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Sheikh Galib and His Definition of Divine Love
Mar 1, 2008

Galib’s master work Hüsn ü Ask ("Beauty and Love") is viewed as one of the most distinguished works of Turkish Literature. It is known for its perfect presentations of symbols and characters with which he tells the story of a dervish who strives to attain a state of perfection after passing difficult tests and obstacles.

Sheikh Galib, who was also known as Galib Dede, is considered to be the last of the great classical Ottoman poets. Born in Istanbul in 1757, when the Ottoman Empire was at its height, he is one of the most important figures in the Sufi tradition. His father was a government official with some connection to the Mevlevi Sufi order, the order of "whirling dervishes" founded by Rumi. He compiled his first divan (book of poetry) at twenty-four years of age, and at twenty-six he finished his master work Hüsn ü Ask ("Beauty and Love") in less than six months. Hüsn ü Ask is a divan of his poetry and a poetic allegory which is seen as one of the best books of classical Ottoman poetry. Galib went to Rumi’s town of Konya to finish his period of seclusion (çile)1 so that he would become a sheikh of the Mevlevi order, but he returned to Istanbul at his father’s insistence. Seclusion is an important stage in the Sufi path (tasawwuf), during which a dervish purifies his body from human desires and matures his soul spiritually. Galib completed his seclusion and spiritual education in the Galata house of the Mevlevis in Istanbul in three years, and became a Dede (Master) of the house. He was appointed as Sheikh of the Galata house of the Mevlevis during the time of Sultan Selim III and became a very close friend of the Sultan.

At first, Galib attempted to combine a government career with the interior life of a Sufi, but he eventually turned his focus wholeheartedly to the spiritual life. By this time, he was already famous for his poetry, which was admired even by Sultan Selim III, who was a patron of poets and the sultan at that time. Sheikh Galib deeply affected the sultan spiritually, trained many students and passed away at the age of forty-three in 1799. His tomb is in a place called Hamusan ("Place of silence") in the Galata house of the Mevlevis in Istanbul.2

The spiritual adventure of a soul: Hüsn ü Ask

Classical Turkish poetry is full of images and symbols which scholars discuss in terms of their function in symbolic meaning, whereas they agree on their lexical meaning. The range of symbols, which are often repeated, has been widened and enriched for centuries. They enrich the content of the poetry by making the words denser and wider in terms of meaning, and they are also seen as an indicator of superiority, originality and privilege while evaluating the poets’ literary skills. The poet aims to say much in few words, a simple but powerful approach that makes the poetry mysterious and something in which readers find their own images and thoughts.3

Galib’s poetry was at a peak in terms of richness of imagination and this has made him a role model for many later poets who emulate his poetic style. His master work Hüsn ü Ask ("Beauty and Love") is viewed as one of the most distinguished works of Turkish literature. It is known for its perfect presentations of symbols and characters with which he tells the story of a dervish who strives to attain a state of perfection after passing difficult tests and obstacles. Hüsn ü Ask is a quest by a man for his interior life. The man is searching for himself in this quest, and while reflecting his interior life, it also shows the soul of the man. Sheikh Galib says that he took the idea from Rumi’s Mesnevi, claiming that Mesnevi is something that belongs to all humanity, not just Rumi. Hüsn (Beauty) and Ask (Love), who are the main characters of the story, are two people born on the same day in a tribe in the desert. According to the story, Hüsn is very beautiful, she shines like the moon, and she represents all beauty. Ask is very brave, honest, and handsome, and he represents all the love and effort that is directed toward beauty. It is as if Hüsn and Ask are tailored for each other, but Ask has many tests and obstacles to pass in order to prove his capacity to deserve Hüsn.4

The obstacles and tests represent the suffering (çile) of the dervish, or our deeds in life that will lead us to the afterlife. Hüsn represents God, all that is most beautiful and most gracious and which represents all beauty in life and the hereafter. Ask stands for the man who desires beauty, who above all seeks it in his soul and in his consciousness. This is true because God created humans for Himself, so that humans always seek eternity and eternal love, whether knowingly or unknowingly. According to Sufism (tasawwuf), a person cannot be satisfied in his or her soul until he or she finds the reason behind his or her creation; thus people always seek this ultimate reason. The Qur’an also expresses this as

Be aware that it is in the remembrance of God, and whole-hearted devotion to God, that hearts find rest and contentment. (Rad 13:28)5

During the journey, Hüsn has to face many different tests and is required to pass all of them fully in the given time. Galib describes this: "It is not easy to get Hüsn, you have to pay a great deal. You have to find the required chemical first. This chemical is only found in the realm of the heart and, it is something that transforms anything into gold. You will find dragons with a thousand heads in this realm of the heart. If you pass the dragons, your way will lead you to the sea of fire. On the shore of the sea of fire, you will see a ship made of wax. You have to pass over the sea of fire with that ship made of wax. If you pass over the sea, a witch of many evils will be waiting for you on the other side. Your way will lead you to a desert in which lions, giants and many wild animals are waiting for you. Creatures that sound like thunderstorms will jump on you. There will always be fire in this desert. If you pass through the desert, you can arrive in the homeland of the heart. Find the chemical over there and come back by the same way. What you call life is too short, like the blink of an eye. If you want to get Hüsn, you have to be very quick."6

The obstacles mostly represent the devil and the carnal self (nafs) that are the two main enemies of humans, according to the Islamic faith. If one fails one of the tests, one cannot reach or will be delayed in reaching Hüsn. Hüsn has a teacher named Gayret (Endeavor), and he will be with Hüsn during this adventure. Sheikh Galib says he came to the world to write Hüsn ü Ask and ends his story by giving some advice. Humans, he says, cannot reach anything beautiful without binding it with love and passion. Sometimes, you will face huge problems, and you will feel like you are walking in a desert of fire, and sometimes you will fall into wells of sorrow, but you will be rescued from these wells by grabbing the rope that represents the Qur’an and faith in God (Al Imran 3:103). We should always have endeavor and hope. We might have obstacles, traps and tests in front of us and sometimes we might fail. But we should never give up and we should continue our journey with passion and hope. The chemical that converts anything to gold is affection; once you find it you will see everything differently.

A life devoted to the faith

Since according to tasawwuf, true love is love for the sake of God, Who is the source of all beauty and to Whom is due all worship and love, Sheikh Galib’s works display rich examples and meanings that reflect his love of God. The phrases are usually not directed to the creator directly, but the true meaning is hidden in the symbols. For example, he writes,

Love is a lamp of God, I am its moth;
love is a shackle, my heart is its crazy captive.
The Beloved’s candle has such a wonderful light,
its light does not fit into the lamp glass of Heaven.

According to the poet, "having God’s everlasting pleasure for a person is an everlasting treasure that is more valuable than anything else." It is this understanding which forms the basis for a dervish’s deeds, and it is what makes a dervish’s life understandable. The dervish only wants God’s pleasure and love, and he conducts himself in such a way as to earn it. It is not important for him to be rich, powerful, or handsome, or so on, because these are not the tools that take him to divine love.

Sheikh Galib’s poem in praise of the Prophet is accepted as one of the best ever written and shows his devotion and dedication to him. It was indeed a tradition for the poets of classical Ottoman literature to write poems called "naat" dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. In his poem, Galib begins by describing the Prophet’s features and by praising his personality, and at the end asks for his intercession for the afterlife.

O Master, you are the sultan of all prophets, king of all the honored.
O Master, you are the eternal cure for the desperate and helpless.
O Master, you are the most valuable person in the abode of God.
Master, you are the most praised and most beloved.
O Master , you are given as a mercy to us by God.7

In this noble eulogy of the Prophet, there are also some descriptions of the Prophet’s great friends, the places whose names the Prophet often mentioned and the Day of Judgment, on which everybody will seek help and mercy. The poet humbly asks for the Prophet’s help, not just for himself but everybody who has faith. This reflects the hope that as much as you remember, praise Prophet Muhammad and send greetings to him, the more likely he will pray for God’s mercy upon you on the Day of Judgment.


Tasawwuf and its effects constitute very important elements of Classical Ottoman Poetry. Drawing on the rich vocabulary and symbolism tasawwuf enables poets to convey a great many additional layers of meaning, as well as the visible lexical meanings in the lines they compose. Sheikh Galib claims that a human being is born with a given love that is from past eternity and that is divine love. Love is something that already exists in the soul and heart; it does not merely appear at a late phase. Therefore, love is not an ending but it is a beginning. Galib does not follow a path where the story goes from love of the human to divine love; in fact, he talks directly about divine love. If a person frees himself or herself from the shackles and chains of human love and finds divine love, he or she will be able to pass over the sea of fire in a ship made of wax, able to defeat giants, witches, demons and exceed all his or her limitations.

Ahmet D. Bahadir is a post-doctoral researcher with a special interest in Ottoman literature.


  1. Denoting abandonment of all worldly pleasures and delights, çile is used to express an initiate’s spending at least forty days in strict austerity and self-discipline in the name of spiritual training. During this period initiates keep to the absolute bare minimum in meeting such bodily needs as eating, drinking, sleeping, and speaking, and spend most of their time in worshiping, mentioning God, thinking and self-supervision. They spend the period of çile either in a silent corner of a dervish lodge or in a quiet room in their homes.
  2. Ayvazoglu, B., Kugunun Son Sarkisi, Kapi Press, Istanbul: 2006.
  3. Capan, P., "On Seyh Galib’s Image of Fire," University of Muðla, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Turkish Language and Literature, Muðla: 2005.
  4. Holbrook, V. R., Beauty and Love ("Hüsn ü Ask"), Mla Texts and Translations, 2006.
  5. Unal, Ali, The Qur’an: An Annotated Interpretation in Modern English, The Light, Inc, NJ: 2008, p. 505.
  6. Holbrook, 2006.
  7. Pala, I., Divan of Sheikh Galib, Kapi Press, Istanbul: 2005.