ʿAṬṬĀR, FARĪD AL-DĪN
ʿAṬṬĀR, FARĪD AL-DĪN (c. 1158–1229 ce) was the most important Ṣūfī poet of the twelfth century, the central figure in the famous trio of Persian Ṣūfī poets beginning with Sanāʾī (d. 1131) and culminating in Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273).
Life and Works
Almost nothing of ʿAṭṭār's life is known except that he was a druggist (ʿaṭṭār means "perfumer") by profession and worked in a pharmacy in a local bazaar in Nīshāpūr, and that he died in 1221 or 1229 during a massacre when the Mongols attacked the city. He lived most of his life in Nīshāpūr, which was the administrative capital of Khurāsān in northern Iran and one of the most important intellectual centers in the Islamic world, to which students from all over the Middle East and India flocked to study. One of the few personal details we may gather from his own works is that ʿAṭṭār was far more involved in frequenting the company of local ascetics and Ṣūfīs than in keeping the society of his peers in the medical profession and the marketplace. "From early childhood, seemingly without cause, I was drawn to this particular group [the Ṣūfīs]," he confesses, "and my heart was tossed in waves of affection for them and their books were a constant source of delight for me" (ʿAṭṭār, 1993, p. 8).
More a passionate Ṣūfī poet than a dry theorist of mysticism, ʿAṭṭār composed one prose work and six important works of poetry. His major prose work (in Persian) was the monumental compendium of biographies of the famous Ṣūfīs, Tadhkirat al-awliyāʾ (Memoirs of the Saints). His most famous epic poem is the Conference of the Birds (Manṭiq al-ṭayr), modeled on the Treatise on the Birds, which was composed half a century earlier by another Ṣūfī master, Aḥmad Ghazālī (d. 1126), founder of the "school of love" in Sufism. The poem describes seven valleys representing stages on the Ṣūfī path—Search, Love, Gnosis, Trust in God, Unity, Bewilderment, and Annihilation—which the birds traverse, recognizing at last that they themselves are the Sīmurgh, the deity or divine phoenix they have been seeking. The epic has been adapted to musical and theatrical compositions in the West several times, and its stories are often illustrated in Persian miniature painting. ʿAṭṭār's Book of Adversity (Muṣībat-nāma) recounts the Ṣūfī path in other terms, following the voyage of a single pilgrim's tormented soul through the mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and angelic realms. Asking questions along the way, he appeals in turn to forty different cosmic or mythical beings for help, until at last he is directed to the Prophet Muḥammad, who gives him the answers he needs to set him on the right road. ʿAṭṭār's emotional expressions of longing for God in this book are very appealing. ʿAṭṭār's Divine Book (Ilāhī-nāma) relates story of a king who asks his six sons what they most desire. They all ask for worldly things, and the king exposes their vanity in a series of anecdotes. The Book of Mysteries (Asrār-nāma ) is another important poem of ʿAṭṭār's; it concerns twelve of the mystical principles of Sufism, and deeply affected later authors of Ṣūfī epics such as Rūmī and Shabistarī (d. 1320).The Book of Selections (Mukhtār-nāma) is a collection of more than 2,000 quatrains (rubāʾī) arranged in fifty chapters according to various mystical themes, and his Collected Poems (Dīwān) contains some 10,000 couplets, which are notable for their depiction of visionary landscapes and heartrending evocations of the agonies and ecstasies of the via mystica. The Book of Khusraw (Khusraw-nāma), the story of a romance between a Byzantine princess and a Persian prince, with almost no mystical content, has been attributed to ʿAṭṭār, but Muhammad Riḍā Shafāʾī-Kadkanī has rejected the attribution on convincing stylistic, linguis-tic, and historical grounds (Shafāʾī-Kadkanī, 1996, pp. xxxiv–lix).
ʿAṭṭār's works had such an impact on both the Ṣūfī community and the literate public at large that his fame soared soon after his death. He was so widely imitated that today there are some twenty-three works once attributed to ʿAṭṭār that have been proven by modern scholars to be spurious or of doubtful authenticity (De Blois, 1994). If we take merely the works that are unquestionably his, however, comprising a good 45,000 lines, ʿAṭṭār's achievement is still monumental.
Mystical Theology and Sufism
The most important aspect of ʿAṭṭār's thought lies in the fact that all of his works are devoted to Sufism (taṣawwuf). Concerning his spiritual master(s) in Sufism, we know for certain that ʿAṭṭār was acquainted with a certain Imām Aḥmad Khwārī, a disciple of Majd al-Dīn Baghdādī (d. 1219), who was one of the authorized deputies of Najm al-Dīn Kubrā (d. 1221), founder of the Kubrawiyya Ṣūfī Order—ʿAṭṭār himself informs us of this relationship (Shafāʾī-Kadkanī, 1999, p. 71; Shafāʾī-Kadkanī, 1996, p. 26, n. 1). Almost two centuries after ʿAṭṭār's death, Ibn Bazzāz (d. 1391) in his Ṣafwat al-safāʾ (The Purity of Spiritual Serenity ). cites a certain Ṣūfī poet named Shakar as his teacher, as well as someone else called Majd al-Din Kākulī (Ibn Bazzāz, 1997, p. 771) who had been his master in "experiential and speculative mysticism" (p. 51). Arguments have been advanced (by Shafāʾī-Kadkanī, 1999, pp. 72–79) on the basis of a single statement by the fifteenth-century biographer Faṣīḥ-i Khwāfī (in Mujmal-i Faṣīhī, completed in 1441–1442) that ʿAṭṭār's master in Sufism was in fact Jamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Nughundarī al-Tūsī, the lineage of whose initiatic chain (silsila) Khwāfī traced directly, by five links, to the great Ṣūfī mystic Abū Saʿīd ibn Abīʾl-Khayr (d. 1049), the founder of institutional Sufism and the first to codify and record the rules for Ṣūfī novices. However, both Ibn Bazzāz's and Khwāfī's claims are completely speculative, based on sources composed centuries after the poet's death that are uncorroborated by any earlier authors. Hence, all that can be stated with any certitude about his Ṣūfī master and order is that ʿAṭṭār was probably affiliated to the Kubrawiyya.
ʿAṭṭār is distinguished in the Persian-speaking Muslim world for his provocative and radical theology of love, and many of the verses of his epics and sonnets are cited independently of their poems as maxims in their own right. These pithy, paradoxical statements are known by heart throughout Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and wherever Persian is spoken or understood, such as in the lands of the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent. "Anyone who firmly sets his step down in love rises beyond the realm of faith and infidelity," he writes. In fact, the literary edifice of the symbolic poetics of mediæval Persian Sufism was to a large degree established on the foundations of ʿAṭṭār's bold "religion-of-love" poetry, which deliberately celebrates the so-called infidel wild-man's (qalandar) "religion of love" as the poet's personal ethic.
ʿAṭṭār's lyrical poetry, and much of his epic poetry, is pervaded by and subject to the influence of the strange, paradoxical utterances of Bāyazīd Bisṭāmī (d. 875) and the ecstatic sayings of Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj (d. 922). At the same time, ʿAṭṭār's love of the Prophet Muḥammad, expressed in glowing terms, penetrates and animates his verse; in many long sections of the preambles and epilogues of his poems he praised the Prophet with symbols such as light, the rose, the beloved, and the soul to demonstrate Muḥammad's central position in Islam. Although his passionate commitment to Islam reflects his own intense piety, faith, and reverence in the classical Islamic ideals, ʿAṭṭār's lyrical Ṣūfī vision is the virtual antithesis of contemporary Islamic religious fundamentalist thought, his lyrics evoking "a powerful statement of the role of esotericism in making possible the crossing of the frontiers of religious universes" (Nasr, 1987, p. 107).
ʿAṭṭār often expressed perplexity about the ultimate questions of existence. He was liberal and preached tolerance of other religions. His complaints about social injustice, poverty, tyranny, and the pain of disease and death, usually voiced in his verse by the so-called ʿuqalāyi majānīn, the "wise crazy men," have a philosophical tone. His high-minded exaltation of the suffering of Love-Passion (dard) as not only the essence of man, but the essence of God-consciousness, is typified in innumerable classic poetic aphorisms, such as "To the religious his religion; to the heretic his heresy. For ʿAṭṭār's heart but an ounce of your pain suffices." Such poetic dicta sketch the contours of the symbolic erotics of a Ṣūfī piety beyond conventionally designated religious boundaries, whether these are theologically labelled as being in a "devout Muslim form" or a "heretical Christian form," both of which are veils, says ʿAṭṭār, before the visio dei.
ʿAṭṭār's Ilāhī-nāma has been translated and annotated by John A. Boyle as The Ilāhīnāma, or Book of God (Manchester, U.K., 1976). The translation includes an excellent introduction by Annemarie Schimmel. Muṣībat-nāma has been translated by Isabelle de Gastines as Le livre d'épreuve: Musíbatnama (Paris, 1981), also with an introduction by Annemarie Schimmel. A. J. Arberry's Muslim Saints and Mystics (London, 1964) is a selection from Tadhkirat al-awliyāʾ (ed. Muhammad Istiʿlāmi, Tehran 1993, p. 8) rendered into graceful Victorian-style English prose; the new contemporary translation of the entire work by Paul Losensky (New York, 2005) is a scholarly achievement that is highly recommended. An excellent verse rendering of Manṭiq al-ṭayr is The Conference of the Birds, translated by Dick Davis and Afkham Darbandi (New York, 1984), whereas a more scholarly, though less readable, translation (but with excellent notes) is Peter Avery's The Speech of the Birds (Cambridge, U.K., 1998).
The basic, monumental work on ʿAṭṭār's mysticism is Helmut Ritter's Das Meer der Seele: Mensch, Welt, und Gott in den Geschichten des Farīduddīn ʿAṭṭār (Leiden, 1955), translated into English by John O'Kane as The Ocean of the Soul: Men, the World, and God in the Stories of Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār (Leiden, Netherlands, 2003), which has a 125-page analytic index compiled by Bernd Radtke and updated to include contemporary studies on the poet; the German original is also translated into Persian by ʾAbbās Zaryāb-khūʾī, Mihr-āfāq Bāybardī, as Daryā-yi jān: sayrī dar ārāʾyi u aḥwāl-i Shaykh Farid al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār Nīshābūrī (Tehran, 1998). Ritter analyzes his main poems, tracing every idea to its origin and showing its development in Islam. Ritter's article "Farīd al-Din Muhammad ibn Ibrāhīm" in The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1960), contains detailed biographical data, listing the poet's works, their editions, and important studies. An excellent overview of his life, works, and thought is also given in B. Reinert's article "ʿAṭṭār, Sheikh Farīd al-Dīn" in Encyclopædia Iranica (London and New York, 1985).
Badīʿ al-Zamān Furūzānfar placed ʿAṭṭār research on a more solid basis, superseding earlier biographical expositions with his Sharḥ-i aḥvāl va naqd va taḥlīl-i athar-i Shaykh Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār (Tehran, 1961), which includes an analysis of the three main poems. Muḥammad Riḍā Shafāʾī-Kadkanī's biographical study of the poet in his Zabūr-i pārsī: nigāhī bi zindagī u ghazalhā-yi ʿAṭṭār (Tehran, 1999) has somewhat revised and updated Furūzānfar's study by offering fresh insight into the local history of his biography, framing it within the twelfth-century Persian Ṣūfī tradition in Nīshāpūr, recalculating ʿAṭṭār's birth and death dates, and reappraising his authentic works, thus significantly changing our understanding of the poet's life, works, spiritual milieu, and literary background.
The following works in Persian also provide important biographical information on the poet: Mukhtār-nāma: majmu ʿa-yi rubāʿiyyāt athar-i Farīd al-Dīn-i ʿAṭṭār-i Nayshābūrī, edited with an introduction by M.R. Shaf ā˒ī-Kadkānī (Tehran, 1996), and Ibn Bazzāz, Ṣafwat al-ṣafāʾ, edited by Ghulām Riḍā Ṭabāṭabāʾī Majd, (Tehran, 1997).
F. De Blois's lengthy study of the poet in his Persian Literature: A Bio-bibliographical Survey, vol. 5, part 2: Poetry ca. A.D. 1100–1225 (London, 1994) contains the most recent survey and study of the manuscripts of all his major works, along with original insights into their authenticity and valuable information on his life. The critical heritage of the ʿAṭṭār industry over the past century in Iran now has its own bibliography in ʿAlī Mīr Anṣārī's Kitābshināsī-yi Shaykh Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār Nayshābūri, (Tehran, 1995), including most of the key scholarly articles and studies on his life and thought and editions of ʿAṭṭār's works.
Studies on specific aspects of ʿAṭṭār's life and thought include ʿAbd al-Ḥusayn Zarrīnkūb, Sudā-yi bāl-i sīmurgh: darbāra-yi zindagī va andīsha-yi ʿAṭṭār (Tehran, 1999), which places ʿAṭṭār's life and works in the context of earlier Persian literature. Taqī Pūrnāmdāriyān's Dīdār bā sīmurgh: haft maqāla dar ʿirfān u shi ʿr u andīshahā-yi ʿAṭṭār (Tehran, 1995) is a ground-breaking study of ʿAṭṭār's aesthetics, Ṣūfī symbolism, and his relationship to Peripateric philosophy. Riḍā Ashrafzāda's Tajallī-yi ramz u rawāyat dar shirʿr-i ʿAṭṭār Nayshābūrī (Tehran, 1994) provides an original survey of ʿAṭṭār's narrative techniques, characters, and symbolism, and Pūrān Shajīʿīʾ's Jahānbīnī-yi ʿAṭṭār (Tehran, 1994) discusses most of the key themes (of theology, mysticism, ethics, erotic theory) of his world view. Of the good literary studies, mention should be made of ʿAṭṭār: Concordance and Lexical Repertories of 1000 Lines, complied by Daniela Meneghini Correale and Valentina Zanoll (Venice, 1993), and S. H. Nasr, "The Flight of Birds to Union: Meditations upon ʿAṭṭār's Mantiq al-tayr, " in S. H. Nasr, Islamic Art and Spirituality (Suffolk, U.K., 1987). Leonard Lewisohn and Christopher Shackle (eds.), The Art of Spiritual Flight: Farid al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār and the Persian Sufi Tradition (London, 2005) presents the most recent survey of ʿAṭṭār's thought and poetry in light of contemporary scholarship.
Leonard Lewisohn (2005)
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