Editor’s note: The following two mystical stories have been adapted from the August-September 1981 issue of The Unesco Courier magazine, which was dedicated to Islam and the Muslim world.
(compiled from UNESCO Courier)
A manuscript by Farid Al Din Attar kept in Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany. Photo: Wikipedia.
We present two extracts from The llahi-nama or Book of God by the great Persian mystic poet Farid al-Din Attar (circa 537-627 AH, 1140-1230 AC) translated into English by John Andrew Boyle. The translation, with a foreword by Annemarie Schimmel, was published by the Manchester University Press in 1976 and forms part of the Unesco Collection of Representative Works.
Doctor, pharmacist and perfumer, Attar, whose name means “He who trades in perfumes”, wrote a prose work containing much information on the mystics, Tadhkirat ul-Auliya (abridged English translation, Biographies of the Saints, 1961) as well as several major works of poetry. In the West his best-known work is Mantiq-ut-Tair (The Conference of the Birds), an allegorical poem describing, the quest of birds for the Simorgh, or Divine Bird, led by the hoopoe, the wisest of them all. But ‘Attar’s masterpiece is doubtless the Mosibat-nameh (“Book of Affliction”), which describes the quest of the soul, embodied by the Pilgrim, for unity.
1. ZUBAIDA AND THE SUFI
A miniature painting by Bihzad illustrating the funeral of the elderly Attar of Nishapur after he was held captive and killed by a Mongol invader. Photo: Wikipedia.
Zubaida was seated on a camel-lifter, journeying auspiciously upon the Pilgrimage. A gust of wind blew the curtain to one side: a Sufi caught sight of her and fell headlong to the ground.
He set up such a crying and commotion that no one could silence him. Perceiving that, Sufi Zubaida whispered to a eunuch*: “Free me quickly from his noise even though it cost thee much gold”.
The eunuch offered the man a purse of gold: he would not take it, but when he was offered ten purses he gave way. Having accepted the ten purses of gold, he ceased at once to cry and to utter pitiful moans.
Zubaida, perceiving the true state of affairs, that that Sufi had turned away from the mystery of love, told the eunuch to bind his hands and to break his seven limbs with blows of the rod.
He cried out: “What then did I do that I should suffer these endless blows?”
“0 lover of thyself, what wilt thou do henceforth, liar that thou art?
“Thou didst pretend to love such a one as I, and yet when thou wert shown gold thou hadst enough of loving me. I have found thee nought but pretense from head to feet, and I find thy pretense to be false.
“Thou shouldst have sought after me; since thou didst not I knew for certain that thou wert feeble in action. Hadst thou sought after me, all my goods and property, all my gold and silver, would have been thine absolutely.
“But since thou soldest me I resolved to punish thy ardour. Thou shouldst have sought after me, 0 foolish man, and then all would have been thine at once.”
Fix thy heart on God and thou shalt be saved; if thou fix thy heart on men thou shalt be afflicted. Close tightly to thyself all other doors; seek out His door and fix thy heart upon it entirely, So that through the dark cloud of separation may shine the light of the dawn of knowledge. If thou find that light thou shalt find also the way to knowledge.
The saints that raised their heads to the moon were guided by the light of knowledge.
2. STORY OF BISHR HAFI
The Mausoleum of Attar in Nishapur, Iran. Attar had an immense and lasting influence on Persian poetry and Sufism. Photo: Wikipedia.
Bishr Hafi was walking along early one morning drunk with the lees of wine and yet pure in his soul, when he found lying in the road a piece of paper on which was written the name of God.
All he had in the world was a single grain. He sold it for musk. See what gain! At nightfall that God-seeking man perfumed the name of God with his musk.
That night, just before dawn, he dreamt that there came a Voice to him saying:
“0 thou who didst raise My name from the dust and with reverence didst both perfume and purify it, I have made thee a seeker of the truth; I have both perfumed and purified thee”.
0 Lord this sweet-singing ‘Attar has perfumed Thy name with the perfume of his poetry. And yet what though he sang sweetly? Thy name has always been perfumed. Still by Thy grace make him the dust of Thy doorway; make him famous with Thy name. He can expect nothing save from Thy grace, for he can produce not a single act of devotion.
Date posted: Friday, August 14, 2015.
Credits: Introduction and stories compiled and reproduced from The Unesco Courier. Please visit the magazine website at http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco-courier/. Photos taken from Wikipedia, please visit http://www.wikipedia.org.
* A man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court.