Nursi's Views of Jews and Judaism in the Risale-i Nur
I wish to begin by relating briefly my personal introduction to Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. I was introduced to Nursi by Ibrahim Abu-Rabi and Faris Kaya, both whom I greatly respect and consider to be good friends. I read the essay about Nursi in Ibrahim Abu-Rabi's book, Islam at the Crossroads, and then carefully studied the English translation of the complete Risale-i Nur (hereafter referred to as the Risale) collection. I followed that by reading some additional writings by ??kran Vahide. I tell you forthrightly that I, even in my beginning study, am positively impressed over-all with Nursi's insights and commentaries about Islam, which, although directed primarily to Muslims, have influenced me as a non-Muslim. How Nursi lived his life has also inspired me.
I have chosen to focus in this paper upon Nursi's references to and comments about Jews and Judaism, as contained in the Risale. I realize that Nursi's few, brief references to Jews and Judaism were made within the context of what he considered to be important truths in Islam that he wished to expound. I nevertheless believe that what Nursi did say in this regard is important. Being a Jew and a believer in Judaism, I understandably am interested in the topic of this paper. Many other Jews, if and when introduced to Nursi, will be similarly interested. Admittedly, I personally have, as other committed Jews would also have, some disagreements with Nursi in this area. My views, however, are relatively unimportant compared to Nursi's; hence, I shall endeavor to relate his views about Jews and Judaism as accurately and objectively as possible. What I express may evoke discussion from those of you in the audience but hopefully will, even assuming some disagreements among us, not initiate great controversy. Judaism and Islam both preach toleration for differing points of view. I shall offer my own critique of Nursi's expressions about Jews and Judaism primarily in the discussion period if I am asked to do so.
I reemphasize that what I shall present in this paper is but a small and minor, albeit fascinating, aspect of Nursi's total thought. I begin by referring to the latter part of the Risale Collection 4, The Rays Collection, the "Fourteenth Ray." In expounding upon his defense during his trial in Afyon Court and when emphasizing the importance of individual personal freedom, Nursi maintained that even non-Muslims under Islamic rule, who obeyed the law and did not try to disrupt order, should have their basic human rights protected. Nursi in particular insisted that law-abiding Jews and Christians should have all personal freedoms.1 After being held in total isolation in jail for twenty months, Nursi reiterated more specifically this concept. He wrote that, if allowed to speak to the judges of the Court of Appeal, he would say: "Although as required by freedom of thought and freedom of conscience, you do not interface with Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, and particularly now with anarchists, apostates, and dissemblers, hiding behind the screen of Communism, who both deny your religion, and insult your forefathers accusing them of misguidance, and accept neither your Prophet (PBUH) nor the laws of Qur'an…"2
Nursi did not limit his pronouncements about Jews to an emphasis upon toleration. In earlier and later parts if the Risale he referred to Jews and Judaism. In contrast to his greater concern for and over-all approach towards Christians and Christianity Nursi most often generalized about Jews and Judaism negatively in order to provide examples for and illustrations of certain ethical and moral teachings of Islam. When he, for instance, wrote that greed was an "awesome disease, as harmful for the life of Islam as enmity,"3 he cited that the Jews as an example: "The humiliation and abjection of the Jews, who more then any other people have leaped greedily upon the world is a decisive proof of this truth…In the human kingdom the Jews have clung to the world more greedily and have loved its life with more passion than any other people, but the usurious wealth they have gained with great efforts is merely illicit property over which they exercise temporary stewardship, and it benefits them little, it earns them, on the contrary, the blows of abjection and humiliation, a death of insult, that are rained down on them by all peoples."4
While being held in Afyon Prison, Nursi often wrote about the dangers of being incessantly involved in the pleasures of this world and thereby neglecting the spiritual and religious teachings of the Prophet. Here again he used the Jews as an example: "The Jewish nation has always been expressive in its love of life and this world, and has therefore deserved the blows and abasement and misery it has received every century."5 In this same letter Nursi Nevertheless went onto defend the position of the Jews, i.e. Zionist Jews, in regard to the Palestinian question. He wrote: "However in the Palestine question it is not love of life and this world, but a significant sort of national and religious feeling because Palestine is where the prophets of the children of Israel are buried, and the prophets belonged to their nation. In consequence, they have received no swift blows. A small group could never otherwise have held out in the midst of the vast Arab land; it would quickly have been humiliated."6
In discussing frugality Nursi compared the Jewish people to the nomads in order to make a point. His characterization of Jews is here succinct and clear: "Also, the Jewish people, finding through greed, usury and trickery their degrading, miserable, illicit substance only at a subsistence level, and the contented attitude of nomads and their living with dignity and finding sufficient sustenance, proves decisively what we say once more."7
In the Rays Collection of the Risale Nursi discussed the two Dajjals, or anti-Christs, who "employ the severest despotism, the greatest tyranny, and the maximum violence and terror…and appear to have vast power."8 Nursi said that a secret Jewish society, which "nurtures a terrible desire for revenge on Islam and Christianity" will assist both Dajjals. Sufyan, the Islamic Dajjal who will come to lead the Islamic world, will be born a Jew."9 In the "Fifteenth Letter" of the Letters volume of the Risale Nursi referred to the Jews as "clever and scheming dissemblers" who took advantage of various problems in society.10 In the "Twelfth Sign" of the Letters volume Nursi again illustrated his view that Jews are treacherous. He cited an unsuccessful plot by a Jewish woman to kill the Prophet by sending him a roasted goat to eat that was filled with poison. The Prophet showed his miraculous power by realizing the roasted goat was posionous.11 One of Nursi's observations about the incident was that this was a conspiracy concocted by "the treacherous Jews [who] wanted to deal a sudden blow at God's Messenger (upon whom be blessings and peace) and his close companions…"12
In discussing proofs of Muhammad's prophethood in the "Sixteenth Sign" of the Letters of the Risale, Nursi noted that the Prophet challenged the Jewish scholars and Christian priests to show any error in his teaching. They, argued Nursi, could not do so.13
Nursi further maintained here that "the words of the Torah, the Bible and the Psalms do not have the miraculousness of those of the Qur'an. They have also been translated again and again, and a great many alien words have become intermingled with them. Also, the words of commentators and their false interpretations have been confused with their verses. In addition, the distortions of the ignorant and the hostile have been incorporated into them in these ways, the corruptions and alterations have multiplied in those Books. In fact, Shaykh Rahmat Allah-al-Hindi, the well-known scholar, proved to Jewish and Christian scholars and priests, thousands of corruptions in them, and silenced them."14 In this quotation Nursi thus criticized both Jews and Judaism as well as Christians and Christianity. He emphasized that a celebrated Muslim scholar, Husayn Jisri, extracted from the Jewish and Christian religious texts "one hundred and ten indications to the prophethood of Muhammad."15 Numerous Jewish as well as Christian scholars, Nursi pointed out, had acknowledged the prophethood of Muhammad and declared his attributes. Nursi posited that "many Jewish scholars, like Ibn Yasin, Mikhayriq, and Kab al-Ahbar, become believers on seeing positive attributes in their Books, and silenced those who did not accept the faith."16 He nevertheless continued to view the Jews generally as jealous people who had resorted to treachery, including the altering of verses in the Torah that allegedly proclaimed Mohammed's prophethood and the slandering and denial of Jesus.17
My larger paper will contain textual analyses of all Nursi citations in the Risale, taken from the Jewish Bible, which are presented as proofs for his assertions that biblical passages predicted Muhammad's coming prophethood. The analyses will compare Nursi's translations into English of biblical verses with literal translations into English of the actual, presently existent Hebrew text of the same biblical verses. The analyses will also compare and contrast Nursi's interpretations of those verses with classic, Judaic theological interpretations of the same verses. Herein, three examples will suffice. Nursi's oft-repeated statement that jealous Jewish scribes changed and altered the actual biblical text and offered false interpretations must be kept in mind as constituting his rationale for the apparent and striking differences.
The first example is taken from the "Sixteenth Sign" of the Letters volume of the Risale in which Nursi presented the following translation of a part of Genesis, chapter 16: "Verily God told Abraham that Hagar - the mother of Isma'il - will bear children. There will emerge from her sons one whose hand will be above all, and the hands of all will be opened to him in reverence."18
The English translation of the Hebrew text of Genesis 16:10-12,15 is: "And the Angel of the Lord said to her [Hagar], I will greatly increase your offspring, and they shall be too many to count. The Angel of the Lord said to her further: 'Behold, you are with child and [you] shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has paid heed to your suffering. He shall be a wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him; he shall dwell alongside of all his kinsmen…Hagar bore a son to Abram, and Abram gave the son that Hagar bore him the name Ishmael.'"19 A classical Judaic theological interpretation of the term "a wild ass of a man" in this citation is that he would be reckless of life, treacherous towards strangers and ever ready for war or pillage. This would obviously not be Nursi's description of the Prophet Muhammad.
The second example is also taken from the "Sixteenth Sign" of the Letters volume of the Risale, in which Nursi presented the following translation of part of chapter 18 of the Book of Deuteronomy: "And He said to Moses: 'O Moses, verily I shall send them a prophet like you, from the sons of their brothers [the children of Isma'il]; I shall place My word in his mouth, and shall punish whoever does not accept the words of the one who will speak in My name.'"20
The English translation of the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy: 15-21 is: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people, like myself; him you shall heed. This is just what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb, on the day of the Assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear the voice of the LORD my God any longer or see this wondrous fire any more, lest I die.' Whereupon the Lord said to me, 'They have done well in speaking thus. I will raise up a prophet for them from among their own people, like yourself: I will put My words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him; and if anybody fails to heed the words he speaks in My name, I myself will call him to account. But any prophet who presumes to speak in My name an oracle that I did not command him to utter or who speaks in the name of other gods- that prophet shall die.'"21
The Hebrew text did not indicate that another prophet would come from the children of Ishmael. The classical Judaic theological interpretation of the phrase "from your midst, from your brethren like me" is that God would designate future prophets from Israel, that the prophecy would be limited to the land of Israel and that God would let his spirit rest only upon members of Israel. In Deuteronomy 34:10 it is stated that never again was there a prophet like Moses. Although Jewish sages noted that there would never be in Israel another prophet like Moses, they did at least imply that Balaam, a non-Jewish prophet, by strenuous preparation might become an important prophet. Even so, Balaam, from the Jewish perspective not the same as Muhammad, would be as a prophet inferior to Moses. It is Maimonides' Seventh Principle of Faith that there will never again arise a prophet such as Moses. Here again, neither the translation of nor the Judaic theological interpretations of the Hebrew text are near the same as those offered by Nursi.
The Third example is taken form the "Sixteenth Sign" of the Letters volume of the Risale in which Nursi presented a partial translation of the Seventy-Second Chapter of the Psalms and his interpretations thereof: "In the Seventy-Second Chapter of the Psalms, there are the following verses:
And he will reign from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.
The kings of Yemen and the Islands
All will bring their gifts.
And to him all the kings will prostrate themselves,
All the nations will serve him.
And he will live,
And on his behalf prayer will be made constantly,
all day long he will be praised.
His name will prove to be to time indefinite,
It will continue as long as the sun.
All will be blessed in him,
All nations will praise him.
These verses will describe the Glory of the World, the Prophet Muhammad (Upon be blessing and peace) in most clear fashion. Apart from Muhammad the Arabian, what prophet has come since David (Upon whom be peace) who has spread his religion from East to West, made kings pay tribute, and brought rulers to submission as though prostrating; to whom every day one fifth of mankind offer benedictions and prayers, and whose lights have irradiated from Madinah? Has there been any other?" 22
The following is a translation of the Hebrew text of the Seventy-Second Psalm:
O God, endow the king with Your judgments
the king's son with Your righteousness;
that he may judge Your people rightly,
Your lowly ones, justly.
Let the mountains produce well-being for the people,
the hills, reward of justice.
Let him champion the lowly among the people,
deliver the needy folk,
and crush those who wrong them.
Let them fear You as long as the sun shines,
while the moon lasts, generations on end.
Let him be like rain that falls on a mown field,
like a downpour of rain on the ground,
that the righteous may flourish in his time,
and well-being abound, till the moon is no more.
Let him rule from sea to sea,
from the river to the ends of the earth.
Let the desert-dwellers kneel before him,
and his enemies lick the dust
Let kings of Tarshish and the islands pay tribute,
kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.
Let all kings bow to him,
and all nations serve him.
For he saves the needy who cry out,
the lowly who have no helper.
He cares about the poor and the needy;
He brings the needy deliverance.
He redeems them from fraud and lawlessness;
the shedding of their blood weighs heavily upon him.
So let him live, and receive gold of Sheba;
let prayers for him be said always,
blessing on him invoked at all times.
Let abundant grain be in the land, to the tops of the
Let his crop thrive like the forest of Lebanon;
and let men sprout up in the towns like country grass.
May his name be eternal;
while the sun lasts, may his name endure
let men invoke his blessedness upon themselves;
let all nations count him happy.
Blesses is the LORD God, God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things;
Blessed is His glorious name forever;
His glory fills the whole world.
Amen and Amen.
End of prayers of David son of Jesse23
This Seventy-Second Psalm is titled "Of Solomon." The complete translation of the Hebrew text clearly states that the Psalm is dedicated to a king. From the Judaic theological perspective Nursi's presented translation is inadequate, and his interpretation thereof is invalid.
Referring to what he termed an "authentic narrative," Nursi quoted from one of the Noble Messenger's statements to Ali: "As was true of Jesus, two groups of people will perish on your account: one because of excessive love, the other because of excessive enmity. Christians, on account of the deep love for Jesus, transgressed the limits and called him - God forbid! - 'the son of God,' while the Jews, because of the hostility went to another extreme by denying his message and virtue…"24
From a scholarly perspective there can be little, if any, doubt about Nursi's view of and attitudes towards the Jews. With the exception of individual Jews who accepted Islam, Nursi's general view of the Jewish people in the Risale was clearly negative. He nevertheless preached toleration of Jews and protection of their personal rights. Nursi's view of Judaism is somewhat more complicated. He, on the one hand, advocated the Islamic idea that Judaism, i.e. "authentic" Judaism, represented God's word and message that was furthered, more fully explained and finalized by Muhammad and the Qur'an. Nursi, on the other hand, also advocated and preached that Judaism had been corrupted by numerous Jewish scribes who altered verses of the Torah and presented incomplete and false interpretations. Obviously, most Jews, whether religious or secular on balance, would disagree with what Nursi said and wrote about Jews and Judaism. It is at this point that the principle of toleration should be employed, and, to the extent that you in this audience desire, discussion can be opened.
*Prof. Dr. Norton Mezvinsky is Professor of History at Central Connecticut University, and a Connecticut State University Professor. He has published extensively on various aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Judaism, and U.S. history.
1. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection 4: The Rays Collection (The Fourteenth Ray), translated by ??kran Vahide (Istanbul:S?zler Nesriyat A.S., 1998), P.380
2. Ibid., p.444.
3. Nursi, Risale Collection 2: Letters (Second Topic), p. 321.
4. Ibid., p.321,322.
5. Nursi, Risale Collection 4; The Rays Collection (The fourteenth Ray), p.504.
6. Ibid., p.504.
7. Nursi, Risale Collection3: The Flashes Collection (The Nineteenth Flash), p. 196.
8. Nursi, Risale Collection 4: The Rays Collection (The Fifth Ray), p.115.
9. Ibid., p.117.
10. Nursi, Risale Collection 2: Letters (Fifteenth Letter), p.73.
11. Nursi, Risale Collection 2: Letters (The Miracles of Muhammad-Twelfth Sign), p.170.
12. Ibid., p.171.
13. Nursi, Risale Collection 2: Letters (The Miracles of Muhammad- Sixteenth Sign), p.200-201.
14. Ibid., p.201.
15. Ibid., p.201.
16. Ibid., p.202.
17. Ibid., p.202.
18. Nursi, Risale Collection 2; Letters (The Miracles of Muhammad-Sixteenth Sign), p. 204.
19. This translation into English from the Hebrew is taken from TANAKH: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985), p.23. Several distinguished Hebrew Scholars did the translation of this volume.
20. Nursi, Risale Collection 2: Letters (The Miracles of Muhammad-Sixteenth Sign), p.204.
21. Translation from TANAKH, p.303-304.
22. Nursi, Risale Collection 2: Letters (The Miracles of Muhammad-Sixteenth Sign), p. 207-208.
23. Translation from TANAKH, p. 1190-1191.
24. Nursi, Risale Collection 2: Letters (The Miracles of Muhammad-Sixth Sign), p. 137.