About the author: The path of mysticism branches off into many separate manners and traditions; however, all the followers of this path seek the fundamental truth behind the beauty of divine love and power and devote their whole lives to the pursuit of union with God. Our friend, Junaid, is from the UK. He has a keen interest in the way of the mystics, particularly the Sufi mystics of Iran, and has read into their history. His teacher, a devotee of Sufism, introduced him to the life stories and quotes of the mystics from a young age. He believes that he has been inspired and humbled by them ever since. He has written this article for ‘Visit Our Iran’ audience after traveling to Iran and experiencing “its unfathomable beauty” in 2019. Junaid has also written an article to introduce some of the most prominent mystic figures in Iran.
The Influence of Mysticism on Literature and Poetry
A key feature of the Persian language is the fact that little has changed over the more than a thousand years of its existence as a literary language. Therefore, the poems of Roudaki, the famous early Persian poet, who left this world in the year 941 CE, are understood by even the modern reader. Persian literature has also been dominated by poetry, and Sufism in particular inspired a vast array of mystical poetry. Almost every great lyric poet in classical times was a follower of Sufism. The impact of Sufism on Persian literature was so fundamental that Persian literature would have likely remained for many centuries confined to court literature.
Sufi mystics would express their experiences, states, and teachings in Persian and much poetry was derived from the Persian language. The works of Hafez Shirazi, Saadi Shirazi, and Fariduddin Attar enabled the lower classes to be heard and given a voice in literature.
In this blog, I will introduce you to some of the most prominent Mystical figures who turned out to be notable figures in literature and poetry as well:
He was born in Nishapur, Northeast Persia (in the Iranian province of Khorasan) in around 1142. He worked as a healer and is considered one of the greatest mystical poets. It is said that he saw as many as 500 patients a day in his shop prescribing herbal remedies prepared by himself. He left his profession to travel and focus on the ultimate purpose of discovering oneself. This was after encountering an enlightened Sufi shaykh in his shop, ultimately inspiring him to perform a spiritual pilgrimage.
His greatest work Mantiq al-Tair (The Conference of the Birds), is a symbolic story of the soul’s search for truth and is considered a masterpiece of Persian literature. In this book, he outlines the human’s journey towards perfection and unity with God through a mystical account of birds attempting to undertaken journeys through 7 valleys (each representing a human vice) to meet Simorgh, a mythological leader of Birds.
Attar also wrote Tazkirat al-awliya, a hagiographic collection of Muslim saints and mystics. Attar trusted that the blessed influence of the saints might be vouchsafed to him and bring him into happiness; he occupied himself with their sayings and life stories in the hope that he could himself resemble them. He is now buried in Nishapur and is a source of tranquility for many devotees and readers.
Some of his most famous quotes are outlined below:
Join this experience and embark on a Mystic pilgrimage in Iran. You can observe and follow the trace of history and take the paths taken by Persian Mystic figures, visit their mausoleums and learn about their beliefs.
Saadi was born in Shiraz in the 13th century. His name was derived from that of a local prince, Sa’ad ibn Zangi. He studied at the famous Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad, the center of learning at the time. During his studies, he excelled in Islamic sciences, law history, governance, and literature.
At the time of the invasion by the Mongols of the Fars province, he left Shiraz to explore the world and visit foreign lands. He managed to visit Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Jerusalem, Medina, and Mecca. Under the Mongol invasions, he was compelled to live in isolated refugee camps for more than twenty years, where he met bandits, Imams, merchants, farmers, intellects, scholars, mystics, and ordinary people. He was said to have lived much of his life as a wandering dervish, seeking knowledge, meditating, and spending time with mystics.
For many years Saadi would advise people, learn, provide sermons to reflect the wisdom he had attained. Saadi’s works reflect upon the lives of ordinary Iranians suffering from displacement, plight, agony, and conflict during the turbulent times of the Mongol invasions.
He finally returned to Shiraz in his late forties and was greatly respected by the ruler and people. He continued to guide and offer wisdom to a wide variety of people.
Khwaja Shamsuddin Mohammed Hafez Shirazi was born in 1319 in Shiraz in South-Central Iran. He had memorized the Quran as a child by listening to his father’s recitations and accordingly gained the title of Hafez. He had also memorized many poems of Saadi, Attar, and Mevlana Rumi.
He was brought up in a life of poverty and left school to work in a drapery shop and then in a bakery. As part of his work for the bakery, Hafez delivered bread to a wealthy quarter and encountered a woman of incredible beauty and became wholly besotted with her. However, given her status as his status, the love was unrequited. In pursuit of attaining his beloved, there was a legend that if one kept a 40 day and night vigil at the tomb of Baba Kohi, one’s wishes would be granted. Without hesitation, he did this and at the end of the vigil, he encountered an Angel who asked him what he wanted. However, Hafez was entirely struck by this being of divine beauty and led him on to beginning his mystical path of realization, in pursuit of spiritual union with the divine.
Longing for complete union with God, at age 60 he undertook another 40-day-and-night vigil by sitting in a circle drawn for himself. On the morning of the 40th day of the vigil, he attained cosmic consciousness and God realization. He composed more than half of his ghazals after this experience and much of his poetry expresses the divine union with God.
Some of his most famous quotes are outlined below:
Abul Hassan al-Kharqani
Abu ‘l-Hassan was born in 963 (352 Hijri year) from Persian parents in Khorasan in a village called Qaleh Now-e Kharaqan (today located in Semnan Province, Iran near Bastam) and died on the day of Ashura in 1033 (10th Muharram, 425 Hijri).
He was the disciple of Abul-Abbas Qassab Amoli but claimed a deep spiritual relation with Bayazid Bastami, a well-known Sufi Master who passed on almost a century before him but had spoken about the personality and state of Kharaqani.
He devoided himself of everything except Allah’s Oneness, refusing for himself all titles and aspirations. He would not be known as a follower of any science, even a spiritual science, and he said: “I am not a Rahib (hermit). I am not a Zahid (ascetic). I am not a speaker. I am not a Sufi. O Allah, You are One, and I am one in Your Oneness.”
At the entrance of his house, he had the following message: Whoever enters my place, feed them without asking about their faith because if God saw them worthy of the gift of life, then they are certainly worthy of being fed at the house of Abul Hassan. At the house of Aboul Hassan, none is distinguished by their color of skin or their race.
The book Noorul-Uloom (The light of Sciences) is dedicated to Shaikh Abul Hassan Kharaqani. It is believed to have been written by his disciples (murids) after his death. Its single manuscript copy is currently held in the British Museum.
Some of his famous quotes are as follows: