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Turkic literature as a general term covering a wide gamut of literary genres has for long focused on shared religious elements. In the surviving works of ancient Turkic literature – which is the language of the works of Arkhun Yini Si’i – there appears to be religious tendencies within the framework of Tangari shamanism. A significant portion of the important ancient works of Turkic literature hails from the eastern central Asia and is produced by the followers of the two major religions of the region, i.e. Manichaeism and Buddhism. This predominantly poetic literature of a highly ornate style covers a wide range of religious conceptions and teachings. 

The Turks came into gradual contact with Islam in the course of the first four centuries AH, during which the new religion continued its peaceful eastward advance. A factor contributing to the acceleration of this development was the migration of various tribes, which were categorized under the general title of Turks, to the regions of Transoxiana and Khwarazm and their subsequent acceptance of Islam. 

The conversion of these tribes to Islam no doubt paved the way for the introduction of Islamic religious concepts into the cultures of Turkic peoples. In fact, there exist Turkic accounts dating back to the 4th / 10th century, or earlier, in which the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is referred to as Safji (derived from the root saf: message) and Imam `Ali (PBUH) is given the title Bathir (with the suggested derivation from the word batir: hero). 

Though literary creations had a long history among the shamans, Manichaeans and Buddhists, there existed no such works in the native languages of the Turks of the 4th century AH, a situation with parallels among other Muslim nations, such as the Iranians. The establishment of the Qarakhanid rule in Kashghar and Balasaghun in the 4th century AH, as the first Muslim khaqanate of the region, laid the groundwork for the rise of a Turko-Islamic literature whose first major work was the collection of poems titled Qutadghu Bilig, completed by 462 AH. 

Though in many Balasaghuni sources the author of Qutadghu Bilig is named as the founder of Turko-Islamic literature, this does not preclude the existence of works by Muslim poets of previous eras. Rashid Rahmati Arat is among researchers who have focused on the ancient Islamic poetry of the Qarakhanid period. He has managed to glean a collection of its specimens. In an example he has provided from a text from Turfan, held at the Berlim Museum, there exists an account of Nimrud in Turkic language. Arat’s specimens cover such themes as elegy and descriptions of love and separation. Another motif which, on the one hand, is in accord with the teachings of Islam and, on the other hand, derives from the traditional culture reflected in Turkic literature is the praise of wisdom (bilig) and art (ardam). Along with these common themes there appear other topics inspired by Islamic culture, which are given a more limited scope, such as the Islamic notion of the relationship between man and God. 

To these poems must be added the examples contained in Kashghari’s Diwan lughat al-Turk. Though, Kashghari’s work was composed after Qutadghu Bilig, it contains poems that predate those of the latter, some of which have a non-Muslim orientation, while others are marked by an Islamic color. Some of this literature recounts the battles joined between the newly converted Turks and their non-Muslim Uyghur tribesmen, portrayed as a religious crusade or jihad. In some of these poems the Islamic belief in the creation of heavens by Allah is clearly in evidence, while the employment of the term udha for God appears to be a Turkic equivalent for the Islamic rabb (sustainer). More overt influences from the Qur`an or other sources of Islamic teaching are hard to detect in these works, and reference may only be made to what appear to be cases of adaptation or diffusion. For instance, an ethical verse calling men not to become overly joyous on account of abundance of material wealth appears close in meaning to the Qur`anic verse “… la tafarrahu bi-ma atakum…” (“Do not revel in what We have granted you.”). 

It should be noted that the Qarakhani era does by no means mark the end of the pre-Islamic Turkic literature. During the period of the rise of Islamic literature, the important works of the preceding centuries, such as Ughuz Namah continued in popularity, works which betray very little Islamic influence. Ughuz Namah is among the ancient works of Turkic literature whose oldest version dates back to the pre-Islamic period and which appears to have left its mark on Qutadghu Bilig. There also exist redactions of Ughuz Namah made in the Islamic period. In a cursory examination of the ancient text of the work one encounters a number of Perso-Arabic elements such as dust (friend), dushman (enemy) and badan (body) as well as a sense that the author must have been in possession of a certain amount of knowledge regarding the lands of Syria and Egypt, all of which imply a limited affinity with the Islamic culture. None the less, Ughuz Namah is still a long way from being a product of Islamic culture. The religious focus of the work is still based on the ancient Turkic creed, with Kuk Tangari as the highest divinity. The major elements of the story, such as the special importance accorded to the tree and the sky, the exalted status of Kuk Buri (the Gray Wolf), as illuminator and guide, and the two heavenly wives of Ughuz Khan, are all remnants from the pre-Islamic shamanism and the ancient culture of Turkic people. 

In return to the discussion of Islamic literature and its prominent example the Qutadghu Bilig, by Yusuf Balasaghuni, which is a collection of moralistic poems and the first major literary work created within an Islamic milieu, it must be noted that, in terms of cultural structure, it also belongs to the bilig and ardam genres originating in the pre-Islamic period. The Qutadghu Bilig though composed by a practicing Muslim who opens his work with the praise of Tangari (a reference to Allah) and that of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), fails to reflect a deep mark of Islamic culture in its discussions of ethics and morality. In fact, Tungha (Tanka) Alp Ar, the hero of the work, who is depicted as the personification of ethical virtues, is a character from the pre-Islamic Turkic culture of central Asia, who has retained his prominence in our author’s elaboration of moral values. 

The story of Qutadghu Bilig revolves around a series of disputations between two protagonists, Ugdulmish and Udhghurmish, who are the representatives of two distinct tendencies: one that advocates an active presence in the world, i.e. a worldly religiosity, and another which advocates isolation and shunning worldly engagements, i.e. an ascetic religiosity. Though, the notion of such conflict occurs in the pre-Islamic religious atmosphere of the region, Qutadghu Bilig is a fresh attempt at placing this duality within the value system of Islam, which is the dominant morality of the newly converted khaqanates of the Qarakhanids. 

The early manifestations of Islam and the cultures of Muslim peoples on the Turkic literature should not be merely sought in the sphere of religious teachings. In fact, among the major points of distinction between the pre- and post-Islamic literature of the Turks is the range of their poetic styles. While the influence of Persian and Arabic elements of rhyme and meter are clearly in evidence in the poems of Balasaghuni as well as in a number of those of Kashghari, no such effect is observable in the works of their peers who had received no such influence and who continued to apply alliteration (mu`alla) as their predominant technique. In a rather broad judgment, it may be assumed that the Turkic poetry of central Asia, Anatolia, the Caucasus, and the Volga region came under a wide range of influences from the Islamic literature of the Persians and Arabs, while that of the Altai region and the eastern and southern Siberia – distant from the sphere of Islam and more in tune with the aboriginal culture of the Altai tribes – retained its ancient style, even in terms of structure and form. 

Another poet who flourished in the Islamic milieu of Turkistan was Adib Ahmad Yukanki (5th AH / 11th AD – 6th AH / 12th AD cen.), in whose poetry non-Sufi religious literature reached its zenith. Yukanki’s ethical poems are deeply inspired by the Qur`an and prophetic traditions. His Hibat al-haqa’iq, in the customary fashion of Islamic sermons, opens with the praise of God and the Holy Prophet (PBUH). But what makes his encomium so unique is an elaboration of the fundamental Islamic beliefs, such as tawhid (divine unity) and ma`ad (resurrection), couched in a lucid and accessible language. His idea regarding all creatures, including the inanimate as well as the animate, being a sign of the divine unity and his emphasis on the ease with which God would raise the dead on the Judgment Day are direct allusions to such Qur`anic notions as contained in verse 31 of the Surah of Yunus, “… Who brings forth living from the dead…” 

The traditional concept of bilig (wisdom) has also crept into Hibat al-haqa’iq and is on display in its comparison between the learned and the ignorant. The author who considers wisdom as the sole means of attaining salvation goes on to sing its virtues and, in order to link his idea with the Islamic culture, draws attention to a hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in which he exhorts the solicitation of knowledge from whosoever is in its possession. In his elaboration of the subject, after the style of Islamic works on ethics, he goes on to substantiate his assertions in poems that are replete with examples from the Qur`an and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). 

In the 5th and 6th centuries AH, when the Qarakhanid power entered into the last stage of its consolidation, a Turkic Islamic literature began to come into being in the regions of the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, in the western part of Turkistan. The seminal work of this school is Divan-i Hikmat (the divan of wisdom) by Khwajah Ahmad Yasawi. Yasawi was a Sufi scholar who had received his Islamic education in the city of Bukhara. Upon his return to his native region of Siram and Yasiyy, in the vicinity of the Syr Darya, he embarked on the propagation of Islam, in the native language, among the Turkish population. In terms of form Yasawi’s poetry follows a simple and accessible style, while in terms of its subject matter it steers clear of abstruse ideas common to the scholarly circles of Transoxiana and other centers of Islamic learning. This may be accounted for by the fact that his audiences were people with less than profound knowledge of Islamic topics who, none the less, were eager to gain an understanding of the fundamental aspects of Islamic religion. It is the very accessibility of Yasawi’s divan which earned him the title of Pir-i Turkistan (the spiritual master of Turkistan). In fact, the people of the region came to view Ahmad Yasawi as a teacher of Islamic beliefs and the one who rallied them around a single unifying message. 

Broadly speaking, Divan-i Hikmat may be viewed as a bridge between the culture of bilig in the Qarakhani literature and the culture of Sufism in the common literature of Islam. This same dual aspect is precisely the secret of the work’s popularity, both in the ancient Muslim milieu of Transoxiana and in the newly converted environment of the steppe. Yasawi, in the introduction to his divan, characterizes his poems as words of wisdom (hikmat), whose propagation he considers as a duty imposed by God. Throughout his work, he underscores the value of wisdom and deems those who are untouched by such knowledge as people whose hearts are devoid of true faith. He thus blends the ancient Turkic notion of bilig with the Islamic concept of hikmah as the ground for the creation of a successful literary career. 

References to the Qur`an and prophetic hadiths are observed throughout the works of Yasawi, with their predominant religious themes, elaborating various belief and precepts. These mainly include such topics as the divine unity, the immensity of the world of creation, the Resurrection and descriptions of the Judgment Day, and the invocation of sins and the need for repentance. The frequent occurrence of Perso-Arabic terms, such as daftar-i sani` (the record of the creator) and ruz-i mahshar (the day of resurrection), is an indication of the profound influence of Persian literature in the transmission of these concepts to Yasawi. Certain religious ideas appear in a special light in the works of Yasawi. For instance, the notion of “ummat-i Mustafa” (the ummah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)) is held in high esteem and is deemed as an appellation only worthy of those who earn it through their righteous conduct. 

Divan-i Hikmat is underpinned by a Sufi outlook, which is in evidence in the employment of such terminology as pir-i mughan (the religious leader of the Magi, i.e. the spiritual master) and chehel tan (the forty men (who accompanied Moses to the Mount Sinai)). The elaboration of such ideas as the state of fana’ fi ’l-lah (annihilation in God), the execution of Hallaj and his cry of “ana ’l-haqq” (“I am haqq (God)”), and the Day of Alast (ruz-i alast, i.e. the moment of pre-creation) and man’s reply to God of “qulu bala” (“they said yes”) is among the characteristics of Yasawi’s poetry which accords it close affinity with the Sufi poems composed in Persian environments. However, it should be borne in mind that Yasawi’s brand of Sufism is one that is in complete harmony with shari`ah, a fact clearly indicated by his call to respect the enjoiners of good and forbidders of evil. From a literary point of view, such instances as the disputation between heaven and hell and, to some extent, the postmortem questioning, are indications of religious didacticism in the poetry of Yasawi. 

The mystical poetry of Ahmad Yasawi continues in Hakim Ata, by his disciple Sulayman Baqir Khani. His other work is Akhir al-Zaman, another example of religious literature, whose theme is the truth of akhir al-zaman (the Judgment Day) and the spread of injustice and disbelief in the preceding period; a subject dealt with in the works of Yasawi and one which receives a more detailed treatment in the poetry of his disciple.

 source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.495- 498


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