Columbia University Ottoman & Turkish Studies Seminar presents
"Abd al-Rahman al-Bistami (1380-1454) and the Origins of Ottoman Historical Consciousness"
Cornell H. Fleischer
Kanuni Süleyman Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies, University of Chicago
The most evocative testimony to the multiplicity of identities that Bistami and his age could contain is provided by his own siglum: Abd al-Rahman the Hanafi (by Sunni legal rite), the Bistami (by mystical affiliation), and his persistent address to Sufis and Lettrists as “The Brethren of Purity and Friends of Fidelity,” an “international” network of intellectuals who sought vigorously to renew, perfect, and universalize, through the cultivation of knowledge of the cosmic order, religion and the social order constituted by extant monotheisms. For Bistami, who admired “Greek” learning and gnosis above all and that in the multi-confessional environment of the Ottomanizing Wild West of Islam, his Brethren included the “Virtuous and learned of the Christians” and, almost certainly, his contemporary Plethon (d. 1452), “The Last of the Hellenes.” While his Lettrism would seem to join him to his near contemporary, the Hurufi Fazlullah of Astarabad (executed for heresy 1394), whose messianism and incarnationism produced a new religion, Bistami absorbed the messianic esotericisms of his age—it is he who created the prophetic image of the monist mystic Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), the mystics’ “Greatest Teacher,” whose works are blamed for so much of the messianic tumult of the fifteenth century--and domesticated them in the service of a non-revolutionary but still chiliastic Islam, as operative in Sunni as in Shii milieux, as well as in Christian ones. Not only was his legacy powerfully palpable in the messianic sixteenth century, but he also played a direct and decisive role in creating the image of the Ottoman House, in the person of his patron Murad II, father of the Conqueror of Constantinople, as the dynasty cosmically ordained to establish a universal, millennial order containing and purifying all revealed religions.