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Isolation in Barla 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 Eg¨irdir, 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 and electricity. The authorities in Ankara were not to know, however, that in unjustly exiling Nursi to this distant spot that they were serving the very cause they were intending to extirpate—that their injustice in not only exiling him but in imposing these conditions of isolation on him would be “transformed into a divine mercy.” They allowed him only the occasional visitor, and by spreading rumors and slander about him in the area of Barla they frightened off the local people and tried to prevent them approaching him; they had him watched, followed, and harassed continuously; and when in 1928 the government granted an amnesty to the other deportees, they denied him this right, too. But these repressive measures were, in Nursi’s words, merely serving the purposes of divine wisdom, for in this way he was isolated from all distraction and his mind was kept clear so that he could “freely receive the effulgence of the Qur’a\n” and be employed to a greater degree in its service.1 Nursi was to remain nearly eight and a half years in the gardens and mountains of Barla, and during this time he wrote the greater part of the one hundred and thirty parts of the Risale-i Nur. Barla became the center from which irradiated “the lights of belief” at a time it seemed they were destined to be extinguished. The Attempt to Uproot Islam By the early spring of 1926, the course Turkey was to follow had been set: that is, due west. For in the view of Mustafa Kemal, who by now had consolidated his power, Turkey could only be rebuilt and take its place in the “civilized ” world through rapid modernization, and modernization meant Westernization .2 And this in turn meant complete secularization. In his view, and in that of the Westernized elite that had come into existence as a result of the 189 C H A P T E R 10 Barla Tanzimat reforms, Islam stood for backwardness and was responsible for the Ottoman decline and final defeat. The first goal, therefore, was the disestablishment of Islam and the removal of its visible presence from public life, and its replacement by Western civilization together with all its trappings. However , this should not have constituted the radical break that indeed it was perceived to constitute, for the secularization of the state had started with the Tanzimat. It had continued in the second constitutional period, though the voice of the Westernists had still been relatively feeble beside that of the Islamists, who proposed taking only science and technology from the West. Then, after the CUP gained complete control of the government in 1913, a string of secularizing measures proposed by the Turkist Ziya Gökalp were introduced, which greatly reduced the competence of the S*eyhül-ÿslam, handing over his “administrative, financial, judicial, and pedagogical functions” to the relevant departments of government,3 so that by 1923 the field of Islamic jurisdiction had been narrowed to include only family law. Yet this belied the immense power that remained to Islam as the basis and binding force of society . Its displacement or extirpation by the secularizing reforms could be achieved only through measures of the most draconian kind. Before listing the reforms, it will assist in envisaging the popular reaction to them, as well as understanding Nursi’s response and that of the students he attracted in Barla, to recall that those implemented during the Tanzimat and subsequently had had little effect on the mass of people and their way of life, which was inextricably bound up with Islam. They still identified with Islam. Moreover, against all the odds the people of Turkey had just emerged victorious from the War of Independence, in which as Muslims their very land and existence had been threatened by what they saw as the powers of Christendom. In short, the purpose of the intended radical transformation, which was no less than a cultural revolution, was to eliminate the old Islamic identity and create one based on...


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