a body of antinomian and incarnationist doctrines evolved by Fażl-Allāh Astarābādi (d. 1394), known to his followers also as Fażl-e Yazdān (“the generosity of God”). Its principal features were elaborate numerological interpretations of the letters of the Perso-Arabic alphabet and an attempt to correlate them with the human form.


HORUFISM, a body of antinomian and incarnationist doctrines evolved by Fażl-Allāh Astarābādi (d. 796/1394; q.v.), known to his followers also as Fażl-e Yazdān (“the generosity of God”). Its principal features were elaborate numerological interpretations of the letters of the Perso-Arabic alphabet and an attempt to correlate them with the human form. The movement that espoused these teachings was relatively short-lived in Persia, but it had a significant prolongation in Anatolia and the Balkans, primarily under the auspices of the Bektāši order.

The foundational text of Horufism, Fażl-Allāh’s Jāvdān-nāma, has not yet been published, either in its fuller version, written in the dialect of Astarābād, or in its synopsis in standard Persian, nor has it been studied in any detail. The rest of the voluminous literature of Horufism, in Persian and Turkish, also remains largely in manuscript (for a comprehensive listing of titles in Turkish libraries, see Gölpınarlı, 1973, pp. 45-147), the only exceptions being the poems of Fażl-Allāh written with the pen name Naʿimi (in Āžand, pp. 127-45); various texts published by Clément Huart (1909) and Ṣādeq Kiā (1951, pp. 210-46); the works of Nesimî (Nasimi, 1973); Turkish poems by Refîʿî (Rafiʿi) and Penâhî (Panāhi; see Ertaylan, 1946); and Firişteoğlu’s Işknâme-i Ilâhî (1881), a Turkish précis of the Persian Jāvdān-nāma. Horufism is, therefore, imperfectly known to scholarship, and speculation about its ultimate origins seems hazardous. Since the Koran is a revealed book in form as well as content, it is natural that the letters of which it is formed should have been viewed, from the earliest times, as more than phonetic markers. Not every consideration of the numerological and symbolic significance of the letters can, therefore, be regarded as a precursor or source of Horufism. At least two elements of Horufism are, however, highly reminiscent of Ismaʿilism, although no direct line of filiation can be traced: a cyclical view of time, and an esoteric mode of interpretation (taʾwil-e bāṭeni), both of the Koran and of religious duties, whereby the alleged inner meaning serves not to complement the outer meaning, but to displace it. Ismâîl Hakkı Burûsevî (d. 1137/1725), a well-known Turkish Sufi and exegete, thus remarked of the Horufis that “they are blameworthy because they have laid hold of the indication (al-ešāra) while rejecting the obvious meaning (al-ʿebāra)” (in Ruḥ al-bayān IV, p. 4). The cycle of sainthood (welāyat) propounded by Horufism, however, does not include the imams peculiar to Ismāʿili tradition, consisting instead of the first eleven imams of Twelver Shiʿism. At the same time, Horufism cannot be classified as a variety of ḡolāt Shiʿism, for it shows no particular interest in elevating the rank of Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb above the ordinary. Ebn ʿArabi has been mentioned as a possible Sufi forebear of Horufism (Mélikoff, 1998, p. 118), but Fażl-Allāh’s doctrines bear little resemblance to Ebn ʿArabi’s understanding of the “science of letters” (ʿelm al-ḥoruf) as expounded in his Fotuḥāt al-makkiya (I, pp. 56-74). They are, however, strikingly reminiscent of Saʿd-al-Din Ḥa-muya’s abstruse speculations on the same subject in his al-Meṣbāḥ fi’l-taṣawwof, written some time in the early 7th/13th century.

Fażl-Allāh’s own insights were vouchsafed to him in a revelatory experience he called ẓohur-e kebriā “the manifestation of glory,” that took place in Tabriz in Ramażān 775/February-March 1374. Among the matters disclosed to him was the meaning of the much-discussed ḥoruf-e moqaṭṭaʿa, the separate letters that, without forming words, introduce twenty-nine chapters of the Koran; previously classed among the metaphorical or symbolical parts of the Koran (motašābehāt), they were now assigned to the verses having clear and unambiguous meaning (moḥkamāt; Jāvdān-nāma-ye kabir, Cambridge ms., foll. 30a-65b). These fourteen separate letters that, in varying combinations, occur at the beginning of the twenty-nine chapters, correspond to fourteen follicular features visible in the face of the human male. Seven of these—four sets of eyelashes, two eyebrows, and the hair on the head—are present already in childhood, and are designated as the “maternal lines” (ḵoṭuṭ-e ommiya) in that they derive from Eve; the other seven—hair growing on each side of the face, the two sides of the moustache, hair growing out of each nostril, and the hair between the lower lip and the chin—appear with the onset of puberty and are known as the “paternal lines” (ḵoṭuṭ-e abiya) in that they derive from Adam. There is a further correspondence between these fourteen “lines” and the opening chapter of the Koran, Ṣurat al-fāteḥa, for not only does it contain seven verses but it is also described in Koran 15:87 as “sabʿan min al-matāni (“seven verses revealed twice,” once in Mecca and once in Medina; Firişteoğlu, pp. 35-36, 54).

Central to the Horufi scheme is, however, 2 x14 +4, thirty-two being the total number of letters in the Perso-Arabic alphabet; it is often represented in Horufi texts with the symbol. This total is not, however, the result of a simple historical contingency, the need to improvise letters for the four consonantal sounds found in Persian but not in Arabic (p, č, ž, and g); rather it is held to be the numerical analogue of “the thirty-two perfect, pre-eternal and post-eternal words” (kelimât-i tâmme-i ezeliyye-i ebediye; Firişteoğlu, p. 7). The “names” taught to Adam in pre-eternity (Koran 2:31) were none other than these thirty-two letters and the sounds they represent; the letters thus serve as both a compendium of the cosmos and a means for its knowledge. A physiological confirmation of this truth is that the human mouth, the locus of articulation, normally contains precisely thirty-two teeth. The total of thirty-two is additionally foreshadowed, before the emergence of the Perso-Arabic script, by the occasional reckoning of the lām-alef combination in Arabic as a letter in its own right, for if the names of these two letters are written out in full, they are seen to be four in number. Hence the mystery of the separate letters introducing twenty-nine chapters, not twenty-eight, for once lām-alef is understood to be a letter in its own right and dissolved into its four constituent letters, the actual total is seen to be thirty-two. Many similar processes of computation yield the same result. If, for example, the names of the five letters constituting the name “Allāh” in Arabic script are written out in full, the total is fourteen, as is the case with the five letters that make up the name “Moḥammad;” the two names together thus have a numerical value of twenty-eight. Since these two names are pivotal to the creed (šahāda), it will be appropriate to add to them the four letters constituting ašhadu (“I bear witness”), leading to a grand total of thirty-two (Aksu, p. 409).

The exaltation of this blessed numeral is tied intimately to Fażl-Allāh’s concept of his own person and status. Given that the thirty-two letters were taught to Adam, knowledge of them was potential in the human form from the very beginning of creation; this form had in any event been imprinted with the divine image, according to Fażl-Allāh’s understanding of “He reposed on the throne” (estawā ʿala’l-ʿarš; Koran 7:54 and other verses). Actualization of the knowledge given to Adam was, however, gradual. First came the cycle of prophethood (nobowwat), extending from Adam to Moḥammad, each prophet having a fuller degree of knowledge than his predecessor. Then came that of sainthood (welāyat), a rank higher than that of prophethood in that those possessing it progressively disclosed the inner meanings of prophetic revelation. This cycle opened with ʿAli, first of the Imams according to Twelver Shiʿi belief, and closed with Ḥasan al-ʿAskari, the eleventh. The culminating cycle is that of divinity (oluhiyat), essentially coterminous with the person and teachings of Fażl-Allāh. The divine image primordially imprinted on the human form now becomes fully manifest in a person having complete mastery of the thirty-two letters. This enables him to penetrate the inner meanings of all things, above all those of the Koranic revelation, which he expounds in the Jāvdān-nāma, a book employing all thirty-two letters of the Perso-Arabic script. Authored by one considered the supreme exponent of esoteric interpretation (ṣāḥeb-e taʾwil), the Jāvdān-nāma not only revealed definitively the full meaning of the Koran; it also superseded it, much as the Koran itself had superseded earlier revelations.

Drawing on a full range of messianic expectations, Horufi teaching also awarded Fażl-Allāh several other titles of high dignity. He was, for example, both Jesus returned to the manifest plane and the promised Mahdi from the lineage of the Prophet. It was indeed this duality of Fażl-Allāh’s messianic identity that made possible the reconciliation of two apparently contradictory Hadith: “There is no Mahdi save Jesus son of Mary,” and “The Mahdi will be from my lineage, from the children of Fāṭema.” Since Jesus is, by the testimony of Koran 3:39 and 3:45, “a word (kalema) from God,” it follows that Fażl-Allāh, as both a master and a manifestation of the thirty-two letters, should count as the final and comprehensive word of God (kalām Allāh) and hence as Jesus returned. As for the predicted descent of Jesus from the heavens while still thirty-three years of age, its true meaning is the discovery of the science of esoteric interpretation by Fażl-Allāh at that age; if one, the numeral of unity, is subtracted, the actual age in both cases is seen to be thirty-two. Like other aspirants at the time to messianic status, Fażl-Allāh claimed descent from Imam Musā al-Kāẓem, and hence qualified as a candidate for Mahdihood. Furthermore, his birthplace, Astarābād, counted as part of Khorasan, so there was no need to interpret esoterically the traditions that predict the appearance of the Mahdi in that region. The black banners the Mahdi will display according to those same predictions should, however, be understood as, again, the science of esoteric interpretation (Firişteoğlu, pp. 13-17).

The cycle of divinity was cut short with the beheading of Fażl-Allāh Astarābādi by Mirānšāh, the son of Timur and governor of Azerbaijan, at Alanjaq in Šervān in 796/1394. The site of his execution and burial (maqtalgāh) became a shrine for his followers and remained such until at least 822/1419, the year in which ʿAli al-Aʿlā (q.v), his principal successor, was buried there. No ordinary place of pilgrimage, the maqtalgāh was explicitly intended to replace the Kaʿba, and the rites performed there both mimicked and replaced the ḥajj. This transference of ultimate sanctity from Mecca to Alanjaq was facilitated by the detailed esoteric interpretation to which Fażl-Allāh had already subjected the ḥajj. The Kaʿba, as “the ancient house” (al-bayt al-ʿatiq; Koran 22:29 and 22:33), represents the face and the head of Adam, the form bearing the primordial divine imprint; the first set of sevenfold circumambulations corresponds to the seven “maternal lines,” and the second, to the “paternal lines,” not to mention the seven facial cavities (the eye sockets, the nostrils, the earholes, and the mouth); the swift walking between Ṣafā and Marva indicates hastening toward the mystery of estewā, the divine “settling” on the throne of Adamic form; and so forth (Firişteoğlu, pp. 106-12). The ultimate truth concerning the Kaʿba was, however, that it was a mere outward representation of the “true Kaʿba” (Kaʿba-ye ḥaqiqi) at Alanjaq, the final abode of the person in whom the fullness of the divine mystery had at last been displayed. Eḥrām (the consecrating dress of the pilgrim) was donned when arriving in its vicinity; circumambulations were performed about the shrine in multiples of seven, especially twenty-eight, this representing seven multiplied by four, the number both of the elements and the walls of the maqtalgāh; and the castle of Sanjariya, the abode of Mirānšāh, who was regarded as the Dajjāl (Antichrist) by the Horufis, was ritually stoned in place of the pillars at Menā. These ceremonies took place during Ḏu’l-qaʿda, the month in which Fażl-Allāh had been put to death, reaching their climax on the fifteenth (Bashir, 2000, pp. 293-95). This pseudo-ḥajj seems to have been the only distinctive form of devotion practised by the Horufis. How long the maqtalgāh was visited or its structure survived is unknown.

Fażl-Allāh is said to have foreseen his execution in one of the many dreams that marked his career, ten years before its occurrence, so that his followers cannot have been fully unprepared for this setback. Nonetheless, there was difference of opinion as to its meaning. Some believed that seeing Fażl-Allāh was equivalent to the vision of God in the hereafter, and that they were therefore already in Paradise. This being the case, all devotional duties fell away: “Paradise consists of knowledge, and Hellfire of ignorance. Since we are aware of the thirty-two letters of our own being and of all things, all things are Paradise for us. There is no prayer; there is no fasting; there is no ritual purity. There is nothing that is illicit; everything is licit. All the aforementioned constitute duties, and there are no duties in Paradise. What is meant by Paradise is life in this world in a state of knowledge of the science of the letters and the exposition (bayān) made by the Master of Exposition (ṣāḥeb-e bayān)” (Estevā-nāma of Ḡiāṯ-al-Din, in Browne, 1898, pp. 72-73). This antinomianism is said to have prevailed among the Horufis of Baghdad, Šervān, Gilān, Khorasan, and Lorestān, as well as some of those of Tabriz. Certain among them went so far, indeed, as to assert that “it is the right of the knowledgeable man (ensān-e ʿāref; i.e., the enlightened Horufi) to take possession of whatever from the contents of the cosmos (kāʾenāt) comes within his reach; as for what is not in his reach, he should regard it as his right and exert himself to wrest it from the grasp of others and take possession of it” (Estevā-nāma in Browne, 1898, p. 75). Other Horufis, following the pattern of other failed or frustrated messianists, believed that Fażl-Allāh would return to ensure the triumph of their cause—this, despite the fact that he had already been recognized as Jesus returned to the terrestrial plane (Bashir, 2002, p. 181).

In any event, vigorous, sometimes insurrectionary, propagation of the Horufi cause continued. Activity in Khorasan was overseen by a son-in-law of Fażl-Allāh known as the “moršed of Khorasan,” Sayyed Amir Esḥāq, author of the Maḥram-nāma. The Horufis were particularly numerous in Herat, where they managed to infiltrate the army of the Timurid ruler Šāhroḵ. Mindful of their desire to avenge themselves on his dynasty for the execution of Fażl-Allāh, Šāhroḵ attempted to purge his soldiery by expelling a number of Horufis from the city. Not long after, on Jomādā II 23, 830/April 21, 1427, Aḥmad-e Lor, a Horufi who had come to Herat from Šervān, stabbed Šāhroḵ as he emerged from Friday prayers. The wound was not fatal, and the would-be assassin was put to death on the spot. A wave of arrests, executions, and banishings ensued. One of Fażl-Allāh’s grandsons, ʿAżod-al-Din, was put to death, and another, Amir Nur-Allāh, was imprisoned, together with Amir Ḡiāṯ-al-Din, author of the Estevā-nāma. The poet Qāsem-al-Anwār (d. 837/1433), accused of Horufism because of a passing acquaintance with Aḥmad-e Lor, was banished to Samarqand. It is likely, however, that Qāsem-al-Anwār came under suspicion primarily because of the numerous disciples he had at the court of Šāhroḵ; his poetry contains relatively few Horufi themes (one being the divine “settling” [estevā] on an infinite number of thrones; see Kolliyāt, p. 29), and the most significant of his multiple associations was with Shaikh Ṣadr-al-Din Ardabili. Also caught up in the panic-stricken aftermath of the attempt on Šāhroḵ’s life were Maʿruf Baḡdādi, a calligrapher who had failed to execute a copy of Neẓāmi’s Ḵamsa for Bāysonqor, and Ṣāʾen-al-Din ʿAli Torka Eṣfahāni (d. 836/1432), probably not a Horufi but a Sufi with Shiʿite leanings (see, however, Corbin, En Islam Iranien III, p. 234); they were both imprisoned. Other, anonymous persons were put to death en masse (Kiā, 1954, pp. 43-49).

Isfahan had been the center of the earliest Horufi community, and it continued after the death of Fażl-Allāh to harbor devotees of the sect he had founded. It was, however, an outsider, Ḥāji Sorḵ, who, newly arrived in the city, led the Horufi rebellion of 835/1431 in which two sons of the Timurid governor, Amir ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad, were killed. The uprising was suppressed, Ḥāji Sorḵ was captured and skinned alive, and his following dispersed (Āžand, pp. 87-88).

Horufi relations with the Qarāqoyunlu rulers of Tabriz, themselves adversaries of the Timurids, were initially amicable. Qarā Yusof (d. 823/1420) had after all defeated Mirānšāh, the Horufi Dajjāl, in 810/1407, an event celebrated by ʿAli al-Aʿlāʾ in his Korsi-nāma to mean that God had “settled” on the “throne” of Qarā Yusof, or alternatively that Fażl-Allāh himself had returned to rule over the world in his person (Ritter, p. 31). Qarā Yusof does not appear to have embraced this esoteric interpretation of his victory, but Horufi prospects in Tabriz remained bright into the reign of Jahānšāh (841-872/1438-67). Reputed to be indifferent to religious matters, he was prepared to give a hearing to the claims of the Horufis: “They conversed occasionally with the aforesaid monarch, and their words were not without their effect” (Ebn al-Karbalāʾi I, p. 479). That “effect” is apparent in some of the Turkish verse that Jahānšāh wrote under the sobriquet of Ḥaqiqi; he praises Fażl-Allāh and proclaims the seven verses of Ṣurat al-fāteḥa to be reflected in the face of the beloved (Ḥaqiqi, pp. 41, 59). The Horufi community of Tabriz was led by a certain Mawlānā Yusof and, perhaps more importantly, by Kalemat-Allāh al-ʿOlyā, a daughter of Fażl-Allāh, once married to Pir-e Torābi, a butcher in the Naubar district of the city who had died in a fit of mystic ecstasy. The combined danger of Jahān-šāh’s apparent recruitment by the Horufis and their wider appeal among the populace caused the ʿolamāʾ of Tabriz to issue fatwās calling on the ruler to extirpate the Horufis, failing which he would be subject to dethronement. He temporized, however, as did the only scholar to whom he was close, Mawlānā Najm-al-Din Oskuʾi, until in 845/1441, a dervish came to Oskuʾi with the story that the Prophet had ordered him in a dream to make sure the Horufis were annihilated. Thereupon Oskuʾi issued the requisite fatwā, Jahānšāh did not stand in his way, and some five hundred Horufis, including Kalemat-Allāh al-ʿOlyā, were immolated (Maškur, pp. 140-42)

These events in Tabriz seem to mark the end of the Horufi community in Persia, at least in an organized form, although the emergence in Safavid times of the Noqṭawi movement, an offshoot of Horufism dismissed as heretical by its mainstream adherents, may suggest some degree of subterranean survival. Horufism had thus survived in Persia for a mere fifty years after the death of Fażl-Allāh, a relatively brief period that hardly permits the assumption, commonly made, that the sect helped significantly to prepare the way for the Safavid dispensation. Efforts to spread Horufism in Syria and Iraq, primarily Baghdad, do not seem to have borne much fruit. Al-Ašraf Qānṣuḥ al-Ḡawri (d. 922/1516), the last Mamluk ruler of Egypt before the Ottoman conquest, appears from his poetry to have favored the doctrine, but this was a personal choice, without visible effect on his realm. It was to be in Anatolia and the Balkans that Horufism found a receptive constituency.

Missionary efforts in Anatolia began very early, perhaps even during the lifetime of Fażl-Allāh, once he realized that his doctrines were unlikely to gain wide acceptance in Persia (Ritter, p. 25). The earliest identifiable agent of the Horufi cause in Anatolia was the poet Nesimî. Born in either Baghdad, Šemāḵi, or a variety of other possible locations, Sayyed ʿEmād-al-Din Nesimî was directly acquainted with Fażl-Allāh, who referred to him in the Jāvdān-nāma-ye kabir as “Sayyed ʿEmād” (Cambridge ms., fol. 410a); the two men met only once, shortly before Fażl-Allāh’s death (Kulizade, p. 154). He traveled extensively in Anatolia, visiting Bursa, Larende, Maraş, and Ankara, and perhaps other cities as well. His poetry, written mostly in Turkish, is replete with hyperbolic praise of Fażl-Allāh, as in this quatrain: “Our hearts fell for the fāʾ and the żād and the lām” (the letters constituting the name Fażl); our hearts fell for the Kaʿba and the eḥrām (probably an allusion to a visit paid to Fażl-Allāh); our hearts fell for love without end; our hearts fell for the eternal name (câvidân nâma, an obvious reference to the Jāvdān-nāma)” (Burrill, p. 146). Other Horufi themes occurring in his verse are the primacy of the divine word as the basis of creation; its substantial manifestation in the human form and the resultant deification of man; and the coming realization of Paradise on earth. Nesimî resorted, however, to other topoi as well, especially the notorious theopathic utterance of Ḥallāj, ana’l-Ḥaqq, which he clearly understood in an incarnationist sense, and it may have been this rather than his Horufi loyalties that resulted in his being flayed alive at Aleppo in 807/1404-05. He left behind at least one disciple, Refîʿî, author of the Beşâretnâme and Gencnâme, the earliest works systematically expounding Horufism in Turkish, but Nesimî’s own poetry was a more effective means for the propagation of Horufi ideas. Indeed, so wide was its appeal that attempts were made to obfuscate its manifest Horufi content and claim it for mainstream Sufi tradition, as by ʿAlišir Nevāʿi (p. 437).

Another early propagator of Horufism in Anatolia was Abdülmecid Firişteoğlu (d. 864/1459-60). Born in Tire near Izmir, he enjoyed the protection of his brother, a scholar favored by the local ruler, Aydınoğlu Mehmet Bey, who nonetheless disapproved of his heretical views. Although Firişteoğlu has been described as “one of the companions of Fażl-Allāh” (Taşköprüzade, p. 45), chronological reasons make it far more likely that he was initiated into Horufi doctrine by a certain Šams-al-Din, a ḵalifa of Fażl-Allāh, or by one of Šams-al-Din’s successors, Bāyazid. It is unclear whether Firişteoğlu himself trained any successors, and his role as a propagator consisted chiefly of translating three of Fażl-Allāh’s works into Turkish. The most significant of these was the Işknâme-i Ilâhî, presented by him as the translation of the Jāvdān-nāma. In view of its brevity (164 pages in the Istanbul edition of 1288/1871), this work cannot be a full rendering of the Persian précis, which covers some 250 folios in the Ali Emiri farsça, 1,000 manuscript, let alone the voluminous text written in Astārābādi dialect, which in any event would presumably have been incomprehensible to Firişteoğlu. The Işknâme was evidently intended for clandestine circulation, for the translator invokes God’s curses on whoever discloses it to the uninitiated (nâmahrem; p. 5). He additionally translated Fażl-Allāh’s Ḵᵛāb-nāma and Hedāyat-nāma (both to be found in Istanbul University Library, ms. TY 9685, foll. 2a-73a). The attribution to Firişteoğlu of an Arabic-Turkish glossary of all the words occurring in the Koran, organized in twenty-eight chapters, is disputed (Aksu, pp. 134-35).

At about the same time that Firişteoğlu was laboring on his translations, a Horufi missionary had penetrated the court at Edirne of the Ottoman heir apparent, the future conqueror of Istanbul, Mehmed II. This proselytizing effort was of a piece with earlier attempts to win rulers to the cause; they included Fażl-Allāh’s overtures to Timur, his activities at the Jalāyerid court, and his politically inspired desire to marry the daughter of Toqtameš Khan, ruler of the Golden Horde, as well as the “conversations” with Jahānšāh Qarāqoyonlu. Fearful that Mehmed might be won to the Horufi cause, the vizier Mahmud Paşa arranged for Mollâ Fahrettin Acemi (Mollā Faḵr-al-Din ʿAjami), şeyhülislam of the day and an immigrant from Persia, as his name suggests, to overhear the Horufi propagandist outlining his views. Unable to contain his rage, Mollâ Fahrettin burst forth from his place of concealment, and promptly had the Horufis arrested and burnt alive, together with their books, in the courtyard of the Üçşerefeli mosque. Such was the zeal he brought to the task that his beard was singed by the fire. This event took place most probably in 848/1444, although other dates have also been suggested (Babinger, 1978, p. 35). The name of the immolated propagandist is not mentioned in any of the sources, but it seems safe to connect his activity with that of ʿAli al-Aʿlā (q.v.), the most important successor to Fażl-Allāh in that Horufi tradition describes him as ḵalifat Allāh (“the vicegerent of God,” i.e., Fażl-Allāh) and “the unveiler of the secrets of the Jāvdān-nāma” (Ritter, p. 35).

After the execution of his master, ʿAli al-Aʿlā traveled first to Syria and Jerusalem before proceeding to Anatolia, a land he regarded as propitious because of the interpretation he gave to Ṣurat al-Rum, the thirtieth chapter of the Koran. Certain of his brethren had preceded him there, he said, but he was the first to carry with him copies of the Horufi scriptures (kalām-e ḥaqq) and to send the books “across the water, beyond Istanbul,” i.e., across the Sea of Marmara to Rumelia and, presumably, Edirne. The only other geographical detail he provides of his sojourn in Anatolia is that he travelled along the Laz-inhabited coast of the Black Sea (il-e Lāz). It is, however, to ʿAli al-Aʿlā that is attributed the propagation of Horufism among the Bektāšis, whose order became the principal vehicle for its survival and transmission in both Anatolia and Rumelia. According to three nineteenth- century sources, all hostile to both Bektašism and Horufism, Ali al-Aʿlā went to the central hospice of the Bektāšis at Hacıbektaşköyü and presented the Jāvdān-nāma to its credulous residents as a hitherto unknown work by Ḥāji Bektāš Vali himself. The details of this account may be fanciful, but Bektāši oral tradition does preserve the name of ʿAli al-Aʿlā as the first instructor of the order in Horufism (Algar, pp. 45-46, 48).

The doctrines of Fażl-Allāh became a fixed component of the teachings of the Bektāšiya, a supremely syncretic order, his incarnationism and taʾwil-based antinomianism being found particularly attractive. As Shiʿis of a certain type, the Bektāšis already had a devotion to the cult of the Čahārdah Maʿṣum (the Fourteen Immaculate Ones), but under the influence of Horufism they doubled the category to produce the significant total of twenty-eight, and correlated each member of the two series of Fourteen Immaculate Ones both with a letter of the Arabic alphabet and with some aspect of the human face (Algar, p. 50). These physiognomic correspondences gave rise to a distinctive Bektāši iconography intended to aid in detecting significant combinations of letters such as fāʾ, żād,and lām (= Fażl) in the bearded and mustachioed face of an adult male (see Figure 1). Bektāšis with a particular interest in Horufism, expressed primarily in verse, were Gül Baba (d. 948/1541 in Budapest), also known as Misâlî, author of the Meftāḥ al-ḡayb; Arşî Dede (d. 1030/1621), director of a tekke at Argirokastro in Albania; and the poets Kâsımi and Muhyiddin Abdâl.

Horufism was not everywhere integrated into Bektāšism to the same degree. Its teachings are said to have been unknown to rural Bektāšis, who, being for the most part illiterate, were in no position to appreciate the subtle mysteries of the alphabet. In addition, the doctrine was more completely embraced in the Balkans than in Anatolia, especially in Albania, where some Bektāšis firmly believed that Ḥāji Bektāš Veli himself had been a morid of Fażl-Allāh (Degrand, pp. 228-29). Also in Albania, Horufism is said to have represented an advanced stage on the path among Bektāšis; not everyone attained it, and those who did performed a mock ḥajj as a rite of initiation, donning eḥrām and passing back and forth seven times between two candles (Gölpınarlı, 1973, p. 33). Down to the late nineteenth century, Horufi themes continued to permeate Albanian Bektāši poetry, including the verse of the great Albanian nationalist, Naim Frashëri (d. 1900), especially his Lulet e verës (“Flowers of Summer”), published in 1890.

With respect to the nexus between Bektāšis and Horufis, it may finally be noted that the Aḥl-e Ḥaqq of Kurdistan probably owed their nominal acquaintance with Fażl-Allāh to Bektāši influences that emanated from Bektāši-affiliated janissaries garrisoned in Iraq. Known to the Aḥl-e Ḥaqq as “šāh-e Fażl,” Fażl-Allāh Astarābādi has a privileged niche in the tangled mythology of the sect as the third in a series of divine incarnations (Ḥāj Neʿmat-Allāh Jayḥunābādi, p. 148).

The influence of Horufism on other Sufi orders in Anatolia and Rumelia was relatively limited. Some Mevlevî poets delighted in the occasional use of the distinctively Horufi concept of estevā, but this did not signify a full-fledged assimilation of Horufism (Gölpınarlı, 1983, pp. 312-17). A number of Melâmis showed a more thoroughgoing interest in its themes: Ismaʿil Maʿşuki (d. 935/1529) proclaimed his body to be identical with God; Aḥmed Sarban asserted that “the human mirror is identical with the form of the All-Compassionate;” and Idris-e Mohtefi openly invoked Fażl-Allāh in one of his poems (Gölpın-arlı, 1992, pp. 53, 59, 100). In addition, the Hamzeviye, an insurrectionary offshoot of the Melâmî order active in Bosnia during the tenth/sixteenth century, is recorded in a contemporary document as having made common cause with unidentified bands of Horufis: “together they spread out in the world and broadcast among the people of Bosnia that their ʿolamāʾ were hypocrites in order to attain their goal of disseminating heretical doctrine” (Mehinagic´, pp. 230-32). According to Karakaşzade, a Celvetî dervish of the eleventh/seventeenth century, other Sufi orders receptive to some degree of Horufi influence included the Kalenderiye, Ḥaydariye, Edhemiye, and Halvetiye. He remarks that some of their members had become contaminated with Horufism “through mixing with travelers,” which suggests that itinerant propagators of the heresy were still active in the Ottoman lands two centuries after its first arrival there (Nur al-hodā leman ehtadā, fol. 22a).

Other evidence also suggests that the Horufis were not entirely absorbed by the Bektāšiya and other orders. Archival documents record the arrest and execution in 980/1573 and 984/1577 of Horufis, identified as such, at Filibe, Varna, Ahyolu, and Tatarpazarcığı in Rumelia and the trial of others, still later, at Eskişehir and Sıvas in Anatolia (Refik, pp. 31-32, 36-37; Gölpınarlı, 1973, p. 32). The poet Temennâî, executed during the reign of Bayezid II (886-918/1481-1512), was identified simply as a Horufi, not as a Bektāši (Gibb, 1958, I, pp. 383-85). Writing in the eleventh/seventeenth century, Kâtib Çelebi (Hacı Halife) was able to remark of the Jāvdān-nāma that it was “well-known and still circulating among the Horufi sect (al-ṭāʾefa al-Horufiya)” (Kašf al-ẓonun I, column 578). In addition, the term “Işık” (Turkish, “light,” but probably a corruption of the Persian and Arabic ʿāšeq, “lover”), sometimes used to designate any heretical or antinomian dervish, was applied with particular frequency to Horufis unconnected to any Sufi order; the two terms seem to have become virtually synonymous. Nesimî was thus denounced by Sofyalı Şeyh Bali (d. 960/1553) as “one of the vile group of Işıks,” not explicitly as a Horufi. About two centuries later, as a prelude to his own exposition of a correct “science of the letters,” Ismail Hakkı Burûsevî similarly denounced “the group known as Işıks, who are mostly Horufis,” observing that they referred to themselves as ʿāref (“gnostic”) and were particularly numerous in Albania (Hüccetü’l-bâliğa, p. 3).

That Horufism still existed as a doctrinal option, whether independently or through amalgamation with Bektāš-ism, as late as the nineteenth century is shown by the controversy that attended the first printing of a Horufi text, Firişteoğlu’s Işkname, at Istanbul in 1288/1871. Two years later, a certain Ishak Efendi condemned the impudence of those who had dared to publish the work, identifying them as Bektāšis and offering a reasonably accurate summary both of Horufi doctrine and of its reception by the Bektāšis in his Kâşif el-esrâr ve dâfiʾ el-eşrâr (Istanbul, 1290/1873). A response was given three years later by Ahmed Rifat, apparently a Bektāši; he claims that at all times Bektāšis and Horufis have been separate groups, each with its own line of transmission, and that the former were only rarely infiltrated by the latter. He undermines his attempted refutation of Ishak Efendi, however, by himself espousing certain distinctively Horufi doctrines, which suggests that his book, Mirʾât el-makâsid (Istanbul, 1293/1876), was primarily an essay in taqiya (prudential dissimulation). Whether those responsible for the publication of the Işknâme were Bektāši-Horufi or simply Horufi is unknown.

Neither the Bektāši order as presently constituted nor any other Sufi group in Turkey or the Balkans now shows signs of allegiance to Horufism; the doctrine has become instead an occasional topic for specialized historical research. The concept of a numerological key to the understanding of the Koran nonetheless remains attractive to a certain mentality, perhaps not surprisingly in the age of the computer. The late Rašād Ḵalifa, an Egyptian engineer resident in the United States, was convinced that nineteen and its multiples are the key to the true meanings of the Book and hence to felicity. His chief lieutenant was a certain Edip Yüksel, a Turk (or more precisely a Kurd), whose publication in 1980 of a book enshrining the theory, Kur’an, en büyük mucize, earned him both acclaim and denunciation in the Turkish press as a neo-Horufi (see, for example, “Istanbul’dan bir mürted geçti,” Radikal, 24 December 2000).

In Persia, the only contemporary surfacing of Horufism has been as a focus of ideological contest. Influenced by Soviet writings that extol the Horufis as humanists, materialists, and strugglers against feudalism, Persian leftists such as ʿAli Mir Feṭrus (in Jonbeš-e Horufiya) began in the 1970s to adopt Fażl-Allāh and Nesimi as their heroes. Shiʿi writers such as Abu Ḏarr Vardāspi (in Sork-jāmagān wa namadpušān) then countered with an equally revisionist view of the Horufis as full believers in the Twelve Imams and as representatives of “authentic, revolutionary Shiʿism.”



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(Hamid Algar)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 23, 2012

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Vol. XII, Fasc. 5, pp. 483-490