Learning in Ottoman Sultanate


The first Ottoman madrasa was established in 1331 in Iznik (Nicaea) by second Ottoman Sultan Orhan Bey (1324-60). Men of learning and statesmen, members of Sultan’s family, continued to found religious schools through pious endowments (Waqf). The tradition of sending scholars abroad and inviting foreign scholars from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Egypt to Anatolia (Asian part of Turkey) continued. The works of these foreign scholars were used in religious schools as textbooks.

In 1453 Sultan Mehmed II al-Fateh (d.1481), built the first major religious and educational complex in Istanbul called Fatih Kulliyesi (Fateh complex). It consisted of a mosque, an elementary school (mektab), colleges of higher learning, a hospital, public kitchens and other buildings.  With the founding of Fateh madrasah, the Turkey experienced a wave of scientific progress. In addition to religious subjects, logic, mathematics, astronomy and natural sciences were taught here. The founding of Sulimaniya Complex by Sultan Suleman the Magnificent (1520-1566), a Dar-u-tibb (medical college) was added, in addition to Shifa Khanes (hospitals) where medical students were trained. Medical sciences and astronomy were taught in master-apprentice method. Such scientific institutions were housed in hospitals, timekeeper (muwaqit) or chief astronomer office (munajim bashi). The offices of timekeeper (muwaqit khanay) were located in courtyards of mosques in almost every city. The time keeper was responsible for keeping track of correct times for five daily prayers. Instruments used for timekeeping were tahtasi (quadrant), astrolabe, the sextant, the hourglass, the sundial, mechanical clock and chronometer. Mathematics and astronomy were taught at Timekeeper’s offices.

The office of Chief Medical Officer (hakim-bashi) was vested with following duties: medical care of Sultan & imperial family, palace staff, administration of all medical schools, physicians, ophthalmologists, & pharmacists. The office of Chief Astronomer prepared official calendars, prayer timetables, fasting timetables, and horoscopes for political figures. His office also kept track of earthquakes, fires, solar and lunar eclipses, & passages of comets. A total of 37 astronomers held this post, which was abolished in 1924.

Jalal al-Din Hajee Pasha (d.1417) was educated as a physician in Egypt. He wrote two books in Arabic, Shifa al-Askam wa Dawa al-Ala’am (treatment of illnesses and the remedy for pains) and Kitab al-Taleem fil Tibb (teaching of medicine). He wrote many other books in Arabic and Turkish.

Qazizadeh Rumi (d1440) was a renowned scientist of Turkey. He made significant contributions to the development of Ottoman scientific tradition and literature. His two major works Sharh-Mulakhaas file Hai’ya (commentary on Compendium of Astronomy, and Sharh Ashkal al-Tasis (theorems of Geometry) were written in Arabic. He was director of Samarkand observatory and co-author of Zij-Ulugh Beg. His works had great impact on the development of Ottoman science, and his influence continued through the writings of successive scientists. He emphasized the study of mathematics for the pursuit of religious and worldly matters.

Yusuf Mardani was the author of Urjuza fee Manazil al-Qamar wa Tuloo-eha (mansions of the Moon and their rising) and Manzuma fee silk al-Nujum (poem on the orbits of the stars). Also two books that were studied in this period were: Risala fee Taqweem (treatise on the calendar) and Si fasl fil Taqweem (30 sections on the calendar) written by Nasir al-Din Tusi, translated into Turkish from Persian.

Sharaf al-Din (1468) was an important figure in the development of Ottoman medical literature. His first book in Turkish was Jarrahiyyat al-Khaniyya (Surgery of Sultans). This treatise was a translation of Abul Qasim Zahrawi’s multi-volume Kitab al-Tasreef.  It was the first surgical atlas and the last medical encyclopedia from the Islamic world. He introduced many innovations of his own. Female surgeons were also illustrated for the first time in this book

Sultan Muhammad the Conqueror was a patron of scholars and scientists, as opposed to Pope Alexander III who in 1163 ordered ecclesiastics not to study “physics or laws of the world”. He ordered a Greek scholar to translate Ptolemy’s Geography into Arabic and draw a world map based on the information it contained. H also asked Alla al-Din Tusi and Hadjazade to write a book comparing Tahafa-tul-Falasifa of Ghazzali with Tahaftul al-Tahafat of Ibn Rushd.

Ala al-Dīn Ali ibn Muhammed known as Ali Qushji or Ali Kuschu (d1474) was a renowned astronomer representing Samarkand tradition. He wrote 12 books on mathematics and astronomy, including a commentary on Zije Ulug Beg. He wrote two books in Arabic: Risala fil al-Haya (treatise on astronomy) and Risala fil Hisab (treatise on arithmetic) which were taught in Ottoman madrasah’s. His notable contributions in science were separating astronomy from natural philosophy, & providing empirical evidence for Earth’s rotation by observing comets.

Seyyid Ali Bey (d1846) translated his book on astronomy under the title Mira’tey Alam , although there were two Turkish translations already in existence. He improved on Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī’s (d.1274) planetary model and presented an alternative planetary model for Mercury.

Molla Lutfee (d1512) wrote a treatise in Arabic on classification of sciences, called Maudu’at al-Uloom. He compiled a book on geometry Tad’eef al-Madhbah (duplication of cube), which was partly translated from Greek.

Mîrîm Çelebi (d. 1525) was a well known astronomer and mathematician. He was grandson of Ali Kuşçu and Kadızâde-i Rûmî. He contributed to the establishment of the scientific traditions in mathematics and astronomy and was renowned for the commentary he wrote on the Zij of Uluğ Bey. Shamsud al-Din ibn Pasha (1528) wrote 200 books mainly on philosophy, such as Risala fee Tahqeeq Rooh, Risala fil Jabr wal-Qadr, Risala fee Tahqeeq al-Mu’jiza, Tabaqat-ey Ashab, Tafseer-ul Quran, Nigaristan on the style of Gulistan of Saadi.

Abram al-Yahudi was a Jewish scholar from Islamic Spain who settled in Istanbul. After his conversion to Islam, he took the name of Abdus Salam al-Muhtadi. He authored several works on astronomy and medicine in Arabic. He invented an instrument al-dabid which was superior to dhat al-halak (armillary sphere) invented by Ptolemy. Musa b.Hamun (1554), a royal physician of Suleman the Magnificent, wrote the first book on dentistry in Turkish. He wrote a short treatise on medicine Risala fee Tabayee al-Adwiya wa-Istimaliha consisting of four chapters. Nasuh al-Silahi al-Matraki (d1564) wrote two books on mathematics: Jamal al-Kuttab wa Kamal al-Husab (beauty of scribes and perfection of the accountants) and umdat alHisab (treatise on arithmetic).

Hadji Muhiyyddin Piri Ibn Hadji Mehmed, or Piri Reis (d1555) was a naval captain who made important contributions to geography. He drew a map based on his experiences as a sailor. He wrote a book Kitab al-Bahriyya (book of navigation) which he presented to the Sultan in 1525. It gives detailed information on navigation, nautical astronomy and accurate charts describing the important ports and cities of the Mediterranean Sea. He gained fame as a cartographer when a small part of his first world map was discovered in 1929 at Topkapi Palace. It was drawn in 1513 without lines of latitude or longitude. It was drawn on gazelle skin, detailing the western coast of Africa and the eastern coast of South America. His map was the earliest to include the Americas, and perhaps the first to include Antarctica. It was the oldest map in existence and considered the most accurate in the 16th century. As the original map of Columbus was lost, and Piri Reis map was based on his, this map had historical value. In 1528 he presented his second map to Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1495- 1566). In a poem of 10 couplets Dar Biyane Pusula, he described the compass.

Admiral Seydi Ali Reis (1562) was a naval officer whose expertise was in maritime geography. He wrote a book in Turkish titled al-Muhit (The Ocean) containing his observations about Indian Ocean, as well as astronomical information needed for long and arduous voyages. He mentioned the Compass (kible Numas) brought from Germany.

He translated into Turkish Ali Kuschu’s book on astronomy Khulasat-ul Hai’ya.

In his work Tadhkira, Al-Antaki (1599) presented Islamic medicine along with European medicine. New diseases of Western origin led to the emergence of new medical treatments.

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