The Book of Dreams (“Kitābu’l-menāmāt”)

The Book of Dreams is a 259-page folio manuscript full of visionary experiences and personal letters attributed to Murad III. Although we do not have original copies of the letters, in his introduction, the scribe Nuh Agha asserts that this is a collection of Sultan Murad III’s letters to his spiritual master, Shuja Dede. While we cannot know with absolute certainty whether or not Murad III commissioned Nuh Agha to compile these dream letters, the existence of this gilded and bound book prepared two or three years before his death suggests his approval of the Book of Dreams as an accurate account of his visionary life.

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The only known copy of the manuscript is located in the Nuruosmaniye Library in Istanbul. The text is written in an elegant, vocalized script that has a slight slant to the left. It is rubricated and has catchwords on the verso of each folio. The incipit page has an illuminated headpiece, and the text is framed throughout. The colophon on the last page, folio 259r, indicates that the compilation was completed in Hicrī 1001, which corresponds to the Gregorian years 1591/1592, right after the end of the first Islamic millennium. The letters within the text are not dated, but presumably they were written between 1574, when Murad first met Shuja Dede, and 1587-1588, when Shuja Dede died; they were likely compiled by Nuh Agha in 1592. The only letter in the text that offers an estimated date is the dream account, “The Strange Dream of the Sultan of Islam, May God Grant Life until the Final Hour and the Time Of Resurrection, That He Had Three Days Before He Ascended to the Throne.” Since Murad ascended to the throne on December 15, 1574, the title of this account suggests a date of December 12 or 13, 1574.

The text opens with a two and a half page introduction by Nuh Agha. It begins with a brief introductory sentence in Arabic, and then continues in Turkish, flowing into the story of how the Sultan and Shuja Dede were introduced following a dream Murad had, and how the Sultan became deeply attached to Shuja Dede as a disciple.

The text contains 1858 letters, each labeled with a subtitle written in red and based on its content, such as “Dream,” “Divine Inspiration,” or “Divine Call.” In addition, the text has over 180 side-headings in the margins, presumably added by the same scribe, because they show similar handwriting. These side-headings provide intimate details on specific themes and guide the reader throughout the text, providing explanations for some accounts, such as “A sign for the reign through a Divine Call,” or “Appearance of the mantle of the Prophet –Peace be Upon Him.”

What makes The Book of Dreams (Kitābu’l-menāmāt) special is its uniqueness as a collection of letters from a disciple to his spiritual master. It is significant not only as an extremely rich, lengthy sample of such Sufi epistolary forms, addressing a wide variety of Sufi subjects, but also as a window to the private life and intimate social relations of an Ottoman Sultan.