BEDIUZZAMAN'S VIEW OF PHILOSOPHY
Suleyman Hayri Bolay*
"No corrupter ever says that he is a corrupter; he always looks truthful. Or else he thinks what is false is true. Yes, no one says that his 'ayran' is sour, so don't you take it without testing it. For there are many defaced words on the market. What I say even; don't give it the benefit of the doubt because I said it, and accept all of it."1
When I had taken the decision to participate in the International Symposium on Bediuzzaman with a paper on his views on philosophy, I told a well-known philosophy professor this. He told me not to. When I asked him why, he replied: "Because Ustad denies philosophy."
Does Bediuzzaman Said Nursi in fact reject and deny philosophy? Does he clash with it head on? Or does he find philosophy useful in some circumstances? If this is the case, what are the conditions he put forward? Or what did Ustad understand by philosophy? Was what he understood by philosophy in conformity with what he rejected? While criticizing philosophy and philosophers, did he adopt a philosophical understanding, like Ghazzali? Did he without realizing it introduce a new philosophical understanding?
In this paper I shall attempt to find answers to questions of this sort and to throw light on these questions. But before discussing Bediuzzaman's view of philsophy, it is necessary to give a general outline concerning this point of the period in which he lived, and particularly the Second Constitutional Period.
In what sort of environment did Said Nursi live?
As is well known, subsequent to the Tanzimat, various political, literary, and philosophical movements which had emerged in the West slowly began to be introduced into the Ottoman Empire. Among these may be counted Materialism, Positivism, Darwinism, Naturalism, Romanticism, an Enlightenment understanding, and atheism. Although thinkers like Namik Kemal, Ali Suavi and Cevdet Pasha attempted to put forward indigenous ideologies in the face of these, they were overwhelmed by the Western currents. These currents left profound negative effects on many Ottoman intellectuals in the period up to the Second Constitution.
With the atmosphere of freedom brought by the proclamation of the Second Constitution in 1908, the above movements obtained the possibility to express themselves through their press organs and means of publication and so grew stronger and came out into the open. Although the intellectuals of the Tanzimat who had been opposed to religion had assumed a respectful attitude towards religion to a certain extent, some of those in the Second Constitutional Period, displayed an aggressive stance towards it.
At the head of these was Baha Tevfik and his companions. Baha Tevfik had written an eighty page book applauding materialist philosophy while still in the second class at school. He and the group around him recognized no values whatsoever. They took pleasure at attacking and destroying established customs and beliefs. And they did not hold back from doing this verbally and in writing.
Baha Tevfik translated the German doctor B?chner's work Matter and Force into Turkish. He gave his friends various works to translate. Taking as their basis various advances in physics, biology, and paleontology in the nineteenth century in the West, B?chner and his colleagues tried to explain that everything had emerged from matter.
The increase in publications of this sort upset the Muslims, who showed various reactions. Some of them wrote refutations of B?chner's work. Although some of these were sincere, they were inadequate due to lack of knowledge, sometimes even becoming ridiculous. If we make exceptions of a few people like Ismail Fennî, Ahmed Hilmi, and Hamdi Yazir, who followed closely scientific and philosophical developments in the West and studied them, the things written by the majority of the rest were merely general statements. The rise of imperialism after the Industrial Revolution resulted in the imperialist understanding being based on principles like the survival of the fittest, and scientific activities being exploited for ideological aims. We can read of this change in mentality from the pen of the philosopher Karl Popper, who died in 1994:
"... the Naturalist revolt against God, which preceded the historians' revolt, replaced God with Nature. Apart from this, almost everything remained the same. Naturalism replaced theology, natural laws replaced Divine laws, natural will and power (the forces of Nature) replaced Divine will and power, and finally Natural Selection replaced the Divine order and judgement. Naturalist determinism replaced theological determinism, that is, Nature's being omnipotent and omniscient replaced God's being omnipotent and omniscient."2
It is clear from this that a fundamental change in mentality came about in the West with the way opened up by Positivism, Materialism, and Marxism. New philosophical views also emerged to combat this change radically, but they were not as effective as the ideological activities mentioned above. This change in mentality was imported into Turkey together with the various movements. A number of writers and intellectuals set up belief in "Mother Nature" in place of belief in God's existence and power.
The struggle intensified at this point. While the West produced new philosophies in the face of this radical change, our intellectuals were unable to put forward an equivalent indigenous philosophical understanding. Also, they were misinterpreting the changes in science, and with deviant understandings seeing them as immutable absolute truths, and demonstrating them to others.
The Old Said's relations with philosophy
The chief of those combatting these currents and the new imported mentality were Ahmed Hilmi and Ismail Fennî. There were religious scholars and some other persons among them. One of them was known at that period of his life as the 'Old Said.' In the face of the negative effects of various philosophical movements, he was on the one hand trying to penetrate the views of these philosophical schools, and on the other, with the fierce debates he held relying on his knowledge, to remove the negative effects of their ideas, which he considered to be harmful. This person was Bediuzzaman Said Nursi.
Later on, unhappy at these activities, he gave up that method, and renewing himself, emerged as the 'New Said,' displeased at the 'Old Said.'
What did the Old Said do and say that he became displeased with himself? What was the reason, Said Nursi gave up, in his own words, being "the Old Said, who had relations with the way of philosophy"?
According to his own explanations, one of the reasons was his not liking combat, struggle, and debate. Addressing people's reason and logic by means of debate did not seem productive to him, and he felt it was an obstacle to his spiritual development. But according to what Ord. Prof. Hilmi Ziya ?lken related, the Old Said was very successful in his debates. Around 1920 when Said Nursi was in Istanbul, he used to come to the Nur-u Osmaniye coffee house in his original dress and boots and for hours debate with the lecturers from the University. (H. Ziya ?lken said that Ustad [that is, Bediuzzaman] followed Ghazzali's method, and then stated that he was not at Ghazzali's level.)
Did the New Said reject philosophy?
In what way was Ustad Said Nursi uncomfortable at having relations with philosophy? What were the things that upset him? What sort of characteristics did philsophy have so that it disturbed him in this way and made him give up the way he was following? Did he reject philosophy entirely, or did he leave a door open to it? Was there or was there not a philosophy he did not reject?
It is possible to see the answers to these questions in various places of the works written by both the Old Said, and the New Said, who did not like the Old Said.
Ustad encouraged the use of the reason
It should be first stated that in both periods of his life that Ustad Said Nursi frequently mentioned the importance of using the reason and particularly wanted Muslims to realize this. Right at the beginning of Muhakemat (Reasonings), in which in one respect he traced the main outlines of reflective thought, praising "the Pre-Eternal All-Wise One, Who guided us to the straight path with the Illustrious Shari'a," he defines the Shari'a like this: "Such a Shari'a that, uniting hand in hand the speculative sciences [reason] and transmitted sciences [those based on Divine revelation] confirms the veracity of its truths." Also in the introduction of the same work, he congratulates modern science and learning, because it has awakened the desire to search for the truth, and he accuses those who consider Islam to be opposed to science and science to be opposed to Islam of causing the eclipse of the sun of Islam, and he says that "Islam is the master and guide of the sciences and the leader and father of true knowledge." His saying that "If the speculative and transmitted sciences conflict, the speculative sciences should be taken as basic and the transmitted sciences interpreted. But in such a case, reason must be [true] reason." Also worthy of note are his insisting "truth instead of bigotry, proof instead of false arguments, and reason instead of natural disposition;" and, "do not be deceived by embellished claims; ask for proof!"
And in Leme?t, also written by the Old Said, in describing "the degrees of mind," he says: "First is imagining, then conception, then reasoned thought." Attaining to 'belief by affirmation' is tied to the condition of using the reason; he sees reasoned thought and investigation as conditions for reaching affirmation. He considers belief without use of the reason to be "bigotry." On the other hand, he says man is "unbiased in using his reason" and defends freedom of thought against the possible objection of "the more I use my reason, the more doubts I have; it's better not to think too much."
How can science and religion be combined?
In M?n?zarat, Ustad describes the physical sciences are the "light of the reason," and attributes the manifestation of the truth to the combining of the religious and natural sciences, which is a very important point. He says concerning this:
"The religious sciences are the light of the conscience. The [modern] sciences of civilization are the light of the reason. The truth is manifested through the combining of the two. With those two wings the students' endeavour will take flight. When they are separated, it gives rise to bigotry in the former, and doubts and trickery in the latter."3
That is to say, on their own, the religious sciences tend to bigotry. This apt point of Ustad opens a little the door of the reason.
The reason should not be pressurized
Because, according to Ustad, the reason must be able to take decisions independently, it should not be under duress, the reason's power and will should not be taken from it. This point is very important from the point of view of human freedom and responsibility. Ustad considered essential the reconciliation and combining of the reason and religion, and the religious sciences and the physical sciences, which he calls the sciences of civilization. For man should not be like a one-winged bird. Ustad says that the students' endeavour takes flight with these two wings; in the absence of the reason and the sciences associated with it, the students are like birds with a broken wing. Basically, if religion is based on only reason or only emotion, it is opposed to human nature. Man cannot rise to God with such a religion. It opens the way to embodying God, and the associating of partners with Him, or materialism. A religion and worship unsupported by scientific facts is unproductive and deficient.
In his discussion in Mektûbat (Letters) about the miracle of the Splitting of the Moon, Ustad says that the miracle was shown "to persuade the deniers," not to compel them. That is, it would have been contrary to Divine wisdom and the mystery of human accountability to compel them to believe. He expresses this mystery as "opening the door to the reason, but not taking the will from it."4 He then explains the matter as follows:
"If the All-Wise Creator had left the moon split for one or two hours in order to show it to the whole world as the philosophers wished, and it had been recorded in all the general histories of man, then it would have been like all other occurrences in the heavens and would not have been an evidence for Muhammad's (PBUH) claim to prophethood and been special to it. Or else it would have been such a self-evident miracle that it would have annulled the reason's power to choose, and compelled the reason to accept it; willy-nilly, it would have had to assent to his prophethood. Someone with a coal-like spirit like Abu Jahl would have remained at the same level as someone with a diamond-like spirit like Abu Bakr the Veracious; the mystery of man's accountability would have been lost."
It may be seen from this that Ustad paid great attention to the independent use of the reason, its not being pressurized or deprived of the will, that is, the freedom to take decisions and power of choice, and he was sensitive about this. He therefore opposes miracles being shown everywhere and to everyone, for then the messengership of God's Messenger (PBUH) would have been self-evident and everyone would have been compelled to believe in it, which he considers inappropriate. Because, he says, then "no choice would have remained for the reason." If the reason has no choice, it would not be responsible. And then it could not be known how and why a person believed. Therefore, Ustad rightly says: "Belief is attained through the reason's power of choice."5
Attaching this great importance to the independent use of the reason, Ustad describes the Sophists, who denied the existence of the external world and knowledge of it, as having "abdicated their reasons."
In another context, Ustad says the following about the value of reason and thought:
"Because, since contrary to the animals, man possesses a mind and he thinks, he is connected to both the present time, and to the past and the future. He can obtain both pain and pleasure from them. Whereas, since the animals do not think, the sorrows arising from the past and the fears and anxieties arising from the future do not spoil their pleasure of the present."6
In numerous other places in his works, Ustad again and again mentions the value of the reason and the importance of using it. In any case, if he had not given pride of place to the reason, logic, and kalam, he could not have said that the Risale-i Nur had opened up a way to the essence of reality within logical proofs and scholarly arguments in place of spiritual journeying and recitations.
While discussing Ustad's view of philosophy, it is necessary to bear in mind this importance he attached to the reason. If it is disregarded, it may give rise to many misunderstandings.
A second point that should be borne in mind, was Bediuzzaman's taking a 'middle way' in many matters, far from 'excess' and 'negligence.' This is a question connected with the value he gave man, whom he said was "noble by nature," and with his generally tolerant view. For example, when asked concerning the position of people who lived at a time between prophets (fetret), or when a prophet's message had been forgotten or corrupted, basing his answer on Imam Shafi'i and Imam Ash'ari, he said that such people would be among those saved, even if they did not believe in the fundamentals of faith. Also, the words "those bold enough to accuse others of disbelief should swiftly give thought [to their action]" are his. That is to say, Ustad always calls on his readers to be moderate and tolerant, and in his own life formed a very good example of this.
The combining of the physical sciences and religion
Similarly, when discussing his view of philosophy, the following matter should also definitely be kept in mind. A stance which sees Ustad as totally inimical to philosophy is not right. It would be more appropriate to speak of a stance inimical to philosophy which is attributed to him. For hostility of that kind does not conform with his life and what he wrote. For his statement, "one in a hundred have been saved, like Plato and Socrates" shows his point of view.7 In a letter he had added to the beginning of ?s?-yi Mûsa (The Staff of Moses), he differentiates between two sorts of philosophy:
"The philosophy at which the Risale-i Nur deals severe blows and attacks is not absolute; it is rather its harmful sort. For the sort of philosophy which has served human society and morality and achievement, and the advance of arts and industries, is reconciled with the Qur'an. Indeed, it serves the Qur'an's wisdom and does not contest it. The Risale-i Nur does not attack this sort."
Continuing, Ustad says that it attacks "the second sort of philosophy, which leads people into misguidance, atheism, and the swamp of nature." Although it attacks this deviant sort, "it does not attack rightly-guided, beneficial philosophy." He encourages this "positive philosophy."
In the 'Fifth Note,' in which Ustad analyses European civilization, he makes a differentiation which may be considered in the same framework. Here, before embarking on his criticism of European civilization, he warns: "Let it not be misunderstood; Europe is two," and says that he is not addressing "the first Europe," which "follows the sciences which serve justice and right and the industries beneficial for the life of society through the inspiration it has received from true Christianity." He is rather criticizing "the second corrupt Europe, which, through the darkness of the philosophy of Naturalism, supposing the evils of civilization to be its virtues, has driven mankind to vice and misguidance."8
An Islamic philosophy is possible
In the treatise called the Thirtieth Word, which we shall discuss in detail in the continuation of my paper, he also differentiates between two philosophies, and says:
"In the world of humanity, from the time of Adam up to now, two great currents, two lines of thought, have always been and will so continue. Like two mighty trees, they have spread out their branches in all directions and in every class of humanity. One of them is the line of prophethood and religion, the other that of philosophy in its various forms. Whenever those two lines have been in agreement and united, that is to say, if the line of philosophy, having joined the line of religion, has been obedient and of service to it, the world of humanity has experienced a brilliant happiness and social life."
The above passage, which forsees a philosophy that obeys the line of prophethood, may be interpreted as there possibly being an Islamic philosophy. He says that the happiness of mankind lies in this combining or synthesis. Ustad both combines science and religion, and with this combination offers a solution for the clash between philosophy and religion.
Some of his statements about philosophy
Following the above passage, Ustad analyses the philosophy which contests the line of religion basing it on the ego. He says:
1. The foundations of this philosophy are "baseless and rotten." It rests on the weak foundations of the 'I' or ego. "For the colour of an 'I' that is in this condition is atheism and ascribing aprtners to God, it is denial of God Almighty." Then, "..although the 'I' has, in itself, an essence as insubstantial as air, because the inauspicious attitude of philosophy regards it as relating only to itself, it is as if that vapour-like 'I' becomes liquid; and then, because of its familiarity and preoccupation with materialism, it hardens. Next, through neglect and denial, that 'I-ness' freezes. Then, through rebelliousness it becomes opaque, losing its transparency. Then, it gradually becomes denser and envelops its owner. It becomes distended with the thoughts of mankind. Next, supposing the rest of humanity, and even causes, to be like itself, although they do not accept this and disclaim it, it gives to each of them the status of a Pharaoh. Then at this point it ... accuses the Absolutely Omnipotent One of impotence."
2. This philosophy "caresses" the evil-commanding soul, and inflates it.
3. Its view is inauspicious.
4. It looks at things as signifying only themselves (m?n?-yi ismî), and working only on their own account. It supposes that they exist of themselves and through themselves. "It falsely assumes that... [it] is the real master in its sphere of disposal." "Also, by appropriating the beauty in works of art and the fineness in the decoration and attributing them to the works of art themselves and their decoration, and by not relating them to the manifestation of the sacred and sheer beauty of the Maker and Fashioner, it says: 'How beautiful it is,' instead of, 'How beautifully made it is,' thus regarding each as an idol worthy of worship."
5. "The line of philosophy that does not obey the line of religion, taking the form of a tree of Zaqqum, scatters the darkness of ascribing partners to God and misguidance on all sides. In the branch of the power of intellect, even, it produces the fruit of atheism, Materialism, and Naturalism for the consumption of the human intellect. And in the realm of the power of passion, it pours the tyrannies of Nimrod, Pharaoh, and Shaddad on mankind. And in the realm of the power of animal appetites, it nurtures and bears the fruit of goddesses, idols, and those who claim divinity."
6. "According to the principles of philosophy, power is approved. 'Might is right' is the norm, even. It says, 'All power to the strongest.' 'The winner takes all,' and, 'In power there is right.'" Whereas this principle "springs from the misuse of their inborn dispositions of a number of tyrants, brutish men, and savage beasts." In their place, Ustad sets the principles of "mutual assistance, magnanimity, and generosity."
7. Due to this understanding, philosophy "has given moral support to tyranny, encouraged despots, and urged oppressors to claim divinity."
8. "One of the beliefs of ancient philosophy is: 'From one, one proceeds.' That is, 'From one person, only one single thing can proceed. Everything else proceeds from him by means of intermediaries.' This misleading principle of philosophy which is stained by associating partners with God presents the Absolutely Self-Sufficient and Omnipotent One as being in need of impotent intermediaries, and gives all causes and intermediaries a sort of partnership in His dominicality. It attributes to the Glorious Creator the title of Prime Mover, which in fact indicates the status of creature. And, moreover, it allots the rest of His sovereignty to causes and intermediaries, thus opening the way to associating partners with Him in a most comprehensive manner." In this respect, this philosophy is "stained with misguidance and associating partners with God."
9. Philosophy takes force as its point of support in society, self-interest as its aim, conflict as the principle of life, and racialism as the bond of societies, and has therefore destroyed mankind's happiness. For the mark of force is aggression, that of self-interest, tussling for benefits, that of conflict is clashes, and the mark of racialism is devouring others and aggression. While "its fruits are gratifying the human passions and increasing man's needs."
Bediuzzaman's statements about philosophers
In addition to his statements about the principles of the philosophy that has declared war on religion, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi studies the ideas of a number of philosophers which they put forward, based on those principles. He says:
1. "It is because of these rotten foundations and disastrous results of philosophy that geniuses from among the Muslim philosophers like Ibn-i Sina and Farabi were charmed by its apparent glitter and were deceived into taking this way, and thus attained only the rank of an ordinary believer. Hujjat al-Islam al-Ghazzali did not accord them that rank, even."
Ustad relates an event in this connection, resembling a vision, which he had around the time the Old Said was transformed into the New Said. In this journey of the imagination, he says: "I saw myself in a vast desert. A layer of murky, dispiriting, and suffocating cloud had covered the whole face of the earth. There was neither breeze, nor light, nor water, none of these was to be found. I imagined that everywhere was full of monsters, dangerous and dreadful creatures. It occurred to me that through on the other side of this land there should be light, breeze, and water. It was necessary to get there. I realized that I was being driven on involuntarily. Under the earth I wormed my way into a tunnel-like cave and gradually travelled through the earth. I saw that many people had passed along this subterranean way before me, on all sides they were submerged. I saw their footprints, and once I heard some of their voices, then later they ceased." He then addresses the one accompanying him:
"O my friend who is accompanying me on my imaginary journey! That land is Nature and the philosophy of Naturalism. And the tunnel is the way that the philosophers have opened up with their thought in order to reach the truth. The footprints I saw were those of famous philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, and the voices I heard those of geniuses like Ibn-i Sina and Farabi. Indeed, I saw in various books some of the things Ibn-i Sina had said and some of his principles, but he had become stuck, he could go no further, he was submerged before reaching the truth."
Later in this imaginary journey, Ustad says he is saved from the darkness of the tunnel by "a torch and device" given to him "from the treasury of the Qur'an."
Ustad also does not neglect to reply to possible objections to his severe criticisms of great philosophers like Aristotle and Farabi:
"While having a pre-eternal teacher like the Qur'an, in matters concerning truth and the knowledge of God, I do not have to attach as much value as that of a fly's wing to those eagles, who are the students of misguided philosophy and deluded intellect. However inferior I am to them, their teacher is a thousand times more inferior than mine. With the help of my teacher, whatever caused them to become submerged did not so much as dampen my toes."
Here, Ustad is explaining that the way indicated by the phrase "Nor those who go astray" at the end of Sura al-Fatiha is the way of those who hold the ideas of the Naturalists, which has deviated into Nature and by which it is extremely difficult to reach reality and the light; and those indicated by the phrase "Nor those who have received Your wrath" are the worshippers of causes, who ascribe actual creativity and effect to causes and intermediaries, and those like the Peripatetic philosophers who have opened up a way to the essence of reality and knowledge of the Necessarily Existent through pure reason and thought.
Continuing his criticism of a number of philosophers who have become submerged in philosophy, Ustad says:
2. "One group of philosophers, by calling Almighty God 'Self-Necessitating,' denied Him choice. They rejected the endless testimony of all creation, which proves that He has choice. Glory be to God! Although all the beings in the universe from the smallest particles to the sun show that the Creator has choice, each with its own appointed individuality, order, wisdom, and measure, this blind philosophy refused to see it."
3. "Moreover, another group of philosophers said: 'Divine knowledge is not concerned with insignificant matters,' and denied its awesome comprehensiveness, and thus rejected the veracious witnessing of all beings. Furthermore, by attributing effects to causes, philosophy has given Nature the power to create."
"The sincere student of philsophy is a pharaoh, but he is a contemptible pharaoh who worships the basest thing for the sake of benefit; he recognizes everything from which he can profit as his 'Lord.' And that irreligious student is obstinate and refractory... and .. conceited and domineering... And .. is a self-centered seeker of benefit whose aim and endeavour is to gratify his animal appetites; a crafty egotist who seeks his personal interests within certain nationalist interests."
"Indeed, the powers of evil have raised up the minds of atheistic philosophers as though with the beaks and talons of their 'I's' and have dropped them in the valleys of misguidance. Thus, IN THE MICROCOSM THE 'I' IS THE IDOL, LIKE THOSE IN THE MACROCOSM SUCH AS NATURE."
"Philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Ibn-i Sina, and Farabi exacerbated egotism by saying that the ultimate aim of humanity was to 'imitate the Necessarily Existent One.'"
Now I shall attempt to analyze and discuss each of these statements of Ustad about philosophy and philosophers:
An analysis and critique of Bediuzzaman's views on philosophy
1. Bediuzzaman's statements that the foundations of philosophy are "baseless and rotten." It rests on the weak foundations of the 'I' or ego. "For the colour of an 'I' that is in this condition is atheism and ascribing partners to God, it is denial of God Almighty."
I have at once to say that the basis of philosophy is not the 'I' or ego; its basis is reason, mind, reasoning, thinking, logic, and the criticism based on these. Anyway no one could live without these. But there are different ways of using the reason. There are also millions of people who misuse their reasons and have no connection whatsoever with philosophy, and may not even like it.
There may be philosophers who have taken the ego as the basis of philosophy. However, Ustad differentiates between two 'I's or egos; he classifies one as "the key to the Divine Names," and the other as "the seed of a terrible tree of Zaqqum." That is to say, the ego is the potential source of two forces, one positive, the other negative. In his own words: "From the time of Adam until now, the 'I' has been the seed of a terrible tree of Zaqqum and at the same time, of a luminous tree of Tuba, which shoot out branches around the world of mankind."
"As the key to the Divine Names, which are hidden treasures, the 'I' is also the key to the locked talisman of creation; it is a problem-solving riddle, a wondrous talisman. When its nature is known, the 'I', that strange riddle, that amazing talisman, is disclosed, and it also discloses the talisman of the universe and the treasures of the Necessary World."9
"God Almighty has given to man, by way of a Trust, a key, called the 'I', that is such that it opens all the doors of the world; He has given him an enigmatic 'I' with which he may discover the hidden treasures of the Creator of the Universe. But the 'I' is also an extremely complicated riddle and a talisman that is difficult to solve."
According to the above, the thing called the ego is a trust given to man by God, it is an obscure riddle, the true meaning of which if known will solve the Divine mysteries of the universe. If this key to the doors of the world is used correctly "the attributes of dominicality and functions of Divinity" will be revealed. It has therefore to be "a unit of measurement," but does not have to have actual existence, "Rather, like hypothetical lines in geometry, a unit of measurement may be formed by hypothesis and supposition. It is not necessary for its actual existence to be established by concrete knowledge and proofs."
How is it that although a mysterious key given by God as trust with no actual existence, the ego can overstep the bounds? If noted carefully, Ustad is discussing the imaginary extension opening onto the world of a totally psychological element. How is it possible for this psychological element to be the basis of philosophy? But if a philosopher takes the manifestation of attributes concealed within the ego as a potentiality as the subject of thought and study, then a metaphysical ontology (theory of existence), an epistemology, emerges, which is not something very different to what Ustad has himself done. In which case it is possible to practise philosophy by opposing it and criticizing philosophers. Just as the famous physicist and mystic Pascal said: "To mock philosophy is philosophy," hinting that those who think deeply and logically cannot be saved from philosophy. Like Ghazzali, who while attacking philosophers, put forward his ideas like a philosopher since he had studied them for three years, and is now remembered among the great philosophers. His friend Abu Bakr al-Jassas said: "Our master Ghazzali plunged into philosophy and never again emerged."
In fact, philosophy does not consist of the ideas of either Plato, or Aristotle, or Kant, or Hegel, nor of the systems of Ibn Sina or Farabi, nor of the criticisms of Ghazzali, or Kant, or Comte. It is perhaps all of these, and perhaps none of them. If none of these philosophers had lived, there still would have been philosophy. Just as philosophy existed before them.
So when does this mysterious beneficial key become harmful?
Continuing his analysis of the ego, Ustad thinks: "An endless light without darkness may not be known or perceived. But if a line of real or imaginary darkness is drawn, then it becomes known." That is, he says that things are known through their opposites. Just as a perpetual light may not be perceived without darkness. (Ustad here thinks like the philosophers who explain the coming into existence of things through the clash or combining of opposites.) He continues:
"Since God Almighty's attributes, like knowledge and power, and Names, like All-Wise and All-Compassionate, are all-encompassing, limitless, and without like, they may not be determined, and what they are may not be known or perceived. Thus, since they have no true end or limit, a hypothetical or imaginary limit has to be drawn. It is the 'I' (ego) that does this. It imagines in itself a fictitious dominicality, ownership, power, and knowledge: it draws a line. By doing this it places an imaginary limit on the all-encompassing attributes, saying, 'Up to here, mine, after that, His;' it makes a division. With the tiny units of measurement in itself, it slowly understands the true nature of the attributes."
While continuing with this elucidation, he portrays it in a slightly different way, saying:
"That is to say, the 'I' is mirror-like, and, like a unit of measurement and tool for discovery, it has an indicative meaning; having no meaning in itself, it shows the meaning of others. It is a conscious strand from the thick rope of the human being, a fine thread from the raiment of the essence of humanity, it is an alif from the book of the character of mankind, and it has has two faces."
According to these definitions, the 'I' or ego is a mirror of the World of Similitudes, that is, (Plato's) World of Ideas, an instrument of discovery, a conscious strand that has no meaning in itself, a fine thread, or an alif. If the ego is a reflector of the Divine beings in the world of Plato's ideas (similitudes), how can it be conscious? And if it is an instrument, it again surely cannot be conscious. And if it is an alif of no content (indicative meaning -m?n?-yi harfî), it must again be an unconscious means of knowledge. In which case, how can it be "an tool of discovery"? It is not clear. Especially if it is a hypothetical line, how can it lead man astray?
It does not appear to be possible to understand and comment on this analysis of the 'I' of Ustad with a bird's eye view. On the contrary, such a view takes one to an interpretation which opens the door to the justified questions examples of which we gave above. For this reason, to take this analysis further it will be necessary to establish clearly with free thought what is meant by a hypothetical line, significative meaning, tool or instrument, and conscious. And this is possible only through the use of the reason and an investigative view; and these should not be the cause of fear but should be encouraged.
Ustad states that this alif has two faces: "The first of these faces looks towards good and existence. With this face it is capable of only receiving favour; it accepts what is given, itself it cannot create. This face is not active, it does not have the ability to create. Its other face looks towards evil and goes to non-existence. That face is active, it has the power to act."
Immediately following this explanation, Ustad describes a further characteristic of the ego: "Furthermore, the real nature of the 'I' is indicative; it shows the meaning of things other than itself. Its dominicality is imaginary. Its existence is so weak and insubstantial that in itself it cannot bear or support anything at all."
If, as in Ustad's explanation, the ego is turned to good with its face that looks to existence, it should be active. Otherwise, it would give the effulgence it receives to man and would not urge him to good. Indeed, he could not know God. Here, objection could be made with the verse, "Whatever good happens to you is from God, but whatever evil befalls you is from yourself."10 But then, one should not forget the verse "It [the soul] gets every good that it earns, and suffers every evil that it earns."11 Otherwise a strange situation would arise like all sins being attributed to man and all merits to God. For this reason, its face that looks to good should also be active. If, in its aspect that looks to evil the ego cannot bear and sustain anything because of its weakness, it should not be active. Because it cannot sustain anything, and if it cannot sustain anything, it means it cannot be effective.
It is clear that this analysis too is not a simple matter that can be grasped at a glance. On the contrary, the analysis conceals within itself an aspect that appears to be a paradox. And this paradox can be removed only by studying the matter together with the question of 'acquisition,' which Ustad deals with in his Treatise On Divine Determining (Kader Risalesi).
Ustad's method of explanation here is basically a slightly more complex form of Ghazzali's method in Mizan al-'Amal. The thing called "ene," the 'I' or ego, here, is what Ghazzali calls "nafs." Ghazzali says that the nafs has two faces, one of which looks to the Divine world, from where it receives effulgence, while the other is turned to the animal and physical world, by which it is affected in various ways. If the effects of the Divine world preponderate, good acts and morals proceed from man, and in the event of the other predominating, bad actions proceed from him.
2. The statement that philosophy "caresses" the evil-commanding soul, and inflates it
Philosophy is a critical mode of thought. Everyone may criticize everyone else's thought, and develop new ideas in the face of them. This demonstrates not the weakness of philosophical thought, but its strength. Just as opposing schools and opposing views within the same schools emerged in fiqh, that is, in legal thought and in theological (kalam) thought. This demonstrates the strength of the mind and reason's ability to think. The Qur'an, too, in hundreds of its verses, invites man to think. But not that everyone should think and say the same thing, for then there would be no progress.
Anyone who can produce new ideas feels happy during the act of thinking, and his evil-commanding soul may become inflated in taking its share. This may go as far as rebellion against God. But this is not a situation particular to philosophy; it may encountered in anyone who tastes success. This statement of Ustad is true. But the excesses of the soul may be found in someone unconnected with philosophy or who loathes it. The essential duty here falls to the person who has to control his own soul. Just as there are philosophers who have kept their souls under control, and not permitted them to become inflated. Ghazzali may be considered to be the chief of these.
According to Ustad:
"If the 'I' is not known for what it is, an insubstantial alif, a thread, a hypothetical line, it may burgeon in concealment under the ground, gradually swelling. It will permeate all parts of a human being. Like a gigantic dragon it will swallow up the human being; that entire person with all his faculties will, quite simply, become pure 'I'."
Briefly, the egotism or 'I-ness' of everyone who forgets God, of whatever sex or profession, increases, their egos and souls become inflated. It is not accurate to limit this to philosophy and philosophers. Not for nothing has it been said: "The soul leads astray the learned man in his learning, the worshipper in his worship, and the ascetic in his asceticism." The basic question here is to know the soul and its limits. For "he who knows his self, knows his Sustainer." He who knows his Sustainer will prevent the excesses of his soul.
3. The statement that philosophy's view is inauspicious
I reckon that it is not conformable with Islam to attribute inauspiciousness to the view of philosophy or of any science. There is nothing inauspicious in any view, that is, in any thought, or in any activity. It would in fact be more apt to call a way of thinking or scholarly work right or wrong rather than inauspicious. It is well-known that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) warned those who considered a solar eclipse to be inauspicious. It might be more appropriate to see this expression of Ustad as metaphorical or an allusion.
4 The statement that philosophy looks at things as signifying only themselves (m?n?-yi ismî), not as signifying another (m?n?-yi harfî)
This statement may be considered correct. For denying God, some philosophers have considered only the physical world and world of phenomena, and have either denied what lies beyond it, or not been concerned with it. However, even if we disregard the Christian philosophers of the Middle Ages, certain philosophers of the 'New Age' (1453-1789) and our age have considered things and events with a significative meaning. An example is the famous physicist and philosopher Pierre Duhem, who died in 1916. He added a 93 page addendum to the second edition of his work Theories of Physics as a result of the attacks made on it, and gave it the title Physics of the Believer (Physique du Croyant). He stated explicitly in the addendum that he was a sincere Catholic who believed in God and that He created the world, and that he studied the universe from that point of view. There are numerous examples similar to this in the West.
Considering things with their 'nominal' meanings, as signifying only themselves, arises therefore not from philosophy itself but from the attitude of the philosopher. There have therefore been two sorts of philosophers and scientists who consider things, and they should be carefully differentiated from each other. Recalling that Ustad differentiated between two sorts of philosophy and that he said that he attacked only those philosophers who pursued misguidance, it is understood that statements of his like "philosophy considers things as signifying only themselves" were restricted to the philosophy which looks in that way.
5. The statement that like a tree of Zaqqum the line of philosophy spreads the association of partners with God and misguidance
There have been those who have fallen into misguidance and associating partners with God among philosophical systems and philosophers, or those who have put forward ideas that have lead to these. There are materialists, atheists, and naturalists in the line of Western philosophy. But these are very few in number beside believers and those who have put forward ideas opposed to materialism. For example, among the ancient Greek philosophers were materialists, atheists, and naturalists like Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius. Pythagorus defended the superiority of spirit and its immortality; Csenophanes tried to spread Divine Unity and that God neither begets nor is begotten; Socrates said that a voice had directed him since the age of three, and that on accepting the existence of man and horses, one had to accept that this necessitated the existence of an Elevated Being who put the concepts of 'man' and 'horse' in man's spirit, and he gave up his life for this idea. His student Plato defined matter as the soiling of the spirit, and developed spiritualism and idealism against the materialists, and he defeated materialism at that time. Aristotle was contemptuous of the materialists, stating that matter was passive and that the form given by the Giver of Forms did not even have the true ability to receive.
We may here take a brief look at what Necip Fazil said about Plato in his book Bati Tefekk?r? ve Islam Tasavvufu (Western Thought and Islamic Sufism) (Istanbul 1982):
"Plato did not believe in matter, and did not seek the cause of matter in matter; he sought it in the World of Ideas beyond matter. And inner man is tied to the World of Ideas. Matter is only the form and embodiment of ideas...
"(Plato) imagined a sculptor. I say imagined metaphorically; see the subtlely! Giver of Forms is one of the Divine Names. Of course God is the Giver of Forms. It is He Who traces the faces of all of us, and measures out matter.
"...the metaphorical sculptor... and the unlimited action of the chisel on the block of marble, the raw material of creatures...
"This view is the highest point, not any religion, an independent idea can rise... Plato was lower than the unattainable level of a Divinely appointed prophet, but he was far superior to the human mind.."12
Necip Fazil thus almost calls Plato a prophet. He does not say it and says he cannot, but he expresses beautifully the elevatedness of Plato's ideas. (He also says positive things about Aristotle.)
Such great philosophers should therefore not be criticized without being thoroughly studied.
Apart from the Christian philosophers of the Middle Ages, numerous philosophers of the 'New Age' (1453-1789) like Descartes, Pascal, Malebranche, Leibniz, Berkeley, John Locke, and Hegel, devoted their lives to defending Christianity against materialists and atheists and to reconciling it with reason. Muslim philosophers are further advanced in this matter.
That is to say, it is a generalization to say that philosophy is "tainted with misguidance" and spreads deviance. There is such a philosophical understanding, but it is not all like that. Philosophy is a way of thinking, formed of the ideas the philosopher produces through the effect of his beliefs. It does not of itself cause deviation. On the contrary, someone who has a good grasp of philosophy and a thorough knowledge of the chief ideas of the philosophers, may oppose deviant ideas supported by them. For example, a person who knows the proofs concerning God's existence of Descartes, Locke and many others, may refute opposing ideas and convince himself intellectually. For this reason, in his famous work Dibace, the great Qur'anic commentator of this age, the philosopher M. Hamdi Yazir, who had made a close study of Western philosophy, stated that the more he studied Western philosophy the more it strengthened his religious belief, rather than weakening it, because he saw it to be seeking belief in Divine unity, and without realizing it, it was serving Islamic belief. In his own words:
"But I understood as a consequence that reason [Western reason] was chasing after belief in Divine unity, which is our religion, with all its movements and progress, and despite desiring to do so, had been unable to prove both irreligion and the Trinity. In following it, let alone being shaken, the reason and philosophy I had obtained from Islam gradually strengthened, and found points that could be developed. The philosophical knowledge of our predecessors may be shown in this way with a date and if we can become acquainted with contemporary philosophy starting from Descartes, it will be possible to prove that philosophy is not licit for any religion other than Islam."
It is true to say that the atheists (Dahriyyun) and materialists (Maddiyun) were the products of the faculty of reason. But because it was ancient times, idealist, spiritualist, fideist, and even pantheist philosophies emerged, which were more powerful, and opposed the former with their philosophical systems, criticisms and proofs. This too should be taken into consideration. They too were the products of the faculty of reason.
The reason can be used for good or bad, the same as a pistol or knife may be used for good or bad. Just as Ustad made criticisms using reason and logic. How could it otherwise be compatible? For the following passage shows that he preferred logic and theology to sufism: "The Risale-i Nur opened a way to reality in knowledge in place of worship; it opened up a way to the essence of reality with logical proofs and scholarly arguments in place of spiritual journeying and recitations; a way to the 'greater sainthood' directly within the science of kalam and the sciences of the principles of religion and belief, in place of the learning of the sufism and the sufi way." One cannot take the statement of such an Ustad that the Dahriyyun and Maddiyun emerged from the faculty of reason and reach a conclusion that only they emerged from it. Anyway, in Isharat al-I'jaz, he says the correct use of the power of reason results in "wisdom," and he encourages this.
It should be said that rather than fragmenting human thought, philosophy has developed thought and thinking. It has opened up the way to new ideas, new views, theories, and discoveries. If there had been no difference in thought, Ustad could not himself have put forward new and original ideas. Moreover, there have to be different, opposing, and even deviant views, so that, based on the principle of "things are known through their opposites," which Ustad himself subscribed to, the value of correct views may be understood.
The statement of "In the realm of the power of passion, it pours the tyrannies of Nimrod, Pharaoh, and Shaddad on mankind" should not refer to philosophy. Because neither Nimrod, nor the Pharaohs, nor their spiritual offspring knew philosophy, nor were they informed about it. Anyone who suffers from pride and has an evil-commanding soul may become a Shaddad or a Pharaoh if they obtain wealth or power, even if they know nothing of philosophy and never consult any philosophers. Whereas those who think deeply and systematically and make correct use of their reasons will not permit themselves to become pharaohs. For they would think of the ends the Pharaohs met, and those who imitate them, and take the required lesson.
It is not right to make generalizations
Only, it seems to me that Ustad's analysis here may be understood as his considering philosophy to be the reason for the soul being inflated in whatever form, or to be the result of philosophy. This must be a correct understanding. Because in this case, one would have to say that it was philosophy or philosophers which urged Cane to kill his brother Abel, while at that time there were neither philosophers nor philosophy. But man existed at that time, and so most definitely did his evil-commanding soul.
It is therefore understood that while criticizing the philosophy he objected to, Ustad sufficed with generalizations.
It will be useful to mention that philosophy and science proceed from doubt or uncertainty, for if there was no doubt, there would be no problem to think about and investigate. What is important here is investigating the subject of doubt and solving the problem. To be in a constant state of doubt destroys man, both mentally and spiritually; it makes it impossible to know and to practise science. It drives man to a crisis. Sceptics like Pyron and Montaigne did not want to be saved from doubt, while sceptics like Ghazzali and Descartes used doubt methodically; on attaining certain knowledge about the subject about which they were sceptical, and being convinced, they gave up doubting.
The thing that Ustad pointed out was dangerous may have been the above state of continuous doubt. But it is possible to be saved from this through in depth thinking, investigation, and taking steps to prevent the evil-commanding soul dominating a person. Because unbelief, that is, denial of God, consists in my opinion of the soul enveloping and suffocating the heart and intelligence and blocking its vision.
Mental and spiritual crises such as that may also be the birth pangs of great thoughts. There are many examples of this in history, the chief of whom is Ghazzali.
One of the generalizations about the philosophy that has not combined with line of prophethood is that "in the realm of the power of animal appetites, it nurtures and bears the fruit of goddesses, idols, and those who claim divinity." This is general. If, in the history of Western philosophy we leave aside the Hedonists, who formed a tiny minority in Ancient Greece, the rest opposed the pursuit of pleasure as an ethic and put forward various ethical views. The majority were affected by religion of some sort or another. For example, a Positivist philosopher like Auguste Comte said he had based the altruistic ethic which he developed, on the saying in the Gospels "Love your fellows as you love yourself." While John Stuart Mill, another Positivist, said he had based his utilitarian ethic on the golden rules of Jesus of "doing to others what you would have them do to you, and loving your neighbour as yourself."13 Also, there have been more than a few philosophers who were not religious who said that it was necessary not to give in to lust and to restrain one's sexual appetites.
6. The statement that principles like 'might is right' and 'life is a conflict' are the basis of philosophy
These too are generalizations. For sure there were philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, who said "man eats man," and Charles Darwin, who said "life is a conflict," but what did they mean in saying this, and what was the context? And was this the view of all philosophers? Moreover, those whose ideas basically turned life into a conflict were Darwin biologically, and Karl Marx from the social and economic point of view. They both lived at approximately the same time. Darwin's (1813-1882) ideas of life being a conflict and the survival of the fittest were turned into the ideas of class struggle and social clashes by Karl Marx. The idea of 'might is right' from the point of view of political philosophy was Machievelli's. Marx anyway transformed some of his ideas into the principles of social philosophy. Numerous other philosophers and scholars developed new ideas opposing theirs. In the Islamic world, however, ideas of this kind have never emerged in any philosopher or scholar. The al-Madinat al-Fadila of Farabi and similar works are full of ideas against rulers who used force.
Basically, philosophy is structurally unsuitable to put forward such an idea. Those who put forward ideas of all sorts were people, thinkers, or philosophers. In the Islamic world too, there are numerous theories of state and politics which differ greatly from each other. And the source of these is Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunna.
7. The statement that the idea of 'From one, one proceeds' entered Islamic thought from Greek thought
It would be more correct to say that this negates God's power of continuous creation. One has to agree with the explanation that Ustad put forward, that this idea contains the possibility of transforming God's absolute power into impotence. But in the understanding of 'the ten intellects' God's intervention continues. Just as although in Greek philosophy there was no idea of Divine revelation, Farabi and Ibn Sina established revelation in the way of the intellect and saw the Prophet as Head of State.
The statement that philosophers "allotted the rest of His sovereignty to causes, thus ascribing partners to God on a grand scale" is also true to an extent. For there are understandings which explain events completely by causes. But Islamic thinkers and Ustad himself described God as the Causer of Causers. Philosophers in the West who have opposed philosophical currents which adhere blindly to causes are also not few in number.
The French philosopher Malebranche (1683-1714) defended the idea of intermediary, cause - interval, cause, and opposed causality, just as Ghazzali opposed it. Moreover, a doctoral thesis was written in Philadelphia in 1968 which compared the two thinkers from this point of view.
Similarly, the English philosopher Hume (1711-1777) opposed induction and the idea of causality at its base, and like Ghazzali stated that a tie between causes was not necessary.
The famous German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831), whose ideas are considered to be the peak of rationalism, said that causes were themselves without consciousness or purposefulness, and just as cold did not know that it froze water, so water was not itself aware that it was cold that froze it.
On the other hand, positing that no tie was necessary between causes, the French philosopher Émile Boutroux (1845-1921) came up with the doctrine of 'unnecessariness,' which stated that the natural sciences and laws of nature could hold man under compulsion. After becoming popular in the West, some of our thinkers were influenced by this idea in the Constitutional and Republican periods.
The sociologist-philosopher Gurvitch 1896-1965 stated that after Boutroux's doctine of 'uncertainty' the idea of causality had become a smashed idol.14
8. The assertion that having taken force and conflict as its principles, philosophy has destroyed mankind's happiness
It is true that these have destroyed mankind's happiness, but so too happiness has not been attained in periods when there have been no philosophical movements or systems or philosophers or with peoples that were such. In which of the peoples of Asia or Africa was philosophical thought dominant? There were no true men of learning there, let alone philosophers. Even if it was colonialism that reduced them to this state, it is only a few hundred years since the colonialists first went there. Were philosophical ideas dominant in pre-Islamic Arabia so that immorality was rife and its people were wretched and not happy? If there is an absence of happiness and well-being today in Turkey, does highly developed philosophical thought have a role in this? Or is it because the businessmen, people, politicians and tradesmen, who all say they are Muslims, have become subjected to their evil-commanding souls? This means that one has to understand that Ustad said that philosophy had negated human happiness, without forgetting that he differentiated between two philosophies. Otherwise an unfair and incorrect generalization will have been made about philosophy.
Ustad is very right in saying that the mark of force is aggression, the mark of self-interest tussling after benefits, the mark of benefit-seeking clashes, and the marks of racialism to be nourished through devouring others and aggression. With these accurate statements, he summoned humanity to peace, unity, and brotherhood. But it should not be forgotten that all those who have obtained power have not aggressed against others and tyrannized them. The best examples of these are the Seljuqs and the Ottomans. And Ustad himself, when invited to join the Kurdish rebellion, refused, saying: "The sword may not be drawn against a people who have been the standard-bearers of Islam for a thousand years." He opposed such movements on the grounds of unity and combatted them. In devoting his life to establishing unity based on the unity of belief, he was utilizing for good the force acquired by the Ottomans, and continuing its ideal of establishing justice.
It should be added that the desire to gratify the lusts of the instinctual soul may both be the result of force, and be seen in the weak and poor, not based on force. For desires of this sort are part of man's nature. What is important is to subject them to the will and reason, and reach maturity.
It seems that Ustad Said Nursi attributes all immoral conduct in daily life, and associating partners with God, disbelief, sexual misconduct, and political corruption, to philosophy, without differentiating between them. But in fact he divides philosophy into two, and speaks positively of "the rightly-guided, beneficial philosophy which is reconciled with the Qur'an and serves it." That is to say, these statements are restricted to the "second sort of philosophy," which he saw as leading mankind into "misguidance, atheism, and the swamp of nature."
As a form of systematic and profound thinking, philosophy does not necessarily lead serious-minded people to idol-worship, vice, and such like. Otherwise one would have to attribute the widespread consumption of alcohol and addiction to women in the Umayyad, Byzantine and 'Abbasid courts, and the immorality of Pompei to the spread of philosophical movements, which would not be in conformity with logic and historical development.
An analysis and critique of Bediuzzaman's views about philosophers
1. Bediuzzaman said that because, being "charmed by its apparent glitter," they had taken the way of philosophy, geniuses like Farabi and Ibn Sina had "attained only the rank of an ordinary believer." He then states that when on a journey of the imagination resembling a vision, they had become submerged in a tunnel and their voices had died away to nothing. On the other hand, however, he considers it fitting that they should be described as "believers," a rank which Ghazzali did not accord them.
If it is understood from this that people have deviated from the truth because of philosophy, then one has to ask why all the unbelievers and holders of deviant ideas who understand nothing of philosophy, or loathe it, have disbelieved or strayed from the path, despite having no connection with philosophy.
Farabi and Ibn Sina have been severely criticized for some of their ideas. But in recent research there is near agreement that Ghazzali was over-hasty in his criticisms of Farabi and Ibn Sina and that he accused them of unbelief without seeing some of their works. Perhaps Ustad did not go as far as Ghazzali and said they were at "the rank of ordinary believers" in order to be cautious. It is my view that Ustad had never read any of the works of Farabi and Ibn Sina, for if he had he would not have spoken so generally and would have said that some of their ideas were correct, and like Ghazzali, would have criticized them on only some points.
Nevertheless, both Ghazzali, and Ustad, and the scholars of kal?m continuously used the concepts and proofs that Farabi and Ibn Sina developed and established. If one compares the explanations in many of Ghazzali's works with those in the works of Farabi and Ibn Sina, one may see that many of them have been taken exactly from Farabi and Ibn Sina. That is, Farabi and Ibn Sina, and particularly the latter, form the background of Ghazzali and many scholars of kal?m.
Similarly, Ustad did not hold back from frequently using terms like 'Necessarily Existent' and 'Sphere of Contingency,' which Farabi and Ibn Sina had established. He uses Plato's 'World of Ideas' as the 'World of Similitudes,' which was the formula Suhrawardi developed. He even uses comfortably the term 'Maker' (Sani'), w