Articles and Translations

Ibn ‘Arabi and Ottoman Dervish Traditions: The Melami Supra-Order (Part one)

Victoria Rowe Holbrook

Victoria Rowe Holbrook is an American scholar and translator of Turkish literature and language. She studied at Harvard and Princeton, obtaining a PhD from the latter in 1985. Her subject was Near Eastern Studies. She won numerous fellowships and research grants in her academic career. She was attached to Ohio State University from 1987 to 2005, also teaching at Bilkent University, Koç University, and Bosphorus University in Turkey.

She is best known today for her translation of Orhan Pamuk’s novel The White Castle, which won the inaugural Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Other translations include: Beauty And Love by Seyh Galip (2 vols.); East West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey by Kader Konuk; The Other by Ece Vahapoglu; The New Cultural Climate in Turkey: Living in a Shop Window by Nurdan Gurbilek; Listen: Commentary on the Spiritual Couplets of Mevlana Rumi by Kenan Rifai. Her own book The Unreadable Shores of Love: Turkish Modernity and Mystic Romance won the Turkish Studies Association M. Fuat Köprülü Book Prize.

(Source: Wikipedia 2020) [/]


Articles by Victoria Rowe Holbrook

Ibn Arabi and Ottoman Dervish Traditions: The Melami Supra-Order | Part one

Ibn Arabi and Ottoman Dervish Traditions: The Melami Supra-Order | Part two

Dedicated to Abdülbaki Gölpınarlı’s youth

The Melâmî [2] are said to have emerged as a Turkish tarikat or sûfî “way” when Emir Sikkini walked into a blazing fire and came out having lost only his dervish robe and crown. This was in the Anatolian town of Goyniik,[3] after the death of Sikkini’s sheikh Hajji Bayram Veli c. 1430. From the fifteenth century until now the Turkish Melâmî have worn the normal clothes of their day, and employed none of the other accoutrement by which dervish orders in Ottoman times identified themselves in public.[4] Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240) has been associated with the Turkish tarikat both by the Melâmî themselves and in the popular mind.

The association is not one of initiatic chain (silsile); that is, no continuous connection between master and disciple leading back to Ibn ‘Arabi was invoked. Rather, Ibn ‘Arabi’s many references to malâmiyya in his Meccan Revelations (Futûhât al-Makkiyya) were often cited by the Melâmî in definition of their “way”. And they have been known as extremists in “the oneness of being” (vahdet-i vücûd; A. wahdat al-wujûd), a theory and practice which popular opinion attributed to Ibn ‘Arabi.[5] In the brief introduction to the Melâmî tarikat undertaken here, there will be no evaluation of the accuracy of individual figures or the order as a whole in representing Ibn ‘Arabi’s views. Rather, the association is taken for granted as an historical fact; comparative evaluation is postponed until terms of comparison may be more clearly defined. I will relate what is known about the beginnings of the Turkish Melâmî, give a brief outline of their history, and quote descriptions of their practice made by their members.

To forestall any confusion of terms, let me distinguish at once between usages of words derived from the Arabic root lâm-wâw-mîm, “to blame”. Melâmet (A. malâma),[6] the abstract term used in Turkish today, describes a spiritual state which has been defined variously over time; its usage has a long and diverse history.[7] In general, melâmet has been defined as a kind of deprecation of the self, whether this is taken as a denial of being to the self in a philosophical sense, or as a practice of behaving in such a way as to conceal one’s advanced spiritual states and draw upon oneself the censure of others. The late Abdiilbaki Gölpınarlı, modern Turkish historian of religion/mysticism and literature, has divided melâmet-associated practices into three historical periods. A “first wave” emerged c. the ninth century, probably around Nishapur. In this period adherents of melâmet, as a set of characteristics rather than name of an organised group, have been referred to variously as Mâlâmatî or Mâlâmî, and their “way”, as malâmitiyya or malâmiyya. Annemarie Schimmel, discussing Sulami’s (d. 1021) early treatise on the malâmatiyya, observed:

The ideal of the Malamatiyye developed out of a stress on ikhlâs, “perfect sincerity”; Ansârî [d. 1089] sometimes praises a person for his “perfect malâma and sincerity”… Muhâsibî [d. 857] had taught that even the slightest tendency to show one’s piety or one’s religious behaviour was ostentation.[8]

Spencer Trimingham, referring to the codification of initiatic chains (silsile) which characterized the formation of tarikats during the 11—13th centuries, contrasted “sûfîs and Malâmatîs”:

The distinction within sûfîsm between sûfîs and Malâmatîs now becomes defined, the sûfîs being those who submit to direction and conformity and the Malâmatîs are those who retain their freedom.

… The sûfî is concerned with tawakkul (“trust”; Qurcan, lxv. 3) and that to him involves inkâr al-kasb (severing the bonds of acquisition and personal action), with training, guidance, and even subjection to his shaikh, affirmed with oath and investment with a khirqa, regulated exercises (dhikr) and samâ’. All these the malâmatî rejects, at least theoretically. At the foundation of the malâmatî tendency is the absolute nothingness of man before God. Contrary to the sûfî, the true malâmatî conceals his progress in the spiritual life. He aspires to free himself from the world and its passions whilst living in the world.[9]

H.A.R. Gibb found “malamism” part of a tendency of opposition towards the established religious institution and “reaction against the absoluteness with which the theologians had formulated the logical consequences of the doctrine of ‘difference’, so separating man entirely from God”:

In its extreme form this protest was voiced by al-Hallaj [d. 922], whose execution made of him a symbol of self-sacrifice and death for the love of God, and for whose followers, in consequence, the “mullas” became impious ministers of evil. It may only have been small groups who maintained an extreme Hallajism, combining with it in some cases theosophical and incarnational doctrines. . .Yet some of these elements, like those of malamism, survived into sufi thought of later times, and fostered a tendency to relegate the formulas of the orthodox institution to a secondary place.[10]

Following the same sources consulted by the scholars quoted above, Gölpınarlı referred to this first wave as melâmetiye, but asserted that it originated earlier and became more widespread than has been previously assumed.[11] He noted that by the lOth/llth century melâmet was widespread among Turkmen,[12] and that soon thereafter it began to lose its original character and became, by the twelfth century,[13] associated in the popular mind with a broad range of esoteric movements. He concluded that Ibn ‘Arabi’s extensive references to malâmiyya in his Futûhât in the thirteenth century, and Seyyid Sherif Jurjani’s in his Ta’frifât in the fourteenth, demonstrate that “first wave” melet had a continuous existence up to the emergence of the “second wave” as a Turkish tarikat in the fifteenth century. He found in this continuity a partial explanation for the swift rise of the Melâmî tarikat to a position of prominence (Gölpınarlı, p. 16). This tarikat, which branched off from the Bayrâmi with Emir Sikkini, continues to the present day and is the focus of this paper. Their “way” is called melâmîye;e, and they are called the Melâmî. A third wave, originating in the nineteenth century in western Ottoman lands (Yugoslavia) under the influence of Seyyid Muhammed Nûr and also active today, will not be discussed here.[14]

It should be noted that after the founding of the Melâmî as a specific tarikat, melâmîye continued to be a set of qualities characteristic of the spiritual life which could be associated with someone whether or not he or she was a member of the tarikat. Halil Inalcık referred to the Melâmî as a generic category of “secret orders”, one to be distinguished from that of the “established orders”:

Among intellectual circles in the cities, mysticism took theosophical forms, while among the people it became the basis of popular religious orders whose beliefs were a compound of shiism and other esoteric doctrines and a source for the popular religious-social movements.

It is thus possible to divide the religious orders in the Ottoman Empire into two main groups. The first group consisted of the established orders, with lodges supported by the income from vakifs which sultans or great men had founded, with a clearly defined organisation and fixed rites and ceremonies. The most famous of these orders were the Naqsbendîs, the Mevlevîs, the Halvetîs, and their various branches. They usually settled in the cities and drew their novices from the upper ranks of society. Each order had its own standard and headdress and its own form of recitation and ceremony. Each one, according to the inclination of its beliefs, recognized a famous sûfî, saint or companion of the Prophet as its patron, and established his family tree. The secret orders, known usually as the Melamis or Melâmetis, comprised the second group… They avoided all forms of ostentation, all external organisation and symbols, and their forms of worship were secret and esoteric.[15]

Inalcık went on to describe the Melâmî as an individual tarikat which branched off in division from the Bayrâmi movement:

One group accepted sunnî Islam and the protection of the state. Hajji Bayram’s follower, Akşemseddîn, became şeyh to the conqueror of Istanbul and played an important part in the conquest. The other group was faithful to the traditions of the Mêlamîs… The melamis formed a close-knit group around a kutb [“axis”] . . .that is, a spiritual leader who according to mystic beliefs was the center of the universe, cognizant of divine secrets… They organised secret meetings, and tried the accused in their own courts. . .They had no wish to establish links with the state but rather required their members to work at a trade and earn an honest living. They condemned idleness and adopted the principle that “he who earns money honestly is beloved by God” (p. 192).

I have quoted descriptions rather than attempting a comprehensive definition myself because I find judgements about the character of Ottoman tarikats at present unstable; issues of canonicity in the classification of all aspects of Ottoman intellectual culture are in a state of flux in this post-revolutionary period those who write accounts of Turkish culture find themselves in now. What with Melâmî rejection of external forms, the outstanding material evidence of their existence as an individual tarikat is their initiatic chain (silsile). While Sikkini (the “Cutler”), who walked into the fire, was their first “axis” (kutb), their initiatic chain goes back through Hajji Bayram to Ebu Hamid Hamîdeddîn ibn Mûsâ Aksarâyî (d. 1408/810),[16] known as “Somuncu Baba” because he made his living in Bursa baking somun, a kind of bread.[17] On the occasion of the first prayers marking the opening of the Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) of Bursa in 1399, the Ottoman Sultan Beyâzid had arranged for the highly-influential şeyh Emir Sultan (d. 1429-30/833), who was also Beyazid’s son-in-law,[18] to lead the prayer.

This was a great occasion commemorating the latest Ottoman victory, one of many during the dynasty’s fantastically swift rise to empire in the fourteenth century. Emir Sultan announced to the waiting congregation that it would be inappropriate for him to lead the prayer and deliver the sermon while the “Succor of the Age” (Gavs-i azam) was in their midst, and indicated Hamideddin Aksarayi, Somuncu Baba.[19]

Somuncu Baba had been selling bread to the workers who built the mosque. He led the prayer and delivered a now legendary seven-fold commentary on the Fatiha, first chapter of the Koran. Molla Fenârî (d. 1430-31/834), who is traditionally distinguished as the first Ottoman “Sheikh of Islam” (Şeyhülislam),[20] was among those gathered in the mosque and spoke up, saying that Somuncu Baba had demonstrated his greatness with this commentary:

Everyone in the congregation has understood his first commentary on the Fatiha; as for the second, some of those here have been able to unravel and penetrate its meaning. Those who have understood the third are very few, and the fourth and subsequent commentaries are beyond our comprehension. Only Somuncu Baba knows these (Turyan, 162—3).

At this time Hajji Bayram was a teacher (müderris) at the Kara Medrese in Ankara. Like many others, he was attracted to Somuncu Baba, and abandoned his teaching post in order to follow him. Somuncu Baba left Bursa after the incident in the Great Mosque, which drew more attention to him than he preferred, and Hajji Bayram accompanied him to Damascus and Mecca, returning with him to Aksaray. After Somuncu Baba’s death, Hajji Bayram founded the Bayrâmi tarikat in Ankara as a combination of Halvetîyye and Naksbendîyye.[21] He and his followers laboured as farmers together and distributed alms to the poor. The famous Turkish poet Şeyhi was a disciple of Hajji Bayram.[22]

In the new Ottoman civilization coming into being in the West the near eastern institutions of the medrese and the tekke were re-founded on a parallel footing. Both may be seen as kinds of colleges, the medrese offering instruction to students with sufficient preparation in the “Arabic sciences,” according to established syllabi and leading to careers in law and education. The tekke dervish house was a center where masters recognized for their spiritual prestige and learning in any number of fields of learning accepted disciples and students on a basis of individual affiliation. Tradition has it that Osman (d. 1299), founder of the Ottoman dynasty, was the disciple of a sufi şeyh, Edebali,[23] and this tie between the tekke and the Ottoman sultanate was preserved, at the very least as a tradition. Osman’s grandson had the first Ottoman medrese built in Iznik in 1331, the same year of the conquest of that city, closely following the conquest of Bursa and first minting of Ottoman coins (Inalcık, pp. 166, 207.) These references to dates and events are intended to indicate the great importance attached by the Ottoman dynasty to both tekke and medrese traditions from the earliest years of their success.

Inalcık’s characterization of a tension between near eastern learned traditions represented by scholars the Ottomans imported from Seljuk and other Islamicate dominions on the one hand, and the eclectic, free-wheeling, and libertarian Turkmen-style sûfîsm on the other, is useful as a general starting point for thinking about the intellectual climate of the time. Ottoman ulemâ, or “learned” jurists and educators, travelled throughout the Islamicate world for study, to Egypt, Persia, Syria and Turkestan, and translations of basic texts from Arabic into Turkish were undertaken in the fourteenth century (Inalcık, p. 175). The more speculative of sufi philosophers had been favoured by the Seljuks, and the Ottomans found prestige in preserving that tradition. Inalcık remarked that Molla Fenari, mentioned above as having approved of Somuncu Baba’s Fatiha commentaries and as first Ottoman Sheikh of Islam, was deeply influenced by Ibn ‘Arabi; and although Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought was regarded as heretical among leading ulemâ around the Islamicate world, particularly in Egypt, his influence in Ottoman Turkish thought, whether in medrese or tekke, was pervasive.[24]

Gölpınarlı judged Hajji Bayram’s bridging of the two traditions, as a famous medrese-educated scholar who entered the tekke milieu, a significant factor in the extensive popularity his Bayrâmi tarikat so quickly gained. Hajji Bayram’s home Ankara had long been a center of Ahi trade organisations, and attracted both scholars of the medrese type and merchants and migrants of less literary education (Gölpınarlı, pp. 169-70).[25] With his learned status Hajji Bayram was able to appeal both to scholars like his disciple Akşemseddin, who succeeded him to found the Şemsiyye branch of the Bayrdmi order and become seyh to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II who conquered Istanbul, and to the illiterate with his simple Turkish hymns in the style of Yunus Emre.[26] Emir Sikkini, also known as ömer Dede of Bursa, was another of Hajji Bayram’s prominent disciples. He and Akşemseddin were of completely different dispositions. Akşemseddin has been seen to represent what in retrospect are termed near eastern learned traditions, and Sikkini, “the Cutler”, Turkmen tastes.[27] Hajji Bayram had predicted that, what with the coolness of their relation, only fire could distinguish between Akşemseddin and Sikkini (Gölpınarlı, p. 40).

After Hajji Bayram died in 1429-30/833 and Akşemseddin was recognized as his successor, the brotherhood gathered mornings and evenings for meditation; but Sikkini would sit alone in a corner of the mosque, not participating. One day Akşemseddin told Sikkini that if he did not join in, he would take the şeyh’s (Hajji Bayram’s) crown away from him. Sikkini replied that Akşemseddin might come to his house the following Friday after prayers; he would surrender robe and crown to Akşemseddin then. On the promised day Sikkini lit a great fire in the courtyard of his house; Akşemseddin and his followers came after the prayers. Sikkini danced (“waving and clapping his hands”) into the fire and emerged unharmed, only his robe and crown having burned (p. 41). After this, Sikkini was recognized as the Melâmî axis, and the initiatic chains of the two tarikats diverge, the Bayrâmi-Melâmî following the successors of Emir the Cutler (d. 1475-76/880). According to Ismâil Hakki Bursevî, the Celvetî tarikat was a third branch of the Bayrâmi, founded by Azîz Mahmud Hüdâyî (d. 1628-29/1038) .[28]

With that description of the Melâmî tarikat’s beginnings, I will give a brief outline of its development. During the sixteenth century the tarikat spread throughout central Anatolia, to Istanbul, and western environs of Edirne, especially among the Ottoman cavalry (sipâhî), a class which drew its income from timar, or grant of tax income of lands appointed by the Sultan. Gölpınarlı saw the tarikat’s popularity among the sipâhî as a function of rivalry with the Sultan’s Janissary slave army corps, who were affiliated with the Bektâshî order. According to Gölpınarlı, it was the unqualified acceptance by the Melâmî of vahdet-i vücûd (oneness of being) as primary principle, rather than a final mystery to be revealed after a lengthy course of ascetic exercise, that drew both medrese and tekke luminaries into the order (p. 170). The peoples of districts northwest of Edirne had been exposed to vahdet-i vücûd since the time of Bedreddîn of Sîmâvna (martyred 1420/823).[29] These kinds of characterizations are common, and imply a division in early Ottoman urban society between appeal for legitimation to medrese traditions, based on mastery of syllabi comprehending the “Arabic sciences”, and attraction exerted by oral traditions propagated through tekke milieux based on a canon of eclectic “knowledge” subsumed under such headings as vahdet-i vücûd.

Late in the sixteenth century the tarikat began to attract a coterie of intellectuals, poets, and highly-placed government officials. Such a development at this time is not unique to the Melâmî; it might be analyzed as an instance of the general urbanization of Ottoman society and so of the Turkish tarikats founded in Anatolia. With the influence of Abdullah Efendi, who wrote a commentary on Ibn ‘Arabi’s Füsûs, it spread to Arabia (Gölpınarlı, p. 171). As is the case with many of the Ottoman dervish orders, the Melâmî achieved their most brilliant extent at the beginning of the seventeenth century. A number of sheikhs, and a Şeyhülislam and Sadrıazam joined the tarikat. With Sarı Abdullah and his commentary on Mevlana Rumi’s Masnavî, a close association between the Melâmî and the Mevlevî was established, one which had become traditional by the eighteenth century. Tifli, Neşati, and Cevri were among the prominent Mevlevî artists to join the Melâmî in the seventeenth century.

The present forum does not permit detailed examination of Melâmî history or the reasons for the severe repression they suffered, which I will take up at another time. In the sixteenth century two Melâmî axes were executed for heresy, and the tarikat became known as the Hamzavî-Melâmî after the second of these, Hamza Bâlî (martyred 1561-62/969). A third Melâmî axis, Sütcü Beşir Ağa, was executed in 1662-63/1073, and in the eighteenth century the tarikat went completely underground.

The Melâmî came to be a “supra-order” by offering something beyond the normal Ottoman tarikat initiation. It is often said that the Melâmî begin where the other tarikats leave off. They have functioned at times as a kind of sheikh’s tarikat, a group comprised of those who had completed whatever course of progress was offered elsewhere. In so far as they did not employ the material and disciplinary accoutrement which to a great extent define a tarikat as such, Gölpınarlı found it inappropriate to call the Melâmî an order. Rather, he found that they constitute a “reaction” to the institution of the dervish order (1931, p. 204). I have tried to express this character of the Melâmî by calling them a supra-order.

Again avoiding generalizations made about Melâmî beliefs, I will quote statements of two prominent members describing the tarikat.

Lâ’lîzâde Abdülbaki Efendi (d. 1746/1159), most influential of historians of the Melâmî, wrote in the eighteenth century:

The Melâmî are distinguished by the noble saying: “I have saints [evliyâ] beneath my domes whom no one else knows.”[30] The aspirant of God the truth who is prepared and worthy for the melâmîye tarikat cannot follow [be the mürîd] of every guide [murşîd] or enter into the circle of every saint and perfected man. He is guarded by God the truth. When the time for guidance arrives, some talented aspirants are attracted to the Axis of the age [Kutb-ı zaman] and reach him themselves. Making intention and allegiance, [the aspirant] is accepted into the presence [of the Axis] and obtains whatever is his share. Some the Axis of the age invites himself and makes his disciples. To some others he assigns [tayin] special guides and teachers. In all the tarikats of the saints, guides seek and find aspirants who are prepared; divine custom continues according to this mode.[31]

Lâ’lîzâde went on to say that all the sheikhs recognize the Melâmî tarikat as “akreb-i tarîk”, the “nearest way” (to God). Noting that Ibn ‘Arabi praised the Melâmî repeatedly in the Futûhât al-Makkiyya, Lâ’lîzâde quoted from its fourteenth chapter, saying that the site of manifestation of all divine essence and qualities and acts is the universal spirit of the universe (Rüh-ı külli-yi âlem), the prophet Muhammed (Habîb-i ekrem); and that the pîr and guide of the Melâmî is the Spirit of Muhammed (Rüh-ı Muhammed) itself. “The axes of the age are their guides, and they know the author of the time (sahib-i Zaman) in person; they are guided by” him outwardly and inwardly. This honour is special to the Melâmî tarikat.”[32] Regarding Melâmî practices, Lâ’lîzâde wrote:

After the heart of the aspirant (tâlib) sincere in divine love has been gazed into, and guided and accepted in the way of guidance, the aspirant is charged with an inner state which they call “watching the heart” [gönül bekleme]. The traveller (sâlik) [on the spiritual path] strives to expel thought of all other than God from the heart. Emptying the heart to the degree attainable, none other than God is brought into the inner self. Outwardly and inwardly submitting to the guide, he/she travels [the spiritual path] according to the guide’s command. There are no special recitations [evrâd] or meditations [ezkâr]. The guide observes the aspirant’s potential and educates according to it. The traveller must love and obey the guide heart and soul, guard against revealing spiritual states and secrets to others and, observing the etiquette of sheriat and tarikat, converse with friends and fellow-travellers.

Every aspirant is different, and finds grace according to talent in God’s appraisal; the bowl encompasses what it can hold.

Every individual is the site of manifestation of a divine name. From before time [ezel] into eternity [ebed] the individual moves according to the demands of that partial name [ism-i cüz’î].

The Melâmî do not display miraculous behaviour and do not exceed in devotions; they suffice themselves with the sünnet and adopt the common image of the believer, and in private, they worship and obey God according to the requirements of Divine attraction [Cezbe-yi Ilâhi]. They have no set recitations special to periods and times. Their gatherings and converse are attention, vigilance, and silent remembrance [zikir]. For they do not remember God out loud in public. They do not use sufi terminology and technical terms in their converse or address, they speak to the degree of comprehension proper to those aspirants of their time, acting according to the saying, “Address people according to their degree of understanding.”[33]

Lâ’lîzâde did not mention the name of the Melâmî axis during his lifetime, and Gölpınarlı engaged in much speculation, productive for the light it shed on relations between the Melâmî and Mevlevî, during the eighteenth century, over the continuance of the tarikat. It will be enough for present purposes to note that the Melâmî remained so secretive that Gölpınarlı was unable to determine the course of their initiatic chain during this period, despite his correspondence with the son of the axis who died in 1922 or 1923, less than ten years before Gölpınarlı published his book.

Baha Doğramaci, disciple of the last known Melâmî axis,[34] Kemâlî Efendi (d. 1954), quoted his sheikh’s unpublished Allegiance of Truth [Biy’at-i Hakiykîye] on the manner of initiation practiced in the present century:

The traveller (sâlik) who wishes to enter this tarikat will be taken in fellowship (sohbet) for quite some time. When his or her worthiness is observed the traveller will be taken into seclusion (halvet) to be grafted (sic) unto the “Muhammeden Tree”. The traveller and guide (mürşid) sit facing one another on their knees, the traveller’s hands upon the guide’s knees and the guide’s hands upon the traveller’s hands. After giving the traveller the converse appropriate to discerned talent (isti ‘dat) and degree (mertebe), the guide asks whether the traveller accepts the “Sublime Way of the Melâmî” (Tarikat-i Aliye-yi Melâmiye). If the traveller agrees, the guide, after reciting the glorious verse “Verily those who plight their fealty to thee do no less than plight their fealty to God” [Koran 48/10], communicates its meaning in so far as possible and explains that this tarikat has seven degrees.

The first degree is “Unification of Acts” (Tevhid-i Ef’al). Citing the gracious verse “But God created you and what you do”, [Koran 37/96] the guide makes known that God the exalted created us and our acts. But because it is not easy to reject and refute one by one the acts of engendered things, the guide informs the traveller well that his action is an “Act of God the truth” (Fi ‘l-i Hak); but while an ugly action issuing forth from the self belongs to the self, a beautiful action originates in God the truth. How many are they who have at this point lost the straight way and stumbled into the miseries of the fire. For God, may He be exalted, who created us and our actions, created us capable of all things, and made known to us that we should attribute evil to our own selves and goodness to God.[35]

Therefore, when we do evil things we know we have fallen upon ourselves and should think it necessary to return to God the truth, and the struggle is this.

But can a servant of God’s who declares that every act is God the truth’s attribute an act to the self and so pretend to power of action. If so, in whatever act we feel our strength, power, will, and taste, that act is ours, it belongs to our self. That person who sees and knows God, may He be exalted, in his being, knows that no action can be performed by the self. Just as nothing can be said against a person while they are present, someone in God’s presence, that is, someone whose acts are annihilated in the acts of God the truth, cannot perform an evil deed.

In so far as action belongs to God the truth, and there is no one who can act but God the truth, is it possible to distinguish between the actions of the self and the actions of God the truth?

Yes, in any case, we will try to efface this duality. In so far as action belongs to God the truth, we should not attribute any action to ourselves. The way out of duality is this.

It may be said: while there is God the truth, what is the self, that anything should be attributed to it? Yes, we agree. While there is God the truth, there is no self. But someone possessed of a self (bir nefis sahibi) contends both that God the truth exists and that I have no self. In that case, what will someone say about the manifestation of acts resembling the self in the self claiming to be naught?

When the sun rises on a horizon, can darkness abide on that horizon? Does not the presence of darkness mean the absence of light? In that case can someone who attributes being to his/herself negate the being of God the truth?

It may be said: since all being is God the truth’s, what injury could my being and relation do to that being?

Yes, this is so. And neither do we fear that anything may injure God the truth. However, we do not want, having been nurtured with water, to be left like an animal crying out in thirst.

As rightful as is that animal’s cry who has been nurtured with water and suffers without it, just as rightful is the plea of that person who has been nurtured with God’s light and then been deprived of that light.

It is on this basis that the guide inculcates the traveller in divine unity, informing the traveller that he lacks being and that God, may He be exalted, exists in all being, and teaches him the meditation of the heart (zikr-i kalbî). That is, he orders his heart to continually remember God, may He be exalted. However, the traveller should be warned that if, after being occupied with remembrance of God in the heart for some time, he forgets the meditation, he should continue as soon as it occurs to him. If this forgetting should occur a hundred times during the course of one day, it will occur one time less the next day, and one more time less the following day, decreasing until a day will come when the heart, just as it once forgot God the truth, will forget everything but God. In the heart where once all other than God resided, now remembrance of God will reside. Once the heart is familiar with remembrance of God, remembrance of others cannot abide. With time the eye will see in another way, the ear will hear in another way. In sum, as remembrance changes, thought will change. As time goes by the traveller will not be able to see any being in the self that he or she should be able to do anything with that being.

For example, a rebel with a sword in hand will no longer be able to continue his rebellion once the sword is taken away. Just so, a heedless man who supposes he exists by virtue of his own being will, of course, be unable to do anything once he has rejected his being.

The traveller progresses in the unification of acts (tevhid-i Ef’al) and, witnessing that all actions he perceives consist of God the truth’s self-disclosures of His actions, [the traveller] becomes the site of manifestation of “The Self-disclosure of Acts” (Tecelli-yi Ef’al). As a result, the traveller emerges from his own acts, that is, denies action attributed to the self, and affirms the Act of God the truth. They call this “Annihilation of Acts” (Fena-yi Ef’al) The traveller who attains this degree enters the “Paradise of Acts” (Cennet ‘üt-Ef’al).

After this the traveller is inculcated in the stations of “Unification of Qualities” (Tevhid-i sifat), “Unification of Essence” (Tevhid-i zât), “Coincidence of Plurality” (Cem’ül-cem’), “Presence of Co-incidence” (Hazret ‘ül-cem’). The station which comes after this is the station of “Or nearer” (Ev edna) [Koran 53/9] in which the guide inculcates the traveller, accord­ing to his talent, in the “Muhammeden Legacy” (Vekâlet-i Muhammedîye), but this cannot be expressed by pen. Such a person has finally advanced to the degree of “Deputy of God” (Halifetullah) and “Perfect Man” (Insan-i Kâmil).[36]

Doğramaci commented that the Melâmî have not, like other dervish orders, observed practices of recitations made at set hours or meditations assigned by the şeyh. The basic practice of the tarikat is fellowship, converse (sohbet). The role of contact between guide and aspirant is primary. He asserted that it is clear from Kemali Efendi’s above statement that the tarikat’s method is based upon vahdet-i vücûd, and emphasized that this mystery, the last teaching of other orders, is the first teaching given to aspirants in the Melâmî tarikat (p. 37). The emphasis Kemali Efendi placed upon individual perception in this discourse is not the exposition of a theory but a discussion of actual experience.



Silsile of the Melami Tarikat[37]

Kemali Efendi’s silsile is traced through Seyyid Abdülkadir al-Belhi, the Hamzavî-Melamî, and Bayrâmî-Melâmî:


 Axis Deceased
1.Seyyid Abdülkadir al-Belhî 1922/1341
2.Seyyid Bekr ar-Reşâd Efendi 1875/1292
3.Ibrahim Bâbâ-yi Velî 1848/1264
4.Hafiz Ali Efendi 1831/1247
5.Şeyh Abbas Efendi 1806/1220
6.Zâim Ali Ağa 1765/1178
7.Dilâver Ağazade ömer Vahid 1759/1172
8.Seyyid Halil Ağa 1725/1134
9.Sadrazam Şehid Ali Pashamartyred1719/1128
10.Şeyhulislam Paşmakçizade Seyyid Ali Efendi 1715/1124
11.Bursali Seyyid Hâşim 1678/1088
12.Sütçü Beşir Ağamartyred1663/1073
13.Hajji Bayrâm Kaba’î 1628/1037
14.Idris-i Muhtefî 1615/1024
15.Hasan Kabaduz 1599/1010
16.Hamza Bâlîmartyred1561/969
17.Hüsameddin Ankaravî 1557/964
18.Şeyh Ahmed Sarbân 1546/952
19.Ismâil Ma’şukimartyred1529/935
20.Pîr Ali Aksaraîi 1528/934
21.Bünyamin Ayâşi 1523/929
22.Emir Sikkînî 1476/880
23.Hajji Bayrâm Velî 1430/833
24.Ebu Hâmid Hamîdeddîn Aksarâyî 1408/810


The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1990

This paper was first delivered at the Fourth Annual Symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, “Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi, 1165–1240 A.D., His Life and Times”, Berkeley, California, 1990. It was first published in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. IX, 1991.

Part Two of this article is available here.


[1] This paper was first delivered at the Fourth Annual Symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society, "Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, 1165-1240 A.D., His Life and Times", Berkeley, California, 1990.

[2] Although some of the foreign words used here are of Arabic or Persian derivation, when I refer to their usage in the Ottoman and Modern Turkish language, as I do here, my spelling follows Turkish usage, differing only in distinguishing between the characters hamza and ayn. For the names of persons, long vowels are usually marked on first usage of a word only. If, however, I refer to the title of a book in Arabic or Persian, or a usage therefrom, I employ standard transliteration from those languages. [Unfortunately these distinctions are not conveyed in this transferrance to the internet.]

[3] Göynük is about half-way between Eskishehir and Adapazari, some 150 miles northwest of Ankara.

[4] San Abdullah, Semeret’ül-Fuâd (Istanbul: 1288/1871-2), pp. 241-4, and Baha Doğramaci, Kemâli Divân’indan Aşk Sızıntıları (Istanbul: Divan 1977; 3rd edn), p. 38. For other accounts of Emir Sikkini and the fire see Abdülbaki Gölpınarlı, Melâmîlik ve Melâmîler (Istanbul: Devlet, 1931), pp. 40-2.

[5] For the problems involved in this attribution, see William C. Chittick, "Rumi and Wahdat al-wujûd", The Heritage of Rumi, A. Banani and G. Sabagh (eds), (Cambridge: C.U.P., forthcoming).

[6] The "e" "a" discrepancy is a difference between Turkish spelling and transliteration from Arabic, and the presence or absence of a "t", a difference between the grammatical abstract reflected in usages of various authors.

[7] For opposing views on its definition, see Gölpınarlı, pp. 17-21, and Spencer Trimingham, The Sûfî Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), Appendix B: "sûfîs, Malamatis, and Qalandaris", pp. 264—9.

[8] Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam. (Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina, 1975), p. 86.

[9] Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, pp. 13, 265.

[10] Hamilton A. R. Gibb, "The Structure of Religious Thought in Islam", Studies on the Civilization of Islam (Princeton: Princeton U., 1962); originally published in The Muslim World 38, 1948, pp. 17-28, 113-23, 185-97, 210-11, 280-91.

[11] Gölpınarlı, tracking connections between personages described in Abû’l-Qâsim al-Qushayrî (d. 1074), Ar-Rasâ’il al-Qushayriyya (Cairo: Bulak, 1284); ‘Ali ibn ‘Uthmân al-Hujvîrî (d. 1071), Kashf al-Mahjûb (Istanbul: Darulfiünün Kütüphânesi. Yildiz, No. 245); Farîduddîn ‘Attar (d. 1220), Tadhkirat al-Auliyâ’ (Leiden: Brill, 1905); and particularly Maulânâ ‘Abdurrahmân Jâmî (d. 1492), Nafahât al-Uns (Istanbul: Mürat Molla K., No. 1302), reached conclusions on these points differing with statements made by Qushayri and Hujviri, who trace it to Abu Sâlih Hamdûn ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Umâra al-Qassâr (d. 884). Citing Nafahât, he found Najmuddin Kubrâ (d. 1220) representative of melâmet, saying Kubra received this "joy" (T. nes’e or nesve, fr. A. nashva) through Abu Najîb Suhravardi (d. 1168) from Ahmad Ghazâlî (d. 1126), who in turn received it from Abu Bakr Nassâj, and he through Abu Qâsim Gurgânî from Abu ‘Uthmân Maghribî and Abu ‘Qasim Muhammad al-Junayd (d. 910). Citing an anecdote from Shamsuddîn Ahmad al-Aflâkî, Manâqib al-‘Arifîn (3/534 in Yazici’s edition) which is repeated in Nafahât, Gölpınarlı asserted that Rumi, connected with the Kubrâviyya through his father, and Shamsuddin Tabrîzî exhibited this "joy".

[12] Citing from Nafahât Mire-yi Nishaburi, Muhammed Ma ‘shuk Tûsî, Ali Ubû, Sheikh Sulayman Turkmani, Sheikh Ali Kurdi, Kadibulban Mavsili, and Sheikh Rayhan (1931, p. 15). Since Gölpınarlı used an Istanbul manuscript, I do not repeat his page references here.

[13] Citing from Nafahât La’l Shahbaz Qalandar and Jami’s distinction between malâmatîyya and Qalandariyya.

[14] See Gölpınarlı, pp. 231-357.

[15] Halil Inalcık, The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600, trans. Norman Itzkowitz and Colin Imber (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1973), pp. 190-1.

[16] And thence by the "Golden Chain" (Silsilet’üz-zeheb) through Hazret-i Ali to the prophet Muhammed. My source for the Melâmî silsile is Doğramaci’s preface to his edition of the collected poetry of Kemâlî Efendi, cited in note 4; this is the only source I know for the complete silsile, which I have listed in an appendix at the end of this article.

[17] He is likewise known as "Ekmekci Koca," and as Şeyh Hâmid-i Veli and Kayserili Hamideddin. His biography can be found in Sarı Abdullah, p. 227, Lâ’lîzâde’s Sergüzeşt (see below), and the Shagâ’yig al-nu’mâniyya of Taşköprülüzâde Ahmed (Gölpınarlı, 33, n.2).

Another modern source for his biography and those of other figures of spiritual influence is the kind of book found by travellers to historical sites in Turkey which brings together the biographies of people associated with the site or city. These books are found side by side with more international-style guidebooks, and may uncritically collect oral traditions or be doctoral theses combining oral tradition with philological techniques, as in the case of Hasan Turyan, Bursa Evliyalan ve Tarihi Eserleri (Bursa: öner, 1982). According to Turyan, he was born in Kayseri, travelled to study in Damascus and Tabriz, and in Erdebil became the disciple of Hoca Alâaddin Erdebil, a descendant of Şeyh Safiyeddin Ishâk, before coming to Bursa. It should be noted that a connection by initiation with "the Erdebil sufis" is proverbial for many influential figures in Anatolia during this period. Turyan also informed the reader that a district of Bursa lying below the Mosque of Molla Fenari is named "Şeyh Hamit Mahalicsi" after him, and that his house, containing a meditation cell (çilehânesi) and two small ovens for baking bread, is located on the west side of the street leading from the Mosque of Molla Fenari to Ivazpasa (pp. 159-60).

A similar kind of work combining pious enthusiasm with academics is Bursa’da Medfun Osmanlı Sultanları ve Emir Sultan (Istanbul: Marifet, 1981) by Hüseyin Algül, a professor at the Islam Institute for Advanced Studies in Bursa. Another type of such eclectic scholarship is M. Ali Cengiz, Yüksel Adigüzel, Mehmet Gülsere, Somuncu Baba (Şeyh Hamid-i Velî), Şeyh Hamid-i Velî Camii Ihya ve Onarım Derneği (Ankara: Ajans-Türk, 1965).

[18] Seyyid Şemseddin Muhammed ibn Ali al-Hüseyni al-Buhari, known as Emir Sultan.

[19] Hamideddin Aksarayi was sent to Anatolia by Şeyh Safiyyeddîn Erdebîlî (d. 1334) founder of the Safaviyye tarikat and forebear of the Safavî dynasty (Gölpınarlı, p. 33). See note 16.

[20] The highest position in the legal/educational establishment (ulemâ) which, along with the sultanate and the dervish orders, may be counted one of the three major social institutions of the Ottoman Empire.

[21] Gölpınarlı, p. 34; see also Doğramaci, p. 37. Gölpınarlı mentioned among the sources for Hajji Bayram’s biography Tahir Bursavî, Hacı Bayrâm Velî (Istanbul: Mahmut B., 1331).

[22] E.J.W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry, 6 vols. (London: Luzac 1900-09), 1:298, quoting Latifi’s tezkire.

[23] Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (New York: Morrow Quill, 1977), pp. 23-4.

[24] Davüd of Kayseri, director of the first Ottoman medrese, was author of a commentary on works of Ibn ‘Arabi; Şeyhülislam Kemâl Paşazâde (d. 1534) issued a fetvâ approving all of Ibn ‘Arabi’s works. See Inalcık, pp. 199-200.

[25] For Hajji Bayram’s silsile, see Gölpınarlı, pp. 37—8, and his article "Bayrâmiye" in Islam Ansiklopedisi, 12 vols. (Istanbul: Milli Egitim,1940-78).

[26] For examples see Gölpınarlı, pp. 35-7.

[27] Gölpınarlı, p. 40, after Sarı Abdullah, p. 241.

[28] Hüdayi was the halife of Üftâde (d. 1580-1/988), himself a disciple of Hızır Dede, halife of Hajji Bayram. See Gölpınarlı, "Bayrâmîye," Islam Ansiklopedisi.

[29] Inalcık interpreted "the revolt of Şeyh Bedreddin. . ., the foundation of the Bayrâmî order of dervishes, and the spread of the Hurûfî movement in the Ottoman Empire" as signs of the "social and political upheaval and reaction, with heretical religious movements spreading throughout Ottoman territory, and great religious and political uprisings" following Beyazid’s defeat and capture by Timur at Ankara in 1402. He remarked that Bedreddin "derived his mysticism mainly from Ibn al-‘Arabi, and we know that he wrote a commentary on Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Fusûs al-hikam" (pp. 188-9). I will note here that Bedreddin studied with Seyyid Sharif Jurjânî in Cairo; see "Bedreddin", Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı Ansiklopedisi (Istanbul: Dergah, 1977-, 6 vols. so far), and "Bedreddin Simâvî", Islam Ansiklopedisi.

[30] Awliyâ’î tahta gibâbî lâ ya’rifuhum ghayrî.

[31] I translate Doğramaci’s quotation from page 143 of Lâ’lîzâde’s treatise Evsâf-i Tâife-yi Melâmiye ve Tarik-i Bayrâmiye (1977, pp. 31-2). Doğramaci gave no publication information on the treatise. Another work by Lâ’lîzâde, Sergüzeşt-i Melâmiyye, was printed in Istanbul, but no publication date is recorded in the edition. Gölpınarlı mentioned a MS of the
Sergüzeşt calligraphed in 1175 a.h./1761-2: Millet Kutüphanesi, Tasawuf No. 1023.

[32] Lâ’lîzâde, Evsâf-i Tâife-yi Melâmiye ve Tarik-i Bayrâmiye

[33] Doğramaci, pp. 32-3 (quoting Lâ’lîzâde, p. 164).

[34] Kemâlî Efendi is the last deceased axis of the Melâmî. Traditionally, the identity of the axis is not made public until after his/her death, and so the identity of the present axis is not publicly known.

[35] Here Kemâlî Efendi quotes the saying: Man ‘asâbaka min hasanatinfa min

Allah va man ‘asâbaka min sayyi ‘atin fa min nafsika.

[36] Doğramaci, pp. 34—7.

[37] Ibid., pp. 39-40.