The Madina of Awliya' ChalabiDr Mustafa S. Küçükaşçı
Every city has a history. This history is sometimes found in books and other times in the legacy that has passed on to the generations that follow. There are certain cities on earth whose historical pasts live not just in their written culture and monumental works, but in the hearts of people forevermore. This information that is recorded by written history and certified by historical legacy becomes shared information after being passed on from generation to generation with a great deal of love. The work of Awliya' Chalabi (Evliya Çelebi in Turkish), which is one of the greatest legacies of Turkish literature, is centered around three main points. These are the Ottoman capital city of Istanbul, the sacred cities of Makka and Madina, and the place which constituted the most appropriate venue for delivering services to the sacred cities and the city most instrumental in the political and social lives of these cities since the time of Caliph Omar – Egypt’s Cairo.
Awliya’ Chalabi (d. 1682), who explored cities in the three layers of history, location and people, makes certain additions to these layers where the city of Madina is concerned. Such additional narrative is based on the perception of Madina established in the minds, thoughts and hearts of Muslims from the time beginning with the emigration of the Prophet, and how this perception is reflected in time and on the Turkish culture. As such, while systematically examining the city of Madina in terms of its landscape, physical structure, history and daily life in relation to all social activities, Awliya’ Chalabi tries to share how the city, formerly known as Yathrib, transformed into Madina at the hands of Prophet Muhammad. While doing so he resorts to various social scientific resources, demonstrating that he is equipped with resources beyond those of a mere traveler. He also touches upon the Ottoman structures in the city as he deems necessary, attempting to establish a spiritual connection between Istanbul and the city of Madina. Many travelers had visited the city of Madina prior to the 17th century in which Awliya’ Chalabi lived, and afterwards. However, none of them left behind a cultural legacy that exceeded that of a traveler, in the way which Awliya’ Chalabi did.
Awliya’ Chalabi makes the reader feel as though they are entering a unique realm while nearing the city of Madina. Through his writing, one gets the sense that one has arrived at the home of Prophet Muhammad’s emigration, not an ordinary city, and there are certain ways and mannerisms that are required of a person as a result of being here. A person who arrives in Madina firstly must be aware that they have arrived before the presence of God’s Messenger. This awareness must stem not just from religious reasons alone or the fact that the Prophet must be taken as an example, but because of the deep reverence and sense of loyalty that a believer holds for him. While one experiences the joy of prayer at the Prophet’s Mosque on the one hand, they try to ensure that their visit is as fruitful as possible, inspired by the Qur’anic enjoinder to invoke God’s blessings and peace upon the Prophet (Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:56). One turns towards Madina hoping for the intercession of God’s Messenger and with a great deal of submission. The city of Madina is entered from the north, from the peak of Thaniyat-al-Wada' which is located at the eastern foothills of Mount Sal’, where travelers are welcomed and seen off. While entering the city, if one listens carefully to the introduction of the city’s guide, they will not fail to utter their peace and salutations.
While Awliya’ Chalabi notes that Uhud is located to the north of the large plain were Madina was established, he describes Harrat-ul-Wabara and Harrah Waqim, covered by volcanic lava flow to the east and west of Uhud, together with certain hills as small mountains that people occasionally climbed. The plain of Madina, which is covered by gardens on three sides that are separated by low walls and fences, is centered around the Prophet’s Mosque which is home to many social establishments in addition to its main function as a place of worship. The city walls – reconstructed in 1539 by Süleyman the Magnificent in order to protect the city of Madina from the attacks of Bedouin tribes – have three iron gates that open up to Jannat al Baqi, Uhud, Quba and Aqiq. The streets of some of the neighborhoods in the city walls are only wide enough for an animal carrying a load to pass through, with homes attached to one another aligning the roads. Despite the fact that the city is rich in terms of underground resources, the Prophet’s Mosque and its surroundings are not particularly rich in term of their water resources. It is particularly during the season of pilgrimage that the need for water increases.
Madina produces seven types of dates. While its apples are very famous, it is a city abundant in terms of its peaches, apricots, melons, watermelons, bitter oranges, lemons, olives and figs. The entire grain supply of the city comes from either Egypt or the city of Ta’if.
Awliya’ Chalabi concentrates on the Prophet’s Mosque, and particularly the Prophet’s tomb and the rawda al-mutahhara (The Pure Garden) which are two sections within the mosque. He paces the 9429 square meters of land of the Prophet’s Mosque, which spanned an area this wide by way of the activities of the Mamluk. He notes in particular the development works of the Ottomans in the Mosque. The decorations and ornaments of a minbar (pulpit) roughly seven meters high and sent during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murad III in 1590, allow for it to be labeled as a masterpiece and is located to the right of the Prophet’s mihrab (niche) and in place of the Prophet’s pulpit. This pulpit, whose style can be found in Ottoman imperial mosques adorned with elegant golden ornamentations, is one of the examples of fine works that have remained with us until today in the Prophet’s Mosque. The Mihrab at-Tahajjud, where the Prophet would perform the prayers during the night is located in front of this, and behind the Prophet’s Chamber, fenced in is Fatima’s mihrab as well as the ornate mihrabs placed at different points for the different schools of thought. The most beautiful of these is the Hanafi mihrab, which was commissioned by Süleyman the Magnificent, embroidered and made from black and white marble.
The Prophet’s Mosque has three minarets. Of these three, the one which has survived until today, in the southeast corner, is called the Raisiyya due to the fact that the leading caller to prayer reads the Call to Prayer here, and has been noted to be different from the others by Awliya’ Chalabi . Verses and Prophetic Traditions have been etched in the Jali calligraphic style onto appropriate places of the Prophet’s Chamber and the rawda al-mutahhara. The fact that Awliya’ Chalabi likens the calligraphy here to the works of one of the most famous calligraphers of the Ottoman era, Ahmed Karahisari (death: 1556), shows us that a good portion of these were made following the Ottoman rule in the region. Among the calligraphy work in the Prophet’s Chamber, there are two inscriptions bearing the names of all Ottoman sultans, from Sultan Kayitbay to Osman I to Ahmed I.
Awliya’ Chalabi notes the number of madrasas in Madina as being 118 and explains that a portion of these have been allotted as residences for scholars and for those who left their homelands for the purpose of worship at the Prophet’s Mosque. Here it is understood that it is not only madrasas that he’s referring to , but to all the children’s schools in Madina, Dar al-Qurra and Dar al-Hadith universities, and Suﬁ lodges and conventicles where the traditional sciences were pursued. There are two Turkish baths bearing the names of Davut Pasha and Sokullu Mehmet Pasha and four public soup kitchens in the names of Ottoman sultans and their mothers.
Awliya’ Chalabi imparts significant information pertaining to the cemetery called Jannat al Baqi, located close to the Prophet’s Mosque, to the southeast of Madina. At that time he penned his work, there was a gate between the cemetery of Jannat al-Baqi and Prophet’s Mosque, whereas one does not exist today. Awliya’ Chalabi sometimes mentions by name those who have tombs in the Baqi cemetery and shares their life story. He notes that the symbolic coffin placed over their graves is inlaid with gold and covered with green silk. He also explains that the tomb of the Prophet’s wife ‘A’isha was renewed by Suleyman the Magnificent in 1543 and that the Prophet had carried from Abwa the grave of his mother Amina here next to his wet nurse Halima, during the 6th year after Emigration (627-628). He notes that the Ahl al-Bayt (the family of the Prophet), the ten Companions who were promised Paradise and the Hashemites all have separate sections in the cemetery each with domed tombs and caretakers. In one corner of Jannat al-Baqi are the graves of the scholars and statesmen who arrived from Istanbul and greater Anatolia.
The Uhud cemetery for martyrs is an hour’s distance from Prophet’s Mosque and because there are many Bedouins around the structure, visits are conducted in groups and only after certain security measures are taken. In the cemetery, containing one mosque, the grave of the Prophet’s uncle Hamza, elevated six steps high, has a dome and the symbolic coffin above his grave is draped with silk. There are no domes above the graves of the other Companions who were buried at the precise spot at which they were martyred. Each year following the pilgrimage, pilgrims from Damascus arrive here in the month of Muharram, visiting Hamza and the other martyrs of Islam and, making Noah’s pudding, distribute it to the people.
Other than these structures, Awliya’ Chalabi cites the names of four of the mosques collectively referred to as the Seven Mosques, located to the Northeast of Mount Sal' in the city of Madina: the Mosques of Salman al-Farisi, Abu Talib, ‘Uthman, and the Mosque of Victory, He mentions that the one which is known as the Mosque with Two Qiblas (Masjid al-Qiblatayn), in which the Prophet was praying when the direction to prayer was changed from Jerusalem to Makka, still stands. He provides detailed information about Quba Mosque. He notes that the adjacent garden is watered with water pumped from the Aris Well – in which the Seal of the Prophet was lost – through pumps in order for the adjacent garden to be watered.
Awliya’ Chalabi’s observations regarding the geographical landscape of Madina constitute the most important existing information regarding the city prior to Wahhabi occupation (June 1805). However much Governor of Egypt Mehmet Ali Pasha’s son Ibrahim Pasha came to Madina (October 1816) with master-builders laborers sent from Istanbul to fix the damage done to the city via, the city was never again able to regain its original 17th century structure.
While Awliya’ Chalabi narrates his observations of Madina on the one hand, he takes care to recount the memories of the Prophet and his Companions, personally visiting the places where the events mentioned in the biography of the Prophet took place and making observations therein, and enriches these through the oral and written sources. Awliya’ Chalabi, unlike scholars of history and Sirah (the life of the Prophet) before him, does not see the life of Prophet Muhammad as one singular event, but as a part of the world and humanity. He is seen as the continuation and the Seal of all Prophets sent beginning with Adam. At times he is inspired by the plain and sincere narrative of Yazıcıoğlu Mehmed’s (death: 1451) Muhammadiya when he speaks of the life of the Prophet. And at times he makes references from Samhudi’s (death: 1506) Wafa al-Wafa bi akhbar Dar al-Mustafa, a work relatively unknown in the cultural milieu in which Awliya’ Chalabi was raised. Frequently relying on oral culture, Awliya’ Chalabi provides information about the recent and long history of the city of Madina. The best example of this is his sharing of the story of Nureddin Mahmud Zengi’s catching and punishing those who tried to steal the body of Prophet Muhammad via a tunnel that they dug, and the precautionary measures that were subsequently taken to ensure that there was no repeat (1162). The fact that Nureddin Zengi went on the Hajj in 1162, and a sermon was read in his name in the Sacred Mosques, must be proof that such an event took place.
The Ottoman belief that the Caliphate is not the legacy of the Abbasids, but a duty towards the protection and serving of Islam’s sacred sites is reflected in the writings of Awliya’ Chalabi. He imparts detailed information about the highest level officials of the city tied to Istanbul, in addition to the Head Scholar (Shaykh al-Haram) and head judge and the Commander General of the Army. He particularly stresses that the judges within the sacred cities are held in highest esteem w,th regards to their reputation and importance. The people of Madina, coming from all corners of the world and are in no way homogenous, are deserve all praise due to their being in close proximity to Prophet Muhammad. As such, Chalabi frequently stresses their unique attributes in his writings. Noting that the city does not have much in the way of economic income, Awliya’ Chalabi narrates the city’s liveliness during the times during Damascan caravan visits and during the pilgrimage season as though it lasted the year long. However, stressing that the city’s only livelihood is gained by the income it generates due to its religious status and the attention shown to it by the Ottoman Empire, he indicates that the majority of the townspeople are supported by charitable institutions, with donations sent regularly from Istanbul and Egypt, and other donations from the poll tax (jawali) and foodstuffs and provisions (jaraya).