The basis of the Islamic world view on art is that it is a manifestation of Allah’s attribute of jamāl (beauty), and this view influenced the Ottoman perspective of traditional arts. Music in particular, relates to the fact that Prophet Muhammad attached importance to “vocal music”, that is, the production of musical melodies via the human voice. Indeed, he had the adhān (Tr.: ezan, the call to prayer) delivered by Bilal, who had a powerful and lovely voice, and he also recommended that the Qur’an be read and recited with a harmonious and beautiful voice based on certain principles. The most important forms of Turkish religious music emerged and reached their height in the Ottoman era, thus coming down to present times. Ottoman religious music is divided into two groups, “mosque music” and “tekke (Sufi) music”. These two areas developed particularly in Istanbul, where uniquely Ottoman musical forms originated, resulting in various styles and tones.

Istanbul was the largest and most influential center of music during Ottoman times, as it was in many other fields of knowledge and art. For this reason, people who were interested in music to varying degrees came to Istanbul from within the country and outside the borders of the Devlet-i Âliye (the Sublime State; the Ottoman Empire); here they improved themselves, benefiting from the great musicians of the city. As a matter of fact, Istanbul’s influence can easily be seen in the performance of religious music primarily in Bursa and other cultural centers of the Ottoman State, such as Edirne, Diyarbakır, Konya, Crimea, Baghdad, Cairo, Aleppo and Damascus. Likewise, this influence can be seen in the use of music structures, such as makams (modes); in the microtonal qualities of these makams and in their use of octaves in the human voice. The importance played by tarikats (Sufi orders), in particular as regards the spread of Istanbul-based musical appreciation, should be pointed out and the Gülşenî and Mevlevî tarikats in Egypt were instrumental in promoting Turkish music there. The art, culture and educational levels of residents of Istanbul were always high, as they were from the capital city. Musically speaking, this high level laid the ground for religious music to reach its zenith in Istanbul and made it possible for a great number of musicians to develop into composers with their own schools. Another factor that greatly contributed to the development of religious music in Istanbul were the grand mosques, tekkes (dervish lodges), and mansions in the city as well as gatherings for musical training and art. Still, the greatest contributions came from the selatin camileri (imperial mosques) and tekkes.


Mosque music is primarily related to the duties of imams and muezzins and consists of a variety of forms, first and foremost the recitation of the Qur’an, the calling of the adhan (call to prayer) and salâ (knell), and also singing ilahis (hymns).


The adhan is recited in order to invite the faithful to worship at the mosque and is the most important type of religious music. Based on the fact that makams have different effects on the human spirit and people are receptive to emotional influences at different times, the adhan has been recited in various makams, depending on the musical knowledge and voice training of the muezzin, but the recitation was crafted in free style in the end. Palace muezzins, who were all acclaimed performers, instrumentalists and composers, had a major impact on the formation of styles of the recitation of the adhan.

The following are the most commonly established practices regarding the different makam schemes with which the adhan was recited five times a day, particularly in Ottoman Istanbul:

The adhan for fajr (early dawn) prayer was performed in the Sabâ, the dhuhr (noon) adhan was in the Uşşak or Beyatî makam, the asr (afternoon) adhan was in the Hicaz makam, the maghrib (evening) adhan was in the Segâh makam, and the ‘isha’ (early night) adhan was recited in the Rast makam. The inner adhan, called when the preacher climbed the pulpit after the performance of the first four Sunnah rak’ah, which is part of the Jumaa prayer, was also in the Beyatî or Uşşak makam, as for the dhuhr adhan. Other practices were the dhuhr being recited in Rast, the asr in Uşşak, the ‘isha’ in Hicaz, while another was to recite the dhuhr, in Hicaz, the asr in Rast, and the ‘isha’ in Uşşak.

Çifte (Double) Adhan

Sometimes two muezzins would recite the adhan concurrently (from two nearby mosques or from a single mosque with multiple-balcony minarets); this practice was known as çifte adhan. In particular, this was practiced in the imperial mosques of Istanbul. Today, partly on account of highly advanced technology, this practice has been abandoned, except for in a few imperial mosques. In this style, the two muezzins recite the adhan at the same time, sentence by sentence, listening to each other and complementing each other in terms of musical melodies, thereby resulting in harmonious sounds. Performing the adhan in this way makes for a perfect spiritual duet, which enchants the listeners.


For the purpose of commemorating Prophet Muhammad in accordance with the divine command given in the Qur’an, the practice of calling salâ (recitation before adhan) in a high pitch from minarets began in the Ottoman era, and became an important custom. Various forms of salâ developed, such as the fajr salâ, the Friday salâ, the bayram salâ (on religious festival mornings), and the funeral salâ. Performing the salâ on holy nights was also an important tradition in Ottoman Istanbul. The salâ given before the fajr and Friday adhans was in the Dilkeş-hāverān maqām, and the funeral salâ was in the Hüseynī makam. The salâ known as “the fajr salâ in Dilkeş-hâverân”, which was commonly used, was composed by Hatip Zâkirî Hasan Efendi (d. 1623).


At the end of the supplications made after each prescribed prayer, the imam will recite as much as half a page, 10 lines or verses from the Holy Qur’an, especially after the fajr, maghrib, and ‘isha’ prayers. These verses are known as aşır, and because the imam recited them in the mihrab (prayer niche), where he also led the prayer, they were also known as mihrabiye. This became common practice that was much favored by the imams. Particularly in the imperial mosques, in keeping with their waqf deeds, waqfs would be established for the recitation of certain chapters of the Holy Qur’an such as Yā-Sīn, al-Mulk, and so on, at certain times every day.

Cumhur Muezzinliği (Collective Muezzin-ship)

In the past, the duty of a muezzin was carried out by many muezzins based on a certain pattern; this was particularly true in sultanic mosques. During this service, they would call the adhan collectively, as well as the kamet [which signaled that the congregation was to rise for the collective part of the prayer], recite the chapter of Ikhlās, say the (33) tasbih (Subhānallah), tahmid (Alhamdulillah) and takbir (Allahu Akbar), and continuously repeat âmin as the congregation makes their individual supplications in silence. This is known as the cumhur muezzinlıği. Indeed, in the waqf deeds of the Süleymaniye Mosque we see that the mosque was staffed with 24 muezzins. Until 1950, Eyüp Sultan Mosque had 10 muezzins, Yeni Mosque, Fatih Mosque, Sultanahmet Mosque, Beyazıt Mosque, and Valide Mosque each had nine, and Nuruosmaniye Mosque had six muezzins. Collective muezzin-ship was not unique to the Ottoman era; this continued to be practiced for a while in the Republican era as well.

Temcid (Glorification) - Münacat (Invocation)

This is a type of mosque music performed collectively by a number of muezzins particularly toward the end of the predawn meal of sahur in the month of fasting, Ramadan. It is comprised mostly of Arabic supplications and invocations. Temcids and münacats performed from minarets are considered to fall under the tesbih form of Turkish religious music; it consists of two parts. The first part, which has a specific composition, is known as temcid, whereas the second part, performed extemporaneously, is known as münacat. It was customary in Ottoman Istanbul to recite the temcid from the first night of the month of Rajab until the last night of the month of Ramadan [these two months, with the addition of Sha’ban in the middle, are known as the “three blessed months”]. In the records, however, we do find temcids being performed after the congregation left the mosque following the ‘isha’ prayer. In the month of Ramadan, when the faithful heard the beginning of the temcid being recited from minarets close to the time of the fajr prayer, they would stop eating and drinking. Those who could not wake up in time for the sahur meal, but woke up at the sound of temcid would hastily warm up the leftover rice from the iftar (fast-breaking meal). The idiom temcid pilavı is thought to come from this practice. In terms of form, temcids usually comprised a prayer and praise and glorification of Allah, the kalima tawheed, benedictions and greetings upon Prophet Muhammad, an invocation in verse, mostly in Turkish, all of which are interspersed with a number of Qur’anic verses. Although it is surmised that the composer of the Istanbul-originated temcid in the Irak makam was Hatip Zakirî Hasan Efendi, there are narrations attributing this to Itrî. The words belong to Sünbül Efendi (d. 1529). The neyzen (ney player) Halil Can writes that until recently temcids continued to be performed in Sünbül Efendi and Aziz Mahmud Hüdayî mosques.


Other forms of music performed in mosques were ilahis and kasides (eulogy). İlahis have been grouped according to subject in order to be sung in line with the particular topic and content of any given lunar month. Those composed of large usuls (rhythmic patterns consisting of specific time intervals and accents) with highly embellished melodies are known as “congregational ilahis” and those about Prophet Muhammad are called tevşîh. İlahis classified in order to be sung at various gatherings are known as: ilahis for gatherings of hilafet (the authorization of a dervish by his sheikh in the form of written permission to either teach the ways of the path, or initiate others into the path), ilahis for circumcision ceremonies, school ilahis (performed at the bad’-i basmala ceremonies), military ilahis, wedding ilahis, so on and so forth. Another form of ilahis is şuğl (shughl). Şuğls are composed by Turkish composers but with Arabic lyrics. Istanbul was also the Ottoman heartland of ilahis.

Kaside (Eulogy)

The improvised chanting of poems that deal with the love of Allah, the love for Prophet Muhammad, and other related subjects, such as asceticism, piety and good counsel is known as a kaside; the person who performs these is known as a kasidehan. If a kaside is about Prophet Muhammad, it is known as na’t-ı şerif; there are examples of these being composed without a fixed usul. Kasides, which eulogize the martyrdom of Hussein (Prophet Muhammad’s grandson), are known as mersiye, whereas ilahis about the same subject are known as muharremiye. Another important practice, also carried out in the month of Muharram, is to read or recite maktels (poems about Hussein’s martyrdom).

Mevlit (Mevlid-i Şerîf)

The Mevlid-i Şerîf written by Süleyman Çelebi and Yazıcızade Mehmed Efendi’s Mesnevî are among the forms of religious music performed with a certain composition. The original name of the first is Vesîletü’n-Necât (means of deliverance); this was written by Süleyman Çelebi (d. 1423) to express his love for Prophet Muhammad. It is also a form of religious music in itself. There used to be many Istanbul-trained mevlidhans.


Written in 1449 by Yazıcıoğlu Mehmed Efendi (d. 1453), Muhammediye is an epic biography of the Prophet in verse. Similar to Mevlid-i Şerîf, it was read and recited on religious occasions and was performed in dervish lodges in Anatolia and Istanbul up until the last century. Those who read or recited Muhammediye were known as Muhammediyehan or Muhammediyeci.


Miraciye was written and composed by Kutbünnâyî Osman Dede (d. 1729) in 1698 in Istanbul. This composition relates the incident of the miraj (night ascension) of Prophet Muhammad. It consists of six parts, each of which is known as a bahir. At the beginning of every bahir, a tevşîh composed in the same maqām as the bahir is recited. The lyrics of tevşîhs were written by Pir Muhammad Nasuhî Efendi (d. 1718), one of the great spiritual masters who lived in Üsküdar. During one of his talks, Nasuhî Efendi expressed his hope that “ a Miraciye be written and then recited like the Mevlid-i Şerîf”; taking this to be a sign, Osman Dede composed the music to the lyrics written by Nasuhî Efendi. His composition remains one of the magnum opuses of Turkish religious music. From the time it was composed, this composition has always been recited in Mevlevîhane, and the dergâhs of Sünbül Efendi and Merkez Efendi, and in the Hüdayî and Nasuhî dergâhs in Üsküdar. Today, it is recited in certain mosques as well as in the Nasuhî Mosque.


This is a work by Abdullah Salahî Efendi (d. 1782) - an Uşşakī sheikh, as well as a Sufi poet from the sixteenth century. The Regaibiye incorporates parts such as unity, the creation of Prophet Muhammad’s spirit, his birth, ascension, and also deals with topics such as naat and münacat. It has been narrated that this work, the original name of which was Matla’u’l-Fecr, was composed by Na’lîzade İbrahim Efendi (d. 1766). Although the composition has not survived, short notes written next to the couplets make it clear as to in which makam the couplets should be performed. Indeed, the makams noted next to the first six couplets are Uşşak, Beyâtî, Acem, Arazbar, Tâhir and again Uşşak. Following these makams and making the right makam transition when necessary requires concentration, as well as musical knowledge. Regaibiye was performed particularly in Uşşakī tekkes and the Tâhir Ağa Tekke in Fatih. For a few years now, this composition has been performed in an improvised manner in Üsküdar’s Yeni Mosque and the Tahir Ağa Mosque in Fatih, which contains the grave of Abdullah Salahî.

Teravih (Tarawih)

Teravīh prayers were observed in Istanbul’s major mosques in a style that was later to be known as the Enderun style. Imams and muezzins paid great attention to makams in their performances, and between every four-cycle unit, ilahis would be sung. For example, after reciting the fard (obligatory) part of the ‘isha prayer in the Rast makam, the makams that were followed, both during the prayers themselves and in the ilahis sung in the intervals, were Isfahan, Sabâ, Hüseynî, Evc and Acem-aşiran. The practice of collective muezzin-ship was a natural part of this style. While this style was initially used in the Ottoman court, in the hasodası (privy chamber), and in a number of mosques and masjids which belonged to the palace, it came to be used in major mosques, first and foremost the imperial mosques and dergahs, and later it spread across Anatolia. Historically attributed to Buhurîzade Mustafa Itrî Efendi (d. 1712), this style was most commonly performed in the Eyüp Sultan Mosque rather than the palace mosques or masjids. The fact that composers of Ramadan ilahis were given the geographic sobriquet Eyyubî is proof of this. The fact that this style and the sequence of the makams employed were passed down from teacher to student orally has given rise to a dearth of written material in this field. Most of the information available is limited to short references found in the memoirs of those who witnessed this practice. However, given that a large number of musical works have come down to us through oral culture, we cannot regard the current amount of information in the field as insufficient.


Forms that constitute tekke music include ilahi, durak, tevşîh, şuğl, kaside, savt, ism-i Celâl, mersiye, tesbih, nefes and nevbe; all of these forms of music are performed in tekkes. The most important among these are ilahis, kasides and tevşîhs. Their lyrics, which are sayings and counsels of the evliyas (friends of Allah), are composed of the most beautiful melodies, and are thus instrumental in making people appreciate religious-mystical realities with joy and pleasure. İlahi, kaside, naat (improvised), tevşîh, mevlit, tekbir, salât-u selam, şuğl, regaibiye and miraciye are forms used in both the mosque and the tekke.

The most important factor in tekke music is that tekke-trained musicians produce their pieces in the awareness that all art comes from Allah. The primary locations where tekke music was taught and sustained were Mevlevîhanes.

In a way, Mevlevîhanes fulfilled the function of music conservatories. Tarikats, such as the Qadiri and the Rifai tarikats, also used Sufi music as well as a number of instruments, such as the ney and the kudüm (similar to kettle drums) during their rituals. However, Mevlevîhanes were transformed into centers of musical education due to several reasons. First of all, the systematic performance of Mawlawi whirling rites required training. Also, Mawlawi culture ascribed ney and the rebab significant symbols. The ayin (Mawlawi rites) performed in Mevlevîhane are the highest and most refined form of Turkish religious music. Most of these rites were composed in Istanbul by urban composers.

The Yenikapı Mevlevîhane took the lead, with the Galata and Bahariye Mevlevîhanes being centers of religious music. Itrî, Dede Efendi (d.1846), Zekâî Dede (d. 1897), Kutbünnâyî Osman Dede, Hüseyin Fahreddin Dede (d. 1911) and many others were trained here. These musicians served in the tekkes where they were trained as happened in other Mevlevîhânes. In addition to Mawlawi rites, other works of religious music were studied and taught, and this made it possible for a large number of musicians to be trained. Mevlevîhanes were places where the teachings of this path were delivered and where the sama (ritual whirling ceremonies) were held. The Mevlevîhanes were also centers for training “perfect” human beings. But they were also centers for the teaching of other branches of fine art. Those trained in the Mevlevîhanes indeed became truly competent people who made great contributions to various fields of knowledge and learning, such as literature, religious knowledge, positive sciences, calligraphy, music and foreign languages.

On days and nights of religious importance, Qur’an recitations were given and remembrance ceremonies were held in the Mevlevîhanes. The teravih prayers in Ramadan were performed with great enthusiasm in these dergâhs - already training centers of the great masters of music - with ilahis, kasides, and transitions between makams.

When Dede Efendi Became The Head Muezzin

A teravih prayer which was performed in the Ottoman palace on one of the first nights of Ramadan, falling in the month of January, 1831, presents us with an anecdote of historical value:

On a Ramadan night in the year in question, the congregation was performing the teravih prayer in the palace in the Enderun style in the presence of Sultan Mahmud II. The sultan himself was in the congregation, and Kazasker Zeynelabidin Efendi was the royal imam (hünkar imamı); Dede Efendi was the head muezzin. The congregational muezzins were Dellalzâde, Şakir Ağa, Mutafzade and Eyyubî Mehmed Bey. Before the final four rekâts of the teravih began, the muezzins recited the salavat in the Acem-aşiran makam as was the custom to signal that the last four would be performed in that particular makam. The imam began and led the prayer in the same makam. He ended the prayer, however, not at the usual key pitch of Acem-aşiran, but at a pitch two notes lower. In so doing, Acem-aşaran became Ferahfezâ, a hitherto rarely used makam. Dede Efendi, preparing to begin an Acem-aşiran ilahi, as was the custom, was temporarily taken by surprise when the makam changed very suddenly and unexpectedly; no ilahi had been composed in Ferahfezâ until that time. However, after the final salutations of the imam, Dede Efendi extemporaneously sang Yunus Emre's "Şûrîde vü şeydâ kılan yârin cemâlidir beni" (That which makes me cry and moan is the countenance of the Beloved) in Ferahfezâ as if it were an ilahi composed beforehand in this makam. He beckoned his students who were all musical geniuses, to accompany him when he repeated the lines for the second time. When the prayer was over, Sultan Mahmud II, who himself was a music-lover, as were so many other Ottoman sultans before him, congratulated Dede Efendi and requested that the Ferahfezâ makam be revived. At the sultan's request, Dede Efendi composed a classical composition in Ferahfezâ as well as his famous Mawlawi rite in Ferahfezâ.


Even though to date it has not been possible to obtain any information about religious music, or music in general in the fifteenth century or earlier, it is narrated that Sheikh Vefa (d. 1490) delivered his khutba (Friday sermons) melodiously in his beautiful voice, and also composed some pieces. It is known that in the sixteenth century figures such as Sinaneddin Yusuf (d. 1578), Mahmud Çelebi (d. ?), and Zakir Recaî (d. ?) gained recognition for their religious music. Although we do not have many extant pieces of music from that century, Sultan Murad III’s (d. 1595) poem Uyan ey gözlerim gafletten uyan (Wake up O my eyes from (the sleep of) heedlessness) has come down to us along with the music. It is also generally accepted that the oldest Mawlawi rite compositions, known as beste-i kadîm or âyîn-i kadîm, in Pençgâh, Hüseynî and Dügâh makams come from this century as well.

In the seventeenth century, prominent figures emerged in the fields of both mosque and tekke music. Among the eminent names of this century, Hafız Post (d. 1694) undoubtedly takes the lead. After Hafız Post, who produced a great variety of important pieces of Turkish music, comes Küçük Derviş Mustafa Dede of Edirne (d. 1684), the composer of the Beyatî Mevlevî rite, one of the most significant works of the century. Among those known for their Qur’anic recitations, mention must be made of Hünkâr İmamı (imam of the sultan) Amasyalı Evliya Mehmed of (d. 1634) and his student Kumkapılı Şaban (d. 1685) who was known by titles such as Şeyhu’l-eimme, (sheikh of imams) or reisü’l-hutabâ (head preacher); the latter served as a preacher in various Istanbul mosques.

In the seventeenth century the famous Sufi sheikh Aziz Mahmud Hüdayî (d. 1628) was an important figure in the field of religious music. He composed music for some of his poems; over the centuries many other composers wrote compositions for these poems as well. In particular, Hüdayî wrote and composed a number of tevşîhs to be sung at teravihs, temcids and münacats, and also created new makam sequences. Famed musicians, such as Hafız Kumral (d. 1650) and Şaban Dede (d. ?) served as zakirbaşı (chief musicians) at the Hüdayî Dergâh. It is surmised that the durak form is a production from this century as well.

Religious music made greater progress at the hands of great musicians in the eighteenth century. Wealthy patrons of music made sizable donations to large mosques and tekkes where religious music developed. In this way, an important contribution was made to the development of Turkish religious music; this was particularly aided with the establishment of a large number of waqfs for the reading and recitation of Mevlit, Miraciye or Muhammediye. Some of the great composers left behind important works of âşık (minstrel) literature in addition to tekke literature. Buhurîzade Mustafa Itrî (d. 1712), Nazim (d. 1727), Hasan Ağa (d. 1724) and Seyyid Nuh (d. 1714) were some of the greatest composers of the era and these individuals created religious and secular compositions for naat, gazel, murabba and rübaî songs of divan literature. In addition, they composed minstrel and tekke poetry using simple but moving melodies. The takbir of the great musician Itrî, who was also a poet and calligrapher, was written in the Segâh makam, a makam that originated in Istanbul. This was adopted by the entire Islamic world; moreover, Itrî’s salât-ı ümmiye, naat-ı şerîf in the Rast makam, Mawlawi rite in the Segâh makam, tevşîh in the Nühüft makam whose words are his as well (Sayesi düşmez yere bir böyle nahl-i Tûr’sun) are among the masterpieces of religious music.

Tarikats, such as the Qadiri, Rifai, Badawi, Sadi, Shazeli, Bayrami, Halwati, and Jaşwati orders, became more prevalent during this century. There is a large body of şuğls and Turkish ilahis sung at the remembrance ceremonies of these orders. In this century, poems of such well-known Sufis, such as Abülahad Nurî (d. 1651) and Şemseddin Sivasî (d. 1597) and especially Niyazî Mısrî (d. 1694), as well as many poems attributed to Yūnus Emre (d. 1320?) were composed in various makams.

One of the most important people of the century was Derviş Ali Şîruganî (d. 1714), a sheikh of the Gülşeni Order, who became renowned for his works of religious music. Among his most famous compositions are “Ey garîb bülbül diyârın kandedir” by Niyazi Mısrî and “Allahu Rabb-i lâ-yezâl” by Sultan Mustafa II (d. 1703). The head neyzen and sheikh of the Galata Mevlevîhane, Kutbünnâyî Osman Dede (d. 1729), known for his Mirâciyye, was also among the most highly esteemed personages of the era.

It is known that in the first half of the century, Sultan Mustafa II and Sultan Ahmed III (d. 1730) wrote ilahis in simple language and that the music to some of these ilahis were composed and performed in tekkes in the same century. Although there were many brilliant musicians in the second half of the century, the best-known among them were Çālakzāde Sheikh Mustafa (d. 1757), Vardakosta Ahmed Agha (d. 1794), and Hafiz Şeyda (d. 1799).

Sultan Selim III (d. 1807), himself a prolific composer, composed new makams, such as Sûzidilârâ, Nevâ-bûselik, Arazbar-bûselik, Nevâ-kürdî, Gerdâniye-kürdî, Hicâzeyn and Şevkıdil, as well as musical pieces in various forms of religious music, such as naat, Mawlawi rites, duraks and ilahis, and was one of the leading figures in Turkish music of that age. The patronage he gave to musicians in his era helped this art to gain further heights. Selim III was also the most influential figure in the training and achievements of the great composer İsmail Dede Efendi (d. 1846). Another imperial figure, who was interested in religious music and contributed to its development, was Sultan Mahmud II (d. 1839). He was also a composer of secular Turkish music.

Mosque music reached its greatest form in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The young students accepted into the Enderun were very bright and talented and received an excellent education. Musicians such as Shakir Agha (d. 1840), İsmail Dede and Haşim Bey (d. 1868) were trained in the Enderun and rose to the post of müezzinbaşı, (head muezzin).” Kazasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi (d. 1876), Tanburî Ali Efendi (d. 1890?) and Medenî Aziz Efendi (d. 1895), who all served as imam to the sultan, were among the great figures of the nineteenth century. Those who were to serve as imam, preacher or muezzin in the major mosques were meticulously picked from amongst those who had particularly beautiful voices and sufficient musical knowledge, thus contributing to the substantial development in mosque music. It is without doubt that this century saw the highest expression in Qur’an recitation. Also, a distinctive style of recitation known as the “Istanbul manner” emerged, although the “Egyptian style” continued to be used.

It cannot be claimed that tekke music made much progress in the nineteenth century in comparison to the previous century, with the exception of Mawlawi music. The greatest musicians of the nineteenth century were Kazasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi, who wrote skilled naat and durak compositions, and who was also a great calligrapher, Dellalzade İsmail Efendi (d. 1869), Müezzinbaşı Rıfat Bey (d. 1888), Hacı Arif Bey (d. 1885) and Hacı Faik Bey (d. 1891); the latter were both great composers in secular music who also produced a small number of masterly religious works. Hammamîzade İsmail Dede Efendi and Zekâî Dede (d. 1897) top the list of composers, being the two figures who wrote the greatest number of ilahis. Zekâî Dede, in particular, composed a large number of Arabic ilahis (şuğl).

Great strides were made in Mawlawi music in the nineteenth century as compared to preceding centuries with the composition of many Mawlawi rites. Examples of Mawlawi rites composed in this century include those composed by Sultan Selim III, Dede Efendi (d. 1846), Nakşî Dede (d. 1853), Eyüplü Hüseyin Dede (d. ?), Zekâî Dede and Müezzinbaşı Rıfat Bey. The neyzen Hüseyin Fahreddin Dede Efendi (d. 1911), the sheikh of the Bahariye Mevlevîhane, is another unforgettable personage, particularly on account of his Mawlawi rite composed in the Acem-aşiran makam. Sultan Selim III and Sultan Mahmud II’s frequent visits to Istanbul’s Mevlevîhanes encouraged musical activities and also helped train more talented composers, kudüm, neyzen and performers.

Among the students of İsmail Dede, the composer of the Mawlawi rites in the Sabâ, Nevâ, Bestenigâr, Sabâ-bûselik, Hüzzam, Şevkutarab and Ferahfezâ makams, as well as of so many important tevşîhs and ilahis, the most famous are Eyyubî Mehmed Bey (d. 1850), Behlül Efendi (d. 1895) and Zekâî Dede. Dede composed many şuğls, Mawlawi rites, naats, ilahis and duraks.

Just as in preceding centuries, Mevlit recitation was also regarded as a very high form of art in the nineteenth century. We know from records that composers such as Sinaneddin Yusuf Çelebi, and Bursalı Sekban (d. ?) composed Mevlit. However, Mevlit compositions did not attract widespread interest and as people favored freestyle recitation of Mevlit, over time these compositions have been forgotten.

In addition, in this century many zakir (reciter) and zakirbaşı (head musicians) were trained in tekkes. It is possible to say that the style of dhikr known as kıyam - performed by rows of dervishes facing one another - took on a more aesthetic character in this era. It is also generally accepted that the tawheed dhikr (la ilaha ilallah), which starts at the Rast pitch and is raised by one full note each time and then lowered back to the original pitch, originated in this century. This form of dhikr (perde kaldırma: pitch-raising) is very aesthetic and appealing.

The two most important positions during a Mawlawi rite are held by the neyzen and the head of the kudüm players. The sheikh of the Beşiktaş Mevlevīhāne Neyzen Mehmed Said Dede (d. 1853), his sons Neyzen Yusuf Pasha (d. 1884) and Neyzen Salih Dede (d. 1888) were the most significant ney players of this century. Another very important personage was the legendary ney player Neyzen Aziz Dede (d. 1905), who served chief neyzen in the Galata, Üsküdar and Bahariye Mevlevîhanes.


In terms of religious music, the greatest loss during the Republican era occurred with the closure of all the tekkes; however, the most significant activity in Istanbul at the time were efforts to identify and list all the religious and secular pieces that belonged to the Turkish musical heritage. Great masters of classical Turkish music, such as Muallim İsmail Hakkı Bey (d. 1927), Muallim Kazım Bey (Uz) (d. 1943), Abdülkadir Töre (d. 1946), Eyyubî Ali Rıza (Şengel) (d. 1953), Hüseyin Sadettin Arel (d. 1955) and Sadettin Nüzhet Ergun (d. 1960), identified a great number of pieces and recorded their notes. The Istanbul Conservatory, established in 1923, published most of the Mawlawi rites, numerous tevşîhs, ilahis classified into sets ready for use in accordance with every lunar month and a number of Bektaşi nefes. Rauf Yekta Bey (d. 1935), Ali Rıfat Bey (Çağatay) (d. 1935), Muallim İsmail Hakkı Bey, Zekâîzade Hafız Ahmet Efendi (Irsoy) (d. 1943) (Zekâî Dede’s son), Dr. Subhi Ezgi (d. 1962) and Mesut Cemil Bey (d. 1963) (the son of Tanburi Cemil Bey), who identified and classified a great number of musical pieces, are the first group of musicians that should be remembered with fondness and gratitude.

The two-volume “religious music” section of Sadettin Nüzhet Ergun’s Anthology of Turkish Music is a highly comprehensive and important source in that it provides information and a short commentary on the important figures of each century with their distinctive qualities, as well as being an extensive anthology of lyrics. Two other important sources for religious music and performers in the post-Ottoman/early Republican era are Mevlid and Meşhur Hâfız Sâmi, written by Hafız Ali Rıza Sağman (d. 1965). Also very important was Kubbealtı Akademi Vakfı’s publication of the ilahi notes identified and written by Abdülkadir Töre and Ali Rıza Şengel.

During this period, as in the preceding ones, prestigious and venerable hafizes emerged in the field of mosque music, especially in Qur’an recitation. Some of these masters were trained during the Ottoman era; they were also competent musicians and experts in Qur’an recitation and became Istanbul’s representatives of the “eloquent” style of Qur’an recitation prevalent in the country. The Turkish way of reciting the Qur’an became associated with them.

Hafız Cemal Efendi (d. 1946), the chief muezzin of Aksaray Valide Mosque, Karabacak Süleyman (d. ?), a muezzin of the Yeni Valide Mosque in Üsküdar, and the muezzin of the Meclis-i Mebusan Mosque, Beşiktaşlı Hafız Rıza (d. ?), became renowned for their adhan.

Hafız Sami (d. 1943) and Hafız Kemal (d. 1939), whose gazel recitation were recorded on gramophone records, Hafız Yaşar (d. ?), whose recordings are very limited in number, Hafız Fahri (d. ?), Hafız Hasan Akkuş (d. 1972), Hafız Esat Gerede (d. 1958), Üsküdarlı Ali Efendi (d. 1976), the imam of the Yeraltı Mosque, Hafız Nafiz Uncu (d. 1958), the imam of the İskele Mosque, Necmettin Okyay Hocaefendi (1883-1976), who was also known as hezarfen (master of a thousand sciences) and was an Ebru artist and imam and preacher at the Üsküdar Emetullah Gülnūş Vâlide Sultan Mosque, and Hafız Abdurrahman Gürses (1909-1999) were well-known reciters of the last century.

Of these, Üsküdarlı Ali Efendi, who also had a wide range of musical knowledge, had a particular style of Qur’an recitation which became known as the “Üsküdar style”, although he was the imam of the Yeraltı Mosque in Karaköy. The renowned performer Kani Karaca, who passed away some years ago, was a student of Ali Efendi. Of all Ali Efendi’s students, İsmail Karaçam, Emin Işık and İlhan Tok should be mentioned. Also among the best reciters in recent decades, Hafız İsmail Biçer (d. 1998) and Hafız Mehmet Çevik (d. 1992), who were both students of Abdurrahman Gürses, should be mentioned. Hafizes, such as Mehmet Ali Sarı, Kemal Tezergil, Halil İbrahim Çanakkaleli, Fevzi Mısır and Nihat Ulu, all of whom became famed for their recitation, are also among the best reciters in recent decades.

When it comes to reciting the Mevlit, we should fırstly remember Hafız Sami. Following Hafız Sami, the first group of Mevlit reciters that should be mentioned include Hafız Kemal, Hafız Şaşı Osman (d. 1932), Hafız Fahri and Hafız Burhan (Sesyılmaz) (d. 1943).

Hafız Mecit Sesigür (d. ?), Esat Gerede, and with his unique style of performance, Sebilci Hüseyin Efendi (d. 1975) all emerged in the second half of the century and were among the few reciters famous not only in Istanbul, but all across Turkey thanks to the fact that their recordings were widely available.

Hafız Sadettin Kaynak (d. 1961), the imam of the Sultanahmet Mosque, was famous for his recitation of the Qur’an, Mevlit, naat, kaside and gazel; in addition, he was a composer of religious pieces of various forms. He also left behind immortal works in every type of Turkish music. We have a limited number of recordings in which he reads the Qur’an and recites gazels. His gazels are available on gramophone records, but his Qur’an recordings are kept in private archives.

The closing down of all tekkes in 1925 and the banning of calling the adhan in Arabic in 1932 led to various forms of mosque and tekke music falling into oblivion. The number of master musicians who dwindled over time led to an interruption in the chain of reciprocal training, and even those forms of religious music that continued to be known were randomly performed by people lacking a distinctive style and tradition; moreover, the performance capabilities of these people were highly questionable. Most religious music was no longer a part of daily life. It started to be performed as a job and as a form of art, that is, as something detached from daily life. As years passed, the generation of people who knew how to perform various forms of religious music properly and in accordance with the tradition became fewer and fewer in number. Forms, such as the unique musical performances at commemoration ceremonies, miraciye, Muhammadiye, regaibiye and the calling of the adhan in different makams five times a day and the deliverance of salâs were forgotten. The ordinary people also almost completely forgot these forms. Moreover, the banning of religious Turkish music altogether for some years resulted in even secular Turkish music being severed from its traditional styles of performance.

However, in recent decades, certain forms of mosque and tekke music have been revived with the contribution of people trained by various masters. Of these efforts, two that deserve special mention are the lessons of Neyzen Halil Can (d. 1973) held at his home and at the Istanbul Yüksek İslâm Enstitüsü (Istanbul Higher Islamic Institute], and the efforts and studies of Bekir Sıtkı Sezgin (d. 1996) regarding forms of religious music in the conservatory. Through these efforts, many forms that had been almost completely forgotten began to be taught and learned again; academics and students studying and research in the field increased. Thanks to such efforts many works have been published. It should also be noted that in Karagümrük, Fatih, the Cerrahi Tekke, known today as Türk Tasavvuf Musikisini ve Folklorunu Araştırma ve Yaşatma Vakfı (foundation for researching and preserving Turkish Sufi music and folklore), has been functioning as a workshop of religious music with its extensive religious musical archives. Even though the field of tekke music became severely crippled after the closure of all tekkes, very competent zakirbaşıs and performers who had been trained in this tekke filled a huge gap with their services. The tekkes where religious music studies continued also include the Özbekler Tekke in Üsküdar, the Rifî Dergâh in Kasımpaşa, and the Kâdirihâne Tekke in Tophane in particular.

In addition, the meşk (musical gatherings) that were held until recent decades in various mansions and homes helped revive religious and secular musical pieces. Of these gatherings, one held regularly in the home of İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal İnal (d. 1957) was a very important location; here religious and secular Turkish music was studied and performed. These gatherings were attended by men of letters, poets, hafizes, musicians as well as interested youngsters, and musical and literary works were learned directly from the fem-i muhsin (beneficent mouth: trained mouths of the masters). Among such weekly gatherings, those held in the home of Neyzenbaşı Halil Can, the Üsküdar home of Nezih Uzel (d. 2012), and the Fatih home of Necdet Tanlak (b. 1928), who also composed a Mawlawi rite, should be mentioned.


The styles of performance in the musical culture of every Anatolian town differ from one another in terms of voice, melodic structure and accent, each bearing their own local characteristics. As Istanbul was the center of the Ottoman government and had performers who were great musicians, the styles of performance there were distinctively eloquent and refined. Some common characteristics of these masters were that they had a great command of music and most of them were composers of masterpieces, allowing them to employ a wide range of melodies in freestyle performances and use musical expressions fully in compliance with the meanings inherent in the lyrics they were singing.

The styles of performance employed by the masters in different parts of Istanbul varied. These variations gave rise, over time, to the emergence and establishment of such styles of performance as the Istanbul style, the tekke style, the Üsküdar style, and the Fatih style; this was true to such extent that those who heard a particular style of performance or recitation were able to discern the unique qualities in it and say things like, “This reciter/performer is a student of such-and-such a teacher” or “He is reciting/performing in the style of such-and-such a master.” This demonstrates that Istanbul stood out, not only in terms of the arts, artists and musicians, but also in terms of its art and music audiences.

Literature in religious music is very important, particularly in terms of the correct usage and pronunciation of words, meters and prosody in poetry. For this reason, one must be familiar with the mosque and tekke styles and also be familiar with the religious terms and the correct pronunciation of Arabic and Persian nominal phrases. The best and the oldest way to achieve this is to learn directly from “beneficent mouth” during a meşk session, as it is the master who performs any given piece in the best and most accurate manner. One of the most important locations for this kind of teaching was the tekke. Collective performances in tekkes, the styles of performance during commemorative ceremonies, the use of voice, the guttural melodies and the gestures and facial expressions of the zakirbaşı were all carefully observed and absorbed by those who frequently attended the gatherings.

Likewise, masters in mosques, hafizes, imams, and muezzins or teachers who performed in the Palace school (Enderun Mektebi), those who regularly attended the meşk circles of master musicians and composers, even those who attended gatherings in houses or mansions formed links in the established chains of performance styles. Those wishing to become performers themselves were influenced by these styles commensurate with their abilities, and despite the differences between voices and abilities, styles of performance such as the tekke style or the mosque style became established. On account of a highly refined social life, from the perspective of art that influenced every phase of life in Istanbul, significant Qur’an reciters emerged; these became role models for the application of makams and for style, not only for Anatolian reciters, but also for reciters in other Islamic countries. The most significant example that we can give of the “Istanbul style” is the aforementioned Üsküdarlı Hafız Ali Efendi.

The number of aspirants wishing to be trained in the branches of Turkish music, which have tended to be forgotten, especially in Istanbul’s religious music of today, and particularly for mosque music, has continuously risen. Indeed, inferior adhan performances of the past have thankfully not been heard for some time. There have been a number of ongoing training activities thanks to the efforts of a number of musicians with a good command of religious music. In addition to in-house training activities organized by the muftis’ offices, a large number of imams and muezzins are given religious music education at the Hüdayi Ensemble based in Üsküdar and at the Mihrabat Culture and Arts Garden (Ataullah Tekke) based in Kavacık, Beykoz. Hope-inspiring efforts and promising works are underway so that emerging performers can be taught the forms of religious music through reciprocal training sessions, such as naat, temcid, münacat, salâ and the teravih prayer in various makam sequences, by those well-versed in the oldest traditional styles of performance.


Çağlar, Yusuf (ed.), İstanbul Ezanları: Istanbul Azans, tr. Güney Ongun, Istanbul İstanbul 2010 Avrupa Kültür Başkenti Ajansı, 2010.

Ergun, Sadettin Nüzhet, Türk Musikisi Antolojisi, II vol., Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1942-43.

Özcan, Nuri, “Onsekizinci Asırda Osmanlılar’da Dînî Mûsikî” (PhD dissertation), Marmara University, 1982 (The author also benefited from other entries written by Nuri Özcan in DİA on religious music.)

Sağman, Ali Rıza, Meşhur Hâfız Sâmi, Istanbul: Ahmet Sait Matbaası, 1947.

Sağman, Ali Rıza, Mevlid Nasıl Okunur ve Mevlidhanlar, Istanbul: Fakülteler Matbaası, 1951.

Şahin, Ahmed and Mehmet Kemiksiz, İstanbul 2010 Ramazan: Enderûn Terâvihi ve Cumhur Muezzinliği, Istanbul: İstanbul 2010 Avrupa Kültür Başkenti Ajansı, 2010.

Şengel, Ali Rıza, Türk Mûsıkîsi Klâsikleri: İlâhîler, prepared by Yusuf Ömürlü, IV vol., Istanbul: Kubbealtı Neşriyat, 1979-82.

Töre, Abdülkadir, Türk Mûsikîsi Klâsiklerinden İlâhîler, prepared by Yusuf Ömürlü, V vol., Istanbul: Kubbealtı Neşriyat, 1984-96.

Uzun, Mustafa, “Mi‘râciye”, DİA, XXX, 135-140.

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