Necip Fazıl (1904–83),[6] the offspring of an Ottoman elite family from Istanbul, was a man of excited emotions, who in the midst of a colourful social life as a banker, poet, playwright, novelist, penman and gambler also struggled with his inner self. According to his own statements, his existential broodings gave him no peace, and one evening on the steamer back from work over the Bosporus to Beylerbeyi, where he was living at that time with his widowed mother, he was confronted by a man who, according to his narrative, followed him with a piercing gaze. Since he was not able to escape the eyes of this man, they started to talk. In this way Necip Fazıl was introduced to the renowned Nakşibendi sheikh Abdülhakim Arvasi. The man in the steamer advised Necip Fazıl to go and see this mürşid in the Ağa Camii in Beyoğlu.

Necip Fazıl’s relationship with his tutor from the Nakşibendi order lasted for nine years, from 1934 when he first met him, until 1943, when Abdülhakim Arvasi died. He has described his encounter with the sheikh in different books and essays, like Başbuğ Velilerden 33 (Number 33 of the Leading Sheikhs, referring to the fact that Abdülhakim Efendi was the thirty-third follower in a silsile originating with the Prophet Muhammed), O ve Ben (He and I ), Rabıta-i Şerife Abdülhakim Arvasi (Abdülhakim Arvasi, The Noble Connection), and Tasavvuf Bahçeleri Abdülhakim Arvasi (Abdülhakim Arvasi, The Gardens of Mysticism).

The ‘language’ available to communicate religious commitment was different from what had existed in pre-republican society. Necip Fazıl strongly rejected the personal dominance characteristic of the traditional Sufi mürid–mürşid relationship. It was only in relation to Abdülhakim Arvasi that he showed signs of total devotion. Even this devotion was not absolute, since he would not always obey his sheikh on issues of prayers and other rituals. In terms of inner affection, however, his devotion to Arvasi was total. For Necip Fazıl, his mürşid was irreplaceable, and after the death of Abdülhakim Arvasi in 1943, Necip Fazıl never entered into a similar relationship again. The two disciples whom sheikh Abdülhakim had appointed as his possible successors both died before him, and this branch of the Nakşibendi order was broken. The broken chain (silsile) became symbolic of the fact that Necip Fazıl had to stand for himself as an autonomous individual. He looked for new ways to communicate his existential experiences. It was not the spoken word of an intimate relationship that mattered, he decided, but the written message directed to an anonymous mass of people.

For many years Necip Fazıl pursued his campaign for Islam (dava) through a publication named Büyük Doğu (Great East). The magazine carrying this name first appeared in 1943. Just one year later it was closed down for disseminating Islamic propaganda, a blow that was to be repeated over and over again. Financially speaking, it was difficult to publish under such uncertain conditions, and Necip Fazıl often complained about lack of money. Necip Fazıl was also personally affected by state persecution, and was imprisoned several times, though usually for short periods. The first longer sentence he received lasted from 12 December 1952 to 26 May 1953. He described this shocking experience in Cinnet Müstatili (The Rectangle of Madness). The book is full of resentful complaints. Necip Fazıl writes that he used to count the seconds, with 24 million seconds to serve. He used to cry very easily and only found consolation in accomplishing his prayers. He did not only conduct his five daily prayers, but would also make up for the ones that he had previously neglected, a practice called kaza in Islam. The political liberalisation of the 1950s did not seem to increase his scope of action very much. As a matter of fact, Necip Fazıl’s relationship to the Democratic Party and its leader Adnan Menderes was contradictory. Büyük Doğu continued to fall foul of the law, while Necip Fazıl is said to have received a salary from the prime minister’s special payroll.

From the beginning of the 1960s and until the end of the 1970s Necip Fazıl was engaged in an intensive series of conferences all over the country. When the Milli Selamet Partisi (National Salvation Party) was created under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan in 1972 he gave the party his support, even though with certain reservations. For a couple of years he wrote for the party’s daily paper, the Milli Gazete, but when the party entered a coalition government with the Republican People’s Party (the party of Atatürk) in 1973, his ardour cooled. The compromises of real politics did not suit his disposition. His idealism exceeded the bounds of practical politics, and towards the end of the 1970s he directed his sympathies to an ultra-nationalist party led by Alparslan Türkeş, the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (the Nationalistic Action Party).

When Necip Fazıl died at the age of 79 in 1983, he was on sick leave from yet another imprisonment. The funeral became a great demonstration for different Islamic groups during an era marked by the suppression of politics after the 1980 military intervention. Necip Fazıl was an intellectual and activist with the ability to unite people from different Islamic groups. He represented an Islamic outlook, but he never appeared as a religious leader. Instead he used his ability to merge an Islamic message with a strongly nationalistic political ideology. Necip Fazıl Kısakürek was one of the first intellectuals in Republican Turkish history to take up Islam as a political ideology. He challenged the official secular nationalism with a nationalism rooted in Islamic beliefs. His revival was built on a combination of religion, national culture and modernity.

The kind of leadership that Necip Fazıl claimed for himself was different from that practiced by the traditional Sufi leaders. It was also alien to the realities of practical politics. Necip Fazıl was too proud, self-seeking and arrogant to engage himself in party politics.[7] His deep desire was to gather everyone who believed in his dava under his own single and unquestioned leadership, but since this could neither be a religious, nor a political form of leadership it was channeled into a purely ideological one. In this capacity, he helped articulate Islam as a political force (the politicisation of Islam), an effort that also affected the definition of Turkish national identity. His message was delivered with the help of his strong spirit, his firm belief (iman), and his courageous character, which turned him into a kind of intellectual Hercules, a giant and a hero in the eyes of his followers. This heroism was closely connected to his ability to stand up as an individual against a repressive regime. But Necip Fazıl was not a democrat. He believed in the assertive individual in a Nietzsche-like fashion. He was a true elitist, lacking the slightest scent of populism and opportunism. Such a personality induced fear in both friend and foe, but also with admiration. Necip Fazıl enjoyed great popularity. Tens of thousands of people of different backgrounds – not just a handful of intellectuals – gathered to listen to his many conferences.


6. For this section, see also Özdalga (1992; 1994).

E. Özdalga (1992) ‘East and West as Symbols of Good and Evil: Turkish Muslim
Intellectuals Facing Modernity’, in B. Utas and K. Vikör (eds) The Middle East Viewed
from the North (Bergen: Alma Mater Forlag AS).

E. Özdalga (1994) ‘Necip Fazıl Kısakürek: Heroic Nationalist in the Garden of
Mysticism’, Meddelanden (Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, Stockholm),
no. 19, 5–27.

7. He never let any political party use him for its own purposes. Instead, Necip Fazıl used the existing political parties for his own purposes. This characterisation is from Mehmet Akif İnan, poet and high school teacher of literature and great admirer, or ‘disciple’, of Necip Fazıl, in an interview in Ankara in 1992.


Source: Elizabeth Özdalga, “Transformation of Sufi-Based Communities in Modern Turkey: The Nakşibendis, the Nurcus, and the Gülen Community”, (Turkey’s Engagement with Modernity – Conflict and Change in the Twentieth Century, Edited by Celia J. Kerslake, Kerem Öktem and Philip Robins,, 2010), pp. 74-77.


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