The Traces of Reverent Fear

The sixteenth-century Ottoman scholar Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah‘s biographical work, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah, is full of fascinating lives and vignettes, dealing with all sorts of people within the Ottoman realms, from powerful judges to humble rural mystics. While many of his entries are perfunctory, giving only basic data and usually some nice words about the subject’s piety, other entries include short stories, relate sayings or teachings of the person under discussion, and sometimes include observations from the author’s own personal experience. In the case of the following short life, we get most of those things, albeit in a short space. We see, among other things, the sort of spiritual and social capital and cache a single Sufi could draw upon, touching everyone from a young Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah to a burnt-out scholar to the Sultan himself.

Among them, the Knower of God the Exalted, Shaykh Muṣlaḥ al-Dīn al-Ṭawīl:

He was from the rural district of Naḥḥās in the province of Kastamonu. At first, he busied himself with exalted knowledge (al-‘ilm ash-sharīf)[1] and was well-known by virtue of his reception among the learned men of his time. Then love for Sufism arose in him, and he made the rounds among the shaykhs of his time, until he settled upon Shaykh al-Alhī, and persisted in his service until [the shaykh] died. In his presence he joined the Sufi path and achieved the furthest perfection. He was cut off from the people, stripped of the states of the world, without inclination towards the customs of the people. One saw in his outward visage the traces of reverent fear and sublimity, though he was in companionship kind and beautiful. As a child I saw him, and he brought about in me great reverent fear, and this reverent fear is in my heart up to the present.

He wrote an epistle in the time of the Sultan Bayazīd Khān and sent it to him, mentioning therein relinquishment from the throne and the chair. He mentioned in its conclusion that if there befell injustice in any region among the various regions, the upright people of that region would see in their dreams the Prophet, peace and prayer of God be upon him, sorrowing. And the upright people of the rural district of Naḥḥās saw the Prophet, peace and prayer of God be upon him, sorrowing, so they kept watch and found in that region great injustice. That injustice was described, and Sultan Bayazīd Khān lifted that injustice from the people of that region.

And it is related about one of the members of the learned class, that he said: I went into his [Shaykh Muṣlaḥ al-Dīn al-Ṭawīl] service once, and said: I want to abandon this path. He said: Which path? I replied: [That of] knowledge (‘ilm). He replied: Have you found a better path? Then he was silent. Then he said to those present: Do you know Sinān Jalabī al-Karmiyya’ī? They replied, Yes, we know him. He said: How do you know him? They replied, He’s an excellent judge. He said: He is a most perfect person of the Sufi path—but none of you know this his state! The one who has exalted intention perfects the path, be he a judge or a professor, though no one is aware of it, but he who does not have exalted intention, his lower self spurs him on to abandoning the path of knowledge, but that will not be made possible for him, and he is forbidden from the Path.

Among his many mystical states was [the following occurrence]: he unrolled his mat in a place close to the grave of Shaykh Tāj al-Dīn in the city of Bursa, and he recited Surah Ya-Sin every morning for forty days, and when those forty days were completed, he died, and was in buried in the place of that mat, his secret be sanctified.

Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá  Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah (Bayrūt, Lubnān: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʻArabī, 1975), 217-218. Trans. Jonathan Allen, 2012. No rights reserved.

[1] ‘Ilm here means the study of things such as jurisprudence (primarily), hadith, grammar, rhetoric, and so on- the standard curriculum of an Ottoman madrasa; it might most accurately be translated ‘exoteric knoweldge.’It is commonly contrasted with ma’rifa, or esoteric knowledge, also, perhaps most accurately, translated as ‘gnosis,’ which focuses on the personal, experiential nature of this knowledge, as opposed to ‘ilm, which is transmitted and standardized.

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