Nur Ali Elahi (or Ostad Elahi var. Nūr ‘Alī Ilāhī, Nour Ali Elahi, ) (September 11, 1895 - October 19, 1974) was a spiritual thinker, musician, philosopher and jurist who dedicated his life to investigating the metaphysical dimension of human beings.
Elahi was born in Jeyhounabad, a small Kurdish village near Kermanshah. His father, Hajj Nematollah (1871-1919), was a mystic and poet who was a leader of the Ahl-e Haqq and revered as a saint. From early childhood, he led an ascetic, secluded life of rigorous discipline under his father's attentive supervision with a special focus on mysticism, music, and ethics. In addition to religious and moral instruction, he received the classical education of the time. It was during his youth, devoted to study and contemplation, that he established the basis of his philosophical and spiritual reflections.
By the time his father died in 1919, Elahi had concluded that the time for classical spirituality had come to an end, and that the quest for spiritual development could no longer take place in the tranquility of ascetic seclusion. Instead, Elahi believed that spirituality had to be practiced within the context of an active and productive life in the midst of society. Thus, at the age of twenty-four he left behind a contemplative life to test his ethical principles in the crucible of society. Eventually settling in the capital city of Tehran, he cut his long hair, shaved his beard, replaced his traditional robes with a Western-style suit, and entered the civil service.
A few years later, as the country was undergoing extensive governmental reforms that included the establishment of an entirely new judicial system, Elahi enrolled in the newly formed National School of Jurisprudence. He finished a three-year curriculum in just six months, and he graduated with distinction in 1934.
Elahi then embarked on a 23-year legal career, which began with his first assignment as Justice of the Peace in Larestan, and culminated in his appointment as Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals and the High Court of Criminal Appeals of Mazandaran. He retired in 1957 at the age of 62 and settled in Tehran.
Throughout his legal career, Elahi devoted time to his personal studies and research, especially in philosophy and theology. This period of metaphysical investigation helped him to formulate his later works.
Elahi's philosophy addresses questions about the origin and nature of human beings, their role and responsibilities in the world, and their ultimate destination. His work highlights the duality of man as both a material and spiritual being, and reasserts the importance of their metaphysical dimension. He believed that self-realization requires more than mere reflection, and that spirituality, like any science, must necessarily be grounded in verifiable experiences. Elahi's written and oral teachings are thus the direct result of his personal experiences and not just philosophical reflections.
Elahi began to gradually reveal his system of thought after his retirement from the judiciary in 1957. It was during this period of his life that he wrote and published two scholarly works in the fields of religious science and authentic spirituality, as well as an extensive commentary on his father's writings. The practical aspect of his thought, on the other hand, was conveyed mostly in the form of oral teachings and instruction to close friends and acquaintances who considered themselves adherents of his philosophy. Two volumes of his sayings have been published to date on the basis of notes transcribed by these students. He also authored several manuscripts that remain unpublished, including "Kashf Al-Haqa'iq" (Unveiling of the Truths), which describes the genesis of the universe and the role of human beings.
In 1963 Elahi published his first book, Borhan al-Haqq (Demonstration of the Truth), a theological work which presented for the first time an authoritative historical account of the mystical order of the Ahl-e Haqq, including its development, fundamental principles, and sacred rites, which until then had been kept secret. The book also addressed the esoteric aims shared in common by the Qur'an, Islam, and the Ahl-e Haqq.
In 1966 he published his second work, Haqq-ol Haqqâieq (Commentary on the Book of the Kings of Truth), a commentary on his father's epic poem that expounded upon the determination of places and dates, the historical accuracy of certain events cited therein, and the concept of divine manifestation.
His third and final published work, a philosophical treatise titled Marifat ol-Ruh (Knowing the Spirit), was published in 1969 and addresses the existence and immortality of the soul, as well as the soul's gradual process of maturation and perfection.
For Elahi, music was primarily a means of engaging in contemplation and prayer, a universal language through which one can establish an intimate dialogue with the Beloved. He thus never performed in public and did not make any recordings of his music in a professional setting.
Elahi's music is rooted in a longstanding tradition involving the rhythmic recital and invocation of sacred texts in devotional gatherings, accompanied by various instruments such as the tanbour (an ancient lute), the ney (reed flute) and the daf (frame drum).
Elahi began playing the tanbour at the age of six and was widely recognized as a master of the tanbour by the age of nine. He would eventually revive this ancient art, composing over 100 original pieces, that he used as the basis for his creative improvisations. His musical ornamentations and complex playing technique, which for the first time involved the use of all five fingers of both hands, as well as his physical modifications to the instrument itself - namely, the doubling of the higher string so as to dramatically increase its expressiveness - earned him a reputation as an innovator of this art form and a master of the tanbour.
Since the commemoration of his centennial in 1995, nine CDs of his music have been produced from tape recordings that have been restored and digitized.
During the latter part of his life, Elahi was surrounded by individuals from all walks of life with diverse backgrounds and interests: the atheist who came for a debate, the musician who sought advice on some technical point, the scholar who wished to broaden the scope of his research, the simple villager or seeker who sought spiritual guidance. He welcomed them all with the same warmth and simplicity, always taking time to patiently and compassionately address each of their concerns.
Elahi died on October 19, 1974 at the age of seventy-nine. A memorial, which continues to be visited by thousands each year, was erected in his memory in Hashtgerd, a rural town located on the outskirts of Tehran.
After his passing in 1974, his philosophy and teachings were continued by his son, Prof. Bahram Elahi (b. 1931), a former pediatric surgeon and medical school dean who has written several books analyzing and elaborating upon this line of thinking.
Born with the name "Fatollah", Nur Ali's childhood nickname was "Kuchek Ali". At the age of eleven, he went through a spiritual transformation during an ascetic retreat with his father, who subsequently changed the child's name to "Sayyed Nur Ali". In 1941, while working as an attorney general in Khorammabad, Nur Ali legally changed his family name to "Elahi" in 1941.
After he died in 1974, his sister Malek Jan Nemati assumed responsibility for continuing his legacy. In accordance with the custom of referring to elders with deference, Malek Jan referred to her brother with the title "Hazrat Ostad" for the next twenty years as she continued explaining his teachings.
When the Organizing Committee for the commemoration of the centennial of Nur Ali Elahi's birth planned the 1995 commemoration events in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, and Tehran, they had to translate the title "Hazrat-e Ostad" into Western languages. However, the literal translation of this title in English conflicted with Elahi's reputation for humility (for example, His Highness or Majesty Master Nur Ali Elahi). With the permission of his family, the Committee settled on the title "Ostad Elahi" to retain the respect intended by his sister, and to convey that he was a master musician. As a result, most books and articles written about him since 1995 have used the title "Ostad Elahi.
Nur Ali Elahi dedicated the greater part of his life and work to the pursuit of self-knowledge and mysticism. In 1995, to celebrate the centennial of his birth, symposia were convened at universities in Paris, London, Los Angeles, and New York, where authorities in science, jurisprudence, literature, and music gathered to reflect on the theme of "Spirituality: Plurality and Unity." Lectures and roundtables were presented on a variety of topics, including the unity of religions, ethics and jurisprudence, science and spirituality, and the relevance of contemporary mysticism.
Under the patronage of UNESCO and the French Ministry of Culture, and in collaboration with the Academy of Paris, a two-month exhibition was concurrently organized on "The Life and Work of Ostad Elahi" at the Chapelle de la Sorbonne in Paris from September 6 to October 31, 1995. The exhibition was divided into three distinct sections that traced the chronology of his life: Dawn (1895-1920), Rising Sun (1920-1957), and Full Sun (1957-1974). Each of these periods was illustrated by a set of texts, photographs, autobiographical anecdotes, and personal objects that allowed one to become acquainted with Elahi and the different periods of his life.
The exhibition also featured a special music chamber filled with the sounds of melodies composed and played by Elahi. This music, previously reserved for devotional settings, was revealed to the public for the first time on this occasion. A collection of traditional instruments belonging to Elahi and his father, including tanbours, setars, and dafs, were also on display in the chamber.