by Benedek Péri, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest

Mullah Ishaq arrived in Hungary in the company of Ármin Vámbéry (1832–1913), who devoted a whole chapter describing their friendship in his Sketches of Central Asia.[1] They met in Khiva where the young Mullah from Kungrat was looking for travel companions to the holy city of Mecca. He joined Vámbéry, who disguised himself as an Ottoman dervish, and as they travelled together through Bukhara, Samarkand, Qarshi, Herat, Mashad, Tehran and Istanbul they ‘grew more and more intimate by degrees’. Vámbéry describes in detail how he slowly divulged his true identity to his new friend, and how Mullah Ishaq’s attitude towards Europeans started to change. By the time they reached Istanbul the young Uzbek had made up his mind that he would give up the idea of going on a pilgrimage, and instead decided that he would accompany Vámbéry to Hungary.

Mullah Ishaq’s arrival and presence in the country was an extraordinary event and it was reported in daily papers in June 1864 that Vámbéry brought him to Hungary as a ‘living proof of the genetic relations between Hungarian and Oriental languages.’[2] Mulla Ishaq became a celebrity in his own right, and contemporary papers and magazines frequently published short reports on him in the mid-1860s.

Initially he stayed with Vámbéry’s friend, the linguist József Budenz (1836–1892), to help him in his linguistic research and to develop his knowledge of Central Asian Turkic. In the first months of his time in Hungary Mullah Ishaq was financially supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.[3] In July 1864 he became seriously ill, and he was diagnosed with dranculiasis.[4] Fortunately enough, this rare case of Guinea-worm infection in Europe was recognized and successfully cured by Gusztáv Láng (d. 1869), a skilled physician.[5]

Mullah Ishaq spent the greater part of the summer with Budenz in the library of the Academy and in August they went to Kiskunhalas, a city 150 kilometres south of Budapest, to visit Áron Szilády (1837–1922), a well-known Turkologist. According to several short magazine reports, Mullah Ishaq soon started wearing Hungarian-style clothes,[6] and he learnt Hungarian so well that he began translating a narrative poem by János Arany (1817–1882), a celebrated poet and the secretary of the Academy, into his mother tongue.[7] Mullah Ishaq became the hero of various anecdotes, some of which were published,[8] and he also started appearing in contemporary satirical journals as a man from the East who didn’t understand Hungarian politics but always had a witty and wise saying perfectly befitting the situation described.[9]

His Hungarian friends helped Mullah Ishaq to get employed at the library of the Academy. He worked there from the summer of 1865,[10] and he got a permanent job in January 1866.[11] A short report published in several Hungarian papers indicates that by 1871 Mullah Ishaq had already married the daughter of a Hungarian wood-worker from Nagykanizsa and had two children, a son named Iskandar and a daughter named Fatime.[12]

He must have often felt homesick because he seems to have thought of visiting his homeland. He applied for a Hungarian passport and collected money to cover his family’s living expenses while he was away.[13] It seems that due to various unfavourable circumstances he could never realise his ambiition.[14]

The chronology of his first attempt to return home is rather confused. In 1871 he planned to go first to Istanbul via Kolozsvár (today Cluj, Romania), Szeklerland, Brassó (today Brasov, Romania) and the Balkans. From there he intended to cross to Alexandria, take a ship to Bombay and reach Khiva overland by May 1872. A seemingly well-informed journalist wrote in early October that Mullah Ishaq decided to cancel his voyage due to the famine ravaging Central Asia.[15] Others reported that he spent these months travelling in Hungary, and collected folk songs and folk tales because he was planning to write a book on Hungary for an Uzbek readership.[16] He seems to have set off for Central Asia again in mid-September.[17] As local papers indicate, Mullah Ishaq reached Kolozsvár in late November[18] and there he was invited to see a friend in Bánffyhunyad (today Huedin, Romania).[19] He was in Brassó in February 1872 and was about to continue his journey through Fogaras (today Făgăraș, Romania), Szeben (today Sibiu, Romania) and Vöröstorony (today Turnu Roșu, Romania).[20] Mullah Ishaq didn’t travel alone; he was accompanied by an Indian dervish. They were received with great hospitality by Lajos Réthy, the editor of a local magazine, who collected a large sum of money to cover their expenses during their long journey.[21]

Nevertheless, news Mullah Ishaq received of the plague spreading in the East forced him to cancel his journey once again. He didn’t cross the Hungarian border and in March 1872 he was back in Budapest.[22] He gave up his job because he wanted to open a shop in Krisztinaváros, a smart district of the capital, with the money that he had collected during his journey.[23]

Mullah Ishaq’s name is missing from the list of the employees of the Academy between 1872 and 1878, perhaps he spent these years with travelling.[24] In early 1873, before his intended visit to his homeland, he toured Hungary. He visited Gyula, a city in Békés county, where he went to see the county archives, the palace and the museum of the local school.[25] Mullah Ishaq liked to make excursions in the country. Sometime in 1865 or 1866 he made a ‘pilgrimage’ visiting several cities in the northern part of modern-day Hungary: Eger,[26] Vác, Győr. He also went to see Esztergom, the seat of the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church and he was shown the basilica. A group of priests invited him for dinner, and the archbishop of Esztergom also received him and gave him a ten-forint banknote, which Mullah Ishaq kept for a long time.[27]

It seems that he made another attempt to go to Khiva in the oncoming years as a brief piece of news from 1874 reported that he was unable to reach Khiva due to the war and returned. The reader was also informed that he had not abandoned the idea of returning to his homeland taking a route through Russia, and tat he would be accompanied by his wife and his son, Iskandar.[28] It appears he was unable to go beyond Istanbul where, according to well-informed journalists, he spent half a year.[29]

News reports show that in the spring of 1877 he was definitely in Hungary. An Ottoman delegation arrived in Budapest in late April bringing with them valuable books that were taken to Istanbul in the 16th century, during the period of Ottoman occupation. It was led by Shaykh Sulayman Efendi (d. 1890), in important figure of the Central Asian community and the head of the Naqshbandi convent in Istanbul. During their short, one week- long stay in the city, members of the delegation were also taken to the library of the Academy where they were greeted, among others by Vámbéry and Mullah Ishaq.[30]

Nasir ad-Din Shah Qajar (d. 1896), the ruler of Iran, visited Hungary in 1889. During his stay in Budapest, he also visited the Academy, and Mullah Ishaq was introduced to him there. The Shah’s diary preserved their conversation. Nasir ad-Din wished to know whether Mullah Ishaq remained loyal to his religion and whether he prayed and read the Quran regularly. The answer for all these questions was in the affirmative.[31] Mullah Ishaq, like many others whom the Shah met in Budapest, was awarded the Order of the Lion and the Sun.[32]

In the late 1880s one of Mullah Ishaq’s dreams seems to have come true. He opened a shop selling Oriental sweets and exotic fruits in the Haris-bazár in the centre of Budapest. A brief piece of news published by several daily papers reported that the sweet-shop of “Mullah Izsák” in the Haris-bazár was robbed at night, and the thieves took five hundred forints.[33]

Andor Kozma (d. 1933), a Hungarian poet and translator, met Mullah Ishaq in his shop several times. In his short obituary he claims that Mullah Ishaq’s other dream of visiting his homeland was also realized, but he does not mention the exact dates of this journey.[34] Another old acquaintance visiting the shop was Zsigáné Gyarmathy (d. 1910), a descendant of a noble family from Transylvania. According to her reminiscences he met Vámbéry and Mullah Ishaq at the family estate in Bánffyhunyad where they spent a few days to investigate why the inhabitants of this city are referred to by villagers from the neighbouring settlements as the ‘Tatars of Transylvania’. A decade later Zsigáné Gyarmathy, spending a few days in Budapest, went to the exotic fruit shop in the Haris-bazár to wait for her husband there. During a conversation with the owner’s wife, she learnt that the owner was Mullah Ishaq whom she knew from Bánffyhunyad and who was called Mullah Sadiq, “the faithful Mullah” by his wife. It also turned out that they had a son called Géza.[35]

Mullah Ishaq was diagnosed with a heart disease and was hospitalized in March 1892.[36] A few weeks later, he was declared to have been cured and was released.[37] He went to rest at Velence, a settlement fifty kilometres south of Budapest, located at the shores of the second biggest lake in Hungary.[38] He passed away there on 10 May 1892 in the village of Velence, and the news of his death was reported by daily papers.[39] He was buried in the village cemetery, and the last rites were administered by an Imam serving with the Bosnian battalion stationed in Budapest.[40] While nothing suggests that he ever converted to Christianity, it is equally important to note that a great number of villagers led by the local Calvinist priest took part in the ceremony, indicating that Mullah Ishaq was highly esteemed by the locals.[41] The name written on his tombstone is the name mentioned by his wife: Mullah Sadiq.

Contemporary papers seem to agree that Mullah Ishaq had two children, Iskandar and Fatima. Iskandar passed away after a protracted illness in 1888.[42] However, according to the lady from Bánffyhunyad referred to above, he also had a son called Géza. A newspaper article published in 1906 is the only other source hitherto found that seems to confirm this piece of information. This alleged son was Géza Laskovich, who became a traveller and had perilous adventures in Somalia in the early 1900s.[43]

Mullah Ishaq was an abundant and authoritative source of knowledge on many aspects of contemporary Central Asia for Hungarians, on its natural environment, agriculture, language, and customs. Ignác Goldziher (1850–1921), the founder of modern Islamic studies in the West, studied Turkic with him.[44] He helped Bertalan Ónody (d. 1892), a Hungarian legal expert and landowner interested in the agriculture of Khiva, to prepare for his study trip. Budenz used the couple of months Mullah Ishaq spent with him to study the Central Asian Turkic dialect his guest spoke, and their discussions lead to the publication of a long article on the Khivan dialect of Uzbek.[45] While Mullah Ishaq stayed at Kiskunhalas, he also helped Szilády to study Central Asian Turkic and this cooperation resulted in the publication of the Hungarian translation of an Uzbek tale in 1865.[46] His detailed account of wedding customs practiced around Bukhara and Khiva was published in a weekly magazine in 1870.[47]

The book he allegedly started to write on Hungary was never completed. Vámbéry’s bequest contained a short writing on how and why Mullah Ishaq decided to join Vámbéry and leave his homeland behind. This essay, just a few pages long and written in the first person singular, was published in the literary journal, Nyugat, two years after Vámbéry’s death, in 1915.[48] Without further pieces of evidence it cannot be established whether this short account was the Hungarian translation made of the introductory chapters of Mullah Ishaq’s book or whether it was another product of Vámbéry’s creative mind.

As far as his translation of János Arany’s poem titled Rege a csodaszarvasról (‘The tale of the wondrous deer’) is concerned, he finished working on it in early February 1865.[49] The same year József Budenz reworked it to make it resemble more of a poem.

[1] Ármin Vámbéry, Sketches of Central Asia (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1868), 150–165. For a detailed study of Molla Ishaq’s life and career see Kovács Sándor Iván, Batu kán pesti rokonai. Vámbéry Ármin és tatárja, Csagatáj Izsák (Pozsony: Kalligram, 2001).

[2]Pesti Napló 15/129 (08. 06. 1864), 3; Sürgöny 4/129 (08. 06. 1864), 2; Szegedi Hiradó 6/47 (11. 06. 1864), 3.

[3]Fővárosi Lapok 1/150 (03. 07. 1864), 633.

[4]Fővárosi Lapok 1/158 (13. 07. 1864), 665; Sürgöny 4/161 (16. 07. 1864), 2.

[5] Láng Gusztáv, ‘Filaria medinensis egy esete,’ Orvosi Hetilap 8/31 (1864), 501–505.

[6]Koszorú 2/14 (02. 10. 1864), 335.

[7]Koszorú 3/9 (26. 02. 1865), 214.

[8] Vadnai Károly, ‘Vámbéry tatárjáról,’ Hazánk s a Külföld 2/49 (09. 12. 1866), 777–778; Fővárosi Lapok 10/235 (12. 10. 1873), 1022.

[9] See e.g. ‘Mese a közösügyekről,’ Bolond Miska 8/46 (17. 11. 1867), 185.

[10]Pesti Napló 16/156 (11. 07. 1865), 2; Hazánk s a Külföld 1/29 (16. 07. 1865), 463; Nefelejts 7/29 (16. 07. 1865); Fárter Jánosné, A Magyar Tudományos Akadémia könyvtárosai, 1831–1949 (Budapest: A Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvtára, 1987), 121.

[11]Magyar Tudományos Akadémiai Almanach (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1868), 211.

[12]Ellenőr 3/365 (03. 10. 1871), 3; Budapesti Közlöny 5/173 (30. 07. 1871), 3936; Magyar Ujság 5/173 (30. 07. 1871), 3.

[13]Pesti Napló 22/175 (01. 08. 1871), 2.

[14]Magyar Újság 5/227 (04. 10. 1871), 3.

[15]Magyar Ujság 5/227 (04. 10. 1871), 3.

[16]Fővárosi Lapok 8/227 (04. 10. 1871), 1042, Nefelejts 13/41 (08. 10. 1871), 490.

[17]Magyar Ujság 5/206 (08. 09. 1871), 2.

[18]Magyar Polgár 5/227 (30. 11. 1871), 432.

[19]Magyar Polgár 5/279 (07. 12. 1871), 504.

[20]Nemere 2/10 (04. 02. 1872), 39.

[21] Réthy Lajos, ‘Brassói emlékeimből,’ Képes Folyóirat 1 (1887), 671.

[22]A Hon 10/62 (15. 03. 1872), 2.

[23]Fővárosi Lapok 9/60 (14. 03. 1872), 3. Magyar Polgár 6/62 (16. 03. 1872), 3; Nefelejts 14/12 (24. 03. 1872).

[24] Fárter Jánosné, A Magyar Tudományos Akadémia könyvtárosai, 121.

[25]Békés 2/4 (01. 26. 1873), 3.

[26]Eger 31/22 (31. 05. 1892), 731.

[27] Sz. V., ‘Szczitovszky és a Vámbéry tatárja,’ Pesti Hírlap (17. 11. 1911), 23.

[28]Ellenőr 6/106 (18. 04. 1874), 3; Fővárosi Lapok 11/88 (18. 04. 1874), 386

[29]Ellenőr 7/23 (23. 01. 1875), 4.

[30]A Hon 15/108 (03. 05. 1877), 2.

[31] Sárközy Miklós, ‘Nászer al-Dín perzsa sah útinaplója Magyarországról,’ in Vámbéry (Tanulmánykötet), ed. Miklós Sárközy (Dunaszerdahely, Vámbéry Polgári Társulás, 2015), 412.

[32]Budapest 16/86 (26. 03. 1892), 6.

[33]A Pesti Napló Esti Lapja 40/57 (26. 02. 1889), 2; Budapesti Hírlap 9/58 (27. 02. 1889), 7; Fővárosi Lapok 26/57 (27. 02. 1889), 418

[34] Kozma Andor, ‘Szegény tatár!’ A Hét 3/22 (29. 05. 1892), 349.

[35] Gyarmathy Géza, ‘Vámbéry Ármin Erdélyben. Vámbéry és Gyarmathy Zsigmondné,’ Erdélyi Szemle 17/4 (1932), 4.

[36]Budapest 16/86 (1892), 6.

[37]Budapest 16/95 (04. 04. 1892), 5.

[38]Ország-Világ 13/22 (28. 05. 1892), 354.

[39]Nemzet 11/143 (11. 05. 1892), 2; A Pesti Napló Esti Lapja 43/143 (23. 05. 1892), 2.

[40]Budapesti Hírlap 12/143 (23. 05. 1892), 4.

[41]Budapesti Hírlap 12/145 (25. 05. 1892), 6; Pesti Hírlap 14/145 (25. 05. 1892), 9.

[42]A Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Értesítője 22 (1888), 133

[43] ‘Egy magyar konkvisztádor,’ Az Ujság 4/23 (24. 01. 1906), 8.

[44] Goldziher Ignác, Napló (Budapest, Magvető, 1984), 34.

[45] Budenz József, ‘A khivai tatárság,’ Nyelvtudományi Közlemények 4 (1865), 269–320.

[46] Szilády Áron, ‘Szeneóber és Ródepáj,’ Koszorú 3/19 (07. 05. 1865), 448.

[47] Rónaszéky, ‘Tatár lakadalom,’ Magyarország és a Nagyvilág 6/8 (27. 02. 1870), 83.

[48] Vámbéry Ármin: ‘Hogyan határoztam el, hogy Európába utazom és miért irtam meg ez emlékirataimat,’ Nyugat 8/12 (1915), 674-678.

[49]Kalauz 3/4 (28. 02. 1865), 60.