The appearance of Islam at the gate of Iran was neither as dramatic nor as sudden as some historians would have us believe. Ctesiphon and the Arabian tribes had been in contact for a long time and a special Bureau of Arab Affairs had been established at the Sassanian capital. By the time of the invasion, Yemen, in the south of the Arabian peninsula, and Hira to the north, had been clients of the Sassanians for some time. What took the Iranians by surprise, if they were surprised at all, was the rapidity with which the Prophet Muhammad rallied the disparate tribes and the dexterity with which he focused their energy on a single cause: the promotion of the will of Allah.
The situation at the court of Khusrau II (Parviz) was the opposite. The opulence of the court masked the king's distress, but everyone, especially the influential Arabs at the court, was aware that the farr-i shahi (symbol of kingship) was leaving Ctesiphon. The Prophet's message, delivered by the learned and respected Muslim 'Abdullah Ibn-i Hudhafah al-Sahmi, the breaking of a massive dam on the Tigris River near Ctesiphon, and the appearance of a fissure in the arch of the Kasra Palace were all portents of the approaching closure of yet another era of Persian dominance in the region.
The first kingdom to be lost was Yemen. The Iranian satrap ruling Yemen accepted Islam, mustered a standing army, and joined the Prophet in the battles to the north. The loss of Yemen and Hira was followed by Iran's loss of its capable men to the enemy. Salman of Fars, for instance, not only joined the Arabian war council but, reportedly, was distinguished by the Prophet as a member of his family. The Battle of the Ditch (Khandaq) is indicative of how Iranian expertise (e.g., digging a canal around al-Madinah to incapacitate the Iranian cavalry), won a number of victories for the Arab infantry. Salman is credited with the drawing up of this and many similar plans at critical times when the forces of Islam were outnumbered.
After Muhammad's death, Iranians thought the Arabs would scatter, that they would return to their tribal and pagan traditions of the Jahiliyyah days. But this did not happen; the threat to Iran remained. Furthermore, as the army of Islam gained strength, the maltreated Iranian forces, led by lesser generals, lost their morale. Many kings and queens ascended the throne, each trying to return Iran to the days of Ardashir and Shapur. But times had changed. Besides, the deeds of its recent kings had divested Iran not only of its experienced generals but its competent rulers as well.
After many years of preparation, Yazdigird III was about to place Iran on the way to revitalization, when his efforts were curtailed by an all-out invasion. Advised by his council, Yazdigird gradually retreated to the heartland carrying his harem and wealth. The Muslims conquered Ctesiphon and like Alexander, who shipped the treasury of Persepolis to Greece, looted the palace of the Khusraus and the homes of the nobility. Yazdigird III was killed by a miller at Merv. The Persian satraps fought for a while longer, but the preservation of Iran's territorial integrity and its religious and cultural traditions was beyond their ability. Centuries of war with Byzantium had taken its toll on the population, draining it of its collective will. Neither the monarchy nor the oppressive Zoroastrian clergy was revered by the populace as they had been during the time of Ardashir I and Khusrau I Anushiravan.
During the centuries that followed, Iranians continued to prevent Islam from making inroads into their cultural identity and divesting them of their heritage. Knowing their culture well, they influenced events and paved the way for posterity to turn the tide. From the beginning, three lines of resistance are distinct: administrative manipulation, political resistance, and intellectual nonconformity.
The Arabs needed administrative aid in governing Iran because they had neither the experience nor the required expertise to administer a vast and complex empire like the Empire of the Sassanians. Hence most Iranian officials were temporarily retained in their former positions. There was a difference, however; they had to administer the affairs of the state under the watchful supervision of Arab bureaucrats.
Political resistance was intense and relentless. The many revolts led by Astadhsis, Babak the Khurramite, the Barmacides, and many others are sufficient reminders. From among these rebels and revolutionaries, two houses gained prominence: the Tahirids (AD 821-875) and the Samanids (AD 864-1005). The former gained the independence of Khurasan and Ma Wara' al-Nahr, the latter brought the region over 150 years of peace, tranquility and prosperity.
The Samanids carried out drastic social reforms, protected the lower classes against oppression, and encouraged the development of trade and industry. Their greatest contribution, however, was in the area of language and culture. The mere mention of the names of poets like Rudaki and Farrukhi not to mention the chief poet Unsuri is sufficient indication of the depth of the Samanids' zeal for the revival and preservation of their ancient Iranian cultural traditions. In AD 957, for instance, they commissioned four Zoroastrian scholars to transliterate the deeds of the ancient kings of Iran, whom the Samanids considered their ancestors, from Pahlavi Middle Persian into Dari Persian. Dari, of course, was the Middle Persian language of the Parthians and Sassanians enhanced by a new alphabet--Arabic letters with the addition of four Persian letters to accommodate the /p/, /g/, /ch/, and /zh/ sounds of Persian. The innovation was, apparently, the contribution of Persians who were assigned to translate the Pahlavi documents and administrative manuals into Arabic. Needless to say that, in the process, many important and valuable books like the Khuday Namah and Kalilah wa Dimnah were translated from Middle Persian into Arabic at this time.
The project assigned the four Zoroastrian mu'bads, however, was to have a most profound effect on shaping the future direction of the culture of Iran. Once he reviewed the work that the four Zoroastrian scholars had done, the poet Daqiqi set himself the task of versifying the deeds of the kings and saints glorified in the Khuday Namah. But he had versified only a small portion, about 1,000 bayts (couplets), when he was killed by his own Turkish slave. The task was assumed later by Abu al-Qasim Firdowsi of Tus who spent thirty years of his life versifying the epic.1
The third strand of anti-Arab activities in Iran of the Samanids and Ghaznavid eras, was the most subtle. Traces of it appear here and there in the works of so-called heretics and deviants, but its flowering waits the total eclipse of Arab military supremacy by the Turkish forces pouring in from the East.
During the reign of the Saljuqs, who followed the Ghaznavids, all three mechanisms for resistance mentioned above persisted. Towering personalities like Nizam al-Mulk and his son Jamal ran a smooth operation for their Turkish overlords, newly established as the hereditary ancestors of the Achaemenian and Sassanian kings of the past. Political resistance, however, had assumed the form of political terrorism; prominent Sunni figures were frequently assassinated by Shi'ite extremists, especially the Isma'ilis. Hassan Sabbah, known as the Old Man of the Mountain, struck such fear into the hearts of the Sunni caliphs, wazirs, and their vassals that no one dared challenge his dictates lest he should find a note pierced with a dagger beside his pillow the next morning. That Hassan Sabbah, the Lord of Alamut, was a well-known scholar and author on religion further distressed the sultans; perhaps because he contributed to the type of intellectual resistance and nonconformity that had been the concern of the caliphs since the dawn of Islam in the land of the Persians. The trend, however, was gaining public sanction as is clearly evident from the Ruba'iyyat (Quatrains) of 'Umar Khayyam the first poet to formally break from the tradition of court poetry to write for himself and for the common people.
Known to the West through the 1859 translation/paraphrase of his Ruba'iyyat by Edward Fitzgerald, Khayyam is a true example of the Aryan spirit agonizing under Arab and Turkish cultural domination. Persians, however, generally think of him as a mathematician and an astrologer, further proof that he was not an ordinary individual who would submit to the decrees of the court and the clergy.
Khayyam was born in Nishapur in AD 1021. He began his career as a tentmaker but gradually gained prominence as a result of his scientific discoveries. In 1079, he was commissioned by the Saljuq king, Malik Shah, to head a council of scholars in charge of the reform of the Persian solar calendar. In later life, when he lost his prestige at the court, Khayyam traveled to Mecca. At the end, he returned to Nishapur, a despondent scholar. The Quatrains, the fruits of his thoughts on his own fate as well as on humankind's precarious course were most likely composed at this time.
In Khayyam's Quatrains we find a seeking soul pondering the meaning of life. Distinguishing him from the rest of creation, Khayyam strips man of those vestiges of civilization that obscure his essential nature, mission, and destiny; he then asks him the fundamental questions: Who are you? What are you? Where are you coming from? Where are you going? And, above all, WHY? For Khayyam, the king, the would-be king, and the has-been king are the same. He reaches for the essence of life and it seems that he finds it in the glorious days of Zoroaster: not in formal Zoroastrianism, burdened with the laws of the Vendidad and the machinations of the mu'bads, but in the Mind of which the Prophet spoke, the mastermind (Mazda) that set this enigmatic creation in motion, the only One who holds the key to helpless man's eternal prosperity, hope, and agony as he tries to find a way out of the maze of creation. If man can see the power of Ahura Mazda, the Good Mind, as He commands the Amesha Spentas--deities in charge of the various facets of man's life--he can avoid Evil and live a prosperous life. In such a life, man will eternally seize the moment--not the temporal moment in which he is living, but the essential moment, the totality of moments that constitute his short span of life on Earth.
Innocent on the face of it, Khayyam's philosophy undermines the predestination so crucial to the establishment of faith within the individual and among communities. What is striking about the quatrains is their reflection of the agony of centuries of compliance by the multitude vis-a-vis the nonconformity of a few, especially a few who knew the true faith that had been banished from their realm.
But alas. The rule of Ahura Mazda is now a thing of the past; for unlike Alexander who respected Iranian traditions, Islam refused the prophet of the Persians. In addition, Persians were asked to try to see things through the "eyes" of Islam, and Islam alone. Iranians like Firdowsi and Khayyam found themselves gradually divested of their cherished traditions by force and intimidation as well as by levying of very heavy taxes. They were alarmed that their contributions were credited to Islam and, consequently, to Arab culture, but they had no choice. Even today, sages like al-Biruni, Ibn-i Sina, and al-Razi are frequently referred to as Arabs by the uneducated, as Muslims by the less educated, and as Iranians by only some scholars. The fact that these writers wrote in Arabic, a credit to their ability to assimilate the language of their overlords, only served to vault them further into the Arabian sphere.
Nevertheless, during these centuries, Muslims from Spain to Bukhara revived the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and reintroduced it to the world with a new vision and with fervor. This enterprise, which culminated in the golden age of Islam, made inroads on many fronts, including the interpretation, enhancement, and preservation of the arts and the sciences for posterity. Scanning this literature today, we find that the price that the Iranians' nonconformity had put on the publication of their contributions was quite high. As Shi'ites, their contributions towards the advancement of the arts and sciences have been largely glossed over. There is no question that much of this literature was produced in secret places such as at the Fort of Alamut it did not circulate among the people, even among free intellectuals. But that was not the main hurdle. The real difficulty was that a good portion of this literature was written in symbolic languages understandable only to the initiates, i.e., those equipped with the cultural knowledge assumed by the composers. Subsequent generations' appreciation of the value of the symbols used held the key to the viability and survival of that literature. The subtleties of the verses of Hafiz and Khu-jandi presented in detail in this volume, are only a literary example of the way knowledge was transmitted. Transmission of philosophy, which encompassed the sciences, was even more subtle.
The struggle between the orthodoxy and Zandaqa reached a high point during the time of 'Umar Khayyam. By then it was evident to Iranian intellectuals that Persia, rather than seeking global recognition, must struggle to keep its identity. The skeptic 'Umar Khayyam went even farther; he foresaw Iran's doomed passage into ignobility and lamented not only for its lost glory but for the burden of passing on a tainted heritage to the unborn. He shuddered at the thought that the burdensome Islamic heritage would become more intolerable for the true Iranian as Islam nibbled ever closer to Iran's vital organs. A realist, he also knew that none of this would change the course of history.
A main difference between court poetry and Sufic poetry lies in the fact that the Sufic poet, unlike the court poet, is not paid by a patron. He feels no constraint about the expression of what is closest to him. In the case of the Malamatiyyah, among whose ranks we can count both Hafiz and Khujandi, they sought to belittle themselves by publicizing and aggrandizing their own mistakes, and by making themselves objects of undeserved hate, derision, and contempt. This made of them Sufis that were often unacceptable by the mainstream Sufis. Due to the importance of the messages that they encoded in their poetry, messages that could easily be grasped by their contemporaries but which are not easily understandable to the uninitiated, in what follows we shall explore the essentials of Sufism and comment on its impact on the Perso-Islamic culture. Let us consider what follows, therefore, a prerequisite to an understanding of the world of Hafiz and Khujandi.
Mysticism, an experience of mystical union with ultimate reality, has been a feature of religion from ancient times. We have witnessed it in Zoroastrianism where man joins the Kingdom of God by performing good deeds, uttering good words, and thinking good thoughts; we have seen it in Manicheism where the devotees free their souls from evil to reach perfection; and we observe it in Christianity where gnosis, i.e., recognition of the godhead through knowledge different from acquired knowledge, guides the mystic along the Path. And indeed in other major religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, a similar attitude towards an ultimate reality prevails.
Islamic mysticism, usually referred to as tasawwuf or Sufism, is hardly different from mysticism in general.2 The emphasis in Sufism is on a love in which the lover becomes annihilated in the beloved. If there is a difference between the mystical unions mentioned above and the Sufi union, it is in the extent and the duration of the involvement of the individual and the godhead. After the Sufi achieves baqa' (life everlasting in God), like the Hindu ascetic, he may "return" to the world of the ordinary people and guide them to God, but he may not divulge secrets.
Sufism subsumes a multitude of doctrines and principles linked by one basic and germane belief--the possibility of direct intuitive cognition of the godhead. The central concept in Sufism is tawhid(unity) whereby the distance between man and God is bridged. Thus, while all Muslims, following the Qur'an and the Sunnah say: "there is no God but God," the Sufis add the phrase "and all else but God is nothing."3
From the early days of Islam until the thirteenth century, when Sufism reached its zenith, many Sufi orders were formed. These groups lived in khaniqahs (cloisters) and were divided into murshids (guides or teachers),4 and saliks (disciples or students).5 The latter voluntarily joined the former to be guided along the tariqah (the path or way) of mysticism so that they might attain hal or wajd (ecstasy) and might communicate with, and become united with, the godhead.
The later Sufis, especially after the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century, allowed sama' (music) and raqs (dance), both denied to other Muslims, to be performed in the khaniqahs.
Along with the development of the tariqah, of which we shall speak below, there was another development which gave Sufism a vehicle for the expression of ecstasy. This vehicle, Sufic poetry, used symbolism as a means of conveying hal and wajd. The symbolism revolved around 'ishq (love), khamr (wine) and jamal (beauty). Love itself was either majazi (allegorical) or haqiqi (true). Some schools used the former as the basis for the achievement of the latter. Wine symbolized the expression of ecstatic exaltation and spiritual knowledge while beauty symbolized the absolute perfection of God. Lederer provides the following as a sample of Sufic symbolism used by Sa'd al-Din Mahmud Shabistari:
EMBRACE and KISS are raptures of love
SLEEP is contemplation
PERFUME is wish for the divine favor
IDOLATERS mean men of pure faith, not infidels
TAVERN is the place where the wine of divine love inebriates the pilgrim
INTOXICATION means religious ecstasy
MIRTH is joy in the love of the deity
CURLS/TRESSES mean plurality veiling the face of unity from its lovers
CHEEK means divine essence of names and qualities
DOWN is the world of pure spirits which is nearest to divinity
MOLE on the cheek is the point of individual unity
TORCH is the light kindled in the heart of the beloved6
Through this type of symbolism, true love, based on secular or worldly love, fills the seeker with exaltation (wine). The seeker begins his 'journey' towards the Absolute on the Path (tariqah). After he learns to reject all earthly values, the veils of ignorance are removed and he sees the face of God.
The first Sunnite mystic was al-Muhasibi (d. AD 857). He exercised great influence on the cause of the Sufis by establishing and developing a moderate school in tasawwuf (Sufism). In this his efforts were supplemented by the contributions of Dhu al-Nun (d. AD 859) who formulated the doctrine of ma'rifa (gnosis). Dhu al-Nun analyzed the mystical states and stages and presented a system with the help of which the murid (initiate) and the shaykh (guide) could communicate. These efforts were further enhanced by Bayazid of Bastam (d. AD 874) who emphasized the importance of ecstasy as a means of union with the godhead. Then al-Junayd of Baghdad (d. AD 910) synthesized all these efforts and presented an Islamic theosophy. Al-Junayd's theosophy became the nucleus of all subsequent studies of Sufism. Having reached the summit of the Sufi ecstasy of his time, Mansur al-Hallaj (d. AD 922) then brought the concept of unity of God and man into the foreground by crying Ana al-Haqq (I am the Truth, or I am God); a cry that drove a wedge between the orthodox and the Sufi.7 Eventually Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. AD 1111), as we shall see, harmonized Sufism with the rest of Islam.
The beginnings of Sufism in Iran can be traced to Khurasan and to Balkh, a kingdom ruled by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn-i Adham (d. 776 0r 790), a powerful prince who lived a life of pomp and glory. A chance meeting with the Prophet Khidhr, who discovered and drank the water of life, whereby he became immortal, convinced Ibrahim that he should abandon his life at court and spend the rest of his time on earth in the service of God. Thus, he gave up everything and took refuge in a cave. He stayed there for five years, spending his time praying and repenting his sins.
Ibrahim's life is an example of the lives of many who preferred giving up the world and striving for the Ultimate instead. But although their goal was the same, different groups chose different ways to achieve it. Being Muslims, however, they had to follow the dictates of the Qur'an and the Sunnah (the practice of the Prophet used as the cornerstone for the formulation of the Shari'ah, the Islamic sacred law). Indeed, the Sunnah and the Shari'ah constitute the base of the tariqah, the Sufi Path or Way, which guides the salik (wayfarer, seeker) to haqiqa (the truth).
Tariqah, the main pillar of Sufism, prepares the salik physically and spiritually to accept the love of God within him. Usually the individual is compared to a rock which the passage of time may transform into a precious stone, leaving no trace of the original.
The first maqam (station) in the life of the salik is tawbah (repentance).8 At this earliest stage, the individual is impressed by the gap between what he does and what should be done. Having experienced this maqam, the salik repents of his previous sins and seeks a murshid or shaykh (guide) to lead him on the Path. Once a murshid is chosen, the salik must remain under tutelage until he finishes the Path. He changes his murshid only in the event that the murshid dies before the salik has completed the Path.
The murshid is distinguished by karamat (blessings). Karamat also encompass the supernatural and the extraordinary. For this reason, the activities of the murshid are usually not compared to the deeds of the common man, and his disobedience of the Sunnah is considered natural. Among the karamat one can mention taming of ferocious beasts, ability to foretell future events, the power of curing madness and the like. Many of the karamat, of course, are rooted in an understanding of the psyche and though they pass as the murshid's ability to influence the world of matter, are a disguised therapy.
The second maqam is wara' (refrain from anything doubtful).9 At this maqam, the salik is asked to refrain from anything doubtful and to abstain from things the allowance of which, according to Islamic law, is questionable. Once the salik can distinguish between that which is allowed and that which is doubtful, he enters the maqam of zuhd (abstinence).10 At this stage, the salik is asked to abandon the world and all the comforts and delights therein. As a result he can enjoy the tranquility conferred by a lack of anxiety about worldly things. The difference between one who exercises wara' and one who exercises zuhd is that the latter abstains from that which is allowed as well as that which is doubtful or forbidden by Islamic law.
After this maqam, the salik formally enters tasawwuf (Sufism) and is accepted into the maqam of faqr (poverty). In this station the salik abandons even the thought of having attained the stations of tawbah, wara', and zuhd. In this way he achieves the tranquil state of mind attained only by those content to subsist. At this maqam, the salik's main concern is God everything else becomes secondary and inconsequential.
At the maqam of sabr (perseverance),11 the salik has traveled through almost all the maqams of the tariqah, but he has not attained his main objective. Some initiates, especially the impatient, cannot endure the entire course and leave. Such individuals are likely to become distraught, since they can no longer enjoy the worldly but have not enough zeal to continue on the Path. Their plight thus underscores the importance of patience in achieving the goal. Needless to say, the life of a destitute dervish is itself fraught with pitfalls, natural as well as spiritual. It is the patience of the dervish that guides him through these moments of adversity, strengthening his will to resist and his love for the object of his search.
At the maqam of tawakkul (trust in God),12 the salik abandons all controls upon his person and places himself under the complete control of God. At this stage he is compared to a child who takes refuge in his mother or to a dead body placed in the hands of the washer of corpses.
The last maqam in the tariqah is riza (contentment).13 At this, the most sublime stage of the Path, a direct result of tawakkul, the salik accepts all that befalls him as a direct consequence of the will of God. The human criteria that distinguish one act from another vanish and a divine recognition of the affairs of the world descends on the salik. Thus, both blessings and calamities constitute reasons for the praise of the Almighty. Were a child to die or were one to be born, nothing but praise of God passes the lips of the salik.
In obeying the dictates of the maqams described above, the individual combats the evil incurred by eating, sleeping, and lust; in a word, he combats nafs (self).
None of these stages, however, sublime as they are, compare with the spiritual value that they impart to the salik as he passes from one hal (state) onto another. Indeed without the ahwal (states) that perfect the soul of the seeker, the maqams are hardly different from the perfection of the Self preached by the Buddha. This resemblance has attracted a great deal of attention to the similarities between the mysticism of Islam and that of two other major faiths, Buddhism and Manicheism, both emphasize asceticism, destruction of desire and attainment of a sublime stage.
While the maqams are exercises in controlling the body and the mind, ahwal are sparks of divinity that invade the heart and the soul of the seeker as he completes the maqams. It should be emphasized that unlike the maqams, which are under the direct control of the seeker, the ahwal are states that happen to him; he has no control over them.
The first hal (state) in which the salik finds himself is called the state of muraqibah (guarding). The salik is convinced that God is cognizant of every move he makes and of every word he utters. He takes special care, therefore, to keep evil thoughts away and to keep God's grace within himself. This will eventually lead the seeker to a state in which he forgets the existence of the phenomenal world and preoccupies himself with the thought of God alone.
Once this hal is achieved, the salik embarks on the next state, qurb (proximity, nearness). In this state the salik feels a special nearness to God he witnesses the disintegration of his senses and the dissolution of his nafs (self).
When the state of qurb is achieved and the salik can no longer feel that state, the state of mahabbah (love) sets in. As the most fundamental state on the tariqah, mahabbah brings the lover within the sphere of the beloved's love. It is at this stage that the salik recognizes the immensity of his task and the boundlessness of the wrath and love of God. An ambivalent feeling of khawf (fear)14 and raja' (hope) fills him. One moment he thinks of the possibility of committing a mistake and the immensity of the punishment; at another moment he thinks of the boundlessness of the ocean of God's love and is filled with hope. During these perilous moments the salik's confidence that God is one and that all is of Him and all returns to Him keeps him steadfastly on the Way. Dhikr (invocation) further helps the seeker. In this state the salik repeatedly recalls and pronounces such phrases as "there is no god but God," or one of the names of God. This conscious preoccupation with God leaves no room for any other thought to penetrate and influence the thinking of the seeker; it also prepares the salik to enter the state of mushahada (observation), where the seeker feels God within himself and is filled with a light unlike anything he has experienced before. Once within the light everything becomes a manifestation of the godhead--humanity and its values depart. In this state the salik's hal is that of fana' (annihilation),15 i.e., there remains no trace of desire, control, or attraction in him that is not directly willed by the godhead.
The achievement of this sublime state opens a new vista in the salik's understanding of the phenomenal world. He learns the clues to many mysteries which for others may remain unsolved until eternity. Once cognizant of these mysteries, however, the salik should keep everything to himself and in no way divulge such mysteries to anyone. Henceforth the salik treads the way without doubt, i.e., in the state of yaqin (certainty), and sees God not through reason but through faith. Such a person is known to have reached ma'rifah (gnosis). He has given up reason, a feature of the phenomenal world leading to wealth, lust and evil, for faith, a feature of the spiritual world leading to tranquility, divine knowledge, and a permanent existence (baqa')16 in the abode of light.
The history of Sufism in Islam is tortuous. There are many schools of thought and points of departure; each school, as described above, introduces a different way of viewing man's relation to God. In each school, well-known sages have spent entire lifetimes upholding particular points of view. We have already mentioned Ibrahim Ibn-i Adham, who gave up his status as the prince of Balkh to live a simple life in the presence of his Maker. Ibrahim, however, is more of a zahid than a Sufi. If you recall the zahid is the one who practices a maqam while the Sufi is the one who experiences a hal.17 In this sense Ibrahim Ibn-i Adham could have achieved a high status in Buddhism were he not a Muslim. This is not to imply that Buddhists cannot achieve the real heights, but rather that, as mentioned earlier, the stage of baqa' is lacking in Buddhism.
The Sufi who brings Khurasan to prominence in Sufi circles is Bayazid of Bastam. Bastami, as he is often called, regards Self as the main hindrance in the way of the salik. Were the individual able to remove his self from the way, he says, he could see God without difficulty. Like Ibrahim, Bayazid, too, evinces a degree of Hindu thought in his teachings although, when scrutinized, the differences between his ideas and those of the Hindus are more pronounced.
The first grand Shaykh (religious leader) of the Sufis was Abu Sa'id Fazl Allah Ibn-i Abi al-Khayr, whose deeds and words created great controversies in the early years of the eleventh century, some worthy of the Sultan's attention. Abu Sa'id was an advocate of sama' (listening to music) and was possessed of a fanatic disregard for the world and human institutions. He referred to himself as hichkas Ibn-i hichkas (nobody, son of nobody) and preached that man's attention must be drawn away from the worldly and focused upon one Light alone he also maintained that man must carry on a monotonous, unchanging life style. In this he echoed Bayazid of Bastam and al-Hallaj, a full account of whose teachings lies outside the purview of this short introduction.
Abu Sa'id's simple yet profound assertions dismayed many of his contemporaries, especially Imam Abu al-Qasim Qushayri who made no mention of the Shaykh in his comprehensive risalah (thesis) dealing with the lives of previous and contemporary Sufi sages. It is apparent from Qushayri's risalah that the Imam opposed some of the Sufi trends of the time. He did not, however. oppose sama', although he did not attend any sama' sessions. Furthermore, he supported the Sunnah and considered it an inseparable part of the tariqah. Without the Sunnah and the Shari'ah, Qushayri explained, the salik is certain to lose his way.
Qashayri's efforts were supplemented by the works of many sages including Abu Nasr Sarraj and Abu al-Hassan 'Ali Ibn-i 'Uthman Ibn-i 'Ali al-Ghaznawi al-Jalabi al-Hujwiri. The former is the author of al-Luma' fi al-tasawwuf in which the author contends that there exists no discrepancy between the dictates of the Qur'an and the Sunnah and the dictates of tasawwuf.. He further states that the Sufi follows the sira (way of life) of the Prophet and his companions. The latter, Hujwiri, in a work called Kashf al-Mahjub, not only examines the lives of Sufi shaykhs of his time but also delves into their thoughts and beliefs. He seems to be the first author to divide the Sufi's into twelve firqas (branches), distinguishing each on the basis of Sufi principles rather than on the basis of maqams (a custom that was developed later).
The Sufi shaykh who exemplifies the life of a devout Sufi during the time of the Saljuqs, the successors of the Ghaznavids, is Khwaja 'Abd Allah Ansari of Herat. As a child he grew up in a predominantly Sufi family where he learned to read the Qur'an and follow the Shari'ah. Later as a mufassir (interpreter) of the Qur'an he was accused of tajsim (idolatry) and was exiled from Herat. Similar allegations of Zandaqa and idolatry led to more exiles, imprisonment, and harsh punishments. Ansari, in the main, rejected philosophy as a means of reaching God instead, he promoted the notion that God has physical and mental attributes similar to those of human beings. For him, therefore, God possesses nafs, resides in the Heavens, and creates man with His hands and fingers--a notion, of course, absolutely rejected by other sages and Muslims of the time.
By the early 1100's the various institutions of religion and knowledge in Iran and Turkistan had matured, and certain lines of demarcation had appeared. The scholar who studied the philosophical and religious dicta of the time in order to reconcile the Shari'ah with Sufi thinking was Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, born in the city of Tus in Khurasan. In a wide range of books on fiqh (jurisprudence), mantiq (logic), falsafah (philosophy), kalam (theology), akhlaq (ethics) and tasawwuf (Sufism), he examined the limits of the knowledge of his time and distinguished the adherents of four main streams of thought: the Mutakallimin (those who emphasized ra'y or independent opinion); the Batiniyyah (those who believed in ta'lim or inspired knowledge dispensed by an Imam); the Falasifah (those who emphasized logic and deduction); and the Sufiyyah (those who believed in spiritual perfection and possibility of union with the godhead through cleansing the body and soul from ma siwah or all that is not Him).
Through a series of arguments in Kimya-yi Sa'adat and Ihya-yi 'Ulum al-Din, al-Ghazali, who had spent most of his adult life in teaching, research, and contemplation, rejected three of the four schools mentioned above and distinguished Sufism as the only reliable way toward the perfection of the soul. Since mainstream Sufism accepted the Sunnah and the Shari'ah as necessary foundations in the development of its maqams and ahwal, al-Ghazali forged a new unity of the body and spirit of Islam. And, as such, he created a strong front against the pre-Islamic forces that had plagued the Islamic community in Iran in the form of the Batiniyyah and Zandaqa.
But, as expected, these trends did not die. Once defeated on one front, they regrouped and resurfaced in a new form. For instance, al-Ghazali's elder brother, Ahmad, who succeeded al-Ghazali after he abandoned his instructional duties in Baghdad, became an advocate of the Iblis (Satan). His acceptance of the devil, however, was based on a Sufi rather than a Zindiq, understanding of the creation myth. To him Iblis was destined to be evil in the same way that man was destined to be so. Both, however, he contended, had the potential of being saved. Ahmad's views on other aspects of Sufism are also interesting. He intimated in his poetry, for instance, that physical love could be a basis for divine love in the same way that the maqams were a basis for spiritual perfection through the ahwal. He listened to music and, given appropriate place and time, considered music wajib (obligatory) for achieving 'irfan (gnosis).
From the early days when Ibrahim Ibn-i Adham cast his princely garb aside and sought to perfect his self, to the time of al-Ghazali and his brother, the ancient cultures of Iran and Islam had gradually been coming closer to a mutual understanding. There was need, however, for a crucible in which the spirit of Islam, refined by al-Ghazali and his predecessors, could be molded with the deep Persian thought of free thinkers like Khayyam, Batinis like Nasir-i Khusrau, and learned men and philosophers like al-Biruni and Ibn-i Sina. This crucible appeared in the shape of an invasion of Central Asia by the Mongols, who were gradually leaving their homeland of Mongolia and heading for the green pastures of the Qipchaq plain and the river valleys of Ma Wara' al-Nahr. The man who underwent the ordeal that resulted in the permanent merging of the spirit of Islam and the culture of Iran is Mawlana Jalal al-Din of Balkh, who due to his permanent residence in Konya, in present-day Turkey, is usually referred to as Rumi.
Mawlana Jalal al-Din was born in Balkh in 1207 into a religious family. His father was a well-known preacher in Balkh. Around 1219-20, Mawlana left Balkh and went to Mecca and from there to Damascus. Eventually he settled in Konya, in Anatolia, in 1221-22.
In 1244 Mawlana met Shams-i Tabrizi, Shams-i, the teacher for whom he composed a diwan (collection of poetry) entitled Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi, Shams-i. His affection for Shams was such that he chose "Shams" as his takhallus (pseudonym). It could be said that for a period of time his personality merged with that of Shams, leaving no trace of Jalal al-Din. In addition to his diwan, he composed 1,983 quatrains.
Shams left Mawlana twice, the second time for good. When Shams died, Mawlana transferred his affection to Salah al-Din Faridun Zarkub. But he, a goldsmith, did not sustain Maulana's affection either, for he died in 1263. Finally Mawlana transferred his affections to Husam al-Din Hassan and composed his Mathnawi-yi Ma'nawi (the Mathnawi devoted to the Intrinsic Meaning of all Things) for him. The Mathnawi, which opens with "The Song of the Reed," contains 7,000 couplets. The theme of "The Song of the Reed," in which Mawlana laments the separation of the soul (the reed) from its heavenly source (the reedbed), was suggested by Farid al-Din 'Attar of Nishapur, the composer of Mantiq al-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). 'Attar's comprehensive account of the journey of man to the godhead is itself based on al-Ghazali's Risalah on Birds.
Before discussing the spiritual world of Rumi, let us look briefly at his material world. The time was the thirteenth century Mongols were invading Central Asia and Iran. Who were the Mongols who terrorized the world of Rumi beyond understanding? One could call them a barbarian horde that broke away from the confines of Mongolia in search of better pasture land. But the word "horde" is not appropriate. The Mongols were a well-organized and highly motivated group whose philosophy differed from the philosophy of the rest of the world of the time. They regarded the rest of the world as an enemy to their prosperity; their philosophy was that the enemy must perish so that it cannot retaliate. To this end they implemented a well-organized system of military and economic maneuvers that eventually served them well. It is unfortunate that their self-serving policies brought an unforgettable tragedy onto the rest of the known world.
In the military camps of the Mongols, there was no place for humanity, mercy or friendship with the enemy. All orders came from the top (Temuchin, later called Chingiz Khan), and every individual in the army answered to him and to him alone. Within the system, therefore, individuals behaved like robots carrying out firmans (orders) without question. The religion of the Mongols at the time of the invasions was a shamanistic creed with the biki (witch-doctor) determining the appropriate time for battle. The biki consulted the heavens to acquire information about the future; the stars dictated the fate of man. It was not until later that some Mongol princes were taught the Uighur language and began to write down laws known as yasa (Mongolian customary law). And it was much later that the descendants of Chingiz Khan built exquisite palaces in China and India and became lovers of flowers, music, dance, and painting.
At the time of the invasion of China, Central Asia and Iran, the Mongol system of communication was quite primitive. They used two seals, known as al-tamgha and kšk-tamgha, to indicate the authenticity of an order. The former, a red (al) seal, indicated that the order was not from the ruler or his immediate family. The latter, a blue (kok) seal, indicated a royal connection. In either case the communication line was clear. Whatever the order was, it had to be carried out on the spot. Without a seal there was little chance of influencing affairs at a Mongol camp.
Chingiz Khan was notorious in Ma Wara' al-Nahr long before he actually invaded that land. In fact, the Mongols were such an intense source of anxiety to the region that the Khwarazm Shah sent an emissary to China to establish friendship through trade and coexistence. Upon his return, this emissary, who had witnessed the devastation of China, reported that he had seen the bones of the slaughtered heaped into mountains, that the soil had been greasy with human fat, and illness had been rampant from the contagion of rotting bodies. He also reported that at the gate of Peking he had seen a heap of bones, the remains of some 60,000 maidens who had chosen to die by throwing themselves from the walls rather than fall into the hands of the Mongols.
But despite such fantastic and awe-inspiring accounts, the insubordination of Khwarazm Shah's border guards and the greed of the governor of Utrar eventually brought the Mongols to Ma Wara' al-Nahr. The Mongol war machine, this well-organized army who believed in accomplishing the job at hand without fearing death, the perils of an afterlife, or loss of honor, assembled at Yaylaq where it was divided into four divisions before invading the realm of Islam. This was the last breath for the inhabitants of the cities of Samarqand, Khwarazm, Nakhshab, Balkh, Herat, Merv, and Nishapur. They fell in quick succession, domino-like. The inhabitants of each city were used to shield the Mongol infantry against the arrows of the other cities while corpses were used to fill ditches so that the high walls of the defender's fortifications might be vaulted. The devastation was so great that the pro-Mongol historian 'Ata al-Mulk of Juwain (Juwaini) writes, "...where there had been a hundred thousand people, there remained...not a hundred souls alive."18 To this, Qazwini, writing in 1340, adds, "...there can be no doubt that even if for a thousand years to come no evil befalls the country, yet will it not be possible completely to repair the damage, and bring back the land to the state in which it was formerly."19 To assess the impact of the Mongol invasions on human lives, consider the following list, containing numbers of people massacred in various raids within a short period of time: Nishapur, 1,747,000; Herat, 1,600,000; Merv, 700,000; Baghdad, 800,000. Smaller cities were wiped off the map altogether: Nasa, 70,000; Bayhaq, 70,000; Kuhistan, 12,000. Of course these numbers may not be wholly reliable, but their mere existence relates a terrible tale.
If we are to understand the poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi, we should know that life after the Mongol invasion was as difficult as it was during the raids. The accounts given are gruesome and terrible at best. Khurasan was always known as the heartland of Iran, an advanced center for trade, arts, splendor, and the good life. Though one can hardly believe Saifi's account of life in that area after the invasion, there is little reason to doubt his sincerity: "After the slaughter of 1220 only sixteen people survived in the city of Herat, and only forty, if we include fugitives from other places, whilst not more than a hundred survivors remained in the surrounding countryside."20 Regarding their struggle for survival Saifi adds, "first they fed upon the corpses of animals and men, then for a period of four years this handful of people were only able to get food by attacking passing caravans; and this too at distances from 150 to 800 kilometers from Herat."21
In short, the thriving city of Balkh, with its pre-Mongol population of 200,000, the birthplace of Jalal al-Din Rumi, the center for the production of silk and corn, this granary of Khurasan and Khwarazm, was later reported by Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta (1304-1377) to be derelict and deserted. In the city of Merv only a hundred inhabitants remained. Of the city of Tus, the birthplace of Firdowsi, 50 houses remained standing. The city of Nishapur, the birthplace of Khayyam and 'Attar, was completely empty. Many cities, like Ray, were never rebuilt.
"The Song of the Reed" was written by a man who, in a single event lost his whole family, all his neighbors, the surrounding community and the nation in which he had trusted for protection. As we have seen, from Balkh Jalal al-Din Rumi fled before the Mongols to the Iranian heartland and ended up in Konya, in modern Turkey, where he composed the Mathnawi. It begins with "The Song of the Reed." "God giveth and God taketh away" was the order of the day; the Mongols could not but be regarded as the scourge of Allah descending upon rebellious communities. "Of Him we are and to Him we return" was the only phrase that could soothe the pain of separation from loved ones.
This pain of separation, however, was not easily remedied. There had to be songs and laments that would set fire to the heart, the soul, and the individual's entire being so that "of Him we are and to Him we return" could penetrate the whole, easing the pain and softening the harsh edges of memory. It must have been a hair-raising moment in the life of Rumi when, his eyes filled with tears, his hand shaking, and his being hanging absolutely outside his body, he put down the word bishnaw (listen!). What was the reader to hear? What other than the lament of mankind suffering the tyranny of Time, the great separation of the soul of the survivor from the souls of the departed!
Furthermore, who was to tell this tale? The poet? No. Only the nai (flute) which, separated from the reedbed, had willingly submitted to fire to free itself from its inner substance could relate a tale as incredible, yet as meaningful and profound, as the tale that was to be told. The word hikayat (tale, story) is usually used to indicate the incredible. It refers to that which is beyond human imagination. Here it refers to human suffering that surpasses understanding. The words that follow, i.e., juda'i (separation) and shikayat (complaint), also find new meanings in this tale. Juda'i is associated with separation that is forced upon an individual, separation that cannot be easily overcome; otherwise the word hijran (distance from friends) or the weaker form duri (distance) would be used. Shikayat refers to a wrong act about which little can be done by way of punishment, an act the punishment for which is normally referred to God.22
In just these few introductory words and in the context of the time, we can easily see the effect of the Mongol invasion on the communication lines of the area and on the culture of Central Asia. Each word began to mean different things to different individuals. Juda'i for one person was permanent separation from a son; for another, from an irreplaceable home; and for still another, from his native land and childhood dreams. Sufi symbolism, of which we have spoken briefly, entered this medium gradually and grew into a language of its own. Eventually terms like juda'i acquired a symbolic existence in and of themselves. They became expressions of abstract love for that with which one is most occupied. In the context of the pious community of the time, of course, this could no longer be Ahura Mazda; it had to be Allah. This, then, was the beginning of an era in which life, the gift of Allah, was recognized as the most sublime and precious commodity, an era in which people, stripped of their families and friends, began to view the community as the totality of friendships, homes, and sources of solace and comfort. The survivors of the Mongol catastrophe sat long into the nights and discussed events, using mostly symbolic terms to relate to the realities of the time and to higher realities in which their belief was now strong.
During the brutal Mongol onslaught, Shaykh Muslih al-Din Sa'di (1213-1292) was a boy of seven. He grew up in the city of Shiraz and was educated in that city, and in Baghdad, before stepping into the post-Mongol "human" community of which we have briefly spoken. In his youth Sa'di traveled with caravans and talked to the travelers, wayfarers and dervishes, some of whom joined him in his thirst for knowledge. His travels took him to Libya, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Anatolia, Transoxiana and, possibly, India. As a result of nights of meditation and discussions with the tightly knit communities of Asia and the Middle East, Sa'di returned to his native home, Shiraz, with a store of didactic, theological, social, philosophical, and religious mores, lore and experiences. He settled in Shiraz and composed two books: the Gulistan (The Rose Garden) and the Bustan (The Garden), the former being the first Persian work to be translated into English.
In the works of Sa'di we encounter not only a culture seeking to reestablish its identity but a man knowledgeable of the depth of the wounds inflicted upon it--wounds that reach beyond the Mongol invasion and the atrocities of the Turkish overlords to the Arab invaders who imposed a foreign culture on one already existing by force. Sa'di understood the patriotism of Firdowsi, the Aryanism of Khayyam, and the spirituality of Sana'i, 'Attar and Rumi. Like al-Ghazali, he tried to find a common ground, a cultural solution whereby he could blend the soul of Islam and the psyche of Iran into a new cultural mix. In short, al-Ghazali had already created harmony between Iran and the Islamic culture at a scholarly level Sa'di generalized al-Ghazali's view and forged them into a universal lesson for the common man. His utter contempt for authority, institutionalized religion, and the priesthood endeared him to his suffering audience.
Having shared meals with Christians, discussed theology with Jews, and worked in degrading places with Ethiopians, Sa'di had come to the conclusion that man's creeds cloud his vision, distort his judgment, and numb his sympathies. They set the inhuman element loose. Otherwise, he observed, human beings are all made from the same essence; their totality constitutes the same cosmic body. Any pain inflicted upon one member is bound to hurt the others as well. Sa'di was impatient with those who could not, did not, or would not sympathize with the plight of their fellow human beings.
In his poetry Sa'di distinguishes the tan (body) from the jan (soul), regarding the former as separable from the latter and worthy of recognition only through its association with the latter. The body, he argues, resembles in function the body of beasts and, if allowed, will comfortably behave like one. The Mongols provided an excellent example of such bestiality. Spiritual control, Sa'di believed, indicates man's degree of humanity. Those human beings with a firm grip on their soul live happy lives, while others live in misery, be they laboring in the mud of Aleppo or residing in the luxurious gardens of India.
Man's status in Sa'di's scheme of creation is sublime, and the key to reaching the apex of this status lies in man's own hand. Desire and lust, Sa'di avers, are impediments on the way in man's ascension to the heavens where he would meet God. In the works of Sa'di there is very little of Khayyam's predestination and none of Khayyam's skepticism. According to Sa'di man can reach the Ultimate easily because in this endeavor God helps him. Many, he says, become discouraged as soon as they face the first obstacle on their way to God. But, he continues, a mere first rejection must not discourage the seeker and keep him away from the path, for God loves man and seeks his salvation. Indeed, he says, God calls the sinner to Himself and persuades him to persevere on the way.
If one ideal were to be chosen to exemplify Sa'di, a theme such as patriotism for Firdowsi, individualism for Khayyam or spiritualism for Rumi, it is Sa'di's humanism that shines through. This remarkable representative of his age viewed man divested of his color as well as his equally accidental religious biases. More than any other thinker of his era, Sa'di brought Iranians close to Islam by showing that in joining the community of Man, the Sunni, the Shi'ite, and the Zoroastrian enriched themselves and their culture. He also showed that in disunity they will remain bitter, malevolent, and hateful. In a sense Sa'di synthesized the theme of the shortness of man's life urged by Khayyam with the refrain that runs through the works of Rumi: "of Him we are and to Him we return." He concluded then that for this short span which melts away like snow on a summer's day, it is not worth it to wage war or to live in strife.
The century that followed the days of Sa'di was an era of spiritual replenishment and recovery from the shock of the age. It was also the last era of such literary giants as Firdowsi, Khayyam, Rumi and Sa'di. It was the age when the restless Turko-Mongol tribes were struggling to transform a life of wandering into a sedentary life in palaces and towns. It was also a time during which the Persian culture, carried by the Mongols, flourished at the courts of Indian princes, where towering figures like Amir Khusrau Dihlavi contributed to the enrichment of Persian poetry. Indeed, at this time, Sufic thought discovered nuances as yet unknown to the sages of Iran and Turkistan. Like the poetry of Khusrau, the Sufic ghazals of Hafiz and Khujandi reflect the uneasiness that characterized the rule of Tamerlane in the fourteenth century.
Khwajah Shams al-Din Muhammad Ibn-i Muhammad, known as Hafiz was born in Shiraz, some time between 1320 and 1326 and died in the same city around 1396.23 Unlike his globe-trotter fellow townsman, Sa'di, Hafiz stayed in Shiraz almost all his life. One of the two trips that he ever made was forced upon him--he was exiled from Shiraz due to mass opposition to his singular behavior. He stayed in Yazd until the situation in Shiraz cooled down. His other trip was to the port of Hormuz, on the Persian Gulf, from where, invited by an Indian prince, he was to travel to India. A stormy sea before the voyage began made him change his mind and return to Shiraz.
Like the Quatrains of 'Umar Khayyam, Hafiz' poetry has a special public appeal. In some quarters, this appeal is to such a degree that his diwan is treated as if it were the holy Qur'an. Indeed, Iranians who know him as the lisan al-qayb (tongue of the unperceived) frequently use his diwan to look into the future.
Hafiz is undeniably the master of the art of the ghazal. And, although not its inventor, is recognized as the major developer and promoter of the genre. His Sufic ghazals usually contain seven bayts with the poet's pen name appearing in the maqta' or the last bayt. His Sufic ghazals that contain more than seven bayts have engaged the attention of the analysts for quite some time. It is not clear whether the extra bayts that usually fail Hafiz' own standards--thematic development and structural requirements--are later additions by compilers to amplify the diwan, for instance, or by Hafiz himself, to satisfy the demands of his patrons.
The real controversy regarding Hafiz, however, is centered on his possible use of allegorical symbolism to transform what seems a profane love poem into a coded message directed at groups that have the ability to understand and enjoy its import. Western scholars' lack of an intimate understanding of the culture of Hafiz and the Eastern scholars' inability to provide a systematic analysis of the underlying factors that decipher, as it were, the enigmatic ghazals, contribute to this mutual difference of opinion. Neither is Hafiz the only prominent sage of his time and the only one to exploit the boundless possibilities of the ghazal for the promotion of his thoughts. Kamal Khujandi, Hafiz' contemporary, captivated the Tabrizis with his ghazals and Sufic thoughts in very much the same way that Hafiz mystified the Shirazis. In fact, in many respects including the composition of ghazals and expression of Sufic thought, Khujandi rivals Hafiz.
Kamal a l-Din Mas'ud Khujandi was born in the city of Khujand between 1318 and 1323 and died in Tabriz in 1401. His early life, until the completion of elementary school, was spent in Khujand, the city famous for its hero, Timur Malik who fought a large Mongol contingent for a long time before he gave up and retired to Khwarazm. Khujandi's later education took place in Samarqand, Khwarazm, and Shash (present day Tashkent) where he lived for a while. Kamal was acquainted with Arabic literature, jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, hadith, and tasawwuf as well as with farming and gardening. In the 1350's he traveled to Mecca and, on his return trip, settled in Tabriz where he was granted a garden (Bihisht) by Sultan Hussein Jalayer, the ruler of Iraq and Azerbaijan (1375-1383).
After the capture of Tabriz and Darband by the Qipchaq ruler, Tukhtamish, in 1385, Khujandi was taken to Saray, where he became the king's companion and accompanied him on his campaigns. His poetry reflects his longing for Tabriz and its environs. He sent some of the ghazals that he composed at the time to Tabriz. After his stay (four to eleven years) in Saray, he planned to go to Shiraz and visit with Hafiz but, apparently, his family and friends in Tabriz convinced him to stay in Tabriz. Riza Qulikhan Hedayat and Sadeq Hedayat are among Khujandi's descendants. Khujandi is buried in Valiyankuh in Tabriz. His mazar (tomb) is visited by many.
From the 14,000 bayts reported, only seven to eight thousand bayts have reached us. Primarily a compilation of his ghazals, Khujandi's diwan also includes qasidahs, qita's, ruba'is, and a short mathnawi. The ghazals deal with a variety of themes including love, friendship, sincerity, generosity, and bravery. Khujandi's love ghazals are centered on three characters: the lover ('ashiq), the beloved (yar), and the rival (raqib), each playing their traditional role. The lover, ever hopeful, longs to join the beloved. Khujandi's lover, however, is not the typical Sufic type; he is often the object of love and desire.
The scenes of Khujandi's ghazals are accentuated by descriptions of nature and courtly splendor. His beloved is the epitome of beauty, desirability, and sweetness. Standing like a cypress, radiating like the sun, and with a face as delicate as rose petals, she attracts the lover while, at the same time, entertains the lover's rival. The rival is usually portrayed as an ugly, divisive, and lowly individual. The lover's disdain for the rival is equal to his love for the beloved.
The themes of Khujandi's poems are diverse. They span the interactions among these three elements in the context of springs, gardens, and whispering streams and biting satire, in the course of which Khujandi uncovers the social ills of his society. In this latter context, he criticizes the mullahs for deceit and excessive drinking, and the king and his officials for being worse than the mullahs.
Although Khujandi skillfully employs all the poetic devices--simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and symbolism, among others--his poetry remains simple and delightful. His frequent use of pun and idiom gives depth to his meaning and his use of radif imparts structural strength to his creations. Jami and Aini have praised Khujandi's poetry.
All but three of Khujandi's ghazals have seven bayts. His takhallus appears in the maqta'. His contemporary, Hafiz, also composed ghazals of the same length, although not exclusively. Khujandi and Hafiz are known to have exchanged ghazals and enjoyed each other's creations. Their acquaintance, however, may have deeper roots than mere enjoyment of each other's poetic craft. Both poets belonged to the Malamatiyyah group of Sufis, an eccentric group that sought proximity to the beloved through conscious self-degradation.24
Derived from the word "malamat" (blame), the members of the group consciously attracted blame to themselves, especially in matters in which they were clearly innocent. In this way, they thought, they could undermine any potential for popularity, the major stumbling block on the way to salvation on the Path. The process explained above, by necessity, negated the realities of the material world, rendering its values meaningless. Distanced from the ordinary world, therefore, the Malamati poet could express his thoughts openly and describe his sentiments irrespective of the opinions of patrons and peers. Hafiz' singular act of cowardice--his categorical refusal to board the boat for India--is a telling example of his Malamatiyyah affiliation. Other examples would be his emphasis on drinking wine, his frank expression of homosexuality, and his contempt for religious and civil authority.25
In his poetry, Hafiz synthesized the nationalism of Firdowsi, the restive soul of Khayyam, the depth of Rumi's knowledge of the Ultimate, the compassion of Sa'di and, above all, the religious convictions of the Qur'an. In ghazal after ghazal, this master of the genre acquainted the ordinary man with knowledge that had been denied the common, illiterate folk from the beginning of Iranian and Islamic history. Using the melodious ghazal, which was utterly responsive to Sufi symbolism, Hafiz conveyed to his contemporaries the wisdom of his age as well as the mood of his time. He spoke of Joseph and Potiphar, of Jacob and of Jesus. He sang the praises of Muhammad and lamented the death of his own son. His contemporaries and generations who followed sang these accounts in gatherings ranging from the Sufi ceremonies to debauchery. Having the flexibility of the poetry of Rumi, Hafiz' ghazals, too, began to mean different things to different individuals and groups. The astonishing thing about them, however, is the degree of regularity and refinement they command--refinement visible in Persian carpets and miniatures.
Who were the illiterate audience of Hafiz? Normally, literacy is associated with the ability to read and write; seldom with the inability to comprehend the culture of the time. The Iranian of the time of Hafiz was well informed about his place in his society and his world, but he could not read or write. He memorized the wisdom of the age and lived by gathering and dispensing knowledge without benefit of formal schooling. Thus, the poetry of Hafiz was not difficult for his contemporaries who were intimately familiar with the poetry of Rumi and Sa'di, in the same way that it might be difficult for us.
Through such learning processes, Islamic precepts gradually filtered through the esoteric language of the sages and reached the common man. This message had begun with Zoroaster but was subsequently Hellenized, influenced by Judeo-Christian ethical and theological concerns, washed, dried, and polished by Islam, then praised by Firdowsi, Khayyam, Rumi, Sa'di and many others. It was delivered by Hafiz in ghazals that a woman might murmur as she did her daily chores or that a simple man might chant as he lamented a separation or enjoyed the prospect of a wedding or a journey.
Still, Hafiz was not satisfied. The optimism of Rumi and Sa'di had a darker side of which only Khayyam had spoken. Hafiz could not overlook Khayyam's skepticism; indeed Sa'di's investigations into the nature of man had brought this disturbing aspect to the fore. Hafiz' assessment of humanity revealed a tinge of that dark Lord of Evil, Mani, who regarded the soul as slave to the body. In some of his ghazals, Hafiz, too, came to a similar conclusion, asserting that "A true man is not bound to a terrestrial existence/ There is need for a different world and a different man to be made."
Man, however, is a creature of his thoughts and his art benefits from his mental activities. Before long, Iran saw the art of Isfahan put an end to literary expression, signaling an era of dazzling palaces, turquoise domes, and lofty minarets. And Islamic thought was eventually given its desired expression. In Arabia this happened during the time of the Prophet. In Iran similar developments were to occur during the Safavid period (1501-1736). After Hafiz and Khujandi, Iran became a Muslim country by designation as well as by will.
University of Minnesota