Chapter 7: Islamic Culture in Turkish Areas by Hasan Basri Çantay
(Hasan Basri Çantay is a retired scholar who resides in Istanbul, Turkey. He recently translated the Qur'an into Turkish)
In the Name of Allah, the All Compassionate, the Merciful
Turks are spread from the Balkans to the coast of the China Sea. In addition to Turkey, they are found in Greece, Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus. In the Soviet Union there are large numbers of Turkish Muslims in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, the Volga Basin, Turkmen, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tadzik, and Kirgiz. They are found in northern Iraq, in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Sinkiang, the Mongolian Republic, and China. Almost all of these Muslim Turks are Sunnis who look to Turkey as the center of their culture. In all, there are almost seventy-five million Muslim Turks, making up slightly less than one-fifth of the Muslims in the world.
As one of the oldest and most widely dispersed peoples of the world, Turks were followers of many religions before they finally adopted Islam forever. They followed shamanism, Manichaeanism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, and Buddhism at one time or another, with shamanism and Buddhism the most popular among them. Never, however, did they fight among themselves about religion, for the Turks, as distinct from some fanatic races -- -Slavs, for instance -- have always been tolerant of all religions. But none of those religions ever really satisfied the Turks. As a people who never accepted slavery, were loyal to their friends, respectful toward their elders, fair to their equals, and affectionate to their children, nurturing the highest ideals and aspirations of mankind, the Turks could not remain content within the rather narrow confines of those religions. They longed for a religion suited to their magnanimous hearts.
No religion could be close to the hearts of the Turks if it condemned reason and relied on myths and superstitions, favored laziness and lethargy instead of encouraging action and enterprise, made man the slave of man, and forced him to worship nature as god. The Turks were yearning for a religion able to take the whole of humanity into its fold, to elevate man to the highest moral and spiritual levels, and to be an unswerving guide to the straight path which leads to happiness in this world and the hereafter. It may be that when they were adherents of different religions before Islam, they were tolerant of other religions because they did not believe wholeheartedly in any of them; they followed them only for lack of a better religion. It is in Islam that the Turks have found the true religion for which they were yearning so long. So, when they were confronted with Islam, they almost rushed into the faith and are to this day its most loyal followers and impetuous defenders.
Since they left their motherland and spread out in search of new homelands, the Turks have founded many states and even several empires. They have invaded many lands and have been invaded themselves; but in victory or defeat they remained loyal to their chiefs and faithful to their traditions and culture. The Turks have been fearless pioneers, courageous but humble in success and failure, loyal to friends, terrible to foes but magnanimous to the defeated. They have been jealous of their own ideals, religion, and country, but respectful of the rights and beliefs of others. Turks have always been ready to defend their country and to give a hand to a friend even if it cost them their lives. Those have always been, and are today, the characteristics of the Turks, as is testified to by legends of ancient times, by the Crusades, the defense of Dardanelles, and many episodes in the long history of this people.
Many writers have praised the Turks. Early in the third century of the Hijrah an Arab writer, Jahiz, said, "The Turk is shepherd, coppersmith, veterinarian, and artist. His arts are varied and so perfect that he does not need anyone’s help. He does not know flattery, hypocrisy, tale-bearing, mischief-making, spying. He does not care for pomp and ceremony. He loves his country, he loves best independence and sovereignty." Another Arab writer at about the same time, Yazid Ibn Mazid, said, ‘‘A Turk is no weight for the horse he mounts or the earth he walks on. While our cavalrymen do not see what is in front of them, the Turk is aware of what is behind. He thinks of us as a game, of his horse as a gazelle, and of himself as a lion." Sumama Ibn Ashras said, "The Turk does not fear, he frightens, he dares to do things above his powers; he does not sleep unless very tired and when he sleeps he does it as if one of his eyes were open." And the great Sufi poet Rumi said, "The Turk is one under whose protection the peasant is saved from paying tribute to the foreigner."
Turks are also mentioned in the Hadiths of our Prophet Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him), "If you do not fight with the Turks, Doomsday will never happen." And at another time he said, "Unless they attack, do not fight with the Turks." In obedience to this tradition Umar, the second Caliph, ordered that the commander of the Muslim army which captured Iran should not pursue the Iranian Shah who had taken refuge with his Turkish neighbors. The Muslims obeyed the Hadiths and followed a policy of living on good terms with the Turks before and after they accepted Islam. The Turks, in turn, respected this policy of nonaggression and as they discovered Islam, adopted it as the answer to their heart’s longing and were converted in masses.
Islam saved the Turks from wrong beliefs and superstitions, strengthened their characters, and taught them the true ideals for mankind. In return the Turks became the most sincere champions of Islam. They strove for its glory and expansion with their schools, learned men, and saints; they lived as persuasive examples of their faith; they spread Islam by pacific means. The expansion of the Turks by the sword was for economic or military purposes and not in order to force Islam on non-Muslims. They used the sword only in the defense of Islam, not for its expansion, but then they defended it with all their strength and when necessary with their lives. The highways and byways of Islamic countries have been strewn with the bodies of heroes who fell in defense of Islam. If it were not for the Turks, Islam would have been pushed back into the Arabian desert by the unscrupulous and fanatic invaders from Europe.
Three centuries after the Hijrah the events in the Islamic world of the Middle East were being determined more by the Turks than by the Arabs. But the Turks never assumed the title of protector of Islam. They adhered to Islam, they made it their own, they defended it, they glorified it with deep attachment and veneration, but they did not claim to be its protector. Their attitude was expressed by the great Ghaznavid King Mahmud when, as he lay on his deathbed, one of his attendants in great sorrow cried, "0 Majesty, who will protect Islam if you will not be with us?" The dying King reproved him by saying, "Who am I to protect Islam? God Almighty is its protector." And again, when the first sermon was being given after Sultan Selim became Caliph in 918 (A.D. 1512), the Imam in the course of his remarks referred to Selim as the owner of the two Holy Cities, Mecca and Medina. Sultan Selim stopped the Imam at that point and told him to say that he was the servant of the two Holy Cities, a title which was given to the Caliphs from that time until the end of the Caliphate. Allah is the Protector of Islam to the end of time, as is said in the Qur’an: "We send down the Qur’an, We, and undoubtedly We, are its Protector" (Surah XV, 9).
The union of Islam with the Turks was so complete that the people of the West often used the word Turk as synonymous with Muslim. There is no doubt that the former supremacy of the Ottoman Turks in Europe and the Middle East was due to the closeness with which they held to their Islamic faith. Islam, before everything else, is a spiritual bond, a bond which no material force can break. Without organized efforts to convert, Islam has kept on gaining strength among the Turks despite many threats, invasions, and injustices committed by Europeans and non-Muslim neighbors. Islam assimilates; it is not assimilated. One embraces Islam; but one does not, cannot leave it. The spreading and taking root of a religion among a people is a clear proof that such a religion fulfills their ideals, aspirations and spiritual needs, as was the case with the Turks.
It is misleading to attempt to describe Islam as a product of Arab civilization and culture. Islam is not the property of the Arabs, nor of the Turks, nor of any nation -- it is a foundation of God addressed to the whole of humanity. The Qur’an says, "Those whom you worship other than Allah are but names which you and your fathers attached (to them). Allah has sent down no sanction for them. The decision is no one’s but Allah’s. He has commanded you that you worship none save Him. The true and right religion is this, but most men do not know" (Surah XII, 40). And again, "Say (O Muhammad): O Mankind, I am the Messenger sent to all of you by Allah to Whom undoubtedly belongs the sovereignty (and possession) of heavens and earth, and there is no God save Him Who gives life and death" (Surah VII, 158).
The sun of Islam rose first above the horizons of Arabia but it found hearts most open to its ennobling and life-giving rays in Turkestan. As soon as the Turks realized the nature of Islam they embraced it and became its champions and true defenders, as they have been for twelve centuries. Islam has become their true and natural religion, as it is for all people who sincerely love the Truth.
The Growth of Turkish Influence in Islamic Culture
After the passing away of Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) in the eleventh year of the Hijrah, the armies of Islam moved eastward during the time of the Four Great Caliphs, and Arab vanguards advanced beyond the Oxus river in Turkestan. Islam had changed the life of the Arabs. They were no longer a desert people; now they had a new, a universal religion, new horizons for their aspirations, and new ideals in their hearts. Since these ideals and aspirations were akin to those which Turks had nurtured during the centuries since their origin, conversions soon began to take place.
The relations between the Muslims and Turks increased during the Caliphate of Mu‘awiya when he sent an army which crossed the Oxus and conquered Turkestan and Afganistan and went as far as India. In the year 88 (A.D. 706) Amir Qutaiba captured Bukhara, Samarkand, and the surrounding territories. This had fortunate results for the Western world, for in Samarkand the Arabs learned how to make paper and passed their skill on to Spain and Europe. The conquered territories were incorporated in the province of Transoxiana. Some two centuries later the governers of Transoxiana declared their independence and founded the Samanid dynasty which ruled an area beginning with the Oxus river and extending eastward with indefinite boundaries. Non-Muslim Turks were attacking Muslim Turks at that time. It was during the reign of the Samanids that Islam spread through Central Asia, for the dominant religions of Buddhism and shamanism could not hold their own when faced with Islam. Soon Islam was supreme and the Turks became its sincere and loyal followers. Many schools for Islamic learning were opened in Transoxiana a full century before similar institutions were created in Baghdad, the capital. Through these schools the Turks trained learned men who hold high places in Islamic history.
The conversion of Turks to Islam began within the first century after the Hijrah and gained momentum until great masses were coming into the fold, a movement which continued for hundreds of years until all Turks became Muslims. Their influence in Islam was notable quite early. When the Umayyad dynasty became corrupt and was oppressing the people, it was a Turk from Khurasan, Abu Muslim, who had a hand in its overthrow. During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Mansur, early in the second century, Turks began to enlist in the armies of Islam. Since they were good soldiers, they were received in the army in preference to others.
During the time of the Abbasid Caliph Mu‘tasim (died 227; A.D. 841) the influence of Turks increased a great deal because the Caliph was not sure of the loyalty of the Arabs and Iranians and needed a dependable bodyguard. When he had built up his Turkish forces to seventy thousand men, the presence of such a large number of soldiers in Baghdad was causing discontent among the people of the city so the Caliph ordered new housing built especially for the army. The city built for them was so beautiful that the Arabs named it Sarra Man Raa, which means "who sees it rejoices," and the words were by usage elided to become Samarra.
Turks who came as soldiers began to fill administrative posts in Baghdad and soon so much power in the government passed into their hands that they could dethrone Caliphs. Not only were they able to determine policies in Baghdad, but they could give the lands taken from the Byzantines to Turks who were defending the frontiers and pushing them still farther west. Their occupation of commanding ranks in the army and administrative posts in the government made it possible for them to open new trails for the western migrations of the Turks who had formerly been compelled to take the difficult northern routes. Now they were able to move much faster toward the southwest through Azerbaijan, Anatolia, Syria, and Byzantium. Unending streams of Turkish tribes were flowing into what we call the Middle East today. There seemed to be inexhaustible sources of Turks in Central Asia between Turkestan and the Chinese borders. Those who came first moved onward and their places were taken by others who were in their turn pushed on westward. Later that movement continued into the Balkans, up to Vienna, down to the Hijaz, Egypt, and the Maghrib.
Conversion to Islam enhanced the qualities and virtues of the Turks, making the record of their history a fascinating study. In the new lands where they settled they continued to found states and build empires; they even furnished rulers in several non-Turkish countries. During the more than thirteen centuries since the time of the Four Great Caliphs hundreds of states and kingdoms, large and small, appeared and disappeared in the Middle East, and Turks had something to say in most of them. An appreciation of the role of the Turks in Islamic culture requires some understanding of the part played by the different Turkish empires during these centuries.
The Turkish Empires
The Seljuq Empire takes its name from the chief of a powerful tribe which settled near Bukhara and Samarkand after they had followed their leader in accepting Islam. The Empire was established by Seljuq’s grandson Tughrul in the first half of the fifth century (ca. A.D. 1040) and extended from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan. Later it was divided into several states, of which the one with its capital at Konya in modern Turkey survived until it was included in the Ottoman Empire. The Seljuqs’ most important contribution was the reaffirmation and strengthening of Sunni doctrines in the Abbasid times when Shi’a was increasing its influence. And it was a great Seljuq military leader, Alp Arslan, who defeated the Byzantine Emperor Diogenes and opened Anatolia for settlement by Turks.
Seljuq rulers were great patrons of the arts, sciences, and literature, and showed in many ways their appreciation for learned men. The buildings and works of art which remain today show the high level attained in art and architecture under the Seljuqs. As rulers, the Seljuqs were true to the traditions of their ancestors, democratic in their relations with the people and always ready to listen directly to their grievances. They were sincere followers of Islam who strove to be just and tried not to overburden their people. They knew how to surrounded themselves with able and wise men. Alp Arlsan and his son chose as their Vizier the illustrious Nizamul Mulk (died 490; A.D. 1096) who built a university in Baghdad which was famous for the great learning of its teachers. He gave a chair to al-Ghazali, the great mystic and philosopher, and paid a monthly salary to Umar Khayyam which freed him to write his poetry.
It was in the time of the Seljuqs that the Turks took the leadership of Islam from the Arabs. It was a Seljuq king who brought Rumi, the great Sufi poet, to Konya; and it was in Seljuq times that Ahmad Yesevi (died 562; A.D. 1166), another great Sufi, lived and taught. The influence of those two remarkable teachers has continued to the present. In the times of the Seljuq Turks Islam flourished wherever their rule was established.
In Egypt the first dynasty ruled by a Turk was the Tulunid dynasty established by Ahmad Ibn Tulun in 255 (A.D. 868), which lasted for only thirty-seven years. It was renowned for its public works of which the beautiful Tulun Mosque in Cairo remains today as an outstanding example. There was an interval after the Tulunids in which Egypt was ruled again by the Abbasids, and then a second Turkish ruler seized power and the Ikhshidids ruled Egypt from 323 until 359 (A.D. 934-69), when the Fatimid dynasty was established. Ikhshid was the title of the rulers of Farghana, a Turkish city beyond the Oxus river. The father of the founder of the Ikhshidid dynasty in Cairo had come to Baghdad to serve the Caliph and had been appointed governor of Damascus.
After more than two hundred and fifty years of rule by the Shi’a Fatimid dynasty, Egypt was once more governed by a Turkish ruler, Salah-al-Din Ibn Ayyub (known as Saladin), the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty which lasted from 565 to 650 (A.D. 1169-1252). His rule extended from the Nile to the Euphrates, except for the fortified places held by the Crusaders, and after 583 (A.D. 1187) when he captured Jerusalem only the fortifications at Tyre remained in Crusader hands. Europe sought to regain its power through the Third Crusade, led by Richard I of England and Philip Augustus of France in 586 (A.D. 1190); but after two years of fighting a peace treaty was signed without loss of rights by Saladin. Saladin died in 589 leaving a great record which even Christian historians have praised as matchless in the annals of chivalry. Even though he was occupied with fighting against the Crusaders, this Muslim Turkish ruler found time to strengthen Sunni faith in his territory, bringing the people of Egypt back from the Shi’a doctrines favored by the Fatimids.
At the time that the Seljuqs were extending their empire another Turkish leader, Ahmad Gazi Danishmand (died 477; A.D. 1084) established his kingdom in Cappodocia in the neighborhood of Caesarea (modern Qisarya). The Danishmands were distinguished for their successes against the Crusades and for their efforts to spread Islam. After less than a century of independent rule their territory was absorbed in the greater Seljuq Empire and many of the people from that area spread throughout Anatolia and European Turkey, as is shown by the large number of Turkish villages bearing the name of Danishmand.
There were also, in Seljuq times, many small dynasties headed by Atabegs, that is, Seljuq officers who as regents created independent dynasties. They were found, to mention only a few of them, at Damascus, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Azerbaijan, and Luristan (in Iran), some lasting for about a century and some as long as four centuries. The largest of the independent dynasties was that of the Khwarizm which at one time controlled almost all of Iran, Khurasan, Afghanistan, Transoxiana, and Ghazna, extending from India to the borders of the Seljuq Empire. The Khwarizm dynasty lasted from 470 to 629 (AD. 1077-1231), when it was destroyed by the invasion of the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. A branch of the Khwarizm dynasty ruled at Delhi from 612 to 801 (A.D. 1215-1398).
The Ottoman Empire was created by descendants of the tribe of Bozok and Kayi, one of the noblest tribes of the Turks which settled for a time in Iran and then began its westward migration at the beginning of the fifth century (eleventh century A.D.). Two centuries later, pressed by the Mongol invasions, the tribe moved on westward under their Bey, Sulayman Shah, intending to settle in Seljuq territory near Aleppo. Sulayman was drowned as they crossed the Euphrates in 626 (A.D. 1228), but under his son Ertugrul the tribe received from the Seljuqs a grant of land for settlement in Anatoia. As the tribesmen were moving to their new home, they came upon a battle in progress. Since it is one of the national characteristics of the Turks to help the weak, they joined with the losing side, which happened to be the Seljuqs, and helped them secure the victory. In return for their help the Seljuqs awarded them better lands near Bursa, which bordered on Byzantium. Ertugrul extended their holdings.
This was the beginning of another Turkish Empire which would take the leadership of Islam from the Seljuqs and continue for six centuries. For the five hundred years of its strength it brought peace and security to the people living within its boundaries, which spread over three continents. There were fierce battles on faraway frontiers between giant armies, but the people living in the interior, Muslim or non-Muslim, Turk or non-Turk, were able to go about their business In peace and safety.
The name Ottoman comes from Othman Bey, Ertugrul’s son, who ruled from 699 to 727 (A.D. 1299-1326), but it was his son Orkhan Bey who laid the foundations of the Ottoman Empire by conquering the cities in the vicinity and then crossing the Dardanelles to begin seizing control of the Balkans. It was in his time that the corps of janissaries was formed and the administration for the new state was organized. The janissaries were the special guards of the Sultan, recruited from Christian youths who were given special privileges and free education which inculcated in them absolute loyalty to the ruler.
The successors of Orkhan were as sagacious as he was. The early Ottoman sultans were devout Muslims and good commanders who knew how to surround themselves with men of merit and learning -- which is perhaps the main reason for their success in building an empire. They were astute in diplomacy and were able administrators who created an efficient military and civilian organization by training men and putting them in the right positions with authority and responsibility. They patronized the arts, sciences, and literature, honored men of learning, and showed great respect to the ulama and often sought their advice. Thus they were far ahead of their contemporary rulers in the numerous neighboring feudal kingdoms and were able to bring them sooner or later, willy-nilly, under the Ottoman banner.
As the early Ottoman sultans succeeded each other, the frontiers of the new kingdom were pushed farther and farther eastward, in Anatolia and westward in Europe. Although the Popes organized Crusades, victory followed victory until the whole Balkan Peninsula -- except for Constantinople -- became Ottoman territory, part of an empire which extended from the Dardanelles to the Euphrates.
Timur (Tamerlane) invaded Anatolia in 805 (A.D. 1402). The gallant Bayazid, surnamed the Thunderbolt because he was as quick as lightning and could strike a blow like a thunderbolt, rushed to meet him, but he was defeated and taken prisoner at Ankara due to the treason of some of his officers who deserted to the enemy. Bayazid died of grief. This tragedy shook the new empire to its foundations and gave respite to Byzantium for at least fifty years. It was followed by a period of useless civil wars, after which Sultan Mehmed I restored the power of the dynasty. His son, Sultan Murad II, was forced to defend his country against the attacks of Hunyad, the White Knight of Wallachia, but at the battle of Varna in 848 (A.D. 1444) he won a decisive victory against the Crusaders. After that the Turks were comparatively free from European attacks for two hundred years, and did not have to face another Crusade until about the beginning of the fourteenth century (the latter half of the nineteenth century A.D.).
After Constantinople was taken in 857 (A.D. 1453) by Sultan Mchmed Il -- who was known as Fatih, the Conqueror -- many more Christians and Jews came to live there. Fatih reinstated the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and granted him privileges which later were used against the Turks. Under Fatih Mehmed II Serbia, Bosnia, and surrounding territories of the Balkans were added to the Empire, Anatolia was unified, and the independent princes of Asia Minor were subdued. He also reorganized the administration of the Ottoman Empire along more efficient lines, which were followed with little alteration for over three hundred years. Fatih was a generous patron of learning who endowed many educational foundations, and was himself a serious student who used eight languages and showed his keen interest in the Renaissance by inviting many famous scholars and artists to come and work in Istanbul.
Ottoman influence continued to expand, notably again under Sultan Selim, who, in eight years between 918 and 926 (A.D. 1512-20), conquered Kurdistan and then moved southward to include Arabia, with its Holy Cities, and Egypt, where the last Abbasid Caliph was living. He brought the Caliph to Istanbul and there received the title of Caliph for himself and his successors.
Selim’s son, Sulayman the Magnificent, captured Belgrade and Rhodes, and in 933 (A.D. 1526) won a decisive victory over the King of Hungary. For over a century and a half Hungary was a Turkish province, one in which the social and national structure was left intact. Sulayman’s army laid siege to Vienna and forced Archduke Ferdinand to pay tribute. His famous sea captains -- Barbarossa, Piyale, and Dragut -- made the Mediterranean a Turkish lake by chasing the Spaniards from Libya and defeating the armada of the Pope, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and Venice. Famous admirals such as Drake and Doria did not dare to leave Mediterranean ports. In the age made famous by the successes of Charles V, Queen Elizabeth, Leo X, of Cortez, Christopher Columbus, and Raleigh, Sulayman the Magnificent could hold his own against any of them. The Ottoman Empire was at its greatest height, extending from the Euphrates to Gibralter, from Budapest to southern Egypt.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire started, although it was not immediately apparent, during the rule of Selim II, son of Sulayman the Magnificent. The defeat inflicted by Don Giovanni of Austria was a heavy blow to Turkish sea supremacy. Even though this was a period in which Turkish forces captured Cyprus and Crete, were victorious over Austria, and conquered Baghdad, their successes did not check the Empire’s decline. The defeat at St. Gothard in 1075 (A.D. 1664) was the first step toward the expulsion of the Turks from Europe, and the trend continued with the complete loss of Hungary in 1098 (A.D. 1686). By 1131 (A.D. 1718) the Turks had been pushed back across the Danube in Wallachia.
Within its boundaries the Empire continued to decline. The janissaries, who for two centuries had been models of discipline and obedience, got out of hand and began to revolt. Their barracks became veritable inns of hoodlums. There was no dependable national army. The governors of far-flung corners of the Empire were often ignorant, inefficient, and sometimes corrupt. Viziers and loyal officials of high rank tried to check the decline by reforming the governmental and military systems, but they were opposed by established interests who screened themselves behind fanatics. The first step toward progress came in 1242 (AD. 1826) when Sultan Mahmud II abolished the janissaries. But the dismemberment of the Empire continued. Greece gained her independence in 1244 (A.D. 1828). The Crimean War in 1271-72 (A.D. 1854-55, in which the Ottoman Empire was aided by England and France, put a temporary stop to the Russian advance. Romania became independent in 1283 (A.D. 1866) and Serbia a year later. However, the Ottoman Empire stayed intact until the Russian War of 1295 (A.D. 1878). It was at that time that Cyprus was given as a hostage to England in exchange for possible future assistance. In 1301 (A.D. 1883) England occupied Egypt.
The attempts at reform continued; a second constitution was adopted in 1326 (A.D. 1908) and Sultan Abdulhamid II was dethroned. Italy attacked Turkish forces in Libya, and the Balkan countries declared war against Turkey shortly before the first World War -- all of which hastened the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Faced by these threats, the Turks showed that they were still inspired by the spirit of their ancestors. The admiration of the whole world was aroused by their success in stopping the Anglo-French armada. They gave up over four hundred thousand men in the flower of their manhood at the Dardanelles. When Allied forces occupied Turkey after the armistice, and Greeks, armed by England, invaded Anatolia, the Turkish nation rose overnight in defense as men, women, and children, the old and the young, all rushed to save their homeland. The army organized under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk threw the invaders into the sea.
The Turks turned then to the reconstruction of their ravaged country. The Sultanate was abolished in 1341 (A.D. 1922) and the Caliphate, considered to be essentially embodied in the government of the Republic, was abolished two years later. From the ruins of the Ottoman Empire emerged a new and dynamic Turkish state -- The Republic of Turkey.
Looking back over the long history of the Turks since they became Muslims it is clear that they have made a great contribution to Islam. The Turkish people brought a new vitality into a Muslim world which had become lifeless in the hands of the Arabs and other Muslims. Turks, with their philosophic interests and more reasonable thinking, have given to Islam great men and great scholars in the fields of literal and mystical interpretation. They have for centuries accepted the duty of keeping Islam alive and maintaining security within Muslim lands, protecting them from the invasions of Europe and Russia. If it were not for the Turks, the Arab lands would long ago have become a part of the Communist colonial empire. Islam, because it was founded by Allah, is neither Arabic nor Turkish. Throughout this long history the Turks have simply sought to serve the Faith which Allah has given, even with the supreme sacrifice if necessary.
The Fundamentals of Islam
The true religion with Allah is Islam
There are eleven requirements of belief in Islam which are prescribed by divine ordinance, by definite orders of Allah, and are therefore obligations which must be fulfilled in order to be a believer and a Muslim. All Muslims in the world adhere to these eleven requirements with not the slightest disagreement among them on these points. The apparent differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites and other Islamic sects do not touch the fundamental precepts; they are concerned only with minor details.
The basic precept of Islam is expressed in the Word of Witness: I attest and affirm that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his creature and Prophet. The core, the essence of belief in Islam is to believe in the Unity of God and that Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) is the true and last Prophet.
The six requirements of belief in Islam are: to believe in the existence and unity of Allah; to believe in God’s Angels. the sinless creatures of Allah who perform His orders; to believe in Allah’s books, the Old and New Testaments and the Qur’an; to believe in all the prophets of Allah; to believe in the Day of Judgment with rewards and punishments; to believe that destiny belongs to Allah, recognizing that although every creature’s destiny is in Allah’s power, each one must use his reason and accept responsibility for his conduct. In those six requirements the heavenly religions of the Christians and Jews separate themselves from Muslims by not believing in the Unity of God and in Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) as God’s rightful and last Prophet. The Trinity is totally contrary to the tenets of Islam.
In addition to the six requirements of belief there are five requirements of action by which Islam is put into practice by Muslims: praying five times a day in the prescribed form; fasting during the month of Ramadan; pilgrimage to Mecca, when health, wealth, and the safety of the roads permit; zakat, the yearly almsgiving of one fortieth of one’s movable property and wealth; and pronouncing the Word of Witness by word of mouth and with true intent in the heart.
These eleven requirements have been the fundamentals for the Turks ever since the first tribes in Central Asia accepted Islam, as they are for all Muslims. The Turks are followers of Sunni and of the school of interpretation of Hanafi. In the other chapters of this book the verses from the Qur’an which are the basis for Muslim belief everywhere have been quoted. Here are some of the Hadiths -- verified Traditions -- of Mu-. hammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) which have been treasured as guides to belief and practice among all Muslims.
All human beings are like the teeth of a comb. Only by worship do they become superior to each other.
What you wish for yourself, wish also for all mankind.
A wise man is one who takes his example from what happens to others. The unwise man is the one who gives an example from what happens to him.
Don’t exaggerate in praising me as is done for Jesus, Son of Mary. I am only a creature. Therefore call me Allah’s creature and messenger.
Unless you love one another, you are not true believers. Shall I tell you how you will love each other? Salute each other (by showing love and respect). I swear by Allah, in whose power is my soul, that you will not enter Paradise unless you show affection and mercy to each other. The mercy I am talking about is not a mercy for any one of you, limited and personal, but a general mercy for all people (humanitarian and social), mutual assistance, loving each other, and having pity for all creatures of god.
Allah’s bringing a man to the straight path through your efforts is the most blessed of the things that may happen between sunrise and sunset.
Leave the thing that fills you with doubt for the one that does not fill you with doubt.
The beauty in a Muslim’s belief is his ability to leave things which are useless to him.
How fortunate is the one whose life is long and his conduct, deeds, and worship are beautiful.
Don’t hold hatred or ill-will toward each other. Don’t break your connections (with relatives or friends), don’t turn your backs on each other, don’t be jealous of each other, don’t raise prices artificially, don’t cheat, O God’s creatures. Be brothers as Allah orders you. For a Muslim to stay on non-speaking terms with his brother in religion for more than three days is not legitimate.
The true believer lives in harmony with others and he himself is easy to get along with. No good comes from one who lives not in harmony with others and with whom it is not possible to get along easily.
These are only a hint of the Traditions of Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) which have been treasured as guides for conduct by Muslims everywhere.
Sufism in Turkey
Sufism has always played an important role in Islam, especially among the Turks. The whole substance of the teaching of Sufism is the love of Allah and the love of the Prophet (the Peace and mercy of Allah be upon him). Love for one’s family, one’s nation, and all mankind comes naturally from that love. Sufism seeks to strengthen that love by showing the disciple the means by which he can purify his actions and thus purify his character, and then elevate his soul to sublime heights -- which is accomplished under the continual supervision of spiritual educators who are true mystics following the rules and precepts of Islam. The true sources of Sufi mysticism are the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the words and actions of Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him).
In order to be a Sufi, or a disciple who is learning how to become a Sufi, one must be attached to a religious teacher, a Shaikh, and work under his supervision and guidance. The Shaikh who understands the task of directing souls must be enlightened and perfect. His instruction takes two forms: teaching, which deals with specific subject matter and results in the attainment of knowledge; and enlightenment, which means to bring to maturity and is accomplished by counsel, by inspiration, by assigning work to be done, or just by a glance -- some would call it a kind of telepathy. The Shaikh is one who has been authorized by a sage or religious leader (Pir) to teach and enlighten. The Sufis and disciples who gather around a Shaikh usually form a religious order (tariqa), of which there are many in Islam, and sometimes center their activities in a tekke, an organized residential community. There are, of course, many Muslims who follow special religious practices without the guidance of a Shaikh; they are called worshipers or ascetics, but not Sufis.
As the name of Allah is mentioned in all kinds of prayer and worship, all worship in Islam may be summarized in the word dhikr. Literally it means mentioning or reciting and is commonly used to refer to all kinds of prescribed worship -- the daily prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, almsgiving, and repeating the Word of Witness. Reading and reciting the Qur’an is also dhikr. In Sufism dhikr includes the commonly accepted worship of Islam and also means to recite orally or in silence the names of Allah, certain prayers and invocations recommended by the Shaikh, and also extra prayers, voluntarily performed, according to the method taught by the Shaikh. Such voluntary prayers are called nawafil, which means extras. Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) said in one of his kudsi Hadiths (a Hadith in which Allah’s meaning is expressed in the Prophet’s words), "[Allah speaking] O my creatures! It is with nawafil that one can approach me (with my approval). Thus at the end I love him, and when I love him I almost become his ear, eye, hand, foot, and his tongue, so that he hears with Me, sees with Me, holds with Me, and speaks with Me." According to this kudsi Hadith, the continued practice of such voluntary prayers turns human beings into Angels, makes them spiritual forces in their community, nation, and the whole world. They become models of the highest and purest morals.
There are many verses in the Qur’an and many Hadiths which make it clear that Islamic Sufism started with the birth of Islam. The practice of being attached to a Shaikh and accepting him as a guide is based on such verses as this from the Qur’an: "O Believers! Fear Allah. And be together with the right ones (those who are right in their belief, action, words, and pledge, and do not separate from the truth)" (Surah IX, 119). The Qur’an also says, "O Believers! Remember Allah frequently in dhikr (recite with your tongue and remember always with your heart)" (Surah XXXIII, 41). "Know that with dhikr of Allah hearts reach the highest maturity" (Surah XIII, 28). "Woe to those whose hearts are (empty and) hardened against remembrance of Allah. They are plainly deviating (from the straight path)" (Surah XXXIX, 22).
Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) has said among his Hadiths, "The highest degree of belief is your knowing that Allah is certainly always with you." "There is a polish for everything. The polish of hearts is dhikr of Allah." "The creatures who are at the highest rank (in the opinion of Allah) are those who dhikr Allah frequently." "Those who dhikr Allah frequently save themselves from hypocrisy and mischief."
In all of the religious orders the goal is to please and satisfy the Prophet (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) and to win God’s approval of one’s conduct. As one sets out toward that goal the point of departure is the struggle with one’s self, one’s body and mind. The Qur’an says, "(When it comes to) those who strive in Our cause We surely guide them to Our paths. Without doubt Allah is in any case with the people who do their duty toward God well" (Surah XXIX, 69). Our Prophet Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) has explained that "the people who do their duty toward God well" means "worshiping Allah as if you were seeing Him. Even if you do not see Him, He is seeing you." According to this verse from the Qur’an, the striving must be absolutely for Allah’s sake. When it is, Allah gives to the believer some insights (or openings, or uncoverings) which enlighten him concerning things he did not know.
According to the followers of Sufism there are seven stages along the way as one strives to reach the goal of Allah’s approval. In the first stage man’s physical nature, his carnal mind, is dominant. At this stage the self is the self that commends the tendency toward evil. In the Qur’an this first stage is pointed out in the fifty-third verse of the twelfth Surah, "Surely the self orders with utmost force the doing of evil." The vices of this stage are sometimes described as pride, cupidity, lust, envy, anger, avarice, and hatred. At this first stage the self tends toward the pleasures of the senses, the animal pleasures, which pull the heart toward baseness. This first stage is the nest of evils, the source of bad habits. Every religious order seeks to arouse its followers to struggle against this first stage of the self and to wipe out all traces of this level of existence.
In the second stage the self begins to awaken from its former blindness to the Truth, its ignorance of God’s mysterious purposes, and its preoccupation with selfish hopes and fears. It is the stage of the self-reproaching self, for when man does an evil deed under the influence of his base nature the self reproaches and blames himself at once and repents of the evil he has done. In the second verse of the seventy-fifth Surah, Allah swears to the importance of the blaming, or accusing, soul. And in the twenty-second verse of the fourteenth Surah, the Qur’an says, "Blame yourselves." At this stage of awakening and self-reproach the self is Separated from its old depravity and wickedness, and as it s awakened it takes the road of obedience and piety. If the self does not persist in its progress, it returns to the first stage and improvement becomes extremely difficult.
The third stage is the first step toward saintliness, the stage in which Allah reveals truth to man by inspiration, as is pointed out in the seventh and eighth verses of the ninety-first Surah of the Qur’an. "And a soul and Him who perfected it And inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it." Inspiration is that which is suggested to the heart by divine blessing; it may be regarded as knowledge which invites to action even though it was not gained by deduction or evidence. In this third stage the self leaves sin but cannot forget it, just as a cigarette smoker who gives up smoking still finds in his heart a desire to smoke.
The self which reaches the fourth stage leaves behind all material desires and forgets them completely. He is free of all desires, even the desire to progress to higher levels which are now open to him, and turns only toward Allah’s approval and blessing. The self at this stage is a thoroughly subdued and pious spirit which neither rebels nor murmurs. Through the inspiration given generously by Allah the self has been adapted, harmonized to Allah’s will, and acquires tranquillity and religious certitude. The Qur’an says, "Allah conducts to the straight path those who turn their hearts to Him. These are believers. It is through dhikr of Allah that hearts come to serenity and peace. Know that only with dhikr of Allah do hearts find rest and satisfaction (do hearts ripen)" (Surah XIII, 27-28). At this stage the self is freed from bad qualities and endowed with good habits, freed from anxiety, hesitation, and doubt.
In the fifth stage the self never complains about anything that happens to it, it is indifferent to everything except Allah and finds everything equal that comes from Him, whether good or bad, affliction or blessing. The mystic Turkish poet Yunus Emreh has explained this stage in a quatrain,
What comes from You is good to me
Be it roses or thorns which pour down
Or robe of dignity or shroud
And pleasant is Your blessing and pleasant Your affliction.
If the self persists in remaining in the fifth stage of uncomplaining acceptance he progresses to the sixth stage and attains Allah’s approval and blessing. This stage is described in the Qur’an (Surah LXXXIX, 27-30), "O selves who are certain and free of desires! Return unto your Lord, you content with Him, He content with you. Now then, enter among My (beloved) creatures, enter My heaven." Or, as Arberry translates the verse,
O soul at peace, return unto thy Lord,
Enter thou among My servants!
Enter thou My Paradise!
The seventh stage is reached by those who keep on progressing, leaving behind all egotism, pretensions, or even claims to have reached a perfect stage. They become heirs to the prophets, gain the knowledge of divine Providence, and understand the Truth. This is the final stage of saintliness.
These seven stages are the educational system and discipline common to all Muslim religious orders. The differences between the religious orders are only in details of their practices. For instance, some orders do their dhikr silently while sitting alone or in a circle, while others follow open rites which may include chanting, music, and dancing. According to the followers of Sufism the Prophet Muhammad (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) taught Abu Bakr the secret, or silent, dhikr and taught Ali the open dhikr. That is why the Naqshbandi order, which comes from the Prophet (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) through Abu Bakr, perform the silent dhikr and the orders which come through Ali use the open dhikr.
The rites of the open dhikr orders became too animated and frenzied. They used to start to dhikr loudly all together under the direction of their Shaikh, then stand up and, holding each others’ hands, turn around in a circle, at the same time leaning forward and backward or to the right and left, keeping up this movement in an intermittent and harmonious rhythm. Singers with beautiful voices used to lead the men in singing as they turned about, thus encouraging them to more enthusiastic activity. Some of the orders used a tambourine to beat time; Mevlevis used to use a flute. There were many tekkes belonging to different Sufi orders in the cities and towns of Turkey, some following open dhikr and others insisting on silent dhikr. In the Sha’bani order in Istanbul, Shaikh Ahmed Amish early in this century forbade his disciples to assemble for dhikr together; they were taught to do their dhikr privately, reading the Qur’an frequently and reciting phrases and words of love and attachment to the Prophet (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) and his Companions. Many such variations in practices were common among all the orders of Sufism.
The spread of Sufism among Eastern Turks began with Ahmad Yesevi (died 562; A.D. 1166), who was a native of Turkestan. He took the name Yesevi from the city where he was teaching, after he had become famous for his great knowledge and Sufi-like deeds and was commanded by the ruler to bring honor to the city by adding its name to his own. After the death of the Shaikh under whom he was studying, Ahmad Yesevi went to Bukhara where he became a Shaikh under the most famous Shaikh of his time. Many Sufis who later became famous studied under Ahmad Yesevi. His influence was not restricted to Eastern Turks, for it spread into Anatolia and over into the European part of the Ottoman Empire. The famous Turkish traveler Evlia Chelebi, who wrote in the eleventh century (seventeenth century A.D.), tells in his six volumes of travel notes of many saints belonging to the order of Ahmad Yesevi and describes one tekke capable of housing two hundred men.
There were many Shaikhs among the Turks who fled from the invasions of Genghis Khan. Thus the Sufi orders were established wherever the Turks settled, and Sufis from other countries also settled in the Turkish lands, until several tekkes could be found in every community. There were always scholars and Shaikhs in the armies of the Ottoman Empire wherever they went. The scholars taught the tenets of Islam and the Shaikhs were busy in the education of souls and assisting in the establishment of Sufi orders and tekkes throughout the Empire.
In addition to Ahmad Yesevi there were hundreds of famous Sufi leaders in the long history of Turkey. Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi (died 672; A.D. 1273) was one of the greatest poets and saints of Islam, and father of the founder of the Mevlevi order. He was born at Balkh in a Turkish family of the Khwarizm, the son of a scholar who was known as the Sultan of the Ulama. Father and son migrated to the Hijaz, then to Damascus, and finally to Konya at the invitation of the Seljuq Sultan. There at Konya he succeeded his father as a teacher and won great fame for his intelligence and knowledge. Later, when he became better acquainted with the Sufis, he renounced his teaching and plunged into the ocean of Sufism. After that he began to write, beginning with his Mathnawi, which is one of the masterpieces of the Orient. That book of thirty thousand couplets and his other mystical writings are widely studied in modern times by the intellectuals of Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Mevlana was buried at Konya where his tomb has been made a national monument and is visited by a constant stream of people who come from all over Turkey and from many other countries. On the anniversary of his death elaborate memorial ceremonies are held at Konya, and the broadcasting stations of Istanbul and Ankara give special programs devoted to his life and writings.
The writings of Mevlana Jalal al-Din contain stories, anecdotes, moral instruction, and mystical insights, often in lyrical and symbolic passages. They were written in Persian and have been translated into Turkish and many other languages. Here are a few favorite lines from Mevlana:
O! Love You are the physician of all our ills.
Who has not the fire of Love, let him perish.
Whether you be a stone, a rock, or even a marble, in the hand of a mature and perfect educator who is a man of soul you will become a jewel.
Your inclination is toward thorny and sandy places. In that thorny and sandy soil how can you find and gather roses?
The end of every weeping is without doubt laughter. The man who sees the end of the affair is a holy man.
Mevlana is a title given to the greatest Shaikhs, meaning our Chief, our Lord, our Great One. It is merited by Jalal al-Din Rumi, not because he is a great philosopher, for he scorned philosophy, but because of his great mystical insight. In the Mathnawi he says, "The philosopher busies himself with ideas and opinions and denies things above them. Go and tell him to knock his head against the wall. The philosopher also denies Satan but at that moment he becomes his fool." He goes on to say that reason, which is the source of philosophy, cannot get outside of its rational limitations and cannot taste the pleasures of the Love of God which is above reason. "Reason in commenting on Love has become helpless, like an ass sunk in mud. It is Love which will say the Truth of Love and being in Love."
The followers of Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi formed the Mevlevi order, with its headquarters at Konya. The administration of the order was in the hands of the presiding chief at Konya who was appointed or removed from office by the Sultans during the time of the Ottoman empire. Many Mevlevi tekkes were built in Turkey and as far away as Hungary and India. In Turkey the Seljuq and Ottoman Sultans and high-ranking officials revered Rumi, and in every generation great numbers of learned men have been students of his Mathnawi. But when Sultan Mahmud II abolished the janissaries he also abolished the Bektashi order which had been influential among them, and many Bektashis saved their lives by entering Mevlevi tekkes. As a result, the Mevlevi order lost its former position; it was even accused of following Shi’a doctrines, due to the activities of Bektashis disguised as Mevlevis. That could not be true, for Mevlevis recited every morning "I am willing and consenting to have Allah as my God, Islam as my religion, Muhammad as my Prophet, the Qur’an as my Book, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali as my Imams," which shows how they cared for the first four Caliphs.
After the Republic of Turkey was founded all Sufi tekkes in Turkey were closed by decree, and since that time there have been no Sufi orders in the country.
Once when Jalal al-Din Rumi was asked what was the dhikr in his tekke he replied, "Our dhikr is Allah, Allah, Allah, because we are Allah’s. We have come from Allah, we go to Allah. My father always heard of Allah, spoke of Allah, and always recited the name of Allah. God Almighty has manifested Himself to all prophets and saints with a different name. The manifestation to us Muslims is the name of Allah which contains all the names and attributes."
According to the Mevlevis, Mevlana encouraged his followers to use the ritual dance to arouse emotion which leads to ecstasy. He spoke of ritual dance as enlightening and adorning the hearts of the seekers, as being illegitimate for those who deny religion and legitimate for the lovers of Allah. Mevlevis base the legitimacy of the ritual dance on the tacit approval of the Prophet (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) when he saw people dancing. Once when the Prophet (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) met Jafar Ibn Abi Talib he embraced him and kissed him on the forehead and said, "In regard to birth and character you resemble me." When Jafar heard this he was so happy that he unconsciously started to dance, and he was not reproved for this joyful action. Another argument relied upon by Sufis is that one day when the Prophet (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him) was looking out from his room he saw some Ethiopian Muslims playing and dancing and did not reprove them.
The Mevlevis argued in favor of the ritual dance that dancing and rejoicing is common to all living beings; even animals jump, run, and play when they are happy. Man, as a superior animal, has this feeling and a natural tendency to perform rhythmic movements, especially when he hears exhilarating music. The rising and turning of men of God, of darwishes, in rhythmic movements during the ritual dance were the result of the rejoicing in their hearts; when done with pure sincerity of heart it led to ecstasy.
As the ceremony of the ritual dance used to be performed, it began with the eulogy, which starts out, "O Beloved of Allah, you are the Messenger of the Only Creator." When the sound of this eulogy filled the air, heads were bent down, eyes closed, and the souls would fly to the world of melody. After the eulogy, the chief flute player would play a solo according to his mood, and then a prelude would be played. When the tambourine started to beat the darwishes would get up and then turn in a circle three times in time with the beats. Then the ritual dance would begin.
The men of Sufism imagine the circle of the ritual dance as representing a circulating flame which symbolizes the universe. Half of the circle is the Arc of Descent, showing how things get away from their origin; man, being the last created thing, is the lowest of the low. The other half of the circle is the Arc of Ascent, showing the approach of creatures to their original source. Man who is the lowest of the low progresses up and up by grades until he returns to his original source. "And you will return to Him," says the Qur’an. The descent in the Arc of Descent was referred to as from Allah and the ascent was to Allah. The basis of the ritual dance was a human being’s desire above all else to keep progressing on the Arc of Ascent, to return to Allah.
We have discussed the Mevlevi order at some length because there is much in its history and organization which is typical of other Sufi orders. Another order which had many followers before the banning of the orders by the Republic was the Bektashi order which had considerable influence because of its association with the janissaries. The order was founded by Hajji Bektash Veli who was born in Khurasan and came to Anatolia in 680 (A.D. 1281), where he established his order. His father had been attached to one of the Shaikhs of Ahmad Yesevi. His tomb, which is open for visiting, is in the town to which he gave his name, and many people go there to pray to Allah, to recite the Qur’an, and to ask assistance of the saint.
Another order which formerly had large numbers of followers in Turkey and has spread even to Indonesia is the Naqshbandi, founded by Muhammad Baha-ud-din Naqshbandi who was born at Bukhara and spent most of his life there (died 790; A.D. 1388). He wrote The Book of Life and the Guide to Lovers (of Allah), and had a great many followers and disciples. Because he received instruction from a follower of the Yesevi order, the Naqshbandi order is often considered to be a branch of the Yesevi.
The people of Turkey are well-acquainted with the names and teachings of dozens of other famous Sufis, but space does not allow a detailed discussion of them all. The influence of their teachings has been very great in the history of Islam among the Turks. In Turkey today all the Sufi tekkes are closed and all Sufi orders and their rites are forbidden. The old purity and sincerity of the orders had long ago deteriorated in some of the tekkes. The impact of Sufism has not disappeared completely, however, since everyone is free to pray as he pleases, to follow his own dhikr in seclusion, and to obey the commands and teachings of Allah and the Prophet (the Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon him). Today in Turkey there is no conflict between Sunni and Shi’a or between those who follow a literal interpretation of Islam and those who prefer a mystical interpretation. All people are free to do as they please.
The Grand National Assembly, made up of elected members who are ninety-nine per cent Muslim Turks, makes the laws concerning secular affairs and punishments which govern the country. All rules and commandments of shari‘a concerning beliefs, prayers, and morals are in force and observed by the people. The official and legal authority on Islam in Turkey today is the office of the Director of Religious Affairs and the Muftis attached to it. However, because there is no clergy in Islam everyone with religious authority can speak about the Faith.
The national policies of Turkey are not racist, for Islam forbids Muslims to think only of one’s own race or to despise or discredit other races. There are many verses in the Qur’an and many Hadiths which forbid racism. From the beginning Islam has sought to establish brotherhood among men and nations.
The fundamental requirements for a true Islamic state -- mutual deliberation, knowledge and ability, justice, responsibility, and control -- have been stated in many places in the Qur’an, "The conduct of affairs of those who answer the call of their Lord and who do their salat [prayers] is always by mutual deliberation" (Surah XLII, 38). "(O Muhammad) We set you on the way (shari‘a ) of religion. You follow it and do not follow the whims of those who do not know" (Surah XLV, 18). "Without doubt Allah commands you to entrust (public functions and services) to the hands of qualified people, and when you judge among mankind judge with justice" (Surah IV, 58). "O Believers! Be of (judges) holding erect the right and of men witnessing in justice. Do not let your hatred for a people seduce you into dealing with injustice. Respect justice because it is the nearest to piety, fear, and respect for Allah" (Surah V, 8). These, according to Islam, are the requirements of a government.
Because the Turks have conquered many lands and established large empires, the question is often raised as to the place of jihad, holy war, in Turkish thought. Jihad is for Turks just what it is for all Muslims.It is in one sense an interior war, a fighting against bad inclinations in oneself. As many verses and Hadiths bear witness, this is the most important sense of the holy war. Between nations Islam accepts war as a last resort for defense of Islam, and only for defense. Rulers may have gone to war for their own secular purposes, but Islam has never justified a war except for defense of the faith. The expansion of Islam through the centuries has not needed the use of force or compulsion. Islam is like fresh air to breathe. Everyone with common sense will welcome it. At the time of the Crusades many Christians embraced Islam by their own free will. The people of Turkey will defend their faith with their lives, but as good Muslims they cannot use compulsion to bring others to accept their religion.
Education under the Republic is supported by the government. There are primary and secondary schools which give secular education and optional religious instruction. The Faculty of Theology at the University of Ankara and the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of Istanbul have become centers for teaching and research in Muslim history and literature. Instruction in Islam is also given by the religious leaders of the community -- the Mufti, who gives canonical opinions on matters concerning Islamic law; the Imam, who leads the prayers in the mosque; and the Hatip, who preaches at the weekly services and on special days. One man may be both Imam and Hatip, with responsibility for leading the prayers and for giving instruction through preaching and teaching. There are now Imam-Hatip schools in seventeen provinces of Turkey, created to train religious leaders in Islam.
The governmental office of the Director of Religious Affairs has published books on Islam and is responsible for general supervision of Islam in Turkey. The next steps would seem to be for the government to expand its publishing activities and especially to publish small, inexpensive books on Islam written in simple language for popular circulation; to take steps toward training an adequate number of Imams and Hatips by increasing the number of schools and making them residential; and to open public courses for religious teaching and schools specializing in religious instruction, reinforced by general cultural subjects.
During the Ottoman rule there was a minister of shari‘a called Shaikh-ul-Islam, and also a minister of waqfs (religious endowments). When the Republic was formed the Grand National Assembly gave authority over both shari‘a and waqfs to the Minister of Shari‘a but when the religious orders were abolished all matters concerning shari‘a were put under the care of the Director of Religious Affairs and all matters related to the waqfs were put under the Director of Waqfs, with both Directors attached to the office of the Premier. A waqf is property or a fund given as a perpetual endowment to provide income for a religious or public service -- for some purpose which will be pleasing to Allah. There have been waqfs in Islam from the earliest times and in all countries. In all Turkish areas waqfs have played a great role in the service of mankind and in spreading learning, culture, and the arts. Most of the learned men were trained in institutions supported by waqfs and most of the monuments and mosques which are admired today are the product of waqfs. The Turkish waqfs were born of the devotion of the people, created for the good of the people, and stand as symbols of the humanitarian ideals of the Muslim Turks.
The waqfs were created for a great variety of services, such as the building and upkeep of water conduits, fountains, wells, roads, sidewalks, bridges, kitchens for the distribution of free meals, guest houses, homes for widows, schools, libraries, mosques, tekkes, cemeteries, open -- air places for prayer, caravansaries to lodge full caravans of men and animals, clock-rooms for telling time, bakeries for distributing bread and cakes to the poor, dispensaries, hospitals, public baths, shaded land on the roadside. Waqfs were established to furnish trousseaux for orphan girls, for paying the debts of imprisoned or bankrupt businessmen, for clothing for the aged, to help pay village and neighborhood taxes, to help the army and the navy, to found trade guilds, to give land for public markets, to build lighthouses, to help orphans and widows and the destitute, to care for the needs of poor school children and to give them picnics, to pay for the funerals of the poor, to provide holiday gifts for poor families, to build seaside cottages for holidays for the people, to distribute ice-cold water during the summer, to create public playing fields, to distribute rice to birds, and to give food and water to animals.
It is thanks to the waqfs that most of the monuments, works of art, and educational institutions were built in Turkish lands. Everyone, rich or poor, wanted to leave a waqf. It was a social must for a rich man or a man who had attained a high rank in the government to build a mosque with a school in his home town or to leave a waqf in the city. The poor also sought to do their part. Although they could not build a mosque, they could give a small waqf to support the teaching of Hadiths in a mosque. A widow once left a waqf for replacing a well-bucket and its rope; another woman left a waqf for the care of storks which broke their legs. All of these waqfs were intended to last forever under management which was regulated by religious law.
The income from the waqfs was decreased steadily by continued wars, loss of territories, and the inevitable disruption of management of the properties in such times of stress, and many monuments and mosques fell into disrepair. The Republic of Turkey has recognized that the waqfs constitute a great part of the national fortune of the country and has undertaken a careful administration of waqf funds, even founding a bank to care for the funds and use the income for the care and preservation of historical mosques and monuments, many of which are now being restored. Under the Director of Waqfs a staff of architects and civil engineers are freeing national monuments from their slum-like surroundings and restoring their original beauty. New endowments are being given today by the rich to support schools, the Red Crescent, and charitable institutions.
The Turkish Area Today
Fifty years ago religious teaching in the Turkish area was following about the same methods which had been used for centuries. There were Sufi tekkes in most communities and madrasas (schools for religious instruction) everywhere. The madrasas followed a scholastic pattern which had not changed for centuries, emphasizing memorization and repetition. The teachers were men who got their certification from local Shaikhs; the best of the teachers went to Istanbul, Baghdad, or Cairo. At the beginning of the present century a movement of reform started in the Ottoman Empire and in the Turkish areas under the yoke of Russia, but unfortunately the successive wars and defeats in Turkey and the rise of Communism in Russia prevented the accomplishment of the reforms.
After the defeat and destruction of the Ottoman Empire the Republic of Turkey was formed under Kemal Ataturk, who as the commander of the Turkish National Army had repulsed the invasion of the Greeks. The new constitution was on a secular basis. The Sufi orders and tekkes were abolished soon after the new government was formed. Most of those orders which had played an important role during the growth of the Seljuq and Ottoman Empires, contributed so much to the sciences, arts, and literature in Turkish lands for a thousand years, and provided for the religious needs of the intellectuals had lost their spirit and deteriorated into asylums for good-for-nothings. The religious orders had become ghostly remnants of their splendid past and deserved to be closed.
It is a mistake, however, to assume that because the orders have been abolished the devotion to Islam is declining in Turkey. In place of beliefs full of superstition and meaningless fanaticism, a sincere and genuine revival of Islamic faith is taking place among the people of Turkey. In almost every mosque there is a course in the Qur’an. Islam is being taught in the primary and secondary schools and special schools have been created for training Imams and Hatips. Islam is taught at the University of Ankara. Books on Islam are published by the Director of Religious Affairs and by private publishers. Three interpretations of the Qur’an have been published recently. A nine-volume commentary on the whole Qur’an and several commentaries on particular Surahs and Hadiths have appeared. There are also several monthlies and weeklies which deal with Islamic beliefs and practices. Those who question the vitality of Islam, those who think that the Turks could ever be without religion and without Allah, should come and see the crowded mosques of Turkey, the new mosques being built today, and the devotion of the Turks to Islam.
The Balkan Peninsula
The diverse religions, nationalities, languages, and cultures of the Balkan Peninsula make it one of the most complex areas of the world. Islam came to the Balkans with the Arabs even before the Ottoman Empire, and for over five hundred years Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Albania were parts of the Ottoman Empire.
Bulgaria became an autonomous principality in 1295 (A.D. 1878) and an independent state in 1326 (A.D. 1908). After its independence Islamic affairs were under the direction of a Mufti appointed from Turkey, and assisted by an Islamic Community Organization. The larger towns had their own Muftis and councils which administered the funds for religious teaching in their madrasas and schools, many of which employed Turkish teachers. They were able to train their own Muftis, Imams, and Hatips and to give instruction in science, languages, literature, and the arts. It was the graduates of their schools who struggled against the Communists when they closed the schools and appointed Muftis whom they could control. Most of the teachers were forced to join the refugees who fled Bulgaria in order to save their lives. Today there are over eight hundred thousand Turks in Bulgaria under Communist oppression.
Romania had a Muslim community quite similar to the one in Bulgaria but today there are only about fifty thousand Muslims who have not migrated to Turkey. There are also about one hundred and twenty thousand Christian Turks in Romania under the Communists.
Yugoslavia has almost two million Muslims whose lot is little better than that of the Muslims in Bulgaria. They still are allowed to have their madrasas which fare as well as any non-Communist school may fare in a national state ruled by Communism.
Albania has been independent since 1329 (A.D. 1911), but the small, mountainous country has been the scene of continuous revolts and civil wars. The people of Albania are descendants of Turks who left Anatolia to settle there four centuries ago. Almost seven hundred thousand of the one million people in Albania are Muslims who now live under a strict Communist regime which has closed all madrasas and tekkes and forbidden the expression of their religion.
In Greece the eighty thousand Muslim Turks are under a systematic and fiendish oppression. The Muslim population of Crete and the Aegean islands and all parts of Greece except western Thrace have been driven out or exterminated. In western Thrace there are still madrasas but only the most ignorant teachers are allowed to teach and no Muslim community can bring teachers from Turkey even though Greek schools in Turkey can freely bring teachers from Greece. In Greece intensive efforts are made to limit the educational and commercial opportunities of Muslims, and relations with the Muslims of Turkey are prevented whenever possible. Except for Soviet Russia Islam is persecuted and oppressed in Greece more than anywhere in the world.
Cyprus was first taken by Muslims in the twenty-sixth year of the Hijrah (A.D. 648). After a time the island was ruled by several kings, but never was held by the Greeks. Sultan Selim II conquered Cyprus in 978 (A.D. 1570), and it was Turkish territory until it was put in the custody of England in 1295 (A.D. 1878) in return for British help against Russia. At that time the population was about one hundred and ten thousand people, today there are half a million residents of the island of whom one hundred thousand are Muslim Turks. After the arrival of the British a great many Cypriots moved to Turkey, where today there are three hundred thousand descendants of the people of Cyprus. Such a large number of Greeks migrated to Cyprus that the Greek government has sought to annex the island, even though it is only forty miles from Turkey and a vital strategic point for Turkish defense. Muslims in Cyprus are under a Mufti whom they elect and Islam is taught in religious and secular schools and through publications in Turkish. Muslims of Cyprus come and go freely between their island and Turkey.
The Soviet Union
The story of Islam in the Soviet Union is, to say the least, the saddest that one can imagine. Conditions were bad enough under the Czars but under Communism they have become worse because the Russians, whether White or Red, have always looked upon Islam with hatred. Communists have learned that Islam is the greatest obstacle to the spread of Communism and use against the Muslims in the Soviet Union all the diabolical devices that the mind can devise.
To understand the present situation in the Soviet Union one must give up the erroneous idea that it is a unified nation. Russia, like Great Britain and France, has for centuries been an imperialist and colonial power. Great Britain and France -- and Holland should be included -- resorted to colonialism chiefly for economic reasons, but Russia sought colonies to satisfy its passion for conquering and dominating the world. While the colonies of the European countries were overseas, the colonies of Russia are its neighboring countries. And just as the colonies of the British and French and Dutch are alien peoples, so also the nations in the Russian colonies are alien to Russia. At a time when the European countries are freeing their colonies, the Russians are tightening their hold and expanding their colonial empire.
The story of Islam in the Soviet Union is the story of four hundred years of struggle against Russian tyranny and oppression, a resistance which has been as tenacious as the oppression has been merciless. From the reign of Ivan the Terrible until the accession of Catherine the Great, Muslims were subjected to a program of Russification and suppression of their mosques and madrasas. Even so, Muslims prayed in secret behind closed doors and secretly performed the last rites for their dead. Their teachers studied in Bukhara, Istanbul, and Cairo and returned to teach secretly. Under Catherine the Great some mosques and madrasas were permitted and there was a religious tribunal which was headed for years by puppets of the Russians who were devoid of Islamic understanding and devotion. Under those circumstances Islam was given some respite and mosques and madrasas increased; but Turkish language and literature were forbidden and books and magazines dealing with Turkish subjects could not be circulated.
For a few years before the Russian Revolution the attitude toward the Muslims became quite tolerant, which made it possible for the Muslims to obtain from the government a decree for the opening of primary schools in which religion and courses in Turkish language, literature, and history could be taught. Famous madrasas for higher learning were opened at Ufa, Kazan, Orenburg, and Troiski. They also were able to develop publishing centers in Crimea, at Kazan, Tashkent, and Baku, and to interchange books, magazines, and newspapers with Istanbul. Educated men were permitted to move freely between the Muslim centers of Russia and Istanbul.
These new developments brought about an awakening of religious and national aspirations among the Muslims of Russia. Turks in Russia had for some time participated in the fields of commerce and industry; now they entered the fields of the liberal arts and science. They even had theatres which played the works of Turkish writers. They began to modify the old scholastic system in the madrasas and sought to bring the some twenty-six different dialects of Turkish closer to the language as it is spoken in Istanbul, where it is used in its most refined and articulate form. Through contributions from Muslim merchants and landowners new madrasas were started and new mosques built until there were over forty thousand mosques under Russian rule. Of course, the Russians did not like this expansion and the beginning of solidarity among the Muslims in Russia, but the first World War came about that time and the Muslims were not molested since the government was enlisting them in the army.
As soon as the Communists gained control they launched invasions of the lands where Muslim Turks were living. Some of those territories had declared their autonomy and the Muslims there resisted the Communist occupation fiercely, but in the end they were all subdued and enslaved. The Communists stopped the efforts to teach the Turkish language and took control of all schooling. Today there is only one Islamic religious school, at Bukhara, with eighty students for the whole of the Soviet Union. Over eighty thousand religious leaders were either sent to Siberia or shot. Mosques were turned into stables. Today there are only a few dozens mosques, and they are heavily taxed. Muslim men of religion are not allowed to have ration cards. It is impossible to know the exact number of Muslims in the Soviet Union but estimates range from twenty to fifty millions. Four and a half million Central Asians have fled from Russia and are now living in neighboring lands. No one knows how many Muslims have been sent to Siberia. Islam behind the iron curtain is in a desperate situation unequalled anywhere except possibly in Spain at the time of the Inquisition.
Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan
In Iraq there are about one million Turks, chiefly in the northwestern regions and in Baghdad. Most of them are Sunnis, followers of the school of Hanafi, and a few are Shi‘ites.
About six million of the people of Iran are Turks, including all of the people of Iranian Azerbaijan who speak a Turkish dialect of their own. They are both Sunni and Shi‘a, with the majority Sunnis of the Hanafi school.
Afghanistan, which for centuries has been a crossroads for Asia, has a population made up of Afghans, Iranians, Turks, Mongols, and Indians who through intermarriage have become one people. They are an independent folk with a remarkably strong attachment to Islam. Almost all of the people of Afghanistan are Sunnis of the Hanafi school; a few are Shi‘ites. The old type of madrasas and Sufi tekkes still flourish there, but new types of schools are being opened and Afghanistan is moving toward a new era of progress.
China and Sinkiang
It is estimated that there are over a million Muslims in China of Turkish descent, but it is not possible to get accurate information. Estimates as to the number of Muslim Turks in Sinkiang vary from three to eight million. They are Sunnis who have kept in touch with Islam in Turkey. Their chief madrasas were at Kashgar, Khotan, and Turfan. Sufi tekkes have been very important in Sinkiang. Today they are subjected to restrictions similar to those which the Muslims in Soviet Russian have had to endure, and information concerning their sad fate comes out only occasionally when refugees escape to Pakistan.
Why Is Muslim Culture So Backward Today?
Muslims assert that Islam is a religion with the best standards and ideals, giving to its believers high moral principles and guiding them to a deep spiritual life which brings peace and comfort in this world and the next. Anyone who studies the history of Islam knows that the Middle Ages were a time of splendor in Islamic civilization, when arts and sciences flourished and Islam brought new vitality to the Muslim world. But anyone who is introduced to Islam for the first time will ask why Muslim culture is so backward today, and he will be right in asking
The great Pakistani poet, philosopher, and patriot, Muhammad Iqbal, gave a general answer to this question when he said, "Nothing is wrong with Islam. All the wrong there is is in our way of being Muslims." Islam itself cannot be responsible for this decadence for it is well known that culture has both flourished and declined under Islam. Nevertheless, the fact that Muslim nations are backward today is a reality which is recognized by thoughtful Muslims who are seeking to correct this situation. The reasons for this backwardness are manifold. Some of the reasons may be found in the Muslims themselves; some are found in the economic, political, and historical circumstances of the Muslim world.
One of the first causes of the backwardness of Muslim culture today is the negligence and disobedience of the precepts of Islam on the part of people who have called themselves Muslims. As Islam spread to many countries the newly converted people often did not fully understand the teachings and practices; others who embraced Islam were actually only disguised as Muslims and introduced beliefs in contradiction to the Truth. Unfortunately, sects and religious orders grew up which claimed to be Islamic but in reality they were not -- and some even exist today. All of these factors tended to encourage deterioration of Muslim culture.
Much of Western civilization has been introduced to the Muslim world by haughty merchants who were assisted by the military forces of colonial powers, causing the people of the East to draw back into their own world. The devout Muslim believes that anyone can be without modern comforts of the industrialized West and still be a superior being. As one expressed it, "Western civilization is a circle which widens its radius all the time, having no depth or height." For a true Muslim, richness resides not in material wealth but in spiritual and moral values. Western civilization had spiritual values, but they were for home consumption, not for export. It exported material goods and brutal treatment which were not neutralized by the self-denying work of a few missionaries.
The loss of the trade routes because of the discovery of the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope was an economic blow of great importance in the Muslim world. Up to that time all the goods of the Orient were brought by caravans which created prosperity along their routes. The prosperous commercial activities along the trade routes provided endowments for schools and mosques, but when the trade was lost cities became villages or disappeared, schools closed, scholars and artists were without support. Soon after this the Europeans gained a stranglehold on the economic life of the area which did not begin to be broken until after the first and second World Wars.
The rise of colonialism, like an octopus, clasped under its tentacles an unsuspecting and indolent Orient. When it awoke it found itself tightly in the grip of the invaders. To the struggle with the Western Powers has been added the conflict with the Communists of our own day. In this struggle it was the Turks who led the fight against colonialism and first threw off the yoke of the invaders, thus setting an example in the Muslim world. That is one of the reasons for the antagonism often expressed in the Western press against the Turks and Islam. It is also paradoxical but true that under Western colonialism Islam continued to spread, for the peace and order maintained by the colonial powers prevented tribal and racial conflicts which could have sapped the strength of the East.
The rise of industry in the West was scorned by the whole Orient, Muslims included, partly because of their disdain for the West, and partly because of their pride in their handicraft and their attachment to their guilds. Muslims were so bound to their own ways that they abhorred anything which came from the nonbelievers. At first this was not fanaticism but a loyalty and pride in their own things, but as it became exaggerated in the hands of the ignorant it was turned against themselves. The printing press, for instance, was not introduced into Turkey for a century and a half after its invention because of the opposition of those who wanted to preserve the fine art of calligraphy and feared that the scribes would lose their jobs.
Another factor In the backwardness of the Muslims was their neglect of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was in part due to the Muslim scholars who at the height of Muslim culture had translated, interpreted, discussed, and made their own the writings of ancient Greece which had been long forgotten in Europe. One important aspect of the Renaissance in Europe was that by freeing their learning from the scholastic system, by taking teaching and learning from the monopoly of the clergy and making it available to other classes, the way was opened to new knowledge and new sciences which secured for Europe progress which the Muslims did not, or would not, recognize. It was unfortunate that Islam did not recognize this aspect of the Renaissance. Of course, if the Muslims had held truly and sincerely to their Faith, they would not have had any need for a Renaissance.
In Turkey the Muslims neglected the Renaissance because of their pride in their brilliant past and their no less brilliant present, and because of their contempt for anything Western which remained indelibly in their minds from the times of the destruction and havoc of the Crusades. Another factor in the Turk’s scorn for the Renaissance was the ignorance and fanaticism which crept up on the ulama and contributed to the backwardness of the Muslims.
The Situation Today
Today there is an unmistakable change in the Muslim world and its relations with the West. In the past many Western writers ridiculed and belittled Islam. Today there are many intellectually honest and impartial Western scholars who are trying to study Islam without bias or preconceived ideas. The attitude of Muslims toward the West is changing, too. They recognize that they are behind the Western peoples in many ways and have much to learn from them, especially in technical fields. The prospects for better understanding between the East and West are good.
The attitude of Muslims toward themselves and their religion is changing also. For the past fifty years Muslim young men have been studying in the universities of the West and coming home with new knowledge and new conceptions of life. Although some come back infected with skepticism and unbelief (it is next to impossible to adhere to any other religion after having been even loosely attached to Islam), the majority come back with renewed interest in their own religion. They are no longer satisfied with the mere observance of the outward form of their religion but are looking for spiritual and moral guidance in Islam compatible with modern civilization.
Until the beginning of this century the Muslim intellectual could find the spiritual life he craved in the religious orders, but the orders and other religious institutions degenerated into the observance of outward forms which did not satisfy the intellectuals. For a time the intellectuals loosened their ties with Islam, but this did not last long and reaction has already set in. The recent publication of books on Islam of a high level and addressed to intellectuals is evidence of this revived interest. Also, there is continual improvement in the quality of the instruction in the higher religious schools by many teachers who have received their training both in the East and the West. All of this is evidence of the promising and vital interest of intellectuals in Islam in Turkey today.
It is often pointed out that Islam spreads among primitive people, but not among intellectuals. It is true that Muslims have for a long time known the way in which primitive people come to understand Islam and have been able to teach them the Faith. Today the way to explain Islam to intellectuals is being worked out in Turkey as well as in other Muslim countries, and as that is done there is no doubt that Islam will spread among the intellectuals of the world.