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Art. IX.—Some Notes on the Literature and Doctrines of the Ḥurūfī Sect

  • Edward G. Browne

In my Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library (pp. 69–86) I described, at what may have seemed rather inordinate length, a work called the Jāvidān-i-Kabīr, which aroused my interest in the highest degree. The interest of this work, as I there pointed out, is twofold: it embodies very remarkable doctrines, apparently akin to those of the Isma'īlīs or Shī'ites of the “Sect of the Seven”; and considerable portions of it are written in a peculiar dialect of Persian which certainly merits a fuller study. Concerning the author of this work, Faẓlu'llāh b. Abī Muḥammad of Tabrīz, called “al-Ḥurūfī,” we know little (except what may be gleaned from his writings) beyond what is contained in the brief notice of Ibn Ḥajar al-'Asqalānī (d. a.h. 852), cited by Flügel at pp. vii–viii of the preface to the second volume of his edition of Hājī Khalfa. “Faẓlu'llāh,” says Ibn Ḥajar, “the son of Abū Muḥammad of Tabrīz, was one of those innovators who subject themselves to ascetic discipline. Imbued with heretical doctrine, he finally produced the sect known as the Ḥurūfīs [from Letters’] pretending that the Letters [of the alphabet] were metamorphoses of men, together with many other idle and baseless fancies. He invited the Amīr Tīmūr the Lame [Tamerlane] to adopt his heresies, but he desired to slay him. And this came to the knowledge of his son (with whom he had sought refuge), and he struck off his head with his own hand.

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page 63 note 1 His full name is thus given on f. 49a. Elsewhere he is spoken of simply as Amīr Ghiyāthu'd-Dīn.

page 65 note 1 This identification is rendered certain by a passage on f. 13b of the Istiwānāma, where, in discussing why the Maḥabbat-nāma received this title rather than that of Ta'ashshuq-nāma or Muwaddat-nāma (which mean the same thing), Ghiyāthu'd-Dīn explicitly cites its opening words as follows:—

page 67 note 1 Qinālī-zādé (fl. a.h. 994) speaks of him as ‘Imādu’d-Dīn, and says that he belonged to a family of Seyyids of Baghdad. Mr. Gibb, who has kindly read through the proofs of this article, says that Laṭīfī (a.h. 953) confirms the first piece of information.

page 67 note 2 I am indebted to Mr. Gibb for the following note:—“Qinālī-zādé's word are —

‘As the Breeze of Annihilation blew upon the Garden of his Spirit, upon the Orchard of his Heart and Soul, it bore the Perfume of Love and Affection to his Nostrils, so that after haying served the Sheykhs of the Time, he at last gave his allegiance to Faẓlu'llāh the Ḥurufī,’ in consequence of which, continues Qinālī-zādé, he lost all self-control, and began to rave after the fashion of the ecstatics.”

page 68 note 1 Or, “since I have become [like] Manṣūr.” The equivoque cannot be preserved in English.

page 69 note 1 I am indebted to Mr. Gibb for the following note:—“Refī'ī is not mentioned in any of the tezkirés I have seen. There is further a notice on Nesīmī in 'Āshiq Chelebī's tezkiré, written about a.h. 976. Also in 'Ālī's History , written a.h. 1007. 'Āshiq alone speaks in a disparaging tone about Nesīmī.”

page 70 note 1 Perhaps Amīr Nūru'llāh, “the Delight of the Martyrs.” See p. 77, infra.

page 71 note 1 Cf. pp. 77–8, infra.

page 76 note 1 Of course may be taken as meaning “the excellent” or “accomplished darvishes,” but as Faẓlu'llāh, the founder of the sect, was a Tabrīzī, I think that the expression has a specific meaning, and denotes those Ḥurūfīs who derived their teaching directly from him.

page 77 note 1 The Ḥurūfī system dealt primarily with the mystical virtues and significance of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, and afterwards included (in the Nushha-i-Naw, or Supplement to the Jāvidān-i-Kabīr) the four additional Persian letters and , thus raising the total number to 32. Other languages, according to the Ḥurūfī view, would only repeat more or less perfectly these letters.

page 77 note 2 The proper meaning of is ‘Paralysis, distortion of the mouth.’ With the Ḥurūfīs it probably had some special signification.

page 78 note 1 For a curious parallel, cf. my translation of the New History of Mīrzā 'Ali Muḥammad the Bāb, p. 338.

page 78 note 2 See my Year amongst the Persians, pp. 475, 491–3.

page 82 note 1 For this corrected rendering, and for the following note, I am indebted to Mr. Gibb's kindness:—“This verse is addressed to the Adept who sees the Unity in all things —‘Syntheism’ is perhaps better than ‘Polytheism’ for .”

page 86 note 1 Religions et Philosophies dans I'Asie Centrale, 2nd ed., Paris, 1866, p. 7.

page 94 note 1 Ḥabbatu'l-Khaḍrā is explained by Redhouse as “the fruit of the Pistachia terebinthus,” and in Schlimmer's, Terminologie Médico-Pharmaceutique (Tihrān, 1874), p. 464, as the seeds of the Pistacia acuminata, or “Persian turpentine seeds.” Here one is tempted to think of ḥashīsh (Cannabis Indica), to which the epithet “green” is so constantly applied by the Persians (e.g. “the Green Parrot,” “Master Seyyid,” etc.), but it is not unlikely that turpentine-seeds, in consequence of their aphrodisiac properties, may enter into the composition of some of the various preparations used by dervishes .

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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