An Anthology of Ottoman Saints’ Lives

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. At some point I will add a more comprehensive overview of Ottoman hagiographic literature, drawn from my dissertation, The Many Friends of God in the Well-Protected Domains: Islamic Saints, Sainthood, and Practices of Sanctity in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire, 1500-1780.

One further note: everything I have presented here hails from an Islamic context. These are Muslim saints, though of course what ‘Muslim’ and ‘saint’ means in each individual example varies somewhat. In time I would like to add saints’ lives from other religious communities that inhabited the vast Ottoman world, though here I’m limited by my own linguistic competencies- Christian saints’ lives were produced in Armenian, Arabic, Slavic, Greek, and other languages, out of which I only work in Arabic and Armenian. In time I do hope to include some translated excerpts from some Armenian neo-martyrologies, and will keep my eye open for other sources I might be able to access as well. Ottoman linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity are part of what make the study of that empire’s history so fascinating, but they also add to the inherent difficulty, indeed impossibility, of any one person treating that history comprehensively.

i. Ottoman Majdhūbs/Meczûbsone of the most fascinating and pervasive forms of Ottoman sainthood was that of the ‘divine 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 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:

Nomads, Sex, Repentance, and a Sufi Saint

iii. Saints of Ottoman Constantinople/Istanbul and Anatolia:

A Moving Experience

iv. Saints of Ottoman Egypt:

A Picnic on Imam al-Shafi’i’s Dome