SUFI LIFE IN ISTANBUL

INTRODUCTION: SUFISM IN OTTOMAN SOCIETY

Before the conquest of Constantinople, the main structure and characteristics of Sufi life had already been established in Ottoman society. During the years of the foundation of the Ottoman state, zaviyes (dervish lodges) were established by followers of the tariqas (Sufi orders) in areas that were not suitable for settlement, thus transforming these places into habitable areas. In addition, the Sufis’ participation in military campaigns gained them support from state administrators. As a result of their efforts, official titles were given to the followers of the tariqas, along with permission settle on land that they developed and made habitable. New convents were established; endowments were established for some, while others were exempt from paying taxes.

Relationships between Dervish Lodges and Madrasas

Ottoman policies aimed to maintain a balance between Sufi and intellectual circles were brought closer to one another. In 1331 the appointment of Davud-i Kayseri, a Sufi scholar, to manage the first madrasa established in the Ottoman state, in the city of İznik, enabled Sufi thought to enter the Ottoman madrasa culture. And with the appointment of Molla Fenari (d. 1430), a Sufi scholar who adopted a similar understanding to Kayseri, to the office of Sheikh al-Islam (chief jurist) in 1425, Sufi thought spread in intellectual circles.

Such state appointments enabled Sufi scholarship to gain recognition and play a larger role in society. In some works authored by Sufi scholars who were brought up as dervish as well as in madrasas, issues related to kalam (Islamic theology), fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and tasawwuf (sufism) were addressed in an integrative approach. Comparative evaluations were made between al-aql wa al-burhan (reason and logic), an approach used in other religious disciplines, and kashf (inspiration), thus enabling Sufism and other religious sciences to find scholarly common ground. In this respect, Şeyhülislam Molla Fenari’s works Ayn al-A‘yan and Misbah al-Uns are important. In the introduction to Ayn al-A‘yan, which Fenari wrote as a commentary on the “al-Fatiha” chapter of the Qur’an, he listed “the knowledge of kashf” among the sciences—such as Islamic theology, jurisprudence, and hadith—that a scholar was required to know to be able to interpret the Qur’an. Sometimes Fenari even personally applied knowledge acquired by kashf to his commentaries on Qur’anic verses. Likewise, in the introduction of his book Misbah al-Uns—a commentary on Sadreddin Konevi’s Arabic work Miftah al-ghayb, written to explain the place and value of divine knowledge within the relationship between God and the cosmos—Fenari stated that he was trying to explain the principles introduced by kashf in a way that could be easily understood by those who use nazar and burhan (rational and logical reasoning).

The dual education of Sufi sheikhs, combining Sufi training and sciences taught at madrasas, as well as their statements about the unity of sharia and tariqa and their special emphasis on the rules of religion, accelerated their affiliation with the madrasa circles. As a result, many scholars who studied in madrasas also received education at a dervish lodge (tekke); over time, the leadership of many lodges was filled by Sufi scholars who had been educated in madrasas. These Sufi sheikhs, educated not only in positive sciences but also in esoteric knowledge, wrote hundreds of books, translations, and commentaries on tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), hadith, fiqh, and kalam, as well as on tasawwuf. This affected the functions of the religious institutions; the close relationships between public officials, madrasa employees, and followers of the Sufi orders prepared the ground for the development of new dual-function architectural structures such as madrasa/mosque and mosque/lodge combinations after the 12th and 13th centuries. The Sheikh Vefa Complex, established in Istanbul in the second half of the 15th century, is one of the first examples of this style with its mosque and tevhidhane (hall for Sufi religious ceremonies) in the city. This structure, built on the orders of Sultan Mehmed II, has cells for dervishes and madrasa rooms in the front of the main building.

After the conquest of Constantinople, institutions like madrasas and lodges, which shaped the religious and intellectual life of society, cooperated instead of competing. The Ottoman state remained at an equal distance to both institutions and tried not to destroy the harmony that had developed between them.

Many prominent members of the state, especially sultans, had a close relationship with members of madrasas and Sufi orders. In this way, a unity was developed in a state–madrasa–tekke triangle. Sultan Mehmed II took steps that would further strengthen this harmony, which had existed since the birth of the state. One day he told Kazasker (Chief Judge) Alaeddin Ali Fenari (d. 1497): “There are three groups who deal with the knowledge of truth, namely theologians, Sufis, and philosophers. Their power should be combined and strengthened.” This statement demonstrates that the sultan maintained an equal distance from all groups in order to protect the balance between them. When Kazasker Fenari replied to the sultan, saying: “Molla Abdurrahman Jami‘ is the person who can do this job best,” the sultan sent an envoy to Molla Jami‘ with valuable gifts, asking him to write a treatise evaluating the views of these three groups. Upon this request, Molla Jami‘ wrote his Arabic treatise al-Durra al-Fakhira fi tahqiq madhhab al-Sufiyya wa al-Mutakallimin wa al-Hukama al-Mutaqaddimin, evaluating various views on issues such as the existence and oneness of Allah, the essence of his attributes and names, the nature of his knowledge and divine will, how plurality was created out of unity, and the pre-eternity of the universe. Read more here

  • History of Istanbul

This website is designed for the dissemination of History of Istanbul from Antiquity to XXIst Century, a work prepared by the cooperation of Türkiye Diyanet Foundation Center for Islamic Studies (İSAM) and İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality Kültür ve Sanat Ürünleri A.Ş.

The Project for the preparation of the Turkish version of the work was launched in late 2012, and completed and published in 2015. The book was prepared the­matically and composed of around 355 articles written by nearly 260 scientists about different fields such as topography, architecture, religious and social life, management, economics. In this book which consists of 10 volumes, nearly 5300 pages, around 4 thousand visual materials such as maps, miniatures, engravings, paintings, and archive documents were used. The English translation of the work was completed in 2019 and not published yet. It is accessible online. Here

The publicity meeting of the work took place in İstanbul Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall on June 18, 2016 with the participation of the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Vice Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak, the Minister of Culture and Tourism Nabi Avcı, Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Kadir Topbaş, Professor Mehmet Akif Aydın, the former president of İSAM and the director of the project, academicians and other guests.

Features and Contents

The work aims to define Istanbul’s place among the major cities of world in the light of the fact that it has been a “city” from its first settlement in Antiquity until today, and to make the sum and substance of academic Studies on İstanbul history.

The work aims to address the general reader as well as the students. Alongside being a source of knowledge, method and content for studies in the its field, History of Istanbul were considered as a text/source for classes on Istanbul both in Turkey and abroad, and therefore with this in mind its wording was formed as a smooth, comprehensive and strong wording.

History of Istanbul, is the most voluminous and comprehensive work of its kind as it addresses all the historical periods of the city. This work was written in a thematic approach and the subjects were covered in articles. The details, which provide a better understanding of issues that have not been adequately addressed in the main articles, have been examined in depth with frame articles and apostilles.

In establishing themes’ own chronologies, three periods, which determines the identity of the city and forms milestone in its history, has been taken as bases. These are Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican periods. Each theme were periodized considering its own continuities and changes; Ancient ages, Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican periods were not treated absolute disengagements. Apart from these themes, History of Istanbul offers its readers two important key works, which are first in its kind, in terms of history of Istanbul: chronology and bibliography of Istanbul.

Addressing city’s history of 8500 years, one of the distinctive characteristics of History of Istanbul from histories of other cities are its extensive author cadre, international academic contributions, and richness and large scale of visual material. This work, which complements and supports each other in terms of content, design and print material, also offers a model for writing long histories of cities from every angle.

The project manager for the work is Professor Mehmet Akif Aydın, it is edited by Dr. Coşkun Yılmaz, and designed by Bülent Erkmen.

Chapters of History of Istanbul

  1. Imperial Transformations of Istanbul

34 | SULTAN MEHMED THE CONQUEROR’S ISTANBUL Halil İnalcık

69 | GALATA Halil İnalcık

86 | OTTOMAN CIVILIZATION-BLENDING’S “SUBJECT CITY”: ISTANBUL Ahmet Davutoğlu

120 | THE IMPERIAL TRANSFORMATIONS OF A GRAND CITY: ISTANBUL Feridun M. Emecen

184 | MODERNIZING ISTANBUL İlhan Tekeli

223 | INTRODUCTION: ISTANBUL ON A WORLD SCALE Yunus Uğur

226 | CONSTANTINOPLE AS A GLOBAL CITY Kutlu Akalın

238 | OTTOMAN ISTANBUL ON A WORLD SCALE Yunus Uğur

256 | ISTANBUL’S LONG CENTURY: ON A GLOBAL AND NATIONAL SCALE Alim Arlı

Further :
  1. Istanbul on a World Scale
  2. Topography and Settlement
  3. Politics and Administration
  4. Demography
  5. Society
  6. Religion
  7. Economics
  8. Transportation and Communication
  9. Literature, Art and Culture
  10. Architecture
  11. Education, Science and Technology
  12. Istanbul in Memories

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