RETURN AND APPOINTMENT TO THE DARU’L-HIKMETI’L-ISLAMIYE
· The Escape and Return Journey
Major Ali Haydar Bey stated that he broke out of the camp together with Bediuzzaman, and described their extraordinary crossing of the Volga. He said:
“Bediuzzaman and I crossed the Volga in the most miraculous fashion. While crossing the river, we sank into the water sometimes up to our ankles, sometimes up to our knees, as though our feet were sinking into snow. I became very excited. When we had crossed it, Bediuzzaman turned to me and said:
“`Ali Haydar, my brother! Just as Almighty God subjugated the sea to Moses (Peace be upon him), so too, out of respect for you, did He subjugate the River Volga to us.’
“He wanted to allay my bewilderment and astonishment. I said to him: `I do not know how we crossed and were saved, but you know, Ustad. Once again it is as you say.”‘ How Ali Haydar Bey continued on his Journey to freedom is not recorded, and Necmeddin Sahiner notes that he could learn nothing further of him.
The miraculous ease and divine assistance described here continued throughout the long Journey as Bediuzzaman himself said in the piece quoted above. In another work he said that this “unseen protection” was granted him through the saintly intercession of Abdulkadir Geylani, the Gavs-i Azam, who, “with Divine permission, performed this duty through his supplications like an angel.”
Having reached Petersburg in this manner, Bediuzzaman made his way to the border with Poland, and crossed over into a part which was then under German control. He took asylum with the Germans, who were, of course, the allies of the Ottomans. As an officer and escaped prisoner-of-war, Bediuzzaman was given every assistance by the Germans. He then went to Berlin by way of Warsaw. He remained two months in Berlin, where he stayed in the Adlon Hotel.
While in Berlin, Bediuzzaman also participated in its intellectual life. On one occasion he was invited to address a gathering of literary and intellectual figures. He told them:
“Throughout history the Turks and the Germans have been friends. The Turks are always scrupulous in remaining true to that friendship.”
In June, 1918, Bediuzzaman returned to Istanbul by way of Vienna and Sofya, certainly the last past of the Journey was by train. In Sofya he was given a passport by the Military Attaché. Dated 17 June 1918, it gives these details of Bediuzzaman on the front face:
Name : Said Mirza Efendi
Rank : Honorary Lt. Colonel
Detachment : Volunteer Kurdish Cavalry Regiment
Nationality : Ottoman
Point of Departure : Sofya
Destination : Istanbul (Dersaadet)
Reason for journey : Returning from captivity
Date : 17 June 1918
And the back of the passport bears a copy of the photograph of Bediuzzaman taken by the German authorities.
Bediuzzaman’s arrival in Istanbul was announced in several of the newspapers. The Tanin dated 25 June 1918 carried this short announcement:
“Bediuzzaman Said-i Kurdi Efendi, one of the Kurdistan ulema, who fought in the War on the Caucasian Front together with his students and fell prisoner to the Russians, has recently arrived back in our city.”
Bediuzzaman was given a hero’s welcome on his return to Istanbul. Enver Pasa introduced him to the leading military personnel in the War Ministry saying: “Do you see this scholar? This was the person who withstood the Russian Cossacks in the East!” He received invitations from prominent pasas and dignitaries, or was visited by them. He was offered various positions and honours, and was awarded a War Medal. Molla Suleyman, one of his students, recounted the following exchange between Enver Pasa and Bediuzzaman to Necmeddin Sahiner:
“I read of Bediuzzaman’s return in the Tanin, and visited him in Sultan Ahmet and kissed his hand. Later Enver Pasa, the Minister of War, invited him to visit the War Ministry. He said to him there: `How are you? What are you doing these days, hoca?’ Bediuzzaman replied: `If you are offering me work for some worldly gain, I do not want it. If there some duties concerned with knowledge and learning, that would be different. But for now I am in need of rest, for I received much harsh treatment and suffered great hardship while I was a prisoner. ”
Also at this time Bediuzzaman was endeavoring to have his commentary on the Qur’an, Signs of Miraculous, published. Wanting to show hi great appreciation of the work and of Bediuzzaman’s service in the War, Enver Pasa offered to publish it for him. So Bediuzzaman suggested he might get the paper. Not easy to find in war-time Turkey. Thus, Enver Pasa provided the paper for Signs of Miraculous, and Bediuzzaman had it published.
Bediuzzaman was not given the opportunity to rest and regain hi strength. On 12 August 1918, the Darul-Hikmeti’l-lslamiye, a learned council or Islamic academy, was set up in association with the Office of the Seyhu’l-Islam, and without his knowledge, Bediuzzaman was appointed a the nominee of the Army. However, before continuing, in order to understand better the problems this institution faced and Bediuzzaman’s attitude towards it, and indeed all his thought and activities at this time, we include here a brief outline of the main events of these difficult years.
· An Outline of Events from 1918 to 1922
Indeed, through bringing the Ottoman Empire into the War on the side o the Central Powers, the leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress had secured its final demise. For, on its defeat, the victors and Britain in particular, were able to realize their long-cherished designs of finally breaking up the Ottoman Empire and vanquishing their ancient foe, the Turk. On hearing the terms of the Mudros Armistice, signed by ‘Turkey and Britain on 30 October 1918, the Sultan was heard to murmur: “This is not an armistice; it is an unconditional surrender.”” The day following its signature, the leading; members of the CUP fled the country for Berlin. On 13 November a fleet o f fifty-five ships belonging to the victors anchored off Istanbul, including four Greek warships which was contrary to the agreement. and on 8 December, a military administration was set up. While there can have been nothing more galling for the Muslim Turks than to see the Allied forces enter Istanbul a conquerors, the Ottoman Greeks, Jews, and Armenians of the city greeted them rapturously. The French General, Franchet Desperey, even, riding) through the streets of Istanbul to the French Embassy on a white horse, in the style of some conquering king or emperor.
A number of secret war-time agreements had been signed by the Entente Powers concerning the partition of the Ottoman Empire. When Russia renounced her claims following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, her place was taken by Italy. And when, in a timely move, the Greek Prime Minister Venizelos, brought his country into the War the same year, it was or the promise of Izmir and a portion of Aegean ‘Turkey. The same area had, incidentally, already been promised to the Italians.
Thus, on the signing of the Armistice, the French occupied parts of southern and south-Eastern ‘Turkey, while in February 1919; their troops entered Istanbul as mentioned above. On 29 April, Italian troops landed at Antalya. The British held the Dardanelles and other places of strategic importance. Plans had been made to set up a Kurdish state in Eastern Anatolia. And the Armenians prepared to set up an Armenian state in the north-east of the country. While the Greeks of the Black Sea region aimed to resurrect the Greek state of Pontus. Indeed, the ultimate aim of Venizelos and many Greeks was to recreate a Greater Byzantine Empire based on Istanbul – the ancient capital of Constantinople. And when on 15 May 1919, the Greek Army landed at Izmir with the assistance of French, British, and American warships, it provided the spark that ignited the Muslim inhabitants of Anatolia to resist the invaders and finally after more than two years of struggle and war to rid their country of all aggressors.
But there was no united front in the face of the oceupation. While the various groups based and fighting in Anatolia, `the National Forces’, had many supporters in Istanbul, among whom was Bediuzzaman, many of the Deputies in the Parliament, the Sultan and a number of prominent statesmen and ulema opposed it, believing the interests of the Ottoman State would be best served by co-operation and collaboration with the occupying Powers. The supporters of the National Forces gaining strength in Istanbul, notably in the new Parliament opened in January 1920, led to a reoccupation of the city by British troops in March, and large-scale arrests and deportations. Under considerable pressure from the British, the Sultan dissolved the Parliament the following month, and a fetva was extracted from a specially installed Seyhu’I-Islam declaring the nationalists to be rebels and the killing of them a duty. An army was then formed to fight them.
Indeed, religion and men of religion played a role of the greatest importance in the War, which was proclaimed a Holy War, and one of the main aims of which was considered by all, including the Ankara Government, to be the saving of the Caliph and Sultan from enemy hands. Their victory was recognized by the Mudanya Armistice, signed by Britain and Turkey on 11 October 1922, and received intentional recognition in the Treaty of Lausanne, signed 24 July 1923.
It was for British imperialism that Islam came to present the greatest obstacle. Though British efforts to conquer, subdue, and divide the Islamic world had been countered with some success by the Ottomans’ Caliphate Policy and Movement for Islamic Unity, which has been mentioned above.
Thus, the defeat of the Ottomans in 1918 was seen by the victors as the final triumph of the West over Islam, of Western civilization over Islamic civilization, of the Cross over the Crescent. It is in this light that the occupation of Istanbul should be seen, and also the extremely harsh terms of the peace treaties, which were far harsher than those imposed on the other defeated nations.
· Bediuzzaman and the Daru’I-Hikmeti’I-lslamiye
It may be seen from the above description how great the need was for a learned body with the authority of the Daru’l-Hikmet. The bill proposing its establishment had been introduced in Parliament at the beginning of the year, and it was envisaged that it would perform various functions. Just as it was to find solutions for problems confronting the Islamic world, so was it to answer in a scholarly manner the attacks made on it, combating attempts to discredit the religion of Islam. Bediuzzaman remained as a member of the Daru’l-Hikmet for the four years of its short existence. It was closed in November 1922 when the Sultanate was abolished by the Ankara Government. However, as we shall see, despite the great need for the Daru’l-Hikmet, and the efforts of its members, the situation did not allow for the full accomplishment of its aims.
· “Musa Kazim”
On his return to Istanbul, Bediuzzaman had been joined by his nephew, Abdurrahman. Born in 1903 in Nurs the son of Bediuzzaman’s elder brother Molla Abdullah, he was very intelligent and able, and was described by Bediuzzaman as both student, and assistant, and friend, and amanuensis, and spiritual son. He remained with his uncle for a number of years, during which time he wrote his biography of Bediuzzaman. It was forty- five pages in length and forms the main source for Bediuzzaman’s early life. It was published in Istanbul in 1919. The following is a passage from an appendix to it describing Bediuzzaman’s appointment to the Daru’l-Hikmet, and something of his attitude towards it and his resulting activities.
“I have described the life of my uncle, Said-i Kurdi, the author of the Lemeat Collection, briefly in an independent work. But for the past two and a half years they have burdened him with the duty of the Daru’l-Hikmeti’l- Islamiye. He used to say: `I would have given it up, but I want to render an account to the nation.’ And now I am writing a few words about how my uncle wanted to render an account through his duties in the Daru’l-Hikmeti’I-Islamiye.
“It was two years ago in 1334 (1918) that without his consent, my uncle was appointed as a member of the Darul’l-Hikmeti’l-Islamiye. But because he was very shaken by his captivity, he obtained leave not to take up his duty. In fact, he tried to resign on many occasions, but his friends would not let him. So he continued, and now it is two and a half years.
“From the beginning I noticed that he did not spend anything on himself over and above what was necessary. In reply to those who asked him: `Why do you live so poorly?’, he would say: `I want to follow the majority of Muslims. The majority can only obtain this much. I do not want to follow the extravagant minority.’ And after putting aside the minimum amount from his salary from the Daru’l-Hikmet, he would give me the remainder saying: `Look after this!’ But, relying on my uncle’s kindness towards me and his contempt for possessions, I spent all of the money which had been left over in a year without telling him. So he said to me: `It was not licit for us to spend that money, it belonged to the nation. Why did you spend it? But since this is how the matter stands, I dismiss you from the post of Deputy for Expenditure and I appoint myself!’ After this, he put aside twenty liras a month for me, and fifteen for himself. But other expenses were included in his fifteen. That is to say; ten or twelve liras used to remain over for him per month. He used to put aside any money that remained over and above this.
“Some time passed and it occurred to him to have twelve of his works printed in the name of religion. He gave the money which had accumulated, about one hundred liras, to cover the expense of having the works printed. Then with the exception of only one or two small one’s, he had them distributed free. I asked him why he had not had them sold, and he said to me: `It is permissible for me to take only just enough to live on out of the salary. Anything more than that is the property of the nation. In this way I am returning it to the nation.’
“His service in the Darü’I-Hikmeti’I-Islamiye was all in the form of personal enterprises like that. For he saw certain obstacles in working jointly there. Those who were acquainted with him knew that he had put on his shroud and was risking his life. It was for this reason that he resisted and stood firm as a rock in the Daru’l-Hikmeti’I-Islamiye. He would not let the foreigners’ influence make the Daru’l-Hikmet a tool for itself. He held out against the wrong fetvas and opposed them. When a current harmful to Islam appeared, he used to publish a work to destroy it.”
Thus, as may be seen from this, Bediuzzaman’s main service in the Daru’l-Hikmet – and indeed the greater part of his activities in this periodwas countering the divisive and corrupting influence of the occupying forces. For the situation in Istanbul under occupation did not permit the Darü’I-Hikmet to altogether fulfill its important functions. There were several reasons for this. On being asked on one occasion why he had nothing to do with politics during this period, he said: “I take refuge with God from Satan and politics. Yes, Istanbul politics are like Spanish `flu; they make a person delirious. We do not act of our own accord, but at the agency of another. Europe puffs, and we here dance…” That is to say, at a time when the British were using every means to utilize all areas of power and influence in Istanbul for their own ends, Bediuzzaman worked to neutralize their influence as far as the Darü’l-Hikmet was concerned, even if it lessened the effectiveness of the institution itself. And in another work Bediuzzaman pointed out that it was because it lacked any real power that the Daru’l-Hikmet could not put an end to serious wrongs such as immoral conduct, the drinking of alcohol, and gambling, whereas the Government in Anatolia stopped them with one command.
Bediuzzaman’s efforts, and success, in preventing the Daru’l-Hikmet being subverted and becoming a mere puppet in the hands of the British should not be underestimated. For it should be remembered that the British were all-powerful in Istanbul and exerted overwhelming pressure on the Sultan and those in positions of authority to have their will carried out. Also, there were severe differences of opinion among Turks – including the ulema – as to solutions to Turkey’s predicament. These ranged from acceptance of the partition of Turkey, through various mandates or protectorates, to national sovereignty and independence. Furthermore, manipulation of the Caliphate played an important part in Britain’s imperialist games. That Bediuzzaman was held in the greatest respect by other ulema is attested to in the recollections of Professor Ali Nihad Tarlan, who visited him on several occasions during these years, here one night in the Medresetü’l-Mutehassisin in Yavuz Selim:
“Bediuzzaman was wearing grey. He spoke of many matters that night , scholarly and religious. I’ll tell you how he greeted me there; he met me saying: `Welcome, my dear brother!’ He was always thinking, always reflecting. He was a superhuman person. Babanzade Ahmed Naim Bey said of him: `Whenever Bediuzzaman started to speak in the Daru’I-Hikmet, we used to just listen to him in wonder.”