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  • M. Brett Wilson (a1)

This article examines modernist-nationalist thought on Sufi lodges during the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic via the controversial novel Nur Baba (1922) by Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu. Widely translated and the basis of the first-ever Turkish motion picture, Nur Baba depicts a debauched Sufi lodge in turn-of-the-century Istanbul where drug use, alcoholism, and illicit amorous liaisons run amok. The novel played an important role in shaping public perceptions of Sufi lodges in the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire. This piece explores the novel's place among early 20th-century critiques of Sufism, its approach to national history, its historical setting (during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II), and its close relationship to the intellectual concerns of the Second Constitutional Period (1908–18). It argues for a revised understanding of the novel's historical setting and contends that the novel employs a combination of moralistic critique and romantic nostalgia that is central to modernist-nationalist treatments of Sufism that instrumentalize Sufi culture for nation-building purposes.

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Author's note: I thank William Coker, Ayşe Çelikkol, Markus Dressler, Erdağ Göknar, Bruce Lawrence, Gregory Lipton, Laurent Mignon, and Peter Wright for their contributions to this piece. Additionally, I express my gratitude to the anonymous IJMES reviewers for their invaluable suggestions and comments. Central European University and Macalester College provided research funding for this project.

1 Tanilli, Server, “Le Roman Nur Baba de Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu (1921–1922) et la réalité du Bektashisme,” in Bektachiyya: Études sur l'ordre mystique des bektachis et les groupes relevant de Hadji Bektach, ed. Popović, Aleksandar and Veinstein, Gilles (Istanbul: Ed. Isis, 1995), 190 ; Schimmel, Annemarie, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 341 .

2 The novel has been translated into a number of languages, including Serbo-Croatian: Nur Baba, trans. Fetah Sulejmanpašić (Sarajevo: n.p., 1957); German: Flamme Und Falter Ein Derwisch-Roman, trans. Annemarie Schimmel (Gummersbach: Florestan, 1947); Italian: Nur Baba, trans. Giampiero Bellingeri Fabula (Milano: Adelphi, 1995); Spanish: Nur Babá, trans. Alín Salom (Barcelona: Destino, 2000); and Greek: O τεκές του Νουρ Μπαμπά ή Κατήχηση στον έρωτα: μυθιστόρημα, trans. Giorgos Salakidis (Thessalonikē: Stamoulēs Ant., 2009).

3 Akı, Niyazi, Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu (İstanbul: İletişim, 2001), 101; Kara, İsmail, Cumhuriyet Türkiyesi'nde bir Mesele olarak İslam (İstanbul: Dergâh Yayınları, 2010), 250 .

4 See Sirriyeh, Elizabeth, Sufis and Anti-Sufis: The Defense, Rethinking and Rejection of Sufism in the Modern World (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 1999); Ernst, Carl, The Shambhala Guide to Sufism (Boston, Mass.: Shambhala, 1997), chap. 8; de Jong, Frederick and Radke, Bernd, eds., Islamic Mysticism Contested (Leiden: Brill, 1999); and Kurzman, Charles, Modernist Islam, 1840–1940: A Sourcebook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 255 .

5 Green, Nile, Sufism: A Global History (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 190 .

6 Ibid., 189.

7 Weissman, Itzchak, The Naqshbandiyya: Orthodoxy and Activism in a Worldwide Sufi Tradition (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 140–41.

8 Sirriyeh, Sufis, 104–5.

9 Weissman, Nashbandiyya, 143.

10 Clayer, Nathalie, “Sufi Printed Matter and Knowledge about the Bektashi Order in the Late Ottoman Period,” in Sufism, Literary Production, and Printing in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Chic, Rachida et al. (Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 2015), 363–64.

11 “Fecr-i Âtî Encümen-i Edebîsi Beyannâmesi,” Servet-i Fünûn, no. 977, 24 Şubat 1325 (10 March 1910), 227.

12 Akı, Yakup Kadri, 54–55.

13 Ibid., 195.

14 Gariper, Cafer and Küçükcoşkun, Yasemin, “II. Meşrutiyet Döneminde Yayımlanan Nur Baba Romanı ve Yarattığı Akışlar,” Bilig, no. 47 (2008): 66.

15 Akı, Yakup Kadri, 100.

16 Ibid.; Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi, Edebiyat Dersleri (İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2002), 255.

17 Gariper, Cafer and Küçükcoşkun, Yasemin, Dionizyak Coşkunun İhtişam ve Sefaleti: Yakup Kadri'nin Nur Baba Romanına Psikanalitik bir Yaklaşım (İstanbul: Akademik Kitaplar, 2009).

18 Server Tanilli, “Le Roman,” 186.

19 Karaosmanoğlu, Yakup Kadri, Anamın Kitabı (İstanbul: İletişim, 2012), 123.

20 Abbas Karakaya, Yakup Kadri'nin Nur Baba Romanında Alevi-Bektaşiler ve 1980 Sonrası Akademik Eleştirinin Körlüğü, Bogaziçi Gösteri Sanatları Topluluğu, 21 June 2014, accessed 26 September 2015,

21 Karaosmanoğlu, Yakup Kadri, Erenlerin Bağından (İstanbul: Orhaniye Matbaası, 1922).

22 Tanpınar, Edebiyat Dersleri, 254.

23 Karaosmanoğlu, Anamın, 120–25.

24 Azak, Umut, Islam and Secularism in Turkey: Kemalism, Religion and the Nation State (London: I.B.Tauris, 2010), 152.

25 Karaosmanoğlu, Yakup Kadri, Nur Baba (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2001), 13.

26 Ibid.

27 Riedl, Matthias, “The Containment of Dionysos: Religion and Politics in the Bacchanalia Affair,” International Political Anthropology 5, no. 2 (2012): 14.

28 Octavius, 9.6–7, quoted in Riedl, The Containment of Dionysius, 127.

29 Baer, Marc, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2010), 167–69. In modern Syria, a similar story about orgies is used to defame Ismaʿilis.

30 Çelebi, Evliya, An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Çelebi. trans and ed. Dankoff, Robert and Kim, Sooyong (London: Eland, 2011), 136–37.

31 In fact, the classical references in the novel are much more varied. More examples follow; Niyazi Akı, Yakup Kadri, 100.

32 Server Tanilli, “Le Roman Nur Baba,” 188. See also Tanpınar, Edebiyat Dersler, 255.

33 Livy, Rome and the Mediterranean: Books XXXI–XLV of the History of Rome from Its Foundation (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), 39:8–19.

34 Riedl, The Containment, 113.

35 Ibid., 116.

36 Ibid., 117.

37 Manneh, Butrus Abu, “The Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya and the Bektashi Order in 1826,” in Studies on Islam and the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, 1826-1876 (Istanbul: Isis, 2001), 5971; Şahkul, Kahraman, Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, ed. Ágoston, Gábor and Masters, Bruce Alan (New York: Facts On File, 2009), 60.

38 Göknar, Erdağ, “The Novel in Turkish: Narrative Tradition to Nobel Prize,” in The Cambridge Companion to History, vol. 4, Turkey in the Modern World, ed. Kasaba, Reşat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 486 .

39 Translation by Şükrü Hanioğlu: “Pek Uyanik Bir Uyku,” İctihad, no. 55 [11 March 1913], in Hanioğlu, “Garbcılar: Their Attitudes toward Religion and Their Impact on the Official Ideology of the Turkish Republic,” 153–54.

40 Fani, Şeyh Mushin-i, İstikbale Doğru (İstanbul: Ahmed İhsan ve Şürekası Matbaacılık Osmanlı Şirketi, 1331/1329 [1913]), 5 .

41 Ibid., 41.

42 Ibid., 42.

43 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 74.

44 Ibid., 74.

45 Schimmel, Annemarie, Rumi's World: The Life and Work of the Great Sufi Poet (Boston: Shambhala, 2001), 102.

46 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 74.

47 Ibid., 86.

48 Ibid., 95.

49 Ibid., 157.

50 Green, Sufism: A Global History, 1.

51 Ali Akyıldız, “Pertevniyal Valide Sultan,” İslam Ansiklopedisi, v. 34, 240; Kingsley Birge, John, The Bektashi Order of Dervishes (London: Luzac and Co., 1965), 8081 .

52 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 41.

53 Ibid., 100.

54 Ibid., 90.

55 Ibid., 39.

56 His real name was Ömer Hulusi. He was best known for his poetry and represented the traditional school of Ottoman poetry against new literary currents.

57 Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi DH.MKT 1975/31 (25 Z 1309) 21 June 1892; Y.A. HUS 263/6 (1 M 1310) 26 June1892.

58 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 84.

59 Ibid., 57. Nero was Roman emperor from 50 to 54 ce. Trimalchio is a character in Satyricon, a first century ce Roman work of fiction thought to be composed by Petronius (c. 27–66 ce). The character Trimalchio has strong resemblances to the character Nur Baba. Trimalchio was a freedman who rose to great power and held sumptuous banquets, while Nur Baba was an orphan who established himself as the shaykh of the lodge and held rather similar banquets. In the Great Gatsby (1925), an important novel from the same period in American literature, the bon vivant Jay Gatsby is referred to as having a “career as Trimalchio.”

60 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 78.

61 Ibid., 87–88.

62 Ibid., 86.

63 Ibid., 91–96.

64 Dressler, Markus, Writing Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 146 .

65 Clayer, Sufi, 363–64.

66 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 92.

67 Akı, Yakup Kadri, 101.

68 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 100.

69 Ibid., 91.

70 “Diogenes,” Encyclopædia Britannica, accessed 6 January 2017,, last updated 8 May 2012.

71 Göknar, “The Novel in Turkish,” 486.

72 Yılmaz, Hale, Becoming Turkish: Nationalist Reforms and Cultural Negotiations in Early Republican Turkey, 1923–1945 (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2013), 83 .

73 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 67.

74 Ibid., 90.

75 Tanpınar, Edebiyat Dersleri, 254. Halide Edip, “Nur Baba,” İkdam, nr. 9096, 13 Temmuz 1922: 3.

76 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 18.

77 Karaosmanoğlu, Yakup Kadri, Kadınlık ve Kadınlarımız (İstanbul: Orhaniye Matbaası, 1923).

78 Ibid., 5.

79 Kurzman, Modernist, 69.

80 Akı, Yakup Kadri, 190.

81 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba (İstanbul: Orhaniye, 1923), 130.

82 Tanpınar, Edebiyat Dersleri, 45.

83 Ibid., 254.

84 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 13.

85 Karaosmanoğlu, Yakup Kadri, Sodom ve Gomore (İstanbul: Hamit Matbaası, 1928).

86 Göknar, Erdağ, “Reading Allied Istanbul: Turkish Subject-Formation from Historical Trauma to Literary Trope,” Culture, Theory and Critique 55 (2014), 1516 .

87 Dressler, Writing Religion, 188.

88 Ibid., 190.

89 Ibid., 191.

90 Ibid., 191–92.

91 Karaosmanoğlu, Nur Baba, 101.

92 Ibid., 101.

93 Khalid, Adeeb, “A Secular Islam: Nation, State, and Religion in Uzbekistan,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 35 (2003): 579. On Albania, see Clayer, Nathalie, Religion et nation chez les Albanais: Xixe - Xxe Siècles (Istanbul: Isis, 2002).

94 Green, Sufism, 199.

95 Khalid, Adeeb, Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2014), 132 .

96 Hisar, Abdülhak Şinasi, Ali Nizami Beyin Alafrangalığı ve Şeyhliğĭ (İstanbul: Hilmi Kitabevi, 1952); Karay, Refik Halit, Kadınlar Tekkesi (İstanbul: Çağlayan Yayınevi, 1956).

97 B. N., Nur Baba Masali, İzmir, Ahenk Matbaası (12 Temmüz 1338), 15–19.

98 Gariper, “II. Meşrutiyet,” 72–73.

99 Erdağ Göknar shows the importance of Sufi tropes in the evolution of Turkish literature and, in particular, how central “secular Sufism” is in the work of Orhan Pamuk; Göknar, Erdağ, Orhan Pamuk, Secularism, and Blasphemy: The Politics of the Turkish Novel (New York: Routledge, 2013), 210–42.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
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