Will you give information about the Religion-Science discussions that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century in Anatolia?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

8.2.3.1- Religion-Science- discussions in Anatolia at the beginning of the twentieth century

Nursi states in  his book called Muhâkemât, which he wrote in 1911, that as a result of the conflicts between religion and science, the sun of Islam was eclipsed, that Muslims lagged behind, being deprived of “the comforts of worldly life”, and that foreigners (Western people) were deprived of “the bliss in the hereafter” by keeping away from Islam. The main reason for this halt and regression is the thought that there is a conflict between religion and science as a result of “misunderstanding”.

How can a slave be an enemy of his master, a maid an enemy of his chief, a child an enemy of his father? Islam is the master and guide of sciences and chief and father of real sciences.”
Badiuzzaman Said Nursi

     The question Nursi asked about the developments in the religion-science discussions is very striking. He states the following:

     “How can a slave be an enemy of his master, a maid an enemy of his chief, a child an enemy of his father? Islam is the master and guide of sciences and chief and father of real sciences.1

     According to him, this misunderstanding and invalid apprehension was effective up to that time (1910/1911); it instilled despair in the society and closed the door of civilization and modern education to Muslim societies. One apparent reason of the religion-science discussions was the religious scholars’ “fear by imagining some religious decrees to be contrary to some scientific issues”.2

     After drawing attention to the fact that it is wrong for some religious scholars to think that some decrees of the religion are contrary to some scientific issues, he makes the following explanation: 

     “We have abandoned the essence of Islam and concentrated instead on its shell; in doing so, we have deceived ourselves. Having committed mistakes and fallen short of the ethical standards we should have had, we have failed to give Islam its due and the respect it deserves. As a result, it has recoiled from us in disgust, hiding itself in the miasma of whims and suppositions that we have formed around it. …”

     “It has the absolute right to do so, for we have been unable to recognize its true worth. We have conflated its fundamentals with spurious accretions from non-Islamic sources; we have commingled its principles of belief with mere stories, confusing people into taking its figurative, metaphorical, and allegorical statements as though they were statements of literal truth. For this  reason, Islam has punished us with misery and wretchedness in the world. It is only the mercy of Islam which will save us.3

Thus, some scholars could not understand the essence of Islam. They were simply deceived by simply concentrating on its shell and by not being able to penetrate into its truth and meaning. Because of this misunderstanding, they could not show Islam the respect it deserves. As a result, Islam  hid itself in the miasma of whims and suppositions by hating those misunderstandings.

The justified reasons for this hiding were as follows: the scholars mixed the fabricated information and stories of Sons of Israel with the principles and truths of Islam; they confused metaphors, that is, the words used differently from their literal meanings, with their real meanings. Thus, they could not appreciate the value of Islam. In return, Islam left the Muslims in contempt and misery in order to educate them in the world as a penalty. It is only the mercy of Islam that will save them. In other words, they will be saved if they practice true Islam and righteousness worthy of Islam by clinging to its unbreakable rope and truths. At that time, Islam, which hid itself by resenting, will prosper again; thus, general peace and development will be dominant among people. There will be no need for science-religion discussions.

Nursi gave great place to opposition to Islam by science and philosophy arising from misinterpreting some similes and metaphors in the verses of the Quran and hadiths. One of the most criticized and offensive one is the issue of the world’s standing on ox and fish.

He answers a question about this ox and fish issue as follows: 

            “This time you ask in your question: “The hojas say that the earth rests on a bull and a fish, but geography sees it hanging in space and travelling like a star. There is neither bull nor fish?”

 “Al ardualath-thawrwal hut “ (The earth is on the ox and fish)

In one narration, he said, “On the Bull,” and on another occasion he said, “On the Fish.” Some Hadith scholars applied this Hadith to superstitions and stories taken from isra’iliyat, related since early times. Scholars of the Children of Israel who became Muslims especially applied it to stories about the Bull and the Fish they had seen in the former scriptures, altering it to mean something strange.

For now I shall explain three ‘principles’ and three ‘aspects’ in connection with your question:

First Principle: When some of the Israelite scholars became Muslims, their former knowledge became Muslim along with them and was ascribed to Islam. However, what they knew contained errors which were certainly their errors and not Islam’s.

Second Principle: On comparisons and metaphors passing from the elite to the common people, that is, on their falling from the hands of learning to those of ignorance, with the passage of time they are imagined to be literally true. For example, when I was a child an eclipse of the moon occurred. I asked my mother:

" Why has the moon gone like that?"

She replied: “A snake has swallowed it.”

“It can still be seen,” I said.

“”She replied: “The snakes up there are like glass; they show the things inside them!”

For a long time I recalled this childhood memory. Pondering over it, I would say: “How could such a false superstition come to be repeated by serious people like my mother?” Then when I studied astronomy I realized that people like her who repeated it supposed a metaphor to be reality. For when the vast circle called the zodiac, which is the circle denoting the degrees of the sun, and the circle of the declination of the moon, which is the circle depicting its mansions, pass over one another, it gives each of the two circles the form of an arc. Using a subtle metaphor the astronomers called the two arcs “the two great serpents.” They called the points of intersection of the two circles “the head” and “the tail.” When the moon comes to the head and the sun to the tail, in the terminology of astronomy, an interposition of the earth occurs. That is, the globe of the earth passes right between the two of them and the moon is eclipsed. According to the above metaphor, “the moon has entered the serpent’s mouth.” Thus, when this elevated and scholarly metaphor entered the language of the common people, in the course of time it took on the shape of a huge snake swallowing the moon.

Thus, with a sacred and subtle metaphor and meaningful allusion, two great angels were called the Bull (Thawr) and the Fish (Hut), but on entering the common language from the elevated tongue of the prophethood, the metaphor was transformed and given a literal meaning, and they took on the form of a truly enormous bull and awesome fish.

Third Principle: Just as the Qur’an contains allegories and comparisons, and with them teaches profound matters to the ordinary people; so do Hadiths contain comparisons and allegories; they express profound truths by means of familiar comparisons. For example, as we have described in two other places, one time in the presence of the Prophet (UWBP) a deep rumbling was heard. He said: “It is the sound of a rock which has been rolling downhill for seventy years and has now hit the bottom of Hell.”1 A few minutes later someone arrived and reported that a famous seventy-year-old dissembler had died, thus proclaiming the true meaning of the Noble Messenger’s (Upon whom be blessings and peace) highly eloquent comparison.

For now, three ‘aspects’ will be explained in reply to your question.

First: Almighty God appointed four angels – called the Eagle (Nasr – Aquila) and the Bull (Thawr – Taurus) – as bearers of the divine throne and the heavens, to supervise His dominical sovereignty. He also appointed two angels as supervisors and bearers of the earth, which is the small brother of the heavens and companion of the planets. One of them was called the Bull and the other, the Fish. The reason for His giving these names is this:

There are two parts to the earth, one is water and the other is land. Fish inhabit the part that is water, while agriculture, the support of human life, is practised with bulls and oxen, which inhabit the part of the earth that is land; agriculture rests on the shoulders of oxen. Since the two angels appointed to the earth are both commanders and supervisors, they surely have some sort of relationship with the bovine and piscine species. Indeed, “And the knowledge is with God,” the angels are represented in the Worlds of the Inner Dimensions of Things and of Similitudes in the forms of a bull and a fish. Thus, alluding to their relationship and supervision and those two important species of the earth, with his miraculous manner of expression the Prophet (PBUH) said: “The earth is on the Bull and the Fish,” thus stating in one fine, concise sentence a page of profound truths.

Second Aspect: If it is said: “What does the government and its rule rest on?,” it will be said in reply: “On the sword and the pen.” That is, it rests on the valor of the soldier’s sword and the perspicacity and justice of the official’s pen. In the same way, since the earth is the dwelling-place of animate beings and the commander of animate beings is man, and fish are the means of livelihood of the majority of men who live by the sea, and the majority of those who do not live by the sea live by means of agriculture, which rests on the shoulders of bulls and oxen, and fish are also an important means of trade, just as the state rests on the sword and the pen, so it may also be said that the earth rests on the ox and the fish. For man cannot survive if the ox does not work or fish do not produce millions of eggs; life would cease and the All-Wise Creator would destroy the earth.

Thus, replying in a most miraculous, elevated, and wise way, God’s Noble Messenger (PBUH) said: “The earth rests on the bull and the fish.” He taught an extensive truth with two words and showed how closely linked man’s life is to the life of the animal species.4

1.Nursi, B. S. (1995). Muhâkemât, Istanbul: Envar Neşriyat, p. 8.
2.Nursî, B.S.Muhâkemât, p. 10.
3.Nursî, B.S. Muhâkemât, p. 9.
4.Nursi, B. S. Lem’alar, Sözler Neşriyat, Istanbul, 2009, p. 91-93.

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