Political Discourse in Ottoman Sufi Hagiography

By Huseyin Yilmaz
Submitted to Session P5119 (Ruler of the East and the West: Notions of Universal Rule in Early Modern Ottoman History, 1400-1800, 2018 Annual Meeting
This paper examines hagiographic literature as the principal medium of political discourse among Ottoman Sufis from the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries. Since the inception of the Ottoman State, Sufi orders that expanded in Western Anatolia and the Balkans, whether in competion against the political order or in alliance with it, prefered to articulate their political ideals mainly in the form of hagiographic accounts of their master Sufis. These Sufi orders profiled their founding figures as patron saints, protectors, dispensors of power and authority, or even de facto rulers of the world beyond and above the Ottoman order. While some positioned themselves against the Ottoman rulership in outright defiance, some assumed a special attachment to and right over the Ottoman dynasty and the territories it ruled over. As expounded in hagiographies, Sufistic notions of authority rested on the cosmological assumption that the management of visible (material) and invisible (spiritual) worlds are inherently separate. In this dualistic view of the world, the Sufis demarcated the spiritual as their own reserve of authority, in competition with one another, with the claim that it rests above the material order. Apart from the theoretical expositions of mystical political views, hagiographies helped create an imagined reality that became part of Ottoman worldview among the ruling elite. More specifically, mystical visions of rulerships, whether framed in the vocabulary of messianism, axis mundi, or the caliphate not only transformed the way Ottoman caliphate was conceptualized but also made the rulership of spiritual space an integral part of it.