Hajj Game Assignment: Go to the Hajj Trail (Links to an external site.) game, which is a text-based game recreation of an Ottoman pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. http://hajjtrail.com/1) Pick a character and finish the game (3-4 hours of play) Be sure to attach a screenshot to your essay). In case you die along the way, you need to complete at least 30 days of the game. You will get 1 point of extra-credit if you make it Mecca and Medina.2) Fill out the feedback form for the creators3) Write a short essay (four pages, double-spaced, normal 12pt font, etc.)explaininga) The route you took and actions completedb) The character you chose to play and what happened along the wayc) What do these examples teach you about travel in the early modern period (1500-1800)d) Include at least three references contextualizing your character’s experience in the game with quotes from either the two primary sources assigned with this unit (Evliya Cele)References for essay:1) Suraiya Faroqhi,Pilgrims and Sultans: The Hajj under the Ottomans, 1517-1683.(London: Tauris, 1994), 1-12, 32-53.2) Evliya Celebi, n Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Celebi, tr. Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim, (London: Eland, 2011), 327-3493) Shafir, Nir. In an Ottoman Holy Land: The Hajj and the Road from Damascus, 1500-1800.”History of Religions 60, no. 1 (2020): 1–36.4) Ibn al-Tayyib, The Travels of Ibn Al-Tayyib:The Forgotten Journey of an Eighteenth-Century Traveller to the Hijaz, trans. El Mustapha Lahlali, Salah Al-Dihan, Wafa Abu Hatab, (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2010), 10-23, 57-59, 64-86
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IN AN OTTOMAN HOLY
LAND: THE HAJJ AND
THE ROAD FROM
This is the story of a holy land in the Middle East—but not the one you might
expect. Cities like Jerusalem and Mecca might quickly come to mind, but Damascus was the key to the creation of an Ottoman holy land between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, because Damascus was the gateway to the
hajj. As a recent ﬂurry of museum exhibits reminds us, the hajj—that is,
the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina—has been a well-established part of
Muslim religiosity for centuries.1 The Ottoman dynasty also celebrated the
hajj’s importance over the six centuries of its rule, even if no sultan personally
undertook the journey.2 Yet the hajj’s aura of timeless sanctity also hinders
I would like to thank Tijana Krstić and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on this
article. In addition, the participants of the University of California Mediterranean Studies Workshop in 2015 provided valuable feedback on a very early draft of this article. Mina Moraitou of
the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art provided very helpful information about items in the museum’s collection and kindly supplied photographs of the objects. All translations are my own
unless noted otherwise. The open-access status of this article has been funded by the European
Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation
programme (grant agreement no. 648498-OTTOCONFESSION).
See, e.g., Venetia Porter, ed., Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam (London: British Museum,
On the Ottoman administration of the hajj, see Suraiya Faroqhi, Pilgrims and Sultans: The
Hajj under the Ottomans, 1517–1683 (London: I. B. Tauris, 1994). Sultan Osman II (r. 1618–
22) apparently made plans to undertake the hajj in 1622. Contemporary observers, however,
understood this desire as a pretext to raise a new army in Anatolia to counter his standing army,
which opposed his grander ambitions of rule. His hajj was not realized as he was overthrown
and killed shortly thereafter. See Gabriel Piterberg, An Ottoman Tragedy: History and Historiography at Play (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 23–25.
© 2020 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0), which permits non-commercial reuse of the work with attribution.
For commercial use, contact email@example.com.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
scholars from understanding its historicity. How did the hajj complement and
compete with other forms of Muslim religiosity, such as saint worship/Suﬁsm?
Can we speak of an “Ottoman” hajj, and what signiﬁcance did this pilgrimage
carry for the many non-Muslim subjects of the empire? Approaching the hajj
from the shrines of Damascus, no longer so holy today, rather than Mecca and
Jerusalem’s hallowed sites, allows us to scratch away a bit of the gilding of enduring holiness and ﬁnd a history of choices and contingencies, controversies
I argue in this article that between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries an
Ottoman holy land emerged that comprised the traditional sanctuaries of
Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, as well as the lands of greater Syria. Following the conquest of the Arab lands in the early sixteenth century, the Ottoman
dynasty turned Damascus into both the center of an Ottoman imperial cult
around the grave of the medieval theosophist Ibn ʿArabī and the empire’s primary logistical hub for the hajj in response to the challenges of its religious
and political competitors. As tens of thousands of Rūmī—that is, Turkishspeaking—pilgrims used the new infrastructure to stream into and through
Damascus, the hajj also became an extended pilgrimage to visit the numerous
tombs of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Non-Muslims too began to use the same
infrastructure to partake in their own pilgrimage to Jerusalem and its environs, which they also referred to as the hajj. These overlapping claims to
the hajj brought Rūmīs, Arabs, Christians, and others into competition and
collaboration over the signiﬁcance of the Ottoman holy land.
As the logistical hub for the hajj, Damascus offers a view onto how religion was shaped by the forms of mobility available at the time, especially
due to the development of material infrastructure. I take inspiration from
recent scholarship, speciﬁcally that on the hajj, that has emphasized how new
technologies of travel, such as steam and jet power, transformed Muslim religiosity by expanding its geographical horizons in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries.4 These works, with their focus on modern technologies, refrain from
commenting on the premodern period, yet their insights can be applied to early
modern forms of mobility. An unexpected complement to these studies is the
recent book by James Grehan on everyday religion in greater Syria during the
One source of inspiration for this article is Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the
Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Nile Green, “Spacetime and the Muslim Journey West: Industrial Communications in the
Making of the ‘Muslim World,’ ” American Historical Review 118, no. 2 (Apr. 2013): 401–
29, and “The Hajj as Its Own Undoing: Infrastructure and Integration on the Muslim Journey
to Mecca,” Past & Present 226 (2015): 193–226; Eric Tagliacozzo, The Longest Journey:
Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Eileen
Kane, Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
History of Religions
early modern period. He argues that an “agrarian religion” centered on saint
worship ﬂourished in rural parts of the Middle East among both Muslim and
Christian communities. Although not explicitly framed as such, Grehan’s argument is about mobility and materiality. According to Grehan, a shared religious practice of saint worship emerged from the timeless patterns of rural life
and the inability of the “high” Islam of scholars and jurists to move into the
countryside. Only the technological and infrastructural transformations of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries delivered the shocks needed to dismantle
the material conditions underpinning saint worship, bring the high tradition
of legalistic Islam to all areas, and make Muslim and Christian peasants realize
that they belonged to distinct religious traditions.5 Grehan deserves credit for
pushing scholars to pay attention to the difference between urban and rural religious life in the early modern Middle East. However, we should not assume,
as Grehan does, that increased circulation inevitably homogenizes devotional
practice and obliterates saint worship.6 As Nile Green has demonstrated, modern technologies like steamships and steam-powered printing presses actually
fed a ﬂorescence of religious practices centered on saintly miracles.7 Moreover, I disagree with Grehan’s presumption that premodern Ottoman society,
even in rural areas, was static and immobile. People (and objects) traveled on
camels, horses, and on foot rather than on steamships and trains, but the empire was always on the move, and these movements redeﬁned its religious
landscape. While the mode in which people traveled remained largely the same,
there were particular circuits and forms of mobility unique to the Ottoman Empire; the road from Damascus was one of these.
The second part of this article’s argument is that the regime of circulation
built on the road from Damascus gave rise to a speciﬁcally “Ottoman” lived
religion in general and a shared culture of pilgrimage in particular. The hajj
became a central component of the lived religion of many of the Ottoman Empire’s inhabitants, Muslim and non-Muslim. Christian subjects of the empire,
for example, came to refer to their pilgrimage to Jerusalem as the hajj, even
integrating the honoriﬁc hajji—that is, someone who completed the hajj—
into their names and titles. Asking how the hajj became “Ottoman,” in turn,
James Grehan, Twilight of the Saints: Everyday Religion in Ottoman Syria and Palestine
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). Legalistic Islam could emerge in nonurban, even
nomadic, contexts, as the maḥaẓra tradition of northwest Africa reminds us. See Mohamed
Lahbib Nouhi, “The Maḥaẓra Educational System,” in The Writings of Mauritania and the
Western Sahara, ed. Charles C. Stewart (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 18–48.
On nonhomogenized landscapes of globalization, see Frederick Cooper, “What Is the Concept of Globalization Good For? An African Historian’s Perspective,” African Affairs, no. 100
(2001): 189–213; James Ferguson, “Seeing Like an Oil Company: Space, Security, and Global
Capital in Neoliberal Africa,” American Anthropologist 107, no. 3 (September 2005): 377–82.
Nile Green, Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the Western Indian Ocean, 1840–
1915 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
In an Ottoman Holy Land
opens a number of related questions for the study of religion. How did the
Ottoman hajj differ from earlier iterations, given that the ritual itself did
not change? What is the role of the state in the creation of common religious
practices? And how does the religious practice of one community—in this
case, the Muslim practice of pilgrimage—come to be a shared aspect of the
lived religion of a diverse and multiconfessional early modern empire?
To speak of an “Ottoman” hajj also requires probing the analytical valence
of the word “Ottoman.” In its most restricted sense, the word applies only to
the actions of the ruling dynasty, the eponymous house of Osman. In the early
modern period, the word was used largely in this limited sense, both by the
dynasty itself and its observers. Modern historians, however, employ a more
expansive deﬁnition of “Ottoman,” in which the word is a blanket term that
applies to anything and everything that occurred within the empire’s boundaries. Moreover, many implicitly extend this idea conceptually and assume
that every subject within the empire’s boundaries also possessed a shared
“Ottoman” mentality or culture, which in turn drove their political and intellectual choices.8 The mechanisms for the dissemination of a common Ottoman culture or mentality are rarely articulated, however. Most often, historians point to the actions of the state as creating an Ottoman culture. For
example, the sociologist Karen Barkey argues that the Ottoman state intentionally promoted a policy of religious tolerance, one that broke from earlier
and supposedly narrower iterations of Islam.9 Even if we accept Barkey’s assertions of a state policy of ecumenicalism, they do not necessarily help explain how cultural practices like the hajj came to be shared by all the empire’s
subjects at the community or individual level. Like many premodern empires,
the Ottoman government did not attempt to homogenize its diverse population under a single imagined culture. While the state actively intervened in
the daily religious practices of Muslims and the institutional structure of Islamic law, it never contemplated the creation of shared “Ottoman” religious
practices among its subjects.10 How then did the hajj become “Ottoman”?
See, e.g., Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman Mentality: The World of Evliya Çelebi (Leiden:
Brill, 2006); Gottfried Hagen, “Afterword: Ottoman Understandings of the World in the Seventeenth Century,” in Dankoff, Ottoman Mentality, 215–56; Miri Shefer-Mossensohn, Science
among the Ottomans: The Cultural Creation and Exchange of Knowledge (Austin: University
of Texas Press, 2015).
Karen Barkey, “Islam and Toleration: Studying the Ottoman Imperial Model,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 19, no. 1 (December 2005): 5–19, and Empire of Difference: The
Ottomans in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 109–53.
For recent literature on the intervention of the Ottoman state into Islamic religious life, see
Tijana Krstić, “State and Religion, ‘Sunnitization’ and ‘Confessionalism’ in Süleyman’s Time,”
in Szigetvar 1566—Proceedings of the Commemorative Conference on the Siege of Szigetvar
and Suleyman the Magniﬁcent’s and Miklos Zrinyi’s Death, ed. Pál Fodor (Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 2019), 65–91; Nir Shaﬁr, “Moral Revolutions: The Politics of Piety
in the Ottoman Empire Reimagined,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 61, no. 3
History of Religions
To understand how the hajj became a practice that left its mark on nearly
all Ottoman subjects, we have to rethink our understandings of empire. Historians today, especially those focusing on the Ottomans, have often understood empire to be a set of institutions that govern by replicating or projecting
the rules and culture of the imperial center onto its provinces.11 In other
words, empire is regarded as a synonym for the state. Other scholars highlight
the inherent social diversity of empires, using empire largely as a foil to the
linguistic, ethnic, or religious homogeneity of the nation-state.12 I treat empire differently in this article. I see empire as a speciﬁc assemblage or network
of heterogenous human and nonhuman actors connected in myriad relationships.13 The speciﬁc elements of the network, and their arrangement, varied in
time and place. Thus, the “Ottoman” hajj was different from the “Mamluk”
hajj, for example, not because the ritual radically differed but because it
brought together an alternate set of material and social elements: the movement of Rūmī Muslims to the Arab provinces, the kilns of Iznik and Kütahya
that produced the empire’s ceramics, and especially the lines of pilgrim infrastructure centered in Damascus, among others. The shared “Ottoman” culture
of the hajj was not the intentional construction by the state but an unintentional
(2019): 595–623; Derin Terzioğlu, “How to Conceptualize Ottoman Sunnitization: A Historiographical Discussion,” Turcica 44 (2012–13): 301–38; Abdurrahman Atçıl, Scholars and Sultans in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017);
Guy Burak, The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Ḥ anafī School in the Early Modern
Ottoman Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
For earlier work on the Ottomanization of the provinces, especially the Arab provinces, see
Irene A. Bierman, “The Ottomanization of Crete,” in The Ottoman City and Its Parts: Urban
Structure and Social Order, ed. Irene A. Bierman, Rifa’at A. Abou-El-Haj, and Donald Preziosi
(New Rochelle, NY: Aristide D. Caratzas, 1991), 53–76; Jane Hathaway, The Politics of Households in Ottoman Egypt: The Rise of the Qazdağlıs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1997); Heghnar Watenpaugh, The Image of an Ottoman City: Imperial Architecture and Urban
Experience in Aleppo in the 16th and 17th Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 2004). For usage of empire
as a purposeful framework of analysis, see Barkey, Empire of Difference; Alan Mikhail and
Christine M. Philliou, “The Ottoman Empire and the Imperial Turn,” Comparative Studies in
Society and History 54, no. 4 (October 2012): 721–45.
See, e.g., Christine Isom-Verhaaren and Kent F. Schull, eds., Living in the Ottoman Realm:
Empire and Identity, 13th to 20th Centuries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016).
The argument that causation can emerge from a network of heterogenous elements, both
human and nonhuman, has had many iterations in recent years. Social scientists are drawn to the
idea of a network of human and nonhuman actors because it provides, in the words of the
archeologist Ian Hodder, a way of “embedding materialism within the social, the historical,
and the contingent” without retreating into material determinism. Hodder, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things (London: Wiley-Blackwell,
2012), 96. For other examples, see Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction
to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Manuel Delanda, Assemblage Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016). For the purposes of this essay,
however, the differences between these approaches are minor.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
by-product of the interaction of these elements, a network that could only have
existed with the empire’s expansion and sustained presence.14
This article traces the network that brought about the creation of an Ottoman hajj and holy land. Damascus functions not as the site of a ﬁne-grained
local study but as a gateway that illuminates the various connections streaming through it. My argument brings together a constellation of actors, both
human and nonhuman, that connect to form a larger picture. Moreover, since
I focus on the transformation of what Nancy Ammerman has termed “lived
religion,” I draw the reader’s attention to the creation of an Ottoman pilgrimage culture from everyday practices rather than in theological works.15 The
article jumps from Egypt to Hungary and the many places in-between, but
it begins with the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Damascus in 1516, which
ﬁrst provided the Ottoman dynasty the possibility of administering the hajj.
The centrality of the hajj in Ottoman religious life was far from assured, however, in these initial years. I situate the dynasty’s ﬁrst operations in Damascus
in a wide array of other forms of state-sponsored Muslim religiosity available
to the dynasty, such as the creation of a set of imperially sponsored saintly
tombs. I then turn to the Ottoman state’s eventual commitment to the hajj and
its massive investment in the physical and textual infrastructure of pilgrimage.
The hajj became progressively important in the daily lives of Rūmī Muslims
from the empire’s heartland, and it even expanded to incorporate visitation
to tombs and shrines. Christians too used the same infrastructure to turn their
pilgrimage to Jerusalem into what they themselves referred to as the hajj. The
last section examines how this network led to a shared Ottoman culture of the
hajj and also to competing claims by Arabs, Rūmīs, and Christians as to who
could deﬁne the Ottoman holy land.
HOLY LANDS, OLD AND NEW
Upon his return to Damascus, fresh from the victories against the Mamluks in
1517, Sultan Selim I (r. 1512–20) set out immediately to thank a saint.16 The
sultan seems to have attributed his victory to the omens and intercession of
Ibn ʿArabī (1165–1240)—an Andalusia-born Suﬁ theorist whom the Ottomans
Nükhet Varlık makes a similar argument regarding the construction of a particularly Ottoman experience of plague. Varlık, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean
World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Nancy T. Ammerman, “Finding Religion in Everyday Life,” Sociology of Religion 75, no. 2
For an analysis of the initial years of the Ottoman occupation, see Torsten Wollina, “Sultan
Selim in Damascus: The Ottoman Appropriation of a Mamluk Metropolis (922–924/1516–
1518),” in The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilad alSham in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Stephan Conermann and Gül Şen (Bonn: Bonn University
Press, 2017), 221–46.
History of Religions
believed had prophesized the rise of the dynasty in a pseudepigraphic work,
Al-Shajara al-nuʿmāniyya—and thus decided to build an imperial tomb at
the site. Sultan Selim ordered that the residences, bathhouses, and an already
standing mosque in the Ṣāliḥiyya neighborhood be bought from their owners
and quickly demolished. Within three months, a congregational mosque had
been erected around the tomb of Ibn ʿArabī.
Even today, Ibn ʿArabī is a notorious ﬁgure. Thanks to his pantheistic theories of the unity of being (waḥdat al-wujūd ), he is regarded as either the
greatest Suﬁ master or the master of the inﬁdels.17 The residents of Damascus,
however, knew little of Ibn ʿArabī before the Ottomans’ entry. Despite the
fact that it had been well known that he had died in the city, travelers who
sought out his grave state that it was being used as a rubbish dump in the fourteenth century. In 1499, one apparently had to scale the wall of a bathhouse in
order to access the neglected graveyard housing Ibn ʿArabī’s unvisited tomb.18
Other observers, such as Ibn Ṭ ūlūn (d. 1546), the future imam of the mosque
built at Ibn ʿArabī’s tomb, tell us that the site was already the tomb of a certain
While they knew little of Ibn ʿArabī, the residents were at the center of their
own holy land, populated by the graves of local saints and holy men, many of
them being ṣaḥāba, the companions of the Prophet. This Syrian holy land had
been built up over centuries; the oldest surviving collection of the faḍā’il
(virtues) of the area comes from the mid-eleventh century and reﬂects the
traditions and stories that had been collected up to that moment about Syria’s
sacrality.20 The arrival of the Crusaders—who built at least four hundred
chapels and churches in the Levant over the course of their two-hundred-year
presence—prompted the resacralization of greater Syria.21 As the Ayyubids
(under Salāh al-Dīn, r. 1174–93) and the Mamluks (under Baybars, r. 1260–
77) reclaimed this land, they quickly began a campaign of creating a new
Muslim holy land in southern Syria. Rulers, military men, and common
townsfolk took part in rediscovering, often in an inspired dream, the locations
I borrow and adapt here Green’s more ﬁtting idiomatic translation of “al-shaykh alakbar” and “al-shaykh al-akfar.” Nile Green, Suﬁsm: A Global History (West Sussex: WileyBlackwell, 2012), 79.
The traveler was ʿAli b. Maymūn al-Fāsī (d. 1511). ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī, “The Hidden Secret concerning the Shrine of Ibn ʿArabī: A Treatise by ʿAbd Al-Ghanī An-Nābulusī,” ed.
P. B. Fenton, Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabi Society 22 (1997): 27–28.
Muḥammad b. ʿAli b. Aḥmad al-Ṣāliḥī Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān ﬁ ḥawādith alzamān [Friendly banter on the events of the times], ed. Khalīl Manṣūr (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub
al-ʿIlmiyah, 1998), 370.
Paul Cobb, “Virtual Sacrality: Making Muslim Syria Sacred before the Crusades,” Medieval Encounters 8, no. 1 (2002): 35–55.
Stephennie F. Mulder, The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shiʿis and the
Architecture of Coexistence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 260. Mulder draws
on the work of Denys Pringle for this information.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
of the tombs of early Islamic ﬁgures and heroes from the wars against the Crusaders and then contributing to their construction and upkeep. Older, smaller
pilgrimage sites, such as the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron, were greatly
expanded, and non-Muslims were banned from entering them. Churches and
monasteries were converted into Suﬁ lodges; revenues from villages that previously supported monasteries and churches were seized and reendowed to
support the new shrines.22 Whereas earlier holy sites had predominantly
stressed biblical events and urban locales, this new wave of shrine building
saw the establishment of the graves of a wide variety of early Islamic ﬁgures,
learned scholars, and military heroes throughout both the urban and rural landscape. Geographies and pilgrimage guides (pilgrimage to shrines, that is) of the
period, like those of al-Idrīsī (d. 1165) and al-Harawī (d. 1215), included these
shrines and sites. While the Crusader incursion might have spurred the renewed
sacralization of the lands of Syria, the spread and establishment of shrines by
themselves was part of the growing shift in the middle to late medieval period
toward an Islam centered on saints and holy men—that is, Suﬁsm.23
The Ottoman government’s warmhearted embrace of Ibn ʿArabī and its intervention in the sacred landscape of Damascus were not acts intended for the
locals but rather for its competitors in Anatolia, the Balkans, and Iran. In the
post-Mongol Turco-Iranian world, especially on the frontiers of Anatolia and
the Balkans, there was a constant potential for holy men and saints’ descendants to raise the ﬂag of rebellion in their fortress-like lodges and become
contenders for political power.24 Only a few years before his conquest of
the Mamluk lands, Sultan Selim had quelled a serious rebellion in central
and eastern Anatolia by the Kızılbaş followers of the Safavid Shah Ismail,
a man who had used his holy ancestry to found a state in the late ﬁfteenth century. Even cities like Cairo were not exempt from this particularly TurcoIranian idiom of political sainthood. In the chaotic aftermath of the Ottoman
conquest, a new holy man from Anatolia, Ibrāhīm al-Gulshanī (d. 1534),
started gathering a following and consolidating power in Cairo.25 In these uncertain times, the Ottoman government took a distrustful stance against many
Yehoshu’a Frenkel, “Baybars and the Sacred Geography of Bilad al-Sham: A Chapter in
the Islamization of Syria’s Landscape,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 25 (2001): 153–
70; Daniella Talmon-Heller, “Graves, Relics and Sanctuaries: The Evolution of Syrian Sacred
Topography (Eleventh–Thirteenth Centuries),” ARAM 18–19 (2006–7): 601–20; Mulder, Shrines
of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria.
Green, Suﬁsm; Christopher Taylor, In the Vicinity of the Righteous: Ziyāra and the Veneration of Muslim Saints in Late Medieval Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1998).
Zeynep Yürekli, Architecture and Hagiography in the Ottoman Empire: The Politics of
Bektashi Shrines in the Classical Age (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012).
Doris Behrens-Abouseif, “The Takiyyat of Ibrahim al-Kulshani in Cairo,” Muqarnas 5
(1992): 43–60; Side Emre, Ibrahim-i Gulshani and the Khalwati-Gulshani Order: Power Brokers in Ottoman Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 2017).
History of Religions
Suﬁ orders and instead decided to turn Ibn ʿArabī into a “nondenominational
grand master of spirituality from whose esoterism all Suﬁ orders could get
inspired, and ideologized, in defense of the Sunni faith and its political
This type of experimentation was found in other early modern Islamicate
empires throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) developed a sort of Suﬁ order in which he was the
holy shaykh and his courtiers and subjects were disciples.27 Later, when the
Mughals conquered the Deccan, they co-opted the shrines of the previous
Muslim sultanates.28 The Safavids built massive tomb complexes in Ardabil
around their dynasts’ graves, in effect creating a cult of the dead around the
shah himself while sidelining other Suﬁ orders.29 The Ottomans too dabbled
with this strategy throughout the sixteenth century, supporting, for example, a
tomb shrine for Sultan Suleyman on the Hungarian border.30
Contemporary Arab observers, however, saw the Ottoman government’s
sanctiﬁcation of Ibn ʿArabī’s tomb as an attempt by some poorly educated
Muslims from the north to rival and possibly even replace the hajj and the holy
sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina. The Arabic-speaking residents of Damascus referred to the many Ottoman troops, administrators, and, later, pilgrims as
Rūmīs. In its most basic sense, Rūmī connoted a linguistic and geographic designation—namely, someone who spoke Turkish and came from the lands of
Rūm (Rome), the central lands of the Ottoman Empire between the Taurus
Mountains in the south and the Balkans in the north. Modern-day readers
may have heard of the medieval poet Rumi (1207–73) from Konya. Rumi’s
English name, however, is actually a contraction of his full name, Jalāl alDīn al-Rūmī, or Jalaladdin from the lands of Rūm. This early modern deﬁnition, though, lies at odds with its meaning in both the medieval and modern
periods. In the medieval period, the ethnonym designated Romans, both the
ancient and Byzantine varieties. Starting in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it began to refer to Turcophone Muslims living in the former Byzantine
Hüseyin Yılmaz, Caliphate Redeﬁned: The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018), 258.
Moin A. Azfar, The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam (New
York: Columbia University Press, 2012).
Nile Green, Indian Suﬁsm since the Seventeenth Century: Saints, Books, and Empires in
the Muslim Deccan (London: Routledge, 2006), and Making Space: Suﬁs and Settlers in Early
Modern India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012).
Kishwar Rizvi, The Safavid Dynastic Shrine: Architecture, Religion and Power in Early
Modern Iran (London: I. B. Tauris, 2011).
Nicolas Vatin, “Un türbe sans maître: Note sur la fondation de la destination du türbe de
Soliman-le-Magniﬁque à Szigetvár,” Turcica 37 (2005): 9–42.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
Roman realms.31 This geographic and linguistic distinction was cemented
by the development of Ottoman Turkish in the ﬁfteenth and sixteenth centuries into an urbane and poetic language capable of competing with Persian, a
distinction that separated the Rūmī identity from that of the more nomadic
or tribal Turk.32 In the nineteenth century, however, the meaning shifted again;
it now primarily applied to Greek-speaking subjects of the empire, which is
its current signiﬁcation. In short, local Arab residents of sixteenth-century
Damascus saw the Rūmīs as foreigners with only a basic grasp of Islam and
its precepts—the rush to build a tomb over the grave of Ibn ʿArabī being the
clearest example of their lack of learning.
In the narration of the events by the aforementioned Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, a number
of bad omens augured poorly for the future of Ibn ʿArabī’s new tomb. On the
day the Rūmīs bought the neighboring buildings, sudden rains caused severe
ﬂooding and mudslides, adding to the general chaos and disturbance that
the Rūmīs had created. The next day, as they demolished the existing mosque,
a deep lake nearby overﬂowed and ﬂooded the place again.33 Three weeks
afterward, the sultan’s teacher, Ḥ alīm Çelebi, the man who convinced the
sultan to build the mosque and tomb in the ﬁrst place, passed away.34 Only
a week beforehand, Ḥ alīm Çelebi’s brother, Ḥ asan, had also died.35 Both
were buried at the foot of Ibn ʿArabī’s grave as the Rūmīs devoted their energy to turning it into a holy site. Shortly thereafter they erected a dome,
a traditional sign of sainthood, over the tomb and dug more graves, but only
under the cover of night, being “afraid of what the people might say and
thinking that no one would ﬁnd out about it.”36 While the sultan scattered
coins to celebrate the building’s progress and gifted a thousand dirhams for
a poem praising Ibn ʿArabī, the people of Damascus complained of high prices
due to the Rūmīs’ presence and the quartering of soldiers in their houses.37
Similarly, an ominous sign of the Safavid threat appeared one day when an
agent of “Ismail the Kharajite and Suﬁ” (i.e., the Safavids) was dragged into
On the development and history of this identity, see Cemal Kafadar, “A Rome of One’s
Own: Reﬂections on Cultural Geography and Identity in the Lands of Rum,” Muqarnas: An
Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World 24 (2007): 7–25; Zeynep Aydoğan, “Changing Perceptions along the Frontiers: The Moving Frontier with Rum in Late Medieval Anatolian
Frontier Narratives,” in Isom-Verhaaren and Schull, Living in the Ottoman Realm, 29–41.
Selim S. Kuru, “The Literature of Rum: The Making of a Literary Tradition (1450–1600),”
in The Cambridge History of Turkey, Volume 2: The Ottoman Empire as a World Power, 1453–
1603, ed. Suraiya N. Faroqhi and Kate Fleet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013),
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān, 370.
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān, 373.
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān, 371.
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān, 373.
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān, 374.
History of Religions
the city by his horse, chained to its belly.38 As the shrine neared completion,
they installed pillars taken from a building that a former governor, Janbulāt ̣,
had built, unaware that these pillars had been originally spoliated from the
tomb of some saint named the King of the Garbagemen, (al-malik al-zabbāl),
an unintended allusion to the status of Ibn ʿArabī.39
Sultan Selim and the Rūmī ofﬁcials accompanying him unveiled the tomb
of Ibn ʿArabī on the Day of Arafat (9 Dhu’l-Hijjah). The Day of Arafat is the
central rite of the hajj, when the pilgrims stream onto the plain of Arafat and
pray for the entire day; missing this rite invalidates a pilgrim’s hajj completely.40
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn suggests that the Ottomans were attempting to replace the hajj with
pilgrimage to the new tomb of Ibn ʿArabī, as they had canceled the northern
pilgrimage caravan to the Kaʿba and refused to defend pilgrims against the
marauding Bedouins.41 Whatever signiﬁcance or substitution the Rūmīs
might have implied with their choice of day was lost, however, because the
chief judge of the Rūmīs, Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn, was so religiously incompetent
that he could not correctly sight the crescent moon and announce the Day
of Arafat, even with a cloudless sky.42 In other words, he announced the holiday a day early. Regardless, ﬁfty thousand ʿuthmāni coins were distributed to
the populace and chandeliers were lit throughout the major sites of the city.
On the day of the event, 150 sheep and twenty camels were given out in
the celebrations by the sultan. As he distributed the animals, it appeared for
a moment that he had truly built the shrine of a saint. A miraculous pillar
of holy light appeared on the eastern minaret of the mosque: “Some said it
was an angel. Others said it was divine forces at the employ of the sovereign
[hadhā istikhdām maʿ al-khunkār]. Word of it spread among the viziers, the
pashas, and the men of state. Later it was written down that it was the smoke
of one of the nearby bathhouses, which became mixed with some clouds, and
when the sun hit it, they believed it to be holy light.”43 Not only did the purported miracle fail to impress the locals but also very few of the sheep and
none of the camels distributed to the populace were sacriﬁced that day, as
residents decided to exercise thrift because of the high prices brought on by
the Ottoman conquest.44
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn experienced a small miracle himself the next day when he was
appointed the prayer leader and preacher of the mosque at Ibn ʿArabī’s tomb.
While he consoled himself with the thought that “God chooses what is best
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat
Porter, Hajj, 48–49.
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat
In an Ottoman Holy Land
for us,” few of his friends came to visit him in his new quarters.45 The (Arab)
judge of the land refused to visit the tomb when he came to town, preferring
the more traditional tombs at the Small Gate cemetery. He was left with the
Rūmīs, who had made it their custom to visit the tomb during their travels,
and vulgar commoners like a certain ʿUmar al-Iskāf, who came with his
friends to the tomb to pretend to be great Suﬁs by interpreting one another’s
The examples above should remind us that it was not a foregone conclusion that the Ottoman government would invest both money and legitimacy
into the hajj and the Two Sanctuaries. Throughout the Islamic world, there
were a wide variety of experiments that combined sovereign and saintly power,
and the same impetus motivated the construction of Ibn ʿArabī’s shrine. Yet,
founding a cult centered on Ibn ʿArabī was not so straightforward either. Ibn
Ṭ ūlūn’s suspicious take on Ibn ʿArabī’s tomb reveals the radical uncertainty that
accompanied the religious agenda of the Ottomans immediately following the
conquest. Other Arab scholars of the period voiced a similarly derisive contempt of the Rūmīs’ religious knowledge and opposed the cult of Ibn ʿArabī.47
Both the tomb and the cult faced opposition among Rūmī scholars in Istanbul
as well, and, although Rūmī scholars held a generally favorable opinion of
Ibn ʿArabī, reverence for the saint needed to be enforced among all the scholars in the imperial hierarchy.48 Although the tomb of Ibn ʿArabī remained a
major destination for Rūmī visitors, Damascus and the Arab lands would become the center of a different holy land.
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān, 376–77.
Ibn Ṭ ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān, 389.
See, e.g., Ibrāhīm al-Ḥ alabī’s rant against the Rūmīs’ Islamic knowledge in Ahamm al’umūr, Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Laleli 2153, fol. 2a. Al-Ḥ alabī was an inﬂuential Arab
scholar who restarted a career in Istanbul, although his biographer mentions that this happened
in spite of his criticism of Ibn ʿArabī. Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Ghazzī, Al-Kawākib alsā’ira bi-aʿyān al-mi’a al-ʿashira, ed. Khalil al-Mansur (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah,
1997), 2:78. In 1535, a scholar named Muḥammad al-Falūjī was sentenced to death by the judge
of Aleppo for voicing a critique of Ibn ʿArabī. Eric Geoffroy, Le souﬁsme en Égypte et en Syrie
sous les derniers Mamelouks et les premiers Ottomans: Orientations spirituelles et enjeux
culturels (Damas: Institut français d’études arabes de Damas, 1995), 134.
Authoritative legal opinions regarding the tomb were issued by the chief jurists (şeyhülislam)
Ebü’s-suʿūd (d. 1574) and Kemālpaşazāde (d. 1534) and posted on its walls. Şükrü Özen, “Ottoman ‘Ulamā’ Debating Suﬁsm: Settling the Conﬂict on Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Legacy by Fatwās, in El
suﬁsmo y las normas del Islam: Trabajos del IV Congreso Internacional de Estudios Juridicos
Islamicos, Derecho y Suﬁsmo, Murcia, 7–10 mayo 2003, ed. Alfonso Carmona (Murcia: Editora
Regional de Murcia, 2006), 309–41; the chief jurist Çivīzāde (d. 1547) was dismissed in part
because of his critical legal opinions on Ibn ʿArabī. Richard Repp, The Müfti of Istanbul: A Study
in the Development of the Ottoman Learned Hierarchy (London: Ithaca, 1986), 252; Cankat
Kaplan, “An Anti-Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240) Polemicist in Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Istanbul: Ibrahim al-Halabi (d. 1549) and His Interlocutors” (MA thesis, Central European University, Budapest, 2019).
History of Religions
AN OTTOMAN HAJJ
The Ottoman government ultimately opted for a different vision of a state religion—one that did not rely on the creation of imperially sanctioned tombs of
holy men and sultans. The tomb of Ibn ʿArabī remained important, but the dynasty chose instead to become a champion of Sunnism and uphold a vision of
Islam centered on following Islamic legal prescriptions.49 Over the course of
the sixteenth century, it invested signiﬁcant energy and money in constructing Friday congregational mosques in every town and city and ensuring that
Muslims attended them as it tried to propagate a particular notion of religiosity based on practices such as canonical prayers, fasting, and the like.50 The
dynasty undertook these actions partially to distinguish itself from its imperial competitors like the Safavids and Mughals, who, as mentioned earlier,
had their own sacral politics of shrines and tombs, but also with an eye toward
the possessions it had at hand. Its greatest asset in promoting a Sunni identity
for the empire lay in its guardianship of the Haramayn, the “Two Sanctuaries”
of Mecca and Medina that it had taken from the Mamluks. Even with these
sites at their disposal, Ottoman interventions in the hajj were a series of experiments for much of the sixteenth century.51 For example, only toward
the end of the sixteenth century did the dynasty decisively abandon support
for the tomb of Sultan Suleyman near Szigetvár in Hungary and order its
shaykh to move to Mecca and focus his spiritual and authorial energies on
the grave of the prophet Abraham, situated right next to the Kaʿba.52
In the eyes of some Arab intellectuals, the government’s shift toward supporting the hajj was a resounding success. In November of 1621, slightly
over a hundred years after the conquest of the Arab lands, the Cairene scholar
Marʿī b. Yūsuf al-Karmī al-Maqdisī (d. 1624) wrote a short book in Arabic,
Necklace of Pure Gold: The Virtues of the House of Osman, explaining why
See Tijana Krstić and Derin Terzioğlu, eds., Historicizing Sunni Islam in the Ottoman Empire, c. 1450–c. 1750 (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming); Vefa Erginbaş, ed., Ottoman Sunnism: New
Perspectives (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019); Tijana Krstić, Contested Conversions to Islam: Narratives of Religious Change in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); Derin Terzioğlu, “How to Conceptualize Ottoman
Sunnitization: A Historiographical Discussion,” Turcica 44 (2012–13): 301–38.
Gülru Necipoğlu, The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); Zeynep Yürekli, “Writing Down the Feats and Setting Up the Scene: Hagiographers and Architectural Patrons in the Age of Empires,” in Suﬁsm
and Society: Arrangements of the Mystical in the Muslim World, 1200–1800, ed. John J. Curry
and Erik S. Ohlander (London: Routledge, 2012), 94–119.
Regarding Ottoman experiments in Mecca, see Guy Burak, “Between Istanbul and Gujarat: Descriptions of Mecca in the Sixteenth-Century Indian Ocean,” Muqarnas 34, no. 1 (2017):
See ʿAlaüddīn ʿAli Dede b. Muṣt ̣afa el-Mostārī el-Bosnevī el-Zigetvārī, Türbe Şeyḫi elḪ alvetī, Temkīnü’l-maḳām ﬁ’l-mescidi’l-ḥaram, Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Esad Efendi
3814, fols. 4–32.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
the Ottomans were superior to any other dynasty, past or present.53 It proved
popular enough to set off a number of expansions and translations throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, known by their generic title of
Faḍā’il āl-Rūm (The virtues of the Rūmīs) or the Faḍā’il āl ʿUthmān (The
virtues of the house of Osman). The works had their share of Rūmī readers
too, which made them the site of an incipient public exchange about the nature of imperial rule and legitimacy in the Arab provinces.54
Marʿī b. Yūsuf portrays the Ottoman dynasty as a paragon of both religious
and martial virtue, a surprising view compared to the tepid reception the Ottoman troops and governors encountered a century beforehand. Whereas they
had been routinely portrayed as religiously inept brutes, they were now keen
defenders of Islam, especially thanks to their massive investment in the religious sites of the hajj and the people who lived nearby. Marʿī b. Yūsuf notes
how they spent hundreds of thousands of dinars on the indigent of Mecca,
Medina, Jerusalem, and Hebron, so much so that they were never needy. This
was in addition to the signiﬁcant expenditures on the military to ensure the
security of the caravan from Bedouin attacks.55 The claim was by no means
an exaggeration; the record books from the seventeenth century demonstrate
that the gifts and payments became increasingly large and elaborate.56 These
imperial donations were supplemented by payments from the gigantic endowment of the Two Sanctuaries, the Vaḳf-ı Ḥ aremeyn, which contained
lands, properties, and monies donated from both ordinary Muslims around
the empire and members of the dynasty itself.57 The government also rebuilt
the walls around Medina and Jerusalem, renewed much of the area around the
Kaʿba, built madrasas and mosques, and covered all the monuments in gold,
silver, and brocade.58
The book may have been a failed attempt to rally support for the beleaguered Sultan Osman II a few months before his deposition and execution.
Şifā’ī, for instance, translates Mārʿī b. Yūsuf ’s book into Turkish and signiﬁcantly expands
it to support the newly established government of Ahmed III following the 1703 rebellion. After
this translation, the genre largely seems to exist in Turkish for a Rūmī audience. Şifāʿī Şaʿbān b.
Aḥmed, Ḳ alā’idü’l-ʿiḳyān ﬁ feżā’il āl ʿOsmān, Nuruosmaniye Kütüphanesi, MS 3404, and
Österreichische Bibliothek, MS HO 27.
Marʿī b. Yūsuf, Qalā’id al-ʿiqyān, Nuruosmaniye Kütüphanesi, MS 609, fol. 45a.
Munir Atalar, Osmanlı Devletinde Surre-i Hümayun ve Surre Alayları (Ankara: Diyanet
İşleri Başkanlığı Yayınları, 1991). These notebooks can easily be found in the Başbakanlık
The Vaḳf-ı Ḥ aremeyn also took over the assets of any charitable endowments whose line of
stated beneﬁciaries ended, a relatively common occurrence. On the endowment, see Mustafa
Güler, Osmanlı Devleti’nde Haremeyn vakıﬂarı, XVI.–XVII. yüzyıllar (Istanbul: TATAV,
2002). For some random examples of documents from it, see Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Arşivi,
d. 7386, d. 1144.
Marʿī b. Yūsuf, Qalā’id al-ʿiqyān, Nuruosmaniye Kütüphanesi, MS 609, fols. 39a–45a.
For a good overview of Ottoman interventions, see Burak, “Between Istanbul and Gujarat.”
History of Religions
The hajj was a colossal campaign, repeated every year, which required
moving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pilgrims through hostile and
inhospitable territory.59 A massive infrastructure needed to be developed
to bring pilgrims safely to Mecca and back. Moreover, the pilgrimage caravan had to be precisely timed so that everyone would arrive at the appointed
time in Mecca to start the ofﬁcial rites of the hajj; once the caravan left Damascus or Cairo, there was not a minute to spare. Some pilgrims traveled on
camels or horses, and a lucky few were carried in litters. However, the overwhelming majority, which included the many servants and functionaries that
came along, traveled by foot. The most dangerous stretch was the desert
between Damascus and Medina, where the pilgrim caravans were exposed
to Bedouin attacks.
Although the Syrian route had been used during the Mamluk period, it
contained no forts or formal infrastructure to provide services to pilgrims,
other than the few existing towns.60 Thus, starting in the sixteenth century,
the Ottoman dynasty began a series of large investments in the Syrian hajj
route. The ﬁrst was a formidable hajj complex built in Damascus by Imperial
Chief Architect Sinān (d. 1588) that included two mosques, a hostel, and a
madrasa. It was followed by a complex of forts to secure the Syrian route
from Bedouin raids, along with water reservoirs and other major facilities
(see ﬁg. 1).61 One should not take this infrastructure for granted. The threat
of Bedouin attack was so immense that it became impossible to travel without both armed escorts and secure locations to shelter at night. Similarly, a
system of payments to the Bedouin tribes was established to limit attacks on
the hajj caravans.62 The system functioned quite well at keeping the pilgrims
safe; Marʿī b. Yūsuf proudly mentions how one of the virtues of the Ottoman
dynasty was their success at pacifying the Bedouin.63
The Cairene hajj route—the most important route under the Mamluks—
was also renovated. When Ḳ ayt al-Dāvudī, one of the ofﬁcial timekeepers
of the hajj, sat down in 1573–74/981 to write a Turkish handbook for pilgrims (especially for servants and those others walking on foot), it had been
forty years since the previous handbook had been written detailing the Mamluk infrastructure. After undertaking the hajj twenty-two times along the CairoMecca route, he found the landscape fully transformed. So many “mountains
had been parted, water reservoirs [ḳuyūlar] excavated, [and] fortresses built”
On this see Faroqhi, Pilgrims and Sultans.
Andrew Petersen, The Medieval and Ottoman Hajj Route in Jordan: An Archaeological
and Historical Study (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2012), 20.
Peterson, Medieval and Ottoman Hajj Route in Jordan.
Karl Barbir, Ottoman Rule in Damascus, 1708–1758 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1980), 167–78; Faroqhi, Pilgrims and Sultans, 54–73.
Marʿī b. Yūsuf, Qalā’id al-ʿiqyān, Nuruosmaniye Kütüphanesi, MS 609, fol. 21a–b.
FIG. 1.—Map showing forts and facilities built on the Syrian hajj route from the
sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Map provided courtesy of Andrew Petersen.
See Andrew Petersen, The Medieval and Ottoman Hajj Route in Jordan: An Archaeological and Historical Study (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2012), 23. Color version
available as an online enhancement.
History of Religions
that previous descriptions of the route had become irrelevant.64 The caravan
was also precisely timed, each minute of rest and travel planned and measured. Forty minutes (derece) were given for a rest stop at the newly built
Gāh water reservoir followed by a hundred minutes of travel and ten minutes
for the evening prayer.65
As the Ottoman government developed the Syrian and Egyptian hajj
routes, it stopped providing support to other hajj land routes. For instance,
the route from Iraq through al-Ḥ āsā was not maintained and actually closed
to prevent Safavid Shiʿi pilgrims from arriving (Shiʿi pilgrims had to come
through Anatolia before joining the caravan in Damascus).66 The end result
was that Damascus became the major hub of pilgrimage as around sixty
thousand pilgrims, most of them Rūmīs, streamed into the city every year
and stayed there for months as preparations were made.67 (By way of comparison, an estimated 10,000–15,000 South Asian pilgrims arrived in Mecca
for the hajj annually in this period.)68
The new physical infrastructure by the Ottoman dynasty was matched by a
concomitant investment in books explaining the hajj and translating them into
high and low Ottoman idiom. At ﬁrst, texts were collected and bought from
the Arab provinces. For instance, upon conquering Aleppo, the Ottoman
troops inventoried the citadel’s library and sent onward to the palace library
in Istanbul those books they deemed worthy of keeping while auctioning off
the rest.69 Most of the books sent back to the palace were collections of Turkish and Persian poetry, but among them was also a small volume on the practicalities of managing the hajj caravans and ofﬁce of the amīr al-hajj.70 More
common were the numerous illustrated copies of the Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Lārī’s
(d. 1526) Persian ode to the holy places and explanation of the rites of the hajj
Ḳ ayt al-Dāvudī, Untitled, Maktabat Jāmiʿa al-Malak al-Saʿūd, MS 6783, fols. 2b–3a. As
explained on fols. 8b–9a, ḳuyū means a large water reservoir, not just a well. Other copies
may be found in Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Esad Efendi 1827, fols. 41–59, and MS
Darülmesnevi 133, fols. 44–63.
Ḳ ayt al-Dāvudī, Untitled, Maktabat Jāmiʿa al-Malak al-Saʿūd, MS 6783, fols. 8b–9a.
In response, the Safavid government developed new shrines on their own territory.
Petersen, Medieval and Ottoman Hajj Route, 19; Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam,
Indo-Persian Travels in the Age of Discoveries, 1400–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2007), 32–44; Kishwar Rizvi, “Sites of Pilgrimage and the Objects of Devotion,” in Shah
Abbas: The Remaking of Iran, ed. Sheila R. Canby (London: British Museum, 2009), 98–115.
It is difﬁcult to estimate the number of pilgrims on the route. These numbers are taken from
Petersen, but see Faroqhi for other numbers regarding animals. Faroqhi, Pilgrims and Sultans,
46; Petersen, Medieval and Ottoman Hajj Route, 34; Michael N. Pearson, Pious Passengers:
The Hajj in Earlier Times (New Delhi: Sterling, 1994), 51–58.
Pearson, Pious Passengers, 58.
Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Arşivi, d. 9101.
Ibn Aja, Muḥammad b. Maḥmūd al-Qunawī al-Ḥ alabī, ʿUmdat al-nāsik ﬁ’l-manāsik,
Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, Ayasofya 1333.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
titled Futūḥ al-Ḥ aramayn. This text became the basis for late sixteenthcentury and early seventeenth-century Ottoman versiﬁed pilgrimage guides
(the genre of the pilgrimage guides was known as manāsik al-hajj [ar.]/
menāsik-i ḥac [tr.]), such as those of Ġubārī (d. 1566) and Baḫtī (ﬂ. 1640s),
the original Persian transformed into eloquent Turkish and its illustrations
redrawn in the Ottoman visual style.71
More important than the illustrated manuscripts or eloquent verses were
the numerous and extremely popular pilgrimage guides written in a more colloquial Turkish. Sināneddīn Yūsuf b. Yaʿḳūb (d. 1581), a Ḫ alvetī shaykh and
close conﬁdent of the imperial palace who was appointed to the position of
the shaykh of the sanctuary of Mecca, wrote in the 1570s by far the most popular guide—so popular that it was copied en masse until the early nineteenth
century.72 The book is a rendition into rather conversational Turkish of
two Arabic books that the palace had collected, which suggests at least some
governmental encouragement in its publication and dissemination. It was meant
to be accessible both in language and price. The author exhorts his readers to
spare the ﬁve to ten akçe—equivalent to half or whole day’s pay by an unskilled laborer in the 1580s73—to have the book copied, lest they spend hundreds of silver and gold pieces undertaking the hajj but fail to complete the
proper rituals that would render it valid under Islamic law. Portable knowledge
of these canonical rituals was the main attraction of these books. ʿAbdülkerīm,
the author of another late sixteenth-century pilgrimage guide and a resident
of a major dervish lodge in Pécs (in modern-day Hungary), reminds his Rūmī
readers that one cannot simply assume that the local Arabs of Mecca and
Medina know the proper Islamic rituals for the hajj. A book was simply
more reliable and his was “heavy in wisdom, light in volume.”74 Moreover,
ʿAbdülkerīm draws a direct correspondence between pilgrimage manuals
and catechisms (ʿilm-i hāls). Both are short, cheap texts aimed at a lay audience; both attempt to teach Muslims the most legally correct set of actions
See, for example, the beautifully illustrated version of Baḫtī, Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi,
MS Aşir Efendi 123, which seems to be primarily a translation of Muhyi’s text. On the illustrations, see Rachel Milstein, “Futuh-i Haramayn: Sixteenth-Century Illustrations of the Hajj
Route,” in Mamluks and Ottomans: Studies in Honour of Michael Winter, ed. David J.
Wasserstein and Ami Ayalon (London: Routledge, 2006), 166–94; Burak, “Between Istanbul
and Gujarat”; for the text of Ġubārī, see Amine Gül, “Abdurrahman Gubârî’nin Hayatı Eserleri
ve Menâsik-i Hac Adlı Eseri (Edisyon Kritik)” (MA thesis, Marmara Üniversitesi, Istanbul,
John J. Curry, “ ‘The Meeting of the Two Sultans’: Three Suﬁ Mystics Negotiate with the
Court of Murad III,” in Curry and Ohlander, Suﬁsm and Society, 235–37.
Süleyman Özmucur and Şevket Pamuk, “Real Wages and Standards of Living in the Ottoman Empire, 1489–1914,” Journal of Economic History 62 (2002): 301.
ʿAbdülkerīm, Menāsik-i ḥac, Bosnjack Institut, MS 316, nonfoliated (but found on
fols. 2b–3a if counting from the beginning).
History of Religions
and beliefs; and both see true authority as emerging from books rather than
people themselves.75 These pilgrimage guides, like other cheap, pietistic
books, demonstrated the increasing conﬁdence of even everyday Rūmī Muslims when interacting with their Arab brethren, no longer afraid of asserting
their own mastery of the Islamic tradition.
Over the course of the sixteenth century, the hajj became an increasingly
viable devotional practice for Muslims from the Turkish-speaking lands of
the Ottoman Empire as a newly developed physical and textual infrastructure
connected the empire to the Two Sanctuaries via Damascus. Even if only a
minority of Muslims were able to successfully complete the hajj every year,
the pilgrimage came to be a progressively central aspect of Muslim religiosity
in the Ottoman Empire.
THE ROAD FROM DAMASCUS
One of the particularities of the Ottoman hajj was that pilgrims considered it
to be more than a set of rites limited to Mecca and Medina. It was, instead, an
entire journey that started in Damascus. Although taking a boat to Egypt would
have been the more direct option for many pilgrims, the vast majority chose to
go via the overland route. Fear of piracy was certainly one deterrent to boarding a boat, but there was also the stronger desire to partake in the many pilgrimages to the tombs of prophets in the seventeenth century. Whereas the
pilgrimage guides from the sixteenth century, whether in Arabic or Turkish,
mostly explained the rites and rituals in Mecca to an audience that had become
Muslim relatively recently, the texts that started to appear in the mid-seventeenth
century focused on the journey itself, especially on the roads that led to and
from Damascus. As Ottoman Muslim religiosity became increasingly centered
on the hajj, the hajj itself expanded to become a grand journey in a holy land
between Damascus, Cairo, Mecca, and Medina.
The journey can be divided in two. First was the journey to the prescribed
meeting places (mīqāt), which, as stated before, were, during the early modern period, in Damascus, Cairo, and Jeddah (for pilgrims coming from the
south by boat). The second was the caravan journey to Mecca and Medina.
Once it departed from Damascus or Cairo, the caravan route traversed empty
desert dotted only with the continuously expanding forts and reservoirs. This
meant that shrines and holy sites were primarily visited either while waiting in
Damascus or Cairo, or after the hajj itself, when it was possible to take a different caravan back that would return to Cairo or wind its way through Gaza,
Palestine, and greater Syria. From Damascus, pilgrims could then take a
The same emphasis on reading as the main method of learning about the hajj is found in
later works aimed at “lazy” readers. See Ibrāhīm b. ʿAbdullah es-Sākizī, Menāzilü’l-ḥac,
Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Yahya Tevﬁk 145, fols. 14–71.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
return journey through Aleppo where they could visit even more tombs.76
Another option was to come to Damascus and then trek through Syria and
Palestine to Egypt, where one could join the caravans departing from Cairo.77
The culmination of these various shrine visitations was the pilgrimage to the
grave of the Prophet Muhammad and the circumambulation of the Kaʿba.
The itineraries of these pilgrims are reﬂected in their notebooks and hajj
guides. The pilgrimage guide works written in Turkish from the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries were often ﬁrst-person travelogues that narrated the
entire journey from Istanbul, paying special attention to the tombs of Damascus.78 One unknown traveler who set out on the hajj from Istanbul on
March 20, 1718, details not only the reservoirs and shelters along the hajj
route, for those pilgrims who had to worry about such minutiae, but also the
tombs of major ﬁgures along the way.79 His somewhat poetic description of
Damascus introduces readers to the early Islamic history of its monuments
and relics, pointing out the tombs of the prophets Yaḥyā (John the Baptist),
Khiḍr/Ḫ ıżır (the “green man,” teacher of Moses in the Qur’an and companion
of Alexander the Great in the Persian tradition), Hūd (a prophet of Arabia mentioned in the Qur’an), and those of foundational Islamic ﬁgures like Bilāl and
Muʿāwiya. The anonymous traveler’s description is to some degree a much
simpler rendering of the highly poetic descriptions found in Nābī Yūsuf ’s
(d. 1712) late seventeenth-century masterpiece, the wildly popular travelogue
Tuḥ fetü’l-Ḥ aremeyn (The sanctuaries’ gift), a copy of which nearly every Turkishspeaking scribe, high ofﬁcial, and litterateur of the eighteenth century possessed.80
Tucked away at the end of pilgrimage narratives and guides like those of
Nābī and Sināneddin Yūsuf Efendi, we occasionally ﬁnd the itineraries of
individual pilgrims.81 At times, readers and pilgrims copied and read these
Monjia al-Faz’i, “Darb al-ḥajj al-shāmī ﬁ’l-qarnayn al-sabiʿ ʿāshir w’al-thāmin ʿashir,” AlMajalla al-tārīkhīya al-ʿarabīya li’l-dirāsāt al-ʿUthmānīya 35 (November 2007): 311–40.
This was the itinerary of many intellectual travelogue writers like Nābī and ʿAbd al-Ghanī
Nābulusī in the late seventeenth century.
Some examples include Abdurrahman Hibri, “Menâsik-i Mesâlik (pt. 1–3),” ed. Sevim
Ilgürel, Istanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Tarih Enstitüsü Dergisi, nos. 6, 30, 88 (1975–
77); Anonymous, Menāsiku’l-ḥac, John Rylands Library, MS Turkish 88; Abdullah b. Ṣāliḥ b.
Ismāʿīl el-Eyūbī, Hediyetu’l-ḥuccāc, Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden, MS Or. 12380; Untitled,
Gazi Husrev-begova Biblioteka, MS 1541; Mehmed Edib, Behcetü’l-menāzil, Bibliotheque
nationale de France, MS supp. Turc 1276.
Millet Kütüphanesi, MS Ali Emiri Tarih 876, fols. 8a–9b. This short, twenty-three folio text
is attributed on the title page to Müstaḳīmzāde Süleyman Efendi (1719–88), with the title
Tuḥfetü’l-ḥuccāc (The pilgrims’ gift). However, this attribution is incorrect as it describes a journey undertaken before Müstaḳīmzāde was born. The true author is unknown, but a ﬁnal quoted
poem by the poet Nābī suggests he was inﬂuenced by the poet’s travelogue, mentioned below.
For a modern transliteration of the text, see Menderes Coşkun, ed., Manzum ve mensur
Osmanlı hac seyahatnameleri ve Nâbî’nin Tuhfetü’l-Harameyn’i (Ankara: T. C. Kültür Bakanlığı
See, e.g., Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Aşır Efendi 241, fols. 58–61 (this is the bibliophile Aşır Efendi’s personal copy of Nābī’s Tuḥfetü’l-Ḥ aremeyn; the back lists both the places
History of Religions
earlier travelers’ itineraries for their own reference or ediﬁcation. One mideighteenth-century reader copied the itinerary of a pilgrim from 1673 that
detailed the stops he undertook on the return journey from Mecca through
Damascus. The tombs he visited were many of the same as mentioned by the
aforementioned anonymous pilgrims but with a heavier emphasis on the early
Islamic period, like the graves of numerous male and female companions of
the Prophet Muhammad.82
In the case of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the visitation of prophetic sites became codiﬁed into a set of gestural and liturgical rites (menāsik) that paralleled
those of the hajj in Mecca. Two separate Rūmī pilgrims in the second half of
the seventeenth century copied down in their notebooks a variety of pilgrimage guides to Mecca but also copied down a “menāsik” for Jerusalem.83 Starting at one of the city’s gates, the short text leads pilgrims through the city, instructing the reader to prostrate twice and read certain prayers before a set of
holy sites. Locations and relics range from the prayer niches (miḥrāb) of Solomon and the Dome of the Rock, the site of the mīrāj (Muhammad’s miraculous ascent to heaven), to the pomegranate tree of David and various sites
(maḳāms) of different prophets and biblical ﬁgures like Jacob or Rebecca.
Somewhat like the Via Dolorosa, the guide has them literally follow the footsteps of the prophets: the footprint relics of Jesus, Idrīs, and Muhammad are
sites in the text. As can be deduced from the list of stops, this is an overwhelmingly prophetic rendering of the city of Jerusalem. Sites associated with the
initial decades of Islam are few and far between: a very large Qur’an, presumably one of the ﬁrst copied by the Caliph ʿUthmān; the mosque of ʿUmar; the
shield of the hero Hamza; or the maḳām of Salmān-i Fārisī, the ﬁrst Persian
convert to Islam. No saints are mentioned except as a generic whole, as when
pilgrims are instructed to contemplate the saints (evliyā Allah) or holy mystics
(erenler) before entering and departing the city.
The incorporation of these tombs of prophets and early Islamic ﬁgures suggests the increased centralization of the empire’s religious life around the hajj.
The constant stream of caretakers and Qur’an reciters appointed to these major
tombs by the charitable foundations of the Two Sanctuaries was certainly a
sign of their growing importance, but the transformation went even further.84
Not only was the hajj more signiﬁcant in the canon of devotional practices, but
he visited and the books he brought back to Istanbul from Mecca). Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi,
MS A Tekelioğlu 930, fols. 1–3; Gazi Husrev-begova Biblioteka, MS R3615 (folios in the back
of the nonfoliated manuscript).
Anonymous, Untitled, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, MS Or. Oct. 2940, fols. 83–88.
Anonymous, Ḳ udus-i şerīf menāsiki, Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Yazma Bağışlar
2411, fols. 39b–40b; Gazi Husrev-begova Biblioteka, MS 1456, fols. 41a–49a.
Some examples include Başbakanlık Arşivi, Istanbul, C.EV 130-6464–1168 B 29;
In an Ottoman Holy Land
many other practices and holy sites began to migrate onto the hajj route itself.
For instance, holy trees were a common feature in much of greater Syria and
Anatolia; most villages had at their center a sacred tree that functioned as a site
of worship.85 Sometimes, however, the authorities attempted to ban tree worship as one early eighteenth-century legal response, scribbled onto a book
about the debate over pilgrimage to saints’ tombs, demonstrates: “Question:
Close to one village, there is a big tree on hallowed earth that the villagers regard as a god. They come to it, beseeching it to grant their wishes. It is permissible for the shari’a judge to cut down the tree, although it might cause much
discord? Answer: It is permissible.”86 Despite this, Rūmī pilgrims on the hajj
made it a ritual in the second half of the seventeenth and the ﬁrst half of the
eighteenth centuries to circumambulate around a lone acacia tree that they
passed a few days south of Damascus.87 By the eighteenth century, the nightly
tales of pilgrims recalled the miracles of saints like Maḥmūd Hüdaī (1541–
1628), a major saint from late sixteenth-century Istanbul, while on the hajj
route itself.88 The increasing importance of the hajj in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries did not erase local devotional practices but transferred
them onto the hajj route itself.
THE CHRISTIANS’ HAJJ
The history of the hajj in Ottoman society is written as a purely Muslim story
by both Muslim authors of the time and modern scholars. Rarely, if ever,
does a Christian or Jew appear in their texts. Yet, by the late seventeenth century, the hajj—that is, pilgrimage to an expanded Ottoman holy land—had
become a central devotional practice for many of the inhabitants of the empire regardless of their religion. The Christian pilgrims’ destination was Jerusalem, not Mecca, and their numbers were likely to be in the thousands,
not tens or hundreds of thousands, but a reciprocity between their hajj and
that of the Muslims emerged nonetheless. Most famously, Christians and
Jews began to use the Muslim honoriﬁc for pilgrims, hajji, to designate those
who had completed the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.89 Weaving the threads of
See, e.g., Grehan, Twilight of the Saints, 134–40.
Marginalia in Katib Çelebi, Mizān al-ḥaḳḳ ﬁ ikhtiyār al-aḥaḳk,̣ Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi,
MS Çelebi Abdullah 393, fol. 51b.
Jan Schmidt, “Ottoman Hajj Manuals and the John Rylands Library MS Turkish 88,” in
The Joys of Philology: Studies in Ottoman Literature, History, and Orientalism (1500–
1923), vol. 2, Orientalists, Travellers and Merchants in the Ottoman Empire, Political Relations between Europe and the Porte (Istanbul: Isis, 2002), 273.
Ibrāhīm Hanīf, Untitled, Bibliotheque nationale de France, MS supp. Turc 1296, fol. 25a.
Valentina Izmirlieva, “The Title Hajji and the Ottoman Vocabulary of Pilgrimage,” Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 28–29 (2012–13): 137–67, and “Christian Hajjis—the Other Orthodox Pilgrims to Jerusalem,” Slavic Review 73, no. 2 (Summer 2014): 322–46.
History of Religions
Muslim and Christian pilgrimage practice together, however, requires searching for clues not only in texts but also in material culture.
The shared practices of the hajj emerged from the common pilgrimage infrastructure established by the Ottoman state, which aimed to guarantee the
safe passage of all travelers. Those traveling through Anatolia would most
likely use some of the same routes, caravans, and khans that Muslim pilgrims
used as they made their way to Damascus. The Coptic pilgrimage from Cairo
to Jerusalem employed the same set of intermediaries that Muslim hajj administrators used to pay off the Bedouin and to contact local governors to ensure
the safety of their pilgrims.90 Although the land route seems to have been preferred, and even demanded, those who chose to approach from the sea, like the
Greek and Armenian communities, had an agreement with the Ottoman government that any pilgrim who arrived at Jaffa by sea could receive a rental
horse and military escort to Jerusalem in exchange for a seven-guruş tax.91
At the same time, Christian communities built their own pilgrimage infrastructure, which often mirrored that of the Muslims. In the ﬁrst quarter of the
seventeenth century, Jerusalem’s Armenian patriarch, Grigor Paronter, turned
the Jerusalem pilgrimage into an ofﬁcially organized excursion. He established
way stations along the main pilgrimage routes in the empire and from Safavid
Iran. Specially appointed “summoners” would be dispersed to Armenian communities throughout the empire to arrange mass caravans to Jerusalem for an
Easter-time pilgrimage.92 The famous mid-seventeenth-century Armenian intellectual, Eremia Çelebi (d. 1695), was one of the ﬁrst to record, privately in his
diary, his experience on part of this newly renovated pilgrim trail. Exceptionally,
he broke from the traditional, and much safer, overland route with the Muslim
pilgrimage caravans (sürre) and hired a ship to take him and ninety other pilgrims from Istanbul to Jaffa in 1649 despite the dangers posed by the Franks
at the time because of the Cretan wars (1645–69).93 Another patriarch, Martiros
Lremic’i, had built in 1681 in Üsküdar (the city across the Bosphorus from Istanbul proper where the hajj pilgrims gathered every year) a “Jerusalem House”
to aid Armenian pilgrims, the premises of which were signiﬁcantly expanded
Febe Armanios, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
This information comes from an Armenian patriarch who authored a pilgrimage guide.
Roberta R. Ervine, “Changes in Armenian Pilgrim Attitudes between 1600 and 1857: The Witness of Three Documents,” in The Armenians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, ed. Michael E.
Stone, Roberta R. Ervine, and Nira Stone (Leuven: Peeters, 2002), 85. I would like to thank Sergio
de Porta for bringing Ervine’s article to my attention.
Ervine, “Changes in Armenian Pilgrim Attitudes,” 82–83; Simeon Dpir Lehats’i, The
Travel Accounts of Simēon of Poland, trans. George A. Bournoutian (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda,
Many thanks to Polina Ivanova for translating the relevant sections of Eremia K’eomiwrchean,
Oragrut’iwn Eremia Ch’elepi K’eomiwrcheani: Yaweluats; t’ught’er, Ugherdzner, Gandzer Ew
Oghber, ed. Mesrop Nshanean (Jerusalem: Tparan Srbots’ Hakobeants’, 1939), 7–8.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
over the course of the eighteenth century.94 Once they reached Jerusalem, the
pilgrims were taken under the wing of their respective church, but, until that
point, different Christian sects often shared travel facilities. The Coptic pilgrimage
caravan, for instance, stopped at the Armenian monastery in Ramla that housed
Armenian and Greek pilgrims coming from Jaffa.95
As the physical infrastructure of the Christian hajj between Jerusalem and
the centers of the empire was strengthened, its textual foundations were similarly developed through pilgrimage guides. Bishop Hanna of Jerusalem
wrote during the ﬁrst quarter of the eighteenth century a guide to convince
and direct Anatolian Armenians on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.96 Besides
listing the holy places of Jerusalem, it provided the same type of instructions
to pilgrims—to write a will, say goodbye to loved ones, make sure not to
ﬁght with other pilgrims, and so on—found in Muslim guides.97 Simple
Greek pilgrimage guides, illustrated by their scribes with schematic diagrams, began to be written and avidly copied in the second quarter of the
seventeenth century (ﬁg. 2).98 The same pilgrimage literature was rendered
into a more comprehensible Arabic from ecclesiastical Greek for Arabicspeaking Christians in the same period.99
Visual evidence provides another way to view the intersection of Muslim
and Christian pilgrimage practices. Starting in the mid-seventeenth century,
Christian pilgrimage destinations were often depicted on ceramic tiles, and
these images were taken from illustrated Christian pilgrimage manuals. Take
for example, a tile made of the holy site of the Oak of Mamre (ﬁg. 3), a large
tree outside of Hebron associated in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions
with various events in the life of Abraham, such as his meeting with angels
or his command to sacriﬁce his son.100 The tile was most likely produced
Ervine, “Changes in Armenian Pilgrim Attitudes,” 83 n. 6.
Armanios believes the monastery did not ordinarily host pilgrims, but it seems clear from
Ervine’s work that it did. Armanios, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, 108.
Girkʻ patmue. Sby. ev metsi Kʻaghakʻis Ay. Eēmis. ev sbtsʻ. tnōrinknay tegheatsʻ Tn. meroy
Hi. Kʻi. ([K. Polis]: [I Tparani Hōhannisi ew Pōghosi], 1782).
Ervine, “Changes in Armenian Pilgrim Attitudes,” 84–85.
Sotirios N. Kadas, Hoi Hagioi Topoi: Eikonographemena Proskynetaria 17ou–18ou Ai
(Athens: Kapon, 1998).
See, for example, the text at Bibliotheque nationale de France, MS Arabe 312. Matar
claims that this treatise dates from the 1590s and is a defensive claim of Arabic Orthodox to
Greek speakers from Istanbul, but there is no evidence for this as the treatise seems to be from
the 1640s, given the other treatises copied by the scribe. Nabil I. Matar, “An Arabic Orthodox
Account of the Holy Land, c. 1590s,” in Through the Eyes of the Beholder: The Holy Land, 1517–
1713, ed. Judy A. Hayden and Nabil I. Matar, trans. Mohammad Asfour (Leiden: Brill, 2013),
27–51; Armanios, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, 99.
On some of the traditions regarding the site, see F. Nigel Hepper and Shimon Gibson,
“Abraham’s Oak of Mamre: The Story of a Venerable Tree,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly
126, no. 2 (July 1994): 94–105. A Russian Orthodox monastery was founded on the site of the
oak in the twentieth century. The main tree appears to have died in the 1990s.
FIG. 2.—Pilgrimage guide (proskynetarion) of Hajji Ioanni, 1693, Bodleian Library, MS cod. canon. gr. 127, fol. 32a. Photograph by the author. Color version
available as an online enhancement.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
FIG. 3.—An octagonal ceramic tile most likely produced in Iznik in the midseventeenth century depicting the Oak of Mamre and the house of Abraham. Churches
and mosques seem to be depicted in the background, although the inscription at the
top is still unclear. The identiﬁcation of the image is based on similar images in illustrated Greek pilgrim guides, according to the museum’s curator. Today, the site is regarded
as a holy site only for Russian Orthodox pilgrims. Benaki Museum of Islamic Art,
Athens (Inv. No. 87). Photograph courtesy of the Benaki Museum. Color version
available as an online enhancement.
around the mid-seventeenth century in the major ceramics center of Iznik, today located a few hours’ drive from Istanbul by automobile.101 While it is difﬁcult to know exactly how the tile was used, one can imagine it was distributed from Iznik to Christians throughout the empire, who would place it in the
walls of their houses and churches and commemorate the Oak of Mamre as a
The information regarding the tile is taken from the identiﬁcation tag of the Benaki Museum.
History of Religions
holy site. Even those who were not fortunate enough to visit the site in person
could inscribe these images into their mental map of the holy land.
These Christian pilgrimage ceramics, however, mirrored the multipiece ceramic tile images of the Kaʿba that were installed in public and private locations around the Ottoman Empire starting in the mid-seventeenth century.102
The Kaʿba tiles (ﬁg. 4) are multipiece ceramic murals that depict, in a schematic fashion, the Kaʿba and a number of adjacent shrines and holy sites. Often
there is a one- or two-line couplet of poetry commemorating the building. In
both Christian and Muslim ceramics, we see a shift in which small, private
paintings of holy sanctuaries drawn in books were painted on tiles and dispersed to communities around the empire to be displayed publicly. Moreover,
both the tiles depicting the Kaʿba and those depicting churches and holy sites
were made in Kütahya and Iznik, ceramic centers that turned to producing ceramics for the general population in the seventeenth century once demand
from the Ottoman palace fell.103 In Kütahya, Armenian ceramicists in particular produced thousands of pictorial (and nonpictorial) tiles that went to decorate palaces, mosques, and churches.104 Among those few craftsmen who
signed their names on the Kaʿba tiles, we see only Muslim names, but it is reasonable to assume that Greek, Armenian, and Muslim ceramicists, living and
working next to each other in Iznik, would be familiar with one another’s
products or were willing to produce ceramics depicting holy sites from many
traditions.105 In Kütahya, the entire community of the city’s ceramics artisans
was Armenian, apparently, which suggests that Kaʿba tiles produced there
would have been made by Armenians themselves.106 In other words, through
Sabih Erken, “Türk Çiniciliğinde Kabe Tasvirleri,” Vakıﬂar Dergisi 9 (1971): 297; Kurt
Erdmann, “Ka’bah-Fliesen,” Ars Orientalis 3 (1959): 192–97; Charlotte Maury, “Depictions of
the Haramayn on Ottoman Tiles,” in The Hajj: Collected Essays, ed. Venetia Porter and Liana
Saif (London: British Museum, 2013), 143–59. On the development of images of Mecca and Medina during the Ottoman period, see Sabiha Göloğlu, “Depicting the Holy: Representations of
Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem in the Late Ottoman Empire” (PhD diss., Koç University, Istanbul,
Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey (London:
Laurence King, 2008), 273–85.
The most famous of these are the thousands of pictorial tiles depicting biblical scenes that
were commissioned for a total renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem,
echoing the ceramic revetments that Suleyman had installed on the exterior of the Dome of
the Rock. Because of sectarian differences, the tiles were never installed on the intended church
and were instead placed in the Cathedral of St. James. John Carswell, Kütahya Tiles and Pottery
from the Armenian Cathedral of St. James, Jerusalem, Vol. 1: The Pictorial Tiles and Other
Vessels (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972).
Erken, “Türk Çiniciliğinde Kabe Tasvirleri,” 316.
Dickran Kouymjian, “The Role of Armenian Potters of Kutahia in the Ottoman Ceramic
Industry,” in Armenian Communities in Asia Minor, ed. Richard Hovannisian (Costa Mesa, CA:
Mazda, 2014), 114; Erken, “Türk Çiniciliğinde Kabe Tasvirleri,” 319.
FIG. 4.—Multipiece Kaʿba tile, most likely produced in Iznik in the midseventeenth century. Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, Athens (Inv. No. 124). Photograph
courtesy of the Benaki Museum. Color version available as an online enhancement.
History of Religions
their mutual borrowings, these Muslim and Christian ceramicists equated the
pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the pilgrimage to Mecca and provided a shared
visual idiom through which to publicly inscribe an Ottoman holy land for
the empire’s subjects.
The emergence of Greek Orthodox icons of the city of Jerusalem provides
another parallel to the Kaʿba tiles. The icons begin to appear in the early to
mid-seventeenth century and initially depicted the city of Jerusalem and its
Christian holy sites, basing themselves on the images circulating in contemporary Greek pilgrimage guides, yet also echoing the schematic diagrams of the
Kaʿba tiles.107 By the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, the areas
depicted on the icons had expanded to include holy sites from the surrounding
lands, reaching out to the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, and Gaza.108 Similar
icons and depictions followed for the monasteries of Mt. Sinai. These map icons
might also have been produced for pilgrims to purchase under the orchestration
of the Jerusalem patriarch and then gifted to churches across the empire.109 At
other times, they were reproduced on the walls of major churches, as in the
Văcăreşti Monastery, the largest church in southeastern Europe at the time of
its construction by the ﬁrst Phanariot ruler, and Ottoman vassal of Wallachia,
Nikolas Mavrokordatos, in 1716–22.110 The icons sacralized, in a literal fashion, the lands between the Galilee and Mt. Sinai, turning the area itself into
an object of worship.
As reﬂected in the icons, the Christian holy land quickly expanded outside of
the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem and into the countryside. One guide
states, “The city is not the only place to be called holy, for the surrounding villages and nearby locations are also holy and are called in the Old Testament
the Land of Prophecy.”111 As with the Muslim pilgrimage, pilgrims taking
the land route stopped in numerous spots in Syria and Palestine as they neared
Jerusalem.112 In both the Muslim and Christian holy lands, emphasis was placed
on the (often overlapping) prophetic sites and formative ﬁgures or events in
early Islamic or Christian history, rather than the pantheon of saints that had
developed in the ensuing centuries. The sanctity of Jerusalem and its environs
that these texts fashioned was not necessarily novel, but read together with
Kadas, Hoi Hagioi Topoi; Izmirlieva, “Title Hajji,” 141.
Rehav Rubin, “Greek-Orthodox Maps of Jerusalem from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Centuries,” E-Perimetron 8, no. 3 (2013): 120–26.
Rubin, “Greek-Orthodox Maps of Jerusalem,” 124.
This church no longer exists; it was purposefully destroyed on the orders of President
Ceausescu on December 30, 1984. The map icon, one of the few remaining pieces of the complex, is now housed in the Muzeul Naţional de Artă al României in Bucharest.
Bibliotheque nationale de France, MS Arabe 312, fols. 1b–2a.
Stefka Parveva, “Human Mobility and Transmission of Information in the Ottoman Empire from the Seventeenth to the Early Nineteenth Century,” in The Inﬂuence of Human Mobility
in Muslim Societies, ed. Kuroki Hidemitsu (London: Kegan Paul, 2003), 101–15.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
Muslim and other Christian texts, it pointed to a larger consecration of the landscape between Damascus, Mecca, and Cairo.
As the hajj began to incorporate an extended journey to shrines in a larger
Ottoman holy land, the pilgrimage practices of both Muslims and non-Muslims
not only mirrored one another but often intersected. These intersections were
most evident at shared prophetic shrines, but they are rarely explicitly acknowledged, often only appearing in the margins of texts. For example, in 1677, a
large group of pilgrims returned to Jerusalem stripped naked, beaten, and in
tears. They had set out from Jerusalem for the nearby tomb of Moses (Maqām
Nabī Mūsā), which lay half a day’s journey toward Jericho, when Bedouins
waylaid them and robbed them of all their possessions, even killing a few of
the unfortunate travelers. This particular episode was written down in the colophon of an Armenian Old Testament (one of the common places for recording
notable events). The entry’s scribe identiﬁed the murdered pilgrims as two Armenians, a Copt, and two Muslims, part of a caravan of “Greek, Europeans, Armenians and Muslims.”113 While the writer noted the incident down for its uncharacteristic violence, the modern reader’s eye is caught by the odd mix of
pilgrims headed toward the tomb of Moses. The shrine is generally considered
a particularly Muslim holy place—formally established by the Mamluk sultan
Baybars in the thirteenth century,114 pilgrims in the seventeenth century ﬂocked
there to be graced by visions of angels.115 Yet, the colophon entry makes it clear
that Christian pilgrims also journeyed out to the grave, which apparently appears on some of the aforementioned icons produced by Orthodox Christians.116
During the seventeenth century, the devotional practice of all Christian
sects in the Ottoman Empire became increasingly centered on a hajj to an
Ottoman holy land. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and its environs shifted from
the supererogatory and uncommon action of individual Christians to a larger
collective journey through a sacred landscape that was enjoined on all of the
The colophon of the manuscript, presumably from St. James Church in Jerusalem (J397),
is quoted and translated in Ervine, “Changes in Armenian Pilgrim Attitudes,” 81 n. 2.
Samuel Tamari, “Maqâm Nabî Mûsâ (Jericho),” Revue des Etudes Islamiques 49 (1981):
231–50; Joseph Sadan, “Le Tombeau de Moïse a Jéricho et a Damas: Une compétition entre
deux lieux saints principalement à l’époque ottomane,” Revue des Etudes Islamiques 49
See the mid-seventeenth century treatise, Ahmed Vecdi, Risāle fī beyān eşbāh ʿala ḳabr
Mūsa, Beyazıt Kütüphanesi, MS Veliyüddin Efendi 809, fols. 213–19. For a description of
some of the angel visitations, see ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī, Al-Ḥ aqīqa wa’l-majāz fī riḥlat
bilād al-Shām wa Miṣr wa’l-Ḥ ijāz, ed. Riyāḍ ʿAbdulḥamīd Murād (Damascus: Dar al-Maʻrifah,
1998), 1:287–90. Nābulusī copied and inserted the verses and impressions of an earlier traveler,
Kibrīt, in his rough draft.
Rubin, “Greek-Orthodox Maps of Jerusalem,” 122; Sadan, “Le Tombeau de Moïse,” 75;
Amnon Cohen, “Al-Nabi Musa—an Ottoman Festival (Mawsim) Resurrected?,” in Mamluks
and Ottomans: Studies in Honour of Michael Winter, ed. David J. Wasserstein and Ami Ayalon
(London: Routledge, 2006), 34–44.
History of Religions
faithful. As both Febe Armanios and Valentina Izmirlieva have noted, Christian pilgrimage practices were often directly modeled on those of the Muslims.117 From the pomp of the Coptic pilgrimage caravan setting out from
Cairo, to the establishment of numerous way stations from Istanbul for their Anatolian brethren, to the inscription of private images of sanctuaries on public
tiles and icons, Christians imitated, or, as in the case of the tiles, directly contributed to, this new Muslim religiosity. Ritually, materially, and textually, a Christian hajj was reproduced for the environs of Jerusalem. The most telling sign of
this change was the widespread adoption of the Muslim honoriﬁc for pilgrims,
hajji, by Christians of all stripes in the seventeenth century for those who had
completed the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.118 In short, the hajj, having expanded
to encompass much of the Levant, had become a central religious practice for
all the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire.
As is often the case, any blurring of boundaries also leads to the establishment
of new limits and restrictions. In the case of the hajj, the clearest example
comes from eighteenth-century Cairo. In 1748, a minor riot erupted there as
Muslims witnessed the festivities—complete with dancers and musicians like
the Muslim hajj caravan—that accompanied the departure of the Coptic pilgrims to Jerusalem.119 They accused the Copts of attempting to imitate Muslims. For the modern scholar, this is a startling accusation because it demonstrates that Cairene Muslims implicitly recognized Christian pilgrimage
practices as the hajj. The Muslims understood, and rejected, the idea that all
the empire’s inhabitants could participate in the hajj. They demanded that
the soldiers put an end to the Christians’ procession, ban them from traveling
by land, and seize their possessions. The Copts managed to save their possessions, but the true punishment was being banned from completing their pilgrimage overland, a telling detail. For the Christians, taking the pilgrimage
overland was part of being Ottoman and would have allowed not only for
the public display of their religiosity and wealth in the streets but also for
the visitation of shrines along the way to Jerusalem. Perhaps this is why they
celebrated the use of camels for the hajj instead of ships in 1709 after a twelveyear hiatus.120
Armanios, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt; Izmirlieva, “Title Hajji” and “Christian
118 Interestingly, even Jews, in the Balkans at least, seem to have adopted this honoriﬁc upon
completion of pilgrimage. Izmirlieva, “Title Hajji,” 165 n. 59.
119 Aḥmad al-Damurdāshī, Al-Damurdashi’s Chronicle of Egypt, 1688–1755: Al-durra almuṣāna fī akhbār al-kināna, trans. Daniel Crecelius and ‘Abd al-Wahhab Bakr (Leiden: Brill,
1991), 368–69. The event is mentioned in Armanios, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, 3–4.
Armanios, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, 101.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
Other shared rituals and symbols could also raise questions as to how one
community differed from another. The Muslim community of Jerusalem, for
instance, sent the Damascene scholar ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (1641–1731)
a worried inquiry as to whether it was permissible for them to use candles
to illuminate the mosques on holidays or was this too much of a Christian
innovation?121 Did the prodigious use of candles turn the Dome of the Rock
into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher?122 Another example comes from a
fatwa (legal opinion) that was included in the late seventeenth-century canonical imperial legal collections. A petitioner inquires about a village claiming
to house the birthplace of Jesus. “In one site in a village, the Christians claim
that Jesus, utmost peace and prayers upon him and our prophets, was born.
They built upon this site a church and erected in it statues and paintings,
but Jesus’s birth in that site is not conﬁrmed by an authoritative and correct
source [riwāya saḥīḥa]. Is it acceptable for a Muslim to enter this church for
the purposes of pilgrimage [ziyāra] or not?”123 The chief jurist, lacking a jurisprudential precedent for this new case, demurred, replying only that it was
acceptable, but frowned upon (makrūh), for a Muslim to enter a church
or synagogue.124 The question, though, reveals the challenges that Muslims
confronted as they journeyed through this holy land. A constant temptation
lurked in these shared and overlapping sites, a temptation to be seduced by
or confronted with Christian practices that resembled Muslim ones to a large
degree. It was part of a deeper ambivalence during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as to which daily practices, objects, and beliefs constituted Islam.
Yet whatever tensions existed between Muslims and non-Muslims on their
shared travels were often surpassed by intra-Muslim antagonism between Arabs and Rūmīs. The vision of the holy land cultivated by Rūmī pilgrims in
general and the imperial government in particular could run aground on the
graves that local communities found sacred.125 Ibn Ḥ abīb, a minor provincial
scholar from Nablus in the mid-seventeenth century, was forced to publish a
(somewhat disingenuous) retraction after insisting on the sanctity of Nablus
ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī, Ajwabat al-as’ila waradat min Bayt al-Maqdis, Süleymaniye
Kütüphanesi, MS Çelebi Abdullah 385, fols. 73–87.
Al-Nābulusī, Al-Ḥ aqīqah wa’l-majāz, 1:382–83.
Çatalcalı Ali Efendi, Fetava-ı Ali Efendi, ed. Ṣālıḥ b. Aḥmed el-Kefevī, 4th ed. (Istanbul:
Tabhane-i Amire Matbaası, 1272h), 2:620.
Şeyhülislam Çatalcalı Ali Efendi (d. 1692) said that according to the Hidāya it was forbidden for judges to enter non-Muslim houses of worship in order to take oaths, but this was not
applicable to Muslims at large. The al-Fatāwa al-Tatarkhāniyya says that it is permissible but
inadvisable for Muslims to enter churches, only because they are gathering places of demons
rather than any particular ban on entering. However, the şeyhülislam notes that he himself had
previously ruled that it was not permissible to accompany Jews into a synagogue.
See, for example, the survey conducted by the governor of Jerusalem and Hebron to verify
the authenticity of shrines so as to identify which ones were worthy of restoration and continued
patronage. Ta’rīkh al-Quds wa’l-Khalīl, Bodleian Library, MS Clarke Or. 33.
History of Religions
and its saints in front of the amīr al-hajj, Süleymān Paşa.126 After conversations
with the Egyptian governor, ʿAli Paşa, and a visiting Rūmī scholar, the
Damascene Sāliḥ al-Ghazzī penned an inquiry as to the true boundaries of
the holy land and whether it included Syria.127 Yāsīn al-Faraḍī (d. 1683), a
Damascene preacher from the late seventeenth century who wrote a rather
damning screed to spur the “foreign (mutagharrib)” government to act against
oppressive taxation practices in Syria and Lebanon, also wrote a new guide
memorializing the saintly graves of Syria.128
These protests emerged from the seeming erasure of an earlier, preOttoman holy land in favor of a prophetic or biblical landscape. While the expanded hajj itineraries of Rūmī pilgrims created shared sacred spaces at the
tombs of Biblical prophets and well-known companions of the Prophet Muhammad, they overlooked the tombs of locally important saints or companions. For instance, Shaykh Arslān, whom one modern scholar dubbed the patron saint of Damascus, seems to have been largely ignored by the Rūmī
travelers. These pilgrims also overlooked other famous places like the Grotto
of Blood.129 The graves and stations that they revered were those of the prophets like John the Baptist, Moses, Jonah, Abraham, and, to a lesser degree,
Ḫ ıżır. If saints or Suﬁ ﬁgures were mentioned, it was often major and foundational ﬁgures like ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (d. 1166) or Ibn ʿArabī, whose tombs
were, not coincidently, patronized by the dynasty.
As in previous centuries, rejecting the grave of Ibn ʿArabī became a means of
challenging both the imperial government as well as the particular type of Rūmī
religiosity from Anatolia and the Balkans. The famous Damascene scholar of
the late seventeenth century, ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī, wrote a short work
on the true location of Ibn ʿArabī’s tomb. Nābulusī, however, rejects the Ottoman
Ibn Ḥ abīb, Durr al-niẓām ﬁ maḥāsin al-Shām, Princeton University Library, MS Yahuda
Ṣ āliḥ b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbdullah el-Ghazzī, Al-Khabar al-tamm ﬁ dhikr ḥudūd ‘arḍ alnuqaddasa wa Filist ̣īn, Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Esad Efendi 2212, fols. 6a–18b. There is
also another copy at the Arab Manuscript Institute, Cairo, MS Jiograﬁya wa Buldān 99.
On the screed, see Yāsīn al-Faraḍī, Nuṣrat al-mutagharribīn ʿan al-’awt ̣ān ʿala al-ẓulma
ve ahl al-ʿudwān [Beseeching help from the foreigners to this land against oppression and people of enmity], Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, MS Sprenger 907. On the pilgrimage guide, see
Nubdha lat ̣īfa ﬁ’l-mazārāt al-sharīfa, Princeton University Library, MS Yahuda 2307. I accessed it through an eighteenth-century commentary by an eighteenth-century mufti from Erzurum: Meḥmed Said b. Aḥmed b. Meḥmed Efendi, Sharḥ al-nubdhat al-saniyya ﬁ’l-ziyārat alShāmiyya, Bibliotheque nationale de France, MS Arabe 6007. On Yāsīn al-Faraḍī, see Martha
Mundy, “Islamic Law and the Order of State: The Legal Status of the Cultivator,” in Syria and
“Bilad al-Sham” under Ottoman Rule: Essays in Honour of Abdul-Karim Rafeq, ed. Peter
Sluglett and Stefan Weber (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 412–15.
Regarding the grotto, see Josef Meri, The Cult of Saints among Muslims and Jews in Medieval Syria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 209. The site is mentioned, however, in
the work of the aforementioned unknown pilgrim. Tuḥfetü’l-ḥuccāc, Millet Kütüphanesi, MS
Ali Emiri Tarih 876, fol. 9a.
In an Ottoman Holy Land
tomb out of his deep love for Ibn ʿArabī, unlike some earlier, more critical
Arab scholars.130 In his pamphlet, Nābulusī argues that the tomb of Ibn ʿArabī is
not actually in the mosque built by Sultan Selim I. Rather, it is in the garden
(rawḍa) located in the street before the mosque.131 Those who approach the
tomb through the mosque and the miḥrāb (prayer niche) will never actually
see the grave; rather they will just see their own lowliness as they criticize
graves. Adding fuel to the ﬁre, he states that those who were the “most prideful
in prayer” deny the Great Shaykh (Ibn ʿArabī) and use the mihrab and mosque as
an intermediary to God. In other words, they become polytheists by equating
God with the mosque. He commands the faithful to go out to the garden to experience God and to drink from the cool mountain stream. Those who do so are
the People of the Garden, those who do not are the polytheistic People of the
Mosque. For Nābulusī, the choice of gravesite stands for a larger choice between what he regards as true Islam and imperially mandated forms of piety.
Nābulusī also cultivated a large and active community of Rūmī readers
throughout the empire. His writings represent not only the perspe…
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