Bediüzzaman Said Nursi (b. 1876–d. 1960) is considered by both his admirers and his opponents as one of the most influential figures of the 20th-century Muslim world. He lived, arguably, in one of the most hectic and bloodiest periods in human history.
He participated in World War I and felt the pains of World War II that caused the suffering of millions of innocents such as children and women.
Nursi divided his life into two periods, “Old Said” and “New Said.” While “Old Said” was more politically oriented, in the hope that politics would serve Islam, “New Said” devoted himself to the “truth of faith.” He remained a prominent Islamic figure of nonviolent opposition in Turkey until his death on 23 March 1960.
He was given the title “Bediüzzaman,” or “The most unique and superior person of the time” by his teachers as a confirmation of his extraordinary photographic memory and his great analytic abilities.
According to his biographers, what other students would accomplish in nine years, Nursi accomplished in three months. Nursi would ask his teachers to teach him the beginning part of each text book of the curriculum. He would learn the rest by himself.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, Nursi became much more aware of the importance of education. He viewed the establishment of al-Zahra University (Medresetuzzehra), in the city of Van, eastern Anatolia, as the greatest goal of his life, which he was unable to accomplish.
Nursi participated in World War I, where he was wounded and then captured. He subsequently managed to escape during the 1917 Russian Revolution and made his way to Istanbul. There, he led a nonviolent struggle against the British occupation of the city through his writings.
The leaders of the newly established Republic of Turkey honoured Nursi for his defense of Istanbul through his powerful writings against the British occupation by inviting him to Ankara to give a speech at the parliament.
After his famous speech at the parliament, a debate started between Nursi and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (b. 1881–d. 1938), the founder and first president of modern Turkey, who abolished many religious institutions that were inherited from the Ottoman state over the content of his speech, specifically regarding the importance of faith and prayer.
Nursi disagreed with Ataturk and left the capital for eastern Anatolia, his hometown. He thereafter faced an unprecedented amount of persecution by the ultrasecular Turkish government of the time.
Nursi spent the final thirty-four years of his life in and out of prison (which he called the “School of Joseph”) until his death on 23 March 1960. In an obituary of 24 March 1960, the New York Times claimed that Nursi’s students numbered one million.
Link to download some of Said Nursi’s books in Turkish, Arabic and in English :
An animation film demonstrating part of the life of the Turkish scholar Said Nursi