Reactions by the Alem-i Mümin

 Reactions from the Alem-i Mümin


Our readings and class discussion in the last weeks revolved around intrareligious interactions, especially involving the Muslim community’s responses to outside stimuli.

And especially our fierce brainstorming in class when we personnally experienced overlapping master narratives revealed to me how significantly single stories can dominate/disrupt knowledge.  Our attempts to approach views and opinions from multiple sources, however, enabled us to see to a great extent the mostly obscure aspects of history of religious and political life.

7th and 8th centuries, majority of Christians were under Islam rule. They saw Islam as soft and appealing. The Empires Mughal Empire and their ability to encompass multiple religions in a peace-based manner was proof for cultural co-existence in the world of religious communities.

Similarly, the documentary ‘Out of Cordoba’ we have seen makes clear that Christians as well as Jewish communities were more than welcome in the Muslim Spain, building warm relations with umma in friendship, muhabbet and trade.

Maria Rosa Menocal, in her work The Ornament of the World, emphasizes the harmony with which people under the rule of the Abbasids lived in the muslim Spain. She emphasizes the environment of peace and art created by the Abbasid rule, and how such efforts helped create considerable contributions to contemporary art by numerous poets and artists. [i]

The thrive of art, literature, romanticism, architechture and tolerance in a world mostly ruled by Muslims led me to think that there was a common unifier, or a set of rules that guided the Sultans and caliphs toward dialogue and respect. That, I found likely to be a good understanding of the Sharia.


It also became clear to me that the Islamic World has responded in varying ways to crucial changes in the course and fate of the Muslim Empires. As we have discussed in class, the devastation of muslim authority such as the Ottomans’ loss to the Mongols created a uniquely influential ideological response in the contemporary muslim cihan. Shocked by the sudden realization that there is no eternality to glory, war and victory on earth; an unparralleled philosophy and interpretation of the words of Allah has appeared: Sufism.

Focusing on finding meaning in an ephemeral world order, drifting far from the war-inclined interpretation of jihad, mysticism played an integral role in Sufism. The artists that were once of great importance in a thriving world such as Akbar Shah, Shah Jahan now were looking at the insignificance of fight over non-lasting material gain.

On a relevant note, it was in the early thirteenth century Anatolia that an early Türkish Islam philosopher and poet who excells in mysticism and sufism, Yunus Emre, took part in the institutionalization of sufist mysticism.


Here is a section of one of his poems, in which he talks about ‘Miskins.’ Miskin is an originally Arabic word that translates to ‘poor’ or ‘deprived.’ In Yunus Emre’s understanding of mysticism, the word is borrowed and used to refer to members of sufism who have stripped from the materiality and temporality of the world and dedicated their lives toward the ultimate goal of loving and approaching Allah.


‘’Adımız miskindir bizim, düşmanımız kindir bizim

Biz kimseye kin tutmayız, kamu alem birdir bize

Kamu alem birdir bize’’


The translation of the poem is roughly:


‘’We are called miskins, our enemy is animosity (grudge)

We don’t hold grudges, all the people (world) are one to us

All the people are one to us’’


‘‘If you break a mümin’s heart, your secde for Allah is invalid’’ Once again, it is clear that Yunus Emre moves from a macro, empire-based understanding of identity to the value of the individual and significance of divine love, rather than fear of Allah. From this perspective, it can be argued that the new point of view presented by Yunus has created a balance in the dialogue in Muslim philosophy between ‘God’s commands for mümins’ and ‘mümin’s rights.’[ii] As Yunus suggests, the any kind of victory is invalid if it has caused suffering to another living, which accentuates the significance of life and individuals.

Emre, by definition, means ‘lover,’ and Yunus has brought the mümin-lover relationship that was almost unseen before to this extent before.

One other highly significant point that drew my attention was the overlap between sufism and the ancient practice of Buddhism. With joint emphasis on love, value of self and nature rather than the material world; the two philosophies seem to be highly parallel.


On the other hand, the reaction of the Muslim world to outer dramatic changes has not always been about isolation from the old disciplines. When a second wave of shock swept over the muslim world after the eighteenth century, political science was a refuge for Ulama and religious leaders to turn to. After the colonial era has left the Muslim empires weakened, the entire Umma’s response this time was to repeat the success that have worked miraculously in the globe.

Deciding that the fall of muslim empires in Spain, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and finally in the Middle East were due to failure in following the instrucitons of Allah in the Q’uaran, and the Sharia. The discussion came to be stemming from both the question of, and the complicaitons arising from ‘Who should Rule?’

The search for strength and a unifying leader might be proof that it is power that the umma longs for the old days of glory. However, the absence of political and communal unity that was once provided through the collaboration and guidance of the caliph, sultan, umma and the ulama; the multinational muslim communities  -that once used to be havens of tolerance- led muslim peoples and communities to divide and shutter under the influence of nationalism.



Harun Kerçek









[i] Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

[ii] Watt, W. Montgomery. Islamic Political Thought: The Basic Concepts.