Attar, the essence of Iranian–Islamic mysticism
April 14 is the commemoration day of the great Iranian poet and mystic Attar Neyshaburi, who lived from about 1145 to 1221.
Attar’s ideas had a great influence on the development of Islamic mysticism. He was the author of The Conference of the Birds and has a high status in the field of Iranian poetry despite his relative obscurity compared to other Iranian poets and mystics.
Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Robert Hooke on February 5, 1675: “If I have seen further (than certain other men) it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
He also noted that if it were not for these titans of thought, he would have found no opportunity to realize his scientific achievements.
This also holds true for the great Iranian–Islamic thinkers such as Rumi, Sadi, Hafez, Mulla Sadra, and Khwaja Nasir ad-Din Tusi.
It was due to the achievements of the earlier distinguished Iranian thinkers and scholars such as Farabi, Ghazali, Rudaki, Ferdowsi, and Avicenna that such great figures were produced by the Iranian civilization and deeply influenced Iranian–Islamic schools of thought with their ideas.
More specifically, in the realm of Iranian–Islamic mysticism, Rumi would hardly have found any opportunity to flourish if it were not for the earlier ideas of other Iranian mystics such as Sanaii and particularly Attar Neyshaburi.
We greatly admire Rumi. We read his verse and witness that his poetry and thoughts are highly respected in the West. However, in order to comprehend Rumi’s deep thoughts and to understand the evolutionary processes of these schools of thought, one must be very familiar with the thoughts of earlier mystics such as Attar, since many of these schools have their roots in the poetry and ideas of Attar.
It can be said that the Iranian–Islamic cultural education has three sides: fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), philosophy, and mysticism.
It is amazing that, in addition to all the relations established between these three sides throughout history, they also have had some contradictions.
Both mystics and philosophers have had some disagreements with the ulema, while they seldom adopted a unanimous position on an issue.
Whereas some distinguished Iranian mystics such as Rumi have sometimes philosophized despite their antipathy toward philosophy, Attar is the ideal model of the mystic process in the Iranian–Islamic culture and civilization.
Understanding the third side of Iranian culture, i.e. mysticism, is impossible without becoming deeply familiarized with the thoughts of Attar Neyshaburi.
Attar connected the mysticism of the previous centuries of Iranian–Islamic civilization with the mysticism of later centuries. That is to say, Attar created a bridge between these two kinds of mysticism.
This is one reason why Attar is a distinguished Islamic mystic.
If we assume that the Persian language is the second scholarly language of the Islamic world, it is the first language of Islamic mysticism. Even the Arabs agree about this.
The Persian language and mysticism are so intertwined that some linguists believe that Persian is structurally predisposed toward the composition of poetry and particularly mystical poetry.
Along these lines, the role of Attar is significant, not only as the developer of Islamic mysticism and the person who introduced distinguished Iranian mystics such as Hossein ibn Mansur Hallaj, Ebrahim Adham, and Abu Saeid Abulkheir but also as a developer of the mellifluous Persian language.
Some linguists believe that a language can only develop through the efforts of scholars who burn the midnight oil pondering diverse disciplines and whose ideas subsequently create a deep impression on the language.
The role of Attar Neyshaburi in developing mystical thought is undeniable. He has introduced new linguistic techniques into the Persian language in order to convey mystical concepts.