Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er

June 30, 2013

Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid’s words on the passing of a great Saint of our century, his teacher, Sh Muhammad Emin Er. 

Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er - The Last Ottoman Scholar by Imam Khalil Abdur Rashid

Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er – The Last Ottoman Scholar by Imam Khalil Abdur Rashid

It is with deep humility and honor that I sit to transmit a snapshot of the

life of my teacher whom I spent 8 years of my life studying under; who
would refine me, educate me, advise me, and transmit ijaaza to me thus
becoming the father of my spiritual life, Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er.

Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er was born in 1909 in the village of Kuluyan
(recently renamed Kalash) in the province of Diyarbakir, in the southeast
of what is now Turkey but was at that time the Ottoman Empire. Shaykh
Emin’s family belonged to a Kurdish tribe called Miran. His father, Haji
Zulfikar, was a wealthy farmer who took a great interest in science and
education, and happened to be a person of some wealth. There being no
school in the village of Kuluyan, Haji Zulfikar employed a private tutor to
educate his two young sons, Muhammad and his elder brother Ali. Then just
as his sons were learning to read and write in the Arabic script (at the
time still the official script of the Ottoman language and state), Haji
Zulfikar passed away. The future Shaykh had already lost his mother Hawa
while he was still a young child of the age of three or four and thus (like
the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace) he was left
an orphan. To this day, Shaykh Emin travels to the graves of his mother and
father in the village of Kuluyan at least once per year. **

At this time, Muhammad Emin was 10 years old, and the Ottoman state still
stood as one of the largest in the world extending from North Africa to
Yemen, and from the Balkans to the frontiers of Persia. It faced
coordinated attacks on many fronts, east and west. Because of the war, the
economic situation became ruinous, as the Ottoman state was increasingly
forced to deplete its already overextended financial resources in the
defense of its territorial integrity. The resulting economic hardship was
severe throughout the country and the young Muhammad Emin passed through
the remainder of his early life in much straightened circumstances, first
under the care of his stepmother and later under the care of his elder
brother. He contributed to the support of his family by shepherding goats
in the high mountains surrounding the village. All the while, his desire to
learn to read and write, ignited both by his late father and his former
tutor, persisted and grew. Having neither paper nor pen, he used stones to
scratch words and sentences on flat rocks, while tending his goats on the
mountainsides. This striving to improve his reading and writing skills
despite great deprivation gave rise to the legend in his village that
Khidr, the companion of Moses and saintly figure who comes to the aid of
the destitute, provided the young Muhammad Emin lessons in his sleep. **

So great was his passion for knowledge that he would cry bitter tears wile
imploring Allah to help him learn to read the Quran. He missed no
opportunity to seek out people whom he thought might help him. He would
journey on foot for several days at a time simply to visit knowledgeable
people in the vicinity of his village. He would eventually learn how to
write letters and read books in the Ottoman script. As for the Arabic
language and knowledge of the traditional Islamic disciplines, there was at
the time no one in the region able to introduce him to this type of
scholarship. Thus he sought what he could from books. However, as the new
Turkish Republic was established, the traditional Ottoman script was
abolished and its use outlawed altogether with all Quranic and Islamic
education. Families began to fear the consequences of teaching the Quran to
their children even in the privacy of their own homes. As Shaykh Emin
recalls: “…at that time, everything was forbidden in Turkey. Even to read
and to learn the Quran was forbidden in those days. It was not easy, like
it is today. We had very hard times, so I resolved at my first opportunity
to seek religious learning in Syria.” This was not to be. Reaching the
border city of Gaziantep, Muhammad Emin was not permitted to cross into
Syria. He resolved instead to travel first to Adana, and soon thereafter to
Istanbul. Knowing no one in Istanbul, he soon ran out of money, and thus
went on foot to Bursa where he worked as a servant for a wealthy family in
order to make a living. 

At the age of 25, Muhammad Emin made his first of many trips of pilgrimage
(hajj) to the Sacred House, in Mecca. Upon his return, his desire to seek
scared knowledge undiminished, he undertook extensive travels in eastern
Anatolia to seek out scholars and ask them to teach him. He later resolved
once again to cross into Syria in search of scholars who could instruct
him. By now, World War II had begun, and although he succeeded in crossing
the border, he was detained by security forces who suspected him of being a
spy. He spent some time in prison in Syria before being cleared. Set free
by authorities, he returned to Turkey, particularly to Diyarbakir. There he
was able to study the remaining subjects in the foundational curriculum of
the traditional Islamic sciences, many of them concerned with Arabic
linguistics. These included propositional logic (mantiq), historical
semantics (ilm al-wada’), figurative usage (isti’ara), etiquette of debate
and argumentation (munazara), literary meaning (ma’ani), rhetoric (bayan),
refined usage (badi), fundamentals of Islamic creed (usul al-din),
methodology of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), Islamic jurisprudence
of both the Hanafi and Shafi Legal Schools (fiqh), and Islamic spiritual
psychology (tasawwuf). The teacher with whom he spent the greatest part of
this time was Molla Rasul, a classmate of the famous Bediuzzaman Said
Nursi. Shaykh Emin would later meet Said Nursi and study briefly with him
as well. 

In 1951, Shaykh Emin completed the last of his studies, completing the
study of discursive theology (kalam) and received his full license (ijaaza)
in all of the rational and traditional Islamic disciplines which have
constituted the curriculum of the greatest of scholars of the Islamic
tradition since the time of Imam Ghazali in the 11th and 12th centuries. In
addition, Shaykh Emin mastered and received ijaaza in the sciences of
exegesis of Quran (tafsir), religious laws of inheritance (fara’id) and the
sciences of the prophetic traditions (usul al-hadith).

Shaykh Emin has devoted his entire life to emulating the example of his
teachers and teaching the inner and outer discipline to student, issuing
ijaaza to those who successfully complete their study under him – efforts
he continues to this day. Central to this is his position within a chain
(isnad) that is within an unbroken lineage of transmission of knowledge
extending back to Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him
peace. And, according to the custom of Muslim scholars of this mold, he in
turn passes on the knowledge transmitted to him by his mentors, bequeathing
a place in this unbroken chain to students in the 21st century. Even if
seldom encountered, it is nevertheless true that such an isnad persists to
the present day. Shaykh Emin has six children and 40 grandchildren. A
seventh child of his passed away as a toddler. Having retired from many
years of service as imam in several cities, he continues to live a life of
rigorous worship. He has little free time, but uses it when it comes to
read and contemplate the Quran and consult the commentaries of the great
scholars on questions that occur to him in his reading. Shaykh Ein sleeps
very little –by his own estimate, perhaps three hours during the night, and
an hour or two before noon if possible. He always sleeps in a state of
ablution, in emulation of the sunna of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and
grant him peace, and mindful that, should he die in his sleep, he would
want to face his Lord in a state of purity. He rises every day at around
3a.m. for the night prayer called tahajjud, remaining awake in a state of
contemplation until the time of the prescribed dawn prayer (fajr). He then
remains in the place of prayer and reads Quran until the sun has risen, and
then remains for a bit longer, finally offering a voluntary cycle of prayer.

He passes the rest of the morning in scholarly writing, sometimes receiving
visitors. Shaykh Emin writes only in Arabic, always facing the direction of
prayer (qibla) in a state of ritual purity (wudu). When his work is
interrupted for some reason, he performs ablution and two cycles of prayer
before resuming his writing, a demonstration of profound reverence, typical
of the foremost representatives of the Islamic scholarly tradition but
seldom encountered in the present day, before the grave responsibility of
transmitting knowledge.* *

His modest home in Ankara, Turkey witnesses a steady stream of guests, and
he never refuses any request of learning, regardless of the level of the
student. Shaykh Emin and his guests sit on carpeted floor of a room lined
with shelves of books from floor to ceiling. The students and visitors are
always served tea and sweets, and even a complete meal at the appropriate
times. He teaches his students on an individual basis, through the pace and
method of instruction best suited to each person’s aptitudes and
constraints. Although it is his habit to fast whenever possible, he goes
out of his way to accommodate those guests who are not fasting in order to
set them more fully at ease in his company. This observance, far from being
merely the exemplary of the manners of his generation, is the living sunna
of all the Prophets. The importance of this for people in his company is
tremendous, and not to be overlooked. It is possible to learn a great deal
about exemplary conduct from books, and even to some extent to imitate what
one reads. But not everything we need to know on this matter is written,
nor could it be. It is by keeping the company of those who know it that we
acquire the essentials of exemplary conduct in both its written and
unwritten aspects. Shaykh Emin’s conduct exemplifies what was transmitted
to him from his teachers, and they from theirs, and so forth along lineages
extending to the teaching and example of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless
him and grant him peace. All of this gives us a greater sense of what could
be lost to us forever if the last chains of transmission of this tradition
were ever to be broken.


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