Contrary to the practice of religious scholars at that time, Bediuzzaman himself studied and mastered almost all the physical and mathematical sciences, and later studied philosophy, for he believed that it was only in this way that Islamic theology (kalam) could be renewed and successfully answer the attacks to which the Qur'an and Islam were then subject.
In the course of time, the physical sciences had been dropped from madrasa education, which had contributed directly to the Ottoman decline relative to the advance of the West. Now, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Europe had gained dominance over the Islamic world, and in efforts to extend its dominance, was attacking the Qur'an and Islam in the name of science and progress in particular, falsely claiming them to be incompatible. Within the Empire too was a small minority which favored adopting Western philosophy and civilization. Thus, all Bediuzzaman's endeavor was to prove and demonstrate the falseness of these accusations, and that far from being incompatible with science and progress, the Qur'an was the source of true progress and civilization, and in addition, since this was the case, Islam would dominate the future, despite its relative decline and regression at that time.
Nursi on God
The modern world’s rejection of God is one of the most harmful aspects of the so-called “modernity”. This philosophy has become to be known as the existential approach to life, which denies and rejects the religious and spiritual side of ethics and moral values.
If we consider it from the point of view of neo-liberalism, do such problems express any meaning for an individual or society which espouses a world-view dominated by a mass of hypotheses which do not accept that there is an order and harmony in nature or any ecological system and balance; which take its fundamental principle to be conflict and transgression against the weak, deem self-interest to be the most important principle in life, and consider it licit and fair to sacrifice not only the environment, but people even, for these benefits and interests? Can it be expected of someone who does not believe that he comes only once to this world and then will depart for the next world; considers force to be the sole measure of right and truth; and that the only purpose of life is the unlimited satisfaction of the limitless desires and needs of his/her soul - can it be expected that he/she should feel concern at environmental problems or bother himself with the rights of forthcoming generations, or with extinct species, or injustices, poverty, etc; for example? These questions are debatable.
But the answer given by the contemporary thinker and historian Arnold Toynbee was negative. Toynbee describes this as follows:
People, carried away by greed and materialism, narrow-mindedly say: after me the storm. They should know that if they cannot limit their greed, they are condemning their children to extinction. They may love their children, but their love may be insufficient to allow them to sacrifice a part of their wealth in order to guarantee their children's futures. In my opinion, so long as this goal is not bound to a form of religious belief (using the word religion in its widest meaning), it will not be possible to persuade the modern generations of the advanced countries to make any sacrifices to their own cost (ecosystem).
It was for these reasons that in order to be saved from the nihilist, absurd world-view which takes force as its absolute point of reference, and to have a meaningful life, Said Nursi declared: “Knowledge of the Maker is man's sole refuge and point of support.” In the early period of his life, he said:
If man does not believe in the All-Wise Maker, Who performs everything wisely and with order, and unthinkingly attributes everything to chance; and if he thinks of the inadequacy of his power in the face of those calamities; it will result in a hellish and heartrending state for him, of compounded fright, fear, alarm, and anxiety. Being the noblest and best of creatures, he will be more wretched than anything, thus opposing the reality of the perfect order of the universe.
In the Risale-i Nur, Said Nursi on the one hand attempted to reply to the challenges of modernity, and on the other, offering a new understanding of Divine revelation, he emphasized above all else the order, harmony, measuredness, and beauty of the world, which he called the book of the universe, and in this way set out to demonstrate God's existence together will all His Most Beautiful Names. Thus, in the very place that modern materialist philosophy attacks belief and instills doubts, he demonstrates convincingly foremost God's existence, the hereafter, and prophethood.
In Nursi’s philosophy, as it has been noted, this world in the sheer sense is a clean being. The reasons for this may be reduced to two:
• This world is the work of God. It receives its existence from Him. It is also evidence for His existence.
• This world was given to men by God so that they might win clean livelihoods from it.
This article has been extracted from Dr Kamran Mofid’s paper “To Heal Our Broken World: Bringing Economics, Religions and Spirituality together for the Common Good” presented at the International Conference on Spiritual Dimensions of Said Nursi’s Risale-i-Nur, in Istanbul, August 2005.