Mulhid Vahdeti: A Bosnian Hurufi Poet of the 16th Century

The encircling sea is in ferment.

Being and space are in uproar.

The eternal mystery has become manifest.

Why should the knower hide anymore? ---Nesimi


At the end of 16th century Ottoman Bosnia was center stage for a lengthy struggle between the establishment and a radical religious movement. In the words of Nesimi (a fourteenth-century Hurufi poet), those with knowledge of the Truth had decided that the time had come for them to reveal the eternal mystery, regardless of its social and political repercussions that would follow by doing so. The ensuing conflict between those who sought to reveal and the well established order would dominate the central lands of Islam from the 14th to the 17th centuries as one religiously nonconformist group after another  made its appearance. In Anatolia and the Balkans it was a clash that had been building momentum ever since the Ottomans began to employ the orthodox ulema to exert both political and social control over its population. This clash came to a climax in the mid- and late-16th century with a religious movement known as the Hamzevis. That the Hamzevis represented a departure from normative Islamic interpretation is obvious, given the ideas of many other clandestine, non-conformist groups that converged in this movement.


For several generations, Melami spiritual leaders welcomed martyrdom with a willingness to surrender their lives for their unconventional beliefs. With each execution the Ottomans managed to quell the threat of a major revolt and consequently the political impact of the Melami movement remained quite restricted to small bands of followers. Yet because the Melamis were not completely eradicated the impetus for serious confrontation with the authorities built with every new execution, until it finally reached a culmination in the figure of the Bosnian Hamza Bali, a charismatic Melami şeyh, in whose honor the order was renamed. When it was announced that Hamza was the Sahib-i Zaman,  the movement had opened out throughout the western Balkans, and, moreover, it was preparing to replace the Ottoman dynasty with this new divinely-appointed sovereign.


It was during this period of Balkan upheaval that another controversial Bosnian, the poet Mulhid Vahdeti, made his first appearance. Vahdeti spread a contentious message that focused on the doctrines of the most abhorred of all heretics, Fazlullah Astarabadi, and it is in his poetry (which made him a likely mouthpiece for the Hamzevi revolution) that a clear picture of the radical theological currents that were flowing through the Ottoman society of his day can be found.


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