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The Concept of Prayer in Said Nursi's Works
Jan 1, 2004

One of the most famous Turkish Islamic scholars of the last century was Said Nursi. Nursi, who had a great influence on Turkish people, wrote over 50 books and spent most of his life behind bars. Today, his teachings are admired by Turkey's young generation and millions of Muslims all over the world. Also widely known by his Turkish sobriquet, Bediuzzaman, or the Wonder of the Age, Nursi was born in 1877 in eastern Turkey. Bediuzzaman displayed an extraordinary intelligence and ability to learn from an early age, completing the normal course of religious school education by the age of fourteen, when he obtained his diploma. He became famous for both his prodigious memory and his unrivalled record in de- bating with other religious scholars. From an early age Bediuzzaman displayed an instinctive dissatisfaction with the existing education system, which later in life he formulated into comprehensive proposals for educational reform, writing his books in his reformist style.

In his great works, the main precept of his philosophy was that God had sent people two kinds of books; one that is written and one that is created. Namely, these two books are the Qur'an and the Universe. Since both of these came from the same God as guidance for humanity, there can be no conflict between them. Indeed, it is impossible to understand one of them without the other, because they reveal and explain one another. While the universe can be compared to a book that is filled with multiple manifestations of God's exalted names and attributes, which are displayed for all existence, the Qur'an can be compared to a manual that guides us through these manifestations on the path to finding God. Therefore, believers should make no distinction between the Qur'an and the universe. In short, the Qur'an and the universe can be called, if I may coin a term, books of coexistence.

In his writings, Nursi examines the universe in the way indicated by the Holy Qur'an, that is reading it for its meaning, learning The Divine Names and Attributes, and other truths of belief. The purpose of this book is to describe its Author and Maker, and to subscribe all evidence of life in the universe to their Creator. Thus, an important element when studying the writings of Nursi, the Risale-i Nur, is to reflect or contemplate, i.e. to 'read the Book of the Universe in order to increase one's knowledge of God and to affirm faith in His existence'. By using this method Bediuzzaman solves many mysteries of religion in the Risale-i Nur, such as bodily resurrection, Divine Destiny, man's will, the riddle of the constant activity of the universe and the motion of particles.

Once one understands that the books of coexistence concept is the central point in Nursi's philosophy, it is quite possible to see traces of that idea in all his works. In this essay, I will establish the connections between the books of coexistence and Nursi's Concept of Prayer. This will serve as an appendage to Nursi's writings on the Concept of Prayer.

The Idea of Prayer within the Books of Coexistence

According to Nursi's perspective, existence is divided into two parts. The first is that of God, whose source of existence is Himself, while the second is the rest of all existence, created by God Himself. In other words, the first part is the Creator and the second is the creation. Since every single thing in the universe has a purpose, the entire universe must have a purpose too. The purpose of its existence is to display God's attributes and to worship and praise Him. In that sense, even though the average person does not understand the prayer of creation in a profound way, everything, even every particle in the universe, worships and prays to God in its own language. Like all sentient beings, each particle says "In the name of God" at the start of a motion, and it raises loads infinitely exceeding its strength. For example, a tiny seed carries the weight of a huge pine tree. Upon completion of its duty, a particle says "All praise be to God." By exhibiting an art that is beautiful and full of purpose and a beauty that is fine and beneficial, astounding to all minds, it displays a work of art like an ode in praise to the Glorious Maker.

In every facet of every motion of every single particle the light of Divine Unity shines like the sun. If a particle is not a representative of God, acting with His permission and under His authority, and if it is not undergoing change within His knowledge and limitless power, then it must have eyes that see everything, a face that looks to all things, and authority over all things. For every particle within each of the four elements acts, or can act, in an orderly fashion, in harmony with all animate beings. The order within things and laws according to which they are formed differ from one thing to the next. If this order was not known to the particles, the particles could not act, or even if they could act, they could not act without error. Nevertheless, we see that everything acts without any error. In which case, the particles which are performing their duties are either acting with the permission and the command, and within the knowledge and at the will of the Owner of an all-encompassing knowledge, or they themselves must have such an all-encompassing knowledge and power.1

"Those in the heavens and on earth prostrate themselves to God willingly or unwillingly, and so do their shadows, mornings and evenings." (Qur'an 13:15)"The seven heavens andthe earth, and all beings therein, declare His glory: there is nothing but celebrates His praise; And yet you understand not how they declare His glory! Verily He is All-Clement, Most Forgiving ."(Qur'an 17:44)

After stating Nursi's point about the purpose of all beings, considering them as worshippers of God, it is then necessary to make clear that this point of view comes from the Qur'an. In other words, Nursi looks at nature, the universe, and the creation from the perspective of the Qur'anic verses. According to him, as the Qur'an is the revealed version of God's created book, that is, of all of existence, one who desires the most beneficial knowledge concerning existence should read this revealed version. And this is what Nursi continuously does, even though sometimes he does not cite the Qur'an directly. In this sense, the following verses could be considered as the basis of what he takes from the Holy Book, the Qur'an:"Those in the heavens and on earth prostrate themselves to God willingly or unwillingly, and so do their shadows mornings and evenings." (13/15) "See you not that to God bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth, -the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind? ..." (22/18) "And the herbs and the trees both prostrate themselves to God." (55/6) "There is none in the heavens and the earth but comes unto the Most Gracious God as a worshiper." (19/93) "The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His glory: there is no a thing but celebrates His praise; And yet you understand not how they declare His glory! Verily He is All-Clement, Most Forgiving." (17/44) The Concept of Prayer in Nursi's Works Nursi divides prayer into two main groups: The prayer of all existence, including human beings, and the prayer of human beings, the first of which is subdivided into four.

a. The Prayer of Movement and Cessation

According to Nursi, when we look casually at the universe, we can see that every particle is either moving or at rest. Each particle, be it moving or at rest, is working in an orderly fashion with the other particles in the universe. In other words, even though every particle is, at any given time, either moving or resting in a connected environment with all other particles, there is no chaos that can be observed in the universe. There can be two explanations for this situation; either every particle in the universe knows exactly when every other particle is going to move or cease moving and acts in a manner that takes these factors into account, or every single particle is a representative and worshiper of God, acting with His permission and under His authority, and saying "In the name of God" before every movement and "All praise be to God" before stopping and resting; that is, it is acting with the permission of God and in an orderly manner. Nursi finds the second explanation more reasonable than the first and he regards every movement and cessation of every single particle as a type of prayer; this prayer I have termed the prayer of movement and cessation.2

b. The Prayer of Ability

All creatures pray to God through their language of need. For instance, a sprouting seed prays to God and virtually says: "O my Lord! To be able to display Your Attributes and Names, I need to grow. Please make me grow and give me a chance to reflect your divine names in a detailed fashion. Allow me to become a tree." Moreover, Nursi sees cause and effect as a prayer of ability. He gives the example of a seed again, and says that when water, the light of the sun, and soil come near a seed, they all pray to God to make the seed grow into a tree. As they do not have the power to make the seed into a tree, the only thing that they can do is to pray to God; they pray to God in their own languages. Therefore, water, sunlight and soil are not the true cause of the tree. As the Qur'an states, even if we do not understand their prayers and their worship, these things are no more than worshipers. The real cause of the tree is God. Otherwise, one would have to admit that water knows how to get help from the sun, and the sun knows the needs of the seed, and the seed knows how to grow into an orange or apple tree.

c. The Prayer of Need

Nursi says that every living being prays to God to get what it needs in the language of need. As living beings do not have the authority or the ability to get what they need, such as water, air, and light, with their own power, that is, they cannot create what they need, they must therefore pray to God in the language of need in order to attain what they require. When we look at nature, we can observe that living things get their needs in an appropriate season in an appropriate amount. They get water from the heavens at the appropriate time in the appropriate amount. They get light from the sun at the appropriate time in the appropriate amount. They get all the oxygen or carbon dioxide they need to breathe from the atmosphere. Does a tree have the power to make clouds bring rain? Does a flower have strength enough to command the sun to shine? Can an animal tell the trees to produce oxygen? Actually, the only power these things have is the power of the prayer of need.3

d. The Prayer of Inability

According to Nursi, when one is in a difficult situation, such as finding oneself in poverty or in distress, helpless, inadequate, or not able to change one's situation, then this will lead to another kind of prayer, the prayer of inabi-lity. According to his perspective, if a living being is in a difficult situation, such as when a whale is beached and is unable to rescue itself, the inability of that creature becomes a form of prayer to God in its own language, begging to be rescued from the difficult situation.4 The best example we can select from the Risale-i Nur concerning the prayer of inability is the story of Jonah. As stated in the Qur'an, Jonah was sent to a town as a prophet. Preaching over many years, he realized that the people of the town were not going to believe him. He then left the town, without first asking the permission of God, and went to sea. While traveling, a hurricane came and he fell into the dark sea. After all these things had happened, he then recognized and accepted that no one could rescue him except God; he had no power to help himself. At that time, his inability, his weakness, his distress became a prayer and then a whale came and swallowed him. Finally, the whale spat him out on the land; it was a miraculous rescue. From Nursi's point of view, neither Jonah nor the whale had the power to solve the problem. Nevertheless, Jonah's distress was a prayer to God in its own language and God had the whale help him.5

The Prayer of Human Beings

a. The Prayer of the Tongue

The prayer of the tongue is a prayer of human beings in their own languages to attain what they need or what they seek. For instance, a sick person may say "O my Lord! I would love to be healthy," and beg for such a cure from God. In which case, God will either give this person exactly what he/she was seeking, such as a cure, as he/she had requested, or whatever he/she needs, such as staying unhealthy, if being healthy and full of bodily desires may lead this person to a rebellious life style. Actually, the main purpose of prayer is merely to worship God, to establish a good relationship with Him, and to seek His good pleasure. The earthly effects of prayer are the unintentional effects of the prayer and God's gifts to the worshiper. Because prayer is the main worship of God, there cannot be any intention in it except to please God. Therefore, the needs of the human being are secondary to the glorification of God. For instance, farmers pray to God for rain at a time of drought, or sailors pray to God when a storm strikes to seek the protection of God. Nevertheless, neither the rain nor the protection of God is the main purpose of such prayers. On the contrary, the drought is the correct time of prayer for farmers and the storm is the correct time of prayer for sailors. In short, every need of a human being is a right cause and time to pray to God and to establish a good relationship with him, but these are not the main purposes of the prayer.6

b. The Prayer of Conscious Action

Human beings always have a goal that they are trying to reach. Students attempt to pass their examinations, businessmen attempt to make greater profits, engineers seek to improve product quality, and so on. What these people have in common is that they are trying to attain their goals. Students study to pass the examinations, business men work harder to make greater profits, and engineers put greater effort into their work to produce better quality products. It is at this point that the prayer of conscious action emerges, according to Nursi. In his eyes, every action and the effort of every human being to reach their goal is a kind of prayer in the language of conscious action. The studying of students is a prayer to God in a special language, a prayer to help them pass their examinations, the efforts of businessmen are a prayer to God in a special language, a prayer to gain them greater profits, and the efforts of engineers are a prayer to God in a special language to improve product quality; all these actions are prayers addressed to God to help these people reach their goals.7 The roots of this concept are actually hidden in Nursi's perspective of cause and effect.

Although Nursi's ideas about cause and effect require a separate article to discuss them in detail, we can shed a little light on them here. Nursi has stated that the causes in nature cannot be the real causes of effects because the causes are not conscious of their effects. Moreover, they do not have the power to create the effects, and they do not always cause their effects. If it were otherwise, there would be as many different powers as there were causes. The result of this would necessarily be chaos in nature. However, the only reality in nature is unity. If there is unity in nature, there must be unity in power too. The only power is the power of God. Therefore, the real cause of the effects is God. Since the causes usually appear before the effects, people think that the cause dictates the effect. Nevertheless, there is no order of cause and effect, but there is just the previous and the next order. As this is the order that God put in nature, a human being must give importance to that order. If people do not respect and follow what God put in nature as an order, they will receive the punishment of nature, which is failure. In short, every action of every human being to reach his/her target is a kind of prayer to God, a prayer that shows respect to the order God has instilled in nature.8 In conclusion, Nursi looks at all of existence as a created existence, all of existence that is except God. Since there is just the Creator and the Creation, there can only be one type of relationship between them; this relationship is worship and prayer, and every scene witnessed in nature is a different sort of prayer. As stated in the Qur'an: "The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein, glorify Him and there is not a thing but glorifies His Praise. But you understand not their glorification. Truly, He is All-Clement, Most Forgiving." (17/44)


  1. Sozler, Nursi, Said, Envar Nesriyat, Istanbul, 1989, pp. 547-548.
  2. Ibid, p. 549.
  3. Mektubat, Nursi, Said, Istanbul, Envar Nesriyat, 1991, p.299.
  4. Ibid., pp.299-300.
  5. Ibid., p.300.
  6. Lem'alar, Nursi, Said, Istanbul, Envar Nesriyat, 1990, pp.7-10.
  7. Sozler, Nursi, Said, p.318.
  8. Ibid., p.318.