The Yarsan, Ahle Haqq or Kaka'i (Kurdish: یارسان, Yarsan, Persian: اهل حق; "People of Truth"), is a syncretic religion founded by Sultan Sahak in the late 14th century in western Iran. The total number of Yarsanis is estimated at around 2,000,000 or 3,000,000. They are primarily found in western Iran and eastern Iraq and are mostly ethnic Goran Kurds, though there are also smaller groups of Turk, Persian, Luri, Azerbaijani and Arab adherents. Some Yarsanis in Iraq are called Kaka'i. Yarsanis say that some people call them disparagingly as "Ali-o-allahi" or "worshipers of Ali" which labels Yarsanis deny. Many Yarsanis hide their religion due to pressure of Iran's Islamic system, and there are no exact statistics of their population.
The Yarsanis have a distinct religious literature primarily written in the Gorani language. However, few modern Yarsani can read or write Gorani (a Northwestern Iranian language belonging to the branch Zaza-Gorani) as their mother tongues are Southern Kurdish and Sorani, which belong to the other two branches of the Kurdish languages. The speakers of Sarli living near Eski Kalak are adherents. Their central religious book is called the Kalâm-e Saranjâm, written in the 15th century based on the teachings of Sultan Sahak.
The Yarsani believe the Sun and fire are holy things and follow the principles of equalization, purity, righteousness, and oneness, which leads some researchers to find Mithraic roots in this religion.
Yarsanism is barely mentioned in historical religious books as its doctrine and rituals are largely secret. The followers of Yarsanism perform their rituals and ceremonies in secret, but this has not relieved the harassment of many of the Yarsani by Islamic or other governments over the centuries. The followers of this religion say that after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, pressure on the Yarsani community has increased and they have been deprived and discriminated against for over 30 years.
The Yarsani follow the mystical teachings of Sultan Sahak. From the Yarsani 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. This aspect of the Yarsani faith can be identified as Kurdish esoterism which emerged under the intense influence of Bātinī-Sufism during the last two centuries.
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). Yarasani believe that every man needs to do what is written within their holy book, the Kalâm-e Saranjâm, otherwise they are not part of Yarsan. There is no compulsion or exclusion in Yarsan – anyone who chooses to follow its precepts is welcome.
The Yarsani faith's features include millenarism, Innatism, egalitarianism, metempsychosis, angelology, divine manifestation and dualism. Many of these features are found in Yazidism, and they also have many things in common with Zoroastrians and Christians. Unlike other indigenous Persian faiths, Yarsanism explicitly rejects class, caste and rank, which sets them apart from the Yezidis and Zoroastrians.
Epochs of Evolution
According to Yarsani philosophy, the universe is evolving in through different Epochs[circular reference] and that these Epochs are:
- First Epoch, or Shari'at, which includes the period from Adam and Eve until Muhammad, also known as the "Prophet" period.
- Second Epoch, or Tariqat, which includes the period from Ali ibn Abi Talib until Shah Khoshin, also known as the "Doctrine" period.
- Third Epoch, or Marefat, which includes the period from Shah Khoshin until Sultan Sahak, also known as the "Mystical" period.
- Fourth Epoch, or Haqiqat, which includes the period from Sultan Sahak until today, also known as the "Truth" period.
The Yarsani are emanationists and incarnationists, believing that the Divine Essence has successive incarnations known as mazhariyyats (similar to the Hindu avatars). They believe God manifests one primary and seven secondary manifestations in each epoch of the world, in either angel or human form. These seven persons are known as "Haft tan" which means "The Seven Persons"
The primary mazhariyyat of the First Epoch was the Divine Essence known as Khawandagar, who created the world.
The primary mazhariyyat of the Second Epoch was Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph and first imam of Shia Islam. This explains the alternative name for Yarsanis Ali-Allahi, 'Believers in the divinity of Ali'.
The primary mazhariyyat of the Third Epoch was Shah Khoshin.
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.
According to Yarsani legend after Sultan Sahak 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.
Haft Tan or seven persons
Each Epoch in Yarsani belief saw the appearance of the seven secondary divine manifestations or Haft Tan. In the First Epoch they appeared in their true angelic form, while in subsequent Epochs they appeared in human incarnations. The "Haft Tan" are charged with responsibility for the affairs of the internal realm.
The mazhariyyats of the Second Epoch include Salman, Qanbar, Mohammed, Nusayr (who is either Jesus Christ or Theophobus) and Bahlool. It also includes Fatimah, the daughter of Mohammed as the incarnation of the female angel.
The mazhariyyats of the Third Epoch include Shah Fazlullah Veli, Baba Sarhang Dudani and Baba Naous.
In the Fourth Epoch, the Haft Tan or 'seven persons' charged by Sultan Sahak with responsibility for the affairs of the inner realm consist of the following:
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 Benjamin, considered the incarnation of the archangel Gabriel; and he has the preceptor title to all Yarsanis (Monday)
- Pir Musi, the incarnation of the archangel Michael and known as Recording angel (Tuesday)
- Mustafā'Dawan, the incarnation of archangel Azrael (Wednesday)
- Sultan Sahak, the incarnation of Divine Essence (Thursday)
- Baba Yadegar, Also known as "Ahmad" and "Reza" (Friday)
- Khatun-e Razbar. (Saturday)
- Dawud koswar (David) Notice slang called Daoo, He is known as "Dalil" (in Kurdish Language) to all Yarsanis (Sunday)
These seven persons are known as "Haft tan" which means literally "The Seven Persons"
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. Also important to the Goranî is the Daftar-e kezana-ye Perdivari (Book of the Treasure of Perdivar), a collection of twenty six mythological poems or kalams.
The sayings attributed to Sultan Sahak are written in Gorani Kurdish, the sacred language of the Ahl-e Haqq, which also is known as Hawrami dialects. However, few modern Yarsani can read or write Gorani (a Northwestern Iranian language belonging to the branch Zaza-Gorani) as their mother tongues are Southern Kurdish and Sorani Kurdish, which belong to the other two branches of the Kurdish language family. Some Yarsani literature is written in the Persian language.
Two important sanctuaries of the Yarsani are the tomb of Bābā Yādgār about 40 km away from Sarpol-e Zahab in Kermanshah Province and the tomb of Dawoud at Zarde about three kilometres east of Sarpol-e Zahab. Another important shrine is that of Sultan Suhak in Sheykhan near Perdīvar bridge in Kermanshah Province. The tombs of Pir Benjamin and Pir Musi in the town of Kerend in Kermanshah Province, Iran are also important shrines.
One of Yarsani men's apparent signs is to have a full moustache, because in the holy book Kalâm-e Saranjâm it says that every man has to have a moustache to take part in their religious rites.
Khandans or spiritual houses
Yarsanism is organised into spiritual houses or Khandans, seven of which were established at the time of Sultan Sahak, and four afterwards, making eleven Khandans in all. The Khandans were established when, along with the Haft Tan, Sultan Sahak also formed the Haft Tawane, a group of seven holy persons charged with the affairs of the outer world. They were Say-yed Mohammad, Say-yed Abu'l Wafa, Haji Babusi, Mir Sur, Say-yed Mostafa, Sheykh Shahab al-Din and Sheykh Habib Shah. Each of the Haft Tawane was charged with responsibility for the guidance of a number of followers, and these followers formed the original seven Khandans, namely Shah Ebrahim, Baba Yadegar, Ali Qalandar, Khamush, Mir Sur, Sey-yed Mosaffa and Hajji Babu Isa. After Sultan Sahak's time another four khandans were established, namely Atesh Bag, Baba Heydar, Zolnour and Shah Hayas.
Every Yarsani therefore belongs to one specific khandan, which is led by a spiritual leader called a say-yed, to whom each member must swear obedience. The say-yed is the spiritual leader of the community and is normally present during the ceremonies attended by the followers. Say-yeds are the only ones allowed to have full access to the religious texts of Yarsanism, and have traditionally competed with each other to have the largest number of followers. The position of Say-yed is hereditary, being passed down through the generations from the original founders. As the say-yed are considered spiritual 'parents', it is the tradition for them not to marry their followers.
The Yarsani in Iran are mostly found in Lorestan and Kermanshah provinces There are also large communities of Yarsanis 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 various names, such as Ali-Ilahis and Ahl-e Haqq. Both the Dersim (Zazaki / Zaza) people and the Gorani, who speak a language that is 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 Yezidi, Ali-Ilahians or Druze.
The Yarsani are known in Iraq as the Kaka'i. There are Yarsani in Iraqi Kurdistan, around Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. The speakers of Sarli, living near Eski Kalak in Iraq, are adherents, as Edmonds (1957: 195) surmised and Moosa (1988: 168) observed.
Relationship with other religious groups
A group of native, allegedly Iranian, but archaeologically Mesopotamian, monotheistic religions practiced by Kurds consisting of Yarsani and Êzidî along with Chinarism/Ishikism (Ishik Alevism) are claimed as "Yazdânism" by Mehrdad Izady.
First of all, we must clear up the confusion resulting from the variety of names given to the sect of "Ahlé-Haqq", which are liable to be misunderstood. Like any religion, the one we are dealing with considers itself to be the only true and orthodox one, and it is natural that its adherents give themselves the name of "People of Truth" (Ahlé-Haqq or Ahlé-Haqîqat). This term lacks precision, as other sects, for example the Horoufis, occasionally apply it to themselves. Still, the name Ahlé-Haqq to refer to the sect of our particular interest has every advantage over appellations such as "Gholat", "Alî-Allâhi", and "Noséïri" that the Muslims and most European travellers use in speaking of them. The first term, which encompasses all of the extremist Shi’ites, is too broad and too vague. The second term, "deifiers of Ali", has the same fault and emphasizes what is only a detail in the religious system under discussion. Finally, the name "Noséïri" belongs to that well-defined Syrian religion, which, despite some resemblances with the doctrines of the Ahlé-Haqq (the worship of Ali, the communion, etc.), appears to present a complex of quite different old beliefs.
Relations with Islam
Ahl-e Haqq view Islam as a product of a cycle of divine essence, which was made manifest in Ali, and established the stage of shai'at (Islamic law). This was followed by the cycle of tariqat (Sufi teachings), then ma'rifat (Sufi gnosis), and finally the current cycle of haqiqat (Ultimate Truth), which was made manifest in Sultan Sahak. The final stage supersedes the previous ones, which frees Ahl-e Haqq from observing the shari'a rules incumbent on Muslims. Ahl-i Haqq class other Muslims as either Ahl-i Tashayyu (followers of Shi'ism) or Ahl-i Tasannun (followers of Sunnism). The Ahl-i Haqq neither observe Muslim rites, such as daily prayers and fasting during the month of Ramadan, nor share Islamic theology and sacred space, such as belief in the day of resurrection and sanctity of the mosque.
Extremist Sunni Islamic groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Qaeda regard the followers of Yarsanism as unbelievers who have to convert to Islam or die. These militants have prosecuted Yarsanis during the Iraq conflict, possibly prompting some Iraqi Yarsan community leaders to declare in 2013 that their people were actually Muslims to avoid sectarian attacks.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yarsanism.|
- van Bruinessen, Martin (2009). "Ahl-i Ḥaqq". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Brill Online. ISSN 1873-9830.
- Ahl-e Haqq – "An Oriental Order of Mysticism".
- Ostad Elahi (Nur Ali Elahi) – official website.
- Razbar Ensemble – sacred music of Ahl-e Haqq.
- Ali-Ilahi and Ahl-e-Haq
- Who are Iraq's Kakai? – Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East
- Status of Minorities in Iran – excerpted from Report on Iran, 16 January 2002, by the UNCHR.
- Gorani Influence on Central Kurdish: Substratum or Prestige Borrowing? Leezenberg, Michiel: ILLC – Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam
- The Shabak and the Kakais in Northern Iraq, Syncretistic religious communities in the Near East: collected papers of the International Symposium "Alevism in Turkey and comparable sycretistic religious communities in the Near East in the past and present" Berlin, 14–17 April 1995, Krisztina Kehl-Bodrogi, Barbara Kellner-Heinkele, Anke Otter-Beaujean, Krisztina Kehl-Bodrogi, Barbara.
- Leezenberg, Michiel: ILLC – Department of Humanities, University of Amsterdam