Imam Nursi’s Vision for Islamic Unity

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By Mahmud Misri

The great need for Islamic unity, which was always referred to by Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, is becoming increasingly apparent, day after day, for the people of faith who have clear vision.

I. Introduction

Many of the thinkers of the Islamic world, past and present, have discussed the reasons for the advancement of civilization of a nation, trying to answer the big question: Why have the Muslims become backward, while others have progressed? We point out here that thinkers have agreed on the importance of a specific intrinsic factor, which is the splitting up, or the disunity,, of the Muslims. Imam Nursi, may Allah’s mercy be upon him, was one of the most important contemporary figures to have mentioned this issue in their writings. However, what distinguishes Nursi from the others is that he has closely related the different aspects of this issue with the facts of faith, as is always the case in his brilliant intellectual output. Therefore, he has expressed this fact by grading the “love of hostility, and the ignorance of the divine ties which bind the faithful together,” as two of the six diseases that have left the Nation of Islam still standing on the threshold of the Middle Ages, at a time when the West has gone so far into the material future.

The Imam’s vision of the Islamic union was based on the starting points leading to it. The vision was also established on the components supporting the establishment of this union. The Imam’s vision was also insightful as to the constraints preventing the fulfilment of such a union. Therefore, we see that the Imam did not want to present a traditional definition of the Islamic union in the Letters of Light, he wanted to offer just a vision of the Islamic union through which he gives an introduction to it, rather than a definition of it. Accordingly, this paper will concentrate on some parts of the Letters of Light which, through speaking about the starting points, components and constraints, contextually refer to the definition of the Islamic union. Throughout all of that we will point out the close relation between the truths of faith and the Islamic unity, as referred to by the Imam. Such a close relation gives spiritual beauty to the majesty of thought, elevating it into the realm of the Perfect. In this abstract it is sufficient to refer only to some of the starting points, components and constraints of the Islamic union. Those who want to read it in full can refer to the work itself.

II. Starting Points:

If each of the principles of Islam, or each of its values, does not constitute an aspect or a manifestation of Islamic unity, it at least holds out one of the starting points of such a unity. It is sufficient in this quick reference to point out two basic starting points.

II. 1. Islamic unity as a demand achieved through the Quran and the Prophet’s guidance to the nation: He who is familiar with the Imam’s thoughts realizes that the basis for the advancement of civilization of a nation is to stick to the Lord’s guidance. None of a nation’s fundamental issues can be accessed except through the truths of faith relevant to this issue. The Imam says: “History tells us that the advancement and civilization of Muslims lie in their adherence to the truth of Islam and are commensurate with it; while the advancement and civilization of others are inversely commensurate with (proportional to) their attachment to their religion”. He approaches Islamic unity through the commitment to the orders of Islam. He considers this commitment a demand, being legally or religiously required of the people of faith. Therefore, we see that the Imam refers, on many occasions, to the divine command stated in what Allah Almighty says: “and hold fast the rope of Allah and be not divided among yourselves.” (Al Imran, 3:103).

Out of his reading of the verse, the Imam stresses “that the main elements of religion and the necessary provisions or conditions stem from the Quran and the Sunnah that interprets the Quran, and includes ninety percent of the religion; as for the controversial issues, that require our diligent attention, they do not exceed ten percent of it.” As the Imam talks about the divine command of unity and cooperation, he also mentions that disunity and division are divinely prohibited. This prohibition is considered a starting point to achieve unity, in response to Almighty Allah (SWT). The Imam says: “The way to escape from this wrong and painful reality, and to get rid of this deadly disease, the disease of being at variance that has infected the people of the right, is to consider the prohibition of Allah in the

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verse: ” do not quarrel amongst yourselves, lest you lose heart and your power depart (Anfal, 8:46), and to follow the Lord’s order in the verse: “collaborate in righteousness and piety” (Maidah, 5:2) which together constitute two main laws for behaviour in social life. The Imam does not stop at pointing out the commands and prohibitions; he also guides to the means and tools to ensure the content of the commands and prohibitions mentioned in the verses. He continues saying, “then to know how much damage is caused to Islam and to Muslims by dispute, and how this dispute makes the people of misguidance surpass the people of the right, and then to join the convoy of faith that seeks the truth.”

The Imam proceeds to mourn those people of faith who deny each other ignoring the great divine contract. He says: “Haven’t you realized that what is stated in the verse, ‘the believers are brothers’ is a law of Allah, and have you forgotten the prophetic law: “None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”? It is a great wonder – how can this issue of denial – an issue that is weak and wavering between truths and lies – eliminate or cancel these two great necessary bases? The issue of denial is not a word of Allah so that it cannot be cancelled… Haven’t they realized that the passing of time has cancelled such a denial, according to the fatwa that the disadvantages of denial predominate over its advantages, and that it is not permitted to follow what is cancelled?”

II.2. Islamic unity as a demand required by the cultural renaissance through the dissemination of the peaceful jihad by the word: Imam Bediuzzaman’s approach in the adoption of a peaceful jihad of the word for the issues of the Islamic nation can be detected in his adoption of Islamic unity, and in the building of intellectual bridges which establish this unity. Hence, the idea of establishing an Islamic university for scholarship in Turkey – which he wanted to call The School of Zahra – like Al-Azhar University, was one of the main pillars through which he wanted to achieve scientific communication of knowledge between Islamic countries, to establish a sublime civilization that would link Islamic and contemporary sciences, and to spread this idea in the Muslim countries. He understood, by means of insight, that the cultural human dimension in such a phase is an essential step on the path of Islamic unity.

The Imam says, “Al-Azhar mosque is a public school in Africa, so it is necessary to establish a university in Asia along similar lines, but wider than Al-Azhar to match the ratio of the space of Asia to that of Africa. This is so as not to let racism spoil the tribes in the Arab countries, India, Iran, the Caucasus, Turkestan and Kurdistan. This is also to develop the Islamic spirit, which is the real, right, sublime and comprehensive nationality and which makes honour comply with the Qur’anic Constitution: “The believers are brothers” (Hujurat, 49:10). Moreover, establishing such a university will make the sciences that stem from philosophy come to terms with religion, fully reconcile between the European civilization and the realities of Islam, and will make modern schools consistent and able to cooperate with the legitimate schools of religion in Anatolia.

The Imam concludes by defining Islamic unity as the medical prescription for the ummah’s deadly disease. He associates the great untapped potential of the nation, and the decline experienced these days, together with the possibility of restoring its leading role and the glory of its civilization, with the effective medicine which is unity. He says: “Yes, a vast and great continent, but with bad luck, a famous state with an ancient glory, but also with bad luck, and a dear great nation with no leader, are all in need of the medical prescription: the Islamic Union.”

III. The Components of Islamic unity: The elements of Islamic unity are collectively deeply rooted in a single origin, namely that man is the Caliph of Allah on His earth. Fulfilling the mission of this khilafa (succession) is the sacred responsibility carried out by people of faith and not by others. The common aspiration, among the people of faith, to carry the burden of this succession, leads them to go towards unity. The meanings of the (succession), expressed in the Letters of Light, which we regard as the real components of unity, can be divided into three theories that are integrated with each other to make up the elements of Islamic unity in the thought of the Imam. It is sufficient in this quick reference to mention two of the theories.

III.1. The theory of common ties (bonds): There are some cultural ties which represent common denominators about which Muslims do not differ; these links have been formed through the Muslims’ belonging to Islam. Such united links constitute the most important elements of Islamic unity. We point out the link of faith as one of these ties. It moves the conscience of the nation towards union. The Imam’s vision of Islamic unity is deeply rooted in the depth of monotheism. He expresses this when he says: “Divine unification is the destination of unity in the Mohammedan union which is the truth of the union of Islam (Islamic Unity). Faith is the allegiance (oath) and commitment of this unification, mosques are the places of gathering, the faithful believers are the members, and the Sunnah of the Prophet together with the legitimate religious rules with the do’s and don’ts are the system and law of this divine unification (monotheism). As such, this union is not brought about out of habit; it is an act of worship”. The Imam adds defining Islamic Union, through the principle of Tawheed (unification): “When we say “the Mohammedan union,” which is the union of Islam, what is meant is the constant solid union among all believers, whether by morality or by deeds, not only within a group in Istanbul or in Anatolia. For as every drop of water carries the character of water, there is no one outside this union, and this title is not restricted to anyone.”

The contract of brotherhood among the people of faith held by Allah when He says: “The believers are brothers” (Hujurat, 49:10) is a common bond, described by Imam when he says: “So thanks to the Holy League of the Islamic ummah that pulls together all Muslims to become one tribe (family). Only then all the sects of Islam become associated with the bond of Islamic brotherhood, as the members of the same clan are associated. And then, they support each other morally, and if necessary materially, as if Muslim communities are all organized in the form of rings in an illuminating series. ”

III.2. Theory of reform and change: One of the requirements to give succession (khilafa) its rights is to take care of establishing a good community, which is a system based on not urgently asking for the fruits. Some other requirements are to work on Islamic unity by reforming governments, to spread the teachings and guidance of Islam in a society that enjoys freedom and the Shura Council in the maintenance of security and non-violence, and not to antagonize others, but to look at them with compassion, through the guidance of the Holy Quran: ” What I want is only to reform” (Hud, 11:88). The Imam, God’s mercy be on him, has vowed his life to the peaceful jihad of the word in order to achieve those meanings. We point out in this brief study the two principles of freedom and Shura (counsel), which are the bases for the reform that leads to unity. The Imam, God’s mercy be on him, sees that reform is linked to the values to be revived in the nation, the most important of which is “freedom disciplined by legitimacy (religion)”. He used to say:” I can live without food, but I cannot live without freedom.” The Imam, God’s mercy be on him, also emphasizes – in the process of reform – the importance of replacing the individual as an individual with the absolute individual through the principle of Shura in an age of institutions, in compliance with what the Almighty says, “their affairs are by mutual consultation.” (Shura, 42:38)

He says: “We are not in ancient times, where the ruler was one person, and the mufti was also one person, to correct the opinion of the ruler and make this opinion right. It is now the time (age) of the group where the ruler is a legal entity that stems from the spirit of the community. Consultative Councils have this character. The one who is to issue fatwas for such a ruler needs to display the aspects of such a legal entity. This means he must be a legal entity who stems from a refined Shura Council, so he can make others hear his voice, and can lead the ruler to the right path in matters of religion. ”

IV. Constraints of Islamic unity: The Imam has mentioned different conditions for Islamic unity in his writings on various occasions. Out of the obstacles to fulfilling these conditions, we can formulate a wide range of constraints. These constraints relate to both the individual and the collective levels. It is noticed that what relates to the individual level falls into the category of bad behaviour and psychological weakness due to vanity and selfishness. The Imam says: “Man’s arrogance and selfishness may sometimes lead to unjust enmity towards his fellow believers, unconsciously thinking of himself to be right, though such hostility disregards and degrades the strong bonds and reasons that bind the faithful to each other, those of faith, Islam and humanity”. It is this vision that leads the Imam to determine that the path to Islamic unity is “the greater jihad of the self, and the guidance of others”. It is the responsibility of each individual not to be the cause of the failure of the unity, thus eliminating the moral life. He, may Allah have mercy on him, says: “Life is a result of the unity and the union, if the merged and blended union is gone, life also goes like a breath of wind. The precious verse: “do not quarrel amongst yourselves, lest you lose heart and your power depart” (Anfal, 8:46) suggests that if interdependence and collaboration are confused, the group loses its flavour. Some of the most important obstacles mentioned by the Imam at the community level are:

IV.1. Concern with partial differences and poor awareness of the need to discard them in order to achieve Islamic unity: Bediuzzaman recognized that the concern of the Muslims with partial differences, and their lack of awareness of the importance of unity and of the need to overcome those differences, form a serious disease that requires immediate treatment; otherwise, Muslims will be an easy prey for those who are threatening them and wishing them ill. Imam says: “a social risky disease and a deplorable social situation has struck the Islamic nation, something that makes the heart bleed. The most unsophisticated tribes understand the meaning of imminent danger to them, you see them reject internal differences, and they forget side animosities when external enemies raid them.”

The Imam asks the believers to pay attention to the importance of the need to renounce any differences, in response to the guidance of the Qur’an and Sunnah. He says: “O people of the right, O people of law, the fact, and the way; O people who seek the right for the sake of the right, do seek to push away this terrible disease, the disease of differences, by behaving in line with the good manners mentioned in the great Quran: “and if they pass by idle talk, they preserve their dignity” (Furqan: 72). So forgive lapses for your brothers, overlook their wrong doings, try not to see into the disadvantages of each other, and leave the internal discussions aside. ”

The Imam also stresses the importance of responding to the Prophet’s guidance for the establishment of the structure of unity, warning that disputation will leach away the strength of the nation. He says: “O people of faith, your strength will disappear in vain as a result of your personal concerns, and as a result of your selfishness and partisanship; in which case the power of the very few will be able to humiliate and destroy you. If then you are really associated with the religion of Islam, be guided with the great prophetic constitution: “Believers together are like an architectural building whose parts support each other.” Only then you will be safe from the humiliation of this world, and will escape from the misery of the Hereafter.”

IV.2. The negative role of the Systems and Government: The Imam realized that the orientation of the men of state in Islamic countries towards the west, to ensure their survival and to solicit help from the strong for those weaker, at the expense of waiving many of the nation’s interests, most notable of which is the unity of Muslims, is one of the most important obstacles to Islamic unity. He addressed the men of state with these words to draw their attention to the danger in what they were doing, and to the fact that welfare lay in exactly the opposite direction.

He, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “The bribes and the political and moral concessions given by the current heads of policy in these countries to the west and to foreigners must be paid back and given ten-fold, just to confirm the brotherhood of four hundred million Muslims (now more than 1.5 billion) who will be formed into united Islamic masses. The due, permissible, useful and necessary course of action is to adopt the Holy constitutions as a method of behaviour and work. These constitutions are the bases of Islamic cooperation; they are the celestial gifts from the Qur’an documenting the link between the Muslims. These constitutions form the basic Holy law for Muslims expressed in the following verses: “The believers are brothers” (Hujurat, 49:10), “No bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another” (Anám, 6:164), and “Do not quarrel amongst yourselves, lest you lose heart and your power depart (Anfal, 8:46)”.

IV.3. Strengthening sectarianism and nationalism at the expense of religious affiliation: On the one hand, the Imam believes that the case in modern civilization is that “the bonds between human groups are: racism and negative nationalism, which grow at the expense of others. This will crash as we see it.” On the other hand, he believes that the case in the civilization recommended by the sharia (the religious laws) is that “the bonds between the human groups are religious, national and professional, rather than racial. This will result exclusively in fraternity, peace and harmony. It will also help defend the country in case of foreign aggression.” Hence, the Imam’s understanding of the verse: “and made you into nations and tribes so you may know one another” (Hujurat, 49:13) was “to know one another, to cooperate, to love one another; not to deny one another and then become inflexible and, in the long run, hostile”.

V. Conclusion: After the centenary of the Shamiya (Damascus) sermon, and with the arrival of the time predicted by the Imam when the true dawn is expected to emerge, we say that the one who studies the words of Nursi concerning Islamic unity will find that the passage of the years has only served to confirm what he, may Allah have mercy on him, said and wrote about it. The great need for Islamic unity, to which he always referred, is becoming increasingly apparent, day after day, for the people of faith who have clear vision.