Istanbul is a center of religious sites for Muslims not only due to religious reasons, but also due to administrative, social, cultural and economic reasons. Both the existence of the hadith that encouraged the believers to conquer Constantinople1 and the transformation of the city into the dar al-khilafa (center of the Caliphate), after the Caliphate passed to the Ottomans, were some of the reasons why Istanbul became a spiritual center of attraction and a place of importance for Muslims. The existence of the graves of holy men who influenced the Muslim masses with their works and views, as well as the tombs of figures who were loved by the people for their services has ensured that Istanbul remains an important place to visit. It is for this reason that Istanbul, with its mosques, tombs and madrasas is an important destination for Muslims.
We can divide the religious sites that Muslims visit in the city into four groups: mosques, tombs or shrines, dervish convents and madrasas. In most instances, these places were built close to one another and thus became parts of an intertwined structure. Hence, those who pay a visit to a mosque can also visit a tomb and vice versa. Eyüp Sultan Mosque and the adjacent tomb, Süleymaniye Mosque and the tomb of Süleyman the Magnificent, Yahya Efendi Mosque with the accompanying convent and tomb, and Merkez Efendi Convent and Mosque are examples of this.
The root of the word türbe (Turkish for tomb or shrine) comes from the Arabic word turab, meaning earth. Although the word türbe is mostly associated with holy men (wali pl. awliya, literally friends of Allah), it is also used for the graves of certain prominent figures in society, such as sultans and viziers. According to popular belief, throughout history those who were buried in the tombs have been considered as having a connection with spiritual realm, regardless of the historical reality. Thus, those who are buried in those tombs have been generally seen as friends of God, awliya. The tombs are put in places and areas that ensure people will experience religious and spiritual feelings when visiting, remembering Allah when they have problems or illnesses, being aware of the existence of Allah in their lives and being able to find psychological relief.2 The blessed people who are buried in these tombs are sometimes regarded as “spiritual protectors” by the Muslim population, as well as, in a way, a “title deed” which strengthens the identity of the area, or even as “window on desires”, at which they can petition; Muslims have visited these locations over the centuries.3 The best example of this perception is the widespread belief among the people that there are four protectors of the Bosphorus. Accordingly, on the Marmara Sea side there is the shrine of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi in Üsküdar and Yahya Efendi’s shrine in Beşiktaş, and on the Black Sea in Beykoz lies the shrine of Yusha (Joshua) and in Sarıyer is located the shrine of Telli Baba who are the spiritual guards of Istanbul.4
People have been visiting those places to worship and present their requests, or just to recite prayers, imbibe lessons, contemplate or “stop by a holy place.”5
THE RELIGIOUS/CULTURAL BASIS FOR VISITING TOMBS
The fundamental reasons for visiting tombs, as well as the prayers and ceremonies to be performed during these visits are based on hadiths, such as “…visit graves, for they make one mindful of death”6 and “O Allah, grant forgiveness to the inhabitants of Baqi”;7 such sayings encourage visiting graves, as well as explaining the reasons why one can visit a tomb and what is allowed to be done during these visits. For the construction of the tombs and the unity of the tomb and mosque, the grave of Prophet Muhammad as acted as the model. The fact that the Prophet’s grave was built inside his house and the additions made to it in later periods meant that the Prophet’s Mosque enclosed the entire grave are important in this respect. Indeed, the Prophet’s grave and mosque have acted as an example for many of the awliya tombs.8 In this context, state officials and institutions, and sometimes charitable foundations had tombs built throughout Turkey and especially in Istanbul they are built around the graves of several Companions, martyrs of the conquest, sultans and awliya. For centuries, these tombs carried out many functions, particularly in the Islamization of their neighborhood. The construction and maintenance of the tombs, visiting them and the ceremonies held in them have always attracted the attention of the Muslim population; such visits were carried out for many centuries based on religious themes and within the framework of religious regulations. On the other hand, the location of some tombs in the best parts of Istanbul led them to be visited for other than religious purposes and caused them to be perceived as cultural places that should be visited at the weekend. Thus, these religious “pilgrimages” became cultural events. Certain practices in such visits caused the tombs to become used for purposes of gratification, such as lighting candles, tying pieces of cloth or performing prayers; these were scrutinized as religious/theological practices and criticized by scholars in the past, and today.9
THE RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL DIMENSIONS OF VISITING TOMBS
Throughout history, tombs all over Turkey, but particularly in Istanbul, have been places where public religiosity is best manifested. Via such places, religious teachings have been reformed by the masses based on their psycho-social needs and their religious perceptions.10 Although the exact number is not known, there are about 500 tombs in Istanbul.11 Research has shown that about half the Turkish population visits tombs. For example, Toprak and Caloğlu12 demonstrated that 52% of the population visited tombs in 2000; Furthermore, Çarkoğlu and Kalaycıoğlu,13 showed that 41% of the population visits tombs at least once a year. It seems that visiting tombs is an indispensable part of people’s religious life, both in Turkey and in Istanbul. Many people visit these places for religious purposes, while for many people such visits play a motivating and transforming role in the continuance of life according to the requirements of the religion. This is true to such an extent that some visitors stated that they became more sensitive about carrying out religious commands, such as performing prayers and giving charity and alms. Most of those who visit tombs in Istanbul make preparations at home, such as performing ablution, carrying out supererogatory prayers and giving charity to the needy before going to the tomb. They are careful not to go into the tomb in a state of ritual impurity; those who leave their home in a state of ritual impurity perform ablutions in the şadırvans and the fountains next to the tomb. Tombs are usually visited with the perception that such a visit is an act of worship.14
The tombs of Istanbul which are regarded as religious places to visit for centuries have been important centers that helped the city gain an Islamic identity. Discovering the place of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari’s (Eyüp Sultan) grave after the conquest of Constantinople and later the grave of Yuşa (Joshua) as a result of spiritual inspiration are some of the best examples of this. Throughout history, tombs in Istanbul have been places of reminiscence where people become familiar with their history, remember their ancestors, show them respect and loyalty, and enliven the past, thus making it meaningful. Today, tombs still play a unifying role as they did in the past. They bring together people of differing levels of religious observation, religious perception, education and socio-economic backgrounds. For example, people from various educational backgrounds, religious observational styles and socio-economic levels come together at the tombs of Eyüp Sultan or Yuşa. Consequently, from this viewpoint , the tombs have for centuries carried out a social function that unifies and creates solidarity in society.15
In many districts of Istanbul, tombs that are united with their environment also carry out the function of helping the environment gain social status and become known. A metropolitan city such as Istanbul is even known as “the city of tombs.” From the past to the present, the names of many places in Istanbul have become associated with the name of a tomb that is loved and respected by the people or by the name of the person buried there. Yahya Efendi Street, Merkez Efendi, the district of Eyüp, the tomb of Vefa Street and Akbaba Village are some examples. Tombs also play important roles in many different social phenomena, ranging from naming children to sending soldiers to the military and even marriages. Institutions, such as religious foundations, charitable institutions, guesthouses, soup kitchens and student dorms have been established next to the tombs, thus contributing to social activities.
THE MOST POPULAR VISITING PLACES/TOMBS IN ISTANBUL
Tombs in Istanbul can be divided into two groups; those constructed for Companions, sultans, statesmen or awliya, in other words, those whose identities are historically known, and those constructed for “imaginary awliya”, people whose identities have not been historically established. There is not enough information in the written sources about the saints who exist primarily in the imagination of the people. Even though it is not known who is buried in some tombs or even whether someone is actually buried there, visitors have not been affected by this uncertainty and fulfill their visits without feeling any discomfort. These tombs differ from one another in respect to ritual practices. In the tombs where there are awliya whose identities are known or about whom there is detailed information, or particularly about those who were the masters of Sufi orders, not many rituals are carried out that could be considered interesting or which reflect what can be called “false beliefs”.
In many tombs, officials appointed by the state endeavor to stop practices that are considered to be bid‘ah (religious innovation); these officials try to instruct the visitors. In tombs where the interred is known, certain acts of worship, for example, reciting prayers and passages from the Qur’an are carried out; in addition to the aforementioned acts, in tombs where the identity of the interred is not known, a variety of other ritualistic acts, such as tying pieces of cloth, unlocking locks, leaving dresses or brooms, cutting wires, rolling up thread spools and lighting candles can often be encountered in tombs. Visitors of both types of tombs regard these locations as sacred places and visit them to “be in a sacred place.”16
In short, the Muslim population of Istanbul, from the past to the present, has attached great importance to the tombs of the Companions, martyrs and awliya, protected these places out of loyalty to the glorious memory of their ancestors, and shown their respect to the efforts of their ancestors in the Islamization of the city; as a result, they have become much visited places. The main desire in making such visits has been to visit a sacred place; some visitors in addition want to make requests, such as asking for help with trouble or illness, finding a spouse, having children, solving marital problems, asking for intercession or attaining a peaceful and comfortable life. Some of the places that have been respectfully protected and visited by the population in Istanbul for centuries are listed below:
Tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Eyüp Sultan)
This tomb is one of the most visited places in Istanbul, even in Turkey. It is in the Eyüp district of Istanbul. In this tomb the grave of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the flag bearer of the Prophet, is located. It is for this reason that this tomb has been regarded as a sacred place by Muslims for centuries and visited by many Muslims, both inside or outside of Istanbul. Because Abu Ayyub al-Ansari is seen as a figure who enlightens the souls and guides the believers with his spiritual being, he has been accepted as the sultan of the hearts; the area where his tomb is located has come to be known as Eyüp Sultan. His real name was Khalid b. Zaid, and he was martyred in the first military expedition carried out to conquer Constantinople (669). Zayd was buried somewhere close to the city walls, in accordance with his last wishes. The location of the grave was found by the mentor of Sultan Mehmed I, Akşemseddin, through spiritual inspiration during the conquest of the city.17
After the discovery of the grave, Sultan Mehmed I had a tomb built over the grave and a mosque next to it. This mosque, known as Eyüpsultan Mosque, was the first salatin mosques (mosque built by a sultan.) In addition to the mosque and tomb, Sultan Mehmed I also built a madrasa, soup kitchen and a bathhouse. The tomb, which took on its current form after restorations and additions made over the years, is the oldest Ottoman mausoleum in Istanbul and has been able to maintain its unique design. The tomb is constituted of the following sections:
Hacet penceresi (window of desires): Visitors stop in front of this window and utter prayers. It is also known as the “window of prayers” or the “window of visits”.
Dua kapısı (door of prayers): The door which opens on the section where the grave and sarcophagus of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari are located is known as the dua kapısı. Visitors stand in front of this door and recite prayers.
Sanduka (sarcophagus): In the middle of the hexagonal tomb structure is the grave of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, covered by a wooden sarcophagus.
Kısmet kuyusu (wishing well): This is the most interesting place in the tomb; there are a large number of stories about it. The well is by the foot of the grave. There is still a wooden spinning wheel and a copper bucket over it. It is believed that the water in the well is similar to the zamzam water in Mecca.
The Footprint of Prophet Muhammad: This is kept in a cupboard, known as the kadem-i saadet cupboard, which is located at the entrance section of the tomb. It was moved from Topkapı Palace to the tomb by Sultan Mahmud I. This is the second most visited section of the tomb after of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari’s grave.18
During the Ottoman period, both state officials and the public showed great respect to the tomb. When Ottoman sultans ascended to the throne, the girding of the sword ceremony would usually be carried out in Eyüp Sultan’s tomb, that is, in the spiritual presence of the Prophet’s flag bearer; this was part of the sultans’ deep reverence for Prophet Muhammad. One of the swords from the sacred relics would be used for this ceremony. Taqlid-i sayf (girding the sword) was performed with a ceremony known as the Kılıç Alayı (sword procession); this procession was watched by the public. Here prayers would be recited and rams sacrificed. Either the sheikh al-Islam or the most respected scholar or Sufi master of the era would gird the sultan with the sword. In this way, the sultans not only swore allegiance to the Prophet in the presence of this great Companion, but they also strengthened their administrative power and the public’s respect with the metaphorical support they received from the religious and spiritual realm.19
From the time of Ottomans to the present day, being close to Eyüp Sultan’s tomb has always been regarded as important; it is for this reason that the vast cemetery areas have been built around the tomb. The reason for this desire is that there is an established belief among people that those who are buried close enough to the tomb to hear the call for prayers recited in Eyüpsultan mosque will be saved from the torments of the grave.20 Today Eyüp appears like a place that symbolizes the unity of life and death, standing in the midst of a vast cemetery and among many tombs.21
For many centuries, the tomb of Eyüp Sultan has been visited by Muslims living both within and outside of Istanbul; they come out of respect and reverence to the spiritual being of this great Companion. Even between 1923 and 1950, when the tomb was closed, people continued to visit this place and say prayers in front of the hacet kapısı. During the Ottoman period, when the morning visiting hours proved insufficient, the tomb would be opened to the public on Monday nights and on the Laylat al-Qadar (Night of Power).22 Today, the tomb is open only during the day. Although it is visited almost every day, there is a greater crowd on Fridays, on holy days, on the eve of festivals and during the month of Ramadan. It is one of the main places for groups who come from other cities to visit. Many people come to the tomb with their families during Ramadan, breaking their fast nearby. It is also a custom to come for morning prayer and to recite prayers outside the tomb, as it is closed at that hour of the day.
From the time of Ottomans to the present day, the custom of pilgrims visiting the tomb of the Prophet’s flag bearer, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, and praying there before setting out for the hajj has become an important custom.23 Other customs are carried out by boys who are to be circumcised and brides. The tomb of Eyüp Sultan comes at the top of the list of tombs visited by boys who are to be circumcised. Families bring their children to this place and pray for them to be good people and to have a peaceful future.
Brides also come to the tomb and pray that their marriage will be blessed, that they will be happy and have a blessed family. In addition, people believe that Eyüp Sultan loved children,24 and for this reason they take their children to visit the tomb a few times a year.
The Tomb of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi
This tomb is located in the garden of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Mosque in Üsküdar. It is one of the most visited places on the Anatolian side of the city today, as it was in the past. Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, a sixteenth-century Ottoman Sufi scholar, is buried here. Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi was born in 1541 in Şereflikoçhisar, Ankara. He was educated at Hagia Sophia Madrasa, Istanbul. Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, who wrote several scholarly, mystical and literal works, served as preacher, judge and professor; he was influenced by a dream and became a disciple of Üftade, completing his path of spiritual maturation.25
In his life, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi witnessed the reign of eight different Ottoman sultans. Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi won the love and respect of both the public and the sultans and was known by a variety of titles, such as “owner of time” or “master of sultans.” He corresponded and advised Murad III, Ahmed I, and Osman II, who were some of the sultans who reigned during his lifetime. The prayers at the laying of the foundations for Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque during the reign of Sultan Ahmed I were recited by Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi. When Sultan Murad IV ascended the throne, the sword was girded by Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, as he was the best respected Sufi master of the time. Hüdayi passed away in 1628 and was buried where his tomb is located today. After his death, his tomb and convent were visited by both members of the palace and the common people.26
There are many stories that Hüdayi was loved and respected by the sultans and the people. Sultan Ahmed I loved and respected him so much that he poured water for him to perform ablution and the sultan’s mother held the towel for him. While she was holding the towel, she thought: “the sheikh will perform a miraculous deed.” Just then, Hüdayi asked “could there be any greater miracle than to have the sultan of this world pour water while performing ablution and for his mother to hold the towel?”27 At one time, Sultan Ahmed I met Sheikh Hüdayi when visiting Üsküdar. The sultan immediately dismounted, kissed the sheikh’s hand, and asked him to get on the horse. For a while, the sheikh rode the horse and the sultan walked. A short while later Hüdayi became uncomfortable and said “My sultan! I got on this horse just so my master Üftade’s prayer, “may Allah have the sultans walk by your horse”, would come true.” He then dismounted and asked the sultan to get back on the horse. When the weather was so bad that no ships could sail, boatmen in Üsküdar could confidently sail their boats through a path known as “the path of Hüdayi” from Üsküdar to Sirkeci. This was interpreted as a miraculous deed of Sheikh Hüdayi.28
Today, as in the past, the tomb is visited by many people coming from Istanbul and other cities. Not only is this tomb visited by individuals, it is visited by groups coming for tours that include visiting tombs in Istanbul. Almost every day visitors come to the tomb, but the number of visitors significantly increases in the month of Ramadan and on holy days and nights.29
Muslims visit this tomb for the most part “to feel aware of the spiritual atmosphere and to find peace.” Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi’s invocation, which he recited when he was with Sultan Ahmed I, is also influential in visiting this tomb. The famous invocation reads as follows:
Dear Lord! Until the Last Day, those who adhere to our way, those who love us and those who visit our tomb at least once in their lives and recite al-Fatiha belong to us. May those who become our disciples not die at sea! May they not suffer from poverty! May they die by preserving their faith in Allah…30
Those who come to the tomb today complete their visits by reciting more prayers and verses from the Qur’an. Trying to find peace and tranquility in a sacred place and expecting to attain intercession are the most dominant religious feelings. Some visitors also make requests in addition to saying prayers. Some of them distribute candy, Turkish delight etc. with the intention to attain relief from an illness or in order to help their prayers be accepted. The belief that the prayers will be accepted after the tomb has been visited three consecutive Fridays is common amongst the people. The well water in the tomb is likened to zamzam water by some visitors and it is believed that Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi brought this water out of the ground by hitting his staff on it. Some of the visitors drink from this water hoping to find relief for health problems, while others just wash their hands and face, and sometimes fill their bottles to take water to friends and families. There are some people who bring sick relatives to the tomb in the hope that they will find peace and healing.31 It is also stated that it was the custom in the Ottoman era for parents to take their children to the tomb of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi to help them to learn how to read more easily.32
The Tomb of Merkez Efendi
This tomb is located in the Merkezefendi district of Zeytinburnu, Istanbul. In the tomb is the grave of a blessed man whose real name was Musa Muslihuddin, but was known by the people as Merkez Efendi. Musa Muslihuddin was a fifteenth-century Ottoman Sufi scholar. He was born in 1463 in Denizli. After studying in Denizli, Bursa and Istanbul, he went to Amasya and received Sufi training in the Khalwatiyya way. Then, he affiliated with Sheikh Sünbül Efendi, who was living in Kocamustafapaşa, Istanbul. After serving as Sünbül Efendi’s assistant (caliph) in various dervish convents, Musa Muslihuddin/Merkez Efendi took over the position of master from Sünbül Efendi after the latter passed away. Merkez Efendi, who preached to the people in Hagia Sophia and Fatih mosques became famous for visiting the ill and praying for them. It is believed that those who were ill became healed when he prayed for them. Merkez Efendi, who passed away in 1522, was buried in the place where his tomb stands today. His tomb is located in the külliye known by the same name. The külliye consists of a mosque, a tomb, a çilehane (a cell where a novice retreats), a well, şadırvan, kitchen, dervish cells, selamlık, mansion for the sultan, and a bathhouse.33
The story regarding why Sheikh Musa Muslihuddin was known as Merkez Efendi is as follows: “One day, Musa Efendi and his master Sünbül Efendi were having a conversation. Sünbül Efendi asked: “If you were to create this universe, how would you do so? What would you add to it or take from it?” Musa Efendi responded: “Everything is so perfect that I would not take anything from it or add to it.” Sünbül Efendi, pleased with this response, said: “You have given me the answer that I hoped from you and left everything at the center (merkez). Let your name be Merkez Efendi.” Musa Muslihuddin, who began to be known as Merkez Efendi from that day, has been known as a source of knowledge and wisdom for centuries and respected by the people.34 Merkez Efendi was not only loved and respected by the common people, but also by the sultan and other state officials. It is narrated that, Sultan Süleyman I would attend Merkez Efendi’s sermons and referred to him as “our Merkez.”35
One day when Merkez Efendi was performing the prayer, he heard a voice while prostrating. The voice said: “O Merkez Efendi! For seven years, I have been waiting an order to come to the earth. Save me from this prison. I have the cure for some diseases.” After the prayer, Merkez Efendi told his disciples: “Dig here. There is water which will cure malaria.” When the disciples dug into the ground, red water gushed out. They built a well there. People called this place the “well of intentions” and it is believed that when people with malaria drink from this well, they will be healed.36 Because of Merkez Efendi’s fame among people as a Sufi physician, as well as the fact that he visited and prayed for the sick, the well next to the tomb, which itself is believed to have healing powers, has been visited for centuries by those who search for a cure for their illnesses.
While Merkez Efendi was serving in a zaviye in Manisa, Sultan Süleyman’s mother Hafsa Valide Sultan became ill. He prepared a paste known as mesir from 41 different spices and cured the valide sultan with it. Then, upon sultan’s request, every year this paste was prepared and distributed to the people. It was commonly believed that Merkez Efendi distributed mesir paste from the minarets of Sultan Mosque on March 22 for the first time; thus, it has become a custom to distribute mesir paste every year on this date.37 Today, this tradition still continues. The mesir paste festivals are organized in Manisa and mesir paste is distributed to people on March 22 of every year.
The people of Istanbul continued to show their respect to Merkez Efendi after his death and have visited his tomb over the centuries. Today, his tomb is one of the most frequently visited places on the European side of the city. The tomb receives many visitors from every corner of Istanbul, as well as tours which come from other cities in Anatolia. Those who visit the tomb of Eyüp Sultan also visit the tombs of Sünbül Efendi and Merkez Efendi. Although the tomb is visited almost every day, the number of visitors are greater on Fridays, holy days, on the eve of festivals and during the month of Ramadan. Because Merkez Efendi was a Sufi master of the Khalwatiyya order, members of the Khalwatiyya order come with tours and visit the tomb during Ramadan.38
Those who visit the tomb of Merkez Efendi say prayers and recite from the Qur’an, perform prayers in the çilehane and drink water from the well with healing powers in the garden. Some visitors, on the other hand, reduce the religious act of being connected with spirituality, remembering the Hereafter and visiting a believer in his tomb to simple superstitious elements, consisting of “performing prayers by turning towards the tomb, circumambulating around it, lighting candles, tying threads and pieces of clothes to the bars of the tomb” and thus diverting the tradition from its original form. A few visitors carry out rituals like making cloth cradles and leaving them on the graves behind the tomb, tying pieces of cloth to the tomb, leaving keys, writing requests on the grave stones, forming depictions houses or cars with sticks. Today, the tomb of Merkez Efendi is at the top of list of the places where the Directorate of Religious Affairs and the Merkez Efendi Mosque Organization struggle against the “transforming of religion into superstition.”
The Tomb of Akbaba Sultan
The tomb of Akbaba Sultan is in Akbaba Village, Beykoz, Istanbul. Immediately adjacent to the tomb is Canfeda Hatun Mosque, dated 1580. The mosque was built by Sultan Murad III’s mother, Nurbanu Sultan. Immediately after the conquest of Constantinople, Akbaba Mehmed Efendi came, settled and established a dervish lodge in this village; he was buried in the tomb here. When the Janissary corps were abolished, the tomb was closed and transferred to the Naqshibandi order. According to narrations, Akbaba Sultan heralded the news that Sultan Mehmed II was going to conquer the city. Akbaba Sultan had the same dream on the same night as Akşemseddin, and interpreted this dream as indicating the conquest of Constantinople.
The tomb of Akbaba Sultan is an important place for religious visits. Visitors come to the tomb from in Istanbul and outside with tours. In particular, people who come to visit the tomb of Yuşa also visit the tomb of Akbaba Efendi. Visitors usually recite the Qur’an and say prayers while sitting next to the tomb. Boys who are to be circumcised and newlywed couples visit this tomb. It is not normal for those who looking for cures to health problems to visit the tomb. A visit to the tomb is usually as follows: Visitors say prayers and recite the Qur’an at the entrance to the tomb. Moreover, most of the visitors to the tomb perform a prayer of two rak’ahs in the mosque next to the tomb. Some visitors distribute candy or Turkish delight, circumambulate the tomb, and bring relatives with health problems to the tomb.
The tomb has represented the village for centuries; indeed, the village is named after the tomb. The existence of the tomb in this village and the connection between Akbaba Sultan and the conquest provide the villagers with a feeling of belonging and identity, serving a social function that ensures unity. Throughout history, some important ceremonies have been organized in the village in the location of the tomb. According to the villagers, this tomb used to be the location for the Republican Day celebrations. The villagers who gathered here would sing the national anthem and say prayers. Today, people meet to celebrate the religious holidays in the place where the tomb is located.39
The Tomb of Yahya Efendi
This tomb is located across from Çırağan Palace in Beşiktaş on Yahya Efendi Street. The grave of Yahya Efendi, an Ottoman Sufi scholar, is located here. Next to the tomb is the mosque that was built by Yahya Efendi. Yahya Efendi was born in 1495 in Trabzon, where his father was a qadi. Yahya Efendi was born during the time when Sultan Selim was governor of Trabzon, and was the milk brother of Sultan Selim’s son, Sultan Süleyman I. Yahya Efendi completed his education in Istanbul. He worked as a professor during the reign of Sultan Süleyman, and wrote a letter to the sultan telling him that having Prince Mustafa strangled was wrong. Upon this the sultan removed Yahya Efendi from his post. After this, Yahya Efendi built a dervish convent in the location of the tomb, retiring there in seclusion. He passed away there in 1571 at the age of 79 and was buried in the same place. Selim II had a tomb built over Yahya Efendi’s grave. While alive, Yahya Efendi was loved and respected by both the palace and the public. In particular, Sultan Süleyman and his son Selim II were greatly interested in Yahya Efendi, visiting him and listening to his speeches. People called him Sofi, “generous,” “gracious,” and “kind”. They considered him to have achieved the makam of Ali and believed that he met Khidr every Friday night. It is generally accepted that one of the most important miraculous deeds of Yahya Efendi was that he found the location of the tomb of Yuşa (Joshua) through spiritual inspiration.40 When Yahya Efendi was alive, people from various levels of society, including the sultan and state officials, as well as the public, in particular, sailors would visit him, bringing gifts and asking him to pray for them. In particular, Muslim and non-Muslim sailors who were going out to sea or coming back from an expedition would visit Yahya Efendi and ask for his prayers.41
There are many stories narrated and written about Yahya Efendi. In these stories it is related how Yahya Efendi instructed people to contemplate and guided them to the straight path. According to one story, a Greek sailor was caught up in a storm in the Black Sea. The sailor who could not find his way and was in a difficult situation prayed, saying “O Great God who helps everybody! Save us from sinking. I heard that You have a beloved servant named Yahya from Trabzon. Please save us for his sake. If we reach the shore alive, I will take a jar of wine to Your servant Yahya.” After the sailor reached the shore alive and well, he took a jar of wine and went to Yahya Efendi, telling him what had happened. Yahya Efendi replied: “Give me a cup to drink,” everybody was shocked. First Yahya Efendi drank, and then offered everybody who was present the wine. When people took a sip from the cup, they realized that it was only pomegranate juice. The Greek sailor was deeply affected by what had happened, and converted to Islam. From that day, he never left Yahya Efendi’s side.42
Respect for Yahya Efendi continued to be paid after his death and some members of the imperial family and the public wanted to be buried close to his tomb. As when he was alive, the convent of Yahya Efendi has been visited by Muslims for centuries, and in a similar vein his tomb is visited by many people. People both from Istanbul and outside Istanbul, even tourists from abroad, come to visit the tomb. Today, because of its proximity, most of the visitors of the tomb come from the districts of Bebek, Nişantaşı, Beşiktaş or Ortaköy; these are areas where people from a high socio-economic bracket live. Those who come to visit usually say prayers at the tomb and recite the Qur’an. Many people believe that the prayers said in the tomb are accepted, and they find comfort from being here, and state that it helps them to mature spiritually. Some visitors say that they come to pray here to find solutions to their problems; when the problem has been resolved, they come back as an expression of their gratitude. Some people use tesbih (rosary) to chant the names of Allah, taking the beads home for blessing and tranquility, later bringing the tesbih back to the tomb.43
The Tomb of Yuşa
The tomb of Yuşa (Joshua) is on the Yuşa Hill in Beykoz, on a spot that overlooks the Bosphorus. It is one of the most frequently visited places in Istanbul. There is not a building for the tomb, but rather a long grave, measuring 4 m wide by 17 m long, which is surrounded by iron bars. It is believed that Joshua, Moses’ nephew and flag bearer, is buried in the grave. Next to the grave stands Yuşa Mosque. According to historical records Joshua was the leader of the sons of Israel after Prophet Moses; he led the Israelites into the desert, and brought them to Palestine.44 Some exegetes of the Qur’an state that the word “servant” in the 60th verse of chapter al-Kahf (18) refers to Joshua.45 Although there is a disagreement about whether Joshua was a prophet or a wali (saint), there are a large number of reports indicating his prophethood.46 People of Istanbul generally consider him to be a prophet, referring to him as Yuşa Nebi (Prophet Joshua).
According to common belief, Joshua participated in a large number of battles together with Prophet Moses, demonstrating his bravery many times. He came to Istanbul to fight in a battle, but was killed in Sütlüce Village, located across from Sarıyer. His body was cut into two. The part below the waist remained in Sütlüce and a water source sprang from there. People believe that this water has healing powers, and call it the ab-ı hayat (spring of life). The upper part of his body came to the place where his tomb is located today; According to common belief, the head of his grave first faced Jerusalem, but after Mecca became the direction of the qiblah for Muslims, it miraculously changed in this direction.47
The Yuşa Hill has been believed to be a sacred place from the early periods of history. Civilizations with different religious beliefs in the past have built temples on this hill. After the discovery of Joshua’s grave by Yahya Efendi, which was revealed in a spiritual state, this area has become an important place of pilgrimage for the Muslim population of Istanbul. During the Ottoman period, people would go, both individually and in groups, to visit Yuşa Hill regularly. Visiting the tomb in groups would usually be done in the months of July and August and on Fridays. Such visits would be announced to the neighboring villages a week before the visit and in this way, the number of visitors would increase.48 For centuries, people have felt deep love and respect for Joshua. Especially those who live in the town of Beykoz believe him to be the spiritual protector of the town.49 As mentioned before, Joshua is also considered to be one of the four spiritual guards of the Bosphorus.50
Although it is located in a place that is a bit removed from the city center and thus hard to reach, many people from Istanbul and other cities come to visit Yuşa Hill and tomb. Although the tomb is visited almost every day of the year, it attracts relatively more visitors on holy days and nights, on Fridays or during the weekends. On some days, the number of visitors can be as many as three thousand people. It is one of the most important stops on “tomb visiting” tours.51 Some visitors state that Joshua appears in their dreams and guides them; as a result, they visit the tomb and find relief from their problems. Most visitors complete their visits by reciting from the Qur’an or by just saying prayers. In the past, people used to circumambulate the tomb seven times, as they did with the Ka’ba. In order to prevent such practices, a separate exit door was built for the tomb and the passage between the doors was closed with iron bars. Although not great in number, some parents take their children who are unobedient, or unable to walk or talk at the expected age to the tomb, or pray to ensure protection from the evil eye. People from all classes of the society, including artists, soccer players and parliamentarians, visit this tomb. When the time for high school or university entrance exams come it is especially students who visit the shrine.52
The Tomb of Sünbül Efendi
This tomb is located in the district of Kocamustafapaşa in the courtyard of the mosque of the same name. The grave of the great Sufi, Yusuf Sinan Efendi, is located here. Born in Merzifon in 1451, he completed his education in Istanbul, and lived during the reigns of Sultan Bayezid II, Sultan Selim I and Sultan Süleyman I. Also known as Sünbül Sinan Efendi, he was the founder of the Sünbüliye branch of the Khalwatiyya order, and was affiliated with the Khalwati master Mehmed Aksarayi (Çelebi Halife), whom he greatly respected. After Mehmed Aksarayi passed away, Sünbül Efendi became master of the order. He passed away in 1529 and was buried in the place where his tomb is located today. During his lifetime, Sünbül Efendi guided people and preached at Hagia Sophia Mosque and Fatih Mosque. In the opening ceremony of Sultan Selim Mosque, the first sermon was delivered by Sünbül Efendi. The sultans, sheikhulislam, and other state officials of the era showed Sünbül Efendi great respect.53 It is even reported that Sünbül Efendi’s talks were attended by Sultan Selim I, who came in disguise.54
The dervish convent and mosque that are known today as the Sünbül Efendi Tekke were built on the orders of the vizier Koca Mustafa Pasha. Although these were first known by the name of their patron Koca Mustafa Pasha, after Sünbül Efendi was buried here, they started to be called with the latter’s name. Until the closure of dervish convents in 1925, ashura used to be cooked here on the tenth day of the month of Muharram and then distributed to the needy. On the night of 10 Muharram, believers would perform acts of worship; the following day the sheikh would go to the bathhouse, accompanied by his disciples. The disciples would walk in front of the sheikh and he would pour a bowl of water over each one. After the bathhouse ceremony, they would perform a four-cycle prayer known as husama (prayer against the enemies of Allah, Prophet Muhammad and members of his household) in congregation. This would be held after the noon prayer, and followed by recitations from the Qur’an, prayers, and then blessed water would be distributed for the sake of the souls of Hasan and Husayn which. Those who received this water would take it to their sick.55 Because Sünbül Efendi was a master of the Khalwatiyya order, the tomb and convent are visited by members of the Khalwatiyya order in particular.56
This tomb is often visited together with the Merkez Efendi tomb. Visitors first go to Sünbül Efendi’s tomb and then to that of Merkez Efendi’s. There is a well next to this tomb. In the past, the tomb keeper would distribute water to those who visited the tomb before sunrise on the tenth day of Muharram.57 According to popular common belief, the wishes of those who drink from the water that overflows from the well in the month of Muharram will be fulfilled; any illness they might have will be healed. Even though no one has ever seen the well overflow, people still take water from the well today believing in its healing powers. This practice is probably a version of early traditions related to Ashura Day celebrations and the practice of distributing water on that day.
The Tomb of Telli Baba
The tomb, located in the district of Sarıyer, is particularly known as a place frequented by brides who want peace and happiness in marriage and young girls who wish to find a suitable groom. There are various reports about the identity of the person buried in the tomb. According to one account, Telli Baba’s real name was Abdullah Efendi, and he was one of the soldiers in the army of Sultan Mehmed I. He was a Sufi master who was occupied with worship in a Qadiri tekke, which stood in the place of the tomb. He guarded the Bosphorus together with his disciples. In another account, Telli Baba saved a young girl’s life. He worked as guide on ships, and one day he saw a boy and a girl on a small boat fighting against the waves. The boat capsized and they fell into the sea. He jumped into the sea and carried the girl to the shore, but the boy was lost in the waves. Years later, when the young girl got married, she came there to express her gratitude to the man who saved her life. However, she learned that he had passed away. She started crying, put her bridal veil on the grave and left.58
In addition to these, there are many other accounts about the identity of Telli Baba. There is no written source about him and the oral traditions have reached us today with many additions and changes. Even though the tomb is far removed from the city center, it is visited by many people, especially on Fridays and weekends.
At the tomb many threads (tel) from bridal veils can be seen on the sarcophagus and scissors used for cutting these threads can be seen on the marble section by the foot of the grave. It is believed that the shorter the thread, the sooner the wish will come true. Some of the visitors to the tomb complete their visit by saying prayers, reciting the Qur’an or performing ritual prayer in the room next to the tomb. In the room next to the tomb a bridal veil hangs. Young girls who wish to find a suitable groom put this veil on.59
The Tomb of Zuhurat Baba
The tomb, located in the Zuhurat Baba District of Bakırköy, is a grave surrounded by iron bars; it is not covered. Even though there are various accounts about the identity of the person buried in the grave, the most common one is that he was a soldier who was martyred during the conquest of Constantinople. His real name is not known. When Sultan Mehmed II laid siege to Constantinople, the Byzantines poisoned the sources of water and left no water for the soldiers. However, a man suddenly appeared (zuhur) and satisfied the water needs of the soldiers; he was known thenceforth as Zuhurat Baba. According to common belief, many saints demonstrated a number of miraculous deeds during the conquest of Constantinople. Zuhurat Baba from Bakırköy fulfilled the water needs of the army; Tuzcu Baba from Beşiktaş satisfied the army’s need for salt; Ali Fakih Baba from Kocamustafapaşa satisfied its need for meat; and Hamal Baba from the area around today’s Vatan Avenue took care of transportation needs.60
The tomb of Zuhurat Baba, which has been a much visited place for centuries, has sometimes become “a place of peace,” while at other times it has served as “a place of supplication” where people come when they have problems that need a solution. Visitors come almost every day to the shrine. The busiest time is the hour before Friday prayer. It is believed that the wishes of those who come to the shrine on three consecutive Fridays will be fulfilled. Even though it is visited mostly by housewives and young girls, men also visit it. Most of the visitors recite from the Qur’an or have someone recite for them and say prayers. Some of them express their wishes, and those whose wishes have been fulfilled distribute candy, Turkish delight, etc. Some of the reasons for these visits are to find a suitable husband, find relief from economic hardship, be successful in exams, and recover from illness. Most visitors do not know who is buried in this grave. It is also possible to see other practices here, such as throwing rope on the ground in order to find a suitable husband, circumambulating the grave, rubbing hands and face on the iron bars of the grave, immersing keys into the water at the head of the grave or collecting “wish money” to purchase a house.61
In addition to the aforementioned tombs, there are many other frequently visited places in Istanbul. The tomb of the great physician Karaca Ahmed, who was sent to Istanbul by Hacı Bektaş Veli, is one of these. Karaca Ahmed Sultan, whose real name was Seyyid Ahmed, established his tekke in the place where his tomb is located today. In the past, the tekke of Karaca Ahmed Sultan became a center in which mentally ill people were treated.62 One of the seventeenth century Jalwati sheikhs, Selami Ali Efendi’s tomb, which is located in Üsküdar is also a place visited mostly by women today. The name of this sheikh, who was also known as Selamsız Sheikh is given to a district in Üsküdar.63 Likewise, there is the tomb of Ramazan Efendi in Kocamustafapaşa, which is visited by followers of the Khalwatiyya order.64 The tomb of Ebu’l Vefa, with whom Sultan Mehmed II often met and asked for his prayer,65 has given its name to the district of Vefa. There is also the tomb of Hüsamettin Uşşaki, which is especially popular with followers of the Ushshaqi order, and the tomb of Nurettin Cerrahi in Karagümrük, visited by the followers of Jerrahi order.
1 Musnad, IV, 335; Hâkim al-Nîsâbûrî, el-Müstedrek, vol. 4, p. 422; M. Abdurraûf el-Münâvî, Feyzü’l-kadîr, Beyrut: Dârü’l-ma‘rife, 1391/1972, vol. 5, p. 262.
2 Ali Köse and Ali Ayten, Türbeler: Popüler Dindarlığın Durakları, Istanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2010, pp. 14, 53-56.
3 Ayhan Yalçın, Gönül Sultanları İstanbul Evliyaları ve Ziyaret Yerleri, Istanbul: Çelik Yayınevi, 1996, p. 14.
4 İsmet Demir and Hacı Osman Yıldırım, Beşiktaş’lı Şeyh Yahya Efendi ve Üveysilik, Istanbul 1997, p. 74.
5 It is possible to find examples of this in the past. For example, the famous seventeenth century traveler, Evliya Çelebi, narrates that people would visit the white pillar in Hagia Sophia (sweating pillar) in the hope to find cure from illnesses such as headaches, dysentery or malaria. (see: Evliyâ Çelebi, edited by Semih Tezcan and Nuran Tezcan, Ankara: Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 2011, p. 409).
6 Müslim, “Cenâiz”, 106; Ebû Dâvûd, “Cenâiz”, 81.
7 Müslim, “Cenâiz”, 274.
8 Dimensions of Locality: Muslim Saints, their Place and Space, ed. Georg Stauth and Samuli Schielke, New Brunswick: Distributed in North America by Transaction Publishers, 2008, p. 17.
9 İmam Birgivi, İslam’da Kabir Ziyareti, tr. Ahmed Şahin, Istanbul: Bedir Yayınevi, 1965, p. 19. Imam Birgivi, who was a sixteenth-century Muslim scholar, states that: “… most of the people at this time torture the deceased. They turn some graves into houses of idol worship and perform their prayers there. They even make their sacrifices there. … by tying colorful pieces of cloth, it is as if they are dressing up the grave stones… They believe in such things and perform such actions that are not appropriate for an intelligent believer.” (See: Birgivî, İslam’da Kabir Ziyareti, p. 8).
10 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 11-12.
11 Serhat Teksarı, İstanbul Türbeleri, Istanbul: Gül Neşriyat, 2005.
12 Ali Çarkoğlu and Binnaz Toprak, Türkiye’de Din Toplum ve Siyaset, Istanbul: Türkiye Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Vakfı, 2000, p. 47.
13 Ali Çarkoğlu and Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, Türkiye’de Dindarlık: Uluslar arası Bir Karşılaştırma, Istanbul: Sabancı Üniversitesi, 2009, p. 28.
14 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, p. 81, 115.
15 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 34-40.
16 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 43-46.
17 Hüseyin Algül, “Ebû Eyyub el-Ensârî”, DİA, X, 124.
18 Necdet Yılmaz and Coşkun Yılmaz, İstanbullu Sahabeler, Istanbul: Bilge Yayım Habercilik ve Danışmanlık, 2003, pp. 116-127.
19 Hatice Kara, “Şehir ve Kutsallık ve Kutsal Belde Eyüp”, IX. Eyüp Sultan Sempozyumu, Istanbul: Eyüp Belediyesi, 2005, p. 491; Erol Özbilgen, Bütün Yönleriyle Osmanlı, Istanbul: İz Yayıncılık, 2003, pp. 501-502.
20 Mehmet Halit Bayrı, İstanbul Folkloru, Istanbul: Türkiye Yayınevi, 1947, p. 151.
21 Kara, “Şehir ve Kutsallık”, p. 493.
22 Süheyl Ünver, İstanbul’da Sahâbe Kabirleri, Istanbul: İstanbul Fethi Derneği, 1953, pp. 32-35.
23 Kara, “Şehir ve Kutsallık”, p. 495.
24 Bayrı, İstanbul Folkloru, p. 152.
25 H. Kâmil Yılmaz, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi ve Celvetiyye Tarikatı, Istanbul: Marmara Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Vakfı (İFAV), 1982, pp. 37-90.
26 Yılmaz, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, pp. 54-68.
27 Ziver Tezeren, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, Istanbul: Kültür-Turizm Bakanlığı, 1987, p. 41
28 Yılmaz, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, pp. 81-82; Tezeren, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, p. 42.
29 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 151-154.
30 Yılmaz, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, p. 87.
31 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, p. 152.
32 Özbilgen, Bütün Yönleriyle Osmanlı, p. 519.
33 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 225-226; Aysel Okan, İstanbul Evliyaları, Istanbul: Kapı Yayınları, 2008, pp. 33-46.
34 Okan, İstanbul Evliyaları, p. 34.
35 Efsun Sertoğlu, Merkez Efendi, Istanbul: Merkezefendi Geleneksel Tıp Derneği, 2007, p. 12.
36 Yalçın, Gönül Sultanları, p. 138; Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 226-227.
37 Okan, İstanbul Evliyaları, p. 40; Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, p. 225.
38 Okan, İstanbul Evliyaları, p. 40; Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, p. 227.
39 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 139-142.
40 İsmet Demir and Hacı Osman Yıldırım, Beşiktaş’lı Şeyh Yahya Efendi ve Üveysilik, Istanbul: Şeyh Yahya Efendi Kültür ve Araştırma Vakfı, 1997, pp. 68-74; Nazmi Sevgen, Beşiktaşlı Şeyh Yahya Efendi, Istanbul: Türkiye Basımevi, 1965, pp. 4-16; Nezihe Araz, Anadolu Evliyaları, Istanbul: Fatiş Yayınevi, 1958, pp. 341-342.
41 Demir and Yıldırım, Beşiktaş’lı Şeyh Yahya Efendi, p. 74.
42 Mustafa Necati Bursalı, İstanbul ve Anadolu Evliyâları, Istanbul: Tuğra Neşriyat, 1986, vol. 1, pp. 319-332.
43 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 294-297.
44 Teksarı, İstanbul Türbeleri, p. 290; Yalçın, Gönül Sultanları, p. 173.
45 “And when Musa said to his servant: I will not cease until I reach the junction of the two rivers. …” Qur’an, el-Kehf 18/60.
46 Emin Arık, Hz. Yûşâ Aleyhisselâm (Yûşâ Tepesi, Camii ve Türbesi), Istanbul: T.C. Başbakanlık Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı Beykoz İlçe Müftülüğü, 2002, p. 9; Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, p. 301.
47 Okan, İstanbul Evliyaları, pp. 116-119.
48 Arık, Hz. Yûşâ, pp. 6-7; Ramazan Muslu, Osmanlı Toplumunda Tasavvuf (18. Yüzyıl), Istanbul: İnsan Yayınları, 2004, p. 578.
49 Okan, İstanbul Evliyaları, p. 120.
50 Demir and Yıldırım, Beşiktaş’lı Şeyh Yahya Efendi, p. 74.
51 Asiye Altan, “Beykoz Yûşa Türbesi Bağlamında Türbe Ziyaretlerinin Psiko-Sosyal Yönden İncelenmesi” (MA Thesis), Marmara University Social Sciences Institute, 2007, p. 44.
52 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 305-309.
53 Yalçın, Gönül Sultanları, pp. 142-148.
54 Sertoğlu, Merkez Efendi, p. 87.
55 Nâzif Velikâhyaoğlu, Sünbüliyye Tarikatı ve Kocamustafapaşa Külliyesi, Istanbul: Çağrı Yayınları, 1999, quoted from p. 82 by Hür Mahmut Yücer, Osmanlı Toplumunda Tasavvuf (19. Yüzyıl), Istanbul: İnsan Yayınları, 2003, pp. 169-170.
56 Yücer, Osmanlı Toplumunda Tasavvuf, pp. 169-170.
57 Bayrı, İstanbul Folkloru, pp. 145-146.
58 Yalçın, Gönül Sultanları, pp. 220-223.
59 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 277-282.
60 Şevket Gürel, İstanbul Evliyaları ve Fetih Şehidleri, Istanbul: İstanbul’daki Tarihi Türbe ve Mescidleri İmar Vakfı, 1988, pp. 234-236; Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, p. 311.
61 Köse and Ayten, Türbeler, pp. 313-315.
62 Yalçın, Gönül Sultanları, pp. 127-130.
63 Mustafa Tatcı, Cemal Öztürk and Taxhidin Bytyqi, Üsküdarlı Selâmi Ali Efendi, Istanbul: Kaknüs Yayınları, 2006, p. 13, 51.
64 Yalçın, Gönül Sultanları, p. 207.
65 Hüseyin Vassâf, Sefîne-i Evliyâ, edited by Ali Yılmaz and Mehmet Akkuş, Istanbul: Seha Neşriyat, 1990, vol. 1, p. 276.