ʿALĪ AL-AʿLĀ (d. 822/1419), also known as Amīr Sayyed ʿAlī, principal successor of Fażlallāh Astarābādī, founder of the Ḥorūfī sect. Mention is to be found of him in the following Ḥorūfī texts: Bayān al-wāqeʿ by Mīr Šarīf, where he heads a list of fifteen important disciples of Fażlallāh; the Ṣalāt-nāma of Išqort Dada; and above all the Estewān-nāma of his own disciple and nephew, Amīr Ḡīāṯ-al-dīn Moḥammad Astarābādī. In this last work he is designated as “the unveiler of the secrets of the Jāvīdān-nāma [the principal scripture of Horufism]” and “God’s vice-regent and trustee upon earth;” the work records several of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā’s discourses, including one rejecting the Islamic doctrine of the afterlife, pronounced at Aladağ near Kars (see A. Gölpĭnarḷĭ, Hurufilik metinleri Kataloğu, Ankara, 1973, pp. 14-15, and H. Ritter, “Die Anfänge der Ḥurūfīsekte,” Oriens 7, 1954, p. 35). By contrast, the ʿEšq-nāma of ʿAbd-al-Maǰīd Ferešta-zāda, an early Turkish Ḥorūfī, omits ʿAlī al-Aʿlā’s name from a list of the four principal confidants of Fażlallāh: Maǰd, Maḥmūd, Kamāl Hāšemī, and Bu’l-Ḥasan (quoted in Tarbīat, Danešmandān, p. 387). It has therefore been concluded that ʿAlī al-Aʿlā must be identical with one of the four, most probably Bu’l-Ḥasan (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 35), but as Gölpĭnarḷĭ has shown (Hurufilik metinleri kataloğu, p. 15), such an identification is impossible, because numerous Ḥorūfī texts mention ʿAlī al-Aʿlā and Bu’l-Ḥasan as separate individuals.
Little is known of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā’s biography. It is probable that he belonged to the circle of eight followers that gathered around Fażlallāh Astarābādī in Ṭoqčī near Isfahan after he founded his sect in about 778/1376. After Fażlallāh’s execution in 796/1394 and the consequent suppression of Horufism in Iran, ʿAlī al-Aʿlā traveled westwards to seek adherents for the new faith in Syria and Anatolia, possibly in the year 802/1400 (date suggested by Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 29). In his maṯnawī entitled Korsī-nāma, he writes that from Syria he sent copies of the Jāvīdān-nāma to Anatolia, and that it went “beyond Istanbul and across the water.” Soon he traveled himself to Anatolia, going as far east as īl-e Lāz, i.e., the Lāz-inhabited region of the Black Sea coast east of Trebizond (Korsī-nāma, quoted in Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” pp. 50-51). His statement that the Jāvīdān-nāma went across the water is to be interpreted as an allusion to the propagation of Horufism in Edirne, then capital of the Ottoman state; Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, when a young prince in Edirne, is known to have inclined to the sect. The fusion of Horufism with the Bektāšī Sufi order, in Turkey and elsewhere, is also associated with the travels of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā. According to Kāšef al-asrār wa dāfeʿ al-ašrār, a Turkish polemic against the Bektāšīs written in 1290/1873 by a certain Esḥāq Efendi, ʿAlī al-Aʿlā went to the chief tekke of the Bektāšīs near Kĭṛşehir, claiming to be the successor of Ḥāǰǰī Bektāš Veli and introducing the Jāvīdān-nāma to the Bektāšīs as a hitherto unknown work by the founder of their order (quoted by Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia III, pp. 371-72; F. Köprülü, Türk edebiyatında ilk mutasavvıflar, 2nd ed., Ankara, 1966, p. 95, n. 45; J. K. Birge, The Bektashi Order of Dervishes, London, 1937, p. 60). Similar accounts are to be found in Kamāl-al-dīn Ḥarīrī’s Tebyān wasāʾel al-ḥaqāʾeq fī bayān salāsel al-ṭarāʾeq (ms. Ibrahim Ef. [Süleymaniye], 430/1, fol. 124a)—“many people took the ṭarīqat from him, going astray themselves and leading others astray”—and the anonymous Īżāḥ al-asrār (Istanbul University Library, Turkish ms. 4382, quoted in Gölpĭnarḷĭ, Hurufilik metinleri kataloğu, p. 28). All three of these sources are late and are characterized by a hostility to contemporary Bektāšīs that leads them to seek an explanation for the transformation of the order from Sunnism to antinomianism and crypto-Shiʿism. That ʿAlī al-Aʿlā played a role in the incorporation of Horufism into the eclectic doctrines of the Bektāšī order is however confirmed by the oral tradition of the Bektāšīs themselves; he is reputed by them to have become the morīd of Gül Bābā, a celebrated Bektāšī whose tomb still stands in Budapest (Birge, The Bektashi Order, p. 61). He is said to have been put to death, presumably by the Ottomans, in Moḥarram, 822/February, 1419, and to have been buried near his master at Alīncak near Naḵǰavān (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” pp. 35-36).
In addition to the Korsī-nāma already mentioned, ʿAlī al-Aʿlā composed three other maṯnawīs, Tawḥīd-nāma, Ferāq-nāma and Qīāmat-nāma, and two elegies, one on the death of his brother and the other on the execution of another successor of Fażlallāh Astarābādī, Sayyed Kamāl-al-dīn Ḥosayn. Extracts from some of these works have been printed in C. Huart, Textes persans relatifs à la secte des Houroufis, Leiden and London (GMS 9), 1909, pp. 260ff., and Ṣ. Kīā, Vāža-nāma-ye Gorgānī, Tehran, 1330 Š./1951, pp. 282-84. Manuscripts of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā’s writings are listed by Gölpĭnarḷĭ in Hurufilik metinleri kataloğu, pp. 133-38, and Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 36 (Ritter’s attribution to ʿAlī al-Aʿlā of a fifth maṯnawī, Bašārat-nāma, and a prose work, Maḥšar-nāma, is unsound; see Gölpĭnarḷĭ Hurufilik metinleri kataloğu, pp. 78-79 and 92-93). For a definitive account of the life and activity of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā, we must wait until these works together with the rest of early Ḥorūfī literature, have been fully examined.
Bibliography: Given in the text.
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: August 1, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, p. 858
H. Algar, “ʿALĪ AL-AʿLĀ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/8, p. 858, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ali-al-ala-d (accessed on 30 December 2012).