Celal Nuri İleri was born in Gallipoli (Gelibolu) in 1882 and died in Istanbul on November 2, 1936. He was a liberal Turkish thinker, politician, and journalist who lived during the period of the Second Constitutional Revolution and in the early days of the Turkish Republic. His father Nuri Bey, who held several positions in the Ottoman bureaucracy, was also a member of the Meclis-i A’yan (Senate). His mother Nefise Hanım was the daughter of Abidin Paşa, the translator of Mathnawi.
Due to his father’s job, which required him to travel a great deal around the country, Celal Nuri received his early education in different places. Later he attended Galatasaray Mekteb-i Sultanisi in Istanbul. After his graduation from Mekteb-i Hukuk (the Faculty of Law), he first worked as a lawyer. In 1909 he began to write for Courier d’Orient, which was later published with the title Le Jeune Turc. In 1916 he published a journal called Edebiyat-ı Umumiye Dergisi (the Journal for Literature). In 1918 he began to publish another journal called Ati (Future) and immediately after its closure in 1919 he changed the title to İleri (Forward). When İleri was also closed down in 1920, he then published Ahval (State of Affairs). He also wrote for other Turkish journals and magazines such as Tanin (Timbre), Hak (Right), İctihad (Independent Judgement), Hürriyet-i Fikriyye (Freedom of Thought), and İkdam. Because of his criticism of the Hürriyet ve İtilaf Fırkası (Party of Freedom and Agreement) he had to flee to Rome. On his return he became an MP (meb’us) for Gallipoli (1919). And after the creation of the Republic of Turkey he retained that seat from 1923 to 1934. In 1924 he also worked as a reporter at the Commission of the Constitution (Kanun-i Esasi) and played an important role on the reformation process of the Turkish alphabet.
İleri was one of the most prolific and reformist writers of his time. He wrote on many areas such as politics, law, history, religion, and literature. In his writings he dealt with popular issues and problems, including women, language, tradition, ethnicity, and Islamic rules, and stood for reformation in every facet of life. He held that the power of the Ottoman Empire was its ability to make new laws to adapt to the change in conditions, but in later periods the lawmakers had not been successful in keeping up with the trends. In his article “Mecelle Meselesi” (The Problem of Majalla), İleri criticized Ahmet Cevdet Paşa, the author of the Mecelle (Imperial Constitution) for not being reformist enough and used the example of Imam A‘zam (Abu Hanifa) against him.
Some of his important works include İttihat ve Terakki Kongresi’ne Muhtıra (Memorandum to the İttihad ve Terakki Congress, 1909), which deals with topics such as the dangerous ambitions of the Western countries toward the Ottoman Empire, the question of Europeanization, the basis and the duties of government, and so on; Tarih-i Tedenniyat-ı Osmaniyye (The History of the Ottomans’ decline, 1911), which discusses the reasons for the decline and fall of the Ottomans; İttihad-ı İslam (The Unity of Islam, 1912), in which the future of the Muslims and the idea of the Islamic unity are reflected upon; Türk İnkılabı (Turkish Revolution, 1926), in which, apart from a re-examination of the process of Turkish revolutions, the concepts of civilization, Westernization, and language are discussed; and Kadınlarımız (Our Women, 1912). In this latter work, which examines the social and legal status of women within the society, İleri points out that the reason why women were kept outside public life is not related to Islam but rather to society’s interpretation of it. Şimal Hatıraları (Memories of the North, 1911) gives an account of İleri’s travels to Scandinavia and Russia. Kendi Nokta-i Nazarımızdan Hukuk-i Düvel (International Law From Our Own Standpoint, 1911) and Havaic-i Kanuniyyemiz (Necessities of Our Legislation, 1912) both contain İleri’s articles on Islamic and Western understandings of law and a comparison between the two, as published in several journals.