Said Nursi (1887-1960) is one of the most influential contemporary Islamic scholars who observed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, colonisation of the Muslim World by Europe, and implementation of a very strict secular system in Turkey. Most Muslim scholars blame the Western world for the decline of Islamic civilisation and colonisation, while pro-Western intellectuals in the Muslim world attribute the decline to religion and see progress in complete Westernisation. Nursi held a critical view of both camps and saw the causes of decline within the Muslims. Nursi argues, in this modern age, striving for progress in this life, whether economic, scientific, social or physical, through Qur’anic principles is like i’layi kelimetullah, or exalting God’s name, and a fundamental duty for every believer. As opposed to a holistic adoption of the West or uncritically clinging to classical tradition, Nursi proposes to stay true to Islamic ideas and principles, and identifies areas Muslims need to change in themselves and in the way they interpret Islam while critically evaluating the West and taking from it what is universal and beneficial. This article first examines Nursi’s philosophy on the development and progress of the Muslim world in his historical setting. Second, it analyses the causes of backwardness from Nursi’s perspective.
Islam, backwardness, progress, Said Nursi, madrasa