Professors, Academies, and Students
The professors, academies, and students in Of had been officially recognized by the imperial religious establishment during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But does recognition alone demonstrate that the tradition was really representative of the imperial system of religious education? The writings of Hasan Umur (1880-1977), our local historian, provide an answer to these questions. Umur received his early schooling in one of the local religious academies before pursuing further study in Istanbul. Some years before the Great War, he left Istanbul and returned to Of, where he carried out an "investigation" of the conditions of religious education, a project that brought him into contact with teachers and students all over the district.
According to Umur, the teaching duties of the professors, the course loads of the students, the methods of instruction, the kinds of courses offered, and the granting of diplomas in the district of Of all more or less conformed with official standards. Indeed, he tells us, this was exactly what was wrong with the local tradition of religious study, since it consequently suffered from all the many problems of the imperial system of religious education. The professors had to teach too many subjects for too many hours each week so that they never dealt with any topic as they should have. Their methods of instruction retarded the progress of the students so that they never properly learned Arabic after many years of study. The official curriculum was excessively narrow, being entirely limited to courses in the Islamic sciences. Since students were never given instruction in basic subjects, such as writing, arithmetic, history, and geography, they could not progress satisfactorily in their studies of the higher Islamic sciences. The absence of any kind of examinations meant that many graduates received their diplomas without learning anything at all.
Umur paints a bleak picture of religious education in the district of Of. In addition to its pedagogical deficiencies, he also refers in passing to widespread corruption, which he preferred not to discuss. Still, Umur admired the old tradition of religious study, to which he felt personally indebted. As an example of the best of what it had to offer, he gives a brief account of the accomplishments of his own teacher in the district of Of, Zühtü Efendi Veli Efendi Oğlu. This man, still famous for his erudition during the 1960s, appears to have offered his students a rigorous and demanding program of study. He had himself received his diploma, or "authorizing certificate" (icazet), sometime during the middle of the nineteenth century, at the age of twenty-eight. So it would appear he had studied for many years before qualifying for his diploma. By time of his death at an advanced age, he had granted thirty-one authorizing certificates. Since this number is considered exceptionally large, it would appear that many of the teachers offered courses of study that were not easily or quickly completed. The character of the thirty-one certificates provides a hint of the intentions of his students. Thirteen had been "general" authorizing certificates (büyük icazet), confirming that the graduate had mastered the complete course of study in the religious academy. These individuals may have been hoping to qualify themselves for appointment as minor officials in the imperial religious establishment. The remaining eighteen had been "inheritance" authorizing certificates (feraiz icazet), confirming that the graduate had mastered the law of inheritance, but nothing more than this. These individuals may have been content to provide advice and counsel to clients among townsmen and villagers. Knowledge of the law of inheritance would have enabled them to give plausible assistance in regard to the writing of wills, the distribution of property, bills of sale, and the arrangement of marriages.
From Umur's account, we can conclude that the professors, academies, and students were most certainly a local branch of the imperial system of religious education. Their "upward" relationship to the state system confirmed, I shall now examine the tradition of religious study as it continued after the imperial religious establishment was no more. Once the superstructure of the state system had been swept away, the "downward" relationship of the tradition to townsmen and villagers was all the more clearly exposed.