“When the full moon shines on a clear night,
What would it have to fear of the dogs or their barking?
The dogs continue to do what they are supposed to do
And the moon continues to beautify the face of the night.
A bit of weed floats on water
Yet the water does not lose its purity.
Mustafa1 splits the moon in half
While Abu Lahab2 utters silly curses.
Jesus revives the dead
While his enemies pull their beards out of hatred.
The sound of the dog never reaches the ear of the Moon,
If that moon is a friend of God”3
-- M.J. Rumi, Mathnawi, “The Candy Seller Child (The Debtor Sheikh).”
The true “friends” of God reflect His light in their hearts, which have become like mirrors. Like the full moon on a bright night, they illuminate everything within their reach. They do not discriminate anyone; they can be called “champions of compassion without frontiers.” It is so difficult to contain light in a closed place, it seeps out and illuminates. Likewise, it is hard to confine the compassion of such people when they come in contact with others, their compassion and love touches, affects and transforms them. You cannot find any trace of the stereotypes of the idle or the harsh reactions of the conceited in them. They reach out and embrace. And the hatred, the misdemeanors, the biases, the bad habits, the doubts all dissolve and disappear within this embracing. In this article, we will present two examples of radiating compassion and love from the life of a famous scholar of Islam and a person of devotion, Bediuzzaman S. Nursi, and then turn to his inspiration for such outpourings.
Said Nursi, also known as “Bediuzzaman” or “the wonder of the age” by his contemporaries, was born in eastern Anatolia (in modern Turkey) in a turbulent era towards the end of the nineteenth century.4 Earlier in his life, he was noted for his genius, unmatched scholarship and his balanced combination of Islamic spirituality with the duties of contemporary life. Over the course of his life, he inspired hundreds of thousands of students. Since his passing away in 1960, he has continued to inspire millions and his books remain as the bestsellers of all times in Turkey, as well as being translated into several languages. His main work, Risale-i Nur Collection (The Treatises of Light) is a collection of books that consists of more than 6,000 pages. This collection deals with topics such as logical arguments concerning the pillars of faith, the importance of worship, the significance of the Prophetic Tradition, the miracles of the Qur’an and the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him), consolation for the sick and elderly, treatments of perceived conflicts between science and religion, reflections on natural phenomena and the signs of the Hereafter, as well as perspectives of the believer and the disbeliever on the world and the consequences of these, among other matters.
The noteworthy stances of Bediuzzaman include his championing of representative democracy over monarchy and despotism among the tribes in Eastern Anatolia, as well as his support for republicanism, the marriage of natural sciences and theology, the complete rejection of gifts or donations, and his advocacy for dialogue among people of different faiths. He succeeded in securing funds from the Ottoman government of Sultan Reshad, as well as the subsequent Turkish Republican parliament, for the establishment of a university in eastern Turkey where theological and natural sciences would be integrated in a single curriculum.
Although Nursi supported the Anatolian resistance through his efforts in Istanbul, during the early years of the Turkish Republic, he was exiled by the government in fear that he might exert his influence on the people around him against the government. Though subsequent investigations failed to show any evidence for such political intentions, he ended up spending 25 years of his life in jail or in exile. In a piece he wrote later about these painful years, he said that he would not seek justice from God in the Divine court of the Hereafter if the people who had inflicted suffering on him had benefited from his works and died as believers.5 During these years, neighbors and witnesses reported in a collection of interviews published in Turkish that he used to spend most of his nights in prayers and remembrance, sometimes crying. In the prisons where he was held it was noticed that former criminals and killers, such as the so-called “Butcher Tahir” in the city prison of Afyon, were transformed into individuals who took care not to step on ants.6
In the following two stories, we will see examples of how this friend of God embraced people of diverse backgrounds and led them to become friends and fellow worshippers of God.
During his exile in the city of Kastamonu, Bediuzzaman and his student from that town, Mehmed Feyzi, were climbing the skirts of the Karada€ (Black Mountain). Two famous outlaws had stopped to have something to eat by the road. Although these persons had been born into a Muslim community, they were living a wretched life full of crime and harassment. Mehmed Feyzi knew these people. They were notorious for their crimes around the city. Nobody dared say anything to them. Mehmed was worried about the safety of Bediuzzaman; so, he was praying silently for God to protect him.
Bediuzzaman walked by the men slowly, without saying anything to them.
The two outlaws looked at each other in surprise and one of them spoke:
--”Do you recognize this scholar?”
--”I do, indeed. I have heard that he is fearless. He is known for telling all the commandments of the Qur’an without hesitation.”
--”If that’s the case, how come he did not say a word to us?”
--”I think he thought it is of no use to try to teach anything to us. What does that tell you my friend? We are finished. We are doomed.”
The other one immediately grabbed the table with the liquor on it and threw it with all his power towards the mountain. And he proclaimed:
--”No my friend! We are Muslims and we will remain Muslims. We will clean ourselves of these sins; we will turn to God and obey His commandments. We will never mix in such dirty affairs again. Come, let’s go.”
The two men stood up and went to the public baths. After cleaning themselves they went straight to a mosque and sat down.
The members of the congregation were puzzled. They were pointing to the men and asking each other silently: “What are these guys doing here? What are they up to?” One of them asked the muezzin about them. The muezzin had heard about the incident on the mountain. He calmed them down and said: “Don’t worry. They have repented. They saw Bediuzzaman on his way to the mountain. They regretted what they have done and have come here to worship.”
Upon hearing these words, the congregation calmed down and continued with their duties. They had thought originally that these criminals had come to the mosque to kill people; they had not realized that the men had changed their lifestyle.
Bediuzzaman was exiled to the town of Emirda€. As they did every spring, the gypsies came from their dwelling places to the town and knocked on the doors, begging. Some of them were offered plastic utensils for laundry or household chores, goods that were no longer needed. They knocked on every door and asked, “In the name of God, please give us something.” They knocked on Bediuzzaman’s door as well. They did not know that the man who lived here was an old man exiled to the town with very little to live on.
Bediuzzaman opened the door and upon seeing who was there, he smiled. He gave them a piece of bread.
The next day, he was walking in the countryside with one of his students. He saw the gypsy tents and approached them. They immediately surrounded him and tried to kiss his hands. Some of them knew who he was. An older man among them approached Bediuzzaman and said: “Our teacher! We heard that you are a guest in this town. Please pray for us. We love you.”
Bediuzzaman replied: “Yes my brother. Indeed I love you too.” He put his hand on the old man’s back and continued: “You are among those who understand that this world is transitory. As nomads, you are my fellow travelers. I am a nomad like you.”
Upon reading incidents like the ones here, one wonders: Was Bediuzzaman the first devout Muslim to display such acts of compassion? Or did he have a teacher? And the answer is simple: He valued and championed the importance of the prophetic tradition of Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him; it was that very tradition7 that provided him with the source of his compassion that had no frontiers. Here is a striking example from the life of Prophet that shows the depth of this compassion:
Abu Mahzura tells his story:8 We were a group of 12 people and came across God’s Messenger on the road to Hunayn. When the time for prayer came, a muezzin began to recite the call for prayer. As he was reciting the words, we mocked him by repeating his words in a funny manner. I was leading the ridicule. The Prophet heard us and summoned us.
“Whose voice was it that I heard?” he asked. Nobody answered. He then listened to each of us individually and discovered that mine was the leading voice. He signed to the others to leave. He then turned to me and said: “Go ahead and recite the call to prayer.” I stood up with my head bowed down, but could not say anything as I did not remember the words. At that moment the Prophet was the worst person in my mind and the thing he was asking me to do was the worst thing to do. After seeing my silence, the Prophet taught me the words of the call to prayer, one by one. Then he gave me some money. He caressed my forehead, my face and breast and prayed “May God bless and protect you.” Then I asked, “O Messenger of God, would you allow me to make the call to prayer in Makka?” he answered, “I give you that permission.” At that moment, he was the most beloved person on earth to me.
This story illustrates beautifully the transformation of a man who was ridiculing something sacred to the believers into a different man devoted to serving the faith. With his compassion and patience, God’s Messenger had no trouble discovering and polishing a jewel. We can see a similar transformation in the incident of the man who urinated in the Prophet’s mosque.
In the Qur’an, God tells His Messenger: If you had been rough and hard-hearted with them, they would certainly have dispersed from around you (Al Imran 3:159). Indeed, the Prophet was known as the most compassionate and loving member of the community, and was able to balance these traits with his other roles as community leader and statesman. Abu Hurayra reported:9 A bedouin urinated in the mosque and some people rushed to beat him. The Prophet said: “Leave him alone and pour a bucket of water over it. You have been sent to make things easy and not to make them difficult.’’ Afterwards the Prophet called the man and gently explained to him that this was a place of worship and that it should be kept clean. Apparently, this person understood the point, for he was later observed in the mosque in his best clothes.
We have seen two examples of radiating compassion and love in a 20th century student of an eternal teacher and two examples from the life of his teacher. These examples are intended to show only the tip of an iceberg for those who are interested in exploring the spiritual dimension of Islam. At a time when this faith is associated with heinous crimes against humanity, it should be the duty of the inquisitive mind to transcend common stereotypes and explore the depth of spiritual richness in this source, which has produced world-renowned spiritual masters such as Rumi, the author of the verses at the beginning of this article, and continues to inspire hundreds of millions of people.