10 Aralık 2014 Çarşamba

How Aware are Turkish Historians of Ottoman Intellectual Life?*

Islamic civilization, especially Ottoman civilization, is a civilization of fiqh, and was built on law [1]. The considerable number of works written on this subject is sufficient, I think, to exhibit the importance which Islamic civilization places on justice [2]. A saying attributed to the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, “al-Adl asas al-mulk – justice is the basis of state” [3] is one of the most concise sayings stating that a state cannot stand without justice. Attaining justice requires an established legal mechanism and legists enabling this mechanism to continue.

In the Ottoman State, which applied Islamic law,  legists, who are required to carry out the law, were trained only in madrasas until the Tanzimat period. Madrasas not only trained jurists but also provided a suitable infrastructure in which many scholars, who were ingenious in every branch of science, were trained. Therefore, madrasas played a significant role in the regular functioning of the legal mechanism and the shaping of society. Due to these facts, before studying the political, social, and intellectual history of the Ottoman State, the first step should be to try to comprehend the status of madrasas and ulamas (scholar) in the State. Otherwise, the analyses regarding Ottoman will be void. However, there are some difficulties related to both ulum 'aliya (high sciences – tafsir, hadith, fiqh, usul al-hadith, usul al-fiqh, kalam, tasawwuf) and ulum aliya (ancillary sciences – grammar, syntax, rhetoric, logic) for those who will study in this area. Language and logic are in the most important place among the ancillary sciences. The language of education and academia was Arabic. While Latin was the lingua franca of the Christian world, Arabic was that of the Islamic world. Hence in order to construe the meaning of a text pertaining to a previous time, a researcher needs to gain the minimum knowledge that those who were understanding this text had. Furthermore, the researcher should have the minimum knowledge regarding the culture in which he/she is conducting his/her research. {Please refer to “How can Ottoman intellectual life be understood?” (this post is in Turkish) for the detailed information regarding what the minimum requirements are.}

I will share a paragraph from one paper of Halil Inalcik, a famous Ottoman historian, so as to evaluate the importance of these minimum requirements. Inalcik says about Birgiwi, “Kadizades, following Birgiwi in the 16th century, Kadi Mahmad in the 17th century, and also the strictest and uncompromising representatives of Sunna, started attacking the bid'ahs, which they determined as opposing to Sharia in the Ottoman society, during their sermons in the central mosques, and provoking people. For instance, while defining the cash waqfs as a bid'ah against Sharia, Mahmad Birgiwi attacked shayh al-islam (the grand mufti) Ebussud, who considered these waqfs beneficial for the Muslim society. Moreover, he exaggerated this stance so that he regarded shayh al-islam Ebussuud as an infidel. This drastic disagreement stems from the fact that Mahmad Birgiwi was following Hanbali school and the shayh al-islam against him was following the more liberal Hanafi school” [4].

Inalcik's comments on Birgiwi contain errors of  knowledge and analysis. It cannot be said that there is a connection between Birgiwi and the Kadizades movement in terms of  intellectual framework. Even though it is told that the Kadizades tought the books of Birgiwi, obviously the opinions of Birgiwi and the Kadizades conflicted such that Birgiwi often cited from the books of famous great sufis, such as Muhyiddin al-Arabi, and stated explicitly that he was not against tasawwuf, against so-called shayhs (mutashayyih). Birgiwi's understanding of bid'ah differs from that of the Kadizades, who attacked even the minarets of mosques because minarets were bid'ah. Furthermore, instead  of provoking people, as the Kadizades did, Birgiwi tried to correct the mistakes, which he considered a violation of the fundamental principles of the religion, only by using his pen. The disagreement between Birgiwi and the shayh al-islam Ebussuud was centered around whether or not the cash waqfs are valid  according to the Hanafi school. By considering the current conditions in his time, Ebussuud Effendi gave a fatwa, which stated that the cash waqfs were valid, according to Imam Zufar, one of the most prominent faqihs in the Hanafi school. However, Birgiwi opposed this fatwa since when a zahir al-riwayah (of reliable transmission) is available for a case,  a fatwa cannot be given based on a riwayah in a lower level.  This opposition meaningfully shows the freedom of thought in the Ottoman: a scholar in a small town could  easily come out against the shayh al-islam Ebussuud Effendi, one of the most mighty grand muftis, and wrote a refutation (raddiya) against him. Unfortunately, Inalcik did not mention any reference to the information stating that Birgiwi regarded Ebussuud Effendi as an infidel.

There is an obvious error regarding Birgiwi's following of the Hanbali school. One who has read little of Birgiwi's books cannot make such a mistake and easily understands that Birgiwi strictly adhered to the Hanafi school. He refuted shayh al-islam Kamalpashazade's criticisms of Wiqaya, one of the four matn books in the Hanafi school. This refutation and the disagreement between him and Ebussuud Efendi demonstrated his strict obedience to his school. He wrote all of his books according to the Hanafi school. It appears that Inalcik, who has not read or cannot read Birgiwi's one book and  was affected by the article related to Birgiwi in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, asserted that Birgiwi followed the Hanbali school.

Another Ottoman historian claimed that Birgiwi frequently mentioned marginal scholar Ibn Taymiyya's opinions in his books [5]. While using a takmila (completion) of Ottoman Turkish translation of Birgiwi's al-Tariqah al-Muhammadiyyah as a reference for his claim, he is so far away from the Ottoman scientific and intellectual life that he cannot realize that the sentences he used as reference do belong to the author, who wrote the Takmila [6]. However, there is no citation to Ibn Taymiyya in al-Tariqah al-Muhammadiyyah.

Why did these two Ottoman historians arrive at a decision without reading Birgiwi's books? Unfortunately, a paradigm issue, on which philosophy of science puts emphasis,  appears in this case. Instead of critically analyzing the previous works in this subject, they just follow what has been written before. This imitation may stem from the feelings of oppression/defeat. Has not the time come for the transition from taqlid (imitation) to tahqiq (verification)?


* Yazının Türkçesine buradan ulaşılabilir.

[1] Mohammad Âbed al-Jabrî, Arap-İslâm Aklının Oluşumu [Bunyah al-'Akl Al-'Arab], Translation from Arabic into Turkish by İbrahim Akbaba, İstanbul, 2001, p. 109.

[2] Gunasti suggests that “the reason for the low number of Qurʾān commentaries written by the Ottoman ulema has to do with the nature of the ilmiyye (the Ottoman learned hierarchy), which valued specialization in fiqh above all else”. Susan Gunasti, “Political Patronage and the writing of Qurʾān commentaries among the Ottoman Turks”, Journal of Islamic Studies, 24.3 (2013): 335-357.

[3] Abu al-Lays al-Samarqandî, Tafsir al-Quran, Translation into Ottoman Turkish by Abu al-Fadl Musa al-İznikî, Transliteration into Modern Turkish with simplification by Mehmet Karadeniz, İstanbul, 2007,  vol. 2, p. 163.

[4] Halil Inalcık, “Türkiye ve Avrupa: Dün ve Bugün”, Doğu Batı, Yıl 1, Sayı 2, 1998, p. 21. The article can be downloaded here.

[5] Fahri Unan, “Dinde Tasfiyecilik Yahut Osmanlı Sünnîliğine Sünnî Muhâlefet: Birgivî Mehmed Efendi”, Türk Yurdu, X/36, 1990, s. 33-42. The article can be downloaded here.

[6] Birgivî, Takmila-i Tarjama-i Tarîqat-i Muhammadiyya, Translation into Ottoman Turkish with explanation by Vedâdî, İstanbul, 1256/1840. This book can be downloaded here.

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