The Poems of Mulhid Vadeti
Mulhid Vahdeti was clearly a Hurufi poet, but we can also assume that he was a Hamzevi, for the reason that the Hamzevis themselves were most probably Hurufi influenced and, like Vahdeti, put immense emphasis on vahdet-i vucud, and had conspicuous Shi’i inclinations.
The core idea in Vahdeti’s poetry (as his mahlas boldly proclaims) was the concept of vahdet-i vucud, which was a particular sign of the Hamzevi inspiration. Vahdet-i vucud is a complex concept that in direct extension to its most basic meaning – unity of being – teaches that life is a temporary separation from God, and that after death man will be reunited with its source, i.e. God. This is, in actual fact, the most recurring theme in Vahdeti’s verses, together with the Hurufi knowledge about the hidden meaning of letters and numbers through which the essence of the world can be unraveled.
Melami kutbs also understood vahdet-i vucud to mean man’s embodiment of the Divine, and that by the time of Vahdeti’s generation the Melamis have clearly adopted Hurufi concepts to express this. Nevertheless there are noticeable differences between the poetry of the generation of Oğlan Şeyh and Ahmet Sarban and that of İdris Muhtefi. While they all express the same theme of radical vahdet-i vucud through their poetry, they express it in a different way. Oğlan Şeyh and Ahmet Sarban use more conventional Sufi terminology to express their understanding of vahdet-i vucud, whereas İdris Muhtefi has completely embraced the language of the Hurufis to express the same concept. For instance Ahmet Sarban states, “The kibla is man,” and Oğlan Şeyh says, “There can be no place like Man for the manifestation of God’s essence,” while İdris Muhtefi proclaims in clear Hurufi expression, “The Seven Lines are the ‘Mother of the Book’ (fatiha). They are the visible testimony from God.”
The progression in Melami poetry towards the use of Hurufi terminology is a clear indicator of the increasing Hurufi influence. This gives us even more reason to classify our poet as a Hamzevi, as he belonged to the same generation as İdris Muhtefi, who more than just adopting Hurufi terminology and concepts, also makes clear reference to Fazlullah Astarabadi in one of his poems. Since the predominant theme in Mulhid Vahdeti’s Divan is vahdet-i vucud, it will also make sense to begin our analysis with it. Probably the most demonstrative example of vahdet-i vucud among Vahdeti’s verses is the following poem:
- Although the body of a lover at the sight of the beloved gets lost, He lives on in the spiritual world forever.
- When a drop reaches the sea, its body becomes invisible. It is no more a drop, but becomes the seven seas.
- The drop is truly water. When separated from water, it becomes a drop. When it draws towards the water, it becomes water again.
- The soul of the lover is a drop from the sea of the light of divinity. When it reaches its beloved, it looses the body.
- When a moth that’s in love throws itself into the candle, It becomes fire and one with its beloved.
On the surface this looks like an archetypical Sufi poem. In fact, it reminds one more of the early Melami poetry which, while putting a lot emphasis on vahdet-i vucud and man’s divine status through it, had not yet been as deeply influenced by Hurufism. In this poem Vahdeti is talking about the ultimate source, Allah, who is seen at the moment of death when the soul leaves the body and is united with the source in “the sea of the light of divinity.” Even so Hurufis, like anyone else, could not deny the reality of death, and therefore they too believed that death was a brief interval between divinity in this world and divinity in the next, barring that in the next life all the divine souls are united with the source of all. As everything manifested itself through the Divine command “kun!” (be), in a reversal of this everything must come back to that source. Everything is one, as Vahdeti says:
The drop is truly water.
When separated from water it becomes a drop.
When it draws towards the water,
it becomes water again.
It is interesting to note that here he makes a distinction between reaching the sea and reaching the beloved. When the soul reaches the source, the body only becomes imperceptible (verse 2), but when the soul reaches the beloved, it looses the body (verse 4) – it becomes lost at the sight of the beloved (verse 1). If the beloved and the source (God) are separate entities, then who is the beloved? One possible explanation for this dilemma is that the beloved is none other than Fazlullah Astarabadi. At the sight of Fazlullah the body is lost in the sense that former concepts about the body are lost, and its true significance recognized.
Vahdeti then concludes this poem with the common Sufi image of the moth so attracted to the light of the fire and ends up annihilating itself in that fire –symbolic of the lover whose love for God causes him to annihilate his self in God. For Hurufis no sacrifice of the self is needed, since the self is divine. Therefore throwing the self into the fire could present many meanings. Perhaps Vahdeti uses this to symbolize his becoming a follower of Fazlullah, which in the Ottoman Empire would entail severe repercussions, and that this act was similar to throwing one’s self into the fire. Although, of course, the benefit of recognizing Hurufi claims meant understanding one’s full potential as divine.
There are also poems, which probably constitute the majority of his vahdet-i vucud poetry, in which Vahdeti extols man, not only his soul, but also the physical body, and in particular the face. One of these, with unquestionable Hurufi notions, is the following:
- Open your eyes with surprise, look at your face, see your Lord. You are the mirror of the light from the beauty of the praise of God.
- In you is the essence of eternity, in you are the eternal attributes, In you is the indisputable proof and the Sultan’s might.
- To show the way to divinity, from the Mercy of God, Came into existence 32 lines as the equivalent of the 32 points.
- Towards your face the prostration was ordered, I too turn my prayer towards it. The one who obeyed turned into an angel, the disobedient into a devil.
- Your features are the revealed light of eternity. Your face is the Ka’bah; in it the Qur’an was revealed.
This poem opens with Vahdeti telling the reader to look for the proof of his divinity in his own face, where he will see his Lord (verse 1). In accordance with Hurufi belief, Vahdeti holds man to be of utmost importance, and this can be found in the human face. The real meaning of eternity and the eternal attributes (verse 2) within man is once again a reference to man’s divinity, because according to normative Islamic teachings everything will ultimately vanish except the countenance of God, who is the only absolute and everlasting entity. The eternal attributes are the ninety-nine names of God, which of course are divine, and augment man’s divine status. In line 2, Vahdeti writes the same thing that triggered the persecution of the Hamzevis in Bosnia and the Hurufis in Persia – he proclaims that one who has comprehended his divinity is not only entitled to spiritual power but to political power as well, that such an individual is the real “sultan.” The 32 letters mentioned in verse 3 either elude to the Persian alphabet (which could in turn signify Fazlullah’s book, the Javidannamah) or to the human face. Either interpretation would fit, since they are complimentary, and they both “show the way to divinity.” In line 4 Vahdeti could mean anyone’s face, whoever takes his advice and sees his lord in his own face, or he could mean Fazlullah, who was the first to reveal the secret of the Divine on man, and who initiated the cycle of divinity. If he means here Fazlullah, then anyone who accepts Fazlullah’s words becomes divine, but one who refuses to acknowledge this message because of a refusal to acknowledge man’s divinity is equivalent to the Şeytan who refused to prostrate to Adam when God ordered him to do so. By comparing the human face to the Ka’bah, and by stating that in it the Qur’an was revealed, Vahdeti alludes to the Hurufi concept of the seven lines that mark the human face, which are said to be the seven verses of the opening chapter of the Qur’an (Fatiha), and the Fatiha in turn is said to be a summary of the entire Qur’an.
Another part of the Divan consists of praise-poems (medihiyya), mostly celebrating Fazlullah or Imam ‘‘Ali. In this particular poem Vahdeti refers to both of them, and possibly as one person, or as parts of the same entity:
- In ‘Ali’s hand are dagger, arrow, and double-edged sword, Feather, word and speech, line and letter.
- When people turn more hostile than dogs, ‘Ali, the Lion of God, becomes a refuge for the poor.
- While he, Oh heart! revives the dead at every moment, My soul ascends the heavens.
- Thanks be to God, now, Oh Vahdeti! Fazlullah and ‘Ali speak through your mouth.
The poem commences by talking about ‘Ali, with all his remarkable attributes, who is a refuge for the poor and who protects them from wickedness. Then in verse 3 Vahdeti bestows on ‘Ali a superhuman, possibly divine, attribute– “he revives the dead every moment.” While ‘Ali is reviving the dead, the poet’s soul is ascending to heaven. This could be interpreted as ‘Ali reviving him from ignorance (which is death), and taking him to heaven. The soul ascending to heaven could symbolize Vahdeti slowly rising to his true identity as Divine, as he is being taught how to decipher secrets, by ‘Ali. The concluding verse actually reinforces this explanation, since after the he has acquired the knowledge from ‘Ali, and from Fazlullah, Vahdeti himself has become as divine as they are, and he becomes the spokesperson for the same message that Fazlullah and ‘Ali proclaimed before him. If Fazlullah and ‘Ali are both physically gone from this world, then they have once again merged with their source, and in reality there is no difference between Fazlullah and ‘Ali. This would yet again prove another link between Vahdeti and the Hamzevis, since they proclaimed the same secret, the secret of man’s divinity, which through direct implication entitled their kutbs to be sultans of the seen as well as the unseen worlds.
In addition the poem shows that Vahdeti had deep veneration for Imam ‘Ali and the twelve Imams. Mulhid Vahdeti dedicated many of his verses to the twelve Imams, and in one writes:
- Come, heart, with the intention to take the road to Necef Like the sun to prostrate ourselves to the castle of the Shah of Necef
- The fields of heaven, the lotus tree, the Arş and the heavenly tree Prostrate themselves to the palms and grass of Necef
- With the naked sword the sun conquered the sky Even though it is married to the light of the moon of Necef
- The Mountain of Kef and heavenly spheres, Jerusalem and Sinai Search for refuge in the dust around the house of Necef
- Vahdeti, the sun and moon, night and day rise and fall Guide mark for jinns and men is the bright light pointing to Necef.
As mentioned above, we know that Vahdeti visited the shrines of the Imams, which would definitely lead us to believe that he was most probably a Shi’i, just like the Melamis. But unlike normative Shi’is, Vahdeti circuitously attributes divinity to Imam ‘Ali (verse 2):
The fields of heaven, the lote tree, the Arş and the heavenly tree
Prostrate themselves to the palms and grass of Necef
The “fields of heaven” might be referring to humanity, and there is reference to Prophet Muhammad, through mention of the lote tree, the heavenly tree beyond which is God, and beyond which none can pass. Finally the Divine Throne (Arş), is a clear reference to God. So everyone and everything prostrates to Imam ‘Ali’s shrine, which could be taken to imply his not only his divinity but his superiority over everyone, including Prophet Muhammad, as well. This could also be an allusion to Fazlullah’s theory of the three cycles of existence. Imam ‘Ali, who started the second cycle (that of velayet), which is superior to the first that was closed by Prophet Muhammad (nubuvvet), is by inference, superior.
The next group of poems we will examine can be called love poetry. Some of this poetry full of graphic descriptions of the beloved that it would make us believe that Vahdeti was referring to worldly desires. But we have to remember that for him the beautiful object of his love is not just a mirror of the Divine, but the very face of God. If we were created based on this concept, then there is nothing in God that wouldn’t be in man.
- You have captured my heart, oh you covered up cypress. My bloody tears are boiling.
- The cup of your love made me completely drunk, So let it be! A lover must be drunk and unreasonable.
- Know, before the water of life will not bow The one, who had a drink from the glass of your lips.
- My bones will be scattered all over the earth, But my heart and my soul will not forget your love.
- Your face gives light to the moon and the sun, To the stars it is a pearl in the earring.
This poem is very much like a typical love poem of the period, and does not even necessarily sound like a mystical poem. Vahdeti could be talking about any beautiful person that might have captured his glance, or even an imaginary beloved, just to make clear the power of the divine human face. But this might also be addressed to Fazlullah Astarabadi. There are some ambiguous verses that if interpreted another way, allude to him as the beloved. Fazlullah, “the covered up cypress,” whose divinity was disguised from the lover by the lover’s own ignorance, has now revealed himself by teaching the lover how to decipher the hidden beauty of the human face. Upon recognizing the Divine, the lover’s “bloody tears” being boiling. This knowledge then makes him appear “drunk” (outlandish – like a heretic) to both society and the orthodox religious establishment. The water of life, if brought in connection to a previous poem, could mean the source of all divinity – God. So the lover is persistent, and tells the ulema that he will not bow before God; he does not have to bow before God, because he heard Fazlullah’s teachings (“the glass of his lips”), which have taught him that he is God. Then the last line of the poem would simply mean that the divine face of Fazlullah is the source of light for the sun and moon.
The next poem might also be considered a love poem, but it is very obviously talking about God as the beloved.
- Hidden in every heart, clear to the eye You are In all these mirrors visible You are
- I saw You in your completeness in my heart and eye In every particle the cosmos, in every drop the sea You are
- I saw beauty and tenderness and recognized your face The exalted Firdevs and elevated Arş You are
- To show Fazlullah to the Aşıks In ever face the polished mirror You are
- The lofty Ka’bah who day and night angels And heavens with stars circumambulate You are
- Soul, if you are Adam’s father, hear what I will say: Sum of all God’s names You are
- Oh Vahdeti, if you reached the unity of Truth The light of Ehad and Vahid at once You are
While Vahdeti describes God, in the very first line he nevertheless makes it clear that he is not just a Sufi, but a Hurufi. The opening of the sentence (“hidden in the heart”) is a very common expression among Sufis, especially since it refers to a saying of the Prophet. But when Vahdeti goes on to say that God is perceptible to the eye, he clearly crosses the boundary between normative mysticism and Hurufism. Verses two and three refer to his concept of vahdet-i vucud – everything is God and God is everything. In verse four Fazlullah, the physical manifestation of the divine on earth, came to guide the lovers (aşıks) by revealing himself to them. But who is the “You”, if it is not Fazlullah and it does not seem to be God? It is the poet himself, who knew that he had divinity inside of him, but did not realize, until he “reached the unity of Truth” that he is the ultimate divinity, that he is the One (Vahid) and the Unique (Ehad).
To end with, there are a small group of the poems in Vahdeti’s Divan that are satirical poems criticizing the ulema class:
- With this my dispute, the ulema were not satisfied. “Ulema,” say I, but think not that I talk about knowers.
- I talk about the ignorant who have seized the ulema-title, That is, a hoard, who elevated themselves with the villains of their time.
- How can someone discuss a matter, that he doesn’t know, Even more so, if his mind and reason are weak,
- What can this ignoramus know, who doesn’t understand the essence and attributes of God.
- How can an ignorant devil be a follower of the Prophets?
Since the ulema were utilized and sponsored by the Ottoman State to develop an orthodox system that would be supportive of the general interests of the empire, the ulema were aware that the only purpose for their existence was the legal interpretations that they had created. Naturally they were the bitterest enemies of nonconformist religious movements, which threatened their existence.
Accordingly, it is not surprising to find the level of antagonism and animosity against the ulema one finds in Vahdeti’s poetry. But Vahdeti not only ridicules the ulema, but also their employers, the state authorities, whom he calls the “villains of their time.” The first line of the last couplet is a reference to Hurufism, which the ulema abhorred. Vahdeti says that the ulema do not understand the “essence” and “attributes” of God, because they refuse to recognize these in themselves. The second line of the last verse is also a direct Hurufi teaching. By describing the ulema as devils, he compares them to the Şeytan, who also refused to recognize the divinity of man.
“In accordance with the time in which Vahdeti lived,” states Ilić, “these satirical poems could be referring to the Bosnian Mullah Bali Efendi and his representative Hasan Kafi al-Akhisari (d. 1619 CE), who distinguished themselves in the persecution of heretical sects at the end of the 16th century.” If this is true then that would be again a link between Mulhid Vahdeti and the Hamzevis, since the work of uprooting the Hamzevis was entrusted primarily to Bali Efendi of Sarajevo, the supreme kadi of Bosnia. After interrogation the Hamzevis of the Tuzla region, Bali Efendi, (as Ata’i records it) “performed the valuable service of causing, with artery-severing sword of the Shari’ah, the heads of twelve of the misguided to roll.” He was aided in the task by Hasan Kafi of Akhisar (Prusac), possibly the greatest scholar of the Islamic sciences produced by Bosnia in the Ottoman period.