Muslim Saints and Mystics
by Farid al-Din Attar

Farid al-Din Attar, author of the book here presented in an abridged translation, is to be accounted amongst the greatest poets of Persia; his dimensions as a literary genius increase with the further investigation of his writings, which are still far from completely explored, though welcome progress has been made of late in their publication. The existence of a number of remarkable studies of Attar, listed in the Bibliography below, absolves the present writer from the necessity of going into lengthy detail about the keenly disputed details of his life and works.

Here it will suffice to state that he appears to have died between a.d. 1220 and 1230 at an advanced age, possibly at the hands of the Mongol invaders of Persia; the traditional account that he was born in 1119 and murdered precisely in 1230 is now generally rejected. Of the very numerous epics and idylls ascribed to Attar perhaps nine may be recognized as authentic.

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Sufism is the name given to the mystical move-ment within Islam; a Sufi is a Muslim who dedicates himself to the quest after mystical union (or, better said, reunion) with his Creator The name is Arabic in origin, being derived from the word suf meaning “wool”; the Sufis were distin-guishable from their fellows by wearing a habit of coarse woollen cloth, in time when silks and brocades had become the fashion of the wealthy and mundane-minded, symbolic of their renunci-ation of worldly values and their abhorrence for physical comforts.

Mystical awareness was certainly present in the Prophet Mohammad’s attitude to Allah, and “mystical” is an entirely appropriate adjective to describe his many experiences of supernatural Presence making contact through him with a message to mankind. The Koran, the book of Allah’s revelations to Mohammad, contains numerous passages of a mystical character which the Sufis seized upon eagerly to buttress their own claims to personal trafficking with God.

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