The Yarsan or Ahl-e Haqq (Kurdish: یارسان, Yarsan, Persian: اهل حق Ahl-e Haqq "People of Truth"), is a syncretic religion founded by Sultan Sahak in the late 14th century in western Iran. The total number of members is estimated at around 1,000,000, primarily found in western Iran and Iraq, mostly ethnic Goran Kurds, though there are also smaller groups of Persian, Lori, Azeri and Arab adherents. Some Yarsanis in Iraq are called Kaka'i.
The Yarsan have a distinct religious literature primarily written in the Gorani language and partly in Persian. However, few modern Yarsani can speak or read Gorani (a Northwestern Kurdish language) as their mother tongues are Southern Kurdish and Sorani Kurdish, which belong to the other two branches of the Kurdish language family.
The Sarl living near Eski Kalak are adherents, as Edmonds (1957: 195) surmised and Moosa (1988: 168) observed. Their central religious book is called as Kalâm-e Saranjâm, written in the 15th century based on the teachings of Sultan Sahak.
Up to the 20th century, the Yarsani faith was strictly for Kurds who were born into it, called checkedea ("a drop of"), as opposed to individuals who married into a Yarsani family, called chasbedea ("attached"). Adherents today are mainly found among the Kurdish tribes of the Guran, Qalkhani, Bajalani and Sanjabi, located in western Iran, forming approximately a third of the population in the religiously diverse Kermanshah Province. There are some groups located around Kirkuk in Iraq. The Arabic-speaking adherents are based in the Iraqi cities of Mandali, Baqubah, and Khanaqin. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "The chief source of information about the Ahl-e Haqq is the Firqan al-Akhbar, written in... early 20th century by Hajj Nematollah"
The Ahl-e Haqq follow the mystical teachings of Sultan Sahak. From the Ahl-e Haqq point of view, the universe is composed of two distinct yet interrelated worlds: the internal (Bātinī) and the external (zāhirī), each having its own order and rules. Although humans are only aware of the outer world, their lives are governed according to the rules of the inner world. Among other important pillars of their belief system are that the Divine Essence has successive manifestations in human form (mazhariyyat) and the belief in transmigration of the soul (dunaduni in Kurdish). For these reasons, the members of Ahl-e Haqq faith cannot be considered as part of the religion of Islam. The Yarsani faith has no common belief with Islam other than the ghulat Shia Islamic assertion of the divinity or godhead/godhood of Ali, although it can be identified as Kurdish esoterism which emerged under the intense influence of Bātinī-Sufism during the last two centuries. There are however, some followers of the Ahl-e Haqq who believe that they are an Islamic group and that all other doctrines contradicting the Quran occurred centuries later by other influences. They believe that some followers today who claim they aren't Muslim lack knowledge, since the Ahl-e Haqq belief sees Ali as a perfect example to follow. The same problem and differences in opinion can be seen in the belief of the Alevis.
According to Ahl-i Haqq legend after Sultan Sahak, the last great Divine Manifestation, had completed the revelation of his esoteric teachings (haqiqat) to his first disciples among the Guran he took his leave of them. Disappearing from the Guran country without a trace, he reappeared in Anatolia in the form of Haji Bektash Veli. He taught mystical doctrines and techniques (tariqat) in those lands for almost a hundred years, and then returned to the Guran country. In the perception of his disciples there, he had been away for only an hour.
Ahl-e Haqq (Yarsani) faith
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The Yarsani faith's unique features include millenarism, nativism, egalitarianism, metempsychosis, angelology, divine manifestation and dualism. Many of these features are found in Yazidism, another Kurdish faith, in the faith of Zoroastrians and in Shī‘ah extremist groups; certainly, the names and religious terminology of the Yarsani are often explicitly of Muslim origin. Unlike other indigenous Persianate faiths, the Yarsani explicitly reject class, caste and rank, which sets them apart from the Yezidis and Zoroastrians.
The Yarsani have a famous saying about death; "Men! Do not fear the punishment of death! The death of man is like the dive which the duck makes." Human beings go through a cycle of 1001 incarnations. During this process, they may become more purified based on their actions.
The Yarsani are emanationists and incarnationists, believing that the Divine Essence has successive incarnations in human form known as mazhariyyats (similar to the Hindu avatars). They believe God manifests one primary and seven secondary manifestations in each of the seven epochs of the world. The mazhariyyats of the First Epoch closely matched by name the archangels of the Semitic religions; the mazhariyyats of the Second Epoch, which begins with Ali as the primary avatar, also includes all Muslim figures except for one, Nusayr - either referring to the "Nazarene" (i.e. Jesus), or Nârsh, the minor avatar who later came to be known as Theophobus. (See Nazarene (sect), Mandaeism)
In the Fourth Epoch, the primary mazhariyyat is held to be Sultan Sahak. It is said that he was given birth by Dayerak Rezbar or Khatun-e Rezbar, a Kurdish virgin, and as in the case of Mary, it was a virginal conception. While sleeping under a pomegranate tree a kernel of fruit fell into her mouth when a bird pecked the fruit directly over her. Although some mistake this as an incarnation of the Virgin Mary and of the mother of Ali, it echoes Mithraic and Zoroastrian beliefs, of the birth of the Saoshyant, the savior of Zoroastrianism born of a virgin, impregnated by the seed of Zoroaster or Zarathushtra in Lake Hamun in Sistan. Mithra was also believed to be both Savior and son of God, born out of a rock - wearing only a phrygian cap.
The "Haft Tan" (The Seven Archangels) are key figures in the Yarsani belief system and their history. The only female among them is Khatun-e Rezbar, the mother of Sultan Sahak.
- Pir Dawud (David) Notice slang called Daoo(Diva/Dawa?), the incarnation of the archangel Michael;
- Pir Benjamin,or Benyam considered the incarnation of the archangel Gabriel;
- Pir Mustafā', the incarnation of archangel Azrael;
- Pir Musi, incarnation of the Recording angel;
- Shah Ebrahim; embodies of Anahita
- Baba Yadegar;
- Khatun-e Razbar.
The traditions of the Yarsani are preserved in poetry known as Kalam-e Saranjam (The Discourse of Conclusion), divinely revealed narratives passed down orally through the generations. These traditions are said to have been written down by Pir Musi, one of the seven companions of Sultan Sahak (also the angel in charge of recording human deeds). The collection consists of the epochs of Khawandagar [God], ‘Alī, Shah Khoshin and Sultan Sahak, the different manifestations of divinity. The epoch of Shah Khoshin takes place in Luristan and the epoch of Sultan Sahak is placed in Hawraman near the Sirwan River, the land of the Goranî. The sayings attributed to Sultan Sahak are written in Gorani Kurdish, the sacred language of the Ahl-e Haqq. Some of their literature is written in the Persian language.
Relationship with similar groups
Main differences with Islam
The Ahl-e Haqq does not observe Muslim rites and rituals. They neither believe the Prophecy of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdallah, nor accept the Prophecy of others like Jesus, Abraham and Moses. Furthermore, the Qur'an is not considered as the collection of holy verses of Allah. As a result, Druze and Bahá'ís convictions are considered much closer to Islam than the Yarsani faith.
The 12 families of the Ahl-e Haqq
The original 7 families or Sadat-e Haqiqat established during the time of Sultan were Shah Ebrahim, Baba Yadegar, Ali Qalandar, Khamush, Mir Sur, Seyyed Mosaffa and Hajji Babu Isa. The 5 families established after Sultan Sahak are Atesh Bag, Baba Heydar, Zolnour, Shah Hayas and Hajj Nematollah.
The Iranian musician and mystic, Nur Ali Elahi, was a high-ranking member of Ahl-e Haqq and published a book titled Burhan al-Haqq, one of the major and most reliable sources on the subject. Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji, the self-proclaimed King of the Kingdom of Kurdistan after World War I, claimed to be descended from the brother of Sultan Sahak in the twelfth generation.
There are also large communities of people of Ahl-e Haqq in some regions of Iranian Azerbaijan. The town of Ilkhichi (İlxıçı), which is located 87 km south west of Tabriz is almost entirely populated by Yarsanis. For political reasons, one of which was to create a distinct identity for these communities, they have not been called Goran Kurds since the early 20th century. They are called under the various names, such as Ali-Ilahis and Ahl-e Haqq. Groups with similar beliefs also exist in Iranian Kurdistan. Interestingly, both the Dersim (Zazaki / Zaza) people and the Gorani, who are both considered to belong to the Hawramani branch of the North West Iranian languages, adhere to a form of Kurdish Alawi faith which resembles the religions of the Druze or Yazidi.
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