Spiritual Life

An Inner Transformation

In the autobiographical segments of his works—namely, chapter 5 of Shahnameh-ye Haqqiqat [The Book of the Kings of Truth], Forqan ol-Akhbar [Proof of the Tradition], and several others—Hadj Nemat recounts an internal experience that profoundly transformed him and imparted new meaning to his life. In describing his spiritual illumination, he states that around the age of 29, when he was gravely ill and those around him thought he had died, he had a spiritual vision in which he understood unique and concrete realms in the other world. Through this exceptional experience he was able to access a special spiritual dimension, as a result of which he became cognizant of several matters, including the method for our spiritual accountability and his own spiritual mission. When he recovered and came back to life, he found himself bathed in the light of divine illumination. It was after this spiritual experience that he relinquished his former lifestyle and set aside his government post, resigned from administering his uncle’s estate, and withdrew into seclusion. Along with a few select and devout dervishes, he took residence in a small part of his house in Jeyhounabad that consisted of an inner courtyard with a few meager rooms around it (known as the ‘house of asceticism’), and fully devoted himself to his mission. This simple and modest dervish lifestyle was summarized in 40-day spiritual retreats punctuated by ascetic fasting, private worship and on rare occasions group prayers, spiritual teachings, charitable works, and of course research and authorship. In The Book of the Kings of Truth, he describes this profound transformation as follows:

Through God’s might and omnipotence
I finally awoke from that slumber of ignorance

And saw that I am from above, celestial
That I am of light, not terrestrial

My being, like a jewel, was pure from its inception
For a time it was concealed on earth beyond detection

By His will when I regained my vigilance
The jewel then manifest in all its brilliance

I soared like a bird and left the earth
To enter that eternal river of mirth.

Aware of the magnitude and ramifications of his decision, Hadj Nemat did not want to impose this new lifestyle on his wife and offered her the option of returning to her father’s home. Despite her fondness of the material advantages she enjoyed and the life of comfort to which she had been accustomed since her childhood, she preferred to remain by his side to endure the daily challenges of an ascetic lifestyle and share her husband’s life through thick and thin.

In 1902 Hadj Nemat set out barefoot and in a state of fasting on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Soltan Eshaq, the charismatic founder of the Ahl-e Haqq order. Located in the mountainous Awraman region of Kurdistan, the tomb was difficult to access and equally unsafe. Because Soltan Eshak is perceived as a theophany in the Ahl-e Haqq tradition, this pilgrimage is considered to be the equivalent of that undertaken to Mecca, which is why those who complete this journey become known as "Hadj" (literally, one who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca). And so it was with Hadj Nemat, who until that day was known as Mirza Nemat. He stayed at the tomb for three consecutive forty-day retreats, and upon his return began wearing the white robes of the dervishes and stopped trimming his hair and beard, acts that symbolized his withdrawal from the world and his devotion to spirituality.

A Charismatic Personality

It was not long before a circle of initiates or "dervishes," as they were called at that time, formed around him. At the outset, aside from his wife and son there were 12 dervishes that adopted his ascetic lifestyle and followed his teachings in seclusion. Contrary to his personal wishes, after about two years of gathering in this manner his renown as a spiritual luminary extended beyond his birthplace and spread from Kurdistan to the surrounding regions, even reaching outside the borders of Iran. From near and afar, numerous people traveled to Jeyhounabad to see him and receive spiritual salvation or cures for their physical ailments, to the extent that he eventually came to be nicknamed "Sheikh Attar," meaning Wise Apothecary or Healer. To avoid fame and its undesirable consequences, Hadj Nemat went to great lengths to conceal his beliefs from others, but those who were seeking the Truth gradually came to recognize him and hastened toward him.

Within a few years his dervishes numbered 2000, of which some 500 were women, a novel and heretofore unseen phenomenon. It is noteworthy that most mystical paths were intended primarily for men, and it was quite uncommon for women to be able to join these "mystical brotherhoods," as implied by the etymology of the term.

During this period, a simple house of worship (khaneqah) was built for the dervishes, where devotional gatherings were convened and transient pilgrims would occasionally stay. Thus, a group formed around Hadj Nemat that followed his lead and devoted itself to constant prayer and asceticism, united by the common bond of faith in the charismatic person of its leader.

Existing accounts from this time, especially the detailed descriptions of his son Ostad Elahi, all corroborate the fact that one of the striking features of Hadj Nemat’s personality was his observance of the truth of religion and his uncompromising commitment to the principles and subtleties of morality and ethics, both toward himself and his family, and with respect to his followers. Among the ethical virtues that he always emphasized in his teachings and frequently reminded his adherents of were sincerity, purity, and certitude. In his written works, he often stressed the necessity of developing these virtues, and displayed little tolerance for their absence.

Sincerity resolves problems of any measure
Sincerity is the key to that eternal treasure

Sincerity cures all pains and maladies
Sincerity preserves us from calamities

Sincerity preserves us from evil and malevolence
Sincerity pardons our crimes and lack of benevolence

But he who is lacking in such sincerity
Were he to bow before God for an eternity

Were he to make offerings repeatedly
Were he to fast continuously

Were he to pray from morning till night
Were he to express contentment with his plight

Were he to be pious and pure, all that travail
In the absence of sincerity would be of no avail.

Yet another prominent feature of his personality was his ongoing practice of charity, which constitutes one of the pillars of his teachings. Each time a harsh famine would strike the region, he would continuously distribute food to the poor and tend to the needs and ills of the destitute. In addition, like most true mystics, he was also cognizant of the well-being of animals and other beings. It is said that during one of the famines, he ordered a sheep to be slaughtered and its carcass left in the fields as food for the starving animals.

As he had predicted himself in his Last Will and Testament, Hadj Nemat departed this world on February 28, 1920 at noon, around the age of 49, and was buried in Jeyhounabad by the tomb of Yar Ali, his youngest child.

Of his seven children, Hadj Nemat was survived only by his wife, Sakineh Khanoum, and three children: Ostad Elahi, who was twenty-four years old; Malak Jan, thirteen; and Maryam, ten. After Hadj Nemat’s passing, his wife and children did not sever the spiritual connection that he had established with God, and his two oldest children would later become the source of profound effects in their own spiritual surroundings.