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Ṣabrī Efendi, Mustafa

By:
Veysel Kaya
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics What is This? Provides in-depth coverage of the political dimensions of Islam and the Muslim world through thematic examination of the major topic areas of political science as they relate to the Muslim world.

Ṣabrī Efendi, Mustafa

Mustafa Ṣabrī Efendi was an Ottoman Islamic scholar and a political activist during the period of Turkey's change from Ottoman monarchy to Turkish Republic. He is known especially for his blistering criticisms of Atatürk's political movement (Ankara Hükümeti) against the Ottoman government, which resulted in the collapse of the latter in 1923.

Born in the Tokat Province of Middle Anatolia, Ṣabrī followed the classical medrese (Ar. madrasah) curricula of the Ottoman education system, and as a brilliant student he successfully achieved his educational goals at an early age. Ṣabrī's political life began when he was selected as a member of parliament, after the announcement of the Second Constitution (İkinci Meşrutiyet) in 1908. He took part in several political parties and organizations and afterward had the chance to work with other noteworthy Islamist activists such as İskilipli Mehmed Atıf and Bediüzzaman Said Nursî (the pioneer of the Gülen movement in modern Turkey). He became şeyhülislam (the highest official rank in religious affairs) during the government of Damat Ferid Paşa in 1919. Circumstances began to change drastically for Ṣabrī after the government was taken over by Atatürk and his anti-Ottoman group. In 1924 Ṣabrī was stripped of his Turkish citizenship, along with other members of the royal family of the Ottoman state, some of whom were included in the notorious list of 150 (Yüzellilikler, i.e., 150 people to be removed from the new Turkish land). He remained in exile for the rest of his life, mainly in Egypt, where he died.

Mustafa Ṣabrī was a Muslim scholar in the classical sense, one who struggled to cope with the values of modernity. A scholar who once held the highest religious position in Muslim society, Ṣabrī lived in an age in which he saw the political and social decline of the religion of Islam. Neither the Islamic world he adhered to nor the West in its ideological and political aspects escaped the criticism of this loyal protector of Islamic tradition; in fact, he was angrier with Muslim society than with the West, since he thought that it was due to the weakness and the disloyalty of the former that Islam fell into the hands of anti-Islamic powers. To him, the most catastrophic mistake of Muslim people was the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924. He severely criticized those who saw in the event the salvation of Muslim world.

Ṣabrī defines “Islamic democracy” as divine rule that primarily set its starting point as responsibility before God. Social benefits come automatically, after the authority of God is accepted. Islamic democracy thus distinguishes itself from other artificial democracies, which are nothing more than manipulations of poor people by groups such as communists and Bolsheviks. In order to apply the just system of Islam, the principle of the integrity of religion and state should be strictly observed. As a formidable opponent of the idea that religion (Islam) and state must be separated, he is of the opinion that the separation of religion and state does not mean simply the autonomy of the one from another, a situation that Islam will not tolerate. Having personally observed the cases of Turkey and Egypt, he comments that the application of the separation principle refers only to the control of religion and religious people by the political power.

In keeping with his stance on political issues, Ṣabrī thinks that it was a mistake to deviate from the conventional status of women in Islam and that modern Muslims failed to understand the position of women in society. He observes that Muslims’ enthusiasm for their women vanished with their lack of enthusiasm for Islam. He was deeply distressed to witness the changing manners and corruption of women in Islamic countries. One example of this corruption which he regretted was that Muslim women dressed in the streets the way they would dress in their bedrooms and disobeyed the rules of Islam about ḥijāb.

Mustafa Ṣabrī also engaged in the popular discussions brought by contemporary Muslim thinkers to their home countries from the West. With respect to the value of modern science, Ṣabrī expresses his astonishment that the West has, in modern times, restricted the scope of science to the experimental approach, because the relation of science to the theoretical side (reason) is basically more secure and robust than its relation to the experimental side (five senses). He even goes so far as to regard the hegemony of the experimental over the theoretical as the reason that modern Western philosophy went into collapse in terms of philosophy. Ṣabrī's attitude can be explained by his adherence to the classical stance of Islamic theology, which is based to some extent on Aristotelian logic, a logic that principally assumes the superiority of deductive reasoning over induction.

He contends that the conflict between science and religion in the West emerged from the nature of the religion of Westerners (i.e., Christianity); therefore, any attempt to look for a similar debate in Islam would be the work of those misguided Muslim thinkers who desperately engage in imitation (taqlīd) of the West. In this point, he separates the “true” Christianity that, like Islam, contradicts neither reason nor science from the Christianity that evolved after Jesus.

As for the future, Ṣabrī was extremely pessimistic, as was shown in his banned book, Dini müceddidler, which was written to evaluate the intellectual level of the new Muslim reformists. He maintains that the new mujtahids of Islam are not capable of what they intend to do, namely, to revive Islam. In his opinion, this is due to their lack of correct understanding of the Islamic tradition and their lack of proper respect for the authorities of classical Islamic disciplines. Expressing his doubts about the sincerity of reformers’ belief in Islam, he states that “true Muslim scholars would not allow Islam to become a toy in the hands of these reformers” (Sabri, 1969) who see Islam as a religion that is expected to conform to every new ideological trend.

Bibliography

  • Bein, Amit. Ottoman Ulema, Turkish Republic: Agents of Change and Guardians of Tradition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011. Find it in your Library
  • Karabela, Mehmet Kadri. “One of the Last Ottoman Şeyhülislâms, Mustafa Sabri Efendi (1869–1954): His Life, Works and Intellectual Contributions.” M.A. thesis, McGill University, 2003. digitool.Library.McGill.CA:80/R/ -?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=79952&silo_library=GEN01. Find it in your Library
  • Sabri, Mustafa. Dini müceddidler (Religious Reformists). Istanbul: Sebil Yayınevi, 1969. First published 1919–1921.
  • Sabri, Mustafa. Mawqif al-ʿaql wa-al-ʿilm wa-al-ʿālam (The Position of Reason, Science, and the Universe). 4 vols. Cairo: ʿĪsā al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī, 1949. Find it in your Library
  • Sabri, Mustafa. Qawlī fī al-marʾah (My Opinion on Women). Beirut: Dār Ibn Hazm, 1990. Collected articles. Find it in your Library
  • Yavuz, Yusuf Şevki. “Mustafa Sabri Efendi.” In Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, vol. 31, pp. 350–353. Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı, 2006. Find it in your Library
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