9-The Completion of Ethics: Self-Annihilation (Fanā) Through the Lens of ʿAṭṭār

The Completion of Ethics: Self-Annihilation (Fanā) Through the Lens of ʿAṭṭār

In this chapter, using mainly a narrative poem by Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār in light of writings by other Sufi authors, we will address a concluding question: Where does virtue ethics end? From the perspective of political science, ethics begins with the individual but extends to the management and wellbeing of groups of people. It ends in a virtuous nation composed on the model of the “virtuous city” (al-madīna al-fāḍila), a community al-Fārābī tells us will best nurture virtue and ultimately true happiness in its populace.1 Muslim thinkers have had a very rich intellectual history in the contemplation of politics and social justice, so rich, in fact, that inclusion within the purview of this book would be unfeasible. From an individual’s perspective, however, the authors hitherto mentioned have indicated varying ends for their soul-perfecting programs, ends that do share at least one trait: a distancing of oneself from the body’s lower forces. Many authors we have read would take things a step further and establish as a common end a relinquishing of notions of selfhood.


A brief consideration of the views of the philosopher Plotinus (d. 270) on the end of ethics will help frame this discussion in a comparative context. Sufi theories of self-annihilation should not be conflated with Neoplatonism, of course. In that regard, ʿAṭṭār (like many other Sufis) could not be clearer about his disavowal of ancient philosophy as reinterpreted in Arabic:

Once the candle-of-religion has incinerated Greek wisdom

the candle-of-the-heart cannot light from such learning.

The wisdom of Medina suffices for you, o man of religion.

Cast dirt upon Greece in your care for religion.2

From ʿAṭṭār’s perspective, Greek philosophy and prophetic scriptural wisdom were at odds. In his presentation of spiritual perfection, ʿAṭṭār, like Abū Ḥāmid Ghazālī, advocated an interior journey modeled on the wisdom of Sufi masters. This was a purification of the heart, rather than learning terms and concepts that busied the mind and created doubt or false certitude without leading to the nullification of ego necessary for direct vision. Religion, in its scripture, practice, injunctions, and divine aid, gave a person all he or she would need to polish the heart’s mirror. For ʿAṭṭār, it was not cultivated reason that helped procure self-loss, but a sort of enamored “insanity.”3

Yet from the perspective of intellectual history, all branches of learning (even Sufism) were in conversation with one another. A modified version of Plotinus’s view circulated widely among Arabic-reading philosophers. Historical relevance aside, this comparison highlights resemblances between self-loss in Sufism and the ultimate aims or “ends” of Islamic philosophy, despite very significant incongruities. For Anṣārī or Rūmī, rational contemplation is an impediment; the rational soul must give way to a completely receptive, higher faculty of vision. For Avicenna, rational contemplation is the end of the soul; the soul must become an acquired intellect. Nevertheless, even for Avicenna, a person moves beyond the self and allows the soul to mirror a higher intelligence. Both frameworks might be described as sharing some similarities with Plotinus’s pattern of ascent. That pattern continues to provoke interest today, in no small part on account of a study of Plotinus by Pierre Hadot. Hadot, much like ʿAṭṭār, argues for the practicality of reorienting oneself toward a “true self,” a divinity that is both origin and aim.

Plotinus in the Enneads describes two types of virtue: civic virtues and purifications.4 As civic virtues, wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice make us reasonable and upright in our interactions with one another. As purifications, these same virtues facilitate disassociation from the body and alignment with intellect, which makes us god-like.5 The soul’s opinions become independent of those of the body. This is wisdom. The soul refuses to indulge in the body’s experiences. This is temperance. The soul loses its fear of separation from the body. This is courage. Finally, with the body’s drives neutralized, the soul is ruled by reason. This is justice.6 In presenting this model, Plotinus expands on the comments of Plato in the Theaetetus, according to which evil must always “prowl about this earth” and a person must escape it to become “as like God as possible.”7

The soul’s becoming purified means, for Plotinus, a “stripping of everything alien,” in other words, losing everything that makes a soul somehow different from the intellect, in order to allow godliness to prevail upon it.8 To achieve conformity with the intellect, a person must also become absorbed in contemplation, and not simply maintain a nullification of bodily forces.9 Ultimately, by these means, the soul loses itself in “mystical union” (henōsis) with the perfect One, although scholars of Plotinus still debate whether this means an absolute loss of identity, or some preservation of selfhood as the soul becomes lost in God.10 Plotinus describes this contact as a direct vision that transcends reason. Contact comes and goes throughout one’s life, only to become permanent when one has ceased to inhabit a body through the body’s death.11

When brought into Arabic, Plotinus’s Enneads became misattributed to Aristotle on account of a scribal misreading, as well as a tendency to imagine Platonic thought as the completion of Aristotelian thought—a tendency that Arabic-writing philosophers inherited from others.12 Yet the text received great attention. Generations of philosophers and critics of philosophy read and reinterpreted each other’s Neoplatonic thoughts, from al-Kindī, to al-Fārābī, to the Brethren of Purity, to Avicenna, to Abū Ḥāmid Ghazālī, to Ibn ʿArabī, and on and on. That which we might call “Neoplatonism” has been rethought and reconfigured so often, in fact, that concepts from it have become a thoroughly integrated “Islamic” way of thinking about the cosmos, the soul, and existence—one sometimes only faintly resembling the Plotinus strain in its DNA, especially when that strain is found in Sufism.13


The lasting impact of the Arabic translation of Plotinus was, it seems, the fulfillment of its translator’s hopes. Peter Adamson displays the careful decisions the anonymous translator made to forge an Islamically viable Neoplatonism. Perhaps most significant for this chapter, the translator or “adaptor” of the Enneads into Arabic presents all virtue as pertaining to the intellect, for the intellect is always virtuous. Moreover, according to that translation, God is the source of virtue. This contradicts Plotinus’s clear assertion that virtues do not pertain to the intellect or that which is beyond it, since “the principles There have no need of harmony or order or arrangement.”14 Virtue is a means to achieving such harmony and hence applies only to souls in need of ordering. It is not for the intellect and that beyond it, which are undifferentiated perfection.15 In Islamic theology, however, God does indeed have attributes, which can be likened to virtues. In a sense, then, the adaptor creates an “Islamic” hierarchy of virtue, in which God’s attributes become manifest by intellect and, following that, by human imitators.16 This change is critical to the success of Neoplatonism in an Islamic theological context. It also resembles a key difference between Plotinus’s self-loss and that which will be discussed here: Many Sufi texts describe the loss of one’s attributes of selfhood not in an utterly ineffable One, but in God, that is, in the absolute whose essence is ineffable, but who becomes manifest through named attributes.

Plotinus’s higher ethics is “cathartic” because all human attributes must be lost. In becoming purified of such attributes, humans strive to become like the ultimate Good, which is undifferentiated and undefined. The Good has no attributes other than being the Good. This does have a place in Sufi thought: For a thinker such as Ibn ʿArabī (and many others), even the divine attributes are multiple and various refractions of one undifferentiated divine essence. When an attribute (such as mercy) becomes realized through that divine essence, it becomes a divine name (such as the All-Merciful). When that name becomes realized through a human servant, it becomes a virtue (human mercy, or compassion). Ultimately, a human loses qualities of human selfhood to reflect God’s names, and those names are ways in which God has disclosed His perfect undifferentiated being. In order to become truly compassionate, for example, a person must lose tendencies to be spiteful or indifferent (which result from human bodily existence). Being compassionate is not an acquisition of virtue, but a subtraction of human tendencies. This model holds true for Ibn ʿArabī, Abū Ḥāmid Ghazālī, and Najm al-Dīn Kubrā, as well as for ʿAṭṭār and other Sufi thinkers.

Yet—unlike with Plotinus—we can say that God has attributes, which are acquired by human beings. Why the difference? It would seem that, at least according to Ibn ʿArabī, the difference lies in revelation:

If we were left only the intellectual proofs used by rationalists in knowing the divine essence—that it is not such-and-such and not such-and-such—no created thing would love him. But when the divine reports came, in the languages of religious law, telling us that he is such-and-such and is such-and-such, in matters the outer senses of which contradict rational proofs, we loved him for the sake of these positive attributes.17

God does not only have negative attributes (al-ṣifāt al-salbiyya), such as incorporeality and dissimilarity to all things, but also positive ones (al-ṣifāt al-thubūtiyya), such as life, knowledge, power, will, sight, hearing, and speech.18 Reason knows that God must be above all things, even attributes, and so tells us of a deity of transcendence (tanzīh). Conversely, the heart—emboldened by God’s own words in revelation—loves a deity of immanence (tashbīh). Can God be All-Seeing, when sight as we know it utilizes eyes? Reason immediately enters the scene and begins to negate: God’s seeing does not make use of eyes, nor does it involve the reflection of light, nor is it separate from the very existence of all things. And yet I know that the deity I love can see me. Moreover, when, having traversed stage after stage and practice after practice, I lose myself in constant remembrance of God, I know—according to a hadith—that God becomes my sight.19

This emphasis on knowing and personifying God’s names permeates Sufi ethical writings. In the context of Ibn ʿArabī, for example, William Chittick has discussed ways in which such a “theomorphic ethics,” one “identical with the spiritual path of the Sufis,” encourages the aspirant to assume the character traits of God (takhalluq bi-akhlāq Allāh), or, in different terms, “[to] assum[e] the traits of God’s names.”20 I have kept this discussion of assuming the traits of God’s names brief, in fear of veering into engrossingly complex theological issues, but one example from the writings of Ghazālī merits mention. Abū Ḥāmid Ghazālī frequently champions a theomorphic ethics of God’s names throughout his writings, but undoubtedly the clearest case is The Most Resplendent Objective in Explanation of the Meanings of God’s Most Beautiful Names (al-Maqṣad al-Asnā Sharḥ Maʿānī Asmāʾ Allah al-Ḥusnā), which has been translated into English.21

Here Ghazālī describes how a person might realize—in a human, servant-like, and imperfect way—each of God’s ninety-nine names listed as an elaboration of a famous hadith.22 Some, such as “the Gracious” (al-Laṭīf), seem straightforward enough: A person should be kind and accommodating in his or her inviting others to God, just as God brings out beauty and order in a cosmos inclined toward decay, from which humans benefit and should be guided to Him.23 Others, such as “the Subduer” (al-Qahhār), need more thought before they can be applied to human actions. This name indicates the power that God has over all things, which becomes especially evident when arrogant humans oppose him. A human makes manifest this attribute when he or she subdues the human being’s foremost enemy, which is the lower soul (nafs) and its concomitant desires that lead to sin; this should be followed by subduing the body entirely to bring the spirit to life.24 To give one last example, “the One” (al-Wāḥid) points to God’s unity, indivisibility, and dissimilarity to all things. This name applies to a human who excels all other humans in some desirable trait (khaṣla), in some form of knowledge, or virtue, even though human preeminence is entirely relative. That is, a person is not absolutely preeminent for being good, virtuous, or knowledgeable in the sense that these things emanate from her, but instead preeminent relative to those in her species and the time in which she lives.25

When seen in this way, a person acquires a series of virtues reflective of God’s names. But, from another perspective, that person does not acquire attributes but negates his or her own, learning to see the falsity of his or her own selfhood. Ghazālī clarifies this in his analysis of the name Allāh, the name of God that comprehends not only all of His beautiful names, but also all things in existence:

It befits the servant for his portion of this name [Allāh] to become God-like (al-taʾalluh). I mean that one’s heart and determination become drowned in Allah, Exalted and Glorified, so that one sees none other than Him, pays attention to none other than Him, hopes in none other than Him, and fears none other than Him. How could it be otherwise when this name brings us to understand that He is the one true and real existent, and all other than Him is undergoing annihilation, perishing, and false—except through Him? Thus, to begin with, [the aspirant] sees his own soul as that which is the foremost of all that is perishing and false.26

Ghazālī is careful not to delve too deeply into this matter in his treatise. Its depths point to “secrets” like “an abyss in an ocean without shore,” secrets that begin by knowing that God knows Himself through our knowing Him, that God is the real Actor behind everything.27 It is for this reason, Ghazālī implies, that God declares to Muhammad in the Qurʾan that “you did not throw when you threw, but God threw” (Q 8:17). If one comes to realize this and to perceive that the self lacks actuality, and if that realization becomes so constant that a person’s sense of selfhood disappears, then that is annihilation (fanāʾ).


Self-annihilation or simply “annihilation” (or “annihilation in God”) is a specific and technical term in Sufism, at variance with simply a general sense of losing one’s attributes of selfhood, which I have been calling “self-loss.” While self-loss might be applied to all the ways in which a person loses his or her own traits and sense of self in approaching God through His attributes, annihilation marks some completion of this process. It can be not only a stage in the path, but also a matter of perception, a realization. Complementary to annihilation is the phenomenon of “subsistence (baqāʾ) through God.” Subsistence occurs after annihilation. Through subsistence, the self-annihilated person engages with creation, living among others and interacting with them. He or she does so through acquired divine attributes, even as if through God, now that his or her “blameworthy attributes” have passed away.28 For most Sufi writers, this process means leaving behind states and stations.29 Beyond this, a person becomes annihilated from his or her own annihilation, inattentive even to her own situation as one annihilated and as close to projecting God’s own actions as a human being can be.30

Even though subsistence is the completion of annihilation, Sufi writings often refer to the entire process as “annihilation,” a practice that I have taken up in this chapter. In a technical sense, annihilation and subsistence are indeed separate, and subsistence is the superior achievement. Nevertheless, these two modes of being and awareness come as a pair. Although they often (but not always) occur in succession, they are always complementary—two sides of one coin, so to speak. ʿAṭṭār, for example, describes subsistence (baqā) as the completion of self-annihilation, or becoming “annihilated from annihilation” (fanā az fanā).31 Once one loses one’s awareness of being annihilated, then one has achieved subsistence. Some sayings describe the relationship between subsistence and annihilation as a matter of perspective. “Subsistence belongs to the Real,” al-Junayd says (according to ʿAṭṭār), “and annihilation belongs to other-than-the-Real.”32 As the servant disappears, the Real takes the servant’s place. Annihilation means that the servant’s illusion of identity is effaced, while the servant’s subsistence through God means that the Real’s presence is affirmed.

It would be simplistic to suppose that self-annihilation and subsistence through God are the “end” for all Sufi ethicists. Anṣārī, for example, includes seven waystations after annihilation and subsistence. Despite this, the concluding waystations share qualities of self-loss with annihilation, in that they are increasingly complete realizations of self-nothingness and God-everythingness that culminate in a realization of divine unity (tawḥīd), the final waystation. For Najm al-Dīn Kubrā, the tenth and final “principle” of spiritual perfection is complete satisfaction (al-riḍā) with God. This means satisfaction with His determinations and decrees, with intimacy with Him as well as the distance He might take from His lovers, and with all that which comes from Him, which is everything. Yet satisfaction—along with his other ten principles of seeking nearness to God—is but one facet of a comprehensive virtue, the virtue of all virtues, something Kubrā and others have labeled “volitional death” (al-mawt bi-l-irāda). Kubrā himself draws a parallel between volitional death and annihilation (fanāʾ).33 The terminus of the path for Kubrā is for a person to “die” from human attributes only to be given life through divine attributes.34 Thus, even if in a technical sense self-annihilation is not always the final virtuous achievement, the phenomenon of self-loss certainly informs the final stages of most Sufi progressions of virtue. The overarching and broader topic of “self-loss” will allow us to explore annihilation in the context of other related endings for the soul, namely love, unification, and the oneness of God.


‘The Conference of the Birds’; detail of an illustration by Habiballah of Sava from a Persian manuscript of the poem by Farid ud-Din Attar, circa 1600

I have cast a net throughout this chapter wider than in previous chapters, allowing numerous Sufi voices to define the themes and terms that surround the concept of self-annihilation. This is because self-annihilation, as a concept, eludes definition. To get even a somewhat satisfactory picture, it helps to approach the concept from many perspectives. Nevertheless, the unifying text in this chapter is Farīd al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm ʿAṭṭār’s (d. 1221) long narrative poem, The Language of the Birds (Manṭiq al-Ṭayr), also titled The Stations of the Birds (Maqāmāt al-Ṭuyūr). From an allegorical perspective, arguably no other work better captures the trials, pains, and ultimate fulfillment involved in annihilating one’s ego-self.

Very little is known of ʿAṭṭār’s biography. ʿAṭṭār was his penname and he was an apothecary. No one can be certain that ʿAṭṭār even had a Sufi master, although he has been spuriously associated with the “saint-maker” Najm al-Dīn Kubrā and, more possibly, with Kubrā’s student, Majd al-Dīn al-Baghdādī (d. 1219).35 ʿAṭṭār spent his long life in the vicinity of Nishapur, in the northeast of modern Iran, which meant that his homeland was in the first wave of Muslim-ruled cities to be ravaged by the invading Mongols, who took the poet’s life.36 He does not feature in any Sufi initiatic lines, leaving instead a legacy of influence in the development of Sufi Persian poetry and Sufi symbols that is perhaps unmatched by any. Indeed, throughout his life, ʿAṭṭār seems to have been especially drawn to books by and about Sufis, as well as poetry with Sufi themes.37

His interest in what might be called “literary Sufism” resulted in several long, didactic, narrative poems, as well as a dīwān or collection of mostly love poems, a collection of four-line (rubāʿī) poems called The Book of Selections (Mukhtār-nāma), and The Memorial of the Saints (Tadhkirat al-Awliyāʾ), an account in prose of the lives of Sufi predecessors. A number of works are falsely attributed to him. The four longer narrative poetic works that are verified as his are The Divine Book (Ilāhī-nāma), a book about renunciation, in which a king asks his six sons about their deepest desires, in order to teach them the shortsighted folly of longing for worldly pleasures or power;38 The Language of the Birds, discussed here; The Book of Affliction (Muṣībat-nāma), in which a wayfarer led by his master seeks deliverance from the suffering within himself by interviewing all the major entities in creation, including the angels, the divine throne, hell, humans, animals, and the inner psychological faculties, until he discovers that the answer lies in the ocean of his own spirit; and The Book of Secrets (Asrār-nāma), which is a collection of stories on Sufi themes not held together by any ostensible frame narrative.

The Language of the Birds is ʿAṭṭār’s most treasured contribution to world literature. It not only left an enduring mark on Rūmī and other Persian poets, but became a valued text in the Ottoman and Mughal courts, and was translated into Turkish and Dakkani, eventually making its way into European languages as well.39 The text has received the attention of a number of English translators, most recently Peter Avery.40 Other works of ʿAṭṭār also display his masterful poetic abilities of narrative and dialogue. Two have frame-tale structures, a trend that began in Persian literature after exposure to the Indian frame-tale, via Kalīla and Dimna, as mentioned earlier. Yet The Language of the Birds enjoys a certain frame-tale structure that harmonizes perfectly with the central theme of ʿAṭṭār’s writings, the plight of the soul to find union with God and achieve self-realization in self-annihilation. The framing narrative (a flight of birds resembling the Prophet Muhammad’s heavenly ascent) was not new, despite ʿAṭṭār’s ingenuous use of it.41


Like many before him who told this story, ʿAṭṭār begins the narrative with the problem of birds in need of a king. One bird, the hoopoe (hudhud), enters the congregation to announce a resolution: There is a monarch of a bird who is eternal, light-giving, omnipresent, and the source of all other beings and traces. That bird is the Sīmurgh, a colossal bird with feathers of restorative power. The hoopoe declares this with authority because he has—according to the Qurʾan—spoken with King Solomon and served him (Q 27:20–8), and is thus initiated into the divine secrets and able to serve as a guide to others. The Sīmurgh’s habitation is dauntingly far. He lives upon Mount Qāf, which, according to medieval Islamic geographical accounts, surrounds the oceans and the earth. It is made of emerald, or at least situated upon emerald, and it gives stability to the earth it encompasses. Inaccessibility is this mountain’s identifying trait.42

The birds meet to head out. The uninitiated birds are of manifold types, representing the varieties of souls, each with his or her own peculiar set of strengths and weaknesses, weaknesses that affect adversely the bird-soul’s ability to set out toward the king. The nightingale has a beautiful song, through which he expresses his undying love for the rose. Yet his fixation with the rose’s beauty—a metaphor for those absorbed in beautiful forms who do not proceed to meaning—keeps him from redirecting his attention to the Sīmurgh. The parrot’s fixation is on eternal life, and thus he suffers from the cowardice of all those afraid to lose their lives, whether on a journey or in other domains of risk. The peacock was once a bird of heavenly paradise, and his sole occupation now is a desire to return. Like those who see religion as a business transaction through which they can acquire otherworldly rewards, the peacock directs his concern toward paradise and not God, the source of paradise. The duck is obsessed with washing, much like those pietistic Muslims often consumed by the formalities of ritual, including ablutions. The partridge represents those who love wealth, on account of the bird’s association with colorful jewel-like stones.43 According to Persian legend, the humāy-bird’s shadow indicated that someone would become a ruler; thus, the humāy—here a self-absorbed ascetic—imagines that the Sīmurgh should come to him for investiture of the crown, a case of arrogance. The falcon represents the love of rank, since he has ready access to the arm of the king, who uses the bird to hunt. The heron, whose name ( tīmār) can mean “father of sadness,” suffers from melancholy. He cannot fathom anything but wallowing in his sadness by the sea, staring out into the dark water which—the heron fears—will lessen and lose its grandeur if he were to drink any, keeping him thirsty.44 The owl’s love of wealth, unlike the more mercantile partridge who traverses mountain tops for gems, resembles that of misers and hoarders; he occupies the ruins guarding treasure, unable to progress out of fear of losing what he has.45 The frail sparrow asks to be excused on account of his weakness, representing all those of insufficient spiritual ambition, those who cannot see the capacity for knowing God within themselves and deem themselves morally weak.

The hoopoe kindles their aspirations by telling them about a revered elderly Sufi master, the Shaykh of Ṣanʿān, who fell madly in love with a young Christian. For her, he was willing to lose his saintly reputation, religion, friends, and salvation in the afterlife. He came back to God with an awareness that only the lover—willing to sacrifice everything and claiming nothing for himself—has the sincerity needed to escape the fetters of selfhood and know God. Thus inspired, the birds set out. Story after story ensues, as the hoopoe leads them along the arduous journey to the Sīmurgh. As doubts and confessions of ethical shortcomings arise, the hoopoe uses storytelling as counsel. The group must make it past seven valleys before arriving: the valley of seeking (ṭalab), the valley of passionate love (ʿishq), the valley of intimate knowledge (maʿrifat), the valley of independence (istighnā), the valley of declaring oneness (tawḥīd), the valley of perplexity (ḥayrat), and lastly the valley of poverty and annihilation (faqr and fanā). Few make it. Some drown, others die of thirst, or of exposure to the elements, predators, or each other; others become too tired or distracted to continue. In the end, only “one out of every thousand arrives,” that is, only “thirty individuals, no wing or feather, suffering and enfeebled / broken of heart, nothing left but soul, infirm of body.”46

The thirty remaining birds finally catch a glimpse of the Sīmurgh, “surpassing the perception of intellect or intimate knowing,” which causes them to become paralyzed in bewilderment.47 At first, they are rejected—a theme encountered in Aḥmad Ghazālī’s (d. 1126) version of this tale as well. The herald of arms (chāwush) advises them to return from whence they came, since the king does not need them, and their pursuit will only bring them pain. They become despondent, but then present a tale they had heard earlier, one of the moth’s willful annihilation in the flames of its beloved candle. While everyone had deemed the moth too weak, it had no choice but to throw itself into the flame. This realization changes things: Curtains of separation are lifted, and they see the world unveiled and illuminated. They are presented with a written statement that describes their every living deed, so that they realize the treacheries they used to commit against their own souls. The shame and agitation they undergo on account of this document finishes things off for them. Freed from life and body, they are “purified from the all of the all.”48 They regain life through the light of the Presence and encounter the Sīmurgh.

ʿAṭṭār describes meeting the Sīmurgh as a vision of mirror-like reflection, imagery that we have come upon throughout this book. The birds look closer at this “reflection of the face of the Sīmurgh of the world” and notice that the Sīmurgh is none other than themselves.49 ʿAṭṭār accomplishes this mirroring through language, in one of the most celebrated puns in Persian literary history: The Sīmurgh is really murgh, since means “thirty” and murgh means “birds.”50 This identification of the thirty birds with Sīmurgh causes the birds to “drown in bewilderment” so that “without the ability to contemplate they remained in contemplation.”51 Confused, they ask about this mystery:

Since their state was that they knew nothing from nothing

they asked, without verbal utterance, a question of that Presence.

They sought unveiling for this mighty enigma

a solution for this problem of we-ness and you-ness.

Without verbal utterance came speech from that Presence:

“This Presence so like the sun’s rays is a mirror;

anyone who approaches sees himself in it,

soul-and-body one comes to see soul and body in it.

Since you arrived at this place as thirty birds

you became manifest as thirty in this mirror.

If you were to come back as forty or fifty birds

in similar fashion you’d lift the curtain from yourselves.”52

For the birds, their annihilation bestows on them eternal greatness and the qualities of the Sīmurgh: “Erased in Him, in the end, they became forever— / shadow was lost in sun, and so in peace goodbye.”53 Having no identities of their own, they then acquire a new sort of identity. After the completion of their annihilation, a process that is both instantaneous and takes one hundred thousand centuries, the birds “regain selfhood” in that they find themselves in subsistence (baqā).54 In other words, they find new existence in the king, after having lost their own existence. The story then ends with ʿAṭṭār’s final thoughts on self-annihilation, authorship, and ethical injunctions for undertaking such changes within oneself.

Look also: The parrot  Seeker of eternal life:  What good is immortality Spent in a cage?”








At a point before the birds’ complete annihilation in the Sīmurgh, ʿAṭṭār describes self-annihilation in terms of love. The poet calls his audience to become lovers who have no concern with their own wellbeing or with matters of good and evil. “Annihilation in passionate love” is to be so absorbed in the beloved that everything else falls away:

Once your interior becomes unified in self-loss (bī-khudī)

you’ll relinquish determinations of “good” and “bad.”

Once good and bad do not remain, you’ll be a lover—

then you’ll be worthy of annihilation in passionate love (fanā-yi ʿishq).55

ʿAṭṭār is not advocating the abandonment of all morality, or even the abandonment of religion—not necessarily. Rather, the true lover has no regard for social reputation or otherworldly reward. The lover’s only care is the beloved. This might indeed involve a disregard for determinations of right and wrong or good and bad, but not a disregard for the will of the beloved. When the beloved is God, and God commands righteous action, the lover will not become a wrongdoer. ʿAṭṭār’s point is that annihilation occurs in love, and absolute love is no holds barred. A lover must be willing to risk all in order to reach union with and annihilation in the beloved.

ʿAṭṭār illustrates this by describing a tale of moths and a candle, a common metaphor for self-annihilation in Sufi literature that can be traced to Ḥusayn ibn Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj.56 Moths, drawn to sources of light, try to learn about a candle; one moth is willing to look from a distance, while another is willing to get closer. Neither of them hits the mark. Only the moth intoxicated in love, willing to risk all and burn in the flame of the beloved candle “from head to toe,” exemplifies the perfected knower.57

Here we have reached a very fine distinction. Complete self-annihilation would not best be described in terms of a suffering sort of love. The seeker and the sought are so united in complete self-annihilation that any distinction between them that would cause longing or pain has disappeared. Yet annihilation in the Real need not always be so complete or so perpetual. A person can claim annihilation of selfhood but still be an afflicted lover, yearning and suffering for the divine beloved or perhaps for the completion of his annihilation. In his extensive study of love in early Islamic texts, Divine Love, William Chittick considers the problem of unification and love, a problem also debated by those who study the ambiguous writings of Plotinus.58 As Chittick indicates, in the Islamic context, complexities surrounding identity, love, and pain undergo commentary in the Epiphanies (Sawāniḥ) of the great Sufi theorist on love in Persian, Aḥmad Ghazālī, brother to the Ghazālī of Chapter Three. Aḥmad proclaims that the entire purpose of stripping down one’s identity is to arrive at the purest form of love.59 Suffering is part of the process: It makes one’s ego as emaciated as a hair, until the lover disappears and becomes a hair in the beloved’s tress.60 Love wears away at duality until there is no lover and beloved left—only love itself.61 Thus, if the essence of the Real is Love, then annihilation in love is indeed annihilation in the Real. Chittick considers this as a topic under the rubric of asserting God’s unity (tawḥīd), which I will address in the next segment. His own discussion of the lover’s “nonbeing in tawḥīd,” however, indicates that—upon whichever term one chooses to focus—the ends of love in Islamic thought, which are also the ends of Sufi virtue ethics, concern self-loss.62

Not all forms of love in Islamic thought require self-loss. The Qurʾan describes healthy love between individuals and selfless altruism inspired by love (Q 30:21, 76:8, and 59:9). The theme of a more sober sort of love for God can be found in the Qurʾan too (Q 3:31 and 2:165). Yet these are preliminary sorts of love in the model offered by ʿAṭṭār and others. A poem attributed to one of the most revered figures in ʿAṭṭār’s thought—al-Ḥallāj—illustrates the annihilating sort of love, the same love described by ʿAṭṭār and Aḥmad Ghazālī. It begins with a call the pilgrim makes on the Hajj, a visitation to Mecca and its environs accompanied by certain rites. The call, labbayk, means something like “Here I am, at your service.” Labbayk is a testimony to the pilgrim’s abandoning absolutely everything in the service of God, who called out to the pilgrim’s soul long before he could respond to the invitation:

Labbayk! Labbayk! O my secret and my secret conversation!

Labbayk! Labbayk! O my intention and my meaning!

I called on you, no, you called me to you; so did

I cry out to you, or did you cry out to me?

O source of the source of my being, o utmost of my endeavors!

O my speech! My expressions! and my gestures!

O all of all of me and o my hearing! and o my sight!

O my whole and my divisions and the parts that make me up.

O all of all of me, and all of the all is perplexing,

and all of all of you is worn garb-like in my meaning.

O you to whom my spirit was bound and became destroyed

in ecstasy, such that I am hostage to my desires.

I weep out of grief for my disunion from my homeland

undertaken voluntarily. Even my enemies are wailing in sympathy with me.

I draw near, but my fear banishes me;

and a yearning that has settled in the hidden depths of my stomach disturbs me.

So what should I do in a vast expanse to which I’ve been consigned?

My master, the doctors have grown weary of my sickness!

They say: Cure him of it. I say to them,

People! Will you treat this disease with a disease?!

My love for my master weakens me and makes me sick,

So how can I complain to my master? My master!

Truly I look at him and the heart knows him.

So what can interpret him other than my gesticulations?

Woe unto my spirit for my spirit and what a pity for me

about me, for I am the source of my own calamity.

It is as if I am drowning, when his fingertips appear

to come to my aid, while he too is in an ocean of water.

There is no one who knows what I’ve endured

except for the one who alighted from me in my heart’s innermost blood.

That is the one who knows the prolonged illness I’ve undergone.

And in his wish is my death and my revival.

O extremity of what is sought! and what is hoped for! o my haven!

o life of my spirit and o my religion and my worldliness!

Say to me: I have freed you by ransom. O my hearing and sight!

Why be so obstinate in my distance and remoteness?

Even if you are hidden from my eye, enveloped in veils,

the heart will guard over you when in exile and far away.63

By beginning his poem with the famous pilgrimage cry, al-Ḥallāj might be said to interpret it; it is as if the word labbayk really means all that is said in this poem. Yet this interpretation goes so far beyond mere submission to God and so far beyond a healthy love for God that it becomes almost blasphemous. God constitutes the lover in all the lover’s divisions as well as the lover’s whole—God and al-Ḥallāj are seemingly one. This claim has led to some controversy and even, according to narratives surrounding the poet, to al-Ḥallāj’s execution. While historical evidence suggests otherwise, al-Ḥallāj became renowned in Sufi literature for having blasphemously proclaimed, “I am the Real.”64 Were this poem alone to be used as evidence, there might be some indication of heresy, particularly in the line “except for the one who alighted from me in my heart’s innermost blood.” The word that the poet uses (ḥalla, “to alight”) can mean “incarnation” (usually in the gerund form ḥulūl), in which divinity enters one body or person to the exclusion of others. In prevailing Islamic theological views, since God is self-sufficient, He cannot occupy a space, person, essence, or soul as opposed to another—since such would mean having a relationship of reliance on that entity. ʿAṭṭār and other Sufi writers have read al-Ḥallāj not as an advocate of ḥulūl or another heresy called “union” (ittiḥād), but rather self-annihilation. Unlike those concepts, self-annihilation is complete immersion in the realization that when “all” becomes purified of otherness, then God is all.65 The poet, in such a reading, sees that the barriers that create his identity—the barriers between God and other-than-God—are illusory. That does not mean that he limits God to one particular body, namely, his own.

The lover cries out on account of two things: his absolute absorption in the love of God, and a complementary sense of distance that causes pain and crying out. Annihilation in love is, therefore, both a state of self-loss and an agonizing process of further self-loss. Of course, the doctors—who represent rational individuals with tempered devotion to God—see al-Ḥallāj’s illness as an illness. The only way to cure the speaker of this poem would be to bring him out of this state of total absorption in the love of God, to have him accept the lie that there is something else out there worthy of attention. Then he would become “sick” like everyone else. His sickness is awareness. How could one trade in awareness for ignorance? Only lovers understand what it means to be trapped between torture and desire, between unity and separation. Others do not. The American songwriter Prince (d. 2016) has the lover say of the doctor trying to cure his lovesickness, “but he’s a fool.”66 Were Prince’s words to be applied to the source of beauty and perfection, instead of merely a human beloved, they would befit the knower of God.

The speaker describes, moreover, a love that seems to preexist him. He wonders who called out to whom: Did he cast the first glance, or had the beloved peeked coyly at him before he realized it? The speaker describes a homeland from which he has wandered and become lost, and his longing for return causes him to weep. That homeland is a knowledge of God that preexisted earthly life, a knowledge so intimate that one might call it a union with God that every soul enjoyed before coming into creation. This tells us something else of great importance regarding love of God, namely that it is innate and eternal, preceding the soul’s existence on earth. God, for al-Ḥallāj and many other Muslim thinkers, is to be remembered and rediscovered as God, not learned about anew. In this too there is a resemblance to Plotinus’s thought.67 According to a common reading of a Qurʾanic verse (Q 30:30), God created humans with an innate knowledge of Him (fiṭra), a knowledge that was instilled permanently within our souls—according to Abū Ḥāmid Ghazālī, to give one example—when we took a pre-eternal covenant mentioned in the Qurʾan (Q 7:172).68 In terms of love, this means that we are destined to yearn constantly, to long for somewhere we vaguely remember. The more we remember, the more nostalgic we become, and the more such longing hurts. Another Sufi poet, ʿUmar ibn al-Fārid. (d. 1235), proclaims his longing candidly:

O garden from which the soul separated under duress!

Were it not for the solace of the eternal realm, I’d die from grief.69

In other words, were it not for the fact that I will be reunited with You after death, this pain of separation would be unbearable, even deadly. This love is not only intense, it is haunting, like a remembered experience so simple and idealized, yet distant. Like bonds formed in childhood, this love calls a person back to his or her origins, erasing everything acquired since those origins. Thus the movement toward self-annihilation often involves a realization that God is the one original source of perfection and the one true object of love. If “there is no god but God,” then in fact “there is no beloved but God.” Being occupied with this divine beloved brings one to the peaks of ethical perfection, because one’s many lower desires become replaced by a singular desire to return to Him.

As one can see from al-Ḥallāj’s poem, the central problem in loving God is that the process of absorption in the divine beloved lacks absolute completion. The lover draws near, seems to disappear, but then reappears and suffers because of the distance involved. This causes pain. The metaphor of the moth consumed by flame conveys the pains involved in the process of annihilation in love; the moth suffers, burns, and disappears, but is still not one with the candle. Yet the most pervasive metaphor in Sufi literature (Persian and Arabic alike) for the pains of losing oneself in an unreachable divinity is the love of one human for another. A human beloved can be coy, uninterested, capricious, and yet the uniqueness of that beautiful beloved keeps the lover entranced. Analogously, the Real can hide from His lovers, cause hearts to be deprived of a sense of proximity, and seem infinitely distant even to those who have spent a lifetime drawing near to Him. It is for this reason that ʿAṭṭār follows the story of the incinerated moth with a story about a beggar who is tortured by inverted hanging for his infatuation with a beautiful prince. Even when faced with execution, he only desires to gaze upon the prince’s face. After being pardoned, the beggar beholds the prince one last time and gives up his life:

Once union with his darling became a fact,

he became completely annihilated and nonexistent.

The wayfarers know, while on the battlefield of pain,

that which annihilation-in-love has done to men.70

There is a sense of shared suffering in ʿAṭṭār’s phrase “wayfarers know.” Only wayfarers and lovers can understand this peculiar agony. Reflection upon the pains of separation is supposed to create this sense of empathy and even ecstasy within the reader, one objective of Sufi recitals of erotic poetry. Reciting and commenting on erotic poetry or love poetry—far from being a pastime or a form of expression—was and still is a self-perfecting practice in Sufi circles.71 For many this is because one type of love (human-to-human) resembles the other (human-to-divine) so perfectly. Yet for ʿAṭṭār and other Sufi thinkers, it is not merely a matter of resemblance: Losing oneself in human-to-human love could also be a mode of preparation or even a means for losing oneself in the love of God.72


Among the valleys that the birds must traverse to reach the final valley of “poverty and annihilation” is that of tawḥīd, which means “to make one,” or, in this case, “to declare or recognize God’s oneness.” It is Islam’s central belief. While one might suppose that tawḥīd is a precursor to self-annihilation, it is more accurate to consider it a quality, a composite quality, needed for one to annihilate the self and subsist in the Real. Tawḥīd is, then, not only among the final stages of the soul’s perfection, but also a necessary and inherent part of self-annihilation.

To some readers, this might seem strange, since tawḥīd seems to be a rather basic theological doctrine. It is the most initial declaration of God’s oneness one makes as a Muslim: There is no god but God. Yet this is the ironic discovery of the journey exemplified in ʿAṭṭār’s “thirty birds” pun. One arrives at the place where one began. For ʿAṭṭār that place of arrival is the spirit, from which human existence begins and to which the wayfarer returns. ʿAbdallāh Anṣārī spells this out even more explicitly in the final waystation of the Waystations, wherein everything ends at the very beginning: The hundredth waystation is tawḥīd, namely, declaring God’s oneness. While tawḥīd has profound implications for the spiritual elite, for “the common”—says Anṣārī—tawḥīd means simply rejecting all forms of idolatry, polytheism, and false notions about God, such as the possibility of God’s having children.

In the beginnings of Islam, by calling his followers to the worship of the god worshipped by Biblical prophets, Muhammad was also calling his people toward the self-restraint, mercy, justice, and consistency of those who observed God’s revealed law, namely, the Jews and Christians. In this way, the theological declaration of tawḥīd had ethical dimensions. The ethical implications of the statement “there is no god but God” become fully realized in the many waystations and virtues leading to self-annihilation. Tawḥīd begins with obedience, but becomes realized as a constant inner state that affects all of one’s actions. In terms of basic obedience, the Qurʾan mentions that a hazardous object of worship is one’s own desire: “Have you seen the one who has taken his whimsical desire as his god? Will you be an advocate for such a person?” (Q 25:43). The person who follows his or her desires becomes progressively engulfed by those desires. Then, that person cannot think rationally about his or her long-term wellbeing or about the intangible meanings behind creation. The call of the Prophet seems nonsensical to such a person, like the call of a concerned loved one to an adolescent experimenting with drugs, unable to imagine addiction and a decline in health. Instead, their slave-like absorption in desires makes them incognizant of everything that should matter (Q 45:23).

Yet the implications of God’s oneness and recognition of it go far beyond this, and the highest achievements of vision and perfection are inseparable from this most basic theological doctrine. For example, two different discussions of tawḥīd unfold in one of the most famous manuals on Sufism, that written by Abū al-Qāsim al-Qushayrī. The author first establishes that the masters of this path have proper beliefs about God’s essence and attributes: God is unlike anything in creation; He precedes time itself, and no word can describe Him, since He Himself created words.73 People of the path, however, have a secondary sort of tawḥīd, one to which al-Qushayrī refers much later in his book, when discussing tawḥīd among various terms used by the Sufis. Tawḥīd has become a way of speaking, behaving, deciding, and thinking in which the human self has vanished. This sort of tawḥīd, as al-Qushayrī describes it, quoting an unnamed author, is “the extirpation of all ‘me’s, so do not say, ‘of me,’ and ‘by me,’ and ‘from me,’ and ‘to me.’”74

To see God as the only beginning and end of all actions and aims, and to see beyond the illusion that you independently have the power to make things happen, that is tawḥīd. Or, paralleling this observation, as al-Qushayrī quotes from Ruwaym ibn Aḥmad (d. 915–16), “Tawḥīd is the erasure of human traces, and the isolation of divinity.”75 Ruwaym’s proclamation is perhaps best understood by considering the most famous Sufi description of tawḥīd, one that comes from al-Junayd, who said that tawḥīd is “the segregation of the eternal from the temporal.”76 It means that one looks beyond creation, attributing all that is perfect and undying to God. All imperfections, all that is temporal, have nothing to do with God. This easily applies to human action as well: While your lower and vicious actions are yours, the good you do is Godly, and in fact God’s action. Indeed, the Qurʾan attributes Muhammad’s praiseworthy actions and speech to God in at least two places, according to some interpretations (Q 8:17 and 9:6). To isolate that which is eternal in the human self and erase that which is temporal would lead to a sense of God-resemblance similar to Plotinus’s description of “stripping of everything alien.”

Pierre Hadot’s argument that Plotinus presented not only a philosophy but also a “way of life” to his students, one that brought them progressively nearer to the Good through body and soul, has pertinence here.77 As described by Plotinus, a person reaches a state so purified of everything alien to the true self that all of his or her actions are “right action.” There is no likelihood of sin, although “our concern,” Plotinus says, “is not to be out of sin, but to be god.”78 Just as Plotinus practiced a way of engaging with the world around him that favored an association with one’s “true self,” that self which was the source of all things, including the body, so too does tawḥīd involve a spectrum of practices.79 At its most basic level, according to the ethical vision of Sufism, tawḥīd requires obedience to engage in a program (regular prayer, avoiding forbidden actions, performing charity and kindness) that counteracts those human attributes distant from God’s attributes. Yet in addition to these actions, one performs regular and supererogatory remembrance of God (dhikr), renunciation of all that causes forgetfulness, and a selfless attitude of absolute humility toward others. This, along with awareness of the realities one seeks, leads to the highest achievements of tawḥīd, in which the self becomes nullified.

For ʿAṭṭār, tawḥīd is a realization of God’s absolute oneness, in His essence and attributes, that is mirrored within the human spirit. Thus, the wayfarer in ʿAṭṭār’s Book of Affliction, in the completion of his journey, addresses “the final waystation for the wayfarers,” namely, meeting his own spirit:

[The wayfarer] said [to his own spirit], O reflection of the majestic sun,

o beam from the never-dying sunlight,

whatever results from absolute tawḥīd,

all of it has become realized in you.

Since you’re beyond intellect and intimate knowing,

you won’t fit into any explanation or attribute.

Since you’re without essence or attribute perpetually,

your attribute and eternal essence are perfected.

Tracelessness pure and namelessness are yours alone;

“Hidden of the Hidden” indeed suits your stature.

There is no created thing higher than you,

no beloved exists other than you.

In the ray of intimate knowledge’s sunlight

who can describe a mere [outshined] lamp?

Erased in erasure and lost in lost you are,

and it’s in your “lost” that a human can be found.80

The spirit is an endless sea of perfection because it is, in a sense, nothing of its own. It is a conduit for all things divine, for it negates everything except one Reality. This is the essence of tawḥīd. By turning toward this spirit—this ray of divinity—inside oneself, a human finds his or her true self. The true self is only that part of oneself that mirrors God with the minimal amount of interference possible for a created entity (which describes the spirit). Therefore tawḥīd in its deepest sense means to recognize that nothing exists but the Real, including one’s own traits. It is for this reason that, in order to be annihilated, the birds had to become “purified from the all of the all.”81

In The Book of Affliction, the spirit replies to the wayfarer. The spirit makes clear the nature of self-annihilation: It is a matter of sacrificing the selfhood of the soul (nafs) for the infinite divine Selfhood within the spirit, which ʿAṭṭār likens to drowning:

Now that you’ve arrived here, be a man.

Become drowned in my ocean—be singular!

Since I appear like an infinite ocean

I’ll be forever without limit and without end.

Here at the shore of my sea walk away from separations (farq);

Throw aside your love of life and drown yourself.82

When one loses all qualities of selfhood, becoming “poor” in having lost attributes of the ego-self, then one becomes drowned in self-annihilation. It is for this reason that the final valley for the birds is one of both “poverty and annihilation.” Poverty here means having nothing of oneself. Poverty, then, is akin to human majesty; it allows a person to claim nothing, so that that person must wear the king’s robes.


1 Al-Fārābī, The Political Writings, p. 41, no. 61.

2 ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 439, ll. 4566–7. Medina is the city in which the Prophet Muhammad established and taught a community of believers.

3 “My entire dīwān is insanity; / this speech is strange to the intellect. / The soul does not become purified through estrangement / until it has discovered the scent of this insanity.” See ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 440, ll. 4579–80.

4 Plotinus, Enneads, I.2.1, pp. 1:127–9. See also Remes, Neoplatonism, p. 183.

5 See Plotinus, Enneads, I.2.1, pp. 1:127–9; I.2.3, p. 1:135.

6 Ibid., I.2.3, p. 1:135.

7 Burnyeat, The Theaetetus of Plato, p. 304.

8 Plotinus, Enneads, I.2.4, p. 1:137.

9 Stern-Gillet, “When Virtue Bids Us Abandon Life,” p. 189. See also Plotinus, Enneads, III.8.8, p. 3:385.

10 See Arp, “Plotinus, Mysticism, and Mediation”; Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, pp. 104–5.

11 Plotinus, Enneads, VI.9.10, p. 7:339.

12 Those who held this view include Porphyry, Alexandrian commentators, and Christian philosophers writing in Syriac. Adamson, The Arabic Plotinus, p. 42; D’Ancona, “Greek into Arabic,” pp. 19–20.

13 While Louis Massignon and Paul Nwyia have demonstrated the Qurʾanic origins of many Sufi terms, Nile Green argues against a linear progression from Qurʾan to conceptual development devoid of impressions from surrounding intellectual and religious settings. See Massignon, Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islamic Mysticism; Nwyia, Exégèse coranique et langage mystique. See also Green, Sufism, pp. 25–29.

14 Plotinus, Enneads, I.2.1, p. 1:131.

15 Ibid., I.2.3, p. 1:137; I.2.2, p. 1:131.

16 Adamson, The Arabic Plotinus, pp. 72–5.

17 Ibn ʿArabī, al-Futūḥāt al-Makkīyya, p. 2:326, ch. 178.

18 An excellent discussion of the divine attributes can be found in El-Bizri, “God: essence and attributes.” For a brief discussion in the context of Ibn ʿArabī, see Chittick, Sufi Path of Knowledge, pp. 8–11, as well as Ibn ʿArabī, al-Futūḥāt al-Makkīyya, pp. 2:159–160, ch. 85.

19 The hadith is known as “the Hadith of Supererogatory Deeds” and was quoted in Chapter Seven. See al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, p. 1617, no. 6502.

20 Chittick, Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 22.

21 See Ghazālī, The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God. The Arabic word maqṣid in this title has become pronounced as maqṣad, although technically this is incorrect according to its morphological pattern.

22 al-Naysābūrī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, pp. 1439–40, no. 2677, Book 48.

23 Ghazālī, al-Maqṣad al-Asnā, p. 111.

24 Ibid., pp. 86–7.

25 Ibid., p. 144.

26 Ibid., p. 65.

27 Ibid., p. 59.

28 See al-Qushayrī, al-Risāla, p. 67. Here annihilation is the passing away of “blameworthy attributes,” while subsistence is the shining forth of “praiseworthy attributes.”

29 See ibid., p. 69. See also Mojaddedi, “Annihilation and Abiding in God.” Also useful is the translation of this portion of al-Qushayrī’s treatise in al-Qushayrī, al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism, pp. 89–91.

30 Mojaddedi, “Annihilation and Abiding in God.”

31 See ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 415, l. 3999; ʿAṭṭār, Dīwān, p. 25, Ghazal no. 37.

32 ʿAṭṭār, Tadhkirat al-Awliyāʾ, p. 390.

33 Zargar, “The Ten Principles,” p. 125.

34 Ibid., p. 130.

35 Reinert, “ʿAṭṭār, Farīd-al-Dīn.”

36 Muḥammad-Riḍā Shafīʿī-Kadkanī makes a strong case that ʿAṭṭār’s place of origin was Kadkan, a village in the jurisdiction of Nishapur. See Shafīʿī-Kadkanī, Zabūr-i Pārsī, pp. 35–6. Jāmī reports that ʿAṭṭār “became a martyr at the hands of the disbelievers, and his age at the time—they say—was 114 years.” See Jāmī, Nafaḥāt, p. 598.

37 Lewisohn and Shackle, ʿAṭṭār and the Persian Sufi Tradition, pp. xvii–xviii.

38 Shafīʿī-Kadkanī argues that this text has been mistakenly called Ilāhī-nāma, when its title is Khusraw-nāma. On the other hand, a different Khusraw-nāma that has circulated as having been written by this poet belongs to a different author. See Shafīʿī-Kadkanī, Zabūr-i Pārsī, pp. 38–9.

39 Shackle, “Representations of ʿAṭṭār in the West and in the East,” pp. 176–7.

40 Aside from Avery’s translation (1998), there are those of Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis (1984), Margaret Smith (1932), R. P. Masani (1924), and C. S. Nott (1954, using Garcin de Tassy’s translation into French from 1863). See Lewisohn and Shackle, ʿAṭṭār and the Persian Sufi Tradition, pp. 344–5.

41 For the history of the bird-treatise topos in Persian literature, see Shafīʿī-Kadkanī’s essays in his introduction to ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, pp. 102–69.

42 Streck, “Ḳāf.” See also Peter Avery’s note in ʿAṭṭār, The Speech of the Birds, p. 470, n. 36.

43 Ritter, The Ocean of the Soul, p. 12, n. 8.

44 See Avery’s note in ʿAṭṭār, The Speech of the Birds, p. 478, n. 86.

45 In this way, the owl might resemble those ascetic hermits who hoard their spiritual discoveries and make those gains their occupation, instead of concern with reaching the Real. For the association of ascetics with owls, see ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 179 (Shafīʿī-Kadkanī’s introduction).

46 ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 422, ll. 4168, 4181.

47 Ibid., p. 423, l. 4182.

48 Ibid., p. 426, l. 4258.

49 Ibid., p. 426, l. 4262.

50 Hellmut Ritter comments on this tajnīs-i murakkab (which might be translated as “compound paronomasia”) in The Ocean of the Soul, p. 10.

51 ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 426, l. 4270.

52 Ibid., pp. 426–7, ll. 4271–7.

53 Ibid., p. 427, l. 4286.

54 Ibid., p. 428, l. 4299.

55 Ibid., p. 417, ll. 4046–7.

56 See the Ṭāsīn al-Fahm (no. 2), in al-Ḥallāj, Majmūʿa-yi Āthār, p. 40. See also Massignon, La Passion d’al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansour al-Hallaj, pp. 2:840–1.

57 ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 416, l. 4025.

58 Emilsson, Plotinus on Intellect, pp. 101–103.

59 Chittick, Divine Love, p. 420. See also Ghazālī, Majmūʿa-yi Āthār, p. 116, ch. 4. This is my own loose paraphrase of tajrīd-i kamāl bar tafrīd-i ʿishq mītābad. Chittick translates this as “Perfect disengagement shines on the solitariness of love.”

60 Chittick, Divine Love, p. 421.

61 Ibid., p. 422.

62 Ibid., pp. 423–37.

63 Al-Ḥallāj, Dīwān al-Ḥallāj, pp. 118–9.

64 Karamustafa, Sufism, pp. 25–6.

65 For an explanation using the writings of ʿAṭṭār, see Ritter, The Ocean of the Soul, pp. 609–12, 463–72.

66 Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

67 “The soul loves the Good because, from the beginning, she has been incited by the Good to love him,” Plotinus says. See Hadot, Plotinus, p. 54; Plotinus, Enneads, VI.7.31, p. 7:183.

68 This is Ghazālī’s reading of Q 30:30 in Iḥyāʾ, pp. 1:86.18–23. See also al-Junayd, Rasāʾil al-Junayd, p. 140.

69 Ibn al-Fārid., Dīwān, p. 133.

70 ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, pp. 420–1, ll. 4135–6.

71 Thus, Ibn ʿArabī encouraged his students to reflect upon his own collection of erotic poems. See Sells, Stations of Desire, p. 37; Elmore, “Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī’s Personal Study List,” pp. 175, 179.

72 See Zargar, Sufi Aesthetics, pp. 85–112.

73 Al-Qushayrī, al-Risāla al-Qushayriyya, pp. 41–3.

74 Ibid., p. 302.

75 Ibid., p. 302.

76 Ibid., p. 41. See also al-Kalābādhī, al-Taʿarruf li-Madhhab Ahl al-Taṣawwuf, p. 153. The ethical stages of tawḥīd (and its counterpart shirk or “associating partners with God”) appear in one of Twelver Shiʿi Islam’s most popular ethical manuals, Aḥmad Narāqī’s (d. 1829–30) Miʿrāj al-Saʿāda, pp. 91–5.

77 Hadot, Plotinus, p. 75; see also pp. 78, 88.

78 Plotinus, Enneads, I.2.6, p. 1:141–2.

79 Hadot presents the argument throughout Plotinus, but see, for example, pp. 35, 74–96.

80 ʿAṭṭār, Muṣībat-nāma, pp. 437–8, ll. 6878–85. The phrase “the final waystation for the wayfarers” comes from p. 438, l. 6888.

81 ʿAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, p. 426, l. 4258.

82 ʿAṭṭār, Muṣībat-nāma, p. 438, ll. 6901–3.