Ahl-e Haqq

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A heterodox sect of Shiʿite Islam based in Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Ahl-e Haqq (followers of truth) is an esoteric sect of around one million members, found primarily among the Kurds of Iran and Iraq; they are closely related to the Alevi and Bektashi of Turkey, and the Alawi and Nusayris of Syria. Popularly known as Alielahi (deifiers of Ali), the Ahl-e Haqq call their faith Din-e yari (religion of God) and themselves Yaresan (in Iran) or Kakaʾi (in Iraq). The sect dates from the fourteenth or fifteenth century c.e., a time of extreme proliferation of Sufi and Shiʿite religio-political groups in the Irano-Turkic world, which culminated in the establishment of the Safavi dynasty in Iran in 1501, with Shiʿism becoming the official religion.

Regarded as heretics by their Shiʿite and Sunni neighbors, the Ahl-e Haqq adopted a strict code of secrecy. They came to define their faith as a sirr (mystery), to be guarded from the outside world at any cost. The mystery was transmitted orally, in Gurani and other Kurdish languages, in the form of poetry known as kalam, which forms the sect's sacred narrative. Two cardinal dogmas are belief in transmigration of souls and belief in manifestations of the divine essence in human form. There have been seven manifestations and in each the divine essence was accompanied by seven angels. Ali (the first Shiʿite imam) was the second manifestation; his position is overshadowed by the fourth, Sultan Sohak, the founder of the sect. The Ahl-e Haqq neither observe Muslim rites, such as daily prayers and fasting during the month of Ramadan, nor share Islamic theology and sacred space. Instead, they have their own sacred universe and their own rituals, centered on the jam (assembly), when they chant their kalam, play the sacred lute (tanbur), make offerings (niyaz), and share a sacrificial meal (qorbani). A primary feature of their religious organization is the division into two broad strata: seyyeds and commoners. Seyyeds are eleven holy families (khandan), descended from Sultan Sohak or one of the later manifestations. Each khandan is headed by a certain seyyed referred to as pir, who supervises the religious welfare of the commoners initiated into his following.

see also alawi; alevi; bektashis; kurdistan; kurds; shiʿism; sunni islam.


Hamzehʾee, M. Reza. The Yaresan: Sociological, Historical, and Religo-Historical Study of a Kurdish Community. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1990.

Minorsky, Vladimir. "Ahl-i Hakk." In Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, edited by H. A. R. Gibb and J. H. Kramers. Leiden, Neth.: Brill; London: Luzac, 1961.

Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. "Faith, Ritual, and Culture among the Ahl-i Haqq." In Kurdish Culture and Identity, edited by Philip Kreyenbroek and Christine Allison. London: Zed Press, 1996.

Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. "Inner Truth and Outer History: The Two Worlds of Ahl-i Haqq of Kurdistan." International Journal of Middle East Studies 26 (1994): 267285.

Ziba Mir-Hosseini