The following is a translated excerpt from a work by an Ottoman scholar writing in the first half of the sixteenth century, Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah. Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah wrote a number of works in Arabic and Persian (and perhaps in Ottoman Turkish-not sure on that though), including a tabaqat (biographical dictionary) on early Ottoman ‘ulama (scholars). All of the scholars have some sort of connection to the emergent Ottoman state structure, either as salaried teachers or muftis, judges in shari’a courts, or as waqf administrators. Many of the members of the ‘ulama Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah considers, however, were Sufis or otherwise mystically inclined, such as the scholar treated in the biography below. In fact, there is no sharp division between “mysticism” and the more “exoteric” religious sciences and practices. Indeed, as this example also shows, these scholars could reconcile, at least notionally, both exoteric, even secular demands, and more mystical impulses and desires.
There is a lot going on in this entry (which is richer in personal details than the majority of Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah’s entries-here, the richness is due to Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah’s personal connection to the subject), but I will only note one other aspect: the treatment of the central Islamic discipline of Qur’an interpretation. On the one hand, we see a very practical concern: Muhyi al-Din’s creation of a sort of introductory text-book for people new to the discipline (and, in the Ottoman context, people who would be unlikely to have any form of Arabic as their first language). On the other hand, we also see a deeply mystical approach to interpretation, reminiscent of some rather radical forms of Sufi hermeneutic and exegetical practice. Both of these “exoteric” concerns (Baydawi’s commentary is hardly mystical stuff) and a deeply, even controversially, mystical approach to exegesis seem to have coexisted for this scholar. I will leave it to the reader to imagine what all this might mean for how we think about the early Ottoman ‘ulama, and perhaps the ‘ulama as a “class,” particularly in relation to “mystical” groups and ideologies.
And among them is the Knowledgeable, the Doer, the Virtuous, the Noble, Mulla Muhyi al-Din Muhammad ibn al-Shaykh the Knower of God the Exalted Maslah al-Din al-Qujawi:
He read under the ‘ulāma of his land then joined to the service of Mulla al-Fadil ibn Afdal al-Din, then became a teacher in the madrasa of Khawajeh Khayr al-Din in Constantinople, and married the daughter of Shaykh Al-‘Arif bi-Allah al-Shaykh Muhyi al-Din al-Qujawi. Then the call of retreat and seclusion overwhelmed him, so he abandoned teaching, with a salary of fifteen dirhams per day in the way of retirement being appointed to him. And he sought to have it decreased, saying, “Ten dirhams is sufficient for me.” And he remained in his house, busying himself with exalted knowledge and worship. He was modest and humble, satisfactory in way of life, praiseworthy in behavior, and was beloved of the people of soundness. He used to purchase his necessities in the market himself and bear them back to his house himself, with the people wanting to serve him, but he was not satisfied unless he carried it out by his own hand, modest towards God and harsh on the lower self. And he used to transmit tafsīr in his mosque, sons of the land gathered to them, seeking to listen to his words, seeking blessings for themselves; many benefited through him. He wrote a marginal commentary on Baydawi’s tafsīr, containing and uniting in one place the benefits that were variously scattered in the books of tafsīr, with clear, easy interpretations in order to benefit the beginner. He wrote an explanation of al-Waqā’i fi al-Fiqh, an explanation of al-Farā’id al-Sarajia, an explanation of al-Muftāh lil-‘Alāma al-Sakākī, and an explanation of the famous qasida al-Burda. He died in the year 950 (1543).
He said, may God be merciful to him, “If a verse from the verse of the Magnificent Qur’an gives me difficulty, I turn to God—exalted is He—then my heart is widened until the measure of the world and the rising of sun and moon in it- I do not know which of the two is which. Then a light appears so that there is a guide to the Preserved Tablet—then I take from it the meaning of the verse.” He said—may God be merciful to him—“If I act according to firm intention, I do not desire sleep unless I am sleeping in the Garden. And if I act according to permission, this state is not present in me.” And he used to have great love towards this lowly servant [the author]. And he [the author] was part of a group that did not vaunt him and did not choose the appointment of judgeship without direction from him. And he had bid me to it [judgeship], and he related to me that one of his sincere companions had been a judge, had left judgeship for a time, then re-entered judgeship—and he was a sound, truthful man. “So I asked him about the cause of his re-entry, and he replied: ‘I had, through my judgeship, a connection to the Prophet of God, peace and prayers be upon him, and I saw him in a dream once every week. Then I left judgeship in order to increase nearness to him [Muhammad]. But after abandoning judgeship I did not see what I had seen while a judge. Then I saw [in a dream] the Prophet of God, peace and prayers be upon him, and said to him: “O Prophet of God! I abandoned being a judge in order to increase my closeness to you—but it has not transpired as I had hoped.” Then the Prophet of God, peace and prayers be upon him, said: “The relationship between me and between you was stronger during [your] judgeship than when you abandoned it, because you, when you were a judge, were occupied with the well-being (aslāh) of your self and of my community, but when you abandonded judgeship you were only occupied with the well-being of your self. When you increase in well-being (aslāh) you increase in proximity to me.’” The mercifully protected Mulla said: “I speak the truth of his words, and the man was truthful. So I advise you that you choose the judgeship and do good to your self and to others.” These are his words—may his secret (sirruhu) be hallowed.
Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah (Bayrūt, Lubnān: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʻArabī, 1975), 245-6.