22 Nisan 2015 Çarşamba

Copernicus and Ottoman

Copernicus introduced the general outline of his new theory in his treatise titled Commentariolus. He stated in this treatise that the Earth is only the center of the orbit of the Moon, not the center of the solar system, and that all the planets revolve around the Sun. He, however, left many deficits in his theory. He died after a few hours when he saw the first edition of his book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, on May 24, 1543 [1].

To the best of my knowledge, the Islamic world had first contact with Copernicus astronomy through Tazkiraji Kosa Ibrahim Effendi of Zigatwar's Arabic translation of Noel Duret's Latin text Novae Motuum Caelestium Ephemerides Rischelianae with corrections and additions under the title of Sajanja al-Aflaq fi Gayrat al-Idraq. He later translated into Ottoman Turkish. The heliocentric model, which led to the conflict between science and religion in Europe, was considered merely a scientific issue among the Ottoman scholars, who then preferred this model over the geocentric model, a.k.a. the Ptolemaic model [2].

The transition from the geocentric model to the heliocentric model resulted in the coordinate change, which did not have an effect in terms of the astronomical calculations. Tazkiraji Kosa Ibrahim Effendi says in his work [3]:

 “In 1461, Peurbach and Regiomontaus, German scholars,  determined the errors of Alfonso's Zij (astronomical table). Although Regiomontaus had begun to make observations in order to correct this zij, he died before completing his study. A few years later Nicolaus Copernicus established a new method in 1525, determining the errors of Alfonso's Zij and finding its basis unsound.

Copernicus, establishing a new basis, constructed a small new zij by assuming that the Earth was moving. This zij was in use for 60 years until the time of Tycho Brahe. 

While Tycho Brahe, in the coasts of Reine, was correcting Copernicus's Zij through observations with a great number of more accurate devices, the Bohemian military expedition began. Even though he desired to publish the drafts of his zij,  his life was not sufficiently long to finish that. The zij as good as Tycho's zij was eventually produced by his contemporary Longomontanus of Daina. 

After that, Johannes Kepler (d. 1630), who was working in the palace of the Spain King Rudolph, prepared an original zij to contain all the stars based on Tycho's observations, and called it Zij of Rudolph. As stated by Kepler, this zij was not consistent with all the observations because the positions of the stars Ptotemy observed did not match up to the positions in this zij. The solar and lunar eclipses also showed incongruity with this zij. Eventually Duret constructed a zij based on Lansberge's zij using 30 years of observations. I, Ibrahim al-Zigatwari and also known as Tazkiraji, had Duret's work brought from abroad and translated this work”.


[1] Robert B. Downs, Dünyayı Değiştiren Kitaplar [Books That Changed the World], Translation into Turkish by Erol Güngör, İstanbul, 2008, p.187,190. 

[2] Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Osmanlılar ve Bilim [Ottomans and Science], İstanbul, 2003, p. 37. 

[3] Ibid., p. 166-168.

14 Nisan 2015 Salı

Riddles in Islamic Teaching Tradition

Since ilm (knowledge) has been one of the primary focuses of Islamic civilization, books, one of the transmission media of ilm, have drawn much attention. While transferring knowledge into books, not only prose form but also verse form has been used. 

Today's scholars are doing research on how to get young generation to like ilm and how to avoid making them bored while they are studying difficult and uninteresting books in the first stages of their education life. Fortunately, through computer technology, books have recently become interactive and subjects of  courses are being taught with video and animations.

Centuries ago, Islamic scholars produced different mediums to the extent that they could do so as to increase the curiosity of the new learners and to enable them to learn with fun. One of these mediums is the riddle. Arabic word “Algaz” is a plural form of lugz (lam gayn za) and means riddles.

The titles of some riddle books on different topics are given below:

Nahw (Syntax)
al-Azharî, al-Alğazu al-Nahwiyya fî Ilm al-Arabiyya
Suyutî, al-Tirâz fi al-Alğâz
Zamahsharî, al-Muhâjât bi al-Masâil al-Nahwiyya
Abu al-Ma'âlî al-Varrâk, al-İcâz fi al-Ahâcî wa al-Alğaz
Abu al-Kâsım al-Harîrî, Alğâzu al-Harîrî wa  Ahâcîhî fi Mâkâmâtihî
Ibn Hisham, al-Alğâzu al-Nahwiyya

Fiqh (Islamic Law)
Abdalaziz al-Jîlî, al-İcâz fi al-Alğâz
Ibn Fârid al-Hamawî, al-Alğâz
Ibn Farhûn, Durretu al-Ğavâs fi Muhadarat al-Havâs
al-Jarrâ'î, Hilyatu al-Tirâz fi Halli Masâil al-Alğâz
Sadruddin İbnu al-İzz al-Hanafî, al-Tazhîb li Zihni al-Labîb
Ibnu al-Shihna (d. 890/1485), al-Zahairu al-Ashrafiyya fi al-Alğaz al-Hanafiyya. It was published.
Ibn Ğalbûnn,  al-Tuhfa fî İlmi al-Mawârîs
Karaçelebizâde Abdülazîz Efendi (d. 1068/1658), Kitâb al-Algaz fî Fiqh al-Hanafiyya. He was the 33th grand mufti of the Ottoman Empire. I could not access the manuscript form of this book.
Mehmed Zihni Efendi (d. 1332/1913), Algâz-i Fiqhiyya. Zihni Efendi has knowledge on literature and fiqh. His book titled Nimet-i Islam is well-known catechism. Even today it is among the books which are frequently referred in Turkey. Algaz-i Fiqhiyya was written in Ottoman-Turkish language in the form of translation-sharh (commentary). Even though Algaz-i Fiqhiyya is dedicated to fiqh, it contains riddles related to arithmetic and intelligence. The book is based on algaz section of Hanafi faqih Ibn Nucaym's Ashbah. Algaz-i Fiqhiyya also was published in modern Turkish with unnecessary simplifications.

Qiraat (Quran reading)
Shamsaddin b. Muhammad al-Jazarî, Alğâz al-Jazarî or al-Aqdu al-Samîn fi Alğâz al-Qur’ân al-Mubîn
Alaaddin b. Nasır al-Trablûsî, Alğâz al-Alâiyye
Omar al-Askâtî, Kitabu Ajwibah al-Masâil fî Ilm al-Qiraât

Hasab (Arithmetic)
Musa al-Harizmî, Kitâb al-Mukhtasar fî Hisab al-Jabr wa al-Mukâbala
Abû Abdillah b. Gâzî al-Miknâsî, Buğyet al-Tullâb fî Sharh Munyat al-Hisâb

11 Nisan 2015 Cumartesi

Introduction of Modernism into Islamic World

When speaking about the Modernist movement in Islamic world, one of the places that comes to the mind first is Egypt. When we look to the Islamic history over the last two centuries, we realize that the pioneers of the Modernist movement came from Egypt and their thoughts spread over Islamic world. Since the movement began in Egypt, it is important to read the history of modernism in Islamic world from an Egyptian author. I will share some noteworthy parts of the book, al-lslam wa al-Hadarah al-Gharbiyyah, which was written by Prof. Muhammad Mahmud Husayn, and also translated into Turkish.

Rifaa Tahtawi and Hayraddin Tunusi

According to the author,  the modernist wind started blowing when  Egypt, under the ruling of Qawalali Mahmad Ali Pasha, began to bring the science and technology from Europe. To realize his goal, Mahmad Ali Pasha brought foreign experts to his country and sent students to the European countries to get a good education. The foreign experts brought their families, schools, and hospitals with themselves. The author deals with this event as follows: It was an obvious danger for Egyptians to live together with these foreigners. The same danger was valid for the students being sent to Europe for education. How much these students are affected by European thought and movements can be understood from their writings when in Europe or after coming back to Egypt. Rifaa Tahtawi,  staying in Paris between 1826-1831, and Hayraddin Tunusi, staying in Paris between 1852-1856 can be given as an example for this,  [page 17].

These two people planted quickly the seeds, which they obtained from Europe, in  the Islamic world [page 18].  It can be seen in their works that they lowered themselves before Europe and  imitated Europe blindly. The author reveals their structures of thought through citing their works.

Lord Cromer and Lord Lloyd

Lord Cromer, a colonial governor of England in Egypt, says that  the severe conflict and difference between Muslims and colonizer Europeans  stem from the difference between religious and moral values, traditions and customs, language, art, and music. Cromer suggests two ways to remove this conflict: One way is to raise modern and privately educated generation in order to approach Egyptians to Europeans, especially to English in terms of thought and behavior. He established Victoria College due to this opinion. The second way is to develop an Islamic understanding which is consistent with Western civilization or at least close to it and does not  conflict with it, and subject to Islam to a new interpretation [page 41]. According to Lord Lloyd, the latter way was more effective than the former. 

Afghani – Abduh – Rashid Rida

The third section of the book is about Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Abduh. According to the author, it is suspicious that al-Afghani's identity is not clear. al-Afghani says that he is an Afghani Sunni. However, the research conducted reveals that he is an Iranian Shiite. This can also be easily understood from the book of his sister's son Mirza Lutfullah Khan, from whom al-Afghani never kept away during his visits to Iran. Since the Afghani people in the Ottoman state were Sunni, al-Afghani concealed that he was Shiite. The lack of both a representative abroad and an ambassador of Iran facilitated al-Afghani's concealing his original identity. He could make people believe that he was from Afghanistan because Afghanistan did not have any representative abroad.

Hasan Fahmi Effendi, shaykh al-islam of the Ottoman state, stated that he had to struggle with al-Afgani when in his first visit to Istanbul he talked scandalously, treating prophethood (nubuwwah) as an art of the arts and equating prophets with philosophers. As a result of this struggle al-Afgani was removed from Istanbul [p. 61].

The opinions of Yusuf al-Nabhani, who came to know Abduh and al-Afgani and lived together with them, should be taken into consideration. He explained his opinions about them in the many parts of his  works in both verse and prose form. He witnessed that Abduh deliberately did not perform prayer (salat) [73]. In the third section of his work, al-Uqud al-Luluiyyah fi al-Madaih al-Nabawiyya, al-Nabhani says this  about those who have an affiliation with  Abduh  and his student Rashid Rida, “Although these ahl al-bidah (those who follow innovations in the religion) willingly imitated protestants, they, somehow, could not imitate the imams and elders of Muhammad's Ummah (followers), whose tracks have been followed for more than one thousand years” [p. 75]

Mustafa Sabri Effendi, shaykh al-islam of the Ottoman state, is one of the scholars who drew attention to  the danger of Abduh. Mustafa Sabri Effendi declares the following in his book, Mawqif al-Aql wa al-Alim min Rabb al-Alamin wa Ibadih al-Mursalin, “Abduh had a harmful effect on Islam and  those scholars distanced from the Islamic culture, who succeeded Abduh. His thoughts which I criticized in this book were blown up like a balloon. Due to his thoughts, undoubtedly supported by the propaganda of the Masons,  he was put in a high place among the ulama (scholars). This kind of situation led some of elderly scholars and a  lot of young people, who wanted to shine quickly  and become  famous, and to give speeches contrary to traditional knowledge.”

Mustafa Sabri Effendi says in another part of the book, “Abduh and his master al-Afgani might want to play the same role in Islam as Luther and Calvin played  in Christianity. But they did not have the opportunity to establish a new sect even though Luther and Calvin established a new sect. Their efforts merely helped the modernist movement, which wore the thought of irreligion.”

The attempt to westernize Islam was based on the reports of Lord Cromer and later that of Lord Lloyd. According to their reports, al-Azhar University was the center of the propaganda against Britain and would continue this attitude of anti-colonialism if it maintained its traditional structure. 

Fears of colonists

Professor Muhammad Husayn speaks of the colonists' fears that: “Islam will continue to maintain its authenticity even though it has lost its activity. One day Islam will establish its dominance again and remove Western values. As a result of this fear, Westerners and their local followers were talking about the approximation and interaction of the two civilizations in order to distort the authenticity of Islam. Their ultimate goal was to realize this.” [p. 103]

Alliance of religions

As to the alliance between the religions, especially between Islam and Christianity, the approximation the two religions to each other began with an agreement between English pastor Isac Taylor and Abduh and some of his friends in 1883 when Abduh was exiled to Dimashq. [p. 155]

Blind imitation

The blind imitation of the intellectuals, who have been affected by the reformist movement in Europe and the French Revolution, reminds us of this symbolic story about two donkeys: One donkey is carrying salt and the other sponges. The donkey with sponges sees his friend going into water, hence lessening his load by melting some of salt. Suddenly it comes to his mind that he might do the same, and he does so. But, he faces the inverse effect. The donkey going into the water with his load of sponges pays tragically  for his reckless mistake. A blind imitation might be deadly for a society. [p. 184]


When weak societies abandon their own culture and civilization and adapt to the culture and civilization of colonists, these societies lose their soul. Eventually they will excessively admire those who exploit them. Because they have forgotten the feeling that the colonists exploit them, they have no longer  a lively soul, saving them from this slavery and exploitation,  Under these circumstances, they see the exploiters as those who are superior to them, release them from the dark to the light, and bring them from brutality to 'contemporary civilization'. Here is the secret of the western countries which exploit different countries from East to West and desire to spread their religion, civilization, language, and culture. Here is the westernization politicians and orientalists have often remarked. [p. 188]