Master Among the History Books
Khurasan is the largest province in Iran and is
also the riches. It is located to the north-east of the country
and expands to the western border of Afghanistan, towards the Oxus
River (Amu-Darya) in the north, and to the Barren and Salst Deserts
(Dasht-e lut and Dasht-e Kavir) in the south. The Kavir (Salt Desert)
is a large expanse of infertile land, a little larger than England.
The top layer of soil consists of salty sediments and residues which
remain from the ancient ocean of Tethys.
Some scientist believe that amoebae, the first single-celled
creatures on earth, came into existence about two hundred million
year ago on the fringes of Tethys and that from there, life went
on to spread throughout the world. Today, no animal can service
in the heart of the Kavir since the vital requirements for life
are not available: there are no water, trees, shrubs nor any trace
of human race. During more recent history, within the last three
thousand years or so, a few towns dared to encroach on the Kavir's
borders. Sabzevar is one of them, which forms part of Khurasan province.
It has been known historically as one of the centres of the Shi'ite
movements in the Islamic world.
In 1221 AD, Genghis Khan, the famous Mongol warrior,
captured the history land of Iran. He established the Ilkhanid dynasty
in the country which remained there for more than hundred years.
Genghis' early attacks on Iran started from Khurasan. He first captured
Nishapur, the most populated town of the province, the Sabzevar
and gradually other parts of the country.
Historians recount the story of a people who were
mass murdered by Genghis' troops in Khurasan. Soldiers killed about
two million in Nishapur alone, which was no exaggeration. They did
not event show mercy to cats, doges or other domesticated animals.
A commander rode his horse to a mosque, a historian reports, and
asked what that place was for. A clergyman who ha d been reading
the holy book, the Qur'an, stood up, crossed his forearms respectfully
and replied that this the house of God and that the book he ware
reading was His word. The commander instantly beheaded him with
his sword, and his hungry horse preceded to eat the leaves of the
holy book. Farid-od-Din 'Attar was one of the great Sufi poets of
history. He was born in 1120 in Nishapur and was martyred by a Mongol
soldier during a massacre following Mongol attacks on Khurasan.
The attacks of Genghis Khan and the establishment
of his offspring in Iran were a great misfortune which left the
towns devastated for a long period of time. Even after a hundred
years the new generations of inhabitants could not recover form
the damage. Another historian narrates that after the massacre conducted
by Genghis Khan and his followers, a group of survivors fled to
the Alborz mountain range, where they lived in a cave. They used
to come out at night to find something to eat, and would feed on
any sort of animal flesh, dead or alive, including rats, jackals,
birds and mice.
It was from such a background that some people in
Sabzevar came together and organised a new movement which was based
on Islamic values and a spirit of nationalism. They stood up against
the autocratic rulers of the time and eventually succeeded in overthrowing
the Ilkhanid government which was being run by Genghis'' offspring.
They called themselves the Sarbedaran. They established and independent
ruling state with some democratic ideas. They were the first self-ruled
government after the collapse of the last pre-Islamic kingdom in
The Sarbedaran family temporarily overcame their
difficulties. They ruled the country from Sabzevar any means for
53 years. They were finally overthrown by another attacker from
the north side of Oxus River, called Tamerlane (Timur). He also
had a blood-thirsty appetite which he had obviously inherited from
his mother who was a descendant of Genghis Khan's dynasty.
The Sarbedaran's ruling power finished to all intends
and purposed in the year 1390 AD, with the death of Khaja Najm-Din.
They could not resist the power of Tamerland. The Sarbedaran family
dispersed around the borders of the Kavir, finally vanishing completely.
These incidents have been recorded in historical documents.
'Attar's writings are one of the major works of
literature to have survived from that time. He is most renowned
for a poetry book called The Conference of the Birds, which has
been translated into various European languages. The story is about
thirty different kinds of birds that fly together tin search of
the reality of life. The dialogue between their leader, Hoopoe,
with each of ht other s in turn is most interesting. To cite a few
lines by way of example, the Owl came forward and in bewilderment
"I was chosen because of dwellings,
Is the confusing and I am nothing.
He who wished to be peaces giving
Must be familiar to ruinous living.
I know is some hidden corners
Were definitely kept valuable treasures,
Which are to me all accessible.
I am full of love but so feeble.
The following is an extract from the Encyclopaedia
Britannica about 'Attar's life and work:
"Farid od-Din 'Attar as a young man travelled widely,
visiting Egypt, Syria, Arabia, India and Central Asia, finally settling
in his native town, Nishapur, in north-eastern Persia, where he
spent many years collecting the verses and sayings of famous Sufis
(Muslim mystics). His name, 'Attar, may indicate that either he,
his father, or his grandfather was an apothecary, physician or perfumer.
In modern Sufi circles the name of 'Attar has a Kabbalistic or initiatory
significance. There is much controversy among scholars concerning
the exact details of his life and death as well as the authenticity
of may of the literary works attributed to him.
"The greatest of his works is his well-known, Manteq
ot-teyr (Eng. Trans. The Conference of the Birds, 1995). This is
an allegorical poem describing the quest of the birds (i.e. Sufis)
for the mystical Simorgh, or Phoenix, whom they wish to make their
king (i.e., God). They choose as their leader in the search the
celebrated hoopoe, a bird who, according to tradition, had guided
King Solomon across the desert to the Queen of Sheab. The hoopoe
describes the long and hazardous journey they must undertake through
seven valleys (representing the seven stage of Sufism). Many of
the birds make excuses, for they do not wish to continue, and eh
excuses symbolise those made by men for not pursuing spiritual perfection.
Of those who had begun the pilgrimage only 30 birds (si morgh) succeed
in entering the presence of the Simorgh.
"In the final scene the 30 birds approach the throne
contemplating their reflections in the mirror-like countenance of
the Simorgh, only to realise that they (si morgh) and the Simorgh
are one. In this way the poet allegorises the final stage of the
Sufi's progress: union with God.
"From the point of view of ideas, literary themes,
and style, 'Attar's influence was strongly felt not only in Persian
literature but also in other Islamic literature."
A Story from Attar
"This, Too, Will Pass"
A powerful king, ruler of many domains, was in a
position of such magnificence that wise men were his mere employees.
And yet one day he felt himself confused and called the sages to
'I do not know the cause, but something impels me to seek a certain
ring, one that will enable me to stablize my state.
'I must have such a ring. And this ring must be
one which, when I am unhappy, will make me joyful. At the same time,
if I am happy and look upon it, I must be made sad.'
The wise men consulted one another, and threw themselves
into deep contemplation, and finally they came to a decision as
to the character of this ring which would suit their king.
The ring which they devised was one upon which was inscribed the
THIS, TOO, WILL PASS