Ḥācım Sulṭān, the Questing Dervish, and the Troublesome Nomads

Fourtheenth Century Anatolian Carpet
Surviving traces of late medieval nomadic material culture are, unsurprisingly, few and far between, but this probably fourteenth century carpet of probable western Anatolian Turkman origin is an exception. The fronted animal motifs are reminiscent of Inner Asian nomadic art of much earlier times down to the present; however, the survival of this rug, by way of trade to, apparently, Tibet, as well as the presence of very similar rugs in Western European paintings from the fourteenth and fifteenth century points to the fact that these Anatolian tribes were already connected to emergent global networks through which people, practices, objects, and non-human organisms moved. For another example of this style of rug, see the even further-flung in final destination ‘Marby rug.’ (Met. 1990.61)

Hailing from the world of late medieval and very early modern Anatolia are a group of hagiographic texts, often titled vilāyetnāmes (roughly, ‘sainthood-books’), which deal with a wide range of holy people loosely tied together through similarities of practice, discourse, and claimed lineage. Many of these saints, who are often collectively referred to as the Abdāl-i Rūm, are today associated with the Bektashis and Alevis, though until the modern period they were widely venerated, including by ‘respectable’ Sunni Ottoman Muslims. Ḥācı Bektāş Velī is by far the best known of these saints, the majority of whom are described in the hagiography as hailing from Khorasan in Inner Asia. In what follows below I have translated a selection from the vilāyetnāme of one of these saints, the (probably) 14th century Ḥācım Sulṭān, whose hagiography was written down in the fifteenth century, with the earliest copy hailing from the sixteenth. As such, it is a wonderful snapshot of what rural Islam looked like in western Anatolia during this transitional period in which the late medieval beyliks were being progressively incorporated into the expansive Ottoman Empire. It is one in which wandering saints are common, as well as cases of opposition to those saints, and contestation over the meaning of sainthood and who ought to wield it. It is a world in which nomadic peoples remain prominent, with the saints themselves effectively nomadic much of the time.

Before reading the story it is helpful to know what precedes it: in the opening pages of the vilāyetnāme we learn how Ḥācım Sulṭān was sent to Anatolia (that is, Rūm) along with Ḥācı Bektāş Velī by the famed Central Asian saint Aḥmet Yesevī. The two saints spent some time in Mecca and Medina before coming to Anatolia, where they first met with the saints already resident in Rūm, displaying their own saintly credentials before setting off to build up their base of followers. Ḥācım Sulṭān split off from his more famous companion (and the hagiography clearly builds upon the relationship to legitimize Ḥācım Sulṭān), traveling towards the territory of Germiyān in southwestern Anatolia. He herds cattle, deals with opponents, miraculously manipulates rocks, and so forth, all the while seeking out a place called Ṣūsuz (that is, ‘waterless’) which he has been told in a dream-vision is the place he must set up his headquarters, as it were. When he finally comes to Ṣūsūz (located south of the town of Uşak) he finds that a group of Aq Qoyunlū Turkman nomads are already using the area as their summer pasture, setting up a clash between the wandering dervish and the resident Turkmans. In the meantime, it should be mentioned, a miraculous black bull enters his service and attracts wonder everywhere he goes.

The story I’ve selected and translated here describes a new character entering Ḥācım Sulṭān’s fold, a dervish from far-off Khurāsān, a tale which is followed by one describing the resolution of the conflict between saint and nomads. Late medieval Anatolia was already a place intimately connected with other parts of Eurasia, whether through trade- as the above carpet suggests- or through the circulation of nomads, wandering dervishes, and the like, often coming, ultimately, from Inner Asia. It is not implausible that the outbreak of death in the nomadic camp as described below can be interpreted in light of the circulation of epidemic disease across Eurasia, an issue that remains very much acute in our own world.

This hagiography, like others of its sort, was written in a form of Turkish intermediate between late West Oghuz and the emergent Ottoman literary form, with what appear to be sixteenth century interjections here and there explaining words that had become obscure. These hagiographies were assembled out of oral reports and stories, something that frequently comes across in the written text, and reflect the intermingling and cross-fertilization of standard Islamic practices and ideas, elements of Persianate sufism, and local Anatolian motifs and traditions. As such, the meanings and significances of these stories are not always obvious, coming as they do from religious and cultural worlds that feel far distant from our own in many ways. I hope that my translation has retained some of that strangeness.

Folio from a Divan (Collected poems) by Sultan Ahmad Jalayir (d.1410); verso- Nomad camp; recto- text
Filling the margins of this c. 1400 Divān of the poetry of the Jalāyirid ruler Sulṭān Aḥmad Jalāyir (d. 1410) are depictions of an encampment of either Turkman or Mongol nomads. While probably produced in Iraq or Iran, this ink drawing gives a good idea of what the Turkman community described in Ḥācım Sulṭān’s vilāyetnāme might have looked like. (Freer and Sackler F1932.34)

There was a pure-hearted, worshipful, ascetic dervish saint in the lands of Khurāsān, whose name was Burhān, and who was a lover of the Folk of the illustrious House, and was in heart and soul a lover of the Friends of God. His heart was filled with passionate love (muḥabbet-i ‘aşıḳ). He constantly prayed, ‘O God of the worlds, make me to obtain to the skirt of one of the children of the Messenger!’ He consigned his heart to the divine unicity of God, exalted is He. One night while performing tesbīḥ, ‘ibādet, and zikr, he fell asleep. In his dream he saw that he had come to the lands of Rūm, where he saw that the saints of Rūm had all gathered together in one place, performing acts of worship and conversing about divine matters together. This dervish came up to them, and they offered him a place, so he sat down and saw that their khalīfe was one of luminous face and such that in seeing him one’s heart was struck with passionate divine love. This their khalīfe was Ḥācım Sulṭān. He said, ‘Welcome, my friend and loyal one, Dervīş Burhān!’ Hearing this answer [Burhān] arose and kissed Sulṭān Ḥācım’s hands and knees, saying, ‘You are my şeyh and my saint!’ Then the venerable Sulṭān Ḥācım said, ‘Yā Burhān! If you wish to be with us, come to Rūm, to the region of Germiyān, and you will find us.’ In that moment Dervīş Burhān awoke and found himself still in his room in Khurāsān. Immediately he arose and Dervīş Burhān became mad with love (divāne), passionate love encompassing him. Asking no one [for direction] he set off in the direction of the qibla. Will not anyone overtaken with divine passionate love (‘aşıḳ-i ilāhī) become divāne? Will not such a one vigorously search out for his şeyh? Not even the crossing of a great stony mountain phased Dervīş Burhān’s mind. In accordance with the saying ‘For the lover Baghdad is not too far away,’ day by day he traveled on the way, and in time one day he reached Rūm. Divine attraction towards the saints of God befell his heart (evlīyā’-i Allāhiñ cezbesi ḳelbiñe duşdi). One day he reached the region of Germiyān and said to himself, ‘Now, how shall I find his exalted side?’ It came to his mind that ‘Having taken me from Khurāsān shall I not reach his feet?’

Then by God’s decree he came to the graveyard (gūristān). He saw that some of the nomad households had made their summer pasturing grounds in the wild country there. Finding someone he asked, ‘What is this place?’ This person answered, ‘This place is Germiyān and is our summer pasture. Upon that hill there is a dervish like you who spends forty days neither eating nor drinking. He continually tells us, “In this place I am going to build my āstāne [lit. threshhold, but also indicating a sufi lodge or a shrine].” He refuses to go to any other place.’ Dervīş Burhān replied, ‘Now where is this dervish?’ The person answered, ‘He’s on that hill.’ So Dervīş Burhān set out towards him, which was known to Sulṭān Ḥācım. He rose from his place and went forward by three steps. Dervīş Burhān beheld the beauty (cemāl) of Sulṭān Ḥācım, so that his heart was illumined and he knew that he was the person he was seeking and whom he had seen in his dream. He walked towards him. He greeted him. Ḥācim Sulṭān reverently returned his greeting, saying ‘Welcome Dervīş Burhān,’ and he [Burhān] kissed his hands and feet, and in mutual love for one another they busied themselves with remembrance (zikr) of God. [Dervīş Burhān] reverently served Ḥācim Sulṭān.

Then Sulṭān Ḥācım prayed concerning the aforementioned nomads, saying, ‘Prevent the evil they have intended for me!’ By God’s command and through the miraculous intervention of the Messenger of God and the supplication of Sulṭān Ḥācım, a sickness (bir hastelik) befell the community of the nomads. Many people died. They could not endure it. Finally, some people came, kissed Ḥācım Sulṭān’s hands and feet, and said, ‘Dear little dede, do not make a bad supplication against us!’ Sulṭān Ḥācım’s heart being softened he had mercy and raising his hand he uttered a beneficial supplication over them, saying, ‘O God the exalted, take away their trial (belā)!’ God the exalted out of honor for the Sulṭān restored health that day, so that they became healthy and whole. They gathered together coins, lamps, and sacrifices and gave them to the Sulṭān, saying, ‘Dede Sulṭān, accept our offerings! Let our sons and daughters be yours, and our summer pasture ground yours, we will go elsewhere.’ Receiving their offerings, Sulṭān Ḥācım prayed for them and sent them back to their homes. Then that community of nomads gathered the ones who had died and buried them in one place. They being in the west [ie much further west than most Aq Qoyunlū Turkmans] were known as ‘the strangers.’

Now Sulṭān Ḥācım’s blessed and noble name spread to the world. Many came together to visit him and, having received his supplications and himmet, he would send them on their way. The beloved friends [of the saint] (aḥıbbā’) gathered together and built a mosque (mescid) for Ḥācım Sulṭān and he worshiped, trusted in God, and mediated. Continually he gave good counsel to his beloved friends, and gave indication of the building of a shrine and a congregational mosque in that place. A certain learned and perfected dervish came and, showing great love and affection for Ḥācım Sulṭān, served him. Then Ḥācım Sulṭān made this one a khalīfe and told him, ‘Your service (hizmet) will not be squandered!’ Indeed, God the exalted says in his ancient Word [the Qur’an], ‘The reward of the righteous is not lost,’ though service with eye-service is not accepted. Every person, if you perform service with vigor and sincerity, God the exalted and sublime will treat that one good work as one hundred. That dervish, hearing these words, went and from the depths of his heart served his friends and loved ones. [As for] Sulṭān Ḥācım, he was continually engaged in acts of worship and asceticism.

One day, the matter of the separation of the mercifully-treated nomadic community fell upon Sulṭān Ḥācım’s heart, and he said to the dervishes: ‘Go, and sacrifice my black bull on behalf of those “strangers,” cook, gather yourselves together, and eat, then recite the Qur’an and gift the divine reward for that to their spirits.’ Hearing these words, the khalīfe said, ‘Just as you command!’ Departing, he went out to the countryside and found the bull and brought him, and this state of things was known to the bull. He went and found Sulṭān Ḥācım in the mosque, and with his horns he opened the door and went in. He rubbed his face on Sulṭān Ḥācım’s feet. He said, ‘I am obedient to what you have commanded!’ Sulṭān Ḥācım replied, ‘May your service be accepted! Arise and set out, and be sacrificed in the way of the friend (dūst).’ So the bull, hearing these words, submitted himself, turned towards the qibla, lay down, and stretched out his neck. Afterwards, they [the dervishes] came. Having prayed, they unsheathed their knives and [the bull] was sacrificed in the way of the friend. Having cooked the bull, he called out to all of the lovers there present, ‘Attention!’ The dervishes came and gathered and, eating the sacrifice, recited the Qur’an and made beneficial supplication, offering their reward to the spirits of the ‘strangers.’ Then Ḥācım Sulṭān came and said to them, ‘You have done well! It will not be lost in the sight of God the exalted.’ Then he prayed for that community of nomads and, he having directed his spiritual power towards the souls of the gathered assembly of brethren, they returned to their places. Sulṭān Ḥācım busied himself with acts of worship.

Vilāyetnāme, in Das Vilâjet-nâme des Hâdschim Sultan, ed. by Rudolf Tschudi (Berlin, Mayer & Müller, 1914), 50-58.


If you would like to help keep the work I’m doing here going, do think about supporting me on a regular basis via Patreon. Thanks!


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

2 thoughts on “Ḥācım Sulṭān, the Questing Dervish, and the Troublesome Nomads

  1. Pingback: Ḥācım Sulṭān Fights a Dragon – Thicket & Thorp

  2. Pingback: The Cow, the Wolf, and the Talking Rocks – Thicket & Thorp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s