Farid ad-Din 'Attar (c. 1145-1221)

  • “Come from the sea like clouds of rain – travel!”

    Farid ad-Din 'Attar, the “apothecary”, lived in Nishapur. His best-known work is the Conference of the Birds, in which he gives poetic form to the mystical path to God.

    'Attar was a born storyteller, and his tales included mystical themes, criticism of rulers, and biographies of the saints in the form of enthralling anecdotes and allegories. His epics and poems gave a voice not only to Sufis and ascetics but to madmen and fools. Some of them have become standard works which inspired later Sufis such as Jalal ad-Din Rumi and others.

    In his Conference of the Birds, 'Attar tells how the birds of the world set off on a journey to find Simorgh, the king of the birds. Led by the hoopoe, they pass through seven valleys, and endure many difficulties. Not all birds survive the journey. At the end, thirty birds (Persian, si morgh) are left. They enter the palace, miserable and confused. After the last trial, the last purification, their souls recognise that they themselves, the si morgh, are the Simorgh.

    In the Conference of the Birds, 'Attar takes up the central ideas of Sufism: the mystical path, tariqa (the journey), the role of the shaykh (hoopoe), the different stations of the tariqa (the seven valleys), finally the unio mystica.