UNDERSTANDING MUSLIM INTERNAL CONFLICTS : Some Inspirations from Badiuzzaman Said Nursi
This article discusses Nursi’s ideas on the causes and cures of Muslim internal conflicts with particular reference to The Flashes Collection and The Damascus Sermon. It suggests that internal conflicts have become an “appalling disease” that makes Muslims all around the world disunited, powerless, hopeless, painful, disgraceful, alienated, enslaved, and unable to implement their mission to spread love on earth (rahmatan lil
‘alamin). It also suggests that, Muslim internal conflicts can be avoided if they work hard to attain and maintain sincerity, break their ego, avoid dispute and losing heart, be strong,
and wise in social life, work together for the sake of virtue and piety, be tolerant, and be
self-critical. They also need to maintain mutual respects, improve cooperation, develop multi-dimensional understanding of Islam, intensify their communication, being open- minded, develop better education and higher intellectual capability, and improve consciousness to respect differences.
Introduction: Ideals and Reality about Muslims
This article discusses why internal conflicts occur among Muslim believers, what are the impacts of the conflicts on Muslim society, and how to cure them with particular reference to Nursi’s ideas as described in The Flashes Collection, especially The Twentieth Flash on Sincerity and The Damascus Sermon.
There is no dispute among scholars of religious studies that man’s most fundamental need is the need for religion, the need to recognize and worship Almighty God, and to obey His laws. Religion can be ideological and cultural, affecting social relations. It can be both integrating and disintegrating forces. It can be a cultural self expression that produces alienating elements, legitimates the existing power relations, and be the glue or the common bond that keeps a community together.1 As an integrating force, religion can provide its followers or a community of believers with guidance for developing a peaceful and harmonious life, make them become a peace and harmony makers, and enable them to manage differences and conflicts. All religions suggest that harmony is an essential element for developing good social life and that tension and conflict are harmful to society. All religions consider every person or group who triggers and causes conflict as a trouble maker. If the believers fail to utilize the integrating force of their religions, they will gradually create what Johan Galtung (1996) describes as destruction and deculturation, and what Durkheim describes as “anomie.”
Social relations among the believers, especially in a pluralistic society, at local, regional, national, and international level is always up and down. Harmony and disharmony always come and go, depending on the capability of the believers to control the integrating and disintegrating forces of their religions. This may be the reason why, despite the noble teachings of every religion, such as harmony, peace, mutual respect, and togetherness, the social, cultural, economic, and political reality among the believers has not met these teachings. In many places and cases, religion becomes a disintegrating force, a prime source of tensions, conflicts, and violence, with religious leaders, scholars, and activists as the main actors involved, not as an integrating force.
One of the fundamental teachings of Islam is to spread love on earth (rahmatan lil alamin). Islam admits religious pluralism,2 promotes religious freedom,3 encourages religious harmony,4 allows fair competition in promoting goods,5 being cooperative with other religions,6 advises its followers to be just to other believers7 and protects all religious centers.8 These characteristics of Islam are reflected in the principles of
Madinah Charter.9 With these principle teachings, Muslims all around the world are guaranteed to be united in the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation. They can live in harmony and become the best community of believers (khoiru ummah) that live with the spirit of love. Islam wants its followers to live in love and avoid enmity. Good Muslims promote and defend love, unity, peace, and harmony and avoid hatred, conflict, and disunity.
In reality, however, Muslims all around the world frequently involve in tension, hatred, disharmony, and conflicts internally and externally. There are continuous tension and conflict between imams, kyais,10 Sufi leaders, Mullahs, Islamic organizations, Islamic political parties, and madzhabs. There are also continuous conflicts between the
traditionalists and the modernists, between the extremists and the moderates, and between the orthodox and the progressive groups at local, national, and international level.
Internal conflicts have been one of the most disturbing problems in Muslim society. Although many explanations have been given regarding the causes of the conflicts and many measures have been taken as the cures, the conflicts continue to occur and reoccur, spreading at individual, organizational, local, national, and international levels, causing disunity, isolation, frustration, hopelessness, and despair in Muslims’ religious, social, economic, and political life.
This reality shows that for many Muslims, Islam has not been an integrating force, but rather a disintegrating force. Indeed, it opposes the very mission of Islam as a peace and love maker on earth (rahmatan lil alamin) and makes Muslims disunited, powerless, and hopeless. Internal conflicts have triggered social, cultural, and political conflicts among Muslims. They have been one of the sad sites of the history of Muslim society all around the world. Internal conflicts have spread and damaged their life and reputation. They make social relationships among Muslims fragile, weaken their political life, and destroy their religious life. Furthermore, internal conflicts have created a negative image about Islam and Muslims. Many people, including some Muslims, begin to see Islam as a major cause of social and political problems and Muslims are trouble makers, not love and peace makers. Certainly, Muslims do not have the respect to spread love and promote peace.
If no better understanding of the causes of the conflicts are developed and no better measures are taken to cure them, we can be sure that Muslim internal conflicts will continue to spread wider and wider and bigger and bigger, gradually weakening Muslim communities. It is in this regard that, Muslims all around the world badly need inspiring sources of ideas to develop better understanding and insight about the causes and cures of their internal conflicts. It is also in this regard that, they need to find some inspirations in the works of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi , a “seminal,” “committed,” and “pioneering” thinker of the twentieth century.11
Nursi pays a lot of attention on the problems faced by Muslims. When he delivered sermon in the historic Umayyad Mosque in early 1911, he told the jama’ah (his audiences) what he described as “six dire sicknesses” of Muslims;
1. The rising to life of despair and hopelessness in social life.
2. The death of truthfulness in social and political life.
3. Love of enmity.
4. Not knowing the luminous bonds that bind the believers to one another.
5. Despotism, which spreads, becoming widespread as though it was various contagious diseases.
6. Restricting endeavour to what is personally beneficial.12
In order to cure these six diseases, Nursi introduced his “six ‘Words’,13” including hope (the nurture a strong hope of God’s mercy), eliminating despair (do not despair of God’s mercy), truthfulness and honesty, love and loving, Islamic brotherhood, and mutual consultation enjoined by the Shari’ah. These cures, according to Nursi, are lessons that he learnt “from the pharmacy of the Qur’an.” For him, Qur’an is “like a faculty of medicine.”14 In particular, Nursi pays a lot of attention on Muslim internal conflicts. He often expresses his deep concern with widespread and continuous conflicts among Muslims and discusses the causes and cures of this particular problem with his students. He considers such conflicts as one of the most destructive problems in the life of Muslims.
Nursi’s ideas regarding various problems of humanity, including Muslim internal conflicts can be found in his work, Rasalei Nur. Although most of his discussions on the causes and cures of Muslim internal conflicts refer to Turkish twentieth century experiences, his ideas and arguments are helpful to all humanity. Risalei Nur can be a source of inspirations for Muslims and non-Muslims all around the world to understand and cure their fundamental problems. It is a book that is “uniquely fitted to address not only all Muslims but indeed all mankind for several reasons.”15 It is written in accordance with modern man’s mentality, a mentality that, whether Muslims or not, has been deeply imbued by materialist philosophy.16 Risalei Nur is answers to all the ‘why’s’ that mark the questioning mind of modern man. It explains the most profound matters of belief, which formerly only advanced scholars studied in detail, in such a way that every one, even those to whom the subject is new, may understand and gain something without it causing any difficulties or harm.1
Why Religious Conflicts? Seven Causes
Social conflicts have attracted scholars from many disciplines. Sociological and psychological studies suggest four major elements that simultaneously involved in social conflicts: facilitating context, core (roots) of conflict, fuse factor, and triggering factors.18
The impacts of conflicts in society vary, depending on the form of the conflicts. If the conflicts occur at instrumental level, their impacts can be very limited and they can be stopped immediately. If the conflicts occur at ideological level, their impacts can be widespread and they will be very difficult to manage. The impacts of religious conflicts can be very destructive and harsh, because those involved in the conflicts do not act for themselves, but for abstract goals that they consider higher and more honorable.19 In his psychological study of conflicts, Pruitt (1999) suggests that conflicts can come from three sources: psychological motivation, cognition, and culture. Conflicts, he adds, can escalate and prolong when parties involved begin to use “harsh tactics” and “prejudice”20
Sociologists are divided in explaining why conflicts occur within a society. One group introduces a consensus theory, suggesting that a society exists because its members are able to reach an agreement regarding many aspects of their daily life. Another group introduces coercion theory, suggesting that social unity does not due to consensus, but due to coercive attitude among dominant group.
Like many sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists, Nursi also pays a lot of attention on many types of religiously related social conflicts, including Muslim internal conflicts. For him, conflict among Muslim believers is an “important” and “awesome” question and an “appalling disease” 21 that brings a “painful, disgraceful and awesome situation, and causes the zealous to weep.”22 For him, conflicts among
Muslims, especially among scholars and sufi are strange. As he questions the facts: “Why is it that while the worldly and the neglectful, and even the misguided and hypocrites, co- operate without rivalry, the people of religion, the religious scholars, and those who follow the Sufi path, oppose each other in rivalry, although they are the people of truth and concord?”23 In his view, only the hypocrites who involve in such conflicts; “agreement belongs in reality to the people of concord and dispute to the hypocrites; how is it that these two have changed places?”24
Nursi pays a lot of attention on the causes and cures of Muslim internal conflicts. He argues that Muslim internal conflicts due to lack of ikhlas (sincerity). This argument is based on verse 2 of Chapter 29 (al ‘ankabut) of the Qur’an: “verily We sent the Book down to you in truth, so worship God in sincerity, for God’s is sincerely practiced religion.” Nursi also bases his argument on a hadith: “all men will perish, except the scholars, and all scholars will perish except those who act in accordance with their knowledge, and all of them will perish except the sincere, and even the sincere are in great danger.”25 According to him, this Qur’anic verse and hadith “demonstrate together how important a principle of Islam is sincerity.”26 In relation to this understanding of sincerity, he identifies seven major causes of Muslim internal religious conflicts.
First, competition for moral and material rewards. According to Nursi, Muslim scholars need to dedicate themselves to all men, without expecting moral and material reward. In his words: “But as for the people of religion, the scholars, and those who follow the path, the duty of each is concerned with all men; their material reward is not set and specified; and their share in social esteem and acceptance and public attention is not predetermined.”27 Expecting moral and material rewards, according to Nursi, will lead to rivalry, discord, and dispute. As he explains: “Many may be candidates for the same position; many hands may stretch out for each moral and material reward that is offered. Hence it is that conflict and rivalry arise; concern is changed into discord, and agreement into dispute.”28
Second, self-fulfilling truth. “On account of difference in outlook,” said Nursi, “they [the people of guidance and religion] feel no real need for the aid of the one whose outlook apparently opposes their own, and see no need for agreement and unity.”29 “Indeed,” he further said, “if obstinacy and egoism are present, one will imagine himself to be right and the other to be wrong; discord and rivalry take the place of concord and love. Thus sincerity is chased away and its function disrupted.”30 Nursi observes that self- fulfilling truth makes many Muslims unable to be critical to one another in a fair manner. “Our worst calamity and sickness,” he said, “is that criticism which is based on pride and deception.”31 “If fairness utilizes criticism, it pares the truth.”32 “Whereas if it is pride that employs it [criticism],” he further adds, “it mutilates and destroys it.”33 “The very worst sort [of unfair criticism],” according to Nursi, “is that which is leveled at the tenets of beliefs and questions of religion.”34 “For belief comprises both affirmation, and exercise of the mind, and commitment, and surrender, and compliance,” he explains, “criticism of this sort [unfair] destroys the compliance, commitment, and mental exercise”.35
The third cause of rivalry among the believers, according to Nursi, is being ambitious and greedy for reward in the hereafter. “Disagreement among the people of truth,” he said, “does not arise from lack of zeal and aspiration, nor does union among the people of misguidance arise from loftiness of aspiration.”36 “That which impels the people of guidance to the misuse of their high aspiration and hence to disagreement and rivalry,” he further said, “is the desire for heavenly reward that is counted as a praiseworthy quality in respect of the hereafter, and extreme eagerness with respect to duties pertaining to the hereafter.37 This ambitious and greedy attitude, according to Nursi, is an “error,” “wound,” and “awesome sickness of the spirit.” “Greed and precipitancy,” he believes, “are the cause of loss.”38 “The greedy and hasty person,” he further believes, “will not act in accordance with the successive causes in creation, like the steps of a staircase, and therefore will not be successful.”39 “Even if he is,” Nursi adds, “since he skips some of the steps of the natural progression, he falls into despair, and then, when overcome by heedlessness, the door is opened to him.”40
The fourth cause of conflicts and rivalry among the believers, according to Nursi, is loosing sense of direction and sincerity. In his words: “… the people of guidance, through the influence of truth and reality, do not succumb to the blind emotion of the soul, and follow instead the farsighted inclinations of the heart and the intellect.”41 “Since, however, the fail to preserve their sense of direction and their sincerity,” Nursi adds, “they are unable to maintain their high station and fall into dispute.”42 He stresses that, losing sense of direction and sincerity is a “serious disease” among the believers.43
The fifth cause of conflicts and rivalry among the believers, according to Nursi, is lack of community and collective personality. “The lack of union of the people of guidance,” he said, “comes from the power that results from the support provided by perfect belief, and the union of the people of neglect.”44 “The people of truth,” he adds, “submit to and place their reliance in the firm source of support that is belief in God; hence they do not present their needs to others or request aid and assistance from them.”45 “The people of truth,” Nursi further adds, “do not recognize and seek the true strength that is to be found in union; hence they fall into dispute, as an evil and harmful consequence of this failure.”46 This lack of community and collective personal, he concludes, is “[a] disease of discord” that is “harmful” to Islam.47
The sixth cause of conflicts and rivalry among the believers, according to Nursi, is lack of brotherhood, love, and cooperation. “The people of truth,” he explains, “are generally concerned with benefits to be had in the hereafter and hence direct their zeal, aspiration and manliness to those important and numerous matters.” “Since they do not devote time –the true capital of man—to a single concern,” he further explains, “their union with their fellows can never become firm.” “Their concerns,” he adds, “are numerous and of a wide scope.”48 For him, “the people of truth are obliged to flatter and cringe before a handful of vile and lowly men of the world.”49 “The person who does not understand the true meaning of co-operation,” he said, “is more lifeless than a stone.”50 “For some stones arch themselves to co-operate with their brother,” he adds, “such a stone, despite being a stone, leans towards his brother in the dome when he leaves the builder’s hand and bows his head so it touches his brother’s head, and so they keep from falling.”51
The seventh cause of conflicts and rivalry among the people of truth, according to Nursi, is jealousy. “The people of truth,” he said, “are unable to preserve fully the magnanimity and high aspiration that proceed from the truth, or the laudable form of competition that exists on God’s path.”52 “Infiltrated by the unworthy,” he further said, “they [the people of truth] partially misuse that laudable form of competition and fall into rivalry and disputes, causing gave harm both to themselves and to the Islamic community.53 “O people of truth given to dispute and afflicted with disaster!,” Nursi advises, “it is through your loss of sincerity and your failure to make God’s pleasure your sole aim in this age of disaster that you have caused the people of truth to undergo this humiliation and defeat.”54 “In matters relating to religion and hereafter,” he advises his fellow Muslims, “there should be no rivalry, envy or jealousy.”55 “Indeed,” he emphasizes, “there can be none of these [rivalry, envy, and jealousy) in truth.”56
What are the Cures?
Many studies have been done to develop better understanding of religiously related conflicts and better ways to stop them. In his review of sociological studies on conflict resolution, Mudzhar identifies five sociological ways to resolve conflicts. The first way is through winning-losing struggle. In this way, conflict is resolved by using political and physical pressures that end with a winning party and a loosing one. This way is also known as a zero-sum game. The second way is bargaining, that all parties involved are trying to reach an oral or written agreement by accepting each other’s demands. The third way is mediation. A third party is invited to involve, not to make a decision, but to assist bargaining process. The fourth way is arbitration. All parties involved authorize a third party to make a binding decision. The fifth way is adjudication, that all parties let a court to make a decision.57 Among these five ways, said Mudzhar, sociologists believe that bargaining and mediation are the most peaceful solution.58
Another sociological perspective on conflict resolution is given by Imam Tholkhah when he introduces what he describes as a community based conflict resolution. In order to implement this approach, he suggests, there are four principles that need to be adopted: (1) developing the tradition of dialogue, (2) nurturing genuine social brotherhood, (3) nurturing social creativity and innovation, and (4) developing social trust to government.59 Governmental and non-governmental organizations, he further suggests, must play roles as motivator and facilitator.60 These organizations, he argues, can provide community leaders with multicultural education; assisting the leaders to identify and analyze their social situation as well as developing their social awareness; and assisting community leaders to develop the tradition of dialogue (p. 12). In his study, Pola Kerukunan di Tanah Deli, another sociologist, Karim identifies three major causes of religious conflicts: (1) the willingness of a group to impose their unique characteristics, (2) the expansive attitude of a certain group of religious followers, and (3) the use of religion to justify and defend vested interests.61
With regard to the first cause of Muslim internal conflicts, competition for moral and material reward, Nursi suggests that the cure is “sincerity.” He advises Muslims to work hard to attain sincerity by worshipping God. In his words: “sincerity may be attained by preferring the worship of God to the worship of one’s own soul, by causing God’s pleasure to vanquish the pleasure of the soul and the ego.”62 This effort, said Nursi, is the manifestation of the meaning of the following verse of the Qur’an: “Verily my reward is from God alone.” Nursi also suggests that sincerity can be developed by renouncing the material and moral reward to be had from men. This way, he explains, is manifesting the meaning of the following verse: Naught is incumbent on the Messenger but conveying the message.63 The third way to attain sincerity, Nursi further suggests, is “by knowing that such matters as goodly acceptance, and making a favourable impression, and gaining the attention of men are God’s concern and a favour from Him, and that they play no part in conveying the message, which is one’s own duty, nor are they necessary for it, nor is one charged with gaining them.” In this way, he believes, a person will be successful in gaining sincerity, otherwise it will vanish.64
In relation to the second cause of Muslim internal conflicts, self-fulfilling truth,Nursi suggests “nine commands” as the remedy:
1. To act positively, that is, out of love for one’s own outlook, avoiding enmity for other outlooks, not criticizing them, interfering in their beliefs and sciences, or in any way concerning oneself with them.
2. To unite within the fold of Islam, irrespective of particular outlook, remembering those numerous ties of unity that evokes love, brotherhood and concord.
3. To adopt the just rule of conduct that the followers of any right outlook has the right to say, “My outlook is true, or the best,” but not that “My outlook alone is true,” or that “My outlook alone is good,” thus implying the falsity or repugnance of all other outlooks.
4. To consider that union with the people of truth is a cause of Divine succour and the high dignity of religion.
5. To realize that the individual resistance of the most powerful person against the attacks through its genius of the mighty collective force of the people of misguidance and falsehood, which arises from their solidarity, will inevitably be defeated, and through the union of the people of truth, to create a joint and collective force also, in order to preserve justice and right in the face of that fearsome collective force of misguidance.
6. In order to preserve truth from the assaults of falsehood.
7. To abandon the self and its egoism.
8. And give up the mistaken concept of self-pride,
9. And cease from all insignificant feelings aroused by rivalry.65
Nursi believes that adopting these nine commands will enable Muslims to maintain and develop sincerity. “If this nine fold rule is adhered to,” he suggests, “sincerity will be preserved and its function perfectly performed.”66 “At this time of doubts and hesitation,” he further suggests, “it is necessary to look favourably on the positive ideas and encouraging statements that emerge from luminous, warm hearts, and to foster and strengthen the exercise of the mind and commitment.”67
With regard to the third cause of conflicts among Muslims, being ambitious and greedy for reward in the hereafter, Nursi suggests Muslim believers to realize that the success of their worldly deeds is not determined by worldly benefits, but by the extend to which the deeds are sincerely done and accepted by God. In this regard, he wants all Muslims to remember one principle: “God’s pleasure is won by sincerity alone, and not by a large following or great success.”68
With regard to the fourth cause, losing sense of direction and sincerity, the cure and remedy, according to Nursi, “is to be proud of the company of all those traveling the path of truth, in accordance with the principle of love for God’s sake; to follow them and defer leadership to them; and to consider whoever is walking on God’s path to be probably better than oneself, thereby breaking the ego and regaining sincerity.”69
To cure the fifth cause, lack of community and collective personal among the believers which he described as “a disease of discord” and “harmful” fact to Islam, Nursi suggests the people of truth to make one’s rule of conduct, do not fall into dispute, do not lose heart, be strong,70 be wise in social life, and work together for the sake of virtue and piety. He stresses that dispute is harmful to Islam and “helps the people of misguidance to triumph over the people of truth.”71 Instead, he suggests, the people of truth must wholeheartedly and self-sacrificingly join “the caravan of the people of truth, with a sense of his own utter weakness and importance.”72 Nursi further suggests that, “one must forget his own person, abandon hypocrisy and pretension, and lay hold of sincerity.”73
Abandoning hypocrisy is also a major theme in the Damascus Sermon that Nursi delivered in the Ummayyad Mosque in 1911. According to him, “truthfulness is the basis and foundation of Islam, and the bond between people of good character, and the basis of elevated emotions.”74 He added that truthfulness and honesty is the cure of moral and spiritual sicknesses among Muslims.75 “Yes,” he said, “truthfulness and honesty are the vital principles in the life of Islamic society.”76 “Hypocrisy, “he further said, “is a sort of actualized lying.”77 “Flattery and artifice,” he explained, “are cowardly lying.”78