Said Nursi’s thoughts were very much inspired by the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. This book is basically a collection of interpretation and commentary of the Qur’ān consisting of six thousand pages. Said Nursi essentially focused on significance of faith and belief. He used modern scientific arguments to prove significance of faith in Almighty Allah. His Risale is very popular across the world. It has played a major role in bringing the people back to Islam in Turkey. Nursi provided very rational arguments which appeal to the people across the spectrum.
He perceived the Qur’ān in his Risale as lively book that came to guide humankind. İn his view this book (the Qur’ān) is not bound to space and time. He presented a comprehensive interpretation of the holy Qur’ān and explained its relevance to human life, and tried to clear all doubts and confusions raised about Islam and Islamic instructions and corrected the wrong conceptualisations of Qur’ānic meanings. This book is a good example of human effort to understand the divine teachings.
Risale-i-Nur has a global appeal because it has been written, keeping all mankind in view. It refutes the bad impact of materialist philosophy on human beings. It explains the significance of monotheism and spirituality. The main aim of writing this Risale was nothing but upliftment of all mankind, including Muslims in the spiritual and material fields together. He insisted thoroughly in his Risale that making efforts to gain material achievements is not bad; Islam allows it, and also encourages it, attaching it with divine guidance, so the human beings could not get away from real purpose of its creation. Avoiding any kind of complication, he presented every matter in a clear manner. He simplified many concepts and principles of Islam to make common people understand them.
İn his Risale, he dealt with many issues, including traditional Islamic education system and modern sciences. Nursi tried to examine knowledge in the light of the Qur’ān. His Risale-i-Nur is widely acclaimed even today and considered to be a guidebook for understanding the holy Qur’ān as he says: “As time grows older, the Qur’ān grows younger.” I will try briefly to analyse his educational thoughts and its importance in our time.
EDUCATIONAL THOUGHTS OF SAID NURSI
If someone studies Risale-i-Nur, he will find that Nursi has very much emphasised faith in God and seeking knowledge. He completely refused to accept separation between religious and material sciences. He wanted to integrate the knowledge with faith. As per him, without having faith in Almighty God, human beings cannot get peace; and without having knowledge, human life will have no meaning. So, both faith in Almighty God and seeking perfect knowledge are necessary to make human life meaningful.
Said Nursi has discussed several issues related to education in his famous Risale. I have chosen two issues of his main concerns to deal with; one, his views on religious education system; and the other, what was his approach to reconcile between religious and modern education.
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION WITH MODERN SCIENCES
Said Nursi was one of the great Muslim scholars and thinkers who felt desperately that the existing religious education system in Turkey was a complete failure because it was not fulfilling the needs of Muslims. Therefore, it was required to be reformed. He was not satisfied with the quality of education being provided by the then religious education system.
He himself, having studied at a madrasa, knows well the flaws in madrasa syllabus. He regarded that it was no longer relevant to modern developments in the field of sciences. Most of the Ulama produced by these madrasas were believed to be unaware of modern sciences and that’s why they would see the contradiction between some Islamic matters and modern sciences. So, according to Said Nursi, those who studied at madrasas were not familiar with modern sciences and those who studied at secular education systems were unaware of Islamic sciences. This was the reason that they often accuse each other of disbelief, inefficiency and ignorance. Said Nursi notes: “The people of religious schools (madrasas) accuse the people of modern schools of weakness of belief due to their outward appearance. The people of modern schools regard the people of religious schools as insufficient and ignorant because they do not know about the new branches of science.”
So, there was a wide gap between the scholars of religious schools and secular schools. Having observed this situation, Nursi decided to reform the education system in the country and to reconcile between religious sciences and modern sciences. He had the view that there was no contradiction between religious and modern sciences as he says:
“The light of conscience is religious sciences. The light of the mind is exact sciences. Reconciliation of both manifests the truth. Students’ skills develop further with these two (sciences). When they are separated from the former’s superstition and from the latter’s corruption, scepticism is born.”
Nursi believed that there should be a combination between religious education and modern sciences as he knew very well that the modern sciences are also necessary for the development of a society especially the Muslim society without compromising with the Islamic values.
If one looks at the education system of Turkey at that time, he will find that there were two types of educational systems in Türkiye: one was religious education and the other modern education. Both were at odds with each other in their treatment of the subjects and their educational approach. Thus, both education systems were not fulfilling the need for which they had been established. Nursi was of the view that the existing madrasa syllabuses were no longer relevant to the modern developments in science. Even the Ulama who studied at these madrasas in the early twentieth century believed that there was contradiction between Islam and science. This led to the growth of despair and hopelessness among the general public.
Having seen all the situation, Nursi said: “Islam is the master and guide of the sciences, and the chief and father of all true knowledge.” So to reconcile between the religious and modern education, he asserted that religious subjects should be taught in the new secular schools (maktabs) and that positive sciences should be taught in religious schools (madrasas). He further argued that if the students are taught in this method, those in secular schools will be saved from religious digression, while those in religious schools will be saved from bigotry.
As per Said Nursi, for the reconciliation between religious sciences and modern sciences it is necessary to reformulate and restructure the entire field of human knowledge in accordance with a new set of criteria and categories, derived from and based on the Islamic worldview.
He proposed the method of integration of knowledge and reform in the existing educational system through his writings and sermons, to elaborate on how to integrate religious sciences with modern sciences. Risale-i-Nur clearly shows that he devoted his entire life in establishing one stream of educational system through the process of integration of knowledge between science and religion.
It is interesting to note that for integration of knowledge and reconciliation, Said Nursi emphasised assessment and evaluation of religious sciences as well as modern sciences. Because, according to Said Nursi, total rejection of modern science or total glorification of traditional Islamic scholarship both are wrong. As he further argues: rationally educated scholars consider traditionally trained-scholars as ignorant and unreliable and unable to discover and demonstrate the relevance of this heritage to the current problem. The traditionally trained-scholars accuse the former’s weakness in beliefs and incapability to understand the classical literature.
To achieve this goal, he proposed to establish a university called Madrastuz-Zuhra and through this project he tried to reform and reformulate the madrasa education system. His approach was new and freshly inspired by the Qur’ān and the Sunnah but unfortunately the World War-I broke out and his dream of establishing and Islamic university, which would be the common ground for both sciences, religious and modern, where scholars of both streams would exchange their ideas, could not materialise.
In fact, Said Nursi made every possible effort to reform both religious education system and modern education system. He regarded that the present syllabi of both systems whether modern and traditional are not fulfilling the necessities of the Ummah. He wanted to reconcile between religious and modern education systems through educational reform and tried to abolish the contradiction between them. Therefore, he advocated to teach modern sciences in Islamic institutions and religious sciences in modern institutions. This method is still a vital need of the Muslim Ummah to preserve the Islamic identity and flourish in the field of knowledge.