BEDIUZZAMAN and THE POLITICS of ISLAMIC WORLD in THE 20th CENTURY

Ahmed Davudoglu

I. Introduction

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s intellectual and social life and struggle are like a reflection, in a model person’s life, of the various stages the Islamic world has passed through this century. The Islamic world has undergone four important stages this century, each of which forms a theoretical and practical totality. 1 The first stage comprises the first quarter of the century, until the collapse of the Caliphate, during which the Islamic world staged its final resistance struggle around the Caliphate against the Europe-centred West. This period, during which international relations were defined by imperialist rivalry, witnessed theoretical and practical repercussions of the anti-imperialist struggle of the Islamic world. The practicle front of this struggle was represented by ‘Abdülhamid II’s strategy of using Islamic Unity to resist colonialist pressure, the two Balkan Wars, the Trablusgarb resistance, the First World War, the War of Independence, and the Caliphate movements based in India, while the theoretical front was reflected in the debates concerning the reconstruction of the Islamic world in the political sense, which were most lively on the Istanbul-Egypt-India axis, the efforts at reform of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and the ideas of constitutionalism and freedom.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s intellectual and social life and struggle are like a reflection, in a model person’s life, of the various stages the Islamic world has passed through this century. The Islamic world has undergone four important stages this century, each of which forms a theoretical and practical totality. 1 The first stage comprises the first quarter of the century, until the collapse of the Caliphate, during which the Islamic world staged its final resistance struggle around the Caliphate against the Europe-centred West. This period, during which international relations were defined by imperialist rivalry, witnessed theoretical and practical repercussions of the anti-imperialist struggle of the Islamic world. The practicle front of this struggle was represented by ‘Abdülhamid II’s strategy of using Islamic Unity to resist colonialist pressure, the two Balkan Wars, the Trablusgarb resistance, the First World War, the War of Independence, and the Caliphate movements based in India, while the theoretical front was reflected in the debates concerning the reconstruction of the Islamic world in the political sense, which were most lively on the Istanbul-Egypt-India axis, the efforts at reform of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and the ideas of constitutionalism and freedom.
The second period, which is from the abolition of the Caliphate till the end of the Second World War, was a time when the Islamic world lost both as a whole and bit by bit, its points of resistance against the international imperialist system. It was a time which, from the point of view of the Islamic societies, saw the most radical changes, not only of this century, but in the whole history of Islamic civilization. All traditional political concepts and institutions lost their practical validity. The institution of the Caliphate was abolished, which was the symbol of the unity of the Islamic world, and Islamic principles and institutions entered a phase of serious localization. All the Islamic lands were colonialized with the exception of Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, and in these countries, the political culture and institutions which ensured that Islam was a true political and social force were abandoned.
In the theoretical field, the Muslim societies which had lost political support and centrality, defended Islam in the face of modernist ideologies which tried to set up religions, while in the practical field, they chose to resist their imperialist and repressive governments by forming religious communities and groups (cema‘at). The great majority of the community structures which are widespread particularly in Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey and today are known as Islamic movements, emerged in that period.
We may summarize in three main approaches, which were centred on three persons, the basic currents related to the Muslim groups’ search for political theory of this period, in which the ties of the groups with theoretical and practical continuity were loosened: (i) The approach which rejected outright the political message and charactization of Islam, which forms the basis of the Caliphate, and the most important symbol of which was the work Usul al-Hukm by ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq. 2 (ii) The approach the basis of which was the reforming of the chief Islamic institutions, and foremost the Caliphate. Rashid Rida’s work Khilafa 3 is a typical example of this approach. Written on the eve of the abolition of the Caliphate, the work on the one hand states that the new regime separated the Sultanate and Caliphate in order to limit the power of an unjust Sultan, and on the other stresses the necessity of such institutions’ existence, as well as their reform. (iii) A third approach dealt with the question of politics within a general philosophical/theoretical framework, the main aim of which was the renewal of principles. Iqbal’s assertion in his work The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam 4 that the Republican Spirit could be realized through consensus is an example of this approach.
In summary we may say therefore that the fundamental theoretical question of Islamic politics in this period was to be re-formed within a new framework since the concepts and institutions that had come down from history has been superseded. While the practical question was the endeavour to overcome through the forming of religious groups the problems created by remaining outside the political centre and to strengthen resistance against the international imperialist system.
The third period continued from the Second World War to the last quarter of the century, which may be characterized by the Cyprus war, the Iranian Revolution, and the Afghanistan jihad. The period was marked by the emergence of numerous Muslim nation-states following colonial revolutions, and those states feeling the need to come together within the framework of the ICO. Basic theoretical debate was focussed on the characteristics of these nation-states and the place of Islam within them, and it was in this period that debate on the Islamic state superseded debate on the Caliphate. While the main practical problems of this period were the inconsistencies between the identity of the citizen, on which the nation-state is based, and the universal Islamic identity; because of their Islamic past, the conflicts between these new nation-states and the international system; and the efforts of these states to set up political, military, and economic life as new independent elements of the international system.
At the beginning of the last quarter of this century, Turkey, which in the second period had taken the path of radical Westernization and had eradicated Islam from the social field, was compelled to clash with the West over the Cyprus question; the revolutionary model which emerged in Iran with the social explosion which overthrew of the West-oriented Shah, and its anti-Western discourse; the Afghanistan jihad, which showed up the impotence of one the great super-powers and led to the collapse of the bi-pole structure on which the international system was based; the Intifada movement, which with its social-based reactions halted Israil’s militarist expansionism; all strengthened the solidarity and consciousness of a joint destiny which had emerged in the Islamic world in the 1960’s with the attack on the Masjid al-Aqsa. Despite all its political problems and economic and military inadequacy, the Islamic world today is faced with a new and much more extensive challenge. Through the strengthening of the neo-colonialist structures, this challenge will either further shake the position of the Islamic world before the dominant powers of the international system, or it will generate the dynamics of a long-term awakening of a new civilization. Discussion of Bediuzzaman’s life and his views related to the Islamic world will highlight various characteristics of these periods, as well as indicating what this awakening presages for the future.


II. The First Period: Efforts at resistance in the Islamic world and the Old Said
The historical line that separates the first period from the second also marks the differences, both theoretical and practical, between the Old Said and the New Said. The search for theoretical solutions in the first period, and the practical political resistance, were reflected in the Old Said’s intensive scholarly and political endeavours. The Old Said conducted an active search for a solution in which the social aspects always preponderated. He expended much mental effort and was actively involved in all the questions related to the Islamic world, especially those concerning the Ottoman lands. For this reason it is in his works of this period, which he called that of the Old Said, that we find most of what Bediuzzaman wrote about the general situation of the Islamic world and his political and social views.
The historical line that separates the first period from the second also marks the differences, both theoretical and practical, between the Old Said and the New Said. The search for theoretical solutions in the first period, and the practical political resistance, were reflected in the Old Said’s intensive scholarly and political endeavours. The Old Said conducted an active search for a solution in which the social aspects always preponderated. He expended much mental effort and was actively involved in all the questions related to the Islamic world, especially those concerning the Ottoman lands. For this reason it is in his works of this period, which he called that of the Old Said, that we find most of what Bediuzzaman wrote about the general situation of the Islamic world and his political and social views.
The historical line that separates the first period from the second also marks the differences, both theoretical and practical, between the Old Said and the New Said. The search for theoretical solutions in the first period, and the practical political resistance, were reflected in the Old Said’s intensive scholarly and political endeavours. The Old Said conducted an active search for a solution in which the social aspects always preponderated. He expended much mental effort and was actively involved in all the questions related to the Islamic world, especially those concerning the Ottoman lands. For this reason it is in his works of this period, which he called that of the Old Said, that we find most of what Bediuzzaman wrote about the general situation of the Islamic world and his political and social views.
His chief works reflecting his theoretical and practical struggles of this time, and his political and social views, are Iki Mekteb-i Musibetin sehadetnamesi veya Divan-i Harb-i Örfî (The Testimonial of Two Schools of Misfortune or the Military Court), which contains speeches and writings of the period preceding and following the Constitutional Revolution (1908) and his defence while being tried after the ‘Thirty-First of March Incident;’ Münâzarat (The Debates), comprising his conversations with the tribes of the eastern provinces; Hutbe-i Sâmiye (The Damscus Sermon), which he delivered in Damascus; Sünûhat, which coincided with his return from captivity, when he was a member of the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-Islâmiye.


1. Islam and the West: A comparison of civilizations
It is understood from the ideas that Bediuzzaman put forward in this period that he saw its principal questions not only as a political or historical conflict, but as a comprehensive struggle of civilizations; it was from this point that he approached the chief questions of the Islamic world. The comparisons he made between the underlying principles of Western civilization and Islamic civilization provide clues of the greatest importance from the point of view of portraying the social and political aspects of their world views.
“... Because [Western civilization] is based on five negative principles: it takes as its point of support force, which manifests itself in aggression. Its aim and purpose is benefit and self-interest, after which everyone jostles and pushes without restraint. Its principle in life is conflict, which manifests itself in contention and discord. The tie between different groups is racialism and negative nationalism, which thrives on devouring others and which manifests itself in ghastly clashes. Its alluring service is encouraging lust and passion, satisfying desires, and facilitating the gratification of whims. ... The civilization which the Shari‘a of Muhammad (PBUH) comprises and commands, however, will unfold after the disintegration of present-day civilization. It lays down positive principles in place of [the latter’s] negative principles: its point of support is truth instead of force, which is manifest as justice and equity. Its aims are virtue and God’s pleasure in place of benefit and self-interest, which are manifest as love and friendly competition. Its means of unity are the bonds of religion, country, and class instead of racialism and nationalism, which are manifest as sincere brotherhood and reconciliation, and co-operation in only defending against outside aggression. The principle in life is that of mutual assistance and co-operation instead of conflict, which is manifest as unity and mutual support. In place of lust is guidance, which is manifest as progress for humanity and being perfected spiritually. It restricts the passions, and instead of facilitating the base desires of the carnal soul, it gratifies the high sentiments of the spirit.” 5
This comparison of Bediuzzaman reflects the normative characteristics of classic Islamic political thought. Based on values like right, justice, and mutual assistance, this idea is directed more to defining the values necessary for maintaining social stability and order than to analyzing social change. The idea of the sphere of justice, which is discussed by thinkers like Ibn Khaldun and Tursun Beg and had become the joint political value of just about all Islamic societies, differs definitively from the tradition of Western thought, which is based on competition and interclass conflict and is directed towards an analysis of social change. With this comparison, Bediuzzaman puts forward the Islamic tradition as a model that could be revivified in the face of the Western civilization system, which is based on force and conflict. The point that should be noted here is the inclusion of factors like fatherland (vatan) and class in this traditional scheme. By doing this, Bediuzzaman was trying to incorporate into the totality of basic Islamic values two fundamental concepts of the nationalist and socialist ideologies of the day, and to balance the destructive and dispersive characteristics of those ideologies.
Another important matter differentiating Bediuzzaman from other thinkers’ approaches of the same period was that in the process of settling accounts with Western civilization, he mostly favoured a combative style, despite all the crises and defeats of the times through which he lived, and his decisive attitude, which emphasized the ultimate victory and superiority of Islam, or of the East. This resolute and proud stance, which was sustained sometimes by dreams and visions, sometimes by predictions about the future, and ‘signs’, always drove the Old Said to be optimistic, despite the negative atmosphere of the times in which he lived. The piece entitled Rüya’da Bir Hitabe (A Dream Address) in Sünûhat, which he wrote in 1335/1919, when all the Ottoman lands had been overrun and were in confusion, is one of the most striking examples of this state of mind:
“The East’s enmity was stifling the development of Islam; it has disappeared, and so it should have done. The West’s enmity was an effective cause of Islam’s unity and the development of brotherhood; it must endure... Yes, be hopeful! The loudest and strongest voice in the coming upheavals and changes will be that of Islam!” 6
Also, during that period, contrary to the modernist approach, which reflected a defeatist state of mind before the West and supposed that religious influence was the most important obstacle to development, he attempted to demonstrate comparatively that the development of the Islamic societies and those of the East could be realized only if based on religious foundations:
“‘History shows that the Muslims increased in civilization and progressed in relation to the power of the truths of Islam; that is, to the degree that they acted in accordance with that power. 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.’ As for other religions, it is quite to the contrary. That is to say, history shows that they increased in civilization and progressed in relation to their weakness in adhering to their religions and bigotry, and were subject to decline and revolution to the degree of their strength in adhering to them. Up to the present, time has passed thus.” 7
“The appearance of all the prophets in the East is a sign of pre-eternal Divine Determining that religion dominates the emotions of the East. Moreover, what is apparent from the situation today in the Islamic world is that what will arouse the Islamic world and save it from this abasement is against that sense. It has also been established that despite all the fatal blows it has received, it was again that sense that preserved this Islamic state. In this matter, we possess a characteristic different to the West; we cannot be compared with them.” 8



2. Statements about the chief questions facing the Islamic world
Besides setting forth Islam’s superiority versus the West in respect of beliefs and always emphasizing his hope concerning the future, Bediuzzaman also made statements of great importance related to the practical weaknesses of the Islamic world and ways of rectifying these weaknesses. He took pains to differentiate between the deficiencies of the Islamic world on this point, and Islam itself. This is illustrated clearly in his saying: “I saw that Islam, which comprises true civilization, was materially backward in relation to present-day civilization; as though Islam was vexed at our bad conduct and was departing for the past.” 9
The Old Said looked on the world of Islam “as a disorderly chamber of deputies and council meeting, or one whose order has been spoilt,” 10 and attempted by various means to point out the sicknesses that had caused the Islamic world’s backwardness. He sometimes gives these as the immorality that dominated society at that time, and sometimes attributes them to the erroneous views of the elite of the Islamic world. In The Damascus Sermon he puts the immorality dominating society into six categories:
“Firstly: The rising to life 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, becoming widespread as though it was various contagious diseases. Sixthly: Restricting endeavour to what is personally beneficial.” 11
His differentiating between Islam and the Shari‘a, and the misconduct of Muslims also brings up the subject of the misconduct of the elite and their mistaken attitude:
“The freedom, justice, and equality of the initial period of Islam, known as the Era of Bliss, and particularly at that time, are a decisive proof that the Illustrious Shari‘a comprises equality, justice, and true freedom with its relations and requirements. Imam ‘Umar (May God be pleased with him), Imam ‘Ali (May God be pleased with him), and Salahaddin Ayyubi’s works are a clear proof of this claim. Therefore, I state categorically: our deficiencies and decline up to the present time are the result of four causes:
“1. Failure to observe the ordinances of the Illustrious Shari‘a.
“2. The arbitrary and erroneous interpretations of certain sycophants.
“3. The out-of-place bigotry of ignorant externalist scholars, or knowledgeable ignoramuses.
“4. Due to misfortune and bad choice, abandoning 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 desires. It is from these that this evil result arises.” 12



3. The search for solutions to the crisis of the Islamic world
A. BASIC PRINCIPLES
a. Self-confidence
Bediuzzaman was able to think of the prescription for these crises as concentric circles progressing out from the individual to the Islamic world. What he emphasized most on the individual level was the Muslim’s self-confidence being reinforced through psychological renewal. At a time of deep crisis and defeat for the Islamic world, in all his writings and speeches the Old Said recommended hope in the face of despair. Surely, during periods of crisis, the most important psychological factor keeping societies on their feet and making them struggle for the future is a feeling of self-confidence. To prevent individuals losing this psychological resistance, the Old Said sometimes uses the fundamentals of belief, sometimes natural events, and sometimes predictions about the future. Saying:
“The future shall be Islam’s and Islam’s alone. And its ruler shall be the truths of the Qur’an and belief. Therefore, we must submit to Divine Determining and our fate of the present, for ours is a brilliant future, while the Europeans’ is a dubious past,” 13
he turns belief in Divine Determining into a dynamic focus of mental resistance. And with the words,
“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,” 14
he is referring to natural events that ordinary people also observe every day, and trying to keep alive the Muslim masses’ hopes for the future. He places so much emphasis on hope and confidence, that he shows even the calamities that followed the First World War to be successes and evidence for Islamic unity:
“Since calamities are not pure evil, they are sometimes present in happiness, and at others happiness results from calamity. The disaster this Islamic state has met with, which from early days was the standard-bearer of the Caliphate and was charged with sacrificing itself for the united world of Islam, to uphold the Word of God and to maintain Islam’s independence —its misfortune shall be made up for by the future happiness and prosperity of the Islamic world. For it has speeded up in wonderful manner the unfolding of Islamic brotherhood, the source of our life, causing it to stir. While we suffer, the World of Islam weeps. If Europe hurts us excessively, it will cry out. While if we die, twenty of us will die but three hundred will be raised to life. We are in the age of wonders. There are those among us who have been raised to life after being dead for two or three years. With this defeat we lost a temporary, immediate happiness, but a future lasting happiness awaits us. One who exchanges an insignificant, changeable, and limited present for the extensive future, will be the winner.” 15



b. Freedom and Constitutionalism
The basis element in Bediuzzaman’s thought system which forged the link between the individual and society was the idea of freedom, which transforms the psychological renewal and feeling of confidence in social and political participation. In the period of the New Said, Bediuzzaman expressed this as “my freedom, which I am most in need of and is the most important principle in my life;” 16 and: “I can live without bread, but I can’t live without freedom.” 17 While saying: “The true believer is truly free. One who is the slave and servant of the Maker of the world will not condescend to lower himself before His creatures. That is to say, freedom is increased to the degree belief is strengthened,” 18 he is pointing out by making a direct connection between belief and freedom that freedom in the true sense acquires its value through Islamic belief.
The logical connection Bediuzzaman makes between belief, freedom, and law forms the basis of his political views and the individual’s political participation:
“For one who through the bond of belief is the servant of the Sovereign of the universe will not lower and abase himself before others, nor enter under their despotism and oppression; his dignity and courage arising from his belief do not permit it, just as compassion which results from his belief does not permit him to agress against the freedom and rights of others. Yes, the true servant of a king would not abase himself before the arbitrariness of a shepherd, any more than he would himself condescend to tyrannize some wretch. This means that however perfect belief is, freedom shines to that extent. See the Age of Bliss...” 19
Bediuzzaman’s considering the relation between freedom and belief to be the most effective obstacle to despotism and arbitrariness was the most important factor in his supporting the constitutional movement. He mentioned this as follows in Divan-i Harb-i Örfî:
“I was saddened to the utmost extent because due to our ignorance and bigotry Europe supposed the Shari‘a to be conducive to despotism. So I applauded constitutionalism more than anyone in the name of the Shari‘a in order to give the lie to that supposition of theirs.” 20
From this point of view, he considered freedom to be absolutely essential for the Islamic societies’ independence, both of their internal political structures, and in foreign relations:
“The first door of Asia and the World of Islam is the constitutionalism which is in accordance with the Shari‘a and the freedom which is within its bounds. ... Freedom is the sole means of liberating the Islamic world of three hundred and seventy million from captivity.” 21
As is understood from the above, to the extent it is restricted by the law and legality of the Shari‘a freedom forms the fundamental principle of the political structure and of social progress. For, “delicate freedom [has to be] instructed and adorned by the good conduct of the Shari‘a.” 22 And, “general freedom is the product of the portions of individual freedom. The mark of freedom is that one harms neither oneself, nor others.” 23
Bediuzzaman’s idea of freedom being limited by the Shari‘a was also reflec-ted in the practical political field. In the speech he delivered in Salonica on the third day after the proclamation of freedom, he said:
“Do not misinterpret freedom lest it escapes us and makes us choke by making us drink our former stinking captivity from another vessel. For freedom is realized through conforming through good morality to the injunctions and conduct of the Shari‘a.” 24
Inviting the supporters of constitutionalism to remain within the bounds of the Shari‘a, the Old Said offered similar admonitions while addressing the deputies in Aya Sophia Mosque:
“Consider constitutionalism (mesrutiyet) with the title of the Shari‘a (mesrûiyet ünvani ile), so that a new, covert, irreligious despotism does not besmirch that blessed one with its dirty hand, by making it a shield to its hatred. Limit freedom with the conduct of the Shari‘a, for if the ignorant and the common people have unrestricted freedom and are completely and unconditionally free, they become dissolute and rebellious.” 25
Bediuzzaman made similar warnings, about limiting freedom with the Shari‘a, to the rebelling soldiers during the Thirty-First of March Revolt. 26



c. Islamic ‘nationhood’ and the question of identity
Another important principle, which formed the basis of the Old Said’s political views and proposals, was connected to the question of identity. Each of the movements, Ottomanism, Islamism, and Turkism, which emerged towards the end of the Ottoman period, emphasized a different identity. Following the revolts of the non-Muslim minorities in the Balkans, Ottomanism lost its force to a great extent. 27 The basic differences at the beginning of the twentieth century were between the religious identity, based on the idea of Islamism, and the national identities, based on Turkism and the other nationalist currents. The Old Said observed the divisive influence of the nationalist currents, and on the one hand tried to establish harmony and a hierarchy between the two identities, and on the other, applauded by various means the national identities that served the ideal of Islam, considering them to be parts of a unifying Islamic identity.
The unity between religion and nationality necessitates the Islamic identity having the highest position in the identity hierarchy. This is also the most significant difference between Western societies, which have as their basis a nationalist identity, and Eastern societies, whose religion and nationalities form an inseparable whole. The reply of the Old Said to a question about religious zeal and national zeal asked him during Sultan Reshad’s Rumelia tour, summarizes very succinctly his attitude to the matter:
“With us Muslims religion and nationhood are united, although there is a theoretical, apparent and incidental difference between them. Indeed, religion is the life and spirit of the nation. When they are seen as different and separate from each other, religious zeal encompasses both the common people and upper classes, whereas national zeal is felt by one person out of a hundred, that is, a person who is ready to sacrifice his personal benefits for the nation. Since this is the case, religious zeal must be the basis with regard to the rights of all the people, while national zeal must serve it and be its fortress.
“This is especially so since we people of the East are not like those of the West: our hearts are governed by the sense of religion. The fact that it was in the East that pre-eternal Divine Determining sent most of the prophets indicates that only the sense of religion will awaken the East and impel it to progress. A convincing argument for this is the era of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and those who followed after him. ... Religious zeal and Islamic nationhood have completely fused in the Turks and Arabs, and may not now be separated. Islamic zeal is a luminous chain which is most strong and secure and is not born of this world. It is a support that is firm and certain, and will not fail. It is an unassailable fortress that cannot be razed.” 28
In the Third Topic of the Twenty-Sixth Letter, which Bediuzzaman wrote during the period of the New Said, despite being, in his own words, “in the tongue of the Old Said,” he put forward this fundamental idea, and in the part addressing Turks in particular, drew their attention to their combined identity:
“Being the most numerous of the Islamic peoples, wherever throughout the world there are Turks, they are Muslims. They have not become divided into Muslims and non-Muslims like the other peoples. Wherever there are Turks, they are Muslims. Turks who have abandoned Islam or who are not Muslims, are also no longer Turkish. Like the Hungarians. Even among small peoples there are both Muslims and non-Muslims. O my Turkish brother! You watch out in particular! Your nationhood has fused with Islam and may not be separated from it. If you do separate them, you will be finished!” 29
Bediuzzaman fiercely opposed the idea that nationalism was a superior identity, and stated that the power inherent in the idea of nationalism could be used in positive fashion at the command of the Islamic identity, the superior identity:
“Furthermore, in nationalism is a thrill of the soul, a heedless pleasure, an inauspicious power. For this reason those occupied with social life at this time cannot be told to give up the idea of nationalism. However, nationalism is of two kinds. One is negative, inauspicious, and harmful; it is nourished by devouring others, persists through hostility to others, and is aware of what it is doing. ... Positive nationalism arises from an inner need of social life and is the cause of mutual assistance and solidarity; it ensures a beneficial strength; it is a means for further strengthening Islamic brotherhood. This idea of positive nationalism must serve Islam, it must be its citadel and armour; it must not take the place of it.” 30
This distinction, which Bediuzzaman expressed in the tongue of the Old Said in later periods, is also to be seen in the political approach and practice of the Old Said:
“The awakening of nationalism is either positive, in which case it is aroused through compassion for one’s fellow men, and is the cause of mutual recognition and assistance; or it is negative, in which case, being aroused by racialist ambitions, it is the cause of antipathy and mutual hostility. And this Islam rejects.” 31
Bediuzzaman, who in the period of the New Said said in the tongue of the Old Said, “The cunning European tyrants in particular awaken [the idea of nationalism] among Muslims in negative fashion, so that they may divide them up and devour them,” 32 expended great effort in the first quarter of the century as the Old Said to prevent this splitting up. He strove to keep alive the idea of Islamic nationhood following the proclamation of the Constitution in the face of divisive influence of the negative nationalist movements which appeared:
“Since in constitutionalism sovereignity belongs to the nation, the nation’s existence has to be demonstrated, and our nation is only Islam. For the strongest bond of Arab, Turk, Kurd, Albanian, Circassian, and Laz, and their firmest nationhood, is nothing other than Islam. The foundations of an array of states are being laid, due to negligence and strife incited through the revival of the partisanship and tribalism of the Age of Ignorance, which died one thousand three hundred years ago. We have seen this.” 33
In the sermon he gave subsequently in Damascus, he emphasized the unifying power of Islamic nationhood in the face of the seeds of enmity that were being attempted to be sown between the Turks and Arabs:
“Freedom in accordance with the Shari‘a and the consultation enjoined by the Shari‘a have demonstrated the sovereignty of our true nationhood. The foundation and spirit of our true nationhood is Islam. In so far as they have carried the standard of the Ottoman Caliphate and Turkish army in the name of that nationhood, the two true brothers of Arab and Turk are like the shell and citadel of the nationhood of Islam, and the sentries of that sacred citadel. Thus, through the bond of this sacred nationhood, all the people of Islam become like a single tribe. Like the members of a tribe, the peoples and groups of Islam are bound and connected to one another through Islamic brotherhood.” 34
Establishing a direct link between belief and Islamic nationhood and unity, the Old Said considered working for Islamic brotherhood and unity to be a religious obligation. This approach states that Muslims should unite around a single identity and defines the theoretical basis of Islamic unity in the meaning of a religious obligation:
“The aspect of unity of the Ittihad-i Muhammedî (PBUH) (the Society for Muslim Unity), which is the reality of Islamic Unity, is the affirmation of Divine Unity. Its pledge and oath is belief. Its members are all believers. Its regulations the practices of the Prophet (PBUH). Its laws the commands and prohibitions of the Shari‘a. This union is consists not of customs, but of worship. Concealing things and fear are sorts of hypocrisy, but there is no hypocrisy in performing the obligatory practices of religion. And at this time, the most important obligatory duty is Islamic Unity.” 35
“If you read the pages of ideas, if you see the way of politics, if you listen to the newspapers —those which speak truly—, which are the public preachers, you will understand that in Arabia, India, Java, Egypt, Caucasia, Africa, and similar countries, the idea of freedom has boiled up with such fervour that it has caused a great transformation of ideas in the Islamic world, and a strange revolution, and intellectual progress, and a complete awakening, so that even if we had given a hundred years as the price, it still would have been cheap. For freedom showed up nationhood. The luminous jewel of Islam in the shell of nationhood began to be manifested.” 36
It is a fact that the anti-imperialist nationalist movements acquired strength with the Islamic identity, and paved the way for the ideas of Islamic unity which emerged in subsequent periods. Anti-imperialist and anti-Western movements generally pursued their search for identity around an Islamic identity.


B. THE REVIVAL AND REFORM OF POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS
Thus, with the principles of belief and self-confidence, Bediuzzaman endeavoured to strengthen the psychological infrastructure, and to develop with the principles of freedom (hürriyet) and constitutionalism in accordance with the Shari‘a (mesrûiyet) the process of the socialization of the individual within a balance of individual-society. So too, he endeavoured to set up a new political communications network based on consultation within the framework of these principles, and within this framework to reform institutions like the Caliphate and office of the Shaykh al-Islam.
According to Bediuzzaman, freedom limited by the Shari‘a was the pre-condition of the institution of consultation, the basis of the political communications network. Freedom in accordance with the Shari‘a, which he considered to be the primary condition for the future progress of the Islamic world, was directly tied to the mechanisms of consultation and sovereignty:
“The key to the good fortune, felicity, and sovereignty of Islam is the consultation within constitutionalism. ... Since Islamic sovereignty is now dominant in the world, and will be particularly in Asia, all Muslim individuals possess a true part of the sovereignty.” 37
Bediuzzaman went further than Islamic political thought of the classical period in the question of consultation and individuals having a true share of the sovereignty, and in connection with political and social participation, introduced a number of new elements. Among these were questions like the transition from the individual political sovereignty of the Caliph to sovereignty being spread over all the strata of society in the form of Muslims having an actual share in the sovereignty, and the transition from the classical treatment of non-Muslims as ‘people of the book’ to their being treated as citizens, and their participating on an equal basis in the mechanism of consultation. In addition to supporting Islamic Unity and the political sovereignty of Muslims, Bediuzzaman considered it possible from the point of view of the Shari‘a that non-Muslims should participate in politics and government. The most significant innovation here is the idea that the functioning of the political mechanism is an art or craft rather than something tied to belief, and that the views of non-Muslims should be taken into account within this framework:
“The votes of Haço or Berham, who are craftsmen when it comes to making watches or working machines, are valid. The Shari‘a does not reject them, and they should not be rejected, for the majority of the political advantages and economic benefits of the Chamber of Deputies are of this sort.” 38
This approach is based on the view that “the sphere of belief should not be confused with the sphere of [social] relations,” 39 and confirms that the concept of citizenship, the development of which was attempted in the last decades of the Ottoman period, is in accordance with the Shari‘a.
In connection with sovereignty, this new approach sees the government as a place of service, and brings with it a transition from the idea of government being the end, to government being the means. There is nothing to prevent non-Muslims being governors [of provinces or cities] or kaymakams [officials of smaller administrative districts], for
“constitutionalism is the sovereignty of the nation. The government is a servant. If constitutionalism is truly [applied], the governors and kaymakams are not rulers but paid servants. Non-Muslims cannot be rulers, but they can be servants.” 40
This is an example of how the rulings of fiqh (jurisprudence) can be re-evaluated in a new political context. Need and necessity may demand serious changes in rulings and institutions, for “need is the teacher of all things.” 41
“The Sultanate and Caliphate are inseparable and are essentially united. They have various aspects, as a consequence of which our Padishah is both Sultan, and Caliph, and the banner of the World of Islam. In regard to the Sultanate he supervises thirty million, so in respect of the Caliphate he should be the place of reflection, the point of support, and source of assistance of the luminous bonds between three hundred million. The office of Grand Vizier (Sadaret) represents the Sultanate, and the Shaykh al-Islam’s office (Mesihat) represents the Caliphate.” 42
In saying this, Bediuzzaman is repeating the traditional view of the Caliphate and Sultanate being held jointly. However, he also emphasizes the necessity of the institution of the Caliphate in particular undergoing radical reform based on consultation.
In Bediuzzaman’s view, it was inevitable that, for the revival and arousal of the Islamic world, the institution of the Caliphate should be reordered so that all the Islamic world could participate in it:
“Time has showed that the office of the Shaykh al-Islam, which represents the Caliphate, is not particular to Istanbul and the Ottomans; it is a glorious institution which embraces all Islam. In its present faded condition it is inadequate for the guidance of Istanbul even, let alone that of the mighty World of Islam. Since this is so, its position must be made such that the Islamic world may have confidence in it; that it may be both a source and a place of reflection; and it may truly perform its religious obligations towards the Islamic world.” 43
The most important renewal of the institution of the Caliphate would be through consultation, and through the collective personality that would come into being through consultation, acquiring a dominant position. It was only in this way that the office of Shaykh al-Islam could obtain true power. The view that the mechanism of consultation and a collective personality which took its strength from this mechanism should be the sources of authority was an original contribution of Bediuzzaman to the efforts to reorder the institution of the Caliphate in the first quarter of this century, and secure Islamic Unity.
This view also introduces new dimensions to the principles of fiqh. The tendency towards more anonymous and abstract concepts like the corporate spirit or collective personality in place of the individuality of ijtihad, and of allegiance (bey’at), which legitimized the Caliphate, may be seen as a new and original effort to establish a tie between Islamic institutions and the concepts of state and sovereignty, which became increasingly anonymous and abstract in the 19th century:
“We are not in the old times now. Formerly, a single individual ruled. And the ruler’s mufti could also be a single individual who corrected and modified his ideas. The present, however, is the time of the social collectivity. And the ruler is an unemotional, stern collective personality, which is somewhat deaf and emerges from the spirit of the collectivity. Councils represent that spirit. The mufti of such a ruler should be of similar kind to it, and a collective personality born of an elevated learned council. Then it may make its voice heard, and drive points related to religion down the Straight Path. For an individual is merely like a mosquito before collective personality of the community, even if he is a genius. Through its ineffectiveness, this important position exposes the very source of Islam’s life to danger. We may even say that the present weakness of religion, indifference towards the marks of Islam, and anarchy in ijtihad resulted from the weakness and ineffectiveness of the office of the Shaykh al-Islam. For one person outside may preserve his opinion before a Shaykh al-Islam’s office which is based on individuality, but the pronouncements of a Shaykh al-Islam relying on a council such as that can make him give up his ijtihad, even if he is the most brilliant genius, or it can limit it to him. For sure, all those qualified can intrepret the law (ijtihad), but such ijtihad becomes a guiding principle only when it meets with the confirmation of a sort of consensus or of the masses. A Shaykh al-Islam such as that would reflect this in meaning. In the Illustrious Shari‘a, consensus and the opinion of the majority is always the means of fatwa’s (rulings); so too, at the present time in the face of the anarchy of opinions, there is definite need for such an arbiter.” 44
Bediuzzaman asserted that the Caliphate could be strengthened by learned consultation by reorganizing the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-Islâmiye, and that in the event of councils of this sort not being set up, Istanbul would lose its chance of being the centre of the Caliphate:
“There is severe need for such a council. If it is not established in the centre of the Caliphate, it will necessarily be set up somewhere else. Even if matters that should suitably be realized firstly, like the organization of the Islamic community and the joining of the pious foundations (evkaf) to the Shaykh al-Islam’s office, which are the preliminaries of the council, are begun at the beginning, and the preliminaries appear later, the purpose would still be achieved. By virtue of their official functions, the deputies and members of the Upper Chamber, whose electoral districts are both limited and mixed, may have a secondary and indirect influence on the matter. But a purely Islamic council is necessary to undertake this vast duty directly and primarily.
“If a thing is not used for the purpose it was created, it falls into abeyance and does not show its desired results. In consequence of this, the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-Islâmiye, which was founded for an important purpose, should be raised from the level of an ordinary commission. It should be deemed the natural member of the council together with the chiefs of the departments of the Shaykh al-Islam’s office, and for now fifteen or twenty eminent scholars who have won the confidence of Islam, both religiously and morally, should be attracted from the Islamic world abroad. This forms the basis of this weighty question.” 45
Bediuzzaman’s comparisons between the institutions of the Caliphate and Grand Vizier’s office are very important from the point of view of their describing the results of the disharmony between the functions of the Grand Vizierate, which was sovereign within the Ottoman borders, and the Caliphate, which represented the whole world of Islam. It is a fact that one of the most important questions of that time was that concerning the nature of the relations that it could establish with the Caliphate, which represented the unity of Muslims in regions beyond the reach of political authority.
The chief practical problem of the Ottoman rulers, who realized the theoretical necessity of making the institution of the Caliphate function and the international political advantages it secured against the imperialists, was their inability to express political will with the political power they held, that is, with the office of Grand Vizier, which would be effective over all the Islamic lands. The imbalance between this political power (Sadaret) and the field of responsibility (Caliphate), which Sultan ‘Abdulhamid II tried to rectify through a many-sided diplomacy, resulted, when the leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress tried to rectify it by military means during the First World War, in first the Grand Vizier’s office, then the Caliphate, being wiped off the stage of history following the War. When in Istanbul at the end of the War, Bediuzzaman pointed out the possible results the imbalance and unconformity between the political power and field of religious responsibility would give rise to, and made important points related to future developments:
“The Grand Vizier’s office and that of the Shaykh al-Islam are two wings. If those two wings of this Islamic state are not equal, the state will not advance. And if it does advance, it will be for a corrupt civilization which has sloughed off all sacred matters.” 46



III. The Second Period: The absence of political-religious authority in the Islamic world and the Risale-i Nur
The distinction Bediuzzaman made between the periods of the Old Said and the New Said reflect the difference between the first and second periods of the Islamic world. Bediuzzaman, who as the Old Said in the first period was actively involved in trying to bring about the political reforms necessary for the Islamic world, in the second period as the New Said, undertook to renew the belief of Muslim individuals, and to form a community or group of these individuals, rather than re-establishing the political structure of the Islamic world, which had entered a period of complete political suspension (fetret). This endeavour may be seen as the preference of the Muslim individual —who would found a new Medina— to revive the belief and community spirit of Mecca, rather than that of a collective personality —which had lost its Medina in the sense of free political authority— floundering within the political machinery of false Medina’s. Thus, The New Said’s withdrawal from politics in the second period, —as in ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s approach— should not be seen as dissociating the Islamic religion from its political and social aspects, which are part of its comprehensiveness. In this sense, Bediuzzaman parts from ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s attitude, which reduced the Islamic scope, and from that of Rashid Rida, who sought solutions in institutional renewal. And although he draws close to Iqbal in some questions, he differs from him in his insistence on re-establishing the individual’s belief.
The distinction Bediuzzaman made between the periods of the Old Said and the New Said reflect the difference between the first and second periods of the Islamic world. Bediuzzaman, who as the Old Said in the first period was actively involved in trying to bring about the political reforms necessary for the Islamic world, in the second period as the New Said, undertook to renew the belief of Muslim individuals, and to form a community or group of these individuals, rather than re-establishing the political structure of the Islamic world, which had entered a period of complete political suspension (fetret). This endeavour may be seen as the preference of the Muslim individual —who would found a new Medina— to revive the belief and community spirit of Mecca, rather than that of a collective personality —which had lost its Medina in the sense of free political authority— floundering within the political machinery of false Medina’s. Thus, The New Said’s withdrawal from politics in the second period, —as in ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s approach— should not be seen as dissociating the Islamic religion from its political and social aspects, which are part of its comprehensiveness. In this sense, Bediuzzaman parts from ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s attitude, which reduced the Islamic scope, and from that of Rashid Rida, who sought solutions in institutional renewal. And although he draws close to Iqbal in some questions, he differs from him in his insistence on re-establishing the individual’s belief.
In a period when philosophy-based ideologies were becoming increasingly influential on the political system, the importance Bediuzzaman attached to saving the individual’s belief shows that he considered the basic solution to lie in making all Muslims points of resistance against ideologically based Western expansionism, rather than in institutional renewal, by saving the belief of numerous individuals. Such an approach was also in keeping with the general situation of the Islamic world in that period. A civilization which had lost its geographical and political points of resistance in this period practised resistance to the extent of the individual and community, so that Bediuzzaman’s periods of the Old and New Said may be seen as reflections in the life of a model personality of this general situation experienced in the Islamic world.
According to Bediuzzaman, the chief matter of the Islamic world was the strengthening of the individual’s belief, and solutions of matters related to life being sought only in reference to this fundamental matter:
“At this time there are currents so overwhelming that they draw everything to their own account. So even if the true awaited person, who will come next century, were to come now, my conjecture is that he would renounce the situation in the political world and change his goal so as not to let his movement be carried away on those currents.
“Also, there are three matters: one is life, another is the Shari‘a, and the other is belief. In the view of reality, the most important and the greatest is the question of belief. But in the view of most people at this time, compelled by the world situation, the most important appear to be life and the Shari‘a. And so, even if he was to come now, since to change these three matters altogether throughout the world is not keeping with the Divine laws in force in human kind, he would surely take the greatest matter as the basis, and not the others, so that the service of belief would not lose its purity in the general view and so that he would not let that service be the tool for other aims in the minds of ordinary people, who are easily deceived.” 47
Since Bediuzzaman saw that the only way the Islamic world, which had been entirely colonialized, could take in the face of the anti-religious ideologies was the strengthening of the individual’s belief, he said in reply to criticisms that he was indifferent towards world politics, that the political and social path had entered a bog, so the struggle had to be in the form of illuminating with the light of the Qur’an those fallen into the bog:
“Service of the All-Wise Qur’an severely prohibited me from the world of politics. It even made me forget about it. For the whole story of my life testifies that fear has never taken me by the hand and prevented me taking the way I considered to be right, nor can it. ... It is like this: human life is a journey. I saw at this time through the light of the Qur’an that the way has entered a swamp. The caravan of mankind is stumbling forward in stinking and filthy mud.” 48
Bediuzzaman considered serving Islam by means of politics to be in tenth place after serving belief, and gave both theoretical and practical justifications for his point of view:
“And the aspect of Divine Determining’s justice is this: by ascribing to its wretched interpreter a large part of the extraordinary service to belief which is manifested through the truth of the Risale-i Nur and the collective personality of its students; and by the worldly, the politicians, and the ordinary people giving priority to Islamic politics and service of the social life of the Umma, which in the view of reality is only in tenth place after belief, over working for the truths of belief, which is the most important question, duty, and service in the universe; there is a strong possibility that in so far as the excessively good opinions of his companions for that interpreter give the politicians the idea of revolutionary Islamic politics, it will cause them to form a front against the Risale-i Nur from the point of view of social life and form an obstacle to its conquests. Both the danger in this, and the damage, would be great.” 49
The reason Bediuzzaman avoided politics in this period was not that he thought Muslims should practise Islam as individuals and not participate in the life of society, it was that the principles on which political life at that time was based did not conform to his moral beliefs.
“Yes, politics at this time corrupts hearts and causes torment to nervous spirits. Those who want sound hearts and peaceful spirits should give up politics.” 50
On the contrary, he agreed in the necessity of the forming of groups and communities (cema‘at), which emerged on the dissappearance of political support in other Muslim societies of the time, and considered it to be the time of communities or social collectivities:
“The present is the time of the social collectivity. Importance and value are in accordance with the collective personality. The nature of the physical, individual, transitory person should not be taken into consideration.” 51
Bediuzzaman, who in the period of the Old Said supported the idea of reforming the institution of the Caliphate and the Islamic world uniting around a centre, in this new period, parallel to the loss of the last points of resistance of the Dar al-Islam including the Caliphate as an alternative world order, he saw Islamic unity as a non-physical unity. His withdrawal from the political field did not reduce the importance he attached to this non-physical union. The reference he made to Islamic unity in his defence in Denizli Court illustrates this point:
“Yes, we are a society (cemiyet) and we are a society that every century has three hundred and fifty million [now one and a half thousand million] members. Every day through the five obligatory prayers, they demonstrate with complete veneration their attachment to the principles of that sacred society. Through the sacred programme of Indeed the believers are brothers, they hasten to assist one another with their prayers and spiritual gains. We are members of that sacred, vast society, and our particular duty is to teach the believers in certain, verified fashion the Qur’anic truths of belief, and save them and ourselves from eternal extinction and everlasting solitary confinement in the Intermediate Realm. We have absolutely no connection with any worldly, political, or intriguing society or clandestine group, or the baseless, meaningless secret societies concerning which we have been charged; we do not condescend to such things.” 52
IV. The Third Period: The Islamic world’s liberation struggle and the Third Said
In the third period of this century, during which the anti-imperialist liberation struggles intensified in the Islamic world, and in Turkey freedom of religion and thought were extended together with multi-party life, we see that Bediuzzaman, who had particularly made it his principle in the second period to remain aloof from political events and developments, began to express his opinions to a greater extent concerning the issues facing the Islamic world and Turkey’s place in it.
In the third period of this century, during which the anti-imperialist liberation struggles intensified in the Islamic world, and in Turkey freedom of religion and thought were extended together with multi-party life, we see that Bediuzzaman, who had particularly made it his principle in the second period to remain aloof from political events and developments, began to express his opinions to a greater extent concerning the issues facing the Islamic world and Turkey’s place in it.
The parallels between the general course of the Islamic world this century and the course of Bediuzzaman’s life are striking here also. A very interesting indication of this is his naming of this in the Afyon period: 53
“Two or three times I have suffered a very significant state of mind. The preliminaries have now started in me of something similar to the strange mental upheaval which thirty years ago sent me up Mount Yusa, having made me give up the attractive social life of the Darü’l-Hikmet, and did not permit me to take the late Abdurrahman with me even, the first student and hero of the Risale-i Nur, to see to my essential needs, and which disclosed the nature of the New Said. It is my guess it is a sign of the emergence of a Third Said, who will give up the world altogether.” 54
Bediuzzaman’s reference to the Islamic world in particular in the admissions he made in his congratulations to Celâl Bayar, the President of the time, and his making a connection between the new government in Turkey and the new liberation movements in the Islamic world, were manifestations of a more active stance. In his own words, he started “to look again at the world of politics:”
“... So in five or ten days I took a look at the world of politics, and I saw a strange situation. As I said in my defence speeches, an atheistic current which is active through absolute despotism and absolute bribery, had attempted to crush us through torturing us on account of freemasonry and communism. I saw that now another current, which can break that power, had begun to emerge in this country. ... This time, together with congratulating the President of the Republic and Cabinet on their taking over the leadership of the Ahrar [supporters of freedom restricted by the Shari’a—Tr.] and taking on themselves the nation’s destiny, I am divulging a fact; it is like this: ... we do not make religion the tool of politics, but in the face of those who to the awesome detriment of the country and nation make politics the tool of irreligion in bigoted fashion, when we are absolutely compelled to consider politics, our duty is to make it the tool and friend of religion. Then it may be the means of winning the fraternity of three hundred and fifty million brothers for the brothers in this country. In short: in the face of those who have ill-treated us making politics the tool of irreligion in fanatical manner, we work for the happiness of this country and nation by making politics the tool and friend of religion.” 55
In this new period, in internal politics, Bediuzzaman proposed to the new government in Turkey, policies open to religion and in foreign policy, policies aimed at Islamic unity, and he related this to Turkey’s place in the new world situation. He drew attention to three main reasons for the existence of these new politics. The first was the rise of religious consciousness and its being the most important barrier against the spread of communism, which was the new ideological vehicle of the expansionist policies Russia had been developing against Turkey for centuries. Secondly was the religious bond which would be formed with the Muslims in Russia, which would act as a balancing factor against Russia:
“It is essential for the good of this country and Islam that before anything else the law dealing with the freedom of religiously-minded people is both speeded up, and ratified, and quickly applied in the schools. For its ratification will gain for this country a reserve force of nearly forty million Muslims in Russia and the non-physical [or moral] strength of the four hundred million world of Islam. Due to its enmity of a thousand years, it should have been us that Russia attacked first rather than America and the British, but what halted such an attack was undoubtedly the truths of the Qur’an and belief. It is absolutely essential therefore that in the face of that extraordinary force, before anything the truths of the Qur’an and belief are laid hold of in this country and a powerful Qur’anic barrier set up before irreligion, like the barrier of Dhu’l-Qarnayn.” 56
The third reason for these new politics was the threat of communism to the new balance of world power forcing the Western super-powers not to oppose the idea of Islamic unity:
“There is one sole solution in the face of atheism, irreligion, and anarchy, the greatest danger at the present time, and that is to embrace the truths of the Qur’an. For the human calamity that in a short time turned vast China to communism, cannot be silenced with political, physical forces. The only thing that can silence it are the truths of the Qur’an. Signs of the ‘Night of Power Matter’ in the Guide For Youth are now to be seen in both America and Europe. For this reason, the true strength of our present government is to rely on the truths of the Qur’an and to serve them. By doing this, through Islamic government, a reserve force of three hundred and fifty million brothers will be gained within the bounds of Islamic Unity. Formerly, tthe Christian states did not support this Islamic Unity, but now, because communism and anarchy have appeared, both America and the European states are compelled to support the Qur’an and Islamic Unity.” 57
In this new world situation and political context, Bediuzzaman brought up proposals for reform similar to those he had voiced in the first period. The most typical example of this new approach was his idea that the Department of Religious Affairs, which within the state mechanism had been reduced to the rank of petty officialdom, should be given a structure whereby it could undertake a mission which looked to the whole Islamic world:
“Like the office of the Shaykh al-Islam, the Department of Religious Affairs is not only Turkey’s teacher of religion, it has a connection and relationship with the whole Islamic world in place of the Shaykh al-Islam’s office, and [a duty of] supervision [over it]. There is great need at this time in particular for the World of Islam to have a favourable opinion of the Department of Religious Affairs, and not to think ill of it. It would be an important means of Islamic governments which are not allies of Turkey not thinking unfavourably that blessed department...” 58
In this period, Bediuzzaman once again endeavoured to raise the idea of Islamic unity, now that Muslims were beginning to win their freedom with anti-imperialist action, and as with his warnings in the Old Said period, he warned against the divisive effect of racialist movements:
“One who gives up the sacred nationhood of Islam, like formerly, can trample the rights of a hundred innocents due to a single criminal, and apparently due to nationalism but in reality due to the vein of racialism, work against both religiously-minded Democrats who are lovers of freedom, and against seventy per cent of those in this country, who are of different races, and against the government, and the unhappy Turks, and the policies followed by the Democrats —although to do so may give rise to a racialist brotherhood as a most pleasurable bribe to egotistical souls. Due to his drunkenness, he is not aware of the great danger of transforming into enemies the brothers who are a thousand times truer that one pleasurable benefit within that pleasurable brotherhood. For example, instead of every day receiving moral and spiritual assistance through the nationhood of Islam and the universal prayer of four hundred million true brothers ‘O God! Forgive all believing men and women,’ racialism makes him give up those four hundred million blessed brothers for four hundred idle loafers purely for some worldly and very minor benefit. This forms a great danger for both this country, and the government, and for the religious Democrats, and the Turks. And those who do it are not true Turks; noble Turks avoid such errors.” 59
The Muslim groups who in the first period of the century had resisted the imperialists with the Ottoman Caliphate, and in the second had completely lost their freedom under the colonialist administrations, in this third period were struggling to set up independent national states. In this new period, Bediuzzaman attached great importance to the accords between the countries that had newly won their independence, and advanced the idea of Islamic unity against the clashes that might possibly have erupted between these countries due to their mistaken ideas about nationalism. His congratulating the President and Prime Minister on the alliance between Pakistan and Iraq is a reflection of this approach:
“I congratulate with my whole spirit your most successful alliance with Pakistan and Iraq, which you have achieved for this nation with complete sincerity, happiness and joy. I feel in my spirit this alliance of yours to be the certain introduction to universal peace and general well-being among the four hundred million Muslims of the Islamic world, God willing. ... Just as racialism caused great danger in the Umayyad period, and great harm was caused by it at the start of the Second Constitutional Period in the form of ‘clubs’ [societies], and harm was caused to the mujahid Turks by their blessed brother Arabs again through the exploitation of racialism during the First World War, and now too it may be utilized against Islamic brotherhood for there are signs that covert atheists, the enemies of public peace and security, are again trying to cause harm through racialism. The character of racialism is to be nurtured through negative action and causing harm to others, but since throughout the world the Turkish nation is first and foremost Muslim, their racialism is blended with Islam; it cannot be separated from it. Turk is synonymous with Muslim. And those who are not Muslim have cast off their Turkishness. Like the Turks, the Arabs and Arabness and Arab nationalism have combined with Islam, and it has to be like that. Their true nationality is Islam. That is sufficient. Racialism is altogether a grave danger. God willing, your most valuable alliance with Iraq and Pakistan at this time will repulse this dangerous harm of racialism and will be the means of gaining for the nation of this country four hundred million brother Muslims in place of four or five million racialists, and the friendship of eight hundred million Christians and members of other religions, who are in extreme need of peace and general reconciliation. I am telling you of this since the conviction has formed in my very spirit.” 60
In addition to this supportive stance in connection with inter-governmental relations, Bediuzzaman made direct contact with the leaders and groups of other countries, and his efforts to strengthen unity in the Islamic world are striking. Important indications of this new attitude are his meeting with the Pakistan Minister of Education about the subject of distribution of the Risale-i Nur in Pakistan, 61 and his making contact with the groups and movements that had emerged in other Muslim countries particularly during the second period. The relations he established between the Risale-i Nur movement and these groups, particularly in his reply to the congratulations of a member of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin, show that Bediuzzaman was determined to evaluate the new world situation with a view to the spread of efforts at unity in the Islamic world on the social level:
“In response to the congratulations written to me by the member of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin in Aleppo, I congratulate the Ikhwan al-Muslimin with all my heart and spirit, and calling down God’s blessings, say that the Nurjus in Anatolia, who are like the successors of the old Ittihad-i Muhammedî, and the Ikhwan al-Muslimin in Arabia form two associated and congruent rows of the many rows in the circle of the sacred society of the party of the Qur’an and Islamic unity, who are true brothers. Their sincere interest in the Risale-i Nur and their intention to translate a part of it into Arabic and publish it has pleased us exceedingly and made us very grateful.” 62
In short: a new world was being founded in the third quarter of this century subsequent to the Second World War, and the Third Said moved on from the New Said’s principle of not even reading the newspapers and remaining aloof from politics. He was active in making proposals and contacts aimed at unifying the Islamic world on the level of relations between both governments and societies, so that it could become an effective power in this new world. If considered from another point of view, like the Islamic world which had smashed the colonialist models of the second period, the Third Said smashed the models of despotism of the period of the New Said, and tried to add social and political dimensions to the foundations of belief that the New Said had constructed. In this way, despite his increasing years, the Third Said combined the experiences of the Old and New Said’s, and reflected them in social relations.


V. The Fourth Period and Bediuzzaman’s political predictions
Bediuzzaman died in the first half of the third period of our categorization and analysis related to the Islamic world this century, and did not live to see the final period, which covered the fourth quarter. In connection with this period, we can only say that Bediuzzaman made extremely interesting predictions concerning it. For example, while in Istanbul during the first period, in reply to the question of Shaykh Bahid, an eminent al-Azhar scholar, “What are you ideas on Europe and the Ottomans?”, he said “Europe is pregnant with an Islamic state, which it will one day give birth to; while the Ottomans are pregnant with Europe, and they will give birth to that.” 63 Later, during the period of the Third Said he recalled this, saying:
Bediuzzaman died in the first half of the third period of our categorization and analysis related to the Islamic world this century, and did not live to see the final period, which covered the fourth quarter. In connection with this period, we can only say that Bediuzzaman made extremely interesting predictions concerning it. For example, while in Istanbul during the first period, in reply to the question of Shaykh Bahid, an eminent al-Azhar scholar, “What are you ideas on Europe and the Ottomans?”, he said “Europe is pregnant with an Islamic state, which it will one day give birth to; while the Ottomans are pregnant with Europe, and they will give birth to that.” 63 Later, during the period of the Third Said he recalled this, saying:
“We witnessed the first birth with our own eyes; in a quarter century (Ottoman Turkey) was further from religion than Europe. God willing, the second birth will take place in 20-30 years’ time. There are many signs in both East and West that an Islamic state will emerge in Europe.” 64
By saying this, he was alluding to certain developments in the last quarter of this century. It is possible these predictions allude to the formation of a significant Muslim population particularly in the Balkans with the breaking up of the Ottoman Empire, and in Western Europe with the dispersal of the empires of the imperialist powers; one may observe signs that this population will start to make political demands. One has to see, in his words, “the way of politics” 65 in order to be able to foresee this conclusion.
Then while returning to Van from Istanbul after the Constitutional Revolution, the reply Bediuzzaman gave the Russian policeman with whom he spoke, telling him he was planning his medrese, is an indication of the greatest importance from the point of view of his political predictions about future periods:
“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. ... 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.” 66
Again, at the beginning of the time of the Cold War when materialist philosophy and the socialist movements were gaining strength, he said:
“With the powerful awakening brought about in mankind by two ghastly world wars, and man being awakened completely, most certainly no nation can exist without religion; Russia too cannot continue without religion,” 67
which foresees the beginning of a religious awakening on socialist philosophy being abandoned in the Soviet republics.
This holds great importance from the point of view of the period it was said and its characteristics, for they may be seen as predictions of the revolutions against colonialism in the third period and the collapse of the soviets and Caucasia and Central Asia gaining their freedom. The above quote, which was said immediately preceding the First World War when the Islamic world generally was in a dire situation, should be seen as a sign of a powerful faith and self-confidence. In The Damascus Sermon, a work of the Old Said, Bediuzzaman said that the most serious sickness afflicting the Islamic world was despair and hopelessness. This self-confidence features in many of his works, and played an important role in preventing the spread of a psychology of despair. It was this powerful belief and self-confidence that made him declare in that dark time for the Islamic world:
“Moreover, the veils that have eclipsed the sun of Islam, hindered its emergence and prevented it illuminating mankind have begun to disperse. Those things that were hindering it have begun to fall back. The signs of the dawn appeared forty-five years ago. Then the true dawn broke in 1371/1951, or it will break. Even if it is the false dawn, in thirty or forty years’ time the true dawn will break.” 68
It is a fact that the veilswhich grew ever denser before the Islamic world in the second quarter of the century, that is, the second period of our analysis, began to fold back in the third period. The clashes which broke out in the fourth period between the dominant powers of the international system and the Islamic world paved the way for the development of the consciousness of a joint destiny even among the pro-Western political elite. Finally, the Bosnia crisis played a role in strengthening this consciousness of a joint destiny and solidarity.
Despite all the political, economic, and cultural crises, the Islamic world is on the threshold of a new flowering of its civilization. In this new and difficult time, more than ever need will be felt for the messages of Bediuzzaman, who as a model person, lived through the stages the Islamic world undergone over a century, and for his proud and dignified stance which aroused respect in even his enemies, and for his powerful voice, which proclaimed:
“Yes, be hopeful! The loudest and strongest voice in the coming upheavals and changes will be that of Islam!”

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1. For a detailed analysis of these four stages, see, Davutoglu, A., Civilizational Transformation and the Muslim World; Quill, K. L., “20. Yüzyilda Islam Siyasasinin Temel Meseleleri,” in Ilim ve Sanat (Mayis 1992), No: 7, 5-14.
2. ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq, al-Islam wa Usul al-Hukm, Beirut 1966.
3. Rasdid Rida, al-Khilafa, Cairo 1988.
4. Iqbal, Muhammad, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, London 1934, 164.
5. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Sünûhat, Istanbul, Sözler Yayinevi 1977, 44-46.
6. Sünûhat, 47.
7. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Hutbe-i Sâmiye, Istanbul 1960, 19 / The Damascus Sermon [English trans.], Istanbul, Sözler Publications 1996, 28.
8. Sünûhat, 36.
9. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Iki Mekteb-i Musibetin Sehadetnamesi veya Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, Istanbul, Sözler Yayinevi 1978, 68.
10. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Münâzarat, Istanbul, Envar Nesriyat 1993, 78.
11. Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 16-17 / The Damascus Sermon, 26-7.
12. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 65-6.
13. Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 18 / The Damascus Sermon, 27-8.
14. Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 32 / The Damascus Sermon, 39.
15. Sünûhat, 42.
16. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Emirdag Lahikasi, Istanbul, Sözler Yayinevi 1993, 18.
17. Emirdag Lahikasi, 19.
18. Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 86 / The Damascus Sermon, 86.
19. Münâzarat, 23.
20. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 15.
21. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 41-2.
22. Münâzarat, 18.
23. Münâzarat, 19.
24. Bediüzzaman Said Nursî, Tarihçe-i Hayati, Mesleki, Tercüme-i Hali, Istanbul, Sözler Yayinevi 1991, 52.
25. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 15.
26. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 23-4.
27. Nevertheless, with the Second Constitutional Period, the role of non-Muslims within the state mechanism again became a topic of debate and ideas foreseeing the Ottomanism current again gained currency. Bediuzzaman’s saying during his conversations with the tribes of eastern Turkey (Münâzarat, 39) that non-Muslims too could be appointed to administrative positions like Vali (Governor) and Kaymakam, is in conformity with the Ottomanism current, which recognized their rights as citizens and their Ottoman identity.
28. Hutbe-i Samiye, 56-7 / The Damascus Sermon, 59-60.
29. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Mektûbat, Istanbul, Sözler Yayinevi 1994, 310 / Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Letters 1928-1932 [English trans.], Sözler Publications 1994, 382.
30. Mektûbat, 308-9 / Letters, 380, 381-2.
31. Sünûhat, 13.
32. Mektûbat, 308 / Letters, 380.
33. “Reddü’l-Evham,” 31 Mart 1909, in Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 82 / The Damascus Sermon, 83.
34. Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 47 / The Damascus Sermon, 51-2.
35. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 50.
36. Münâzarat, 28.
37. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 41.
38. Münâzarat (Ott. ed.), 38-9, as mentioned in Mürsel, Safâ, Siyasî Düsünce Tarihi Isiginda Bediüzzaman Said Nursî, Istanbul, Yeni Asya Yayinlari 1989, 155.
39. Münâzarat, 34.
40. Münâzarat, 39-40.
41. Sünûhat, 39.
42. Sünûhat, 36-7.
43. Sünûhat, 37-8.
44. Sünûhat, 38-9.
45. Sünûhat, 39-40.
46. Sünûhat, 33-9.
47. Tarihçe-i Hayat, 256.
48. Mektûbat, 45-6 / Letters, 68-9.
49. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Kastamonu Lahikasi, Istanbul, Sözler Yayinevi 1993, 142.
50. Tarihçe-i Hayat, 283.
51. Kastamonu Lahikasi, 6.
52. Tarihçe-i Hayat, 349.
53. Tarihçe-i Hayat, 537.
54. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Sualar, Istanbul, Sözler Yayinevi 1992, 465.
55. Emirdag Lahikasi, 279-80.
56. Emirdag Lahikasi, 331.
57. Emirdag Lahikasi, 315. These views were also expressed by some of Bediuzzaman’s close students: “Having been the means, at the wish of the nation, of the freedom of the marks of Islam, the only way the Democrats can now both preserve their position and satisfy the people is to make the movement for Islamic Unity their point of support. Formerly, the policies and interests of the British, French, and Americans were opposed to this. But they are no longer opposed to it, in fact they are in need of it. For communism, freemasonry, atheism, and irreligion lead directly to anarchy, and it is only Islamic Unity around the truths of the Qur’an that can withstand these awesomely destructive forces...” Signed, Sadik, Sungur, Ziya, in the name of the Risale-i Nur students and university students. (Emirdag Lahikasi, 287).
58. Emirdag Lahikasi, 426.
59. Emirdag Lahikasi, 419-20.
60. Emirdag Lahikasi, 463-4.
61. Emirdag Lahikasi, 314.
62. Emirdag Lahikasi, 296.
63. Tarihçe-i Hayat, 50; Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 27 / The Damascus Sermon, 35.
64. Emirdag Lahikasi, 368.
65. Münâzarat, 27.
66. Tarihçe-i Hayat, 73.
67. Emirdag Lahikasi, 331.
68. Hutbe-i Sâmiye, 23 / The Damascus Sermon, 32.




Link: Bediuzzaman and the Politics of Islamic World in the 20th Century