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.


Abu Ali Sina. Risala fi’l ‘ishq.Trans. Zia al-Din Dorri. 2nd ed. Central Library, 1360 [1981].
Afary, Janet. Sexual Politics in Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2009.
Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1992.
‘Attar, Farid al-Din. Tadhkirat al-Awliya. Ed. Reynold A. Nicholson. London: Luzac and Co, 1905.
 ---. Farid al-Din ‘Attar’s Memorial of God’s Friends: Lives and Sayings of Sufis. Trans. Paul Losensky. New York, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2009.
---. Ilahi-nama. Ed. Muhammad Reza Shafi Kadkani. Tehran: Sukan Publications, 1387 [2009].
---. The Ilahi-nama or Book of God. Trans. John Andrew Boyle. Great Britain: Manchester University Press, 1976.
---. Musibat-nama. Ed. Muhammad Reza Shafi Kadkani. Tehran: Sukhan Publications, 1386 [2008].
---. Mantiq al-Tayr. Ed. Muhammad Reza Shafi Kadkani. Tehran: Sukhan Publications, 1385 [2007].
---. The Speech of the Birds: Concerning the Migration to the Real (the Mantiq al-tayr). Trans. P. W. Avery. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1998.
Bataille, Georges. Eroticism: Death and Sensuality. Trans. Mary Dalwood. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers, 1986.
Bayat, Mojdeh and Mohammad Ali Jamnia. Tales from the Land of the Sufis. Boston, London: Shambhala Publications, INC., 1994.       
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader. Ed. Michael Huxley and Noel Witts. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
Darling, Linda T. “Do Justice, Do Justice, For That is Paradise” Middle Eastern Advice for Indian Muslim Rulers.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 22.1and 2 (2002): 3-19;
---. “Medieval Egyptian Society and the Concept of the Circle of Justice.” Mamluk Studies Review 10.2 (2006): 1-17.
---. “Circle of Justice.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Three, Brill Online, 2012. Reference. University of California, UC Santa Barbara CDL, 27 July 2012
Dehqani, Muhammad. Vasvasehay-i ‘Asheqi: Barrisi-e Tahavul-i ‘Ishq dar Adab-i Parsi. Tehran:    Barnameh Publications, 1377 [1999].
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion. Orlando: Harcourt Inc., 1959.
El-Rouayheb, Khaled. Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World: 1500-1800. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Foucault, Michel. “Preface to Transgression.” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977.
---. Interview. “The Concern for Truth.” Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture:       Interviews and Other Writings. by Francois Ewald. Ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman. New York, Routledge, 1988.
---. The History of Sexuality: The Use of Pleasure. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.
---. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Allan Sheridan. 2nd ed. N.Y.: Vintage Books, 1995.
Fradenburg, Aranye L.O. “Sovereign Love.” City, Marriage, Tournament: Arts of Rule in Late Medieval Scotland. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
---. Sacrifice Your Love: Psychoanalysis, Historicism, Chaucer. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Ghazzali, Muhammad al-. “Risala fi tahqiq ru’ya t Allah fi’l-manam wa- ru’ya t al-nabi, in Kitab al-Madnun bih ‘ala ghayri ahlih. Majmu’at Rasa’il. Litho. Mecca, no year.
Hujwiri, Ali b. Uthmān Al-Jullabi Al-. Kashf al-mahjub: The Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufism. Trans. Reynold A. Nicholson. Leyden, London, 1911. E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Ser. 17.
Iskandar, Kai Ka’us Ibn. A Mirror for Princes: The Qabus-nama. Trans. Reuben Levy. London: The Cresset Press, 1951.
---. The Nasihat-nama known as Qabus-nama. Ed. Reuben Levy. London: Luzac and Co., Ltd., 1951.
---. The Nasihat-nama known as Qabus-nama. Ed. Saeed Nafisi. Tehran: Foroughi Publishers, 1342 [1963].
Jawzi,  Abu al-Faraj ibn al-. Talbis Iblis. Cairo, 1345 [1926].
Jawzi, Abu al-Faraj ibn al-. The Devil’s Delusion. Trans. D. S. Margoliouth. Islamic Culture 12, 1938.
Keddie, Nikki R. and Beth Baron, eds. Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1991.
Kristeva, Julia. Tales of Love. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1978.
Najmabadi, Afsaneh. Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxiety of Iranian Modernity. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California   Press, 2005.
Plato, Phaedrus. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Forgotten Books, 2008.
Qushayri, Abu al-Qasim. al-Risala fi ‘ilm al-tasawwuf. Cairo, 1330 [1951].
Ritter, Hellmut. The Ocean of The Soul: Man, The World, and God in The Stories of Farid al-Din Attar. Trans. John O’Kane. Ed. Bernd Radtke. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2003.          
Rouayheb, Khaled El-. Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World: 1500-1800. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975.
Sells, Michael and James Webb. “Lacan and Bion: Psychoanalysis and the Mystical Language of Unsaying.” Theory and Psychology 5.2 (1995): 195-215.
Shamisa, Sirus. Shahidbazi dar adabiyat-i Farsi. 1st ed. Tehran: Ramin Publications, 1381[2002].
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak.” Marxism and the Interpretation of            Culture. Ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg.           Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Stallybrass, Peter and Allon White. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986.
Touraj, Mahdi. Rumi and the Hermeneutics of Eroticism. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2007.
Zarrinkub, ‘Abd al- Husayn. Ruzigaran, 2nd vol. Tehran: Sukhan Publications, 1375/1997.
Ze’evi, Dror. Producing Desire: Changing Sexual Discourse in the Ottoman Middle East, 1500- 1900. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2006.
Zizek, Slavoj. For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor. 2nd Ed.  London: Verso, 2002.