Ṭāshkubrī’zādah, Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá
Ṭāshkubrī’zādah, Taşköprüzade, or Taşköprülüzade, İsamüddin Ahmed son of Mustafa (2 December 1495 (Bursa) to 13 April 1561 (Istanbul)) was an Ottoman scholar and teacher and author of an encyclopedia of the sciences and of a collection of biographies of Ottoman sheikhs and jurists.
Ahmed Taşköprüzade was the son of Muslihüddin Mustafa Taşköprüzade (1453–1529), judge, teacher, and the preceptor of Prince Selim (afterwards Selim I). After receiving the first education from his father, he studied in various medreses (religious colleges) in Ankara, Bursa, and Istanbul and then became a teacher himself. He taught in Skopje, Istanbul, and Edirne and in 1551 became judge of Istanbul, one of the highest posts in the ulema (jurist) hierarchy. He retired due to bad eyesight in 1554 and spent his last years dictating his works. Among his books, the most celebrated are aş-Sakâ’ik an-nu‘mâniyya (“The Crimson Peony,” completed in 1558), a biography of 502 Ottoman sheikhs and ulema, and Miftâh as-sa‘âde (“Key to Happiness,” completed in 1557), an encyclopedia of sciences, both in Arabic (the latter was translated by his son into Ottoman Turkish, with some additions).
Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition
The spiritual sciences. These are further divided into practical and theoretical and again subdivided into those based on reason and those based on religion. This classification produces eventually four classes: (1) philosophical (or theoretical-rational) sciences (ulûm-ı hikemiyya), which include metaphysics (the science of man’s soul), theology (angelology, prophetology, etc.), natural sciences and medicine (including magic, alchemy, or the interpretation of dreams), mathematics, and music; (2) practical philosophy (hikmet-i ameliyya) or the practical-rational sciences, i.e., ethics and administration (from household to politics and the army); (3) religious or theoretical-religious sciences (ulûm-ı şer’iyya), i.e., Koranic exegesis and jurisprudence; and (4) finally, esoteric or practical-religious sciences (ulûm-ı bâtiniyya), i.e., mysticism.
The intellectual sciences (makûlât-ı sâniyya), such as logic, dialectics, or the art of debate.
The oral sciences (ulûm-ı lafzıyya), i.e., those pertaining to language. These include lexicography and etymology, grammar, and rhetoric, but also literary sciences such as philology and, interestingly, history or “conversation with rulers.”
The written sciences (ulûm-ı hattiyya), i.e., calligraphy, spelling and orthography, the art of inscriptions, etc.
Furthermore, all sciences are to be differentiated according to their usefulness (politics, for instance, is considered a useful science), but also as good (those which are auxiliary to religion) and bad (such as astrology or magic); this distinction, however, mainly depends not on knowledge itself but on the use one makes thereof.
As for his religious views, Taşköprüzade follows al-Ghazali (1058–1111) in that in order for a scholar to attain the greater realities, the mystical sciences are deemed necessary and these are based on esoteric contemplation. Moreover, in the old Islamic debate between extreme mysticists and rationalist “philosophers,” he adopted al-Ghazali’s moderate stance, insisting that mysticism should be interpreted by its own terms and that practices such as the Sufis’ use of music or dance are acceptable. However, no one should devote oneself to only one branch of knowledge, since they all complement each other; in this respect, Taşköprüzade argued that the theoretical sciences, such as theology or mathematics, should regain their place (which had started to wane) in the medrese curriculum.
Innovative and Original Aspects
Taşköprüzade’s encyclopedia may be said to summarize Islamic knowledge of his era. Furthermore, his taxonomy of science seems to be quite original: its influences from al-Ghazali and (possibly) Ibn Khaldun notwithstanding, it does not follow any of the previous categorizations (cf. Gardet–Anawati 1970, 101–124).
Impact and Legacy
Taşköprüzade’s work had a strong influence in Ottoman letters. His encyclopedia was translated to Ottoman Turkish by his son, Kemalüddin Mehmed Efendi, under the title Mevzu’ât al-‘Ulûm (“Subjects of the Sciences”) and had great success; Kâtip Çelebi (q.v.)’s bibliographic encyclopedia (the Keşf al-Zünûn) was compiled along Taşköprüzade’s lines. His biographical work was considered a classic, and many subsequent authors wrote additions and supplements well into the seventeenth century.
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