- Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model of Interfaith Dialogue
In world philosophy, philosophical movements in Turkey are an ignored area. Until recent times, most world histories, or general surveys of world civilization, while exploring a vast area of the globe and many cultures, have sometimes ignored entire regions. In this context, Ian S. Markham makes a very good contribution to this field. His subject is Said Nursi, in his new study Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model of Interfaith Dialogue. For Markham, "Nursi's thought has challenged Christian theology in a way that invites us to tap into an aspect of our tradition that many contemporary theologians are too quick to dismiss" (p. 41). [End Page 604]
Markham is trying to engage with Said Nursi from many standpoints. Sometimes we see Nursi as challenging Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell (pp. 23-33), sometimes we see Nursi agree with St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila (p. 93), and Markham puts John Hick into conversation with Nursi (p. 53). According to Markham, Nursi is a "both/and" rather than an "either/or" thinker:
It is important therefore that both Muslims and non-Muslims engage with the thought of Said Nursi. In a variety of different ways, he is able to challenge conventional ways of thinking about the relationship between faith and morals. Nursi is a "both/and" thinker rather than an "either/or" one. So his ethic is both firmly rooted in the Qur'an, and yet discernable to anyone willing to reason properly about the world. He accepts both the reality of pluralism and insists on the truth of Islam. He has both a demanding renewal ethic for individual Muslims to cultivate and continues to call for an appropriate transformation of society. He celebrates the achievements of modernity and is not afraid to question its coherence.(p. 22)
Throughout the book, the idea is emphasized that "The age of an epistemological relativism, coupled with an enthusiasm for John Hick's pluralist hypothesis, is over." Markham suggests "engagement" as the next phase for dialogue:
Like Nursi, I am advocating an engagement which is orthodox yet open. Like Nursi, I am aspiring to be rooted yet engaged. This model of interfaith dialogue is much more exciting than the world of skeptical Christians and Muslims gathering to criticize all those within each tradition who believe in the truth of their respective traditions. This is the dialogue mode of the second phase. The time has come to move beyond this.(p. 175)
He is optimistic about interfaith dialogue. It is arguable, however, whether the engagement model is the second phase of the pluralist hypothesis. Conceptually, his position may seem powerful; but, practically, engagement seems a first step for dialogue.
Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi really challenges us; here we come face to face with a book that is somewhat out of the ordinary about a Muslim thinker from Turkey. Its engagement with Said Nursi is most instructive for both Muslim and Christian thinkers. However, every engagement brings its own logic; that is, it has its own limitation: if it is an engagement, will it be a temporary relationship or a process leading up to a marriage? The quality of this engagement will be clarified by the discussions about the book. These are themselves part of the logic of engagement.