ASTARĀBĀDĪ, FAŻLALLĀH ŠEHĀB-AL-DĪN B. BAHĀʾ-AL-DĪN (or B. ABŪ MOḤAMMAD) (d. 796/1394), founder of the Ḥorūfī religion that achieved some prominence in Timurid Iran before coming to exert a decisive influence on the Bektāšī order of dervishes in Turkey. He is sometimes designated as Fażlallāh Ḥorūfī or Fażlallāh Tabrīzī, the latter designation deriving presumably from his several periods of residence in Tabrīz. Among his followers he was known first as ṣāḥeb-e taʾwīl (the master of interpretation, both of dreams and of the inner meaning of Islamic ritual) and then, after advancing claims to divinity, as rabb al-ʿālamīn (the Lord of the Worlds). In his poetry he used the taḵalloṣ Naʿīmī.

According to all Ḥorūfī sources, Fażlallāh was born in Astarābād in 740/1339-40, where his father was chief qāżī. His family claimed ʿAlid descent, by way of Imam Mūsā al-Kāẓem. From earliest childhood he showed an inclination to devoutness and asceticism, being particularly fastidious that all he ate should be ḥalāl. When his father died, he assumed the duties of qāżī, despite his extreme youth, and it was while he was returning home one day from his judicial duties that he heard someone in the bazaar reciting this verse of Rūmī: “Why fret over death, when you have the essence of eternity? / How can the grave contain you, when you have the light of God?” Inquiring about the meaning of this verse, he was advised that it could be understood only experientially, through following the well-known practices of Sufism. He therefore redoubled his pious zeal, engaging in ḏekr with particular vigor. The effectiveness of this practice enabled him to transpose all aspiration to the spiritual world, made visible to him in a series of intense and luminous dreams, and gradually to cast off all worldly attachment.

When he was about eighteen, Fażlallāh donned the felt garments of a shepherd and set out on the ḥaǰǰ. Returning from Mecca, he went to Ḵᵛārazm and stayed there for a period of unknown duration before leaving again on the ḥaǰǰ. While traveling through Fārs, he was confronted with an apparition of the Imam ʿAlī al-Reżā, who commanded him to change direction and travel to Mašhad. This he did, and he remained for some time at the shrine of the imam in communion with his spirit before resuming the journey to Mecca. (The statement in Mīrzā Maḵdūm’s al-Nawāqeż le bayān al-rawāfeż quoted in ʿAbbās ʿAzzāwī, Tārīḵ al-ʿErāq bayn eḥtelālayn, Baghdad, 1373/1953, I, p. 249, that Fażlallāh spent twenty years at the shrine of ʿAlī in Naǰaf is to be discounted).

After completing his second ḥaǰǰ, Fażlallāh again returned to Ḵᵛārazm and had there a number of dreams that seemed to foretell greatness and a mission that would bring to an end his life of private devotion. In one of these dreams, he saw himself in the garden of his former house at Astarābād that he now perceived to be the “seat of sincerity” (maqʿad ṣedq) mentioned in Koran 55:55. Also in the garden was the prophet Solomon, calling for his celebrated hoopoe. The hoopoe appeared, bearing with it a raven. On the orders of Solomon, the feathers of the raven were plucked and thrown over the wall of the garden; the featherless bird was then entrusted to Fażlallāh. According to Fażlallāh’s interpretation, Solomon represented God, the hoopoe, the spirit (rūh¡), and the raven, the soul (nafs). In another dream, still more fraught with indications of greatness, Fażlallāh saw a bright star rising in the east, a ray from which pierced his right eye until gradually the whole orb was absorbed in his eye. A voice informed him, “this is a star that rises once every few centuries” (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” pp. 10-12; Gölpınarlı, Katalog, pp. 5-6.).

An interest in dreams and their interpretation, an element constant throughout his life, dominated the first and orthodox stage of his religious activity. It was through the ability to interpret dreams, both his own and those of others, that he now began to acquire a following, first in Ḵᵛārazm, where Darvīš ʿAlī, Darvīš Bāyazīd, and Moḥammad Nānvā gave him their allegiance, and then, on a wider scale, in Ṭoqčī, a northern suburb of Isfahan. Together with his followers, who now included a Sufi called Moʿīn-al-dīn Šahrestānī, he took up residence in the mosque of Ṭoqčī and established an ascetic and pious community whose members came to be known as darvīšān-e ḥalālḵᵛor o rāstgūy (ḥalāl-eating and truth-speaking dervishes). They never accepted charity, making their livelihood with the manufacture and sale of caps, they held their property in common and were generous to the poor. Their pious way of life, as well as Fażlallāh’s skill in the interpretation of dreams, drew the notables of Isfahan to seek out Fażlallāh in Ṭoqčī, and the fame of his small community spread throughout Khorasan, ʿErāq, Azerbaijan and Šīrvān (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” pp. 12-14; Gölpınarlı, Katalog, pp. 6-8).

Fażlallāh’s career took a decisive turn when he left Ṭoqčī for Tabrīz, probably early in 775/1373. There he gained access to the Jalayerid court, and enrolled among his following the minister Zakarīyā, Shaikh Ḵᵛāǰa Ṣāḥeb Ṣadr, and Sultan Oways b. Ḥasan himself. To the last of these he gave a dervish felt hat imbued with his baraka (blessing). The devotion of the Jalayerid nobility to Fażlallāh seems to have been based purely on his skill in the interpretation of dreams, but it was also in Tabrīz at this time that he began his progressive dissociation from Islamic orthodoxy. It is said that in late Šaʿbān or early Ramażān, 775/February, 1374, he received a comprehensive revelation of esoteric knowledge that embraced the truths (ḥaqāʾeq) and stations (maqāmāt) of the prophets, the inner meaning of the Islamic rites of worship, and the symbolic sense of the letters of the Perso-Arabic alphabet, numerologically determined. This experience left him in a state of bewilderment for three days and nights, until he heard a voice intoning the cryptic verse, “at the moment wherein time became separated the world was fully delivered from torment,” and proclaiming Fażlallāh “the Lord of the Age and the Sultan of the Prophets” (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 20). The event is alluded to by ʿAlī al-Aʿlā as a manifestation of the divine essence in the person of Fażlallāh (see lines from Korsī-nāma quoted in Kīā, Wāža-nāma, pp. 289-90).

It appears that Fażlallāh left Tabrīz for Ṭoqčī again without making a public proclamation of his new-found eminence. He retired to a cave, and did not emerge until he was informed that an aged follower, Darvīš Mosāfer, was on the point of death. Darvīš Mosāfer told him that the time had come for him openly to declare his teaching and for “the manifestation of divine glory” (ẓohūr-e kebrīāʾ), adducing as proof a dream that Fażlallāh had seen while in Tabrīz. Fażlallāh agreed, and gathered around him his first eight morīds: Faḵr-al-dīn, Jalāl Borūǰerdī, Fażlallāh Ḵorāsānī, Ḥosayn, Mīr Abdāl Eṣfahānī, ʿAlī al-Aʿlā, and two unnamed persons, one from Nāʾīn and the other from the Dašt-e Qepčāq (Gölpınarlı, Katalog, p. 7; a slightly different list is given by Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 38, although like Golpınarlı he quotes the Korsī-nāma of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā). Precisely what is meant by the term ẓohūr-e kebrīāʾ is uncertain: it may have been a claim to mahdihood (see Šībī, al-Fekr al-šīʿī, p. 181), a claim to divinity, or both simultaneously, notwithstanding the logical contradiction between the two. The exact sequence and dating of events in also unclear, since, again according to the Korsī-nāma (quoted in Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 22), the “descent of the essence of beings into the luminous consciousness of Fażlallāh, the Lord of the Worlds” took place in Tabrīz in 788/1386. It was in the same year that Fażlallāh began writing the Jāvīdān-nāma, a work regarded by Ḥorūfīs as sacred, but no clear correlation is made between the ẓohūr-e kebrīāʾ and the beginning of the composition of the Jāvīdān-nāma.

Fażlallāh was back in Ṭoqčī in 790/ 1388, and at some point visited Gīlān and Dāmḡān, but he seems to have spent most of the last part of his life in Baku (Bākūya). There are several references to Baku in the Jāvīdān-nāma, and it is certain that he was there six months before his arrest and execution in Ḏu’l-qaʿda, 796/September, 1394. He is said to have had foreknowledge of the exact time, place, and manner of his execution, and even of the physical particulars of his executioner (Bašārat-nāma of Rafīʿī quoted by Gölpınarlı, Katalog, p. 11), so that what befell him was fully expected. Returning to Baku from a visit to a certain Qāżī Bāyazīd in Šamāḵī, he was arrested by a party of soldiers coming from Astarābād and imprisoned in the castle at Alenǰa(q) (or Alanǰaq?) near Naḵǰavān on the command of Mīrānšāh, son of Tīmūr, on 1 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 796/28 August 1394. He was executed six days later (Gölpınarlı, Katalog, p. 8).

The precise reasons for his arrest and execution are not known. According to the account of Ebn Ḥaǰar (Saḵāwī, al-Żawʾ al-lāmeʿ VI, p. 173), Fażlallāh had written to Tīmūr, summoning him to belief in Horufism. Far from agreeing to do so, he gave orders to Mīrānšāh for the arrest and execution of Fażlallāh. There is no indication in Ḥorūfī sources that Fażlallāh ever communicated with Tīmūr, although he may have wished in general to promote his religion through contact with rulers. We have already seen how he gained the allegiance of Sultan Oways in Tabrīz before the ẓohūr-e kebrīāʾ; and he is recorded to have dreamed that he was once praying in the presence of Tīmūr (Jāvīdān-nāma, quoted by Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 23). Another dream attests that he hoped to win influence among the Golden Horde by marrying the daughter of its ruler, Ṭoqtameš Khan (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 24). According to Maqrīzī (Saḵāwī, al-Żawʾ al-lāmeʿ VI, p. 174), Fażlallāh’s execution was preceded by meetings of the ʿolamāʾ held in Gīlān and Samarkand to discuss his heretical doctrines; these meetings ended invariably in a demand for his death. The occurrence of such assemblies is not confirmed by the Ḥorūfī sources; mention is made only of a certain Shaikh Ebrāhīm who gave a fatwā authorizing his execution (Ḵᵛāb-nāma, quoted by Gölpınarlı, Katalog, p. 8). It has been suggested that one of Fażlallāh’s writings, the ʿArš-nāma, in which he identifies the divine throne with the human frame, was the immediate cause for his execution (Kašf al-ẓonūn II, col. 1132). This is plausible, but not attested by any contemporary or near-contemporary sources. It is in any event unnecessary to look for specific religious causes for the death of Fażlallāh; his claim to be a divine incarnation and to have abrogated the major part of Islamic law was enough to place him beyond the bounds of Islam. It seems that he was also contemplating the use of violent means for the propagation of his religion. Fażlallāh is quoted by ʿAlī al-Aʿlā as saying: “The decisive proof, other than these words of mine, is none other than the trenchant sword” (quoted by Šībī, al-Fekr al-šīʿī, p. 182 n. 18). He also dreamed once that he had one hundred and forty sons, each armed with two replicas of Ḏu’l-feqār, the celebrated sword of ʿAlī (Jāvīdān-nāma, quoted by Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 24). In ordering the execution of Fażlallāh, Tīmūr may, then, have been motivated either by religious considerations, or by the simple desire to rid Azerbaijan of potentially rebellious elements on the eve of his campaign against the Ottoman Sultan Bāyazīd.

According to Ebn Ḥaǰar, Mīrānšāh beheaded Fażlallāh with his own hand. The headless corpse was dragged around the bazaar before being turned over to Fażlallāh’s followers for burial. Six years after his death, a structure was erected over the grave by one Sayyed Mūsā; it also came to shelter the body of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā. The site of execution (maqtalgāh) became a pseudo-Kaʿba for the Ḥorūfīs; they came to it on pilgrimage in the month of Ḏu’l-qaʿda, and circumambulated it twenty-eight times. Another custom established in imitation of the ḥaǰǰ rites was the casting of twenty-one stones, on three successive days, at a tower in the castle of Alenǰaq associated with the memory of Mīrānšāh. The executioner of Fażlallāh was designated by the Ḥorūfīs as Daǰǰāl (Antichrist) and, mockingly, as “mārānšāh” (king of the snakes), and his death in battle at the hands of Qarā Yūsof, the Qarā Qoyunlū ruler, in 809/1406 was a cause of great rejoicing among them. Belief in the “second coming” (reǰʿa) of Fażlallāh was strong, and it was even suggested that he had in some way become reincarnated in Qarā Yūsof. (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” pp. 25-28).

Works. The most important book left by Fażlallāh was the Jāvīdān-nāma, a prose work written in the dialect of Astarābād that sets forth the distinctive doctrines of Horufism: the numerologically determined significance of the letters of the Perso-Arabic alphabet, and the substantial manifestation of the divine essence in the human physiognomy. Two recensions were made of the Jāvīdān-nāma: one designated as kabīr in the dialect of Astarābād, and the other as ṣaḡīr in standard Persian. More a supplement to the Jāvīdān-nāma than an independent work is the Nawm-nāma, an account of the dreams Fażlallāh had at various times in his life, as well as those submitted to him by others for interpretation. The Nawm-nāma is also in Astarābādī dialect, as is the Maḥabbat-nāma, a prose work that was imitated by Turkish Ḥorūfīs. Finally, among the works of Fażlallāh, mention may be made of the ʿArš-nāma, a maṯnawī written in standard Persian.

Fażlallāh also has a small collection of poetry in standard Persian, using the pen-name Naʿīmī, and is said to have written a treatise on feqh for ʿEzz-al-dīn Šāh Šoǰāʿ while in Tabrīz.

Manuscripts of his writings are listed in: E. Blochet, Cat. Bib. Nat. I, p. 127. E. G. Browne, A Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, 1896, pp. 69-86. W. Eilers and W. Heinz, Persische Handschriften, Vezeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland 14, I, Wiesbaden, 1968, p. 228. Gölpınarlı, Hurufilik Metinleri Kataloğu, passim.

Descendants and followers. The sons, daughters, and grandchildren of Fażlallāh are listed in the Resāla-ye maʿādīya of Sayyed Šarīf. He had three sons—Amīr Nūrallāh (put to death in Betlīs some time after the execution of Fażlallāh). Kalīmallāh and Salāmallāh (both of whom died of the plague), and four daughters—Fāṭema Ḵātūn, Bībī Ḵātūn, Omm-al-ketāb, and Fāteḥat-al-ketāb (the last two also fell victim to the plague; see A. Gölpınarlı, “Faḍl Allah Astarābādī,” EI2 II, p. 735). A nephew of Fażlallāh, Ḵᵛāǰa ʿAżod-al-dīn, was arrested in Herat in 830/1427 after the attempt on the life of Šāhroḵ (see Ḥabīb al-sīar [Tehran] III, p. 617). According to the Maḥram-nāma of Sayyed Esḥāq Astarābādī, Fażlallāh appointed his wife, known as Kalematallāh Hīa ’l-ʿolyā to be his successor (qāʾem-maqām) and executor (wašī), but this is doubtful, and unconfirmed by other Ḥorūfī texts, which anyhow identify Kalematallāh as one of Fażlallāh’s daughters (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 32). According to Ḥāfeẓ Ḥosayn Karbalāʾī Tabrīzī (Rawżāt al-ǰanān wa ǰannāt al-ǰenān, ed. J. Solṭān-al-qorrāʾī, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, I, pp. 478-81 ), an unnamed daughter of Fażlallāh, aided by a certain Mawlānā Yūsof, established a Ḥorūfī community in the village of Ḵānaqāh near Tabrīz and gained influence over Jahānšāh, the Qarā Qoyunlū ruler (r. 841-72/1438-67). Pressed by the ʿolamāʾ, he consented to her execution, and about five hundred of her followers were also slaughtered. Maḥammad-ʿAlī Tarbīat (Dānešmandān-e Āḏarbāyǰān, Tehran, 1314 Š./1935, pp. 386-88) identifies this ill-fated daughter as Kalematallāh.

We have already listed the eight followers that joined Fażlallāh in Ṭoqčī. A further list of fifteen followers is contained in the Bayān al-wāqeʿ of Mīr Šarīf, himself a disciple. Among the names included there we may mention Sayyed Kamāl Hāšemī, the scribe of the Jāvīdān-nāma; Amīr Sayyed Nasīmī, the celebrated Turkish poet flayed alive in Aleppo in about 810/1407; Sayyed Esḥāq Astarābādī, known as the “moršed of Khorasan,” the author of several important works, Torāb-nāma, Taḥqīq-nāma, and—according to Gölpınarlı—Kᵛāb-nāma; and Amīr Sayyed ʿAlī, commonly known as ʿAlī al-Aʿlā, who was the chief successor of Fażlallāh and carried Horufism to Anatolia. Mīr Šarīf adds that Fażlallāh had four hundred sayyeds among his followers who accompanied him at all times (Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” pp. 34-39; Gölpınarlı, Katalog, p. 14). Another list, that given by Fereštazāda ʿAbd-al-Maǰīd (quoted in Tarbīat, Dānešmandān-e Āḏarbāyǰān, p. 387), contains nine names; four among them were the close confidants (maḥram-e asrār) of Fażlallāh—Maǰd-al-dīn, Maḥmūd, Kamāl Hāšemī and Mawlānā Abu’l-Ḥasan. Aḥmad Lor, who attempted to assassinate Šāhroḵ, is said to have been a morīd of Fażlallāh (Ḥabīb al-sīar III, p. 615), but this may mean simply that he was a follower of Horufism, not necessarily that he was acquainted with Fażlallāh.

See also Horufism.



Sources: The Timurid chronicles are remarkably silent on the life of Fażlallāh, either because his movement assumed no practical significance until the attempt on the life of Šāhroḵ in Herat in 830/1427, or because of repugnance felt for his heretical doctrines. Brief and totally inadequate accounts are to be found in two contemporary non-Ḥorūfī sources: the Enbāʾ al-ḡomr fī abnāʾ al-ʿOmr of Ebn Ḥaǰar ʿAsqalānī (reproduced in Šams-al-dīn Saḵāwī, al-Żawʾ al-lāmeʿ le ahl al-qarn al-tāseʿ, Cairo, 1354/1935, VI, p. 173, and Kašf al-ẓonūn [Istanbul] I, col. 578; translated into English by E. G. Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia, III, p. 357, and into German by H. Ritter, “Die Anfänge der Hurūfīsekte,” Oriens 7, 1954, p. 8), and the Dorar al-ʿoqūd al­-farīda fī tarāǰem al-aʿyān al-mofīda of Maqrīzī (reproduced in Saḵāwī, al-Żawʾ al-lāmeʿ VI, p. 174; translated into German by Ritter, “Die Anfänge,” p. 7, and into Persian by Ṣadeq Kīā, Wāža-nāma-ye Gorgānī, Tehran, 1330 Š./1951, pp. 13-14). Most important are the Ḥorūfī texts themselves. The writings of Fażlallāh himself have a certain autobiographical content, and the works of his successors also offer information of interest about his life, notably the Korsī-nāma of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā (d. 822/1419), the Estewā-nāma of Ḡīāṯ-al-dīn Moḥammad Astarābādī (nephew of ʿAlī al-Aʿlā), the Maḥram-nāma of Sayyed Esḥāq Astarābādī, and the Ḵᵛāb-nāma of disputed attribution. With the exception of the treatises published in 1909 by Clément Huart (Textes Houroûfis, GMS 9, Leiden, 1909) and, in extract, by Ṣ. Kīā in his Wāža-nāma, the totality of early Ḥorūfī literature is still unpublished. The account of Fażlallāh’s life given above is, therefore, largely based on two studies that draw extensively on Ḥorūfī manuscripts: H. Ritter’s “Die Anfänge der Hurūfīsekte,” (Pers. tr. Ḥ. Moʾayyed, “Āḡāz-e ferqa-ye Ḥorūfīya,” in FIZ 10, pp. 322-93) and the introduction by A. Gölpınarlı to his Hurufilik Metinleri Kataloğu, Ankara, 1973, esp. pp. 2-16.

There exist a number of discrepancies between these two studies that cannot be resolved without reference to the manuscripts in question, most important being the attribution of the Ḵᵛāb-nāma to Naṣrallāh Nāfaǰī by Ritter, and to Sayyed Esḥāq Astarābādī by Gölpınarlı.

See also E. G. Browne, “Some Notes on the Literature and Doctrines of the Hurufi Sect,” JRAS, 1898, pp. 61-94.

Idem, “Further Notes on the Literature and Doctrines of the Hurufi Sect,” ibid., 1907, pp. 533-81.

Idem, Lit. Hist. Persia III, pp. 365-75.

E. J. W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry, London, I, 1900, pp. 336-38.

A. Gölpınarlı, “Faḍlallāh-i ḥurūfīʾnin oğluna ait bir mektup,” Şarkiyat mecmuası 1, 1956, pp. 37-57; “Faḍlallāh-i ḥurūfīʾnin waṣiyyat-nāmaʾsı veya waṣāyāʾsı,” ibid., 2, 1958, pp. 53-62: “Bektaşīlik-hurûfîlik ve Faḍl Allāhʾın öldürül mesine düşürülen uç tarih,” ibid., 5, 1964, pp. 15-22.

Idem, “Faḍl Allāh Ḥurūfī,” EI2 II, pp. 733-35.

A. Refʿat, Merʾāt-al-maqāṣed fi dafʿ al-mafāsed, Istanbul, 1293/1876, pp. 132-33.

K. M. Šībī, al-Fekr al-šīʿī wa’l-nazaʿāt al-ṣūfīya, Baghdad, 1386/1966, pp. 179-89.

Riza Tevfik, “Essai sur la religion des Houroûfis,” in Cl. Huart, Textes Houroûfis, pp. 221-313.


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(H. Algar)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 17, 2011

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