Concerning the Naqshbandiyya in Turkey


There are several branches of the Naqshbandiyya tariqa all over the world. Some of them are loosely connected to each other, but there exists no overall cooperation and "supreme" leadership. It is therefore impossible to claim to be leader of this tariqa (or tariqas) as most of them exists independently of each other.

The Naqshbandiyya is one of the larger tariqa-families and one can find them in Turkey, Bosnia, the Subcontinent, South-East Asia, Central Asia and China, in some Arab countries, Caucasus and many other places. There must be hundreds of different shaykhs with large or small following, perhaps not knowing of all the others.

One of the strongest bases of the Naqshi-tariqa is in Turkey. There we find three or four big branches of this tariqa and hundreds of minor ones.

One is led by Mahmud Ustaosmanoglu, and his is a very traditional one. It's adherents belong mainly to the rural areas and are shopkeepers and such, is one of the largest tariqas in Turkey. One recognizes them easily as they all wear long traditional robes, a long beard and a turban. Women are dressed in black chador or hijab, and look similar to Iranian women. It is considered a bit conservative and hostile against modern "innovations" (and therefore don't like modern ways of mass communication). They are usually very pious and run many madrasas teaching the Qur'an (in Istanbul they have the largest Madrasa in the Middle East), Arabic etc. Their centre is near Fatih Cami (mosque), and their mosque is called Ismailiyya or Ismail Aga Mosque in the Carshamba district close to Fatih (if you'd like to visit them).

Another one was led by Mahmud Sami Ramazanoglu (d. 1984). It is still a big Naqshi tariqa, which has split up into different groups, which still maintains some solidarity with their previous shaykh. It is more of an intellectual group and publishes a lot. One of these groups is led by Osman Nuri Topbas, which publishes the Altinoluk Monthly Islamic Journal.

The third big Naqshi group is led by Mahmud Es'ad Cosan (pronounced Djoshaan). He is a former Professor of Literature at Ankara University, and wrote his doctorate on Haji Bektashi Veli. His murids are mainly students or professional academics. Many of his articles of his have been translated into English (you can find them at The Australian Kotku Federation and also at Commentaries by M. E. Cosan, as well as a few here or here).

They seem to comprehend the Naqshbandiyya way in a very sophisticated and beautiful way. They carry on the classical Sufi tradition of this silsila and organize many (tens of thousands of murids, men and women) seekers and still they are very "modern" in their approach: printing books, having schools, camps, three or four big magazines (Islam, Kadin ve Aile, Ilm ve Sanat etc.), radio channel (called Akra), influencing political life, have large companies, organizing events and conferences, and so on. Their centre is at Iskanderpasha mosque in Fatih district in Istanbul. They have murids in Australia, Germany, Britain, Sweden, Denmark, US and other places in the West and a wide network (mainly amongst Turks) around the globe.

They carry on the classical silsila from Shaykh Gumushanevi, a big religious leader at the end of the Ottoman era, who led the main tekke (lodge) of Istanbul at that time. And the previous shaykh of this tariqa (before Mahmud Es'ad) was Mehmet Zahid Kotku (d.1980). He was close to what one could call a "grandshaykh" in Turkey because of his influence. Many of the leading politicians in Turkey of today: Necmettin Erbakan, Hasan Aksay, Fehmi Adak, Korkut Ozal and the now dead Turgut Ozal were all his disciples. At that time in the seventies and eighties the Naqshbandi movement and the political Islamist movement was one and the same. Later on the Naqshis separated from party politics. But still most Naqshi groups have a huge influence on Turkish politics.

Some analysts have compared Shaykh Es'ads tariqa to The Muslim Brotherhood movement. And they have similarities: they both have a holistic comprehension of Islam, a broad movement of dedicated men and women, work with mass media and are very popular. Hassan al-Banna, the founder of The Brotherhood had actually his background in the Husafiyya tariqa in Egypt, and formed the Brotherhood movement after a classical tariqa structure. The Brotherhood also have a daily wird to recite "the Mathoraat" (mainly taken from the Sufi Imam Nawawi's book on dhikr "Kitab al-Adhkaar"). But the Turkish Naqshi movement is more milder whereas the brotherhood today has lost much of it's spiritual strength, and has become too involved in power politics.

The Shaykh Nazim group is not so large in Turkey, but has it's adherents, mainly among upper-class citizens. Many persons of the cultural elite seems to be attracted by Shaykh Nazim's soft and wise approach. They have the most beautiful web page on the Net (ma sha' Allah!).

There are some non-Sufi groups in Turkey with it's origin in the Naqshi tariqa: Nurcu and Suleymaniye.

Nurcu or Jamaat an-Nur is probably one of the largest Islamic groups in Turkey (though it is rivaled in size by the formerly-named Refah party).  It is led by Fethullah Gulen, and they follow the thoughts of a very popular person in Turkey, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (d. 1960) (famous for his treatise Risale-i Nur) who has a Naqshi background.  They publish a lot, have many schools and wants to give an image of Islam as modern and scientific and positive, but it no longer sees itself as a tariqa. This movement is supported from the Turkish government, who seem to see it as a "milder" form of Islam than the Refah party and the Naqshi tariqas.  Online you can also find some articles of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi translated into English.

The Suleymaniye is a group focused on preserving the old madrasa system. It is conservative and very anti-intellectual and has a strong following in Germany amongst Turkish immigrants. They claim to follow a Naqshi tradition , but has no living shaykh. It's founder Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan (1888-1959) was a son to a Naqshi shaykh from Romania. The main task for the members is to open Qur'an schools wherever they are. They are led by Kemal Kacar.  They have a web site dedicated to Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan.

Another group is Ikhlas Holding, a movement that used to be a Naqshi tariqa but today is a couple of large companies and a book publishing house. It was founded by Shaykh Abdulhakim Arvasi. He strongly emphasized the upholding of a strict Sunni belief and polemicized against secularism, wahabism, and all kind of reformist efforts. The group is extremely rich and runs the TV channel TGRT, as well as other media. They have an extensive web-page worth visiting.

Today there are a lot of books published in Turkish about Sufism, and a growing consciousness that Sufism is a living alternative to the horizontal life of secular and materialist ideology. An interesting aspect is that Muslims (mostly from Sufi background) are leading the intellectual discourse in Turkey and found in every strata of the society.

It is also very interesting that people see Sufism in such a positive way in Turkey, compared to the very anti-Sufi Islamist movements in most Arab countries. That gives them a softer, more gentle Islamic understanding combining "orthodoxy" with a smile.

I think that the beautiful Islamic understanding of the tariqas of Turkey (and especially that of Shaykh Es'ad Cosan's) gives us all a bright future for this wounded Ummah, in sha' Allah, and if you see for yourself, go there and spend some days with the brothers. You won't regret it.

Good information on this subject is available in the article on Naqshbandiyya by Professor Hamid Algar in The Oxford Encyclopedia of The Modern Islamic World, Oxford Uni. Press, 1995.

In "Naqshbandis: Cheminements et situation actuelle d'un ordre mystique musulman", edited by Marc Gaborieau et al. , Istanbul and Paris, 1990, one can find excellent articles about Naqshbandis. There are two interesting articles in French, one about the contemporary Naqshis in Turkey and the other about the eschatological thoughts of Shaykh Nazim. And several fine articles in English about the history of the order.

w'Allahu 'alim...

by a brother in Islam.
 


If you find some mistakes of facts, please let me know.


(I'm not the author of this article, however, feel free to email any comments to me - Fariduddien, fariduddien AT sunnipath DOT com.)
 
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