Ranking of the Ottoman Madrasas


by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu

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Following the conquest of Istanbul, Mehmed the Conqueror initiated a campaign of construction. A new era in Ottoman education began with the establishment of the Fatih madrasas and the hierarchical structure of the madrasas was reorganized....

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Following the conquest of Istanbul, Mehmed the Conqueror initiated a campaign of construction so as to give the city a new character. He also encouraged those around him to participate in this effort. As a result of these efforts numerous Byzantine buildings were transformed into mosques, madrasas and dervish lodges. In order to transform the new capital into a centre of learning (dar al-ilm) he had a mosque complex (külliye), which was later to take his name, constructed on the crest of one of the hills of Istanbul. Within the complex he had madrasas built which could be considered as expressions of his centralized approach and policies in the areas of scholarship-science and education.

According to the charter prepared for the madrasas in the Fatih Mosque Complex, the Samâniye madrasas were composed of eight higher madrasas surrounding the Fatih Mosque and of eight smaller madrasas behind these known as “Tetimme“. Thus there were a total of sixteen madrasas on both sides of the mosque. In addition to these, a “Dar al-talim” (primary school) was constructed on the side facing the western door. Furthermore, from the charter we learn that this complex was conceived as a total educational centre of the highest quality and that in this light institutions such as a hospital, a library and a soup kitchen were established to provide food, drink, shelter and medical treatment.[1] In certain contemporary studies undertaken up until quite recently it has been argued that the Samâniye madrasas constructed under Mehmed II’s orders resembled European universities and that Ali Kuscu, Vizier Mahmûd Pasha and Molla Hüsrev developed a curriculum. However, the most recent research on the subject has attempted to correct this mistaken impression about the Fatih madrasas and their resemblance to a modern university and the claims put forth about their supposed curricula.

A new era in Ottoman education was initiated with the establishment of the Fatih madrasas and the hierarchical structure of the madrasas was reorganized. Indeed, it has been generally accepted in historical studies of the madrasa since Uzuncarsili that, based on information provided by Âlî, the academic levels of the madrasas were determined during the reign of Mehmed II according to the salaries paid to the teacher heading the institution and in terms of the basic required textbook in use at the school.[2] Based on the information provided by Âlî, it seems that there had been a number of traditions and customary rules (generally referred to as Kanûn) governing education since the time of Bâyezîd I, that a number of these continued to be implemented until the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror and that they were then collated and restructured within a single framework during that period.[3]

When we examine the charters of the madrasas from the period prior to Mehmed II we observe that by and large it is religious studies that are emphasized. By contrast, in the charter of the Fatih madrasas we encounter for the first time the requirement that teachers to be appointed to the madrasas must include both those who are knowledgeable both in religious studies and in the “rational” sciences, which included logic, philosophy and mathematics. Further, the charter indicates in literary language that the foundation of the madrasas rested on the rules of hikmet (wisdom, frequently used to refer to philosophy) and that they were established based on the rules of geometry, thus differentiating them from earlier madrasas. In our opinion, this is where one may find the influence of Ali Kuscu. The influence of Ali Kuscu, who came from Samarkand where he was associated with Ulugh Bey and scientific circles largely concerned with mathematics and astronomy, can be seen in the requirement of the charter, which set the framework for these madrasas, that the rational sciences are to be taught along with religious studies. It is possible to observe this influence after the period of Mehmed II up until the time of the Süleymâniye madrasas.

In the Fatih Teskilât Kanûnnâmesi (legal code), we find in the section regarding the appointments of the teachers that the madrasas were ranked based on a hierarchy determined by the daily fees paid to the teachers. They began with those who received twenty akces, increasing in increments of five akces to those receiving twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five and fifty akces. The teachers at the Sahn madrasas, that is those employed at the eighth highest-level madrasas at the Fatih complex, were considered the most distinguished of the ulema (learned men) and were positioned in front of the heads of sancaks (provincial districts) in terms of official protocol.[4] As the establishment, formation and the changes experienced over the centuries of this educational hierarchy have not been very thoroughly studied; more detailed and multifaceted studies will be required in order to achieve greater clarity with regard to the subject.

When one examines the organization of Ottoman madrasas one observes that the first three are referred to under the names of Hâsiye-i Tecrid, Miftah and Telvih. These names were taken from the titles of the main textbooks used in these madrasas. The Hâsiye-i Tecrid madrasa takes its name from the fact that the main textbook used there was a commentary written by Seyyid Serîf el-Gürgânî (d. 1413-14) based on a commentary by Shems al-din Mahmûd b. Ebu’l-Kasim al-Isfahânî (d. 1345-46) on a work titled Tecrîd al-Kalâm by Nasîreddin al-Tûsî (d. 1273-74).[5] Madrasas which used that particular piece of work, with commentaries written by Seyyid Serîf al-Gürgani and Sadeddin al-Taftazani (d. 1388-89), were known as Miftah madrasas. Miftah refers to a work by Yûsuf al-Sekkâkî (d. 1228-29) on the subjects of morphology, nahv and rhetoric. Telvîh is the name of the commentary written by al-Taftazânî on the commentary titled Tavzîü’t-Tenkîh written by Sadrüsseria Ubeydullah el-Buhârî (d. 1346-47) on his own work on Islamic jurisprudence titled Tenkîhü’l-Usûl. This commentary was used as a textbook in Telvih madrasas.[6]

Both the 40 akce and the Haric 50 akce madrasas were constructed by the pre-Ottoman Anatolian municipalities, rulers and their families, by viziers, sancak beys and emirs. The Dâhil madrasas are madrasas constructed by the Ottoman sultans, the mothers of imperial princes and the daughters of the sultans. Following that one would come to the Sahn-i Semân madrasas, which had the highest educational level. Tetimme madrasas were of the same rank as Dâhil madrasas and because they prepared students for the Sahn madrasas were referred to as Mûsila-i Sahn (preparatory to the Sahn).

In order to fit the Uc Serefeli Madrasa established in Edirne by Sultan Murâd II, which paid 100 akces into the new hierarchy, Mehmed II, had an additional madrasa constructed alongside it and had the 100 akces shared between two teachers. Thus the level of the üc serefeli madrasa, which was built by his father, was made equal to that of the Sahn madrasas that he had founded.[7] The Ayasofya madrasa remained the sole madrasa at the 60-akce levels during the period of Mehmed II.[8]

The madrasa system established by Mehmed the Conqueror continued unchanged during the reign of Bâyezîd II. The only change was the rise to the 60-akce level of the Murâdiye madrasa in Bursa upon the appointment of Tokatli Molla Lûtfi for a fee of 60 akces.[9]

On the second of the seven hills upon which Istanbul was built Suleyman the Magnificent constructed the mosque complex that would constitute the apogee of Ottoman culture, art and education. The construction of this complex, which reflected the grandeur of the Age of Süleyman the Magnificent, and the genius of its chief architect Sinan (1550-1557) marked the initiation of a phase of important developments and innovations in Ottoman education. As can be seen in the attached drawing, various schools and madrasas were constructed around the mosque offering a variety of levels and specialized areas of education. A primary school and four madrasas referred to as Sahn madrasas were established there.

These consist of the first or “madrasa-i ulâ” (evvel madrasa); the second or “sânîmadrasa (madrasa-i sâniye); the third or “sâlismadrasa (madrasa-i sâlise); and the fourth or “râbimadrasa (madrasa-i râbia). In addition, there were specialized madrasas, the Dâr al-hadis (Hadith studies centre) and the Dâr al-tibb (medical studies centre). There was also a hospital (bîmarhâne), a soup kitchen or Dar al-ziyafe and a convalescent home (Tabhâne) as well as a pharmacy (Dar al-adviye). This complex is a fine example of the development since the Fatih complex of the holistic way in which Ottoman mosque complexes dealt with human, religious, social and cultural services.

According to the charter, the daily fee paid to each of the head teachers at the four madrasas was sixty akces. The Dâru’l-Hadis teacher received fifty and the Dâr al-tibb teacher twenty akces. These madrasas were thus now ranked at a higher level than the Fatih Sahn madrasas. Although the amount allocated for the Dâru’l-Hadis teacher in the charter prepared during the construction of the complex was lower than that of the other four madrasas, they were in fact paid 100 akces with the appointment of the first Dâr al-Hadis teacher. That is why, from that period on, that madrasa was considered the highest ranked Ottoman madrasa. The Dâru’l-Hadis teacher was also considered the highest ranked teacher, and if he so desired he could be appointed to a kadilik (juridical-administrative district) known as a mahrec mevleviyeti.[10]

The fifteen students studying in the Dâr al-Hadis and in the four madrasas and the eight students studying at the Dâr al-tibb received two akces each while the tutors received five akces each as a daily fee. Those students resident in the rooms of the madrasas received lessons from their teachers four days a week and the soup kitchens provided them with two meals a day. The Suleymaniye madrasas were able to maintain their superior status within the madrasa hierarchy throughout later periods. However, in those later periods certain changes in the ranking of the madrasas can be observed.[11]

[1] E. Ihsanoglu, “Osmanli Medrese Tarihciliginin Ilk Safhasi (1916-1965)-Kesif ve Tasarlama Dönemi-“, Belleten 64, no 240 (Agustos 2000): 541-582.

[2] I.H. Uzuncarsili, Osmanli Devleti’nin Ilmiye Teskilati, 2nd ed. (Ankara, 1984), 11-12.

[3] Gelibolulu Mustafa Âlî, Künhü’l-Ahbar, Istanbul University Library (IÜMK), Turkish Manuscrripts (TY) no. 5959, fol. no. 85b-86b.

[4] A. Özcan, “Fatih’in Teskilat Kanunnamesi ve Nizâm-i âlem icin Kardes Katli Meselesi, ” IÜTD (Fatih Sultan Mehmed’e Hatira Sayisi,) no. 33 (Istanbul, 1982), 39.

[5] Kâtib Celebi, Kesfü’z-Zunûn an Esâmi’l-Kütübi ve’l-Fünûn, 2 vols., ed. Serefeddin Yaltkaya and Kilisli Rifat Bilge (Istanbul, 1941-1943), 2: 1762-1768.

[6]I. H. Uzuncarsili, Osmanli Devleti’nin Ilmiye Teskilati, 26-28.

[7] I. H. Uzuncarsili, Ilmiye Teskilati, 3; C. Baltaci, XV.-XVI. Asirlar, 450-458.

[8] Âlî, Künhü’l-Ahbar, 86a; C. Baltaci, XV.-XVI. Asirlar, 47.

[9] C. Baltaci, XV.-XVI. Asirlar, 47, 48; 163-165, 480.

[10] I. H. Uzuncarsili, Ilmiye Teskilati, 36-38; C. Baltaci, XV.- XVI. Asirlar, 601-606.

[11] C. Izgi, Osmanli Medreselerinde Ilim. 2 vols. (Istanbul, 1997), 1 (Riyazî Ilimler), 35-42.