Between Istanbul and Hejaz: Müneccimbashi Ahmed Dede and Scholarly Connections and Mobility in the Seventeenth Century Ottoman Empire

By Didar Ayse Akbulut
Submitted to Session P6106 (Mobility of Scholars and Knowledge in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire: New Sources and Revisionist Approaches, 2020 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
One of the most persistent disjunctures that prevailed in the Ottoman studies has been that which is between the center and provinces. The bureaucratic organization of the statecraft, as well as the persistence of various regional peculiarities from language to local political organization may justify this departmentalization to a certain degree. However, there were also many other frameworks that conjoined seemingly dispersed people and ideas. The sufi orders and a shared scholarly ethos were two of such frameworks and the seventeenth century Ottoman historian and scholar Müneccimbashi Ahmed Dede’s (d.1702) life can be read within these frameworks.
Müneccimbashi is primarily known by his encyclopedic universal history that he started while employed as chief astrologer at the court of Mehmed IV. However, he passed the last decade of his life in Cairo, Mecca, and Medina and died as the sheikh of the Mevlevi convent in Mecca. His emigration was mainly due to the vicissitudes of politics in Istanbul rather than maybe scholarly or spiritual pursuits but eventually these years proved to be his most fruitful period, when he met a number of prominent Arab scholars including Ahmad al-Nakhli and Ibrahim al-Kurani, and tutored his own students. Most of his intellectual production are dated to this period, and they include the Arabic translation of Isam al-din Isfarayani (d. 1537)’s Persian treatise on metaphor and a commentary on it which seems to be extensively read, an extended commentary on Adud al-din al-Iji’s (d. 1355) tractate on ethics as well as shorter treatises on Quranic exegesis and mathematics intended for the use of his students.
At the turn of the eighteenth century Mecca and Medina were cosmopolitan towns with pilgrims streaming from all over the Muslim world and as such they functioned as intellectual hubs as well. This critical role of Hejaz has been better demonstrated for the eighteenth century when novel intellectual and political currents arouse from scholarly networks based there. Moreover, recent intellectual histories of the Ottoman Empire have started to adopt a broader perspective that is much more sensitive to the movement of people and ideas across geographies. Along the same lines, an account of Müneccimbashi’s scholarly activities will shed light on the connections between the Turkish speaking (Rum) and Arabic speaking parts of the Empire and help to answer questions like to what degree and in what ways these two intellectual milieus across the Empire were interconnected.