometimes it displays the seasons of spring and summer as progress. And sometimes the seasons of storms and winter as decline. Just as every winter is followed by spring and every night by morning, mankind, also, shall have a morning and a spring, God willing. You may expect from Divine Mercy to see true civilization within universal peace brought about through the sun of the truth of Islam.”28
The remaining five ‘Words’ of the Sermon point out how this true civilization will be achieved and the morning and springtime for mankind brought about. They are concerned mainly with morality.
In the Second Word, Bediuzzaman points out some of the destructive results of despair, which he describes as “a most grievous sickness” which “has entered the heart of the world of Islam.” He says that it was despair that had destroyed the morale of Muslims, so that the Europeans had been able to dominate them and make them their captives for the preceding four hundred years. And it was despair that had killed their high morality, and caused them to abandon the public good for personal benefit. And despair had even caused them to use “the indifference and despondence of others” as “an excuse for their own laziness,” and “to abandon the courageousness of belief, and neglect their Islamic duties.” He says that despair “is the quality and pretext of cowards, the base, and the impotent.” It cannot be the quality of the Arabs in particular, who are famous for their tenacity. He concludes the Word with a call to the Arabs to give up despair and stand in “true solidarity and concord” with the Turks, and “unfurl the banner of the Qur'an in every part of the world.”29
The Third Word is Truthfulness. This, says Bediuzzaman, is the basis and foundation of Islam. Truthfulness and honesty are the principles of Islam’s social life. Hypocrisy, flattery and artifice, duplicity and double-dealing are all forms of lying. Unbelief in all its varieties is lying and falsehood, while belief is truthfulness and honesty. For this reason, there is a limitless distance between truth and falsehood. Like fire and light, they should not enter one another. But politics and propaganda have mixed and confused them, and as a result have confused man’s achievements.
Bediuzzaman points out that this has happened with the passing of time, and that during the Era of Bliss, that is, the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), truthfulness and lying were as distant from one another as belief and unbelief. They have gradually drawn closer to each other, and now evil and lying have to some degree taken the stage. Salvation, he told them, is only to be found through honesty. Sometimes in the past lying may have been permissible, but since it was abused, now there are only two ways, not three. “Either truthfulness or silence.”30
The Fourth Word is a call to Love and Brotherhood. Bediuzzaman says that “the thing most worthy of love is love, and the quality most deserving of enmity is enmity.” For it is love that guarantees man’s social life and ensures his happiness, while enmity and hatred have overturned his social life, and more than anything deserve to be loathed and shunned. The awesome evil and destruction of the two World Wars31 show that the time for enmity and hostility is finished, so that enemies, even, so long as they are not aggressive, should not attract the enmity of Muslims. Hell and Divine punishment are enough for them.
As for believers, Bediuzzaman says that sometimes arrogance or self-worship may cause a fellow-believer to be unjustly hostile towards them without realizing it. But this is to slight powerful causes of love, like belief, Islam, nationality, and humanity. If the causes of enmity are personal matters, these are like small stones; to nurture enmity towards a Muslim is a great error; it is like scorning the causes of love, which are as great as a mountain.32
In the Fifth Word, Bediuzzaman is urging the Arabs to take up their positions alongside the Turks as sentries of the sacred citadel of Islamic nationhood. We have already seen how Freedom and constitutionalism were serving and would serve to develop awareness of the sense of Islamic nationhood among Muslims. Here we learn more of why this was vital for the Islamic world. With his knowledge of the modern world and extraordinarily clear vision of the way it would take, Bediuzzaman explained to his listeners that at this time man’s actions, either good or bad, very often do not remain with the doer, but have widespread consequences; one sin may become a hundred sins, and one good deed, a thousand good deeds. He explained it in the following way:
“Thus, through the bond of this sacred nationhood, all the people of Islam are like a single tribe. Like the members of a tribe, the groups and peoples of Islam are bound and connected to one another through Islamic brotherhood. They assist one another morally, and, if necessary, materially. It is as if all the groups of Islam are bound to each other with a luminous chain.
“If a member of one tribe commits a crime, all the members of the tribe are guilty in the eyes of another, enemy, tribe. It is as though each member of the tribe had committed the crime so that the enemy becomes the enemy of all of them. That single crime becomes like thousands of crimes. And if a member of the tribe performs a good act which is the cause of pride affecting the heart of the tribe, all its members take pride in it. It is as if each person in the tribe feels proud at having done that good deed.
“Thus, it is because of this fact that at this time, and particularly in forty to fifty years’ time, evil and bad deeds will not remain with the perpetrator, rather, they will transgress the rights of millions of Muslims. Numerous examples of this shall be seen in forty to fifty years’ time.”
Then, after pointing out the damage caused by laziness and indifference, he says that since at this time good deeds also do not remain with the doer but “may be beneficial to millions of believers”, “it is not the time to cast oneself on the bed of idleness...”
Bediuzzaman goes on to remind the Arabs of their responsibility as teachers and leaders towards the other, smaller Muslim groups and peoples, a responsibility they were neglecting through laziness. At the same time their good deeds are also great, he says, and predicts that in forty or fifty years’ time, the different Arab peoples would “enter upon exalted circumstances... like those of the United States of America”, and would be “successful in establishing Islamic rule in half the globe... If some fearful calamity does not soon erupt, the coming generation shall see it, God willing.”
However, Bediuzzaman immediately continues: “Beware, my brothers! Do not fancy or imagine that I am urging you with these words to busy yourselves with politics. God forbid! The truth of Islam is above all politics. All politics may serve it, but no politics can make Islam a tool for itself.”
And then: “With my faulty understanding, I imagine Islamic society at this time in the form of a factory containing many wheels and machines. Should one wheel fall behind or encroach on another wheel, which is its fellow, the machine’s mechanism ceases to function. Thus, the exact time for Islamic unity is beginning. It necessitates not paying attention to one another’s faults.”
That is to say, Bediuzzaman is saying that Islamic supremacy will be won through the material and technological progress achieved through the unity and co-operation of all the different components, that is, the groups and peoples, that make up the Islamic world.
As we saw when looking at Bediuzzaman’s Debates with the Kurdish tribes, he considered that the Europeans had taken from the Muslims some of their high moral values and made them the means of their progress, while giving them their own corrupt morals in return. The willingness to sacrifice everything, even one’s life, for one’s nation was among these. Bediuzzaman says it was “the firmest foundation in their progress.” He then points out that through the idea of nationhood, “an individual becomes as valuable as a nation. For a person’s value is relative to his endeavour. If a person’s endeavour is his nation, that person forms a miniature nation on his own.” Whereas, “Because of the heedlessness of some of us and the Europeans’ damaging characteristics that we have acquired, and, despite our strong and sacred Islamic nationhood, through everyone saying: ‘Me! Me!’, and considering personal benefits and not the nation’s benefits, a thousand men have fallen to become like one man.”33
The Sixth Word, or sixth constituent of the cure Bediuzzaman is prescribing for the Islamic world is mutual consultation, as enjoined by the verse, “Whose rule is consultation among themselves.”34 We have already discussed this “fundamental principle” in some detail; here, Bediuzzaman describes it as “the key to Muslims’ happiness in Islamic social life”, and stresses its importance as the basis of progress and scientific development, adding that one reason for Asia’s backwardness was the failure to practise consultation. He then says it is “the key and discloser of the continent of Asia and its future,” and that, “just as individuals should consult one another, so also must nations and continents practise consultation.” This is because, as we have also seen, it was Freedom in accordance with the Shari’a – which is born of the consultation enjoined by the Shari’a – that would liberate Islam from the various forms of tyranny to which it was subjected, and “cast out the evils of dissolute Western civilization.”
To conclude, Bediuzzaman explains that it is the sincerity and solidarity that result from consultation which make it the means of life and progress. For, “three men between whom there is true solidarity may benefit the nation as much as a hundred men. Many historical events inform us that as a result of true sincerity, solidarity, and consultation, ten men may perform the work of a thousand men.”35
1. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 121; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 132.
2. Thus in 1910 Bediuzzaman foretold the lifting of “the three darknesses” which would descend on the peoples of Caucasia and Turkestan, the last of which we are now seeing in 1991-2. They may be seen as the collapse of Czarist Russia, the collapse of communism, and the Muslim states of the area gaining their independence with the falling apart of the Soviet Union. Indeed, in Abdurrahman’s biography of Bediuzzaman, he quotes the Russian policeman as saying, “Freedom will cause you [the Ottoman Empire] to break up.” To which Bediuzzaman replied: “It is you it will cause to break up, and I’ll come and build my medrese here.” [Bediüzzaman’in Tarihçe-i Hayati, 34-5] Also, in 1990, Bitlis and Tiflis were proclaimed ‘twin towns’.
3. Sünûhat, 63-4; Tarihçe, 72-3; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 133-4.
4. Hutbe-i Samiye, 23.
5. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 134.
6. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 410-411.
7. Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 136.
8. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 412.
9. Münâzarat, 46-7.
10. Tarihçe, 127.
11. Münâzarat, 50-1.
12. Ibid., 22-3; 55.
13. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 416.
14. Münâzarat, 7-8.
15. Shaw and Shaw, History, ii, 202.
16. Münâzarat, 20.
17. Münâzarat (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 433.
18. ibid., 20-1.
19. Münâzarat, 39-41.
20. Ibid. (Ott. edn.), in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 404.
21. Sahiner, N. 136-7; Tarihçe, 81.
22. Hutbe-i Samiye, 16-17.
23. Qur'an, 39:53.
24. Hutbe-i Samiye, 18.
25. The passages quoted and paraphrased from the Damascus Sermon here are translated from the Turkish edition of the work. This was translated by Bediuzzaman himself from the original Arabic in the 1950’s, and contains a number of additions and alterations to the original text; hence the references to dates and events subsequent to 1911.
26. Hutbe-i Samiye, 19-28.
27. Bediuzzaman’s comparative analysis of Islamic civilization and Western civilization are examined in greater detail in Chapter Nine.
28. Hutbe-i Samiye, 28-32.
29. Ibid., 37-9.
30. Ibid., 39-44.
31. See note 25 of this chapter.
32. Hutbe-i Samiye, 44-6.
33. Ibid., 47-51.
34. Qur'an, 42:38
35. Hutbe-i Samiye, 52-4.