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Elmalılı, Muhammed Hamdi Yazır

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Ş. Tufan Buzpınar
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Elmalılı, Muhammed Hamdi Yazır

Muhammed Hamdi Yazır Elmalılı (1878–1942),an eminent Turkishscholar, is distinguished for his nine-volume Qurʿānic commentary titled Hak Dini Kur’an Dili (Religion of the Truth, Language of the Qurʿān). Elmalılı was born into a learned family in the town of Elmalı in Antalya province and his last name derives from his father's village, Yazır in the town of Gölhisar, Burdur province. After committing the whole Qurʿān to memory in his childhood, he was educated in Elmalı along traditional lines until 1895, then in Istanbul. He received his icazet (diploma) in 1906 from Hamdi Efendi of the Bayezid Medresesi, hence his nickname Küçük (junior) Hamdi. Until his active involvement in the political activities of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in 1908, he continued to teach jurisprudence, principles of charitable endowments, and logic in various schools, including Mekteb-i Mülkiye (the school of political science); at the same time he taught himself French, which helped him become familiar with the Western intellectual tradition. This later enabled him to use Western sources in order to strengthen his understanding of Islamic issues. He published his course notes in two books, namely Ahkam-ı evkaf (Principles of Charitable Endowments) and İrşad al-ahlaf fi ahkam al-evkaf (Teaching Endowment Principles to Future Generations).

As a young man Elmalılı joined the ranks of scholars opposed to Abdulhamid II's regime and supported the Young Turk movement that was committed to ending the Sultan's autocratic rule by restoring the 1876 constitution. After the restoration of the constitution in July 1908, as a member of the CUP, he was elected to parliament. Since he was renowned as a bright young scholar in Islamic disciplines, he played a key role in the deposition of Abdulhamid II by drafting the text of a fatwā at a time when the Unionists were unable to convince Fatwā Emini Nuri Efendi, who was in charge of drafting fatwā text, that dethroning the Sultan was legitimate. This fatwā sealed his reputation both during his lifetime and after his death.

Between 1908 and 1925, he wrote numerous articles on religion and politics, most of which were published in well-known Islamist periodicals such as Bayan al-haq and Sabil al-rashad; these were recently republished in two volumes titled Makaleler (eds. M. Kaya and C. Köksal, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1997 and 1998). During this period he strongly defended the idea that the constitutional regime was not against Islamic law. Like many of the then modernist Ottoman intellectuals, Elmalılı argued that Islam was progressive and that it was a strong motivating factor. At this time he had disagreements with the CUP over how the country should be governed and thus joined the opposition. In 1918 he was appointed as a member, then the director of the newly founded Dar al-Hikmah al-Islamiye. He served as the Minister of Charitable Endowments (evkaf) until July 1919, in the first and second cabinets of Ferid Pasha (March and May 1919 respectively), and eventually as a senator. In addition, he was a professor at the Suleymaniye Madrasah, the pinnacle of Ottoman scholarly establishments.

It was during the last years of the Ottoman state that he translated the metaphysics and theology sections of Histoire de la philosophie: les problèmes et les écoles by Paul Janet and Gabriel Séailles (Paris 1887) with a 40-page introduction, and published it under the title Tahlîlî tarih-i felsefe: metalib ve mezahib (Istanbul 1923). The introduction itself gives us an insight into his breadth of knowledge and understanding of philosophical issues current at that time.

Soon after the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, because of his ministerial positions in Ottoman governments, he was given a death sentence in absentia by a court in Ankara. After a successful self-defense in court, he was cleared of all charges and returned to Istanbul where he mainly confined himself to his house and concentrated on his major work, the Qurʿānic commentary in Turkish on commission from the Presidency of Religious Affairs. He also worked on an encyclopedia of jurisprudence, which he was not able to complete. He died on May 27, 1942 in Istanbul.

Elmalılı's fame is mainly based on his work Hak Dini Kurʿan Dili, the most important Qurʿānic commentary in the Turkish language and one of the most important of those produced in the twentieth century in the Islamic world. Although he referred to classical works on Qurʿānic commentary in Arabic, he also displayed a conscientious, rational, and independent attempt to produce an interpretation in tune with his times, and in the spirit of contemporary scientific developments.

See also QURʿāN, subentry onCOMMENTARIES ON THE QURʿāN; and TAFSīR.

Bibliography

  • Karamustafa, Ahmet. “Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi Yazır's (1878–1942) Philosophy of Religion.”Archivum Ottomanicum19 (2001): 273–279.
  • İsmail Kara. Türkiye’de İslamcılık Düşüncesi. Vol. I. Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1997.
  • Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi Yazır Sempozyumu. Ankara: Diyanet Vakfı Yayını, 1993.
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