Research Article

DOI :10.26650/di.2021.32.1027987   IUP :10.26650/di.2021.32.1027987    Full Text (PDF)

Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God

Ekrem Demirli

This article discusses how Yūnus Emre handled the main ideas of Ṣūfism and created a new language to express these ideas as well as how he interpreted the idea of the primordial nature of humans. Academic research on the poetry of Yūnus Emre (d. 720/1320?), which began with linguists and literary historians, has recently expanded with growing interest in the field of Ṣūfism. However, one of the reasons why the search for “reality” is weakened is because information about the historic figure of Yūnus Emre is entwined with legends. The first story told and written about him has made him one of the most popular legends of Ṣūfi history, and the dilemma between grain and spiritual power (himmat) has become the most brilliant symbol of the spiritual and temporal world that we live in. Hence, like the ambiguity of his life story, his poetry and works have been indefinite, and his identity becomes undiscernible in an anonymous narrative, most of which contributed by himself. Thus, as Yūnus says “one hundred thousand dervishes are the same, no ‘other’ steps in.” Yūnus has been considered part of the Ṣūfi community; hence, his authenticity is not questioned. However, he has become a dominant public figure that many poets aspired to become and imitate his works, including signing his name on their works. Studying a thinker or a poet requires exploring their creativity by regarding what they have contributed to the thought, which is the basis for this study. This article determines where Yūnus stands in the history of thought by analyzing his place within the tradition, how Ṣūfism, which shaped his thinking reached him, and how it affected him. Therefore, to achieve the aforementioned, this article while considering the objection raised by Ṣūfis toward the religious sciences, analyses concepts such as God-law, Prophet-tradition, morality-worship, and obliged man-perfect man. Simultaneously, it pays special emphasis on Yūnus Emre’s idea of primordial man, concluding that it is the most important point of his thinking.

DOI :10.26650/di.2021.32.1027987   IUP :10.26650/di.2021.32.1027987    Full Text (PDF)

Yunus’un Tasavvuf Anlayışının Kurucu Unsurları: Ezelî İnsan ve Kadim Tanrı Arasında Aşka Dönüşen İman

Ekrem Demirli

Yunus Emre’nin (ö. 720/1320 [?]) şiiri üzerinde dilciler ve edebiyat tarihçileriyle başlayan bilimsel çalışmalar son zamanlarda artan bir ilgiyle tasavvuf akademisyenleriyle de devam etmektedir. Yunus Emre’nin tarihsel şahsiyeti hakkındaki bilgilerin menkıbeler ile örülmüş olması “gerçeklik” arayışını tezyif eden en önemli nedenlerden birisidir. Hakkında anlatılan ilk hikâye tasavvuf tarihinin en tanınmış menkıbelerinden birisini teşkil etmiş, buğday ve himmet şeklinde ortaya çıkan ikilem dünyevilik ile uhreviliği anlatan en nefis sembollerden birisi olmuştur. Hayat hikâyesindeki bu belirsizlik kadar onun şiiri ve eserleri üzerinde de belirsizlik ortaya çıkmış, önemli bir kısmına kendisinin katkı sağlamış olduğu anonim anlatımın içinde bireysel varlığı fark edilemez hale gelmiştir. Yunus’un “Yüz bini birdir dervişlerin, araya ağyar gerekmez” dediği gibi, Yunus bütün dervişler cemaatinin parçası sayılarak özgünlüğü dikkate alınmamıştır. Buna mukabil Yunus bir umum isim haline gelerek birçok şairin özendiği ve taklit ettiği, hatta ismini kullandığı başat isim olmuştur. Bir düşünür veya şair üzerinde çalışma yapmak onun düşünceye neyi kattığını hesaba katarak bireysel yaratıcılığını keşfetmeyi iktiza eder, en azından böyle bir amaç olmalıdır. Bu makalede Yunus’un bir düşünce geleneği dâhilindeki yerini, onun düşüncesini şekillendiren tasavvufun Yunus’a hangi temel özelliklerle ulaştığı ve bunun Yunus’u nasıl etkilediği üzerinden Yunus’un düşünce tarihindeki yerini tespit etmekle ilgili bir araştırma amaçlanmıştır. Bunun için Yunus’u etkileyen tasavvufun din bilimleri içindeki büyük itirazını hesaba katarak Tanrı-şeriat, Peygamber-hadis, ahlak-ibadet ve yükümlü insan ile insan-ı kâmil gibi ana kavramlar üzerinden takibi yapılmıştır. Yunus’un ezelî insan telakkisine özel bir yer ayırarak onun düşüncesinin en önemli kısmının burası olduğu tespit edilmiştir.


Local languages played an influential role in the dominant presence of Arabic, one of the most striking aspects of the spread of Ṣūfism in Islamic societies. Arabic is the language of the Divine Book, Glorious Qur’an, and hadiths of the Prophet, which explains its prevalence in the Muslim world. Therefore, Arabic has always been and will continue to be the most important language of Islam, and, consequently,Quraysh will maintain its privileged position. The language of worship, however, has always been Arabic. Hence, even to date, the Muslim world remains united on this topic. Arabic has produced great literature, both as the language of religious life and religious sciences. During this period, there was figuratively no other language of science or thought except Arabic; further, even if there was any other language, it was not highly influential. When Persian gained importance as the first dominant language of the Muslim world, it created friction when it brought down the authority of Arabic. Later, more languages gained authority, and it helped the Muslim world communicate with their societies. It was primarily the Ṣūfis who expressed religious thought and morality in these local languages, and the expressions full of supplications and prayers used by Ṣūfis played an important role in infusing the religion to these languages. 

Yūnus Emre is one of the most influential figures who helped the Turkish turn into a language in which religious thought was shaped and gained new ways of expression in the Muslim world. His creation of this language was influenced distinctively by thoughts inherited from Ṣūfi history. First, in his understanding of Ṣūfism, we can find some critical aspects similar to the criticism of other religious sciences raised by Ṣūfis. One example is the criticism directed toward other religious sciences by Ṣūfis on the concept of God. Ṣūfis advocated and pursued a religious life centered on God from early times, and they were expressing their thoughts with a language formed according to this understanding. This understanding was entailed by Tawhid, one of the most significant principles of the religion. However, Ṣūfis and other religious scholars approached the concept of Tawhid from different perspectives and interpreted it according to their understanding. According to the representatives of normative traditions such as Canonists and Theologians, Tawhid is to live in this world by the Divine law, obeying the rules designated by God. Canonists approached Tawhid in terms of Sharia (Divine law), while Theologians were focusing on the authentic faith in terms of divine names. Ṣūfis objected and argued that Tawhid was the foundation of a strong and dynamic relationship between God and man. Thus, they maintained the idea of building a relationship with God, who was believed to be the reason behind all actions, by transcending causality. They believed that God was the real subject and human beings had to live their lives as objects of the actions of God. This approach led Ṣūfis to adopt a rambling language that they reached by deconstructing the existing one. Ṣūfis started using phrases such as “knowing God through God,” “speaking through God,” or “hearing God,” which were unfamiliar to the other Muslim communities. However, they put the concept of love at the center of religious life. Yūnus Emre approached Ṣūfism considering that its main issue was its way of understanding God. The concept of active God is at the heart of his poems. Thus, God is the reason for every action and deed of humans. Therefore, religious life is a life devoted completely to God. Consequently, this understanding of God helped Yūnus Emre reach the concept of love and handle the relationship between God and man with respect to love. However, love is a concept that emerged from an interpretation of the relationship between God and man in a way that is unacceptable to the Theologians. The idea of love emanates from seeing the relationship with God as never-ending. God is neither far from us nor is He the ultimate unknown. Contrarily, He is closer to man than his jugular vein and is the true subject behind every action. Therefore, while our knowledge about Him is stable, our inability to see Him creates in us a tremendous desire. Once humans experience this desire, they should build a relationship with God. This thought expressed in Turkish by Yūnus Emre maintains that the consequence of love is to take the relationship with a desire and longing on one’s heart. On the other hand, his poems are full of concepts and narratives expressing the passiveness of man in this world, such as submission to the power of God or being the addressee of the Divine voice. These concepts and thoughts are well-known throughout the early periods of Ṣūfism. 

Nevertheless, we can also follow the footprints of the early periods of Ṣūfism on the poems of Yūnus Emre in the way that he prioritized morality before worshiping, one of the fundamental problems encountered by the Ṣūfis in the period called “Sunni Ṣūfism,” referring to the time after Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 297/909). The Muslim society had a dilemma because the Canonists and Theologians belonging to the normative side of the religion did not see morality as a fundamental issue and accepted it as the good deeds that should be performed. However, Ṣūfis focused so much on morality that they treated worship as less important. Therefore, the tension between morality and worship became a serious problem in Ṣūfism. We witness that Yūnus Emre inherited this problem as it was. Some of his poems have such an emphasis on morality that they can weaken the motives to worship or at least will contradict the expectations of the normative tradition. For example, consider this verse from his poem: “If you have broken a heart, your prayer is nothing but in vain.” Yūnus Emre emphasizes that the essential principle for humans is morality and by pointing out that there is no limit to this morality, he developed a model of dynamic morality, which stands on the opposite of the uncomplying and unchangeable rules of worship. His poem placed priority on morality over worshiping and with this attitude, Yūnus Emre gets involved in the controversy that started in the early period of Ṣūfism. Furthermore, another issue that needs to be addressed is prophethood. Ṣūfis changed the religious understanding of prophethood and turned their attention toward the Prophet rather than his tradition and hadiths. The natural consequence of this understanding is the development of the idea of Haqiqat al-Muhammadiyya i.e. “the Reality of Realities.” We cannot find traces of this exact notion in the poems of Yūnus Emre. However, there is a similarity of the notion from another perspective. His idea is based upon the primordial nature of human beings. Thus, this idea of the primordial nature of human beings is the result of Haqiqat al-Muhammadiyya or vice versa. His thought was shaped around this idea. According to Yūnus Emre, humans are eternal, having a primordial reality preceding the creation in the sensible world. Hence, this reality, which is Arsh and Kursi (Throne and Footstool), is immutable before being created, and human’s relationship with God originates from this primordial nature. This concept of primordial nature that has been extensively discussed by metaphysicians like Ibn Arabî (d. 1240) finds voice in the poems of Yūnus Emre, who sees it as the basis that enables the relationship between God and man.

This concept of primordial nature is a vital factor that unravels almost all the problems of Ṣūfi morality. Therefore, this concept reviles that this temporal world should be viewed as a bridge to be crossed and not a place to call home. It is a concept that can be associated with asceticism and issues related to it. However, considering the primordial nature, even asceticism, which means renunciation of the temporal world is not enough; thus, asceticism should be disregarded. However, for an ascetic, the afterlife should be abandoned just like the temporal world. Human yearns for God and seeks to see Him; anything beyond that is worthless. Yūnus Emre believes that the fear of hell and hope for heaven, one of the main reasons why humans worship God, should be abandoned as well. He has been criticized severerly because he despises the blessings of heaven and handles the idea of hell in a way that is unacceptable to the normative tradition. In conclusion, the main theme of the poems of Yūnus Emre is God and man whose primordial nature has the potential to reach Him. 

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Demirli, E. (2021). Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God. darulfunun ilahiyat, 32(1), 43-66.


Demirli E. Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God. darulfunun ilahiyat. 2021;32(1):43-66.


Demirli, E. Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God. darulfunun ilahiyat, [Publisher Location], v. 32, n. 1, p. 43-66, 2021.

Chicago: Author-Date Style

Demirli, Ekrem,. 2021. “Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God.” darulfunun ilahiyat 32, no. 1: 43-66.

Chicago: Humanities Style

Demirli, Ekrem,. Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God.” darulfunun ilahiyat 32, no. 1 (Jun. 2022): 43-66.

Harvard: Australian Style

Demirli, E 2021, 'Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God', darulfunun ilahiyat, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 43-66, viewed 30 Jun. 2022,

Harvard: Author-Date Style

Demirli, E. (2021) ‘Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God’, darulfunun ilahiyat, 32(1), pp. 43-66. (30 Jun. 2022).


Demirli, Ekrem,. Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God.” darulfunun ilahiyat, vol. 32, no. 1, 2021, pp. 43-66. [Database Container],


Demirli E. Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God. darulfunun ilahiyat [Internet]. 30 Jun. 2022 [cited 30 Jun. 2022];32(1):43-66. Available from: doi: 10.26650/di.2021.32.1027987


Demirli, Ekrem. Constituent Elements of the Ṣūfi Understanding of Yūnus Emre: Faith That Turns into Love Between Primordial Man and Eternal God”. darulfunun ilahiyat 32/1 (Jun. 2022): 43-66.


Published Online29.12.2021


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