India-Turkey: linked by a Sufi connection

While visiting the spiritual sites of Turkey, one would be surprised to encounter the ubiquity of a book called “Mektubat-ı Rabbani”, the collection of letters from the famous 16th century Indian Sufi, Ahmad al-Faruq al-Sirhindi, also known as Imam Rabbani (1564-1624). Why has an Indian Sufi become so popular in Turkey?

Records of the heavy traffic of Sufi travelers between India and Turkey between the 14th and 19th centuries explain why and how Istanbul and other Ottoman cities became centers for Indian Sufis. According to Christopher D. Bahl, assistant professor at Durham University, among the earliest Islamic scholarly texts brought to Istanbul are the works of al-Muḥammad al-Damamini (d. 1424) and Shihab al-Din al -Dawlatabadi (d. 1445). However, Sufi networks had started to spread since the days of the Sultanate of Delhi, an Islamic empire based in modern India from Delhi that spanned large parts of the Indian subcontinent for 320 years (1206-1526 ).

A journey of interaction

Throughout history, cultural exchanges between Muslims and Hindus have been observed. While Hindu scriptures have become a subject of scientific debate among Muslim Sufis, several important popular scriptures and works have been translated from Sanskrit to Persian and Arabic. Based on Islamic sources and principles, however, Indian Sufis created their own schools, which also became popular in modern Syria from Aleppo, modern Iraq in Baghdad, Istanbul and Edirne in Turkey, even in Sofia in Bulgaria and in Prizren in Kosovo. The very Sufi centers are called “tekke” in Turkish or “takiya” in Urdu.

What the archives say

There are around 150-200 records from the Ottoman era that mention the presence of Indian Sufis in Ottoman cities. According to the earliest reference of Indian tekkes, in 1581 Indian Sufis arrived in the Bulgarian cities of Sofia and Pazardzhik (Pazarcık) and were generously supported by the Ottoman sultans. For example, Indian Sufi circles were active in the former Ottoman capital of Bursa, located in present-day western Turkey, and in Üsküdar, a historic district of Istanbul. They remained active for over two centuries and helped spread the Sufi order throughout the region.

For example, one of Istanbul’s most famous tekkes is the Horhor tekke in Üsküdar, which has been recently renovated. Some Mughal and Indian diplomatic missions have recognized the Horhor Tekke. Imam Muhammed Serdar was a member of the diplomatic delegation of Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Mysore kingdom based in South India in the 18th century, and had stayed in this tekke where he was buried after his death. Buta Singh Uppal, later known as Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, a great freedom fighter for Indian independence, also stayed at Horhor Tekke to consult with Turkish politicians and Abdur Rahman Peshawari, or Abdurrahman Bey, who would later be known as the Indian freedom fighter in Turkey. Abdurrahman Bey had convinced Sindhi of the reforms undertaken by the founding leader of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The popularity of Imam Rabbani

The background to Imam Rabbani’s popularity is no less interesting. Here are some anecdotes from his lifetime according to the Ottoman archives.

Famous Baghdad-based Sufi Khalid-i Shahrazuri met Indian traveler and spiritual seeker Mirza Rahimullah Azimabadi, who told him about Imam Rabbani and his disciple Abdullah Dihlevi. Shahrazuri did not take the time to visit Delhi in 1809 and frequented circles of followers of Imam Rabbani, especially Dihlevi. He spent over a year learning the teachings of Imam Rabbani. Shahrazuri returned to Baghdad in 1813. According to Ottoman records, Dihlevi also sent his followers to Anatolia to establish tekkes.

In 1829, one of Imam Rabbani’s grandsons, Halil Efendi, arrived in the Turkish province of Ordu in the Black Sea region, where the Ottoman authorities warmly welcomed him and facilitated his trip. and his stay.

This scan from the Turkish State Archives Directorate shows the letter of reference sent by Sheikh Masumi to the Ottoman authorities for his trip to Mecca and Medina via Alexandria in 1859.

Sheikh Masumi, a family member of Imam Rabbani, sent a request to travel to Mecca and Medina via Alexandria, requesting a reference letter from the Ottoman authorities. Masumi later died on his journey in 1862.

Extended family members and followers of Imam Rabbani continued to receive special attention and hospitality from Ottoman officials and were accommodated in Mecca, Istanbul and other locations during their visits. . According to a document, a member of Shahrazuri’s tekke, Abdurrahman Efendi, was commissioned to translate the letters and works of Imam Rabbani. He died in 1853, but translation fees continued. However, there is no evidence that another famous translation by the 18th century Ottoman memoir scholar and Sufi Müstakimzade Süleyman Sadeddin, which was completed in 1780, was part of this translation project.

Researchers and academics pay great attention to it while retracing the memories of the presence of Indian Sufis in Turkey. A recent book by Turkish academic Ali Emre Işlek, “Osmanlı Coğrafyasındaki Hintli Mutasavvıflar ve Tekkeleri” (“Indian Sufis and Tekkes in Ottoman Lands”) covers most archival references. Historian Rishad Choudhury “The Hajj and the Hindi: the rise of the Indian Sufi lodge in the Ottoman Empire” and the previous work of others, including scholar Mehmet Baha Tanman, provide detailed information on the exchange of Sufi traditions between India and Turkey.

Many of these tekkes may have lost a lot of public attention, but they are still a part of the spiritual memories whenever Sufis visit Turkey. As Turkey tries to reach out through its Asia Anew initiative, the revival and reintroduction of Indian Sufi memorials in Turkey would greatly aid the initiative and reconnect Indo-Turkish relations beyond political exchanges.

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Sharon P. Juarez