Why read the Risale-i Nur?
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The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Actions are according to intentions.” In that case, the essential question to answer in thinking about the benefit one might expect from reading the Risale-i Nur depends on the reader’s intention.
The Risale-i Nur is an innovative work of dialectical theology (kalam) that expands the boundaries of this science and resolves many questions that have been left unresolved by former theologians. It also offers invaluable and original insights about the methodologies of the sciences of Qur’anic exegesis (tafsīr) and Prophetic traditions (ḥadīth). Thus, the students and scholars of the sciences of Islam can read it to improve their understanding of these sciences and familiarize themselves with some of the most cutting-edge arguments and positions in their respective fields.
The Risale-i Nur is one of the best Qur’anic commentaries ever written in the history of Islam. An academic researcher working in the field of Islamic Studies who specializes on the exegetic genre can read it to evaluate its place among other Qur’anic commentaries.
The Risale-i Nur is a literary masterpiece that preserves the classical Turkish of the Ottoman era despite the radical simplification of the Turkish language as a result of republican policies. Thus, one can even read the Risale-i Nur to get a sense of the transformation of the Turkish language since the early-twentieth century.
However, the real benefit to be sought in reading the Risale-i Nur lies in an incomparably more urgent matter and higher intention: to attain certainty in faith, preserve it, and increase in it.
Death is certain to come and the final judgment is not to be avoided. Each and every human being needs certainty in faith in this world to escape the bitter expectation of ultimate annihilation upon death so that they can enjoy the blessings of life. And in the hereafter, each and every human being needs certainty in faith to escape eternal suffering in hellfire and to win eternal bliss in Paradise.
God does not want to torment His slaves. He wants them to know Him, to turn to Him, and to meet Him in Paradise. Thus, He has sent us His words in the form of the Qur’an and other holy books as well as scrolls before it. He has made signs that point to Him manifest in the creation. He has also sent messengers to explain all the signs that He has placed in His revealed books and in the book of creation to guide us to Him.
Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is the seal of messengers, the last prophet whose light carried through all prophets and illuminated Reality. Yet he was a slave of God and he died. He left scholars behind as the inheritors of his message and his light now carries through his inheritors. His message and his character was the Qur’an. The Qur’an is God’s eternal word that is not bound by time or by place. It is an eternal address to all those who have understanding at all times and at all places, altogether and one by one. Each time and each place and each individual in each time and place have their share in this. They need to open their understanding to the Qur'an's address and find their ways to God. The inheritors of the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) unfold the intricacies and hidden gems of that address for the believers and for humanity at large in accordance with the preparedness of their respective times and circumstances. And Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is one of the foremost among the inheritors of the prophetic message at our time.
In the Risale-i Nur, Ustad Nursi takes his readers gently by the hand and guides them through the messages of the Qur’an, as the revealed book, and the world out there, as the created book. He shows them the signs, explains their meanings, and patiently helps his readers understand.
Those signs point to God. The more one understands them, the more one knows God. The more one knows God, the better one worships God. And that is the ultimate purpose of our existence in this world as God says in the Qur’an that He created the jinn and mankind only to worship Him (Qur'an, 51: 56).
Therefore, in intending to attain, preserve, and increase in faith by reading the Risale-i Nur, one intends to fulfill the essential function of being human, that is, to know and worship God: to be a faithful slave to Him.
Faith is not a commodity that one can obtain once and keep unchanged forever. It has degrees. It can increase and it can decrease. It can lose its purity. And it can be lost. Satan chases believers throughout their lives to steal their faith. Therefore, believers need to be armed and protected to keep their faith. Moreover, they need to nurture their faith to increase in it and travel nearer to God.
We live closer to the end of times, and as time goes by, preserving and nurturing faith becomes more difficult for the believers. Ustad Nursi says that removing misguidance that originates from ignorance is easier than removing misguidance that originates from knowledge, which we should understand as misguided knowledge that only increases one's ignorance.
One in a thousand fell into misguidance out of knowledge in the old times, and one in a thousand of those could possibly be brought to guidance through persuasion. Yet, since the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, the most formidable challenge to faith and religion has been originating from science and the educated elites. Global improvements in communications have brought that challenge to each and every home, and modern schooling has even made it a staple of our upbringing. The ease and comfort that modern technology offers has led human beings to a state of constantly deepening attachment to the material world and its distractions, especially in the form of entertainment. And nation-states have taken down the institutional structures and boundaries that previously preserved the sanctity of religions. Mere imitation, that is being socialized into a believing community, is rarely sufficient to preserve certainty in faith under these circumstances. And even if it were sufficient, those communities are fast disappearing under the pressures of urbanization and industrialization.
Thus, preserving faith requires a level of persuasion that is understandable and convincing for every individual who faces the tribulations of the times that we live in. This is not about logical argumentation alone. It is very rare for disbelief to originate from conviction in the absence of God. Rather, what characterizes the state of most disbelievers is the absence of a conviction in the presence of God. And that is often caused by the afflictions of the compulsive soul (nafs) such as pride, habit, or mere unwillingness to submit to a way of life that is shaped by the will of a superior divine being. Therefore, for persuasion to work, it needs to be addressed not to the intellect alone but to all human faculties such as the compulsive soul and the heart along with the intellect. It needs to break the resistance of the compulsive soul and polish the heart to become a clear mirror to Reality.
The convincing proofs of the Risale-i Nur open a gateway through the intellect and the imagination to the heart and the compulsive soul and persuades them as well. In an age when science and education subconsciously ingrains positivism in our thinking, that is, renders us unable to believe in what we do not see, the Risale-i Nur builds on the Qur’anic command to behold the signs of divine unity in the creation and helps us see God manifest in wherever we turn. Then, it shows the heart and the compulsive soul the ugliness of living in a state of disbelief and the beauty that is discerned in the creation through the light of faith, here and now.
The Risale-i Nur both convinces and educates the intellect and addresses the heart and the compulsive soul through the intellect and imagination to train and cure them. As such, it does not only explicate the verses of the Qur’an but also mirrors the Qur’an’s pedagogy in guiding God’s slaves back to God. It does not tell its readers to leave the world, which only one in a thousand can possibly do at this time, but it tells them to look at the world with a fresh, Qur'anic perspective and witness divine will and power all around. Like the Qur'an, it takes its readers through a journey from human self to the horizons of the cosmos, from an observation of subatomic particles to an investigation of the galaxies, from the trees to the stars, and on. In the process, it helps its readers acquire a sense of presence before God by persistently exposing His unity, divinity, and mercy manifest in each and every creation and in the entire creation altogether.
We read the Risale-i Nur, because it helps us take this Qur'anic and prophetic journey.
And importantly, it helps us do this in a Qur'anic and prophetic way. It keeps us within the broad highway of the Ahl al-Sunnah, i.e. the consensus that emerges from the centuries-long investigation of scholars, Sufis, and gnostics to understand and implement the prophetic message in the most authentic way. Ustad Nursi renovates and reinvigorates the sciences of Islam and the believers' ability to live in the light of those sciences, but he does not innovate as to stray from the blessed traditions of the timeless community of believers, the Ummah. As such, his teachings that are contained in the Risale-i Nur offer a fresh, sound, and safe way to God that embraces and is able to benefit all travelers to God regardless of which specific path they take in their individual journeys as long as they remain loyal to the prophetic example.