Moral Theory in The Risale-I Nur

Dr. Yamina Bougenaya Mermer
A moral or ethical [1] theory is a consistent articulation of human conduct and the principles underlying the contention that they are morally commendable or reprehensible. Ethics or moral philosophy is thus a science that enquires the definition of ethical concepts and the justification and appraisal of moral judgments, as well as the distinction between right and wrong. For convenience ethical enquiry is customarily divided into two areas: „normative ethics‟ (or substantive) ethics and „metaethics.‟ The former is concerned with the rules of proper conduct, e.g. “What should I do?” The latter considers the foundations for proper conduct, e.g. “Why should I do that which I do?” Hence, moral philosophy is a normative venture rather than a descriptive one. It is not concerned with how people in fact act, but with how they ought to act. In other words, moral philosophy aims at elaborating a principled account of how we ought to act and live, what values we ought to accept, and what kind of goals are worth having and how to pursue them. I will start by exploring how principled has this account of moral philosophy been over the last few hundred years in the West. The inference is that the project of providing a rational vindication of morality has decisively failed. In a world of secular rationality Christianity could no longer furnish a foundation for moral discourse. Henceforth, morality lacked any public, shared rationale or justification. Philosophy‟s additional failure to make up for what Christianity could no longer offer, led to different forms of relativism. Currently no consistent theory of ethics has been articulated. This lack of moral theory is at the root of many ills in modern society.
Next, my goal is to provide a brief account of the essentials of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi‟s comprehensive vision of morality within a Qur‟anic context for universal meaning that can be witnessed in the universe. However, in order to appreciate better the significance of Nursi’s system, I will consider it against the failure of modern moral philosophies. I will argue that from the perspective of the Risale-i Nur, the rational justification of ethics in a secularized worldview is doomed to fail because it detaches human action from its broader symbiotic context and hence from the purpose of life and its meaning. Finally, by letting Nursi‟s theory of morality emerge from his elucidation of the Qur‟anic worldview, I will also argue that in the Risale-i Nur morality, the conception of the cosmos and the meaning of human existence are mutually interdependent: Qur‟anic moral injunctions are statements of facts observable in the world and consequently they are most appropriate to the human condition. That is the Risale-i Nur builds its philosophy of ethics in reference to the cosmic reality as expounded in the Qur‟an. The major contribution of this paper is to show how Nursi‟s philosophy of meaning or indeed his very notion of wisdom implies a coherent and holistic notion of morality that provides a common ground for moral discourse and action.
Rational Justification of Morality and its Secularization
On considering the convictions shared by the contributors to the Enlightenment project of justifying morality what catches the sight is that they all agree to a great extent on the content
and characters of the precepts which constitute genuine ethics. Clearly they inherited their common beliefs from their shared Christian past. They also all start from premises concerning human nature as they understand it and move on to conclusions about the authority of moral precepts. Alasdair MacIntyre argues that their project was bound to fail “because of the ineradicable discrepancy between their shared conception of moral rules and precepts on the one hand and what was shared – despite much larger divergences- in their conception of human nature on the other.” [2] His point is that moral philosophers have accepted an inherited set of Christian moral values and attempted to find a rational basis for them in an understanding of human nature that had been divorced from the moral scheme which formed its historical background. Whence moral judgments, which once expressed Christian values, lost the teleological context provided by these values. In more recent theories of morality, the connection between the facts of human nature and the precepts of morality have totally disappeared, thus leading to a transfiguration of the very concept of morality.
The Christian ethical system as articulated by Thomas Aquinas is based on an Aristotelian moral scheme in which the human telos plays a crucial role. This teleological system is composed of basically three elements: human nature in its uneducated state, human nature as it could be if it realized its telos i.e. its true nature, and ethics as the means that enable man to make the transition from the former state to the latter. Indeed, Aquinas makes three distinctions: „eternal law,‟ „natural law,‟ and „human law.‟ Eternal law refers to God‟s will and the constraints under which He has put the world. “Therefore the ruling idea of things which exists in God as the effective sovereign of them all has the nature of law. Then since God‟s mind does not conceive in time, but has an eternal concept…it follows that this law should be called eternal.” [3]It is therefore not directly applicable to us. The natural law represents God‟s will as embodied in the world by giving things a nature or essence that strived to reach its telos i.e. purpose. For rational beings, the natural law is the way they participate in eternal law. It is the operating of the eternal law in the context of human activity and mind. For Aristotle the telos of being human is to engage in rational thought. Within the framework of Christian beliefs, Aquinas interpreted teleological injunctions in the Aristotelian system as expressions of the eternal divine law. Thus he deemed the telos of being human to be the reflection of God‟s will. Lastly, the third, human law is supposed to implement the natural law in society, which in turn reflects the eternal law. Natural law is thus the crucial mediating notion in Thomistic ethics, which is definitive for Catholic thought.
In Christianity, morality is part of the nature of things: something is morally acceptable if it is natural. But how can we find out what is natural? There is no clear criterion except personal interpretation; as long as one acts in the name of the Lord ‘anything goes’ so to speak. This is the reason often quite conflicting courses of action have been advocated as the true Christian way. “From the point of view of normative ethics, there is simply no conclusion to be drawn about Christian thinking and behavior.” [4]
Immanuel Kant‟s (1724-1804) undertakings in the field of ethics were not cut off from the concerns of his predecessors and are certainly intelligible in the context of Christian theology. He, for instance, acknowledged that without a teleological structure the whole project of morality becomes unintelligible, nevertheless, he attempted to ground a morality, which takes God for granted in a secular rational basis. He insisted that the injunctions of the moral law cannot be
derived from the will of God and disclaimed the traditional view that one ought to act in accordance with God‟s commands. His view was that in order to obey God‟s commands one has to know that one always ought to do what God commands. However, it is not possible to know unless one possessed oneself a standard of moral judgment of God‟s commandments by means of which one could judge them and hence could find them morally worthy of obedience. Now we can understand why Kant- like many other moral philosophers- shun from basing morality on the will of God, which in the context of Christian ethics is constrained by the human law i.e. our interpretation of what is natural. He felt the need to build a scheme of morality where the rules would be universal and binding. After disposing of God‟s will, Kant claimed that rational will was not only the source of normativity but also the source of value. [5] The flip side of the „moral imperative‟ of Kant is that if it is granted that one enjoys such a standard or criterion, the commandments of God will be redundant. It is therefore superfluous to have recourse to God‟s commandments; reason is sufficient as a basis of ethics. [6]
Together with the secular rejection of Christian theology and the scientific refutation of Aristotelianism, any teleological view of human existence was rejected, and the very notion of ethics as a discipline that educates man and instructs him about his true end and how to reach it has consequently became incoherent. [7]
Theory of Meaning as Moral Theory
The Risale-i Nur [8] (The epistles of Light) is a commentary on the Qur‟an. Its primary aim is to make the reader realize himself and his position in the cosmos and hence it does not come in the form of a systematic theology. Consequently, the Risale-i Nur contains no moral „theory‟ in the strict sense. However, being an elucidation of the Qur‟anic ethos it contains all the elements needed for the construction of a systematic and coherent vision of Qur‟anic ethics. In the following I intend to show how the Risale-i Nur builds a Qur‟anic framework of moral values that is „rationally‟ justifiable and is compatible with human experience in the world. I will therefore need to analyze how the Qur‟anic tradition as expounded in the Risale-i-Nur, provides the teleological view of human existence and restores the intelligibility and rationality of our moral and social attitudes and commitments. However, previous to this investigation I will discuss the failure of the Enlightenment project of providing a rational vindication of morality after breaking its traditional connection with the Divine. Given the global impact of the resulting secularization of „ethics‟, this discussion will hopefully set a background that will enhance the import and significance of the moral vision embedded in the Risale-i Nur and its relevance to the predicament of „modern man‟.
The modern world repudiated the notion of a divine lawgiver but tried to retain the scheme of morality, not realizing that, “in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well.” [9] The overriding trend since the 17th century has been to look for a basis of morality independently of the meaning of human existence. Moral philosophers have argued in different ways that morality should be based in reason, in other words, man has the capacity to discover the content of morality on his own through the use of reason without the help of divine revelation. Furthermore, they maintained that it is important that the basis of morality does not presuppose religion given the diversity of religious and nonreligious viewpoints in the modern world. [10]Yet, this secular project of
morality failed to provide the common background and underpinning for moral discourse and action that religion offers thus leading to different forms of relativism; the very notion of morality is in jeopardy. There is no agreement either on what the character of moral rationality is or on the content of the morality that is supposed to be founded on that rationality. [11]
Today there is no leading moral theory. [12] The trend is towards emotivism [13], which not only appears in a variety of philosophical guises but also has become a significant ingredient of modern culture. In modern philosophical contexts, even those who do not consider themselves as emotivists try to reduce morality to personal preference. MacIntyre contends that,
“To a large degree people now think, talk and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint may be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. But of course in saying this I am not merely contending that morality is not what it once was, but also and more importantly that what once was morality has to some large degree disappeared- and that this marks degeneration, a grave cultural loss.” [14]
The crisis of justifying morality is in fact related to our deep sense of self, that involves the whole realm of choice and action, and that evaluates each action in terms of the reflective concerns of its agent. The preferences, desires and beliefs of the agent are constitutive of his self-conception. [15] The „emotivist‟ modern self cannot be identified with any moral attitude or view because its judgments ultimately lack any criterion. “It is in this capacity of the self to evade any necessary identification with any particular contingent state of affairs…to be a moral agent is, on this view, precisely to be able to stand back from any and every situation in which one is involved, from any and every characteristic that one may possess.” [16] Consequently in the realm of morals there is no procedure for eliminating disagreement, a fact which eventually had to be acknowledged albeit under the title of „pluralism‟. The modern self has no identity, „it can assume any role or feign any point of view, because it is in and for itself nothing‟. [17] To take up a secure identity the self needs to answer the age-old existential questions that innately preoccupy it, “”What is the meaning of the universe? What is our place in it? Where did we come from and where are we going?” To be sure, a number of secular philosophies of ethics entertain directly or indirectly the above existential questions; the issue however is how central to our quest they are i.e. how committed „existentially‟ we are to those questions and most importantly, how „enlightened‟ we are in our endeavors to answer them. Only when we bring these perennial questions to focus and meet them with the best of wisdom can life finds its meaning and human actions may be organized purposefully around a goal that is worthwhile to the individual. Unless this acute crisis of meaning is overcome, the indications are that this lack of coherent moral theory, which is at the root of many ills in modern society, will persist.
The roots go back to the very conception of the world and of human existence. It is now commonly held that the world can be described „objectively‟ without invoking its purpose and its ultimate significance or for that matter its Creator because they were considered irrelevant or simply unfounded and thus were denied all together. It is taken for granted that factual statements are neutral and thus can be formulated in a vocabulary which omits all references to purposes. The underlying assumption is that things do not carry meaning apart from what they are in themselves, and what they are in themselves is no more than what meets the eye. For instance the statement „rain falls‟ is factual; supposedly it does not reflect any belief. However
the statement „it is good that rain falls‟ is evaluative and hence moral. Moral statements refer or presuppose reference to the beliefs of the agents in question by contrast to factual statements which are assumed to be objective and neutral i.e. value-free. The domain of the moral is thus separated from the domain of facts because it cannot omit purpose, belief and intention, and for this same reason it is considered to be problematic.
Yet within the Qur‟anic tradition both factual and moral statements involve central functional concepts such as the concepts of cosmos and man understood as having an essential purpose and function. Within the Qur‟anic tradition to call something good is to say that it is most appropriate for the purpose of its existence; it is to make a factual statement. Hence moral and evaluative statements are true or false in precisely the same way as any factual statement. Likewise factual statements are not neutral; they are value-laden signs (ayat) and therefore moral. For instance, the Qur‟an teaches that „rain is made to fall‟. It says, “Do you not see that God makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them into a heap? – then will you see rain issue forth from their midst. And He sends down from the sky mountain (masses of clouds) wherein is hail…” (22:63){NOTE18}[18]{/NOTE1}8 The Qur‟an invites the reader to realize the fact that rain is sent.
As Nursi explains, there is in the falling of lifeless and unconscious rain apparent will and purpose. Rain comes in accordance with need. Hence it is understood that it is sent by One Who knows the living beings, has mercy on them and caters for their needs. It means it is sent through a knowledge, power and mercy that cannot be attributed to the rain itself. [19] The statement „rain falls‟ is therefore false since it contradicts the observed fact. More significantly, it is definitely not neutral; it is an evaluation of the phenomenon of rain that assumes that water itself has the knowledge and power to evaporate, form clouds and then fall as drops of rain and hence excludes divine creativity.
For Nursi, statements that attribute to things the power to create are not only far from being objective, they are superstitions; they are false [20] and as such entail grave moral consequences as well. Nursi asserts that systematic and intentional exclusion of the Creator from man‟s worldview leads to abhorrent results: when the relationship of all beings and of man with their Maker is cut off their functions as signs indicating His eternal divine attributes of perfection are inevitably lost. Once the light of these signs is withdrawn or concealed, the perfection of the universe recedes into the abysmal darkness of meaninglessness. As for the remainder, the aspects of beings open to sense and reason, once attributed to causes and coincidence, they, too, ultimately sink into meaninglessness. Their only significance will be commensurate to the size of the matter they are composed of, and as ephemeral and impermanent as their life span. This trivialization of the universe, trivializes the value of man himself confining him, in turn, to animal matter. [21]
Knowledge of God as Foundational Moral Theory
Nursi teaches that every thing has basically two aspects: from one aspect they are signs indicating the attributes of perfection of their Eternal Maker; or like letters carrying the meanings of those attributes. From another aspect when considered in themselves, they are just transient beings. That is when we become aware of the symbolic aspect of beings we see them as they
really are i.e., as cosmic signs (ayat). A great deal of the Risale –i Nur is concerned with teaching how things function as signs because only then can man realize that things are only like mirrors reflecting the goodness and perfections of Whoever made them that way. He understands then that none of those perfections can possibly belong to those transient beings; i.e. he witnesses that all attributes of perfection (also known as divine names or most beautiful names) which are his object of love and admiration belong to their Maker. Therefore only He Who possesses those attributes of perfection is worthy of love and admiration. This is the gist of tawhid (Divine Unity) as expressed in the Qur‟anic verse or sign (aya) “God, nothing has deity but He; to Him alone belong the attributes of perfection.” (20: 8).
The Risale –i Nur is concerned with establishing that the whole world declares “God, nothing has deity but He; to Him alone belong the attributes of perfection.” Nursi compares the universe to a huge orchestra celebrating the divine names. Every thing in the cosmos proclaims “Nothing has deity but He!” [22] Everything testifies to the Qur‟anic truths by complying with them and thus attests to the crucial fact that Qur‟anic truths are not merely abstract ideals but cosmic realities. In Nursi‟s system beings are speech glorifying God and the cosmos is like a cosmic Qur‟an. The Qur‟an interprets the cosmos and reveals its reality [23] while the cosmos attests to the veracity of the Qur‟anic truths [24]. In other words, The Creator speaks through the Qur‟an as He creates and describes His act, which can be observed in the world, to both eye and ear while performing His act of creation. His revelation combines both word and act. [25] Similarly, Qur‟anic moral injunctions describe and reveal the reality of the human condition; they are based on experiential truths.
After elucidating the reality of “There is not a single thing but glorifies His limitless glory and praise.” (17:44), the Qur‟an invites the believer to join in those cosmic glorifications. [26] This joining requires that he hands „the trust‟ over to its Real Owner, i.e. he realizes the import of his createdness, which means that nothing he appropriates as his own is actually inherent to him, neither his physical being nor his senses, feelings, desires and other faculties. Everything has been entrusted to him. He is utterly dependent on the mercy of His Maker. Certainly man has been given such a self, that through it, His Maker causes him to perceive all His names and attributes of perfection. By using his powerlessness and neediness as units of measurement he understands the power and mercy of his Creator and acts as a conscious mirror to many divine attributes. He realizes that “the giver of life is He. The one who causes life to continue by means of sustenance is again He. The supplier of the necessities of life is also He. And the exalted aims of life pertain to Him and the most exalted and ultimate results it yields pertain to Him.” [27]
The Risale –i Nur makes it clear that to witness the truth of tawhid, the foremost aim of the Qur‟an, entails the witnessing of its reality in the cosmos. The latter can be accomplished to the extent one experiences that reality in his own life. Nursi encourages his readers to participate in the cosmic reality of tawhid by using the key of the faculties bestowed on them for that purpose and unlock the treasures of the divine names in the outer world as well as in their inner world. [28] The wisdom in endowing man with such inquisitive feelings and senses is to introduce him to all the varieties of favors of the Merciful Creator and induce him to thank. Eventually, under the guidance of revelation, man will perceive the manifestations of the divine attributes of perfection discernible in those favors; he will experience them and as though „taste‟ them. [29]
There are many levels of knowing God as the Sustainer (Razzaq) and Merciful for instance. 1- Through observing and witnessing that reality in the cosmos: all beings are catered for and fed with compassion especially the young. 2- Through witnessing that reality in one‟s inner world one realizes that he himself is being nurtured too. One reflects upon the pleasures one derives from food and understands that unconscious food cannot be the source of sustenance and pleasure; it indicates God‟s names like Razzaq and Merciful. Then man perceives the compassion with which his life is managed so wisely and the generosity through which he is so kindly nurtured and raised. [30] He sees the mercy and beauty of the divine actions involved in bringing food into existence and offering it to living beings as sustenance. He finds a way from the divine actions to the divine names and eventually this imani tafakkur (reflection) yields knowledge of God with His names. 3- Through feeding the hungry, the conscious recognizes that he is compelled to help and if he does not act upon that innate urge he involuntarily feels discomfort. As a result he realizes that he is caused to feed the needy, therefore the true helper, the sustainer and merciful is not he but His Creator Who has endowed him with the need to help and employed him so to speak in helping and feeding the needy. He becomes a conscious mirror reflecting the manifestations of many divine names like helper, sustainer, and compassionate. Then he understands also that the pleasure he gets from that action is the pleasure of „tasting‟ those divine names and experiencing them as they reflect in the mirror in his life. This awareness rouses in his spirit the pleasure and the security (amniya) of feeling close to God, and loving Him.
Within this scheme of affairs to ascribe attributes of perfection such as sustaining and mercy to contingent beings themselves or to deaf nature is immoral because it reverses the witnessing of those beings. It is a kind of lie, a deliberate covering up of the truth. To refuse to feed and help the needy and hungry when it is possible to do so is immoral in the sense that by doing so one fails to remain truthful to oneself and to the Creator‟s summoning by way of innate disposition as well as through the Scriptures. [31] What is remarkable is that, to help and feed the poor and then appropriate the results to oneself is also immoral; it too contradicts the reality of the facts. Hence, unless charity is performed in the name of God and offered in His name, it infringes the right of the divine names involved, and therefore of the reality of the facts. In his commentary on the verse, “And spend (in God‟s way) out of what We have bestowed on them as sustenance.” (2:3), Nursi explains the moral injunction of the Qur‟an to spend in God‟s name with the fact that the property is God‟s so it should be given in His name. [32] This also illustrates the fact that the Qur‟anic moral injunctions cannot be considered independently from the reality of the created world. This is the reason why the Risale-i Nur treats akhlaq (morality) within the context of khalq (creation). [33]
The Telos of Takhalluq
Up to this point we saw how the moral and the factual are inseparable in Nursi‟s system of thought. Facts are not neutral; they carry a moral value. Similarly, moral injunctions have a factual dimension. Just as the speech of God, i.e., the „speaking Qur‟an,‟ corresponds to the cosmic divine speech, i.e. the cosmic reality, so too the moral injunctions contained in the Qur‟an are matched up with cosmic injunctions which are experienced as innate need. For instance the inclination and need to feed the hungry is a cosmic injunction (amr takwini), whereas the summons “O you who have attained to faith! Spend (in Our way) out of what We
have granted you as sustenance…” (2:254) is a legal injunction (amr tashri‟i) [34], hence Qur‟anic injunctions express facts. In other words, the facts in the created world are signs and witnesses to the trueness of the Qur‟anic message and that is why it is possible to confirm its truth. Qur‟anic injunctions are not imperatives impervious to truth or falsity. It is the secularization of morality that puts in question the status of moral judgments as reports of what the creative law requires and treats them instead as imperatives.
For instance, commenting on Qura‟nic verses that enjoin man to thank, Nursi first reminds us how all beings in the universe offer thanks, than how man is made to thank. Nursi says that sustenance subsists through thanks and it produces thanks. That is, the appetite and desire for sustenance are a kind of innate thanks. The pleasure given with sustenance is also a sort of unconscious thanks that all living beings offer. Whether man acknowledges it or not, the fact is that all gratitude, and all appreciation goes back to the Sustainer; all praise belong to Him alone. Nursi notes that man is potentially able to deviate from thanks to attributing that pleasure to sustenance itself, and thus change the nature and meaning of that innate thanks through denying its divine origin. [35] In Nursi‟s view then, to thank is to actually acknowledge that the gratitude induced in us through sustenance belongs to God alone and consciously accept that fact which for the human spirit signifies the closeness to God and the good news of eternal bestowal i.e. paradise. To fail to attribute the gratitude to where it belongs is not only to ignore or deny the actual fact, but more importantly it is to deprive oneself of very much needed knowledge about one‟s humanity and a chance to reach uprightness.
In short, since knowing is a mode of being, to live the reality taught in the Qur‟an and witnessed in the universe and eventually in ourselves is to live by the Qur‟anic ethics. In other words, ethics or akhlaq is the embodiment of iman. Probably, this is the meaning of the prophet (PBUH) being the living Qur‟an. He is the excellent Man (al-insan al-kamil) whose life best mirrors the Qur‟anic truths and for that reason reflects the cosmic reality. In other words, the prophet fulfilled the principle of takhallaqu bi akhlaqi allah (be moulded by God-given ethics); [36] he lived his faith to the outmost; he witnessed to the truths manifested in the cosmos and taught in the Qur‟an; he reflected all the divine names at their highest level. [37]
From one aspect, the tawhid journey that Nursi evinces is a journey towards takmil makarim al-akhlaq (the perfection of ethics). It reaches its apogee through purification of the ego from its false claims of appropriating the trust, under the guidance of the prophet (PBUH). Man recognizes that the self has been given to him as a „token‟ or unit of measurement through which he can understand the true nature of the divine names reflected in the universe including himself. When he appreciates the nature of the self as a unit of measurement and acts accordingly, Man realizes and „witnesses‟ (yushahid) what the universe is and what functions it is performing. Indeed, his spiritual progress leads him to even cast away from the self even its token unity of measurement, for then he sees that there is strictly nothing in the self that can be really a source of value. That is, man has a sense of good and bad but he does not have the ability to find out the most appropriate way to live his life so that it produces the good in this life as will continue in the hereafter. His only recourse is to pray and supplicate, “O our Sustainer! Grant us good in this world and good in the life to come.” (2:201) He needs a divine moral law and he also needs to be taught how to practice it in his life. In other words, he requires not only to be led by the model of the prophet, but also to be „evacuated‟ from the cobwebs of the self by the light
of the Prophet who, according to the Qur‟an, was „sent as an evidence of grace and mercy towards all mankind.‟ [38]
Following the model and practices of the prophet (PBUH), and witnessing to his prophethood, transforms all of man‟s acts into worship. Indeed, Nursi maintains that by following the practices of the prophet (PBUH), one recalls the prophet (PBUH) and then eventually the divine presence. It is after this manner; through the elixir of this „intellectual intention‟, that habitual, „natural‟ acts are transformed into moral acts of worship. [39]
From the vantage point of the Risale-i Nur, it is clear that the failure of secular moral theories is in fact the failure of supplying a coherent theory of meaning. As Nursi clearly demonstrates the problem is falsely circumvented in the domain of so called factual judgments by declaring them neutral and objective, but it cannot be evaded when it comes to morality. Indeed, how can a theory of ethics be formulated consistently if it is divorced from the cosmology and the purpose of life and its meaning or ignores their values?
Many features of Nursi‟s system related to the question of morality have necessarily remained untouched in this short work. My attempt was to propose a methodological approach to Bediuzzaman Said Nursi‟s comprehensive approach of dealing with the issue of ethics. Nursi‟s moral philosophy is based on his notion of the primacy of meaning, a notion that is, in his system, at the heart of the difference between hikmah (God given wisdom) and „man-made‟ philosophy and speculation. It is an adequate moral philosophy from many aspects. 1-It answers the ontological problem since it accounts for ethics without assuming the existence of anything that does not actually exist. 2- It solves the motivation problem because it accounts for the internal connection between moral belief and motivation i.e. how morality guides action. 3-It answers the epistemological problem for it explains how the knowledge of right and wrong is acquired. 4- It accounts for the place of reason in ethics.
More importantly, the philosophy or rather the hikmah granted to Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is of outstanding significance to humanity because it opens before our intellect a path to evince meanings in the cosmos and in our selves, away from the pitfalls of relativism, and deconstruction of the human subject, but closer towards the possibility of unlimited moral growth and of much sought universal agreement: Nursi establishes his notion of morality on a cosmos we share and a cosmic reality we can witness together, providing, thus, with a common ground for moral discourse and mutual understanding. From this perspective, the Risale-i Nur may be regarded as a potential source of wisdom not only for the general followers of religion but those adepts of philosophical thought; likewise, it may be commanded, as a potential source of compassion and healing for humanity.

The word „moral‟ is etymologically related to the Latin word „moralis‟ which is the translation of the Greek word „ethikos‟. The latter means „pertaining to character‟ where character refers to one‟s set of disposition to behave in one way rather than another. It
corresponds to the Arabic word akhlaq. In this paper, I will use „moral‟ and „ethical‟ interchangeably.
A. MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (London: Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1981), 52.
St. T. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae:28, Law and Political Theory (102ae. 90-97) (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1966), 19-21.
M. Ruse, Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 166.
I. Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals in Ethics , Ed. O. A. Johnson and A. Reath, (Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003), 193.
Ibid, 44-45.
Ibid, 51-78.
Risale-i Nur is the title Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1873-1960) gave to his commentary on the Qur‟an.
R. Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (New Jersey: Prentice- Hall, Inc., 1985), 2-3.
O. A. Johnson and A. Reath, Ethics (Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003), 4.
MacIntyre, After Virtue, 21.
J. Rachels, Ethical Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 18.
MacIntyre defines emotivism as “the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expression of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.” MacIntyre, After Virtue, 11-12
Ibid., 22.
D. Gauthier, “Why Contractarianism?” In Ethics , Ed. O. A. Johnson and A. Reath, (Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003), 411.
A. MacIntyre, After Virtue, 31-32.
See also the Qur‟an 2:22; 2:214; 6:99; 8:11; 13:17; 14:32; 15:22; 16:10; 16:65; 20:53; 23:18; 35:37; 39:21.
B.S. Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati (Istanbul : Nesil Basim Yayin, 1996), 192; B.S. Nursi, The Words (Istanbul : Sozler Nesriyat, 2002), Trans. Sukran Vahide, 436-437.
For instance, Nursi affirms that admiration of a thing can be expressed in two ways: „How beautiful it is!‟ or „How beautifully it has been made!‟ Nursi shows how things are not beautiful in and of themselves rather they are made beautiful. That is beauty – or for that matter any other quality, e.g. redness – is not essential or inherent to things. He concludes that the first statement is wrong because it does not correspond to the existing fact, and it has moral implications for the subject who endorses the statement. See Nursi, The Words,145.
Nursi, The Words, 320.
Nursi, The Words, 342-343.
Nursi, The Words, 452.
Nursi, The Words, 377.
Nursi, The Words, 444.
« And remember your Sustainer unceasingly, and extol His limitless glory by night and by day. » (3 :41). « And We caused the mountains to join David in extolling Our limitless glory, and likewise the birds . » (21 :79). « Behold, We made the mountains to join him in extolling Our limitless glory at eventide and at sunrise, and likewise the birds in their assemblies: they all would turn again and again unto Him (Who has created them). » (38 :18-19)
B.S. Nursi, Risale –i Nur Kulliyati, (Istanbul: Nesil Basim Yayin, 2001), 450.
Nursi, The Words, 139-141. “We shall show Our signs in the world around them, as well as within themselves.” 41:53.
Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati, 47.
Nursi, The Words, 324.
The following Qudsi hadith indicates the connection between morality and knowledge of God. On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me. It was related by Muslim.
Nursi, The Words, 381. Nursi says, “Your sustenance is tied to the earth‟s life, and the earth‟s being raised to life looks to the spring, and the spring is in the hands of the One Who subjugates the sun and the moon, and alternates the night and the day. In which case, only the One who fills the face of the earth with all the fruits can give an apple to someone as true sustenance. Only He can be the true Provider.” Nursi, The Words, 431.
It is interesting to note that the Arabic word khalq means creation, whereas khulq, which is extracted from the same root Kh L Q, refers to innate disposition and character. Akhlaq is the plural form of khulq and it signifies ethics, morals, or morality. That is etymologically, the concept of creation is related to that of innate disposition and to the conception of ethics. Their semantic fields clearly intersect indicating deeper connections in reality.
Nursi explains in Isharat al-I‟jaz how the injunction in a Qur‟anic verse consists of two parts: the tashri‟ or legal one and the takwini or cosmic one. Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati, 1255. This generalization of the legal injunction is based on a principle that Nursi clarifies in the First Station of the Twentieth Word as follows: “In the All-Wise Qur‟an there are many particular events behind which universal principles are concealed, and which are presented as the tips of general laws.” Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati, 97.
Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati, 521; The letters, 429- 431.
Nursi, The Words, 564.
Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati , 152.
See Qur‟an, 21:107.
Nursi, The Flashes, 81.

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