The Humanism of Yunus Emre

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Yunus Emre is undoubtedly one of the greatest humanist of all time. Viewing the concept of the ancient humanistic thought, we see how the philosophers of the time put humanity at the center and used it as the measure for everything. They saw all people as being related both to nature and to each other. They exalted a virtuous life. Furthermore, they believed people could find God through love. These thoughts, however, were an accumulation of the philosophical thoughts that culminated in the Neo-Platonists. Yunus Emre’s philosophy, on the other hand, is both more systematic and comprehensive.

The humanism of Emre was original.  There are undoubtedly many philosophies that trust, that glorify man, and that make love the reason for humanity’s existence. Ever since early mythology, such thoughts have continued to add new light and beauty to an already colorful and beautiful painting.

Yunus Emre’s humanism is more productive and manifold when compared to that of his contemporaries. Humanism and renaissance enlighten humanity’s position on Earth. These are people who, in their everyday lives, are concrete and real but with feelings and creativity of their own.

The humanism of Yunis Emre has a systematic structure that is deep and broad in its scope. Like all the Islamic mystics, he knew the Quran and its apparent and hidden meanings. He knew the Islamic classics, the ancient legends, and Indian, Persian and Greek mythology, making use of it all in his poetry. He used the syllabic and aruz meters proficiently. He stated that he had a madrasa training, and he attended Rumi’s discussions and learned from him.

Emre’s thoughts are a conceptual whole. Humanity’s existence, its position in relationship to God, the unity of man–universe–God, living on Earth as virtuous people, the universality of love, the unity of 72 nations: All these are in harmony with each other. Emre is no different from the other philosophers who set up systems, but Emre’s system is as comprehensive and consistent as that of Plato.

Emre’s verses are loaded with philosophical musings, yet they are easily comprehended. He concisely and clearly expressed thoughts that would normally be hard to comprehend and require a lengthy explanation. In his expression, there is simplicity and beauty.

Maybe this is what distinguishes Emre from the other mystics. Using the fluency and striking effect of poetry, Emre summarizes what Rumi said:

“I took shape in flesh and bones…And came into sight as Yunus…”

Emre was an ardent observer of the mystical tradition. He was a continuation of the O Cüneyd-iBağdadi, Hallac-i Mansur, Ibn Arabi, and Rumi and Haci Bektash traditions. It would be a mistake to assume he was close to either Rumi or to Haci Bektaş, both of who were his contemporaries. He matured within the spheres of both these mystics, and it’s possible to strengthen this inference by citing the similarities in the teachings and sayings of these three great mystics.

Furthermore, it would also be misleading to say Rumi was closer to the public and Haci Bektaş was closer to the Palace. These three great wise men—Emre, Rumi and Haci Bektaş—were three streams that all sprang from the same mountain and flowed into to the same sea. Where they came from and where they travelled to was the same. This holds true for all mystics. Regardless of when or where they lived, they have all talked the same language, which stems from the same soul.

Emre’s humanism developed within the social and political conditions of his time. The turbulent times that started with Emperor Giyasettin II’s defeat to the Mongols lasted all through his 82-year life. Invasions, looting, internal conflicts, lies, backstabbing, hunger, and heavy taxes afflicted the masses. Emre’s love of humanity, his glorification of virtuous behavior, and his plea for unity gained a different outlook in such an environment.

Emre was not just a mystic struggling to reach God. He opposed injustice, tyranny and lies. He always stood by the right and the just. He wouldn’t have been such a favorite with the people if he hadn’t been like this. He would not have been the symbol of virtue, love, and peace that he has been for centuries. Had he not been a poet of the people, he would have been forgotten long ago. Emre’s humanism was primarily a reaction to his time. This fact, however, cannot overshadow how universal he was.

Emre’s man is both a simple man in practical life and also an ideal model, the perfect man. One can only mature, see reality, and enter the path of love together with the perfect man. Renaissance humanism wasn’t as tolerant to all men, religions, and languages as Emre’s was. This humanism, with its focus on individualism, could not reach the same universal measure.

Emre changed from a poor slave, worshipping God out of fear, to an honorable man. Before the creation of the universe and before life, man as a soul, or as a designed image, was with God. He will once again be with God after passing through the Earth–bridge. He will be with The Beloved, and thus Yunus places man, being loaded with eternal Godly qualities, in the highest and the most respected position in the universe.

No humanist has ever exalted man as Emre did. He has all the qualities that can make him a good guide for contemporary humanists.

Emre’s love embraces the entire universe and shines light on all people, even today.

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