A piece of news that Ustad Bediuzzaman read in a newspaper in 1898, when he was a guest in the house the Governor of Province Van, was a milestone in his life. According to the news, in a speech he delivered in the House of Commons, Gladstone, the minister for colonies, held the Quran in his hand and said: “As long as this Quran is kept by the Muslims, we cannot dominate them. We must either take the Quran away from them, or we must alienate them from the Qur’an.”
This piece of news made a great impact on Bediuzzaman’s soul. It was this time that he made a decision saying “I will prove to the whole world that the Qur’an is an inextinguishable spiritual light.” and he devoted his life to prove this claim.
Bediuzzaman’s remedy against the idea of Europe to eliminate the Ottomans, in other words Islam, was to establish a kind of education which would be suitable for the needs of the era and which would put the Muslims superior to the west in terms of ideology and science. So he adopted the idea that an Islamic university should be established and this university should include the madrassa, the dervish lodge and school, which are the three basic educational institutions in the Eastern Anatolia, and he called this university as “Madrassatuz Zahra”.
It is possible to discuss his university project in three elements: the projection period; the partial application period; and the application period in the future. Now we would like to review these three periods briefly.
1. PROJECTION PERIOD OF MADRASSATUZ ZAHRA
Ustad Bediuzzaman wanted to realise three things in the Madrassatuz Zahra University:
a. Blending the religious sciences with material sciences: The young people who studied in European-style schools,established after the Political Reforms in the Ottomans,were having faith-related doubts in their hearts because of the effect of the sciences, which gave prominence to the “causes”. In the madrassas, some things, although proven by science, were welcomed with doubts or they were refused, and sometimes the people who were interested in these sciences were announced to be non-believers and this was all because of the fanaticism in the madrassas. Bediuzzaman who thought it was essential to blend the two sorts of sciences together in order to eliminate the contradiction between the schools and madrassas. With this blend, he wanted to get rid of the hostility between the two sides and eliminate the missing points of both sides, and make the two sides share their richness. Regarding this issue, he said: “The light of conscience is with the religious sciences. The light of the mind is with the sciences of civilizations. By the blend of this two, truth becomes visible. The success of the student rises with the two sides. When the two sides separate, first one results in fanaticism, and the second one results in trickery and causes doubts.”
b. Uniting the Dervish lodges with Madrassa: Ever since the first periods of Islam, madrassa and dervish lodge have existed as two educational institutions. These two bodies have co-existed peacefully for centuries and there were times when they disagreed on certain issues as well. In the last period of the Ottoman Empire, these disagreements happened and this situation destroyed the unity and solidarity of Muslims. Ustad Bediuzzaman wanted to blend the madrassa and dervish lodge together as well as the material and religious sciences. In the Munazarat treatise, he says that Madrassatuz Zahra is both a madrassa and school, and that it also bears the characteristics of a lodge so that these three institutions can benefit from each other by making peace under the same roof.
c. The Unity of Islam: Another goal of Bediuzzaman was to attract students from Saudi Arabia, India, Iran, Caucasia, Turkistan and all the Islamic countries and revive the unity and solidarity between Muslims. Regarding this issue, he says: “Azhar University is a big madrassa in Africa. Asia is larger than Africa. So Asia needs an Islamic university, a bigger centre for sciences so that Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia, India, Iran, Caucasia, Turkistan and the land of Kurds are not harmed by racism, and the rule of the Quran “Believers are brothers” can become true by the Islamic nation, which is the true, positive, sacred and collective.
Ustad Bediuzzaman presented his project to Sultan Rashad, who succeeded to the throne during the Constitutional Monarchy Period. Sultan Rashad supported this kind of university. So the foundations of Madrassatuz Zahra University were laid, but this attempt was left only half-finished due to the outbreak of the First World War. Ustad Bediuzzaman put this project on the agenda again during the years of The War of Independence. 163 representatives out of 200 in the new government in Ankara supported the establishment of this university. Nevertheless, it was not possible to realise this, and the madrassas were closed.
2. THE EMERGE OF MADRASSATUZ-ZAHRA AS A SPIRITUAL UNIVERSITY
Ustad Bediuzzaman wrote a many of the 130 pieces of the Risalei Nur Collection, accepted as an innovation in the Kalam sciences, in the Barla village of Isparta where he was exiled in 1926. We can say that Bediuzzaman realised, with these treatises, a big portion of what he wanted to achieve in the Madrassatuz Zahra University.
The Kalam science, taught in madrassas, was explaining the faith-related issues with reason, but did not emphasize Ma’rifatullah (knowledge of Allah) and Muhabbatullah (love of Allah). Tasawwuf , as opposed to Kalam, was making a bigger point of the heart and emphasizing Mari’fatullah and Muhabbatullah, and yet did not emphasize the importance of proving faith-related issues. Risale-i Nur, on the other hand, has blended the mind and heart, proved the faith-related issues with reasonable strong evidences and also put enough emphasis on Ma’rifatullah and Muhabbatullah issues. So we can say that Ustad Bediuzzaman has followed a way which connected the Kalam Science and Tasawwuf. Regarding this issue, he says: “As opposed to the books of other scholars, Risale-i Nur does not teach by using reason alone or it does not proceed by the discoveries and pleasures of the heart like the saints do. Contrarily, it teaches by uniting and blending the mind and heart, and with the harmony of the spirit and other senses, it flies to the highest point in the skies and reaches the points where the predominant philosophy cannot ever reach. Thus it shows the truths of Faith even to the blind.”
When Ustad Bediuzzaman explained the faith-related issues, he always brought examples from stars, the atmosphere, winds, rains, animals and plants, all studied by the positive sciences. So we can say that Ustad has blended the positive and religious sciences.
In conclusion, the treatises of Risale-i Nur are related to Kalam (madrassa) in terms of proving the faith-related issues, it is related to tasawwuf (Derwish Lodge) because it gains the knowledge and love of Allah, and it is also related to material sciences (School) because it brings the evidences from the outer world, plants and animals.
Ustad Bediuzzaman did not suffice with writing treatises that united the three institutions. He also succeeded to spread the treatises to so many parts in this country and gathered a mass of students around himself. For those who wanted to become his student, he asked them “to write , to get others to write and to spread the treatises in the community” as a condition. In other words, he often said this time is the time for communities and encouraged the students to gather around these treatises and form a collective personality. The self-sacrificing students in Isparta were writing the treatises and expanding the circle of students by delivering the treatises to Anatolia. Risalei Nur activities which began in a distant village in 1926, had reached 500,000 students according to the records of court and public prosecutors in spite of the great pressures, hardships, prisons and exiles of that time.
Ustad couldn’t establish the university he was imagining as a building, but he managed to build a spiritual university in Isparta with his students gathering around the Risale-i Nur Treatises that he wrote. Ustad praises Allah in some of his letters saying: “With the help of Allah, Barla became a chair, Isparta became a Madrassatuz Zahra and an Azhar University, and many cities turned into a madrassa.” He, many times, addressed his students as “pillars of Madrassatuz Zahra”. Some of his expressions in this matter are as follows:
The reality of Madrassatuz Zahra, which is the spirit and the basis of the Treatise of Munazarat was to prepare a base and a ground for Risale-i Nur that will rise in the future, and was unintentionally being directed to it. With an extrasensory perception, it was looking for that luminous reality in a material form. Allah the All-Merciful has created the spiritual identification of that madrassa in Isparta and bestowed Risale-i Nur.
“My glorious and loyal brothers, we praise Allah a hundred thousand times that you, the pillars of Madrassatuz Zahra, fully reflect the spiritual reality of Madrassatuz Zahra, which is the aim of my imagination for fifty five years and the consequence of my life.”
Although Ustad said that Isparta is a “Madrassatuz Zahra”, he didn’t give up the concrete establishment of Madrassatuz Zahra. In some of his letters, he willed his students to build Madrassatuz Zahra as a university. Here are some of his statements about this issue:
Oh Saids, Hamzas, Omars, Othmans, Yusufs, Ahmads, and so on. I am talking to you, who hide behind the supreme century after the year of three hundred, and who are silently listening to me and watching me with a hidden and unseen eye.
I am talking to you with the wireless telegraph which extends from the past rivers that are called history to your supreme future. What shall I do! I hurried and came in the winter. You, inshaAllah, will come in a paradise-like spring. The Noor seeds that are now planted will blossom in your time. I ask from you that you visit my grave when you are on your way to the past. Place some of those flowers on the top of the gravestone that is the doorman of the soil which hosts my bones.
Ustad explains that he means Madrassatuz Zahra as he says a flower in his speech as following: That is, Oh people who will come after a hundred years! Build a flower of the Madrassatuz Zahra on the top of Van castle. In other words, build the Madrassatuz Zahra concretely, which hasn’t revived bodily, but is living in a spiritually eternal and wide community.
InshaAllah, Risale-i Nur Students will manage to establish the concrete form of that supreme reality in the future.
3. TODAY AND THE PROJECT OF MADRASSATUZ ZAHRA
Our prophet (p.b.u.h) qualifies himself as an educator and a teacher in one of his sayings: “I was sent down as a teacher.” His Suffa (group of scholars) was both a madrassa and dervish lodge. He was training students in this Suffa who would spread Islam to the whole world, and encouraging them to teach and learn. Moreover, he didn’t led them to only religious knowledge, but to also intellectual and worldly knowledge saying, “Go study science even if it is in China.!” and “Wisdom is the lost thing of the believer, he grasps it wherever he finds it.”
In the first century of Islam, Muslims obtained an high rank over all communities with the developments in culture and civilization as a result of the understanding taught by their prophet (p.b.u.h). Their madrassas became examples for the western universities and their science and culture formed the basis of western civilization.
The Risalei Nur-centered Madrassatuz Zahra project of Ustad Bediuzzaman is a project that is similar to the Suffa of our Prophet (p.b.u.h) and to the scientific and cultural attitude of the first years of Islam. Even though 100 years has passed, this project still preserves its authenticity, refreshment and importance. All the Islamic countries from Morocco to Algeria, from Egypt to Pakistan, from Middle Asia to Indonesia, whether in the east or in the west are in need of this project of Bediuzzaman.
Madrassatuz Zahra project is one that contains beauties not only for the Islamic world but also for the whole world. In our time when the western civilization went bankrupt, all the humanity is facing big social problems. Islam is the only religion that can answer these problems. The German Muslim Dr. Murad Hofmann says “Islam not only sees itself as an alternative for the western society. It is actually the only alternative.” in his book titled “Islam: The Real Alternative”. Madrassatuz Zahra project has a reasonable, perfect structure that defends the Islamic truths in a most wonderful way. The Madrassatuz Zahra project promises the healtiest future for the individuals, families and societies in the world.
As a conclusion, we can say that Islam is the alternative for western civilization which has been bankrupted in terms of spiritual values. And Madrassatuz Zahra University is the alternative for western style, secular universities. We hope that the world listens to these alternatives.