The Stranger-King alla Turca: A Seventeenth Century Sufi Perspective on the Nature of Earthly and Divine Rule

By Aslihan Gurbuzel
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
Ottoman Empire;
13th-18th Centuries;
In its historical and juridical forms, caliphate and divine rule have been tightly bound with the person of the ruler. The caliph, as the leader of the Islamic world, was the descendant of the prophet through a chain of rulership as well as through descent from the same family. While mystical-theological notions of the caliphate allowed Ottoman sultans to circumvent the requirement of direct descent, the emphasis on the person of the ruler as the locus of moral perfection persisted in many political treatises.

An important historical shift in Ottoman political thought occurred with the increasing bureaucratization of the empire as of the late sixteenth century. This shift resulted in the re-location of sovereignty and political supremacy from the dynasty to the establishment. Increasingly, Ottoman authors referred to the institutions and legal practices of the empire as the pillar of perfect rule. Arguably, one of the most noteworthy intellectual trends brought about by this change was a two-tiered division of caliphate: formal and spiritual.

This paper investigates a Sufi exposition of the two-partite idea of caliphate though the work of a widely read Mawlawi author, ?smail Ankaravi (d.1631). Ankaravi’s work interprets authority through notions of caliphate, and through various narratives of rulership. An important narrative positioned the ruler as a transient stranger who stumbled upon rule by chance, and similarly left the throne by chance, while his court remained unfazed by his comings and goings. Through these motifs, I study how ?smail Ankaravi conceptualized just rule as enduring and eternal, regardless of the person of the ruler. In addition, I analyze the readership of ?smail Ankaravi and show the prominence of the scribal class among his readers. I discuss the potential appeal of Ankaravi’s discussion of impersonal rule for his particular audience of readers.