Caliphate Redefined –
The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought
By Huseyin Yilmaz
Princeton University Press – £34.00
In Ottoman thought, the anchor term for rulership around which the entire political discourse revolved was ‘’sultanate’’ (saltanat), in the sense that it refers to executive power through which sovereign authority is exercised. Yet, the sultanate itself did not stand for legitimacy or convey any specific conception of rulership except that, by definition, it meant the type (my italics) of political authority wielded by a sultan.’’
(‘The Sultan and the Sultane’)
Do not say, ”I conquered this much land with my own sword.” Indeed, the kingdom (memleket) belongs to God, then to the Prophet, and then, per God’s will, to His caliph.
(‘The Caliph and the Caliphate’)
This book isn’t so much an introduction, but rather, a revamped and substantial revaluation of the occasionally dense subject matter at hand. In other words, it’s not caliphate for dummies; but more of a published work for the caliphate inclined – for those whom are already (relatively) well versed in the history of Ottoman political thought, ideas and legitimizing practices.
As the president of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Daniel Varisoco, has since written: ”Yilmaz provides a sweeping and well-documented rereading of the impact of Sufism on Ottoman rule.”
Although what accounts for Caliphate Redefined – The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought being what it essentially is – an altogether lucid justification of Ottoman political legitimacy – is its comprehensive and most scholarly approach and varied investigation(s): ”Modern studies on the question of Muslim rulership repeatedly assume that the historical caliphate, as conceived by Muslim jurists during the Abbasid period (c.750-1258), continued to define both the concept and the institution in subsequent political thought and praxis. This assumption confines the theoretical construction of the caliphate to jurisprudence, overlooks the impact of later historical experiences, and disregards the formative influence of broader intellectual traditions in framing the caliphate as both an institution and an ideal” (‘Introduction’).
The mere fact that ”later historical experiences” are so openly, if not brazenly taken into account, is what partly accounts for these five chapters thoroughly meandering betwixt that which we categorically know to be true, and that which we really ought to take on-board.
After all, it is knowingly easy to regurgitate the repetition of history, but to dissect as much within the parameters of the most trying, if not perplexing prognosis, is no easy feat. Especially given the following: ‘’Know that the nature of humans, when their dispositions were created, varied in terms of different talent and various characteristics. For this reason their reception of the lights of the manifestations of Beauty differed, and, because of that difference, their aims, words, practices, beliefs, attributes, and morals also differed. Thus divine wisdom necessitated the appointment of a just ruler and leader to protect the oppressed from the oppressor and apply rules, and treat people equitably, so that order may last until the end of days. And the first person appointed for that position was the father of humanity, Adam’’ (‘The Sultan and the Sultane’)
These 286 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes on Translation, Transliterations, and Pronunciations, Notes, Glossary, Bibliography and Index) are an unquestionable
masterful work of scholarship.
In fact, to define Caliphate Redefined as a comprehensive study of pre-modern Ottoman political thought, is to offer an extensive analysis way beyond the wealth of previous unstudied texts (in Arabic as well as Persian and Ottoman Turkish).
Which just leaves me to conclude that this book is an altogether varied, informed and most rewarding read.