Against the Current: Farid al-Din ‘Attar’s Diverse Voices

Document Type: Research Papers


Comparative Literature PhD Candidate University of California, Santa Barbara, USA


Love and its transformative power have long been at the center of Islamic Sufism. For Sufi writers profane love, perceived as the love of worldly beloved, was the first step on the path toward the union with the divine. Farid al-Din ‘Attar (1145-1221) was one of the most significant authors to espouse and articulate profane love as a representation of both earthly and heavenly love. 'Attar’s use of the theme of transgressive love and his inclusion of marginalized members of society such as social pariahs and transgressors as earthly manifestations of the divine is particularly noteworthy. The present article traces the intersections of transgression, law, inclusion and exclusion, self and Other in ‘Attar’s treatment of class, gender, sexuality, and religion. In creating an understanding of human diversity and 'Attar’s inclusiveness, this article refers to the concepts of law and justice in its modern sense as well as acknowledging the medieval understanding of these notions. In pursuing this argument, a few theoretical notions concerning transgression and law are used. Although applying modern theories to medieval society might appear anachronistic, it is essential to inquire whether modern insights and theories can help us to better understand medieval works, or whether they are exclusive to early modern and modern scholarship. Without such an analysis, we are left with an inadequate understanding of medieval culture and literature. This article fills this gap by exploring the reasons for ‘Attar’s inclusion of transgressors and peripheral characters in his works from a modern theoretical perspective.


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