Sultan Murad III

Murad III (r. 1574–1595) was the grandson of renowned Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. He was born in 1546 in Manisa, where his father Selim II (r. 1566–1574) was the provincial governor. His mother, Nur Banu (1525–1587), was a Venetian-born woman of noble birth and the niece of Sebastiano Venier, the Doge of Venice.

Murad was first appointed the provincial governor of Akşehir, and Saruhan (Manisa) at the age of eighteen. In Manisa, he established a lifetime bond of companionship with the members of his household, including his tutor Hoca Sa’adeddin Efendi, and the controller of his harem, Raziye Hatun, in addition to his spiritual master Shuja Dede (d. 1588). Following his father’s short reign of only eight years, Murad, at 28, ascended to the throne as the third Murad and the twelfth sultan of the Ottoman dynasty on December 15, 1574.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite all the complexities of the military, political, and social milieu of his time, Murad spent his entire reign in Istanbul, mostly in his palace. As a sultan and connoisseur of art and literature, as well as a poet in his own right, he maintained the vibrant courtly sphere of painters, poets, musicians, and calligraphers created by his predecessors by inviting famous names from near and far to Istanbul. He was highly interested in occult sciences and dreams as well.

According to Nuh Agha, the scribe of the Kitābu’l-Menāmāt (The Book of Dreams), Murad had a dream full of lessons during his princedom in Manisa. Instantly seeking its interpretation, he sent this strange dream with a messenger to the Sufi masters, the pious, and  the prominent learned men in the region for interpretation. Lacking the ability to interpret the dream and puzzled by the dream, they considered it to be a confusing dream not inspired by God. In the end, when a search was done in the area on the order of the Sultan, it happened that there was a Sufi master named Shuja Dede, who was one of the deputies of Khalwati Shaikh Shaban  Efendi of Kastamonu, an inland city near the Black Sea coast. The messenger went to Shuja Dede and presented the dream, saying it was his  own dream. With the sacred power, as Nuh  Agha narrates, Shuja Dede knew that the dream did not belong to the messenger, but to the Sultan. Later on, when the messenger related to the Sultan his adventure with this  spiritual master, the Sultan invited him to his palace. The Shaikh accepted the Sultan’s invitation, and many conversations regarding the topic of mysticism occurred between them. Over time, the Sultan wanted to attach himself to Shuja Dede as his disciple, yet the Shaikh rejected the Sultan’s wish, saying, “Guiding  sultans is a difficult task.” Eventually, however, the Shaikh was directed by his own shaikh, Shaban Efendi, to accept Murad as a disciple. From then on, he started sending his dreams in letter form to Shuja Dede. In 1592/3, while Murad was still alive, these letters were compiled under the title “The Book of Dreams (Kitabu’l-menamat)” by Nuh Agha, the Sultan’s ostler and possibly another disciple to Shuja Dede.

Letter-writing was especially wide-spread between Sufi masters and disciples. The letters were written by Sufi masters to their disciples and other masters, or written from disciples to their masters. Letters from disciples to Sufi masters sought advice on personal issues such as marriage as well as answers to mystical and religious issues. In certain mystical orders such as Khalwatiyya, to which Sultan Murad belonged, disciples’ reporting their dreams and mystical experiences to their masters was seen as a bond between them and their masters. Dreams functioned not only to structure the relationship between the masters and their disciples, but also to transfer theoretical knowledge into practice in teaching Sufis. Since the disciples were required to share every dream they had with their masters, so did Sultan Murad III.