Influenced by Persian Thought

"Popular" Anatolian Islam

A Mixture of Ancient Beliefs

At a certain point in history, the Turks found themselves surrounded by the Islamic conquests, and when the Islamic armies reached the lands of the Turks to spread the religion in 22 AH / 643 CE, their leader Shahr Baraz was only able, at that time, to request reconciliation and convey his willingness to participate in the wars of the Islamic army that were in close proximity to their regions, so reconciliation was concluded between them and there ceased to be conflict between the Turks and the Muslims; rather, everyone marched together in the conquests and in the spread of Islam.
When the Turks entered Islam, Sufism became an inherent and parallel aspect of their religiosity in terms of the tendency to excessively revere those who they considered to be the people of faith. At that time, Sufism in the Abbasid society was found in the corner of worship and asceticism—far from social mobility during the era of the Ottoman Empire. In Anatolia in particular, it has become a society and religion for them to follow, and—for the common folk—it has become their entrance to religion and the field of their practice of it.

Ancient beliefs and their myths produced a perverse spin on Islam in Anatolia.

When Sufism became a religious and ritual custom among the Turks, although it often differs from adherence to the laws of the Sharia, this caused Sufism to lead and deviate towards beliefs and myths that have nothing to do with Islam. This is due to the fact that some of the first Turks who responded to the call of Islam were not fully aware of its bases, and they did not form—before joining Islam—a full and correct understanding of the religion, its principles, and its origins. Moreover, due to the newness of their reversion to Islam, they lacked having a correct image of devotional rituals, and they lacked having full awareness of the truth of the pure and correct Islamic belief that relies mainly on the two most important sources of legislation, namely the Qu’ran and the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), in addition to the fact that most of the early Turks embraced multiple disparate religions throughout their history in the various geographical locations they inhabited, whether they settled there or meandered from one area to another; this clearly impacted the formulation of their social and cultural customs and traditions, as well as the formation of their religious and spiritual customs and beliefs. Converting from one belief to another or from one religion to another is a common occurrence throughout Turkish history. Therefore, when a Turk converted to any different religion, it was to be expected that he would merge some of his old beliefs with the new ones. When the Turks reverted to Islam—especially the groups that migrated to Asia Minor—their religiosity was not without its impurities, oddities, and confusion. They still had some of the legacies of Pagan beliefs and their traditions that they carried, which became clear in how they practiced religion.
Ignorance of the core beliefs of Islam led many of the early Turks to distance themselves from the true Islamic faith and becoming reckless or negligent in its manifestation; this was also caused by their ignorance of the language of the Holy Qur’an, their geographical location being far away from the original centers of Islamic knowledge, and what they were subjected to at the hands of the Mongol invaders. It led them to fall under the influence of many Sufi orders, which are paths tainted with Pagan sediments and innovations within many of their rituals and practices. This may be the cause for cracking of the integrity of their beliefs, especially since they dealt with it with complete faith and without doubting that it is Islamic in origin.

The Anatolians refused to leave their social standpoints and their cultural influences related to beliefs about nature.

Thus, Sufism among the Turks took at its roots an esoteric approach, as did Islam when it entered among the Turks—specifically the Turks of Asia Minor— where it was contaminated among them by their set of beliefs that was derived from ancient backgrounds, both social and spiritual, which are mostly Pagan in origin mixed with other Asian beliefs. All evidence indicates that their form of Islam was influenced by ancient beliefs passed down from generation to generation of Turks, such as Shamanism(1), Burhamia(2), and Manichaeism(3). The remnants of these belief systems, along with the inherited cultural and religious impurities, remained engraved in the popular culture of the Turks after their reversion to Islam and left clear traces in the Islamic religious manifestations in them. Turkish Islam has been dyed with various dimensions relating to their ancient cultural practices and beliefs, and, therefore, it is permissible for us to say: Anatolian Islam has acquired a popular character rather than being rooted and established within the folds of the Sharia.


One of the beliefs rooted in Central Asia and Siberia, it is not considered a religion but rather a group of rituals and beliefs associated with a group of different and disparate religions, Shamanism revolves around concepts and ideas related to the flight of spirits, prophecies, and the treatment of diseases. Shamanism also emphasizes an important social principle, represented in the association with the clan or human groups that are bound by one unit, and this principle is compatible with the first social nature of the Turk and is linked to their cultural heritage.

Inas Saadi and Usama Adnan, Russia's Religious History from Paganism to Christianity (D.M: Ashurbanipal bookstore, 2019).


Burhamia and its beliefs are represented in the teachings of the upper and priestly classes of the Hindu religion, and Burhamia is the highest class of Indian society, with its own rituals, prayers and remembrance. And it was one of the beliefs that influenced the Turk, like other religions and beliefs.

Gustav Le Bon, The Civilization of India, translated by Adel Zuaiter (Cairo: The Hindawi Foundation, 2014).


Manichaeism emerged from the womb of Persian Magianism, attributed to Mani the Persian, who is said to have been born in 216 AD, and he claimed prophethood, and that the revelation came to him at an early age when he was 12 years old, and his ideas were a mixture between Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, and he tried to make for himself a holy book as the Gospel. Manichaeism was one of the earliest beliefs and ideas influenced by the Turk of Persian culture.

Gustav Le Bon, The Civilization of India, translated by Adel Zuaiter (Cairo: The Hindawi Foundation, 2014).

With Tambourine and Dancing

The Ottoman Dogmatism:

This who has no Sheikh to follow, his Sheikh will be “Satan”

Sufi sects grew up in Anatolia under the care of the Ottoman Sultanate, whose Sultans devoted themselves to support and approach the deviant Sheikhs of the Sufi Orders, when they used the mysticism of Sufism in their political schemes. For example: what has been revealed by historical documents of contacts between Abd Al-Hamid II and the groupings of the Sufi Orders and their Sheikhs in Turkestan, South Africa and China, and he succeeded in gathering these Orders, ignoring its doctrinal deviations, in order to achieve his political goals.
Sufi Orders multiplied, varied, and spread throughout Ottoman history, and their impact became officially evident under the patronage of the Sultans who were keen to harmonize with it. Accordingly, in terms of logic that permits the Turki (Khalil Inaljik) to describe the Sufi Orders in Anatolia as religious ways, and to divide them into two sections: the ways known by their Sufi Monasteries, such as the Naqshbandi, Mawlawi and Khulutiyya, which are supported by the endowments of the Sultanic institutions that belong to the Ottoman statesmen, and the other; represented in the esoteric methods that deliberately conceal their worship and rituals.

“Sufism” was the under the Sultanic will.... And the Sultans supported its mysticism.

Whoever traces the origins of Sufi Orders and the history of Anatolia, will find an overlap between them; in their rituals, supplications and connections, rather, he will even find their Shiekhs bask in an aura of reverence in more than one way, even the Shiite ways found supporters of Sufism to spread its call in Turkey; therefore, it is not surprising that we find Sheikh Safi al-Din al-Ardebili – the great grandfather of Shah Ismail al-Safavi, founder of the Safavid State in Iran – surrounded by a large number of followers as a result of the strong call or influential propaganda made by him and his followers of Sufis and Dervishes who were able to spread their call in some territories of the Ottoman Sultanate.
The Sufi Orders – with their differences, both apparent and mystic – contributed to the expansion of the influence of the Ottomans during the fourteenth century AD, especially in Anatolia. Therefore, it is natural to say: that any Turk in Anatolia during that era had a kind of connection with Sufism and its ramifications. Accordingly, the say of: “Those who have no Sheikh to follow, their Sheikh will be “Satan” had spread; thus, the founders of the Orders bask in a high position, reverence and respect among the Turks. They consider them holly due to their ability to enhance the religious affection of their followers, and what they claim in terms of approaching Allah through meditation and visions, and with activities and supplications, some of which are based on dancing; on the rhythm of drums and tambourines. Therefore, in the late Ottoman empire, Istanbul alone contained 20 Sufi Orders, and more than 300 Sufi Monasteries.
Most of the Sheikhs of the Sufi Orders were under the will of the rulers; therefore, the Ottoman Sultans encouraged Sufism among Turks, especially the troops, in order to arm them and make use of them in their protection; thus enhancing their authority, therefore, the Sufi Orders had an official support and attention to Al-Arbetah, Monasteries and Corners in their buildings and facilities. Although, Sufism is a religious form that aroused away from the political practices, and focused on the foundations of social concepts and traditional ways of life, but it was mired in a swamp of myths and falsehoods, and far from the foundations and rules of jurisprudence. Nevertheless, the Ottomans succeeded in rapprochement with them politically and seeking their support at the popular level.
Apart from the Sunni Ottomans – before them the Anatolian Seljuks-, generally, the environment of Asia Minor; was an incubator for large number of philosophical ideas, with its theories coming from different cultures. In the forefront of which is the sacerdotalism status that these cultures brought to Turkish Islam, as the Turks could not emancipate from it, so the Englishman Bernard Lewis (died: 1439 AH / 2018 AD) says about the Sufi Orders of the Turks: “These methods added much of what was lacking in Salafi Islam, and filled the void left by Salafism between the man and his creator. Dervish guides performed the task of religious men and spiritual guides, and their meetings opened the way to fraternity. For the sake of searching for Allah and, on some occasions, the struggle for human needs. Their doctrine was alive, mystical, stemming from natural intuition, and their worship was full of emotion and conscience, using music and dancing, and that was to help the believer to contact with Allah.”
According to Lewis’s concept, true Islam that rejects superstition and sacerdotalism is considered deficient from his point of view, thus the dervishes covered this priestly deficiency, which he believes is important to nourish the spiritual side, and the bearers of these extraneous ideas found an entrance for them to broadcast their philosophies and prophecies related to several aspects, primarily: the political side serving and subject to the authority, on the pretext that they are mediators between the Creator and his creation. All of this took place under the auspices and blessings of the Sunni Ottoman Empire, although Lewis had deliberately interpreted it according to his Western concept and vision, but it was a factual reality if compared to historical sources that described this aspect of the intellectual life of the Ottoman state and its Turkish society.

The Ottoman “dervish” believed that it came to complete the spiritual aspect of Islam.

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By the admission of the Turkish historian, “Inalcik”

“Mysticism” is a common denominator

of the Sufi Order

The profound sacerdotalism state in Anatolia represented a widely open door for interpretation in Ottoman culture, which enabled philosophical ideas – which are in conflict with the Sunni doctrine – to spread with their most extreme visions and distant from it, with interpretations that have pagan, Magus, Greek, Indian, Christian, Sabian perspectives; and atheistic ideas, all of which worked to entice the commoner of the Turks in order to limit the religious interpretations to the Sufi clerics, considering that the inside of the frequent Qur’an meanings is full of secrets that only the infallible imams can see, and they are the only ones who are able to interpret them. This what made Sufism in the Ottoman Empire immersed in the mystical ideas.
There is no doubt that the Multiplicity of Sufism accesses, and not being restricted to one doctrine. It greatly contributed to its spread, especially in Anatolia; since it is able to harmonize with any thought, regardless of its grounds, as it is a spiritual doctrine that the common people have adopted in its apparent form as a behavior of worship and to be alone with Allah through spiritual exercises that elevate their owner to a standing place of Irfan, reveal unseen facts and obtain Karamat. This created a fertile environment for “Mysticism” to spread its beliefs among the Sunni Sufis.

They were preoccupied with a standing place of Irfan, revealing unseen facts and obtaining Karamat.

Sufi orders in Anatolia multiplied and varied during the era of the Ottoman Empire, and they overlapped in a way that made it difficult for the researcher of the Sufi orders to grasp the details of each method and to deconstruct the data and foundations of each sect, and many deviant Sufi paths appeared, perhaps the most prominent of which was the Mystical ways that represented the most dangerous aspect in the history of the Ottoman Empire. As it wore the robe of Sunni Sufism with an extremist Mystical thought, and it was associated with explicitly Mystic doctrines.
The mystical Sufism constituted the most dangerous method among them due to the ambiguity surrounding it and embracing it, and its reliance as well on spreading its dervishes among the Turks, adopting the sectarian struggle way as their approach and they are keen to pass it on to the popular classes, and their attempts to explain the supernatural powers of Ali bin Abi Talib (may God be pleased with him) with Shiite Sufi logic Followed by his descendants who specialize in the divine light, according to their claim, and thus delude them that they are the most capable of interpreting the inner meanings of the Holy Qur’an. Thus, mystical Sufism emerged as a religious system and a dominant force in the Islamic community carrying beliefs, ideas and rituals far from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and by the recognition of the Turkish Khalil Inalçık These mystical beliefs were common to a large extent among the Sufi orders in the Ottoman Empire, some of which are extremist, and some of them are less extreme and intense in these beliefs. Among the most important mystical methods: Hurufism and the Bektashi.

The Multiplicity and diversity of “Order” found a fertile environment in Anatolia.