The Charity of the Oppressor

“Does a stone blossom even in the spring time?

Be as the soil so that roses and other flowers

emerge from you in many colors.”

Rumi

A sultan was going to the communal Friday (Jum’a) prayers. His soldiers were beating people on the street in order to clear the way for him. They were shouting at the people, kicking and hitting them. A poor man passing by, was also hit by the soldiers and wounded. He could not restrain himself and screamed behind the sultan:

– Look at your oppression! May Allah protect us from what you do behind closed doors, when this is what you do before our eyes. You are going to the mosque to pray and imagine you are performing a good deed! If this is your good deed, Allah only knows what your bad deeds are!

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said, “This is what the charity of the oppressors is like. Imagine their misconduct…”

History presents us with instructive images recording the wounds, sufferings, and grievances caused by oppressors. Likewise, it also presents us with admirable pictures of mercy and altruism from the lives of just and pure hearted rulers. History thus functions to help us remember and appreciate such worthy rules while directing us to do the same.

The Age of Happiness during which the Prophet (pbuh) lived with his companions and the period of the rule of the Rightly Guided Caliphs following the prophetic period, has gifted human history with a matchless communal example of human harmony and happiness filled with countless examples of good conduct.

***

When the Caliph Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, became the leader of the community, he said:

– O People! What would you do, if I abandoned what was right and just?

One man stood up and said:

– O Umar! If you go astray, we will correct you with our swords.

Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, was happy, and said:

– Thanks be to Allah, I have friends who will correct me if I go astray.

Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, had to endure financial difficulties while he was serving as the Caliph. He maintained an extremely humble life although the treasury of the state was overflowing with booties.

Some of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) suggested to Umar’s daughter Hafsa that her father should receive a salary from the treasury of the state to meet his material needs. When Hafsa, may Allah be pleased with her, carried this message to her father, Umar said:

– O my daughter! You were a wife of the Prophet (pbuh). Tell me about the eating and drinking of the Prophet?

Hafsa replied:

– It was just the sufficient amount.

Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, continued:

– My two friends (Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr) and I are like three travelers on the same path. One of us (the Prophet) has reached his destination. The second one followed his path and he has joined him. I am the third one. I want to reach them. If I carry a heavy burden, I may not be able to reach them.

He was tempted neither by the growing wealth in the treasury of the state nor by the vast lands conquered by his armies. He did not spend more than the minimum for his survival. He never permitted himself to be degraded by the pursuit of mundane gains and when the divinely appointed time came for his death, he had a loan to pay.

***

The era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs is full of illustrations like this. This early period was followed first by the historical period of the Umayyads and later by the time of the Abbasids. Historically, these two periods were colored by both exemplary and lamentable events. Among them was the rule of Umar ibn Abdulaziz, who was known for his justice and mercy. Sadly these two periods were also known for rulers of a kind who were responsible first for the death of Husayn, may Allah be pleased with him, the grandson of the Prophet (pbuh) and later for the death of the great scholar Abu Hanifa who was beaten to death because he refused to serve as an instrument in providing justification for unjust rule.

Sadi in his book Ghulistan has remarked as follows:

An oppressive ruler once asked a friend of Allah:

– For me, which worship is superior?

The friend of Allah replied:

– It is your sleep. Because when you sleep, you cannot hurt any one.

Humility is desirable and consequently is a quality Allah wants to see in his servants. However, it must be noted that this is not because humility makes a person friendlier and or because it helps him attain a higher social status, but because it brings the blessings of Allah.

Rumi said, “Does a stone blossom even in the spring time? Be as the soil so that roses and other flowers emerge from you in many colors.”

In other words, what benefits from the spring is only the soil. Consequently, many kinds of flowers burst forth in bloom. In contrast, a stone, which also sees the spring, never bears fruit from it.

Those whose heart is like a stone bear great resemblance to the stones of the natural world. Even an April rain is of no benefit to them at all, for those who lack the power to control their egos (nafs) their worship fails to flower and instead reflects their ugly, base desires. These mundane desires thus become their Ka’aba.

***

Great leaders have always been educated by great scholars who have bestowed in them a deep respect for spirituality ingrained in which is an abiding sense of responsibility and mercy for their communities. These qualities have ensured such leaders great places in world history.

For instance, Ertugrul Ghazi chose as his guide the great Sheikh Edebali. He also sent his son, Osman, to him for training. Ertugrul Ghazi’s advice to his son, Osman, included the following universally useful admonitions:

“O my son, listen carefully!

You may mistreat me, but never mistreat your teacher Sheikh Edebali.

He is the spiritual sun of our community. He is a scale that never errs.

Even if you rebel against me, do not rebel against him!

If you rebel against me, my heart will be broken and I will be deeply upset. But if you rebel against him, my eyes will not be able to rest on you; for even if they capture your visage, in your unsightliness they will not see you.

The benefit of our words is not for Sheikh Edebali, but for you.

Consider these words as my will to you.”

***

Sheikh Edebali accepted Osman, who was a very dynamic young man, as a student and helped him gain the taste of knowing Allah (marifatullah). Through their association, the young Osman cultivated such mature moral qualities as altruism and modesty, thus helping to prepare him to become the founder of a world state.

From this perspective, the actual founder of the Ottoman state is Sheikh Edebali. Since the other tribes did not have someone like Sheikh Edebali, they were unable to develop. Yet, the Ottomans expanded quickly to become a state and then to become a world empire controlling the majority of the known lands at that time. Worldwide they represented Islam for six centuries and for the duration of this time were active in the distribution of justice.

Sheikh Edebali gave to Osman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman state, and by logical extension to all future leaders the following advice:

“O my son!

You are the ruler! We are the subjects! Anger is ours; patience is yours… Our hearts will be broken, and you will repair them but not vice versa… Accusation belongs to us; endurance belongs to you… Impotence and errors are ours; tolerance is yours… Disharmony, conflict, disagreement, and misunderstanding are ours; justice is yours… A negative approach, bad words, and unjust interpretation are ours; forgiveness is yours…

O my son!

From now on, division is ours, reuniting is yours… Laziness is ours, motivating, warning and reforming are yours…

O my son!

Your burden is heavy; your work is difficult; and your power is tied to you only with a single thread of hair… May Allah be your helper and bless your state. May He make you beneficial in the path of Allah. May He make your light bright. May He let your light reach remote lands. May He give you power to easily shoulder your burden; may He give you reason and heart to protect you from going astray from the right path.

We should work for the realization of what Allah has promised us. You and your friends should clear the path with your swords; while dervishes like us clear it with ideas, advice, and prayers. We should clear the obstacles on the path to help people see the truth.

Patience is extremely important. A ruler must know how to be patient. A flower does not bloom before the due time. An unripe fruit cannot be eaten; even if it is eaten, it cannot be swallowed. A sword without knowledge is like an unripe fruit.

Let your people live with their knowledge. Do not turn your back to knowledge. Always feel the importance of its existence. What preserves both the ruler and the subjects is knowledge.

The greatest triumph is to know the ego (nafs). The enemy is the person himself. The friend is the very person who knows his ego.

The country is not the common property of the ruler, his sons, and brothers. The country belongs only to the ruler. After he dies, the rule belongs to the one who replaces him. Our erroneous ancestors made the mistake of dividing their land in their lifetime to their sons and brothers. Consequently, they could not survive; nor could they let others survive.

When one sits, he cannot easily move. Without motion, he becomes sluggish. When he is sluggish, he begins idle talk that eventually turns into gossip. When gossip begins, there is no salvation… A friend becomes an enemy; and an enemy becomes a dragon.

Blood must not be shed in vain. It needs a path and direction… because blood is not used to water the land.

The power of a person vanishes one day but his knowledge survives. The light of knowledge can penetrate even closed eyes and can bestow upon them a clear view.

When a horse dies, its saddle remains; when a person dies, the fruits of his work remain. Do not cry for those who depart from this world, but cry rather for those who depart from it without leaving anything behind them. When one departs, his legacy should be maintained from the point where he left.

I do not like war. I despise shedding blood. Yet I also know that the sword must inevitably be waved. But the purpose in waving it must be to preserve life rather than to kill. In particular, it is a crime if one uses a sword against another person. The ruler is not above the country; a war must not exist just for the sake of the ruler.

We have no right to rest because time is not a luxury. Our time is limited…

The feeling of loneliness is for cowards… If a farmer knows the time to sow the seed, he does not need to ask anyone else even if he is alone… It is sufficient for him to know that the soil is ready…

Love should be the essence of the cause. Love is in silence. Shouting makes love impossible. Being seen makes love impossible.

Those who do not know their past will not be able to discover their future. Osman! Learn your history well so that you step forward securely. Do not forget your origin so that you can remember your destination…

***

With these values, Sheikh Edebali molded Osman’s character. He was obliged to do so because Osman Bey was in great need and under great strain. Was he to keep together the Turkish tribes who joined him by maintaining a balance between them? Was he to watch out for the Germiyans or for the Mongolians or would his cause be best served by fighting Byzantium? In all these crucial issues and in many others, Sheikh Edebali enlightened Osman’s path, helping him and leading him towards solutions.

Historically, in the Ottoman State great importance was invested in the upbringing of princes. Their education and wider training began at a very young age under the tutelage of the highest authorities of their time. In particular, deep importance was attached to their spiritual and moral development. One of the most important reasons for this was that it was understood that the survival of a state depended on the implementation of just rule. Consequently, it was readily understood that since the rule of the Ottoman State was going to be entrusted to them in the future, their moral integrity would be one of the best ways of guaranteeing the future stability and vitality of the community. Even after a prince had become a sultan, these principles continued to be applied with the teachers continuing to offer guidance including even admonitions with warnings. For instance, Aziz Mahmud Hudayi wrote several letters to Murad III to warn and guide him. These letters occasionally were even of a character that utilized harsh language.

The following examples illustrate for us how sultans were counseled with warnings. For example, when the sultan would descend the palace stairs a chamberlain would shout: “Live long my sultan! May he be blessed with good fortune”!

Alternatively, in a different instance when a sultan would enter a mosque, he would pass through crowds of people who had formed two lines on each side of the way he would traverse. These crowds would inevitably honor him with great ovations. With the purpose of protecting the sultan from being inflated by his ego, a team of guards used to remind him in a low voice: “Refrain from pride, O my sultan! Allah is greater than you”!

The history of the Ottoman state shone brightly for the duration of time scholars such as Sheikh Edebali continued to be instrumental in molding the character of the sultans side by side with shaping the rule of the nation. Through both their concrete advice and their general inspiration, they were immensely influential figures in the Ottoman community.

Teachers from later generations, who fulfilled the role Sheikh Edebali performed for Osman, include the following examples: Emir Sultan guided Yildrim, Haji Bayram Veli guided Murad II, Akshemseddin guided Fatih Sultan Mehmet, Mehdi Pasha guided Bayazid II, Ibn Kemal Pasha guided Yavuz Selim, Merkez Efendi and Sunbul Efendi guided Kanuni, Aziz Mahmud Hudai guided Murad III, Ahmed I and Murat IV.

***

The royal historian of the time recorded the following event surrounding Yavuz Selim: When Yavuz entered Egypt as a conqueror people gathered in the streets to see the Sultan. Yavuz, however, was not walking in front but was rather further to the rear humbly among his soldiers. His appearance and dress were indistinguishable from the demeanour of those around him. On a different occasion, this time on the way back from Egypt, as he passed by Damascus he attended the Jum’a prayers. The imam mentioned the name of the new Caliph as follows:

– The ruler of the two sacred sanctuaries (Hakim al-Haramayn al-Sharifain).”

When he heard that he replied with tears in his eyes:

– No! No! On the contrary, I am the servant of the two holy sanctuaries. (Khadim al-Haramayn al-Sharifain).

Later, as they approached Istanbul one morning, he realized that if he entered the city in daytime the population would rise to applause and that they would make a great celebration. He instructed his assistant Hasan Can as follows:

– Let us wait until it gets dark and people return to their homes and sleep. When the streets are empty, I will enter Istanbul so that the applause of the mortal being will not defeat me…”

***

In the course of his life, we observe that Yavuz Selim acted like a lion in the Sinai desert, like a humble and grateful believer when entering Cairo and like a soul searching Sufi with a deep inner life on his approach to Istanbul.

He recited the following couplet to Hasan Can:

Becoming the sultan of the world is just an idle fight,

Superior to even this is becoming a slave of a saint.

***

The same assistant, Hasan Can, describes Yavuz Selim’s last breath as follows:

He suffered from anthrax on his back that expanded quickly and perforated his body. Through the hole, we could see his liver. He was in great pain. I drew close to him and said:

– O my sultan! I think the time of reunion with Allah has arrived.

He turned towards me, looked at my face with amazement, and said:

– Hasan! Hasan! Who do you think I have been together with until now? Please read for me the Surah Yasin from the Holy Qur’an…

He gave his last breath while Surah Yasin was being recited to him.

The great victories recorded during his reign of nine years, and the subsequent praise of mortals could neither spoil nor defeat him. He lived with the sole objective of being a servant to his Lord.

O Lord! Lead us to be and keep us as your servants. This is the real kingship.

Amen!

Osman Nuri Topbas from the book of  “Tears of the Heart”