Question: Certain persons are trying to justify their false statements and some illegitimate acts by claiming that they are acting in accordance with what politics requires. How should the art of politics be understood and practiced from the perspective of a believer?
Answer: The Arabic word for politics is siyasa, which means “governing.” This word is used in two senses: the first is administering a system, group of people, or organization within a certain set of rules in an appropriate way; the second is “strategic management.” This means treating everybody diplomatically, including those who display enmity, and taking the available opportunities to do goodness toward them, and thus trying to ward off their evil. Concerning this issue, Bediüzzaman relates the following words of Hafez of Shiraz: “The tranquility of both worlds lies in two things: magnanimity toward friends and the wise management of enemies.” What is meant by magnanimity toward friends is valuing them, being kind to them, opening up one’s bosom to them, and acting with humanity toward them. Since human beings are a manifest example of the best pattern of creation, it is necessary to be respectful toward them and treat them with humanity. No humanist movement has been able to equal the value Islam gives to humans, and to represent this in practical life.
The difference between strategic management and being two-faced
Strategic management of enemies means handling them well. This means: not provoking the enemy with unnecessary demagogy and dialectics, employing diplomacy very well, and warding off possible attacks and damage from the opposite side with wise strategies. Namely, in the relations you establish with enemies, you will follow such a policy that on the one hand you will not provoke them and on the other hand, you will not receive harm from them. As it is seen, this diplomatic approach is very different from that of those who are two-faced; who have deviated from the Straight Path. Unfortunately, they have deviated so much as to see as normal the deception of those who are not one of them, and to see any kind of lying as acceptable. As for strategic management, it means trying to prevent hostile attitudes through patience and steadfastness, as well as by using reason and diplomacy.
By using brutal force to try and solve problems that could be solved using diplomacy, by not following a wise strategy toward enemies, and by immediately resorting to war in the literal sense, as some green Ittihadists once did during the Ottoman’s final days, the country could be led down a blind alley where it could be shattered. The Ittihadists brought about the end of the great Ottoman state, which was unparalleled after the time of the noble Prophet’s Companions, as a consequence of the war they declared against Russia. So, what we mean by strategic management is the policy and way of government to be followed for the sake of not leading the country to such dead ends.
The mentality that misunderstands politics as lying
When politics is mentioned in our time, it only brings to mind the activities of political parties that govern a society. However, the art of politics is not solely about governing a state. There is a certain policy or conduct everyone needs to follow in his or her individual, familial and social lives. When this is not observed, it causes unrest and conflicts. As far as a believer is concerned however, the ways followed in politics have to be acceptable according to religious criteria. Thus, it is necessary to point out that illegitimate acts, as well as attitudes and behaviors incompatible with Muslim identity, have nothing to do with the art of politics. This concerns all levels from the most basic office to the highest level of state administration, regardless of the area of responsibility.
To give an example, a state has a set of targets, such as: achieving an important position in the balance of powers; continuing to command this power; making others regard it expectantly; and not letting others act without its consent. In order to reach these targets, states might be exploiting the resources of other countries under different pretexts, making relative enmities seem as definite conspiracies against themselves and thus invading a certain country, moving people away from their own spiritual heritage, and leaving them devoid of self identity. If they are oppressing others like that, violating rights and committing despotism, it cannot be called politics. This is state terror with no fairness or conscience.
While certain countries that want to retain their position can follow such illegitimate policies, certain people that gained control of the administration in a certain country might also commit such lawlessness for the sake of their own prosperity and future. Not acting just for themselves, they try to guarantee the future of even their grandchildren by continually hoarding, trying to bring their own supporters to positions of authority, not allowing anyone except their own supporters to be successful, and finding some pretexts for making their vices acceptable to the wider masses. They sometimes lie, sometimes talk about good intentions, sometimes try to present their oppression as a necessity of politics, and sometimes they even besmirch the people they oppress for the sake of justification. No matter how religious they try to appear however, even if they keep talking about faith and making sanctimonious shows of being Muslim, those who commit these oppressions are so far away from the politics practiced by the noble Prophet and his Rightly Guided Caliphs.
The effort to legitimize oppression
Besides this, illegitimate acts are also being carried out with the impression that they are legitimate and innocent. Let’s imagine that someone is responsible for giving sermons at a mosque. When he has completed his duty of service and retires, he wishes for one of his relatives to inherit that position and identifies a certain relative as eligible for preaching. Afterwards, the retired preacher ignores the rules and regulations for appointing that position and instead follows his own method in order to realize his aim. This means straying to an illegitimate path unawares. In other words, this means using illegitimate means in order to reach a legitimate end.
In the same way, some persons, who took over the state administration and who have been filling their pockets with the people’s money they have misappropriated, may say for instance: “We must be strong. If we somehow lose these opportunities tomorrow, we should be able to straighten up again, and revive the organization we are affiliated with.” All these things are the treasonous machinations of false innocence that underlie the behaviors harming the country. Since outwardly these seem like innocent behaviors, even religious people might resort to such ways. However, this is blatant deviation and a betrayal of trust. Those who resort to such means, build with their own hands unawares the disgraces they will experience in the future.
If they, and the masses supporting them, consider all these as a necessity of political affairs and call it the art of politics, they are suffering under a gross delusion. First of all, politics must be compatible with ethical and religious principles. A Muslim politician has to follow the way of God’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, and his inheritors in administration and politics. The Pride of Humanity and his true inheritors spent their lives being totally scrupulousness about lawful and unlawful things, and they never took a step toward the forbidden zone. In this regard, it is necessary to act with the utmost scrupulousness regarding the legitimacy of the means as well as the ends. If people, particularly those in positions of authority, act carefully in this respect, they both inspire trust in those around them and present an exemplary model for others to follow.
The people’s trust is the greatest credit
Actually, this is the secret that underlies the fact that the devoted ones have been welcome in the four corners of the world. They succeeded because they never gave up behaving in an upright manner, because they did not attach the services they carry out to any worldly or otherworldly expectations, and because they act in accordance with religious teachings. If they keep acting with the same determination, resolution, scrupulousness and patience, God Almighty will open for them the way that leads to hearts.
I do not have any worldly property. I never wished to have. Not just for myself, I prayed so that even my siblings do not own such worldly wealth. I never thought of favoring my relatives and bringing them to certain positions. I recommended my friends in the close circle not to own a house and to lead a modest life to meet their basic needs.
This is the way of inspiring trust in others. If you think about yourself in the least bit, you experience an erosion of trust in people’s sight. As a matter of fact, this movement of volunteers, which has reached some 170 countries of the world and flourished all around, is completely based on the essence of volunteering. If people step back from it, the Divine help will also cease and the works carried out will end. The means of receiving Divine help is having the people’s endeavors on your side. When you exterminate this means, Divine help will also cease. People who cannot tolerate you and cannot stomach your achievements out of envy might occasionally use different slanders to try to defame the services carried out. As far as you keep on your upright course, then, with God’s permission, no conspiracy or slanderers can harm you. Anyone with a sense of fairness and a conscience knows that the educational establishments that wave the flag of love and tolerance in the four corners of the world were borne out of the endeavors of the benevolent people of Anatolia. As they once realized the struggle of independence at their weakest period, the people of Anatolia experienced another resurgence and spread to the four corners of the world, despite their moderate economic means. In addition, thousands of teachers and young tutors spread out over the world, migrated to lands previously unheard of to them, and managed with very modest payment, for the sake of conveying the values distilled from their spiritual roots and receiving theirs vice versa. Since the earth is a productive entity, it yields such good results. As a requirement of showing faith toward them, I pray for those friends maybe some ten times a day. “My God! Resurrect those students, teachers, mentors and trustees (mütevelli) with Your Prophets! Strengthen their morale!”
To conclude, what underlies this beautiful picture of serving faith and humanity is our people’s trust. For this reason, as has been the case up until today, and as is necessary from now on, it is necessary to avoid like the plague every kind of attitude and behavior that might harm it.
 Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Letters, New Jersey: The Light, 2007, p. 286.
This article has originally been published in Turkish on 14/03/2016.