Part 2 –The Glorious Names & Attributes of God

Part 2 – The Glorious Names & Attributes of God – What is True Belief?

This Blog Series explores the Glorious Names & Attributes of God, according to Said Nursi, and is based on my Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies research, at ISRA’s Centre for Islamic Studies & Civilisation, Charles Sturt University.

In this second blog article from our series on the Magnificent Names & Attributes of God in Islam, we explore and analyse what is true belief according to Said Nursi.

Flowing from Nursi’s Quranic focused approach, another key approach was based on his conviction that true belief consists of interpreting the signs that exist within and around one, that manifest God’s many names and attributes, in order to unlock the jewel of man and reveal his true worth – his position as God’s vicegerent on earth (Turner, 2008). Moreover, only by knowing himself, by reading the “cosmic text” and signs of God, can man come to know his Creator (Turner, 2008, p.58)

Only by knowing himself, by reading the “cosmic text” and signs of God, can man come to know his Creator (Turner, 2008, p.58)

 In light of the above, man’s mission in life according to Nursi’s, The Rays, is to see all things as ‘other-indicative’, where everything in his life becomes sacred, pointing and connecting to God, the “Nursian theology of the beautiful names”, Turner (2008) calls it, where all creation are manifestations of the Divine attributes.

Interestingly, if we compare his approach to accounts of creation from classical Islamic theology (kalam) and philosophy we find the following. Islamic theology sees the relationship between God and the universe as direct (with creation occurring out of nothing by God), whereas the philosophical view says the opposite, viewing an indirect relationship (with creation occurring out of matter). Nursi on the other hand, offers a differed approach, reconciling these two views, saying that creation out of nothing (origination) happens ‘with’ creation out of matter (composition)’ in the universe (Markham and Sayilgan, 2017).

The Cosmos is a divine, great and holy book

Embedded within his above approach, is depiction of the cosmos as a divine, great and holy book, composed of limitless verses and signs for man to decode and once understood are embodiments of the names of God. Nursi’s gratitude of the cosmos, with its multiplicity of occurrences for the continual and vigorous manifestation of God’s names and attributes, infuses every Nursian thought. (Turner, 2008). Nursi’s basic premise in the 32nd Word of the Risale-i Nur is that every single link in the chains of creation serves as an evidence or sign for the unity of God who permeates all things.

Nursi devotes the bulk of his writing to his “eloquent expositions of the book of Creation”, where all God’s words & expressions of His names & attributes are for all to read. Its only by reflecting on the perfect Divine names & attributes manifest in creation, with their infinite changes and nuances, that man can reach the truth of belief and fulfil his destiny, which is to act as a mirror and point of focus for the reflection of His Creator, and as a mirror to the manifestation of Divine oneness and of the “Eternally Besought One”(Turner, 2008, p.57-58).

Nursi’s full-length mirror analogy above depicts God as the ‘hidden treasure’ who manifests Himself to contemplate His perfection. God loves to manifest “His perfection and beauty in the mirror of creation” (Koca, 2015, p.5) He knows His own beauty and perfection but loves to know himself in a consciousness other than His. In the sphere of His acts, contemplation happens through creation and mankind. So according to Nursi, their manifestation & connection is consummated in human creation and existence.

For example, where beauty, mercy, and life are witnessed, we can observe the reflection of God’s Names of Beauty, such as The All-Merciful, The Gentle and The Generous. Where we observe nature (planets, flowers, mankind, the seasons), we can perceive His names of majesty, justice, holy, wisdom and power. Hence, the world is like a mirror reflecting God’s Divine names, qualities and attributes in Nursi’s approach. (Koca, 2015) Essentially Nursi’s position is that the Divine Names are the true reality of all creation, while the essences of things are but shadows of Gods reality, that the reality of every being is based on one or many names.

Said Nursi taught How to Read God’s signs

Hence towards this goal, a large part of Nursi’s approach was to teach his readers how to read God’s signs. An example, he states “A piece of art points to a well-ordered act. A well-ordered act points to a skilful agent and his/her attributes. The Divine Attributes indicate the existence of an innate ability. And an innate ability indicates the existence of an ‘exalted spirit and elevated essence” (Koca, 2015, p.5).

Turner (2008) believes that to an extent Nursi’s view is influenced by a number of Islamic thinkers, including Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240) and Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624). But undoubtedly the literary and moral teaching style he employs in articulation of his ideas are his own (Turner, 2008). For example, Koca (2015) considers that his approach is quite common in Sufi metaphysics, that the “reality of everything is based on the Divine Names, and the world is a locus where the Divine Names and attributes are unceasingly and ever-changingly reflected” (Koca, 2015, p.4).

Regarding Nursi’s foundational reasoning approach discussed so far in defending Tawhid and the Quranic goals, namely, the design/teleological argument in his ‘great big book of the universe’ approach and the cosmological argument (regarding the relationship between God, the cosmos, universe, creation, mankind and nature) both these were aimed at persuading the reader of the reasoning and truth behind his position (Turner and Eickelman, 2015).

With the cosmological argument, the design argument and his dialectic style to establish truths through reasoned arguments (championed by al-Ghazali in his refutation of the philosopher’s centuries earlier), he takes each proposition and tries to show what he believes is the failure of the naturalist approaches/propositions that imply unbelief (Turner, 2008). These include: the belief that causes are responsible for creation; the argument that things create them self; and the assumption that existence is due to nature creating it (Nursi, 2006). His goal in this being to clearly prove that with reason and rationality the only option is to accept the approach and existence of Divine unity.

Fused into his arguments in the 24th Word of the Risale-i Nur for example, he offers elaborate, rich illustrations with logical and factual analogies in creation and nature, showing how they explain proofs for God’s existence, which Abu-Rabi (2008) calls rather spiritual and inner dimensional. Essentially, we find the supremacy of the Divine attributes of perfection encompassed throughout, that specify and describe God’s bounties and actions in the world (Turner, 2008).

His basic approach explains worldly happenings and activities and then concludes that these all prove clearly the Divine at work ‘behind the scenes’…the actions of an All Powerful, All Knowing Maker, as though ‘behind a veil’, (the true causer) (Turner 2015). To this aim in one of his Risale-i Nur writings (33rd Word), he offers ‘thirty-three windows making known the Creator’ in The Words, filled with concise explanations of how the microcosm and macrocosm, that is, man and the universe, point to the existence and unity of God, and His dominical attributes.

Nursi’s discourse on nature as continuously created and pointing to the attributes of God, is not radically new in the Muslim tradition, Isra (2011) notes, however his metaphors and explanations are new and more fitting for a modern audience. Following is a summary of one of his analogies we find in the 32nd Word that highlights his unique style and approach.

“The microcosm and macrocosm, that is, man and the universe, point to the existence and unity of God, and His dominical attributes.”

Analogies that Prove God’s Unity

A particle addressing the naturalists, materialists and philosophers, explains how he performs innumerable duties, entering and working within creatures which are all different, moving from place to place and so forth. Then shouting challenges at them, that if they (particles) had the knowledge, power and authority to be employed in all those duties, (as the true owner and controller) only then could they claim to be master and ascribed to something other than God. That not being the case, the particle cleverly concludes that one who does not have infinite wisdom and all-encompassing knowledge should not interfere in this principle (Nursi, 2006). In this example, Nursi skilfully uses personification and anthropomorphism associating human characteristics to a particle, who becomes the main character in his analogy. Nursi follows the same strategies and lines of argument as the above analogy in many other places.

Another example from nature is found in the First Station of his 22nd Word, Nursi presents twelve proofs demonstrating allegorically how beings in the world speak of their Maker and point to His Unity. The whole chapter is based on a parable style conversation between two men, one who asks for proof that there is a single God and creator, the other who presents a series of twelve proofs using nature and creation to conclude that unless one accepts a single creator, many irrational issues arise.

An example of the influential approach Nursi takes with one of these twelve proofs above is by illustrating how God has taken the components of iron, water, earth, coal, copper, silver, and gold, and made creation out of them. The existence of which can only be possible if all these parts are under the power of one source/God and submissive to one will, God’s will. Similarly, he deduces that if we do not accept the existence of one creator, we have to attribute all God’s skills, arts, and perfections in the earth, humans and animals to the things themselves. Hence the logical mind would deem this unlikely, just as one would have to accept millions like him, causing both confusion and disorder, Nursi concludes (Nursi, 2006).

However, perhaps one of his most persuasive arguments for the unity of God can be found in the of the Risale-i Nur’s 24th Word, where he highlights how a sultan has different titles in the areas of governing, different styles and attributes among his subjects, and different names and signs in the levels of his rule. Nursi likens these facts to how it is exactly the same for God, as Ruler in the worlds He has created, in the degrees of His power, in that He has attributes and designations which are all different but which complement each other, as well as names and signs which are different but which are one within the other, in His numerous actions, which all complete each another, in His multicoloured art and varieties of creation in nature, which are all different but are harmonious together.

Nursi’s basic approach here is that man is the place of manifestation of all the Names of God, and the variety of names simply results in the variety witnessed in the universe and the variety seen among humankind, the different laws, ways and paths of nations (Nursi, 2006).

Nursi’s approach to affirming and proving unity is essentially to affirm that all existence, beings, the universe, cosmos, nature, are all ‘created’ and therefore must be attributed to one source. His sun example stands out here. With the sun looking at thousands of reflective objects, hence we assume the sunlight reflected in them belongs to the one sun, which embraces all things equally.

To affirm oneness, however, Turner (2015) notes, according to Nursi, is to affirm that every reflective object reflects the sun uniquely, confirming the singularity of each reflective object. So not only is the sun one, but its manifestation in the object is single and unique. Using this principle clarifies the relationship between creation and God to the reader, namely that God’s oneness can be recognised from a single act, such as the growth of abundant crops, for the masses to benefit from (Turner and Eickelman, 2015).

Another classic example of his approach to the oneness and unity of God, is in Nursi’s The Rays where Nursi employs a lengthy convincing logical analogy to prove his point of view. He explains how there cannot be two kings or two governors ruling at the same time, because, “The mark of rulership is independence, solitariness, and the rejection of interference; rulership necessitates these”. He then connects this to how believing that there can be more than one leader of the universe is similarly irrational (Nursi, 2006).

Another great example of the above approach follows in his 30th Flash in the Risale-i Nur, where Nursi uses his mastery analogy skills to portray the universe as a book composed of hundreds of pages, words with hundreds of lines and letters with hundreds of words – all of which testify and prove the existence of a Master Author/Inscriber; “One word of the line is a tree which has opened its blossom and put forth its leaves in order to produce its fruit. This word consists of meaningful passages lauding and praising the All-Glorious Sapient One to the number of orderly, well proportioned, adorned leaves, flowers, and fruits.” (Nursi, 2006, p.400)

The above is one of hundreds of examples of Nursi’s repeated rich literary composition and style observed throughout the rest of the 30th Flash (and many other places in his writings), where he inspires the reader to consider the higher spiritual realities behind physical creation and nature, adding the faith concept of how everything in the universe glorifies its Wise, Compassionate Maker. (Nursi, 2006)

Written by Cynthia Aisha Meguid
Well-Being – Teacher, Educator, Consultant & Coach

Research Reference List

This blog article is based on my Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies Research, at ISRA’s Centre for Islamic Studies & Civilisation, Charles Sturt University, Australia. 

Click here to read Part 3: The Glorious Names & Attributes of God, according to Said Nursi – Significance of Nursi’s approach to Contemporary Issues