May 30, 2023

Nabil Al-Tikriti Presents Paper on Ottoman Cultural History

On Nov. 23, 2014, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern History Nabil Al-Tikriti presented a paper at the 2014 Middle East Studies Association Conference in Washington, D.C. The paper, entitled  “Greatness Denied: Firdevsi-yi Rumi on the Cusp of Ottoman Sunnism,” was part of an Ottoman History panel, entitled “The Sunnification of the Ottoman Ideology and Polity, 16th to 17th Centuries.”

The paper abstract is as follows: “Ilyas Çelebi “Firdevsi-yi Rumi” (fl. 1512) served primarily at the courts of Sultan Bayezid II (d. 1512) and Prince Korkud (d. 1513), authoring works of narrative history, elegiac poetry, gestes, and hagiography. In this paper, I will summarize what is known of his biography and analyze his presentation of Ottoman, Turkish, and Muslim identity.

Firdevsi, a litterateur with a considerable sense of self, completed more than twenty works while serving at the apex of Ottoman cultural production. While very successful at attracting patronage and support for lengthy and ornate literary works, his oeuvre was mostly lampooned by those who followed in the decades after his death.

Why would a writer who was so successful in his own lifetime be so reviled within a few decades of his death? Analyzing the political content and identity positions staked out by Firdevsi provides a tentative answer – societal views changed abruptly in the first tumultuous decades of the early 16th century. Firdevsi’s use of the term “Sunni” in his Qutb-name, explanation of Turkish conversion to Islam in his Süleyman-name, and portrayal of Anatolian Sufism in his Vilayet-name each provide clues as to why subsequent literary critics found his scholarship unreliable, his poetry unspeakable, and his views objectionable.”

The panel abstract is as follows: “Sunni identity of the Ottoman Empire is often taken for granted. However, recent research has begun to question the nature of Ottoman Sunnism and the process by which the Ottoman state began to distance itself from ‘confessional ambiguity’ that prevailed in Central Asia, Iran and Anatolia from the mid 13th to the late 15th century, and became increasingly concerned with formulating and enforcing a Sunni orthodoxy. While it is well known that the religious ideology of the Safavid Empire, based on Shia principles and folk Islam, began to be formulated in the early 16th century, it is not commonly acknowledged that Sunni theology was simultaneously experiencing a transformation, both in reaction to the developments in the Safavid realm and as a consequence of various socio-political processes within Ottoman territories. Titled ‘Sunnification of Ottoman Ideology and Society, 16th-17th Centuries’ our roundtable will examine this historical process from the perspective of the state, other agents of Sunnification, and those who were targeted by the new measures for correcting belief and practice.”