Qurʾānic Symbolism of the Eyes in Classical Azeri Turkic Poetry

in Oriens
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The paper examines the intertextual use of Qurʾānic text in the depiction of facial features, specifically in the Ṣūfī symbolism of the eyes in classical Azeri Turkic Ṣūfī poetry—the unique literary tradition which has not yet received its deserved attention in Western scholarship. First, the linguo-historical and geographical boundaries of this tradition are outlined, with a view to accentuating its position among other Turkic traditions. Then the roots of the widespread concept of the manifestation of the divine being and holy scripture in the human face will be traced from their origins in ancient physiognomy and mythology through into the teaching and philosophy of pre-modern Ṣūfī thinkers. The research reveals about fifty Qurʾānic motifs employed in the poetry of a pleiad of poets, Qāḍī Burhānuddīn (d. 800/1398), ʿImāduddīn Nesīmī (d. 820/1417–18), Mīrzā Jihān Shāh Ḥaqīqī (d. 871/1467), Niʿmatullāh Kishwarī (IXth–Xth/XVth–XVIth centuries), Ḥabībī (d. 926/1520), Shāh Ismāʿīl Khaṭāʾī (d. 930/1524), and Muḥammad Fuḍūlī (d. 963/1556), for the depiction of the eyes, a great portion of which is discussed throughout this paper. I argue that the richness and embellishment of the eye images like eye-god, eye-man, eye-heart, eye-murderer, eye-magician, eye-scribe are owing to the eye’s compound structure which include eyelashes, eyelid, pupil, sclera, as well as its function, motion, and associated elements like tears and glances.

Qurʾānic Symbolism of the Eyes in Classical Azeri Turkic Poetry

in Oriens




BurrillQuatrains of Nesīmī p. 46.


KöprülüEarly Mystics in Turkish Literature p. 178; Köprülüzade Azəri ədəbiyyatına dair tədqiqlər p. 11.


Iz Fahir“Turkish Literature,” in The Cambridge History of Islam (Cambridge: University Press 1977) p. 688.


BurrillThe Quatrains of Nesīmī p. 46.


KöprülüEarly Mystics in Turkish Literature p. 178.


AkpınarAzeri edebiyatı araştırmaları p. 17.


Akpınar“Âzerî Türkçesi,” in İslâm Ansiklopedisivol. 41 (Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı 2012) p. 500.


KöprülüzadeAzəri ədəbiyyatına dair tədqiqlər p. 11. According to Ziya Buniyatov the migration of Turkish tribes to Azerbaijan began long before Islam with invasions of the Huns Gekturks Pecheneks and Khazars; however the migration of Muslim Oghuz tribes (Turkomans) happened during the Seljukid period after which Azeri Turkic developed into a spoken language. Ziya Musa Buniyatov “Azerbaycan” in İslâm Ansiklopedisi vol. 4 (Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı 1991) p. 319; Zeynep Korkmaz states that although Seljuk sovereigns preferred Persian as an official language and Arabic as the language of religion and scholarship they addressed the general population in Turkish. Zeynep Korkmaz “Oğuz Türkçesinin Tarihi Gelişme Süreçleri” Turkish Studies: International Periodical for the Languages Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic 51 (2010): p. 27.


KöprülüzadeAzəri ədəbiyyatına dair tədqiqlər p. 11; Mustafa Ünver Hurufîlik ve Kuran Nesimî Örneği (Ankara: Fecr Yayıları 2003) p. 67; Burrill The Quatrains of Nesīmī pp. 17–18.


AkpınarAzeri edebiyatı araştırmaları p. 20.


KöprülüEarly Mystics in Turkish Literature p. 178.


Leonard LewisohnBeyond Faith and Infidelity: The Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari (Richmond: Curson Press1995) p. 188. See Şəmsəddin Məhəmməd Lahici Şərhi-Gülşəni-Raz vol. 1 (Baku: Adiloğlu 2008) tr. into Azeri Turkic by N.C. Göyüşov (Baku: Adiloğlu 2008) vol. 2 pp. 238–288; see also Bertels “The notes on poetical terminology of Persian Ṣūfīs” [Заметки по поэтической терминологии персидских суфиев] in his Selected works vol. 3. Ṣūfism and Ṣūfī literature [Суфизм и суфийская литература] (Москва: Наука 1965) pp. 109–125.


Lewisohn“Prolegomenon to the Study of Ḥāfiẓ, The Mystical Milieu: Ḥāfiẓ’s Erotic Spirituality,” in Hafiz and Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetryed. Lewisohn (London: I.B. Tauris 2010) p. 46.


NesīmīIraq divanı p. 39.


Hoyland“Polemon’s encounter with Hippocrates and the status of Islamic physiognomy” p. 313.


Hoyland“Physiognomy in Islam” p. 369. See also p. 367.


Seyyed Hossein Nasr“The Wisdom of the Body,” in Religion and the Order of Nature: The 1994 Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham (Oxford: University Press 1996) p. 252.


BashirSufi Bodies p. 40.


John Kingsley BirgeThe Bektashi Order of Dervishes (London: Luzac1937) pp. 150–151.


BirgeThe Bektashi Order p. 251. Interestingly none of these letters correspond to traditional Ḥurūfī metaphors of the eyes which are based on shape similarities (ṣād hāʾ) and double meanings (ʿayn name of the letter and eye).


See Daren Lin“A Foundation of Western Ophthalmology in Islamic Medieval Medicine,” University of Western Ontario Medical Journal 78/1 (2008): p. 43.


Suzanna Conklin AkbariSeeing through the Veil Optical Theory and Medieval Allegory (Toronto: University of Toronto Press2004) p. 4.


Reza PourjavadyPhilosophy in Early Safavid Iran: Najm al-Dīn Maḥmūd al-Nayrīzī and His Writings (Leiden: Brill2011) p. 140.


Abdelghani Tbakhi Samir S. Amr“Ibn al-Haytham: Father of Modern Optics, Arab and Muslim Physicians and Scholars,” Annals of Saudi Medicine 27/6 (2007): p. 465. Abu Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī connected vision with perception and spiritual knowledge: Perception depends on the existence of two things—light and a seeing eye. For though light is that which appears and causes to appear it neither appears nor causes to appear to the blind. Thus percipient spirit is as important as perceptible light … it is the percipient spirit which apprehends and through which apprehension takes place. Mishkât Al-Anwâr (The Niche for Lights) by Al-Ghazzali trans. William H.T. Gairdner (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf 1924 reprinted 1952) pp. 81–82.


In PourjavadyPhilosophy in Early Safavid Iran p. 140.


Osbert G. CrawfordThe Eye Goddess (New York: MacMillan1956).


Nasr“Shīʿism and Sufism: Their Relationship in Essence and in History,” Religious Studies 6/3 (1970): p. 231.


Spencer TriminghamThe Sufi Orders in Islam (London: Oxford University Press1971) p. 70. During that period as noted by Alexander Knysh Shīʿite thinkers accepted Ibn ʿArabī’s metaphysical and theological notions and his conception of the Perfect Man with almost no changes. The only difference was the identity of the Perfect Man himself which in Shīʿism replaced Ṣūfī saints (awliyāʾ) with Shīʿa imāms particularly the hidden messiah (Mahdī). Alexander Knysh “The teaching of Ibn ʿArabī in the later Islamic tradition” [Учение Ибн Араби в поздней Мусульманской традиции] in Sufism in the Context of Islamic Culture [Суфизм в контексте мусульманской культуры] (Москва: Наука 1989) p. 16.


Walter G. AndrewsPoetry’s Voice Society’s Song: Ottoman Lyric Poetry (Seattle: University of Washington Press1985) p. 6.


LewisohnBeyond Faith and Infidelity p. 181.


KhaṭāʾīƏsərləri p. 32.


Quoted in GallahgerThe Fallible Master p. 124.


Henry CorbinThe Man of Light in Iranian Sufism (Shambhala: Boulder & London1978) pp. 54–55. According to some Ṣūfīs “God possesses on earth three hundred eyes or persons whose heart is consonant with the heart of Adam; forty whose heart is consonant with the heart of Moses; seven whose heart is consonant with the heart of Abraham; five whose heart is consonant with the heart of Gabriel; three whose heart is consonant with the heart of Michael; one (the pole) whose heart is consonant with the heart of Seraphiel. The sum of 360 is raised to total 360 by four figures of prophets who according to Islamic esotericism meditation on the Qurʾanic revelation have the common characteristic of having been carried off alive from death; Enoch Khezr Elijah and Christ.” The Man of Light pp. 54–55.


NesīmīIraq divanı p. 169.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 89.


Michel Chodkiewicz“The Vision of God,” The Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society 14 (1993). According to some theologians the statement “The looks do not reach Him but it is He who reaches the looks” (Q. 6:103) actually implies not looks but mind; human beings cannot understand God by means of the mind because even if man can see the heavens he sees only a small part of it and is unaware of their depths. Ibn Kathīr Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm vol. 2 p. 167. However sūrat an-Najm includes “the most elaborate Qurʾanic account of a visionary encounter between the prophet Muḥammad and the Qurʾān’s divine speaker”; Nicolai Sinai “An Interpretation of Sūrat al-NajmJournal of Qurʾanic Studies 13/2 (2011): p. 1.


CorbinThe Man of Light p. 109.


Lewisohn“Prolegomenon” p. 43.


Lewisohn“Prolegomenon” p. 49.


NesīmīIraq divanı p. 37.


KhaṭāʾīƏsərləri p. 61.


KhaṭāʾīƏsərləri p. 19.


William Chittick“Ibn Arabi,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyed. Edward N. Zalta (Spring 2014 edition).


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 119.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 122.


KishwarīƏsərləri p. 64.


KishwarīƏsərləri p. 37.


TarlanFuzûlî divanı şerhi p. 67.


KishwarīƏsərləri p. 70.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 364 says: “When I wore clothes of madness and settled in the land of annihilation. I became a man of solitude and will no longer put on cloaks and garments. If I wear that cloak and garment (qabāv-u pirāhan) like rose bourgeon And if I do not tear them in pieces (like rose) o slender body idol! Let this garment be my grave shroud!”


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 147. Another unique image created by Fuḍūlī is the personification of the earth in the strophic poem takhmīsnaẓīra to the poem by Ḥabībī: “Do not think that my last home where I will be buried is the grave not this is the earth which seeing my condition (aḥwāl) in the exportation (ghurba) torn his garment.” Fuḍūlī Qəzəllər p. 364.


KishwarīƏsərləri p. 18.


BirgeThe Bektashi Order p. 260. Christianity was a fertile source for both Ṣūfī and Shīʿa teachings; messianic ideas and the reincarnation of ʿĪsā (Jesus) were suitable for deification by Shīʿite imāms and Ṣūfī awliyāʾs. Besides Tabriz the center of Azeri Turkic literature was described by Johannes Preiser Kapeller as being located on trade routes used not only by Muslim traders but also by Christian merchants. Nestorian merchants from Mosul traded as far into the Middle East as Damascus Acre Cilicia and Cyprus. Byzantine and Greek merchants also did business in Tabriz influencing the community of Christians. Johannes Preiser-Kapeller “Civitas Thauris: The Significance of Tabriz in the Spatial Frameworks of Christian Merchants and Ecclesiastics” in Politics Patronage and the Transmission of Knowledge in 13th–15th Century Tabriz ed. Judith Pfeiffer (Leiden: Brill 2013) p. 257.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 330.


KnyshIslamic Mysticism: A Short History (Leiden: Brill2000) p. 17; Schimmel Mystical Dimensions of Islam p. 31. According to Schimmel such a thought originated due to Oriental ink’s water soluble nature. Schimmel “Letter Symbolism” pp. 414–415; Schimmel Calligraphy and Islamic Culture (New York: New York University Press 1984) pp. 40–42.


RitterThe Ocean of the Soul p. 257.


As-SarrājKitāb al-Lumaʿ pp. 33 114.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 307. See also Fuḍūlī Qəzəllər p. 310. In another example springs miraculously gush from under the feet of saints employed as a metaphor for tears by Nesīmī: “O cypress set foot on my head carefully and see how two springs (iki çeşmə) are gushing from my eyes.” Nesīmī Əsərləri vol. 1 p. 318.


Nasr“The Heart of the Faithful” p. 40.


KhaṭāʾīƏsərləri p. 235.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 86.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 268.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 195.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 83. Here the pearl emerges from a raindrop rather than from small solids or sand inside a seashell; seemingly in the period of Fuḍūlī there was an opinion that raindrops stimulated pearl growth.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 202.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 237.


Al-ShaibiSufism and Shiʿism pp. 310–317.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 81.


Fuḍūlī“Səhhət və mərəz” pp. 76–77.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 96.


Aida Gasimova“Models, Portraits, and Signs of Fate in Ancient Arabian Tradition,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73/2 (2014): p. 328.


Adam GacekArabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers (Leiden: Brill2009) p. 76.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 309.


FuḍūlīQəzəllər p. 294.


Robert Hoyland“Physiognomy in Islam” p. 370.

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