Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

 Sufi Life in Istanbul : Sufism in Ottoman Society - Resat Ongoren

Before the conquest of Constantinople, the main structure and characteristics of Sufi life had already been established in Ottoman society. During the years of the foundation of the Ottoman state, zaviyes (dervish lodges) were established by followers of the tariqas (Sufi orders) in areas that were not suitable for settlement, thus transforming these places into habitable areas. In addition, the Sufis’ participation in military campaigns gained them support from state administrators. As a result of their efforts, official titles were given to the followers of the tariqas, along with permission settle on land that they developed and made habitable. New convents were established; endowments were established for some, while others were exempt from paying taxes.

Relationships between Dervish Lodges and Madrasas

Ottoman policies aimed to maintain a balance between Sufi and intellectual circles were brought closer to one another. In 1331 the appointment of Davud-i Kayseri, a Sufi scholar, to manage the first madrasa established in the Ottoman state, in the city of İznik, enabled Sufi thought to enter the Ottoman madrasa culture. And with the appointment of Molla Fenari (d. 1430), a Sufi scholar who adopted a similar understanding to Kayseri, to the office of Sheikh al-Islam (chief jurist) in 1425, Sufi thought spread in intellectual circles.

Such state appointments enabled Sufi scholarship to gain recognition and play a larger role in society. In some works authored by Sufi scholars who were brought up as dervish as well as in madrasas, issues related to kalam (Islamic theology), fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and tasawwuf (sufism) were addressed in an integrative approach. Comparative evaluations were made between al-aql wa al-burhan (reason and logic), an approach used in other religious disciplines, and kashf (inspiration), thus enabling Sufism and other religious sciences to find scholarly common ground. In this respect, Şeyhülislam Molla Fenari’s works Ayn al-A‘yan and Misbah al-Uns are important. In the introduction to Ayn al-A‘yan, which Fenari wrote as a commentary on the “al-Fatiha” chapter of the Qur’an, he listed “the knowledge of kashf” among the sciences—such as Islamic theology, jurisprudence, and hadith—that a scholar was required to know to be able to interpret the Qur’an. Sometimes Fenari even personally applied knowledge acquired by kashf to his commentaries on Qur’anic verses. Likewise, in the introduction of his book Misbah al-Uns—a commentary on Sadreddin Konevi’s Arabic work Miftah al-ghayb, written to explain the place and value of divine knowledge within the relationship between God and the cosmos—Fenari stated that he was trying to explain the principles introduced by kashf in a way that could be easily understood by those who use nazar and burhan (rational and logical reasoning).

The dual education of Sufi sheikhs, combining Sufi training and sciences taught at madrasas, as well as their statements about the unity of sharia and tariqa and their special emphasis on the rules of religion, accelerated their affiliation with the madrasa circles. As a result, many scholars who studied in madrasas also received education at a dervish lodge (tekke); over time, the leadership of many lodges was filled by Sufi scholars who had been educated in madrasas. These Sufi sheikhs, educated not only in positive sciences but also in esoteric knowledge, wrote hundreds of books, translations, and commentaries on tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), hadith, fiqh, and kalam, as well as on tasawwuf. This affected the functions of the religious institutions; the close relationships between public officials, madrasa employees, and followers of the Sufi orders prepared the ground for the development of new dual-function architectural structures such as madrasa/mosque and mosque/lodge combinations after the 12th and 13th centuries. The Sheikh Vefa Complex, established in Istanbul in the second half of the 15th century, is one of the first examples of this style with its mosque and tevhidhane (hall for Sufi religious ceremonies) in the city. This structure, built on the orders of Sultan Mehmed II, has cells for dervishes and madrasa rooms in the front of the main building.

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