YUNUS EMRE'S HUMANISM
"The world is my true ration Its people are my nation."
Humanism is an abiding tradition in Turkish culture. Before adopting Islam and settling in Anatolia, the Turks had already acquired anthropocentric attitudes as a result of the vicissitudes they experienced in long periods of exodus and during relatively brief sojourns in Asia. Changes of locale, shifting cultural orientation, new religious allegiances, wars with many nations and communities, struggle for survival in the face of natural disasters helped to create among the Turks a sense of life's impermanence as well as faith in human endurance against the ravages of a hostile world. Contact with diverse peoples diminished their ethnocentricity and gave them a faculty for latitudinarian relations. Cataclysmic social and cultural changes instilled in them a sense of reliance on man rather than institutions.
The seeds of humanism which the Turks brought with them found fertile ground in Anatolia, where Sufism (Islamic mysticism) had firmly established itself. During their conversion to Islam and assimilation of its cultural concomitants, many Turks embraced the Sufi doctrine as well as its humanist concepts which were congenial to their pre-Islamic humanistic tradition.
By the late l3th century, Islamic mysticism-particularly the Sufi philosophy of Rumi-had become widespread and vastly influential in many parts of the new homeland of the Turks. After several centuries of turmoil in Anatolia-with the ravages of the Crusades, the Byzantine SelÃ§uk wars, the Mongol invasions, strife among various Anatolian states and principalities, and frequent secessionist uprisings still visible or continuing-there was a craving for peace based on an appreciation of man's inherent worth. Mysticism, which attributes God-like qualities to man, became the apostle of peace and the chief defender of man's value. While the "ghazi" (warrior, conquering hero) spirit still served as the primary impetus to Turkish conquests, the intellectual tradition of mysticism, with its central concern for man's dignity and worth, formed an antithetical, if not antagonistic, alternative to warfare and to inter-religious strife as well as intra-religious sectarianism. The Turkish mystics articulated the idea that only one acceptable struggle may be undertaken: against man's "internal enemy" which is selfishness, vanity, ambition, and faithlessness. They denounced war and discord as morally indefensible and ethically wrong.
The humanistic mysticism of Anatolia in the late l3th century, with its concern for peace, brotherhood. man's intrinsic significance, and humanitarianism; was the culmination-better still, the perfection -of the incipient humanism which the Turks had brought with them from Asia.
The tradition of Turkish humanism is best represented by Yunus Emre (d. ca.1320). His poetry embodies the quintessence of Turkish Anatolian-Islamic humanism, and has served as a fountainhead of the humanistic concepts which have been at work, overtly or implicitly, in the intellectual life of the Turks in later centuries.
Yunus Emre was the most significant literary figure of Turkish Anatolia to assimilate the teachings of Islam and to forge a synthesis of Islam's primary values and mystic folk poetry. His verse stressed the importance of the human worth and viewed Islam not in terms of rigid formulas but in terms of freedom of the conscience and fundamental ethos.
Humanism is a system of thought which exalts man in his relations with God, nature; and society. The humanist accepts man as the criterion of creation, but the dogma of many major religions, including Islam, supports the concept that man's existence on earth is devoid of significance or value. As elsewhere, mysticism and humanism in the Islamic world emerged as the dialectical antithesis to this theological interpretation and to religious formalism. Yunus Emre, the first great Turkish humanist, stood squarely against Moslem dogmatists in expressing the primary importance of his existence.
I see my moon right here on earth,
What would I do with the skies.
Rains of mercy pour down on me
From this ground where I fix my gaze.
This is not a repudiation of a transcendent God. Rather, it is the internalization or humanisation of God. The religious establishment in Yunus EmrÃ©'s day, like the transcendental philosophy of the medieval Christian Church, was preaching scorn for the human being, propagating a sense of the filth and the futility of human existence. In o n defiance of this teaching of "contemptus mundi, Yunus Emre spoke out for "dignitas hominis" and put forth an image of man not as an outcast, but as an extension of God's reality and love:
We love the created
For the Creator's sake
The mystic "infatuation" with God led him to believe, as did Sophocles, that:
Many arc the wonders of the world,
And none so wonderful as Man.
In Yunus Emre's vision there is no place for the abysmal fallacy which segregates God and man. His philosophy is akin to Socratic humanism which supposes that truth is immanent in human subjectivity and that the divine is embedded in man. As a true mystic, he went in search of God's essence and, after sustained struggle and anguish, made his ultimate discovery:
The Providence that casts this spell
And speaks so many tongues to tell,
Transcends the earth, heaven and hell,
But is contained in this heart's cast.
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.
This faith in the pr y of prompted the mystic poet to remind the orthodox:
You better seek God right in your own heart;
He is neither in the Holy Land nor in Mecca.
Suffused through the verses of Yunus Emre is the concept of love as the supreme attribute of man and God:
When love arrives, all needs and needs are gone.
He glorified love as the soul's highest pride and joy:
Can there be anything better than love?
He found in love a spiritual force which transcends the narrow confines into which human beings are forced:
The man who feels the marvels of true love
Abandons his religion and nation.
As a pantheist, Yunus Emre believed that God is immanent in the universe. He is not independent of, apart from or above the cosmos, but inclusive of it and identical with it. To him, all matter is imbued with spirit or consciousness, and acquires higher values only through love. Naturalistic and ecumenical visions form an integral part of Yunus Emre's theology:
With the mountains and rocks
I call you out, my God;
With the birds as day breaks
I call you out, my God.
With Jesus is the sky,
Moses on Mount Sinai,
Raising my sceptre high,
I call you out, my.
His poems frequently refer to his full acceptance of the "four holy books" rather than a strict adherence to the Koran, and occasionally invoke pre-Islamic religious names:
I am Job: I have found all this patience;
I am St. George: I died a thousand times.
Yunus Emre represents what AbbÃ© Bremond defines as "humanisme dÃ©vot. " A central element of his humanistic thinking is the belief that, as Montaigne formulated it several centuries later, man aspires to be divine, but comes nearest to it when he is content to be truly human. The Turkish poet goes further in asserting that only love imparts God's gifts to man.
The proverbial statement of Protagoras in the 5th Century B.C. "Man is the measure of all things" often invoked as the inception of humanistic thought, has limited value for Yunus Emre who extends it into poetic passion and pantheistic vision.
Many of Yunus Emre's fundamental concepts are steeped in the Sufi tradition, particularly as set forth by the l3th Century mystic philosopher and poet Rumi, who lived in Anatolia and utilised the legacy of Persia in cultural and linguistic terms. Like the medieval authors and thinkers in Europe who set aside their national languages in favour of Latin, Rumi chose Persian as his vehicle of expression. But Yunus Emre, like Dante, preferred the vernacular of his own people. Because he spoke their language and gave them the sense and the succor of divine love in such lines as
Whoever has one drop of love
Possesses God's existence.
he became a legendary figure and a folk saint. In his lifetime, he travelled far and wide as a "dervish," not "colonizing" like many of his fellow dervishes, but serving the function of propaganda fide through his poetry. For seven centuries, his verses were memorized, recited, and celebrated in the heartland of Anatolia. His fame has become so widespread that about a dozen towns claim to have his tomb.
In 1957, when a modest ceremony was planned for the opening of a new mausoleum for Yunus Emre at SarykÃ¶y, thirty thousand people converged there from nearby towns and villages. They came by trucks and in ox-carts; they came on foot. And thirty thousand peasants and townsfolk prayed together and chanted a poem by Yunus Emre, paying tribute to him with what is perhaps the most widely celebrated hymn of Moslem Turks:
Listen to those rivers' of Paradise
Flowing in the name of God Almighty;
Th nightingales of Islam have come out
To sing in the name of God Almighty.
In the late 19th Century and in the early 20th, this same hymn used to be sung by children in Istanbul and elsewhere on their way to or back from school or just before classes started. So, in the rural as well as in the urban areas, the poetry of Yunus Emre remains a viable cultural force and a cherished aesthetic experience. It would probably be correct to describe Yunus Emre as the most important folk poet in the literature of Islam. Certainly, he is Turkey's greatest. Writing at the outset of Anatolian Turkish folk poetry, he achieved the consummation of that tradition. No folk poet of the later centuries has been able to match that achievement, although generations of mystic and folk poets took him as their principal standard of excellence.
Yunus Emre captured the genius of the Turkish language in poems written in the vernacular; using verse forms originated by the Turks. While most of his contemporaries and successors, who were enamored of Arabic and Persian norms and values which came after massive Turkish conversions to Islam, preferred borrowed forms, meters and vocabulary, Yunus Emre had a penchant for indigenous forms, used simple syllabic meters, and expressed his sentiments and the wisdom of his faith in the common man's language. Among his stylistic virtues were distilled statements, simple images and metaphors, and the avoidance of prolixity. He explicitly cautioned against loquaciousness and bloated language:
Too many words arc fit for a beast of burden.
Yunus Emre practiced free use of living tradition, whereas others often produced, servile copies of antique masterpieces. He was able to use the forms (particularly the "ghazal"), the prosody (the quantitative metric system called "arud" in Arabic, "arud" in its Turkicized version), and the vocabulary of Arabic and Persian poetry. But most of his superior poems utilize the best resources of Turkish poetry, including the syllabic meters. This was in sharp contrast against the practice of the poets who belonged to the urban elite: they revelled in elegant verses composed in preponderantly Persian and Arabic vocabulary intelligible only to the highly educated. These poems later became unreadable because of obsolescent words. But Yunus Emre's adherence to Turkish vocabulary secured his continuing appeal to the Turks. Even today, in the seventh century since his death, most Turks can read and appreciate Yunus Emre without consulting a dictionary too frequently, while they find many classical poets of the 14th to the 19th centuries quite unintelligible.
Yunus Emre's permanence and power emanate not merely from his language, but from his themes of timeless significance, from his universal concepts and concerns. He is very much a poet of today not only in Turkey, but the world over. We live in an age which articulates the dramatic contrast of love and hostility. War is renounced as the immediate evil and the ultimate crime against humanity. Love is recognised as the celebration of life. A mighty slogan of the 1960s and 1970s was "Make love/Not war." Miraculously, this forceful statement is an echo from seven centuries ago, from Yunus Emre who expressed the same idea in a rhymed couplet:
I am not here on earth for strife,
Love is the mission of my life.
In his own age and down to our times, Yunus Emre has provided spiritual guidance and aesthetic enjoyment. His poetry is replete with universal verities and values, and expresses the ecstasy of communion with nature and union with God. In his thought, the theme of union with God frequently appears as an incipient utopia. Also, his humanism includes, in Hegel's words, the "urging of the spirit outward-that desire on the part of man to become acquainted with his world." Yunus Emre goes beyond this urge, and aesthetically revels in the beauty of the world. He expresses the typical humanistic joy of life:
This world is a young bridge dressed in bright red and green;
Look on and on, you can't have enough of that lass.
Yunus Emre spurned book learning if it did not have humanistic relevance, because he believed in man's Godliness:
If you don't identify Man as God,
All your learning is of no use at all.
In this sense, he was akin to Petrarch, also a l4th century poet, and to Erasmus, a century later, who, as part of their classical or Renaissance humanism, shunned the dogmatism imposed on man by scholasticism, tried to instil in the average man a rejuvenated sense of the importance of his life on earth. Similar to Dante's work, Yunus Emre's poetry symbolised the ethical patterns of mortal life while depicting the higher values of immortal being. Yunus Emre also offered to the common man "the optimism of mysticism" - the conviction that human beings, sharing Godly attributes, are capable of transcending themselves.
Sufism with its theocentric humanism is pervasive in YunÃºs Emre's poetry. His theology consists of idees rÃ©Ã§ues since he was not an original thinker. He sought neither theological innovations nor philosophical contributions. He was content to utilise the available corpus of mystic thought and literature which had followed a long line of evolution with elements from Buddhist, Indian, Manichean mysticism, the NeoPlatonism of Plotinus, Christian mystic sects, the Jewish cabala, and the Moslem thinkers Mansur al-Hallaj, Ibn-Arabi, Al-Ghazali, Attar, Ahmed Yesevi, Rumi et al.
Mysticism is predicated upon a monistic view of divinity. Unlike the dogma, it holds that man is not only God's creation but also God's reflection. As Yunus Emre stated it:
Th image of the Godhead is a mirror;
The man who looks sees his own face in there.
Man is God's image, and yearns to return to God's reality from which man, as the image, has temporarily fallen apart. The agony of the mystic is separation from God. His is a sublime love which remains unrequited until he suffers so intensely in his spiritual exile that he reaches-finally-a blissful state of the submergence of his ego. Yunus Emre's poems voice the anguish:
Burning, burning, I drift and tread.
Love spattered my body with blood,
I'm not in my senses nor mad,
Come, see what love has done to me.
The mystic search has three stages : Purification, Enlightenment, and Union. The mystic cannot hope to achieve union with God, the divine beloved, without relinquishing what Yunus Emre refers to as
"crass selfhood." He describes the death of the ego in a striking couplet:
He rides the horse of fury, holds the sword of might;
He has devastated his selfhood, his hands are drenched in blood.
Out of his tragic exile, the mystic can only escape by means of love. The return to God is possible not through the ravaging of the ego, nor through physical death, but through love which purifies and enlightens the soul. The mystic has no fear of death, because he believes in immortality by virtue of God's love. As Yunus expresses it:
Death should give you no fear at all;
Fear not, your life is eternal.
The dogma claims that God, who created the earth and human beings, is outside of the world and unlike his creation. But the Sufi view holds that God is inclusive of the universe, there is no dichotomy between God and Man-nothing in the universe has existence independent of God, all is God's revelation or reflection. Mystic poetry is full of references to the fallacy of the orthodox concept of the "duality" which posits God and human beings as completely separate. The central doctrine of Sufism is "vahdet-i vÃ¼cut" (the unity of existence). Yunus Emre explicitly stated this fundamental tenet:
The universe is the oneness of Deity,
The true man is he who knows this unity.
You better seek Him in yourself,
You and He aren't apart-you're one.
The mystic thinks of God as "kemal-i mutlak" (absolute perfection) and as "cemal-i mutlak" (absolute beauty). Thus, for the mystic, spiritual attainment goes together with an aesthetic sense, an infatuation with divine and earthly beauty. God himself is conceived of as possessing "a?k-y zati" (self love) and, in terms of one of the elements of the Sufi view of the world's creation, God was initially motivated to create the universe and man as a mirror in which he could see the images of his own perfect beauty. "God's revelation in man" and "the human being as a true reflection of God's beautiful images" are recurrent themes in Yunus Emre's poems:
He is God Himself human arc His images.
See for yourself : God is man, that is what He is.
It is a duty for the mystic to love God, and to become, through love, the perfect man. This requires the achievement of self knowledge. As Yunus stated it: "True science is self knowledge." Lack of self knowledge, in Yunus Emre's view, signifies a lowly existence:
One should aim to acquire knowledge to know oneself
If you don't know yourself, you are worse than a beast.
To know oneself is to know God. In Ludwig Feuerbach's words:
"God is the highest subjectivity of man abstracted from himself. The essential predicates of divinity, such as personality and love, are simply the human qualities men evaluate most highly. "
Who was Yunus Emre? This man who called himself "Yunus the lover," "Yunus the dervish"? Was he a "perfect man"? What manner of man? What was the life he led?
About his life we know precious little. What we do know tends to be legend rather than ascertainable fact. Internal references in his poems clarify very little in autobiographical terms; besides, some of them are misleading, some full of contradictions. They are mostly expressions of mystical views or poetic depictions of psychic vicissitudes.
Yunus Emre's year of birth was probably 1241 and his year of death 1320 or 1321.
The controversy on the authenticity of some of the poems attributed to Yunus Emre is fruitless. In many cases, it proves impossible. to determine that the poems belong to other specific poets. Furthermore, the verses held to be of dubious authenticity bear a striking resemblance, in content and style, to Yunus Emre's authenticated poems. We tend to accept as his all the poems attributed to him, even if this means the acknowledgment of Yunus Emre as a collective poetic entity rather than a single individual poet. Yunus Emre may be seen as the poetic embodiment of Anatolian Turkish Islamic humanism in the late l3th and early l4th centuries.
Tradition and legend depict Yunus Emre as a poor peasant. At a time of famine, he goes on the road in search of seeds in return for the wild pear he picks on the Anatolian steppes. While travelling in the hope of bartering his wild pear for grains and seeds, he happens to come to the "tekke" (congregation place) of Hach Bektas, the founder of the most latitudinarian sect of Anatolian Islam. Hacy Bektas, a grand old man and a poet in his own right, asks Yunus if he would accept a "nefes" (a breath of blessing) in exchange for each handful of wild pear. Yunus refuses. Hacy Bektas increases his offer: "We shall give you ten breaths of blessing for each handful." Yunus still refuses. Thereupon, Hacy Bektas gives Yunus a sack full of grains. On his way back to his village, Yunus at first feels very happy, but then reconsiders the incident and realises its moral significance: "Hacy Bektas must be a great man," he ponders. "He is no doubt a man of noble spirit. Because a lesser person would have resented me for not accepting his blessing, and surely he would not have given me such a generous amount of grains." Realising his mistake, he rushes back and says: "Here's your sack of grains. Take it back and give me your blessing." But Hacy Bektas replies: "I can not, because we turned over your padlock to Taptuk Emre."
This means, in mystic parlance, that a spiritual guide has been appointed to the initiate who is to embark on the path of the search for God's truth. Yunus starts searching his guide, Taptuk Emre, another great Anatolian mystic, who, according to legend, originally came to Anatolia in the guise of a pigeon, but was nearly killed by fanatic traditionalists who appeared as eagles refusing to give him passage. Although w and bleeding, the bird of peace got by the cruel eagles, and was rescued by a peasant woman who showed compassion, healed the wounds, and set the bird in flight again. This is how Taptuk Emre's spirit, it is said, roamed from one end of Anatolia to the other. The symbolism of the legend also establishes the spiritual link between the mystic and the peasant of the Turkish countryside.
After a long and arduous search for his guide, Yunus Emre finally finds Taptuk Emre, and enters the congregation, where, for the proverbial forty years, he leads an ascetic, abstemious life. He toils, contemplates, seeks spiritual communion. One day, at a gathering of the faithful, Taptuk Emre asks a poet to say poems extemporaneously, but the poet fails. So Taptuk asks Yunus Emre to try: "What Hacy Bektas once told you is at last a reality. Your padlock is now unlocked." Up to this point, Yunus had not been known to have composed poems. But obviously his poetic gifts were in a state of efflorescence throughout his long years of mystic contemplation. He breaks into poems, and the congregation becomes ecstatic. From that day on, Yunus is recognised as a great poet. The soulful man whose poems are eloquent, moving, pithy, profound, and compassionate turns into a legend throughout the land.
Another story-probably apocryphal-describes an encounter between Rumi and Yunus Emre. Yunus, the folk poet, is face to face with the elder poet-philosopher Rumi, about whom Yunus once wrote: "His magnificent vision is the mirror of our hearts." Rumi is the author of the world-famous Mathnawi, called the Koran of Sufism, a masterpiece in about 26,000 couplets mainly about the doctrine that God is revealed by love in the mystic soul, in the pure man. According to the story, Yunus criticises Rumi for the bulk of the Mathnawi and states that he would have expressed the same idea in two lines:
I took shape in flesh and bones,
And came into sight as Yunus.
It is also said that Rumi admitted he would not have written his huge magnum opus if he were able to make such pithy statements. Another Anatolian legend claims that Rumi once paid the following tribute to Yunus Emre's stature as a mystic: "Whenever I arrived at a new spiritual height, there I found the footsteps left by that Turkish mystic-and I could never surpass him."
In the true tradition of the power that poetry wields over Turkish intellectual life, Yunus Emre soon becomes a force to contend with. Moslem dogmatists begin to regard him as a foe. According to a popular story whose authenticity cannot be determined, a traditionalist named Molla Kashm decides to destroy the transcriptions of Yunus Emre's poems. Getting hold of all of the poems, he sits on a river bank and starts tearing all the ones he finds heretical, and throws them into the river. After having destroyed about two thirds, he catches a glimpse of a poem whose last couplet has Yunus Emre's prediction about Molla Kashm. In the couplet, Yunus Emre warns himself:
Dervish Yunus, utter no word that is not true:
For a Molla Kasim will come to cross-examine you.
When Molla Kasim reads this prediction, he realises the greatness of Yunus, and he immediately stops destroying the poems. It is said that the poems which have come down to us are those that escaped destruction in this way, but, in the process, two thirds of Yunus Emre's entire poetic output was presumably obliterated.
In Yunus Emre's poetry, a unitary vision of man and nature is dominant. His humanism seeks to enrich human existence and to ennoble it by liberating man from dogma and by placing him in a relationship of love with God. His view of love is creative and versatile:
In God's world there are a hundred thousand kinds of love.
Yunus Emre's poetry is intensely human in its sentiments and humane in its concern for all, particularly for the plight of deprived people. He was the first-and the most successful-poet in Turkish history to create the "aesthetics of ethics."
Much of his work is a testament to the equality of all men. He expressed this idea in metaphoric terms:
Water out of the same fountain
Cannot be both bitter and sweet,
as well as in straight hortatory statements:
See all people as equals,
See the humble as heroes.
In an age when hostilities, rifts, and destruction were rampant, Yunus Emre was able to give expression to an all-embracing love of humanity and to his concepts of universal brotherhood which transcended all schisms and sects:
For those who truly love God and his ways
All the people of the world are brothers.
Yunus Emre's view of mysticism is closely allied with the concept that all men are born of God's love and that they are therefore equal and worthy of peace on earth.
His plea for universal brotherhood is not unlike the "world citizenship" advocated by the ancient Stoics. His world-wide vision is related to the famous quatrain by Rumi who made a plea to all faiths for unity:
Come, come again, whoever, whatever you may be, come;
Heathen, fire-worshipper, sinful of idolatry, come.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a hundred times;
Ours is not the portal of despair or misery, come.
Yunus Emre decried religious intolerance and dwelt on the "unity of humanity":
We regard no one's religion as contrary to ours,
True love is born when a11 faiths are united as a whole.
Humanism upholds the ideal of the total community of mankind. Yunus Emre's humanist credo is also based on international understanding which transcends all ethnic, political and sectarian divisions:
The man who doesn't sec the nations of the world as one
Is a rebel even if the pious claim he's holy.
Love, in his terms, unifies the world and dispenses with differences to such an extent that Yunus Emre is able to state:
I bear malice against no one,
Even strangers are friends of mine.
This mystic moral attitude has echoes from a hadith (tradition), a statement ascribed to the Prophet: "Bear no malice against one another, do not covet each other nor turn a could shoulder to your fellow men. Vassals of God, be brothers."
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.
Yunus Emre's concern for his fellow men is in the celebrated tradition of Terentius' dictum: "Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto." (I am a man: Nothing human is alien to me.)
In Yunus Emre's view, service to society is the ultimate moral ideal and the individual can find his own highest good in working for the benefit of all. His exhortations call for decent treatment of deprived people:
To look askance at the lowly is the wrong way
and for social interdependence and charity:
Toil, carn, cat, and give others your wages.
Our first duty is good character and good deeds.
Hand out to others what you carn,
Do the poor people a good turn.
Yunus Emre was not contented with simple gnomic statements about charity and philanthropy. He was not a prophet or visionary, not an ordinary dervish engaged in evangelical work nor an ascetic monk. Although his religious thinking was steeped in metaphysical abstractions and his poetry occasionally given to dithyrambic outbursts, he was a man of the people and for the people-a spokesman for social justice. He stood in the mainstream of the humanist tradition which, from the outset, has claimed the moral right to criticise the establishment and the powers that be. Unlike the literary humanism of the Renaissance, which was elitist, Yunus Emre's humanism was populist. He spoke out courageously against the oppression of underprivileged people b, the rulers, landowners, wealthy men, officials, and religious leaders:
Kindness of the lords ran its course,
Now each one goes straddling a horse,
They cat the flesh of the paupers,
All they drink is the poor men's blood.
He struck hard at the heartlessness of men in positions of power:
Th lords are wild with wealth and might,
Thy ignore the poor people's plight
Immersed in selfhood which is blight,
Their hearts arc shorn of charity.
Yunus Emre also lambasted the illegitimate acquisitions of hypocrites who pose as men of high morals:
Hypocrites claim they never make a gain
Through any means which might be illicit;
Th truth of it is: they only refrain
When they are certain they cannot grab it.
In poem after poem, he denigrated the orthodox views and the strict teachings of the pharisees:
The preachers who usurp the Prophet's place
Inflict distress and pain on the populace.
Yunus Emre, despite his profound belief in the natural goodness of man, occasionally complained bitterly about the moral climate of his time: "Men of dark deeds are held in great esteem ... The novice ferociously fights his master ... Sons and mothers are locked in fierce combat. .."
His most vehement criticisms are levelled at religious teachers and preachers who abuse the people and make a mockery of the fundamentals of the faith. Yunus Emre consistently rhapsodises the tenets of humanist ethics, a moral life based on love, and a poetic appreciation of God. He has no use whatever for the trappings of organised religion:
True faith is in the head, not in the headgear.
A single visit into the heart is
Better than a hundred pilgrimages.
The Moslem zealots, like the bigots of medieval Christianity, preached submission to God, denial of the human worth, and strict observance of religious practices. Yunus Emre and other mystics denigrated these views, which had as their concomitants an insistence on
the hereafter with its Hell or Paradise and a preoccupation with the punishment that God inflicts. The dogma dwelt on the fear of a God of punishment (mysterium tremendum). The mystic felt the love of a God of mercy and compassion (mysterium fascionum), and sought to arrive at a sense of arete or virtues, the truly human kind of excellence. Yunus Emre's poems are full of the concept of the supremacy of love for true faith:
For heaven's sake, what is faith or creed without love?
The heart is where God's truth rests.
The true lovers of God have no craving for 'Paradise.
They strive beyond Paradise to arrive at His domain.
Yunus Emre directs his scathing satire at bigots who offer narrow, superficial, and formalistic interpretations of Islam. He brings some orthodox views into a sharp focus in a devastating poem.
Heaven's bridge is sharper than a sword, thinner than hair.
You know, I d like to go on it and build houses right there.
Way down below the bridge, raging with flames, crackles Hell's pit,
I want to walk over to its shade and lie there a bit.
Because I call your fire a shade, don't scold me, pharisees;
May it please you, I think a little burning is a bliss.
Himself posing as a hypocrite who projects devoutness and puts on airs of piety, Yunus Emre lampoons the clergy:
In public I am pious, always seen with my prayer beads;
My tongue arms the ways of God, not that my heart accedes.
They kiss my hands, they take my cap and cape for religion;
They think I am the way I look, they think I commit no sin.
Claiming that the true believer "Has no hope of Paradise nor fear of Hell," the mystic poet is capable of taking even God himself to task:
You set a scale to weigh deeds, for your aim
Is to hurl me into Hell's crackling flame.
You can see everything, you know me-fine