Ahmad Yasawi (1103-1166) was a Central Asian Sufi poet and preacher. He wrote in Chaghatai. He is the author of a collection of mystical spiritual poems entitled “Hikmat” (ed. 1878). The value of the collection is mainly determined by the vernacular forms of the poems it contains. Their language also contains elements of the Oghuz dialect.
His biography is unknown, but there are many legends about him. He was born in Sairam in present-day Kazakhstan in 1103. His father Sheikh Ibrahim died when he was a boy and his family moved to Yassy (present-day Turkestan). There he became a student of Arystan-Bab. When his teacher died, he went to Bukhara and became a disciple of Yusuf Hamadani. When Yusuf Hamadani died in 1140, Ahmad Yasawi personally took over the management of the school; after some time, however, he left it and moved to his homeland, where he preached the ideas of Sufism despite his poor existence. Islam had just begun to spread among the Kans, Kipchaks, Konyrats and other Turkic tribes who settled along the middle and lower reaches of the Syr Darya. And Ahmad Yasawi, whom people began to regard as the spiritual leader of the new religion, became known as the “Holy Father”.
Yasawi distinguished himself from other Muslim writers of the East by preaching Islam, writing and preaching his ideas in the Turkish language, which was the most understood. In his works, he constantly used the proverbs, sayings and other expressions from the language of the Kipchaks.
Yasawi’s work “Diwani Hikmat” (The Book of Wisdom) is a collection of poems that is highly appreciated and studied not only among the Turkic people but all over the world. In the 19th century, the collection was published several times in cities such as Istanbul, Kazan and Tashkent.
The basis of the work is a biography by Ahmad Yasawi himself, but the basic idea is the transience of all things and the impossibility of taking material possessions from this world to the other. He opposed the greed and lust for power of the powerful and called for asceticism and the development of the spiritual world of man. The followers of Ahmad Yasawi – Suleiman Bakirghani, Allayar, Ahsani, etc. – also became preachers of Sufism and continued the cause of their teacher. Very many winged expressions and sayings of Ahmad Yasawi have spread among the people. Moreover, in his “Book of Wisdom” one can find many facts about the culture, literature, history and ethnography of the Kazakh people.
The tomb built on the site of his grave became a large architectural complex that has become a national treasure. Later, the mortal remains of such great personalities of the Kazakh people as Yesim Khan, Jahangir Khan, Tauke Khan, Ablay Khan and some prominent Biys were transferred and interred here. The architectural complex, which embodies all the splendour of the medieval architecture of the East, is a great heritage not only for the Turkish world but also for Muslims all over the world.
Hodja Ahmad Yasawi is known not only as an outstanding religious figure of the East, but also as a gifted poet and philosopher, distinguished by special wisdom and boundless humanity. His perceptive mind grasped all the processes of life in the time in which he lived. He thought with care and concern about the future of the people, the spiritual state of the rulers and the moral character of the public figures who decide the destinies of the people.
Yasawi’s works were very popular and were passed on by word of mouth, as if they served as a kind of moral code that people looked up to. Based on religious treatises and fundamentals, he called people to self-improvement, humanity, mercy, tolerance and forbearance. For example:
For Muslims, my hikmets (wisdoms) are teachers.
Whoever you are, you should turn to Allah.
Recite my hikmets for those who will understand.
Praise the mercy of Allah with your prayers.
If there is an unbeliever before you, do not insult him.
From the heart of the guilty Allah turns away.
O Allah, the Truthful!
Such a slave is destined for Hell!
The great Hodja Ahmad Yasawi wrote when he spoke about mercy, humanity and kindness:
If you are wise and prudent, take care of the poor,
Like Mustafa, collect and care for orphans everywhere.
Keep away from the greedy and mean,
Protect yourself and become like a raging river.
Or such a warning:
People who love the Creator have realised their dreams.
See that you don’t embarrass yourself by pretending to be in love.
Across the bridge called Sirat, which is thinner
And sharper than the blade of a sword, liars shall not pass….
Yasawi paid great attention to the development of empathy, compassion, magnanimity and pity. Let us note the following lines:
If you are a true believer, follow the Prophet to Allah.
When you hear their name, worship them and praise them.
One of the psychological techniques that perfected a person’s personality was repentance, which purified a person’s soul and heart of impurities. Self-examination of actions, self-recrimination and self-judgment also eliminated vices.
The artistic value of the pictorial-expressive devices and poetic details used in Hikmets is high.
In the spacious gardens of love for the Almighty,
I want to be a nightingale singing its mournful songs at dawn….
In these hours I want to see the radiant face of my Allah – with the eyes of my heart.
Let my heart be nourished by love,
Let the robe of happiness cover the body.
By the power of love I want to be elevated,
And a bird descending on the branch of consciousness.
Until you taste the nectar of love
Until you put on the clothes of lovers
Until you can combine faith and worship into one,
You cannot see the divine face of the Creator.