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Who’s Ibn al-Arabi, the spiritual guide in “Ertugrul Series”?

Ibn al-Arabi's intellectual teaching and spiritual personality were present and alive from the moment he passed away into eternal life himself, as he had achieved immortality while still in this universe.

Who’s Ibn al-Arabi, the spiritual guide in “Ertugrul Series”?I

t is clear that we could not possibly analyse the six Ottoman centuries in a few pages.Therefore, our purpose in this paper is to offer an idea of Ibn al-Arabi’s influence by mentioning the names of a number of Akbarian writers, and by making certain remarks on the subject in order to attract researchers’ attention to this era of Sufi and intellectual history, so rich in documents and so little studied up to now.

As is known, Ibn al-Arabi departed for the Orient following a vision in AH 597/AD1200. He made his pilgrimage to Mecca through Tunis and Cairo. He’d find himself in Baghdad and Mosul in 601/1204. He flew to Anatolia from there. He remained in Malatya and Konya (602/1205) and came back to Cairo in 603/1206. He then left for Aleppo and Konya (607/1210) (604/1207). Here he possibly married Sadr al-Dîn’s widowed mother, and took him as a disciple (despite his youth) to whom he later gave authority to read from his work. He visited major cities such as Kayseri, Malatya, Sivas and Harran in Anatolia and then returned to Baghdad (608/1211).  There he made the acquaintance of Shihâbal-Dîn ‘Umar al-Suhrawardî (d. 632/1234).  He was to be found in Aleppo in 610/1213, and returned to Mecca in 611/1214. He was again in Anatolia in the year 612/1215. He spent four years at Malatya (1216-20) and gave authority to read his books to a number of people. He moved to Damascus in 620/1223 where he settled down and wrote the Fusûs and redrafted the Futûhât.

If I have gone quickly over these well-known biographical details, it is because the emigration of another family took place during nearly the same years, and at the same place, though this time from the East to the West. Bahâ ‘al-Dîn Walad, Jalâl al-Dîn al-Rûmî ‘s father, commonly referred to as Mawlânâ (Our Master, Our Lord), left the town of Balkh in Khorassan with his family, possibly in the years 618/1221. They followed a route that took them to Anatolia, Baghdad, Mecca, Syria (Damascus). In 1228-29, they finally settled in Konya. During the journey, Mawlânâ must have been a child, or very young. The father of Mawlânâ, himself a renowned Sufi and sage, died in 628/1231.

It is quite interesting that the two emigrations, one from the farthest edge of the Islamic world in the West and the other from the East, both happened virtually at the same time and in the same locations, eventually ending in Konya, as we know Ibn al-Arabi’s disciple, Sadr-al-Dîn al-Qunawî (d. 1274) was one of the companions of Jalâl al-Dîn al-Rûmî (d. 1273). Has Ibn al-Arabi actually met Bahâ’ al-Dîn Walad, Mawlânâ’s father or even Mawlânâ himself? One could not say so from our historical and biographical details. But according to hagiography, Mawlânâ, still a boy, arrived in Damascus with his father where he met Ibn al-Arabi, who said: “Praise to be God! An ocean which walks behind a lake!.” In the years in which Ibn al-Arabi was staying in Damascus, Mawlânâ went to study there for many years. But no details about their meeting is yet available.

The Almohads in the West suffered defeat during the Hejira seventh century, and in 668/1269 they lost Cordoba and Seville. In the East all that stood in their way from Central Asia was crushed by the Mongol forces, bringing to an end the Abbasid Caliphate in 656/1258 and demolishing Baghdad. We then travelled to Anatolia and prepared to finish the Seljukids. The “third state” (called “Beylik” in Turkish) of ‘Uthman Bey was established to the northwest of Konya in 1299 after their downfall. Thus he entered history as both the Seljukid and the Abbasid heirs. This was the beginning of a new period, where the point of departure in this way coincides spiritually and intellectually with the teaching of masters such as Ibn ‘Arabî, Mawlânâ and al-Qûnawî.

It can be observed that in the environment and on the intellectual basis of Sufism, the new Ottoman state, of which the founder was the son-in-law of a shaykh named Edebali, began to flourish. For a century, Anatolia had enjoyed a period of revivification and Islamization through the activities of the newly constituted tarîqas. For nearly a century before the establishment of the Ottoman state, Ibn al-Arabi’s teaching, written and expressed in Arabic, constituted the pinnacle of Sufi knowledge, to which the Mathnawî of Jalâl al-Dîn al-Rûmî who had already laid the foundation of his own tarîqa, to which his son Sultan Walad would in later years give its definitive form. Later, the Mathnawî commentators would explain their verses with teachings and terms taken from the works of Ibn ‘Arabî and al-Qûnawî.

Mawlânâ died in 672/1273 and, a few months later, Sadr al-Dîn al-Qûnawî. Throughout spiritual and intellectual life both played their own part. It seems that the Ottoman state’s founders paid attention to these masters’ intellectual heritage, and made them their own. Was there some specific reasons for their appropriation of Ibn al-Arabi’s teaching?   Was the Ottoman prediction in the small work al-Shajara al-Nu’mâniyya fî al-Dawla al-‘Uthmaniyya, ascribed to Ibn ‘Arabî, authentic? The authenticity of this work has been contested, for which no copies existed earlier than the tenth / sixteenth century. If the work itself is doubtful, could Ibn ‘Arabî not have made the prediction that announced the foundation of the Ottoman state, and certain events concerning it, during his lifetime, and written down later? What can be suggested is that with regard to the tomb and the Akbarian teaching, the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I, had acted in such a way that it was necessary to justify his attitude by a work like this, which began to circulate after the expedition to Egypt and Syria.

What we do know, in any case, is that the second Ottoman sultan, Orhan Ghazi, invited Da’ûd al-Qaysarî (d. 751/1350), the disciple of Kamâl al-Dîn al-Qâshânî, himself a disciple of Sadr al-Dîn al-Qûnawî, to be the director and teacher of the first madrasa, founded at the recently conquered Iznik area. This means that a great teacher of Akbarian School set in motion the official teaching itself. We might recognize this occurrence as a synthesis or alliance between the exoteric and esoteric sciences, and between logical and esoteric knowledge, on the day of the founding of the Ottoman state. We may also draw this lesson from this case, that at the beginning of the Ottoman Empire the Akbarian character of the official teaching lasted more than two centuries, at the end of which the building (924/1518) of the Shaykh al-Akbar tomb was an outward indication of the assimilation of that teaching. It appears that the Shajara al-Nu’mâniyya became widely known following this event, with one of its phrases being repeated to the present day:

Upon entering Damascus the sîn [Sultan Selim I] will discover the tomb of Muhyiddîn (Ibn ‘Arabî).

None of the Ottoman sultans and politicians, nor those in Sufi circles, doubted the authenticity of this little book during the following years and centuries. Ottoman intellectuals, who were formed by Ibn al-Arabi’s teaching, may have had reasons not to doubt that we do not know of today. As for the Shaykh al-Islam fatwa Ibn Kamâl (d. 1534), which was promulgated at the time of Selim I, it may be regarded as a proof of the authority given to Ibn ‘Arabî:

Someone who fails to accept Ibn al-Arabi is in error; if he persists he is heretic. This is the Sultan’s duty to teach him, and to force him to give up his conviction. For the Sultan must honor the good, and forbid the bad. Ibn al-Arabi has works like the Fusûs al-Hikam and the Futûhât, among others. Between his writings are those whose language and interpretation are clear and appropriate to the Divine Order and the Prophetic Law, and others whose understanding is concealed from the people of exoterism, while they are obvious to people of faith and esotericism. It’s fitting for one who doesn’t understand Ibn al-Arabi’s intention to remain silent.

One can note that this fatwa entitles the sultan to interfere in support of Ibn al-Arabi’s teaching. We believe this fatwa was directed at Egypt and Syria’s exoteric intellectuals, rather than Anatolia’s or the Ottoman Balkans’. We may also draw from this fatwa the following idea: since Ibn al-Arabi’s teaching includes two parts, one exoteric and the other mystical, and thus is partly appropriate for exoteric interpretation and partly concealed from it, but open to the people’s understanding of intuition and esotericism, we can conclude that Islamic teaching, that is, the Qur’ân and the Prophetic Tradition. A individual who fails to comprehend Ibn al-Arabi’s exoteric teaching and thus Islam should stay silent instead of criticizing those who do understand it – for those who comprehend the esoteric meaning grasp the exoteric meaning equally.

This Shaykh al-Islam fatwa declared to the public the intellectual attitude of the Ottomans – sultans, scholars and Sufis – in particular towards Ibn ‘Arabî, and Sufism and Islam in general. It has remained in force from the foundation of the state, which it retained in Turkish lands, to the present day, despite passing some crucial moments in the mid-16th century. Thus the two aspects of Islamic religion in Ibn ‘Arabî’s spiritual and “scientific” personality were declared officially, for ever.

The celebrated author of Sufism in the seventeenth century, al-Sha’rânî, wrote in his Tabaqât al-Kubrâ, in his note devoted to Ibn ‘Arabî, that at the time he was very well known in Anatolia because he had mentioned the qualities of the sultan, son of ‘Uthman I, and the conquest of Constantinople in some of his books – perhaps an allusion to the Shajara al-Nu’mâniyya – This al-Sha’rânî testimony also shows the importance given to Akbarian teaching in the mid-seventeenth century.

The Shajara al-Nu’mâniyya echo appears to go on from one century to the next. In the 1730s an Iranian delegation came to Istanbul after the war between the Ottomans and Iran to negotiate the conditions for peace. The spokesman opened the dialogue on behalf of the Ottomans by citing three characteristics which made the Ottomans worthy of praise regarding the Iranians:

1. Through his saying the Prophet had spoken of them anticipating Constantinople’s conquest.

2. Ibn al-Arabi’s prediction, the Tongue of the Truth (lisân al-haqîqa), about the Ottoman dynasty in the Shajara al-Nu’mâniyya.

3. We had conquered the Ottoman territories by making holy war, but one could not say the same about Iran’s ruling dynasty.

From this diplomatic document we can note that two centuries after Ibn al-Arabi’s tomb was built, the men of state and the educated Ottomans continued their veneration of Ibn’Arabî and considered themselves to be distinguished in some way by Akbarian predictions about them. .In this text it is also implied that Ibn ‘Arabî was also recognized as an authority among the Iranians at the time.

After these general considerations, we will proceed to briefly mention the names of Sufis who over the centuries continued the Akbarian teachings in Anatolia and in the Balkans. As is well known, and as we have just described, Ibn ‘Arabî made several acquaintances and disciples throughout the Sufi milieu during his wanderings in Anatolia; and he took care of his disciple Sadral-Dîn al-Qûnawî’s education from infancy. It is essentially through al-Qûnawî and his followers that Ibn ‘Arabî eventually took his place in later-century intellectual life. Al-Qûnawî ‘s books, such as the Miftâh al-Ghayb and others, were in some part an introduction and commentary to Ibn al-Arabi’s doctrine articulated in the Fusûs and the Futûhât.

We shall now list the names of some thirty Sufis who lived in the Ottoman era and wrote studies of Ibn al-Arabi’s works and his teaching in chronological order:

1. Da’ûd al-Qaysarî (d. 751/1350).   Kamâl al-Dîn al-Qâshânî, who was a disciple of al-Qunawî himself. This person is very significant because he was invited to Iznik, the capital of the newly formed state, and was appointed the first Ottoman madrasa’s mudarris (master). He is known to have been a commentator on the Fusûs.

2. Molla Fanârî (d. 834/1430).  He is considered the first shaykh-al-Islam of Ottoman origin. His father was a Sufi master of the al-Qûnawî initiatic line. He had written a commentary on  Miftâh al-Ghayb of al-Qûnawî.

3. Muhammad Qutb al-Dîn al-Izniki (d. 855/1450). He was a disciple of al-Fanârî and commented on the Fusûs, on certain maxims of Ibn ‘Arabî and on some of al-Qûnawî’s work.

4. Yazicizâde Muhammad Efendi (d. 855/1451). The author of a great poetry work called Muhammadiyya in Turkish. He is also attributed a commentary on the Fusûs, although it was in fact his brother Ahmad Bîjân who wrote it according to some biographers.

5. Muhammad b. Hamza ‘Aq Shams al-Dîn (d. 863/1459). One of Shihâb al-Dîn al-Suhrawardî’s grandsons, founder of ‘Awârif al-Ma’ârif and disciple of the celebrated saint Haji Bayram Walî, patron saint of the town of Ankara. He was the spiritual master of the Istanbul conqueror Muhammad Fâtih. In Arabic, he wrote a work entitled Daf’ Matâ’in al-Sufiyya, defending Ibn ‘Arabî and other Sufis concepts.

6. Jamâl al-Khalwatî, Tchelebi Khalîfa (d. 912/1506). He was drawing on two verses of Ibn ‘Arabî.

7. Muhyiddîn Muhammad al-Iskilîbî, Shaykh Yawsî (d. 920/ 1514). Father of the celebrated Ottoman Shaykh al-Islam Abû al-Su’ûd (Ebussud) Efendi (d. 982/1574).  To quote al-Qûnawî, al-Jandî and al-Qâshânî, he wrote a commentary on Wâridât of Badr al-Dîn al-Simâwî (d. 1420), who himself was an Akbarian author.

8. Idrîs al-Bitliši (d. 926/1520). He is said to have written a commentary on the Fusûs, but no copy of it has been found yet.

9. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Kamâl (d. /1543). Shaykh al-Islam of Selîm I and Süleyman the Magnificent, and author of the famous fatwa that we have discussed already.

10. Bâlî Efendi, Sofyawî (d. 960/1553). He wrote a commentary on the Fusûs, published in Istanbul in AH 1309.

11. Üftâdé, Muhammad Muhyiddîn (d. 968/1580). He was a famous saint from the city of Bursa, and one of the great figures of the Jelwetiyya tarîqa.  He documents his spiritual relations with the Shaykh al-Akbar in his Wâridât.

12. A Üftâdé disciple, and a prominent Sufi author, he wrote a Dîwân. He had close relations  with the sultans of his time, and is now venerated as a saint. His tomb is in Üsküdar (Scutari), on Istanbul’s Asian coast. He alludes to or quotes Ibn ‘Arabî in his works.

13. Nûr al-Dîn Muslih al-Dîn Mustafâ Efendi (d. 981/1578). He had written a commentary on Nusûs of al-Qunawî.

14. Ismâ’îl al-Anqarawî (d. 1041/1631). Famous commentator on the Mathnawî of Mawlânâ. He translated Jâmî’s commentary on the Naqsh al-Fusûs into Turkish, too. In his commentary he employs the Akbarian terminology.

15. ‘Abd Allah (d. 1046/1636) al-Bosnawi.  One of the most well-known commentators on Fusûs. While critically analyzing ‘Abd al-Karîm al-Jîlî, he has written many short works to clarify and defend some Akbarian concepts. He wrote two articles on the Fusûs in both Turkish and Arabic. His Turkish commentary was published twice, in 1252/1832 at Cairo and in 1290/1873 in Istanbul. It was translated into English by Bulent Rauf, who credited it to Ismâ’îl Haqqî Bursawî: Translation and Commentary on Fusus al-Hikam, 4 volumes, Oxford 1986-91. Al-Bosnawî  is buried next to al-Qunawî Tomb in Konya.

16. Sari ‘Abd Allah Efendi (d. 1071/1660). Within his work entitled Mir’at al-Asfiyâfî Sifât Malâmatiyya al-Asfiyâ he reflected on some phrases taken from the Futûhât. He has also written a commentary on the Mathnawî of Mawlânâ.

17. Karabas Walî (‘Alî ‘Alâ al-Dîn Atwal) (d. 1102/1690). He was the author of a work called Kâshif Asrâr al-Fusûs.

18. ‘Uthmân Fadlî al-Ilâhî al-Atbâzârî (d. 1102/1690). Buried at Magosa in Cyprus, and recognized as “Qutb ‘Uthmân’ by the Cypriots He wrote a commentary on Miftâh al-Ghayb of al-Qunawî and also made notes to the commentary of the Fâtiha by al-Qunawî.  We also learn of Ibn al-Arabi’s commentary on a quatrain.

19. Niyâzî-i Misrî (d. 1105/1693). He is one of the Turkish Sufi poets best known, and his Dîwân is very popular.

20. Nasûhî Muhammad Efendi (d. 1130/1717). He is Karabash Walî’s most considered disciple.

21. Ismâ’îl Haqqî al-Bursawî (d. 1137/1724).  He was the disciple of ‘Uthmân Fadlî al-Ilâhî and the author of the popular Rûh al-Bayân exegesis, recently reprinted in ten volumes in Beirut. He was a great Jalwatiyya tarîqa Akbarian author who published numerous works in the Turkish and Arabic languages.

22. ‘Abd al-Ghanî al-Nâblusî (d. 1143/1731). Among the Ottoman writers, we can mention the name of the famous commentator on the Fusûs, a great Arab poet.

23. ‘Abd Allah Salâhî al-‘Ushshâqî (d. 1196/1781). He wrote a commentary on the Mawâqi’ al-Nujûm of Ibn ‘Arabî and also of a famous phrase of his in a short work entitled Miftâh al-Wujûd.

24. Al-Sayyid Muhammad Kamâl al-Dîn al-Harîrî (d. 1299/1881). He was the author of the encyclopedic work Tibyân Wasâ’il al-Haqâ’iq fî Bayân Salâsil al-Tarâ’iq, which until the end of the nineteenth century was the most comprehensive analysis of the tarîqas. He commented on the Salât al-Akbariyya and translated into Turkishal-Amr al-Marbût al-Muhkam of Ibn ‘Arabî.

25. Muhammad Nûr al-‘Arabî (d. 1305/1887). Commenting on the Naqsh al-Fusûs, some Akbarian Salât, he made a description of Ibn al-Arabi’s works.

26. Ahmad Diyâ’ al-Dîn Gümüshânevî (al-Gumushkhânawî) (d. 1311/1893). He wrote a work on the Sufi and Akbarian language in Arabic called Jâmi ‘al-Usûl, published in Cairo in 1331, also in an undated lithographed version.

27. Bursali Mehmed Tâhir Bey (d. 1926). He was a disciple of the above mentioned Kamâl al-Din al-Harîrî. In Turkish, he wrote a book in three volumes on the Ottoman shaykhs, scholars and poets entitled Osmanli Müellifleri (Istanbul, 1333), which has helped us in large part to draw up this list, and a biographical work in Turkish on Ibn ‘Arabî: Terceme-i-Hâl ve Fadâ’il-i Shaykh-i Akbar, published twice in Istanbul.

28. Salahaddîn Yigitoglu (d. 1937). He translated and commented on the Fusûs, and translated Ibn ‘Arabî’s three short works, all from manuscripts. The National Ministry of Education has requested permission from his heirs to publish his commentary on the Fusûs, but unfortunately this has not yet been granted.

29. Ahmed Avni Konuk (d. 1938). A mawlawî, Turkish music composer, expert on the Fusûs and the Mathnawî in Turkish. We (my greatly-missed colleague, Dr Selcuk Eraydin, who died in 1995, and I) have written his commentary on the Fusûs in four volumes under the title Fusûsu’l-Hikem Tercümeve Serhi (Marmara Üniversitesi, Ilahiyat Fakültesi Vakfi Yayinlari, Istanbul, 1987 – 92) and the commentary on al-Tadbîrât al-Ilâhiyya under the title Tadbîrât-i Ilâhiyye Tercüme we Serhi (edited by Mustafa Tahrali, Iz Yayinlari, Istanbul, 1992).  With my colleague S. Eraydin, we prepared an edition of his 14-volume commentary on the Mathnawî, and I expect to see this idea realized. In his comment the speaker uses Akbarian terminology. In the one on the Fusûs he places at the end of certain sections verses of the Mathnawî which correspond to the subject treated.

30. Nûri Gencosman.  He made a translation of the Fusûs in Turkish which was published by the National Ministry of Education (Ankara, 1952; 2nd edition, 1964).

31. Finally we should list the studies of Professor Nihat Keklik, professor of philosophy at the University of Istanbul, one on the biography of Ibn al-Arabi and the other on the Futûhât: Muhyiddîn Ibnu’l-Arabî, Hayâti ve Cevresi (Istanbul, 1966); Ibnü’l-Arabî’nin Eserleri ve Kaynaklari icin Misdak olarakwl-Futûhât al Mekkiyel-Mekkiyye (2 volumes, Istanbul, 1974 and 1980).

Many names of Akbarian authors living in the Ottoman era could be added to this list, but we chose some thirty of the best-known authors who wrote something directly related to Ibn al-Arabi’s works. Probably there were also shaykhs who never wrote anything but embraced the Akbarian doctrine nevertheless. Considering Ibn al-Arabi’s influence over six centuries is, I believe, virtually the same as looking at Sufism’s history throughout the Ottoman era, and that work remains to be done. Our day’s researchers, whether Turkish or otherwise, begin by studying one or another human, or a part or an aspect of the six Ottoman centuries. One sees, again and again, that Ibn al-Arabi’s intellectual teaching and spiritual personality were present and alive from the moment he passed away into eternal life himself, as he had achieved immortality while still in this universe.

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