Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli’s missing commentary on 40 hadith discovered

A previously missing work by the important Anatolian Islamic mystic Hacı Bektaşı Veli is now available to the public after the manuscript was discovered in the British Museum Library and prepared for publication by Assistant Professor Nurgül Özcan as a result of research she carried out with her husband, Assistant Professor Hüseyin Özcan.

The book, a commentary on the 40 hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) of Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi is an excellent starting place for understanding the world of Veli’s Sufi ideas. Throughout Turkish history, writing a translation of or commentary on Nawawi’s “40 hadith” has been an important tradition among scholars and poets. Important names like Ali Şir Nevâî, Fuzûlî, Nev’î, Nabi, Âşık Çelebi, Sadreddin Konevi and İbrahim Hakkı Bursevi have written important works in this vein. Prepared for publication for the first time, the book was published by Fatih University Press. The story behind the manuscript’s discovery sounds a lot like a detective novel.

The story dates back to the years when Hüseyin Özcan, a lecturer at Fatih University’s faculty of arts and sciences, was still a student in college. During the course of his college education, he began researching Veli’s commentary on the first surah (chapter) of the Quran, with the encouragement of his teacher, Abdurrahman Güzel. He went to England in 2008 and searched for this book in every library he visited. While reviewing the manuscripts in the British Museum Library, he came across a copy of the commentary he was looking for, as well as the commentary on the 40 hadith.

In the first section of the book, Nurgül Özcan provides information on Veli’s life and works. Noting that his works need to be studied carefully in order to understand his thought, Özcan said: “The works of Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli, which consist of Sufi conversations between the mentor and his disciples, of which there are many examples of in the Sufi tradition, are the main sources that directly reflect his ideas.” Özcan explains that scholars and poets write commentaries on the 40 hadith for the purposes of obtaining the Prophet Muhammad’s intercession, finding peace in the world, being remembered with blessings and finding salvation in the hereafter. According to Özcan, Turks have shown a great deal of interest in translations of Nawawi’s 40 hadith.

The second part of the book is on the tradition of commentary on the 40 hadith in Turkish literature and works that have been written in this area. There is also a review of hadith included in other works from Veli. Veli’s commentary on the 40 hadith was written in the 13th century. The commentary, 19 pages long and written in the naskh style of calligraphy with vowel markings, elaborates on the concept of poverty as a dervish. The main topics of Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli’s commentary is the importance of the concept of poverty, the virtues of poverty, the rewards of helping those who are poor and the punishments for those who despise the poor. At the end of the book, there the 40 hadith are included in their original Arabic along with a Turkish translation.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul

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