Politics, Ethics and Contrastive Elements in the Viewpoint of Rumi and Sa’īd Nursī = Rumi ve Sa'îd Nursī Açısından Siyaset, Etik ve Karşıtlık Elemanları

Eklenme Tarihi: 26 Kasım 2017

Dr. Maryam Musharraf*

Sa’īd Nursī[1] has claimed to be Rumi’[2]s disciple. I was wondering what connects Rumi and Nursī, these two poets of the 14th and 20th centuries. Even though they both lay emphasis on didactic and moral aspects which are the legacy of the Quran, they are seven centuries apart.

It is now clear to me that human psychology is the greatest and most important factor which draws the attention of the reader in the works of these two Quranic thinkers. The mystics whom Nursī liked and were mentioned by him in his works such as Rumi, Ghazalī[3], Abdulqādir Gīlānī[4], and Sar Hindī[5] all tried to establish their didactic theory on the basis of human psychology, and perceive the essentials of human bliss through separating the existential faculties of human. These mystics all share one standpoint. They all looked for the key to human bliss in human himself before any other thing and strived to define the balance between physical and mental powers of human with the aid of his spiritual development. In the books Elixir of Bliss (Kīmīyā-yi- Sa’ādat) and Revivification of Religious Knowledge (Ihya-i Ulūm Al-dīn), Ghazalī compares human existence to a city whose king is the heart. In Ghazali’s view, only a heart which is purified through thinking can donate order and harmony to the assorted forces of this city which is the human existence[6]. Sa’īd Nursī has followed the same psychological point of view. In the book The Words (Kalimāt), he has compared the human existence to a palace in which multifarious forces reside, forces such as desire, passion, anger, and wrath[7]. In his standpoint, human is a harmonious creature of wisdom and a manifestation of all divine traits, but how can he bring about balance and harmony among the residents of this palace? In the viewpoint of these mystics, human’s spiritual evolution is facilitated by overcoming the lower soul.

In didactic and  moral thoughts of Sa’īd Nursī and Rumi, the battle against the lower soul and sublimation of Human spiritual powers is of central importance.

The battle against the self is to be found all over Rumi’s Mathnawi and it may be stated that it is the main subject of Mathnawi. Rumi creates a contrast of spiritual and physical powers like two opposite poles

It is the gist of Rumi’s massage:

The sensuous eye is the horse, and the Light of God is the rider: without the rider the horse itself is useless

Therefore, train the horse (so as to cure it) of bad habits; else the horse will be rejected before the king

The light of God mounts (as a rider) on the sensuous eye and then the soul yearns after God

Go towards a sense on which the Light is riding: that Light is a good companion for the sense.

The Light of God is an ornament to the light of sense: this is the meaning of light upon light.

The light of sense draws (a man) towards earth; the Light of God bears him a loft

Because sensible things are a lower world: the Light of God is (as) the sea and the sense as a dew- drop[8]

In the mentioned couplets of Rumi, Human’s physical senses are compared to a horse which has no end other than eating, while Rumi wishes to make us see the light of spirituality which leads the horse toward a more excellent destination, the way a rider does.

Here, we encounter a structure of binary oppositions, i.e. factors which may be categorized in separate groups such as rationality and soul, day and night, good and evil; they complement one another, yet they are opposites.

In the books Kolliyat-e Rasa’el Al-Nour and Arabic Mathnawi[9], Sa’īd Nursī takes such an approach. This out look is particularly observable in the eighth word (kalima) from the book The Words (Kalimat). Upon interpreting verses from the Quran, he relates eight short stories in all of which he expresses such a contrast between the appetitive soul and spirit in form of a parable. In the interpretation of the phrase “in the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful,” sensuality is compared to a traveler who divagates in a burning desert due to abstaining from using the king’s name which is the password, whereas the second traveler (the heart) overcomes the problems by reciting “in the name of God.” This contrastive structure is repeated in different formats. At times two soldiers face a dilemma and sometimes two travelers seek the correct path. In each case, a deviated person is opposed with another who is led, or an indolent person is opposed with a diligent one. These two contrasting factors are at times the symbol of trusting in God on the one hand, and trusting in oneself on the other hand, and sometimes rationality and self.

Upon establishing this dual structure, both Rumi and Nursī follow the mystics before them. Although this subject, i.e. the contrast between spiritual and physical powers in human and permanent emphasis on the battle with self, which is expressed in form of a parable, has been the topic of a great deal of didactic works since the time of Plato and Aristotle, it appears clearly in mystic exegeses of the Quran and in Sufi didactical works. The Sufi moral instructions called rules of Conduction or Ādāb are based on ancient patterns which are reflected in books such as Sulamī’s Jawāme’ Ādāb Al-Sufiyyeh[10] and are compiled in Ghazali’s Ehyā-e Ulūm. For instance, in the Quran49:9, the war between two fighting tribes is put to discussion.

If two parties among the believers fall in to quarrel, make peace between them, but if one of them acts wrongfully towards the other, fight ye that which acts wrongfully until ut returns to Allah’s command, then if it returns, make peace between them with justice and act equitably; surely Allah loves those who act equitable (Quran49:9)

In the sufi commentaries on this verse, It is Sa’īd that these two tribes fighting one another are on the one hand the spirit and the rationality and on the other hand physical and lustful powers. The mystics should aid the first group so that they triumph over the second one: İndeed the Nature and Desire and Passion have oppressed the Spirit and Wisdom and Heart; so the servant of God should fight with the swords of meditation and the arrows of insight and the lights of compliance, to make the Spirit and Wisdom conquer the Desire and Passion.[11]

Are there deeper concepts hidden between the lines of the stories of Nursī’s works? He lived at a chaotic time when there were too many wars. In this period, his country was engaged in wars with foreign countries and it is apparent that different political forces were involved in this war. In his parables, Nursī frequently mentions two soldiers who walk on two different paths. One of them has chosen the easier path so that he will not have to carry a weapon, whereas the other chooses the harder more valuable path. Nursī equates the first soldier with the rebellious self. He again returns to this picture of war somewhere else (the interpretation of the sura 16:128) and repeats the allegory of two soldiers, one of whom fights for his motherland while the other is an immature mercenary who does not know why he is fighting. Nursī comments: “O brother! It is your duty to fight and to learn. Trust the king! He will not let you remain hungry.” Does this indicate the support of the royal system? In his works, he often introduces the king as the friend and supporter of the nation. In spite of this, it should be noted that using the allegory of king as the symbol of divine power has a long history in the Sufi literature. Nevertheless, he was pessimistic about the republic in the depth of his thought. He has recurrently used the allegory of king and soldier in the book The Words (Kalimat). He speaks about a soldier somewhere else who is amidst the world war. Even though he compares the situation of this soldier in what follows to a human who has been wounded during battles with the difficulties of life, while the lion of death is chasing him and the gibbet is before him [12]this condition is sort of similar to that of the Ottoman regime in those days, in the mind of the reader. The Ottoman regime was threatened by Allied forces and it encountered domestic contradictions owing to secularism and the threat of disintegration. In the allegory of soldier, Nursī states that one side of this soldier suffers asthenia and his other side is wounded and bloody due to poverty. At this moment, he finds before him the spell of religion. A sage guides him so that he is able to turn that wild lion into a tame animal. In this event, he may be able to rescue himself, but the Devil appears at this instance to deceive him. Is not this Devil, who intends to steal the spell of salvation from the soldier, secularism with which Nursī was entangled until the end of his life? In one of this allegories, Nursī describes a wounded soldier , confronting death. Nursī says:

Say to the trickster, if you have the means to kill the lion behind me, remove the Gallows from before me, repulse the things wounding my right and my left, and prevent the journey in front of me, then come and do so, otherwise, be silent! And let that Khidr[13] like sami man, talk to us.”[14]

Nursī says, “let the Sami man speak”. We shall ask, who this Sāmi man is? Is Nursī creating a contrast between the picture of the Arab clergy and the secular nationalism here? The storyteller asks the Devil to be silent, in case he cannot show him the road to salvation, so that the Sāmi man who is like Khidr can speak.

Therefore, what we face underneath these contradictory elements and dual contrasts is two layers of meaning. In the first one, the implication of contrastive elements indicates the eternal clash between human’s physical and spiritual aspect. In the second one, these elements predicate the political encounter of different powers which played certain roles on the stage of the politics of Ottoman government and the republic of Turkey in those days.

These contrastive dualities invite us to a moral discourse on a certain level. On another level, they reveal a political contrast; the political contrast which all of the Middle Eastern religious scholars and intellectuals felt during the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century with respect to non-religious modernity. Siyyid Jamāl Al-Din Asadābādī[15]( d.1897) in Iran and Sheikh Mohammad Abduh[16](d.1905) in Egypt are perhaps other examples where the “Sāmī man” creates a contrast between the ideal of unity in the Islamic world and non-religious modernity.

Furthermore, it is widely known that Nursī’s motivation for writing the Treatise of Nūr(Light) was the comment made by Goldstone, British secretary for the colonies at that time, with regard to the necessity of the  western countries’ disagreement with the Quran. Sa’īd Nursī’s situation regarding the threat of foreign dissidents of Islamic culture may be somehow compared to that of Rumi’s family against the Mongol attack and the resulting cultural decline in the eastern Islamic world. Nursī who felt the people’s Islamic faith to be jeopardized by the invasion of empiricist and positivist viewpoints, decided to emphasize the monotheistic outlook in order to fight the fundamentals of this positivist rationalism, which evaluates the events by means of causality and reasoning.

The mystics frequently equate cause with reason (secondary cause or secondary means). The argumentative outlook seeks the reason behind events and explains them from the rational perspective of causality. The mystics reject this outlook. In their opinion, paying excessive attention to cause and causality makes human being become overconfident in his own wit and cleverness, thus leading him to arrogance. This does not of course mean that people have to stop their effort to follow their own goals, that they should not consider these secondary causes to be the main cause of life.

Nursī addresses the theme of secondary causes all through Arabic Mathnawi. He often underlines the fact that secondary causes are just veils over the power of God .[17] He aims at warning the self-confident scientists.

The root of dialogue is among the causes in the verses of the Quran: … (Sura 18: 84). Upon interpreting this verse, the mystics have stated that paying attention to cause makes the heart ignore the effect and not see the beloved (God) [18]

Rumi comments in this regard:

Cast away this contrivance of yours before the Beloved; though your contrivance indeed is of His contriving

That which God has raided (and that alone) has use: what He has at first sown at last grows[19]

As a matter of fact, the self wishes to rely on the causes of his material progress with self-confidence; the soul however stops it from being arrogant.

Inasmuch as you have observed (secondary) causes from your childhood, through ignorance you have stuck to the (secondary) cause

(Being occupied) with causes you are forgetful of the Causer: hence you are inclining towards these veils[20].

This arrogance was manifested in the extreme reliance of apparent orthodox scientists on their own knowledge at Rumi’s time, and in Nursī’s time, this arrogance was obvious in scientists who denied religion through relying on scientific advancements. Hence, Nursī criticizes causes the most in Arabic Mathnawi.

On the other hand, Sa’īd Nursī found the people spiritually diseased, just like Rumi and Ghazali did. in Arabic Mathnawi , he categorizes this spiritual disease into four specific groups and he recites the four diseases of despair, egotism, arrogance, and suspicion. He comments that these spiritual illnesses may cause the person to belittle his great ancestors and he may assume himself as the owner of his own deeds through vanity. This is the disease which he calls self-conceit. The essence of this thought is rooted in the Quran, since according to Quran, Pharaoh considered himself God and told his people that he was their exalted God.

Rumi has frequently pointed out to self-conceit in Mathnawi and he has condemned it.

Nursī’s excessive emphasis on self-conceit and arrogance could be interpreted in the same two-layer structure. Not only does he give a general moral warning to people so that they would not get caught in arrogance, but also his warning addresses the powerful people of his era in an underneath more political layer. Whether regarding the subject of causes, or with respect to spiritual illnesses, he has taken into account the biggest social diseases of his era caused by great powers. This thought is central in Arabic Mathnawi. He says:  This is the dark spot of the self. So, o self! Stop making false claims and let this estate be owned by its actual owner.” [21]

In the Word 23th, this contrast between the powers of human is brought up in form of a contradiction between the bestial soul and the spiritual soul. Although human is entangled in the trap of hedonism and is comparable with animals in this perspective, he suffers more than animals, because every pleasure is accompanied by fear and hope for human. Human which has been created in the best form, becomes actually worse than the most inferior animals in such a situation[22].

In addition to relying on existential contrasts, it is evident for us that Sa’īd Nursīs personal life was also somehow similar to that of Rumi. Because of Mongol attack and the political changes of his era, Rumi was made to leave his own country and migrate. Due to the political alterations which occurred at the end of the Ottoman regime period and during World War One, Sa’īd Nursī’s life was affected. Its fatal effects were comparable with those of the Mongol attack to Middle Asia and Iran. He was pessimistic about the political changes of his time, since he could picture the realization of Islamic caliphate and the unity among Islamic countries under the ruling of the Ottoman caliphate and he considered the Ottoman’s defeat as a blow inflicted on Islam by the material civilization, as he explicitly comments in his Lavāmi’ Treatise[23], in an extract where he condemns those who are preoccupied with Europe, he criticizes great European governments. He explains that Rome’s legacy of utopianism is inherited by Germany and the legacy of the ancient Greece is inherited by France in terms of the spirit of materialism. These two basically lack any intellectual unity with Muslims. He considered western civilization to be incompatible with the Islamic one[24].

Nonetheless, there is a basic difference in the lives of Rumi and Sa’īd Nursī. Rumi was blessed enough to be able to live in Konya with great respect and compassion, after migration and tolerating lots of pain. He was venerated by the society, politicians, and all of the people from poor to rich. His thoughts were eagerly welcomed at the time of his life. As a result, the spirit of spirituality and his genius-like talent could develop and blossom during this relative time of serenity. Nursī however never experienced tranquility during his whole lifetime which was replete with fights. Long years of living in seclusion and solitude gradually turned him to a bitter person and this bitterness and inhumane situation is reflected in his writings. These living conditions caused his writing to lose freshness and gaiety. His language is neither literal, nor artistic and it lacks enthusiasm. His depictions are limited and tedious and his comparisons are repetitive. He comments in the introduction of the Lavāmi’ Treatise that he does not know the technicality of poetry, and even though he has been interested in poems, he has never written even one line of poetry during his whole life, because his mind is merely attracted to the meaning and pays no attention to the appearance of how concepts are related. He asks the reader to ignore the primitive raw appearance of his words and be concerned with meanings instead[25]. The reason why he calls his book Arabic Mathnawi and calls his prose as poem lies in his spiritual interest in Rumi and his attention to the literary genre of advice, which was in line with his purpose. He believed he could influence the nation more effectively through giving advice and inviting to morality in his writings. Nursī’s writings are monotonous and at times angry sermons of a national and political protester. But he is not to be rebuked for that. Not only did he live in isolation and social oppression, he observed a world which was tearing apart due to poverty, death, and wars between huge powers. Maybe that is why the thought of death is the predominant theme in a large number of his writings. In a gravamen he has written in Persian he comments: “O Lord! I was looking at six different directions. There was no cure for my own pain. On the right I could see that yesterday is the grave of my father. On the left I could see that tomorrow is my own grave. And today is the coffin of my anxious body”[26].

What gives rise to the main difference between Sa’īd Nursī and Rumi is the fact that Rumi finds a third state past these contrastive elements which is beyond rationality and self. Rumi is capable of achieving a more comprehensive concept of humanity by bringing the opposite poles close to one another. In the end, the dialectic encounter between infidelity and faith or rationality and spirit leads to theism in Rumi’s thought which is beyond infidelity and faith, since Rumi embraces all sorts and types of human beings. Nursī lived at a time, when he had to choose between what he considered as atheism and what he considered to be Islam. in the introduction of Lavāmi’, he comments that he wishes the entire Asia  would be occupied by Muslims and he confidently speaks about this. The presence of Europe in Asia was certainly in contrast with this opinion. In his viewpoint, the major contrast was not between democracy and backwardness; rather, it was between Islam and the western world, in a way that he even felt more empathy in the Ottoman royal regime compared to a non-religious secular government.

Different opposite poles never converge toward unity in his thought. Rumi’s though is able to lead the familiar reader on an ascending endless path, which is in each stage higher than the previous one. This is perhaps the main difference between Rumi and clergy scholars such as Nursī. Nevertheless, the contradiction Nursī felt, is now more sensitive and serious than any other time. In the current situation of the world, this question keeps echoing: Can this battle between these two fronts, which Nursī has addressed in his writings, turn into peace and fraternity? In other words, can the first soldier fight for humanity along with the second one, and not for anything else?

 

 

Associate Professor of Persian Language and *LiteratureShahidBihishtiUniversity , Tehran

[1]Bedi’uzzaman Sa’īd Nursī (d.1960), Turkish writer and Moslim thinker

[2]Mewlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muammad Balkhī(d.1273),Great Mystic and Persian Poet.

[3]GreatPersian thinker and philosopher died  in 1111.

Great Sufi writer from Amol [4]Iran, died in 1166.

Shaykh Ahmad al-Farūqī al-Sirhindī (1564–1624) was a Naqhshbandi sufi leader from [5]Punjab

[6]Gazali, ‘Abu Hāmid  Imam Muhammad, Kimiyay i- Sa’ādat, Bi Kushish i- Khadiv Jam, Markazi Intisharati- Ilmi va Farhangi, Tehran 1361/1982, “Dar ‘Ādāb i- Musalmanī”.

[7]Badi’ al- Zaman Sa’īd NursīKuliyyāt Rasāil al- Nūr, al – Kalimāt, , Tarjumat Ihsān Qāsim al- Sālihī, Shirkat al- Suzlar Lilnashr, al- Qahira,2004, p. 361

, Edited and translated by Reynold A. Nicholson, Gibb Memorial New Series IV, 3vols. ( The MathnawiJalal u’ddin Rumi,[8]London 1977), Book II, lines 1286,1287,1290, 1292-1295, vol.1,  p.287-288.

[9]Badi’ al- Zamān Nursī, al Mathnawi al Arabī al – Nūrī, Dar al- Nil, Misr, 2009; Al Mathnawy al- Nuri, Seed Bedof the Light, Bediuzzaman Sa’īd Nursī, Translated by Husain Akarsu, Light Publications , Newjersi,2007.

[10]Sulamī,Jawāme’ Ādāb Al-Sufiyyeh  Itan Kolberg(ed.), in Majmūʾa ʾĀthār Abū ‘Abd al- Rahmān al- Sulamī: Bakhshhāyī az aqāiq al- Tafsīr va Risālāt i- Dīgar Bi Kūshish i- N. Pourjavādī, Tehran: Markaz i- Nashr-i Danishgāhī, 1369-1372/1990-1993.

[11]  Sahl bin ʾAbd ‘llah Tustari, Tafsir ‘l Tustari,ʿallaqa ʿalayh wa waddaʿa hawāshīhī,Mohammad Basil ʿuyūn a’l sūd (Biyrūt :Dar ‘l kutub ‘l ʾilmīyya 2002/1423) p.149.

[12]The words, p.22.

[13]The Green One: a prominent figure in Islamic mythology

[14]Ibid, p. 17

[15] The Islamic ideologist and thinker of modern time.

[16]Egyptian thinker of Islam modernization

[17]Arabic Mathnawi, p. 67, Kalemāt, 226

[18]Sulamī, ʾAbū ʿAbd al- Ramān al- Sulamī, Tafsīr al- Sulamī wa huwa aqāiq al- Tafsīr, Taqīq Siyyid ʿUmrān, Beyrut: Dār al Kutub al- ʿIlmīyya, 2001v. 1, p. 416).

[19] Mathnawī,  Book II : 1060- 1061/ Nicholson vol. 1, p. 276

[20]Mathnawī, Book III: 3153-3154; Nicholson vol.2,p.177

[21]Arabic Mathnawi, p. 206

[22]The Words, p. 362-363

[23]Kulliyāt, p. 837.

[24][24]Kulliyāt, Lavāmi’ Treatise, p. 840

[25]Lavāmi’, Kulliy t, p. 817

[26]Kulliy t p. 227

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