6Humanism in Yunus Emre
Pick Section 1.Intro 2.Life 3.Legends 4.Metaphys. 5.Why 6.Humanism 7.Contemp. 8.Last 9.Bibl. Maximize Your Browser


Mystic is what they call me.
Hate is my only enemy;
I harbor a grudge against none.
To me the whole wide world is one.

Humanism in general is a system of thought which dignifies man in his relation with God, nature and society. The humanist accepts man as the criterion of creation or of mere existence, but the fanatical dogma of many major religions, including Islam, preaches that man's existence on earth is much lower in significance or value in relation to that of God's. As in all mystic traditions, Sufis in Islam emerged as the dialectical antithesis to this theological interpretation and to religious formalism. As Talat Sait Halman [5] indicates in his writings on Yunus Emre , he stood strictly against Moslem dogmatists in expressing the primary importance of human existence.

Sufism in general has a very humanistic approach to religion. Sufis, like other mystics, are trying to reach God or the ultimate Truth by following a certain path. In doing this, they disregard the dichotomy of the physical world and the divine, or better to say that they get rid of the veils separating them. This also means that as humans, they become God-like through this process which again involves human activity. God is internalized , making man not an outcast but an extension of God's reality and love.

Yunus Emre's humanism is not only a humanism of "peace and brotherhood" but also calls for social justice, charity and many other familiar ideals of today's world. For example, Yunus Emre calls for helping other people and sharing one's possessions with them:

If you have seen an unfortunate one, and given him and old piece of clothing,
Tomorrow he will meet you as if he had put on a heavenly robe.

Toil, earn, eat , and give others your wages.
Our first duty is good character and good deeds.
Hand out to others what you earn,
Do the poor people a good turn.

In the above verses Yunus offers rewards from God to people who do good for the poor and unfortunate. He calls for good character, which is obtained by helping others. Ofcourse, the physical world, belongings, riches and jewels are anathema to mystics for they block his way from God:

I take no joy in worldly wealth, nor feel dismay at poverty.
I am content with Your love; it is You I need, You.

Yunus was a popular poet, a preacher, a man of the people. He was not elitist like the Renaissance literary humanism. He called for social justice, equality and prosperity. He spoke against the feudal rulers, landowners, officials, religious leaders or anybody else who would oppress the people of thirteenth-century Anatolia:

Kindness of the lords ran its course,
Now each one goes straddling a horse,
They eat the flesh of the paupers,
All they drink is the poor men's blood.

The lords are wild with wealth and might,
They ignore the poor people's plight;
Immersed in selfhood which is blight,  
Their hearts are shorn of charity.

Yunus does not like tyrants, lords, religious leaders, and any other oppressors; he accuses them of "drinking the poor man's blood". Selfhood, wealth and power all alienate these lords from the common people and keep them away from the "exalted state of love". For Yunus the poor and the rich, the Sultan and the slave are all equals. Looking at a cemetery he says:

These men were rich as could be.
This is what they come to, see!
They reached the end and had to wear
The simple robe without the sleeves.

Back in the past, these were the lords,
At their doors they used to have guards:
Come take a look, you can't tell now
Who are the lords, who are the slaves.

Both rich and poor, the lords and the slaves, all die and lie in the cemetery wearing the burial shroud. All have now become equals and the real Sultan, God, shows his powers over them. What we do or possess during our earthly life does not make us any more "divine" than others unless we seek the true path.

As a seeker of God, Yunus tried hard to find God everywhere he could imagine;

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.

To his suprise Yunus found God inside the Man. All human beings are divine beings and their equality ultimately rests in their divinity. He advises everyone to seek God within themselves:

God permeates the whole wide world,
Yet his truth is revealed to none.
You better seek Him in yourself,
You and He aren't apart - you're one.

This idea of "Vahdet-i VUcud" (Unity of Existence) mentioned before is strikingly similar to Socratic humanism which supposes that truth is immanent in human subjectivity and that the divine is imbedded in man. Yunus Emre speaks of "dignitas hominis", the dignity of humanity, instead of what both the Christian and Islamic dogma of his age was supporting, "contemptus mundi": preaching scorn for the human being, promoting the idea that the human existence is futile. Yunus Emre's humanity was like Protagoras' humanity: "Man is the measure of all things".

Yunus' also believed that he as a human being had God-like powers. He speaks of how he guides people on to the Way:

I am before, I am after -
The soul for all souls all the way.
I'm the one with a helping hand
Ready for those gone wild, astray.

He arranged the world, he created the mountains, plains, and put them in order:

I made the ground flat where it lies,
On it I had those mountains rise,
I designed the vault of the skies,
For I hold all things in my sway.

To countless lovers I have been
A guide for faith and religion.
I am sacrilege in man's hearts
Also the true faith and Islam's way.

Yunus sees himself as the most powerful. He is capable of creating religions, attracting followers. As a popular preacher, Yunus mentions Islam here as the "true faith".

How can Yunus can think so highly of himself? After all, he is just a poor human being; he is a fool of Love. Apparently he recognizes the power of human beings who control the destiny of this planet that we call Earth. They are God's most valuable creation. Emre recognizes the unity of being, that we are not separate from the Divine. In the modern world, there are striking parallels to this idea. For instance the world is shrinking thanks to developments in communications and transportation and we are getting closer and closer to the most fundamental knowledge about nature through modern physics. The realization of this truth has its effects on our sense of who we are, on our relationships to others and to all aspects of life. [15]

If Emre created all religions, he has to respect all. As a lover he sees true love in ecumenical ideas. One would think that today's world would have been much different , stripped off many of the current wars, bloodshed, and animosities, if we took his advice:

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

Emre calls humans of all faiths, all nations to come together and make peace:

Come here, let's make peace,
let's not be strangers to one another.
We have saddled the horse
and trained it, glory be to God.

This is a fundamentally Islamic idea as revealed in Quran:

Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another...
This community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: remain, then, conscious of me.
Qur'an 49:13, 23:52

The orthodox religious authority that Yunus dislikes so much converted these universal ideas in Islam to ideas that lead people against other religions. This is similar to what happened in other main-stream religions through the path of history. We see Yunus attacking the Orthodoxy:

If you mean to wipe off al the rust that covers the hearts,
Be sure to utter this word which is life's true summary;

The man who doesn't see the nations of worlds as one
Is a rebel even if the pious claim he's holy.

Listen to my comment on the strictures of the canon:
Orthodox faith is a ship, its sea is Reality.

No matter how impregnable are the planks of the ship,
They are bound to crack and shatter when waves rage
in that sea.

Listen, my loved one, let me give you a fact beyond this:
The rebel against Truth is the saint of orthodoxy.

For Yunus orthodoxy is like a ship in the sea of Reality, which will eventually be destroyed. The sea here represents God and the ultimate Truth in which human beings are somehow floating but from which they are separated. Hence by being a ship in the sea of Reality, Orthodoxy is actually blocking our way to God. The saints of Orthodoxy are actually rebels against Truth. One should clean his heart from its rust so that God's light can shine on it, drawing it towards enlightenment, and these ships should be abandoned:

Men of God's truth are an ocean,
Lovers must plunge into that sea;
The sages too, should take a dive
To bring out the best jewelry.

As we saw in the legends concerning Emre's life, religious dogma did not particularly enjoy Yunus making such comments and he evidently suffered at the hands the Orthodox, just like his teachers - Haci Bektas and Taptuk Emre. However, Yunus has an idea of pacifism similar to the Christian idea of "Turn the other cheek to a person who is slapping your face" . Describing a Dervish, he says:

DOvene elsiz gerek
SOvene dilsiz gerek

He must be without hands when someone hits him.
He must be tongueless when cursed.

Yunus Emre desires a world without anger:

You make a lot of sounds with your tongue, meaningful things.
You get angry about this and that.
You can't be a dervish.

If it were all right to be angry on this path,
Muhammad himself would have gotten angry.
Because of your anger, you can't be a dervish.

Muhammad is considered to be a Perfect-man; thus he is used here as an example of excelent conduct. Muhammad is said to have thought very highly of dervishes, and is considered to be one of them. Eyuboglu [1] mentions an anecdote in which Muhammad wants to see the dervishes who are also beloved servants of God like him. Going to their teke, he knocks on the door, and when he is asked for his identity , he replies "I am the Prophet". He receives a shocking answer; "Someone as grand as the Prophet would not fit into this door!". Just when he is about to give up, God suggests that he should try once more; "I am God's ambassador", he says. "No thanks, we have nothing do to with ambassadors." Muhammed is again shocked and angry, but God askes him to try once more. This time he says "I am the servant of the poor" which gains him enterance into the tekke. Curious as he is; Muhammed asks, "Who are you? What do you do?", "We the 'Forty Persons', are all united to each other; what is one of us, is all of us. If one of us bleeds, we all bleed together." When Muhammed asked for evidence, one of the dervishes cuts his arm with a knife and they all bleed together. It is now the turn of Muhammed to be examined to prove that he really is the servant of the poor. One dervish gives him a single grape and asks him to divide it for forty of them. Muhammed is confused and asks God for help, who sends Gebrail with a bowl of "nur" (blessed light) from heaven so that Muhammed can crush the grape and make wine out of it. After Muhammed is done, he divides the wine for 40 dervishes and himself, and they all became drunk and ecstatic. After whirling with Muhammed for hours, Muhammed's hat falls off and they divide that into 40 pieces and made belts for themselves, demonstrating their belief that Muhammed is really the servant of the poor.

There is a lot of meaning compressed in this short tale. One gets the reason why Yunus Emre would use Muhammed as his prime example of conduct. Yunus' philosophy of life is explained there in beautifully strong and simple terms. Even a reader, like me, who is not a believer in any religion could associate him(her)self with this story greatly. One does not need to be a dervish to take on the conduct described in the story.

Yunus is a dervish, so we expect his philosophy to enforce the story above. He goes on to say that hate is his only enemy:

AdImIz miskindir bizim
DU$manImIz kindir bizim
Biz kimseye kin tutmayIz
Kamu alem birdir bize.

Mystic is what they call me.
Hate is my only enemy;
I harbor a grudge against none.
To me the whole wide world is one.

He does not hate anyone; he does not look for revenge. Everyone receive the same treatment from Yunus which is quite natural, for:

Water out of the same fountain
Cannot be both bitter and sweet.

Here water symbolizes life, the life created human beings, a common symbol in Sufism. The fountain is the God from which the water comes out; it creates the human beings. Just as water from the same fountain tastes exactly the same, humans are all equal and are good in essence. Emre does not keep this knowledge for himself; he passes it on:

See all people as equals,
See the humble as heroes.

Don't look on anyone as worthless, no one is worthless;
It's not nice to seek people's defects and deficiencies.

Don't look down on anyone, never break a heart;
The mystic must love all seventy-two nations.

Not only is everyone equal, but they should be treated accordingly. One should look forward to liking and loving people, not to finding their mistakes and defects. The divine knowledge is in the heart of humanity, and it is undesirable to break one's heart, whatever his religion is. A dervish is a lover of God , so he has to love humans as they are part of God. One should co-ordinate his actions towards others based on his own experience, thus Emre calls people to "behave as they would wish others to behave towards them":

Sana ne sanIrsan
AyruGa da onu san
DOrt kitabIn manasI
Budur eGer var ise.

Whatever you wish for yourself
Wish for the others
This is the meaning of the four books(Torah, Psalms, Gospel, Kuran)
If there is any meaning
(translation by the author)

One can cite many more verses from Yunus that are full of humanism. Even the few versed quoted here touch on almost every aspect of humanism one could think of in contemporary terms; one could imagine Yunus as a twentieth-century thinker!


Written by Turgut Durduran , durduran@force.stwing.upenn.edu.
All Rights Reserved. Please refer to Bibliography section for sources used here.
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