Good Life, Islam, and materialistic aspects of modern civilization
Many Western intellectuals and their counterparts in the
Muslim world assert that serving God or living a religious life is a
compensatory device contrived to console people for their own weaknesses and
defects. But such people, even though armed with science, technology, and the
illusions of freedom from belief and servanthood to a Supreme Being as well as
of their own existence as powerful beings, abase themselves before anyone or
thing, regardless of how low, if they consider it in their self-interest to do
Sincere believers do not follow this path of
self-degradation. Dignified servants of God, they reject any worship of that
which is not God, even if it is something of the greatest benefit, like
Paradise. Though modest and gentle in their nature and bearing, they “lower”
themselves voluntarily before others only to the degree that their Creator
permits. Though aware of their weakness and neediness before God, they rely upon
their One Master’s Wealth and Power and so are independent of others. They act
and strive purely for God’s sake and good pleasure, and to be equipped with
However, Islam does not reject modern civilization
altogether. According to Said Nursi, the most influential Turkish scholar and
writer of the 20th century, there are two Europes (or Wests): One that,
benefiting from the religion of Jesus and Islamic civilization, made human life
more comfortable through its inventions and the regulations it brought to human
social life, and became the source of certain beauties; and another one that,
based on naturalistic and materialistic philosophy, opposes the revealed
religions. The evil of the latter is the cause of most human wretchedness and
suffering. Islam opposes this second West.
This second West spreads unbelief and ingratitude. It tries
to find happiness in rich clothes and worldly possessions, but its quest is
futile and impossible. For one disappointed or disillusioned by the
non-fulfillment of even one expectation, sweetness turns sour, pleasure changes
into pain, and the world becomes narrow. Can one be described as happy when his
or her body is in a deceiving, fleeting paradisiacal state while his or her
spirit and heart are in hellish torment?
The second West assumes that all living creatures are their
own lords, work in their own name and for their own pleasure, and that their
only aim in life is to survive. It does not see the universal mutual helping
among them, as established by their Creator. Plants help animals, and animals
help humanity. But it sees even this as conflict and contention, and preaches
that life consists of conflict even though all food particles or atoms help
nourish the body’s cells. It ignores the fact that a single apple needs the sun,
air, soil, and the apple seed to work in a coordinated manner so that it can
grow. This means that the real price of an apple is the universe. Such mutual
assistance results from everything obeying the order of a Munificent Lord, and
proves that no living creature is its own lord.
Moreover, this is so because humanity is the most honorable
creature of all living agents, for it is endowed with free choice and a wider
field of activity. Despite this, our part in our daily acts is minuscule. If
this most honorable creature, one endowed with free will and the widest field of
activity, has so little part in its own ownership and lordship, to what degree
can other animate and lifeless things claim lordship over themselves?
The second West fell into such error because its genius
caused it to forget its Lord—the Creator of everything. As a result, this
illusion of its true nature caused it to attribute all things and acts to
(material) causes and to share what belongs to God with false “claimants” to
divinity. This view compels all living beings to struggle with innumerable
aversions and hostilities to satisfy their endless needs, although they have
only an atom’s weight of power, a hair’s capacity of will, a gleam’s light of
consciousness, and a tiny sparkle of life. Whatever they have (in the name of
power and will, consciousness and life) cannot satisfy even one of their needs.
When misfortune visits them, they seek help from deaf and blind causes. But
their appeals are futile.
The second West’s dark and darkening genius changed
humanity’s day into a night illuminated with false, illusory lights. Students of
its genius see every living being as wretched and attacked by darkness from all
sides. They see the world as an abode of lamentation, and all voices in it as
wailings over death and the groans of beings.
Consider their qualities: Those educated by this second West
flee from even their own family members to pursue their own interests, whereas
sincere followers of Islam regard all servants of God as family members. The
Qur’an gives its students all particles in the universe to use as prayer beads
to glorify God. In place of the 99-bead rosary, it gives them all the atomic
chains in the universe to mention their Lord to an infinite degree.
Students of the Qur’an see that everything in the universe
glorifies, mentions, and praises God to an infinite degree. Though weak enough
to be defeated by a microbe and driven to distress and despair by the least
grief and anxiety, they can rise to such exalted ranks as to be beloveds of God.
They regard the world and its contents as insufficient to say their beads, and
belittle Paradise as the aim of their praise and glorification. Despite this,
they do not consider themselves greater and more virtuous than the least of
The Qur’an guides humanity, for the purpose of life is to
reflect the manifestations of God’s Names and Essential Qualities. When
misfortune visits you, say:
We are God’s and in His service. If you have come with His
permission, welcome. We are returning unto Him and desire a vision of Him. He
will free us from life’s duties and difficulties whenever He wishes. If, O
misfortune, this will happen by your hand, it is alright. However, if He has
allowed you to come to test my truthfulness to His trust, but has not allowed me
to submit myself to you, then I will never submit His trust—the life He has
The second West assumes that collective life consists of
competing selfish interests that are necessarily in a state of conflict and
arbitrated by force or might. To unify its various communities, it promotes an
aggressive and negative nationalism that often degenerates into a brutal racism.
As a result, most of the world’s people still dominated by this aspect of the
West continue to suffer the accompanying acute misery and humiliation.
Meanwhile, the very small number of people benefiting from such dominance
continue to gratify their worldly desires, which are continually stimulated and
increased, and thereby bring about more competitiveness and anxiety.
The life of religion and serving God accepts right, not
force, as the point of support in social life. It proclaims that the aim of both
individual and collective life is to attain virtue and God’s approval instead of
realizing selfish interests, and mutual assistance instead of conflict. It a
community’s internal and external unity through ties of religion, profession,
and country, not through racism and negative nationalism. It works to erect a
barrier against worldly desires and encourages us to strive for perfection by
urging the soul to sublime goals. Right calls for unity, virtue brings
solidarity, and mutual assistance means helping each other. Religion secures
brotherhood, sisterhood, and attraction. Self-discipline and urging the soul to
virtue brings happiness in this world and the next.
the West triumphed
According to Said Nursi, Muslims are required to be muslim
(submitted to God) in all of their attributes and actions, but cannot always be
so in practical life. It is the same with non-Muslims, for not all of their
attributes and actions necessarily originate in unbelief or transgression. Thus
non-Muslims who acquire Muslim attributes and conform to Islamic principles can
defeat Muslims who neglect to practice Islam.
God has established two kinds of laws: the Shari‘a (issuing
from His Attribute of Speech and governing our religious life) and the so-called
laws of nature (issuing from His Attribute of Will and governing creation and
life). The reward/punishment for following/ignoring them is given at different
times. In the first case, these usually are given in the afterlife; in the
second case, these usually are given in this world.
The Qur’an constantly draws our attention to natural
phenomena, the subject matter of science, and urges us to study them. Throughout
the first 5 centuries of Islam, Muslims united science with religion, the
intellect with the heart, and the material with the spiritual. Later on,
however, Europe took the lead in science due to its unconscious obedience to the
Divine laws of nature, and thus was able to dominate the Muslim world, which no
longer practiced Islam’s religious and scientific aspects.
Power and force have some right in life, and were created for
some wise purpose. Armed with power through science and technology, Europe
defeated the Muslim world. A sparrow develops its defensive strengths and skills
by defending itself against a hawk’s attacks. In a comparable way, God allows
unbelief to attack Islam so that Muslims will reconsider their religion and
acquire the skills and strengths needed to restore Islam to its original purity
and govern their lives.