Kutup Osman Efendi: A lighthouse in the storm

The story of a guiding light in the darkness, caught between the crashing waves of a changing tide.

Kutup Osman Efendi: A lighthouse in the storm

Ertan Karpazlı - World Bulletin

More commonly known by the name of Atpazarı Osman Fazlullah Efendi, this seventeenth century Muslim scholar and mystic was born on 7 July 1632 in the Ottoman city of Shumen, in present day Bulgaria. His father was also a well-known scholar from whom Kutup Osman gained his childhood education. Kutup Osman was eleven when his father passed away, which affected him so deeply that he seemingly lost his sense of purpose in life. However, after coming across a poet in a marketplace who recited verses about the honor of seeking knowledge, Kutup Osman decided to move to Edirne in search of a new teacher.

It was in Edirne where he came under the tutelage of Saçlı Ibrahim Efendi, who himself was raised by the famous scholar and founder of the Halvetiye Order Aziz Mahmud Hüdai Efendi. Saçlı Ibrahim was also a childhood friend of the Sultan Ahmed I, in whose name the Blue Mosque in Istanbul was built. Once his new teacher realized the natural talent Kutup Osman had for grasping knowledge, he decided that it was best to send him to the order’s headquarters, the Hüdai Dergah in Istanbul’s Üsküdar district. However, Kutup Osman was dissatisfied with Mes’ud Çelebi, who as Aziz Mahmut Hüdai’s grandson inherited the leadership of the dergah. Rather, Kutup Osman preferred to learn wisdom from Zakirzade Abdullah Efendi, who was an elderly student of Mes’ud Çelebi.

After spending some years with Zakirzade, it was decreed that Kutup Osman had gained enough knowledge and experience to begin teaching. Kutup Osman at first resisted this idea, but after seeing a dream in which the Qur’an was presented to him with the command to serve the servants of God, he eventually warmed to the idea. His spiritual master sent him to the town of Aydos, near Edirne, where he was acquainted with a young Ismail Hakkı Bursavi, who would become one of his most prominent students and another light of guidance for his people.

His teacher Zakirzade Efendi died in 1657, after which Kutup Osman moved to Plovdiv in his native Bulgaria, where he continued to teach for around fifteen years. While in Plovdiv, he had a vision of his late teacher Zakirzade Efendi showing him a mosque known as the Kul Camii, or the Mosque of the Slaves, located in Istanbul’s Atpazarı. In his vision his teacher informed him that the mosque would be his new station, so he returned to Istanbul.

His sermons and classes in Istanbul inspired a whole generation of people who renew their ties with God and even follow in his footsteps. He was later joined by his student İsmail Hakkı, who he later sent to Skopje in order to revive the message of Islam and set up a house for the Halvetiye Order in 1675. Ismail Hakkı was a young man at the time, in his early twenties, and his youthful zealousness in admonishing the people for their lax behavior lead to him making many enemies in the city. On hearing of his struggles, Kutup Osman wrote to him saying:

"My son, persevere in following the precepts of our religion and our order; stop short of directly criticising these envious people and content yourself with indirect criticism, confronting them with the example of your own life. Don't go to visit anyone unless you are invited; content yourself with the believers who take pleasure in your company. Leave to God the chastising of the frivolous. Resign yourself."

Kutup Osman’s knowledge and wisdom earned him a good reputation not only in the society but also among royalty. He became a close friend and advisor of Sultan Mehmet IV, who respected Kutup Osman greatly. However, his popularity with the Sultan did not always settle well with the Sultan’s ministers.

He opposed the Grand Vezir, Kara Mustafa Pasha, in his decision to break the Ottoman alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and launch an attack on Vienna. He believed this was have disastrous consequences for the Ottomans, and in this case he was correct in believing so. The Grand Vezir was executed for his faulty judgment, which lead to a power vacuum in the Ottoman government.

In 1687, the Ottoman janissaries dethroned Sultan Mehmet IV and replaced him with his brother Sultan Suleyman II. The coup resulted in a period of lawlessness and chaos in the empire which made everyone in the Ottoman hierarchy anxious. Due to his influence over the people, Kutup Osman was called to calm the rioters down and reaffirm their allegiance with the Sultan. His success in doing so lead to him being offered the role of Grand Vezir, but Kutup Osman refused to accept the post.

He later found himself at odds with the Sultan’s ministers once again when he refused to offer an religious ruling justifying the government’s heavy taxation policy to support their military campaigns. He warned the ministers of using misinterpretations of the Qur’an in such a way and said that misfortune would befall anyone who abused divine law. He was banished from Istanbul for his non-compliance, and left the city with only a few followers to offer spiritual support for Ottoman soldiers on the battlefield. However, he was arrested before he could get to Sofia and exiled to Cyprus, where he spent the remaining year of his life before he died in 1691. He was buried in the Martyr’s Graveyard in the coastal city of Famagusta. His beloved student Ismail Hakkı Bursavi wrote the following verse on his teacher’s death:

By all the people of the world was known
and named by every tongue Sheikh Osman
The envy of the Sun, in light expressed
the endless ocean of the Unseen.
Yet no one even saw the slightest trace
and no one saw the mountain of his soul.
No matter now he lays on Cyprus' isle
though fame renounced he was of high renown.

In 1894, the Ottoman governor of Cyprus El-Hac Seyit Mehmet Ağa built a shrine around his grave, alongside a small mosque and a lodge for the Hüdai Order. The governor also built a medrese, a religious school, just outside the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque in the town center, which he named after this great Muslim scholar.

Today, the Kutup Osman shrine is located just outside a high school, named after another exile to the city Namık Kemal. Unfortunately, the medrese that Seyit Mehmet Ağa dedicated to him is today used as an alcoholic restaurant.

Last Mod: 25 Eylül 2013, 09:25
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