Some Ottoman Examples

The Ottomans took their place in history not just through being a magnificent state, but also through being a civilization of endowments.

Q – Sir, could you give us some examples from later periods of Islamic history? Did Muslims in later ages live Islam as the Companions did?

Islam is a dynamic religion. This is why the beauties that existed in its earliest days have continued to live up until today, even though there have been some changes.

The age of the Ottomans, in particular, was like a second `asr al-sa`ada[1]. Our predecessors used to compete with each other in the performance of good deeds. They also left for us one of the best examples of customary family life in Muslim history. In this respect, their material and spiritual heritage is a priceless legacy left to us. The Ottoman Empire manifested itself as a civilization of charitable endowments. Because of this, the whole world respected it and it had a very long role in human history.

Q – There have been many institutions founded by Ottoman queens, princesses and other ladies from the palace. Could you give us some information about this?

It is remarkable to note that 1,400 out of the 26,300 confirmed pious foundations were established by eminent women. Among them are several institutions built by Nur Banu Valide Sultan[2] on both the Anatolian and the European sides of Istanbul. Uskudar Atik Valide Mosque with its soup kitchen, its college, its hospital and its double bathhouse is very worthy of mention.

Another philanthropic imperial lady was Mâhpeyker Kösem Vâlide Sultan. She laid the foundations of New Mosque. She also built Üsküdar Çinili Mosque, as well as a school, a fountain, a hadith college and a double bathhouse next to it. In addition, she commissioned the mosque in the district of Anadolu Kavağı intersection. Her endowment for helping poor and orphan girls get married is very famous and there are many others.

Even Kösem Sultan, who is known among the Valide Sultans for her temper, took her place among the figures of mercy and compassion by her endowments. Though she laid down the foundations of New Mosque, her life wasn’t long enough to finish it. The honor of finishing that mosque belonged to Hatice Turhan Sultan, who had other pious deeds such as schools, colleges, soup kitchens, libraries and fountains to her credit. It is worth mentioning that she had honey syrup brought in from the mountains during the month of Ramadan and on other holy nights and offered it to the congregation after the prayers. Even the type of honey to be used was specified in her endowment deeds. In those days, the best quality honey was from a town called Atina, in Rize. It was written in the endowment deed that this type of honey had to be bought, no matter how expensive it was. That detail reveals how sensitive and fine the services offered by charitable endowments often were. This lady left very rich resources for the continuity of service of her endowments and appointed 116 salaried workers for endowment administration.

Pertevniyâl Vâlide Sultan endowed the Valide Mosque in Aksaray, as well as Ya Vedud Mosque. She also commissioned a library, a fountain and a school.

 Even though she established numerous institutions, among them the two Selatin Mosques, or Royal Mosques (one in Edirnekapi and one in Uskudar), Mihrimah Sultan was a very humble person. Here is the best example manifesting her modesty.

Fresh water had been brought to Mecca and `Arafat by Harun al-Rashid’s wife Zubayda Hanim a very long time ago. By the time of Sultan Suleiman’s reign, however, the channels were broken and rusty. When Mihrimah Sultan learned of the situation, she went to her father, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and asked that the old water channels be repaired – in the name of an anonymous donor – by the Sultan’s head architect, the famous Sinan. She donated all her ornaments and jewelry for the expenditures. Sinan disappeared for awhile after he had laid down the foundations of Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. The reason for his disappearance wasn’t known. One speculation was that he went away so that the foundation of the mosque might settle. But the real reason was to repair the water channels for the Well of Zubayda. This mission remained a secret because of the benefactor’s wish.

Another well-known charitable queen mother was Bezmiâlem Vâlide Sultan, who left several monumental charitable works behind. Among the mosques she had built, the biggest one is the Valide Mosque located next to Dolmabahce Palace. The world-famous Galata Bridge can also be mentioned among her endowments.

The endowment she established in Damascus is also very important. Two of its undertakings were to carry fresh water from Damascus to pilgrims and to replace household items broken by maids, in order to protect the maids’ pride and dignity.

Bezmiâlem Vâlide Sultan’s another outstanding foundation is the Ghuraba-i Muslimin Hospital, which was built by a significant donation from her private wealth. This monument started giving service, with its mosque and fountain, in 1843 and ever since has been delivering healing to poor members of the Muslim community.

These queen mothers and princesses gave utmost importance to water. They furnished fountains all over Mecca, `Arafat and Istanbul. They built aqueducts that still stand and repaired water canals that long provided abundant water for the entire city of Istanbul.

Our ancestors sincerely established numerous pious foundations, which they prayed would serve people until Judgment Day.  These foundations not only met the needs of people in their time: most of them are still offering their services to humanity in every field of social welfare. They are signs of our ancestors’ faith, nobility and continuous charity and for these they will always be remembered.

O Allah! Count us among those devoted Muslims who serve creation for the love of the Creator and who duly take care of Your trusts.


[1].     `Asr al-Sa’ada, “the Age of Happiness,” is a term used for the earliest years of Islam.

[2].     The official epithet for the female members of the Ottoman dynasty was Sultan Efendi. The title meant that a woman’s father was either the sultan himself or one of the sons of the sultan. If such a lady married someone outside the dynasty, their daughters were addressed as Hanım Sultan and their sons as Beyzade; the mothers themselves were called Sultanzade. If beyzades or sultanzades married someone outside the imperial family, their children were not considered part of the imperial family. On the other hand, when the mothers of sultans did not come from the imperial family – they usually did not – then their official epithet was Valide Sultan. A sultan’s wives were called Kadın Efendi. If there were more than one, then ordinal numbers would be added before the epithet.