The Problem of Evil Based on the Work of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
By Yamina Bouguenaya
Introduction: Nursi and His Times
Evil is a reality that confronts us every day. It is part of the human world. Its devastating consequences are especially evident in our time. Today more than ever before, there is great need of gaining deeper insights into the mystery of evil, precisely as it emerges from the exercise of human freedom. The central concern of the present work is to attempt to show how the teachings of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s magnum opus, the Risale-I Nur (The Epistle of Light), which is a sort of commentary on the Qur’anic Scripture, contributes to overcoming evil (sharr). Although Nursi has no systematic ‘theodicy’,1 he has written extensively on the question of evil in different contexts. Moreover, it is important to mention that his writings were not the result of a merely intellectual enterprise, but rather the living answers to problems he has personally experienced.
In order to understand the secret of the liveliness and influence of his works it is necessary to know in which circumstances they were written. One year after the abolishment of the Caliphate in Turkey, Said Nursi was arrested among many other ‘ulema and notables in Eastern Anatolia, a large number of whom were executed, and sent alone into exile in a remote village in Western Turkey. He was harassed by the authorities and compelled to remain in a tortuous exile, elderly and ill. He was arrested and tried many times for having written on religion, and was kept in solitary confinement in prison. Those who read his writings were also ill-treated and imprisoned for no crime. This continued and unfounded injustice pained Nursi greatly but it also taught him a lot. He could perceive how humans could transform into cruel tyrants. He had ample opportunity to reflect on the nature of denial and rebellion and their evil consequences, of which he was himself the victim. In contrast, he recognized revelation and belief in Divine Unity (tawhid) as an infinite mercy.
Through the insight of Divine Unity, he realized that nothing occurs on its own haphazardly. Everything is directly under the control of his Merciful Lord. He saw the reality of the seemingly harsh and hostile conditions in which he found himself. He was made to realize his boundless weakness and his absolute need to seek refuge with his Omnipotent and Merciful Sustainer. This way, he was being instructed and prepared for everlasting life. As the prophet Jonah (peace be upon him) transformed the belly of the whale into a submarine2 through the mystery of Divine Unity, Nursi was able to transform the prison into a ‘School of Joseph’ (Medrese-i Yusufiye).3 He was able to overcome his affliction and dwell in the presence of his Compassionate Lord, thus transcending his profound sense of loneliness and alienation. He found perfect joy and solace in trusting in God. He witnessed with his life that “she/he who has found Him has found everything, but she/he who has lost Him finds nothing but affliction.”4 His life in those very painful circumstances was extremely fruitful. He wrote the Risale-i Nur, which was distributed and read by thousands of people. Nursi saved their eternal lives. He taught them how to defeat evil and attain to happiness and peace under all circumstances.
Nursi wrote his feelings. His solutions to the question of evil and suffering are the fruits of his deep grappling with the human situation in confronting evil with the help of revelation and belief in Divine Unity. Nursi’s writings do not address only those who already possess faith. From one point of view, they are an account of the human condition. They combine emotion and argument, and that gives them liveliness and strength. They are more than simply a ‘theodicy’. They are the outcome of Nursi’s life experience. That is why the reader can find himself, his most hidden feelings, reflected in his writings.
The purpose of this study is to understand Nursi’s original and lively scriptural approach to the problematic of evil and how he exposes the continuing threat of evil to meaning, purpose, and happiness in an otherwise intelligible world. For this, it is necessary to situate his work within the context of Divine Unity, which constitutes the background of Nursi’s entire system of thought.
“His is all Dominion” 5
In Islamic Scripture the existence of God is not based only on a priori proofs. The Qur’an presents the universe as evidence for Divine Unity. All beings are signs pointing to the necessary existence of God and are like mirrors reflecting their Maker’s attributes of perfection and thus making Him known. Therefore, it is not easy to argue from evil to the non-existence of God. The problem of evil does not assume the dominant position in Islamic tradition which it often occupies in Western thought. Theodicy in Islam is more concerned with a consistent conception of the Divine qualities. Divine mercy, justice, power and will are at stake.
Nursi was aware that only a correct understanding of being and how it is related to the Divine attributes of perfection can solve the question of evil. This, in turn, is incumbent on solving the mystery of Divine Unity (tawhid), which consists in witnessing that all perfections in the universe belong exclusively to the Maker of every thing. That is why Nursi discusses the subject extensively. He also warns his reader that intuitive acceptance of the existence of God is only the first step towards real tawhid. The next step is to find in every thing and event a way leading to knowledge of God with His Names and attributes of perfection, and eventually to love of God. Thus through true tawhid, man attains a constant awareness of God’s presence.6 For God in the Qur’an is not confined to the ‘heavens’; “He is God in heaven and God on earth” (43:84), and He is “nearer to him (i.e. to human being) than his own jugular vein” (50:16). Moreover, the Qur’an describes all beings and phenomena as signs glorifying their Maker7 so that “wherever you turn, there is God’s countenance” (2:115). That is, God in the Qur’anic scripture is both transcendent and immanent. Those who accept the existence of God but have only a superficial or even no knowledge of His attributes of perfection as they are manifested in this world find it difficult to reconcile what appears to them as pointless evil with the goodness of God.
“He is Powerful over all Things” 8
In all his major works, Nursi emphasizes the comprehensiveness of Divine power. He notes that nothing exists on its own independently of the whole universe. All things are so interwoven that no single thing or event can exist on its own without the whole cosmos. Hence, only one who can control the whole cosmos can have disposal over any of its parts, however small it is. Nursi asserts that in the universe countless events occur in countless places all at the same time, without any intermediary. It is clear that these events, these creative acts, proceed from a universal law of creativity that encompasses all those events. Thus, whoever performs one creative act must be the author of all the creative acts which are tied to that law of creativity.9
By observing this activity of power in the universe, Nursi establishes that the greatest universal is as easy as the smallest particular in relation to the Divine power that is the source of those acts.10 Hence, everything comes into being through God’s power. It is created together with its attributes and properties. Moreover, everything is intrinsically weak. For its continued existence, it is in need in every instant of its Self-Subsistent Creator’s preserving it.11 For instance, usually the different states of being of a person are described as events in the life of that person. If she is ill, it is said that illness has befallen her, but otherwise she is well, as though her being were independent of her illness and inherently healthy. As a matter of fact, she is as her Creator creates her. Nursi expresses this fact as “the Lord of Dominion has disposal over His dominion.”12 He explains this phrase as meaning that whatever exists, it is the Lord’s dominion, because it relies on His disposal for its existence and permanence.
“God Does Whatever He Wills”13
In his works, Nursi frequently points to the experiential evidence of the Creator’s universal will. Within innumerable possibilities, a specific well-ordered individuality is given to every thing, especially to animate beings, thus demonstrating a universal will. Moreover, the different attributes and states which a being assumes throughout its life are also purposefully and knowingly specified. This means that it is impelled on a wise way amid innumerable possible ways through the will of One Who specifies and chooses, and through the creation of a Wise Maker.
His Mercy Encompasses Everything
The most recurrent divine attribute in the Qur’an is mercy.14 The Qur’an says that “your Sustainer has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy” (6:54).This expression also occurs in verse 6:12 and in both instances it refers to God’s mercy and compassion (rahma). None of the other divine attributes has been similarly described. This exceptional quality of God’s mercy is further stressed in verse 7:156: “My grace and mercy overspread everything.” Following the scriptures, Nursi emphasizes the theme of mercy in his writings. He explains how Divine mercy shows itself in the harmonious ordering of the cosmos which caters to the needs of all beings and especially man. So many species of living beings come into existence and enter the life of this world, and all of them, particularly the newly arrived, are nurtured with utmost order and regularity. They are clothed in different practicable forms in accordance to wisdom and decked out with all sorts of senses and faculties with a view to assuring various uses and benefits. Also, they have been inspired as to how to procure their needs. All this demonstrates that their compassionate Maker sees them, knows them, and hears them.15 His mercy and wisdom are so comprehensive; they compassionately preserve even the rights of life of a fly.16 The smallest need of the lowliest creature is thus fulfilled in the most solicitous and unexpected manner.17
Moreover, the Merciful Creator bestows on men every sort of delicious and ornate gift from unexpected places18 in order to please them and make them friends of Himself.19 They have been endowed with innumerable appetites, needs, feelings and senses in order that they may profit and derive pleasure from those innumerable gifts of Divine mercy. Indeed, in the context of Divine Unity, even a tiny fruit is understood as a product of universal mercy and divine generosity, its creation accomplishable only by a Being Who causes the earth to revolve, who causes the seasons, and thus brings the fruits of the seasons within reach of those needy guests of the earth who stand waiting for them.20
Also, for example, when the particular act of sending pure milk to the assistance of a powerless infant is viewed in relation to the sustaining of all infants, a universal law of mercy is seen in its entire splendor. If this law is not perceived, each particular providing of sustenance will be attributed to causes, chance and nature, and become meaningless and without value. The mercy and beauty mirrored in those acts becomes hidden,21 although it is clear that these acts require infinite mercy, care, wisdom, knowledge, power and will, and hence cannot be the work of unconscious causes and blind chance.22
Thus, from the perspective of Divine Unity, the order in the universe is the manifestation of the Compassionate Creator’s practices. These practices are witnessed in the form of laws, such as the law of mercy, the law of power, the law of justice, the law of beauty. These laws are the manifestation of God’s will and command.23 Nothing in the Universe happens haphazardly or without purpose. God Himself directs everything and listens to the plaints of all things, for He is their Maker, Owner, and Protector. The doors of supplication and seeking help and mercy are therefore always open.24
Being is Pure Good
According to Nursi, being is pure good whereas non-being is pure evil.25 This notion of evil as the privation of good (privatio boni) is widespread. It is the preferred explanation for evil in Islamic thought, as well as in Western Scholasticism. However, Nursi does not treat this question in isolation, but views it against the background of Divine Unity (tawhid). For him, it is the right conception of being within the context of tawhid that helps us have an insight into the mystery of evil.
Beings are the Mirrors of the Divine Attributes of Perfection
In Nursi’s view, things and events are not the source of the perfections they display. They are only mirrors of those perfections. Things change and die, but their realities don’t. Beautiful beings come into being then depart. Yet an undying beauty displays itself in those mirror-like beings, demonstrating that it does not belong to the creatures themselves but to their Creator. Certainly, just as light comes from something luminous, so the bestowal of beauty comes from the beautiful. Consequently, it can be understood that all the beauty and perfections in beings proceed from the beauty and perfection of the meanings and realities of the divine attributes of perfection which they reflect.26 Thus, by their very contingency, beings point to the meaning of “God, there is no deity save Him. His (alone) are the Most Beautiful Names” (20:8).27
In order to appreciate more fully Nursi’s conception of being, it is important to note that according to him things have two aspects: the apparent and physical aspect (mulk), and the inner aspect (malakut), which reflects the meanings of the Divine Names.28 The mulk aspect of things is full of pain because it is transient and mortal. But this pain is not bad. It is like the dark side of the mirror; it reflects the divine attributes of perfection. It makes one realize that the beauty and perfection in beings, which are the cause of love, do not belong to beings themselves but to the Divine Attributes. This way, it turns the gaze from the apparent aspect to the inner aspect, which looks to the Eternally Enduring One.29 Hence, the pain of separation resulting from transience is good because it directs man’s heart to the eternal source of all perfections. But, if man refuses to turn his heart towards the Enduring One, then he will see only the transient aspect of things, and will be bound to suffer constantly the pain of separation from his objects of love.
Death and annihilation cannot intrude the inner aspect of things, for this looks to the meanings of the eternal Divine Names. From this aspect, things and events bear witness to the Maker’s absolute power, mercy and bestowal, and to His love and care for all creatures, especially human beings. The one who is perspicacious does not grieve at the passing of things. She is aware that the qualities they reflect are not lost in their departure. They continue to be reflected in other beings. She enjoys the delight of witnessing the manifestations of God’s everlasting Beautiful Names. She realizes that this pleasure is a prelude to God’s eternal mercy, and that this world is “the waiting-room for Paradise.”30
In elucidating the meaning of the verse, “Who makes most excellent everything that He creates” (32:7), Nursi asserts that the inner aspect of all things is good and beautiful. Even the most undesirable things and events are good in regard to their results. In reality, apparent harms, tribulations and calamities are not misfortunes. They are not evil and bad. They are created for many beneficial and everlasting results. They are created on purpose. For the sensible, they are means of purification and spiritual progress, or atonement for sin, or else warnings and favors of the Merciful Lord to prevent man from falling into dissipation, remind him of his human helplessness, and thus prepare him for the eternal life.31 They compel him to ask questions that are essential in discovering the meaning of existence and establish his ontological security on solid grounds. But because man is self-centered, he considers only the outer aspect of things. He evaluates and understands everything from his narrow and selfish perspective, and therefore judges all that does not serve his purpose to be bad and evil.32 In fact, if considered from their outer aspect only, even sheer beauty and good are evil because they are mortal.33
Hence, it is clear that evil results from forgetting the Creator, then imagining the world to be the playground of deaf Nature and blind force, and a place of mourning. This terrifying vision of the world makes man suffer a hell-like state of mind. But he alone is responsible for the evil of his condition. Surely, he has no right to accuse God of the evil consequences of his banishing God from his world. Usually, impelled by heedlessness or misguidance, man claims the ownership of himself and his acts. But, his responsibility and faults he refers to God. For Nursi, this is clearly a trick of the ego which man uses to shun the responsibility of the evil of his choice.34
Perfections Pertain to the Divine Names. What about Imperfections? The so-called privative theory of evil states that evil is actually an absence of the good. Just as being and the good are convertible, so too are non-being and evil. Evil as such is not a ‘something’, but a deficiency, in varying degrees, of perfection. Thus privation implies imperfection. It is further purported that knowledge is acquired through opposites; the good is appreciated by comparison with the bad, or less good. But beyond this, Nursi holds that the existence of the imperfect is requisite for the unfolding of the endless degrees of perfection. Nursi’s view provides a realistic approach to the mystery of evil that is able to withstand the touch of experience.
Nursi describes evil, imperfections and ugliness as a unit of measurement that shows the degrees of good and beauty and hence augments and multiplies their realities. Evil is therefore indirectly good. Moreover, the nonexistence of ugliness, which conceals numerous instances of beauty, is not a single but a manifold ugliness. For then, beauty would be of only one sort; its numerous degrees would remain hidden. Beauty and perfection belong to the Creator alone, and hence they are one. However, in creation the degrees of beauty and perfection unfold through the intervention in them of ugliness and imperfection, just as high and low degrees of heat proceed from the admixture of coldness. Minor instances of imperfection, ugliness, and harm result in or show up universal instances of perfection and beauty, and universal benefits. This means that the creation of evils, imperfections and ugliness is not evil because its consequences are good. But Nursi also notes that due to his ill choice, man can receive harm from ‘evil’.35
Nursi explains that man has two aspects. One looks to good and existence. From this aspect man can only receive Divine favor and accept what is given. The other aspect looks to evil and non-existence. From this aspect man is active. He has the ability to commit evil and destruction.36 When man does not consent to surrender to his Creator, he fancies that he must take his life into his own hands. Then begins the desperate effort to create his own delusive dominion, at the price of crime and destruction. Man’s misfortune begins when he aspires to deify himself like Pharaoh, for his is only the power to destroy. As the Qur’an teaches, “all that take Satan rather than God for their master do indeed, most clearly, lose all: he holds out promises to them, and fills them with vain desires; yet whatever Satan promises them is but means to delude the mind.” (4:119-120). According to the teachings of the Qur’an, Satan has no power to create. Satan can only delude those who “take them for masters” (7:30), for “Satan’s guile is indeed weak” (4:76). Thus the Qur’an infers that ‘evil’ has no intrinsic reality; it becomes real only through man’s willfully choosing a wrong course of action or attitude. It is a result of man’s succumbing to the temptations arising from his own moral weakness and thereby denying the signs of mercy in the creation, including his own creation.37 “Satan has no power over those who place their trust in God” (17:65) and “he cannot harm them in the least, unless it be by God’s leave: in God, then, let the believers place their trust!” (58:10). The believer is enjoined to seek refuge with God, “and if it should happen that a prompting from Satan stirs you, seek refuge in God: behold, He is all-hearing, all-knowing” (7:200; 41:36).
Complying with this injunction, the prophet Job (peace be upon him) “cried to his Sustainer, ‘Behold, Satan has afflicted me with weariness and suffering!'”(38: 41). Job (peace be upon him) knew that his creator was ‘the most merciful of the merciful’ (21: 83), and his voucher was that his creator had made him long for health and dislike illness and suffering. These feelings were not his; they were witnesses to God’s mercy. For, had God not desired to give health and happiness, He would not have given the want and need for them. But when the suffering grew ‘unbearable’, Job (peace be upon him) sought refuge in God’s mercy from Satan, who was trying to delude him and make him question God’s mercy. He sought cure from this in order to be able to worship again, whilst Satan’s whisperings were preventing him from witnessing to Divine mercy. For he knew that real despondency and weariness of life lie in being unable to see Divine mercy. The way Job’s prayer was accepted is also most interesting. He was asked, “Strike (the ground) with your foot: here is cool water to wash and to drink!” (38: 42). This verse teaches us how to have recourse to worldly causes as prayer for health.
We thus understand that Job (peace be upon him) was the champion of patience, as Nursi calls him, because he was aware that illness, the dislike for it, the love for well being and good, the recourse to treatment and worldly causes in seeking health, as well as health itself, are all meaningful pointers toward Divine mercy and wisdom; they are all witnesses to Divine mercy. Such awareness is patience; it is worship.
Moreover, the evil of wrongdoing, which is the result of a misperception of the signs in the creation, affects none other than its perpetrator. As Nursi affirms, “the acquisition of evil is evil, but the creation of ‘evil’ is not evil.”38 Nursi recalls that crimes and evil acts have also two aspects: One looks to man, the other to the Creator. Man is the cause of the ‘evil’ act. He requests and acquires it, so he is responsible. But the one who creates the ‘evil’ act is God. However, the creation ‘evil’ is not evil, for it has other good results. In the same event, man does wrong, but, as the order and balance in the universe testify, the Creator is All-Just and All-Wise, He acts in justice.39
In this way, Nursi salvages the reality of evil without, however, designating it as some existing thing. Nothing is evil in itself but it can be seen as evil. All evil is ultimately moral; it is the outcome of a failure to see the mercy and wisdom in creation. So illness, for instance, is the lack, in greater or lesser degree, of the good that is health. But the physical suffering that accompanies it is real. It is given to the ill person to urge her to seek health. Suffering is a sign that makes one realize that illness is unwanted. But if one appropriates one’s need for health and dislike of suffering to oneself, one will not see them as signs of mercy from one’s Creator. Instead, one will use them to accuse Him. But had one not been created with those senses, how could one know that suffering is bad? Moreover, illness makes one realize that health is not inherent to one. It is a gift. It beckons one to turn towards one’s Creator, Who is the giver of health, and to invoke Him for help. Illness also causes one to experience the different sorts of pleasures and perfections contained in health. And more importantly, it makes one realize that the reality and beauty of health pertain to the Eternal Divine Name Healer. If one spends one’s whole life in a state of good health without ever understanding its reality, one will remain heedless of one’s Merciful Sustainer. Health will afford one no pleasure because it is transient and fleeting. On the contrary, the thought of separation will cause distress to one’s spirit, which yearns for immortality. Thanks to illness, one can find the Eternal Healer, and that is for the human spirit a source of great and enduring pleasure. Thus, the inner aspect of illness is good. It deserves thanks, not complaint.
In short, beneficial matters like good health, well-being and pleasures prompt one to see the manifestations of the Divine Names therein and thank one’s Eternal Lord. Similarly, by means of misfortunes, illness, and pain, the weakness and poverty inherent in human beings are made to work, dispelling all heedlessness, and making them experience and taste the manifestations of many divine Names like Helper, Merciful, Compassionate, Healer, All-Hearing.40 That is, illness and suffering, like health, are a window onto the eternal perfections of the most Beautiful Names. To abandon this enduring good for a minor evil like the transient and fleeting pain it entails,41 would be a great evil.42
Death is not Non-Existence
Nursi recounts how on thinking of death and the pains of transience, his innate desire for immortality surged up and rebelled. One time when observing the season of spring, I saw the successive caravans of beings which… appeared only briefly then disappeared. The tableaux of death and transience amid that constant, awesome activity seemed to me excessively sad; I felt such pity it made me weep… Life which met with such an end seemed to me to be torment worse than death. … My heart wanted to weep and complain and cry out at fate. It asked awesome questions… As I started to utter fearful objections about Divine determining (qadar) and the grievous circumstances of the outer face of life and its events, the light of the Qur’an, … and belief in Divine Unity came to my assistance. They lit up those darknesses, and transformed my laments into joy… 43
Through the mystery of Divine Unity, Nursi understood that activity arises from pleasure and yields pleasure, e.g. the unfolding of abilities. It may be said that activity is pure pleasure. Or rather, activity is the manifestation of existence, which is pure pleasure, and the receding from non-existence, which is pure suffering. Pleasure is thus the disclosure of perfections through activity. In other words, activity indicates perfection and vice-versa perfection requires activity. And activity in turn necessitates change, transformation, alteration and destruction. The latter necessitate death and extinction, decline and separation. Therefore, death and separation are in reality renewal and renovation.44
However, for the one who sees only the outer aspect of things, life itself is constant annihilation. Every passing moment flows to non-existence. Her life, however long it is, is in fact short, it is a mirage. Yet, through the insight of belief in divine Unity she forms a connection with her Eternal Maker, who is the Sustainer of all beings. And through that relation, she gains a bond of union with all other beings, so that death cannot separate her from them. She realizes that all her objects of love are saved from annihilation through their connection with their Eternal and Compassionate Creator.45
As mentioned above, the beauty and perfections in beings are the manifestations of the Divine Names. Since the Names are eternal, their manifestations will surely be renewed and perpetuated. When beings die, they do not depart to non-existence, only their relative embodiments change and are replaced by different embodiments in order to set forth the meanings of the Divine names. But the realities they have expressed are preserved. They suffer no harm as the mirror-like beings change. Nursi also adds that if the latter are conscious beings, then their demise is a journeying to everlasting happiness, to the eternal realm of the Divine Names. It is therefore crucial that man realizes his true nature as mirror of the divine attributes. Man, explains Nursi, is unable to sustain his existence. He does not own himself. His existence and his faculties have been entrusted to him. Thus, his duty is to hand then back to God by fulfilling his nature as a conscious mirror of the divine perfections and turning his gaze towards the beautiful inner aspects of things. He will then find peace and happiness in this world and in the hereafter. If instead he wastes this great wealth in faculties on trivial worldly matters, he will suffer the penalty of betrayal of the trust and will constantly lament under the blows of transience and separation.46 Thus the Qur’an declares, “Whatever good happens to you is from God, and whatever befalls you is from yourself.”(4:79).
Man Exists in his Non-Existence and he is Non-Existent in his Existence
If man rises above his egotism and knows himself to be a mirror of the manifestation of the Eternal Giver of existence, he gains a perpetual existence. For “the lights of existence become apparent through recognizing the Necessarily Existent One.”47 But if he refuses to acknowledge his weakness and imagines that he exists of himself, he will be submerged in the darkness of non-existence and separation. For, from the moment that he severs his connection with His Sustainer and relies on himself, he finds himself delivered over to the fleeting moment, to the passing days, and to oblivion.48 As man fancies that he is the real owner of his life, he believes that everything owns itself. He conflates the perfections in things with the things themselves and does not see their relation with the Divine Names, thus regarding them as idols worthy of love and worship. He sees only the outer aspect of things, which is accidental and transient. As a result, he constantly suffers the pain of separation from his objects of attachment, which he thinks he will never see again. In short, the threat of mortality which hangs over him makes everything abortive.49 The threat of meaninglessness becomes a source of unspecific and pervasive anxieties. Death becomes unintelligible because it is imagined to be eternal annihilation.
This wretched situation is in fact a warning reminding him that heedlessness and ingratitude carry the seed of Hell. In order to make him realize that he is on the wrong path, God, in his infinite mercy, fills his life with uneasiness and distress. But the one who wants to act as he wishes refuses to submit to the rule of the Creator; and in spite of all warnings, he chooses to not surrender to Him. Instead, he looks for consolation in nurturing enmity towards Him.50 That is, in order to declare his own dominion, he decides to overthrow the Master. He launches the offensive against God in the name of justice, denouncing Him as the “father of death”. He opposes the sense of justice which he finds in himself and which is a reflection of the divine Name All-Just, to the principle of injustice that he fancies is being applied in the world. He claims that all he wants is to resolve this contradiction. Meanwhile, he puts God on trial. And “from the moment he submits God to moral judgment, he kills Him in his own heart.”51
Dostoievsky’s Ivan Karamazov defies God in the name of a higher moral principle, namely, justice. He ranks justice above God. But what is the basis of morality? Can the notion of justice be understood without God? If there is no God, there is no immortality and therefore no reward nor punishment. As Ivan Karamazov says, “I believe that there is no virtue without immortality.” But if there is no virtue, there is no law: “Everything is permitted.” And if all is permitted, Ivan can act against his conscience and allow his father to be killed. The same Ivan, who so violently took the part of innocence, who trembled at the suffering of a child, from the moment he contests the law of the Maker and refuses to recognize any law but his own, accepts the legitimacy of murder. He hates the death penalty because it reminds him of his condition (describing an execution, he says angrily: “His head fell, in the name of divine grace”), but at the same time he condones crime in principle.52
The obstinate rival of God is confronted with a desperate contradiction: He condemns God under the pretext that He is guilty of injustice because he wants to become God himself, i.e. he refuses to recognize any law other than his own. As Nietzsche boldly confessed, “If there is a God, how can one tolerate not being God oneself?” At the same time, since God claims all that is good in man, he deliberately decides to deride what is good and choose what is evil. Hence, man’s refusal to accept his createdness, his false claim to divinity, necessarily ends in exaltation of evil. For Nursi, the argument that creation is evil is a petty subterfuge by which God is denied in order to introduce the divinity of man. But alas! If there is no God and no immortality, if death is the end of everything, then nothing has purpose or meaning; suffering has no more meaning than happiness. It becomes nonsense to talk about evil or good.
Nursi deals with the question of unbelief and metaphysical rebellion on a cosmological scale in a much more comprehensive way than it has hitherto been dealt with. He demonstrates how unbelief and rebellion are the source of the evil that befalls man.53 Unbelief is the refusal to believe in what exists. It is the belief in illusions. It is not only negation and despair, but above all, the deliberate choice of negation and despair, the obstinate refusal to surrender to one’s reality. And although unbelief is a single evil, it accuses the whole universe of being worthless and futile.54 Unbelief condemns all beings to meaninglessness and perdition. It converts the world into a cruel slaughterhouse of all living beings, an awesome place of sorrows for the conscious. It reduces man to the level of the most wretched and grieving of all animals. It denigrates the perfections of the Divine Beautiful Names that are reflected in the mirror of all beings, thus nullifying the result of the Creator’s activity and denying His creativity.55
According to Nursi, man has been endowed with an overpowering desire for immortality and an intense love of existence in order to find the Eternally Existent One. Indeed, the happiness of man’s immortality lies in the eternity of his Sustainer, and in relying on His mercy. For man’s essential being is but a shadow of a Divine Name which is enduring and eternal. But if man misuses that infinite love which pertains to the Divine Essence and loves his own self, he suffers endless despair, for he can find no point of support in himself.56 Nursi concludes that since there is in man such an irrepressible longing for immortality, all his perfections and pleasures depend on immortality. And since immortality is particular to his Eternal Creator, man’s most pressing duty is to form a relation with Him and make peace with Him. Only then will his spirit and heart find satisfaction, “for verily, in the remembrance of God [men’s] hearts do find their rest” (13:28).57
1. Theodicy here refers to that branch of theology concerned with defending the attributes of God against objections resulting from physical and moral evil. 2. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Flashes, from the Risale-i Nur Collection, trans. Sukran Vahide (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 1996), p. 18. 3. Ibid., pp. 327, 333, 357. 4. Nursi, The Letters, from the Risale-i Nur Collection, pp. 42-44. 5. “His is all dominion, and to Him all praise is due; and He has the power to will anything.” See Qur’an 64:1. See also 2:107; 5:17 ,18, 40, 120; 9:116; 24:42; 25:26; 39:6, 44; 42:49; 43:85; 45:27; 57:2, 5; 67:1. Muhammad Asad’s translation of the Qur’an, The Message of the Qur’an (Dar al Andalus: Gibraltar, 1984), is used throughout this essay. 6. Nursi, al-Mathnawi-al-‘Arabi-an-Nuri (Iraq: Matba’at-uz-Zahra’al-Mahduda, 1988), p. 52; Nursi, The Words, from the Risale-i Nur Collection, pp. 299-300. 7. “The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, and the earth, and all that they contain; and there is not a single thing but extols His limitless glory and praise; but you (O men) fail to grasp the manner of their glorifying Him!” See Qur’an 17:44. See Also Qur’an 21:79; 24:41; 62:1; 64:1. 8. “Hallowed be he in whose hand all dominion rests, since he has power over all things.” See Qur’an 67:1. See also 64:1; 65:12; 66:8. 9. Nursi, The Letters, pp. 290, 392-393. 10. Ibid., p. 292. 11. Ibid., pp. 81-82; 274-280; 337; Nursi, The Words, pp. 212-213, 484-6; Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 61, 441, 445-446. 12. Nursi, The Flashes, p. 23; Nursi, The Letters, p. 337; Nursi, The Words, p. 487-488. 13. See Qur’an 11:107; 22:14; 85:16. 14. All of the 114 Qur’anic chapters but one start “in the name of the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.” God’s attributes of mercy are mentioned 288 times. The word ‘mercy’ is also mentioned 114 times. 15. Nursi, The Rays, pp. 18, 192-193; Nursi, The Words, p. 695. 16. Nursi, The Flashes, p. 403 17. Nursi, The Rays, p. 194; Nursi, The Words, pp. 81, 310; Nursi, The Flashes, p. 432. 18. See Qur’an 65:3. 19. Nursi, The Rays, pp. 88-89. 20. Nursi, The Rays, p. 197. 21. That is why the Qur’an says that “they who are bent on denying God’s signs and their (ultimate) meeting with Him-it is they who abandon all hope of My grace and mercy.” See Qur’an 29:23. 22. Nursi, The Rays., p. 15; Nursi, The Letters, pp. 344-345. 23. Nursi, The Words, pp. 579-581; 638-640. 24. Nursi, The Rays, pp. 19, 40. 25. Nursi, The Rays, pp. 89-90; Nursi, The Flashes, p. 106; Nursi, The Words, p. 487. 26. Nursi, The Rays, pp. 85-86; Nursi, The Letters, p. 340; Nursi, The Words, pp. 488-489; 649; 655. Here, Nursi departs from the basic Platonic thesis that everything has its own unseen and unrealized counterpart. For Nursi all perfection belongs to the Creator alone. Beings are only mirrors of that perfection. Nursi moves away from the Greek discourse, not only refuting it, but also showing how Qur’anic Scripture operates outside Greek philosophy. 27. Al-asma’al-husna is usually translated as “The Most Beautiful Names”. But it may also be rendered as “Attributes of Perfection”, because the term ‘ism’ in Arabic, which is the singular form of ‘asma’, denotes primarily the intrinsic attributes of the thing under consideration (Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1980, p. 231). 28. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Isharat-ul I’jaz (Cairo: Sozler Publications, 1994), p. 79. Nursi, The Words, pp. 300, 355, 653; Nursi, The Letters, pp. 81-82; 343. 29. Nursi, The Flashes, p. 30. 30. Nursi, The Words, p. 50. 31. Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 26, 28, 334-336; Nursi, The Words, pp. 49, 185-190; Nursi, The Letters, pp. 64-65. In the world-view of the Qur’an, God is the Creator of all happening, “All is from God” (an-Nisa’ 4:78). However, not everything that man regards as bad is really evil, for, “it may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know.” (al-Baqara 2:21) The Qur’an says that “it may well be that you dislike something which God might yet make a source of abundant good” (an-nisa’ 4:19), and also, “We test you [all] through the bad and the good by way of trial: and unto Us you shall be brought back” (al-anbiya’ 21:35). 32. Nursi, The Words, pp. 240-241. 33. Nursi, al-Mathnawi-al-‘Arabi-an-Nuri, p. 159. 34. Nursi, The Words, 480; Nursi, The Flashes, p. 124. 35. Nursi, The Rays, 39; Nursi, The Flashes, p. 429. 36. Nursi, The Words, pp. 330, 559. 37. M. Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, footnote 90, 118. 38. Nursi, The Words, p. 478; Nursi, The Letters, p. 62. 39. Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 329, 357. Never does God do the least wrong to His creatures! (3:182; 8:51; 22:10; 41:46; 50:29). Verily God does not wrong [anyone] by as much as an atom’s weight ( 4:40). Verily God does not do the least wrong unto men, but it is men who wrong themselves (10:44). See also Qur’an 3:117; 9:70; 11:101; 16:33; 16:118; 30:9; 39:40; 43:76. 40. Nursi, The Flashes, p. 28; Nursi, The Words, p. 139. 41. Nursi points out that as far as physical existence is concerned, the past and the future are dead; they do not exist in the present moment. Physical life is only one fleeting instant. Therefore, physical pain also exists only at the present moment, which is extremely narrow. But usually people are inattentive to this reality. They imagine life to be permanent and dissipate their patience on the painful experiences of the past and the fears and anxiety of the future. That state of mind increases their physical suffering manifold, making it unbearable. See Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 25, 273. 42. Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 21-28; 266-283. 43. Nursi, The Rays, pp. 21-22. 44. Nursi, The Letters, pp. 338-340; Nursi, The Flashes, p. 450. 45. Nursi, The Letters, pp. 340-342; Nursi, The Rays, pp. 78-81; 274. 46. Nursi, The Words, pp. 37-40; 333-334. 47. Nursi, The Letters, p. 342. 48. Ibid., pp. 538-539; Nursi, The Words, pp. 158, 493. 49. Nursi, The Words, pp. 28, 562-564, 663; Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 162-163. 50. Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 459-460; Nursi, The Words, pp. 145-146; 493. 51. A. Camus, The Rebel: An essay on Man in Revolt (New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1957), p. 62. 52. Ibid, pp. 56-61. 53. Nursi, The Rays, pp. 19-24, pp. 173-174; Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 119-122; Nursi, The Words, pp. 27-28; 45-50; 319-340; 557-567; 661-668. 54. Nursi, The Words, pp. 329, 479. 55. Ibid., p. 320; Nursi, The Rays, p. 21. 56. Nursi, The Rays., pp. 70-74; Nursi, The Words, pp. 368-369; 492-493; 663-664. 57. Nursi, The Flashes, pp. 30-31.