When you think about a non-Abrahamic religion you would think of it as a new age movement with Ayahuasca and weed ceremonies with no written scripture. Well, think again. Today you are going to read about a fringe religious movement that does not think of itself as a religion.
It all started with an Azerbaijani literary critic Asif Afandiyev. He was born in Çaykənd (now Dbparak in Gegharkunik Marz) to a family of teachers in 25 September 1935. His ancestor was a village mullah of Dash Salahli in Kazakh district and migrated to found a village in 1778, what is now called Dbparak. He was sent to study at Maxim Gorky Literature Institute where he was student from 1952 to 1957. He probably met Chingiz Aitmatov there and started to think of origins of new philosophy. He started to work for what is now Baku Slavic University in 1959, lecturing Western literature. His article “Criticism and our times” (Критика и времени) was published in “Literary Azerbaijan” (Литературный Азербайджан) magazine caused uproar, where he claimed there is neither criticism, not philosophy in Azerbaijan SSR, all criticisms do not differ from papers written by 5 graders. What made it worse that his article was somehow read by Turkish critics and Ankara radio was broadcasting about how an intellectual is under attack from Soviet authorities. Getting expelled from the job, he had to write movie reviews for Baku Worker magazine. In any case he continued education and attained his PhD in 1965.
There is anecdote about his time in Baku State University. Once upon a time he was smoking in a non-smoking area inside university when vice-rector stumbled upon him: “It’s not permitted to smoke here!” Asif replied with a question asking who the hell he is to tell him what to do. Vice-rector introduces himself which seemed didn’t cause any distress to Asif who smoked once more and told him “Well, you are not Hegel!”
Later he founded “Ethics and Aesthetics Club” in 1976 in what is now Baku State University. His attitudes began to change notoriously, he was even reported to be seen going to the club with pyjamas. He gained waves of followers during his lectures where he openly denounced Marxism as “not science, is a religion or a political mythology at best”. This caused much attacks in academia, after which he had to close down the club in 1977. He continued his discussion clubs in “Bilik” (Knowledge) and “Ocaq” (Hearth). After being expelled from the Communist Party in 1982, he divorced from his wife and left penniless, until he met with Elman Aliyev – an editor working for Azerbaijan State Publications. Elman Aliyev, a Karabakh born writer became his first disciple, adopting name Safruh (Pure Spirit). Asif Efendiyev came to be known as “Asif Ata” (Father Asif) or “İnam Ata” (Father Faith). Their underground religious movement was based on “humanist Turkism”. Movement was officially called “Faith in The Absolute”.
Asif Ata finally resigned from his academic titles in 1991 as a protest to USSR. He later became a columnist for several newspapers, while continuing to gather supporters. He died in 1997. His burial ritual was also unique. He was fold into a blue fabric and laid to the grave facing to east, towards sun. Six sticks surrounded his grave, each meaning “Belief in The Absolute”, “Enlightened man”, “Independent nation”, “Spiritual society”, “Self-understanding East” and “Merited humanity”. These sticks were later bounded together with motto “Be human and humanize! The man’s salvation is in to be human!” Local mullah and devout Muslims didn’t accept this practice and forced his relatives to take his body back from the grave and rebury it in Aghstafa.
Asif Ata's funeral ceremony
Some quotes from him and his disciples to better understand his views:
- Earth has always existed, it wasn’t created, it won’t end either, it will always live on. Earthlings will go, but Earth will stay on.
- The Faith, as we always stress, is not a religion but just “faith”. Religion looks backwards, faith looks to the future.
- Individualism is person’s uniqueness, originality and difference. To have The Faith is to believe in individualism.
- “Nation is based on individual” says The Father; but you want to unburden yourself from individualism, live a hedonist life while getting unseen among the herd. If you were an individual, you’d grow into nation. Bu you see it as a thing of past, an thing without perspective. (Safruh)
- “Justice is based on truth” says The Father; but you are afraid of the truth as if it is a fire. (Safruh)
- “History is based on force” says The Father; but you think of force as a shiny general in full regalia and love it, until you face it yourself. (Safruh)
- Basis of death is life. Life makes the death to live longer.
- [Paraphrased] Historically, the society never let the individuals be themselves. The society makes human to be stranger, “the other” to itself. It forces you to make something you don’t want to, for example, it forces you to say “Hi!” in a non-sincere way, makes you a robot. Our aim is to end society. We will set up “Union of Nation” instead of it. A spiritual one! But for now we will use “society” term in refer to that.
- [Paraphrased] Spiritual society has 4 principles:
- First principle is individual self-rule. Every individual is an autonomous state itself. We don’t need the Parliament, we don’t need the President, this will be just Humanism (İnsançılıq). Democracy is a farce, you don’t get to choose, you are just given freedom choose from provided people. You think that you choose, but you actually just forced to choose. Therefore, spiritual union is against democracy and totalitarianism!
- Second principle is worker’s property. Property should be given to worker, not back to capitalism, nor back to the state. Land should belong to villager, factory to worker, not like fake Lenin mottos, but we can’t talk about justice until we fix this. Only worker’s property is sacred, capitalist property is sin!
- Third principle is minimal state. Strong state is a minimal state. Nowadays state is involved in everything, but can’t do anything. The state should have only 3 functions; first – represent people on world stage, second function is to protect people. First function is diplomacy, second is army. Third function is to protect individual from masses and masses from the individual, which the policing job. State should have no other job. Economics should belong to worker, culture to artists, spiritualism to spiritualists, science to scientists. This is only way to establish harmony instead of lying, cruel laws!
- Finally, fourth is to have an Enlightened person to lead the state, who shall have no privileges at all. He will be groomed by The Hearth. All privileges will be abolished. There will be no privileges either social or economic.
- [Paraphrased] Marxism is a religion. It is materialist fatalism. Worker has to work, s/he doesn’t need government.
- [Paraphrased] Ethnicities’ incorporation is just ethnic genocide, herding of humanity, making cattle out of humans. Because evolving into nations made us different from herds. If we abolish nations, we will go back to being herd.
- Spiritualism will triumph over materialism!
- Tribalism is immoral!
- Turkic spirit, Turkic culture, Turkic ethnicity is reigning over Azerbaijan. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell it. An Azerbaijani Kurd needs an Azerbaijani Turk to live.
- Real patriotism is to love your Motherland, even if doesn’t give you anything in return.
- Commonwealth of Independent States is just another form of USSR.
- Prophecy starts with Zoroaster. Zoroaster preceded Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad. He offered no fatalism, no comfort, no heaven or hell, no huri or fairy misery.
- Babek was just like Spartacus, believed in liberty. But his liberty was almost like religion, besting even Spartacus. Spartacus created rebellion, Babek created The Faith.
- Buddha is continuation of Zoroaster, he is the ash of Zoroaster’s fire.
- Islam is backwardness, it is a tool of backwardness. (Soylu Atalı)
- Atheists created a new God called “The Society” and forced the human to be it’s follower.
- Art immortalizes those doomed to death.
- It’s easy to not to believe in a God that created earth and air. Human never let go of The Absolute in history! He believed in kings, commanders, famous people to be a God, because it always sought The Absolute.
I believe you might get some ideas from those quotes. It might be considered a type of ethno-spiritualism, worshipping nation as a religion while believing in “The Absolute”, a concept related to spiritual awakening. This doesn’t mean denying other ethnicities, but despite being an Armenian, you just have to accept the fact that Turk should reign. The Hearth believes Islam is fundamentally against Turkic values, but Zoroastrianism is a perfect fit. Asif Ata called his disciples as his children and required them to get new names. General surname is Atalı (With The Father). Their calendar is also unique, regarding founding of The Hearth (1 March 1979) as starting point. They call it Günsıra (Day-row):
- Father (Asif Ata was born in September)
Their days of week starts from Monday as in Gregorian – Desire/Hope/Endurance/Ointment/Luck/Longing/Faith. So, today is 01.11.2019, this would make today in their calendar as 1 Rain 40, The day of Fate.
Moreover, they have their own alphabet that they call “Abe”. As you can see it looks like Old Turkic script, but in fact is a modified version of it suitable for Azerbaijani language. It even has cursive version.
What about holy books? Well, they have plenty one of them. They fall into two groups, first one called “Qutsal Bitig” (Holy Book in Old Turkic) and “Yan Bitig” (Sidebook in Old Turkic). There are 10 holy blocks and 3 sideblocks. Holy Blocks contain Holy Books:
- Faith in The Absolute
- To be The Absolute – To Exist
- Humanity of Meaning (contains books of Contrasts, Symbols, Meanings)
- Humanity of Seeing (contains books of Absoluteness, Existing and non-Existing One, Existence and Nothingness, Spiritual Line, Relations and Modes)
- Foundation of Philosophy (contains books of Philosophy of Faith and Basics)
- Holy Foundation (Way. Word of Father, Loyalty, Spiritual laws, Spiritual documents, Holy words)
- To Achieve (Man-Humanness, From Man to Human, To be used for Human, To be Self and to be the Other, Proyesterdayness – protomorrowness, Created from Humanness, Holiness, Opportunity of being Human, Humanness of Truth and Humanness)
- Foundation of Foundations (Spiritualism, Morality, Essence)
- Forming from inside (Proworldness – prohumanness, Act of being Enlightened, Realizing from inside, Beyond reality, Higher than yourself, Higher than World)
- From Right to Justice (Right, Measurement, Superior to Politics, Justice – Injustice, Economic Humanlessness – Economics of Humanity, Freedom of Truth – The Slavery of Nonsense)
Sideblocks are collections of Asif Ata’s literary books, but they are still holy. In total “Faith in The Absolute” has 51 holy books!
They have their own marriage and funeral rituals. Marriage rites are done in İnam Evi (House of Faith), temples of the sect. One is in Baku and other one is Beylagan. Dowry is prohibited as it is a sign of materialism. Rite is performed by a “ocaq yükümlüsü” (Responsible of Hearth), i.e. a priest. Couple later have to kiss the Hearth flag. Wedding ceremony should have very few food in it, pop music is prohibited (only traditional mugham or ashug music), henna is not mandatory. Ring is not required. There have been at least 20 marriage cases in last 40 years in the religion.
Funeral rites start with a chant written by Asif Ata. After a long chant and many poems recited. Their faith requires them to burn their dead or perform euthanasia. But because of Islamic customs, they have to bury their dead. They even have strict code for coffin measurements! Graves have to face east. There always have to be a Hearth flag. Gravestones contain dates only in Günsıra system. Besides birth and date, acceptance date to Hearth shall also be inscribed. So, if someone born in 1969 died in 2019, his gravestone will be like 10 BH [Before Hearth] – Came to Hearth: 25th year – 40th year. Last chant is “I am sorry for X nation!” X could be whichever ethnicity it is.
Highest person in the sect is considered Safruh Atalı. He is followed by Soylu Atalı (Zulfugar Talibli) – chief responsible. Although it seems to have changed. Mantle is now taken by İşıqlı Atalı. Soylu was considered head of the movement, while Safruh gives advises on spiritual matters. The Scribe who is responsible for transcribing entire rituals has also high position (he also looks after website). Everytime someone orders a Holy Book, a ritual gets organized in house of the new owner. Imagine having a party just for gifting a new book to your friend (and writing entire ritual process down)!
They are not fringe belief any more, but a growing ethno-religious sect. There are more to this religion and many resources, but I tried to keep it simple. Hope it was an interesting read for you!