Each time the Muslim ummah faced with a setback or a socio-religious down turn, Allah the Almighty with all His blessings and grace sent the mujaddid (reformer) or mujaddidun (group of reformers) to purify and upgrade their iman (faith) for them, so that they would always be in the right path and attain success in their life. This has taken place in the past through the process of tajdid (renewal or purification of faith) which could be witnessed in history since centuries ago.
In the following pages, as the title of this paper suggests, we shall discuss especially about the life and thought of Ustad Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, the famous mujaddid and mujahid of modern Turkey.
Muslim World in the Late 18th Century:
By late 18th century, the whole of the Muslim world had greatly declined. There was widespread decay and stagnancy in term of political power and intellectual development. The basis of this whole decline was due more to religious decay, that is, the failure of the Muslim ummah in general to observe Islamic way of life. The teachings of Islam had been distorted and misrepresented. At the same time, there was mere taqlid (blind imitation), and the adoption of bid ‘ah (innovation) and tahayyul (superstitions), as a result of foreign influence and the sheer love of the world among the Muslims. Unfortunately, the Muslims in general had been affected by what we can term as the disease of al-wahn, that is, hubbud dunya wa qarihayat al-maut (love of the world and the fear of death) as Prophet (pbuh) had already pointed out in his famous hadith. This simply means that they want only to attain the pleasures of life (that is, to acquire ease and luxurious life) without caring for the halal (what is legal and permissible in Islam) and haram (what is illegal and therefore forbidden) and at the same time refuse to make any sacrifices for the pleasure of Allah even to the extent of having to die in exchange for al-jannah (heaven) as Allah had promised. In other words, the Muslims had become materialistic in outlook and actions and wanting only short term success in this world without caring for true and lasting success that Allah had in store for them on condition that they did sacrifice for Him in their life on this earth.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Sketch of His Life
Ustad Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was born in 1877 in the village of Nurs, in the province of Bitlis in eastern Turkey. Within a short period of time, he was proficient in the Holy Qur’an, Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh), oratory, dialectic, logic, rhetoric and theology. He even memorized the contents of a number of Arabic dictionaries and classical texts relating to theology and Islamic Jurisprudence. At the age of 16, he was already able to master al-Qur’an and the Islamic Law.
Besides this, he took the opportunity to study modern sciences. It is reported that he studied all the available books on history, geography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and philosophy.
After having learned modern sciences, Ustad Bediuzzaman came to realize that neither the traditional (religious) education nor the modern secular education system introduced during the Tanzimat era in Ottoman Empire could overcome doubts concerning Islam and satisfy human needs. He, therefore, proposed an integrated system of education where both of the streams should be merged together so as to overcome human needs and bring about really sound solutions to their problems. In other words, he suggested that religious sciences should be taught together with modern sciences in modern schools. On the other hand, modern sciences should be taught together with religious sciences in religious schools. In his opinion, such system would protect the modern educated students from faithlessness or becoming apostates, while the madrasah educated group would be rid of bigotry and fanaticism.
The Da‘wah Method and Educational System of Ustad Bediuzzaman:
In term of da‘wah, in his early years, Bediuzzaman had resorted to debates and strong arguments much to the displeasure of his opponents. But later, he shifted more to persuasive and yet firm arguments through his writings. The most famous of his work is the tafsir, Risale-i Nur which has opened the hearts and minds of the intellectuals in Turkey to this day. In fact, the message which stresses on Tawhid and at the same time shows the relationship between science and the religion of Islam in a harmonious way has spread to most parts of the Muslim world and even to Europe and America. Through his writings, Bediuzzaman also had exposed the fallacies of nationalism and secularism, both the products of the decadent Western society. He defended Islam ferociously and managed to rekindle the love for this great religion after it had been trampled by atheism and secularism brought about by the secular elite within the modern Turkish society. One important thing though, he (Bediuzzaman) had continued to link his scientific ideas to religion until the end of his life. This has made him somewhat special when compared to some other Muslim thinkers belonging to the great Islamic movements such as Ikhwan al-Muslimin or even Jama ‘at-e Islami of Pakistan. These two great movements had contributed a lot and are still contributing to the changes going on within the Muslim states of the contemporary world, despite the threat of secularism and liberalism of the West. However, they have concentrated less on the issue of the necessity to understand modern sciences as having important link with the understanding of religion, especially Islam.
The Influence of the Thoughts of Ustad Bediuzzaman among Muslim Youth:
Through the efforts of ABIM’s activists, the thoughts of Ustad Bediuzzaman soon became known and studied within the academic circle at the Malaysian universities. For example, during the Academic Session of 1980/1981, this writer himself had taught the History of the Modern Middle East and also the Early History of Islam at the History Section, School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang. He then introduced the history of the Ottoman Empire right up to the period of the modern Turkish Republic as part of the curriculum for the course, HHI 378: Dunia Islam Zaman Moden (later changed to Modern History of the Middle East). Other courses related to the history of the Middle East were also introduced by this writer. These were HSL: 342: Isu-Isu Terpilih Dalam Sejarah Asia – Asia Barat Moden (Selected Issues in the History of Asia – Modern West Asia) and JMS 316E: Sejarah Intelektual Islam (Islamic Intellectual History). Within this scope, he has discussed the role of Ustad Bediuzzaman in combating secularism and atheism and the trials and tribulations that the mujaddid had to face. Besides this, discussions were also focused on the general history of Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Iran vis-à-vis European imperialism (including Israel).
Around the middle of 1983, Wan Jafree b. Wan Sulaiman, a teacher at ABIM’s school in Alor Setar , the capital of the Sultanate of Kedah in the northern part of Malaysia and also a close friend of this writer, had translated a book on the biography of Ustad Bediuzzaman into Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian Language) for the first time. This of course helped the students following the history course taught by this writer to understand more about the thoughts and brave struggle of Ustad Bediuzzaman in modern Turkish history. Not only that, this same teacher also in his leisure time had conducted usrah and public lectures pertaining to the life history and struggle of Ustad Bediuzzaman on several occasions around Alor Setar and Kulim, another town to the south of Kedah. Up to this moment, this writer has been teaching the history of the Modern Middle East (West Asia) at the School of Distance Education, USM under the title of “Islamic Intellectual History”.
Hence, the students also have been exposed to the history of Turkey, including the episode on Ustad Bediuzzaman. In addition, Dr. Muhammad Hasrul Zakaria, a former student of this writer, is presently teaching the modern history of West Asia at the School of Humanities, USM. As part of his lecture, he is also involved in teaching about Turkey, involving the life history of Ustad Bediuzzaman.
Furthermore, the history of Turkey and Ustad Bediuzzaman has also been taught at the Department of History, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur since late 1980s. The course on Middle East is now conducted by a close friend of this writer and also a former leader of ABIM, Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ridzwan Uthman. Meanwhile, Assoc. Prof. Ustad Dr. Abdul Raoh b. Yaacob, from the Department of Arab Studies and Islamic Civilisation, Faculty of Islamic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), had taught the same kind of courses before he moved over to University Brunei Darussalam, in the Sultanate of Brunei, in the year 2002. For example, we have such courses on the Middle East which also discuss about the contributions of Ustad Bediuzzaman, that is, PC 3563: Gerakan Islah di Dunia Islam (Islah Movement in the Islamic World), PC3583: Dunia Islam Abad ke-20 (Islamic World in the 20th Century) and PC6083: Aspek Sejarah Tamadun Islam Selepas Kejatuhan Baghdad Hingga Kini (Aspect of the History of Islamic Civilisation After the Fall of Baghdad Until Today (particularly designed for M.A. students)). In fact, under the supervision of Ustad Dr. Abdul Raoh, Mohamad Zaidin, a post-graduate student, had written a dissertation concerning Ustad Bediuzzaman, entitled, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: Sejarah Perjuangan dan Pemikiran, Malita Jaya Publisher, Shah Alam, 2001. At present, the same course on modern Middle East, including Turkey and the life history of Ustad Bediuzzaman, is being offered at the Research Institute of West Asia, Department of History, UKM. Hence, as we can see whenever the history of Turkey is taught at Malaysian universities, the role of Ustad Bediuzzaman is not forgotten, especially with regard to his struggle to uphold Islam within the secular environment of the Turkish society.
Meanwhile, some books and articles have been published in Malaysia pertaining to the history of the Middle East, including the struggle of Ustad Bediuzzaman and the history of modern Turkey, since early 1980s. The books and articles are as follows:
1. Abdul Rahman Hj. Abdullah, Pemikiran Islam Masa Kini: Sejarah dan Aliran, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1987. (The author was a student of this writer back in 1981).
2. Wan Jafree b. Wan Sulaiman, Ustad Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Penerbit Wan Jafree b. Wan Sulaiman, Alor Setar, 1983.
3. Mohamad Zaidin b. Mat, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: Sejarah Perjuangan dan Pemikiran, Malita Jaya Publisher, Shah Alam, 2001.
4. Fadhlullah Jamil, Islam Zaman Moden: Cabaran dan Konflik, Thinker’s Library Sdn. Bhd., Batu Caves, 1st Edition (1997) & 2nd Edition (2005).
5. Fadhlullah Jamil, Islam Di Asia Barat Moden: Penjajahan dan Pergolakan, Karisma Publications Sdn. Bhd., Shah Alam, 1st Edition (2000) & 2nd Edition, 2007.
6. Muhammad Abdullah Suradi, Lembaran Hidup Ulama: Warisan Ilmuwan Islam, Hijjaz Records Publishing, Dataran Sunway, Kota Damansara, 2009.
7. Elmira Akhmetova, “Books of Said Nursi banned in Russia”, Milenia Muslim, Julai, 2007, pp. 50 – 52.
8. “Biography of Said Nursi (1877 – 1960)”, Milenia Muslim, Julai, 2007, pp. 52.
During the last two years, Risale-i Nur has been studied at several usrah meetings around Bangi, a town somewhat close to Kuala Lumpur. This exercise is being carried out with the help of two representatives from Hayrat Foundation, Istanbul, based in Malaysia.
From the discussion given above, we can conclude that the impact of the thoughts of Ustad Bediuzzaman can be seen, though somewhat minimal among the Muslim youth of Malaysia. The influence of Ikhwan al-Muslimin, Jama ‘at-e Islami and other da ‘wah movements from Indonesia is still strong due to the fact that most of Malaysian da ‘wah activists and their sympathizers are Arab educated and some few thousands of them had studied at al-Azhar, in Iraq, Jordan or Maghribi (Morocco), while others have strong link with Indonesian Muslims because of their study or cultural link that went on for centuries as they belonged to the same Malay ethnic stock. Nonetheless, until now, works pertaining to the life and jihad of Ustad Bediuzzaman have reached the Muslim youth as also the development in Turkey during the time of Milli Salamat Partisi and other subsequent Islamic oriented parties and now under the rule of the premier, Recep Tayyib Erdogan and his Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP or Justice and Development Party).
As for the ideas of Ustad Bediuzzaman on education and da‘wah, they certainly can be exploited a lot more as a means to overcome the secular and liberal trends within the Malaysian society. Although, up to now some efforts have already been done by Muslim scholars in Malaysia to bring natural and applied sciences closer to Islam, yet more will have to be done and in this aspect the ideas put forward by Ustad Bediuzzaman can certainly be used to boost up this effort. In fact, the philosophy of history too as commonly being taught in Malaysian universities and colleges will have to be revamped and new interpretation being given to it in line with the thought of Ibn Khaldun which is somewhat closer to Islamic interpretation of history. With all these efforts, it is hoped that Islam shall triumph over secularism and other ungodly tendencies in the near future.
Assoc. Professor Dr. Hj. Fadhlullah Jamil, History Section, School of Distance Education, University Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.