1920-1950—THE NEW SAID


1920-1921—Emergence of ‘the New Said.’ Nursi withdrew into solitude and underwent a profound mental and spiritual transformation, the result of an intense inner quest, in the course of which he realized that he should take the Qur’an as his guide and free himself from the influence of philosophy. He continued to write throughout this time, and the development in his ideas may be seen in the series of Arabic works he published in 1922 and 1923. He later collected these together in the work entitled al-Mathnawi al-‘Arabi al-Nuri (Turkish translation, Mesnevî-i Nûriye).

Autumn 1922—ANKARA. On receiving repeated invitations from the leaders of the new centre of government, Nursi finally left Istanbul for Ankara, probably after the Turkish victory in the War of Independence at the end of September.

9 November 1922. Nursi was given an official welcoming ceremony in the National Assembly, and invited to the Speaker’s podium to congratulate the war veterans and offer prayers. While Nursi believed that the best way forward was for Turkey to adhere to Islamic principles, he found a dominance of those advocating westernization and secularization. Perceiving it would be fruitless to join efforts with them, he declined Mustafa Kemal’s offers of various posts, and left Ankara for Van (17 April 1923).

17 February 1923. While in Ankara Nursi was successful in convincing the politicians of the need for his university-type medrese in the eastern provinces. A bill was submitted in the Assembly signed by 167 deputies, proposing that 150,000 liras be allotted for its construction. But once again circumstances militated against his project, as the measures foreseeing the disestablishment of Islam and its elimination from public life were successively implemented:

1 November 1922. The National Assembly in Ankara had voted to abolish the Sultanate.

3 March 1924. The Caliphate was abolished, accompanied by the abolition of the office of Shaykhu’l-Islam and Shari‘a courts, and the closure of the medreses.

1925  saw the closure of all Sufi tekkes and tombs of saints, and the disbanding of the Sufi orders.

1 January 1926. Adoption of the Swiss Civil Code.

3 November 1928. Banning of the Arabic alphabet and adoption of the Latin one.

January 1932. Banning of the Arabic call to prayer.


April 1923 – March 1925—VAN. Nursi now retired from politics and social affairs into a life of seclusion. Keeping with him only a small number of his students, he immersed himself in worship and contemplation. Those who knew him remarked on these changes, characteristic of ‘the New Said.’

February 1925—Shaykh Said Revolt. Although invited to join this rebellion against the Ankara government, Nursi strongly advised its leaders to give it up. Nevertheless, he was rounded up together with the other religious and tribal leaders of the region and sent into exile in western Anatolia.

25 March 1925. The caravan of exiles left Van.

May/June 1925—BURDUR, Western Anatolia. Nursi remained some six months in this small provincial town, then due to the popularity of his teaching, on the orders of Ankara, was removed to the centre of Isparta. From there he was sent to the remote village of Barla.

February 1926 – July 1934—BARLA. Employing his considerable learning and experience in education, Nursi started to write treatises to answer the people’s religious needs, who were now deprived of all means of religious education. His writings, later called The Risale-i Nur Collection, which aimed to prove and explain the main tenets of belief, evoked a powerful popular response, and began to spread secretly through the region.

Spring 1926. Treatise on the resurrection of the dead and hereafter. The first piece Nursi wrote in Barla.

1926-1929. The rest of the pieces he subsequently put together with the title of ‘The Words’ (Sözler).

1929-1932. Nursi wrote the letters and other pieces he subsequently called Letters (Mektûbat).

1932-1934. Nursi wrote the First to the Eighteenth ‘Flashes’ (Lem’alar). The pressure exerted on Nursi by the authorities increased as his writings spread and he attracted more ‘students’. Finally, he was sent back to Isparta.

July 1934—ISPARTA. Kept under strict surveillance, Nursi continued to write.

April 1935—ESKİSEHİR PRISON. Nursi and around 120 of his students were arrested in Isparta and elsewhere, and transported to Eskisehir Prison, 330 kilometres to the north. They were charged principally with opposing the reforms and belonging to a secret political organization. Nursi was accused, among other things, of exploiting religion for political ends, forming an organization that constituted a possible threat to public order, and giving instruction in Sufism. Eskisehir Court acquitted 97 of the students in August 1936, and ordered their release, and sentenced Nursi to eleven months imprisonment on the pretext of a treatise on Islamic dress he had written before the introduction of the new civil code. Despite the appalling conditions, besides his defence speeches, which were largely defences of the Risale-i Nur, Nursi wrote seven major treatises. On his release he was sent to reside in Kastamonu, in the Ilgaz mountains south of the Black Sea.

March 1936—KASTAMONU. Nursi stayed for three months in the police station, then was settled in a small house immediately opposite it. He was under close surveillance and his movements were curtailed. Despite the difficulties in visiting him, he attracted loyal students who assisted him with the writing out of the Risale-i Nur and its distribution. He kept up a constant correspondence with his students in the Isparta region, and directed their activities. He insisted that they should concern themselves only with religious belief and its service, and avoid all political involvement. His letters were delivered by ‘Nur postmen.’ All this had to be carried out in secrecy and with the greatest caution.

1936-1940 Nursi wrote the Third to the Ninth Rays. The Seventh Ray, Ayetü’l-Kübrâ (The Supreme Sign), marks the final form of the reflective thought on the universe he had been practising since the time of his transformation into the New Said twenty years previously, and is one of the most important parts of the Risale-i Nur.

September 1943—Kastamonu – Ankara – Isparta. After a steady increase in the oppressive measures, Nursi was arrested on 27 September and taken to Isparta by way of Ankara. From there he was sent to Denizli Prison.

October 1943—DENİZLİ PRISON.  A total of 126 Risale-i Nur students were arrested and imprisoned, charged with the same offences as at Eskisehir. On this occasion, all were acquitted and the Risale-i Nur was also cleared. Nursi’s defence was largely the same as previously. He remained nine months in the prison, during which he wrote The Fruits of Belief, which besides occupying his students and keeping up their morale, led to the reform of many of the other inmates.

June 1944. Release from Denizli Prison. Nursi remained a month and a half in the town of Denizli, until the order came from Ankara that he should reside in Emirdag, north of Afyon.

August 1944—EMİRDAG. Although there was no legal justification for Nursi’s enforced residence in this small provincial town, he was kept in what was mostly little better than house-arrest till the third mass arrest and detention of Risale-i Nur students in January 1948. Again he attracted students, who assisted him. He wrote two pieces here, after which, apart from the treatise he wrote in Afyon Prison, the writing of the Risale-i Nur was complete. He now put the treatises together in collections and it was these that were now duplicated by hand as before, or, after 1947, on duplicating machines, and then distributed.

1947 Letter to Hilmi Uran, former Interior Minister, warning of the dangers of communism and other currents, and pointing out that adherence to the Qur’an was the only effective way of halting them.
January 1948-September 1949—AFYON PRISON. The twenty months Nursi spent in Afyon Prison were the harshest he suffered. He was now over seventy years of age and he had been weakened by his years of exile and imprisonment. As always, he was kept in solitary confinement. 54 Nur students were arrested and brought here. It seems likely their conviction was a foregone conclusion since they were again charged with the offences they had been acquitted of by Denizli Court. Although the Appeal Court quashed Afyon Court’s convictions, by means of deliberate delays Nursi and his students were made to serve the terms they had originally been sentenced to.

20 September 1949—AFYON. Nursi was released from prison. He then stayed for two and a half months with three of his students in a rented house.

2 December 1949—EMİRDAG.