September 2012


Sufism, particularly in its more ecstatic and speculative forms, was not universally admired in the Ottoman world (or in the contemporary world, for that matter). Opposition to particular Sufi practices and doctrines, or Sufism as a whole, could come from various quarters, whether from the ranks of the learned elite or from the pious masses. In the short story below, taken from Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá  Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah’s biographical dictionary (a frequent contributor to this blog in recent days, regular readers will notice), we see both the tenor this opposition could take, and an instance of a rather dramatic conversion from an anti-Sufi stance (or, at least, anti-ecstatic Sufism). The story mostly speaks for itself. A couple of things are a little less obvious perhaps: one, note that the Sufi shaykh featured here is described as only having a Turkish name, unlike the majority of people featured in Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah’s collection. Does this indicate a rural origin, or perhaps outsider status vis-a-vis the ‘learned hierarchy’ of Istanbul and the rest of the empire? Why does Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah give only this one anecdote for substantial content of this shaykh’s life? I’m not sure. Ottoman Sufism and religion in general is an area of study I’m still very much a novice in; I might also add, my transcription of the Turkish shaykh’s name is a contingent guess for now. I have but lately begun studying Ottoman Turkish, and will probably come back and modify my transcription in time to something more accurate.

Among them, the Knower of God, Shaykh Sūndīk known as Qūghejēdede: He was a master of great divine ecstasies, sunnaic states, and performed miracles.

It is related that he met with Mullah al-Karamāsī—the qāḍī of Constantinople[1]—along with Mullah Ḥamīd al-Dīn ibn Afḍal al-Dīn, who was at the time a mufti. Mullah al-Karamāsī complained to him regarding the Sufism of the age, in that they danced and entered trance-states during dhikr,[2] which was in disagreement with the shari’a. So Mullah ibn Afḍal al-Dīn said to Mullah al-Karamāsī that their leader was this shaykh, pointing to Qūghejēdede, and said: If you make him sound, all will be sound. At that Mullah al-Karamāsī stood up and took Qūghejēdede to his house and fetched his disciples [of Qūghejēdede], and prepared food for them. After finishing the food, he said to them: ‘Sit, and practice your remembrance (dhikr) of God in propriety, sobriety, and silence!’ They said: ‘We will do that.’ Then, when they began their dhikr, Qūghejēdede shouted very loudly in Mullah al-Karamāsī’s ear, so that the Mullah stood up, threw off his turban from his head[3] and his outer robe from his shoulders, and began dancing and entered a trance-state until an entire third of the day had passed. When the Mullah’s disturbance had stilled, Qūghejēdede sad: ‘For what were you so disturbed, O Mullah—and you had said it was evil?’ The Mullah replied: ‘I repent! And I revoke before God that rejection [of Sufism], and I will never return to it!’

The aforementioned shaykh died in the city of Constantinople and was buried in it—God hallow his mystery (sirrahu).

Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá  Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah (Bayrūt, Lubnān: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʻArabī, 1975), 220-1. Translation by Jonathan P. Allen, 2012. No rights reserved.


[1] That is, the chief judge of Constantinople/Istanbul.

[2] Dhikr—literally, ‘remembrance’—is a Sufi practice in which the name of God or certain short devotional phrases or prayers are uttered (either vocally or silently/mentally) in succession, over and over, sometimes leading up to a trance-like state (though not in all forms of dhikr).

[3] An action strongly indicating abandonment of propriety and self-control.

One of the most prolific Sufi masters and authors to live in the Ottoman Empire was a Turkish mystic and scholar named Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī (1063-1133/1652-1725), who spent his childhood near Edirne, then received his education in Edirne and Istanbul. After several years of traveling to various corners of the empire, he settled down in Bursa, where he lived as a Sufi master and teacher and eventually head of the Jilwatiyya order. Besides his training in the Sufi path, Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī received, and deployed in the course of his career, a broad education, from philosophy and music to Qur’anic exegesis and Persian poetry. He wrote a great deal- some 104 works, a majority in Turkish, though with a sizeable number in Arabic. The excerpt below comes from his primarily Arabic (with a little Persian mixed in) Qur’an tafsīr, the Rūḥ al-bayān, a multi-volume work that stands out as a quite original and often creative endeavor. Philosophy, mysticism, grammatical science, hadith, and many other components all make up this major work, which, so far as I know, has received little notice from Western scholars.

The excerpt below represents an aspect of Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī’s tafsīr that I think might well be unique to him (though of course I could be quite wrong on that, so don’t quote me on this!); if not unique, it still stands out as unusual and rare. After providing a somewhat eclectic but largely ‘exoteric’ interpretation of the first few verse of Sura al-Hūd, Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī presents a lemma-by-lemma ‘mystical’ commentary that is highly abbreviated, similar to the concise, abbreviated ‘exoteric’ commentaries that were especially popular in the Ottoman realms (see Bayḍawī’s relatively short commentary, the Tafsīr Anwār al-Tanzīl wa Asrār al-Ta’wīl, for an example). He titles these sections Stellar Interpretations, a phrase which immediately calls to mind mystical modes of exegesis (see note one below). Whereas most Sufi commentaries dealt with particular verses or blocks of verses, our author works through each lemma and line, integrating the whole of the text into a concise Sufic interpretation. What is the logic of such an approach? Perhaps Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī wishes to demonstrate the complete compatibility of the Qur’anic text with the Sufi path and Sufi doctrine. Against naysayers who might wish to contest the Qur’anic quality of Sufism (and especially the ibn ‘Arabi influenced Sufism someone like Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī espoused), our author presents a lemma-by-lemma reading of the scriptural text that uncovers Sufi belief and practice consistently and clearly, with little metaphysical or rhetorical maneuvering.

Alif-Lam-Ra: A Book whose verses were established, then were set forth in detail, from the Presence, Wise, Knowing. Serve none save God; I am to you from Him a warning, and good news. And you that seek forvgiveness of your Lord, then turn to Him, He gives you enjoyable provision to an appointed term. And there comes to every possessor of grace His grace. And if you turn back, then I fear for you the punishment of a great Day. To God you return, and He is over everything powerful.

And in the Stellar Interpretation [1] (al-ta’wīlāt al-najmiyya): Alif-lam-ra: the alif points to God (Allāh), the lam, to Gabriel, and the ra, to the Prophet (al-rasūl). A Book whose verses were established: meaning the Qur’an, a book whose verse are established by wise ordinance, as His words say: He makes you to know the Book and wisdom. So the Book is the Qur’an, and the wisdom is the realities, the meanings, and the mysteries that are incorporated in its verses. Then were set forth in detail: that is, these realities and wisdoms were made evident to the hearts of the gnostics. From the presence of [the] Wise: He deposited in [the Qur’an] the overwhelming wisdom which no one else is capable of depositing in it, and this is a mystery from among the mysteries of the inimitability (i’jāz) of the Qur’an. Knowing: over the instruction of those things from His presence to whomever He wills among His servants, as His words say: Then they found one of Our servants, unto whom We had brought mercy from Us and had taught him knowledge from Our Presence (Q. 18.65). Pointing out that the Qur’an has an exterior which the grammarians (ahl al-lugha) know about, and an interior which only the lords of hearts whom God has graced with knowledge from the Presence know about. And the summit of wisdom and its mystery is that you say: O Muhammad, what relates to you will not perish [?]. Serve none save God: that is, do not serve Satan, the world, the passions, nor what is other than God. I am to you from Him a warning: I warn you against being cut off from God, you that serve, obey, or love other than God; and the punishment of the servant is in Gehenna. And good news: I give you good news of mystical union and the graces of reunion [with God] in the house of magnificence, you that you serve Him and obey Him and love Him.

And the Prophet is specified by the call to God from among the prophets and the messengers, as indicated by His words: O Prophet, We sent you as a witness, a herald, a warning, and a caller to God by His permission (Q. 33.45). And you that seek forgiveness of your Lord: from what causes you to slip during the days of your lives into seeking other than God and the abandonment of seeking Him, and the occurrence of veiling [from God] and the vanities of people’s natural dispositions—for the seeking of of forgiveness is purification for your souls and cleansing for your hearts. Then turn to Him: return by preceding along the practice of wayfaring to God, so that repentance be a ornamentation for you after the purification of seeking forgiveness, per His words: He gives you enjoyable provision: the raising in stations from the low to the high, and from the high to the presence of the Exalted, the Great. To an appointed time: the termination of the stations of wayfaring (sulūk) and the beginning of the degrees of union. And there comes to every possessor of grace: possessor of truthfulness and struggle in the seeking. His grace: in the degrees of union; the witnessings are in accordance with the measure of the struggles. And if you turn back: to turn away from the seeking and the journey to God. Then (fa-): Say: I fear for you punishment of a great Day: the punishment of the Day of the cutting off from God, the Great—He is the greatest of the great, and His punishment is the hardest of strikings. To God you return: voluntarily or with detestation. If voluntarily, He will draw near to you with the utmost of attractions, as He said [in a ḥadīth qudsī: Whoever draws near to Me an inch, I will draw near to him a cubit. If with detestation, you deserve to be in the fire upon your faces. And He is over every thing: in both kindness and victorious might: powerful.

Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī, Rūḥ al-bayān, Volume 4, 93-94.


[1] Ta’wīlāt is a somewhat ambiguous word: it can mean simply ‘commentary’ or ‘intepretation’; it can mean ‘commentary by personal opinion,’ with a negative sense attached to it; or it can stand for ‘mystical’ interpretation. Here it would seem to entail aspects of all three meanings, though without any negative sense attached to it.