Mazun (Ma’zun, also pronounced as Mazen or Ma’zen, مأذون) was the takhalos, or pen name, of Mohammed Ibrahim, a poet who lived in the nineteenth-century Fars region, in south central Iran.
Poetry is highly valued, and recited or listened to, in proverbs and songs, on almost regular basis, and Mazun is generally considered to be the best-known and loved Qashqai poet.
He was born around 1830 into a Sadat patrilineage called the Sheikh Habili (Haabili), who were originally Luri-speaking and came from the western part of the Fars region, called Kohgiluyeh. Sadat (Sadaat, pl. of seyed) are lineages who trace their ancestry to Prophet Mohammad. His mother was a Qashqai Turk, from the Qaderlu section (subtribe) of the Amaleh tribe of the Qashqai tribal confederacy. Luri dialect(s) in Fars is (are) close to the local dialect(s) of Persian (Farsi) spoken in the region.
The Sheikh Haabili men were among the literate people of the region, and some worked as scribes (mirzas) for Qashqai tribal khans (leaders), keeping records and accounts, teaching the khans’ children, and reciting poetry. Some Sheikh Haabili men were diviners, or wrote prayers to be carried, among other things, for healing or warding off the evil eye.
Mazun was raised to follow in the occupation of being a mirza in the region. He undertook Islamic and Arabic studies, learned Turkish, Persian, and Luri poetry. As a young man he worked for a leader of the Dareshori (one of the main tribes of the Qashqai). Later, as a reciter of the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), he joined a relative in the camp of Mohammad Quli Khan, the ilkhan (paramount leader) (ruled c. 1852-67) of the Qashqai. The Shahnameh, the epic poetry of Ferdowsi (c. 920-1020) is in Persian, and much admired by the tribal people of the region, no matter what their primary language.
Hossein Bahadori Kashkoli
It is said that Mazun began composing his own poetry at this time under Mahzon (which translates as “Sad”) as his pen name. He became critical of the ilkhan, and this was reflected in his poetry. He moved to the camps of other khans as the years progressed, writing poetry that criticized some and supported others as they competed for power in the region. He was supportive of the rebellious khans and those khans who were more supported by the people. He was also supportive of those leaders who were especially interested in poetry. It is said that after witnessing Mazun’s poetic improvisatory talents, a governor-prince gave him the pen name Mazun (“Permitted”), and the permission to criticize anybody he wants in his poems.
Arash Shiva, 2002
Late in his life Mazun lived for a time in the village of Dokohak, near Shiraz, close to some of his relatives and the annual migratory routes of some of the Qashqai tribes. He died around 1914 and was buried in the yard of the tomb of Saint Shahzadeh Mansour in Shiraz.
Most of Mazun’s poems are composed in Qashqai Turki (Turkish), though some are in Persian, and a few are in a Luri dialect of the region, which is similar to Persian. He has also composed bi-lingual poetry.
The Qashqai highly regard Mazun’s poetic talents, not only in their Turki (Turkish) language, but also in Persian and Luri. A famous narrative describes him in Shiraz trying to enter a gathering of poets in the presence of the governor. The guards seeing his “Turk” or nomadic-tribal look prevent him to enter. He, then, on the spot, improvises a poem in Persian and sends it to the governor. His poem outshines those composed by the other poets describing the gathering. He is then invited to enter and treated appropriately by the governor.
Mazun’s most well-loved poems are his qazals (ghazals). These could be called love lyrics (or love songs, or sonnets), usually made up of between eight to fourteen lines, with two hemistiches per line.
Qazal is a form of love poetry chosen by many poets composing in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu and other vernacular languages of Muslims over more than a millennium.
Mazun’s qazals are influenced by several interrelated poetic or poetic-musical traditions: Sufi poetry, in Persian and Turkish (and Arabic, indirectly, if not directly), Turkish folk love songs; and the poetry of itinerant minstrels singing in Turkish (“ashiq,” “aashiq” or “ashuq”- “one who is in love”).
The key influence in many of Mazun’s qazals selected and translated on this site is Sufi poetry.
Sufism may be very broadly, and perhaps controversially, defined as the mystical branch of Islam. Muslims, like believers of all world religions, have expressed great diversity of religious ideas and practices across space and time. Such diversity is also representative of those who are regarded as Sufi Muslims.
Risking overgeneralization, one could say that Sufis value inner or hidden meanings of sacred texts. They also view love as the essence of the relationship between the believers and the God, and stress on a morality imbued with good-natured-ness. The use of poetry, chants, music, and body movements, to enhance sensibilities and concentration, was a central feature of Sufi practices.
Sufis do trace their origins back to the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet. It is said that the Prophet instructed his son-in-law, H. Ali, in the inner truths of his mysticism. Shia thought and Sufism share an emphasis on the hidden meaning of texts and veneration of H. Ali.
By the ninth century, what had originally been informal teacher-student relationships formalized with the institutionalization of Sufi orders. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Sufi ideas, idioms, institutions and practices expanded, and were communicated in all regions and by all classes throughout the Muslim populations in the Afro-Eurasian landmass.
Sufi ideas and institutions, similar to the larger Islamic faith that they were part of, were cosmopolitan. Communication among many peoples of various ethnic and linguistic backgrounds became possible through institutionalization of Sufi discourses, practices, and orders. Such ideas and values were also communicated to the larger population, including those who were not members of Sufi groups.
A main aspect of Mazun’s poetry is the complexity of his poetic sources or influences and the multiculturalism of his poetry. His love poetry works like a bridge between various intermingling and changing Turkic and non-Turkic cultural and poetic “traditions.”
Mazun’s poems reflect, and are part of a larger historical multi-lingual and multi-cultural poetic discursive universe that stretches back to over a millennium, to such great Sufi poets as Attar (d. c. 1230) and Rumi (d. c. 1273), who wrote in Persian, or ibn Farid (d. c. 1234), who composed in Arabic. Other famous contributors to this multi-faceted and changing poetic discursive universe were Sadi, (Sa’di, c. 1213-1293) and Hafiz (Hafez, d. c. 1389), who both composed in Persian, were from Shiraz, and are buried there.
In the fourteenth century Turkish became another major linguistic medium of Sufi poetic expression. This occurred in Anatolia, in the Caucasus, and in Central Asia. Some elements of Mazun’s poetry are reminder of the great Sufi poet Yunus Emre (d. c. 1320), of Anatolia. His poetry, like some of Mazun’s, employs and integrats simple wording as well as classical prosody, and succeeds in bridging the local Turkish communities to larger multi-lingual and cosmopolitan poetic discursive world.
Another famous poet of this tradition is Nasimi (c. 1369-1417), whose mystical poetry were philosophical as well as a poetry of protest. He wrote in Turki, Persian and Arabic.
Arash Shiva, 2002
Qashqai poetic culture of the Mazun’s time included various Turkic poetic traditions–such as songs related to the story of Koruglu, the love story of Karam and Asli, and poems by poets Fuzuli, and Shah Khota.
The first Saffavid king, Shah Ismail (c. 1503- 1524), also noun with his poetic name Shah Khota, was a leader of a Sufi order. Among the reasons that attracted many Turkic-speaking pastoral-nomadic tribal groups in Azerbaijan and Anatolia to him was his poetry.
The Qashqai developed into a large tribal confederacy in the nineteenth century by groups coming from different tribal backgrounds, some from the original supporters of the Saffavids.
Muhammad Fuzuli (c. 1498-1556) was from to the Turkic tribe of Bayat. It was a large nomadic tribal group that entered western Asia from Central Asia and scattered over many areas in the Middle East, Anatolia and the Caucasus during the tenth and the eleventh centuries, including in Fars. Fuzuli’s family had long been settled town-dwellers in present-day southern Iraq. At his time the area became part of the Saffavid State headed by Shah Ismail. Later, in 1534, it became a part of the Ottoman Empire. Fuzuli wrote in Turkic, Persian and Arabic.
Fuzuli’s poems, like Mazun’s, though rely on Persianized terminology, provide a cultural and linguist bridge to the larger Islamic literary world for the Tukic speaking masses. Fuzuli’s poetry was admired by the Qashqai of Mazun’s time.
The later Saffavid kings tried to suppress Sufism, particularly among the Shia population of their empire. Sufi ideas and values and discursive imageries, however, continued among the larger population. And, “Philosophical Sufism or Gnosticism” (erfan, erfaan), continued to be valued among the society’s intellectual elite who were not necessarily members of any Sufi group that survived the Saffavids and their ulama’s rule. Mazun’s Sufi poetry is an example of the continuation of a poetic-philosophical Sufism that reaches to, and is communicated by, the masses, and is imbued with images from their ordinary every-day life.
Part of the Turkic oral poetic-musical tradition are folk love songs and those passed along by the ashiqs. Ashiqs are Turkish-speaking musician-singer-poets who lived and moved mainly in Anatolia and Azerbaijan, but also to some extent among other groups such as the Qashqai in southern Iran.
The Qashqai is made up of the Turkic-speaking tribal groups that lived in Fars before the sixteenth century as well as those who came to Fars in the coming centuries, up to the nineteenth.
There is also the influence of the poetries in non-Turkic-speaking languages, by groups who joined the Qashqai and became Turk (like the Sheikh Habili). Besides the Lur groups, groups of the Arab, Kurd, Lak, and Tajik (Persian-speaking), and Baluch ethnic backgrounds have also joined the Qashqai.
Folk love poems in the form of “do-beyti” (two-liner or “quatrain” – four hemistiches per the two line) in Luri is another genre of poetry that is highly valued in Fars. They are also understood and appreciated by the region’s Persian and Turki speakers. Though Mazun’s love poems are in the qazal form. influences could be of Luri do-beytis.
Qashqai poetic arts, like its woven arts, are rich and complex; they are products of centuries of intermingling of the creative endeavors of various individuals and communities.
One important aspect of Mazun’s poetry is its contribution to the communication of Sufi ideas, values, sensibilities and imageries among the Qashqai population in conditions of lack of Sufi organizations (orders, brotherhoods or confraternities).
Mazun was not, as far as I know, a member of any particular Sufi group. In contrast to some other parts of Iran, or the larger region of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, where Sufi sheiks did, or still have institutionalized relations with tribal populations, nineteenth century Sufi brotherhoods and sheikhs in Fars did not have such bonds with the Qashqai. In his poetry, Mazun, however, does describe himself as qalandar (a “rebellious” type of Sufi), and an aref (a “Gnostic Sufi”).
Many any of Mazun’s poems are Sufi-like in their terminology and imagery. Some are more manifestly spiritual in content, some are more ambiguous, or combine the spiritual and sensual love. He has a large number of plain sensual qazals, that seem to be composed from a male perspective for a male audience, particularly males of wealth and status (“aqalar”). He also has some historical-narrative poems, and advice-like poems.
I one respect, the overlapping strains of Sufi, folk love, and ashiq Turkic poetry can be considered a single literary and cultural milieu. They language of communication was Turkish, the media of communication was mainly oral (some Qashqai people had hand-written copies of Turkish and Persian poetry). The songs and poems were communicated among the members of the same community, and they were about love.
1- The first draft of this introduction, and the translations of 12 qazals (“love songs”), were written for the 1999 NEH Summer Seminar on Islamic Mystic Literature. First the qazals were translated from Qashqai Turki to Persian with the help of a kind Tabriz-born colleague and interlocutor in Seattle, who preferred to be anonymous. I did a rough translation of these poems from Persian to English, and then different translated poems were edited by various participants of the seminar in Chapel Hill. Kambiz Najafi, a Qashqai poet and literary critic in Firuzabad, later found an error in one of the translations and it was then corrected.
I would like to thank all those who participated in this co-translation process.
D. Wilde, one of the Seminar participants, wrote poetic renditions of nine of these poems in English.
2- Most of the biographical information above is from “Qashqai Poetry” (1988), which are a collection of poems by Mazun and another famous Qashqai poet of the same period, Yosuf Alibeg (یوسف علی بیگ), with an Introduction by Shahbaz Shahbazi in Persian, published by him from his handwritten text.
قشقایی شعری یا آثار شعرای قشقایی