Annual discussions on religious and civic matters took place in the presence of the Ottoman sultans for more than a century until the practice was abandoned with the end of the Caliphate in 1924.
One of the main reasons for the survival of the Ottoman Empire for over 600 years was its strong focus on maintaining Islam as an integral part of its rule. While the Turkish-ruled empire grew rapidly after inheriting the Muslim caliphate from the Abbasid dynasty in 1517, it maintained a strong emphasis on scientific consensus on social and religious issues.
Therefore, by 1759, the concept of “Huzur-i Humayun Lectures” had taken official form. Conducted in the presence of the Ottoman Sultan during the month of Ramadan, the lectures were participatory by design, as Muslim scholars interpreted various Quranic verses and answered questions from students and other audience members.
Huzur’s annual lectures were usually held inside Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the highest seat of the Ottoman Empire. This tradition continued for 165 years until the abolition of the caliphate in 1924 made it go down in history.
The idea of encouraging debate on sensitive religious issues dates back to when the Ottoman state was in its infancy. The sultans held meetings with scholars and religious leaders to revive scientific and religious life and to ensure that the Ottoman state and dynasty adhered to Islamic values.
For this same reason, the Ottoman sultans placed importance on inviting well-known religious scholars of their time to their palace along with students. They even adopted some of them as private teachers.
Fatih Sultan Mehmed (Mehmed II), who ruled the empire with decisive military victories between 1451 and 1481, took this tradition of consensus to a new level. He ensured his presence in these debates and placed the utmost importance on the encouragement of religious and scientific thought in Ottoman society.
So how did the Huzur conferences go?
At least six scholars participated in the first lesson between noon and afternoon prayers.
These lessons acquired the name “Huzur-i Humayun Lectures” because they were held in front of the sultan, who listened to what was being said.
There are very few religious and cultural programs throughout history that have continued steadily and for so long.
Scholars who read the course in Huzur lectures were called “mukarrir” (a person who explains a subject), and scholars who raised questions and debated the merits of the lectures were called “muhatap” (interlocutors). For each mukarrir, there was The number of lecturers increased or decreased from time to time, as did the number of classes, days, hours and duration.
The whole event was administered by the Sheyhulislamlik (the office of the Sheikh al Islam), which had the highest authority to issue fatwas. The suras and verses to be performed at the annual event were announced by the Sheyhulislamlik fifteen days before Ramadan. They would then prepare their requests.
The courses took place in complete scientific freedom. A verse was read and interpreted by the mukarrir, who then answered questions posed by the muhataps. The sultan listened to everything, from lectures to discussions. Most scholars have framed their presentations based on the works of Qadi Beydawi, a 13th-century Persian jurist, theologian, and Quran commentator.
What made this exercise so critical was that scholars interpreted Quranic verses in the light of hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), fiqh (full understanding), and historical and geographical relevance. It was an honest and intellectually rigorous activity that enhanced the rational and spiritual thinking of the Ottoman dynasty.
It was common for Huzur scholars to be rewarded with gifts from the sultan.
The meeting place of the assemblies was determined by the sultan. Here the mukarrir sat to the right of the sultan and the muhataps sat next to the mukarrir in a semicircle.
The names of the men and women who would remain to listen to lectures in the presence of the sultan were approved by the sultan.
During the reign of Abdulhamid II, lectures were held at Yildiz Palace two days a week during the month of Ramadan. Some deputies and politicians were also invited.
During the reign of Sultan Vahdeddin and Caliph Abdulmecid Efendi, classes continued at Dolmabahce Palace. The last was in May 1923.
In the Istanbul University Library there are more than twenty perfectly handwritten and illuminated “Huzur Reading Notebooks”, probably from the Yildiz Palace Library.
Today, in the presence of the Moroccan sultan, courses similar to the Ottoman Huzur lectures, in method and content, are held during Ramadan. These are published in Arabic and English languages under the name Aldurus Alhasania. Religious scholars from all Islamic countries including Turkey are invited to this event.
Source: World TRT