How to read the Risale-i Nur?

For a podcast episode based on this text, click here.

Ustad Nursi is reported to have said:

The teacher of the Risale-i Nur is the Risale-i Nur. The Risale-i Nur does not necessitate being taught by others. Everybody can benefit from it on their own in accordance with their preparedness. Even if your intellect does not understand each and every matter completely, your spirit, heart, and conscience will receive their shares. Regardless of how much you benefit from it, there is a great gain.

When people from different parts of Turkey came to Ustad Nursi and asked him to teach them, he would tell them not to come to him but to read the Risale-i Nur.

Thus, everybody can read the Risale-i Nur on their own and benefit from it. One does not need permission from a teacher who had already studied the Risale-i Nur with another teacher.

Nevertheless, we can think of some guidelines to follow in order to maximize our ability to benefit from the Risale-i Nur.

intention: As explained in the section titled “Why read the Risale-i Nur,” for the gates of benefit to open, one needs to read the Risale-i Nur with the intention to benefit from it. The measure of this benefit is attaining certainty in faith, increasing in it, and drawing closer to God.

ikhlāṣ: This key term in religion can be translated as “sincerity in purpose” or “purity of intention.” It is one of the most central character traits that Ustad Nursi taught to his students, and the Risale-i Nur ingrains this in its readers. It means fulfilling God’s commands and abstaining from what He has forbidden solely for His sake and intending nothing but His pleasure in one’s deeds. It is a powerful secret for success in all affairs, and this applies to achieving what one expects from reading the Risale-i Nur too.

respect: If the teacher of the Risale-i Nur is the Risale-i Nur, then the reader needs to approach it with a level of respect that behooves showing one’s teacher. An important aspect of this condition is to avoid reading the Risale-i Nur with a contrarian approach. One who constantly challenges his teacher out of contrariness cannot acquire the complete knowledge that his teacher has to offer.

The Risale-i Nur is the work of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s knowledge and sincerity were tested and found to be impeccable time and again. Moreover, millions of people have learned from the Risale-i Nur and saved their faith. Therefore, perhaps an advanced scholar may take a look at the Risale-i Nur to evaluate its scholarly worth and rank among other textual treasures of the Islamic tradition, but the one who comes to it to learn from it needs to read it with a pure heart and the intention to absorb the knowledge that it has to offer.

This does not mean that one should accept everything in the Risale-i Nur simply on the authority of its author. To the contrary, one should use sound judgment while reading the Risale-i Nur and learn from it with conviction. However, one should not read it to disprove it.

patience and perseverance (1): The Qur’an exposes its reader to Reality as Reality is, and the Risale-i Nur guides its readers to attaining a Qur’anic vision of Reality. Reality is simple but tremendous, reaching from the microcosm to the macrocosm, from this world to the Hereafter, and ultimately exposing one to God through His acts in creation, as well as His names and attributes.

This is not to be comprehended through shortcuts unless God opens His gates of knowledge to a person as a special blessing.

Therefore, the seeker who seeks to attain certainty in faith, the knowledge of Reality as Reality is, and ultimately the knowledge of God needs to have patience.

This knowledge comes in stages. Each stage prepares a person to attain knowledge of the next. The knowledge of these stages is packed in all the words and verses and of the Qur’an, sometimes literally and sometimes through indications. Likewise, the Risale-i Nur exposes its readers to all stages of knowledge in all of its treatises, but that knowledge does not open up to each reader right away at first reading. The more one reads, the more one becomes prepared to recognize higher levels of knowledge.

Sometimes, the key to a treasure of knowledge in one of the treatises is hidden in another treatise. One needs to read that other treatise, take the key from there, and come back to the first one in order to attain its treasures.

Sometimes this is a matter of spiritual preparedness. The light of knowledge opens up to the reader in stages.

At other times, it is a matter of terminology. As all sciences have their specific terms and concepts, so does the science of Reality, and one needs to learn and internalize them. The Risale-i Nur teaches these terms and concepts with a subtle pedagogical method, using parables and metaphors to help the reader acquire them gradually, rather than throwing them at the reader to memorize. Thus, one may read a treatise and benefit from it to a certain level but without even recognizing a deeper level of meaning that is hidden therein, due to being ignorant about a certain concept. Then one reads another treatise, learns about that missing concept, and comes back to the previous one, now ready to understand more.

Therefore, one does not read the Risale-i Nur just once but makes a habit of reading it continually with the intention to increase in knowledge and certainty. And there is no end to this increase.

patience and perseverance (2): The Risale-i Nur addresses the heart, the conscience, and the compulsive soul through the intellect and imagination. As one reads it, the heart and the conscience accept and attach to the truth and beauty that emerges from being exposed to Reality and especially the manifestation of God’s beautiful names in it. The compulsive soul, however, may feel constricted at the beginning as this exposure guides one to servitude to God. The compulsive soul that has not been disciplined yet resists servitude and wants to be free by its nature.

Satan takes advantage of the compulsive soul’s resistance and tries to pull the reader away from engaging the truths of faith contained in the Risale-i Nur. If the reader uses his intellect and persists, the Risale-i Nur persuades and disciplines the compulsive soul too. If God grants success, the soul even increases in rank to a higher level where it enjoys being exposed to Reality and the beautiful names of God as manifest therein. Therefore, the persistent readers of the Risale-i Nur actually find sweetness in reading it.

being open minded: This also relates to the comprehensiveness of the Qur’anic vision of Reality as reflected in the Risale-i Nur. Because the Qur’an is the word of God, the All-Knowing Creator of everything, its vision of Reality is complete. All other sciences and worldviews, on the other hand, observe reality from some limited point of view. It is the nature of the times that we live in that we are all exposed to many of those sciences and worldviews at some level. If we forget the limited nature of the viewpoint of each of those sciences and worldviews in comprehending the complete Reality and, as a result, attribute unqualified authority to them, we may end up being misled in many ways. Therefore, we should be careful about not bringing the possibly misguided or deficient notions of Reality that we have learned from other sources to our engagement with the Qur’an and its truthful interpretations, including the Risale-i Nur. We should come to the Risale-i Nur with an open mind, by suspending our preconceived cultural, political, or personal agendas and judgements as much as possible.

This does not mean that one should avoid reading other books or learning from other sources altogether. However, one should not attempt to understand the Risale-i Nur through the lens of other sources. We should engage the Risale-i Nur on its own terms, read it with understanding at least a few times, and develop a good sense of its comprehensive system of knowledge. Only then would it be fine to go to other sources and benefit from them to expand on the knowledge that one acquires from the Risale-i Nur.

However, even then, one needs to follow proper etiquette and not attempt to judge the merits of the Risale-i Nur with the standards of other sources. And this includes other works of Islamic scholarship. Perhaps, one who attains Ustad Nursi’s level of knowledge and realization could pass such a judgement. But otherwise, one should keep his own shortcomings in mind and fear arrogance. This applies to the works of all well-known scholars of Islam whose merits are endorsed by the judgement of time and the good opinions of believers.

group reading: In addition to a continual individual reading, Ustad Nursi taught his students to read the Risale-i Nur in groups. In a group reading, those who understand the matter better can help others understand it too. Or sometimes, someone misunderstands a matter, and others correct this. An important added benefit of reading in groups is that inspired meanings tend to come to such groups in accordance with the need of the most needy in the group, and everybody benefits from the higher level of understanding that results from this inspiration.

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Reading in Translation

Besides these general guidelines, there are some considerations that one should keep in mind in reading the Risale-i Nur in translation, especially in English.

Some say that translation is necessary distortion.

At a basic level, this is because no translation can transfer the linguistic nuances of a text from one language to another completely. Because the Turkish language in which Ustad Nursi wrote the Risale-i Nur contained many Arabic-origin words, this distortion is less of a problem in the Arabic-language translations of the Risale-i Nur. However, the English language lacks many of the religious terms that are usually of Qur’anic origin. Ustad Nursi uses words with painstaking precision that takes their nuances into consideration. Because it is impossible to find words that carry those same nuances in the English language, translators have to make do with similar words. The loss in nuance resulting from this difficulty is sometimes aggravated due to inconsistencies in translating specific Turkish words with specific English ones.

Furthermore, there is an additional consideration that we need to keep in mind when reading the works of the true inheritors of the prophetic light. God inspires meanings to the hearts of these inheritors as pure light. This inspired light acquires form as it passes through the filters of the imagination and the intellect before being articulated in language. Thus, the words of the true inheritors of the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) carry traces of the light from the original divine inspiration that first comes to their hearts. Much of this light inevitably gets lost in translation.

Therefore, it is best to read each treasure of knowledge in its original language.

If one does not know that original language, however, one can read in translation, and there will still be benefit in this.

But even then, it would be best to engage the original text as much as possible, perhaps even by reading or listening to it without understanding. The light travels from heart to heart. Even if the intellect does not comprehend the meanings articulated in the original language, the heart receives its share. Moreover, this effort may also improve the reader’s vocabulary of Islamic terms and bring his understanding of the matter closer to the original meaning over time.

Continual reading helps in maximizing one’s understanding of the matter in English translation too. If a nuance is lost in translation, the context may substitute for that loss, and the more one reads about specific concepts in their specific contexts, the more one understands.

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Reflections-RN Podcast

The podcast episodes that you can access through this website under Podcasts take the above guidelines and concerns about reading the Risale-i Nur in translation into consideration. The reader reads the original Turkish and the translation side-by-side and clarifies meanings that may be lost in translation. As one can do in group readings, the reader also provides additional clarifications and references on issues that may sound confusing to the listeners, especially if the listeners’ literacy of Islam is low.

It is important to note that these clarifications express what the reader understands from the text owing to his proficiency in the Turkish language and longtime engagement with the Risale-i Nur. However, he may still make mistakes. Those mistakes belong to the reader and not to the Risale-i Nur.

This is an effort undertaken with good intentions. If good comes out of it, it is from God. Those who listen to the podcasts should also read the Risale-i Nur or its translation on their own and use their discretion to eliminate potential mistakes that the reader may make.

The reader asks for forgiveness from God for his shortcomings and for sincere advice from the listeners on matters that he may have misunderstood or misrepresented.

Four correspondence, please write to nurlesson@gmail.com.