Question: Bediüzzaman tells that once he opened Imam Rabbani’s book for a good omen with a pure heart and found the counsel about turning in one direction (qiblah) only, which led him to turn to the Qur’an as the sole guide. Could you elucidate on this issue and the messages it gives to us in today’s circumstances?
Answer: I would like to begin with drawing attention to a few points in order to prevent possible misunderstandings. First, Bediüzzaman did not approve of making a general practice of opening books at random for counsel or acting upon dreams, because in both cases the information received is not objective. In addition, it is very important to correctly interpret both the information yielded by the book and what one sees in a dream. Interpreting a dream means drawing a conclusion by virtue of certain symbols. In this respect, what is seen in a dream is one thing and the truth it expresses is another. Together with these essentials, Bediüzzaman opened the Maktubat (Collected Letters) of Imam Rabbani at random; the result satisfied his mind; his heart affirmed it, and it must have complied with his personal experience as well.
Second, from the imperative statement he came across that told him to turn in one direction, it should not be inferred that a person like Bediüzzaman had separated from the Qur’an and ran after other things instead. The life he led is obvious; he did not run after anything but the Qur’an in any period of his life. What then should be understood from turning in one direction only is the ideal shown to Bediüzzaman on a different horizon. In fact, with respect to the first period of his life, he did engage in a search for the sake of establishing and expressing truths in a way to suit the understanding of the era. In this respect, he visited different Sufi lodges and met with different persons. But in terms of his horizons, he found nobody who was aware of and worried about the real problems of the age that needed consideration and who would bring proper solutions to them in accordance with the spirit of the time. In the face of this situation, since Bediüzzaman was aware of the destruction and thought that the problems Muslims were facing needed to be addressed with a different method and style, he opened the book of Imam Rabbani at random and understood that he was supposed to refer to the Qur’an as the sole guide.
Indeed, if you view the period in which Bediüzzaman lived, you see that everything came crashing down and all values were upset. The poet Mehmed Akif described those days with the words:
Ruined lands, devastated homes, and desolate deserts;
Days devoid of labor, and nights with no ideals…
So when Bediüzzaman saw all of these, he understood that the trouble was so great and set about seeking a cure. Although he tried to tell to some people in his time that the destruction was of an immense scale, that the issue needed to be addressed anew from the roots, and that it was necessary to give importance to the issue of consolidating faith in order to realize this, nobody quite understood his concern, unfortunately. Upon this, he focused on the Qur’an. However, as he turned to the Qur’an he did not engage in a narration-based or reason-based Qur’anic exegesis like the great masters Ibn Jarir at-Tabari and Fakhruddin ar-Razi did, respectively. With a different method of Qur’anic exegesis he learned from the Qur’an again, he came up with prescriptions to cure the troubles of his and our time, from the diamond principles of the Qur’an.
Pinpointing the Problems of the Age First
As a matter of fact, different personages in different eras set about seeking solutions for the needs and conditions of their own time and wrote their works accordingly. For example, at the time of Imam al-Ghazali there were different problems: Greek philosophy entered the Islamic world, thoughts of Mutazilites and Fatalists disseminated, the Qarmatis and Batinis emerged, and so on. Particularly, the “injection” of the esoteric aspect of the Greek philosophy left most people under influence. For example, Al-Farabi (Alpharabius) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in terms of his early considerations engaged in a philosophical thought, whose fundamentals were based on Socrates. They brought Muslims the translation of the works of Plato and Aristotle. So Imam al-Ghazali strived for taking the path of the noble Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and his Companions, and he succeeded by God’s permission. He established a new way and method different than Greek philosophy and let the Illuminist (Ishraqiyyun) school gain a different hue.
In the same way, Imam Rabbani dealt with the problems that emerged in his own time. As you know, in that period Ali Akbar Shah held the power in India and—similar to the historicists in our time—he fell for the idea that the teaching of the Qur’an and sunnah could not be practiced in as they really should, so he proposed establishing something resembling the Sanskrit religion. Namely, he wished to form a new religion by taking ideas from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Imam Rabbani’s advent was in such a period and he monumentalized the true Islamic heritage once more by building fortifications around Islam with a spirit of revivalism against this misguidance and deviant thought.
Actually, it is possible to talk about a similar endeavor in the noble Prophet’s, blessings and peace be upon him, retreat in Hira nearly six months before the beginning of revelation. It is impossible for such a magnificent personage with special endowments not to feel concern about the current problems in the Time of Ignorance before he retreated to Hira. God knows how many times that exceptional soul suffered with concerns for how to direct his people to a righteous path before he honored Hira. Finally, God Almighty turned his face to Himself with the showers of revelation. He blessed him with a new religion to solve the problems of the time.
A Prescription for a Diseased Era or the Diamond Principles of the Qur’an
When Bediüzzaman opened the Maktubat of Imam Rabbani with a sincere heart, he received the counsel that it is necessary to completely turn to the Qur’an anew after thirteen centuries of its revelation, and the cure for the troubles of the era is not to be sought in other things but the diamond truths of the Qur’an. It appears that Bediüzzaman’s feelings and thoughts were in compliance with the truth he came across. Upon this, he concentrated on a single point by disengaging from everything else. With all of his powers, he was fixed on this issue to such a degree that the pressures, isolations, imprisonments, and dungeons never intimidated him or made him back down in the least. Because he had heartfelt conviction that the people of his time could be delivered only with the diamond principles of the Qur’an and that this deliverance would serve as a source of hope for others as well.
By looking back from our time, you cannot see the atrocities and wickedness in that period in complete clarity and grasp all details of the picture. They were in such a degree that even the great scholars who lived in those times made some zigzags. For example, when you look at the works of some respectable scholars, you see that they made concessions in favor of transformism. Some of them even said that although evolution is only a theory, if it is to be proven by positive sciences one day, they are ready to reconcile it with the verses of the Qur’an.
In such a period, when the society was shaken from its fundamentals with its essential dynamics and when disintegration and fissures came in succession, this exceptional mind, who was able to see happenings with an all-embracing view and who saw causes and effects together, took heed of this counsel from Imam Rabbani as he had much trust in him. In other words, since this truth he came across was in perfect compliance with his inner truths, he benefited from this good omen and kept walking on this path.
Fresh Horizons with a New Viewpoint
Today as well it is possible to benefit from the open ends left by Bediüzzaman as starting points and bring a new face to the issues he dealt with, helping people to gain a new enthusiasm. You must present the truths he considered with a different style and method in such a way that those who read it should say, “We have been reading this issue for years but never understood it like that,” and feel a new excitement in their souls. Actually, most of his words are so deep and comprehensive as to form the basis for a separate volume. However, in order to see that depth, it is necessary to endeavor to read beyond the surface structure. As you know, the late Moroccan scholar Farid al-Ansari wrote a good work entitled Mafatihu’n-Nur (Keys to the Light) on the key concepts of Risale-i Nur. But why is not there a good study in Turkey comparable to the horizons and level found in Farid al-Ansari’s work? Why did we not benefit from the distinguished works of the great personage Bediüzzaman from different aspects? Actually, one cannot help but feel pity when thinking about this. Instead of feeling pity, however, I think that the duty that falls to the illumined minds of our time is revisiting those precious works with a new perspective. Particularly, scholars with mastery in religious disciplines and broad horizons can evaluate those works with a comparative way of reading alongside with works of other great personages like Imam Maturidi, Imam al-Ghazali, Izz ibn Abdussalam, Avicenna, and Fakhruddin ar-Razi, and thus evoke a fresh excitement in consciences toward them. And even not sufficing with that, they can make an analysis of these eminent works with a new method of reading, starting from the tips left by master Bediüzzaman and educating new scholars to build the scholarly thought of the future with a sound methodology of Islamic Jurisprudence and making studies in Islamic disciplines such as Fiqh, Hadith, and Tafsir.
This text is the translation of “Tevhid-i Kıble Et, Himmetini Dağıtma!“