Sheikh Bedreddin

Sheikh Bedreddin (1359–1420) (Ottoman Turkish: شیخ بدرالدین) was a famous Muslim Sufi theologian and charismatic preacher who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1416. His full name was Sheikh Bedreddin Mahmud Bin Israel Bin Abdulaziz.

Early life and education

He was a son of the local Turkish Muslim judge and his converted Greek wife[1] in the Anatolian city of Simav or in the European Simavna (today Ammovounon in Greek Thrace), Bedreddin's father (whose name was Israel) was the great-great son of the Seljuk Sultan of Rum Kaykaus II and Kadı of the town. Some historians believes that his paternal grandmother was jewish because of the name of his father. His mother was Malak Hatun. Bedreddin began his education in this town. Later he went to Bursa and then to Cairo, where he heard lectures on astronomy, mathematics, logic, and philosophy. He studied law and other Islamic subjects. While in Cairo, he was tutor to the son of the Mamluk Berkuk, the first sultan of the Burji dynasty. He married Jazeba Hatun, a Mamluk princess.

Sheikh Bedreddin’s (b. 1358/9) father was Turkish and his mother Greek. His father Israel studied jurisprudence in Samarkand before returning to Thrace where he is thought to have joined Hadji Ilbeg, a Turcoman marcher lord. Hadji Ilbeg took the city of Didymoteichon some years before Adrianople fell (1361). As one of Hadji Ilbeg's commanders Bedreddin's father seems to have been rewarded with the castle of Simavna, being assigned to it as commander and jurist. Here he married the vanquished Byzantine commander's daughter.[2]

In accordance with the times Bedreddin would have learnt to read the Koran from his father and Greek from his mother. It is thought he would have also learnt about Christianity in this way as most likely his mother would have continued to practice her religion. Having continued his studies under various local clerics, at the age of twenty Bedreddin appears to have gone first to Bursa then to Konya. In Konya he is thought to have studied astronomy under the tutelage of a mystical cabbalist, a Hurufi, who believed God is embodied in the Arabic and Persian alphabets. From there Bedreddin is known to have gone to Cairo. Having gone on the Hajj to Mecca, Bedreddin was appointed tutor to the Mamluk Sultan Berkuk's (1382–99) son. In the palace he came under the influence of another cleric from Anatolia, Sheikh Ahlati. On the sultan's instigation Ahlati and Bedreddin married two sisters who were his concubines. Bedreddin's son Ismail was born from this marriage.[2]

Ahlati was a Sufi interested in philosophy, astrology, medicine and chemistry. He persuaded Bedreddin to go to Tabriz, which at the time was the center of Hurufism, the Cabbalistic Sufi doctrine mentioned above. On his return to Cairo, Ahlati appointed Bedreddin his lieutenant. When Ahlati died in March 1397 Bedreddin took over as sheikh, but is said to have been unable to cope with the politics of such a position. Sheikh Bedreddin left his post in 1403 to return to Anatolia, a time when the Ottoman Empire was at a crossroads.[2] Tamerlane had defeated Bayezid I at Ankara (1402) and divided up the Ottoman realms between Bayezid’s sons.


Amid the dynastic struggles following the Battle of Ankara and the death of Sultan Bayezid I, Musa Çelebi appointed Bedreddin chief military judge (قاضی عسکر kazasker). When in 1413 Musa's brother and chief rival Mehmet Çelebi became sultan, Bedreddin was exiled to Iznik.

Sheikh Bedreddin’s first stop appears to have been in Aleppo, where it is said he was met by a thousand Turcoman,[2] however, there is no explanation offered as to why this should be so. From here Sheikh Bedreddin journeyed to Konya, the old Seljuq capital, where the Ottomans' arch foes the Karaman had been reinstated by Tamerlane. In Konya the sheikh appears to have contacted an adherent of Haji Bayram, whose activities were centered on the cloth makers in Ankara (İnalcık 1973). After Konya, Sheikh Bedreddin is known to have travelled to Germiyan whose former ruler likewise had been reinstated. From Germiyan the sheikh went on to nearby Aydin, where he may have gained Börklüce Mustafa and Torlak Kemal as adherents (Torlak means untamed colt; the Torlaks were Kalenderis). The new ruler of Aydin, Cüneyd, also seems to have become a devotee of the sheikh’s. From Aydin Sheikh Bedreddin appears to have gone the island of Chios as well. Unable to get to Thrace from there because the Saruhan navy was blocking passage across the north Aegean, it is likely the sheikh was forced to return to western Anatolia at a time when Bayezid's son Mehmed challenged his brother Isa in Bursa. Isa headed a coalition of the reinstated principalities of Aydin, Saruhan and Menteshe, almost all of western Anatolia.[2]

From western Anatolia Sheikh Bedreddin appears to have withdrawn to his retreat in Edirne until Bayezid's son Musa took control of the Balkans. Musa appointed Sheikh Bedreddin his chief jurist (c. 1405/6). There is no doubt that the sheikh was renowned throughout Islamdom, which helps to explain Musa's appointment. However, it is thought the sheikh accepted the post of chief jurist in order to further his plans for an uprising. As chief jurist he appointed many unpaid gazis fighting on the frontiers to timariots in the Balkan hinterland, arguably ensuring a de facto following. Whatever the sheikh's ambition, in time Mehmed defeated Musa and had him strangled, exiling Sheikh Bedreddin to Iznik on a stipend (1412). Continuing to write his many books in Iznik, Sheikh Bedreddin appears to have got back together with Börklüce Mustafa, appointing him his lieutenant. Soon enough Börklüce Mustafa started a revolt in the sheikh’s name in 1415. But after putting up fierce resistance in his mountain stronghold he was caught and crucified by Mehmed I's son Murat. This appears to have sparked a separate revolt by Torlak Kemal and three thousand of his adherents in nearby Aydin, but he too was caught and executed. As was a third, Aygioglu. It is thought all three rebelled on Sheikh Bedreddin's instigation, their failures forcing the sheikh to leave Iznik and seek refuge with the Isfendiyarids in Kastamonu on the Black Sea. Unwelcome in Kastamonu, Sheikh Bedreddin appears to have set sail for Crimea, the presence of Genoese pirates forcing him to land in present-day Romania instead. From there he journeyed to Dobruja (1416), a Babai center since the thirteenth century, where he started the uprising he is thought to have been preparing since his return.[2]

Revolt and death

In 1416 he led the revolt against the sultan in the Aegean coastal region of Anatolia. The main uprising theme of Bedreddin and his companions (Torlak Kemal and Börklüce Mustafa) was to share the land equally among people of Karaburun and not to pay the high taxes demanded by the local representatives of the central Ottoman government. Börklüce Mustafa, after a series of initial victories on the troops of the sultan, had to withdraw on the Karaburun Peninsula with 10,000 of his men. A final battle took place in the Valley of the Torment (located between Balıklıova village and Gerence bay) on the Karaburun Peninsula, where all his men were slaughtered. Börklüce Mustafa was crucified while Sheikh Bedreddin was taken to the city of Serez where he was hung. This was the end of a remarkable uprising.

After the revolt was put down, Bedreddin was hanged in 1420 at Serez and buried there. In 1961 Sheikh Bedreddin's remains were transferred from Greece to the mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud in Divanyolu, Istanbul and the date mentioned on the tomb is 1418 or 820 A.H.

Books and writings

His writings were condemned by a number of Ottoman official religious scholars such as Kadızade. Others instead praise the Sheikh. His writings and especially activist understanding of justice against some local governors was interpreted by as a proto-socialist movement. Then he has been introduced as a popular figure coming from the past among Turkey's left-wing politics who were trying to nationalize their political opinions. Nazim Hikmet was jailed for inciting rebellion after encouraging military cadets to read Bedreddin's work. The musicians Cem Karaca and Zülfü Livaneli composed a song based on a Hikmet's epic poem, the Odyssey of Sheikh Bedreddin. In Hikmet's work, Bedreddin and his companions were considered like socialist rebellions who emphasize that all things must be shared "except the lips of the beloved." Whereas, Bedreddin was writing in his famous book "Varidat" that all things belonged to Allah and people will get close to Allah as much as they get free of them. Many famous Sufis such as Niyazi Misri and Muhammed Nur, who are named as the founders of Malamatiyya, wrote some books and praised Bedreddin as the 2nd biggest Sufi after Ibn-i Arabi.

Books on Sheikh Bedreddin in Turkish


  1. Gábor Ágoston, Bruce Alan Masters, Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, Infobase Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8160-6259-1, p. 364.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Michel Balivet (2000). Şeyh Bedreddin Tasavvuf ve İsyan. Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları. 94. ISBN 9789753331258.
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