The Place of Poetry in Ottoman Sufism


Poetry in the Ottoman Empire was the chief means of expression for lovers, mystics, and revolutionaries who used it as a medium for conveying all sorts of messages, ideas, and doctrines. It was a highly developed, complex, and sophisticated literary art. At its heart was love poetry, written to a beloved that more often than not used very ambiguous language. The obscurity of the beloved’s true identity can range from gender-ambiguity to the unclear distinction between man and God.


It is important for us two to make mention of Turkish poets here because they both directly or indirectly influenced Mulhid Vahdeti’s work: Yunus Emre (d.1320) and Nesimi (d.1404).  Yunus Emre shaped a poetic style that became the standard for a poetry that led to unifying Anatolian culture, which was in turn inherited by the Ottomans. Yunus Emre was the first Turkish language poet to unmistakably express the concept of vahdet-i vucud in his writings, which according to him gives meaning to the purpose of human existence and undermines the concept of death as the final end of all things:


Now I have found my own true self within.

It has happened – I saw God Almighty,

I had qualms about what might happen then.


Love of God becomes the driving concept behind this type of poetry, and the centrality of humanity are emphasized so much that man becomes the center of the universe. The late 14th century brought yet another poet to the fore who took these concepts a step further. It was the gifted poet Nesimi who greatly influenced most Ottoman poets and whose poetry would have long-raging effects on many Sufi orders, among them the Melami-Bayramis (and Hamzevis). Nesimi was obviously influenced by both al-Hallaj and the Hurufi movement, and it is even said that he was personally acquainted with Fazlullah Astarabadi.


The central concept that recurs throughout Nesimi’s quatrains (and a clear reflection of Hurufi thought) is the Divinity of man (in the figure of Adam) in whose face God and His Word are manifest.  


O thou whose face it is wherein is knowledge of the Book,

Through thy comeliness came the command, “Say: Enough”.

Thy countenance is the Truth. Take away the mask from the Truth.

This is the truth, and Allah knows best!


The Hurufis related to the physical body what, by normative Sufi standards, was meant only to be applied to the soul. In standard Sufi parlance the ‘beloved’ is nothing other than the Divine, yet for Hurufis the ‘beloved’ is none other than man as a Deity, containing all the attributes of God, and the love for him is not a spiritual longing but it is real and tangible. Nesimi laid the foundation for all later Hurufi poets in the Turkic milieu, including our poet Mulhid Vahdeti, who himself wrote poetry in Turkish, and without doubt must have been acquainted with Nesimi’s poetry.



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