Life Story of Khorasan Ata, by Ulan Bigozhin
The text translated below consists of the first two pages (4–5) of a short Qazaq hagiography on Abd-Zhalil Bab or Khorasan Ata. Entitled ‘Holy of Holies: Khorasan Ata’ (Aulierdïn Aulesï: Khorasan Ata), it was written by Orazkhan Zhanïsbekov and Ahmet Abutalip. Edited in 2019 by the Tolagai-2050 publishing house in Almaty, at a print run of 3,000 copies, it is sixty-four pages long. A copy was obtained by the present author in 2021, during a RedGold fieldwork around the sacred complex of Abd-Zhalil Bab, in the Qïzïl Orda Region.
Commemorating Khorasan Ata and his shrine complex, the book contains, too, texts and illustrations on other shrines of the South Qazaqstan Region. It has been composed on the model of the brochures about saints and their mausoleums displayed at pilgrimage places in the Turkestan, Qïzïl-Orda and Taraz regions. Its authors introduce it as an ‘album of cultural education and ethnography’ (madeni-tïnïmdïq etnograpialïq kitap-albom).
As the authors of many present-day Qazaqstani hagiographic texts, neither Zhanïsbekov nor Abutalip was trained as a professional historian or ethnographer. Most of the time, modern hagiographers come from the most various fields, from journalism to engineering. For example Zhanïsbekov (b. 1961), according to his biographic notice, worked non-academic areas and started in recent years only to publish materials on sacred families (https://kozhalar.kz/20208219-zhanysbekov-orazhan-kenzheghululy). Abutalip is an active journalist and writer.
They have written their work in conformity with the dominant historical narrative in Qazaqstan, the focus being given to national identity and state-building. The title page contains the logo of the ‘Spiritual Renovation’ (Ruhani Zhangurï) Programme — a country map and a flying eagle — which, in the 2010s, appeared on billboards in many Qazaqstani cities as a sign of support of former President Nazarbayev (1991–2019). The presence of this symbol reflects the challenge of contemporary Muslim hagiography for the authorities of a former Soviet republic.
Zhanïsbekov and Abutalip provide historical sources and ethnographic data from the genealogies of the sacred lineages praised in their book. The narrative that they offer on Abd-Zhalil Bab is one of the most widespread in this area of Qazaqstan: it shows him and his brothers in their remit as missionaries of Islam (hence their title of ‘bab’, associated in the region to the figure of the first converters).
Translation of the text
Abdzhalil Bab (Khorasan Ata) lived in the 8th century [CE], probably from 730 to 795. He is one of the three brotherly Babs who brought Islam in 767 to Middle Asia and Qazaqstan. He was the son of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya and of a Roman Princess; Abdzhalil Bab was of the fifth generation in the family of ‘Ali Ibn Abu-Talib (Hazrat ‘Ali), a nephew [sic] and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
Hazrat ‘Ali, the forth caliph, came after Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq, Hazrat ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and Hazrat ‘Uthman. The name Muhammad al-Hanafiyya was given to a son of ‘Ali by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself. Among our people, this name became known as Hanipa, Anipa, Anapiya and so forth. From Muhammad al-Hanafiyya originated spiritual leaders who brought Islam to Middle Asia and Qazaqstan such as Abdzhalil Bab, Ishaq Bab and ‘Abd Al-Rahim Bab (Awliya Ata), also called Tabgash Satuq Bughra Qara-Khan.
During the process of bringing Islam to Middle Asia and Qazaqstan, three Babs arrived from Sham [Syria] to […] Khorasan. From there, [they proceeded] to Balkh, then to Afghanistan, Bukhara, Samarqand and Shash [Tashkent], and started to spread the Muslim faith. After the conquest, ‘Abd al-Rahim Bab Arghu went to Taraz and Zhetïkent, and Ishaq Bab to Sayram and Qarghalïq. Abdzhalil came up the Syr Darya River and started to spread Islam among the people of Sutkent, Zernuq, Otrar, Yasï, Sawran, Sïghanaq and, on the river’s left shore, in Oguzkent [Ozkent], Barïshkent, Shahrket and Zharkent.
[It starts with a quotation of the Qur’an, the aya 154 of the sura ‘al-Baqara’. Then, the authors continue their description of the arrival of Abd-Zhalil.]
According to Safi al-Din, the Nasab-Nama by Orun Qoylaqi and the genealogies of the ‘Khorasani’ khwadjas’ lineage, the three Babs arrived in 150 of the Hijra calendar, i.e. 767–8 CE. The information provided by the Nasab-Nama [is attested by] twenty-seven stamps.
Abdzhalil Bab was called Khorasan Ata because he had ruled a city of Khorasan in Iran, and he healed people from smallpox by the using the herb called Khorasan dagï.
The sacred complex of Khorasan Ata includes the graves of his son Sultan Husayn and of his descendant Qudayqul. It has a mosque, too, where the standard (tu) [its metal head – U.B] of Khorasan Ata is kept. It bears inscriptions such as ‘Allahu ahad’ [God is Unique], ‘Muhammad ya ‘Ali’ and, four times, the name ‘Ali. Some historians think that it belonged to Hazrat ‘Ali ibn Abu-Talib, who was called ‘the Lion of Islam’ and ‘the Sword of Islam’ for his bravery on battlefields.
Later, in the 12th century [CE], the pilgrimage to Khorasan Ata, far from decreasing, expanded. The pir of all Turkic world, Qozha Ahmet Yasawi (11th–12th c.), making a pilgrimage to the mausoleum of Khorasan Ata, said:
Babam Khorasan keldïm arasan
Zayrat eteyïn dep esïm surasan
Mushkul halimdï qïlghaysïn ansan
Rahïm ete kor, babam Khorasan
Oh my protector Khorasan, I came to you purified.
If you ask me my intention, I’d say I came to visit a holy place.
You can ease my hardships, help me with my desires.
Show me mercy, oh my protector Khorasan!
(Translation by Nurlan Kabdïlhak, Ph.D. Candidate, UNC at Chapel Hill)
Abdzhalil Bab, from the perspectives of his time, is one of the greatest among all saints, spreaders of religion and babs of Middle Asia, Qazaqstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Inner Mongolia and Tatarstan. Thus, relying on historical sources we have entitled ‘Saint of Saints’ Abdzhalil Bab – Khorasan Ata.
© Ulan Bigozhin for the comment; Ulan Bigozhin & Nurlan Kabdïlhak for the translation