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The Master of the Master: The Twisted Story of an Imperial Master and His Disciple*

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Abstract The master-disciple relationship requires a mutual recognition and dependency based on mutual passion and devotion, regardless of each member’s social, cultural, political, and ethical background. It is shaped by mystical etiquette as detailed in the Sufi tradition. The relationship between spiritual masters and their disciples has been dealt with at length in many studies, mainly based on the descriptions provided in normative Sufi texts. The present article demonstrates new perspectives in discussing how master-disciple relationships can be more complex than what the Sufi manuals portray. A close reading of the letters from the Ottoman sultan Murād III (r. 982–1003/1574–95) to his spiritual master Şücāʿ Dede provides insight into the struggles of the sultan with the realities of a master-disciple relationship as well as how the dependency is negotiated in real life. By presenting the inner dynamics of such a relationship from a disciple’s perspective, the letters of Murād III vividly exhibit that the master-disciple relationship has not always been as straightforward and pure in actual practice as it is described to be in the theoretical literature.

Affiliations: 1: Stanford University USA


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