First Word

First Word (Part 1)

NOTE: The quoted passages are from Ustadh Bediuzzaman’s book and the commentaries below them are my own. This is the first chapter of the book titled “Words”, and I will be going in order while writing my own commentaries below the passages.

[1] بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ[2] وَبِهِ نَسْتَعينُ

[3] اَلْحَمْدُ ِللهِ رَبِّ الْعٰالَمِينَ وَالصَّلٰوةُ وَالسَّلاَمُ عَلٰى سَيِّدِناَ مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلٰۤى اٰلِهِ وَصَحْبِهِ اَجْمَعِينَ

Oh brother! You have asked me for a couple [words of] advice. Since you are a soldier, listen along with me to eight short stories of a military nature and to a few truths. For I see my soul (nafs), more than anybody else, in need of advice. I had once spoken to myself of the “eight words” inspired by eight verses [of the Qur’an] in a lengthy manner. Now I will address them to myself in a short form in the language of laity.Whoever desires may listen with me.

Scholars of the past commonly addressed their students with the word “son” while teaching them about Islam. In light of this tradition, it is interesting that Bediuzzaman (may Allah have mercy on him) prefers to address his readers with the word “brother” in the place of “son”. Regarding this preference, he states:

Yes, if our way were sheikh-hood[4], there would [only] be a single rank or there would exist limited ranks. There would be multiple capacities nominated for that [single] rank. There could [thus] be an envious self-centeredness. However, our way is brotherhood. A brother cannot be a father to his brother, he cannot take upon himself the position of a [spiritual] guide. The rank [found] in brotherhood is broad. It cannot be a cause for envious overcrowding. At most, a brother will be an assistant and a supporter to his brother; he will complete his [brother’s] service. (Flashes p. 205-206)         

oie_transparent (11)Before moving on, we need to clarify what “soul” means in the author’s book. The Arabic[5] language contains many words which do not exist in English. Some meanings might thus be slightly altered with translation. There are two distinct words “nafs” and “rooh” which are both translated as “soul” in English. The word rooh is the same as the English word for soul. Nafs, however, is slightly different. The word nafs is defined as “a feature of the soul. This feature continuously directs people to committing sin.”[6] The desire to commit evil acts, such as lying and cheating, is therefore a result of the nafs. When a person follows the demands of his/her nafs, it grows stronger and demands more. Fighting against its wishes and worshiping more often, on the other hand, weakens the nafs and diminishes its impact on the person’s life. That being said, nafs can also be used to define “the self” as a whole instead of only the evil portion of it. So in order to avoid confusion, one needs to examine the context in which the word is being used. In this passage, when Bediuzzaman states “For I see my soul (nafs), more than anybody else, in need of advice”, the word translated as “soul” is in fact “nafs” in the original text. Here, the word nafs can be interpreted in both ways. When it comes to the usage in this website, I will only use the word nafs to mean the first definition (unless explicitly stated otherwise).

It is also interesting that, while addressing the reader, he says the reader has asked “me for some advice”. While the reader may overlook this, it actually sheds light to a very crucial point and a principal of the author. According to Bediuzzaman, “The Risale-i Nur does not look for customers; customers should try to find it and plead [for help from it]. (Emirdagi Lahikasi-1 p. 223)” There are a few points worth mentioning here. Firstly, the Risale-i Nur is a tafsir (or exegesis) of the Qur’an. It is an interpretation of God’s word and is not in need of anybody. It is the humans who need to learn and understand the Qur’an in order to cure their spiritual illnesses. It is them who need to look for it, and once they find it, to plead help from it. Spiritual illnesses, in a way, resemble physical ones. When a new medicine is discovered, it is the people with the illness who need to look for it by going to the doctor and not the other way around.

The First Word

Bismillah, “In the name of Allah” is the beginning of every goodness. We too begin with it. Know oh my soul (nafs[7])! Just as that blessed word is a mark of Islam, it is also a phrase continuously uttered by the tongue of disposition of all beings. If you want to know what a great inexhaustible power, what a never-ending blessing is Bismillah; [then] observe and listen to this short allegory. It goes like this:

The word Bismillah literally means “In the name of Allah”. While the word “Allah” is used interchangeably with the word “God”, it is crucial to know the difference. Allah is the personal name of God, and its meaning encompasses all His other names, such as Ar-Rahman (The Merciful) and Ar-Razzaq (The Provider). While many religious people believe in (one) God and see it as a virtue to act in His name, why is it that Bediuzzaman refers to “Bismillah” as “a mark of Islam”? One reason, of course, is obvious. Even though other religions might share this belief, the phrase “Bismillah” is mainly used specifically by Muslims across the world.

Another reason is a more subtle one. Across the centuries, God has sent many prophets in order to teach people about Himself and His attributes. Over time, however, these teachings suffered from corruption; and people’s understanding of God, as well as His attributes, were altered. In order to correct these mistakes, God sent other prophets so they would, again, guide people to the truth. The last prophet is the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Islam is the only current religion with the true understanding of God’s nature. It is not uncommon to hear Non-Muslims saying that God is too busy for them, that He needed to rest after creating the universe, or that He has a son just like humans. All of these misconceptions arise from misunderstanding the nature of God and His power. It is for this reason that Bismillah, in its true and pure meaning, only exists in Islam.

Humans, with their ability to speak and comprehend, are capable of saying Bismillah while beginning a task. Interestingly, however, the author extends this to other beings as well, saying that Bismillah is “a phrase continuously uttered by the tongue of disposition of all beings”.  What does it mean to recite a word through the “tongue of disposition”? Although the author will delve into this shortly, we will give examples here to clarify the meaning of the phrase. Suppose we see a child, for instance, having a hard time carrying a box. Even though she may not be explicitly speaking to us, she will be telling us through her “tongue of disposition” that she cannot carry the box on her own and needs our help. Or let us suppose that we see a man sitting on his own and smiling. Though he may not be speaking, we will understand his happiness through the “tongue of disposition”. In other words, to speak with the “tongue of disposition” means to speak with appearance and actions rather than with actual words. So according to the author, every being says Bismillah through their tongue of disposition, and we will see the analysis shortly.

[1] In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

[2] And from Him do we seek help

[3] All praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, and peace and blessings be upon our Master Muhammad and on all His family and companions.

[4] Sheikh-hood refers to the Sufi tariqas (mystic orders). These tariqas usually have a Sheikh (a spiritual guide) who leads members of the order and, in a sense, is in the position of a father to them. Unlike the Arabic language, the term sheikh in Turkish is used exclusively for a spiritual guide in a certain tariqa. Here, the author describes how the way of the Risale-i Nur differs from that of the tariqas so as not to wound the pride of the nowadays corrupted society. – TN (Translator’s Note)

[5] The original language of this book is Turkish. However, Turkish contains many words that were originally Arabic (like the word nafs to be discussed soon) and were later incorporated into the Turkish language.


[7] An aspect of the self or the soul which directs people to evil. Sometimes used for the self as a whole instead of only the evil aspect of it.

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