Ahl-e Haqq is an independent religion with between 2 and 3 million adherents, most living in western Iran. It is one of three Yazdani religions, Alevism and Yazidism being the others.
Central symbol for Ahl-e Haqq.
Ahl-e Haqq shrine.
Another Ahl-e Haqq shrine.
|Ahl-e Haqq by country
Last column: % Ahl-e Haqq of the population
|Other countries: Unknown
*) Calculated for the total population of North Africa and the Middle East, approx. 460,000,000. The figures above are very rough estimates.
Ahl-e Haqq is often labelled a branch of Islam, but this is a distinction made from superficial similarities and disregard of the uniqueness of Ahl-e Haqq. When Ahl-e Haqq is labelled a sect of islam, it is defined as a Sufi order and/or belonging to Shi'i Islam. The Sufi connection is not without relevance, but Sufism is in itself an orientation which can be argued to be out of the order of Islam.
Ahl-e Haqq is Persian (but also Arabic, although then spelled ahl al-haqq) for "People of Truth." It is sometimes even translated to "People of God," haqq being one of Islam's 99 names of God.
The Ahl-e Haqq is the name they use themselves, but they are often named otherwise by outsiders. Yarsan, or Yaresan, is a common, while opponents label them Ali-Ilahis, suggesting that they believe that Ali is a god.
Adherents to the Ahl-e Haqq mainly live in central-western Iran region of Kermanshah, making up the majority of the population in several towns and villages. There are also Ahl-e Haqq in the region of Kirkuk in Iraq and in a few rural communities of southeastern Turkey.
Most adherents are Kurds, as well as small groups of Lors, Azerbaijanis and Persians.
According to the tradition, a male member of the Ahl-e Haqq may never cut his moustache.
Their foundation is normally ascribed to a legendary figure in the early 16th century named Soltan Sohak. There are two available stories to his birth. One goest that he was born by a Kurdish virgin, impregnated by kernel falling into her mouth from a pomegranate tree. The other story tells that he came to his mother as a falcon, that becomes a baby boy ones it lands.
The purpose of Soltan Sohak was to teach humans about how to achieve ultimate truth (see below).
It is commonly assumed that there is a relationship between the Ahl-e Haqq and the Alevi, both in terms of origin and theology. But it has also been suggested that they are related to the Yazidi.
Despite its legendary origins, Ahl-e Haqq emerged as a branch of Yazdani religious system, linking it to Yazidism and Alevism.
Ahl-e Haqq is organized in spiritual households, called khandans. Soltan Sohak is told to have established 7 khandans. At a later stage 4 more khandans were founded, making it 11 altogether in our times. Every member of the Ahl-e Haqq belongs to one specific khandan.
A khandan is led by a spiritual parent, called a say-yed, to whom each member must swear obedience. The belonging to a khandan is called Sar sepordan, "entrusting the head". Say-yeds are the only ones with access to the full body of religious texts. Throughout history, the say-yeds have been rivals, competing to have the largest number of followers.
Despite its theological secrecy towards others, Ahl-e Haqq is open for conversion and accepts new members.
Much of the Ahl-e Haqq theology is not known to scholars, mainly because of the esoteric nature of the Ahl-e Haqq: they take serious measures to keep their faith hidden to any outsider. Among the best sources for understanding the Ahl-e Haqq is the book by theologian and musician, Ostad Elahi, Demonstration of the Truth (1963).
The principal holy scripture of Ahl-e Haqq is the Saranjam which is believed to date from early 16th century, but contains a collection of words and sayings dating further back.
Much of the religious work of Ahl-e Haqq is written in the Gorani language.
The concept of God
Ahl-e Haqq is in principle a monotheistic faith, with a belief in a God that is the creator of everything, that is omnipresent and that remains an acting power. God acts in the universe through intermediaries or assistants. There are 6 assistants, of which one stand above the others, the other 5 all have their unique responsibilities and geographical regions.
God has manifested himself in the earthly world several times since creation, which in Ahl-e Haqq is mazhariat, Soltan Sohak being one of these.
Names of the assistants have changed over time, earlier they corresponded to Semitic gods. Later on, the principal assistant was Ali, four of the secondary assistants had central names from Muslim history, whereas Nusayr seemed to have his name from Christian origins. Often today, the principal assistant is said to be Soltan Sohak.
Sources are confusing on one point: although Ali appears no longer to be the principal assistant to God, yet Ahl-e Haqq is always told to have its theology centred around him. Also, there seem to be a cult linked to the 12 imams of Twelver Shi'i Islam.
Ahl-e Haqq denies the existence of a devil, rather they believe that evil is part of each and everyone.
Soul and its liberation
For the Ahl-e Haqq individual there is a spiritual ladder that each has to ascent, consisting of 4 stages. Each climb on the ladder involves the acquisition of esoteric knowledge through study. By obtaining this knowledge, one experiences the gradual liberation from the laws of outwards human action.
The first stage is called Shari'at, reflecting that the individual is one of outer actions, regulated by law (term is derived from Sharia, the law system of Muslims). The next stage is Tariqat, "path", followed by Marefat, "knowledge". The highest is Haqiqat, "ultimate truth".
Ahl-e Haqq therefore promises earthly salvation, man in the stage of Haqiqat has reached permanent proximity to God.
Ahl-e Haqq teaches reincarnation. Since achieving Haqiqat cannot be done within one lifetime, each soul has been given 1,001 incarnations to complete this. Some souls can reach Haqiqat in fewer incarnations, but no soul is granted more than 1,001. On the Day of Judgment, good souls will enter Paradise, while bad souls will be destroyed.
Cult and Ceremonies
The most regular ceremonies of the Ahl-e Haqq djem, a simple form of local gathering. Here sacred texts are read and music played. These gatherings are also defined to be the time and place where issues can be dealt with and disputes settled. These gatherings are of great importance to the Ahl-e Haqq, both for the individual and for the group.
This is the main ritual event of the year for the Ahl-e Haqq, an obligatory winter fast lasting for 3 days. Its exact dates differs between the khandans.
The fast is only through day time, at nights, the fast is broken collectively. At its end, a ceremony known as Shab-e Padeshahi is acted out.
All in all, this festival has similarities to the Muslim fast during the month of Ramadan, with the clear difference in length; a full month compared to the 3 days.
Joining the khandan
Children of members must pass through an affiliation ceremony at an age no later one year old. Entering a khandan involves an elaborate and highly emotional ceremony.
A rarer form of ceremony is the dhikr where music and dance is performed until a point in which the participants reach a level of extasy. These rituals, it is suggested, also involve animal sacrifice.
With the exception of the animal sacrifice, this is a ritual with clear similarities to Sufi rituals. Weather there is a link, is only a question of speculation, however.
Soltan Sohak is commemorated with a simply built tomb in the village of Sheikhan.
Another important cultic centre of Ahl-e Haqq is the shrine of Baba Yadigar, in an eponymous village 60 km west of Kermanshah, Iran. Ahl-e Haqq come to the shrine two days before Newruz, the Persian new year, performing rituals mainly in the form of chanting.