by Miss Zaibunisa Jafferali, Paris
Imam Quli signifying "the servant of God" in the Turkish language, is native of the village of Dizbad in the Khorasan. This village now flourishing, is situated in the mountains and hangs on the highest flank, the Kuh-e-Binalud 10535 feet), at half way between Nishapur and Mashad.
He is known under the name of Khaki Khorasani but as a writer he uses the pen name of Khaki (that belongs to the soil).
Unfortunately we have very little information about his life in order to give a complete biography. We will, therefore, content ourselves with the elements that the author is giving us indirectly in his works and of folklore. We will be able to reconstitute broadly the surrounding in which the Imam Quli lived and grew.
According to the date of his books, it can be affirmed that he lived under the reign of the Safawid Kings, probably under Shah Safi (1037-1052/1628-1642) and under Shah Abbas II (1052-1077/ 1622-1667).
The Safawids, as it is known, were a dynasty of Sufi origin and Shi'a belief. They imposed Shiaism as state religion while they were patronizing the growth and the propagation of Sufi ideas. To the Ismailis, this policy brought a certain relief and a greater freedom in their religious practice and the expression of their ideology. Volently persecuted after the fall of Alamut, it is understood that Sufism served them as alibi and as convenient refuge. The Ismailis continued to practise and propagate their faith in using the cloak of Sufism upto the dawn of the nineteenth century. Thus a quite important Sufi-lsmailite literature was born. This junction of Ismailism and Sufism would have been unthinkable if both did not have a common source. In fact, the theology of Sufism revives nearly in its entirety, the metaphysical doctrine of Ismailism (Haqa'iq). However, while using the vocabulary of Sufism and professing the same theosophical metaphysic, the gnostic Ismailis as well as Khaki Khorasani were hostile to sufi practice and beliefs.
Since the massacre of the last Imam of Alamut, Imam Ruknud-Din Kurshah by the Mongols (1257), his descendants established themselves in the south of Caucasus. They lived there hidden under the garb of Shaikhs and of venerable land-owners (vide W. lvanow, Brief survey of Ismailism, No. 7, Leidan, 1952. p.18). Later in the IX/XVth century they settled down in Anjudan (about twenty miles from Arak). Khaki Khorasani was the contemporary of two Imams residing at Anjudan, whose names he cites in his poems: Imam Shah Dhulfikar Ali (920-922/1514-1516) and Imam Shah Nur-ad-Dhar (i.e. Shah Nurd-Din Ali) (922-957/1516-1550). For the latter, Khaki cites a later date: 1056/1646.
However, in spite of this comfortable situation for the Ismailis, the faithfuls had to be very careful and observe the taqiyya, the secret to avoid reviving the fanatism and the hostility which during centuries had impregnated the mind of certain less educated religious group. That fanatism resulted, as historv showed it, in acts of violence and in considerable loss of human lives in the lsmaili community.
This lack of understanding still existed at the time of Khaki. The folklore has preserved the painful souvenirs of the tortures that the Imam Quli endured by the authorities of his villages he outlived, it is said, by divine blessings. It was the exact opposite for his predecessor Qasim Amiri of Shiraz, a star in the pleiade of Ismaili poets of the post-Alamut period. In fact, in spite of the precautions he took to conceal his faith, he was accused of heresy in 973/1565 and was rendered blind under the orders of the King Tahmasp (930-984/1525-1576); he was later on executed by Abbas the First (999/1591).
Life of the Poet
The few historical points related, we will now try to recall broadly the childhood of Imam Quli and the events that provoked the spiritual crisis and which marked the starting point of his poetical career and of his mission.
His parents, as most of the inhabitants of Dizbad, were small land-owners who cultivated orchards and vegetables. They probably possessed some flock of goats, sheep and some cows: thus they enjoyed a modest but comfortable life. His family was impregnated with a religious mind and with a very great devotion. An atmosphere of piety surrounded the childhood of Imam Quli. These fortunate circumstances allowed the child to receive a traditional religious education. This education contained through the reading of classical works on Sufism, Shiaism and Ismailism books which he obtained from religious schools or which he took from his family library.
The Ismailis of Khorasan and particularly the descendants of the Khaki Khorasani family kept a living image of their ancestors. They conjure up with emotion the few facts that ruled the childhood of the poet.
It is related that the parents of Imam Quli were used to going out late at night to meet their friends, after ensuring that their children were sleeping well. The daily absence of the parents aroused the curiosity of the child. Where could they go so late? His mother had told him one day that they were going to a place (Ja'i). This reply did not satisfy the seven-year old child but increased his anxiety and perplexity. He said nothing but decided to act. The next night his parents left, closing the door discreetly after them; the Imam Quii left his mat and followed them in the night without their knowledge, upto the secret place. (Today we can see the ruins of this place at l,3 miles from Dizbad and at 546 yards from the village of Qasimabad). Imam Quli did not enter the place. He stayed outside, concealed behind the door. He could see inside the room the members of his family and the elders who came from the village of Dizbad and from Qasimabad. He did not understand the sense of the religious ceremonies that were going on but his heart palpitated with a secret joy because he just saw the Imam sitting before the congregation.
After the service, the food offerings that the faithful had brought, were shared. The Imam Dhulfikar Ali recommended to the voluntary waiter to give a share to each one. When he finished, he was asked to see outside if someone else was left out. Imam Quli was found out and could obtain his share. Since then Imam Quli cultivated greater love and devotion towards the Imam and he longed to see him again. The occasion presented itself later on.
One day the ladies were assembled in a room to weave cotton with Imam Quli when the Imam Nurud-Dhar entered then went out and mounted his horse. Imam Quli begged him to take him along. The Imam replied: "When you will be able to pass a comb through your beard then I will take you with me". The child made the gesture to touch his beardless face and was surprised, his fingers felt his beard. The Imam took him along. They rode together towards the end of the village upto the place where today from a rock, gushes the miraculous spring of Nohesar (each year, the Dizbadis arrive in pilgrimage to piously drink the water of the spring and to spend the day there). They had an intimate conversation in the course of which the Imam advised his young disciple to work on the path of God if he would like to achieve his goal and realise his salvation. This event marked the beginning of the poetical and missionary career of Imam Quli. He was aware of the difficult conditions which he will have to face and of the obstacles which he will have to overcome in order to fulfill his task. But to defend and to live according to his faith, he was ready to struggle during all his life time and to bear with patience all the sufferings. Allusions which bear evidence to this firm decision are to be found in his poems.
The works he left are:
(a) The Diwan or selection of poems.
(b) A long religious poem in the form of "matha navi" entitled "Tulu'as-shams" (The rising of the sun).
(c) Two short religious treaties written in verse in the form of qasida entitled "Nigarestan" and "Baharestan". These have been published by W. lvanow with an introduction in "An abbreviated version of the Diwan of Khaki Khorasani" (Islamic Research Association, No. 1 Bombay, 1933).
His poetry has a tinge of deep piety and a sincere aspiration towards justice, truth and peace. Apart from the praises and prayers he addresses to Mowla, to Sahibuz-zaman, to the Lord of the century, he calls upon the Ismailis to practise charity, to cultivate virtue and to remain steadfast in their faith. He insists that they pursue ceaselessly their endeavours in the quest of God, that they acknowledge the Imam of their century in order to attain salvation and to obtain deliverance of all human limitations. His poetry is a popular poetry, rustic, accessible to all. It is deprived of artifice and the splendour of the court at the time of the Safawid sovereign.
Khaki calls himself a common man (ammi) with a modest knowledge: "l am unfit to deliver sermons for I am imperfect and a sinner. I am a common man, I speak and teach as a common man" (Verse 1 331).
His frequent quotations from the Quran and the Hadith point to his knowledge of religious sciences. His references to Nizami, Hafez, Sa'di, Attar, Sana'i, Maghribi and Qasim Anwari as well as to the classical accounts of Laila and Majnun, of Khurasaw and Shirin, of Mahmud and Ayaz indicate his interest in esoterism and the mystical pathway.
Not less deep is his knowledge of the lsmailian doctrine. W. lvanow rightly observes that his teachings borrows in its essence and even in its terminology from another Ismaili Da'i, Khary Khah Herati (svi) of." On the recognition of the Imam (Fasl dar bayan-e Shenakht-e Imam). Bombay, 1949 specially as far as the concept of the Imam and the Hujjat are concerned.
Unquestionably, Khaki possesses a poetical talent although sometimes he lacks originality and a creative spirit. Nevertheless, he lives in the heart of many Ismailis who admire his will, his fortitude, his militant spirit and praise his sincere and firm faith.
Viewed in this context, Khaki can be considered as the true mystical knight who during his entire lifetime fought with the sword of truth, virtue and loyalty thereby doing credit to the principles of his "order", the Ismaili Da'wat. His only aim was to serve God by championing the cause of his Lord, of Mowlana Murtaza Ali. The fond nostalgic be experienced from his first meeting with the Imam overcame him and dominated his whole life.
The following Qasida reveals under the symbolic language a very personal expression (of. W. lvanow, an abbreviation version of Khaki Khorasani, ibid, p. 60, No. 98):
"I have run during my whole life in search of the Lord, In spite of my eagerness, I have not attained what I was searching for.
From the start to the end (of my life) the Khidr
(the Imam) of the time was as a father to me.
I was thus able to drench myself with the 'purifying' drink from the jar of the Lord.
O brother, do not think this path to be easy,
I have gone through many roads in the desert of
It is not a valley of repose, it is a place of ordeals
and of sufferings,
The misfortunes, torments and the pains I have
to endure there were many.
I have forsaken my reason, my work and my
knowledge, taking for real what I was told.
The child and the young man, from the beginning to eternity, must follow the direction of the Pir, of whom I acknowledge to be the disciple.
Every patience I showed was a key opening on
It is the means to glory and a key for those who are searching. Day and night, I feel the nostalgia (to contemplate) the Face of the Beloved (Imam).
I am disturbed and I am the martyr of the face
which has delighted my heart.
Because of the injustice (committed) by the rivals,
I suffer of being separated from my Friend;
I aspire to rejoin him, for a violent rupture has
separated us (from each other)."
The tomb of Khaki Khorasani which stands in white amidst the green orchards of Dizbad, bears no inscription. The death of Khaki is established around 1056/1646. He left a son, "Ali Quli", poet as himself, but of lesser talent, and is better known under the pen name of Raqqami'.
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