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ʿAĀR, FARĪD AL-DĪN (c. 11581229 ce) was the most important ūfī poet of the twelfth century, the central figure in the famous trio of Persian ūfī poets beginning with Sanāʾī (d. 1131) and culminating in Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273).

Life and Works

Almost nothing of ʿAār's life is known except that he was a druggist (ʿaār 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 ʿAār was far more involved in frequenting the company of local ascetics and ūfīs 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 ūfīs]," he confesses, "and my heart was tossed in waves of affection for them and their books were a constant source of delight for me" (ʿAār, 1993, p. 8).

More a passionate ūfī poet than a dry theorist of mysticism, ʿAār 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 ūfīs, Tadhkirat al-awliyāʾ (Memoirs of the Saints). His most famous epic poem is the Conference of the Birds (Maniq al-ayr), modeled on the Treatise on the Birds, which was composed half a century earlier by another ūfī master, Amad Ghazālī (d. 1126), founder of the "school of love" in Sufism. The poem describes seven valleys representing stages on the ūfī pathSearch, Love, Gnosis, Trust in God, Unity, Bewilderment, and Annihilationwhich 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. ʿAār's Book of Adversity (Muībat-nāma) recounts the ūfī 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 Muammad, who gives him the answers he needs to set him on the right road. ʿAār's emotional expressions of longing for God in this book are very appealing. ʿAār'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 ʿAār's; it concerns twelve of the mystical principles of Sufism, and deeply affected later authors of ūfī 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 ʿAār, but Muhammad Riā Shafāʾī-Kadkanī has rejected the attribution on convincing stylistic, linguis-tic, and historical grounds (Shafāʾī-Kadkanī, 1996, pp. xxxivlix).

ʿAār's works had such an impact on both the ūfī 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 ʿAār 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, ʿAār's achievement is still monumental.

Mystical Theology and Sufism

The most important aspect of ʿAār's thought lies in the fact that all of his works are devoted to Sufism (taawwuf). Concerning his spiritual master(s) in Sufism, we know for certain that ʿAār was acquainted with a certain Imām Amad 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 ūfī OrderʿAār himself informs us of this relationship (Shafāʾī-Kadkanī, 1999, p. 71; Shafāʾī-Kadkanī, 1996, p. 26, n. 1). Almost two centuries after ʿAār's death, Ibn Bazzāz (d. 1391) in his afwat al-safāʾ (The Purity of Spiritual Serenity ). cites a certain ūfī 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. 7279) on the basis of a single statement by the fifteenth-century biographer Faī-i Khwāfī (in Mujmal-i Faīhī, completed in 14411442) that ʿAār's master in Sufism was in fact Jamāl al-Dīn Muammad al-Nughundarī al-Tūsī, the lineage of whose initiatic chain (silsila) Khwāfī traced directly, by five links, to the great ūfī mystic Abū Saʿīd ibn Abīʾl-Khayr (d. 1049), the founder of institutional Sufism and the first to codify and record the rules for ūfī 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 ūfī master and order is that ʿAār was probably affiliated to the Kubrawiyya.

ʿAār 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 ʿAār'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.

ʿAār's lyrical poetry, and much of his epic poetry, is pervaded by and subject to the influence of the strange, paradoxical utterances of Bāyazīd Bisāmī (d. 875) and the ecstatic sayings of Manūr al-allāj (d. 922). At the same time, ʿAār's love of the Prophet Muammad, 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 Muammad's central position in Islam. Although his passionate commitment to Islam reflects his own intense piety, faith, and reverence in the classical Islamic ideals, ʿAār's lyrical ūfī 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).

ʿAār 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 ʿAār's heart but an ounce of your pain suffices." Such poetic dicta sketch the contours of the symbolic erotics of a ūfī 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 ʿAār, before the visio dei.

See Also

Poetry, article on Islamic Poetry; Rūmī, Jalāl al-Dīn.


ʿAār'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. Muībat-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 Maniq al-ayr 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 ʿAār's mysticism is Helmut Ritter's Das Meer der Seele: Mensch, Welt, und Gott in den Geschichten des Farīduddīn ʿAār (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 ʿAār (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 awāl-i Shaykh Farid al-Dīn ʿAār 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 "ʿAār, Sheikh Farīd al-Dīn" in Encyclopædia Iranica (London and New York, 1985).

Badīʿ al-Zamān Furūzānfar placed ʿAār research on a more solid basis, superseding earlier biographical expositions with his Shar-i avāl va naqd va talīl-i athar-i Shaykh Farīd al-Dīn ʿAār (Tehran, 1961), which includes an analysis of the three main poems. Muammad Riā Shafāʾī-Kadkanī's biographical study of the poet in his Zabūr-i pārsī: nigāhī bi zindagī u ghazalhā-yi ʿAār (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 ūfī tradition in Nīshāpūr, recalculating ʿAār'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 ʿAār-i Nayshābūrī, edited with an introduction by M.R. Shaf ā˒ī-Kadkānī (Tehran, 1996), and Ibn Bazzāz, afwat al-afāʾ, edited by Ghulām Riā abāabāʾī 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. 11001225 (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 ʿAār industry over the past century in Iran now has its own bibliography in ʿAlī Mīr Anārī's Kitābshināsī-yi Shaykh Farīd al-Dīn ʿAār Nayshābūri, (Tehran, 1995), including most of the key scholarly articles and studies on his life and thought and editions of ʿAār's works.

Studies on specific aspects of ʿAār's life and thought include ʿAbd al-usayn Zarrīnkūb, Sudā-yi bāl-i sīmurgh: darbāra-yi zindagī va andīsha-yi ʿAār (Tehran, 1999), which places ʿAār'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 ʿAār (Tehran, 1995) is a ground-breaking study of ʿAār's aesthetics, ūfī symbolism, and his relationship to Peripateric philosophy. Riā Ashrafzāda's Tajallī-yi ramz u rawāyat dar shirʿr-i ʿAār Nayshābūrī (Tehran, 1994) provides an original survey of ʿAār's narrative techniques, characters, and symbolism, and Pūrān Shajīʿīʾ's Jahānbīnī-yi ʿAār (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 ʿAār: 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 ʿAār'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 ʿAār and the Persian Sufi Tradition (London, 2005) presents the most recent survey of ʿAār's thought and poetry in light of contemporary scholarship.

Leonard Lewisohn (2005)