Ramadan Inspirations 17

It is belief, Nursi says, which makes man truly human, but it has to be belief that is predicated on a particular way of reading the creation. Creation, Nursi tells us, is like a book, and the book is full of paragraphs, sentences, words, letters, dots and dashes. Everything in the book, Nursi claims, indicates that the book has an author; the book and the fact that there is something known as authorship go hand in hand, for it is impossible to imagine a book without an author. The creation, he says, is like a vast book, a cosmic book, and it too is full of paragraphs, sentences, words, letters, dots, dashes and symbols. And each of those paragraphs, sentences, words, letters, dots, dashes and symbols contain within themselves other books, and so on, from the vastest, outermost galaxies down to the subatomic world of particles, atoms, neutrons, electrons, quarks, leptons and what have you. Everything, he says, is a word that points to something else other than itself, just as the word ‘apple’ points not just to a configuration of letters A, P, P, L, E on a page, but to a particular species of fruit that grows on a tree and has various different properties and specifications. Language, as we know, is symbolic: words *stand* for things: they don’t refer only to themselves; they indicate other things. This notion of self-referentiality and Other-Indicativeness is key to Nursi’s teaching, and that teaching is to retrain Muslims in the art of reading, and the art of reading the cosmic book. There are two ways of reading the cosmic book, Nursi says. The first way of reading considers the thing in and of itself alone. A tree, for example, when seen self-referentially, is just a tree: a mass of wood with branches, twigs, leaves, fruit, possibly, with a number of uses – timber for building, kindle for making fires, medicine, perhaps from the bark of the tree, and fruit, to eat and to trade. A tree, when seen self-referentially, points only to itself, and is only as valuable to human beings as it is usable. If it yields no benefit, we usually don’t give it a second thought. If, however, we see it as indicating something other than itself, the tree takes on a wholly different meaning. Because it is possible to see in the creation of that tree numerous different attributes of perfection at work: beauty, wisdom, generosity, mercy, sustaining and nurturing, provision, knowledge, compassion…and so on. In other words, the tree by its very existence and the uses to which it can be put, is pointing to something or someone other than itself, i.e. the Creator of the tree, in Whom all of those attributes exist in absolute form. Seen in this way, the whole of creation is transformed from a collection of objects that are important only in and of themselves, into a vast gallery of signs, shining and alive, which bear the hallmarks of the One Who created them. To see the creation as Other-indicative, then, is the way that one must read the creation if one is to make any sense of it, and it is this particular way of reading that Nursi emphasized.

–Dr. Colin Turner (author of Islam the Basics)

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