The concept of science (fann or ‘ilm) is among the key terms
used in the writings of Ustadh Nursi. Before we discuss his treatment of this
subject we need to point out that when a scholar makes use of a scientific
concept, he uses it in an approximate meaning utilized by the scientific
community of his time. In this sense we indeed have to use the scientific
theories that are dominant in our age. As human beings we cannot go much beyond
that conception. Ustadh Nursi himself point to this fact eloquently with an

Nowadays, because of the highly sophisticated methods and
means, and also through accumulation of scientific data, there are many issues
in geography, cosmology, chemistry, and applied geometry which have become clear
even to elementary school students; they even play as toys with some of these
scientific discoveries. But in the olden days these issues were ambiguous even
for Ibn Sina and scholars of his stature. But when we compare Ibn Sina’s
intelligence and his sophisticated scientific methodology with those of many
scientists and philosophers of our time, we will see that he is far superior to
many of them. In that case, that shortcoming does not belong to Ibn Sina
himself, because he is an ibn al-zamân (son of his age).1

What Ustadh Nursi also points at here is that it is not easy to
strip oneself from the preconceptions of his time. For this reason if one were
to change the common usage prevalent in his time, he must first justify himself
scientifically. When we consider this fact, we may first raise the question of
what kind of a concept of science was prevalent at the time of Ustadh Nursi. The
answer is not difficult, as we already know that the positivist conception of
science was predominant at that time; perhaps beginning with the time of August
Comte (1798-1857) until very recently this conception of science dominated the
philosophical scene, as well as the common conception prevalent among the
scientists themselves. Of course, considering the principle of ibn al-zamân as
expressed by Ustadh Nursi, not only could he himself have remained indifferent
to the positivist conception of science, but indeed he had adopted it in his
dealing with sciences. As a preliminary investigation we shall try to give some
evidence for his adoption of this conception.

First of all, his usage of the term ulûm-u müsbete (positive
sciences) gives at least a clear evidence of using the positivist terminology.
This is by itself sufficient to show that he accepts at least classification of
sciences into positive and metaphysical sciences. This classification is
evidently based on the positivist concept of science. Secondly, since according
to the positivists, scientific truth is exact, precise and thus gives certainty,
as opposed to the metaphysical sciences, Ustadh Nursi wants to show that if the
scientific method is correctly applied in metaphysical sciences, the same result
will be achieved. He states that “Risâle-i Nur uses demonstrative proof
(bürhân-ı kâtı’)” which is for him the scientific method and for this reason it
addresses the human mind convincingly.2 But that which “establishes
the conclusion of a demonstrative proof in metaphysical sciences is belief
(îmân). Demonstrative proof is only a means” to attain that certainty.3
We shall discuss this point as his metaphysical methodology below, and thus at
this point present it only as an evidence for his adoption of the current
concept of science in his time. Thirdly, Ustadh Nursi’s emphasis on the
scientific achievements of our time also shows the signs of this adoption. This
emphasis carries the tone of the problem of underdevelopment in such a way that
i’lâ-yı kelimetullah is said to depend upon “material development” which is
connected with modern science and technology. Moreover, he argues that “at the
time of civilizational progress science and knowledge reigns supreme in the
world”.4 (Tasallut-u medeniyetin zamanında âlemin hükümranı, ilim ve

Although Ustadh Nursi adopted the concept of science prevalent
at his time he did not accept this conception without any modification. On the
contrary the concept of science as a scientific theory was modified and was
dressed in a new clothing. The statement which best exemplifies this
modification is found in his attempt to reconcile the religious sciences taught
in the madrasas with the natural sciences of his time: “It is necessary to mix
and combine modern science with the religious sciences of the madrasas” he
declared.5 This reconciliation is also carried into a theoretical

The light of conscience is religious sciences (ulûm-u
diniye). The light of the mind is modern sciences (fünûn-u medeniye).
Reconciliation of both manifests the truth. The student’s skills develop further
with these two (sciences). When they are separated, from the former superstition
and from the latter corruption and skepticism is born.6

Muslims were indeed successful in the past when they faced a
similar problem but in a different form in earlier ages. Greek philosophy, for
example was modified and applied in many areas of Islamic thought. But some of
the Muslim philosophers, such as Ibn Sina, al-Fârâbî, and Ibn Rushd, tried to
construct a worldview based on this transformation. Ustadh Nursi is clearly
against this application of foreign ideas in such areas as what he calls ulûm-u
îmâniye, which is perhaps the metaphysical science within the terminology of
philosophers. But he is not against it in general scientific activities. Yet he
warns that when these transformations are made sometimes they are related to
certain religious issues and the scientific theory is conceived as a part of the
religion. In this case we must be careful not to mix the two different fields of
knowledge. Especially, scientific theories should be used in interpreting the
religious issues with utmost care.

Everything which has been brought in relation to religion
is not necessarily from religion. Similarly, to accept every issue, which has
been reconciled with Islam, as coming from the basic Islamic principles means
not to know these principles. For the fundamental four principles of Islam,
which are the Qur’an, sunnah, qiyâs and ijmâ’ (consensus), cannot include, nor
can lead to such issues.7

The emphasis is on the knowledge which yields the happiness of
this world and the one to come:

Knowledge is of two kinds: There is one kind of knowledge
which will suffice, if it is grasped once and reflected upon a few times. But
the other kind of knowledge is like nutrition and water; man constantly needs to
reflect upon it. He cannot say: ‘I have grasped it once and that is sufficient.’
The sciences of belief (ulûm-u îmâniye) are of this second kind. The Words (i.e.
Ustadh Nursi’s writings) are mostly, God-willing, belong to this kind.8

Man came to this world to be perfected by means of
knowledge and supplication. In regard to his nature and abilities everything is
tied to knowledge. And the foundation, source, light, and spirit of all true
knowledge is knowledge of God (ma’rifetullâh), and its essence and basis is
belief in God.9

For this reason Ustadh Nursi following the Qur’anic epistemology
maintains that “if knowledge lacks the insight of the heart it is ignorance”.10
The main reason, according to Ustadh Nursi, for this fact is that our mind needs
to absorb the religious truth with the help of the Revelation to which our heart
(qalb) and not our mind or reason is a mirror. He thus declares a general
principle that “the revealed truth is reasonable, but reason on its own cannot
attain it.”11 The insight of the heart is, therefore, provided by the
Qur’ân. But the insight of the human mind is the guiding light of other
sciences. For this reason, former Muslim scholars referred to these sciences
also as al-’ulûm al-’aqliyyah, which are mostly natural sciences. But we may ask
here what is the nature of these sciences according to Ustadh Nursi?

The reality of the universe and all beings is based on the
Divine Names. The reality of every being is based on one Name or on many. All
sciences and arts also based on and rely upon a Name. The true science of
philosophy is based on the Name of All-Wise (al-kakîm), true medicine on the
Name of Healer (al-Shâfî), and geometry on the Name of Determiner (al-Muqaddir),
and so on. And in the same way that each science is based on and ultimately ends
in a Name, the realities of all arts and sciences, and of all human perfections,
are based on the Divine Names.12

Ustadh Nursi thinks that this great truth of knowledge is
attained by a special way of observing the universe. For “all the observations
of one who views the universe in the name of God is true knowledge. But if one
observes the universe heedlessly in the name of causes, what he considers
knowledge is indeed ignorance.”13 In this sense science is taken as
an interpretation of the universe, which is a symbolic creation of God pointing
to a Truth (al-haqq) that is beyond themselves. Ustadh Nursi tries to illustrate
this nature of science with an allegorical story:

One time, a renowned Ruler who was both religious and a
fine craftsman wanted to write the Holy Qur’an in a script worthy of the
sacredness in its meaning and the miraculousness in its words, so that its
marvel displaying stature would be arrayed in wondrous apparel. And so the
artist King wrote the Qur’an in a truly wonderful fashion. He used all his
precious jewels in its writing. In order to point to the great variety of its
truths, he wrote some of its embodied letters in diamonds and emeralds, and some
in rubies and agate, and other sorts of precious stones and pearls, while others
he inscribed with silver and gold. And he adorned and decorated it in such a way
that everyone, those who knew how to read and those who did not, were full of
admiration and astonishment when they beheld it. Especially in the view of the
people of the truth, since the outer beauty was an indication to the brilliant
beauty and striking adornment in its meaning, it became a most precious antique.
Then the Ruler showed the artistically wrought and the bejeweled Qur’an to a
European philosopher and a Muslim scholar. In order to test them and for a
reward, he commanded them: “Each of you write a work about the wisdom of this!”
First the philosopher, then the scholar composed a book about it. However, the
philosopher’s book discussed only the decorations of the letters and their
relationships and conditions, and the properties of the jewels, and described
them. He did not touch on their meaning at all, for the European had no
knowledge of the Arabic script. He did not even know that the embellished Qur’an
was a book and a writing expressing a meaning. He rather looked at it as an
ornamented antique. He did not know any Arabic, but he was a very good engineer,
and he described things very well, and he was a skillful chemist, and an
ingenious jeweler. And so this man wrote his work according to those crafts and

As for the Muslim scholar, when he looked at the Qur’an, he
understood that it was the Perspicuous Book, the All-wise Qur’an. And so this
truth-loving person neither attached importance to the external adornments, nor
busied himself with something that was a million times higher, more elevated,
more subtle, more noble, more beneficial, and more comprehensive than the
matters with which the other man had busied himself. For discussing the sacred
truths and lights of the (mysteries) symbols beneath the veil of the
decorations, he wrote a truly fine commentary. Then the two of them took their
works and presented them to the Ruler. The Ruler first took the philosopher’s
work. He looked at it and saw that that self-centred and nature-worshipping man
had worked very hard, but he had written nothing of true wisdom. He had
understood nothing of its meaning. Indeed, he had confused it and been
disrespectful towards it, and ill-mannered even. For supposing that source of
truths, the Qur’an, to be meaningless decoration, he had insulted it as being
without value in regard to its meaning. And so the Wise Ruler hit him over the
head with his work and expelled him from his presence.

Then he looked at the work of the other, truth-loving,
scrupulous and saw that it was an extremely fine and beneficiary commentary, a
most wise composition full of guidance. “Congratulations! May God bless you!” he
said. Thus, wisdom is this and they call those who possess it knowledgeable and
wise. As for the other man, he was a craftsman who had exceeded his mark. Then
in reward for the scholar’s work he commanded that in return for each letter ten
gold pieces should be given him from his inexhaustible treasury.

And so, if you have understood the comparison, look at its
reality and see this: The ornamented Qur’an is this artistically fashioned
universe. And the Ruler is the pre-eternal All-Wise One. As for the two men,
one-the European represents philosophy and its followers; and the other, the
Qur’an and its students. Yes, the All-Wise Qur’an a most elevated expounder, a
most eloquent translator of the Mighty Qur’an of the universe. Yes, it is the
criterion which instructs man and the jinn concerning the signs of creation
inscribed by the pen of power on the pages of the universe and on the leaves of
time. And it looks at beings, each of which is a meaningful letter, as bearing
the meaning of another, that is, it looks at them on account of their maker. It
says, “How beautifully they have been made! how exquisitely they point to the
beauty of their maker!” And through this shows the universe’s true beauty. But
the philosophy they call natural philosophy or science has plunged into the
decorations of the letters of beings and into their relationships, and has
become bewildered; it has confused the way of reality. While the letters of this
mighty book should be looked at as bearing the meaning of another, that is, on
account of God, they have not done this; they have looked at beings as
signifying themselves. That is, they have looked at beings on account of beings
and have discussed them in that way. Instead of saying, “How beautifully they
have been made”, they say “How beautiful they are”, and have made them ugly. In
doing this they have insulted the universe, and made it complain about them.
Indeed philosophy without religion is a sophistry, divorced from reality and an
insult to the universe.14

Ustadh Nursi’s conclusion leads us directly to the language
science utilizes in expressing its discoveries and in formulating its theories.
As we have seen above, he severely critisizes the scientific language used in
Western science. In this connection he suggests the language of the Qur’an as a
model. He argues that the Divine language, as it is a guidance for us in every
respect of our social life, should be taken as a guidance in expressing
scientific discoveries and truth, or even in formulatin scientific theories. The
question is, then: How does the Qur’an address the natural phenomena? Nursi puts
this question in the following manner: “Why does the Qur’an not speak of beings
in the same way as philosophy and science?”

He replies that the Qur’an speaks of certain phenomena discussed
in sciences in a rather simple and superficial manner, because its actual
purpose is to explain the meanings of the universe laid in front of us as a
great book in order to make known its Creator.15 For this reason it
uses a language which leads man to form a habit of mind to look at things not
for themselves but for their Creator, and this is the true guidance. While the
state of mind which results from the language of Western philosophy and science
leads man to look at beings for themselves. Moreover, this language addresses in
particular only the scientists. But the message of the Qur’an is general and it
addresses all classes of men. For example, when it talks about the sun, it says:

“The sun is a revolving lamp or lantern.” Because it does
not speak of the sun for itself and its nature, but because it is a sort of
spring of an order and centre of a system, and order and system are mirrors of
the Maker’s skill. Moreover, it says: “The sun runs its course” meaning that it
revolves. Through calling to mind the well-ordered disposals of Divine power in
the revolutions of winter and summer, and day and night with the phrase, The sun
revolves, it makes understood the Maker’s greatness. Thus, whatever the reality
of this revolving, it does not affect the order, which is woven and observed,
and which is the purpose. It also says, “And set the sun as a lamp”.16

This way the universe is depicted as a huge kingdom, and the
earth a palace in it, and the sun as a lamp, the moon as a night light and the
stars as decorations for man to reflect upon in order to reach the grandeur and
splendor of its Creator. But if we look at the language of science and
philosophy when it discusses the same subject, it says that; “The sun is a vast
burning liquid mass. It causes the planets which have been flung off from it to
revolve around it. Its mass is such-and-such. It is this, it is that, and so
on.” This kind of a language represents the sun, as well as other beings, as
things on their own, without an owner; it causes in our hearts an awesome dread
and a fearful wonder. Therefore, it does not give to the spirit any perfection
of knowledge or any moral lesson. It is this kind of philosophy which Nursi
described above as ‘divorced from religion’. In order to give a concrete example
for what Nursi is trying to say here I shall complete my discussion with another
long quotation that exemplifies this scientific language. In a sense, the
paragraph below can be taken as a model for the scientific language which he
wants to establish:

The All-Wise Maker has created the human body as though it
was a well-arranged city. A number of the blood vessels performed the duties of
telephones and telegraphs, while others of them are like pipes from a fountain
through which blood, the water of life, flows. As for blood, created within it
are two sorts of corpuscles. One of them, known as red corpuscles, distributes
nutrients to the cells of the body; it conveys sustenance to the cells according
to a Divine law (like merchants and food officials). The other sort are white
corpuscles, which are fewer in number than the former. Their duty, like
soldiers, is defense against enemies, such as illness. Whenever undertake that
defense, with their two revolutions, like Mevlevî Dervishes, they take on a
swift and wonderful state. As for blood as a whole, it has two general duties;
the first is to repair damage done to the body cells and the second is to
collect any waste-matter from the cells and clean the body. There are two sorts
of blood vessels, veins and arteries. One of these carry purified blood, they
are the channels through which clean blood is conveyed. The others are the
channels for the turbid blood which collects the waste-matter; these convey the
blood to where breathing occurs; the lungs.

The All-Wise Maker created in the air two elements,
nitrogen and oxygen. As for oxygen, when it comes into contact with the blood in
breathing, it draws to itself, like amber, the impure element, carbon, which is
polluting the blood. The two combine and are transformed into matter called
carbonic acid gas. Oxygen also maintain the body temperature, and purifies the
blood. This is because, in the science of chemistry, the All-Wise Maker bestowed
on oxygen and carbon an intense relationship, which might be described as
‘chemical passion’, whereby, according to this Divine law, when these two
elements come close to each other, they combine. It has been established by
science that heat is produced by combining, because it is a sort of combustion.

The wisdom in this is as follows: the motion of the particles of
those two elements is different. On combining, the particles of one element
unite with those of the other, each two particles thereafter moving with a
single motion. One motion remains suspended, because before combining there were
two motions; now two particles have become one. Each pair of particles has
acquired a motion like a single particle. The other motion is transformed into
heat according to a law of the All-Wise Maker. As a matter of fact, ‘motion
produces heat’ is an established principle.

Thus, as a consequence of this fact, by this chemical
combination, as carbon is removed from the blood the body temperature of human
beings is maintained and at the same time the blood is purified. On inhaling,
oxygen both cleanses the body’s water of life and kindles the fire of life. On
exhaling, it yields, in the mouth, the fruit of words, which are miracles of
Divine Power.17


1. Muhakemât, printed in his collected works as Risâle-i Nur
Külliyâtı, 2 vols. (İstanbul: Nesil Basım-Yayın, 1996), 2: 1987. Henceforth
abbreviated as Külliyât.

2. Emirdağ Lâhikası, in Külliyât, 1715. This is repeated in
many places of his Külliyât.

3. Mesnevî-i Nûriye, “Şemme”, in the Külliyât, 2: 1346.

4. Dîvan-ı Harb-i Örfî, in the Külliyât, 2; 1934.

5. Münazarât, in Ibid., 2: 1956.

6. Ibid.

7. Muhakemât, in the Külliyât, 2: 2010.

8. Barla Lahikası, in the Külliyât, 2: 1516.

9. The Words, trans. by Şükran Vahide (İstanbul: Sözler
Neşriyat, 1992), 324.

10. The Letters, trans. by Şükran Vahide (İstanbul: Sözler
Neşriyat, 1997), 545.

11. The Words, slightly modified from the trans. by Şükran
Vahide, op. cit., 171.

12. Ibid., modified slightly from the trans. by Şükran
Vahide, 655.

13. Mesnevî-i Nûriye, “Şemme”, in the Külliyât, 2: 1347.

14. The Words, 143-5.

15. Ibid., 251.

16. Ibid., 251-2

17. Ibid., 622, n. 3.