Turkish-Islamic Polymath Katip Çelebi

Katip Çelebi (1609-1657) was a respected Turkish-Islamic Polymath who worked on history, geography, and biography and wrote valuable pieces.

MAGAZINE 23.09.2021, 17:12 28.09.2021, 09:54
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Turkish-Islamic Polymath Katip Çelebi

The real name of Katip Çelebi, who was born in Istanbul in 1609, is Mustafa ibn Abdullah (Which means Mustafa’s son Abdullah). During his adult life, Mustafa went on a pilgrimage in 1634 where he was a specialist civil servant (Caliph (second Clerk)-overseer), which earned him the name Haji Halife. However, he got the name Katip Çelebi because of his clerical position in the army (Katip means Clerk). When he was six years old, Mustafa learned to read the Quran and tajweed rules, including memorising half of it. He later took private lessons from respected scholars of the time. At the age of 14, he started to work as an intern in the Anatolian imperial financial bureaucracy (Revenue Office), one of the units affiliated with Ottoman finance. He learned penmanship and accountancy there in a short time. In 1624 he joined the Terjan campaign (Edirne) and Baghdad Campaign in 1925. In the same year, he was appointed as the trainee of the Chief Reaction Officer (the finance unit that keeps the salary and identification books of the sala - ried soldiers in the Kapıkulu organisation, which was the Ottoman central army).

Katip Çelebi was not limited to his own culture and scientific world but became the pioneer of those who applied to Western sources during the Ottoman Empire.

He stayed in Diyarbakır for a while with the army upon his return from the campaign. He was appointed to the Cavalry Reaction, which saw the roll call and accounting procedures of the Cavalry Regiment in the Army, and came to Istanbul in 1627. During that time, he took lessons from the famous madrasa scholar of the period, Qadizade Mehmet Efendy. He participated in the siege of Erzurum in 1628 with the army prepared to suppress the rebellion of Erzurum Governor Abaza Mehmet Pasha, which had been going on since 1624. After the Safavids occupied some of the Ottoman lands in the east, he participated in the Baghdad and Hamadan Expedition in 1629 and came to Istanbul in 1631 to participate in the talks and lectures of Qadizade again.. He participated in the Aleppo Campaign between 1633 and 1635. He went on a pilgrimage because the army was going to spend the winter of 1634 in Aleppo. He visited the bookstores and libraries in Aleppo during his off-duty times and meeting with scholars and intellectuals in Diyarbakir, where the army had stopped during its return to Istanbul. He participated in the Revan (which is called Erivan today) Campaign with Murat IV in 1635. He returned to Istanbul after the Revan castle was taken from the Sa - favids; thus, after 12 years on the expedition, Katip Çelebi transformed his efforts from “the small Jihad to the great jihad,” according to his own words, where he changed his battle against the enemy on the field to the enemy of igno - rance.

Katip Çelebi, whose real scientific life started after that, took private lessons from the important scholars of the period, dealt with various sciences and trained students until the end of his life, apart from the Crete Expedition, which he participated in in 1645 and had the opportunity to examine how maps were made.

In his works, Kâtip Çelebi dealt with different subjects such as history, philosophy, geography, astronomy, mathematics, music and bibliography

Kashf az-Zunun, which includes the various works of Kâtip Çelebi, especially the names and authors of approximately 15 thousand books and epistles, has been the leading ref - erence work of almost everyone who does Islamic studies in the Western world.

Katip Çelebi, who was reasonably competent in history, attributes the mistakes made by the commanders in wars to their ignorance of history and emphasises that it is es - sential for politicians and those in power to read history and geography. Apart from history, he was also interested in geography, stating that Westerners and Greeks were ahead of Islamic geographers in this field, and he wrote Jihannuma, a geography encyclopedia, to fill this gap. This work opened the horizons of scientific circles and laid the groundwork for the works to be written after him.

Katip Çelebi, who was not limited to his own culture and scientific world, was the pioneer of those who applied to Western sources in the Ottoman Empire. Thus he trans - lated some parts of Aristotle’s philosophical commentary and Meteorologica books, the Dutch geographer Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, an accurate modern atlas, and the German geographer Philippus Cluverius’s Introduction to Old and New Geography Books into Turkish.

In his works, Kâtip Çelebi dealt with different subjects such as history, philosophy, geography, astronomy, mathematics, music and bibliography, and with his own views, he left his mark on the Ottoman intellectual and scientific life and brought innovations. He has gained a great appreci - ation and fame in the Western world as well as in Turkey. Known as a hardworking, good-natured, dignified person who speaks little and writes a lot, Kâtip Çelebi is one of the first Muslim Turkish scientists who, in addition to know - ing Arabic, Persian and Latin, was also very interested in Western sciences in the Ottoman Empire, comparing and synthesising these sciences with Eastern sciences. The year 2009, the 400th anniversary of his birth, was declared as the "Year of Katip Çelebi" by UNESCO.

The grave of Kâtip Çelebi, who died on October 6, 1657, is in the Vefa district of Istanbul, around the Zeyrek Mosque.

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