President Reagan meeting with representatives of the Afghan Mujahidin (1983)
Ottoman Puritanism and its Discontents: Aḥmad al-Rūmī al-Āqḥiṣārī and the Qāḍīzādelis by Mustapha Sheikh, 2016. Oxford: Oxford University Press, £65.00, vi + 191 pp., ISBN: 978-0-19-879076-1
In an innocent age when it was still possible to equate international jihadists with the Founding Fathers, two teenage girls were abducted somewhere in Central Asia. They had their heads shaved, and were repeatedly raped. News got out of their capture and some students at a local religious seminary banded together and decided to do something about it. This is, of course, the story of the origins of the Taliban- at least, it is one of many stories told about them. Ahmed Rashid continues the tale:
‘… [Mullah] Omar enlisted some 30 Talibs who had only 16 rifles between them and attacked the base, freeing the girls and hanging the commander [the abductor] from the barrel of a tank. They captured quantities of arms and ammunition. ‘We were fighting against Muslims who had gone wrong. How could we remain quiet when we could see crimes being committed against women and the poor?’ Omar said later.’
Stirring stuff! Episodes like this are legion in the annals of Muslim history; Michael Cook, in his magisterial Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought, presents a number of them involving similarly plucky young commoners (a barber, in one case) and equally rapacious warlords. Public violence, particularly of the intra-Muslim kind and in pursuit of ‘forbidding the evil’, is a fact of our heritage. It is one of the concerns of Mustapha Sheikh’s recent monograph on the Qāḍīzādelis, the seventeenth century puritan movement whose activism rocked the Ottoman capital and ruffled the feathers of the learned hierarchy, the Ilmiye. For decades, their presence made itself felt in the form of strident public preaching and campaigns of ‘forbidding the evil’ on the streets of Istanbul. They preached against the use of ḥashīsh, coffee, tobacco, the veneration of tombs, Ṣūfī dancing and other forms of vice, and resorted to violence both with and without the permission of the authorities. The oratorical skills of one of the ringleaders of the group, Aḥmad al-Rūmī al-Āqḥiṣārī (b. 1570-3), facilitated his rise to the apex of the imperial preaching hierarchy, and Qāḍīzādeli influence soon penetrated the seraglio and the court. Sheikh addresses the history of the movement, focussing on the life and oeuvre of Āqḥiṣārī in particular, and scouring his work for evidence of intertextuality.
Much of the book is concerned with the question of influence and the problem of scholarly categories. Are the Qāḍīzādelis proto-Wahhabis? Does their extant written corpus betray signs of the influence of Ibn Taymīyya and his disciple Ibn al-Qayyim? To what extent do the Qāḍīzādelis represent a latent ‘fundamentalism’ in the Ummah that manifests itself in discrete historical contexts? To his credit, Sheikh avoids facile parallels- the sort that really dog the scholarship on this subject- and sustains a high level of philological rigour. Rather than building castles in the air, he insists on returning to the texts time and again, examining the precise extent of Taymīyyan influence on the Qāḍīzādelis (or lack thereof), among other subjects. Unsurprisingly, previous writing is demonstrated to have been hostage to various historiographical agendas, whether the notion of ‘decline’ in the post-classical period of the Ottoman Empire (pp. 35-38) or the idea, again, that the Qāḍīzādelis are just another example of the Ummah’s latent Wahhabi tendencies (pp. 29-30). Historians, no less than others, or at least not much, are prey to the temptations of the historical imaginary- that complex of ideas and ideals, images and narratives we entertain about our past- temptations that lead us to entertain certain expectations of that past that can be gravely mistaken.
Of particular interest is the question of Taymīyyan influence. Sheikh demonstrates that the Qāḍīzādelis were staunch Ḥanafīs (pp. 4, 45) and were also significantly invested in the enterprise of Kalām (pp. 45-46), a fact immediately evident from perusal of their theological works. Khaled El-Rouayheb has gone even further to emphasise this point (in a work Sheikh does not cite because of its near-simultaneous publication with his book), citing the ‘grandfather’ of the Qāḍīzādelis, Birgili Efendi (d. 1573, himself predating the movement). Roauyheb refers to his takfīr of those who affirm God’s supernal elevation (`uluww), a staple of proto-Sunnī creeds and of course a major preoccupation of Ibn Taymīyya in numerous works and treatises. Sheikh points to numerous places where Āqḥiṣārī’s magnum opus, the Majālis al-Abrār, paraphrases Ibn Taymīyya or even cites him verbatim (pp. 116-123), but this does not detract from the obvious take-home point that Taymīyyan influence on the Qāḍīzādelis is much more limited (though now much better evidenced) than previously thought. On the question of Sufism, Sheikh establishes Naqshbandī influence, including the use of the controversial rābiṭa or ‘binding’ spiritual technique, facilitating the cultivation of closer shaykh-murīd ties. Whether the borrowing of techniques and the use of a shared terminology suggests actual ṭarīqa affiliation is unclear, however, and the author reserves his judgement on this point (pp. 83-90). He is also somewhat reserved on the category of neo-Sufism (pp. 154-164), discussing the scholarly debate at length while refraining from making his own intervention in favour of one or the other perspective. Nonetheless, these are all valuable additions to our knowledge of the Qāḍīzādelis.
Sheikh’s assertion that those searching for the origins of contemporary Islamist violence should look not at the Arabian Peninsula in the eighteenth century but to the ‘Ottoman puritans’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (p. 164) is interesting if more than a little unwarranted, however. It is problematic, given the long history of discourse on ‘forbidding the evil’ that includes Ghazālī’s notorious endorsement of the formation of armed gangs- sans government permission- to combat vice. Characterising this as easily the most influential treatment of the subject in Islamic intellectual history- if not on this point- Cook writes that Ghazālī’s ‘…views on the subject are marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism.’ I am not sure this label is meaningfully applied here, but one does appreciate the point. Sheikh is on the other hand very right to highlight proper study of transcontinental transfer in Islamic intellectual history (e.g. between the Ottoman and Mughal territories) as a serious desideratum of scholarship (pp. 161-162, 175).
In concluding, Mustapha Sheikh’s book is an informative, carefully evidenced and highly engaging revisionist study that makes us think harder about questions of textual transmission, scholarly influence and the construction and deployment of categories of analysis. I would warmly recommend it to Ottomanists and Islamicists more generally, as well as to those interested in questions of reform, Sufism and violence in Islamic societies.
Briefly, as a reviewer I am obliged to point out some very minor errors of fact that do not detract from the value of Sheikh’s contribution. Çelebi’s Mizān al-Ḥaqq does not seem to represent a ‘refreshing variation on the dominant sentiment of contempt’ shown by others towards the Qāḍīzādelis (p. 26); he characterises them as boorish, fanatical and ignorant, though he does spare a few kind words for his teacher Mehmed Efendi. I feel there is only meagre evidence for the shift from the so-called rational, to the revealed sciences in the sixteenth century, and scholarship has widely moved away from this conclusion in the last generation (p. 42). Taftazānī is the author of the Sharḥ al-Maqāsid, not Jurjānī (p. 44); Marghinānī is the author of Bidāyat al-Mubtadī, not Qudūrī (p. 54), and compos mentis is an inadequate translation of mukallaf given that taklīf is about more than mental health (p. 68).
 Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010 edn.), p. 25.
 For those of us who are stunned by the confusion over the legal status of coffee in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is worth remembering the long and storied history of Coca Cola, subject to government-instigated legal proceedings in the United States in 1911 (that is, some years after the removal of its cocaine content) for containing ‘dangerous poison’. The poison was caffeine. See Mark Pendergrast’s entertaining and comprehensive history, For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes it (New York: Perseus, 2000), pp. 107-134. On the social history of coffee, see Ralph Hattox’s classic Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1988). For an imaginative and learned exploration of the boundaries of licitness and intoxication, see Michael Muhammad Knight’s Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs and Writing (Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2013).
 Sheikh wisely disdains the use of the term ‘fundamentalism as a useful category of analysis (p. 3, etc).
 Khaled El-Rouayheb, Islamic Intellectual History in the Seventeenth Century: Scholarly Currents in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 12. Rouayheb writes elsewhere: ‘The Ḳāḍīzādelīs were indeed influenced by certain aspects of the writings of the radical fourteenth-century Ḥanbalī thinkers Ibn Taymiyya and his disciple Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350) – particularly their condemnation of the veneration of shrines and saints and their ideas about governance in accordance with religious law (siyāsa sharʿiyya). But the Ḳāḍīzādelīs were clearly also open to influences from other sources. One such source was an old Ḥanafī-Māturīdī tradition of strong hostility to esoteric Sufism and the Karrāmiyya (the latter being influential opponents of the early Ḥanafīs in Khorasan and Central Asia some of whose ideas are thought to have influenced Ibn Taymiyya). As mentioned in Chapter 1, there are traces of this older Ḥanafī tradition in the writings of the fifteenth century scholar ʿAlā al-Dīn al-Bukhārī (d. 1438), a virulent critic of the mystical monism of Ibn ʿArabī who nevertheless also considered Ibn Taymiyya an infidel, as well as in the writings of Birgevī – the spiritual forefather of the Ḳāḍīzādelīs – whose purism was often directed at Sufi “innovators” but who was also uncompromisingly hostile to the theological views of the Karrāmiyya, for example, that God is in the “direction” (jiha) of “above” (fawq) and that His attributes undergo change (both views shared by Ibn Taymiyya). And as has just been seen, some prominent Ḳāḍīzādelīs were also demonstrably influenced by the radical Ashʿarī (and very un-Ḥanbalī) position of Sanūsī concerning the necessity of rational theology and the dangers of imitation in matters of creed’, p. 174.
 E.g. James Muhammad Dawud Currie in his article ‘Kadizadeli Ottoman Scholarship, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, and the Rise of the Saudi State’, in the Journal of Islamic Studies, (2015) vol. XXVI, no. 3, pp. 265-288.
 ‘The eighth grade: when [the individual forbidding wrong] cannot enact this duty on his own and is in need of [gathering] armed supporters. It may be that the dissolute sinner [fāsiq] likewise calls on his supporters, such that the two groups confront each other and fight…and the utmost extent of this involves gathering [armed] volunteers for the sake of God’s pleasure and repelling disobedience to Him. And just as we permit soldiers to gather together and fight whoever they will of the disbelievers, overpowering them thereby, likewise do we permit overpowering the people of corruption [fasād]; for there is no harm in killing a disbeliever, and if a Muslim dies [in the course of such a battle] he is a martyr. Likewise, there is no harm in killing a dissolute sinner who takes up arms to defend his conduct; and if the individual forbidding wrong in such a circumstance is unjustly killed, so is he a martyr.’ See Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’ `Ulūm al-Dīn, n. e. (Beirut: Dār al-Ma`rifa, 2004), vol. 2, p. 333.
 Michael Cook, Commanding Right And Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 456.
 The Balance of Truth, Geoffrey Lewis trans. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1957), (e.g.) pp. 133-134, 136.