New Book: İdris-i Bidlisi: Ottoman Kurdistan and Islamic Legitimacy

28 05 2012

İdris-i Bidlisi: Ottoman Kurdistan and Islamic Legitimacy

By Ebru Sönmez, 2012, Libra Books.

Ebru Sönmez’ study deals with two developments that were of central significance for Ottoman history in the sixteenth century and beyond. Both of them continue to be hot button issues after almost five hundred years: the incorporation of northern, southern, and western Kurdistan into the Ottoman Empire and the assumption of a staunchly Sunni identity by the Ottomans in response to the political threat posed by the Safavids who claimed a Shi’ite identity. Sönmez’ book is centered on Idris Bidlisi (d. 1520), a Persianate scholar whose family originates from Bidlis, a Kurdish political center in the fifteenth century. After providing an account of Bidlisi’s life, the second part of Sönmez’ work focuses on Bidlisi’s diplomatic role in attracting the military and political allegiances of the Kurdish lords to the Ottoman center. For anyone who is interested in the history of Kurdistan and the Ottoman approach to ethnic politics, this part is a must-read. In the third part of her book, Sönmez discusses Bidlisi’s political writings, focusing on the question of the legitimacy of Ottoman rule for a Muslim audience. She demonstrates that many of the Ottoman claims to Sunni caliphal legitimacy which were put forward during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-66) were foreshadowed in Bidlisi’s writings as he theorized the rise of Selim I (1512-20) to the leadership of the Islamic world. This part of her book would be of interest both to scholars of Ottoman and Islamic political thought, and those who are interested in the historical roots of the Turkish style of secularism which, rather than separating religion and the state, prefers to bring the former under the control of the latter.

Baki Tezcan, Associate Professor of History, and Religious Studies, University of California, Davis.

Table of Contents

Notes on Transliteration



Part One The Life of Idris-i Bidlisi

I. Bidlisi in Tabriz

I. An Ajam Bureaucrat at the Ottoman Court

III. The War Years

IV. The Last Years

Part Two Practicing Diplomacy on Behalf of the Ottomans in the Struggle over the Kurdish borderlands

I. The Kings of ‘Ajam: The Presentation by Bidlisi about the Kurds

i- Locating Kurdistan

ii- Genealogical Legitimacy

iii- Marital Kinsmen

iv- Kurdish Religious Affiliations

v- Political Associations with Neighbors in the Early Sixteenth Century

II. Organizing the Kurds on the Side of the Ottoman Sultan

i- Playing the Tribes and Members of the Same Family off Against One Another

ii- The Two Captive Kurdish Leaders Back in Power

iii- The Kurds in the ‘Iraqayn

iv- The Unification of the Kurdish-Ottoman Forces

III. Organizing the Administration of the Ottoman Kurdistan

i- Administrative Arrangements

ii- The Emergence of Semi-autonomous and Autonomous Principalities: Eyalet-i Diyarbekir and Cema‘at-i Kurdan

Part Three Religio-Political Legitimacy of the Ottoman Sultan

I. Muslim Concepts of Political Authority during the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries

i- The Regional Caliphate

ii- From Sufi Order to Polity: The Messianic Claims of  the Safavid sheikh/shah

II. Sultan Selim Versus Shah Isma‘il: Bidlisi’s Definition of the Caliphate-Sultanate Contrasted with the two Leaders’ Mode of Governing

i- The Contribution of Bidlisi to Ottoman Political Literature

ii- Bidlisi’s Concept of the Caliphate-Sultanate

iii- Redefining the Criteria for the Genealogy of the Caliph

III. The Religious and Ethical Duties of the Caliph-Sultan

i- The Union of Religion and State/Sultanate

ii- Jihad as a Religious Duty of the Caliph-Sultan

iii- The Practice of Justice

IV. Towards a New Formulation of the Universal Caliphate-Sultanate






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