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L. Langfels
Yunus Emre

Humanism — the path to God and to oneself

The world is my true ration,
Its people are my nation

Who was Yunus Emre? One can just try to reveal and uncover this great enigma of eastern philosophy, but it will be imaginably difficult to analyse this unique phenomenon in persona, to put such an open-minded, multiple and cosmopolitan intellect into the common co-ordinates of religion, origin, „race“, etc. Yunus Emre is -although humanism in connection with hospitality is significant tradition in Turkish culture — not particularly a „product of the Turkish culture“, but rather more the result of cultural clashing and contacting in the Middle East and especially in Asia Minor. Therefore Yunus Emre is not really Turkish, but his home is this world and his nation are the peoples, as the introducing quotation explains.

Nevertheless as a result of long periods of exodus, changing from locale to shifting cultural orientation, contacting new religions, combating against many nations, struggling for survival in the face of natural disasters the Turks had developed a sense of reliance on man in them. By the way, their tribal ethnocentricity was a consequence diminished.

Regarding all that, it is of course not wrong to claim that Yunus Emre was a man of his time within characteristic circumstances. Not only his personal experiences of Turkish cultural humanism, but also his interreligious contacting with Byzantine Christianity, Christian mysticism and Islamic Sufism helped him to establish a humanist philosophy enabling the coexistence of different religions, faiths and peoples.

By the late 13th century, Islamic mysticism — particularly the Sufi philosophy of Rumi — had become widespread and vastly influential in many parts of Asia Minor. After several centuries of crusades, Byzantine- Seldjouk wars, the Mongol invasion, tribal battles among various Anatolian states, etc. ... there was a sort of seeking for peace based on an appreciation of man’s worth. Not tolerating — this word instils in us the act of being tolerant, it implicates „having to bear and endure“, in fact, often against one’s own will — not tolerating, but accepting the „strange“ culture, just as it is.

Mysticism, which attributes god-like qualities to man, became a guarantee of peace and the defender of man’s value, with is central concern for man’s dignity and worth, interreligious living together, articulating the eternal idea of the one and only acceptable struggle against man’s „internal enemy“ which is selfishness, vanity, hatred, ambition and faithlessness, since all this characteristics are the real source of violence, war and discord among the human beings. The humanistic mysticism of Anatolia in the late 13th century, with is universal concerns for peace, brotherhood, the tradition of Turkish multicultural humanism is best represented by Yunus Emre (d.ca. 1320). His poetry embodies the quintessence of word-embracing humanism, forging the real face of Islam, different from our current view and opinion, in verses stressing the importance of the human worth and showing Islam to us — not in terms of dogmatic formulas or stereotype rituals but in terms of freedom of speech, conscience and a fundamental, universal world ethos.

Humanism is a manifold system of thought exalting man in his relations with God, nature and society. It is somehow obvious that Yunus Emre stood against Muslim dogmatists who were in alliance with powerful institutions and the „Establishment“, whereas the great mystic Emre was firmly on the side of the common people, the Turkish farmers and poor people far away from the Sultan’s palace.

In Yunus Emre’s philosophy there is one central idea presenting the image of man not as an outcast, but as an extension of God’s reality and love.

Many are the wonders of the world,
And none so wonderful as Man.

In his vision there is no placefor narrow-mindedness of dogmatism, for segregation of God and man. This strong belief in man finally made him discover God’s essence in himself ...

The Providence that casts this spell
And speak so many tongues to tell
Transcends the earth, heaven and hell
But is contained in this heart’s cast.
The yearning tormented my mind:
I searched the heavens and the ground;
I looked and looked, but failed to find.
I found Him inside man at last.

Yunus Emre’s faith in the primacy of man also made him come to the conclusion to seek God right in his own heart, neither in the Holy Land nor in Mecca. He found in love a spiritual force which enlightens — according to Yunus — human beings and sets them free from the narrow confines of doctrine and dogmas into which human being are forced.

For Y. Emre feeling the marvels of true love meant abandoning barriers of religion and nation. As a pantheist, he believed that God is immanent in the universe. His poems frequently refer to his full acceptance of the „four holy books“ rather than a strict adherence to Quran. He even goes further in claiming that only love imparts God’s gift to man. For Emre man was not only the measure of all things — as Protagoras had stated — but he was even the true itself. Many of Yunus Emre poetic passions, pantheistic visions and humanistic thoughts are deeply rooted in the Sufi tradition. Different from other mystics like Rumi, he did not analyse looking upon the masses from the „ivory tower of the philosopher“ writing a Persian, the language of the elite, Yunus Emre, like Dante, preferred the language of his own people. So it is quite natural that he became a living legendary figure and a folk saint. This image was douptlessly favoured by expressions like ...

Whoever has one drop of love
Possesses God’s Existence.

In his lifetime he travelled far and wide as a „dervish“, contacting not authorities, but living together with the poor, oppressed and exploited Anatolian people. There in the heartland of Anatolia his verses were memorised, recited and celebrated for nearly eight centuries. Yunus Emre used simple syllabic meters, but expressed his sentiments and the wisdom of his faith in the common man’s language. Among his stylistic virtues were distilled statements, simple images and metaphors, and the avoidance of prolixity in the sense of the bloating language of Persian Divan lyrics.

But Yunus Emre’s permanence and power emanate not merely from his language, but from his themes of time less significance. He rather seems to be a poet of today, answering hostility and war with tolerance, love and Humanism.

I am not here on earth for strife,
Love is the mission of my life.

In his own age and down to our times, Yunus Emre has provided the image of perfect mystic, the example of how to lead a faithful life reflecting universal verities and values, the ecstasy of communion with nature and union with God, and the typical humanistic joy of life.

If you do not identify Man as God,
All your learning is of no use at all.

Sufism is very pervasive in Emre’s poetry, who like a human meltingpot unified a long line of evolution with elements from Buddhist, Indian, the Neoplatonism of Plotinus, Christian mysticism, the Jewish cabala and some Moslem thinkers such as Al-Ghazali, Rumi, etc. ... Mysticism — unlike the dogma — thinks that man is not only God’s creation but also God’s reflection.

You better seek Him in yourself,
You and He are not apart — you are one.
He is God Himself — human are His images.
See for yourself: God is man, that is what he is.

It is a duty for the mystic to love God, and so become, through love, the perfect man. This, of course, requires the achievement of self-knowledge. Lack of self-knowledge, in Yunus Emre’s view, signifies a low form of existence, because to know oneself is to know God. Just like Feuerbach’s words: „God is the highest subjectivity of man abstracted from himself. The essential predicates of divinity, such as personality and love, are simply the human qualitiesmen evaluate most highly.“ According to Yunus true Science is Self-knowledge:

One should aim to acquire knowledge to know oneself:
If you do [*] know yourself, you are worse than a beast.

Who was Yunus Emre, really? Yunus Emre the lover (Y. Emre, like all mystic poets, uses the word „asik“ which means „lover“ as a human being in love with God. Furthermore in Turkish „asik“ also means a folk poet, bard, minstrel, troubadour, etc. ... Yunus was an „asik“ par excellence.), Yunus, the dervish, Yunus a „perfect man“? About his life we know precious little. Some scholars even speculate that he, the eloquent poet, was illiterate, but in the other hand the poems reflect such a richness of allusions which can hardly be expected from a illiterate But is the question of illiteracy or not so important? The poems matter; Without any doubt they speak for themselves, and some of them are really magnificent. For us, he is the embodiment of humanism in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, a poor peasant, a wandering dervish, ...

His poems are lively, moving, pithy, profound and deeply compassionate. In his poetry, a unitary vision of man and nature is dominant. His humanism seeks to enrich human existence, to eliberate man from dogma by placing him in a relationship of love with God. His view of love is creative and has many faces.

In God’s world there are
hundred thousands kinds of love.

Yunus Emre’s poetry is intensely human in its sentiments and human in its concerns for the plight of deprived people. In an age of cruelty, hostilities, rifts, destruction he was able to give expression to an all-embracing love of humanity and to his concepts of universal brotherhood which transcended all boundaries of religion, „race“ and cultural divisiveness.

See all people as equals,
See the humble as heroes.
For those who truly love God and his ways
All people of the world are brothers.

Yunus Emres plea for universal brotherhood is not unlike the „world citizenship“ of ancient Stoics. He decried religious intolerance and had the dream of the „unity of humanity“.

We regard no one’s relgion as contrary to ours,
True love is born when all faiths are united as a whole.

Humanism uphold the idea of the total community of manking. His humanist credo is also based on international understanding which reaches further than ethnic, political and religious bounderies. In his terms, love has the historical task to unify the world. His worldwide vision is somehow related to the famous lines by Mevlana-Celaleddin-Rumi who made a plea to all faiths for unity:

Gene gel, gene
Ne olursan ol,
ister kafir ol, ister atese tap, ister puta,
ister yüz kere tövbe etmis ol,
ister yüz kere bozmus ol tövbeni.
Umutsuzluk kapisi degil bu kapi;
nasilsan öyle gel.
Come, come again
whoever, wathever you may be, come;
Heaten, fire-worshipper, sinful of idolatry, come.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a hundred times;
Ours is not the portal of despair or misery, come.

In Yunus Emre’s view, service of society is the greatest morale ideal and the individual can find his own good in working for the benefit of all. Gnomic statements about charity and philanthropy were not simply content by Emre. He was not a prophet or a visionary, not an ordinary dervish engaged in religious work, nor an ascetic monk. Although his religious thoughts were rooted in metaphysical abstractions and his poetry, he was a man of the people and for the people — a cry in persona for freedom and social justice.

Yunus did not shy away from criticizing the „Establishment“, his interpretation of humanism was — unlike the European version — not elitist, but populist. He spoke out courageously against the oppression of underprivileged, deprived people by the rulers, landowners, officials and religious leaders. This dominant concern for the underprivileged classes, afrequent theme in his poems, this eternal tradition of humanism reaches from the mystical origins of the dervishes to socialist realism of another Turkish poet called Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963) whose grandfather interestingly and miraculously enough was a dervish, too. The marxist poet Hikmet about Yunus Emre:

I have a different appreciation of Yunus:
Through him the Turkish peasant gave voice to a whole age
of his concerns, not for the world to come,
but for this world.

Despite his profound belief in the natural goodness of man, Yunus Emre complained about the hypocrites, „men of dark deeds“, religious teachers and preachers who abuse the people and make a mockery of the fundaments of the faith.

A single visit into the heart is
Better than a hundred pilgrimages.

Yunus Emre criticized people who abused religion to defend their hierarchial society and often despotic rulership. That was then, but what is now? It seems that the end of caliphat, sultanat and the birth of laicism trough the kemalist-sozialdemokrat Revolution did not change so much for religious minorities in Turkey.

In July 22nd 1993 islamic fundamentalists set — in cooperation with panturanist-fascistic „grey wolves“ — fire to a hotel in Sivas (Anatolia, Turkey) so that 32 people had to die in the flames. These were followers of Yunus Emre, intellectuals, Bektasi-Alevis, defenders of laicism and believers in democracy and the republican system who had organised that/a cultural meeting. ( These people are dead and Yunus Emre is dead, too.) But (their ideas and ideals) the ideas and ideals from these men who are dead and the ideas and ideals from Yunus Emre are still alive, more than ever, they will never die, they are eternel.

No fire may tune down the voice of true.
No wall may withstand the cry for freedom.
The cries of the dead people turn back to the murderers mind,
they turn back to the place where they had gone away,
they turn back like carrier-pigeons.

[*should probably read correctly: don’t — Red.

copyright L. Langfels, Vienna 1995

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Erstveröffentlichung im FORVM:
Oktober
1995
Autor/inn/en:

L. Langfels: Born in Linz as a child from turkish alevites immigrates, studies medicine in Vienna.

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