September 2017


Persimmon fruit hangs sweet and heavy in the air-
Bottomland forest along the Potomac,
First leaf falls whisp in and out, acorns, walnuts
Scatter and plop to the sandied floor, soundings.
Cool breeze washes the warm dense scent of the river
At end of summer up to us, promise of change. Memory’s scent,
Of my own late summer childhood nestling in
The sun-warmed receding pools, focusing the gentle force of drawn-
Down cascades in the Piney River, sniffing in the little river,
Shivering as the sun got low in afternoon
And we got out of the water. Now, my little son
Reaches out to feel the great round bole of a silver maple,
Smiling, two vigors, connecting. Together, we take in the
Touch, the forest and the river’s wafting multiplicities,
Such lines of continuity, untamed worlds, wild rivers,
Seasons in their turns and turns and turns.

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The following accounts treat an important, and well-nigh ubiquitous, type of Ottoman Muslim saint, the majdhūb (meczûb in Ottoman Turkish), the ‘divinely attracted or drawn one.’ For a longer explanation of this ‘mode’ of sainthood, see this post of mine from a while back. One of the chapters of my forthcoming dissertation will consist of a detailed history and analysis of majdhūb sainthood, as well. The two accounts below represent the different ways and environments in which this ‘immersive’ saintly identity could operate, across the diverse lands of the Ottoman Empire. The first, from an Arabic biographical compilation from the mid-17th century, treats the arguably most important and well known majdhūb saint in the Ottoman world, Abū Bakr ibn Abū al-Wafā’ al-Majdhūb (d. 991/1583), of Aleppo. The dervish complex and mazār (place of visitation or shrine) that grew up during his lifetime and especially after his death still stands, having gone from being on the outskirts of the city to well enveloped within it, a monument to the centrality this strange and powerful saint took on both during and after his life on earth (for more on this saint and his legacy, see Watenpaugh, Heghnar Zeitlian. “Deviant Dervishes: Space, Gender, and the Construction of Antinomian Piety in Ottoman Aleppo.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 37, no. 4 (2005): 535–65). In the story I have translated we see the saint’s intervention in one of most dangerous and pressing situations in any pre-modern society, the threat of drought- with the mere suggestion that drought might be imminent enough to send local markets into a price-raising frenzy, as noted in this story. The saint’s strange behavior- open to all manner of interpretation- is also displayed here, out of a long list of stories of strange and far more shocking action than manifested here.

The second story comes from an Ottoman Turkish (though in a very colloquial register) collection of lives of saints of Istanbul, focused on the early 18th century but stretching back to the early years of the Ottoman polity, and full of ‘divinely attracted’ saints, this form of sainthood seemingly having become established in Istanbul at some point in the 17th century if not somewhat earlier. The meczûb saint featured here, Taslak Dervîş Mustafâ (d. 1128/1716) is especially curious: originally a Bektaşî initiate, he evidently lived or at least spent a good deal of his time in the Üskudar tekke- sufi lodge- of Naṣûḥî Efendi, a saintly shaykh and eponym of a localized Ottoman ṭarīqa (sufi path or ‘order’) from within the larger Halveti lineage. He wanted to become a meczûb, and eventually did, spending most of his time in a state of ‘immersion’- which could cause him to ‘manifest’ some strange and remarkable states, as described in this story. Interestingly, though I am not yet sure what to make of it, fire and its manipulation for producing ‘liminal’ experiences is a recurring theme in his life.

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[My father] related to me that [one year] it failed to rain, so [Qāḍī] ‘Alī Efendī ordered my father to go out to supplicate for rain, but, asking him to be patient, [my father] said, ‘If God wills, God will send the rain. If we supplicate for rain during a month of no rain, prices will rise [I.e., the public prayers for rain will signal to the markets drought, causing prices to rise].’ The qāḍī listened to him. Then my father went forth to Shaykh Abū Bakr to ask him for help in seeking the rain, but before he reached the shaykh’s place the shaykh rose and turned, not towards my father coming towards him, but towards the mazār of Shaykh Bayram, stopping before the māzar. He recited the Fatiha in a chanting manner, per its arrangement, different from his custom, as he used to recite it without the [proper] arrangement. Then he said, ‘O God give us to drink as succor, Deliverer from distress….’ to the end of the traditionally transmitted supplication. The shaykh’s companions did not understand the reason for his doing this. Then he returned and found my father. His anger increased until the people of the majlis were all roiled up. My father was unable to state why he had come. Then my father wanted to leave but he prevented him, saying, ‘Sit!’ Then his eyes gushed with anger, and his face got red. My father wanted to stand but he blocked him from doing so. Then after a long while a little cloud came forth, then a great torrent of rain fell! The shaykh took to dancing and clapping, then said to my father: ‘Has your concern been soothed? Arise from us!’ Then my father went forth in the heavy rain, so that his clothes were completely soaked.

ʻUrḍī, Muḥammad ibn ʻUmar. Maʻādin al-dhahab fī al-aʻyān al-musharrafah bi-him Ḥalab. ʻAmmān: Markaz al-Wathāʼiq wa-al-Makhṭūṭāt, al-Jāmiʻah al-Urdunīyah, 1992, p. 50.
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One day in winter the air was especially cold with the season’s chill, and the saint [Taslak Dede] was in his room lying down. Because the air had reached utmost cold, they brought one or two handfuls of wood and ten kıyye of coals, saying, ‘Taslak Dede ought not feel cold!’ But as the fire blazed up with the fuel, Taslak Dede stood up and filled his tobacco-pipe. As the fire needed stoking, in that very moment divine immersion (istiǧrâk) overtook him completely and he began to address his pipe, saying, ‘If he fell with his pipe into the midst of the fire, could he lie in it for an hour, or longer?’ We scattered about inside the room, as more than half his body and face were entirely within the flame, so three or four of us took hold of him and with force pulled him out of the fire. But his flesh, his dervish coat (hırka), and his dervish cap (sikke) were completely unharmed, and his pipe, in his left hand, had dropped to his left side and was entirely within the fire, yet was unharmed. Picking him up we place him on a cushion. For the course of three hours he remained in divine immersion. Afterwards, ‘Eyvallah! Eyvallah!’ he cried, and stood up, and once again we began conversing with him (sohbete başladık). Many strange and marvelous things such as this were made manifest through him.

Enfî Hasan Hulûs Halvetî, Mustafa Tatçı, and Musa Yıldız. Tezkiretü’l-müteahhirîn: XVI. – XVIII. asırlarda İstanbul velîleri ve delileri. İstanbul: MVT Yayıncılık, 2007, p. 110.