New Book from RN team - LIVING THE QURAN WITH JOY AND PURPOSE, Selections on Tawhid from Said Nursi's Epistles of Light
Book Overview: The Quran emphasizes tawhid or belief in one God as the momentous choice before each human being. Why is tawhid so crucial? This volume offers a peek into the intellectual, spiritual, and life transforming implications of tawhid through providing selected translations from a distinguished Muslim theologian, Said Nursi (d. 1960). Nursi’s Risale-i Nur or Epistle of Light, penned mainly in Ottoman Turkish, offers a particularly insightful and perceptive approach to the Quran.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:
… Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? …And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well…
(quoted in Gospels of Matthew & Luke)
This beautiful prophetic advice reminds of the Qur’anic call to recognize our value as God’s creatures, and our incredible mission in life: to discover, adore and worship the Merciful Sustainer. May our Friday be blessed with awareness of our real purpose in life! May our interaction with the world, including food and clothing, be in God’s name. That is, let’s look at the creatures as mirrors and signs revealing the Creator’s greatness, inshallah! May we live up to the incredible honor of being a conscious guest of the Eternal One!
All human virtues [kamalāt al-insāniyya] and high aspirations of humankind are tied to oneness of God [tawḥīd] and are realized through the secret of unity [waḥda]. Otherwise, if there is no unity, human being becomes the most unfortunate of all creation, and lowliest of all beings. Without tawhid, human being turns into the most helpless animal and the most gloomy and depressed of all conscious beings. For, human beings have a very interesting nature. We are utterly weak and yet have endless challenges. We are so limited in our resources and yet have innumerable needs. Moreover, human nature is equipped with so many and various capacities and feelings that we can experience thousands of different kinds of sadness, and can enjoy and desire thousands of different kinds of pleasures. And, human being has such aspirations and yearnings that only someone who has disposal over entire universe can fulfill them. Hence, only through the secret of tawhid, which connects him to the One who has control over everything, that human being can be fulfilled and perfected…
O human being! Your service and effort, and your worship will not be wasted. An abode of reward and happiness has been prepared for you. In place of this passing world, an eternal Paradise awaits you. Believe and trust in the promise of the Glorious Creator … It is impossible that He would break His promise. He has no reason whatsoever to turn back on His promise. He has no shortcoming in His power whatsoever. Just as He created your small backyard, He can create– and has created– Paradise for you. He promised Paradise to you, and of course He shall take you in.
Look: we see before our very eyes how each spring millions of species are resurrected with utter order and balance, so easily and so quickly. Surely, the Powerful Glorious One who accomplishes this can keep His promise.
اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ رَبِّي لّا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ، خَلَقْتَنِي وَأَنَا عَبْدُكَ، وَأَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُ، أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ شَرٍّ مَا صَنَعْتُ، أَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ عَلَيَّ، وَأَبُوءُ بِذَنْبِي فَاغْفِر لِي فَإِنَّهُ لَا يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ
“O God, You are my Rabb [Sustainer], none deserves to be worshipped but You. You have created me and I am your servant and I am faithful to your covenant and promise as best as I can. I seek refuge in You from all the evil I have done. I acknowledge Your favor upon me and I acknowledge my sin, so forgive me, for verily no one can forgive sins except You.”
This powerful prayer is known as sayyidul istighfar [Chief of asking for forgiveness.] It has been taught to us by the beloved messenger Muhammad (peace be upon) who explained its significance as follows:
“If a believer says this with complete faith and sincerity in the morning and dies before that evening, he will enter paradise. And if he says it during the night and dies before the sun rises, he will enter paradise.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 75, Number 318]
This prayer reveals a truthful understanding of who we are. We are creatures, completely dependent on our Sustainer. The blessings we are gifted reflect our Sustainer’s majesty and mercy. Our shortcomings and yearning for perfection is a means for recognizing His perfection…May we all have a beautiful Friday soaked in the secret of asking for forgiveness (istighfar). Amen.
In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
Know, then, [O human being,] that there is no deity save God. (Q. 47:19)
“I swear by the One in whose hands is Muhammad’s being…” (an oath used by the Prophet, mentioned in various authentic hadiths)
When the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, used to make an oath so as to emphasize a point, he repeatedly and most frequently used the phrase: “[I swear] by the One in whose hands is Muhammad’s being.” … This oath of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is very meaningful. It is an incredible and comprehensive expression of the oneness [tawhid] of “sustainership” [rubūbiyya]. Here we shall briefly present just three of the very lovely, precious and bright ‘fruits’ of the truth of tawhid…
First Fruit: Tawhid Reveals the Divine Beauty and Perfection
Divine beauty and perfection are revealed through oneness (tawhid) and unity (wahda). If there is no unity, then the eternal treasure becomes hidden.
Indeed, only tawhid discloses the limitless beauty and perfection of God, the endless splendor of the Sustainer, the incredible gifts of the Merciful, and the infinite beauty of the Unique One [kamal al-jamal al-samadaniyya] on whom everyone depends. For, tawhid is like a focal point that combines various reflections of beautiful names of God [asma al ḥusna] that shine on the ‘faces’ of particular creatures.
For instance, let us look at the particular event of creation of milk. A helpless and unaware infant receives what he needs in the form of pure and wholesome milk. And this milk is sent from an unexpected place, amidst blood and excrement. When you look at this particular event from the perspective of tawhid, it will suddenly connect with a comprehensive and universal reality: the utterly wonderful and compassionate feeding of all infants and all the mothers being made to care about and serve these infants. Perceiving this universal context enables you to perceive the eternal beauty of the mercy of the Compassionate One [Rahman] with all its brightness. If you were to look at the same event without the perspective of tawhid, that incredible beauty would become hidden. And, that particular event would be explained away by invoking natural causes and chance. [In other words, since these unconscious causes, such as hormones and brain, are incapable of having mercy and purpose, you will disregard the incredible mercy and purposefulness manifested in each case.] The event will thus completely lose its value. In fact, its reality will be completely distorted.
Another example is being healed from a serious illness. If you look at it from the
perspective of tawhid, you will suddenly see how it is part of a bigger reality that encompasses the entire earth. You will notice all those who are being healed throughout the earth, with the remedies and medicines extracted from the “pharmacy” of the world. Thus, the beautiful compassion of the Absolutely Merciful One [Raḥīm al-muṭlaq] and the beauty of Divine mercy become visible with its splendor and comprehensiveness. In contrast, if you do not look at that particular instance of someone getting well from the perspective of tawhid, you will overlook that it is created knowingly, intentionally, and with wisdom. Instead, you will explain away that particular instance of healing by referring to the lifeless medicines and to the blind and unconscious nature. You will thus distort its reality, wisdom and value…
-Excerpted from, Said Nursi, Rays, Second Ray.
When we look at things that seem to be causes and effects in the universe, we realize that the most elevated cause is incapable of creating the most ordinary effect. This means that natural causes are a veil, and something else behind the scenes makes the effects. To take only a small example out of innumerable creatures, let us consider the faculty of memory. Our faculty of memory is associated with a small part within the brain. We see that the memory is like a comprehensive book, or even a library, containing incredible information about human life with amazing precision. Indeed, our power of memory is a miracle…
Now, what is the cause of this miraculous work? Is it the grey matter of the brain? Can the simple unconscious particles of its cells be the genuine causes of this? Or is it mere chance and coincidence that produces this incredible faculty of memory? No, rather, that miracle of art can only be the work of an All-Wise Maker…
Indeed, since they are comparable to human faculty of memory, consider also all eggs, seeds, and grains [where vast information is stored with incredible precision]. Then, to these small and comprehensive miracles compare other events in nature… Whichever effect and creature you look at, it contains such wonderful art that not only its common, simple cause, but if all causes were to gather, they would not be able to create such effects.
O People! A parable is set forth [herewith]; hearken, then, to it! Behold, those beings whom you invoke instead of God cannot create [as much as] a fly, even were they to join all their forces to that end! (Q. 22:73)
Surah Yasin, Chapter 36 of the Quran, after invoking the wisdom of the Quran (v.2), starts to talk about the messengers of God, first about the messengers in a broad sense (verses 3-13), and then about the story of three messengers sent to a town (14-30).
Messengers of God are a blessing, they reveal the presence of our Creator to us and lead us to a path of dignity. Isn’t it amazing that the verse emphasize that the messengers are sent from Aziz and Rahim, two beautiful names of God (v.5). Rahim means the Merciful One, and Aziz comes from the same root of izzah, dignity. The prophets are sent from the source of dignity, power and mercy! In their call, we are invited to a dignified life. How so? For, while we are vulnerable creatures fully dependent on the Creator, admitting this is not at all humiliating. For, by heeding the prophets, and recognizing our Creator, we find a genuine refuge for our needs, a source of mercy, which liberates us from worshiping mere creatures like ourselves. Belief is dignifying to human being.
When we think of the messengers mentioned in the Quran, we immediately think of selected human beings who have conveyed Divine messages to people in different times and places of history, including Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the last messenger sent to all humanity with an ever-fresh call till the end of time. Such understanding is of course true. But why not also think of messengers of God in another sense as well? After all, the Quran uses the term “aya” in two senses: (1) as messages of God brought by prophets in history and (2) anything in the heavens and the earth that point to God. So we can read the term messenger not only in the sense of actual historical figures but also as signs in the world that we encounter throughout our life journey. Needless to say, without messengers in the first sense, we could not quite decipher the messengers in the second sense.
With such a more comprehensive understanding of messengers, I can take the message of the Quran as directly speaking to me. The messenger sent to me personally is Prophet Muhammad (who of course affirms all the previous prophets), who discloses to me all the other personal messengers that I encounter in my unique life journey as an individual creature of God.
With this understanding, let us look at verse 6. This verse notes that the prophet is sent so that he may “warn people whose forefathers had not been warned, and who therefore are unaware.” Elsewhere, the Almighty says that people resisted the messengers with the excuse that they have never heard that from their forefathers such messages. (See Quran, 23:24, 28:36, 38:7, etc. ) Until recently, I used to think that this verse refers exclusively to the final prophet, Prophet Muhammad, and to his immediate pagan community. As a result, I used to feel “well, I do not come from a pagan family, so this verse does not quite apply to me.”
In contrast, when I see the messages and messengers of God in a broader sense, then I can appreciate that we do each have personal signs sent to us. Each of us encounter a specific constellation of events, people and other creatures, this is no chance at all. Rather, all are calling us to our Creator in a way that best fits our needs and circumstances. And, I should be receptive to what these messengers are saying, instead of being heedless to them, living through my life steeped in ghaflah or in forgetfulness.
Thus, when the Quran refers to ”forefathers who have not been warned before”, I may understand that my unwarned forefathers are my past moments spent unaware. The reference to the prophet being sent to such people translates into the fact that I may be awakened to a sign of God, after having missed it for so long beforehand. Just because I was unaware beforehand does not mean that I should resist the messengers whom I see now. In reality, many of us resist positive changes in our lives simply because we find it unattractive to admit that what we have done so far was wrong. The verse is saying to me that while we may now see that what we have done in the past was misguided, we should not misdirect such regret.
Why let remorse become an obstacle to transformation here & now?
Whenever you encounter the boat of dignity and mercy, you may just board on!
Why dwell in the past and allow it to block you from getting on board?
Are you not aware that God has made subservient to you all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth, and has lavished upon you His blessings, both outward and inward? (Q. 31:20)
The various realms of existence and species surround human being and with wisdom they hasten to meet all human needs with superb order and support. This fact must be result of either one of the following two situations.
(1) Either each realm of beings in the universe itself knows human being, and obeys him, rushes to help him. This explanation is completely irrational and is also impossible in many respects. For an utterly vulnerable being, like human being, has to possess the power of the mightiest absolute sovereign to make all of the universe come to his aid.
(2) Or this assistance occurs through the knowledge of an Absolutely Powerful One behind the scenes of the universe. That is to say, it is not that the different beings in the universe know human being, but that they are the evidences of a Knowing, Compassionate One being acquainted with him and knowing him and employing these things for him…
(Excerpted from Flashes by Said Nursi)
Belief makes you a real human being. Indeed, it makes you a very noble one, like a king. Therefore, a human being’s real aspiration is belief and prayer…
There are many evidences for the truth that real humanity is attained only through belief. A clear and decisive evidence lies in the difference between the way human beings and animals come into the world. When an animal comes into the world, it comes with perfected abilities for its life. It is as though it has developed its capacities in another world, before arriving here. For, an animal quickly learns the necessities of its life within a couple of hours, days or months. In a very short period of time, it becomes appropriately oriented to its environment and starts functioning efficiently. Thus, for instance, a sparrow or bee acquires control of its life and learns the necessary skills for its duties within twenty days, while it would take a human being twenty years to get to a similar level of command over his life.
This fact shows that the real task of an animal is not to improve itself by learning more, nor is it to grow by acquiring knowledge, or to pray and worship by disclosing its vulnerability and weakness. Rather, the purpose of an animal is to work according to its abilities. It is to perform a particular function, and thus offer worship through action (‘ubūdiyya fi’liyyah).
In contrast, when a human being comes to the world, he is in need of learning everything and is completely ignorant about the rules of life, so much so that even within twenty years he is not completely done with learning about life. Indeed, his need to learn is not quenched until the end of his life. A human being is born in such a weak and needy condition that even learning to walk takes a year or two. Only around the age of fifteen, he is able to discern between harm and benefit more clearly, and only with the help of social support he is able to manage in life, attaining his needs and avoiding dangers.
All these facts about human development show that human nature is wired for growth through learning, and worship through asking for help. In other words, human nature calls for learning about matters such as “Through whose mercy am I being taken care of so wisely? How am I being nourished so delicately? Whose favors am I receiving?” Through realizing the answers to these questions, the mission of the human being is to turn to the One Who Fulfills All Needs (Qaḍi al-hājāt) with the disposition of his vulnerability, weakness and need.
O human being who is in love with the fleeting world, in forgetfulness of the Eternal One! Know that your world is actually a narrow grave, even though you imagine it to be spacious. The walls of your small space are made up of glass, and you get deluded with the mirror effect: the glass walls reflect on each other and you think your small space is as big as a city. That is, your past and your future reflect within each other and your present moment seems spacious to you. In reality, you only have a fleeting present at hand, and both past and future are nonexistent. You confuse reality with imagination, and assume that a nonexistent world is present with you.
Indeed, this illusion is similar to seeing a two dimensional thing, such as a line, as three dimensional, like a surface, because of its fast movement. The reality of your existence is as thin as a line and your world is so narrow. And yet, because of your illusion, forgetfulness, and imagination your world seems vast to you, and the walls of your place seem to be far out there. In reality, if you were to wiggle a bit within your narrow place -which happens when a calamity hits you in life-, then you will immediately hit the wall that seemed so far away. That is, the calamities wake you up and do away with your illusion. Then, you see that your vast world is in fact as tight as a tomb, and narrow like a slim bridge. Your lifespan passes in lightening speed, and your life flows faster than a river.
Now, if the life of this world, and the physical and animal life is such, then you come out of the animal level. Give up being stuck in corporeality, enter into the higher level of the heart and the spirit. You shall find a life much more spacious than the vast world you used to imagine. You will find a realm of light. The key to that world is in tawhid: in “there is no god except God.” This phrase contains the secrets of knowledge of God (ma’rifatullah) and oneness of God (waḥdaniyya). Let your heart speak with it and let your spirit flourish with it.
When people are not aware of the sun, they adore the mirrors on which the sun reflects. That is silly! They eagerly try to protect the mirror, so that they don’t lose their sun in the mirror. Only when they realize that the real sun is out there, and does not vanish when their mirror breaks, they start loving the real sun. Their love turns completely toward the sun out there in the sky. They realize that the sun does not depend on the mirror. Rather, the sunshine in the mirror depends on the sun in the sky. The mirror is enlightened and shines because of the sun, not vice versa.
O human being! Your heart and nature is like a mirror. Your intense and innate love for eternity is not meant for the mirror, i.e. your heart and nature. Rather, that innate love is for the reflection of the Eternal and Majestic One, which shines upon the mirror of your heart to the extent of its capacity. It is because of a silly confusion that the love originally meant for the One got misdirected toward your own self. Now is the time to correct that mistake. Turn to Him and say, O the Eternal One, You are Eternal (Ya Baqī anta al-Baqī)! That is, since You exist and You are eternal, we do not worry at all about separation and nonexistence!*
All that lives on earth or in the heavens is bound to pass away: but forever will abide thy Sustainer’s Self, full of majesty and glory. (Quran 55:56-57)
*Excerpted from Said Nursi, Flashes, 17th Flash.