A Literary Bureaucrat Scholar and Shaykh al-Islām: Ahmad Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi

Studies on the Ottoman Shaykh al-Islāms are largely focused on a few names, their fatwās, and their relations with the state. It is a fact that the fatwā constituted a significant part of their writings because they were mostly dealing with legal issues while maintaining their duties as a Shaykh al-Islāms. In addition, although the Shaykh al-Islām position was reached after several stages of scholarly training, it was acknowledged as a high-level status within the state apparatus. Therefore, contemporary scholars typically examine both the legal and administrative dimensions of the Shaykh al-Islāms’ careers. Close examination of Ottoman Shaykh al-Islāms’ written compositions however shows that they had other literary and scholarly aptitudes that were at least as strong as their legal proficiency evident in their fatwās. For example, a merit of a significant part of the Ottoman Shaykh al-Islāms was that they were also literary men. For instance Yahyā Efendi (d. 1053/1644),[1] Ishāk Efendi (d. 1147/1734),[2] Es‘ad Efendi (d. 1166/1753),[3] and Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi (d. 1275/1859) were the prominent Shaykh al-Islāms who composed poetry collections (diwān) appreciated for their literary style. In this article, I will study Ahmad Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi, who has competencies in these various fields of knowledge.

Shaykh al-Islām Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi was born in 1786 and died in Istanbul in 1859. He was called Bey since he came from an aristocratic and ruling family, and Efendi because he belonged to the ilmiye (‘ulamā’) class. During Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi life, five different Ottoman sultans ruled: Abdulhamid I, Selim III, Mustafa IV, Mahmud II, and Abdulmecid. He held some administrative duties during the reign of the last two sultans. He got a for effort for the implementation of the Edict of Gülhane in his duties.

The education of Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi, whose father was from the ‘ulamā’ class, was mostly conducted through private lessons. From the second half of the 18th century in the Ottoman Empire, scholarly education was also carried out in the study circles formed by prominent scholars of the period in specific places, especially Pasha Mansions and private homes.[4] Since the same books taught in the madrasah curriculum were taught in these study circles, sometimes aristocratic families and some ‘ulamā’ families preferred to have their children take lessons in these private circles. Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi received his education in this way.

Shaykh al-Islām Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi taught in Istanbul madrasahs for a some time  after completing his education and then was appointed as the qāḍi of the Jerusalem Mawlawiyah. The title of Mawlawiyah was a position and title given to qāḍis in the Ottoman Empire. When some qāḍis were appointed to any province in the Ottoman territory, they would become the qāḍis of the Kaza (district or juridical district). However, experienced scholars were appointed as qāḍis in the major cities that have strategic importance, cultural richness, and large population, and these qāḍiships were referred to as Mawlawiyah.[5] Jerusalem was also a place where high-ranking scholars were appointed because it was a city of rank of Mawlawiyah.[6] The appointment of Shaykh al-Islām Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi to Jerusalem shows that he was recognized as a high-ranking scholar. After Jerusalem, he was appointed to Cairo in 1820, to Madinah in 1823, and then to Istanbul qāḍiship in 1826. However, Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi refused to serve as qāḍi in Istanbul.[7] The fact that he did not take court fees during his judgeship was a new practice for which he was  criticized by members of the judiciary and bureaucracy.

One of the important qualities of Shaykh al-Islām Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi is that he took an active role in the reforms that took place in the Ottoman state organization. One of these changes was the census carried out in order to identify military personnel and taxpayers during the reign of Mahmud II. Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi went to Plovdi in 1829 as a census officer and fulfilled an important duty there as an officer. Similarly, in 1831, he was appointed naqīb al-ashrāf, which was established during the period of Bayezit II and aimed to save and protect the genealogy of the sayyids and sharīfs living in the Ottoman lands. Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi played an important role in this institution, which was established to uncover those making false claims of descendence from the Prophet Muhammad to take advantage of the state’s opportunities for the sayyids and sharīfs, and to protect the rights and interests of the true sayyids and sharīfs. Following this post, Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi received Anatolian Kazaskership (chief judgeship) in 1833 and then Rumelia Kazaskership in 1838. After the Gülhane Eddict was declared, objections and unrest was raised in many parts of the Empire. The Tanzimat Inspectorate was established to observe these objections and social reactions to Tanzimat reforms in place, to persuade opponents and to introduce and apply the Tanzimat principles. Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi, who was appointed as Rumelia Tanzimat Inspector in 1840, succeeded in Rumelia and was awarded with Hatt-i Hümayun.[8]

Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi also served in some administrative and scholarly councils established for the success of the reform efforts undertaken during the reign of Mahmud II. Among these assemblies, Majlis Wāla-i Ahkām-i ‘Adliyya and Dār Shūra-i ‘Askarī were administrative institutions. During his membership in the Majlis Wāla-i Ahkām-i ‘Adliyya, he worked closely with many administrative officials and politicians in the top ranks of the Ottoman bureaucracy and had the opportunity to see first-hand the challenges of implementing Ottoman reforms. While his membership in Dār Shūra-i ‘Askarī continued, he pioneered the reforms required to advance the Ottoman army and bring it to the same level with the European armies of the period. During his membership of Majlis Muwaqqāt, Majlis Ma‘ārif, and Anjuman-i Dānish, which were scholarly advisory councils,[9] Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi had the opportunity to get to know the Ottoman ilmiye class closely. The experiences he gained in these administrative and scholarly positions also contributed to his important achievements when he was appointed Shaykh al-Islām.

Upon the death of Mekkīzāde Mustafa Āsım Efendi, Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi was appointed to the position of Shaykh al-Islām on 21 November 1846, and he remained in the position until 24 March 1854 when he resigned. While in this position, he supported the ongoing reforms on the one hand and pioneered some of them, on the other hand he disagreed with some bureaucrats such as Mustafa Reşid Pasha[10] (d. 1275/1858) on various issues. Succession privilege given to Egyptian Governor Mehmed Ali Pasha was foremost among these disagreements between the two. With the Decree of Inheritance (Veraset Fermanı), which was declared in 1841, the governorship of Egypt was given to Mehmed Ali Pasha and his descendants on condition that they would  not rebel against the Ottoman Empire and would pay their taxes.[11] Mustafa Reşid Pasha played an active part in brokering this agreement, while Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi opposed it. Apart from that, the tensions can be expressed as Mustafa Reşid Pasha’s accusation of Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi for being silent in the rivalries between Mustafa Reşid Pasha and his opponents.[12]

While filling these bureaucratic and administrative positions, Shaykh al-Islām Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi also penned important works. These works fall under three main disciplines: literature, history, and Islamic disciplines. Dîwān-i Hikmet, an important literary work comprising Arabic, Turkish and Persian poems, is also mentioned in some catalogs as Majmūa-i Ash‘ār,[13] one of the masterpieces showing how strong his literary capacities were. Other works that demonstrate his interest in literature and history include, a Turkish biographical dictionary, Tezkire-i Şu‘arā, in which he examined the life of 210 poets;[14] his biographical book Majmū‘at al-Tarājim that he wrote in Arabic,[15] and Zayl Kashf al-Ẓunūn.[16]

Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi’s book titled Khulāsat al-Maqālāt fī Majālis al-Mukālamāt, comprising decisions and articles of agreement reached in the international agreements and negotiations in which his father İsmet Bey participated,[17] is an important source for studying the Ottoman policies of the period first hand. Bazı Vak’ā-yi Dāhiliye Notlari is an important treatise consisting of 13 folios that documents the appointment, dismissal, and death dates of some statesmen and scholars of his period.[18] Two important documents regarding the implementation of the Tanzimat Edict are Tahrīr Defteri, consisting of notes he took while working as a civil servant in Rumelia,[19] and Tanzimat Defteri, consisting of the notes and observations he took as the Tanzimat inspector in Rumelia.[20] Another vital work, entitled Raf‘ Niqāb ‘an Wujūh al-Alqāb, comprises notes he wrote about some nicknames and pseudonyms of famous scholars and officers.[21] Al-Ahkām  al-Mar’iyya fī al-Arādī al-Mar’iyya, a work attributed to Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi but with some disputes about its authenticity,[22] also includes the Land Registry Ordinance of 1263 (1847).[23]

The last thing that I would like to emphasize about Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi is his library in Madinah. He was planning to retire in Madinah, therefore he sent some of the books from his approximately 12,000 volumes in Istanbul  to the library he built in Madinah between 1853-56. He endowed some land revenues in Anatolia and Rumelia to cover the library’s expenses. Manuscripts and printed works in the library were initially composed of 5404 books. However, the number of these works increased through books gifted to the library. The Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts in the library were carefully chosen by Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi and they were usually copied by the author or precious copies written by famous calligraphers. The books in the library are primarily in the fields of tafsīr, hadīth, fiqh, biography, history, geography and literature.[24]

Ārif Hikmet Bey Efendi is considered one of the most important poets of Dīwān poetry in the late Ottoman period.[25] Yet he is unique in that in addition to  his literary and historian personality, he had a significant influence within the Ottoman bureaucracy. Because he maintained relations with top ranking political and administrative bureaucrats, such as Mustafa Reşid Pasha, Damat Mehemd Ali Pasha, Ali Pasha, and Fuat Pasha, and at times had serious disagreements with them, this made him a key figure in the Ottoman administration. As a Shaykh al-Islām, his influence, relationships and tensions not only within the ilmiye class but also in the bureaucracy provided him with some advantages and disadvantages while carrying out his duties.



[1] Rakin Ertem, Şeyhülislam Yahya Divanı (Ankara: Akçağ Yayınları, 1995); Also see Süleyman Kaya, “17. Yüzyılın Büyük Şeyhülislāmı Zekeriyazāde Yahya Efendi’nin İlmī Kişiliği ve Osmanlı Hukukuna Bazı Katkıları”, Sahn-ı Semān’dan Dārulfünūn’a Osmanlı’da İlim ve Fikir Dünyası (Ālimler, Müesseseler ve Fikrī Eserler) – XVII. Yüzyıl, 2017, pp. 395-410.

[2] Muhammet Nur Doğan, Lale Devri Şairlerinden Şeyhülislam İshak Efendi ve Divanından Seçmeler (Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı Yayınları, 1990).

[3] Muhammet Nur Doğan, Şeyhülislam Esad Efendi ve Divanının Tenkitli Metni (Ankara: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 1997).

[4] Bilal Kemikli, Şāir Şeyhülislām Ārif Hikmet Beyefendi: Hayātı-Eserleri-Şiirleri (İstanbul: Kitabevi Yayınları, 2011), p. 8.

[5] Mawlawiyah/Mevleviyet is a term used for high-level judgeships in the Ottoman ilmiye organization. The term refers to qadiship of some important cities.

[6] Fahri Unan, “Mevleviyet”, Diyanet Turkish Encyclopedia of Islam (Ankara, 2004), pp. 29: 467-468.

[7] Ahmed Lütfi Efendi, Tārih-i Lütf ī (İstanbul, 1328), 2. 152.

[8] For details see Shihab al-Dīn Mahmūd Ibn ‘Abdallah Al-Ālūsī, ‘Ārif Hikmat, Hayātuh wa Ma’āthiruh aw Shahiyy al-Nagham fī Tarjamat Shaykh al-Islām ‘Ārif al-Hikam (Dimashq: Mu’assasat ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān, 1983); Mahir Aydın, “Ahmed Ārif Hikmet Beyefendi’nin Rumeli Tanzimat Müfettişliği ve Teftiş Defteri”, Belleten, 1992/215, pp. 69-166; Bilal Kemikli, Şāir Şeyhülislām Ārif Hikmet Beyefendi, pp. 13-27.

[9] Bilal Kemikli, Şāir Şeyhülislām Ārif Hikmet Beyefendi, pp. 27-29.

[10] Mustafa Reşid Pasha was an Ottoman statesman and diplomat, known best as the chief architect behind the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms.

[11] Ottoman Archives (Osmanlı Arşivi), İrade Mümtaze, 05 3-76, 19 C. 1256 and Ottoman Archives (Osmanlı Arşivi), İrade Mümtaze, 05, 5-134, 26 L. 1256.

[12] Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, Tezākir (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1986), pp. 40, 65-66.

[13] İstanbul: Matbaa-i Amire, 1283.

[14] Millet Library, Ali Emirī Efendi Section No: 789.

[15] Millet Library, Ali Emirī Efendi Section No: 788.

[16] Istanbul University Library, Ibnulemin Kitaplığı No: 2464 and Yapı Kredi Bankası Library No: 835.

[17] Istanbul University Library, Türkçe Yazmalar No: 5832.

[18] Istanbul University Library, Ibnulemin Kitaplığı No: 2751.

[19] Istanbul University Library, Ibnulemin Kitaplığı No: 2475.

[20] Istanbul University Library, Ibnulemin Kitaplığı No: 2466.

[21] Istanbul University Library, Ibnulemin Kitaplığı No: 2464.

[22] For the authenticity of this work see Bilal Kemikli, Şāir Şeyhülislām Ārif Hikmet Beyefendi, pp. 44-46.

[23] For manuscript version see Istanbul University Library, Ibnulemin Kitaplığı No: 2532 and for printed version see al-Ahkām  al-Mar’iyya fī al-Arādī al-Mar’iyya (Istanbul: Dār Tibā‘at al-Ma‘mūrah, 1267).

[24] See Mustafa L. Bilge, “Ārif Hikmet Kütüphanesi”, Diyanet Turkish Encyclopedia of Islam (Ankara, 1991), pp. 3: 366-367.

[25] Bilal Kemikli, Şāir Şeyhülislām Ārif Hikmet Beyefendi.

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