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Khawaja Ahmad Yasawi or Ahmed Yesevi (Kazakh: Қожа Ахмет Ясауи, romanized: Qoja Ahmet Iasaýı, قوجا احمەت ياساۋٸ; Arabic: أحمد يسوي, romanized: ’Ahmad Yasawī; 1093–1166) was a Turkic poet and Sufi, an early mystic who exerted a powerful influence on the development of Sufi orders throughout the Turkic-speaking world. Yasawi is the earliest known Turkic poet who composed poetry in Middle Turkic. He was a pioneer of popular mysticism, founded the first Turkic Sufi order, the Yasawiyya or Yeseviye, which very quickly spread over Turkic-speaking areas. He was a Hanafi scholar like his murshid, Yusuf Hamdani.
Ahmad Yasawi was born to Ibrahim in Sayram at the end of the 11th century. He lost his father at the age of seven and was then raised by Arslan Baba. By then, Yasawi had already advanced through a series of high spiritual stages and, under the direction of Arslan Baba, the young Ahmad reached a high level of maturity and slowly began to win fame from every quarter. His father Ibrahim had already been renowned in that region for performing countless feats and many legends were told of him. Consequently, it was recognized that, with respect to his lineage as well, this quiet and unassuming young boy, who always listened to his elder sister, held a spiritually important position.
Yasawi later moved to Bukhara and followed his studies with the Yusuf Hamdani. Upon the demise of Yusuf Hamdani, first ʿAbdullah Barki and then Hassan-i Andākī became the head of Hamdani's khanqah. Yasawi became the head murshid of the Naqshbandi order when Hassan-i Andākī died in 1160. He then turned this position to Abdul Khaliq Gajadwani under Hamdani's advice and moved to Turkistan City in order to spread Islam in Turkestan.
Ahmad Yasawi made considerable efforts to spread Islam throughout Central Asia and had numerous students in the region. Yasawi's poems created a new genre of religious folk poetry in Central Asian Turkic literature and influenced many religious poets in the following countries. Yasawi made the city of Iasy into the major centre of learning for the Kazakh Steppe, then retired to a life of contemplation aged 63. He dug himself an underground cell where he spent the rest of his life. Turkish scholar Hasan Basri Çantay noted that "It was a Seljuk king who brought Rumi, the great Sufi poet, to Konya; and it was in Seljuq times that Ahmad Yesevi, another great Sufi, lived and taught. The influence of those two remarkable teachers has continued to the present." Yasavi is also mentioned by Edward Campbell (writing as Ernest Scott) as a member of the Khwajagan.
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi was later built on the site of his grave by Timur in Turkistan City. The Yasawi order he founded continued to be influential for several centuries afterwards, with the Yasawi Sayyid Ata Sheikhs holding a prominent position at the court of Bukhara into the 19th century. There is the greatest influence of shamanistic elements in the Yasawiyya compared to other Sufi orders.
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