It is almost ironic that one of the bloodiest chapters of Sheikh Bedreddin’s rebellion in 1416-1420 was written on the Karaburun peninsula, in the Aydin province, 90 km west of Smyrna, or Izmir, the theater of a huge humanitarian disaster in 1922. I wrote about this in the previous post. Now, trying to console my self, I pay tribute to Sheikh Bedreddin, a Sufi preacher and rebel in the first half of the 15th century.
“Share all you have apart from the lips of your beloved one”
(attributed to) Sheikh Bedreddin
Sheik Bedreddin (or Bedrettin, or Badraldin), was born in the town of Simavna (or Simavne, today in Greece, municipality of Kyprinos, locality of Ammovounio), in the southwest of Edirne (Adrianople) around 1358, the son of a gazi (warrior of the Islamic Faith) and the daughter of the Byzantine commander whose fortress he had captured.
He studied in Adrianople and Bursa, and then he studied philosophy and law in Konya and Cairo he had gone to Ardabil in Ajerbaijan (today in Iran) which was under Timurid domination and the home of the mystical Safaviyya order founded by the Kurdish mystic Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili (1252–1334).
“The Ottoman seraglio in Bursa and/or Adrianople in the fourteenth and the ﬁfteenthcenturies was open to literary circles interested in Ottoman–Christian interaction. A Suﬁ and lettrist teacher such as Bistami advertized that he had spent time in Chios ‘with thelearned and virtuous of the Christians’. Sheikh Bedreddin also sought to utilize connections with the Christian world. Owing to the common emphasis laid on psychophysical askesis by both Hesychasm and Suﬁsm and the dissemination of the Greek language, Islamic mysticism could conveniently accommodate crypto-Christian tendencies.Christians and Muslims, Greeks and Turks met on an esoteric and spiritual level and the graecophone Jews (Romaniotes) often assumed the role of mediator. It is no coincidence that the pillar of Roman Orthodoxy, Gregory Palamas, reﬂected upon his discussions with the mysterious Chionai he met during his Turkish captivity in 1354 to the effect that a symphonia between mystical Islam and his notion of Orthodoxy was only a questionof time. Moreover, adherents of both Bektashi and Huruﬁ devotions and incipient sectarianisms were familiar with eastern Christianity, directly or indirectly initiating the secret islamization of Christian monks.” (1)
Sheikh Bedrettin had a great feeling for social justice and freedom. He was an adherent of a democratically elected governing model and defended the oppressed Turkish, Greek and Jewish poor people.
Carrier of a mystical universalist tradition with links to Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi,Rumi and Haji Bektash, Sheikh Bedreddin proceeded to an attempt at unifying the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions into a universal religion destined to subvert the Ottoman establishment. Bedreddin’s mysticism had deep roots extending beyond theimmediate Islamic framework.
I open a parenthesis here in order to say a few things about Haji Bektash and his teachings.
Haji Bektash Veli ‘s philosophy was based on love for God, love for humanity, tolerance, sharing, social peace, and honesty. He continuously emphasized the importance of knowledge, wisdom, honesty, tolerance, brotherhood, unity, friendship, and morality. He approached religious and Sufi issues clearly in his book Makalat, which was written based on “four gates” and “forty authorities.” The four gates represent Sharia, Tariqa, Marifa, and Haqiqa, and the forty authorities represent the understanding accepted and followed by Turkish Sufis.The Sufism movement, which started with Ahmed Yesevi in Turkistan, inspired Haji Bektash Veli, Rumi, and Yunus Emre in Anatolia. These three people, being more advanced than their contemporaries, laid the foundations of Anatolian tolerance and understanding.
Those who attended Haji Bektash Veli’s lessons and conversations and followed his path were called Bektashi. Bektashism is an Alevi Sufi order that represents Haji Bektash Veli, and this order has been accepted in the Balkans, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Hungary, and Azerbaijan. Bektashism is a teaching that focuses on “the human.” Its aim is to reach a level of competence and perfect human status known as Insan-I Kamil, and a training process is essential to reaching this level. The system can be summarized by saying, “Be the master of your hand, waist, and tongue.” It requires free minds that are always thinking. Their philosophy is far from fanatical, and it requires a loving approach toward God. The collaboration of both men and women is highly crucial in this philosophy.
Bedreddin developed pantheistic ideas, building on the work of Ibn Al’ Arabi on the “Oneness of Being”. Ibn Al’ Arabi never used the term, but the idea is implicit in all his writtings.
“The doctrine of “Oneness of Being” sought to eliminate the oppositions which framed life on earth – such as those between religions, and between the privileged and the powerless – which were considered to inhibit the oneness of the individual with God. The struggle for oneness gave the mystic an important role for it was he, rathen than the orthodox cleric, who had the wisdom, and therefore the task, to guide man to union with God ” (2)
Though his religious universalism was not necessarily incompatible with his role as head kadi (military judge) under Musa Çelebi (1411–1413), it appears that at a time of economical and political instability his mystical-reformist movement grew fast in the European part of the Ottoman Empire.
Musa Çelebi’s rule soon encountered problems.
“He began to resent the power and wealth gained by the gazi chiefs through booty and timars, and turned increasingly to the servants of the palace (kapikullars), transferring positions and timars to them, while ordering the gazis to stop their raids into Christian territory. At the same time, Beddredin’s doctrines, while appealing to the impoverished masses, were abhorrent to the orthodox religious leaders and Turkish notables alike, so that the latter began to plot to eliminate the regime as rapidly as possible. The conservative religious leaders openly criticized Bedreddin as heretic and demanded that Musa remove him. This doctrine was potentially highly subversive of evolving Ottoman efforts to establish through conquest a state with Sunni Islam as its religion and their eponymous dynasty at its pinnacle.” (3)
In 1413 Mehmet I (reign 1413 – 1421) overthrew Musa Çelebi and crowned himself sultan in Edirne. He restored the empire, and moved the capital from Bursa to Edirne
Mehmed I exiled Sheikh Bedreddin to Iznik. At the time, Bedreddin had already achieved considerable mass following, and the economic consequences of a long period of military campaigns added to his popularity among the impoverished. From Iznik Bedreedin worked to rebuild his order, sending out preachers to spread his message and organize secter cells of supporters.
Afraid of what Mehmed I might do to him in his Iznik exile, Bedreddin fled to Samsum in 1415, hoping to get support from the Candar (Jandar) beylik (principality). However, the beylik smelled trouble and sent Bedreddin away to Rumeli, in Wallachia, where Mihail, Mircea’s son was the ruler. Mihail gave Bedreddin material support to raise a revolt in the European part of the Ottoman Empire.
The Rebellion of 1416, probably the largest in Ottoman history, began in 1416 and took place on two fronts—the western coast of Anatolia and the Zagora region of Bulgaria.
While Bedreddin was preaching in Rumeli, his supporters raised several revolts in Anatolia. It seemed very likely that a popular protest might sweep the Ottomans out of Anatolia altogether.
Sheikh Bedreddin’s revolt was short lived.
After the revolt was put down, Bedreddin was judged and executed in 1420 at Serez (Serres), accused of distrurbing public order by preaching that property must be communal and that there was no difference between the various religions and their prophets.
He was buried in Serres. His remains were transferred to Turkey in 1924, at the time fo the Greco-Turkish population exchange, but did not find a final restin gplace until when they were burried in the graveyard around the Mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud II, near the covered market (bazaar) in Istanbul.
The Turkish poet and Nobel Laureate Nazim Hikmet wrote a poem inspired by the rebelious Sheikh “The epic of Sheikh Bedreddin”.
Returning to the lake,
Bedreddin spoke to himself:
“That fire in my breast has ignited
And is mounting with each day.
Even were my heart forged of iron,
It could not endure this fire. It would melt!
The time for me to emerge and burst forth has come!
The time for we men of the land to rise up
And conquer the land has come!
And we shall see confirmed
The strength of knowledge, the secret of Oneness!
And we shall see canceled
The laws of all nations and religious sects!”
(1) Sect and Utopia in shifting empires: Plethon, Elissaios,Bedreddin, Niketas Siniossoglou, University of Cambridge, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Vol.36 No. 1 (2012) 38–55
(2) Osman’s Dream, Caroline Finkel
(3) History of the Ottoman Empire and Modrn Turkey, Volume 1, Stanford Shaw