Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi’s influence on Turkish culture has extended beyond the Mawlawi Tariqa, an order that is attributed to him. Masnawi, his most famous and important work, has had a strong influence on society due to its recitation and written and oral expositions. Those who teach or create a discourse on the Masnawi have sometimes been called mesnevîhan, and the place where this work was taught outside the mevlevihanes have been called mesnevihane or darülmesnevi. Such places were mostly founded in the 19th century.

In Istanbul, the Masnawi was predominantly recited in imperial mosques, darulmesnevis or the sultan’s palace. The Masnawi was most often recited in places that belonged to tariqas like the Naqshi Khalwati, Qadiri or other tarikas. On certain days of the week, the mesnevihan would offer Mawlana’s world, a world that consisted of thought and art, to guide people. Thus, a gentle and gracious group of intellectuals and enlightened people grew to appreciate the work of Jalal al-Din Rumi.

1- A gilded page from Mathnawi

The Masnawi was taught in Istanbul mevlevihanes throughout the ages; there were also a number of well-known mesnevihans. For example, İsmail Ankaravî and Sheikh Galip Dede from the Galata Mevlevihane, Osman Selahaddin Dede, Mehmed Celaleddin Efendi (d. 1908) and Sheikh Abdülbaki Efendi from the Yenikapı Mevlevihane. Because the Masnawi was explicated in Mesnevihans by a diversity of academic circles, the description, conflicts, interpretation, even the preferences to be made in the inner world of the individual and how to find salvation when faced with danger became matters of public knowledge. In such way, the people were brought not only tranquility, but helped them to renew their energy. It is in the light of this that Yahya Kemal explained how the Turks were able to reach the gates of Vienna: “Do you think that the Turks went there with swords? No, the Turks reached the gates of the Vienna by eating bulgur pilav (cracked wheat pilaf) and reading Masnawi.” This quote indicates the humility and extensive knowledge of the people being referred to.

Mehmed Emin-i Tokadî (d. 1745), an important Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi Sufi from the eighteenth century in Istanbul, often quoted verses from Masnawi in his works; in particular, he wrote a single treatise on a single verse. The halife (successor) of Tokadî, Müstakimzade Süleyman Sadeddin Efendi (d.1788) expounded upon some of the Masnawi verses. The leading Naqshi mesnevîhan was Neccarzade Mustafa Rıza Efendi (d.1746). Due to the influence of Neccarzade’s circle, the interest in Masnawi in Naqshi groups grew. Neccarzade became a postnişin (head of the tekke) of the Sinan Paşa Tekke in Beşiktaş, which he had organized in 1712. During this period, he took lessons in reciting the Masnawi from the mesnevihan of the Beşiktaş Mevlevihane, Mehmed Memiş Efendi (d. 1723). Neccarzade taught the Masnawi to the public in the dergâh and led a dhikr in the Hatm-i Hâcegân style, which is of the Jalwati method and is in keeping with the Naqshi-Mujaddidi method. The tekke became a place for discussions between the ulama and intellectuals.

2- The tomb of Sheikh Galib in the yard of Galata Mawlawi lodge

Mehmed Emin Kerküki (d. 1813), who was taught by Mehmed Âgâh (d. 1770), continued his training in Bursa and opened the Eminiyye Tekke there; he had been taught the Masnawi by Neccarzade. Mehmed Âgâh, who is buried in the cemetery of the Galata Mevelevihane. Kerküklü Emin Efendi’s halifes – all of whom were mesnevihans – included Hoca Neş’et Efendi (d. 1807), the sheikh of Hatuniye Tekke, Hoca Selim Efendi (d. 1812), Sheikh Ali Behçet Efendi of Selimiye Tekke (d. 1822), Hoca Hüsameddin Efendi, Mustafa Vahyî Efendi (d. 1868) and Keşfî. The fact that these people gave special importance to the Masnawi, reciting it throughout their lives, and taking up a path that was equipped with components that were both Naqshi and Mawlawi means that we should consider them as being distinct from other Naqshi movements. Here it is necessary to state these Naqshis, to a certain extent, became immersed in Mawlawi traits, perhaps even becoming Mawlanas in their own right; that is, while they did not practice Mawlawi manners and methods, they found inspiration from Mawlana’s work the Masnawi.

3a- Mawlawi master (on the left) and Mawlawi dervish (on the right) (d’Ohsson)

3b- Mawlawi master (on the left) and Mawlawi dervish (on the right) (d’Ohsson)

Ali Behçet Efendi in Üsküdar continued to inspire students at the Selimiye Tekke for many years; in time this tekke became a mesnevihane, bringing new energy to the intellectual life of Üsküdar. Many of Ali Behçet Efendi’s halifes in Üsküdar carried on the tradition of reciting the Masnawi. For example, Hafız Feyzullah Efendi (d.1867), who led the Meclis-i Meşayih (council of sheikhs) and was the halife to Ali Behçet Efendi, became a mesnevihan in his own tekke (Mesnevihane Tekke). In addition to a number of statesmen who began to follow Ali Behçet Efendi, Şerife Hanım (d. 1908), a female mesnevihan, stands out among his students.

There are two important names and places worth mentioning on the European side of Istanbul. The first of these is Sheikh Mehmed Murad Efendi of the Murad Molla Dergâh (d. 1848). Murad Efendi established a darülmesnevi next to the dergâh in 1844 in Çarşamba, Fatih; Sultan Abdülmecid attended the opening ceremony of this darülmesnevi. In the ceremony, the mesnevihan icazet (license) was given to many students, including Cevdet Pasha, who had been taught by Mehmed Murad Efendi.

The second mesnevihane on the European side came into being when Hüsameddin Efendi (d. 1864) started to provide instruction in the Masnawi from 1813 at the Eyüp Hatuniye Dergâhı (or the Hatuniye, Hatunî or Karılar Tekke). Although Hoca Hüsameddin Efendi’s health worsened in 1863, he never abandoned teaching; he died in 93, after having accomplished a complete recitation of the Masnawi for the third time. He left behind thousands of faithful followers. It was for this reason that Hoca Hüsameddin Efendi was famed as a mesnevîhan-ı şehîr. A number of statesmen, for example, Midhat Pasha and Cevdet Pasha, provided him with patronage. After Hüsameddin Efendi, his halife, a man who was like a son to him, Mustafa Vahyi Efendi (d. 1878), continued the Masnawi classes and dhikr ceremonies.

Masnawi was also taught in waqfs. In the waqfiyya (foundation deed), Damat İbrahim Pasha mentioned that instruction in Sufi theory and the Masnawi were to be given at the waqf which he had established; in this sense, not only tekkes but also the madrasas embraced the Masnawi.

When the recitation of the Masnawi was transferred to mosques in the late 19th century, Masnawi classes took on the form of public preaching. Indeed, while Ahmed Avni Konuk was distinguished for his Masnawi expositions, Ahmed Remzi Dede (d.1944), one of the last mesnevihans in Üsküdar, taught Masnawi classes at Beyazıt Mosque, Sultan Mustafa Mosque and Üsküdar Yeni Mosque. At Fatih Mosque, Ahmed Efendi, from Karahisar, succeeded Mehmed Esad Dede (d. 1911); following his death, Tahirülmevlevî (d.1951) taught the Masnawi once a week. Mehmed Akif Ersoy was among the attendees of the Masnawi classes given by Selanikli Esad Dede, who taught Masnawi for almost half a century at Fatih Mosque. Şefik Can (d. 2005), a student of Tahirülmevlevi, continued the tradition of Masnawi recitation in Istanbul. Today, the tradition of Masnawi recitation is maintained in some neighborhoods, although not in mosques, madrasas or tekkes.


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This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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