Biography of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi-2 (Part 3)
· Toptasi and the ‘Conversation With The Doctor’
How long Bediuzzaman’s tribulations in the mental hospital were to continued is not known, but finally he was released on the strength of the doctor’s report, which stated: “If there is the tiniest trace of madness in Bediuzzaman, there is not a sane person in the world.”
Of the doubtless many examinations which Bediuzzaman had to undergo in the hospital, the following is the text of his conversation with the doctor which contributed directly to the favourable report. In it Bediuzzaman explains to the doctor with this usual clarity and logic his aims and intentions, and why he has aroused opposition in Istanbul.
First of all Bediuzzaman points out to the doctor four points he should take into account while making his diagnosis. Firstly, Bediuzzaman’s back- ground, for “the prevalent virtues in Kurdistan are courage, self-respect, strength of religion, and the agreement of heart and tongue. Matters which are considered to be polite and refined in civilization are considered by them to be flattery.”
Secondly, the doctor should not make his judgement superficially according to current deviant norms, but should realize that Bediuzzaman takes Islam as the criterion for his actions through which he intends to serve the nation, state, and religion. Thirdly, Bediuzzaman points out that some of those in authority could not stomach him because he provided answers to a number of the hitherto insoluble problems of the time, and their only recourse was to declare him mad. And fourthly, he has for fifteen years been pursuing Islamic Freedom, that is, “the Freedom which is in accordance with the Seriat” and now that it is close to being realized he is prevented from seeing’ ? And he adds: “And it is only what is going on, how should he not be angry” one in a thousand who is not afflicted by this temporary madness.
Bediuzzaman then goes onto expand these points and explain them in greater detail, stressing that he is not prepared to sacrifice any of his sacred aims and principles, which are for the common good, for his own personal benefit or so that he should be better accepted.
Firstly, Bediuzzaman’s aim was for the strengthening and progress of the Ottoman Empire through the development and progress – educational, material, and cultural – of its component parts. Through retaining the dress of his native region, and professing his love for it, he wanted to stress in the Empire’s capital the importance of provincial development, and create demand for local industries.
Secondly, Bediuzzaman had aroused opposition through his practice of debating with the ulema. He now explains to the doctor that by doing so he wanted to offer a practical example for a solution to the stagnation in the medreses. He was recommending more active participation in the process of study on the part of the students. A second reason he gives for their backwardness is that the instrumental sciences [grammar, syntax, logic) had been emphasized in place of the sacred sciences [Quranic exegesis (tefsir), Hadith, theology (kelam), and the like]. Thus, firstly, Bediuzzaman is stressing the need for lively debate and the role of competition in revitalizing the medreses, and secondly, the importancc of the fundamental sacred sciences. He then goes on to emphasize the need for specialization. It was through taking one science as a basis and in addition only studying further subjects in so far as they would complement the main subject. that the students could study in sufficient depth and penetrate the subject as required.
In the Third Point, Bediuzzaman examines the reasons for the divergence and differences between the various branches of the educational system, which he states are a major cause of the backwardness of Islamic civilization, which constitutes true civilization, in relation to modem civilization. He says: “Those in the medreses accuse those in the mektebs of weakness in belief because of their literalist interpretation of certain matters, whereas those in the mektebs consider the former to be ignorant and unreliable because they have no knowledge of modem science. While those in the medreses look at those in the tekkes as though they were following innovations…” While recognizing the differences in their ways, he stresses that the barriers between them should be broken down and by way of a remedy modem science be taught in the medreses “in place of obsolete ancient philosophy”, religious sciences be taught “fully” in the secular schools, and scholars from the medreses, “some of the most learned ulema”, be present in the Sufi; tekkes. He then goes on to analyze the reasons for the ineffectiveness of the preachers, who played such a vital role in educating the mass of the people. He gives three “causes”, which we quote in full:
“The First Cause: by comparing the present to the past, they merely represented what they claimed in glittering terms. In former times ease of mind and blind imitation of the ulema prevailed, and for these proof was not necessary. But now an urge to investigate the truth has emerged in everyone. In the face of this, embroidering a claim has no effect. In order for it to be effective, it is necessary to prove what is claimed, and to convince.
“The Second Cause: by deterring from one thing and encouraging another, they reduce the value of something else more important. For example, I, they say that to perform two rekats of prayers at night is like circumambulating the Ka’ba, or that if someone indulges in backbiting, it is as though he has committed furnication.
“The Third Cause: they do not speak conformably with the demands of the situation and necessities of the time, which is the requirement of eloquence. It is as if they draw people into the comers of former times, then speak to them. That is to say, I want preachers to be both searching scholars, so that they can prove what they claim, and subtle philosophers so that they do not spoil the balance of the Seriat, and to be eloquent and convincing. It is essential that they are thus.”
Bediuzzaman completed addressing the doctor as follows:
“The Fourth Point: I said that my mind was confused. But my intention from all this is to point to the forgetfulness in my memory, the distress in my mind, and the foreignness in my nature. Since no one who is mad says they are mad, how can it be a proof of my madness? Also, I said that I had three months study after Izhar. This invites doubt in two respects. Either it is untrue…whereas most of Kurdistan knows that it is true. Or although it is true,… like you said, O Doctor, things like pride and self-praise would indicate to my madness…
“That is to say, it is our doctors’ understanding that is sick, and their reports which are mad, and the Minister of Public Security is mad, because he was angry. Hey, doctor! You are a good doctor, cure those unfortunates first, then me!”
It became plain to the doctor, then, that Bediuzzaman was in no way deranged and he prepared his report accordingly; whatever the reasons were for his being sent to the mental hospital, they were not medical, and the doctor did not concern himself with them. Of course, it was for political reasons that Bediuzzaman had been incarcerated, and on his release he was still held in custody. The aulhorities then embarked on a new tactic in order to silence him; they tried to buy him off. But to no avail. Just as Bediuzzaman did not know the meaning of fear, and could not be cowed or scared into abandoning the path he knew to be right, so too he had no desire for wealth or position, throughout his life one of his most salient characteristics was his refusal to accept any personal benefits, material or otherwise; there was no way he could be bought. If the Islamic world was to progress and be revitalized, it would be through Freedom and constitutionalism; he could not be made to renounce the cause. The proposals were put to him by Sefik Pasa, the Minister of Public Security, and the exchange between him and Bediuzzaman went as follows:
The Minister: “The Sultan sends you greetings. He has assigned you a thousand kurus as a salary. He said that later, when you return to the East, he will make it twenty to thirty liras. And he sent you these gold liras as a royal gift.”
The Reply: “I am not a beggar after a salary; I could not accept it even if it was a thousand liras. I did not come to Istanbul for myself. I came for my nation. Also this bribe that you want to give me is hush-money.”
The Minister: “You are rejecting an imperial decree. An imperial decree cannot be rejected.”
The Reply: “I am rejecting it, so that the Sultan will be annoyed and will summon me, and I can tell him the truth.”
The Minister: “The result will be disastrous.”
The Reply: “Even if the result is the sea, it will be a spacious grave. If I am executed, I shall rest in the heart of a nation. Also when I came to Istanbul, I brought my life as a bribe; do whatever you like. And I say seriously that I want to give a practical warning to my fellow-countrymen that forming a connection with the State is in order to serve it, it is not in order to grab a salary. And someone like me serves the nation and State through advising and admonishing. And that is through making a good impression. And that is through expecting nothing in return. And that is through being unprejudiced, which is through being without ulterior motives, which is through renouncing all personal benefits. As a consequence, I am excused from not accepting a salary.”
The Minister: “Your aim of spreading education in Kurdistan is being discussed by the Cabinet.”
The Reply: “According to what rule do you delay education and speed up salaries? Why do you prefer my personal benefits to the general benefit of the nation?”
The Minister became angry.
Bediuzzaman: “I have been free. I grew up in the mountains of Kurdistan, which is the place of absolute freedom. There is no point in getting angry; do not tire yourself for nothing. Send me into exile; be it Fizan or Yemen, I do not mind. I will be saved from falling-from a height.”
The Minister: “What do you want to say?”
Bediuzzaman: “You have drawn a veil as thin as a cigarette paper over ‘, everyone in the face of all these ideas and emotions which are boiling over, and called it law and order. Undemeath everyone is groaning at your oppression like moving corpses. I was inexperienced, I did not go in under the veil, I remained top of it. Then one time it was rent in the Palace. I was in an Armenian’s house in Sisli; it was rent there. I was in the Sweetmakers’ Han, it was rent there, too. I was in the mental hospital. And now I am in this place of custody.
“In short, you do so much patching up that I am annoyed, as well. I was well-acquainted with you while I was in Kurdistan. And now the abovementioned events have taught me your secrets well. Especially the mental hospital, it explained these texts to me clearly. So I thank you for these events, because I used always to think favourably, instead of distrusting.”
And finally, a newspaper article on the subject written later by the literary figure Esref Edip, who was a close associate of Bediuzzaman’s, and played an active role in the constitutional movement with his writings and the magazine, Sirat-t Mustakim, later called Sebilurresad:
“No one, and most of all the Sultan, could at any time agree that there was even the smallest amount of disloyalty in him. They appreciated his excellence, his zeal.
“He had come to Istanbul in order to open schools in the Eastern Provinces, to revivify education. He was a great cherisher of Freedom, he had great courage and civilization. Think of the conditions of the time. What was the attitude of the Palace towards the Namik Kemal’s, the Ziya Pasha’s, and other supporters of Freedom? Bediuzzaman was far ahead of them as regards courage and fearlessness, patriotism, and love of Freedom. The Palace displayed great tolerance towards this struggle of his for Freedom out of respect for his learning and virtue. But it was not possible to curtail his striving. His youth, his overflowing brilliant intelligence, his love of Freedom, his combative spirit could not save him from the consequences to which the other supporters of Freedom were subject.
“He. displayed such a degree of courage and boldness in the struggle for Freedom at a time when everyone was frightened to open their mouths and only hinted and made allusions that it was incomprehensible to them. It was only natural that for someone to arrive from the Eastern Provinces and display so much boldness at a time when the Palace and pashas were sovereign and held absolute power would be met with astonishment and surprise. The despotic pashas, who considered the people to be their slaves, could see no ‘ other way of ridding themselves of him and regaining their comfort apart from saying: `To display this much courage is not conformable with sanity’, and putting him in the mental hospital. That was why he was sent there.
“What he said to the doctor in the mental hospital left the doctor in amazement, he was amazed at his intelligence and knowledge, courage and bravery. He understood why he had been sent there, and reminded Bediuzzaman of the refined manners of the age. He advised moderation, then begged his pardon.
“Yes, this is the man they said was mad, this mad lion!”