“God is our professor and love is our academy.”
“Let us love, and be loved.”

– Yunus Emre


Who is Yunus Emre? Is he one of the wandering hippies of 60’s with torn clothing? Or is he a romantic obsessed with love?


He is neither, but at the same time both. Yunus Emre was a thirteenth century dervish from Anatolia. He is obsessed with love, but his love is the love of a true mystic. He did wear torn clothing, a dervish robe, and wandered about in Anatolia. He was but one of the thousands of Sufi dervishes of Islam, but he played an outstanding role in Turkish culture, literature and philosophy. Some writers regard him as the most important poet in Turkish history; his poetry, language and philosophy shaped Turkish culture and still do so.

In this short overview Yunus Emre’s life, and thought, we will examine his legend and then turnto humanist themes in his poetry. I hope that will lead to appreciation of his works; poetry has limitless implications!



I’m Yunus, mystic of sorrow.
Suffering wounds from top to toe,
In the Friend’s hands I writhe in woe,
Come see what love has done to me.


Yunus Emre’s life has been the subject of enormous research and debate among both Turkish and foreign scholars. This debate has its roots in his popularity among the Anatolian people. [1][2] Hundreds of villages claim to be his birthplace, many more claim to host his tomb, and different sources place him in different centuries, all dying for the honor of association with this great poet. [2] He likely lived from AD1240-1241 to 1320-21, when he was 82 years old. [2][3] He almost certainly lived in the Karaman (Larende) area and belonged to a family who emigrated from Horasan to the village of Seyh Haci Ismail . The village is believed to have been founded by the head of Yunus’ family Seyh Haci Ismail when they moved to Anatolia with his followers – “cemaat”. [2][4]

The rest of his life – whether he was a wandering dervish or a Seyh of a tekke, his tariqat (or Sufi order), his poetry, and finally his death are all mysteries, with various sources giving various different interpretations. I would take Sabahattin Eyoboglu’s [1] approach and try to understand Yunus through legends about his life in Anatolia. As a popular poet, the most important aspects of Yunus’ life are not historical details, but how the common people of Anatolia viewed his life. This is revealed very beautifully in legends and poetry; some people even suggest that “Yunus” is actually a school of thought in 13th century Anatolia, not a single person.



Yunus’ impact on Turkish culture can be seen in various ways. During the efforts to purify the Turkish language in the 1920’s his poetry was a prime example of the dialect of Anatolian peasants. Several authors claim that many idioms in everyday language are actually verses from his poetry. His philosophy, metaphysics and humanism have been examined in various symposiums and conferences on a regular basis both in Turkey and abroad. UNESCO named Yunus Emre one of the main cultural figures of world, and dedicated 1991 as “The International Yunus Emre Year”. His work has been translated into several languages, and historians consider his system of thought important for clues about thirteenth-century Anatolia. These are just some examples of Emre’s impact on comtemporary Turkish society.[1][3][4][8][10]

Let us now turn to the ledend of Emre; after all, Yunus has told us:

I am not at this place to dwell,
I arrived here just to depart.
I am a well-stocked peddler, I sell
To all those who’ll buy from my mart.





Books are composed by the sages
Who put black words on white pages;
My sacred book’s chapters are all
Written in the hearts that love truly

Turkish culture is full of legends about or attributed to Yunus Emre. One famous story about Yunus Emre describes how he became a dervish. [1][2][5] Young Yunus was a poor Anatolian villager, who would starve if the harvest was bad and live like a king when it was good. One day he ran out of seeds for his field; he got on his donkey and collected various wild fruits from forests in hope of exchanging them for seeds. After a long journey he stopped at Haci Bektas Tekke, the famous tekke (Sufi lodge) of the founder of the most latitudinarian sect of Bektasis of Anatolia. He entered Haci Bektas’s room and asked him for seeds in exchange for his wild fruits. Haci Bektas, a grand Seyh and poet in his own right, offered Yunus a “nefes” (a breath of blessing) in return for his fruits. Yunus refused. Haci Bektas then offered ten “nefes” for each handful, but Yunus still refused. To his suprise, Yunus ended up getting as much seeds as he could carry from Haci Bektas after this incident. On his way back to his village, Yunus reflected: “This man must be a noble spirit; how could anyone else be so generous to a poor stranger?”. Thus he took the seeds back to Haci Bektas to ask for a “nefes”. However, Haci Bektas replied: “I cannot, because I have turned over your padlock to Taptuk Emre.”.

Let us pause here and think about possible the symbolism of this story. Yunus begins a journey in search of “seeds” in exchange of “wild fruits”. A wild fruit is the untreated, uneducated version of the corresponding domestic fruit, Yunus seeks to give away these to get seeds, which symbolize the foundations of a new life, the beginning of a transformation, a journey – in short, “the Way” described by many Sufis. His journey leads him to Haci Bektas, a Seyh and a man of great wisdom, who offers Yunus “nefes”, something that many people would yearn to get but Yunus refuses. Haci Bektas is a generous person, however, – one of God’s attributes, or the attributes of a perfect man in Sufism.Thus he gives Yunus many seeds, which makes Yunus reconsider the situation. Yunus understands the signs given to him by Haci Bektas through this incident, but it is too late; his “lock” has been turned over to Taptuk Emre. In Sufistic terms, this means that a spiritual guide, a Seyh or Pir, has been appointed for Yunus on his path in search of God’s truth – here in search of the source of Haci Bektas’ wisdom. This is the beginning of another long and arduous journey for Yunus, the first stage of “the Way”, as described in the following verses:

Bir sualim var sana
Ey dervi$ler ecesi
$eyihler ne buyurur
Yol haberi nicesi

Bu ma’ni sarayInIn
Vergil suale cevap
$u’le kime gOsterir
A$k evinin bacasI

Evvel kapI $eriat
Emri nehyi bildirir
Yuva gUnahlarInI
Herbir Kuran hecesi

I have a question to you,
The wisest of the Dervishes
What kind of Path do
The Seyhs order?

The answer to this
Obstacle of palace
Is the flame from the
Chimney of the House of Love

The first door is “Seriat” (Religion or Law)
Commanding exile (or journey),
Every syllable of Koran,
Telling the sins of home.

(translation by the author)

Emre clearly states that one should feel the love of God to start this journey of transformation. The flame from the chimney of the house of love allows one to overcome the obstacle of palace, which could be a metaphor worldy riches that are believed to be an obstacle on a Sufi’s path. After one falls in love with God, the journey begins with the appointment of a guide and joining a tekke, is hinted in the mention of “$eriat” and Koran. The legend has Yunus being led to Haci Bektas, who in turn guides him to Taptuk Emre. Yunus’s meeting with Haci Bektas serves the purpose of associating him with the highest possible saintliness; only after this meeting is he guided to Taptuk Emre – a less famous saint.

Yunus infact uses mch fruit imagery in his poetry , the most famous example of all being his “tekerleme” ( a kind of nonsense poem mainly held together by jingling rhymes in most unusual combinations) [6] ;

CIkdIm erik dalIna
Anda yedim UzUmU
Bostan IssI kakIyIp
Der ne yersin kozumu

I climbed upon the plum tree
To pluck grapes there;
The master of the garden asked me:
Why do you eat my walnut


According to Schimmel, Yunus here means that every deed (tree) has a special kind of fruit. “Prune, “grape” and “nut” refer respectively to the Divine Law, “$eriat”, to the mystical Path, “tariqat”, and the Divine Reality, “haqiqat”. One eats the outer parts of the prune but not its interior, whatever is like the prune corresponds to the outward aspect of actions. The grape is eaten and many delicious examples of Turkish cuisine are made of it. Though a few remains of hypocrisy (vinegar vs. wine), fame , and other unwanted attributes exist in the grape , it is still on the Path to the Reality. The nut is completely a symbol of Reality for the interior of the nut has nothing to be thrown away and it is the remedy for many illnesses, whereas the outer part, a symbol for the Self, is totally useless, and must be discarded possibly through a lot of suffering.

Taptuk Emre in turn has his own legends; [1] Haci Bektas arrives in Anatolia from far away places in the guise of a pigeon; however, the fanatic Mollas who heard of his arrival do not want him in Anatolia and appear as eagles attacking him and blocking his way. The bird of peace finds the skies of Anatolia filled with eagle wings; in trying to break through this barrier it is wounded and falls into village, where a peasant woman takes care of it. After this incident all the Seyhs and pious people of Anatolia and Rum show respect to Haci Bektas, except one called Emre. Haci Bektas asks Emre to come to his tekke for a conversation. When Emre arrives he asks him how he was introduced to the way of the Sufis; Emre tells him the story of a hand that came through a curtain and invited him to the Way, declaring that he would still recognize that hand. Afterwards, Haci Bektas shows his hand, and with excitement Emre shouts “Taptuk Taptuk” ( I have not been able to figure out a meaning for this word; it sounds like a common exclamation of the time) , and becomes a follower of Haci Bektas. From then on his name is Taptuk Emre. Halman mentions a slightly different story where Taptuk Emre himself is the pigeon, but the general idea is the same. [5] This story emphasizes the link between Haci Bektas and Taptuk Emre and the relation of mystics to the peasants of Anatolia. Rebelion, or dissatisfaction with religious dogma is seen quite clearly in this story.

After a long and tiring journey Yunus Emre finally finds his guide Taptuk Emre and immediately joins the congregation where he is to serve, much like a slave, for forty years carrying and cutting firewood. This, however, is not merely slavery to the tekke, but “AllahIn kulluGu”- the slavery of God. According to Yunus, this is the second door of “the Way” ;

ikincisi tarikat
KulluGa bel baGlaya
Yolu doGru varanI
YargIlaya hocasI

The second one is tariqat
Trusting in slavery.
Let the guide judge
The one on the right Path

(translation by the author)

Another legend tells how Yunus was attracted by Taptuk Emre’s saz (a traditional instrument of Anatolia) music, until one day he got bored and left the tekke. Wandering randomly, Yunus meets seven enlightened men, and becomes their comrade. Every night one of them prays silently for one person and a feast table appears for the group. On his turn Yunus prays , “Oh God , I am praying for the same person these enlightened ones are praying to; please do not embarrass me.” and two tables instead of one appear. Shocked, the enlightened ones question Yunus about whom he prayed to, but Yunus demands that they should tell first. Their answer was: “We prayer for a dervish called Yunus who is a follower of Taptuk Emre”. On hearing this, without a word Yunus leaves the group and returns to the tekke.

The legend is full of miracles indicating Yunus’ saintly position in Anatolian folklore. One miracle after another leads Yunus through this journey. There is a predestinarian touch throughout the legend. This particular story could be an example of the hardships of “the Way” and how one can easily stray from it; but God led Emre back to “the way” through certain signs. The legend also emphasizes Yunus’ saintly position in the eyes of Anatolian peasants; and the respect shown to him by the enlightened ones means that even Yunus himself did not realize this importance. Perhaps Yunus was still on the earlier stages of his journey and had not yet acquired a good amount of self-knowledge.

When Yunus arrives back to the tekke, he talks to Taptuk’s wife (here again a woman appears as a savior). She tells him to go and lie on the door-step of Taptuk’s house. Saying; “When Taptuk exits the house for his morning “abdest” (religious washing) , he will stumble upon you and as he has a poor vision, he will ask “who is this” and I will tell him “Yunus”. If he answers “which Yunus” you should leave and never come back, but if he says “you mean our friend Yunus”, this means he still loves you. In that case, you should bow to him and ask for his mercy”. The next day Taptuk Emre answers by saying , “you mean our friend Yunus”, with excitement and tears.

This story is a story of love between two men, Yunus Emre and Taptuk Emre, a common theme in Sufism. The love described here is not necessarily homosexual love, but a divine love of the guide and his student. Taptuk Emre forgives Yunus rejoins the tekke, resuming his work of carrying firewoods. One night there is a very happy banquet at the tekke, and Taptuk Emre asks the poet of the tekke to recite poetry, but somehow he is not able to utter a single word. Then Taptuk turns to Yunus, declaring, “What Haci Bektas once told you is at last a reality. Your lock is now unlocked”. Yunus bursts into a stream of poetry and the congregation becomes ecstatic – the great poet Yunus is now born. Yunus mentions Taptuk in various places in his poetry. In reference to his love of Taptuk he says:

Yine esridi Yunus Taptuk yUzUn gOrelde
BaktIGIm yUzde gOrdUm TaptuGumun nurumu

Yunus is a servant of Taptuk’s face
I see Taptuk’s light on every face I look

(translation by the author)

There are many more legends and anecdotes about his life. One story, almost certainly apocryphal, [5] describes the encounter of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi and Yunus, about whom Yunus wrote;

Mevlana Hudavendigar bize nazar kIlalI
Onun gOrklU nazarI gOnlUmUz aynasIdIr.

Since I saw Mevlana,
His magnificent vision is the mirror of our hearts


During this encounter (Yunus explicitly mentions attending a gathering of Mevlana in some of his poetry) Yunus criticizes Mevlana for the bulk of the Mesnevi and states that he would have expressed the same idea in the following two lines:

“Ete kemiGe bUrUndUm
Yunus oluban gOrUndUm

“I took shape in flesh and bones,
And came into sight as Yunus.


The story also mentions that Mevlana admitted that he would not have written this such a long work if he were able to make such pithy statements. One legends says that paying tribute to Yunus, Mevlana stated:

“Manevi konaklarIn hangisine vardIysam, bir Turkmen kocasInIn IzInI OnUmde buldum, onu geCemedim.” [1]

“Whenever I arrived at a new spiritual height, there I found the footsteps left by that Turkish (Turcoman) mystic, and I could never surpass him.”

These legends about encounters with Mevlana, one of the greatest Sufis of all times demonstrate how important Yunus was in the eyes of the Anatolian people. The legend also hint at a conflict between the elitism of Mevlana and Yunus’ status as a popular preacher. Yunus did not produce volumes of literary work like Mevlana; his literacy is even under debate.

Like many other Sufis Yunus Emre triggered a heavy reaction from Moslem dogmatists who begun to regard him as a foe. A legend describes that Molla KasIm, a traditionalist, decided to destroy all transcriptions of Yunus’s poems. He sat on a river bank and starts tearing all the material he found heretical, throwing the scraps into the river, until he saw two lines:

“Yunus Emre bu sOzU eGri bUgrU sOyleme
Seni sigaya Ceken bir Molla KasIm gelir.

“Yunus Emre, utter no word that is not true,
For a Molla KasIm will come to cross-examine you!


Molla KasIm burst into tears as he understood his mistake. He saved the rest of precious the poetry – some claim two thirds of Yunus Emre’s poetry was destroyed this way- for the rest of his life. How Yunus knew about Molla KasIm nobody knows; nobody is even sure whether this piece of poetry really belongs to Yunus or if it is part of the thousands of verses recited in his name centuries after. Thereafter, the legend claims, his poetry was carried around by the rivers, recited by the fish in the water, blown by the winds and recited by the angels in the air, with the remaining part recited by thousands of people.

There are hundreds of more anecdotes and stories of Yunus which have survived in the folk traditions of Anatolian peasants. They describe his adventures, his philosophy, and “the Way” he followed. Nobody knows how far on “the Way” he traveled, whether he reached the third and the fourth doors:

UCUncUsU marifet
Can gOnUl gOzUn aCar
TutalIm olsun sevap
Ar$’a deGin yUcesi

DOrdUncUsU hakikat
Ere eksik bakmaya
Bayram ola gUndUzU
Kadir ola gecesi

The third is ‘marifet’ (gnosis)
It expands the eye and the heart (makes them happy, relaxed)
Let’s do it and we will be rewarded by God
Let’s march to God!

The fourth is ‘hakikat’ (the absolute Truth)
Looking down on the self,
Days will be ‘bayram’ (religious festival)
Nights will be ‘kadir’ (the night when the Kuran was revealed, a celebration night)
“(translation by the author)

Schimmel [6] in fact points out that one can easily trace the stages and stations of “the Way” in Yunus’ poetry, ‘beginning with the loneliness and estrangement in this world, with confusion and uncertainty, but slowly leading to complete surrender to the Seyh (“Yunus was a falcon, perched on Taptuk’s arm”). Out of this surrender emerges the firm faith in the wondrous activities of the spiritual guides in the mystical hierarchy, such as the Three, the Seven, the Forty, of the founders of the mystical orders whom he mentions sometimes in his verse (Maulana, Ahmad Rifa’i). But Yunus’ final insight is condensed in the saying:
“If there is no Divine Attraction —
What, then, shall my shaykh do to me?

This means that the last step, the final experience of union with the Divine Beloved is an act of grace which the shaykh can only prepare, but not effect.’

My intent in this paper is not to give full account and interpretation of these stories, but rather get the reader to think about Yunus Emre’s personality through these examples. The legends are open to a variety of different interpretations. Now that have met Yunus, let us examine other aspects of his poetry relevant to our main topic of humanism.




[1] “Yunus Emre”, S. Eyuboglu, Cem Yayinevi,Istanbul, Turkey, 1980 [2]”Yunus Emre, Butun Siirleri”, C. Oztelli, Milliyet Yayinlari, Turkey, 1971 [3]”Yunus Emre Divani”, F. Timurtas, Kultur Bakanligi Yayinlari, 380,Ankara, Turkey, 1980 [4]”Seriye Sicil Defterleri ve Yonus Emre”, O. H. Ozdemir, UluslarasiYunus Emre, Nasreddin Hoca, Karamanoglu Mehmet Bey ve Turk DiliSemineri Bildirileri, Konya Turizm Dernegi Yayinlari, Turkey, 1977 [5]”The Humanist Poetry of Yunus Emre”, T. S. Halman, R.C.D. CulturalInstitute, No.39, Istanbul Matbaasi, Istanbul, TurkeyA version of this book could be viewed at: [6]”An Anthology of Turkish Literature”, Edited by K. Silay, “YunusEmre”, Annemarie Schimmel, Indiana Univ. Turkish Studies & TurkishMinistry of Culture Joint Series XV, Bloomington, Indiana [7]”The Poetry of Yunus Emre, a Turkish Sufi Poet”, G. M. Smith,Univ. California Press, California, 1993, [8]”Yunus Emre ile Ilgili Makalelerden Secmeler”, Hazirlayanlar:H. Ozbay , M. Tatci, Kultur Bakanligi/1275, Ankara, Turkey, 1991 [9]”Yunus Emre and his Mystical Poetry”, Edited by T. S. Halman,Indiana Univ. Turkish Studies 2, Bloomington, Indiana [10]”Doga ve Din Yorumcusu Yunus Emre”, Y. Z. Inan, Tekin Yayinevi,Ankara, Turkey, 1981 [11] Various World Wide Web sites:      Extracts from Yunus Emre’s Divan:       Threshold Foundation Yunus Emre Pages:         A collection of  poetry and sound clips about Yunus Emre:      An extensive collection of  Yunus’ Poetry: [12] “Living Without a Religion, Eupraxophy”, P. Kurtz, Prometheus Books,New York, USA, 1994 [13] “Humanist Manifesto II”, American Humanist Association, September 1973      Could be viewed at: [14] “Humanity — Is it for Real?”, G. Davis, World Citizen News, WorldGovernment of World Citizens, June/July 1996 [15] “Living Presence”, K. Helminski, Theshold Books, see their homepage. [16] “The Drop That Became The Sea, Selected Lyric Poetry of Yunus Emre”,Translated by R. Algan & K. Helminski, Threshold Books, see their homepage fordetails. [17]”What is Humanism?”, F. Edwords, American Humanist Association, Amherst,NY    Could be viewed at: [18] “The Story of Caux, From La Belle Epoque to Moral Re-Armament”, P. Mottu,Grosvenor Books,Switzerland, 1970 [19] “Peace-Builder” , Institute of Multi-Track Diplomacy, Washington Dc,USA, various issues. [20] “Red Cross and Red Crescent: Portrait of an International Movement”,The International Commitee of the Red Cross, Geneva, Switzerland [21] “Yunus Emre’ye Siirler”, Kultur Bakanligi/1306, Ankara, Turkey, 1991



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