The Contribution Of The Ottoman Sufis To The Persian Language And Literature


Dr. Necdet Tosun
Marmara University-Ilahiyat Faculty



In Ottoman period many Sufis, especially Naqshbandis and Mawlavis have authored books in Persian. In this essay, these works were divided into four groups as “Persian Dictionaries, Persian Grammar Books, Original Authored Persian Books and Persian Commentaries” and some examples were given. In addition, further information on Baba Ni‘matullah Nakhjivani and his Sharh-i Gulshan-i Raz was given. Persian works written by Ottoman Sufis are mostly on Sufism. These Sufis, by writing Persian works, made both important contribution to Persian literature and constructed a bridge between Turkish and Persian cultures.


In Ottoman period many Sufis have authored books in Persian in addition they authored many commentaries on Persian Works. In that way, they both made contribution to Persian literature and helped the dissemination of the learning of Persian in Ottoman lands, and established a bridge between the Ottoman and Persian cultures. They acted as the ambassadors of culture between the two nations. Among Sufis, Naqshbandis and Mawlawis had a particular interest in Persian language. Mawlawis understandably learnt Persian in order to understand Rumi's great work Mathnawi as well as his other works. Similarly Naqshbandis learnt Persian in order to appreciate the great works of Attar, Rumi, Jami and the works of Fasl al-khitab, Rashahat-i ‘ayn al-hayat and Maktubat-i Imam-i Rabbani the great Naqshbandi works of Central Asia and India. In addition most Sufis who emigrated from India and Central Asia spoke Persian as their mother tongues. Therefore most of the Persian works have been written by those emigrant Sufis. In this essay I will only study those works which are authored by the Naqshbandis. In addition, I will give further information on Baba Ni‘matullah Nakhjivani and his Sharh-i Gulshan-i Raz.

1. Persian Works of Some Ottoman Sufis: 

The works of the Sufis in Ottoman Period can be divided as “original authored books” and those who are “commentaries on the Persian works”. In addition we have “dictionaries” from Persian to Turkish and “grammar books”, hence we have four kinds of works. We will not include the translation made into Turkish from Persian as well as the Turkish commentaries on Persian works due to their great number.
1.1. Dictionaries: We can give two examples of dictionaries from Persian to Turkish by Ottoman Naqshbandi Sufis.

1.1.1. Lughat-i Farsi or Lughat-i Ni‘matullah, by Shaykh Ni‘matullah b. Ahmad of Sofia (d. 969/1562). He was born in Sofia and moved Istanbul. He became a Naqshbandi disciple in Istanbul. His Sufi chain is as follows: Bahauddin Nakshband, Alauddin Attar, Ya‘qub Charkhi, Ubaydullah Ahrar, Abdullah Ilahi Simavi, Amir Ahmad Bukhari, Mahmud Chalabi, Abdullatif Efendi and Shaykh Ni‘matullah of Sofia.
Lughat-i Farsi is divided into three chapters: verbs, particles, and nouns. The author benefited from the earlier works and also added his personal insight to the dictionary. Unfortunately the work is unpublished and it has many copies in Istanbul libraries.
1.1.2. Navadir al-amthal, by Mirak Muhammad Naqshbandi Tashkendi’s (d. after 1022/1613) . This is a dictionary of idioms from Persian to Turkish. Although we do not have much information about the author, it is known that he was born in Tashkent and immigrated to the Ottoman lands in the beginning of 17th century. He wrote this work in order to explain the Persian idioms in the year 1020 (1611).

1.2. Persian Grammar Books:

The following two works are good examples of grammar books written by the Ottoman Sufis.
1.2.1. Qava‘id-i Farsiyye, by Muhammad Murad b. Abdulhalim Naqshbandi (d. 1264/1848). The author is from the Mujaddidiyya branch of Naqshbandiyya path and he acted as the shaykh of the Murad Molla Sufi lodge in Istanbul’s Fatih-Carsamba district. This work was quite popular and it was printed 32 times between 1835 and 1911.

1.2.2. Qava‘id-i Farsi, by Ali Bahjat Qonavi (d. 1238/1822). He was born in 1140 (1727) in Konya and died in 1238’de (1822) in Istanbul. He had affiliation with both Mawlavi and Naqshbandi Mujaddidi orders. He acted as the master of Selimiye Tekkesi (sufi lodge) in Uskudar, Istanbul. His work Qavaid-i Farsi has not been published yet.

1.3. Perian Works Authored by the Ottoman Sufis:

The following works are good examples to the original works authored by the Ottoman Sufis.

1.3.1. Najat al-arvah min danas al-ashbah, by Abdullah Ilahi Simavi (d. 896/1491). Abdullah Ilahi was born in Simav town of Kutayha, he studied in Istanbul and later moved Samarqand. Over there he became the disciple of Ubaydullah Ahrar. Having attained his spiritual perfection and permission to teach the path after his training in Buhara and Samarqand he returned to his original hometown Simav. After some time he moved Istanbul to continue his giving guidance in Sufi matters but later he moved Greece and settled in Yiannitsa later dieing there as well. He has given works in Turkish and Persian. In his Najat al-arvah min danas al-ashbah a book written in Persian language, he deals with the subject of taking the easy or heavy rule of Islam (rukhsa and ‘azima), malamat, tawhid (unity), khavatir and muraqaba (contemplation). The work has been not published.

1.3.2. Divancha, by Amir Ahmad Bukhari (d. 922/1516). Ahmad Bukhari is the disciple of Abdullah Ilahi who is just mentioned above. He also became his spiritual successor later. He emigrated from Mavaraunnahr (Transoxiana) to Anatolia (Turkey) and established his Sufi lodge in the Fatih district of Istanbul under his own name as Amir Bukhari Tekkesi. His Persian poetry book named as Divancha is yet unpublished. It contains 2 qasidahs, 54 ghazals, 1 ruba‘i, 1 verse (bayt) and a Turkish ghazal.
1.3.3. Hujjat al-abrar, by Ahmad b. Mahmud Hazini (d. after 1002/1593). The author has both Naqshbandi and Yasawi affiliation. His Naqshbandi silsilah is as follows: Ubaydullah Ahrar, Muhammad Qadi, Ahmad Kasani, Muhammad Islam Juybari, Khaja Sa‘d, Molla Amin, Ahmad b. Mahmud Hazini. Hazini who has moved from Central Asia to Ottoman lands wrote works both in Persian and Turkish. His work which is written in Istanbul in the year 996 (1588) named as Hujjat al-abrar deals with the Naqshbandi and Yasawi manners of conduct in the Sufi path. This Persian work has a copy in Paris National Library.
1.3.4. Mukhtasar al-valaya, by Abu Abdullah Muhammad Samarqandi (d. 1116/1704). The author has his silsilah from the Mujaddidi branch of Naqshbandi order. His silsilah is as follows: Ahmad Sirhindi, Muhammad Ma‘sum, Ahmad Juryani Yakdast, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Samarqandi. He immigrated to the Ottoman lands from Central Asia and settled in Uskudar in Istanbul, continuing his spiritual services until his death. His work Mukhtasar al-valaya contains the subjects of tavajjuh (concentration), muraqaba (contemplation), rabita (spiritual bond between the shaykh and disciple), vahdat-i vujud (unity of being) and sayr u suluk (spiritual travel). The work is still unpublished. However, its Ottoman translation in the Ottoman period is published.

1.3.5. Risala-i Haqqiyya, by Abdullah Nidai Kashghari (d. 1174/1760). The author was born in Eastern Turkistan, he has taken his Naqshbandi training from Mavlana Azhar Kashghari, and his Qalandari training from Molla Aman Balkhi. When he moved Istanbul, he first served in Qalandarkhana Tekkesi then in Murtaza Efendi Tekkesi and he also died here. His Naqshbandi silsilah is as follows: Ubeydullah Ahrar, Muhammad Qadi Samarqandi, Ahmad Kasani, Muhammad Amin Dahbidi, Khaja Hashim Dahbidi, Khaja Yusuf, Hidayatullah Afaq Khaja, Mavlana Azhar Kashghari, Abdullah Nidai Kashghari. His work contains moral and sufi manners. Risala-i Haqqiyya was published by Dr. Guller Nuhoglu including the Persian text as well as the Turkish translation.

.3.6. Tufan-i Ma‘rifat, by Khoja Nash’at Efendi (d. 1222/1807). His full name is Suleyman Nash’at and he was born in Edirne but spent his youth in Istanbul. He had both Mawlavi and Naqshbandi training. His Naqshbandi master is Shaykh Muhammad Amin Karkuki. He taught Persian in Istanbul and gave lessons on Mathnawi of Rumi. He wrote Tufan-i Ma‘rifat and argued that it is superior and better than Mirza Bidil’s (d. 1720) Tur-i Ma‘rifat. The work is written both in poetry and prose and contains the subjects of morality, divine love and unity of being (vahdat-i vujud). Tufan-i Ma‘rifat was not published yet. There are almost ten copies of the work in Istanbul libraries.
1.3.7. Kunuz al-arifin, by Abdulqadir Balkhi (d. 1923). The author was born in 1255(1839) in Qunduz near Balkh. He traveled to Anatolia with his father Shaykh Sulayman, and stayed in Konya for a while, then settled in Istanbul. He became shaykh of Murad Bukhari Tekkesi (lodge) in Eyup after the death of his father. He had ijaza (permission) from Mujaddidiyya branch of Nakshbandiyya and Malamiyye orders. His pedigree of masters from Naqshbandiyya is as follows: Ahmad Sirhindi, Muhammad Ma‘sum, Sayfuddin Sirhindi, Nur Muhammad Badauni, Mazhar Jan-i Janan, Abdullah Dihlavi, Mavlavi Sahib, Sayyid Muhammad Mirza, Sayyid Sulayman Balkhi, Abdulqadir Balkhi. He has ten books all of whom are written in verse (rhyme). His work Kunuz al-arifin written in 1905 contains 5453 verses, and explains the sufi states (hal) and stages (maqam). I have a manuscript of this work in my private library.

1.4. Persian Commentaries:

The following works can be cited as examples of Persian commentaries on Persian works.
1.4.1. Manazil al-qulub, by Abdullah Ilahi Simavi (d. 896/1491). This work, written in 889/1284, is the commentary of Ruzbihan Baqli Shirazi’s (d. 606/1209) Risala al-Quds. It has been published by M. Taqi Danishpijuh, inside the book entitled Ruzbihannama (Shiraz 1347/1968, pp. 387-421).

1.4.2. Shaqaiq al-haqaiq, by Ahmet Ilahi (d. 9th/15th century). It is said that he comes from Bukhara originally and descends from Sadruddin Qonavi's progeny. He traveled to many countries and studied under several shaykhs, affiliated to Khalvatiyye, Malamatiyya, Kubraviyya, and Naqshbandiyya orders, then he came to Anatolia during the reign of Fatih Sultan Mehmed and began preaching in Edremit. He also preached in Ayasofya Mosque in Istanbul for a while and on the order of Fatih he commented on Sadruddin Qonavi's Miftah al-Ghayb. Later he settled in Bursa and continued preaching sufism in a lodge entitled Yogurlu Baba Tekkesi. It is said that he died during the reign of Fatih and was buried in the graveyard of his lodge at Bursa. The exact date of his death is unknown. His Shaqaiq al-Haqaiq is a Persian commentary on Mahmud Shabustari’s mystical work named Gulshan-i Raz. It is in manuscript and not printed yet.
1.4.3. Sharh-i Mathnawi, by Muslihuddin Mustafa Sururi of Gelibolu (d. 969/1562). He was the murid (deciple) of Naqshbandi shaykh Mahmud Chalabi who was the khalifa (successor) of Amir Ahmad Bukhari. He began writing this six volume Persian commentary on Mathnawi of Rumi in 957 hijri and completed it seven years later in 964. It is a complete commentary of Mathnawi. It is in manuscript form and not printed yet.
One another work from “Persian Commentaries” group is Sharh-i Gulshan-i Raz, by Baba Ni‘matullah Nakhjivani (d. 920/1514).

2. Baba Ni‘matullah Nakhjivani (d. 920/1514) and Sharh-i Gulshan-i Raz. 2.1.

Life and Works of Nakhjivani: 

Nakhjivani who was born in Nakhjivan, studied in Tabriz and got sufi education, is the member of Naqshbandiyya order. A later anonymous Silsilanama (sufi chain) mentions him among the murids of Ubeydullah Ahrar; but this record is unreliable for the reason that it is not supported by other sources. At that time there were two Naqshbandi saykhs in Tabriz, namely Sun‘ullah Kuzakunani and his khalifa Darvish Akhi Khusravshahi; and it is probable that Nakhjivani got his sufi education from this line. As a matter of fact, a newly discovered handwritten Silsilanama, mentions a person named Mavlana Baba-i Nakhjivani among the murids of Khusravshahi; and most likely that he is Ni‘matullah Nakhjivani. According to this source his pedigree of masters goes back to Bahauddin Naqshband as: Bahauddin Naqshband, Alauddin Attar, Nizamuddin Khamush, Sa‘duddin Kashghari, Alauddin Abizi, Sun‘ullah Kuzakunani, Darvish Akhi Khusravshahi, Mavlana Baba-i Nakhjivani. We know that Nakhjivani visited Khalvati Shaykh Dede Omar Rushani at his death bed in Tabriz in 892 (1487). In Ramadan 902 (1497), Nakhjivani completed his commentary on the Quran, which he began writing in Tabriz. In Sha‘ban 904 (1499) he left Tabriz and immigrated to Anatolia, and he settled down in 905 (1499-1500) in Akshehir, a city closer to Konya. For a long time he was engaged in activities of teaching and guiding. He died in 920 (1514). He is known as Ulwan Akshehri. His tomb is at the Koyceghiz district of Akshehir city in Konya region. Although there is no information in sources whether he guided murids, he must have educated some murids given the fact that he established a zawiya (lodge of dervishes). According to the foundation contract (vakfiye), “Awqaf-i Zawiya-i Baba Ni‘matullah Nakhjivani” which was written in 992 (1584) during the reign of Sultan Murad III., Nakhjivani’s son Mavlana Haji ‘Ali Chalabi is authorized to appoint the trustees (mutavalli) and the shaykh of the zawiya, and the restoration and renovation of the zawiya shall be carried out on his order and approval. Today there is no trace of this zawiya. Some of the works of Nakhjivani are:
1- al-Fawatih al-ilahiyya wa al-mafatih al-ghaybiyya: It is a commentary (tafsir) on the Qur’an in Arabic, and supposedly he wrote this commentary without consulting any other previously written commentary on the Qur’an. It has been published in two volumes (Istanbul, 1325/1907).
2- Sharh-i Gulshan-i Raz: It is an exposition (sharh) in Persian on Shabustari’s Gulshan-i Raz.
3- Risala: Although its name is not registered, it is an Arabic work treating the topic of being (vujud) from the perspective of the theory of unity of being (vahdat-i vujud). Mehmed Tahir of Bursa calls it Risala al-wujud. Apart from these, Nakhjiwani is also credited with the authorship of Hidayat al-ikhwan, Hashiya ala Fusus al-hikam and Hashiya ala Tafsir al-Baydawi. Because of carelessness, most of the works registered under the name Baba Ni‘matullah Nakhjivani in library catalogues of Turkey belong, in fact, to the Shah Ni‘matullah Wali Kirmani (d. 834/1431), founder of the Ni‘matullahiyya order.

The following may be concise information about the Sharh-i Gulshan-i Raz: 

2.2. Sharh-i Gulshan-i Raz: 

This work’s manuscript copies are evailable in Istanbul, Tehran and Berlin. This work was completed in Jumad al-Ukhra 906 (1500). Since Nakhjiwani was settled down in Akshehir in 905, he must have composed this work therein. Except for a few quotations from Fariduddin Attar, he hardly mentions any work or person. He treats the issue of being (vujud) in this work. The following are quotations from the work to give an idea about his study: “According to the people of love, God has a specific manifestation (zuhur) at every level of being”. “After the spirit woke up of its sleep of carelessness and forgetfulness, following its natural (fitri) inclination, it began thinking about its true fatherland and its true origin”. “It is the level of absolute unity (Ahadiyyat), which is also called ‘Ama-yi Mahd and Sawad-i A‘zam, where all divine names and attributes are folded up and disappeared, becomes manifest in the letter “mim” of the word “Ahmad,” which completes the circle of being”.


To sum up, Sufis of Anatolia, who wrote their works in Persian, have made important contribution to Persian language and literature. They constructed a bridge between Turkish and Persian cultures. It is the Sufi literature where these two cultures mostly come together. Today Sufism still has the function of bringing these two neighbour cultures closer, as it had in the past.
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