Religious Feelings and Thoughts in Mehmet Akif Ersoy’s Poems

Fatma GÜLÇÜR & Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

March 6/2019

Short Biography

Mehmet Âkif Ersoy was born in the year of 1873 in the district of Sariguzel in Istanbul. His father, Mehmet Tahir Efendi, gave his son the name “Rağif” (Hijra 1290), which a date that was based on hijra calendar, and he called him with this name until his death. However, since this name was not so widespread and power, his mother and her close circle used the more well-known name “Âkif”.

At the age of four, Mehmet Âkif completed his elementary education at the Iptidâî School in Fatih, Istanbul. He continued his secondary education at Fatih Merkez Rüştiyesi (1882-1887). Mehmet Âkif had a great interest in language courses. During his education in secondary school, he took private Arabic, Persian, and French lessons.

After graduating from secondary school, he studied at the Faculty of Political Sciences for a while and then he entered Baytar Mekteb-i Âli (Veterinary Faculty) in Halkalı and graduated from this school with first degree.

In 1893, he started to work in the Umur-u Baytâriye Branch of the Agriculture Administration at Ministry of Agriculture Veterinary Affairs. He resigned from his position as Assistant Director of Veterinary Affairs in 1913.

Mehmet Akif, who is known for his poetry rather than for his profession, began his teaching career in 1906 at Halkalı Baytar School as an instructor of formal correspondence courses. After 1908 he taught at the Faculty of Literature Ottoman Literature.

In 1920, Mehmet Âkif was elected as Burdur MP. He accepted to participate in the national anthem competition in 1921 on the condition that he did not get any prize money and his poem which was dedicated to the army was accepted as the national anthem on 12 March 1921.[1] He donated 500 liras which was given to him by the competition committee to the Work House, a school that teaches women and children how to work and sew clothes for soldiers.

His “Safahat (Stages)” Work

Mehmet Âkif started writing poetry at Baytar Mektebi when he was a student. The first poem published is entitled “Appealing to Quran”. From 1908 onwards he wrote stories using aruz. In his stories, he told about the problems and troubles of the people. From the years of the Balkan War, he began to write epic poems. His first major epic is his poem entitled Çanakkale Martyrs. The second great epic is Bülbül’s poem, which he wrote about the occupation of Bursa.

Mehmet Akif Ersoy collected all his poems in his corpus Safahat (Stages), which consists of 7 books. In the first chapter, which he wrote in 1911, the “Ottoman Constitutional Era” was carried out; in his second book named “Süleymaniye Chair”, written in 1912, he spoke about the Ottoman intellectuals. In 1913, he wrote the “Voices of the People”, which is the third part of Safahat, and on the fourth chapter of the SafahatFatih Chair” in 1914. Later, he wrote, “The Asim” (1924), which includes the “Memoirs” of 1917 and his views on World War I. He wrote the last chapter and the seventh chapter Shadows in 1933. 7 books, in which his poems are included collectively, did not include “Independence Anthem” into his work and he presented this work to the Turkish Nation.

Mehmet Akif is a painful period poet. His religious sentiments and thoughts were deeply influenced by the turbulent period, which he had left in his soul. If anyone examines Akif’s Safahat, other poems, articles, translations, and interpretations in a superficial way; he will hear the moaning and cries of the past. Our famous leader Mehmet Akif is a low noise which tries to inform the danger of the war that no one is aware of.

In this article, we will try to give Akif’s religious feelings and thoughts in a classification.[2]

Religion

Akif notes with certainty that the only element that holds the nation together is the religion:

While Islam should bind you well, I don’t understand,

How did the feeling of separation come between you?

Is the idea of nationalism put in your mind by Satan?

Many folks different from each other but holding together Islam,

But the idea of nationalism washes it from its foundations,

You should not forget this fact for a moment,

Albanianism Arabism thoughts cannot walk,

If this is the ultimate in politics, such a policy cannot walk,

God has created you as a family, eliminate the reasons for separation,

If you continue this claim, foreigners will seize the state, God forbid.”[3]

He states that the thinkers do not understand the religion very much and that the spirit of Islam. According to Akif, if religion had prevented progress, then it would have been impossible for Islam to spread in that beginning. If religion could interfere with progress, it would not have come up and emerged as an eminent civilization. If there was not an evolutionary essence in the spirit of Islam, could not become supreme.[4]

A hundred years ago, Akif, who describes his own era as an age of knowledge, expresses the need to be knowledgeable for the protection of religion as follows:

Even if our age had not been an information age,

Since we are wrapped in the religion with enthusiasm,

We must be knowledgeable to protect the religion,

Because we can do this with knowledge only.”[5]

Islam is a religion of effort. True Islam is the greatest heroism.[6] If this country does not want to live a life of inferiority, it must take shelter of Islam.[7]

Akif thinks that religion is the strongest link in order not to break the country, believes that racist movements have destroyed even the most civilized, developed countries. He himself, at one time, put forward an anti-racist offer, however, since this activity requires sacrifice and effort, the interested parties ignored this proposal.[8] In an article on this subject, he states:

For God’s sake, let’s distinguish between true religion and show. We cannot make the religion of Islam an excuse for our ignorance, our laziness and our lack of understanding. Let us take the essence of religion from the book of Allah and the Hadith. If not so let us guide the Muslims who practice the book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet.”[9]

Akif has traveled around the east. The things he saw in the name of religion are very sad. He says:

Indignant communities like see sheep butcher,

Vile, appealing, captivities, evils,

Imams with no communities, dirty faces, foreheads with no prostrations,

Wretched coreligionists killing coreligionists saying holy war.”[10]

During the First World War, he went to Berlin as a duty officer. At the end of May 1915, he had a trip to the Arabian Peninsula with official duty. During this trip, he wrote his poem From the Necid deserts to Medina, which was loaded with inspiration. One day the prayer (azan) was read, the community has also regularly stopped for (salat) praying. Here are his feelings now:

In front of me Prophet with his oppressed ummah,

Flooding in my eyes, trembling inside me,

I have neither the will nor my habits,

There is no place to rest in the middle of this crowd of people.”[11]

When he is praying at the tomb of the prophet in the Medina, just then a big Sudanese comes crying out loud ‘O Resulallah (Prophet). He stated that how the Sudan he passed on foot three months in the deserts of Tihame, how he exploded by the various difficulties under the hot sun, never slept, speak of beings in nature, came here with longing, but at the end of this longing he encountered with these irons surrounding the grave:

Remove iron veil from your immaculate grave,

Do not separate my sick soul from your pure soil,

What is that bright torch?

Is your light O Resulallah?”

saying he slumps down there! He’s dead now. Akif put this event into words with such deep feelings that you think it happens in front of you.[12]

Divinity

When Akif saying like that;

O Lord, will the sound in the hearts be muted?

Will no more silence order come down?[13]

He knows the Islamic fact that God cannot be questioned from his work. He admits this fact in these words:

Thousands of questions are sacrificed to the fact that cannot be questioned,

A man observes these puzzles with horror.”[14]

In his poem, Tevhid or Feryat states that aggressive sword ravages the world and cuts it randomly and asking: “O my God, are they always with your orders and signs?[15] In here Akif seems to think that the persecution occurred by the commandments of Allah. But the fact can be seen clearly in this poem which they had written jointly with Mithat Cemal Kuntay for the Shah of Iran, Muhammad Ali, known for his dictatorship and he is pointing to the great massacres occurred in Iran in 1907-1909 period:

No, there is no point in attributing these to God.

God never helps those who commit murders.”[16]

Moral glory is neither cognition nor conscience. If the fear of God is lifted from the hearts, conscience and knowledge will have no effect.[17] If fear of God predominant in a society, this society will have the whole world and be master to all nations.[18]

Mosques, Prayers, and Worships

Akif expresses his feelings about the mosque as follows: Beyond being a prayer house, the mosque is the rise of worship to God in the form of a temple. It is not just an image, it is a group of admirers who have attained the beauty of God. No doubt it is not from the sky. But it has a heavenly identity. Contains an infinite view of God.[19] The world of lights of mosques does not know what darkness is. The sacred nest has never been soiled in any way, and it cannot become contaminated thereafter. He who glorifies him exalts forever to exalt… If the dirt came from all sides of the world it will remain clean and high again.[20]

He associates minarets to the flute in his imagination stating that: “It’s interesting what those burning hearts in the stone heart.[21] He says: “Due to differences in the place of sunrise adhans unread time is not available.”[22] As it is stated at the beginning of the Adhans poetry published in Sirat-i Mustakim on 8 October 1908, there is indeed an azan time in a new part of the world and the call to prayer is read there. Because the time of prayer is set by the movement of the sun. Therefore, the Universal Father is remembered at every moment and people are called to worship.

According to him as the wave of this holy cry rises to the heavens, the power of God in the heavens begins to descend to the earth with all his blessing. At that moment, the existence of the universe that belongs to God, begins to face the power of light. Because the darkness of the night is now filled with the manifestation of God’s light.[23]

Expresses the state of prayer with enthusiastic emotions. Allah’s eternal blessings are felt in the dignified state of this unity of worship. It is this sacred blowing that drives and directs the shadow-like unity of thousands of people. With this blow, all the granules of the souls were shuddering from head to toe. The temple reflects the voices of worshipers of the believers who fill the inside… The souls that are burning with the blessing of worship are too tired to bear the divine manifestation they have reached…[24]

The Hereafter, Destiny, and Resignation

Akif has a poem called The Way of the Hereafter. In this poem inspired by a funeral, he expresses his feelings:

This reckless outstretched stone is your last seat,

One day you come from your soft bed and you lie down here,

You have no way of salvation, you will deal in the Hereafter,

This is definitely a way to go if your power is enough going away.”[25]

A faithful person cannot use this world life as if it had no life in the Hereafter. One who cares about the life of the world but does not care about the Hereafter is considered to have lost. Because man cannot wait for crops without planting. A person cannot expect a reward in the Hereafter if he is not doing good and good activities in the world.[26]

It is not important only to talk about the Hereafter. Mere talk won’t get anything done. This attitude is crazy. This is zero to zero.[27]

Being lazy about the measure and accusing the destiny is wrong.[28] People will say that the interlocutor of the Qur’an, who has imposed some responsibilities on them, is almost the God Almighty.[29] This kind of people’s understanding of fate is a slander against religion, and the thoughts of waiting from God (resignation-tevekkul) is frustrated.[30]

His poem with the title of Resignation after Perseverance is like that:

Keep lying, saying ‘I trust God’,

Is this being the meaning of trust hey baffled?

Do you think your ancestors have slept for centuries?

If so, where would you find your homeland

Traces on three continents still witness,

That generation didn’t rest even a day,

Trusting does not mean laziness.[31]

Custom, Awakening, and Hope

Akif, while analyzing the general tendencies of the people in the 1900s, says that they are still thinking about adhering to the customs. According to him, people consider all ideas and innovations of the West as an enemy and even reject domestic and justified innovations that might come out of their own.[32]

He does not accept the idea that “we have seen it from our ancestors like this”. According to him, this is the basic problem of the Islamic World.

If a Muslim in the Far West and a Muslim in the Far East are brought together, we will hear this sentence of them all: “That’s what our ancestors saw.” Even though this kind of thought is religiously wrong, this attitude of a large religious community is very surprising.[33]

According to him, believing in God and despair cannot settle a heart. So, it should not be hopeless. Man, even if he does not reach his goal, he should not fall into despair.[34]

Finally, we want to complete our article with the opinions of the Akif at several points. As far as we can see from Akif’s articles, he looks at Sufism very warmly. He admires the well-known Sufists like Mevlâna and Ibn Arabi.[35]

Conclusion

In 1923 he went to Egypt at the invitation of Abbas Halim Pasha. For a few years, Mehmet Akif, who spent the summers in Istanbul and the winters in Egypt, did not return from Egypt after the winter of 1926. Between 1929 and 1936 he worked as a teacher of Turkish at Egypt University in Cairo. Then he settled in Hilvan near Cairo. He continued to work on the Qur’an. However, when he learned of the intention to implement the national religion project in the country, he terminated his contract in 1932.

When he had cirrhosis, he went to Lebanon and Antioch with the idea that air change would be good, but he returned to Egypt as a patient. June 17, 1936, came to Istanbul for treatment. On December 27, 1936, he died in the Egyptian Apartment in Beyoglu, Istanbul. Buried in Edirnekapı Cemetery. His tomb was built two years later by college students. In 1960, due to road construction, the tomb was transferred to the Edirnekapi Martyr. His grave is among the tombs of Suleyman Nazif and his friend Ahmet Naim Bey.

As of 1 June 1936, a pension of 478 pounds was made. This salary was started to be paid in October 1936 and it had received 2976 liras in total. On the last page of the retirement wallet, 600 TL debt is written. After this debt fell, the remaining part was given to his family and Mehmet Âkif passed away two months later.

God rest his soul.


[1] Independence Anthem by Mehmet Âkif Ersoy

Fear not! For the crimson flag that proudly ripples in this glorious twilight, shall never fade,

Before the last fiery hearth that is ablaze within my nation is extinguished.

For that is the star of my nation, and it will forever shine;

It is mine; and solely belongs to my valiant nation.

Frown not, I beseech you, oh thou coy crescent,

Smile upon my heroic race! Why the anger, why the rage?

Our blood which we shed for you might not be worthy otherwise;

For freedom is the absolute right of my God-worshipping nation.

I have been free since the beginning and forever shall be so.

What madman shall put me in chains! I defy the very idea!

I’m like the roaring flood; trampling and overflowing my dyke (weir),

I’ll tear apart the mountains, fill up the open seas and still gush out!

The lands surrounded by the Western’s and they armoured with walls of steel,

But I have borders guarded by the mighty chest of a believer.

Recognize your innate strength, my friend! And think how this fiery faith can ever be killed,

By that battered, single-fanged monster you call “civilization”?

My friend! Leave not my homeland to the hands of villainous men!

Render your chest as armour and your body as trench! Stop this disgraceful rush!

For soon shall come the joyous days of divine promise…

Who knows? Perhaps tomorrow? Perhaps even sooner!

View not the soil you tread on as mere earth – recognize it!

And think about the shroudless thousands who lie so nobly beneath you.

You’re the noble son of a martyr, take shame, hurt not your ancestor!

Unhand not, even when you’re promised worlds, this paradise of a homeland.

What man would not die for this heavenly piece of land?

Martyrs would gush out should one simply squeeze the soil! Martyrs!

May God take my life, all my loved ones and possessions from me if He will,

But may He not deprive me of my one true homeland for the world.

Oh, glorious God, the sole wish of my pain-stricken heart is that,

No heathen’s hand should ever touch the bosom of my sacred Temples.

These adhans, whose shahadahs are the foundations of my religion,

May their noble sound last loud and wide over my eternal homeland.

For only then, shall my fatigued tombstone, if there is one, prostrate a thousand times in ecstasy,

And tears of fiery blood shall flow out of my every wound,

And my lifeless body shall gush out from the earth like an eternal spirit,

Perhaps only then, shall I peacefully ascend and at long last reach the heavens.

So, ripple and wave like the bright dawning sky, oh thou glorious crescent,

So that our every drop of blood may finally be blessed and worthy!

Neither you nor my race1 shall ever be extinguished!

For freedom is the absolute right of my ever-free flag;

For independence is the absolute right of my God-worshiping nation*

(*Source: http://www.nkfu.com)

[2] In this research, A Comprehensive Mehmet Akif Kulliyat (corpus) which was published by Hikmet Nesriyat (1st Edition, Istanbul / 1992) was used. İsmail Hakkı Senguler prepared the collection and published it in ten volumes. In the future footnotes, the first figure shows the volume number of the corpus mentioned above and the second figure shows the number of the same corpus.

[3] 2/88.

[4] 2/112.

[5] 2/348.

[6] 3/58.

[7] 3/60.

[8] 5/292-294.

[9] 5/163.

[10] 4/22.

[11] 3/174.

[12] 3/178-184.

[13] 1/44.

[14] 1/44.

[15] 1/46.

[16] 1/238.

[17] 3/26.

[18] 3/28.

[19] 1/10.

[20] 2/14-16.

[21] 1/306.

[22] 1/298.

[23] 1/298.

[24] 2/28-30.

[25] 1/426-428.

[26] 3/42.

[27] 3/46.

[28] 4/258.

[29] 2/304.

[30] 2/306.

[31] 7/62.

[32] 2/100.

[33] 2/58.

[34] 4/54.

[35] 5/179-184.

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