In Search of Osman Fazlı

A talk by Christopher Ryan, first given at Chisholme House, October 2003

'Man does not possess anything else but his sensibilities
as his real organ of intelligence
and without Divine action man cannot even use his memory
which is his sacred treasury of experience acquired long ago.
The initiate, the saint, the insani kamil,
is he who possesses the faculty of being able to recognise
the true non-existence of his faculties of thought
and his own impotence in putting them in motion.
It is he who leaves all the 'space' to God
and who passes all his life in controlling his intimate faithfulness,
in actions, 'thought' or in the acts that materialise them.
It is he who prays constantly to God,
even if it be only by a breath or by a movement of the heart,
when he perceives the natural and constant phenomena of thought.'

  • Osman Fazlı

In setting out the life and historical setting of the 17th century Ottoman saint and sufi, the Celveti sheykh known as Atpazarı Osman Fazlı-ilahi Efendi, it is our hope also to attract light upon his inner meaning. As we shall see, Osman Fazlı certainly saw what the Chinese call 'interesting times'. His response to the needs of his particular era, informed as it was by his education in the Unity of Existence under the direction of Sheykh Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, if God wills, may illuminate our own, no less interesting, times.

It would not be possible to comprehend the actions of a mystic such as Osman Fazlı without first establishing a sense, or some small taste at least, of what we might call the mystical and divine converse; so that, like Osman Fazlı, we place our trust in the Divine to guide and inform on the way. Such was this converse a prerequisite for a mystic such as Osman Fazli, that he would not take a step without it being in accordance with the order from his Lord to act. So, in entering upon such a delicate discussion as concerns a person's worldly existence, tact demands that we too allow ourselves to be placed under this order, accepting that the only actor is the Real. For if, in our inquiry, we lose sight of the real Author of events here, we risk falling into opinion regarding the pros and cons, the whys and wherefores etc., of his actions, and thus become judges of saints, and by contraction, of God, which God forbid.

How, then, is the intimate converse of the servant who, in the way of the Sheykh al Akbar, serves not simply his personal lord, but the Lord of lords, being the place of collectivity of all the Divine Names. The place where, in Ibn 'Arabi's words, '...if there were no names, the Named would appear' [1] for, 'Man is not totally collected in his existence except if he face the One and Unique God with singularity and totality and completeness and with the spiritual will that appertains to the Absolute Ipseity; in this way only he is divorced from all conditions' [2]

Ibn Arabi tells us, very early on in our studies, how his first teacher, the great, unlettered sheykh Abu Ja'far Al-Uryani, exhorts his young student, saying 'If you will shut out the world from you, sever all ties and take the Bounteous alone as your companion, He will speak with you without the need for any intermediary.' [3] We are told that the young Ibn 'Arabi followed this course until he succeeded. Perhaps Osman Fazli took the same course, for we may be certain that such advice, given at the beginning of Ibn 'Arabi's own studies, is not accidental, and is directed to all who would learn in the mashrab, the way or manner of drinking, of unity. Equally, God's speaking face to face with his servant is also of this manner, this mashrab, as we shall discover as Osman Fazlı's story unfolds. And so, with this proviso, 'taking the Bounteous alone as our companion', and invoking, with God's permission, the spiritual influence, himma, of our saint, we may now begin our journey, spiritually and historically, into Ottoman lands.

Shumnu is a small industrial town in present day, north east Bulgaria. It has coal mines and an old aluminium factory. In Ottoman times, during the reign of Sultan Bayazid II it gave its name to Shumnu cheese, which was sold in the markets of Istanbul. Then, in 1855 Shumnu was connected to the telegraph and became part of the first global communication network linking London and Bombay. Here, on 7 July AD 1632, 19 Zilhicce 1040 A.H, Osman Fazlı was born.

His father Seyyid Fethullah Efendi was himself a learned person who was so concerned that his son should have as good an education as possible, that he undertook to educate him himself. According to Ismail Hakki Bursevi, who writes fondly of his teacher Osman Fazlı in his history of the Celvetiyye Order, his father was also 'a person of very severe temperament'.[4] Osman Fazlı's father died when he was only ten or eleven years old. This event evidently hit the young Osman quite hard. It seems possible that for a while he lost his direction with regard to his studies. Then one day as he was wandering in the Shumnu market place, an incident occurred which brought him back on track. He noticed a itinerant poet standing in front of a coffee shop playing the saz and reciting verse. The poet's words were praising the real value of spiritual knowledge and learning. Something in this recital must have stirred deep in the being of the young Osman Fazlı, for, resolving to further his knowledge and enter upon a spiritual way, he immediately went home and begged his mother's leave to go to Edirne. Of course, she gave her permission and off he went.

Edirne, in Thrace, was the second capital of the Ottoman Empire, after Bursa. For a long time after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 it remained a favourite of the Sultans, not only as the base camp for military campaigns into Europe, but because of the splendid hunting in the surrounding forests. And as an imperial city it was a thriving metropolis full of mosques, medreses and tekkes. Here in Edirne, the young Osman soon found his way to the classes of Saçlı Ibrahim Efendi. Ibrahim Efendi, who since an early age had been a companion of the young Sultan Ahmet I, and also a pupil of Aziz Mahmud Hudai, the founder of Celvetiyye Order, now represented the order in Edirne.[5] As Ismail Hakkı tells us[6], Ibrahim Efendi recognised the predisposition of this youth, and feeling he would be unable to educate him himself, he sent him on to Istanbul, to the main Celveti tekke, the Hüdai Dergâh in Uskudar.

When Osman Fazlı reached the great imperial city, Ismail Hakkı writes, "because Mes'ud Çelebi, who was Hazret Hüdai's grandson, and who held the principal's position (makam seccadesi) in the dergah[7] was a holy ecstatic (meczup)[8] and incapable of giving spiritual guidance, this young man [Osman Fazlı] submitted to the tutelage of Zakirzade Abdullah Efendi, an old man who was one of his pupils."[9]

Ismail Hakkı continues: "My sheykh, Osman Fazlı Ilahi, explained thus: 'The moment that I came into his presence and saw his face, an inspiration came into my heart and I said, 'Now I have found my sheykh.' And Zakirzade spoke thus: 'At last a student with real certainty in God has come to us - For so many years we have performed this service here without coming across such strength of spirit as this.' " He evidently saw that Osman was not any run of the mill student, and later said to him that he had the natural disposition to the way of Sheykh al Akbar Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi.[10] He used the word 'mashrab', meaning 'way or place of drinking'.

We see this manner, this 'mashrab' exemplified in a story from this period. One day, Zakirzade asked some of his students to perform some task, but they were all slow in coming forward. Young Osman, who was nearby, volunteered without hesitation. But his teacher pointed out that if he did the job it would take him away from his studies. Osman Fazlı's reply showed that he had comprehended what is perhaps the first and last lesson of the Way, that of service. He told his teacher, 'Even if I knew that I would receive the knowledges of this world and the next, I would still prefer to perform your honourable service.' This response sat well with Zakirzade, who recited and then blew over his new student the following prayer, 'May God, whose Name be exalted, apportion to you the knowledges of this world and the next.'

Later, Osman Fazlı revealed that indeed, following this prayer of his sheykh Zakirzade, 'all the knowledges were inspired into my heart. Nothing of knowledge remained which I did not know.' Then, says Osman, My sheykh gave me two very important commands:

From the student, to demonstrate service and dependence From the sheykh, to receive himma and breath.

His period of studentship under Zakirzade was soon completed, and his sheykh now felt the time was right for Osman Fazlı to start teaching. But Osman Fazlı resisted, saying that he would prefer to remain in service to Zakirzade.

Then in a dream Osman Fazlı saw the Holy Koran being presented to him, and he was told, 'Take the words of My Book, and invite My servants to Me!' This awesome command removed any doubt as to his future position, for he then accepted that his duty as a student was to submit to his teacher, without any trace at all of preference in the manner of his service. Zakirzade then sent him to the town of Aydos, near Edirne, with the mission of preaching and calling people to God. It must have been during Osman Fazlı's stay in Aydos that the young Ismail Hakkı, destined to be Osman Fazlı's student, companion and successor, was brought by his father before his future teacher, whose hand he kissed. For this, Osman Fazlı always referred to Ismail Hakkı as 'our student since the age of three'.[11] This would place the meeting around 1656, when Osman Fazlı was still only 24 or 25 years old.

Zakirzade Efendi died in 1657, and it was after this that Osman Fazlı, having first received a divine indication, moved on to Plovdiv (Filibe) about 110 miles north west of Edirne, on the road to Sofia. He continued preaching and giving spiritual direction in Plovdiv for a further fifteen years.

It was here in Plovdiv, while taking a rest one afternoon that he received a profound initiatory vision: he saw an army of three hundred gnostics appear and form a circle around him. All together they travelled from Plovdiv to Istanbul where Osman Fazlı met his teacher, the late Zakirzade Efendi, who told him, 'Go now, your place is here.', and Zakirzade pointed out the Kul Cami, the Slave Mosque, in Atpazarı, giving him as a gift a turban and a staff.

Following his extraordinary vision, Osman Fazlı came to Istanbul, in the normal way, and settled in the Atpazarı district, not far from the Fatih Mosque, and in due course he was given the post of preacher and imam at the Kul Cami.[12]

Atpazarı, and more specifically the Kul Cami, became Osman Fazlı's place, his seat in this world, as it were, and for this reason in Turkey he is well known as Atpazarı Osman Efendi. In Cyprus he is called Kutup Osman Efendi, inferring his spiritual rank in worldly matters. But it is his sobriquet, Fazlı-allah, 'superabundance of grace – of God' which emphasises the Divine aspect of his appearance, and the intimacy of his sainthood.[13] His full style, as given by Ismail Hakkı Bursevi in his Kitabü'n-Netice, appears as 'Seyyidü'l-Aktab eş-Şeyh es-Seyyid Osman b. es-Seyyid Fethullah el-Fazlı el-Ilahi'[14]

Even from the little that has come down to us, it is obvious that Osman Fazlı was closely tied to the way of Ibn 'Arabi. Ibn 'Arabi's patronage of the Ottoman Empire was established through his stepson Sadreddin Konevi from Seljukid times, as well as from his own direct relationship with the Seljuk sultan, Kaykaus I.[15] This patronage was given impetus by Da'ud al Kaysari and others in the first days of the nascent empire, and confirmed and nourished unequivocally by the uncovering and restoration of the Sheykh's tomb by Sultan Selim I (AD1516 and subsequently).[16] The Sheykh's support spread and deepened in the intellectual and spiritual life of Ottoman society at the highest level over the following centuries. As Mahmud Kılıc has written, 'It is well known that Sheykh al-Akbar was adopted by most Ottomans as their patron saint...the majority of Ottoman Sufi saints and scholars, in other words the Ottoman intellectual class, were his sincere followers.'[17] So, it would be unwise to underestimate the influence exercised by Ibn Arabi over this world superpower from its birth, through its growth to strength, and in its decline and demise.[18]

An understanding of the depth to which Ibn Arabi's message of unity, universality, and the ultimate potential of Man, played a part in this process, may help inform us regarding the period in which Osman Fazlı was endowed with this light-mantle of knowledge; and how through him it shone a while, until he himself was returned to its source, and the cloak was borne by another. This period, was, in a sense, the mid-life of the Ottoman Empire, and, as is often the case, the Empire was in crisis. The period of conquest and expansion, from the youth of the Conqueror, Sultan Mehmet I to maturity during the reign of Sultan Selim II, was completed. What followed was a period of uncertainty and deep questioning of identity, in which it seemed at times that the Empire was quite lost at sea. Even among those purportedly on the spiritual way, however, there was opposition to the way and influence of Ibn 'Arabi. Osman Fazlı himself tells us:

"After coming to Istanbul, I was involved in a discussion with some aquaintances on the work of the Venerable Sheykh al-Akbar Muhyiddin-i 'Arabi called the Fusus. During the passing discussion, I heard some people who were deniers speaking in an unsuitable manner and making malicious comments against [Ibn 'Arabi], saying 'and they even say the Sheykh al-Akbar was on the spiritual path!' That night there came a cry from the Unseen to me thus, 'It is your Ancestral Way! Continue!' Without saying anything to anyone about this, I continued to study the book of the Fusus in secret."[19]

We now catch up with Osman Fazlı a few years later. Not only is he giving daily sermons at the Kul Camii, the Slave Mosque, but on Fridays he preaches in the Mosque of Sultan Selim I and on Wednesdays he is to be found in the pulpit at the great mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. But it was the teaching he gave in the tekke in Atpazarı which now really began to make his name as a spiritual guide, and students from all over the Empire flocked to take part in these sessions. And among them came that 'student since the age of three' Ismail Hakkı, who had been studying in Edirne since he was seven years old under the tutelage of Abdul Baki, a relative of Osman Fazlı. He was now initiated into the Celveti Order at the hand of Osman Fazlı.

Osman Fazlı appears to have been a prolific writer, and aside from a regular written correspondence with Ismail Hakki, the following titles are included among his written works:[20]

Misbâh-ul-Kulûb: a commentary on Sadreddîn Konevî's Miftâh-ul-Gayb. Mir'ât-ı Esrâr-il-İrfân: a commentary on Sadreddîn Konevî's explanation of the Fâtiha.[21] Tecelliyât-ı Berkiyye: The book's original name is Risâle-i Berkiyye fî Şerhi Kasîde-i Işkiyye. It is a commentary on Muhyiddîn ibn Arabî's Kasîde-i Işkiyye. Hâşiye-i Şerh-i Füsûs-ül-Hikem: a commentary, and/or footnotes on the Fusus. Tenkih Şerhi Telvih Hâşiyesi Risâle-i İmâm Hâşiyesi Hanefiyye Şerhi Hidâyet-ül-Mutehayyirîn Mutavvel Hâşiyesi Feth-ul-Bâb Risâlet-ür Rahmâniyye

It is 1673. Zakirzade has died 16 years earlier, in 1657. Osman Fazli is now the sheykh. He is 41 years old, Ismail Hakki is 20. A brilliant pupil for a brilliant master. The advice he gives the young Ismail is salient as it is kindly: 'I recommend to you,' he counsels, 'above all be just and be patient. I do not recommend that you acquire gardens and orchards, tekkes and many disciples: be Imam and by that be...something! If you do not find an appointment or position, do some job or other which will give you enough to live on. And above all, be disdainful of the fortune with which others are favoured. Live by your labour, by your works, and pay attention to God who has spread out the world before you, and who has initiated you. Your piety will be your adornment."[22]

In 1675, Osman Fazli sent Ismail Hakki on a mission to Skopje in order to preach to the community and to set up a Celveti house there. This was soon accomplished, and with the help of a local benefactress a tekke was built and Ismail Hakki received the order to teach. A letter from Osman Fazli at this time gives a flavour of the close master-pupil relationship which they enjoyed until death parted them.

"My son Ismail," wrote the Master, "Greetings to you and may God keep you in His Holy Regard! Encourage good and forbid evil. Be vigilant, avoid evil and prevent evil, both by word and action. Make your heart like a blank page with regard to the world and look at the Real. Attend to the Divine Order. Do not be like Jonas. May it please heaven that by your merit and efforts God will attract to you the chosen ones, those predestined for this light, when the time shall come. Be always patient, self-examining, pious, pure, withrawn; pray and fast. Avoid everything which could tarnish your reputation. Even if people insist on inviting you, decline, be circumspect. By all means exhort people to knowledge and good behaviour. Get it into their heads the strength that comes from practicing what is good. Make a written record of your teachings, do your best to make them as noble as possible, and speak only well of those who are present and those who are absent. In a word: show that you are there, and that you are a bearer of light."[23]

Ismail Hakki entered upon his vocation with the evident zeal of youth, a zeal which it appears, from a further communication from Osman Fazli, may have needed some tempering. After Ismail Hakki had severely berated the townsfolk for what he considered their lax behaviour, especially their spending time in winebars, the people of Skopje appealed to Osman Fazlı to rein in his zealous representative. Osman Fazlı cautions his pupil:

"My son, persevere in following the precepts of our religion and our order; stop short of directly criticising these envious people and content yourself with indirect criticism, confronting them with the example of your own life. Don't go to visit anyone unless you are invited; content yourself with the believers who take pleasure in your company. Leave to God the chastising of the frivolous. Resign yourself."[24] This careful containment of Ismail Hakkı's energies by his master is interesting, in the light of Osman Fazlı's future role within the Ottoman ruling circle. It would have been impossible for a sheykh of Osman Fazlı's stature to have escaped the notice, and interest of the Ottoman court. As a foremost spiritual descendant of Aziz Mahmud Hudai, who had closely advised Sultan Ahmet and may have married into the Imperial family, he would naturally have been in the spotlight. By the early 1680s, Sultan Mehmet IV, known as Avci Mehmet, 'Mehmet the Hunter', because of his unbridled passion for the chase, had been reigning for more than 30 years. In practice, however, the reins of state were held by the Grand Vizier, or Prime Minister. This position was held at the time by the Merzifonlu, Kara Mustafa Paşa, one of the Köprülü dynasty. The Köprülüs were a family with Albanian origins who maintained control of the Ottoman government throughout most of the latter half of the 17th century. Osman Fazlı was on good terms with the Sultan who invited him to his palaces, for consultation and counsel, both in Istanbul, and in Edirne where he hunted. It is said that during Ramazan, in order to gain baraka (divine blessing), the Sultan would ask the revered sheykh for his breakfast leftovers with which to break his own fast.

Osman Fazlı naturally had dealings with the members of the government. When the grand vizier wished to break the treaty between Turkey and the Holy Roman Empire by investing Vienna, Osman Fazlı argued strongly against this move, claiming that such action would only bring disaster and misfortune on his Sultan, the empire and the grand vizier himself.[25] Osman Fazlı was proven right in his predictions. The grand vizier was executed shortly afterwards,[26] and the following years saw numerous wars and loss of land for the Turks including the fall of Buda in 1686, and Belgrade in 1688. Without strong leadership the state became mired in constant unrest, and power struggles within the military and civil institutions.

Under normal circumstances, a person in Osman Fazlı's position would have shunned involvement in the empire's secular and political affairs. But these were difficult times for the Ottoman Empire, and Osman Fazli, who would have preferred to lead a contemplative life, was unable to deny the responsibilities which his insight and position demanded. He left his teaching in Istanbul to join his Sultan in the palace in Edirne.

It seems Osman Fazlı was not an easy person to have around. He wasn't afraid to speak frankly, and often criticised state policy if he saw it was based on selfish considerations, and did not benefit the Empire and its people.

The Turkish writer Mehmet Ali Aini informs us thus: "Contemporary descriptions tell us how forceful were these sermons of Osman Fazlı whose imposing presence made such a strong effect, when, surrounded by the Sultan's slaves – a group of huge Ethiopians – this preacher appeared in the centre of the hall, flanked by tall candelabras of solid gold, in the glimmer of their blazing wax, and the vibrant harmony of his words echoed round the immense dome. The inexpressible charm of his eloquence, as much as his frank criticisms, profoundly impressed the Sultan Mehmed IV. This prince, who was of a rather soft nature, and with no great energy, gave himself up too easily to the pleasures of the table. While appearing to exercise his power, he had in fact surrendered all the affairs of state to his viziers. For Osman Fazlı it was a matter of conscience to point out these weaknesses to him, and Mehmet IV venerated him."[27]

During this period, Osman Fazlı invited Ismail Hakki to join him in Edirne. Together they studied the 'Fusus al-Hikam', secluding themselves with a chosen few, forbidding any but committed students of the Way to join them. It was during this period also that Osman Fazlı explained to his students the esoteric meaning of three kinds of speech:

"Man possesses three languages; The first is the normal speech which we use to communicate verbally between each other; the second is the language of the soul, which expresses itself in its own way, long before the least expression in the first, usual speech comes about. It is what happens in interior converse, when the feelings are stirred, before being brought down to the level of common speech. This second speech is the universal speech, and it is as fast as a flash of lightning. It is unvoiced and does not appear in words but depends for its expression on events and circumstances. The third speech comes under the order of eternal matters. It is the manifestation of the path or the inherent mission in each being, in Man, as well as in animals and plants etc."[28]

He continues, declaring that "Man does not possess anything else but his sensibilities as his real organ of intelligence and without Divine action man cannot even use his memory which is his sacred treasury of experience acquired long ago. The initiate, the saint, the insani kamil, is he who possesses the faculty of being able to recognise the true non-existence of his faculties of thought and his own impotence in putting them in motion. It is he who leaves all the 'space' to God and who passes all his life in controlling his intimate faithfulness, in actions, 'thought' or in the acts that materialise them. It is he who prays constantly to God, even if it be only by a breath or by a movement of the heart, when he perceives the natural and constant phenomena of thought. In fact everybody knows that his faculty is permanent, constant, irresistably active. The intimate work of the mystic consists, therefore in trying to attain the Divine proximity, to respond to His infinite clemence by his recognition, or through Zikr, whenever thoughts 'visitors from heaven', manifest in his interior. Good or tempting, these visitors have for mission the exercising of our discernment to the most subtle degree of 'Good and Evil, whereby we accord them our consent or we refuse them.[29]

He continues: "According to the Koran, Man is the witness of Creation. The human soul is then, for the mystic, a constant miracle from God, and the acquired worth of the soul is determined by the swiftness of its response in praise and gratitude, which forms the foundation of its conduct and the concientious awareness of its vision. The soul is educated and enlightened by the growing discrimination between good and evil and by our action to keep it on the straight path, in order to please only God."[30]

Osman Fazlı seems to have been a natural recluse, with no personal inclination at all for the heady atmosphere of the court. One of the Sheykh's more unusual aspects, according to Ismail Hakkı, was his ability to hide away, to just disappear without anyone noticing. 'Once,' his pupil relates, "he stayed in the retreat cell for four months, and as no one had seen him no one knew about it."[31]

Meanwhile, back in Istanbul, order began to break down in this headless state of affairs. The military revolted, and in 1687 Sultan Mehmet IV was dethroned in favour of his brother, the mild and sensitive Sultan Suleyman II. But the government had lost its authority, and roaming gangs of undisciplined janissaries ruled in Istanbul. Finally the local population marched on the Topkapi Palace in protest. The new sultan, trembling in fear, begged Osman Fazlı to do something. Osman Fazlı went out bearing aloft the Sancak-i Şerif, the Standard of the Prophet, and calmed the outraged citizens, appealing to their religious sentiment and their love of the Sultan. Having gained their support, the rebellious element in the country was soon contained and brought to book. Sultan Suleyman II then called on Osman Fazlı to take over the responsibility for governing the empire.[32]

Although Osman Fazlı refused the grand viziership, or for that matter any reward at all, he continued to exercise a significant influence on the Sultan who often sought his advice in matters of state. However, his strict adherence to his principles gained him enemies in high places. Osman Fazlı was a fierce critic of the practice of requisitioning public property, which was one of the means taken by the Vizierate to support financially the military adventures of this period. Once the Grand Vizier invited Osman Fazlı, along with other religious, to find a formula in Koranic law to support this taxation. Osman Fazlı warned him severely against using the Koran in such a way, saying it was against the spirit of the Sheriat, and only misfortune would come upon those who 'abused their position by distorting the holy Law'.[33] It all sounds too familiar, taking a thing in script, emphasising a particular aspect out of due proportion, and interpreting to create a causus belli. Nowadays it might be called 'sexing up the dossier', or at the very least, 'giving it spin'.

He was banished briefly to his hometown of Shumnu in an effort to silence him. But the requisitioning continued. For a while afterwards he tried to keep out of politics. He removed himself to his retreat in Rumeli Hisar, a village outside the capital, a few miles along the Bosphorus. From there, as Ismail Hakki recounts, his sheykh speaks of the events which led up to his banishment, and gives intimations of how the future would unfold. "I no longer wished to appear in public, not even to take the sermon in the mosque, but that night, the invisible force which so many times has manifested in the course of my life, in order to instruct me, commanded me today to go and announce that the requisitionings are not legal, and that they must be opposed; and that all the money raised in this way will be in vain, it will not profit anyone nor aid whoever uses it.

"In spite of everything that I said to the grand vizier to make him give up this project of requisitioning the property of the people, I saw that he persevered in his blindness... I come also to announce to you my intention to go and join our armies and fight alongside them."[34]

Osman Fazlı left Istanbul, together with a small band of sufis and headed for the battlefront. Whether it was to protest the requisitioning, or to offer spiritual counsel alongside the troops, we don't know. But his party was intercepted by agents of the vizier and in Sofia he was arrested. Then the Grand Vizier, another Köprülü, Fazil Mustafa Paşa, had him exiled to Famagusta in Cyprus. This was in 1690.

Osman Fazli had forwarned Ismail Hakki of this disgrace. He now requested his pupil to join him in Cyprus. Again, we hear from Ismail Hakkı: 'He told me that four months earlier he had been forewarned from the Unseen (alemi ghayb) of what was to happen. He said: "I was told, 'Don't move away from your place. Don't think about making different arrangements. Because in these matters, there are most subtle wisdoms from Us.' So it was necessary for me to await the outcome of events without comment. Otherwise, would it have been possible for them to do this?" '[35]

Here in Cyprus, as this tale of high tragedy enters its final act, a strange event occurs. It is August 1691. Ismail Hakkı is with his exiled teacher in Famagusta, while on the plain of Sermi to the north of Belgrade the battlelines are drawn. The Ottoman army lead by Köprülü Fazil Mustafa Paşa faces the 100,000-strong force of the Austro-Hungarians led by Prince Ludwig of Baden. The Turks are understrength, awaiting troop re-inforcements from Crimea, but the Council of War urges the Grand Vizier to act. In the ensuing battle, in which the Ottoman army is gaining the upper hand and the Austrians are on the run, the Grand Vizier is shot dead while leading the charge. Chaos ensues as the Turkish soldiers realise they have lost the leader. The tide of battle turns and the Austrians win the day.

'At the moment when the treacherous vizier was killed,' according to Ismail Hakkı, 'the soul of the latter was led into the presence of Osman Fazlı, who asked him, "What was our crime that you had us imprisoned here?" Confounded by these words, the soul of the dead man bowed his head full of remorse and was led away in shame from their presence by his guardians'[36]

Ismail Hakkı continues: 'During the one year he was in Famagusta, all he ate, other than water was a piece of bread in the evening. When, in response to an invitation of a spiritual nature, I came to him from Bursa, he said: "It is one year since coming here, but we have lived three years. There is really nothing left behind at all now apart from our 'existence' (vücud/wujud). If Gabriel A.S. comes, he will come at such a time as this. The aim has been reached. For eternal life, there is no need to remain in the world." ' Osman Fazlı died in 1691 shortly after his pupil's visit.

"The blessed sheykh disliked fame and renown, and always tried to conceal himself. So much so that he said: 'Don't erect a turbe over me; a stone to mark the head of the grave will be enough to provide the opportunity for a prayer.' His last request was to be buried in the open countryside around Uskudar. But this wish of his could not be carried out. His tomb is in the martyrs' cemetery outside the citadel of Famagusta. It is related that some people who were very fond of him built a stone sarcophagus (over the grave). This poor one, at that time, was in Bursa.'[37]

Ismail Hakkı Bursevi declares that 'The pen is not capable of revealing in writing the state of my sheykh." In spite of his claims about the pen's inability, he does give us some indications regarding the level of his sheykh, both in terms of his worldly function, and with regard to spiritual rank. He states that there has been no one since Sadreddin Konevi who has been held in such high esteem by and had such an influence on the Sultan of his day. He also says that 'he was distinguished with the Essential Revelation (zat tecelli - in distinction to the revelation of the Divine Attributes sıfat tecelli), to a degree to which few saints attain. In this respect he mentions the revelation in which he is commanded to teach the Koran, related earlier. In both his history of the Celveti Order, and his Kitâbü'n-Netice he refers to the superiority in gnosis, state, unveiling etc of Osman Fazli over Junayd al-Baghdadi. Ismail Hakkı assures us that the basis of his assertion is of a spiritual nature: 'Thus it was at one time that this poor one received a divine audition concerning my Sheykh Fazlî-i İlahi k.s. in which it was said: 'Your sheykh is more perfect than Junayd al-Baghdadi k.s..' In truth, there is no doubt in this vision which manifested as a revelation from God.'[38]

He says also: 'According to what has been stated in some writings: the arrival of knowledge is by degrees: first with regard to the realities of things, then of the spirit, and later of the Koran, as three separate stages. The fourth stage is [knowledge of] the reality of the Reality.... The way of the blessed sheykh [Osman Fazlı] which is the way of the saints of the highest degree, collects all these together in his person. And the Venerable Hudai is one of those who attained to that high degree. '[39] Ismail Hakki says, in a poem about his teacher's death:

By all the people of the world was known and named by every tongue Sheykh Osman The envy of the Sun, in light expressed the endless ocean of the Unseen. Yet no one even saw the slightest trace and no one saw the mountain of his soul. No matter now he lies on Cyprus' isle though fame renounced he was of high renown.

In Famagusta he is known as Kutup Osman Efendi, and his tomb is no longer open to the sky. It lies in a humble annexe of a derelict tekke now within the precincts of the Namik Kemal High School on Polat Paşa Bulvari, just outside the old city walls. The visitor here is struck by a curious sense of irony on entering the leafy eucalyptus grove which surrounds the building: here the banished Osman Fazlı rests within the grounds of a school named for another prominent exile of the empire, the 19th century poet of Turkish democracy, Namik Kemal who spent three years imprisoned in Famagusta for 'seditious' writings. One feels that Osman Fazlı may have found here at last the worldly obscurity long denied him by the events of his time. The simple brick sarcophage covered in green cloth, the unadorned walls of the small domed cell, its unlocked door - but what is most striking is the purple-dark and cedary perfume that hangs in the room, an ancient scent like something out of dreams. Opening the shutters at the head of the tomb lets the light flood in. That this place should remain at all is perhaps a sign enough that the spirits of truthful and courageous men remain as an ever present and harmonious influence long after the turbulences of their histories have passed away.


  1. From the Introduction to the Hilyat al-Abdal, Ibn Arabi, transl. S. Hirtenstein
  2. Ibn 'Arabi, Muhyiddin. Ismail Hakki Bursevi's Translation of and Commentary on Fusus al-Hikam, rend. B. Rauf (4 vols, Oxford, 1986-91) Vol 3, p.638.
  3. Sufis of Andalusia, Ibn 'Arabi's Ruh al Quds and al-Durrat al-fakhirah, p.63. trans. R.W.J. Austin, 1971, London See also Peter Coates, Ibn 'Arabi and Modern Thought, p.59: 'When this happens the human intellect begins to serve the spiritual aspiration of the seeker and not other traits of character...Such sincere aspiration is, by its very nature, capable of embracing and affecting the whole of a person... etc.'
  4. Ismail Hakki, Celvetiyye Yolunda Allah Dostları, ('Silsilename-i Celvetiyye'), p.163-171, trans. Rahmi Serin, Istanbul.
  5. Saçli Ibrahim Efendi, who is also known as Tophaneli Ibrahim Efendi on account of his family moving to the Tophane area of Istanbul during the great fires which ravaged the city in 1594-95, was born in 1591. Like Osman Fazli, Ibrahim Efendi had also lost his father when he was very young. Because Ibrahim Efendi's father had been part of the Sultan's guard of honour, he was educated in the Sultan's palace. The young Sultan Ahmet I, who came to the throne in 1603 at age 14, was a year or two older than Ibrahim, and they shared the same teacher, a man called Mustafa Efendi. But Sultan Ahmet's mother, the Valide Sultan, was a disciple of the sheykh Aziz Mahmud Hudai, founder of the Celvetiyye dervish order. Inevitably, as the young sultan came under Hudai's spiritual guidance, Ibrahim too made the aquaintance of this venerable sheykh, and it appears that an immediate close and affectionate bond was formed between them. Ibrahim served Sheykh Hudai for many years at his Istanbul tekke in Uskudar, until 1625 when he was sent as 'halife' or representative/successor, first to Silistre, deep in the Balkans, on the Danube where it forms the border of present day Romania and Bulgaria. Later, in 1637, he was sent to the Dizdarzade Tekke in Edirne. He died in 1664. (see 'Aziz Mahmud Hudayi ve Celvetiyye Tarikatı', H. Kamil Yilmaz, Istanbul 1982.) We have not been able to discover exactly when Osman Fazli was with Saçli Ibrahim Efendi, but if Osman Fazli was in his teens when his mother let him go, then we may suggest the mid-1640s. But whatever fire for knowledge had been sparked in Osman's heart by the words of the poet in the Shumnu market place, and which now burned with evident and youthful energy as he came before Ibrahim Efendi seeking initiation, it must have been of an extraordinary nature.
  6. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Silsilename-i Celvetiyye. P.163
  7. Mes'ud Çelebi was the son of Hudai's daughter, who became second sheykh of the Hudai tekke in 1639 following the death of Muk'ad Ahmed Efendi, Hudai's successor there. A pious man, given up to divine contemplation, Mes'ud Çelebi died in 1657 and is buried by his grandfather's turbe in Uskudar.
  8. See Ibn 'Arabi: Fusus al-Hikam (Oxford) Vol I, Introduction, p.37. Here the commentator, in discussing Mohammedian Sainthood, distinguishes two aspects of 'the person who is in the station of the 'coming together of the two arcs ... the station of the Perfect Man', saying, 'One part is the most perfect saints who have been answered and returned [to earth], and this part is the Awake (hushyar). Another part is those annihilated saints who are perfect. These saints are the ones who are drunk with God (mestanan). ...these people have no knowledge of the tastes of the pinnacle of awakening (prophethood) and He does not occupy them with invitation. But the husyiar, who are the perfectly returned ones...invite the people to God and are guides with the order of God.' These latter would appear to correspond to the spirit of the Celveti way, returning to function in this world after union, which the life of Osman Fazli exemplifies.
  9. Zakirzade Abdullah Efendi is considered one of the great early gnostics of the Celveti way. He came out of Anatolia with his father, Şaban Efendi, who was zakirbaşı, or leader of the zikr, at Hudai's tekke in Uskudar in Istanbul during Hudai's lifetime. Hence, his name Zakirzade could be rendered 'Son of the Zikr.' He completed his spiritual apprenticeship under Mu'kad Ahmed Efendi, Hudai's first 'halife'. He was a gifted orator and was known for his subtle discourse on matters of tasarruf, the mystical path. He wrote poetry under the maklas of 'Biçare'. He died in 1657/1066 and is buried in the Miskinler Tekke in Uskudar. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, in his 'Silsilename' relates thus: 'Zakirzade Abdullah Efendi was sheykh in the Ali Paşa Dergah in Istanbul and was the Tuesday preacher in the Fatih and Şehzade Mosques. He lived in Zeyrek in the medrese next to the Zeyrek Mosque, a mosque which had been converted from a church.' (Yilmaz) The building in question is the former Byzantine Church of the Pantocrator in the Fatih district of Istanbul.
  10. "Emir Çelebi, sende Şeyh-i Ekber (Muhyiddîn-i Arabî (r.aleyh)) meşrebi var." Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Silsilename-i Celvetiyye.
  11. Ibn 'Arabi: Fusus al-Hikam (Oxford), Vol.III, page v. Introduction by Peter Young
  12. We came across the Kul Camii in Istanbul earlier this year. It was Easter Sunday, which happily coincided with the birthday of the Prophet. It took a little finding, as it has been restored in recent years, and is now referred to in modern maps by its original name, Manisalı Mehmed Paşa Camii, the Mosque of Mehmed Pasha from Manisa, a Grand Vizier of Mehmet the Conqueror. We knew from the texts that it was somewhere in the Fatih district of Istanbul, so I resorted to wandering in the area north of the Aquaduct of Valens, and into the great Fatih Camii, the Imperial Mosque of the Conqueror, where a most solicitous gentleman of the district asked me, in quite remarkable English, whether I needed a guide. After a brief tour of the mosque, throughout which he carried my shoes rather than let me leave them in the rack, as he feared that otherwise they might be stolen, he set me on my way to the Kul Camii; a little way back down the street, then left, and after a few mis-turns I fetched up at a small mosque in a sidestreet. While not exhibiting the obvious grandeur and architectural merit of the great cathedral works of Sinan, the Kul Camii is a humble building not without charm, perhaps 10 yards by 10 yards, windowed on all sides with a beautiful mihrab of Iznik tiles and the walls hung with ancient framed calligraphies. It was called the 'Kul Cami' because this was where, in the 15th century, the twelve slave janissaries responsible for the district's public order would gather for evening prayers before dispersing to their various guard posts. Just around the corner is the Atpazari Meydani, the horsemarket, a street which widens into an open rectangle about 150 yards long by 100 yards wide. It now serves as a carpark for surrounding shops, and street football pitch for the young boys who live in the apartments above. A few fat ducks were scratching around a muddy area below four loquat trees surviving within a fenced off area at the centre of the former market place.
  13. ﻝﻀﻓ The name Fazl, and hence Fazli-ullah: a being more, excess, hence, a gift – of God. superabundance of grace– of God free on top of the allotted portion – from God abundance, munificence, superiority – in God when full measure is taken, there is always more... of God
  14. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Kitabü'n-Netice, vol.1, p.79. Insan Yayınları, Istanbul 1997
  15. See Stephen Hirtenstein, The Unlimited Mercifier, Oxford 1999, p. 179.
  16. For an exposition of the events surrounding this see: Ryad Atlagh, Paradoxes of a Mausoleum, Journal of the Muhyiddin ibn Arabi Society Vol. XXII, 1997
  17. Mahmud Erol Kiliç, The Ibn Arabi of the Ottomans, 'Abdullah Salahaddin al-Ushshaki (1705-1782).', JMIAS Vol. XXVI 1999.
  18. See also: Mustafa Tahrali, A General Outline of the Influence of Ibn 'Arabi on the Ottoman Empire, JMIAS Vol. XXVI 1999.
  19. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Silsilename-i Celvetiyye. P.165
  21. In the Silsilename, Ismail Hakki comments on this work thus: 'My sheykh's superior insight is evidenced in his own commentary on Sadreddin Konevi's 'Miftahu'l Ğayb' and 'Fâtihâ Tefsîri'. With regard to [Sadreddin's] commentary on the Fatiha, Molla Fenârî said, 'Nobody in our time has produced such a work as this.' The Venerable Sheykh Uftade k.s asked the Venerable Hüdâyî: 'I wonder whether anyone in this era will understand this work?' For four hundred years, gnostics have shied away from explaining this work, demonstrating their inability even to understand it, yet Osman Fazlı Hz. has commented on it. The Sheykhu-l Islam, Debbağzâde Mustafa Efendi, who was one of the most notable among the learned ones of that time, admitted, ' We believe in the truth of it, but are unable to understand it'. My sheykh, Hz. Osman Fazlı, by explaining that text, has produced a quite extraordinary, superior and noble work. This work of my sheykh is such an erudite treatise that, as with the 'Mantik al-Tair', one would need to be the Solomon of the Age to be able to understand it.
  22. 'Ismail Hakki', by Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. Page 9.
  23. 'Ismail Hakki', by Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. Page 12-13
  24. 'Ismail Hakki', by Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. Page 13
  25. The sheykh's protests were in vain. The die was cast. In Edirne in March 1682, Sultan Mehmet IV handed over the emblems of power to Kara Mustafa Pasha. As the Sultan was reviewing his assembled troops, a sudden gust of wind whipped his turban from his head. An inauspicious beginning, this disturbance to the ceremony was seen by many present as a sign of divine disfavour. Needless to say the ensuing campaign, while initially successful, failed in its main objective to take Vienna. Treachery on the part of Murat Giray, the Tatar Khan of Crimea, and the defection of Ibrahim Pasha, the Beylerbeyi of Buda with the troops under his command, at a point when the Turks still had the upper hand, paved the way for the unimpeded appearance of the King of Poland, John Sobiesky, who routed the Janissary army and saved the day for the Austrians.
  26. In Edirne, by a bridge spanning the Tunca River, is a tower, the Kasr-i-Adalet, or Pavilion of Justice. At its base are two inscribed stones. The stone on the right, the Senci-Hurmet, the 'Weight (as in one side of a pair of scales) of Respect', reads: 'the written petition and wishes of the people were left on this stone. It was carried out by the Bostancıbaşı, the Commander of the Imperial Guard.' The stone on the left, the 'Senci Ibret', or 'Weight of Admonition' commemorates the beheading of Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha in Belgrade.
  27. Ismail Hakki, by Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. Page 16
  28. ibid. The section following in italics is Bulent Rauf's translation, from a paper given to students at the Beshara School, Chisholme House, Scotland.
  29. This point is developed in detail in Ibn 'Arabi's Kernel of the Kernel, p.41, 'The people of Perfection are they who, paying attention to their breathing, become like guardians and to the Treasury of their hearts. Let them stand there as guardian and do not allow any stranger to enter. The Treasury of the Heart is the Library of God. Let him not allow thoughts other than those concerning God to enter...etc.'
  30. 'Ismail Hakki', by Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. Page 18-19
  31. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Silsilename-i Celvetiyye. P.167
  32. For a description of these events see Bulent Rauf's 'The Last Sultans', p 57-60; Sir Edward Creasy's 'History of the Ottoman Turks, London 1877, pp 301-2, and Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. pp 20-21. Only Aini mentions Osman Fazli by name, Bulent Rauf referring to 'a preacher from one of the mosques' while Creasey specifies 'The chief Preacher of the Mosque of the Great Solyman'.
  33. 'Ismail Hakki', by Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. pp 23-24
  34. 'Ismail Hakki', by Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, 1933. pp 25
  35. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Silsilename-i Celvetiyye. P.168.
  36. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Silsilename-i Celvetiyye. P.168; 'Ismail Hakki', Mehemmed-Ali Aini, Paris, p25
  37. Much later, in 1830, Haci Mehmet Aga, who had been appointed tax-collector in Cyprus, brought to light Osman Fazli's tomb which had been lost, and he had the surrounding area cleaned up.
  38. Kitâbü'n-Netice, p.67
  39. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Silsilename-i Celvetiyye. P.168-170

Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan was a director of the Chisholme Institute until 2016. He studied Law at the University of West Australia, and Turkish at Oxford University. He is a businessman, consultant and restaurateur and writer. His current venture is the Damascus Drum, a cafe and bookshop in Hawick. He is author of 'The Story of the Damascus Drum' and two further novels; 'Satanaya and the Houses of Mercy' and 'An Ark in the Flood of Time'.