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ERSOY, MEHMED AKIF (20 December 1873 – 27 December 1936), Turkish Islamist poet. Born in Istanbul of devout parents, Akif received a secular education, graduating first in his class (1893) from the Civil School of Veterinary Sciences. He was a gifted linguist in Arabic, Persian and French, but it was through un-rivalled mastery in his native Turkish that Akif was to convey his poetic vision of the ideal Muslim society, based on his study of Islamic doctrine and the Qur’an. Possessed of conviction and wholehearted commitment, he encapsulated the brooding restlessness of his time-the bitter disillusionment and gloomy introspection of the Muslim world, and especially of the Muslim Turks of the Ottoman Empire. His competent though undistinguished veterinary career (to 1913) was subordinated to his poetic calling, but it nevertheless brought him into close contact with the peoples of the Rumelian, Anatolian, and Arabian provinces, providing valuable insight for his social poetry.

Although publishing from 1893, Akif was long unable, during a period of strict censorship, to put into print his maturing, poetic, social commentary-instead disseminating it privately. The restoration in 19o8 of the 1876 Constitution, however, ushering in the Young Turk era, initiated his literary career proper in verse and prose. Already Akif was interpreting the crisis of the Ottoman state’s struggle for survival, under variform attack from Christendom, on the religious plane as an issue encompassing the entire Muslim world; his writing consequently aimed at an order for Muslim society within the ideal of Islamic unity. His perspective of the disorder in Ottoman society led him to blame not Islam but rather those aspects of the Muslim world created by Muslims and therefore open to correction by them; thus he attributed the failure of education to society’s losing sight of the intellectual in Islam. While viewed as conservative, Akif was so mainly in the sense that he set his revolutionary Islamic thinking within the framework of traditional poetic expression. His magnum opus, the seven-volume Safahat (Phases, 1911-1933) transmuted the lives of real people into a stylized social novel in verse form, composed throughout in polished classical prosody and style and displaying a talent for the use of vignette to inveigh against societal ills.

Akifs pessimism increased during World War I in response to the collaboration by some Ottoman Muslim Arabs with the Christian Powers. His Turkish patriotism shocked into being by the loss of empire, he worked as an educator and preacher in the National Struggle (1919-1922) toward the foundation of a new Turkish state; but he was distressed by the emergence of a nationalist, secular republic serving its Muslim citizens, rather than his desired Muslim Turkey leading the community of Islam. Disappointed, he settled inEgyptin 1925, where he taught Turkish and wrote little; he was however persuaded, despite misgivings, to translate the Qur’dn into Turkish under commission from the Turkish government. This work he eventually completed but retracted, fearing, in his isolation from events, that it might be misused in the state policy of turkification of the language of worship.

Akif was not, nor did he wish to be, aloof from the thinking of his day; he challenged the current ideologies of Turkism and so-called Westernism. Yet his strong sense of Turkishness, as in his emphasis on Turkish idiom and vocabulary in composition, manifests itself clearly despite the uncompromising Islamist message of his writing. Few religious and patriotic poets of this century have surpassed Akif in spiritual depth and nationalist passion, expressed, for example, in the Istiklal Mart (IndependenceMarch), his award-winning poem that was adopted as the Turkish national anthem in 1921.

What endures is the sincerity of the Islamic belief of this Turkish patriot, a man now seen as symbolizing the conjunction of Turkish nationalism and Muslim internationalism. As such, Akif satisfies the yearning of both learned and unlearned inTurkeyin their increasingly defensive reaction against the perceived hostility of the non-Muslim world.

[See also Ottoman Empire;Turkey; Young Turks.]


Ersoy, Mehmed Akif. Aciklamali ve Lugatceli Mehmed Akif Kulliyati, hazirlayan Ismail Hakki Senguler. to vols.Istanbul, 1990-1992. Complete works of the poet, with modern Turkish glossary.

Ersoy, Mehmed Akif. Safahat. Prepared by M. Ertugrul Duzdag.Istanbul, 1987. Definitive edition of the Safahat, which has seen numerous editions and printings. Duzdag also prepared a critical edition for the specialist (Istanbul, 1987).

Iz, Fahir. “Mehmed `Akif.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 6, pp. 985-986.Leiden, 1960-.

lz, Fahir. “Mehmed Akif Ersoy (1873-1936): A Biography.” Erdem 4.11 (Mayas 1988): 311-323. Useful introduction in English, given the paucity of non-Turkish works on Akif.

Tansel, Fevziye Abdullah. Mehmed Akif:: Hayatt Eserleri. 2d ed.Istanbul, 1973. Arguably the best study to date of the poet’s life and works.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/ersoy-mehmed-akif/

  • writerPosted On: November 7, 2012
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