By Muhammad Ridhwan Bin Awal Ud-din

Background 

Evliya Celebi was born on 25 March 1611, equivalent to 10 Muharram at Unkapani, Istanbul. He was the son of goldsmith that served to Turkish Ottoman’s caliph. his father’S name was  Dervis Mehmed Zilli. Both of his parents were originated from Kutahnya.[1]

Evliya’s father dedicated all of his life as an adroit goldsmith for Ottoman caliphate, and he did everything to provide his son with the best education since he was a kid. After ending his education in primary school, he furthered his education at Madrasah Hamid Efendi in Zeyrek. It was a school based on Islamic education and he studied there for seven years. Then, Evliya attended the public education such as open lectures at the mosques and also joined private or closed education with prominent figures such as Keci Mehmed Frendi, and got close to with a contemporary scholar during his time, Zekeriyazade,1644.[2]

Evliya had a great desire to learn. He was not ashamed to pursue knowledge from anyone. For example, he learned the Greek language from his father’s employee.[3] Later, Evliya studied at Enderun, an institution of learning and training for those who will work in the administration of the Ottoman caliphate. After his studies in Enderun, Evliya worked as Sultan Murad IV’s guard in 1636 with the help of his uncle, Melek Ahmed Pasa.

Since childhood, Evliya was interested in traveling to see the spectacular world that was huge and magnificent. His obsession and anxious feeling to travel could be derived from his father’s stories as his father participated in great journeys while was serving sultans including Sulaiman the Magnificent.[4]

As he wrote in his “Seyahatname,” volume I, his life changed at his twentieth birthday, on the night of Ashura in Muharram. He had met Prophet Muhammad SAW in his dream with a group of jamaah that gathered in Masjid Ahi Celebidi next to Yemis Port, Istanbul.

He wrote that Prophet Muhammad SAW was wearing dresses neatly and imposed a shawl from the yellow thread and yellow boot. He stated that Muhammad SAW announced that Allah has a specific plan for him, that he must leave his position in the caliph’s palace, and become a “world traveler,” and “write one impressive work” based on his travel.[5]

In April 1640, Evliya started his journey from Istanbul heading to Bursa in the northwest with his friend. He was not alone while in the journey, but almost all of his journeys were on official duties. Sometimes he accompanied an official delegation of a diplomatic ambassador or a military leader, who was on the mission of expanding the territories. In his travel group, he played a role of a person who was great at speech and easily gratifying his friends with his attitude. After the end of his jaunt, he will immediately back to the sultan’s palace to gladden sultan with his stories and what had he observed during his journey.

Evliya’s travels had two objectives: first, he wanted to record the physical or mental state of earth that had been visited by him and second, at the same time, he liked to share his knowledge with his companions who were traveling with him in intention to gratifying others.[6] The Ottoman territory was explored by him in 40 years period. Various destinations had been visited by him and his spectacular journeys were recorded in his masterpiece in the great ten volumes of books, that known as “Seyahatname.”[7]

During his last journey, Evliya wanted to fulfill his obligation as Muslim by visiting Holy Land of Makkah for hajj. Evliya returned to Istanbul to groom from his last journey. Then, he headed to Makkah through Anatolia west side, then he visited Scio and Rhodes. After visiting southern Anatolia he merged with a jamaah of hajjis in Suriah. After he had finished fulfilling hajj duties in Makkah, he went to Egypt through Suez canal with the Egyptian jamaah of hajjis. Then he went to Sudan and Ethiopia, he lived there for a some time.

The historical records do not state where he passed away. There are two arrangements, whether in Egypt or in Istanbul.[8] But the another historical record said that he died in his birthplace at the age of 80, 1684.[9] Nevertheless, his merit as a Muslim traveler in the Ottoman caliphate brought a great achievement that people will never forget and will always remember.

Seyahatname (The Book of Traveler)

This great travel book of Evliya Celebi was the first book written by combining his autobiography with various information about the geography of Ottoman territory and its conditions. Seyahatname had also recorded various other matters including the language studies as he discussed various types of foreign languages. He also mentioned about the development of the Osmanli prose.

His work is written in an easy and pleasant language to understand, he uses some references like a diary and provincial notes. Therefore, the readers can easily comprehend his works. He does not perturb by the language or grammar errors, as long as readers can understand it. As a writer, he did not follow the standard of writing that had been standardized by the past historians.

Evliya also noted a few natural words (the dialects) from the provinces that he had visited. He also noted about 30 Turkish language dialects, and 30 the other foreign language catalog in his “Seyahatname.” He managed to write down an equation between the Persian language and the German. He also discussed Caucasian, Tsakonian, Kurdish, and Ubykh languages.[10]

Evliya also described different local communities, their lifestyle, language, and culture. This book is accordingly a comprehensive portrayal of the life in the 17th century. It provides a detailed and attractive description. Although Evliya’s writing was focusing mostly on the Muslim community, he also made references to Christian and Jewish institutions, especially to apparent monasteries and churches in Ottoman core lands (for example, in Echmiadzin, Košice, and Vienna ).[11]

“Seyahatname” is also very good in describing the good relations of the Ottoman caliphate with other nations. The book accordingly is very valuable as it has full of information about culture, history, geography, folklore, language, sociology, architecture, and economics. Also, Evliya strived to describe people’s development in every field existing at that time. He noted on various key buildings like government, castle, embankment, or mosque.[12] He also wrote the biographies of important and famous people, characteristics of races in every province that he visited, and their beliefs.[13]

“Seyahatname” could be considered as a continuation of universal historical writing tradition, developed and continued by the famous historians such as Al-Tabari, Ahmedi, Ibrahim Pecevi, and Saududdin. “Seyahatname” was translated into Arabic and published in 1896-1928. Whereas the volumes of 9 and 10 of Seyahatname were published in 1935-1938 in the Latin language. “Seyahatname” is also translated to the English, German, French, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Greek, Armenian, and the other languages.[14]

Criticism

Some later historians stated that Evliya’s books left some empty spaces in his writing, including a paragraph with no name, number, and subject. Some chapters describe only a small number of mosques, buildings, and its special features, but he focuses on main holy places.[15] In my opinion, Evliya had tried his best to write what he saw, or, perhaps, since there were too many places had been visited by him, he decided to choose or focus on the main places and describe them in details, and therefore he neglected minor attentions in his writing. Another aspect that we can notice obviously that Evliya liked the statistics survey combined with actual numbers of the total population, buildings, and others. However, sometimes he also loved to exaggerate in his writing until contradicting with his own descriptions. Some opinions, therefore, stated that he mixed the fantasy in his writings to venerate the local’s tradition , beliefs, and folklores.

Bibliography

“Evliya Çelebi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evliya_%C3%87elebi.

“Saya menceritakan tentang siapa saya(1)”, Perjalanan hidup Evliya Celebi yang patut untuk disimak. 2nd Febuary, 2015, http://www.trt.net.tr/melayu/kebudayaankesenian/2015/02/02/saya-menceritakan-tentang-siapa-saya-1-206665.

Edward White. (5 August, 2016). “Boon Companion” in The Lives of Others (blog). http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/08/05/boon-companion/.

Klaus Kreiser. (October 2005). “Evliya Çelebi”. The University of Chicago: Historians of the Ottoman Empire (Database). https://ottomanhistorians.uchicago.edu/en/historian/evliyacelebi.

Red. (18 August 2009). “Evliya Celebi, Petualang Muslim di Era Turki Usmani”. In  Ensiklopedia Islam (blog). http://www.republika.co.id/berita/ensiklopediaislam/khazanah/09/08/18/69979-evliya-celebi-petualang-muslim-di-era-turki-usmani.

Endnotes:

[1] K. Klaus , “Evliya Çelebi” , The University of Chicago : Historians of the Ottoman Empire (Database), October, 2005, https://ottomanhistorians.uchicago.edu/en/historian/evliya-celebi.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Red, “Evliya Celebi, Petualang Muslim di Era Turki Usmani” , Ensiklopedia Islam (blog), 18th August, 2009, http://www.republika.co.id/berita/ensiklopedia-islam/khazanah/09/08/18/69979-evliya-celebi-petualang-muslim-diera-turki-usmani.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Klaus.

[6] “Saya menceritakan tentang siapa saya(1)”, Perjalanan hidup Evliya Celebi yang patut untuk disimak, 2nd Febuary, 2015. http://www.trt.net.tr/melayu/kebudayaan-kesenian/2015/02/02/saya-menceritakan-tentang-siapa-saya-1206665.

[7] “Evliya Çelebi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evliya_%C3%87elebi.

[8] Red.

[9] W. Edward , “Boon Companion” , The Lives of Others (blog), 5th August, 2016, http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/08/05/boon-companion/.

[10] Klaus.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Red.

[15] See Klaus.

The writer is a second-year student majoring in history at International Islamic University Malaysia.

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