Islam in Modern Turkey
An Intellectual Biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: State University of New York Press
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Author’s Note on the Sources
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Note on Spelling and Pronunciation
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Sükran Vahide’s biography of Ustadh Bediuzzaman Said Nursi may well become a classic in the field of modern Islamic Studies and Comparative Theology. In this work, the author traces Nursi’s life and thought from his birth and childhood in the eastern part of Turkey until his death in 1960. Vahide’s command of the original sources is beyond reproach, and her understanding...
Part I: The Old Said
1 Childhood and Youth
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The village of Nurs straggles along the bottom of the south-facing slopes of a range of the massive Taurus Mountains south of Lake Van in the province of Bitlis in eastern Anatolia. Its deep valley is carved through the mountains from Hizan, the nearest township some ten hours away on foot. Until the road was built in the 1980s the only path to the village followed this valley, along...
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In November 1907 Nursi set off for Istanbul with the intention of obtaining official support and backing for his Islamic university, the Medresetü’z-Zehra. He was now around thirty years of age. From his humble beginnings in the village of Nurs, he had established his reputation among the ulama of Kurdistan and was a figure well known not only for his unbeaten record in debate...
3 Bediuzzaman and the Thirty-first of March Incident
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After nine months of CUP rule, increasing discontent found expression in the famous Thirty-first of March Incident.1 Many aspects of this revolt, which started with certain sections of the army in Istanbul mutinying and continued for twelve days, have still not been brought to light. But what is certain is that for whatever reasons, the role in the revolt of the newspaper...
4 The Future Shall Be Islam’s
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By the end of May 1909 Nursi was free of prison and the court-martial. Despite his bidding farewell to Istanbul at the end of his defense and declaring that he was returning to the East, there now follows a period of nine or tenth months before he made his return journey to Van, about which to date no clues as to his movements have been found. He set out the following spring...
5 The Medresetü’z-Zehra
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...On June 5, 1911, Sultan Mehmed Resad set out on his famous Rumelia journey with a large retinue including two princes, the grand vizier, Hakkı Pasha, and a number of deputies.3 It was to be the last time an Ottoman sultan visited the European provinces, for soon they were to be lost to the empire. The previous year had seen the first Albanian uprising. The purpose of the sultan’s...
6 War and Captivity
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...honor of it.” The agreement between the Ottoman government, represented by a small group of Young Turk leaders, and Germany was signed in the greatest secrecy on August 2, 1914. Thereby the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary and Germany) against the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia). Mobilization was announced the following day, and on...
7 The Armistice Years (1):Appointment to the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-ÿslamiye, and Opposition to the British
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There is no detailed account of Nursi’s escape and return journey to Istanbul. He did not permit his nephew, Abdurrahman, to give anything but the briefest facts: that “having escaped from Kosturma, [Nursi] was successful in reaching Petersburg, [then] Warsaw, and finally arriving at Istanbul by way of Vienna, was saved from...
8 The Armistice Years (2):The Birth of the New Said,and Departure for Ankara
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...the time greatly distressed at the course of events and was “searching for a light in the dense darkness.” In his dream, Nursi was summoned by “a great assembly” made up of representatives of the leading figures of Islam from each century and called upon to give an account of the present state of Islam. Contrarily to what might be expected, Nursi’s reply pointed out positive...
Part II: The New Said
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On arriving in Van, Nursi stayed with his younger brother, Abdülmecid, a teacher of Arabic, in the Toprakkale district of the town. But we learn from Abdülmecid’s wife, Rabia, that his well-wishers and visitors were so numerous that he was obliged to move to Nurs*in Mosque. This then became Nursi’s base in Van in place of his medrese, the Horhor, which had been razed in the...
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Barla—Ankara had indeed found a remote spot removed from easy contact with the outside world. With its low, red-roofed houses nestling on a hillside among the green-sprinkled mountains to the west of Lake Egirdir, this small village could only be reached on foot, or by horse or donkey; there was no motor road. The road was to come to Barla in later years, as was the telephone...
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On April 25, 1935, a number of Nursi’s students were taken from their homes and places of work and held in custody. Two days later, Nursi himself and another group were arrested. It was the start of an event that very often bordered on the ridiculous, despite its seriousness, and was another example of the lengths the government went to reduce the standing of influential religious...
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Nursi was released from Eskisehir Prison in March 1936 and was sent to Kastamonu in the Ilgaz Mountains to the south of the Black Sea. He was now fifty-nine years of age. His enforced residence in this the major town of the province of Kastamonu was to last seven and a half years. Under constant surveillance, his movements were more restricted than in Barla, and the harassment...
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Nursi was still ill from the effects of the poison, and weak. It was now the end of Ramad≥a\n. He was deeply grieved at this blow to the Risale-i Nur; besides himself, virtually all its leading students had been arrested. The students had been rounded up and taken from their homes and villages in the province of Isparta and elsewhere and their families left without support or protection....
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Nursi had been a month and a half in the Sehir Hotel in Denizli when the order came from Ankara that he was to reside in the province of Afyon, still in western Anatolia, to the northeast of Denizli. A letter dated July 31, 1944, written by the Denizli businessman Hafız Mustafa Kocayaka to Sadık Demirelli, who had sent Nursi some Kastamonu rice, states that Nursi had left that day in the...
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...The years of Republican People’s Party rule were drawing to an end; in 1946 the Democrat Party had already been founded. As though to have a final strike at religion and Islam, to which they were now having to make concessions, they inflicted on Nursi, who virtually alone of all the leading religious figures in Turkey had persistently defied them, twenty months of the most terrible...
Part III: The Third Said
16 Consolidation of the Nur Movement and “Jihad of the Word”
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We come now to the last ten years of Nursi’s life and the last of its three main stages—in Nursi’s own words, that of the Third Said. The Third Said is generally defined in terms of changes Nursi made in the way he had patterned his life over many years, the expansion of his work with the Risale-i Nur, and also in his involving himself more closely with social and political developments...
17 The Last Months
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As we approach the end of Nursi’s life, just how baseless and far from the truth were the accusations made against him may be further illustrated by descriptions of his health and state of mind during these last years, both by himself and by the students who were constantly with him. As has been mentioned in other contexts, the basis of the...
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The story of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is the story of a Muslim scholar and teacher who at a time when the fortunes of the Islamic world had declined in the face of rising Western imperialism dedicated his life and learning to demonstrating that the revitalization of the Islamic world, and even the prosperity and happiness of humanity, were to be found in the Qur’an as divine...
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Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 2 maps
Publication Year: 2005