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Biography of Farid ad-Din Attar

Written by eastern writer on Friday, August 03, 2007

Attar's statue beside his mausoleum, Nishapur, Iran

Farid ad-Din Attar (färēd' äd-dēn ät-tär') , 1142?–1220?, b. Nishapur, Persia, one of the greatest Sufi mystic poets of Islam. His masterpiece is the Mantiq ut-Tair (The Conference of the Birds), a long allegory of the soul's search for divine truth. His many other works include Tadkhirat al-Awliya, (Biographies of the Saints) which contains biographies of many Sufi mystics. His name also appears as Ferid Eddin Attar and Farid ud-Din Attar.


See his Conference of the Birds (tr. 1971), and Muslim Saints and Mystics (tr. 1979).


He was the son of a prosperous chemist, receiving an excellent education in Arabic, theosophy and medicine. He helped his father in the store and, on his father's death, owned his own store. The people he helped in the pharmacy used to confide their troubles in Attar and this affected him deeply. Eventually, he abandoned his pharmacy store and travelled widely - Kufa, Mecca, Damascus, Turkistan, and India, meeting with Sufi shaykhs - and returned promoting Sufi (Islamic mysticism) ideas[1].


Some scholars believe he was killed during the raid and destruction of his city by the Mongol invaders. His tomb is in Neishapour. His death has quite a story: It's said that a Mongol soldier found out who he was and was taking him to his officer when a man offered some money to buy Attar. The soldier wanted to accept but Attar tells the soldier that he is worth more. After they walk more, another man comes and offers more money, again Attar tells the soldier to decline, because he is worth much more. After a while an old man comes along and offers his firewood to buy Attar and Attar tells the soldier to sell him to the old man because "he is not worth more than that". The angry soldier kills Attar right away.

Meet Rumi

Attar is one of the most famous mystic poets of Iran. His works were the inspiration of Rumi and many other mystic poets. Attar, along with Sanaie were two of the greatest influences on Rumi in his Sufi views. Rumi has mentioned both of them with the highest esteem several times in his poetry. Rumi praises Attar as such:

"Attar roamed the seven cities of love -- We are still just in one alley".

As a pharmacist

Attar was a pen-name which he took for his occupation. Attar means herbalist, druggist and perfumist, and during his lifetime in Persia, much of medicine and drugs were based on herbs. Therefore, by profession he was similar to a modern-day town doctor and pharmacist.

Books and Poets

'Attar's works fall within three categories. First are those works in which mysticism is in perfect balance with a finished, story-teller's art. The second group are those in which a pantheistic zeal gains the upper hand over literary interest. The third are those in which the aging poet idolizes the saint Ali. During this period there is no trace of ordered thoughts and descriptive skills[2].

* Asrar Nameh (Book of Secrets) about Sufi ideas.This is the work that the aged Shaykh gave Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi when Rumi's family stayed over at Nishapur on its way to Konya, Turkey.
* Elahi Nameh (Divine Book), about zuhd or asceticism.
* Manteq al-Tayr (Conference of the Birds) in which he makes extensive use of Al-Ghazali's Risala on Birds as well as a treatise by the Ikhvan al-Safa (the Brothers of Serenity) on the same topic.

Manteq al-Tayr (Conference of the Birds)

Led by the hoopoe, the birds of the world set forth in search of their king, Simurgh. Their quest takes them through seven valleys in the first of which a hundred difficulties assail them. They undergo many trials as they try to free themselves of what is precious to them and change their state. Once successful and filled with longing, they ask for wine to dull the effects of dogma, belief, and unbelief on their lives. In the second valley, the birds give up reason for love and, with a thousand hearts to sacrifice, continue their quest for discovering the Simurgh. The third valley confounds the birds, especially when they discover that their worldly knowledge has become completely useless and their understanding has become ambivalent. They cannot understand why both the mihrab and the idol lead to understanding. Devoid of their earthly measures, they lose their ability to distinguish right from wrong. The fourth valley is introduced as the valley of detachment, i.e., detachment from desire to possess and the wish to discover. The birds begin to feel that they have become part of a universe that is detached from their physical recognizable reality. In their new world, the planets are as minute as sparks of dust and elephants are not distinguishable from ants. It is not until they enter the fifth valley that they realize that unity and multiplicity are the same. And as they have become entities in a vacuum with no sense of eternity. More importantly, they realize that God is beyond unity, multiplicity, and eternity. Stepping into the sixth valley, the birds become astonished at the beauty of the Beloved. Experiencing extreme sadness and dejection, they feel that they know nothing, understand nothing. They are not even aware of themselves. Only thirty birds reach the abode of the Simurgh. But there is no Simurgh anywhere t o see. Simurgh's chamberlain keeps them waiting for Simurgh long enough for the birds to figure out that they themselves are the si (thirty) murgh (bird). The seventh valley is the valley of depravation, forgetfulness, dumbness, deafness, and death. The present and future lives of the thirty successful birds become shadows chased by the celestial Sun. And themselves, lost in the Sea of His existence, are the Simurgh[3].

'Attar's Seven Valleys of Love

* The Valley of the Quest
* The Valley of Love
* The Valley of Understanding
* The Valley of Independence and Detachment
* The Valley of Unity
* The Valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment
* The Valley of Deprivation and Death

References used

1. ^
2. ^
3. ^

* E.G. Browne. Literary History of Persia. (Four volumes, 2,256 pages, and twenty-five years in the writing). 1998. ISBN 0-7007-0406-X.

* Jan Rypka, History of Iranian Literature. Reidel Publishing Company. 1968 OCLC 460598. ISBN 90-277-0143-1


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