Divine Visions, Human Divisions: Intellectual Perspectives in Taşköprizade’s (d. 968/1561) Key to Happiness

By Ahmed Nur
Submitted to Session P6470 (New Directions in Islamic Intellectual History, 2021 Annual Meeting
Rel Stds/Theo
All Middle East;
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The Ottoman scholar and historian Ahmed b. Mustafa Taşköprizade’s (d. 968/1561) Key to Happiness and Lamp to Leadership (Miftāḥ al-sa‘āda wa miṣbāḥ al-siyāda) has long been utilized as a bio-bibliographical source. The structure and nature of this work, however, has been little scrutinized, particularly from the perspective of its classification of knowledge. Written in 1541 when Taşköprizade was a professor at the prestigious Sahn madrasas in Istanbul, Key to Happiness not only represents the most comprehensive classification of knowledge until its time but also reflects the concern of the author to chart the territory of knowledge for the Ottoman madrasa student as his primary audience.
This paper focuses on Taşköprizade’s formulation of the relationship between the philosophical and the religious sciences (reason and revelation) in Key to Happiness, while comparing it synchronically with the contemporary Ottoman classifications of knowledge and diachronically with earlier epistemological frameworks. Rather than treating exclusively philosophical or religious sciences, Taşköprizade lays side-by-side these parallel disciplines of attaining true knowledge. Following Fakhr al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210), scholars such as Ibn al-Akfānī (d. 749/1348) and Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1413) provide comparable formulations, in tandem with the parallel paths of seeking true knowledge, a perspective reflected in Taşköprizade’s twofold division of the sciences into those acquired by rational investigation (naẓar) and those attained as a result of spiritual purification (taṣfiya).
Taşköprizade’s synthesizing approach to the classification of the sciences, which structures Key to Happiness, enables him to consider alternative metaphysical standpoints within one work, acknowledging each methodological stance on its own terms. I argue that his integration of plural perspectives into a unitary whole reflects both the immediate Ottoman institutional and intellectual climate of managing the diversity as well as the broader trends in post-Avicennan Islamic intellectual history where paradigmatic philosophies with their absolute truth-claims gradually give way to perspective-oriented approaches. In this new way of doing philosophy, scholars engage in careful consideration of all arguments and evidence against each other, and claim one aspect of truth while acknowledging the possibility of others. I believe comparative and contextualized studies of scholarly production, in multiple forms, by the Ottoman authors, not only will contribute to the ongoing revision of the “decline” paradigm in the historiography of Islamic societies but also prove indispensable for understanding the changing notions and conditions of knowledge from medieval to modern times.