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The Osmanlı Khalifate II

10. Osmanlı Khalifate II

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم

Title: The Osmanlı Khalifate II

Author:  Mehmet Currie

Publication date: 10th November 2012

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the Muslim History Programme of the MFAS. This is the tenth of 12 sessions which make up the History of the Khalifas module. The lecture will last approximately 40 minutes during which time you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture. 

Osmanlı Khalifate II

We are currently in the process of examining the history of the Ottoman Dawlah and one crucial issue is the eventual downfall of this Dawlah, since it marks an end to the Islamic Caliphate shortly after the 1st World War.

The downfall of the Ottoman Dawlah can be attributed to several important internal factors: 

(1) opening up the doors to secularisation, with the implementation of  the Kanun system in the 1500s, leading to the Tanzimat reforms some centuries later;

(2) increasing tolerance of Riba, not helped by the cash trust controversy between Imam Birgivi and Ebu Su'ud Efendi in the 1500s, with the opinion of the latter in favour of cash trusts becoming the accepted position;

(3) difficulties in differentiating beneficial scientific endeavour from superstitious pseudo-science prior to the development of the philosophy of science, and a tendency to be cautious about innovations, leading to a lack of technological development; 

(4) societal immorality and corruption; 

(5) increasing disunity and polarising opinions concerning religious rituals and beliefs, particularly on matters related to Sufi practice.

My talk is going to concentrate on this last aspect of increasing disunity and polarising opinions, since this is ultimately reflective of disunity in the hearts, from which so many other external problems will emerge.

Essentially, in this talk I will outline the history and polemics of the Ottoman Kadızadeli movement, drawing historical links to and themes in common with the movement of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, and highlighting the scholarly links between the two movements.

Why is this important? The modern discourse among Muslims is very much defined by the strong polemics that emerged from the late-Ottoman state and the Saudi state against each other, during their long war which lasted almost two centuries on and off, ending with the 1st World War and the abolition of the Caliphate. Essentially, as Muslims we have inherited two separate accounts of this history, two separate accounts of orthodoxy, which very much define our current discourse and perpetuate the disunity.

By looking deeper into Ottoman history, we can attain a more objective understanding beyond the war polemic, to allow a contextualisation of the problem and facilitate solutions to some of the issues that we are facing as Muslims in this age.

Much work has already been done both on the Kadızadeli movement and the life of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, and I will be relying heavily on this previous work within this talk. I aim to provide the key references that I have relied on, within this written version of the talk.

However, I have also done work of my own, investigating contiguous links between the scholarship of the Kadızadeli movement and Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. Indeed, I am not aware of any previous work (whether in English, Turkish or Arabic) which highlights such contiguous scholarly links in this manner, although that is not to say that no such work exists. I would certainly appreciate information about such work, if any exists, or any other interesting findings related to the topic.

The Kadızadeli movement

From around the 1630s until the 1680s, the Kadızadeli movement had been a powerful force in the Ottoman political scene. The Kadızadeli movement had developed in response to growing religious innovation and state corruption. The Kadızadeli vision to eliminate religious innovation was remarkably similar, in many ways identical, to that of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, although preceding it by some 50-100 years. The targets of the Kadızadeli polemic were certain Sufi groups, who the Kadızadelis viewed as transgressing the boundaries of the Shariah. The Kadızadeli message against religious innovation became championed by many of Istanbul's preachers, who disseminated and popularised the uncompromising message through their fierce sermons to the lay public. At times, particularly during the 1650s, the peace of the land was threatened by confrontations between Kadızadeli and Sufi factions, causing concern and consternation for those in positions of governance. The dispute divided society at all levels, from the most powerful Ottoman scholars, to the mosque preachers, to the layman on the street.

Although the Kadızadeli movement was politically weakened and suppressed following the disastrous Ottoman defeat in Vienna in 1683, their dispute was never actually resolved, with precisely the same key issues and contentions being raised some 50 years later by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. These contentions are prevalent even today in modern polemics between Muslims. Examination of the Kadızadeli polemic reveals that it was strikingly similar to modern Salafi arguments against Sufi groups, evidence that much of the anti-Sufi polemic used by modern-day Salafis had already crystallised on a popular level well before Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. 

One clear benefit of understanding this history is that we can more accurately track the development of polemics that continue to divide and weaken the Muslims to this day, and this may help us find solutions.

Issues of Kadızadeli controversy

The following were the main issues of religious controversy over which the Kadızadeli disputes revolved:

1. the nature of religious innovations,

2. the visitation of graves,

3. music and singing,

4. Dawaran (whirling), Raqs (dancing) and Sama (spiritual auditions),

5. the manner of performing Dhikr (e.g. quiet versus loud),

6. the controversies concerning Muhyi ad-Din ibn Arabi and Wahdat al-Wujud,

7. the study of rational sciences (including logic, philosophy and Kalam sciences).

There were other issues of religious controversy, but these would generally come under the category of innovations, prohibitions or some aspect of doctrine. Issues of developing societal concern were also raised by the Kadızadelis, such as coffee consumption, tobacco smoking and bribery, all of which they condemned.

Two emerging parties

Even prior to the Kadızadeli movement, examination of Ottoman history reveals a growing tension with regard to certain Sufi practices and beliefs. In this tension, one can detect an emerging partitioning into two opposing groups, although undoubtedly there must have been attempts at moderation as well.

For example, it is said that Sultan Mehmet al-Fatih had a Sufi Shaykh, yet it is also reported that he was responsible for exiling Sufis as well. Moreover, the Ottoman Shaykh al-Islam Çivizade was removed from his post in the 1500s by Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent due to his condemnation of Ibn Arabi and Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi. In addition, the Ottoman Shaykh al-Islam Ali Jamali again in the 1500s composed two works on the permissibility of Dawaran and Sama. A later Shaykh al-Islam, Ebu Su'ud Efendi, shortly afterwards wrote in condemnation of such practices: he issued a Fatwa to the effect that whoever considers Dawaran to be worship then such a person has committed disbelief and whoever merely thinks that Dawaran is permissible then such a person is deviant. If you think that this is heavy-handed, then please prepare yourself for similar judgements from both sides. Now it is worth mentioning Imam Birgivi, because arguably it was Imam Birgivi who laid down the boundaries for this growing partitioning.

Imam Birgivi

Imam Birgivi was born in Balıkesir around 1523, the son of the religious teacher Pir Ali. Early in his scholarly career, he took various roles including teaching positions, then he took a government post looking after the estates of deceased soldiers. He later gave this up to take the mystical path with the Bayrami Tariqah. However, he returned to teaching at the advice of his Bayrami Shaykh. The teacher of Sultan Selim II, Ata'ullah Efendi, reportedly saw virtue in Birgivi and appointed him as the teacher in a Madrasah in the town of Birgi, from which his name is derived. He stayed in this teaching position until his death around 1573 and was prolific in writing books.

Imam Birgivi gained a reputation for piety and emphasised the principle of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong. During his later years, Imam Birgivi is known to have met with the Grand Vazir at the time (Sokollu Mehmed Pasha) on the issue of rectifying corruption in Ottoman society. He is also known for his dispute with the Ottoman Shaykh al-Islam Ebu Su'ud Efendi on the issue of cash trusts, writing books in refutation and warning about the dangers of Riba by those ignorant in the matter.

Imam Birgivi wrote a number of works, notably Al-Tariqat Al-Muhammadiyyah in Arabic and the Vasiyetname in Turkish, both books on doctrine, practice and ethics. He also wrote works condemning religious innovations, including the book Ziyarat Al-Qubur in which he takes a tough stance on innovated grave visitations. He authored books still used to this day in teaching Arabic grammar and also concerning the Fiqh of menstruation, this last work remaining a key reference text in the Hanafi school.

His book Al-Tariqat Al-Muhammadiyyah appears written as a standard by which Sufi practice can be judged. Within this book, Imam Birgivi lays down some of the conditions for correct self-purification within the first four chapters: following the Quran and Sunnah, avoiding innovations, avoiding excess in worship and abstinence, and correct creed. After these four chapters, Imam Birgivi enters into topics that one would expect from a manual on self-purification, chiefly matters pertaining to avoiding wrongdoings of the body and illnesses of the heart.

As mentioned, Imam Birgivi's stance on innovated grave visitations was notably strict. His book Ziyarat Al-Qubur relies heavily on one of the works of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, and he shows clear respect for Ibn al-Qayyim and his teacher, Ibn Taymiyyah. The book Ziyarat Al-Qubur contains some strong statements that would have repercussions later down the centuries with the actions of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab: statements to the effect that Imam Birgivi considered innovated grave visitations (when taken to a certain level) to be an issue over which blood can be spilt and property taken.

That now takes us to the scholar who popularised the teachings of Imam Birgivi, Kadızade Mehmed Efendi, who the Kadızadeli movement is named after.

Kadızade Mehmed Efendi

Kadızade Mehmed Efendi was also born in Balıkesir, around 1582. In his earlier years, he studied under students of Imam Birgivi. He later moved to Istanbul and became a mosque preacher (Wa'iz). Attracted to the Sufi path, Kadızade became a disciple of a Sufi Shaykh in the Khalwati Tariqah. Finding that this Tariqah did not suit him, he later left this path and returned to preaching. He became well-known for the quality of his sermons and he took positions at various mosques in Istanbul, including the Suleymaniye Mosque and the Ayasofya Mosque. Kadızade died around 1635.

Kadızade built himself a career as an effective mosque preacher. As well as this, Kadızade held circles of sacred knowledge, teaching to his students from various scholarly works including Al-Tariqat Al-Muhammadiyyah of Imam Birgivi and Ihya Ulum Al-Din of Imam Al-Ghazali. Kadızade was also a staunch opponent of religious innovations. As mosque preacher he appears to have entered into polemics against those he perceived as crossing the boundaries of orthodoxy. He wrote numerous works about topics covering matters of faith, jurisprudence, governance, rectification of societal corruptions, condemnation of innovation, and, interestingly, horsemanship.

Kadızade was particularly known for his scholarly clashes with the Sufi Shaykh, Abdul-Majid Sivasi. Both Kadızade and Sivasi were favoured by Sultan Murad IV, and this may have gone a considerable way to popularise their debate and spread their fame. Sivasi was also a mosque preacher and this emerging debate amongst mosque preachers saw the rise of two rival groups of preachers competing for the same government posts within mosques: one group roughly aligned with the view of Sivasi and the other group aligned with Kadızade. This latter group became known as “Kadızadeliler” (“Kadızadelis” in English) by historians and their enemies. It has been suggested that the term “Kadızadeli” was used by opponents to distance them from the orthodoxy and suggest a newly emergent group. In this respect there are similarities with the term “Wahhabi”.

Sultan Murad IV was known for his strict prohibitions of alcohol, tobacco and coffee in Istanbul, ordering executions of those who broke these prohibitions. To understand the reason for these prohibitions one must appreciate the nature of the recent discord occurring from the Ottoman Janissary troops. It is reported that around that time the Janissary soldiers were involved in all sorts of corruptions, such as: smoking in the mosque, committing open fornication and worse, shedding blood and raiding property. Coffee houses and taverns were known as the gathering places of Janissary discord, and so these prohibitions of tobacco and coffee should be understood in this context. Imam Kadızade was certainly influential in supporting the Sultan in these bans. Sometime after the death of Kadızade, al-Ustuwani became the next of the famous Kadızadeli leaders around the 1650s, and he is a very important figure whose scholarship can be linked with Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab.


Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Ustuwani was born in Damascus around 1608. He was originally a follower of the Hanbali school then switched to the Shafi'i school.  He studied under scholars in Damascus and Egypt. He later travelled to Istanbul, becoming a follower of the Hanafi school. He took positions at various mosques in Istanbul, including at the Ayasofya Mosque, the Sultan Ahmad Mosque and the Sultan Mehmed (Fatih) Mosque.

Due to the strength of his scholarship and his effective preaching, al-Ustuwani assumed a position of leadership amongst the Kadızadelis. Through his popularity, he became the preacher for the elite guards at the palace of the Sultan. Al-Ustuwani’s influence as religious teacher in the palace later grew and he became known as Padishah Sheykhi (the Shaykh to the Sultan).

Around 1651, Al-Ustuwani secured the support of the Grand Vazir (Melek Ahmed Pasha), who issued an order for the destruction of a Khalwati Sufi lodge, with the Kadızadelis carrying out the order. Attempts were made to extend this order to destroy more Sufi lodges, but not without defence from Sufis and resistance from scholars who disapproved of forceful prohibitions of Sufi practices.

During al-Ustuwani's time, two Khalwati Sufis wrote criticisms of Birgivi's Al-Tariqat Al-Muhammadiyyah. Al-Ustuwani and his followers pressed the issue, and based on the verdict of a council of scholars, a decree from the Sultan was issued making it forbidden to criticise Birgivi and his text.

Around 1656, after the very recent appointment of Koprulu Mehmed as Grand Vazir, perhaps sensing an opportunity for change, the Kadızadelis under al-Ustuwani set about implementing a programme for complete reform. Their vision was to secure the support of the Sultan, then to eliminate all innovations that had appeared since the time of the Prophet @ and to destroy all the Sufi lodges, forcing their opponents to renew their faith or face death. Kadızadelis gathered in the vicinity of the Fatih Mosque with weapons calling the people to rally to their call for arms. The Grand Vazir Koprulu Mehmed convened a meeting of scholars who judged the incitements of the Kadızadelis punishable by death. Rather than have them executed, Koprulu Mehmed had al-Ustuwani and other Kadızadeli leaders exiled to Cyprus, with al-Ustuwani returning to Damascus not long after.

On his return, al-Ustuwani took a role in teaching at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, speaking about topics which the people had not been familiar with before. Later, he taught at the Salimiyyah school. Although he failed to get the chief role at the Umayyad Mosque, his son Mustafa was to be appointed to the position sometime after his father's death reportedly continuing in his father's path. Al-Ustuwani passed away around 1661.

The account of al-Ustuwani may surprise many people: with al-Ustuwani we have an essentially (so-called) “Wahhabi” vision to eliminate all religious innovation and to force opponents to renew their faith or face death, except that this vision existed about 50 years before Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab was born and was being implemented by an Imam in the Palace of the Ottoman Sultan. 80-90 years later this vision would be enacted with greater success by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab from outwith the Ottoman lands. Given this striking similarity and the scholarly links between Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab and al-Ustuwani, which we will examine, the possibility that al-Ustuwani was the political and religious forerunner to Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab deserves further consideration and investigation.

The Koprulu family

I will now speak about the man who exiled al-Ustuwani, because this marks an era of powerful Kadızadeli activity within the political realm.

It is clear that the Grand Vazir Koprulu Mehmed had little tolerance for the instigators of civil discord and his exiling the Kadızadeli leaders appears to have been a measure to exert his authority as the new Grand Vazir. It may initially be assumed that Koprulu Mehmed was an enemy to the Kadızadelis. However, rather than have the Kadızadeli leaders executed, he organised their exile, an indication of leniency. In contrast, it is documented that Koprulu executed a number of Sufi leaders at around this time. Interestingly, Koprulu went on to implement Kadızadeli-style bans on certain Sufi practices. T. Smith who travelled to Istanbul at that time gives the following description of Koprulu: “This man also forbade the dervishes to dance in a ring and turn round, which before was their solemn practice at set times before the people”.

Furthermore, when Koprulu Mehmed’s son Koprulu Fazil Ahmad later took on the role of Grand Vazir after his father's death, he became the major patron of the next famous Kadızadeli leader, Mehmed Vani Efendi.  Mehmed Vani Efendi and the Koprulu family are important, because through them the Kadızadelis entered into an era of heightened influence, but based on an approach of avoiding civil discord as opposed to instigating it. This Koprulu era up until 1683 would perhaps mark the last period of extended flourishing and expanse for the Ottomans, and Mehmed Vani Efendi was a key figure during that period.

Sayyid Mehmed Vani Efendi

Sayyid Mehmed Vani Efendi was born in the province of Van. He travelled to Azerbaijan to study with scholars there. Vani then moved to Erzurum and struck up a friendship with Koprulu Fazil Ahmad Pasha, the son of the Grand Vazir Koprulu Mehmed. On the death of his father, around 1661 Koprulu Fazil Ahmad took over the position of Grand Vazir. Later Vani moved to Istanbul and was made preacher at the Sultan Selim Mosque. Vani established himself as an eloquent and persuasive preacher. Having found support with Koprulu Fazil Ahmad, Vani later earned the respect of Sultan Mehmed IV. It is reported that he was appointed as the teacher to the Sultan and also to the Sultan’s son, receiving the title of imperial preacher (Hunkar Va’izi) and like al-Ustuwani before him Vani became known as Padishah Sheykhi (the Shaykh to the Sultan).

Using this influence, Vani managed to get the practices of Sama, Dawaran and innovated grave visitations forbidden by the Sultan. Bans on smoking and alcohol are also reported.

Around 1671 Koprulu Fazil Ahmad established an important relationship with a Moroccan hadith scholar called Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Maghribi, also known to have taken the Shadhili Tariqah under a Sufi Shaykh. About one year later, al-Maghribi was appointed to the guardianship of the Haramayn Waqfs in the Hijaz. Importantly, he also obtained an order from the Ottoman Sultan to ban several Sufi practices in Makkah and Madinah. Al-Maghribi had become the effective agent for Kadızadeli reforms in the Hijaz, the prohibitions in the Hijaz mirroring those in Istanbul at the same time. Despite his Shadhili background, al-Maghribi was reportedly uncompromising in his approach to perceived Sufi excesses.

Grand Vazir Koprulu Fazil Ahmad passed away around 1676, but the influence of Vani in Istanbul and al-Maghribi in the Hijaz continued. Vani was appointed army preacher for the 1683 Vienna campaign, led by the new Grand Vazir, Kara Mustafa Pasha, the son-in-law of Koprulu Mehmed. However, this Vienna campaign resulted in major defeat and disaster. The Grand Vazir Kara Mustafa Pasha was later executed for this defeat and Vani was exiled to his land near Bursa. Vani died around 1685, with one account that he was murdered by enemies. After Vani's exile, his reforms unravelled and the Kadızadeli political influence in Istanbul crashed suddenly and thereafter the remaining Kadızadelis would be marginalised. The Vienna defeat also left Sultan Mehmed IV very unpopular, as he was dethroned around 1687 in a military coup by the Janissaries, then imprisoned, effectively banished from Istanbul, dying in Edirne around 1693. In the Hijaz, al-Maghribi's venture into politics left him also unpopular. He was exiled to Damascus around 1682, dying one year later. The timing of his exile coincided closely with the Vienna defeat, and thus the Kadızadeli political influence would falter in Istanbul and the Hijaz at almost the same time. It would seem that the life of al-Maghribi certainly deserves further investigation, particularly the full extent of his reforms and his contact with other scholars.

Vienna defeat 1683

I now want to speak about the Vienna defeat, to put into context the sudden fall of the Kadızadeli movement.

The Vienna defeat was undoubtedly the turning point for the Kadızadeli movement and arguably the Ottomans also, and this event marked the sudden fall of the Kadızadeli movement from power within Ottoman politics, mostly due to Vani's strong support for the campaign and his role as army preacher.

In 1683, the Ottomans had sent a massive force and besieged Vienna, hugely outnumbering the Viennese. The Ottoman forces have been estimated as being between 140,000 and 240,000 strong, compared to the estimated 11,000 Viennese soldiers and 5,000 civilian volunteers. A relief force of Poles, Germans and Austrians arrived later during the siege, estimated as being 75,000 to 80,000 in strength, but despite this the Ottomans still outnumbered them by a significant amount.

However, the Ottoman rout occurred after the arrival of this relief force. Their defeat has been attributed to a number of factors, including military errors, disunity within the ranks, difficult terrain and being far from home. The rout also indicates the lack of religious zeal, as fleeing from the battlefield is considered a major wrong action in Islam.

Whether the disunity within the Ottoman ranks was exacerbated by Kadızadeli disputes is difficult to ascertain at this stage. However, Vani’s strict approach was unlikely to have been popular with the Janissary troops, given their common allegiance to the Bektashi Tariqah and given Vani's bans on smoking and alcohol. Later Ottoman writers would also refer to the moral degeneration of the Janissary troops as contributing to the defeat. Whatever the case may be, an offensive campaign on this scale would never be conducted by the Ottomans again nor perhaps by anyone in the wider Muslim world up until this day.

This defeat was highly significant because it marked the rapid decline of Ottoman power in the years to come. Thereafter, the Ottomans lost much land to the Europeans, suffering conflict due to the emergence of rival Muslim states, culminating in the 1st World War with the subsequent partitioning of Muslim lands by colonialists, the abolition of the Caliphate, the formation of secular nation states, for which the Muslims continue to suffer to this day all over the world, particularly in Palestine, Syria and of course elsewhere.

Following this defeat in Vienna in 1683 and the sudden political weakening of the Kadızadelis, Damascus then became their stronghold, probably due to the efforts of al-Ustuwani and his followers. Interestingly, one of the best pictures of Kadızadeli activity in Damascus can be constructed by examining the writings of an opposing scholar, whose name was Abdul-Ghani an-Nabulsi.

Abdul-Ghani an-Nabulsi

Abdul-Ghani an-Nabulsi was a controversial Naqshbandi Sufi Shaykh from Damascus, who lived from around 1641 to 1731. He was also a Hanafi jurist and hadith scholar. Many of his opinions on Sufi beliefs and practices put him in conflict with the Kadızadelis of his time. He wrote numerous works against the opinions of the Kadızadelis: defending listening to music, defending smoking tobacco, defending Mevlevi music and whirling, defending Ibn Arabi in response to a Turkish critic and defending the doctrine of Wahdat al-Wujud. He also wrote a commentary on Birgivi’s Al-Tariqat Al-Muhammadiyyah, which seems to neutralise this work given its importance for the Kadızadelis. In addition, he wrote a work asserting that the miracles of saints continue after death and that help can be sought from them.

In this last work Kashf an-Nur ‘an Ashab al-Qubur, he describes those who intended to guard the common people from disbelief (Kufr) and polytheism (Shirk) by preventing them from tombs, tearing off the cloths draped over the sarcophagi, and destroying the domes and buildings over the tombs of the pious. He writes “They say they perform this desecration to show the masses that dead saints have no power to defend themselves”, and then significantly an-Nabulsi proceeds to charge them with disbelief.

To get an idea of the concepts that an-Nabulsi is promoting, it is useful to quote one of his works, as he writes describing a scene at Ibn al-Farid's tomb in Cairo. He says: “I saw people at the Sama and at other times, too, twirling around the tomb, crying out to the Ruhaniyyah (spirit presence) of Ibn al-Farid for Barakah and help in their lives.” An-Nabulsi then tries to support this practice by quoting a verse from the Quran.

In a letter written from Aleppo around 1730, an-Nabulsi is asked: “What do you say of this situation: A man calls out “Ya Rasul Allah!” and another man says “The Messenger of Allah is dead. His Madad (assistance) has ceased”. Please respond… because the second man is a Kadızadeli of high standing.” An-Nabulsi then responds by seemingly equating this second man's words with denial of the continuing Prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and therefore disbelief.

This letter from Aleppo is important because it shows the presence of Kadızadelis in Syria and specifically Aleppo even until the 1730s, about a decade before Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab declares his mission. Indeed, a scholar from Aleppo, contemporary to an-Nabulsi, Sun‘Allah al-Halabi wrote a book rebutting the concepts found in an-Nabulsi's book on the issue of grave visitations.

Sun‘Allah al-Halabi

Sun‘Allah al-Halabi strongly opposed the practice of asking help from dead saints in a book called Sayf Allah ‘ala Man Kadhaba ‘ala Awliya Allah (The Sword of Allah against the One who lies upon the Friends of Allah). Sun‘Allah al-Halabi was a Hanafi scholar, described as a preacher (Wa'iz), jurist (Faqih) and hadith scholar. He states in this work:

“Nowadays, multitudes from amongst the Muslims have emerged claiming that the saints have discretions (Tasarrufat) in their life and after death, and through them help is sought in difficulties and calamities, and by their aspirations, matters of concern are resolved, so they come to their graves, call to them to fulfil their needs, adducing as evidence for [this practice] that these are miracles from them. [Some] who claim knowledge of juristic issues reinforce this for them, and support them with Fatwas and treatises… This, as you see, is speech containing negligence and excess, and extremism in the religion due to abandoning precaution. Rather, therein is eternal damnation and infinite punishment, due to what it contains of the odours of actual Shirk, and of contending with the authoritative Mighty Book and opposition to the beliefs of the Imams, and that which this Ummah has agreed upon.”

Importantly, Sun’Allah al-Halabi here is reporting a new emergence (“Nowadays, multitudes from amongst the Muslims have emerged…”) and he is clearly responding to the issues of his time. It would seem highly likely that the Kadızadeli political weakening had allowed such groups to emerge in strength and confidence, largely unopposed from Istanbul and as a consequence much stronger now in the rest of the Muslim lands. This work must have been written before the death of Sun'Allah al-Halabi around 1708.

Sun'Allah al-Halabi's work deals with the same basic issues as an-Nabulsi's work, but in opposition and this opens the possibility that Sun'Allah al-Halabi wrote his work as a direct rebuttal. His biographical details certainly fit the Kadızadeli profile, Hanafi, preacher (Wa'iz), jurist (Faqih), remembering that Kadızadelis did not generally apply this name to themselves. Crucially, his work is apparently referenced in early Saudi scholarship, so learning more about the life and works of this scholar seems essential, particularly as to whether he had any Kadızadeli links or contact with the Hanbali hadith circles in Damascus.

1711 Cairo riots

Worth mentioning now are the riots caused in Cairo in 1711 by a Kadızadeli known simply as ar-Rumi. His provocative sermons caused such discord that Azhar scholars responded to his contentions. Reading from the works of Imam Birgivi, he is said to have emphasised the principle of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong. Ar-Rumi objected to various aspects of innovated grave visitations, associated beliefs about the miracles of saints after death and the practice of public Dhikr. One of his demands was that Sufi Zawiyahs be converted to Madrasahs. He reportedly accused with disbelief those who claim that saints can see the Preserved Tablet, saying that even the Prophets had not seen it. It is also documented that ar-Rumi described gathering in groups, shouting and jumping on the pretence of Dhikr, as an act of polytheism, perhaps echoing the tough Fatwa of Shaykh al-Islam Ebu Su'ud Efendi against Dawaran.

Some Azhar scholars responded to his objections by affirming the miracles of saints after death, and by saying the Zawiyahs were protected under Shariah by the stipulations of the founder (Waqif). Those Azhar scholars also stated that whoever denies that the Prophet @ can see the Preserved Tablet must be rebuked by the ruler and [if he does not come to reason] be killed.

To this, the preacher responded by declaring those Azhar scholars to be disbelievers and rallied his followers to action, resulting in an estimated thousand people, mostly Turks, taking to the streets in support of the preacher. Due to the ensuing discord, the military was finally sent in and ar-Rumi forced to flee, travelling to Syria by boat.

Given the staunch activism of ar-Rumi it would seem unlikely that he would have been satisfied to cease his preaching following his expulsion from Cairo. Indeed, given the staunchness of the Kadızadelis in general and their prominence in the Ottoman scene for so long, it seems almost inconceivable that they would remain silent and inactive despite their political weakening. Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, who lived in this time and climate, would somehow capture this mood in the era and effectively revive these Kadızadeli sentiments.

Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab

Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab was born around 1703 from the tribe of Banu Tamim, in Uyaynah in the Najd region of modern Saudi Arabia, outside the Ottoman lands. His father Abdul-Wahhab was from a line of Hanbali scholars in that area.

He travelled to the Hijaz and studied with various scholars, including Shaykh Ali Efendi al-Daghistani, Shaykh Abdullah ibn Ibrahim al-Najdi, Shaykh Abdul-Latif al-Ahsa'i, Shaykh Ismail al-Ajluni and Shaykh Muhammad Hayat as-Sindi. He returned to Uyaynah staying for a period, then travelled to Basra and studied under Muhammad al-Majmu'i. It was in Basrah, with its sizable Shi'ah populations with their elaborate beliefs and rituals, that Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab appears to have first become openly vocal against innovations particularly with regard to grave visitations. He left Basra, with some reports of him being driven out, and travelled to al-Ahsa studying with scholars there, although it is clear he had already formed his strong views by then. He then returned to Najd to stay with his father and on his father's death is reported to have become active in his mission for reform. After some efforts he formed a political and religious alliance with Muhammad ibn as-Saud setting up the Emirate of Diriyah around 1744, the first Saudi state. The staunch Saudi policies, particularly on the theological issue of grave visitations and associated beliefs, would eventually place them in opposition to the post-Kadızadeli Ottomans, who by this stage had largely adopted the opinions of the opponents to the Kadızadelis and were likely spreading such doctrines all over the Muslim world via their influence over the Hajj pilgrimage. This would lead to a prolonged conflict that would eventually end with the 1st World War and the abolition of the Caliphate, the consequences of which we still see to this day.

The ironic tragedy for the post-Kadızadeli Ottomans was that the actions of the Saudi state were entirely consistent with the opinions of Birgivi, one of the foremost influential and reputable scholars of the Ottoman Caliphate at the height of its power, the same Birgivi who as mentioned had permitted the spilling of blood and the taking of property in his book Ziyarat al-Qubur.

Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab's scholarly lineage

Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab's teachers Ali Efendi ad-Daghistani, Abdullah ibn Ibrahim an-Najdi, Abdul-Latif al-Ahsa'i and Ismail al-Ajluni had all been students in Damascus, students of Abul-Muwahib al-Hanbali or at least students of students. All four scholars reportedly had Ijazaat (scholarly authorisations) from Abul-Muwahib. In the earliest work I have found, apparently written by Sulayman the grandson of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab received Ijazaat from Abul-Muwahib via Ali Efendi ad-Daghistani, Abdullah ibn Ibrahim an-Najdi and Abdul-Latif al-Ahsa'i, although no apparent mention is made of an Ijazah from Ismail al-Ajluni. In addition to this, Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab received a second Ijazah from Shaykh Abdullah ibn Ibrahim through a teacher to Shaykh Muhammad al-Balbani, and al-Balbani was also a prominent Hanbali scholar in Damascus. The fact that Sulayman emphasises the Ijazaat of his grandfather Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab back to Abul-Muwahib indicates that these Ijazaat to Abul-Muwahib were highly prized.

Abdullah ibn Ibrahim was also a Hanbali jurist and scholar of hadith, and considered an influential teacher over Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. Abdullah ibn Ibrahim had also been born in Najd, later moving to Madinah with his father, where he studied under scholars. Abdullah ibn Ibrahim also traveled to Damascus to study there and later returned to teach in Madinah. He reportedly passed on all of his teachings from Abul-Muwahib from Damascus to Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, with all the authorisations he had received.

Abdullah ibn Ibrahim was reportedly acquainted with the situation in Najd. There is a very interesting report in which Abdullah ibn Ibrahim asks Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, “Do you want to see the weapons that I have prepared for Al-Majma'ah [his family’s original hometown]?” and then proceeds to show him his library of books, saying, “These are the weapons I have prepared.” This incident indicates that Abdullah ibn Ibrahim was strongly influential in conveying his vision for Najd to his student, imparting the contents of his library, imparting his accumulated knowledge, and perhaps even a template for comprehensive change.

Another of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab's teachers was Muhammad Hayat as-Sindi, who was a Naqshbandi hadith scholar in the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah @. He wrote works on hadith and ijtihad, but interestingly also a commentary on the Hikam of Ibn Ata'illah. Muhammad Hayat as-Sindi was known for condemning innovations, calling to ijtihad and opposing taqlid, and was undoubtedly influential on the outlook of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. However, there is controversy about whether Muhammad Hayat as-Sindi died approving of his student, with very mixed reports depending on whether they come from supporters or detractors of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. Indeed, the research that I have done has not found evidence of Shaykh Muhammad Hayat as-Sindi giving Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab scholarly authorisations (Ijazaat) and evidence of such authorisations would certainly be interesting. The Sufi scholarship of Muhammad Hayat as-Sindi actually goes through Abu Tahir al-Kurani to Ibrahim al-Kurani who studied hadith with Abdul-Baqi al-Hanbali, who was apparently Abul-Muwahib's father and his main teacher, thus crossing through these same Hanbali circles in Damascus.

Interestingly, the research that I have done has not found evidence of Isma'il al-Ajluni or any remaining teachers giving authorisations (Ijazaat) to Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab and evidence of such authorisations would again be interesting, because my research has been by no means encompassing.

Examination of these ijazaat of these teachers is very revealing, and it shows that many of the scholars had strong Sufi affiliations, particularly within the Hanbali circles in Damascus, and the ijazaat of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab go straight back to them. It is of course important to consider the principles on which they based their beliefs and practices, as it was likely to have been a conservative Hanbali understanding, and this too requires further investigation. 

Why is the mention of scholarly authorisations (Ijazaat) important? A specific ijazah is an indicator that the teacher approved of his student and deemed him worthy of teaching that particular subject matter, whether narrating hadith or instructing from a particular book.

The specific ijazaat of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab not only indicate who he took knowledge from, but also indicate which teachers approved of him, which is particularly relevant when those ijazaat point in the same direction to Damascus. The fact that most of the cited ijazaat of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab return to Abul-Muwahib demonstrates a strong transmission is highly pertinent, since al-Ustuwani was one of the teachers of Abul-Muwahib. Abul-Muwahib in fact had many teachers, but the influence of al-Ustuwani can be understood through Abul-Muwahib's description of him. Abul-Muwahib in his account of al-Ustuwani seemingly approves of his teacher's approach in enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, and mentions attending his sermons of exhortations and advice, as well as his scholarly gatherings obtaining ijazaat from him, although there is no apparent mention of any in hadith. Interestingly, Abul-Muwahib mentions that al-Ustuwani removed several reprehensible practices, such as the wailing of women during funerals, ordering the carrying of sticks to beat them with (images of Saudi Shurtah may spring to mind).

Is there a direct transmission of teachings from al-Ustawani to Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab through the few generations of teachers? Given the similarities in their militant approaches against religious innovations, the influence of al-Ustuwani and the Kadızadeli movement in Damascus where the teachers of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab studied, the tight chronology of one movement disappearing (1730s) in the Ottoman heartlands and the other movement appearing (1740s) in Najd, some direct transmission of teachings appears very likely.

However, even if a clear and direct transmission of teachings between the two men cannot be decisively proved, the scholarly link remains. The scholarship of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab was largely a product of Damascene Hanbali circles, as evidenced by his ijazah qualifications, even if he never went to Damascus himself. Al-Ustawani was also a product of Damascene Hanbali circles earlier in his life and would have arrived at his staunch views against innovations prior to moving to Istanbul. The views of Imam Birgivi on religious innovations were essentially a mirror of the views of Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al-Qayyim, particularly on the issue of grave visitations. When Birgivi's views lost dominance amongst the Ottomans with the sudden weakening of the Kadızadeli movement, the Hanbali militant backlash could be viewed as inevitable.

Does Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab refer to Imam Birgivi and the Kadızadeli leaders by name? Well, I have not fully examined his writings, but I would rather doubt that he does. As well as a religious scholar, Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab was a brilliant politician. The first Saudi state was an opportunity for a new state with a new history, free from the complicated labyrinths of Ottoman scholarly circles including those Hanbali circles in Damascus, and it was a chance for a comprehensive implementation of a full Hanbali vision. However, the early Saudi scholars did retain a contact with the Hanbali Damascene circles, as evidenced by their exchanges with the scholar Muhammad as-Safarini al-Hanbali later that same century (1700s). 

This talk will have raised many difficult issues, but it is helpful to understand the history of Muslim disputes and polemics in order to derive lessons. Issues like declaring other Muslims to be disbelievers is particularly pertinent because of the clear dangers attached, and in this matter wisdom and moderation are always required, but also a sense of realism as to what are the limits of acceptable belief and practice. My analysis of this history reveals that the issue that truly broke the unity of the Muslims at that time was primarily the false practice of calling on dead saints for help, believing that they have disposal (Tasarruf) and power over affairs, and also overly elaborate grave visitations as a manifestation of that belief. These sorts of issues will inevitably raise conflicts of the worst kind, almost like a natural law.

That brings us to the end of today’s lecture. Thank you for your attention. Assalamu alaykum.

Key sources 

The Kadızadeli movement and Issues of Kadızadeli controversy

Semiramis Çavuşoğlu, "The Kādīzādeli Movement: An Attempt of Șeri’at-Minded Reform in the Ottoman Empire". Princeton University (PhD dissertation), 1990.

Necati Öztürk, "Islamic Orthodoxy among the Ottomans in the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to the Qādī-zāde Movement". University of Edinburgh (PhD dissertation), 1981.

Madeline C Zilfi, "The Kadizadelis: Discordant Revivalism in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul". Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1986, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 251-269.

Two emerging parties

Necati Öztürk, "Islamic Orthodoxy among the Ottomans in the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to the Qādī-zāde Movement". University of Edinburgh (PhD dissertation), 1981.

"Fatawa Ebu Su'ud". [Turkish]

Imam Birgivi, Kadızade Mehmed Efendi and Al-Ustuwani

Birgivi, "Ziyarat Al-Qubur". [Arabic]

Birgivi, "The Path of Muhammad @: A Book on Islamic Morals and Ethics [Al-Tariqat Al-Muhammadiyyah]" (Translator: Tosun Bayrak). World Wisdom, Inc., 2005.

Semiramis Çavuşoğlu, "The Kādīzādeli Movement: An Attempt of Șeri’at-Minded Reform in the Ottoman Empire". Princeton University (PhD dissertation), 1990.

Necati Öztürk, "Islamic Orthodoxy among the Ottomans in the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to the Qādī-zāde Movement". University of Edinburgh (PhD dissertation), 1981.

Madeline C Zilfi, "The Kadizadelis: Discordant Revivalism in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul". Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1986, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 251-269.

The Koprulu family

Semiramis Çavuşoğlu, "The Kādīzādeli Movement: An Attempt of Șeri’at-Minded Reform in the Ottoman Empire". Princeton University (PhD dissertation), 1990.

Necati Öztürk, "Islamic Orthodoxy among the Ottomans in the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to the Qādī-zāde Movement". University of Edinburgh (PhD dissertation), 1981.

Sayyid Mehmed Vani Efendi

Marc D Baer, "Honored by the Glory of Islam: Conversion and Conquest in Ottoman Europe". Oxford University Press, 2008.

Semiramis Çavuşoğlu, "The Kādīzādeli Movement: An Attempt of Șeri’at-Minded Reform in the Ottoman Empire". Princeton University (PhD dissertation), 1990.

Basheer M Nafi, "Taṣawwuf and Reform in Pre-Modern Islamic Culture: In Search of Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī". Die Welt des Islams, New Series, 2002, Vol. 42, Issue 3, Arabic Literature and Islamic Scholarship in the 17th/18th Century: Topics and Biographies, pp. 307-355.

Necati Öztürk, "Islamic Orthodoxy among the Ottomans in the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to the Qādī-zāde Movement". University of Edinburgh (PhD dissertation), 1981.

Madeline C Zilfi, "The Kadizadelis: Discordant Revivalism in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul". Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1986, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 251-269.

Vienna defeat 1683 

Marc D Baer, "Honored by the Glory of Islam: Conversion and Conquest in Ottoman Europe". Oxford University Press, 2008.

Paul K Davis, "Besieged: 100 Great Sieges from Jericho to Sarajevo". Oxford University Press, 2003.

Abdul-Ghani an-Nabulsi

Barbara R Von Schlegell, "Sufism in the Ottoman Arab World: Shaykh 'Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi (d. 1143/1731)". University of California, Berkeley (PhD dissertation), 1997.

Sun'Allah al-Halabi

Sun'Allah al-Halabi, "Sayf Allah ala man Kadhaba ala Awliya Allah". [Arabic]

1711 Cairo riots

Rudolph Peters, "The Battered Dervishes of Bab Zuwayla: A Religious Riot in Eighteenth-Century Cairo". Eighteenth-Century Renewal and Reform in Islam (Editors: Nehemia Levtzion and John O Voll), Syracuse University Press, 1987, pp. 93-115.

Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab's scholarly lineage

Abul-Muwahib al-Hanbali, "Mashyakhatu Abil-Muwahib al-Hanbali". [Arabic]

Sulayman ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, "Al-Tawdih an Tawhid Al-Khallaq fi Jawab Ahl Al-Iraq". [Arabic]

Jamaal al-Din M Zarabozo, "The Life, Teachings and Influence of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab". The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Dawah and Guidance (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), 2003.