Relationship Between God and Human Being : The Spiritual Interface Between Two Mujaddids: Mujaddid-I Alf-I Thani Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1876-1960)

Both the modern thought with its intellectual features of earth-bound realism and critical/skeptical reason expressed through various ideologies (such as utilitarianism, scientific humanism, dialectical materialism or unsentimental science) and the detached life-styles of the followers of religion have failed to provide a satisfactory answer to the permanent question, what is the relationship between God and insan - man/human being?


Hence, the task of clarifying what is man to a bewildered humanity including those with iman- faith amidst changing times, multifarious interpretations of what is religion, the development of the sciences of knowledge falls upon the shoulders of the mujaddids- renewers of Islam in our case, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) and Said Nursi (1876-1960), known as, Mujaddid-I Alf-I Thani and Bediuzzaman, respectively.


This paper illustrates the Tajdidi links between two illustrious Muslim personalities of the last and their responses on behalf of Islam of the Qur'an and Sunnah to the question, what is the relationship between God and human being. Especially, when the question came under pressure of transformation due to the emergence of new interpretations rising from both within the fold of Islam as in the case of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi and through the emergence of modern scientific and technical age in the case of Said Nursi .


1) Tajdid : A Brief Introduction

Tajdid defined as renewal is an integral part of the Islam for faith needs to be revived continuously. The inspiration for tajdid comes from the famous hadith (tradition of the Prophet Muhammad) that, "Allah will raise, at the head of each century, such people for this Ummah (Muslim religious community) who will revive its Religion for it."

Thus, Islamic revivalism is a historically ongoing multifaceted venture founded upon the Islamic concepts of tajdid (renewal), islah (reform), ijtihad (systematic original thinking/a mujaddid's judgement based on an independent analyses of the Qur'an and Sunnah), and harakiyya (dynamism). It represents socially-engaged Islam seeking to address and develop an Islamic ideational response to new and arising challenges facing the Muslim Ummah.


One important rudimentary issue to which the tajdid movements have to pay attention to is to define and clarify the Qur'an's holistic view about the relationship between God and human being. A topic which with the progression of time undergoes multifarious interpretations putting layers of interpretations and understandings over the Qur'anic perspective on the same topic.


1.1) The Tajdidi Link Between Said Nursi and Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi

The link between Said Nursi and Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi is neither geographical nor nationalistic but a spiritual interface exhibiting the universal dimension of Islam's Ummatic consciousness. It is founded in their Naqshbandiya fellowship, a Sufi order from Muslim Asia. associated with Muhammad ibn Muhammad Bahauddin Naqshband (1317-1389) of Bukhara. The main characteristics of the Naqshbandiya are: a strict adherence to the Shari'ah, sobriety in devotional practice and adherence to the practices of Prophet Muhammad. It represent a socially engaged Islam. Said Nursi describes the Naqshbandi way as follows:


On the Naqshbandi way four 'abandonings' are necessary: abandoning the world, abandoning the hereafter, abandoning existence, and abandoning abandoning. That is to say, on the Naqshi way one has to give up four things: both give up this world; and, on account of the soul, not make even the hereafter the true aim; and forget one's existence; and in order not to become vain and proud, not to think about these acts of renunciations.


As a spiritual movement of socially engaged Muslims with pan-Islamic orientations the Naqshbandiya spread from India to Mecca and Medina around 1857 and then onto Ottoman Turkey, Central Asia, Daghestan, Kazan, Russia western China and also the Indo-Malay archipelago. Mainly through the sons and disciples of the great Indian Sufi Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) among them being Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi (1776/76 -1827) from the Ottoman province of Mosul. Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi known as mujaddid of the 13th century of Islam was initiated into the muceddidi (Turkish) view of the world of reformist/revivalist Islam with emphasis on Islamic moral self-sufficiency and the strength of Muslim identity during his stay in India. Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi introduced the Naqshbandiya order into eastern Ottoman Turkey. Hence, the Naqshbandiyah was known as Naksibendi-Halidi in Ottoman Turkey.


Said Nursi's acquaintance with Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi and Naksibendi-Halidi fellowship began with his coming into contact with the social activities of Halidi shaikhs during his adolescent years. Inspired and influenced by the roles of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (known in Turkey as Imam-i Rabbani) and Mawlana Halid in restoring the Islam of the Qur'an and the Sunnah in the face of the prevalent Sufi heresies of the Mogul and Ottoman eras. Said Nursi undertook the task of saving the religious faith of man in the modern age of materialist and atheistic paradigms of science and society.

Having traversed through the Sufi path of following many masters dead and alive Said Nursi found himself in a state of bewilderment. And he remarks that he found his way to the Qur'an reflecting on the advise of Shaikh Sirhindi, "Make your qibla one."

Both Shaikh Sirhindi and Said Nursi devoted their energies in strengthening the faith of the Muslim and presenting the message of unity of God (Tauhid) to the agnostics and atheists both within and outside the Islamic fold.

Said Nursi refers to Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi as, "the hero and a sun of the Naqshbandi Order" and saw him worthy of respect and emulation. For the former offered himself in selfless service of Qur'an and Islamic renewal by seeking the removal of the disease of unbelief.


2) The Mujaddidi Mission of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi: The Human being Between Khalifatullah fil ard and Wahdat al-Wujud

The major task Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi devoted himself to was to restore the understanding of the Qur'anic view of the human being as Khalifatullah fil ard - vicegerent of God on earth which had come under threat of dissolution through the importation of pantheistic notions about ilah and insan - God and man as presented by the mystical doctrine of tawhid wujudi or wahdat al-wujud (pantheism/monism of being) attributed to Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) and later the Ishraqi (Illuminationist) school of Sufism. This doctrine was furthered officially with the Mogul king Akbar's (1542-1605) proclamation of Din-i-ilahi (The Divine Faith), a syncretic religion based on of the Sufi thought Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240) and influenced by the Buddhist concept of the void expounded in the writings of the Nagarajuna. as well as Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. Din-i-ilahi also emphasized upon the union of the soul with the divine as well as in the transmigration of souls.

Shaikh Sirhindi asserted a difference between the creator and creation, he denounced pantheism of wahdat al-wujud by proposing the doctrine of wahdat al-shuhud (unity of witness/experiential unity) also known as tawhid suhudi or tawhid Qurani upholding the abdiyat (creaturehood) of man and the creation Shaikh Sirhindi's discourse on this major theme of his concern is contained in his famous work the, Maktubat (Letters).


Shaikh Sirhindi's upholding of the doctrine of wahdat al-shuhud and abdiyat (creaturehood) was a dynamic criticism of the syncretism of wahdat al-wujud - a blending of the Andalusian-Persia-Indian Sufism with Vedantic monism popularized through the Hindu Bhakti Movement. The doctrine of Wahdat al-wujud removed the distinction between the creator and the human, good and evil, making the relation between kufr and truth relative, holding there is no absolute evil, hence ignoring the moral struggle of the human being. Its fallacy lay in not being able to see the, "awe-inspiring grandeur of God . It is as though ... seeing nothing but the sun in the sky, and thought no stars existed there." Such a state of mind overlooks the essential component of religion viz., the existential and experiential basis of religion

Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi's insisted upon the Qur'anic understanding of the relation between God and man , emphasizing man as the abd (worshipper) of God endowed with the power and free choice. For him, the world is a stage provided by God to develop his humanity in the recognition of God's divinity.


God is not the master-player pulling the strings of the human puppets from behind the screen. On the contrary, He has provided the man the world-stage to act freely therein. On this view, God and man are not two actors co-ordinate with one another. The Divine Power is not a co-runner with man on the course of world-history. Rather, it provides the conditions for free human activity; its collaboration with man in the sense that it behaves like a matrix, a condition, maturing, formative agency for the human will, purpose and endeavor. And since human action with this matrix will be inconceivable, man is asked to recognize this situation. In this sense, God 's power is the supreme power, the condition sine qua non of man, and all man does maybe attributable to it; but to regard God as Man annulling man and substituting Himself for the human race is ethically the most dangerous misreading of reality. On this score, Shaikh Ahmad again, reprimands the philosophers and the sufis, including, of course, Ibn al-Arabi, for advocating a relentless determinism and confounding God with man.


In his intellectual environment, Shaikh Ahmad strived to impress upon the moral foundations of religion as the basis of religious belief and living. He did so by re-interpreting the concept of being. "He gave up the doctrine that God is absolute Being; rather, God is beyond both being and non-being ...The net result of this development is that being, having ceased to be absolute, is only one predicate of God among others, and the conflict is still kept at the attributional level."


Shaikh Sirhindi saw his task as that of intellectually affirming and asserting tauhid- unity of God, which had come under the threat of dissolution. Hence, his task as a mujaddid was to rebut theological notions sapping at the foundations of Islamic conception of God and His relationship with the human being.


Devoting himself to the task of reviving a correct understanding of monotheism by offering a critical analysis of monism which in its various and compounded forms posed a challenge to Islam not only India but the whole world through the Sufi networks. Shaikh Sirhindi undertook this task not through an emotional appeal to Islam but by presenting an analytical classification of mystical experiences in the light of the Qur'an, Sunnah and his own shuhud-i Sufiyah (mystical witnessing). He did not deny or reduce the fact of mystical religious experiences but called for discriminating between their qualities. Saying that they are mere illusory stations that have to be transcended to attain the full experience and meaning of God consciousness - Taqwa- .


For Sirhindi, the existence of Islam and its essential principle of Tauhid (to borrow a definition) as being, "transcendent, divine and creatorly on one hand, and phenomenal, profane, and creaturely on the other; that the divine is relevant to the profane and that this relevance is the law of nature and moral law; that with man's causal efficacy, creation is malleable and capable of realizing the will or pattern, of fulfilling the relevance of the creator for the creature; that man's raison d'etre is service of the divine through such realization; and finally, that his fate will be blest or unblest depending on his fulfillment or other divine command" were at stake.


3) The Mujaddidi Mission of Said Nursi

It can be remarked that if Shaikh Ahmad was a renewer of Islam in face of the emergence of pantheistic religious thinking within the religious fold of Islam than Said Nursi lived and struggled to save the effacement of the Qur'an in the times when not only the Turkish millet but the global humanity faced a larger and intellectually bewildering challenge in form of mechanistic view and approach to life and thought.


Said Nursi's single handed effort in Turkey to make the Muslims realize the gravity of situation of losing relevancy of the Qur'an in their life, by offering a religiously and intellectually sound response based on the Qur'anic foundations, make Said Nursi counted among the mujaddids of the Islam in contemporary age or the 14th and the 15th centuries of Hijrah.


The mujaddid status of Said Nursi lies in his two accomplishments:


He defended the Qur'an against the contentions of its discreditors by declaring that, " I shall prove and demonstrate to the world that the Qur'an is an undying, inextinguishable Sun!" The non-disappearance of the Qur'an in Turkish society today is a proof of this success.


2) He revolutionized the Sufi tradition, by making the Risale-i Nur an impersonal teacher of and guide to the Qur'an, transforming the shaikh/murid tradition with that of intellectually alive and dynamic interaction between the Qur'an, the Risale-i Nur, and mind. The validity of this achievement is evidenced in the continuing relevancy of his reflections contained in the Risale-i Nur until today, the age of post-modernism and materialist globalization.

Said Nursi through the Risale-i Nur successfully rebuts attacks levied against the Qur'an by the materialists and the atheists showing that there is no contradiction between science, reason and the Qur'an. Rather, the conflict lies between the pro-atheistic base of materialist philosophy and the religious worldview of the Qur'an which asserts, verifies and confirms the existence of God.


The Risale-i Nur initiates a revolution of belief engaging the human being at 2 levels:: "... it is designed to lead Muslims from belief by imitation to belief through investigation and to lead unbelievers from worship of the self to worship of Allah."

Enlightened of the modern European philosophical and scientific ideas and their spreading their influence to the Muslim world, Said Nursi remarks that, "the glasses of materialist philosophy make everything look dark, ugly and frightening while the glasses of belief in God makes everything appear transparent, clear and luminous." Thus worldviews derived from these two perspectives make the difference in life, attitude and the behaviour of human beings. "At this time, however, due to the domination of European civilization and the supremacy of natural philosophy and the preponderance of the conditions of world life, minds and hearts have become scattered, and endeavor and favour divided. Minds have become strangers to non-material matters.""Because now, worldly happiness is the object of attention in place of eternal happiness. Mankind's attention and view is turned to different goals. Since the struggle for livelihood together with lack of reliance on God has bewildered the spirit, and Naturalist and Materialist philosophy has blinded the intellect, ..."


Said Nursi recognized the looming ontological crisis such trends would make not only from the Muslim world which was already succumbing to them and but also the lose of its moorings in the Islamic worldview.


Said Nursi was witnessing the breakdown of the connection between the Qur'an, Islamic thought and the sciences, rupturing and laying to ruins of the essential perspectives of the Islamic worldview. Producing ruinous dilemmas in the Muslim losing faith in Islam, transmuting the understanding about relationship between the God and the human being. Thus the new generation of "cultural Muslims" from all classes and groups lacked the understanding of what is God, man and the purpose of life on earth, brought up in an alienated worldview they were not only lured by atheism but also lived an un-Islamic way of life.


Witnessing the encounter, impact and challenge of scientific advances and pre-postivistic philosophy of science in the Muslim society, being a mujaddid the Said did not discourage rather encouraged the Muslims to study of science seeing in it the strengths with which it will come to dominate the human life and societies of the future. It posed the greatest and most upto date challenge to Islamic civilization.


Said Nursi saw that this will lead to the emergence of a chaotic, contradictory and disordered world view which the weakened Muslim intellectual world would not be able to withstand. It required an effort to reinterpret and understand the Qur'an in face of the new and ensuing challenges of modern times, validating both the message of the Qur'an and the relevancy of its integrated meaning for human life and society of the future until the end comes. Thereby, saving the human from the greatest sin of kufr (rejection of belief in God). Hence, like Sirhindi, Said Nursi aimed at offering the contemporary man, a comprehensive understanding of Islam with aim to save him, societies and the world from self-damnation and destruction. A truly mujaddidi undertaking.


3.1) Said Nursi's Qur'anic View of Man - Between Religion and Science

Said Nursi took upon the task of presenting the Qur'anic view of cosmos in a religiously authentic and rationally scientific manner, not with the emotional rhetoric but pedagogically sound and voluminous discourse on the Qur'an viz., Risale-i Nur.


For Said Nursi, faith is an active phenomenon- a live experience rooted in the guidance and the universal commands of the Qur'an to build a new view of the universe relevant to times rooted in the eternal revelation. Giving hope to the dejected Muslims by offering a pro-active understanding of the Qur'an, Islam and Muslim relevant to the times.


3.1.1) Said Nursi's Discourse on the Rebellion of the Contemporary Man within the Cosmos

(Ayat Allah)

Said Nursi remarked that during our age, atheism representing an act of man rebelliousness against God has acquired a new face. It is expressed through philosophical materialism, scientific Positivism and its social scientific cousin, Humanism. In its view the, scientific stage is the climactic stage of human knowledge and the worship of humanity is the final act of self-acknowledgement. Hence, the main objective of the Risale-i Nur is to combat the spread of man's rebellion and atheism within Ummah Muhammadiyah - a contradiction and fallacious situation.


Like Shaikh Sirhindi, Said Nursi took upon the task of curing this malady of pathological proportions in the Muslim world by undertaking the task to present to the bewildered Muslim mind and the world the essential message of the Qur'an which had got blurred. This became for him a greater jihad, a life-long mission and is the major theme of the Risale-i Nur, similar to the asserting of wahdat al-shuhud by Shaikh Sirhindi.

In one of the text of the Risale-i Nur, responding to a request for a concise explanation about the ways of man, his role in the universe and the Unity of God. Said Nursi offers an intellectually sound rejoinder, highlighting the fact that there is a natural link between human being and God within every human personality. This experiential reality present in all human personalities reflects the compassion of God toward human beings making religious faith native component of human personality.


Religious faith is the result of the guidance of God to man and man's reflection and study of the cosmos which he call as as, "the theatre of Nature" or the "Great Book of Nature," which is a balanced, orderly and systematic universe offered to man by the Creator as a means for his sustenance and development. A keen man can logically and scientifically infer that nature is not worthy of worship or be used as a means to reject the Creator, as seen in the case of the materialistic and atheistic notions of cosmos. Rather it is a trust from God for the welfare and benefit of humanity and other species during its sojourn on earth. Said Nursi remarks that the cosmos is like windows at every level of a might palace, offering beautiful view of God's creative genius. And in His mercy that the viewer not wander away in deviation, God has installed a "hotline" link in every heart with direct connection to God available free of charge, 24 hours for one's lifetime.


The evident proofs showing God's existence and providence are thus available to man in all forms and kinds. Even the individual profile of every human being who is born and dies, the existence of hundreds of species of animals and plants (the flora and fauna), the year-round change in the geographic and astronomical phenomenas, in ecology, biology, physiology, physiometry, physiopathology, etc, at infinitesimal and gigantic levels, constituting millions of proofs of the existence and power of God, the all-wise Creator of the universe and the human being. "With what can you close this window which is as broad as the globe of the earth, indeed, as its yearly orbit? And with what can you extinguish this source of light which shines like the sun? Behind which veil of heedlessness can you hide it?"


Yet, the tragedy is that the today's rejecter is now not a polytheist or atheist but one who is born as a Muslim and carries a Muslim name. This is double tragedy, for both man and Muslim constitute the best of the God's creation are set on denying, rejecting, and rebelling against the Creator on the basis of human folly.


Hence, Said Nursi discourses continuously on the light of the Qur'an with a rational-scientific approach calling upon man to overcome his illusions of reality. "And so, O heedless one who flounders amid suffocating doubts in the darkness of matter and obscurity of delusion! Come to your senses! Rise to a state worth of humanity!" Not self-damnation.

Said Nursi convinced of the truth of the comprehensive message of the Qur'an opines that, a human personality spiritually and intellectually rooted in the Qur'an and in critical engagement with constantly emerging body of knowledge and its social applications will prove the validity for the Qur'anic message for humanity. Such a person will be confidently able to withstand all forms of heresies and deviations arising from within the Muslim fold or irreligious worldviews. Reflective engagement with the Qur'an and knowledge will not only affirm religion at the level of spiritual faith but building integrated personalities and societies free of moral anarchy, political turmoil, conflicts, discords and strife. Resulting in the degrading of the best and perfect creation of God - the man into a state of perverseness, a man who is willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired of him by the Creator of the universe.

Said Nursi offers a revelational, intellectual, scientific, rational proof of the relationship between man and God. He calls upon the human beings to reflect upon their lifelong daily phenomenon occurring around them in a knowledgeable way and to draw conclusive proofs of the existence of God and His relationship with themselves and the universe as constituting that between khaliq (Creator) and khalq (created). For after all humanity is endowed with the faculty to think and is addressed in the Qur'an as "people who think":


And He it is who spread out the earth and placed therein firm hills and flowing streams, and of all fruits be placed therein two spouses (male and female). He covereth the night with the day. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who take thought. (Qur'an Ar-Rad 13:3)


Therewith He causeth crops to grow for you, and the olive and the date palm and grapes and all kinds of fruit. Lo! herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect. (Qur'an An Nahl 16:11)


And hath made of service unto you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth; it is all from Him. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who reflect. (Qur'an Al-Jathiya 45:13)


Allah receiveth (men's) souls at the time of their death, and that (soul) which dieth not (yet) in its sleep. He keepeth that (soul) for which He hath ordained death and dismisseth the rest till an appointed term. Lo herein verily are portents for people who take thought. (Qur'an Az-Zumar 39:42)


Only the eternal message of the Qur'an combined with unbiased approach to philosophy, science and knowledge in the light of the Qur'an can salvage the confused man of today, leading to a right attitude toward life, living and thought and inshallah success in the Hereafter.


4) Conclusion

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi like his spiritual compeer Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi sought to revive and renew Islam by addressing the faith-questions arising out of intellectual encounters of their times. The Risale-i Nur is an Islamic response to the modern philosophical challenges to the Qur'an emerging from both within and from outside the world of Islam.

The methodological contrast in the approaches of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi and Said Nursi lies in the content and styles of their efforts, in addressing different types of challenges that questioned the Qur'anic concept of what is man and what is God and the nature of their relationship.

Challenges which sought to drive the Muslim faith away into pantheism and atheism.


Shaikh Sirhindi offered a Qur'anic rebuttal to emerging philosophical mysticism of Sufism and the related metaphysics of monism. While Said Nursi, a mujaddid of the contemporary age of Islam offered an intellectually sound Qur'anic rejoinder refuting the perceptions of reality based on the ideological premises of Positivism and Humanism making God into an "unnecessary hypothesis."

Both these unique responses of Shaikh Sirhindi and Said Nursi succeeded in preserving not only the faith of Muslim, but most importantly in the case of Said Nursi the knowledge base of Islamic world view, as it came under attack by a variety of man made ideological approaches to life and knowledge in the emerging age of science, technology and information revolutions.. Challenging the rudiments of belief and religion at every step and every moment of life. Both the mujaddids offered a new revitalized meaning of Islam for humanity of Qur'anic relevance.


The Risale-i Nur is not a text book of science but a discourse on the Qur'an, it a offers an avenue for the critical understanding of the ever emerging contemporary discoveries in the sciences such as the existence of billions of galaxies, quantum physics, genetics, biotechnology, etc and their applications for the benefit or the destruction of man.


The Risale-i Nur is Said Nursi's gift of life in the service of God, so that it may be serve as a lamp post in guiding the contemporary man to God and preventing him from becoming the cause of his/her own destruction and damnation.


Said Nursi remarks that Risale-i Nur will bring belief to the unbeliever and strengthen the belief of a believer. It is essentially addressed to the denier, lost in the delusions of world, and boggled by outdated religious thought. For the contemporary man is searching for a universal/global meaning to life that will make him feel at home in the universe, at peace with oneself and grateful to the merciful creator of the universe and humanity. Such a demand on the part of humanity needs a continual renewal of religion, a task to which the mujaddids have devoted themselves in the living history of Islam, among them the Mujaddid-I Alf-I Thani Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi and the Bediuzzaman Said Nursi.

Today, the Maktubat and the Risale-i Nur remain with the us and the posterity as shining examples of how the saviors of Islam rebutted attempts at putting out the light of the Qur'an, both from inside and outside the Islamic world. Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi through his proposition of the principle of Wahdat al-Suhud (unity of witness/experiential unity) and Said Nursi through Wahdat an-Nur or Tawhid Nuri (unity of light/experiential light).

Makale Yazarı: 
Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf Prince of Songkla University, THAILAND