The Hamzevi Movement and the Hurufis
While it is difficult with the information currently available to determine precisely what Hamza Bali taught, and as to why he attracted so much attention from the government, it is possible to speculate on some potential principles and concepts. Without doubt, the primary reason for the intervention of Ottoman authorities was not doctrine in itself, but rather the political claims put forth by many Hamzevi şeyhs that jeopardized the Ottoman power-structure. Still, it is important to take into consideration that all these şeyhs at the outset shared a common source for their influence, and that was the continuous doctrine transmitted through the Melami silsile. This doctrine is essentially the source of the marked socio-political influence exerted by the Melami şeyhs, which in turn forced the Ottoman government to resort to persecution. Consequently, it becomes crucial to examine exactly what it was that was taught in Melami tekkes that caused so much turmoil and unrest.
One source of the unclear teachings of Hamza Bali is the likely connection between the Hamzevis and the Hurufis. The Hurufi movement, initiated by Fazlullah Astarabadi (d. 1394 CE), began its existence in Persia where it faced severe persecution. Despite this it eventually found solid and lasting support in Anatolia and the Balkans. Fazlullah was seen by his followers “as the initiator of a new religious dispensation in which the esoteric plan of the universe, alluded to symbolically in the teachings of earlier religions, had become explicit.” In addition, Fazlullah taught a radical new interpretation of reality based on “new interpretations of Qur’anic texts, as for example the view hat everlasting reward and punishment promised in the Qur’an were symbolic descriptions of states of knowledge and wisdom.” For instance the Qur’anic description of how God first made the heavens and the earth, and then “sat Himself upon the Throne” is taken by the Hurufis to “mean the creation of Adam, explaining that ‘sitting’ is a metaphor for God’s imprinting a full image of himself upon clay.” In the end all of Fazlullah’s doctrines, including the very intricate science of letters (ilm-i huruf), converged to demonstrate the most important and greatest of all secrets – that man is the Divine.
To clarify this seemingly radical doctrine, Fazlullah taught believers that all of creation progresses through a process of three cycles: “the cycle of prophethood (nubuvvet), from Adam to Muhammad; that of sainthood (velayet), from ‘Ali to Fazlullah; and, beginning with Fazlullah, that of divinity (uluhiyyet).” With each successive cycle the secret behind creation is partly exposed, until the coming of Fazlullah who ultimately reveals the secret in its completeness, and the cycle of divinity is introduced, which “is a complete representation of the divine in human form.” Hence it becomes clear that Fazlullah is not only the Divine incarnation but the long-awaited “Seal of Sainthood (hatem-i velayet), the Perfect Man (insan-i kamil), and the Mahdi.”
Before going into a deeper assessment of Hamzevi doctrine and examining possible allusions to Hurufism, it is necessary to point out that at this stage in time one can only speculate since no explicit material either proving or disproving a link has yet been discovered. It will make sense to open our analysis with the most reliable sources available, which are the fetvas that ordered the executions of Hamza Bali and Oğlan Şeyh. For Hamza Bali the verdict stated, that he is a heretic (mulhid) and that he led Muslims astray urging them not to believe, likewise it had been established that he put forward some views insulting the honor of Muhammad and that he denied the resurrection and the Day of Judgment completely.
Of course it is possible to read all kinds of things into these accusations, but two points seem suggestive of the above-mentioned Hurufiyye. Regardless of sectarian affiliation, any devout Muslim would never think of making an affront to the nobility of the Prophet, unless what is meant here by ‘insulting’ in the fetva has nothing to do with slander of some sort but rather a belief that the era of his prophethood has come to an end and a new cycle of some sort (much like the one unveiled through Fazlullah’s declarations) has superseded it and which is greater to the Prophet’s for the reason that “each cycle is a progressively more explicit form of God’s self-manifestation.” The charge that Hamza Bali completely denied the “resurrection and the Day of Judgment” also echoes of Hurufi concepts which assign these concepts symbolic rather than the literal meanings upheld by the orthodox religious establishment.
Another accusation leveled against Hamza Bali was that he was a devotee of Oğlan Şeyh, whose own execution was ordered based upon the following charges:
He preached immorality and eternity of this world; he did not accept the limits imposed by the law concerning halal and haram, he saw hell and paradise as relative concepts, and declared that Allah incarnated Himself as man, in him.
If one studied this passage without knowing the context, one would most probably suspect these two men of being Hurufis. By taking any one of these indictment, one finds Hurufi concepts in them. For example, “eternity of this world” becomes clear if one thinks that for Hurufis acquiring knowledge was the real meaning for entering heaven. In Hurufi thought once one became an initiate and began acquiring true knowledge one entered heaven, which is an eternal place. Further, if the Hurufi initiate was in heaven, then worldly laws and obligations no longer applied, which would explain the charge that Oglan Seyh flouted the boundaries of halal and haram. The last accusation, that of hulul (Divine incarnation), is so clearly an echo of Fazlullah’s message about man’s divinity, that it makes the connection between Hurufis and Bayrami-Melamis (Hamzevis) even more credible. This last and most important charge of hulul directed against Oğlan Şeyh is not simply an unsubstantiated accusation, but is a belief actually confirmed in Ismail Ma’şuki’s own poetry in which he proclaims, “my body is identical with God.” Furthermore, one of Oğlan Şeyh’s disciples and successors, Ahmet Sarban (d.1542 CE) , wrote in unmistakably Hurufi form,
O you who desire to see the Beloved,
Look with care on each person you see!
Know that the human mirror
Is the very form of the All-Merciul;
Come, look in the mirror,
And see in it that King!
İdris Muhtefi , a Hamzevi who lived in Istanbul in the years following Hamza’s execution, openly makes reference to Fazlullah Astarabadi in one of his poems, and in another celebrates the Hurufi concept of the ‘Seven Lines’ through which God is reflected in the face of man. Even in the absence of such overt textual evidence, it would be possible to deduce a basic affinity between the Hurufis and Hamzevis from the respective doctrines of the two groups.
Additional similarities between Hamzevi and Hurufi doctrines can be found in four sources originating from 16th century Bosnia: an anti-Hamzevi poem, an ilmihal, and two letters written to dissuade a Bosnian youth from involving himself further with the group. While there are many vague references to antinomianism in the first letter, the second letter presents a clearer connection to Hurufiyya. Its author, a certain Mehmed Amiki (who was most certainly from among the ulema), informs the young man that his Hamzevi şeyhs, “learning from others some secret but misunderstood letters and words, have been deceived.” He also refutes to the youth’s defense of Hamzevi doctrine of hulul (the justification of which is given through particular verses from the Qur’an ) by unequivocally discrediting this interpretation of the sacred scripture and then declaring vahdet-i vucud to be a belief “contrary to the creed of the Ehl-i Sunna.”
It is, however, the text of the ilmihal (a booklet on core Islamic beliefs and practices) that pairs the Hamzevis with the Hurufis, and explicitly states that the two have allied themselves and together “spread out in the world, and broadcasting to the people of Bosnia that their ulema were all hypocrites in order to attain their objective of disseminating heretical doctrine.”
Ultimately, the issue that brought the Ottoman government down on the heads of the Hamzevis was their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the existing secular power due to their messianic beliefs. Hurufis believed that a divine voice confirmed that Fazlullah was the Sahib-i Zaman or “Lord of the Age,” which is important to mention here because it is this same appellation that was later utilized by Melamis to describe their own masters. For Melamis, the kutb (and for the Hurufis, Fazlullah Astarabadi) was the authentic manifestation of the Divine; he was the Sahib-i Zaman and the embodiment of Suret-i Rahman. The Lord of the Age, the Mehdi, had come as a manifestation of the Divine, whose duty, according to the Prophetic Hadith, it was to “fill the earth with equity and justice just as it was filled with tyranny and oppression.”