Highlights from the Aga Khan Library Collections – Ottoman Collections (V)

Muhazarat (محاضرات) by Fatma Aliye

Reviewed by Seda Karamanli

In 2009, the Turkish 50 Lira note became the centre of a heated debate, symbolising the ongoing tension between Turkey’s secular and conservative camps. The catalyst for this dispute was the decision to feature Fatma Aliye (Topuz) (1882-1936) on the note’s reverse side. So, who was Fatma Aliye then, and what was the basis for such a polarising portrayal?

Fatma Aliye was the daughter of Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, an elite statesman and an intellectual figure in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire. Thanks to her high education, Fatma Aliye became an interpreter and was responsible for receiving foreign women guests at the Sultan’s palace.

She started off her academic life by translating foreign books into Turkish and co-writing with other authors. She later became an author in her own right and published extensively, championing women’s issues and receiving international recognition. Her first “solo” novel, Muhazarat (Useful Information), introduced here, was published in 1892. The Aga Khan Library is one of the two libraries in the UK that have the first edition of this book.

In the novel, Fatma Aliye beautifully covers issues concerning women at the time, including women’s education and their ability to have a say in marriage. She crafted a unique formula to reconcile the identities of modern and Islamic women in 19th-century Ottoman society such that the male-dominated literary canon of her time presented her as a model for female writers. This feat remains a significant part of her legacy.

Her controversial views, deftly balancing the values of modernity and religion, reveal the code directed towards women’s rights in the Ottoman period and today’s neo-Ottoman modernity. The book would be relevant for Ottoman studies students, particularly those interested in women intellectuals during the Late Ottoman Empire.

You can find the book on the Rare Book Collection: PL248 .F37 M83 1892

Further Readings

Booth, Marliyn, and A. Holly Shissler, ‘Fatma Aliye’s Nisvan-ı İslam: Istanbul, Beirut, Cairo, Paris, 1891–6’. In Ottoman Translations: Circulating Texts from Bombay to Paris. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2023.

Dell’Abate Çelebi, Barbara. ‘Fatma Aliye: At the Intersection of Secular and Islamic Feminism’. Women’s Studies 51.7 (2022): 801-818.