Middle EastRisale-i NurSaid Nursi

Biography of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi-3 (Part 2)

162611_galeri_15CHAPTER THREE

Bediuzzaman’s Ideas on Freedom and Constitutionalism What, then, was the relationship between constitutionalism and Islam?

For in this speech, and in all his speeches and writings of the time, Bediuzzaman was at pains to make clear to the people that the Constitution, which was the 1876 Constitution, was in no way contrary to the Seriat. He describes it as the “Kanun-u Ser’i” or Islamic Constitution, and “the Constitution which is founded on the Seriat.”‘s “Constitutionalism and the Constitution about which you have heard,” explained Bediuzzaman, “consists of true justice and consultation enjoined by the Seriat.”

Bediuzzaman very often gives clear definitions of constitutionalism by contrasting it with despotism:

“Despotism is oppression. It is dealing with others in an arbitrary fashion. It is compulsion relying on force. It is the opinion of one person. It provides extremely favorable ground for exploitation. It is the basis of tyranny. It annihilates humanity. It is despotism which reduces man to the most abject valleys of abasement, has caused the Islamic world to sink into abjection and degradation, which arouses animosity and malice, has poisoned Islam and in fact sows its poison everywhere by contagion, and has caused endless conflict within Islam by giving rise to its deviant sects like the Mu’tazile, Cebriyya, and Mürci’a…”

Constitutionalism, on ther hand, is “the manifestation of the Qur’anic verses `And consult them in affairs [ of public concern] and `Whose rule in consultation among themselves’ It is the consultation enjoined by the Seriat. This luminous body’s life is truth, in place of force. Its heart is knowledge, its tongue, love. Its mind is the law, not an individual Indeed, constitutionalism is the sovereignty of the nation…” And again, “…the real meaning of constitutionalism is that power lies in the law…”

On another occasion Bediuzzaman stated: “I expounded and commented in detail on the authentic connection between the Seriat and constitutionalism in numerous speeches. And I explained That tyrannous despotism has no connection with The Seriat. For according to the meaning of the Hadith, `A nation’s ruler is its servant’, the Seriat came to the world in order to extirpate oppression and despotic tyranny… And I said that essentially, the true way of the ,Seriat is the reality of constitutionalism in accordance with the Seriat. That is to say, I accepted constitutionalism on proofs from the Seriat…”

“…I claimed that it is possible to deduce the truths of constitutionalism explicitly, implicitly, permissibly, from the Four Schools of Islamic Law.”

A further argument was: “The consensus of the community constitutes a certain proof in the Seriat. The opinion of the mass of the people forms a fundamental principle in the Seriat. The public wish is esteemed and re- specked in the Seriat.”

On the question, “Some people say [constitutionalism] is contrary to the Seriat?” being put to him, Bediuzzaman replied: “The spirit of constitution alism is from the Seriat. And its life is from it. But under force of circumstance it may be that some details fall temporarily contrary to it. Also, it is not necessary for all situations that arise during the constitutional period to have arisen from constitutionalism. And what is there that conforms to the Seriat in every respect…?”

Thus, Bediuzzaman’s approach can be seen to be realistic. While in essence constitutionalism did not differ from Islamic principles, the extremely difficult circumstances of the time demanded a measured and balanced approach. It was a question of “making constitutionalism conform to the Seriat meticulously and in a balanced manner taking into account what is required.”

As for consultation, which, as is shown above, is enjoined by Islam, Bediuzzaman frequently stressed it as a constituent of constitutionalism. He described it as “the key to the good fortune, felicity, and sovereignty of Islam.” Because, due to the nature of constitutionalism, consultation is practiced in all areas of the state and society. “Yes, this is the time of constitutionalism; consultation rules in everything.” That is to say, when constitutionalism is adopted by a government, it spreads throughout the state and manifests itself as consultation, the supremacy of public opinion and consensus. These and their accompanying unity, co-operation, and brotherhood are fundamental to progress:

“When constitutionalism falls to the lot of a government, the idea of freedom awakens constitutionalism in every respect. It gives birth to a sort of constitutionalism in every area and walk of life, according to the calling of each. It results in a sort of constitutionalism among the ulema, in the medreses, and among the students. Indeed, it inspires a particular constitutionalism and renewal in all walks of life. It is flashes of consultation, then, hinting of the sun of happiness, and inspiring desire, mutual attraction, and harmony, that have caused me to love the Constitutional Government so much…”

Bediuzzaman also describes scientific progress in terms of `historical consultation’, and stresses its importance:

“Just as the consultation of the ages and centuries that mankind has practiced by means of history, a `conjunction of ideas’ or `meeting of minds’, formed the basis of the progress and sciences of all mankind, so too one reason for the backwardness of Asia, the largest continent, was the failure to practise that true consultation. The key and discloser of the continent of Asia and its future is mutual consultation. That is to say, just as individuals should consult with one another, so must nations and continents also practise consultation..”

As regards Freedom, as is clear from the Address to Freedom, it could only be the source of progress if the Seriat was taken as the basis of it. It did not consist of absolute freedom or license. While technology and industry could be imported from Europe, which in any case were not the property of the West, the Ottomans stood in no need of their culture, morals, and “the evils of civilization”.

“I declare with all my strength,” said Bediuzzaman, “that our progress will only occur through the progress of Islam, which is our nationality, and through the manifestation of the truths of the Seriat. Otherwise we shall confirm the saying, `he abandoned his own way of walking, and did not learn anyone else’s. “‘

Bediuzzaman defined Freedom as follows:

“Delicate Freedom is instructed and adorned by the good manners of the Seriat. Freedom to be dissolute and behave scandalously is not Freedom. Rather, it is animality. It is the tyranny of the Devil. It is to be the slave of the evil-commanding soul. General Freedom is the product of the portions of individual Freedom. The characteristic of Freedom is that one harms neither oneself, nor others.”

“Freedom is this: apart from the law of justice and punishment, no one can dominate over anyone else. Everybody’s rights are protected. In their legitimate actions, everyone is royally free. The prohibition: `Take not one from among yourselves as Lord over you apart from God’ is manifest.”

That is to say, “Freedom springs from belief in God.” for, “belief requires not degrading others through tyranny and oppression, and abasing them, and not abasing oneself before oppressors. Someone who is a true slave of God cannot be a slave to others.” “That is to say, however perfected belief is, Freedom will shine to that degree.”

Bediuzzaman says that Freedom is not to be absolved from all the ties of social life and civilization, “Rather, what shines like the sun, is the beloved of every soul, and is the equal of the essence of humanity is that Freedom which is seated in the felicitous palace of civilization and is adorned with knowledge, virtue, and the good manners and raiment of Islam.”

The positive results of Freedom with regard to progress were in part noted above in the Address to Freedom: unity, love of the nation, the end to “personal enmity and thoughts of revenge”, and also to extravagance and vice; the elimination of the chains on human thought; the rearing of a new generation of able men to run the country. In another work he says it is Islamic Freedom “which teaches mankind exalted aims in the form of competition for exalted things, and causes them to strive on that way; which shatters despotism; and excites exalted emotions and destroys jealousy, envy, malice, and rivalry, and is furnished with true awakening, the eagerness of competition, the tendency towards renewal, and the predisposition for civilization…. It has been fitted out with the inclination and desire for the highest perfection’s worthy of humanity.”

Indeed, Freedom was the means of “the progress of Islam”. Bediuzzaman declared that “Freedom is the only way of delivering three hundred and seventy million strong Islam from captivity.”41 And that: “The Ottomans’ Freedom is the discloser of mighty Asia’s good fortune. It is the key to the prosperity of Islam. It is the foundation of the ramparts of Islamic unity.”

Bediuzzaman explains this in terms of a reawakening of the consciousness of “Islamic nationhood” among individual Muslims. That is to say, as a result of Freedom, sovereignty now lies with the nation, or Islamic community and “each individual Muslim possesses an actual part of the sovereignty.” Bediuzzaman’s use of scientific language and metaphors in the first of the following passages shows that he wanted to demonstrate that this was the first step on the road to scientific advance and civilization:

“Freedom has made manifest nationhood. The luminous jewel of Islam within the shell of nationhood has begun to appear. It has given news of Islam’s stirring and motion [showing] that each Muslim is not independent like an atom, but is part of a compound, interconnected and ascending. Each is united with all the other parts through the general attraction of Islam.” And:

“Islamic Freedom and the consultation enjoined by the Seriat have made manifest the sovereignty of our true nationhood. The foundation and spirit of our true nationhood is Islam… Thus, through the bond of this sacred nationhood, all the people of Islam become like a single tribe… They assist one another morally and if necessary, materially…”

A further point Bediuzzaman frequently stressed was that in this modem age material progress was the most effective way of `upholding the Word of God’, with which every believer is charged. In other words, it was a fundamental duty of all Ottomans and Muslims to work for progress.

“Each believer is charged with `upholding the Word of God’. In this age, the greatest cause of this is to progress materially, for the Europeans are morally crushing us under their tyranny with the weapons of science and industry. We, therefore, shall wage holy war with the weapons of science and industry on the greatest enemies of `upholding the Word of God’, which are ignorance, poverty, and conflicting ideas. And we shall refer external holy war to the diamond sword of the certain proofs of the Illustrious Seriat. For the civilized are to be conquered through persuasion and being convinced, not through compulsion as though they were savages who understand nothing.”

For Bediuzzaman, then, “Constitutionalism within the sphere of the Seriat” was “the means of upholding the might of Islam and exalting the Word of God.”

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