Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Conference of Birds by Farid Ud-Din Attar

The Conference of Birds by Farid Ud-Din Attar is a mystical poem described by Reza Aslan in his book No god but God as by far the most famous parable describing the Sufi Way. Written in the twelfth century, Attar's poem describes how the birds of the world have gathered to elect a bird to lead them to the Simurgh, the King of the Birds. They elect the hoopoe to lead them. Before departing several birds question the wisdom of making the journey. The hoopoe answers each in turn with stories and parables. The birds then journey through the the Valleys of the Quest, Love, Mystery, Detachment, Unity, and Bewilderment before arriving at the Valley of Nothingness. Thousands of birds began the journey, but only thirty complete it. When they finally look upon the Simurgh they see themselves, for Simurgh means thirty birds in Persian. They struggled through the various challenges of the arduous journey only to discover that it was themselves they sought.

I heard about this book from Reza Aslan's No god but God. I looked forward to reading it, but was very disappointed upon doing so. The majority of the poem is taken up by the questions asked by the various birds. The parables and stories told in response were often seemed boring or repetitive to me. I would have liked to have read more about the actual journey, but it takes up surprisingly little of the poem. There were a few bright spots though. I especially enjoyed the story of Story Of Shaykh San‘an, which you can read for yourself at this online translation of The Conference of Birds.


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