A Chronology of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s Life

1877-1920—THE OLD SAID

1877—NURS. Nursi’s birth in the village of Nurs, in Bitlis, one of the Eastern Provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

1886—Nursi began his studies.

1886-1891. Nursi studied the elements of Arabic grammar (sarf ve nahw) as taught from the works in the current medrese (religious school) syllabus, up to the work entitled ‘Izhar.’ During this period, he attended briefly some ten medreses in the region of his native village, but was unable to find what he was seeking.

1891-2—DOGUBAYEZID. Nursi began his serious studies, under Shaykh Muhammad Jalali. Disregarding normal practice and to demonstrate the need for reform, selecting key passages from the remaining works of the syllabus he completed the course in three months and was awarded his diploma. He then began to challenge the ‘ulama to debate and to question him concerning his knowledge. Some time following this he was given the name Bediuzzaman (Wonder of the Age).

1892—MARDİN. Nursi was “awakened” to the wider issues facing the Muslim world.

1893?-1895?—BİTLİS. In order to maintain his position, and particularly to refute doubts raised about Islam, in two years he memorized around forty major texts on the Islamic sciences.

1895?-1907—VAN. Nursi here founded his own medrese where he put into practice his ideas for educational reform, based on the combined teaching of the traditional religious and modern sciences. The latter he taught himself at this time. He formulated his plans for a university, called the Medresetü’z-Zehra, that would bring together these different educational traditions. He also began to work as a mediator in tribal disputes, and travelled among the tribes as a man of religion.

Learning of imperialist Britain’s explicit threats to the Qur’an, Nursi vowed to dedicate his life and learning to demonstrating that it is a source of true knowledge and progress.
1907—ISTANBUL. At the end of 1907, Nursi arrived in the Ottoman capital with the intention of winning official support for his university and for the development of the Eastern Provinces generally. He presented a petition to Sultan Abdülhamid setting out his proposals, which led only to his arrest and brief incarceration. However, soon after his arrival he established his reputation as a scholar by challenging both the ‘ulama and ‘secular’ scholars to debate and to question him concerning his knowledge.

23 July 1908. On the proclamation of the Second Constitution, Nursi made public speeches supporting “freedom and constitutionalism,” and emphasizing their conformity with the Islamic Shari‘a. In the following months, he strove to put forward his ideas concerning this, educational reform, unity, and other matters in newspaper articles and involvement in public life. He was active in the İttihad-ı Muhammedî (Muhammadan Union or Society for Muslim Unity), on the pretext of which he was arrested following the 31st of March Incident, (April 1909) and sent before the Court Martial.

24 May 1909 Nursi was acquitted having presented a bold defence, and released after 24 days in captivity.

Nursi published his first work, a collection of his speeches and articles, entitled Nutuk.
Early 1910—Istanbul to Van via Black Sea and Tiflis, Georgia.

1910 Summer. Nursi travelled among the tribes of the Eastern Provinces, persuading them of the benefits of constitutionalism, and explaining how it could be made the basis of the progress and unity of the Islamic world. He also explained his ideas on educational reform, embodied in his projected university. His exchanges with those he encountered he subsequently put into book form, firstly in Arabic, and then in Turkish. These were published in two works, one addressing the ‘ulama, entitled Muhâkemat (Reasonings), pub. 1911, and the other addressing the people at large, entitled Münâzarat (Debates), pub. 1913.

1910-1911. Nursi moved to the Arab lands further south, informing the inhabitants of the same matters.

1911 Spring—DAMASCUS. Here in the Umayyad Mosque he gave his celebrated Damascus Sermon. With its predictions, supported by proof, of a turn in the fortunes of Islamic civilization and future widespread acceptance of the Qur’an, his address offered solutions for the problems of the Islamic world in the form of “remedies” from the “pharmacy” of the Qur’an, which would lead to its moral strengthening and renewal. The Arabic text of the sermon was printed twice in Damascus soon afterwards, and published the following year in Istanbul. Nursi subsequently returned to Istanbul by way of Beirut and Izmir.

5-26 June 1911—RUMELIA JOURNEY. Nursi joined the official visit of Sultan Mehmed Reşad to the Balkan Provinces as representative of the Eastern Provinces. During the trip he secured the promise of financial support for his eastern university.

1911—ISTANBUL. He probably remained in Istanbul for some time before returning to Van, for besides the works mentioned above, he had printed his court martial defence speech under the title İki Mekteb-i Musibetin Şehadetnamesi veya Divan-ı Harb-i Örfî ve Said-i Nursî (The Testimonial of Two Schools of Misfortune or Said Nursi and the Military Court). It had a second printing the following year.

1912-1913—VAN. On receiving funds from Istanbul, Nursi finally laid the foundations of the Medresetü’z-Zehra on the shores of Lake Van, but it was not to be completed. While in Van, he continued teaching in his old medrese.

1914-1916—War. On the outbreak of war, Nursi joined the army and was appointed by Enver Pasha, the Commander-in-Chief, with the rank of regimental commander, to raise and lead a militia force in the Eastern Provinces. His students formed the core of this force. Such was the importance he attached to his educational projects that he continued to teach them at the same time as training them in warfare. They became a crack force and took part in the defence at Pasinler against the second Russian invasion in January 1916. It was in the front lines here that he wrote his Qur’anic commentary Isharat al-I‘jaz. Falling back in the face of the Russian advance, his force was involved in several valliant actions, saving evacuated civilians, including Armenian women and children, and retrieving heavy guns, for which he was subsequently awarded a war medal.

1916-1918—RUSSIA. Nursi was finally captured by the Russians after the fall of Bitlis and sent as a prisoner-of-war to a camp at Kosturma on the Volga. He escaped in the spring of 1918 and made his way back to Istanbul.

1918-1922—ISTANBUL. Nursi arrived back in Istanbul around 20 June 1918, to a hero’s welcome. He was appointed to the Darü’l-Hikmeti’l-İslâmiye, a learned institution newly founded to seek scholarly solutions to the problems facing Islam and to uphold religion and its morality among the people. Despite recurrent bouts of illness, Nursi published numerous works during this period, the first of which was Isharat al-I‘jaz (1918). Others set out to clarify topical points (Tuluât: 1920-1), explain the Qur’anic standpoint on various questions, particularly civilization (Sunûhat: 1919-20; Lemaât: 1921; Isharat: 1920-1), and numerous other topics. He also combatted the forces of occupation with his pen (Hutuvat-ı Sitte). He supported the independence struggle and national forces in Anatolia, and published a rebuttal of the fatwa issued by Shaykh al-Islam Dürrizade condemning them (April 1920).

February 1919. Founder-member of Medrese Teachers’ Association (Cemiyet-i Müderrisîn), whose aim was to maintain and raise educational standards in the medreses.

March 1920. Founder-member of Green Crescent Society (Hilal-ı Ahdar Cemiyeti), whose chief aim was to combat the spread of alcoholic liquor and other addictions.

March 1920. Published newspaper articles opposing the Armenian-Kurdish agreement on the subject of an autonomous Kurdistan.

 

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.

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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.

 

1950-1969—THE THIRD SAID

 

14 May 1950 General elections. The Democrat Party won a resounding victory, defeating the Republican People’s Party, which had been in power for twenty-five years.

16 June 1950. Law banning the Arabic call to prayer was repealed.

14 July 1950. General amnesty, which this time included Nursi, so that all restrictions on him were now theoretically lifted. The clear intention of the DP to combat communism on the one hand, and allow greater religious freedom on the other led Nursi to follow political developments more closely, and to offer advice and guidance to the DP and Prime Minister Menderes, encouraging them in these policies. It was because of this departure from his nearly thirty years of complete avoidance of anything that hinted of politics that these last ten years of his life are known as those of ‘the Third Said.’ He was, however, still opposed to any sort of exploitation of religion for political ends and did not allow his students to be directly involved in politics.

Nursi supported the government decision to send troops to Korea, and sent one of his students, Bayram Yüksel, with his blessing.
EMİRDAG – ESKİSEHİR – ISPARTA. Nursi divided his time between these places, where he had many students.

February 1951. Nursi received a letter of thanks from the Vatican for the volume of the Risale-i Nur, Zülfikar, sent by himself.

4 August 1951. President Celâl Bayar announced the government decision to build a university in Van, which Nursi greeted as a substitute for the Islamic university he had worked for in his youth.

January 1952—ISTANBUL. Nursi made his first visit to Istanbul for 27 years, to answer charges related to A Guide For Youth, printed by one of his students.

5 March 1952. The ‘Guide For Youth’ trial was concluded, with the court’s unanimous decision for Nursi’s acquittal. He was visited by hundreds of acquaintances and well-wishers.

March 1952—EMİRDAG. Nursi visited by the Pakistan Deputy Education Minister.

April 1953—ISTANBUL. During his three month visit, Nursi visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Istanbul, which may be related to his view that Muslims and Christians should unite their efforts to combat aggressive atheism.

29 May 1953. Nursi attended celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul.

July 1953—EMİRDAG – ESKİSEHİR – ISPARTA. Nursi rented a house in Isparta, and now kept a small group of young students with him.

1954—BARLA. Nursi revisited his place of exile where the greater part of the Risale-i Nur had been written.

February 1955—Signing of the Baghdad Pact. Nursi wrote a letter of congratulation to the Prime Minister and President, applauding the agreement as a positive step towards peace in the area. He saw it as not only re-establishing relations between Turkey and the Islamic countries, but also of Turkey winning “the friendship” of the Christian West.

With his advancing years, Nursi was finding it increasingly difficult to get about, so his students pooled their resources and bought a 1953 model Chevrolet.
June 1956. Risale-i Nur was finally cleared by Afyon Court, whereupon with Nursi’s permission, Nur students in Ankara and Istanbul started to have it printed in the Latin alphabet. Until this time the great majority of copies had been either hand-written or duplicated in the (banned) Ottoman script. Nursi called this “the Risale-i Nur’s festival.”

The Nur movement grew considerably, with Nur ‘study-centres’ (dershane) opening all over the country.
October 1957. General elections, Nursi openly supported the Democrats to prevent the return to power of the RPP.

Continued publication of the Risale-i Nur, including Nursi’s biography.
2 December 1959—ANKARA. As he approached the end of his life, Nursi made a series of journeys, principally to visit his students. He went first to Ankara, met with his students there, then returned to Emirdag.

19 December1959—KONYA. Nursi visited his brother, Abdülmecid, and tomb of Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi.

30 December 1959—ANKARA. Nursi received many visitors in his hotel, including DP deputies and officials. The opposition press threw sensational headlines. He gave a farewell address to his students there.

1 January 1960—ISTANBUL. He addressed his students here for the last time, impressing on them the need to adhere to his principles of ‘jihad of the word’ and positive action.

2 January 1960—ANKARA. He again received visitors.

6 January 1960—EMİRDAG via Konya. These were Nursi’s last days. His health was failing fast.

20 January 1960—ISPARTA. Nursi returned to Isparta, then made his final visit to Emirdag on 17 March, where he bade farewell to his students. He then set out on his final journey, to Urfa in south-east Anatolia. He was very ill.

21 March 1960—URFA. Large numbers of people tried to visit Nursi in the hotel where he was staying. The authorities ordered him to return to Isparta, but by now he was too ill to be moved.

23 March 1960. Nursi died peacefully in the early hours of the morning. He was buried the following day in a tomb near the resting-place of the Patriarch Abraham. His worldly belongings amounted to a gown, a watch, and a few odds and ends, but he had followers who now numbered hundreds of thousands.

27 May 1960. A military coup overthrew the Democrat government.

12 July 1960. On the orders of the military junta, Nursi’s tomb was smashed and his body removed and transported by plane to an unknown spot, where it was reburied.

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Source : Şükran Vahide, Islam at the Crossroads, Suny Press.
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