An Anthology of Ottoman Saints’ Lives

The street-facing window (for easy transmission of bereket) of an Ottoman saints’ shrine in modern-day Istanbul, this one much restored and rebuilt but dating back to the sixteenth century.

One of my primary goals for this site is to bring together in one place translations of hagiographic texts (that is, writings about saints) produced in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Unless you read the original languages (Arabic and Ottoman Turkish mostly) or modern Turkish, such texts are basically inaccessible. Yet, alongside their historical importance and their potential resonance in contemporary Islamic piety and practice, they’re really fun. True, I am a little biased, but I think you’ll agree with me after perusing some of the stories and accounts I’ve translated and offered here. The following is a list, with the titles, links to the selections, and a short description, of all of the Ottoman hagiography I’ve featured here. I will continue to add to this list as I produce new translations.

One further note: most of these lives are of Muslim saints, though I have begun including the lives of Christian saints, an inclusion that is contingent on my own language competencies or the translations of others.

i. Ottoman Majdhūbs/Meczûbsone of the most fascinating and pervasive forms of Ottoman Islamic sainthood was that of the ‘divinely drawn’ saint, figures who ranged from incredibly important saints such as Abū Bakr of Aleppo- who would become the veritable ‘patron saint’ of that city in the Ottoman period- to individuals, such as the hermit of Ya’bad in Palestine, whose lives are recorded almost by chance. These saints were at once marginal and central, revered by many, rejected by others, but in any case intimately involved with the quotidian life of city and of countryside.

The Hermit of Ya’bad and His Marvelous Coffee and Good Counsel

Ottoman Women and the Lives of Saints, iii.: The Majdhūb and the Pregnant Lady

Ottoman Majdhūb/Meczûb: Two Stories

Mystical Insight and Everyday Life in Early Modern Aleppo

A Mad Saint, a Dervish, and a Flash-Flood

Tobacco and the Syrian Majdhūb

The Thought of Fishing

ii. Saints of Ottoman Syria and Iraq:

No More Notebook for Shaykh ‘Alwān

Nomads, Sex, Repentance, and a Sufi Saint

On Commentary and its Uses in the Ottoman World

Ottoman Women and the Lives of Saints, i.: Stampeding Livestock and Saintly Friendships

iii. Saints of Ottoman Constantinople/Istanbul and Anatolia:

A Moving Experience

Şeyh Hasan’s Momentous Trip to Üsküdar

The Lion, the Lady, and the Dervishes: Şeyh Hasan Ünsî’s Transformation

Mehmed Aǧa’s Miraculous Deliverance From Balkan Bandits

Derviş ‘Ömer’s Mother Mocks a Saint

Ottoman Women and the Lives of Saints, ii.: Money Trouble and a Sleep-Talking Son

Shaykh ‘Alā al-Dīn Goes on Campaign

A Saint of the Rural Road in Ottoman Anatolia

iv. Saints of Ottoman Egypt:

A Picnic on Imam al-Shafi’i’s Dome

v. Ottoman Christian Saints:

St. Paisius Loves Grapes

The Khan and the Vardapet (actually Safavid, but just across the Ottoman frontier so close enough!)

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