Morality Education In Ottomans to Turkish Republic Period

Morality Education In Ottomans to Turkish Republic Period

In Arabic moral (akhlaq) means “character, nature, habit” and is the plural form of  the word (khalq) which means creation.[1] According to Islamic scholars it is acting according to “creation, nature”.

Ottomans, a classical empire lasting until the modern times, have understood and studied morality as a character trait. The verses in Quran portraying the human being as the caliph of God and hadiths meaning “Muslim should have the moral of Allah’s” made the subject a theological discussion. Morality being an abstract term requires discussing the subject on a metaphysical and spiritual dimension. Even though terms like “common values of humanity” and “human rights” have come forward after the French Revolution, these idea have appeared only with worldly rule of enforcements. For instance a German citizen parking a car according to certain rules or giving way all the time does not prove a person has morals. Because in case of not following rules it is highly likely that the person will receive a penalty. Moral, in a classical sense, means a person owns rushd (the ability of finding the right path, and acting reasonably) in his conscious and acts accordingly without a rule of enforcement.

In Ottoman Empire, morality is the subject of manners education. When we consider, the word “tarbeyya” in Arabic roots from the word “rab” and that means God; we realize the religious field encompasses life itself. Manners education starts early on in family. State is more involved with schooling. However “teaching” might not always result in adaptation of it. You could teach the child he should brush his teeth and he understands he has to. However if he is not given the right training for it, brushing teeth does not become a habit.

For this reason, manners are learnt in the family. These manners shall be taken from the public space and transmitted to the next generation. The public space we talk about has been the tekke and zaviyes since the Seljuk times and in business this need for space was filled by the Ahî organization. The reason why the sufi school students called their tekke masters “murshid” (the one who owns rushd) is because they teach them how to have “rushd”.

Even though we think that moral education took place in school, in classical Ottoman period there was no such class in schools. In an Ottoman school, subjects were Tafseer (commentary on the Quran), Hadith, Islamic Jurisprudence, Kalam (a school of philosophical theology), Logic, Aqaed, Arabic Language and Literature, Mathematics, Wisdom, and Astronomy.   Morals not being taught as a separate course did not mean it was not taught at Ottoman schools. Because all courses focused on teaching morals. This idea is supported by the number of books written on morals, moral philosophy and classical Islamic moral texts.[2] In this period we observe that books of Ottoman period are heavily affected by the books by İbn Miskeveyh, İmam Gazzâlî and Nasiruddin Tusî’s wroks on morals.

In classical Ottoman period Islamic moralists explained in their books that wisdom, chastity, justice and courage are traits people of virtue should have. Ignorance, ambition, greed, cowardice and tyranny on the other hand are bad traits for a person. Moralists went on to explain the division between the virtues and bad traits in the light of sunnah and ayahs.[3]

The most known work on morals in Ottoman Period was Ahlâk-ı Alâî (The High Morals). This book was written by one of the virtuous Ottoman scholars of the time, Kınalızâde Ali Çelebi. The book published in Egypt, has become a source for all Ottoman educators writing on the subject of morality. This valuable book, after simplified, if some of the needed additions provided, would undoubtedly become the most perfect book on morality. Mustafa Koç, who has worked on editions on Kınalızade said, this is a work delving on various deep issues from personal morals to etiquettes of ruling a state, from worldly moral to spiritual responsibility. It also embodies antique Greek texts that east and eastern morality has inherited, a high literary text that has added the religious and tasawwuf motifs onto this legacy. It is an encompassing text answering to the needs of royal etiquette, ulama circles and common public. As it has the most found copy of moral books in royal library, Ahlâk-ı Alâî is a state book.[4]

Another book that was written at this period is Câmiü’n-Nasâyih (Collection of Advises).  The epos written by the 10th century scholar and poet Huseynî who is buried in Quds is a great work. There is also another epos named Hayriyye by poet Nâbî. Hayriyye has been considered as a didactic poem of Diwan literature.[5] The scholar sheikh, known with his books of Garîbnâme and Maârifnâme, Âşık Paşa’s book on moral and tasawwuf should also be remembered as an important contribution. This work penned as a poem is about four thousand verses. Hekimbaşı Abdülaziz Efendi also wrote a book called İlm-i Ahlâk (The study of Morals) The book called Mürşidü’l-İbâd is written by one of the Ottoman Mathematicians Abduallah bin Şükrü of Konya and discusses morals and tasawwuf.[6]

Morals on every field

In Ottoman community Ahi brotherhood played a major role in designing the social and economical sphere.  The Ahi institution created own values in four main areas. These are the moral, economic, social and political areas. The values in all these areas have basic functions. They gave great importance to the integration of tradesman-ship with tasawwuf schools. We would understand the deep integration of these schools if we take  notice that the school of Vefai’s sheikh Edebali is also a head of Ahi brethren. The function of moral values in professional and trade activities are very important. Ahî institution being an artisanship and craftsmanship institution has tried to compartmentalize a lot of the social life. The same way you cannot follow a path (tareeqa) in religion without following a sheikh, you cannot reach professionalism and competency in any profession without having being taught by a master.[7] Hence in the founding principles of Ahi Brotherhood “blessings, humility, and morals” are always emphasized.

Ottoman Classical Education system, primary and pre-schools called sıbyan (children) schools went through a modernization with Tanzimat (Ottoman Reform Period). While the reform took place more western “ibtidai” (primary) schools have also started. Consequently with the law enforcements of Tanzimat, especially with 1869 Maarif-i Umûmiye Nizamname, primary schools that are directly governed by state have prevailed, sıbyan schools that were governed by waqfs also continued until the foundation of republic. The establishing reason behind these schools is teaching every Muslim child to read and write, learn about morals and religion. In Sıbyan schools children learned to read Quran, prayers, religious information in Turkish and read some books that gave religious and moral advise. If the parents allowed a child was trained for the memorization of Quran.[8] Post Tanzimat, a morals class was not taught separately in Sıbyan schools but rather it was part of the catechism syllabus.

Later on the project ran by Meclis-i Umûr-i Nâfia in small schools in the neighborhood focused on Quranic teaching; bigger schools had a wider curriculum, focusing on literacy, morality and catechism.[9] In 1838 rüşdiye schools opened and sıbyan schools started being called ibtidai schools. In 1870 with the passing of a new law the curriculum of the schools were further developed and a commission called Islah-ı Mekâtib (Reformation of Schools) was established. A member of the commission, Selim Sabit Efendi (d. 1911) wrote a pamphlet which later on published as a pedagogic book named “Rehnümâ-yı Muallimîn”.[10]

As this book suggested the first year of school gave literacy, Quran, Moral, Mathematics and writing courses. Thus, “Morality” started to be taught as a separate course for the first time. Shortly after its establishment, Rüşdiye schools were divided into two parts as “military” and “civil” and both included courses on “Morality”. During Abdulhamid period, we see that morality is included in the curriculum along with literature. Besides, when we review the curriculums of Mekteb-i Mülkiye and Darülmuallimin we see that “morality” was taught as a separate course.[11]

After the establishment of Republic, the morals course was taught together with the malûmat-i yurtiye (nationalism) course until 1933. As of 1943, discussion begun whether moral education should be taught as a subject or within the syllabus of citizenship and Sociology. Starting from 1974-1975 academic year, with the decision of the Board of Instruction and Education, it was deemed reasonable to teach one hour of moral lessons in primary and secondary schools. Morality was taught in schools from the fourth grade to high school as a compulsory course independent from other subjects until 1982 when religion has also become a compulsory subject, morality was combined with the religious course under the name of “Religion and Moral Knowledge”.

The “Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge” course, which was included in the compulsory courses with the 24th article of the Constitution in 1982, is still being taught in schools. In recent years, although there have been positive developments related to the content and method of this course; it could be discussed that there are some problems with the textbooks and implementations of this course.  In today's world where technology-supported education and teaching comes to the forefront, “Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge” books are visually much better than the past. In the same way, it is obvious that the methods and techniques used in the teaching of religious knowledge are getting better every day.[12]


[1] Mustafa Çağrıcı, “Ahlâk”, TDVİA (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslâm Ansiklopedisi), İstanbul 1989, p. 10.

[2] Muhammed Ali Yazıbaşı, “Klasik Osmanlı Döneminden Cumhuriyet’e Osmanlı’da Ahlâk Eğitimi ve Öğretimi”, İnsan ve Toplum Bilimleri Araştırmaları Dergisi, C. 3, Sayı: 4, p. 764.

[3] Muhammed Ali Yazıbaşı, agm, p. 766.

[4] Büyük Türk Klasikleri: Başlangıcından Günümüze Kadar, Ötüken Neşriyat, İstanbul 1985, p. 173.

[5] Şair Nâbî, Hayriyye, Haz. İskender Pala, Bedir Yayınevi, İstanbul 1989.

[6] Bursalı Mehmed Tahir, “Ahlâk Kitaplarımız”, Sadeleştiren: Saadettin Özdemir, Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi, Yıl: 2009/1, Sayı: 22, p. 170.

[7] Geniş bilgi için bkz. Ali Yılmaz, “Ahîlikte Din ve Ahlâk Eğitimi”, Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, Basılmamış Yüksek Lisans Tezi. 

[8] Gülsüm Pehlivan Ağırakça, “Tanzimat’tan Cumhuriyet’e Mekteplerde Ahlâk Eğitim ve Öğretimi”, Marmara Üniversitesi Sosyla Bilimler Ensitütüsü İlahiyat ana Bilim Dalı, Basılmamış Doktora Tezi, p. 12.

[9] Z. Salih Zengin, Tanzimat Dönemi Osmanlı Örgün Eğitim Kurumlarında Din Eğitimi ve Öğretimi (1839-1876), MEB Yayınları, İstanbul 2004, p. 37, 38;

[10] Gülsüm Pehlivan Ağırakça, agt, p. 35.

[11] Agâh Sırrı Levend, “Ümmet Çağında Ahlâk Kitaplarımız”, Türk Dili Araştırmaları Yıllığı Belleten, Ankara 1964, p. 89-90.

[12] Gülsüm Pehlivan Ağırakça, agt, p. 478-479.

Samet Tınas

Marmara University, Modern History PHD