Environment In The Qur’an
The Approach to the Environment Question of the Qur’an and its Contemporary Commentary, the Risale-i Nur
Although it was only with effect from the second half of the 20th century that environmental problems became some of the chief problems threatening mankind, the root of the problem goes back much further: it first became perceptible as a result of the industrial revolution in the West. And since that time, the environmental problems have grown continuously until they have reached the enormous and dangerous proportions of today.
Environmental problems are one of the rare questions that have preoccupied numerous people for a long time. Today there are independent university departments such as environmental engineering in which related questions are taught. They are taught too in numerous educational establishments. Programmes on the subject are broadcast on the radio and television. There are ‘environment’ pages in the newspapers. Public opinion is sensitive to environmental issues, and mass demonstrations are held to support environmental protection; and environmental groups, societies, and parties are founded. Ministries are set up to deal with the environment, laws are passed; international conferences are held, agreements are signed, and organizations are founded. And the only thing all these are trying to do is to preserve the environment from the harm caused to it, and ensure that mankind can live in a clean world.
Being a question so high on mankind’s agenda, it is studied by various sciences. The chief of these is ecology. In numerous other sciences from biology to physics, and economics to law, research is carried out in connection with these problems.1 It is therefore unthinkable that religion and works on religion should remain indifferent to such an important question.
In order to understand correctly the concept of environmental problems, it is first necessary to define the concept of the environment:
The Concept of the Environment: Numerous definitions have been made of this. We shall suffice with two. In its most general meaning, the ‘environment’ can be defined as the physical surroundings in which an animate creature lives. It can be approached from various angles and defined in various ways. For example, the environment from the geographical angle has been defined as the study of all the activities that occur in man’s surroundings and the laws governing the mutual influence of man and his surroundings.2 The environment from the economic angle is seen as all the elements constituted by nature and man.3 Sociologists define the environment as all the external factors influencing the physical, social, and cultural life of an individual person, a social collectivity, or a society.4 While ecologists use it as concept expressing everything in the universe related to man, both animate and inanimate.5 Both the natural environment and the artificial environment are included in this last definition.6 Of these, the natural environment is that which since man has not intervened in it, is unchanged, while the artificial environment is that which has been made through man’s intervention, in the course of time since man first appeared.7
It is also said that “the units of space with which animate creatures have vital ties, which they influence and by which they are influenced, are called the living space or environment of a single of those living beings or of a group of them.”8
Today, ‘ecology’ is defined as the branch of science that studies animate beings and their harmonious interaction with their surroundings.9 It should be pointed out that contrarily to its use in Turkish, the word ‘ecology’ does not mean ’environment.’ It is the study of man’s relations with the natural surroundings in which he exists and of which he is a part. It holds a different meaning to ‘environment,’ which is how it is used today.10
Although from the time mankind first appeared until the industrial revolution, the balance in the relations between man and his environment and between other living beings and the environment was occasionally broken, it continued in harmony. However, the industrial revolution for the first time provided the opportunities and conditions for man to intervene in nature. In this process, the destruction of the ecological balance began, so that some living beings were threatened, even.11
Man’s efforts after the 17th century to dominate nature and exploit it in unlimited fashion were fired by gradually increasing greed. Before 1800, numerous problems started to emerge as a result of industrialization and technological development in the western European countries, then subsequently throughout the world.
If at this point we attempt a definition, we may say that ‘environmental problems’ are those problems which exist in both the artificial environment and the natural environment, and have been caused by the negative effects of the former on the latter.12
In the narrow meaning, these problems are perceived as pollution of the air, water, and earth; noise pollution, and nuclear and heat pollution,13 and the dangers these pose for the living beings. Moreover, at the present time, numerous problems besides pollution are deemed to be environmental problems.
As with most branches of science, the subjects set out above should be considered in the field of environmental protection both from the physical point of view, and from the moral and spiritual. Study of these subjects from the moral and spiritual point of view usually assists in raising society’s awareness of them, and thus in solving the problems. Basically, when the question of the protection of the environment is considered from this angle, it is seen not to be a new question, but one the religion of Islam was concerned with it long ago, laying down rules within the limits of the religion which society had to abide by.
The aim of this paper is to state the Qur’an’s views on this important question, which closely concerns all living beings, and to point out the importance given to the environment and related subjects in the Risale-i Nur, a contemporary Qur’anic commentary, by its esteemed author, and to show how he applied these points in his own life.
We should note at once that although the term ‘environmental problems’ has been dealt with as an independent subject, all the matters it comprises have been given a place in the verses of the Qur’an and in Hadiths, even if in scattered fashion, and attention is drawn to them as required. The fact that the term does not appear in the classical books of religion in its modern form, does not mean it was neglected or that no importance was given it. On the contrary, Islam and its holy book, the Qur’an, give a place to all matters concerning man, in relation to their importance. The Risale-i Nur Collection, too, a contemporary commentary on it, offers discussion and explanations of this matter as required. Our task here is to bring together and set in order those explanations, which are dispersed through the works, in accordance with what is understood today from the term ‘environmental problems.’
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION IN SOLVING
A fact that should not be forgotten when speaking of environmental problems and their solutions is the fact of religion and culture. For people come into the world within a particular culture and a particular religion. The religions and cultures of these people are the source of their value judgements about other people, the world, and nature. History shows us that educational and development programmes that do not take into account people’s religions and cultures do not fulfil their aims, and that people resist programmes of this sort, which are a sort of imposition. We have all witnessed the collapse of the repressive totalitarian regimes which did not take this into account. The United Nations Organization has kept in view this fact, which is supported by sociological, anthropological, and psychological research, and has advised that in protecting the environment all nations profit from their own religious and cultural stores. Since the aim and goal is to protect the world and the ecosystem, religions certainly have a lot to contribute in this matter – so that the world has a healthier future.
In connection with this, in 1986 the Worldwide Fund for Nature, one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, held a conference which brought together representatives of the largest religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism), and discussed the importance and role of the religions in finding solutions for environmental problems.14
Another significant event that highlighted the religious dimension of the question occurred in Moscow in February 1990, when the astronomer Carl Sagan and twenty-two prominent scientists invited the world’s religious leaders to join and assist them in protecting the global environment. Contrary to what might be expected, the place the scientists chose for the meeting was Moscow. For it was the capital of a totalitarian regime which for seventy years had officially pursued atheism, prohibiting and repressing every sort of religious activity. The fact the scientists were emphasizing was this: “Religion most certainly has an important place in preserving the environment and protecting natural beauties.”
For the first time in the history of modern science, scientists were seen to be seeking help from religion and religious leaders in order to solve a problem. However, if one thinks of the world’s future and the dimensions of the threat posed by environmental problems, one might say that the invitation was even made rather late. The English thinker and historian Arnold Toynbee alluded as follows to the role religion could play in overcoming these problems:
“I reckon there is need for worldwide co-operation between the followers of all religions and philosophies to protect humanity from the consequences of technology, inspired by materialist greed.”15
Today it is understood better than at any time that these problems will not be overcome by that attitude which looks on tradition and every sort of spiritual, moral, and religious value as though they do not exist. T. T. Frolov, the chief editor of the former Soviet Union magazine Communism, made the following admissions when describing his views to the World Environment and Development Commission:
“If we want to advance successfully in solving global problems, we have to develop new methods of thought, new ethics and values, and doubtless adopt new forms of behaviour. However, it is not enough to develop man’s physical, scientific, and technological sides alone, more importantly we have also to give him new psychological values and new expectations. For humanity and learning are the eternal truths forming the basis of humanity. That is to say, we have need of social, moral, scientific, and ecological concepts.”16
Today, religion has started to fill the vacuum that Frolov alludes to here. It is also one of the reasons why people are returning to religion and everywhere in the world it is to be observed that religious values are on the rise.
Another environmentalist who emphasizes the religious dimension of this question, noting the need for a new point of view, is Rudolf Bahro. Bahro, a leading German environmentalist, says that the time has passed for protecting and saving the environment through technological and legal methods only. The only solution is “to carry out a mental revolution like Jesus, Muhammad (PBUH), and Buddha did.” He is redefining the relations of human beings with nature and with all the beings in nature, for a more balanced and healthier relationship between man and nature.
When one considers all the above facts, it is clearly important to know the Islamic principles related to this matter. They should therefore be included in environmental studies in schools, which would result in better protection of the environment and a healthier environment being passed down to the forthcoming generations.
Furthermore, in emphasizing the religious dimension, we are calling on everyone, including industrialists, businessmen, directors, and others concerned, to act in greater awareness. Profit alone should not be the sole purpose of all commercial and industrial enterprises. The harm and destruction caused to primarily human beings, and the whole ecosystem, by these enterprises, can be reduced to the minimum through people questioning themselves, in addition to the power of legal sanctions and amendments. Prof. Arne Naess, one of the founders of the Norwegian deep ecology movement, has also alluded to this. He said that Christians and Muslims should take a fresh look from the ecological angle at the responsibilities placed on man by the Gospels and Qur’an, and should emphasize this, thus indicating the role religion can play in protecting the environment.17
II. THE APPROACH TO THE ENVIRONMENT QUESTION OF THE QUR’AN AND ITS CONTEMPORARY COMMENTARY, THE RISALE-I NUR
No sacred book speaks to man of his surroundings, nature, and in its broader meaning, the universe, as much as the Qur’an does. Just as the Qur’an tells man how the universe was created, why it was created, and various general facts about beings; so it tells man what sort of relationship he should have with them, and how he should behave towards them.
Doubtless the reason the ecology movement in Islam marked an early stage in the history of environmentalism, was the religion of Islam itself. Or to put it more clearly, the Holy Qur’an itself. If we remember that the Qur’an came in order to bring healing to people’s hearts, purify them of the darkness of unbelief, to cleanse their bodies, and set their worldly affairs in order, it is natural that it is concerned with men’s physical worlds as much as with their spiritual worlds. The Qur’an guided Muslims in the environmental question, as it did in all questions. It is for this reason that with the advent of Islam, the environment became a subject of consideration for the believers.
Our method in this paper, as far as it is possible, will be firstly to give the Qur’an’s statements on the subject, and then those of the Risale-i Nur, its contemporary commentary, and the views and practices of its esteemed author, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi.
A. The Book of the Universe, one of the most powerful proofs of God’s existence
God Almighty says that He created man so that he should believe in Him, know Him, and worship Him. There are various ways by which man can believe that God exists, but the clearest and most obvious, on which the Qur’an lays emphasis, is man looking at and reflecting on the beings in the universe, including himself. “We shall show them Our signs in the furthest horizons and in themselves, so that it will become clear to them that this [Qur’an] is indeed the Truth. Is it not enough that your Sustainer witnesses all things?”18 As stated here, man’s own being and all other beings are signs pointing to God’s existence. There are numerous such verses in the Qur’an.19
Bediuzzaman expounded many of the verses dealing with this subject. Starting from his immediate surroundings, he went on to discuss the universe and all it contains and its order and regularity. In doing this, he used beings to prove God’s existence. For according to him, there are three main (universal) “instructors” which describe our Sustainer to us, one of which is the book of the universe.20
According to Bediuzzaman, polluting the universe and the environment, that is that part of the universe in which we live, is to harm and spoil it, and means destroying one of the “universal instructors” that describe our Sustainer to us.
“Yes, all flowers, all fruits, all grasses, and all animals even, and all trees are seals of Divine Oneness and stamps of Divine Unity, which, together with the places they are found which take the form of missives, are like signatures showing the one who wrote the place. For example, a buttercup in a garden is like a seal of the garden’s inscriber. Whosever seal the flower is, all the flowers of that sort on the face of the earth indicate clearly that they are his words and that the garden too is his writing. This means that all things ascribe everything to the One Who created them, indicating a maximum affirmation of Divine Unity.”21
Second Example: In reply to the question asked of him: “What are the fruits and benefits of the Prophet’s (PBUH) Ascension?”, Bediuzzaman replied:
“It raised the universe from an imaginary state of wretchedness, transitoriness, and disorder and, through that Light and fruit, showed its reality, which is its consisting of sacred missives of the Eternally Besought One and being a beautiful mirror to the beauty of Divine oneness. It made happy and pleased the universe and all conscious beings.”22
Third Example: In Mesnevi-i Nuriye, in the section entitled “From the Ocean of Divine Unity,” Bediuzzaman says that the universe points to and testifies to the Divine necessary existence and unity with fifty-five tongues:
“Such a God that, just as this mighty book known as the world testifies to His necessary existence and unity with all its writings and chapters, its pages, lines, sentences, and letters; … so with all its species, pillars, members, parts, cells, and particles, with fifty-five tongues it attests to and proves His necessary existence and unity….”23
B. The Spiritual Aspects of the Universe
The facts that all the beings in the universe, great and small, are clear evidences pointing to God’s existence, and the whole universe has been put under man’s command are enough to show us that a spiritual meaning has given the universe. Yet Almighty God’s informing us that like believing humans, all beings worship Him, offers certain proof of the spiritual side of the universe.
This aspect of the universe is indicated by the following, and similar, verses:
And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are signs for those who know.24 * The seven heavens and the earth and all that is in them extol and glorify Him, and there is nothing but glorifies Him with praise, but you understand not their glorifying.25 * And the herbs and the trees – both [alike] bow down in adoration.26
Nothing in the heavens and the earth, from the tiniest thing to the largest, is insignificant or commonplace for those who think and believe. Whether animate or inanimate, in addition to its physical value, everything is rich in meaning. All things are “natural believers,” pointing to God, constantly reciting His Names, perpetually worshipping Him.
From this point of view, beings are in a way sacred;27 it is prohibited to kill them unnecessarily, or eliminate them. Looking on beings as sacred because of the spiritual aspects of their creation, is fundamental to the metaphysical basis of Islamic environmentalism. Because of this, Muslims have always to an extent acted responsibly towards the environment, for aggression against it was seen as aggression against God.28
Bediuzzaman too states that everything in the universe, living and inanimate, from the smallest to the largest, worships God and is sacred, and that nothing therefore should be killed without reason. In this way he makes people conscious of the fact that they should be sensitive towards their environment. In expounding verse 18 of Sura al-Hajj, he says:
“Are you not aware that before God prostrate themselves all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth – the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and the beasts, and a great number among mankind? … 29
“We shall point out only a single jewel from the treasure of this extensive and sublime verse. It is as follows: The All-Wise Qur’an states clearly that everything, from the heavens to the earth, from the stars to flies, from angels to fishes, and from planets to particles, prostrates, worships, praises and glorifies Almighty God. But their worship varies according to their capacities and the Divine Names that they manifest; it is all different…”30
“If the creatures of the universe are observed with care, it may be seen that like particulars, universals have collective identities, each of which appears as a universal function; it is apparent that each performs a universal duty. For example, just as a flower as itself displays an embroidery full of art, and with the tongue of its being recites the Creator’s Names, so the garden of the globe resembles a flower, and performs an extremely orderly, universal duty of glorification. And just as a fruit issues a proclamation expressing its glorification of God within an order and regularity, so does a mighty tree in its entirety have a most well-ordered natural duty and worship. And just as a tree glorifies God through the words of its fruits, flowers and leaves, so do the vast oceans of the heavens glorify the All-Glorious Creator and praise the Sublime Maker through their suns, moons, and stars, which are each like words; and so on.”31
C. The Ecological Balance in the Universe, and its Preservation
Another question related to the universe dwelt on by the Qur’an is the ecological balance. It frequently recalls to man that everything is created with balance, order, justice, and proportion:
Verily We have created all things with proportion and measure.32 * And there is not a thing but its [sources and] treasures [inexhaustible] are with Us; but We only send down thereof in due and ascertainable measures.33
The Qur’an draws our attention in particular to this balance, of which modern man has only become aware with the emergence of environmental problems, with the help of ecology, and which we are all now trying to protect. The task of preserving this balance, which is the work of God, falls to man, whom God created in “the finest of forms” and made His vicegerent on earth. Regrettably the balance of nature and the balance between man and nature has been spoiled, as many people now accept. But the fact that the imbalance between man and nature stems from the breaking of the harmony between man and God, not everyone is aware of.34 In which case, a Muslim who does not spoil that relation with God, or at least tries not to spoil it, will not spoil the balance of the universe, nor just look on while others spoil it. For the balance of nature is like a mirror reflecting Almighty God’s Beautiful Names.35
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi says that there is a balance in everything in the universe, from the tiniest to the biggest. If it had not been for this balance or it had been spoilt, the seas would have filled with the corpses of dead creatures, and would have putrified. The air would have been made poisonous with toxic gases. While the earth would have turned into a refuse heap, a slaughterhouse, a swamp. The world would have been suffocated. We may now see how Bediuzzaman expounded the verse:
“And there is not a thing but its [sources and] treasures [inexhaustible] are with Us; but We only send down thereof in due and ascertainable measures.36
“One point concerning this verse and one manifestation of the Name of All-Just, which is a Greatest Name or one of the six lights comprising the Greatest Name …
“The universe is a palace, but it is such a palace that in it is a city which is being constantly shaken by destruction and reconstruction. And in the city is a country which is being continuously agitated by war and emigration. And within the country is a world which is unceasingly revolving amid death and life. But such an astonishing balance, equilibrium and equilibration prevail in the palace, city, country and world that it self-evidently proves that the transformations, incomings and outgoings apparent in these innumerable beings are being measured and weighed every moment on the scales of a Single Being Who sees and supervises the whole universe.
“For if it had been otherwise, if causes had been free and unrestrained, which try to destroy the balance and overrun everything, through a single fish laying a thousand eggs and a single flower like a poppy producing twenty thousand seeds, and through the onslaught and violence of change and the elements flowing in floods, or if it had been referred to aimless, purposeless chance, anarchic blind forces, and unconscious dark Nature, the equilibrium of beings and balance of the universe would have been so utterly destroyed that within a year, indeed within a day, there would have been chaos. That is to say, the seas would have been filled with things in total disorder and confusion and would have become fetid; the atmosphere would have been poisoned with noxious gases; and as for the earth, it would have turned into a refuse-heap, slaughter-house, and swamp. The world would have suffocated.
“Thus, everything from the cells of an animate body, the red and white corpuscles in the blood, the transformations of minute particles, and the mutual proportion and relation of the body’s organs, to the incomings and outgoings of the seas, the income and expenditure of springs under the earth, the birth and death of animals and plants, the destruction of autumn and the reconstruction of spring, the duties and motion of the elements and the stars, and the alternations, struggles and clashes of death and life, light and darkness, and heat and cold, are ordered and weighed with so sensitive a balance, so fine a measure, that the human mind can nowhere see any waste or futility, just as human science and philosophy see everywhere and point out the most perfect order and beautiful symmetry. Indeed, human science and philosophy are a manifestation and interpreter of that order and symmetry. …
“Especially the compassionate balance on the face of the earth of the births, deaths, livelihoods, and lives of the four hundred thousand plant and animal species, it shows a single Just and Compassionate One, as clearly as light shows the sun.”37
D. Man, God’s Vicegerent on Earth, Spoiling the Balance of Nature, and Causing Corruption on the Land and in the Seas
As is stated in the verse, Behold, your Sustainer said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth”,38 man is God’s vicegerent on earth, and everything on the earth has been given for his benefit. However, some men abused their vicegerency, understanding it to mean spoiling the ecological balance and the order of nature, and its systems and regularity, all of which God created and are ‘signs’ indicating His existence. For vicegerent means deputy, that is, the creature whom God made responsible for the earth, leaving to him its protection and conservation. As deputy,39 man may not betray the trust of the One Who created the world with a particular order, regularity, and harmony. The moment he destroys the order, he is known as a corrupt deputy.40 The Qur’an says the following about such deputies:
When he turns his back, his aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But God loves not mischief.41 As this verse makes clear, mischief-makers cause harm not only to individuals and society, but also to the natural environment. For this reason, God rebukes them, calling our attention to the fact that they may have an unfavourable effect on the environment. Examples are also given in the Qur’an of societies which, because of the harm they caused both themselves and their surroundings due to their immorality such as unbelief, corruption, wastefulness, ingratitude, disobedience, and destruction, destroyed themselves with their own hands, and were wiped out.42
In the following verse, God informs men that as a result of their spoiling the balance of nature, they have caused corruption in the land so will suffer the consequences: Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of [the meed] that the hands of men have earned. That [God] may give them a taste of some of their deeds; in order that they may turn back [from evil].43 With verses such as this, God commands us directly not to spoil the natural balance of the universe, and that if we do, we shall suffer harm in consequence.
God requires of men that they protect the natural environment and the universe, and that they do not spoil the natural and ecological balances. Otherwise man himself will suffer harm. As is seen in the verses below, God draws our attention to there being an ecological balance in the universe and then tells us to preserve it, for mankind may otherwise meet with unforeseen circumstances: And the firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the balance [of justice], * In order that you may not transgress [due] balance. * So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance.44
According to Sayyid Husayn Nasr, modern man exploits nature irresponsibly and corrupts it:
“No sacred aspect of the universe remains for modern man… Furthermore, it is seen as a ‘thing’ to be used and exploited down to the last point. Modern man sees nature as something to be profited from, but not as a partner for which he is responsible – as a prostitute: a prostitute towards which he has no sense of responsibility or accountability. The difficulty lies here: ‘using’ nature as though it was a prostitute makes its progressively impossible take enjoyment from it. Basically, this is the reason many people have started to feel anxious about it… ”45
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi also says that man is God’s vicegerent on earth and that all the things on it have been put under his command. He expounds related verses in this way:
It is He Who has created for you all things that are on earth;46 * Behold, you Sustainer said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.”47 These verses enumerate the great bounties given to man. In the first verse the greatest bounty is alluded to, of man being the result of creation and all that is on the earth being subjugated to him. He has disposal over them as he wishes. This verse also indicates that man has been given domination over the earth and made God’s vicegerent.”48
In another place, he says regarding the same subject:
“… and since He has subjugated the vast universe to man, and decorated, and furnished it like a house; and since He has appointed him His vicegerent on earth, committing to him the supreme trust, from the bearing of which the mountains, sky, and earth shrank, and has raised him to the rank of commanding officer over other living beings, and honoured him with the Divine address and conversation, and since He has thus bestowed on man this supreme station and in all the revealed decrees promised him eternal happiness and immortal life in the hereafter; certainly and without doubt He will open up that realm of bliss for ennobled and honoured man, which is as easy for His power as the spring, and bring about the resurrection of the dead and Last Judgement -stating this, the Names of Granter of Life and Dealer of Death, Ever-Living and Self-Subsistent, and All-Powerful and Knowing reply to the question we asked of our Creator.”49
Since despite being God’s vicegerent on earth man has abused his position and become a bad deputy, causing corruption on the land and in the seas, Bediuzzaman calls him: “O wasteful, prodigal.. wrongful, unjust.. dirty, unclean.. wretched man!”
“O wasteful, prodigal.. wrongful, unjust.. dirty, unclean.. wretched man! You have not acted in accordance with the economy, cleanliness, and justice which is the principle by which the whole universe and all beings act, and are therefore in effect the object of their anger and disgust. On what do you rely that through your wrongdoing and disequilibrium, your wastefulness and uncleanliness, you make all beings angry? Yes, the universal wisdom of the universe, which is the greatest manifestation of the Divine Name of All-Wise, turns on economy and lack of waste. It commands frugality.
“While the total justice in the universe proceeding from the greatest manifestation of the Name of All-Just, administers the balance of all things. And it enjoins justice on man. Mentioning the word ‘balance’ four times, these verses in Sura al-Rahman, And the firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the balance [of justice], * In order that you may not transgress [due] balance. * So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance,50 indicate four degrees and four sorts of balance, showing its immensity and supreme importance in the universe. Yes, just as there is no wastefulness in anything, so too in nothing is there true injustice and imbalance.
“And the cleanliness and purification proceeding from the Name of Most Holy cleans and makes beautiful all the beings in the universe. So long as man’s dirty hand does not interfere, there is no true uncleanliness or ugliness in anything. So, you may understand how basic to human life are the principles of justice, frugality, and cleanliness, which are truths of the Qur’an and Islamic principles. And know how closely connected with the universe are the injunctions of the Qur’an, having spread their firm roots everywhere, and that it is impossible to destroy those truths like it is impossible to destroy the universe and change its form.”51
E. Frugality is Commanded and Wastefulness Prohibited
Undoubtedly, one of the chief reasons for all environmental pollution and spoiling of the natural balance is wastefulness. There is wastefulness in the economy of the home, in production, in consumption, in industry and in technology. It is as though mankind is in racing to see who can be most wasteful. Artificial needs are created and natural resources are used to meet them. As a result the natural balance is broken, and the air and water polluted. It is therefore necessary to avoid wastefulness of every sort if one wants a healthy environment. Production and consumption have to be proportionate to mankind’s needs. The Qur’an says:
Eat and drink but waste not in excess, for God loves not the wasters.52 * Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones and the Evil One is to his Sustainer[Himself] ungrateful.53
Islam prohibits wastefulness, commands balance in everything, disallows egotism by ordering the disbursement of wealth in excess of need, looks on man not as the slave to material interests but as the highest and noblest of beings, and teaches him to have respect for animals, plants, and all beings. It is therefore the most powerful alternative for solving the sorry state of things today.54
The importance of “economy” in environmental conservation has been well understood at this time. The world population density is gradually increasing, while due to wastefulness the world’s limited natural resources are faced with the danger of speedy exhaustion. Moreover, pollutant waste produced through the consumption of both energy resources and other resources, threatens all living creatures on the earth. Wastefulness lies at the root of most of these problems.
Very striking examples related to economy and frugality are to be found in Bediuzzaman’s own life. Just as he warned against wastefulness and advised frugality in his works, so he always lived frugally. He thus offered instruction both through the tongue of disposition and verbally.
a. Bediuzzaman pointed out the harm of wastefulness, warning against it and advising frugality
Bediuzzaman wrote an independent treatise on the necessity and advantages of frugality, and the harms of wastefulness and its being forbidden, clearly elucidating these points:
“On Frugality: This treatise is about frugality and contentment, and wastefulness and extravagance.
Eat and drink, but waste not by excess.55
“This verse gives most important and wise instruction in the form of categorically commanding frugality and clearly prohibiting wastefulness. The matter contains seven Points…
“The All-Compassionate Creator desires THANKS in return for the bounties He bestows on mankind, while wastefulness is contrary to thanks, and slights the bounty and causes loss. Frugality, however, shows respect for the bounty and is profitable…
“According to the Hadith the meaning of which is: ‘He who is thrifty will not have family difficulties as regards livelihood,’56 the frugal and economical person will not suffer undue trouble and hardship in supporting his family.
“There are countless proofs that the consequence of frugality is plenty and good living. For instance, I have seen myself and I can say according to the testimony of those who have befriended and assisted me that through being frugal, I have sometimes seen a tenfold increase, and so have my friends. Even, nine years ago-and now it is thirty, a number of the tribal leaders who were exiled to Burdur together with me did their best to make me accept their zakat so that I would not suffer privation and humiliation through lack of money. I said to those rich leaders: ‘Although I have very little money, I am frugal and economical and I am accustomed to being content with little. I am richer than you.’ I refused their repeated and insistent offers. It is worth noting that two years later some of those who had offered me their zakat were in debt because they had not been frugal. Thanks be to God, seven years on from that, through the plenty resulting from frugality that small amount of money was still sufficient for me; it did not degrade me, nor compel me to present my needs to the people, nor make me deviate from my way of self-sufficiency and being independent of people, which is one of the principles of my life. …
“However, if a person is frugal and restricts and limits his needs to the essential, according to the implied meaning of the verse, Indeed, it is God Who gives all sustenance, Lord of all power and strength,57 and the explicit meaning of the verse, And there is no moving creature on the earth but its sustenance is provided by God,58
“I n S h o r t : Excess and wastefulness lead to lack of contentment. And lack of contentment destroys enthusiasm for work; it causes laziness, opens the door to complaining about life, and makes the dissatisfied person complain continuously. Also, it destroys sincerity, and opens the door to hypocrisy. And it destroys self-respect, and points the way to begging.
“As for frugality and economy, these result in contentment. According to the Hadith, “The contented person is respected, and the greedy person despised,”59 a consequence of contentment is self-esteem. Also, it encourages effort and work. It increases enthusiasm, and leads to work. For example, a person worked for one day. Because of his contentment with the petty wage he received in the evening, he worked again the second day. But because the wasteful and immoderate person was not content, he did not work again the following day. Or if he did work, he did so without enthusiasm.”
b. Bediuzzaman sufficed with little food
It would not have been right if while warning against wastefulness and advising frugality, Bediuzzaman had himself done the opposite. He therefore described how the principle of frugality had allowed him to live -by being content with little, offering thanks, avoiding wastefulness, and God bestowing the gift of plenty on him. When compelled by those who had unfounded suspicions about him, he answered in reply to their question of “What do you live on?”, that he sufficed thanks to the blessings of plenty and Divine bestowal in his food, and the principle of frugality and eating very sparingly.60
c. Bediuzzaman’s patching his clothes and shoes
Just as he was frugal in his food, so Said Nursi was frugal in his dress, avoiding wastefulness.
“I bought this sack coat that I’m wearing seven years ago second-hand. In five years I have spent only four and a half liras on clothes, underwear, slippers, and stockings. Frugality and Divine mercy and the resulting plenty have sufficed me.”61
d. His sufficing with very few of the things of this world
Bediuzzaman lived an extremely modest life, far from any ostentation and display. As possessions he had nothing that could be called ‘worldly,’ only the minimum to meet his needs. In this, he gives most important instruction to the extravagant people of today.
Some of those who visited Said Nursi have described what his room and possessions consisted of:
First Example: “In Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s room was a thin mattress on the floor, a light quilt, a pocket watch, a ewer, and a tea set. I did not see any other personal possessions.”62
Second Example: “.. On the floor was some rush matting. The value of all the things in his house would not have been a hundred lira at that time’s price. O, and he had a cast iron stove as well.”63
Third Example: “.. As far as I knew and saw, Bediuzzaman had a jubba of thick black material, some rubber overshoes, he carried a prayer mat over his shoulder and a ewer in his hand. All his possessions were these. Wherever he went he carried them with him.”64
Fourth Example: “… Friends! Our master says in one place: ‘I can carry all my worldly goods in one hand,’ showing the large bundle he had in his hand. All his possessions was this much.”65
F. Bediuzzaman’s Interpretation of the Divine Name of Most Holy and Concern with Cleanliness
Most Holy (Quddus) means being exempt from all fault and defect; most sacred; deficient in absolutely nothing; pure and clean.
It says in the Qur’an: God’s are the Most Beautiful Names,66 one of which is Most Holy. It is mentioned in verse 23 of Sura al-Hashr, and verse 1 of Sura al-Jumu‘a. In interpreting this Name, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi likens the universe and the earth to a vast factory, guest-house, or hostel. He draws attention to its cleanliness and explains that everything -the clouds, rain, flies, crows, wolves, worms, ants, insects, the red and white corpuscles in man’s body- all manifest the Name of Most Holy and perform their cleansing duties. He says that if anything occurs to soil the face of the earth, it is cleansed, and that this too is necessitated by the Name of Most Holy. For if all the corpses of all the animal species and the debris of dead vegetation on the land and in the seas were not cleaned up by the carniverous cleansing officials of the sea and those of the land like the eagles, and even maggots and ants, the earth would have become uninhabitable.
All the things explained in connection with the Name of Most Holy would on their own be suitable as the subject of an academic paper. Let us listen to them:
“This Point concerns one aspect of the Divine Name of Most Holy.
And the earth We have spread wide; and how well have We ordered it.67
“The universe is a vast, constantly working factory and the globe of the earth a hostel and guest-house which is continually filled and emptied. Generally, factories, hostels and guest-houses which are thus used become much dirtied and soiled with filth, debris and rubbish, and putrid matter accumulates in all parts of them. Unless they are kept with care and cleaned and swept, they cannot be occupied; human beings are overwhelmed by the dirt. The factory of the universe and guest-house of the earth, however, are totally pure, clean and spotless, and completely unsoiled, untainted and fresh; there is nothing unnecessary, nothing without benefit, not a random piece of dirt to be found. Even if there is apparently, it is quickly thrown into a transformation machine and cleaned.
“This means that the One Who looks after this factory does so very well. And its Owner is such that He sweeps and cleans and orders the vast factory and extensive palace as though they were small rooms. In relation to the size of the huge factory, there is no dirt or rubbish remaining from its filth and debris. Indeed, considering its size, its cleanness and tidiness are remarkable.
“If someone does not wash himself and clean his small room for a month, they will become extremely dirty and soiled. That is to say, the cleanliness, purity, and luminosity in this palace of the world arise from a continuous, wise, and diligent cleaning. If it was not for this cleaning, sweeping and careful tending, in one year all the hundred thousand animal species would have been choked on the face of the earth…
“Furthermore, the corpses of a hundred thousand animal species and the debris of two hundred thousand plant species each year on the face of the earth resulting from the alternation and struggles of life and death would have so utterly filthied the land and the sea that conscious creatures, rather than loving and delighting in the face of the earth, would have felt disgust and aversion at such ugliness and fled to death and non-existence…
“That is to say, this palace of the world and factory of the universe display a greatest manifestation of the Divine Name of Most Holy whereby it is not only the carniverous cleaners of the seas and the eagles of the land which obey the commands proceeding from that sacred cleansing, but also its cleansing officials which gather up corpses, like worms and ants. Like the red and white blood-corpuscles flowing in the body obey those sacred commands and do the cleaning in the body’s cells, so does breathing purify and clean the blood.
“And as eyelids obey the command to clean the eye and flies to brush their wings, so the extensive atmosphere and the clouds obey it. The air blows upon the pieces of dust and soil settled on the surface and face of the earth and cleans it. The sponges of the clouds sprinkle water on the garden of the earth and becalm the dust and soil. Then, in order not to dirty the sky, the air quickly collects the earth’s rubbish and withdraws and hides itself with perfect orderliness. It displays the beautiful face and eye of the skies as swept and polished, all sparkling and shining…
“For sure, this exalted, universal cleansing which keeps the palace of the universe clean is the manifestation and requirement of the Divine Name of Most Holy. And just as the glorification of all creatures looks to the Name of Most Holy, so also does the Name of Most Holy require the cleanliness of all of them.
“It is because of this sacred connection of cleanliness that the Hadith, ‘Cleanliness is a part of belief’68 deems it to be a light of belief. And the verse, Indeed, God loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean69 shows that cleanliness is a means of attracting God’s love.”70
G. The Importance of the Animals
With all their variety and vitality, the animals are one of the most important elements in the ecological balance. With all their thousands of sorts, they form an essential part of the ecosystem, but unfortunately many animal species are faced with grave dangers, or to put it more correctly, they are faced with extinction. The number of extinct species is rapidly increasing. However, if we take a look at the Qur’an, we see immediately the importance given to animals. Some of its suras bear the names of animals: al-Baqara, The Cow; al-Nahl, The Bee; al-‘Ankabut, The Spider; and al-Naml, The Ant. Numerous animals are also mentioned in the Qur’an, for example, sheep, camels, cows and oxen, horses, mules, donkeys, dogs, monkeys, pigs, snakes, worms, bees, ants, spiders, mosquitoes, and flies.
One noteworthy expression of the Qur’an related to animals is that they are a community (umma). Being a significant and important concept in the Islamic tradition and literature, the use of this term for animals is truly striking: There is not an animal [that lives] on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but it [forms part of] communities like you. Nothing have We omitted from the Book, and they [all] shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.71
The verse is drawing our attention to the animal world, and saying that like humanity it consists of numerous classes. All species of quadrupeds and reptiles are each a ‘community,’ birds are a ‘community,’ just like humans are, and human beings are a class of living being on the earth:
And cattle He has created for you [men]; from them you derive warmth, and numerous benefits, and of their [meat] you eat. * And you have sense of pride and beauty in them as you drive them home in the evening, and as you lead them forth to pasture in the morning.72 * And they carry your heavy loads to lands that you could not [otherwise] reach except with souls distressed; for your Sustainer is indeed Most Kind, Most Merciful.73
In these verses, Almighty God is drawing attention to the animals answering man’s needs and the products that man benefits from, such as their hides, hair, meat, milk, and so on, and noting their important place in economic life. Furthermore, in stating that the animals are symbols of happiness which display beauty to man, nature, and the environment, Almighty God is saying that they are the most splendid and beautiful of the manifestations of His power.74
Doubtless there are numerous lessons to be drawn from the animals, which have been given to man by Divine power and wisdom to perform various tasks. But unfortunately, man was very tardy in understanding that he could not live without the animals, his life would be meaningless, and his diet deficient.75 The beauty of Divine art is manifested in animals, for which reason in the Qur’an, one of the oaths God takes is on animals, in order to draw attention to the importance of this.76
The purpose God created such innumerable animals and laws by which they are governed, was doubtless to ensure the continuance of human life and its beauty, and to make nature something which could be lived in and loved and from which lessons could be drawn.
Thus, the Qur’an is stating that all the species of animals and living beings have been scattered over the face of the earth to make life and nature beautiful. And by saying that some of them crawl on their bellies, some walk on two legs, some on four, it is making clear the importance of the animals man most often encounters.77
Similarly to the Qur’an, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi attaches much importance to animals. Some of those mentioned in the Risale-i Nur are these: bees, scorpions, lions, horses, hawks, fishes, insects, nightingales, water-buffalo, grasshoppers, camels, ostriches, elephants, rhinoceros, pigeons, cocks, the Hudhud bird, silkworms, tigers, ants, eagles, goats, cats, lizards, dogs, sheep, küddüs bird, wolves, birds, monkeys, oxen, spiders, parrots, fleas, sparrows, flies, mosquitoes, starlings, hens, peacocks, foxes, bats, snakes, and glow-worms.
We may now examine in several categories the importance Bediuzzaman attached to animals:
a. Animals being Divine officials, acting as mirrors, and making remembrance of God
Bediuzzaman lays emphasis on the facts that animals are Divine officials, that they act as mirrors, and glorify God and mention His Names, warning against killings them unnecessarily or harming them, or at least pointing out what a great crime it is to kill them. If the animal lovers’ groups had known of Bediuzzaman’s compassion for animals, they probably would have proclaimed him the world’s greatest animal lover.
First Example: “The universe as a whole is a meaningful book of the Eternally Besought One; and all beings from the ground to the Divine Throne are a miraculous collection of Divine missives; and all the realms of creatures are a magnificent regular dominical army; and all sorts of beings from microbes and ants to rhinoceroses, eagles, and planets are diligent officials of the Pre-Eternal Sovereign; and since they act as mirrors to and have a relation with that Sovereign, the value of all things infinitely surpasses their individual value…”78
Second Example: “Yes, all flowers, all fruits, all grasses, and all animals even, and all trees are seals of Divine Oneness and stamps of Divine Unity, which, together with the places they are found which take the form of missives, are like signatures showing the one who wrote the place.”79
Third Example: “The All-Wise Qur’an states clearly that everything, from the heavens to the earth, from the stars to flies, from angels to fishes, and from planets to particles, prostrates, worships, praises and glorifies Almighty God. But their worship varies according to their capacities and the Divine Names that they manifest; it is all different.”80
Fourth Example: “To Conclude: The animals, who serve in the palace of the universe, conform with complete obedience to the creational commands and display perfectly in the name of Almighty God the aims included in their natures. The glorification and worship they perform by carrying out the duties related to their lives in this wonderful fashion through the power of God Almighty, are gifts and salutations which they present to the Court of the All-Glorious Creator, the Bestower of Life.”81
Fifth Example: According to Bediuzzaman, cats also glorify God and mention His Names. He recounted the following from his own observations:
“These instances of plenty were either bestowal to the sincere friends who have visited me, or a bestowal on account of service to the Qur’an, or an abundance and benefit resulting from frugality, or they have been sustenance for the four cats I have which recite the Divine Names ‘O Most Compassionate One! O Most Compassionate One!’, which comes in the form of plenty and from which I benefit too.”82
b. Carnivores, predators, and scavengers such as eagles, wolves, and ants are the health and cleansing officials of the land and sea
According to Bediuzzaman, carnivores, predators, and scavengers, such as, eagles, wolves, and ants, constantly cleanse the land and seas of dirt. They are health officials and cleaners charged with the task by God. If they did not cleanse them, the land and seas would become submerged in filth and would be uninhabitable:
“Indeed, Almighty God has created a most orderly group of carniverous beings which are sorts of public health officials; they cleanse the seas by gathering up the corpses of other sea-creatures that die every day in their millions, and prevent the sea from becoming polluted and disgusting with their corpses. If those public health officals of the sea did not carry out their extremely regular duties, the sea would not sparkle like a mirror; it would rather display a sad and touching turbidity.
“Also, Almighty God has created carniverous and carrion-eating birds, and wild animals to be like cleansing and public health officials which collect the corpses of wild animals and birds that die every day in their millions, cleanse the face of the earth of those putrid remains, and save other animate beings from such sad and touching sights. Some, like eagles for example, through a Divine impulse, wonderfully perceive the location of a corpse from a distance of five or six hours, though hidden and distant, and go and remove it. If these health officals of the land were not extremely efficient and orderly in carrying out their official duties, the face of the earth would take on a form fit to make all weep….
“Furthermore, ants are employed as cleansing officials to collect the corpses of tiny creatures and small particles and fragments of bounty. And they are given duties as public health officals to preserve tiny particles of Divine bounty from waste, being trodden underfoot, contempt and futility, and to gather up the corpses of other small creatures.”83
c. Carnivores may not hunt and kill any animal they wish for food
Bediuzzaman says that despite being public health officials, carnivores cannot kill and eat any animal they encounter. Their licit food are dead animals and carrion. They are prohibited to kill and eat living animals:
“The licit food of carniverous animals is the flesh of dead animals. The flesh of living animals is unlawful for them. If they eat it, they receive punishment. The Hadith which states that: ‘Retaliation shall be made for the hornless sheep on the horned on Resurrection Day’84 points out that although their bodies perish, among animals whose spirits are immortal there is reward and punishment in a manner appropriate for them in an eternal realm. As a consequence of this it may be said that the flesh of live animals is unlawful for wild animals.”85
d. Not only did Bediuzzaman not permit flies only to be killed, he did not permit them to be disturbed
Bediuzzaman was fiercely opposed to animals being killed. He did not want the smallest of them, even those considered harmful, flies, to be eliminated. The occasion he prevented his students disturbing flies, let alone killing them, is more than enough to understand what a great environmentalist Bediuzzaman was, and how much he loved animals. He called them “cleaners,” despite -particularly on hot summer days- their pestering humans, who suppose them to spread germs and illness, so kill them by various methods. The flies teach humans cleanliness. They clean humans’ hands and faces of microbes and poisonous matter which is invisible to the human eye, and prevent the spread of contagious diseases. While mosquitoes and fleas act as blood-letters. Now we may see what he says concerning this matter:
“An amusing and absorbing conversation with Süleyman Rüstü, famous for his fidelity and distinguished by his sincerity of heart
A Small Point Concerning an Important Verse
“It was autumn and approaching the time when flies are discharged from their duties, and because of their minor annoyance, selfish humans were employing chemicals in my prison cell in order to eliminate them. It aroused a sharp pity in me. There was a washing-line in my cell. However, in order to thwart the humans the flies multiplied even more. In the evening those miniature birds would be lined up in most orderly fashion on the line. When he wanted to hang up the washing, I said to Rüstü: ‘Don’t disturb those little birds; hang it somewhere else.’ To which he replied, completely seriously: ‘We need the line; let the flies find somewhere else for themselves.’
“Anyhow… In the early morning a discussion started in connection with this exchange about the very numerous small creatures like flies and ants. I said the following to him:
“The species whose copies are thus numerous have important duties and great value, like the copies of a book are multiplied in relation to the book’s importance. That is to say, the species of flies have important duties and great value so that the All-Wise Creator has greatly multiplied those tiny missives of Divine Determining and copies of the words of Divine power. The All-Wise Qur’an states: O men! Here is a parable set forth; listen to it! Those on whom you call besides God cannot create [even] a fly, if they all met together for the purpose! And if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly. Feeble are those who petition and those whom they petition!86 That is to say, if those things claimed to be gods by the people of misguidance were to gather together all causes and false gods apart from God Almighty, they would be unable to create even a fly. That is, the creation of a fly is such a dominical miracle and clear sign to the act of creation that even if all causes were to assemble they would be unable to make anything like it or to duplicate it, and would be unable to dispute that dominical sign.
“Flies, which form an important subject in the above verse, defeated Nimrod, and when Moses (Peace be upon him) complained about their bothering him, saying: ‘O my Sustainer! Why have You so greatly increased the numbers of these irritating creatures?’, the following answer came to him through inspiration:
“‘You have objected about the flies once while the flies have asked many times: ‘O our Sustainer! This man has a huge head, yet he praises You with only one tongue. And sometimes he neglects to do that. If you had created us out of only his head, there would have been creatures like us praising You with thousands of tongues!’
“Moreover the flies, which thus defended the wisdom in their creation against Moses’ complaint with sufficent power to withstand a thousand such objections, also pursue great cleanliness. These insects continually wash their faces, eyes, and wings as though taking ablutions, and have important duties. The common view is short-sighted; it is still unable to comprehend those duties. …
“In just the same way, flies are charged with duties of cleaning away poisonous substances and microbes which breed disease and are invisible to the human eye. They do not transmit microbes, on the contrary, through sucking up and imbibing harmful microbes they destroy them and cause them to be transformed into a different state; they prevent the spread of many contagious diseases. A sign that they are both health workers and cleansing officials and chemists and that they exhibit extensive wisdom is the fact that they are extremely numerous. For valuable and beneficial things are multiplied.
“O you self-centred human being! Apart from the thousands of instances of wisdom in the creation of flies, consider the following small benefit that concerns you and leave off your hostility towards them. For just as they offer you some familiarity in your exile, solitude and loneliness, so do they also warn you against sliding into heedlessness and your thought wandering. You see flies that through their delicate manner and their washing their faces and eyes as though taking ablutions are giving you a lesson and reminding you of human duties like action and cleanliness.
“Moreover, bees, which may be thought of as a sort of fly, give you honey to eat, which is the sweetest and most delicate of bounties. And since, as is stated by the Qur’an of Miraculous Exposition, they have been distinguished by receiving Divine inspiration, to be hostile towards them while they should be loved, rather to be hostile towards creatures that suffer all sorts of difficulties in always hastening in friendship to assist man is wrongful and unjust. We may combat harmful creatures only to repel their harm. We fight wolves to protect sheep from their attack, for example.
“Mosquitoes and fleas fall upon the turbid blood flowing in the veins polluted by harmful substances, indeed they are charged with consuming the polluted blood, so in hot weather when there is blood surplus to the body’s needs, why should they not be natural cuppers? It is possible…”87
e. Other advantages of flies
Bediuzzaman states that flies have other advantages, in addition to the ones described above, despite people killing them because they think they are harmful. He says that some species of fly eat putrid matter, and like honey-bees, exude a sort of syrup in place of excreta. They are thus like small ‘transformation machines,’ purifying matter. Other species are employed in the pollination of flowers and trees like the fig:
“Fly excretion is not harmful medically; in fact, sometimes it is sweet syrup. For it is not distant from dominical wisdom, it is indeed a function of that wisdom, that while flies contain thousands of different harmful substances, microbes, and poisons through what they have eaten, they are like tiny transforming and purifying machines. Apart from bees, there are other species of flying insects that eat various putrid substances and then continuously excrete droplets of syrup in place of the filth. Transforming those rotten, poisonous substances into a sweet and healing syrup like a confection of Divine power that rains onto the leaves of trees, they prove that they are machines for transmuting one substance into another. They demonstrate before the eyes what a mighty nation and group are these tiny individuals. Through the tongues of their beings they say: ‘Do not look at our smallness, consider the vastness of our species, and declare: All Glory be to God!’”88
“At the end of spring there is one species of small fly which is created in the form of a black mass that becomes stuck to the branches of almond and wild apricot trees, and remains there. In place of waste matter, droplets continously flow from the flies. These drops are like honey and other species of flies gather round them suck them up. Yet another species are employed in the pollination of the flowers of plants and some trees, like the fig. Just as the fire-fly, which is a sort of fly that flashes, sparkles, and is luminous, is worthy of observation, so do other species that are gilded and glisten like gold deserve notice. Also, we must not forget flies armed with lances, and wild bees, which are like brigands. If the All-Merciful Creator had not pulled in their reins, if they attacked human beings like fleas, in the same way that those armed species killed Nimrod, so would have they also assailed the human race and expounded the implicit meaning of the verse, And if the fly should snatch away anything from them.89 Thus, the hundred famous species of flies like these bearing special qualities are of great importance so that this mighty verse makes them its subject: O men! Here is a parable set forth; listen to it!”90,91
f. The instances of wisdom in the creation of the nightingale
Like other animals, the nightingale has not been created for nothing according to Bediuzzaman, but serves many purposes:
“For example, the All-Wise Creator employs the famous nightingale, renowned for his love of the rose, for five aims.
“First Aim: It is the official employed to proclaim in the name of the animal species the intense relationship that exists between them and the plant species.
“Second Aim: It is a dominical orator from among the animals, who are like guests of the All-Merciful One needy for sustenance, employed to acclaim the gifts sent by the All-Generous Provider, and to announce their joy.
“Third Aim: It is to announce to everyone the welcome offered to plants, which are sent for the assistance of his fellow animals.
“Fourth Aim: It is to announce, over the blessed heads and to the beautiful faces of plants, the intense need of the animal species for them, which reaches the degree of love and passion.
“Fifth Aim: It is to present with acute yearning at the Court of Mercy of the All-Glorious and Beauteous and Munificent Lord of All Dominion a most graceful glorification inspired by the truly delicate face of the rose.
“There are further meanings similar to these five aims, and they are the purpose of the deeds the nightingale performs for the sake of Truth (All glory be unto Him and may He be exalted). The nightingale speaks in his own tongue, but we understand these meanings from his plaintive words. If he himself does not altogether know the meaning of his own song like the angels do, it does not impair our understanding. The saying, ‘One who listens understands better than the one who speaks’ is well-known. Also, the nightingale does not show that he does not know these aims in detail, but this does not mean that they do not exist. At least he informs you of them like a clock informs you of the time. What difference does it make if he does not know? It does not prevent you from knowing.
“However, the nightingale’s small wage is the delight he experiences from gazing on the smiling, beautiful roses, and the pleasure he receives from conversing with them and pouring out his woes. That is to say, his sorrowful song is not a complaint arising from animal grief, it is thanks in return for the gifts of the Most Merciful. Compare the bee, the spider, the ant, creeping insects, the male animals that are the means of reproduction, and the nightingales of all small creatures, with the nightingale…”92
g. Profiting from the animals
In expounding the verses, And the birds gathered [in assemblies];93 and We have been taught the speech of birds,94 Bediuzzaman pointed out that human beings can benefit from the animals in various ways. Just as the honey-bee, the silk-worm, the pigeon, and the parrot are utilized, so could other birds and animals be employed if their languages were know. If the language of the starlings were known and their behaviour, they could be employed against locusts regularly to man’s great advantage, free of cost:
“Also, the verses, And the birds gathered [in assemblies]; * We have been taught the speech of birds, show that Almighty God bestowed on David and Solomon (Peace be upon them) knowledge of the tongues of the bird species, and of the tongues of their innate capacities; that is, of the things for which they would be useful. Yes, since it is the truth and since the face of the earth is a laden table set up by the Most Merciful in honour of man, most of the other animals and birds who benefit from it may be subjugated to man and serve him. Man employs some of the smallest of them, the honey-bee and silk-worm, and through Divine inspiration has opened up a beneficial highway, and by employing pigeons in various tasks and teaching birds like parrots to speak, he has added fine things to the virtues of human civilization. In the same way, if the tongues of innate capacities of other birds and animals were known, there are many species which could be employed in important tasks like their brothers, the domesticated animals. For example, against plagues of locusts: if the tongue of starlings was known, who eat and destroy locusts, and their movements could be regulated, what valuable services they could be employed in free of charge.
“Thus, this verse traces the furthest limit in subjugating birds and benefiting from them in this way, and in making lifeless beings speak like a telephone or gramophone, and in profiting from birds. It specifies the most distant goal. It points a finger at it in majestic fashion and in a way urges man towards it. Through the allusive tongue of these verses, Almighty God is therefore saying in meaning:
“O men! In order to honour his prophethood and the complete justice of his rule, I subjugated to one of your fellow men who was totally submissive to me, the huge creatures in my dominions, causing them to speak, and I made most of my troops and animals his servants. In which case, since I have committed to each of you the Supreme Trust, from which the sky, earth, and mountains shrank, and I have given you the ability to be My vicegerent on earth, you should yield to Me, the One in Whose hand are the reins of these creatures, so that the creatures in My dominions may yield also to you, and you may obtain in the name of the One Who holds them, their reins, and rise to a position worthy of your abilities.”95
h. Bediuzzaman’s kindness to animals
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was kind to the utmost degree to animals, which was illustrated by his even giving breadcrumbs to ants:
First Example: “… Finally he went to the town of Tillo, where he confined himself in the famous mausoleum. His younger brother Mehmed used to bring him his food. He would give the lumps of the food to the ants around the mausoleum, and himself dipped the bread in the gravy and ate that. When he was asked why he did this, he replied: ‘I have observed that they have a social life, and work together diligently and conscientiously, so I want to help them as a reward for their republicanism.’”96
Second Example: Again out of his love for animals, Bediuzzaman would give the cats and pigeons who came to him part of his own food. He said this was a cause of plenty:
“In fact it is not only elderly relations, certain creatures like cats, who are a friend to man-their sustenance also comes in the form of plenty, sent within the food of the human beings. An example which corroborates this and I myself observed is as follows: my close friends know that for two to three years my appointed lot every day was half a loaf of bread, the loaves in that village were small, and very often this was insufficient for me. Then four cats came and stayed with me as my guests, and that same portion was sufficient both for myself and for them. There was frequently even some left over. This situation has recurred so often that it has made me certain that I was benefiting from the plenty resulting from the cats. I declare most definitely that they were not a load on me. Also, it was not they who were obliged to me, but I to them.”97
Third Example: “Shortly before the holy night of Berât when busy with correcting The Staff of Moses, a pigeon alighted at the window, and looked in on me. I asked it: ‘Have you brought good news?’ It entered just as though it was an old friend, not startled at all. It perched on The Staff of Moses, and remained there for three hours. I gave it some bread and rice, but it did not eat them. It stayed till evening, then went, and later returned. On the Night of Berât, it remained with me till the morning. When I lay down, it came to me and as though bidding me farewell, brushed my head, then flew out. The second day, just as I was feeling sorry, it reappeared and stayed another night. That is to say, the blessed bird wanted to congratulate both The Staff of Moses, and the Night of Berât.”98
We may now give some examples of Bediuzzaman’s kindness to animals from Necmeddin Şahiner’s books Son Şahitler Bediüzzaman Said Nursî’yi Anlatıyor (The Last Witnesses Describe Bediuzzaman Said Nursi):
Fourth Example: “… Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s house was wooden. There was a mousehole, and sometimes a mouse would appear. He would say: ‘Look! It wants something to eat!’ And whatever food he had, he would put a piece by the mousehole. The mouse would come and eat it. Whatever he had, he was bound to put a part of it for the mouse…”99
Fifth Example: “… If he saw some ants, or if one of us lifted up a stone and there were ants under it, he would take the stone and replace it, telling us not to disturb the small creatures…”100
Sixth Example: “Just as with the mice, he used to put bits of bread where they could reach them, for the cats and the birds on the neighbour’s roof. Both mice and cats would receive their food from him.”101
Seventh Example: “Bediuzzaman Said Nursi had two cats. At mealtime he would give them food, and he would eat after them. He also used to put food in the cupboards for the mice.”102
i. Forbidding the hunting and killing of animals
Bediuzzaman did not approve of hunting animals, indeed, he advised people to make do with domesticated animals. Some examples from The Last Witnesses:
First Example: “… When he saw hunters in the countryside, he used to tell them not to shoot the rabbits and partridges. He also told them not to disturb the other animals. He stopped a lot of people hunting.”103
Second Example: Someone who visited him recounted the following: “Bediuzzaman asked: ‘What do you do?’ I replied, ‘I am a hunter.’ He asked what animals there were where I was. I told him: ‘There are deer, rabbits, ducks, and partridges.’ He asked me how much we spent when we went out to shoot. I replied that it was sometimes as much as fifty lira. So he said: ‘Would it not be better if you spent that money on buying a domestic animal, and you ate that?’ I replied that it certainly would be better.”104
H. The Importance of Trees and Greenery
Although there is no explicit command in the Qur’an to plant trees, there is frequent mention of them, due to their importance in man’s life. Some verses mention trees, fruits, gardens, and orchards explicitly, while in others mention is made of them in parables in order to explain some other matter. In both sorts, one of the chief aims is to keep the concept of trees fresh in the mind.
Verses about trees are scattered in balanced manner from the first sura of the Qur’an to the last. This keeps the image of the tree alive in the mind of anyone who reads the Qur’an and understands it. Thus a believer who realizes the importance of trees in social and civilized life, and their attraction, will enthusiastically feel the need to plant them.
Bediuzzaman too gave great importance to woodlands and the countryside, and spent as much time as he could in forests and outside. For he knew that trees had not been created for nothing, but were also reciting God’s Names. Is it at all possible that someone who sees them in this way would fell them or destroy them. Yes, he says that like other living creatures, trees glorify God in their own particular tongues.
Some of the trees, fruits, and plants he mentions in the Risale-i Nur are these: juniper tree, almond tree, walnut tree, plane tree, pine tree, apples, roses, mustard, poppy, coconut, dates, elm tree, black cypress, cedar, poplar, apricot, pomegranate, vegetables, aubergine, buttercup, Tuba-tree, grapes, wild gourd, olives, wild apricot. We may now see what he says about trees and greenery:
a. All trees and plants are stamps of Divine unity which glorify God
“A Fruit of the Pine, Cedar, Juniper, and Black Cypress Trees in the Uplands of Barla:
“One time during my captivity while gazing at the majestic and wonderful forms of the pine, cedar, and juniper trees on the mountain top, a gentle breeze was blowing. Transforming the scene into a magnificent, delightful, and clamorous display of dancing and a rapturous performance of praise and glorification, the enjoyment of watching it was transformed into instruction for my eyes and wisdom for my ears. …
“Living creatures have appeared from everywhere on the face of the earth, Your art, to gaze on You.
“From above and below they emerge like heralds, and call out.
“The herald-like trees take pleasure at the beauty of Your embroideries, and they dance.
“They are filled with joy at the perfection of Your art, and utter most beautiful sounds.
“It is as if the sweetness of their own voices fills them with joy too, and makes them perform a delicate melody.
“In response the trees have started dancing and are seeking ecstasy.
“It is through these works of Divine mercy that all the living creatures receive instruction in the glorification and prayer particular to each.
“After receiving instruction, on high rocks the trees raise their heads to the Divine Throne…
“The spirit understands from this that beings respond with glorification to the manifestation of the Glorious Maker’s Names; they perform a graceful chant.
“The heart reads the mystery of Divine unity from these trees, each like an embodied sign, from the elevated word-order of this miraculousness. That is, there is so wonderful an order, art, and wisdom in the manner of their creation, that if all the causes in existence had the power to act and choose, and they gathered together, they could not imitate them…
“The mind discovers from the chanting animals and trees and the vociferous plants and air, a most meaningful order of creation, embroidery of wisdom, and treasury of secrets…
“Since the trees have all become bodies, their leaves have become tongues. At the touching of the breeze each recites over and over again: “It is He! It is He!” With the benedictions of their lives they proclaim their Maker to be Ever-Living and Self-Subsistent.105
“It is as if all the blossoming trees are beautifully composed odes speaking poetically through the tongue of disposition reciting the manifest praises of the Glorious Creator. Or, it is as if all the blossoming trees have opened thousands of gazing eyes and have caused thousands of others to open in order to behold, not with one or two eyes but with thousands, the Glorious Fashioner’s wonders of art which are being broadcast and exhibited, and so that attentive people will gaze on them, too.”106
“Come, now look carefully at a tree! See its delicate mouth within the orderly emergence of the leaves in spring, and the blossoms opening in a measured manner, and the fruits swelling with wisdom and mercy and dancing at the blowing of the breeze in the hands of the branches like innocent children. See the just balance within the wise order expressed through the tongue of the leaves becoming green at a generous hand, through that of the flowers smiling with the joy of a favour received, and through the words of the fruits laughing through a manifestation of mercy. See the careful arts and embroideries within the balance demonstrating justice; and the mercy within the skilful embroideries and adornment; and the various sweet tastes and delightful scents, which indicate mercy and bestowal; and the seeds, each of which is a miracle of power within the agreeable tastes: all these point in most clear fashion to the necessary existence and unity of an All-Wise, Generous, Compassionate, Beneficent, Bountiful Maker, a Bestower of Beauty and Favours, to the beauty of His mercy and perfection of His dominicality.”107
“In Short: The origins of trees are coffers and programmes, their ends are instruction sheets and samples, their outer faces are artistically fashioned and embroidered garments, and their inner faces are factories and workbenches. These four aspects look to each other and as a whole form a supreme stamp. Indeed, a Greatest Name becomes apparent through them, for self-evidently none other than the Single Maker of Unity Who administers the whole universe could perform these works. Like trees, the origins, ends, and outer and inner faces of all animate creatures bear seals of Divine oneness and stamps of unity.
“Making an analogy with the trees in these three examples, the spring is a tree laden with blossoms. The seeds and roots entrusted to the hand of the autumn bear the stamp of the Name of First. The fruits, grains, and vegetables poured into the lap of summer, filling its skirts, bear the seal of the Name of Last. The brocades and natural garments decorated with a hundred thousand designs which the spring wears one on top of the other like a houri bear the seal of the Name of Outward. While the factories of the Eternally Besought One working away in the springtime inside the earth, and the bubbling cauldrons of the Most Merciful and dominical kitchens cooking foods, each bear the signet of the Name of Inward.”108
b. Plants and trees adorn their fruits and offer them to us
Bediuzzaman states that in addition to being stamps of Divine unity and mentioning God’s Names, plants perform services for men and some of the animals:
First Example: “This indicates a seed. For example, a poppy seed like an atom, the kernel of an apricot stone, and a tiny melon seed, produce from the treasury of mercy woven leaves finer than broadcloth, flowers whiter than linen, and fruits sweeter than sugar and more delicate and delicious than sweets and conserves, and they offer them to us.”
Second Example: “…indicates fruit-bearing trees. For they bear on their slender branches hundreds of workbenches and factories, and weave, adorn, and cook wonderful leaves, flowers and fruits, and stretch them out to us.”
Third Example: “This alludes to grains, seeds, and the eggs of flies. For example, a fly leaves its eggs on the leaves of the elm. Suddenly the huge tree turns its leaves into a mother’s womb and a cradle for the eggs, and into a store full of a food like honey. Simply, in that way the tree, which is not fruit-producing, produces fruits bearing spirits.”109
Fourth Example: “This tiny seed has become a fig-tree, it has started to spread the All-Wise Creator’s bounties over our heads. It distributes them, stretching them out to us with its hands. And these two seeds which are superficially the same have produced the flowers called sun-flowers and pansies. They have adorned themselves for us. They smile in our faces, making us love them…”110
c. Bediuzzaman spending as much time as he could in the countryside
Bediuzzaman attached great importance to trees and the countryside, and it was his custom to go for trips in the countryside, particularly in the spring and summer. Sometimes he would climb Çam Dağı (Pine Mountain) and stay there in solitude for a length of time. His students have described his living in this way as follows:
“Bediuzzaman’s house in Barla consisted of two rooms, under it was a continuously flowing spring. Right in front of it was a mighty plane-tree, which with its three trunks rises to skies in three stout pillars. A small tree-house had been made between the branches, where in the spring and summer, Bediuzzaman would worship and contemplate on creatures. It was a dwelling most suitable for this… During the summers he was in Barla, Said Nursi would sometimes go to Çam Dağı, and remain there alone. It is a high mountain. He also had two tree-houses on the highest peak of the mountain, ‘Risale-i Nur schools,’ similar to the one outside his house in Barla. He would work at the Risale-i Nur at the top of these trees, one of which was a pine and the other a cedar. He would mostly come here from Barla, to these wooded mountains. He would say of them: ‘I would not exchange these tree-houses for Yıldız Palace.’”111
Second Example: Feyzi and Emin, two of Bediuzzaman’s students in Kastamonu, described his life there:
“There was a forest far from the town. Mostly in summer, we would go there…”112
Third Example: While his students in Emirdağ recalled:
“In Emirdağ, Bediuzzaman was under constant surveillance. He would go out for trips in the open air. It was always his custom to go out into the countryside in the spring and summer. He would go out alone, stay for a few hours, then return to his house… The work Bediuzzaman did in Emirdağ was of various sorts, as in other places… Besides being preoccupied with writing and correcting copies of his works, such as Sözler and Lem’alar, which are lights from the Qur’anic truths, he had the constant wish to gaze on creatures, which are words of Divine power, and to study the book of the universe. What he loved above all else was reading the miraculous works of mercy and wisdom, written on the face of the earth and exhibited on the page of the spring, to gaze on the wonders of Divine art in the trees, plants, and animals, and decipher the seals of Divine unity shining on their faces. Thus he would open his wings and take flight through the endless horizons of the truths of belief and knowledge of God, rising to the degree of ‘absolute certainty.’”113
I. The Importance of Cleanliness
It is not only physical factors that spoil the environment, spiritual and psycho-social factors are also damaging. It may be said even that moral and non-physical factors have a powerful influence on things that cause physical damage to the environment. Thus, one of the reasons a solution has not been found for the increasing environmental pollution, which has reached the stage of threatening life and civilization, is that only the physical dimensions of the problem are dealt with. Whereas it is impossible to find any solution while ignoring moral and non-physical ‘pollution’ such as “bad character, false beliefs, sins, and innovations,” all of which have an invisible but real pyscho-social effect. Just as if we look at the Qur’an, we see that it mentions two sorts of cleanliness. One sort is physical and bodily, the other looks to the self and is moral and spiritual.
a. Physical cleanliness
The religion of Islam considers cleanliness to be one of the conditions of belief. It makes a direct connection between cleanliness and belief. In a Hadith the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Cleanliness is half of belief.”114 The importance given to cleanliness is made clear by the fact that bodily cleanliness is an indispensable condition for the acceptability of worship in Islam. It is even the key to the ritual prayers.115
The importance Islam gives to cleanliness is illustrated by its recommendations concerning the conduct of the bathroom, ablutions for the ritual prayers,116 bodily bathing being compulsory under some conditions and at least once a week,117 cutting the nails, keeping certain areas of the body free of hair, circumcision, cleaning one’s teeth,118 washing the hands before and after eating, and on rising in the morning,119 cleanliness of the mouth and nose, after drinking milk,120 rinsing out the mouth after eating, particularly greasy food,121 cleanliness of clothes and the hair, and so on.
b. Moral and spiritual cleanliness
It is wrong to limit cleanliness to physical cleanliness. Purity of the heart and soul, a good intention, and good character are as important as bodily cleanliness, or even more so. Just as Islam foresees maintaining the balance in everything, so in principle it always maintains the balance between the physical and non-physical aspects of man. It is therefore impossible to separate these two aspects of cleanliness. They are usually put together, with the emphasis on moral and spiritual cleanliness. Bediuzzaman said: “We must not forget that bad qualities, false beliefs, sins, and innovations are all instance of moral and spiritual dirt.”122
The religion of Islam commands man to be clean both outwardly and inwardly. Just as one who is outwardly clean but inwardly dirty is not acceptable, so the reverse is true. The heart represents man’s inner ‘features,’ and is his most important organ. Thus, when one speaks of cleanliness, what should spring to mind is purity of heart and conscience. Sins are moral and spiritual dirt soiling man’s spiritual features, as well as the life of society. Thus, a ‘clean’ society is one in which people predominate who are purified from the dirt of sins, believe in the concept of sin, and examine their own consciences. A clean environment therefore is one in which not only the physical atmosphere is clean, but also the spiritual and moral atmosphere. The prerequisite of moral environmentalism is purity of thought, mind, and heart. Thus, Islamic environmentalism is with its spiritual and moral aspect, first and foremost a theocentric and anthropocentric environmentalism.123
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi provides us with a fine example of the cleanliness which we have seen holds such an important place in Islam. He paid the greatest attention to cleanliness in every aspect of his life. For instance, his dress always being clean when meeting with others, using sweetly-smelling scent, and keeping his house spotless, which he stated were all ways of winning God’s pleasure.
“This exalted, universal cleansing which keeps the palace of the universe clean is the manifestation and requirement of the Divine Name of Most Holy. And just as the glorification of all creatures looks to the Name of Most Holy, so also does the Name of Most Holy require the cleanliness of all of them. (We must not forget that bad qualities, false beliefs, sins, and innovations are all instance of moral and spiritual dirt) It is because of this sacred connection of cleanliness that the Hadith, ‘Cleanliness is a part of belief’124 deems it to be a light of belief. And the verse, Indeed, God loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean125 shows that cleanliness is a means of attracting God’s love.”126
Witnesses to Bediuzzaman’s cleanliness
In his work, Son Şahitler Bediüzzaman Said Nursî’yi Anlatıyor, Necmeddin Şahiner quotes the following from among those he interviewed:
First Example: “Bediuzzaman paid the greatest attention to cleanliness. He always wore two pairs of socks, particularly in Barla. When he was going to perform the prayers, he would take off the outer pair…”127
Second Example: “…I have a memory of one time I visited him which I can never forget. I perceived a fragrant otherworldly odour. Everywhere was bathed in light. He was ill. His clothes were shining white like snow. His bed was spotlessly clean like his clothes.”128
Third Example: “He mostly wore white. He paid great attention to cleanliness. Most of the time we could not tell which of his laundry had been washed and which was to be washed. He bathed once a week and frequently changed his clothes…”129
Fourth Example: “… I believe there was no one cleaner in the world. I have never seen anyone cleaner than him. The most fragrant things in the world were nothing beside him, he was so pure and clean…”130
J. Air Pollution and the Winds Cleaning the Air
The World Health Organization’s definition of air pollution is: “Foreign substances in the air, which being of a higher density than normal have an adverse influence on the health of living beings or cause physical harm.” Despite being indispensable for the continuance of life on the earth, the air is becoming polluted by various sorts of industrial emissions, and this is adversely affecting life of all sorts. Since during the process of industrialization the air’s importance in the ecosystem was not taken into consideration in all its dimensions, the balance was not preserved. The Qur’an, however, warned Muslims centuries ago about this matter, drawing their attention to the air and its importance. Muslims are therefore obliged to preserve this natural balance at all stages of their lives and technological development. The ecological balance itself, which God created, all requires this of us.
When we consider the wonderful balance, we see this: by inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, men and animals have since they first appeared been polluting nature. Had the process continued in the same way, life would have been exhausted after a certain point, unable to continue. However, Divine power and wisdom maintained the balance in the optimum manner. The carbon dioxide that men and animals exhale, green plants, that is, those with chlorophyll, take in, and by means of energy from the sun and water, produce glucose, on which they feed. This process is called photosynthesis. Thus, the balance is maintained by plants taking in the carbon dioxide that animals have discharged, and themselves discharging oxygen. In fact, what is called air pollution is nothing other than the natural recycling capacity of the air being exceeded; that is, the balance of the air’s purification and recycling being broken. As a result of industrialization, on the one hand emissions of carbon dioxide greatly increased, and on the other, the green areas that recycled the air, and particularly forests, were destroyed. The result is the air pollution we all complain about, and the dramatic results that are its consequence.131
As we mentioned above, the Qur’an insistently mentions the ecological balance, requiring us to preserve it. For example, it points out that by driving forward the clouds, which await the Divine command between the heavens and the earth, the winds are evidence for God’s existence and unity for people who think, it is informing us plainly that they are one of the factors ensuring our healthy living on this planet.132
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi too mentions the numerous tasks of the winds: their cleaning the turbid atmosphere, assisting in the respiration of living beings, the pollination of plants, the driving of the clouds, and in the sending of the rain from the clouds:
“As eyelids obey the command to clean the eye and flies to brush their wings, so the extensive atmosphere and the clouds obey it. The air blows upon the pieces of dust and soil settled on the surface and face of the earth and cleans it. The sponges of the clouds sprinkle water on the garden of the earth and becalm the dust and soil. Then, in order not to dirty the sky, the air quickly collects the earth’s rubbish and withdraws and hides itself with perfect orderliness. It displays the beautiful face and eye of the skies as swept and polished, all sparkling and shining.”133
In expounding verse 164 of Sura al-Baqara, Bediuzzaman mentions the benefits of the winds and clouds:
“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the oceans for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the disposal of the winds and the clouds subjugated between the sky and the earth, indeed are signs for people who think.
“…. and the manifestation of wisdom and mercy in the employment of the winds in important duties like assisting in the pollination and respiration of plants and animals and in the impelling and regulating of them so as to make them suitable to perform those duties; and the manifestation of dominicality in the subjugation and gathering together of the clouds, the means of mercy, suspended between the skies and the earth in great strange masses, and dispersing them, as though dispersing an army for rest and then summoning them back to their duties. Then, in order to urge the mind to ponder over their details and essential truths, it says: Indeed are signs for people who think.134 In order to rouse people’s minds with it, it refers it to their faculties of reason.”135
While describing how the winds and clouds testify to Divine power and mercy, he mentions too their useful tasks:
“The winds, which are charged with numerous duties like providing the sustenance most vital for animate creatures, and the easiest to benefit from, and ensuring and facilitating respiration, for some purpose turn the atmosphere into a ‘tablet for writing and erasing,’ thus pointing to the activity of Your power and testifying to Your existence. Similarly, the mercy milked through Your compassion from the clouds and sent to living beings, testifies through the words of its balanced, orderly droplets, to the breadth of Your mercy and compassion.”136
The stages in gaining awareness of the environment, that is, in environmental education, are listed as follows by the American Society For Environmental Education:
- Taking an interest in the environment.
- Being informed about the environment.
- Having a stand towards the environment.
- Taking part in environmental activities.
- Gaining experience in environmentalism.
In addition, in order to be an environmentalist, a person has to be aware of his responsibility, avoid wastefulness, and act in a balanced manner, avoiding extremes and excesses. He has to love nature and live at one with nature. In short, he has to make environmentalism his standard of behaviour, and then has to disseminate it among others.
If we consider the Risale-i Nur Collection and its author Bediuzzaman Said Nursi in the light of the pieces quoted in this paper, as well as the attributes mentioned above, we see that from the First Word to the end, throughout the Risale-i Nur, Bediuzzaman draws attention to natural phenomena with the examples he gives. This proves his concern with the subject. He gives examples like delicate leaves being protected against the rays of the sun, and fine rootlets passing easily through hard earth.
His holistic point of view is also important in connection with the preservation of the ecological balance. That is, beings are interrelated like the links of a chain, so one link being harmed causes harm to the whole system. In the Risale-i Nur, the universe is presented as one of the three chief (universal) evidences of Divine unity, and is called “the Book of the Universe.” It is shown to be a whole which expresses a meaning. Moreover, he studies all the evidence demonstrating its wholeness and unity, such as, order, regularity, cleanliness, mutual assistance, solidarity, and so on. The detailed information he gives about nature shows how knowledgeable and concerned Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was with this subject.
Then the facts that he avoided wastefulness in his own life, fed ants, had concern for cats, birds, and other animals, liked to live at one with nature, frequently made trips out into the countryside and the mountains show too his environmentalist attitude, that he had made this his standard of behaviour, and reflected it in his conduct.
In conclusion it may be said that a person who reads the Qur’an and the Risale-i Nur, a contemporary commentary on it, from beginning to end and understands them, will become aware (through the idea that beings signify one other than themselves, like a word) that the beings in the universe bear a meaning. Believing that each being is charged with duties, will avoid all actions harmful to them. This is conduct that is to be expected from people who have acquired an environmentalist awareness. Finally, we may say comfortably that the Qur’an, Islam, and the Risale-i Nur educate people about the environment in one respect.
By Davud Aydüz, PhD.
FOURTH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON BEDIUZZAMAN SAID NURSI
A Contemporary Approach Towards Understanding The Qur’an: The Example of Risale-i Nur
20-22 September, 1998, Istanbul
1. Uslu, İbrahim, Çevre Sorunları (İstanbul: 1995) 7-8.
2. Oğuz, Erol, “Coğrafya Açısından Çevre,” paper given at Çevrebilim Simpozyumu (Ankara: TÜBİTAK Yayını, 1982) 33.
3. Arat, Zeynep, “İktisat ve Çevre,” paper given at Çevrebilim Simpozyumu (Ankara: TÜBİTAK Yayını, 1982) 57.
4. Ozankaya, Özer, Toplumbilim Terimler Sözlüğü (Ankara: T.D.K. Yayını, 1975).
5. Kışlalı, Mine ‘ Berkes, Fikret, Ekoloji ve Çevre Bilimleri (Ankara: TÇSV Yayını, 1985) 18.
6. Özdemir, Şevket, Türkiye’de Toplumsal Değişme ve Çevre Sorunlarına Duyarlılık (Ankara: Palme Yayınları, 1988) 10.
7. Görmez, Kemal, Çevre Sorunları ve Türkiye (Ankara: Gazi Kitabevi, 1997) 10.
8. Erinç, Sırrı, Ortam Ekolojisi ve Degradasyonel Ekosistem Değişimleri (Istanbul: İ.Ü. Denizbilimleri ve Coğrafya Enst. Yayınları, 1984) 3.
9. Gürpınar, Ergün, Çevre Sorunları Ders Notları (İstanbul: 1989) 3.
10. Cangızbay, Kadir, “Habeas Corpus’tan Habeas Quikos’a veya Ekolojizmin Zorunlu Güzergâhı,” in Türkiye Günlüğü, No: 3, pp. 39-40.
11. Görmez, Kemal, “Çevre, Çevre Sorunları ve Çevre Politikaları Üzerine Bazı Mülâhazalar,” in Türkiye Günlüğü, Haziran 1989, No: 3, p. 6.
12. Özer, Öznur, Çevre Konusunda Tanımlar ve Açıklamalar, Çevre Sorunlarına Giriş (Mobil Yayınları) 4.
13. Ayvaz, Zafer, Düşünce Hevenkleri (İzmir: T.Ö.V. Yayınları, 1993) 103.
14. “The Worldwide Fund for Nature has published these discussion in the form of a series of books. Islam and Ecology, ed. Khalid, Fazlun ‘ O’Brien, Joanne, (New York: 1992). The others in the series are: Buddhism and Ecology, ed. Batchelor, M. ‘ Brown, K.; Christianity and Ecology, ed. Breuilly, E. ‘ Palmer, M; Hinduism and Ecology, Prime, R.; Judaism and Ecology, Rose, A.” Quoted from, Özdemir, İbrahim, ‘ Yükselmiş, Münir, Çevre Sorunları ve İslâm, (Ankara: 1995) 26.
15. Çevre Sorunları ve İslam, 27, quoted from, Toynbee, Arnold ‘ Daisaku İkeda, Ya_amı Seçin [Turk. trans. Umut Arık] (Ankara: Ankara Üniv. Basımevi, 1992) 46.
16. Çevre Sorunları ve İslam, 28, quoted from, Komisyon, Ortak Geleceğimiz (Türkiye Çevre Sorunları Vakfı Yayını) 67.
17. Çevre Sorunları ve İslam, 29, quoted from, Naess, Arne, Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992) 185.
18. Qur’an, 41:53.
19. See, Qur’an, 71:15; 10:6; 2:164; 36:37; 50:6-11; 22:5.
20. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Sözler (Istanbul: Sözler Yayınevi, 1993) 229 / The Words [Eng. trans.] (Istanbul: Sözler Publications, new edn. 1998) 243.
21. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Lem’alar, (Istanbul: Sözler Yayınevi, 1995) 333 / The Flashes Collection [Eng. trans.] (Istanbul: Sözler Publications, 1995) 415. For the universe being “an embodied book of the Glorious One” etc., see also, Nursi, Şuâlar (Istanbul: Sözler Yayınevi, 1992) 115, 124, 177 / The Rays Collection [Eng. trans.] (Sözler Publications, 1998) 163, 169, 228.
22. Sözler, 565 / The Words, 608. For the universe acting as a mirror to the Divine Names, see also, Nursi, Mesnevi-i Nûriye (Istanbul: Sözler Yayınevi, 1996) 182.
23. Mesnevi-i Nûriye, 46-55. For other examples, see, Mesnevi-i Nûriye, 80, 126; Nursî, Nur’un İlk Kapısı (Istanbul: Sözler Yayınevi, 1977) 106.
24. Qur’an, 30:22.
25. Qur’an, 17:44.
26. Qur’an, 55:6. For other verses related to this, see also, 22:18; 24:41; 57:1; 13:15; 59:1; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1.
27. Nasr, Seyyid Hüseyin, İnsan ve Tabiat [Turk. trans. Nabi Avcı] (Istanbul: 1991) 15.
28. Bayraktar, İslam ve Ekoloji, 35-8.
29. Qur’an, 22:18.
30. Sözler, 342 / The Words, 361.
31. Sözler, 498 / The Words, 530.
32. Qur’an, 54:49.
33. Qur’an, 15:21.
34. Nasr, İnsan ve Tabiat, 14.
35. Çevre Sorunları ve İslâm, 80.
36. Qur’an, 15:21.
37. Lem’alar, 321-2 / The Flashes Collection, 400-1.
38. Qur’an, 2:30.
39. Nasr, İnsan ve Tabiat, 91.
40. Çevre Sorunları ve İslâm, 89.
41. Qur’an, 2:205.
42. Qur’an, 34:15-16; 26:134, 146, 148, 176.
43. Qur’an, 30:41.
44. Qur’an, 55:7-9.
45. Nasr, İnsan ve Tabiat, 12.
46. Qur’an, 2:29.
47. Qur’an, 2:30.
48. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, İşârâtü’l-İ’caz (İstanbul: Sözler Yayınevi , 1978) 212-230.
49. Şuâlar, 181-2 / The Rays Collection, 233.
50. Qur’an, 55:7-9.
51. Lem’alar,322-3 / The Flashes Collection, 402.
52. Qur’an, 7:31.
53. Qur’an, 17:27.
54. Samastı, 49.
55. Qur’an, 7:31.
56. Musnad, i, 447; al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, v, 454, No; 7939; al-Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, iii, 36; vi, 49, 56, 57.
57. Qur’an, 51:58.
58. Qur’an, 11:6.
59. Mundhiri, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, i, 586; Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din, iii, 242; Imam ‘Ali, Nahj al-Balagha, 508.
60. For these examples, see, Lem’alar, 146-7 / The Flashes Collection, 195; Mektûbat, 61-3 / Letters, 88-90; Emirdağ Lahikası (İstanbul: Envar Neşriyat, 1992) i, 283.
61. Mektûbat, 63 / Letters, 90.
62. Şahiner, Necmeddin, Son Şahitler Bediüzzaman Said Nursî’yi Anlatıyor (İstanbul: 1993) iv, 104.
63. Son Şahitler, iv, 232.
64. Son Şahitler, iv, 270.
65. Son Şahitler, iv, 390.
66. Qur’an, 7:180.
67. Qur’an, 51:48.
68. There are numerous Hadiths on this subject. See, Muslim, Tahara, 1; Darimi, Vudu’, 2; Musnad, v, 342, 344; al-‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, 291.
69. Qur’an, 2:222.
70. Lem’alar, 320 / The Flashes Collection, 399.
71. Qur’an, 6:38.
72. Qur’an, 16:5-6.
73. Qur’an, 16:7.
74. Atik, M. Kemal, Kur’an ve Çevre, Kayseri 1992, 96.
75. Özdemir, İbrahim, ‘ Yükselmiş, Münir, Çevre Sorunları ve İslâm, 114-116.
76. Qur’an, 100:1-5.
77. Qur’an, 24:45.
78. Şuâlar, 11 / The Rays Collection, 20.
79. Lem’alar, 333 / The Flashes Collection, 415. For the universe being an “embodied book,” see, Şuâlar, 121-2, 124-5, 177 / The Rays Collection, 166, 169, 228-9. The Seventh Ray, The Supreme Sign, which relates “the observations of a traveller questioning the universe concerning his Maker,” is in its entirety on this subject.
80. Sözler, 342-8 / The Words, 361-7.
81. Sözler, 346 / The Words, 365-6.
82. Mektûbat, 63 / Letters, 90.
83. Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, Lâtif Nükteler (Istanbul: Sözler Yayınevi, 1988) 7 / The Flashes Collection, 340-1.
84. Musnad, ii, 235.
85. Lâtif Nükteler, 7-8 / The Flashes Collection, 341.
86. Qur’an, 22:73.
87. Lâtif Nükteler, 5-6, 8-9 / The Flashes Collection, 339-41.
88. Lâtif Nükteler, 10-11 / The Flashes Collection, 343.
89. The whole verse is: O men! Here is a parable set forth; listen to it! Those on whom you call besides God cannot create [even] a fly, if they all met together for the purpose! And if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly. Feeble are those who petition and those whom they petition! (22:73)
90. Qur’an, 22:73.
91. Lâtif Nükteler, 10 h / The Flashes Collection, 343 fn 5.
92. Sözler, 345-6 / The Words, 364.
93. Qur’an, 38:19.
94. Qur’an, 27:16.
95. Sözler, 253 / The Words, 267-8.
96. Risale-i Nur Külliyatı Müellifi Bediüzzaman Said Nursî [Tarihçe] (İstanbul: Sözler Yayınevi, 1976) 39.
97. Mektûbat, 248 / Letters, 309.
98. Emirdağ Lahikası, i, 170.
99. Şahiner, Son Şahitler, ii, 150.
100. Son Şahitler, iii, 59.
101. Son Şahitler, iii, 141.
102. Son Şahitler, iii, 126.
103. Son Şahitler, iii, 59.
104. Son Şahitler, iv, 174.
105. Sözler, 216-17 / The Words, 234-6.
106. Sözler, 583 / The Words, 628.
107. Sözler, 647 / The Words, 700. …..
108. Şuâlar, 29-30 / The Rays Collection, 42.
109. For First, Second, and Third Examples, see, Sözler, 274-5 fns 3, 6, 7, / The Words, 289-90 fns 5, 8, 9.
110. Lem’alar, 141 / The Flashes Collection, 187.
111. Tarihçe, 147-8.
112. Tarihçe, 285.
113. Tarihçe, 399-400.
114. Muslim, Tahara, 1.
115. Abu Da’ud, Sunan, Salat, 73.
116. Qur’an, 5:6.
117. Musnad, i, 304.
118. Bukhari, Jum’a, 8; Muslim, Tahara, 42.
119. Has, Polat, “El Temizliği ve Sağlığımız,” in Sızıntı, no: ix, 97.
120. Bukhari, Vudu’, 52.
121. Bukhari, Vudu’, 51.
122. Lem’alar, 320 h / The Flashes Collection, 399 fn 2.
123. Bayraktar, İslam ve Ekoloji, 64.
124. There are numerous Hadiths on this question. See, Muslim, Tahara, 1; Darimi, Vudu’, 2; Musnad, v, 342, 344; al-‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, 291.
125. Qur’an, 2:222.
126. Lem’alar, 320 / The Flashes Collection, 399.
127. Son Şahitler, i, 325.
128. Son Şahitler, iv, 164.
129. Son Şahitler, iii, 64.
130. Son Şahitler, iii, 157.
131. Çevre Sorunları ve İslâm, 95-6.
132. Qur’an, 41:16; 54:19; 69:6; 30:46, 48; 25:48; 7:57.
133. Lem’alar, 319 / The Flashes Collection, 397.
134. Qur’an, 2:164.
135. Sözler, 406 / The Words, 430.
136. Şuâlar, 40 / The Rays Collection, 55.
* DAVUD AYDÜZ, PhD
Dr. Davud Aydüz was born in Çanakkale Province in 1962. After graduating from Biga Imam-Hatip School, he enrolled in the School of Islamic Sciences in Atatürk University, Erzurum, from where he graduated in 1986. He received his doctorate from the Social Sciences Institute of Marmara University in1992, and was employed as a preacher in the Istanbul islands from 1990-3. In 1993 he worked in the Theology Faculty of Harran University, and from there was appointed Assistant Doçent in Sakarya University, where he is at present. He was appointed Doçent in 1996. His published works include, İslâm İktisadında Narh (Fixed Prices in Islamic Economics); Kur’an-ı Kerim’de Besinler ve Şifa (Nutrition and Healing in the Holy Qur’an). He also writes for magazines and a newspaper.