31 Mart 2015 Salı

The Duty of Conscience

Isak Jerusalmi, son of David Effendi working as a translator for Mahmad Sadik Rifat Pasha, has transliterated Pasha's Risale-i Ahlaq (an Ottoman Turkish treatise on ethics taught in the Ottoman schools) into Latin alphabet. Isak writes in the preface of the book [1]: “Yellowish pages of fair amount of 'old' books were sold to shops of dried fruits by miserable people and after being used for a paper bag, these pages were thrown into the trash bin. The existing publications from the Ottoman period constitute very small amount of the total publications from that period. The books have been waiting, locked up in the cabinets of famous libraries. This tragic waiting has lasted over a century. Who will read and evaluate these books, which have not seen sunlight? Unfortunately, there is a lack of experts”.
The cover page of the treatise

Isak Effendi, born in Uskudar district of Istanbul, tells us so and asks the uncomfortable question: Who will read these books in Ottoman Turkish?

At the end of the preface, he writes that on March 4, 1924, after the abolition of the Caliphate, it was decided that Abdulmajid II would go to Çatalca from Istanbul by car and from there to Europe by train. His private secretary, Salih Nigar, narrates the arrival of the convoy to the train station in his book [2]: “The manager of the station of Rumali Railway Corporation was a Jewish citizen. Since there was no convenient place where His Excellency and his family could rest, the manager assigned his building to the high guests and the manager and his family treated them with respect and served. When His Excellency thanked him for the sincere respect and help, the manager said 'the Ottoman dynasty is the benefactor of the Jewish people. When our ancestors, being exiled from Spain, were looking for a country to protect themselves, the Ottoman dynasty saved them from vanishing and provided them with safety of life, honor and property, and freedom of religion and language. In the time of troubles, it is a duty of conscience for us to serve them as good as we can'. These words filled us with tears”.


[1] Mehmed Sadik Rifat Pasa, Risale-i Ahlak, prepared by Isak Jerusalmi, Cincinnati, 1990. The book contains Ottoman text along with its transliteration. This book can be downloaded here.                  

[2] Salih Nigar, Halife İkinci Abdülmecid, İstanbul, 1964, p. 8.

27 Mart 2015 Cuma

How can Ottoman Intellectual Life be understood?

How advanced was the intellectual life in the Ottoman state, which lasted six centuries and has shaped the world history? How should research be conducted on this issue? What are the minimum requirements for researchers?

A system can be thoroughly understood through learning its characteristics. If this system is a state, it is essential to do research on common social and moral values and mind-set of people in this state. Researchers should refer to the existing written materials so as to succeed in their research. The ability to read and understand these materials can be gained  via learning grammar of the language in which the materials were written. However, learning only the language does not guarantee that one can correctly understand these works with different scientific levels. Since the works were written by the scholars who were risen from madrasas (higher educational institution in the Ottoman state), it is necessary for researchers to be equipped with the knowledge of fundamental sciences in the time when these works were written. Tahsin Gorgun wrote about the requirements for understanding works of Ottoman scholars [1]: “having good knowledge of philology and philosophy of language in both classical and modern senses; having good education on logic and metaphysics;  knowing principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) and knowing well at least one of the fundamental fiqh books, such as Hidaya, Durar [2]. What the word 'good' means here is that one should have sufficiently read classical works on linguistics, such as Maqsud [3] and its commentaries and super-commentaries on sarf (morphology) and should have mastered on commentary of Molla Jami's Kafiya (al-Fawaid al-Ziyaiyya) [4] and al-Mutawwal [5]; known at least Fanari [6] and sufficient parts of its super-commentaries on logic; read at least Matali [7] and Sharh al-Mawaqif [8] on metaphysics. Without knowing these sciences, one would not have any opportunity to understand even  the most basic treatise of an Ottoman scholar, as well as what his/her opinions on Ottoman intellectual life would not have any scientific value. What those who do not satisfy the aforementioned requirements for understanding Ottoman thought say or write about Ottoman intellectual life will be only made up of some words, which are not known in terms of how meaningful they are. … Taking all these statements into account, we can say that  approaching Ottoman thought is possible only through considering its presence. The presence of a thought is directly related to the presence of those who carry this thought. Since the carriers of the thought are not naturally carrier before getting formal education, they take this role afterwards. A must-have prerequisite for understanding Ottoman thought is to pass through stages which the carriers experienced”. 

Reference and Notes

[1] Tahsin Gorgun, “Osmanli Dusuncesi Nasil Anlasilir? - Osmanli Dusuncesi'nin Arastirilmasinda Karsilasilan Bazi Zorluklar Uzerine”, Türklük Araştırmaları Dergisi, no 13-14, İstanbul, 2003, p. 29-46. This paper can be downloaded here.

[2]  Ekrem Bugra Ekinci, Islam Hukuku Tarihi (Istanbul, 2006, p. 154-155). 
al-Hidaya was penned by Marginani (d. 593/1197). Marginani first wrote 80 volumes of Kifaya al-Muntahi based on Imam Muhammad's al-Jami al-Sagir and Quduri's Mukhtasar. Since he then found his book too long, before completing it, he abridged it under the title of al-Bidaya. Later, he commented on al-Bidaya under the title of al-Hidaya. al-Hidaya has been highly respected as in Ottoman as  in Turkestan because its topics are well-organized and its literary style is good. There are special expressions in this work to warn  students who are in the early stage of learning. 
Durar al-Hukkam was written by Molla Husraw (d. 885/1480),  grand mufti in the Ottoman State. The writer commented on his own work, Gurar al-Ahkam, under the title of Durar al-Hukkam. This work was one of the works which were used in Ottoman madrasas and courts. Durar al-Hukkam was translated into Ottoman Turkish under the title of Tarjuma al-Gurar wa al-Durar. This translation can be downloaded here.

[3] Maqsud, sarf (morphology) book, was taught after Amsila and Bina. Imam Birgiwi stated that Maqsud penned by Imam Abu Hanifa. 

[4] Kafiya, on nahv (syntax), is the work of Ibn Hacib (d. 646/1248)

[5] al-Mutawwal ala al-Talhis, on balagat (rhetoric), is a commentary which Sadaddin Taftazani wrote on Talhis al-Miftah

[6] Fanari ala Isagoji, on logic,  is  a commentary which Molla Fanari, Ottoman grand mufti, wrote on Isagoji

[7] Matali, on kalam (Islamic theology), is a commentary which Shams al-Din al-Isfahani (d. 746/1345) wrote on Tavaliu al-Anwar of Qadi Baydawi (d. 692/1292).

[8] Sharh al-Mawaqif, on kalam, is a commentary which Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjani (d. 816/1413) wrote on al-Mawaqif of Adud al-Din al-Iji (d. 756/1355).

14 Mart 2015 Cumartesi

Collective Responsibility: Qasama and Aqila

You most probably have heard or read the following warning in metro stations: “Safety is a shared responsibility”. Fourteen centuries ago, the issue of collective responsibility was considered under two chapters of fiqh (Islamic law) books: Kitab al-Qasama and Kitab al-Maaqil. Hence, the collective responsibility has been one of the key principles providing with public order in an Islamic society.

Consider a body is found and the murderer cannot be found. When the legal guardian (wali) of the victim sues, the guardian has a right to select fifty men in the town where the voice from the locus of crime can be heard. These men are obliged to take an oath that they are not murderers and they do not have any information about the murderer. After the oath, people of the town have to pay diyat (blood-money for murder) to the heirs of  the victim. This is called Qasama (literal meaning: to divide). If the town has fewer than fifty men, the oath is repeated until the number of oaths becomes fifty. If someone avoids taking the oath, he is put in prison until he accepts the crime or takes the oath. If there is no evidence of murder, the death is considered natural and qasama is not applied [1].

Aqila is the group of people who have to be concerned with each other, to observe each other's behavior, and have cooperation among themselves. Due to these responsibilities, they have to pay diyat for an accidental death one of the members causes [2].

By means of qasama and aqila, Islamic law has introduced the principle of collective responsibility so as to prevent crimes. Hence people would be more careful about what's going on around their environment.


[1] Ekrem Bugra Ekinci, Osmanli Hukuku (Ottoman Law), 3rd Edition, Istanbul, 2014, p. 362

[2] Ibid., p. 361-362.