Caliphate Redefined: The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought

  • Book Title:
 Caliphate Redefined
  • Book Author:
Hüseyin Yılmaz
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  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Note on Translation, Transliteration, and Pronunciation xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • The Ottomans and the Caliphate 1
  • The Caliphate in the Age of Suleyman 4
  • The Caliphate as a Moral Paradigm 8
  • The Rumi Character of Political Writing 10
  • Outline of the Book 14
  • list Of aBBReviatiOns 21
  • ChapteR 1 The Discourse on Rulership 22
  • The Age of Angst: Turkish Vernacularism
  • and Political Expression 23
  • The Age of Excitement: From Conquest
  • to Exploration 31
  • The Age of Perfection: From Engagement
  • to Exceptionalism 45
  • Imperial Turkish and the Translation Movement 55
  • Four Ways of Writing on Politics 64
  • Ethics 69
  • Statecraft 75
  • Juristic Perspectives 80
  • Sufistic Visions 89
  • Languages of Political Thought 94
  • ChapteR 2 The Caliphate Mystified 97
  • The Ottoman Dawla 97
  • The Contest for the Caliphate 107
  • Rulers and Dervishes 112
  • [ viii ] COntents
  • The Ottoman Dawla Lost and Found 125
  • Converging and Diverging Spheres of Authority 131
  • ChapteR 3 The Sultan and the Sultanate 145
  • Reconciling Visions of Rulership 146
  • The raison d’etre of the Sultanate 150
  • Rulership as Grace from God 156
  • The Nature of the Ruler 167
  • The Question of Morality 173
  • The Status of Rulership among Humankind 177
  • ChapteR 4 The Caliph and the Caliphate 181
  • Gods Government 182
  • The Shadow of God on Earth 186
  • Prophethood as Rulership 188
  • The Sultanate as Caliphate 191
  • Prophets Successor and Gods Vicegerent 196
  • Rulership as Mystical Experience 200
  • The Caliphate as Unified Authority 206
  • From Sultanate to the Caliphate 215
  • ChapteR 5 The Myth of the Ottoman Caliphate 218
  • Gods Chosen Dynasty 218
  • Mystification of the Origins 228
  • Mehmed II and the Making of
  • the Ottoman Archetype 241
  • Suleyman I and Designing the Ottoman Epitome 251
  • The Seal of the Caliphate 266
  • Conclusion 277
  • Notes 287

The Myth of the Ottoman Caliphate

By the sixteenth Century, Ottoman mystics, scholars, and states-men envisioned their government to be the only rightful inheritor of the historical caliphate founded by the early Muslim community in Medina. Yet, this new caliphate was substantially different than its medieval formulations that gained currency under the Abbasids.

 In both popular imagery and elite ideology, the once juristic and theological conceptions of the caliphate were mystified and reformulated as an existential component of divine providence, attained in the spiritual sphere and manifested in the material realm.

 Millennial anxieties, eschatological expectations, messianic claims, the ascendance of spiritualism across all sectors of the Ottoman establishment, and encounters with the newly rising universalist empires in Eurasia led the Ottomans to reconceptualize the caliphate through the language of Islamic mysticism in response to political exigencies and in engagement with prevailing confessional manifestations and cultural norms of authority.

God’s Chosen Dynasty

If asked, who is Sultan Süleyman? Is he the leader of time or not? Then we answer as follows: No doubt, he is the leader of time. He is the defender of the religious law. So are his deputies and governors. The wise men of time serve him. So do the sultans of the Arab, the Turk, the Kurd and the Persian. He has many cities under his control as mentioned. The definition of leader suits him. He is the deputy of the Prophet in upholding the religion. Thus it is incumbent upon the whole community to obey him.1

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Myth Of the Ottoman  Caliphate

As exemplified in this passage by Lütfi Paşa, there was no doubt in the minds of political authors writing in this period about the legitimacy of the ruler in office and his relative stance among contemporary rulers. Lütfi Paşa and many others who took into consideration the Ottoman experience in for-mulating their conceptions of rulership advocated the uniqueness of Ottoman rulership by elaborating on the distinguishing features of the Ottoman dy-nasty.

 Lütfi Paşa’s profile of ruler was a juristic exposition of Ottoman imperial self- image, done by a retired statesman turned jurist. As the title “defender of the religious law” could be claimed by any ruler, Lütfi Paşa’s argument basi-cally promoted political might as the sole legitimizing quality of the Ottoman sultan over all others. He thus depicted Süleyman as an inheritor of the historical caliphate and the Prophet’s successor, as somebody whose authority extended over the entire Muslim community. Lütfi Paşa adopted this way of reasoning about the supremacy of the Ottoman sultan from the official Otto-man usage of time where defending the religion, having control over the ma-jority of the Muslim community, and having a deputyship to the Prophet were enumerated as principal distinguishing features of Ottoman rule in royal de-crees, formal letters, treaties, and dynastic histories.

Long before Lütfi Paşa wrote his work, a string of historians, including Aşıkpaşazade and Bidlisi, hinted at the unique qualities of the Ottoman dy-nasty as precedents for good governance. Ibn Kemal’s court- sponsored chron-icle of the Ottoman dynasty began with a section titled “On the superiority of the noble Ottoman sultans and the imperfectness of other rulers” that turned his historical narrative into a mirror for princes.2 In their elaborations on the uniqueness of the Ottomans, Bidlisi and Ibn Kemal, both decorated with shin-ing credentials in Persianate learning, were fully cognizant of the long war of words between the Ottoman and Timurid courts.

Their older contemporary, Nizami Bakharzi (d. 1503), for example, narrates a story that shows the Otto mans inferior to the Timurids even during the reign of Mehmed II whose fame could hardly be matched by any of his contemporaries. According to this probably fictive but telling story, in the presence of the notables of his ter-ritories, Mehmed II asked whether there is anyone who equaled him among the rulers of the world. They replied in concert that he had no equal thanks to his residing on the seat of the caliphate, noble genealogy that goes back to the Seljuks, reaching the zenith of learning, observance of religious law, under taking holy war, generosity towards the talented without discrimination, administering his entire realm under the jurisdiction of the administrative council, and having innumerable soldiers.

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To this laudation, some just people added that the Ottomans lacked a precious jewel like Abdurrahman Jami, the Timurids had a superior Chingizid lineage, and that the Timurid ruler had the authority to exercise independent reasoning on juristic questions (ijtihād) whereas Mehmed II only knew some philosophy.3

Throughout the sixteenth century, Ottoman intellectuals grew more confident about their own political and cultural identities, and treated the Ottoman dynasty as both the originator and manifestation of what makes the Rum special. Court historian Talikizade added a chapter to his otherwise humdrum chronicle of a military campaign that summarized the distinguishing attributes of Ottoman rulers in twenty articles, all of which could be found elsewhere in bits and pieces.4

From the seventeenth century onwards, long and systematic treatises were compiled as digests of imperial ideology and guiding principles of government with constitutional import.5

In the age of Süleyman, the spreading belief in the Ottoman dynasty’s extraordinariness among the ruling elite was accompanied with a distinctive identity and a sense of superiority that pervaded the vast literary corpus and artistic expressions of the period. This was a time when poets, historians, and scholars explicitly expressed their pride in their history, dynasty, language, arts, land, society, and institutions.6 The imperial establishment considered fessio al, and political identities, which led them to attribute special qualities to this lineage, and compare its superior characteristics to other dynasties. In historical imagination of the period, the very ruling dynasty was accorded a pivotal status in the formation of what it meant to be an Ottoman. This distinctive identity was largely confined to Asia Minor and the Balkans, and extended only to the imperial establishment in provinces. It was elitist and inseparably tied to the Ottoman dynasty. This identity found its most explicit expression in the newly emerging genres in Ottoman literature, particularly biographical dictionaries and universal histories.

Among them, Taşköprizade’s  al-Shaqāʾiq al- Nuʿmāniyya— the first of its kind to give brief biographies of notable Ottoman scholars and Sufi masters— included only people who be-longed to the cultural and political milieu of Asia Minor and the Balkans, leav-ing out scholars and mystics, for example, who lived and produced in prov-inces where Arabic or Persian was dominant. Similarly, the first dictionary of poets by Sehi (d. 1548) applied the same criteria as Taşköprizade and surveyed only poets who composed in Turkish.7 To be included in this cultural stratum one had to belong to one of the ruling institutions or converse in Turkish.

Both works were divided into sections according to the reigns of the Ottoman sultans, pointing toward the close association of this cultural identity with the history of the Ottoman dynasty. What preceded these biographical dictionaries in their approach, and perhaps served as models, was the first generation of great Ottoman histories commissioned by Bayezid II. The histories of Bidlisi and Ibn Kemal were divided into chapters corresponding to the reigns of Otto-man sultans.8

Incessant political conquests, imposing architectural monuments that became the distinguishing markers of the Ottoman space from Budapest to Cairo, and a flood of widely acclaimed literary output created a sense of triumphalism that shaped the self- perception of the Ottoman elite. As dis-played in the official correspondence of this period, the men of letters saw no equals in the East or the West. In royal decrees and correspondence it became customary to display the extent of Ottoman rule by enumerating dozens of distant lands now turned into administrative provinces that they knew only from the geographical literature a few decades before. To authors writing in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman experience seemed uniquely successful by all accounts, comparable to the universal empires of the ancient and medieval worlds.9

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The Ottoman ruler came to be regarded in the same category as Al-exander the Great and Chingiz Khan. The Ottoman lineage, which had always suffered from a sense of inferiority compared to the Chingizid or the Qurayshi descents, now established itself as a self- promoting lineage as noble as any other.10 Despite increasing criticism from scholars and statesmen about the malpractices in government, the Ottoman elite of the period not only took pride in their imperial expansion but in their state- building as well, particu-larly the military and the learning establishments.11

The contest for supremacy among the regional Muslim empires of the early modern period, most notably between the Ottomans and the Safavids, required stronger bonds between the literati and their patrons, and demanded that they compare and distinguish themselves from rival dynasties. Despite limited physical contact and geographical barriers, the Sa’dids of Morocco, the Mughals of India, and the Shaybanids of Central Asia also posed challenges to the supremacy of the Ottoman ruler.12 Both the Sa’dids and the Mughals were particulary well- tuned to the Sufistic and messianic repertoire of authority, legitimacy, and supremacy.13

 The Ottomans, however, never pursued a sys-tematic policy to establish themselves as the universal leaders of the Muslim community in the way the Abbasids did, and there was no project to revive the pre- Mongol caliphate, at least until the latter half of the nineteenth century. Yet, they claimed to be the leader of all Muslims and superior to other dynas-ties for waging war against the infidels and defending the realm of Islam. This was a legitimizing idea for the expansionist policies of the Ottoman state on all fronts in this period, a necessary ingredient of Ottoman policies not only against other Muslim dynasties but against the Habsburgs as well. No other Muslim dynasty could come close to the political might of the Ottoman state at the time of Süleyman.

Competing against the Roman Catholic Habsburgs at the heart of Christian lands was one distinguishing mark that no other Muslim dynasty could take credit for. Contemporary Muslim dynasties could redefine their ruling ideologies within the confines of the broader framework of Islamic and indigenous traditions. In portraying Süleyman’s supremacy, the Ottoman chancery, however, had to take into account the universalist ambitions and imperial imageries of Christian powers from Habsburgs to the Portuguese as well. Despite this unrivaled power, and because of the discontinuity in the universal leadership of the Muslim community, the Ottoman dynasty never

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