Bribery, looting, civil unrest; public meetings and unresponsive government officials; tangled lines of communication, competing stories: these things are the stuff of many a contemporary political struggle, but they are hardly unique to the modern world, or any period, probably. As the story below reveals, these ‘key words’ could be quite apt in describing provincial Ottoman power struggles and governance. This particular story, of a ‘unjust’ Ottoman governor of Syria and the repercussions of his apparent ‘crossing the line’ in and around Damascus, comes from the ‘notebook’ of Ismā’il al-Maḥāsinī, briefly described in the post preceding this one. As a member of the ‘ulama, the body of learned, elite men who constituted one of the key political and economic power groupings of the Damascene body politic, Ismā’il was not a disinterested observer, unsurprisingly. In this story the ‘ulama are seen uniting around the qadi, the Ottoman-appointed judge (and one of the most respected and powerful, though by no means unchallengeable, public figures in any Ottoman city); alongside the ‘resident’ military class (here probably one of the two groupings of janissaries stationed in Damascus) they support the qadi in his attempt to bring the rapacious governor and his lieutenant to bay.

Yet there are other political groupings as well- significantly, the heads of the craft guilds, presumably supported by the larger body of craftsmen, rally against the governor, going so far as to participate in (and perhaps initiate) a general strike across Damascus, shutting down their shops and joining in the chorus of discontent with the governor. In other words, it was not just the ‘ayān, the so-called ‘urban notables,’ who participated in politics. Others could have a voice (indeed, the irregular soldiery should also be seen as political participants).

Things proceed from the strike and ‘public meeting,’ growing more complicated as the governor’s faction- which in this story seems to consist solely of a few lackeys and a mob of irregular soldiery- tries to ‘control the narrative’ at the seat of imperial power in Edirne and Constantinople, against efforts by the qadi and others to do the same. In Ismā’il’s somewhat breathless and sometimes hard to follow account things eventually work out: justice is eventually had through the intervention of the imperial center, or so it would seem from the somewhat abbreviated conclusions (this is, after all, someone’s personal diary, albeit probably with a semi-public intention). In read it, we should keep in mind that it represents one particular perspective- the governor would no doubt have had a different view of things, as would his followers, such as they may have been (and he may indeed have been isolated- a crucial factor in his downfall).

In my translation I have tried to retain as much of the tone of the original as possible. I ran up against some difficulties, noted in brackets, due to my limited knowledge of colloquial Syrian in the period; there are also what appear to be either errors in the original text or in the editing of the printed text. Words of Turkish origin I have presented in their Turkish rendering for clarity.

Stained-Glass Window, 17th century [Egypt or Syria]. (93.26.3,4) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Stained-glass window, 17th century [Egypt or Syria]. (93.26.3,4) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Praise be to God. When Ḥusayn Pasha Yek Shasham was Pasha [governor] of Syria [al-Shām—here also simply Damascus] in the middle of the year 1085 [1674], he had a katkhudā [steward] named Ḥasan Agha who had previously been kutkhudā for Ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥīm Efendi, previously Shaykh al-Islām. Ḥusayn was ordered to accompany the pilgrimage, [but before leaving] and he carried out the utmost oppression upon the subjects (ra’īya) and the villages, and he took from the heads of the craft-guilds (arbāb al-ḥiraf) many things which would have been worth a great deal had they been sold on the market, and he left Syria and did not pay anyone anything. He left in his place the aforementioned Ḥasan Agha. He undertook oppression, transgressions, the reception of bribes and refused to listen to the command of the Qāḍī Shahlā ‘Abd al-Bāqī Efendi. And he had in his service a man whom the pasha used to send as a mutasalim [a deputy of the governor, and often a tax-collector], named Aḥmad Agha. The aforementioned Ḥasan sent him to around five or six households [? jihāz] in the eyalet [province] of al-Shām, and he killed unjustly, plundered, and the community was ashamed, he not fearing God at all. When the pasha returned, this Ḥasan kept on with what he had been doing, and the pasha likewise, as he no longer listened to the qadi’s commands and prohibitions. And things become dire for the Muslims to the extent that the pasha had saricas and sekbans [locally-raised irregular cavalry and infantry] who would interfere with the property of the people of al-Shām and the villages, and with their very lives, obliterating public safety. Then they went so far as to begin meddling with the sacrosanct households of the Muslims—and the people could not tolerate that. So, on Friday, Rabī’ al-Ākhir 4, 1086 [June 28, 1675], the people of the city gathered together, shut down their shops, and came to the qadi in order to complain about their condition. The ‘ulama and the soldiers (al-‘askar) also gathered together in the place of the court, and the qadi sent a contingent drawn from the ‘ulama and the soldiers to the pasha, who reported on behalf of the people the injustice against the people and the injustice of Ḥasan and [called for] his dismissal. But nothing came of their visit to quench the burning thirst of the Muslims [i.e. no remedy to the oppression was forthcoming].

So they sought from the qadi, and the ‘ulama and soldiers who were present, a petition to the exalted Sultan with all the relevant information contained therein. So the qadi, with the ‘ulama and soldiers, wrote the petition and handed it over to Muḥammad Agha ibn ‘Abdī Agha, previously a regimental commander, for him to take it to the Threshold of the sublime Sultan— God grant him victory! So he took the two of them [sic—two separate petitions?] and went out from al-Shām covertly, at night, on the night of Monday, Rabī’ II 7, 1086 [July 1, 1675]—may God make the Muslims heard through him so as to gladden them, and repel from us and from them what afflicts us and them, amen.

Then the pasha sent the aforementioned Katkhudā Ḥasan to the Sultan also in order to defend himself—may God rather defend those who believe! Ḥasan Agha went via postal-horse and overtook Muḥammad Agha in reaching the place of the exalted Sultanic abode, Edirne, by many days. And by embellishing his speech he gave off impressions in order to derive benefit. He sent out a report the pasha. He went out with it on al-Jumādī I 7. He came to Istanbul and it just so happened through the divine decree that He beheld the matter of the judgment of al-Shām. And he came to Mīrzā Muḥammad Efendi, and he took the report and went with it to al-Shām, reaching the city at noon on Saturday, Jumādī II 9. And Mīrzā Muḥammad Efendi sent a letter to Aḥmad Efendi Bakrīzāde delegating him for duty, so he sat for judgment in a courtyard in the place of the court, and on Sunday in the Nūriyye. On this day the pasha summoned the aforementioned qadi ‘Abd al-Baqi and all of the ‘ulama to the Ṣālihiya, [then] to the palace of Ḥusayn Efendi ibn Qarnaq, and he showered the qadi and the rest with great hospitality and kindness. After the hospitable reception was over, he sent the qadi a horse as a gift.

As for Muḥammad Agha, report came from him to al-Shām that that he entered Edirne on Jumādiī I 12, and the cause of his delayed coming was that he went to Edirne from al-Shām upon a different route from Ḥasan Agha, and that he was riding his own mount, not upon a postal-horse.

And ‘Abd al-Bāqī travelled from al-Shām on Monday, Rajab 2, 1086. And on the night of that Tuesday an agha, named Ḥasan Agha, a qapuju [warden-officer] of the Sublime Porte, entered al-Shām, in order to adjudicate regarding the truth of what the qadi and the people of al-Shām reported, and the truth of the words of Ḥasan Agha and his pasha. Then our lord Mīrzā Muḥammad Efendi entered al-Shām on Monday, Rajab 16 of the aforementioned year [October 6, 1675]. On the second day [after his arrival] the notables (‘ayān) of the land from among the ‘ulama and soldiers gathered together in the place of the court, and the Qapuju Ḥasan Agha came and read the sultanic order which he had brought, and its gist was that the petition of the Qadi of al-Shām and of the people present with him had risen to the Sublime Porte, and his complaint had arrived, they mentioning that Ḥusayn Agha took many things from them. ‘So We sent Ḥasan Agha so that for everyone from whom something had been unjustly taken he might restore what had been taken from him, after establishing the matter in accordance with the Shari’a, in the presence of the qadi.’ He specified that the qadi would listen to the claim, and specified that the commanding and the realization of the supplication be the affair of the Sultan—God grant him victory! And the people came out, as everyone who had a complaint came to the place of the exalted Shari’a.

Then Ḥusayn Agha assigned Kutkhudā Ḥasan Agha to listen to the complaints of the supplicants from among the assembly. And they laid charge [upon him and the pasha] with some eight of the specific points written out in the petition of the qadi and the people. So Ḥasan Agha [the qapuju] acknowledged that and the qadi wrote his report and put in six items of authorized evidence, and the veracity of the petition of ‘Abd al-Bāqī and the people of the land present was made manifest. The qapuju sent the authorized evidence along with the written report of the qadi to the Sublime Porte on Ramaḍān 2, 1086; he himself left al-Shām on Ramaḍān 27. Then on the second of Shuwwal [December 12, 1675] Ḥusayn Agha turned away from al-Shām, in the company of our lord Vezier Ibrahīm Pasha, who had previously governed al-Shām distant from Ikrīd [this last line’s meaning is unclear to me].

Ismā’il Maḥāsinī, Kunnāsh Ismā’il Maḥāsinī, ed. Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Munjad (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-Jadīd, 1965), 111-113.  

The little excerpt of translated text below is from the Kunnāsh, or notebook, of a scholarly resident of Damascus, Ismā’il al-Maḥāsinī, who died in 1690. In his notebook he records matters of local, regional, and even empire-wide importance, as well as various things and events that concerned or interested him. The events described range from an excursion to some neighboring towns to take in the country air, to the appointments and removals of various Ottoman officials in Damascus. In this entry he notes the occurrence of what in Western Europe would become known as Kirch’s Comet, as illustrated below in a painting from Rotterdam. Read Ismā’il’s description after the image:

comet

It befell that the first of the month of Ramaḍān, in the year 1091 [1680], was a Tuesday, and the Day of the Sacrifice likewise, and likewise the first of Muḥarram in the year 1092. And from the beginning days of the month of Dhū al-Ḥijja in the year 1091 [December 1680] a star went out which was seen in the lower third of the heavens in the direction of the qibla, and there extended out from it light like a solid column, around a cubit wide, inclining towards the west. And it remained like that every night for around a month.

Ismā’il Maḥāsinī, Kunnāsh, entry no. 25

A somewhat apologetic note to the reader: the following is an experiment on my part; what little poetry I’ve published here has been rather different. Written deep in the night in a bit of a blur with all the perhaps too obvious (or not) echos and influences whirling about in my head, and polished up in the morning, which is how these things usually come to be, I suppose. Enjoy.

________

When you sleep into the dream world, you might—might—see me. Spit three times in your left
Hand—or is it the right one?—and make sure. Abjure.
Wake it up, lit. Take your heart’s writ, tear, and sprinkle
The bits of the words on the tip of your tongue, encausticate them. Honey’s a fix, sure, but
Some wounds, they only take their mirrored selves—a lesson?
Others, warm milk and honey, perhaps. The bees, they know, ask ‘em, but take mind,
They’re liable to sting, even, perhaps, in a dream. Or not.
If you wake up, and you’re already smiling, take it as a token,
A very good sign. Not the sort that leaves you flat-backed and singed—not that good.
St. Patrick’s Purgatory, the wet stones traprock, blink and you’ll miss them, the good folk there—
Well, he said. Some days sure it don’t rain. Though this damp don’t help your cold none, son.
Cut and burn, your labors pass. Wind on the weary uplands, up and out.
What you saw, anyway, was me in the stars, swinging the scythe, harvesting
Sounds and portents. Now we’re away on the far ends, the utmost limit,
And a scraggly juniper tree at the start of old field succession, digging roots
Into the old star stuff, left alone. The heavens. Man, it’s deep, deep I say.
Straight from that hunkered down isle within an isle, to that bower, I took, mad Sweeney beside,
And sheared all day, found rest under that tree. Sweeney flew on. Now, stick around, we’ll
See all that, and see what we see, so. Prop your eyes open, sleep, and dream.

The below brief text is excerpted from a short Ottoman Turkish manual of Sufism by Mahmut Hüdayı, an important shaykh, and indeed early organizer, of the Celvetiyye ṭarīqa, the adherents of which mostly lived in the Anatolian and Rumelian parts of the Ottoman domains. Much of Mahmut Hüdayı’s output was in Arabic, but a substantial number were in Ottoman Turkish- not quite a colloquial register, but more likely to be read and understood by a wider number of people in Anatolia and Rumelia.

This passage is emblematic of one of the prevailing themes in the work from which it is excerpted: the importance of having a shaykh (in this context, a spiritual master/instructor) and being constant in honoring and obeying him. While such sentiments were hardly new in Sufism in the sixteenth century, there were also a seemingly increasing number of people who contested, explicitly or implicitly, the authority and knowledge of living shaykhs. By the eighteenth century it is easy to find many people practicing what was essentially a ‘privatized’ mystical Islam, with little need for a shaykh or regular communal life. Such a possibility is clearly not in view for Mahmut Hüdayı, however- quite the opposite, as is clear from the following passage.

If the shaykh enjoins as a duty any service (khidmet, mod. Turkish hizmet), [the disciple] ought to carry that service out, without delay, without adding any other business to it, without asking for explanation of cause or detail, and without stopping. It is related about a shaykh that he asked one of his disciples: ‘If your shaykh sent you off to do some service, and on the way you passed by a mosque in which they were performing congregational ritual prayers, what would you do?’

The disciple answered, ‘First, I would carry out that service, then I would perform the ritual prayers.’ The shayhk commended his answer. The intended moral from this [antecdote] is the bestowal of great care in service [to one’s shaykh]; it is not, God forbid, the disparagement of ritual prayer!

Mahmut Hüdayı, 1543 or 1544-1628, Ṭarīqat-nāme, Princeton Islamic Manuscripts, New Series no. 307, fol. 128-129.

Words, loose stock of the tongue,
Jump of a thing.
Clutch of rabbits scattered
Out of the weeds. You make,
And they flee.

Sitting here afloat, pockmarked and saltstreaked cordgrass
Shivering up in the gathering morning heat,
I search for a word for the waters under me.
Creek, the map says, but flowing up,
Against the world’s plane,
Reached by the moon, hard to believe,
Like the best things that also are true.
I listen.
Everywhere, motion and sound, just above silence—
An infinite city in reduced scale, plunging
The five or six feet down in the turbid flow, then into
The mud, the worn-away of the ages,
Ancient Appalachians crumbled,
Creatures great and small alive in the bubbling wash,
The ten thousand things circling in and out.
I hover overhead.
I’d say I’ll withdraw, but there is no real away,
Only a slight difference of distance.
Every moment, earth, under
Moon, self, triangulated, over, below
The waters. Here, and everywhere.

The below passage is from an introductory ‘handbook’ of Sufism in Arabic by the seventeenth century Aleppine Sufi Qāsim al-Khānī (d. 1697). His description here is hardly original, rather, it represents the shifting through and representation of centuries of Sufi thought and practice. At times his writings reflect a concern with theological ‘deviance,’ a particularly acute concern for Sufis like him who sought to defend and perpetuate the long tradition of Sufism- including the many theo-philosophical developments of the thirteenth century, such as those associated with Ibn ‘Arabi. Many of these beliefs and practices came under increasing scrutiny in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere from the sixteenth century onward, even if such critiques did not become truly mainstream until much closer to our own age. al-Khānī seeks to defend such beliefs as ‘oneness of being,’ while also decrying allegedly incorrect interpretations of such beliefs, for instance here:

That which benefits the wayfarer in his journey is witnessing (shuhūd) of oneness of being not its gnosis. Witnessing is a state (ḥāla) necessarily realized from struggle, privation, successive exercise, lowliness, poverty, and need. And this state does not benefit the wayfarer unless there is with it following of the Shari’a, for if there is not with it following of the Shari’a, then it is damning zandiqa [heresy or deviance].

The passage below is less concerned with fending off theological error; rather, it presents a pretty traditional Sufi understanding of spiritual journeying: the passage through successive ranks of ‘veils’ preventing human cognizance and connection with God. As it is written in a straight-forward, pedagogically-inclined manner, I will leave off further commentary of this fine example of early modern Sufi teaching.

And the greatest of the veils that are between the servant and his Lord are the veils of sins, because they are darkness. As for veils other than them, to be sure the servant should hasten to dispel them, although they are luminescent, not totally veiling the servant. For the likeness of the veil constituted by sins is the likeness of an encompassing wall between you and your goal, and you cannot see essence or trace, due to its preventing, nor shape—which is different from the luminescent veils. They are like glass, with what is behind them being seen, obscuring and revealing by their increase or decrease. If the glass is increased greatly, then the intended object behind it is hidden, though the hiddenness of what is behind the wall is not the case here—at least the shape of the object can be discerned. All of this is what can be seen with the eye of the senses.

The heart is likewise. So long as its eye, which is called discernment (al-baṣīra) is veiled by the darkness of disobedience, which is called overcoming, imprinting, and sealing, it does not see anything of the lights of the Unseen, and has no awareness of what sin and evil does to it.

Then if one turns from what one is in, the veils of sins are lifted from his heart, and he beholds divine things, and begins to feel fear concerning his punishment, and hopes for reward, and persists in obedience to God, and turning away of evil deeds. Now he is veiled with luminescent veils, which are his dependence upon these deeds, for he now believes that he is the one who brings them into existence.

Then, after that, God lifts this veil from him, through the blessing (baraka) of acts of obedience, and he sees that the grace upon him belongs to God, for God causes him to be successful in these deeds, and that he is insufficient in giving thanks for them, and that the effective Giver is God. If God desires of someone good, he invests him with the garment of pious fear (taqwa) so as to make sound his presentation before His presence—and nothing of good or evil is by the hand of the servant, rather, all is by the hand of God.

Then, when this veil is lifted from his heart, he imagines that he has attained to God, for there is spiritual delight in this station. But if the hidden subtleties encompass him, this veil too is raised from him, and he does not cease cutting through the veils, one after another, as per the arrangement of stations and gates as in this book, until he attains to true station, the stopping place of the Most Veiled—so understand!

Do not believe, because of the likeness of the veils to panes of glass, that God is a thing which can be seen by the perceiving eye—for He is free of that. God take in hand your guidance!

Qāsim al-Khānī, al-Sayr wa al-sulūk ilā malik al-mulūk

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