Attar

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Farid al-Din Attar (ca. 1142 - ca. 1230) (also spelled Fariduddin Attar) was born in Neishapour, in the Iranian province of Khorasan, and died in the same city. Some scholars believe he was killed during the raid and destruction of his city by the Mongol invaders. His tomb is in Neishapour.

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 sufic 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.

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.

He is one of the most prolific figures of the Persian literature. He wrote over a hundred works of varying lengths from just a few pages to voluminous tomes. About thirty of his works have survived. His most well-known and popular work is Mantiq at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). His other popular work is Asrarnameh (The Book of Secrets). Generally speaking, most of his books are popular and relatively easy to read.

"The Concourse of the Birds" painted by Habib Allah.

"The Concourse of the Birds" painted by Habib Allah.

His Mantiq at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds ISBN 1578632463) is one of the definitive masterpieces of all Persian literature. Besides being one of the most beautiful examples of Persian poetry, this book relies on a clever word play between the words Simorgh a mysterious bird in Iranian mythology which is a symbol often found in sufi literature, and similar to the phoenix bird and "si morgh" meaning "thirty birds" in Persian. The stories recounts the longing of a group of birds who desire to know the great Simorgh, and who under the guidance of a leader bird start their journey toward the land of Simorgh. One by one, they drop out of the journey, each offering an excuse and unable to endure the journey. Within the larger context of the story of the journey of the birds, Attar masterfully tells the reader many didactic short, sweet stories in captivating poetic style. Eventually only thirty birds remain as they finally arrive in the land of Simorgh all they see there are each other and the reflection of the thirty birds in a lake not the mythical Simorgh. It is the Sufi doctrine that God is not external or separate from the universe, rather is the totality of existence. The thirty birds seeking the Simorgh realise that Simorgh is nothing more than their transcendent totality. This concept has been compared as being similar to "Universal Pantheism" in western philosophy.

There is solid evidence that Rumi met Attar as a young boy as Rumi's family abandoned the city of Balkh. On their way, Rumi's father came to visit Attar. It is reported that Attar gave a copy of one of his mystic poetry books to the young Jalal o-Din (who was not called Rumi or Molana until much later when he became the great mystic and poet as he is known today). Their meeting has been reported by various sources, including by Rumi's own son Hassam al-Din.