A few words may be added concerning the author of the Persian text, Muhammad ibn Farid-ud-din Attār, one of the most distinguished poets and philosophers, Sufis and spiritualists, who adorn the pages of Persian literature. He was born in 513 A. H. (1119-20 A. D.) at Kakan, a village near Nishapur, and is said to have lived to the extraordinary age of 114 years.

His father was a respectable druggist (Attār) and in his youth Farid-ud-din followed the same profession. According to Dawlatshah, the famous biographer, Farid-ud-din was sitting one day at his door with a friend when a dervish, or religious mendicant, ap­proached the shop. Looking closely into the well-furnished shop and inhaling the sweet scent of the odoriferous drugs and perfumes with which it was loaded, the mendicant heaved a deep sigh and began to shed tears. He was obviously moved by the thought of the transitory state of all earthly prosperity and the instability of human life. Attār, however, mistook the cause of the man’s agitation and thought he was simply trying to excite pity to get alms. He therefore asked the dervish to move on. “Yes,” said he, “there is nothing to prevent me from leaving your door or indeed from bidding adieu to this world at once. My sole possession in this world is this worn-out garment and I can give it up at any moment, but oh! Attār, I grieve for thee. How, indeed, canst thou ever bring thyself to think of death, casting all these worldly goods behind thee?”

To this story of Dawlatshah the author of Haft Iqlim adds an extraordinary denouement. According to this authority, Attār told the dervish that he hoped and prayed that he also would die in poverty and contentment as a dervish. “We shall see,” said the mendicant, and he placed the wooden bowl that he held in his hand on the ground, laid his head upon it, chanted the name of God and forthwith gave up his life to his Creator.

According to both accounts the result was the same. Attār was deeply moved by the words of the mendicant, gave up his business, renounced all worldly concerns, became a disciple of the famous Shaykh Rukn-ud-din and applied himself assiduously to the study of Sufi philosophy. Within a short time he showed such proficiency in the knowledge of mysticism and such keenness in the observance of its doctrines that he came to be regarded as “the scourge of all idle adepts in Sufism”, whilst “his burning zeal in the service of God became a bright lamp for the guidance of the divers for the pearls of truth in the sea of mystic knowledge”. He then travelled ex­tensively in the East, visiting Damascus, Egypt, India, and Turkestan, made a pilgrimage to the holy places in Arabia, and acquired the reputation of possessing more knowledge of the Sufi philosophy and of its professors than any contemporary author. Renowned as he was as a poet, he acquired still greater fame by his philosophical and Sufistic writings.

Attār was the most voluminous writer of his age. In the sphere of Sufi poetry he was the successor of the first mystic poet Sanāi and the predecessor of the most distinguished of Sufi poets, Jalal-ud-din Rumi. He composed about 120,000 couplets of poetry, in addition to several prose works. Of these the best known are the Mantiq-ut-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds), Pand Namah (The Book of Counsel), Ilahi Namah (The Book of God), Asrar Namah (The Book of Secrets), Diwan-i-Attār (A collection of Odes), Tazkirat-ul-Awliya (The Memoirs of the Saints) and Lisan-ul-Ghaib (The Hidden Voice).

A Sufi being asked to whom he ascribed greater proficiency in mystic learning, Jalal-ud-din Rumi or Farid-ud-din Attār, replied: “The former, like an eagle, flew up to the height of perfection in the twinkling of an eye; the latter reached the same summit, but it was by crawling slowly and perse­veringly like an ant.”

The death of this saint was as glorious as was his earthly career. When Attār was 114 years of age, Chengizkhan invaded Persia. Attār fell into the hands of one of the Moghul soldiers, who was about to put him to death, when another Moghul, out of consideration for his age and matchless piety and his resignation in the face of death, offered to purchase his life for a thousand dirhams. The bargain would have been sealed had not Attār, anxious to see the bird of his soul released from its carnal cage, exclaimed; “Do not accept this paltry sum. You may depend upon getting a better offer.” After some time, another Moghul approached, and seeing that the old man would not be of much service offered a bag of fodder as his price. “This is my full value”, said Attār, “now you may sell me”. This enraged the soldier so much that he murdered the sage on the spot. Thus Attār had the supreme gratification of dying a martyr.

When the chief Qazi of Nishapur lost his son, his friends suggested that the resting place of the deceased should be at the foot of Attār’s sepulchre so that “the propinquity of the remains of so holy a man might ensure for him a seat in paradise.” The Qazi, however, spurned the suggestion to place his son’s remains at the feet of a mere reciter of tales and verses. He, therefore, selected another site for the burial. On the following night he saw in a dream Attār’s tomb glowing with celestial lights and encircled by the souls of the sanctified. The dead son of the Qazi then appeared on the scene and reproached his father for not allowing him to be interred in the vicinity of so sanctified a sepulchre, and besought him to transfer his coffin to the sacred spot. The Qazi woke up, distressed and penitent, and placed his son’s corpse close to the feet of Attār. He also erected a handsome monument over the Shaykh’s grave.

The praise of such a mystic was on every tongue. “Attār”, says Jalal-ud-din, “was the soul itself, and Sanā’i its two eyes. I came after both Sanā’i and Attār.”