In view of the isolation in which Nasir-i Khusrau lived it is difficult to imagine how his works could have made an impact outside the social circles of the Isma'lllya which, being a persecuted heterodox minority, had little contact with the Sunnite Muslim community. This question is, for lack of evidence, unanswerable. It cannot be denied, however, that Nasir's religious qasldas show many similarities to those of Majdud ibn Adam Sana'l, who was born at Ghazna in the late eleventh century and died in that city in 1131. It is generally acknowledged that Sana'l was one of the founders of Persian Sufi poetry.
Fortunately, he left an extensive oeuvre which, in his case, makes it possible to substantiate this reputation. Moreover, several ancient manuscripts of his works have survived, some of which can be dated as early as the twelfth century and therefore constitute philological material of great value for the study of his contribution to the tradition.
His collected works also provide us with the material for an outline of his biography. In fact, his life is far better known than that of most Persian poets of the Middle Ages. This is a very fortunate circumstance, because it makes it possible to trace his personal development, which is exemplary for the development of Sufi poetry itself at this early stage. Towards the end of the eleventh century, Sana'! tried to become a court poet at Ghazna, the residence of the Ghaznavid Sultans who earlier in the same century had been lavish patrons of Persian poetry. As it seems, he was not very successful, however, in realising this ambition. He did find an entrance to circles close to the court, but was never personally patronised by Mas'ud III, the Sultan of those days. On the other hand, it is remarkable that severed of his early poems are in praise of prominent Islamic scholars in Ghazna. These contacts will have been helpful in determining the further course of his career.
In the early years of the twelfth century, Sana'I left Ghazna and went to Khurasan, which was then outside the territories governed by the Ghaznavids. In this new environment, he abandoned the search for patrons among the political elite. Instead, he wandered from one city to another establishing contacts with men who belonged exclusively to the religious classes. They were either members of the Muslim clergy or Sufis. The former category seems to have been the most important to him. It included judges, theologians and preachers who often were very influential personalities locally. By far the most important among these patrons was Sayf ad-Din Muhammad ibn Mansur, a religious scholar following the school of Abu Hanlfa and the Chief Justice of the city of Sarakhs. In several poems, Sana'I gave expression to his deep gratitude towards this patron, who apparently helped him to lay the practical foundation for his religious poetry.
There is a curious mixture of worldly and spiritual interests to be noted in the panegyrics that Sana'l wrote for this clerical patron. On the one hand, Muhammad ibn Mansur acted like any other social protector by providing Sana'l with the material support he needed. On the other hand, the relationship between patron and client quite clearly also included a spiritual bond. The Chief Justice was renowned as a great preacher, who had built his own convent (khanaqah) at Sarakhs to serve as the place where his flock gathered. Sana'l's religious poems must have been most welcome to him as they clothed the preacher's sermons in a poetic form.
As far as the Sufis are concerned, there is evidence of Sana'l's visit to a mystical community at Herat which was led by descendants of' Abd-Allah Ansarl, one of the great Sufi sheikhs of the eleventh century. An exchange of poems with one of the mystics of Herat has been preserved. It seems, however, that the relationship with the preacher-judge of Sarakhs was the decisive factor to Sana'l's career during the years of his stay in Khurasan. It is, therefore, appropriate to characterise him, from this turning-point onwards, as a 'homiletic' poet. This qualification is more apt than that of a 'Sufi' poet, because the former term defines more precisely the environment where his poems originated as well as the purpose they primarily had to serve. The same term still applies to the last phase of his career, when he began his final great work, the Fakhri-nama, or Hadiqat al-haqiqa. This extensive didactical poem (to which I will return later) was not intended, in the first place, for a Sufi audience, but for Bahramshah, the Sultan residing in Ghazna when Sana'l had returned there towards the end of his life.
Labelling Sana'l's work as essentially homiletic - that is: written to serve the preaching of Muslim piety in a general sense -does in no way diminish the great importance of this oeuvre to the further development of Sufi poetry. Sana'l's various forms of religious poetry, his use of imagery and the themes he treated of, made a great impact on later Sufi poets and writers. The growing interest in mysticism that can be witnessed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries throughout the Persian-speaking area created the need for a new idiom for the expression of spiritual ideas beyond the technical language of Sufism which had been created already by theoretical writers. Sana'I appeared on the scene just at the right moment and this explains the remarkable impact made by his poems. It is also evident that SanaTs reputation was established very soon, perhaps during in his own lifetime. Lines from his poems were cited already by several writers who were his contemporaries.
The influence of SanaTs innovations makes it necessary to devote to him several pages of the present survey, not only in this chapter but also in the following chapters on the ghazals and the masnams. For now, we will only discuss some of his homiletic poems which were written as qasldas.
In the qasldas assembled in some of the early Sana'!-manuscripts under the heading zuhdiyat, we find the entire range of religious subjects represented. These poems not only exhibit a varied content, they are also of quite different lengths. The longest is a qaslda of about 140 distichs with the sumptuous Arabic title Kunuz al-hikma va rumuz al-mutasavvifa ('The treasures of wisdom and the symbols of Sufism').8 It is very unlikely that Sana'! himself gave this name to the poem, but its presence in many manuscripts of his Divan is a sure sign of the prominence of this qaslda among his zuhdiyat poems.
The early popularity of the poem is attested by a quotation in the Persian adaptation of the Indian book of fables Kalila va Dimna made by Nasr-Allah Munshl, a secretary in the service of the Ghaznavid sultans, who dedicated his work to Sultan Bahramshah about 1145, that is only a few years after the death of Sana'I:
There is a Witness in the world, but we are idle;
There is a draught left in the cup, but we remain sober.
Arise! Let us set to rest, with the water from our faces,
The wind blowing from this deceitful heap of earth.
Let's sally forth on a raid and let's destroy
The marketplace where this blackfaced soul thrives!9
This instance of borrowing is an illuminating one, as it shows how freely the poet's contemporaries availed themselves of Sana'l's work, divorcing passages not only from their context but also from their original meaning. To the writer of a mirror-for-princes like the Kalila va Dimna these lines were no more then the apt phrasing of a hedonistic escapism. The quotation is made in the context of a story about real pleasures: a tired king, who wishes to withdraw for a while from the world, seeks the comfort of his private circle.
Sana'l's intention was certainly quite different. In the poem the same lines serve him as the beginning of a stern homily. The anacreontic motives, like the 'witness' (in Persian shahid, the representative of supernatural beauty in the flesh) and the draught of wine, symbolise a detachment from the world of a much more radical kind. This even includes the abandoning of such sacred values as worshipping the Ka'ba, by which Sana'I aims at an easy form of piety indulged in by those who shrink from the 'intoxication' of an absolute commitment to the Eternal.
The first part of the sermon elaborates the theme of the struggle with the 'black-faced soul' by showing the pernicious influence of the powers of this world, that is the heavenly bodies and the natural elements held responsible for the wicked inclinations of the soul. In order to escape from this existential bondage, one should renounce 'existence' (bud), meaning all that by which one is attached to this world:
The heart (dilj is a village (dih) when it is filled
With cattle, donkeys, goods and chattels.
Sana'l's discourse abounds in such homely examples which, as in the present example, are often enforced by wordplay. They alternate freely with expressions of more profound ideas, for instance in the following lines where the contrast is used between the negative and the positive statements in the first half of the declaration of faith, the shahada, 'There no god other than God':
In the gallery of God's Command no statues Of believers or unbelievers can be seen: Deep in t\\e ocean of 'Other than God' lives The snake 'No' who devours belief and unbelief
To understand the full force of this conceit one should know that the Arabic word la ('no') resembles in writing the wide-open jaws of a monster. Again, the poet's words should be listened to with due regard to his intention. As he makes perfectly clear in the course of this long poem, the irrelevance of belief and unbelief to the fulfilment of God's will is not to be equated with an antinomian attitude. To the contrary, the way he shows consists of a submission to the law of Islam, the light which has the power to conquer the darkness of 'existence'. He leaves no doubt about this in the following passage:
No better leaders guiding you on the Path of God
Than the Koran and the sacred Traditions.
Only Muhammad's hand and heart are able
To take care of the secrets' treasury (the human heart).
If your heart is filled by Ahmad's light,
In spite of this emphasis on a strict obedience to God's commands, Sana'l's message also contains a strongly emotional appeal which shows the mystical foundation of his Islamic orthodoxy. The Anacreontic prelude, with its apparent antinomian note, is echoed by words on the significance of love as the moving force which only can bring man nearer to God:
Reason cannot go along the path of Love; Do not expect to see with those blind eyes. In Love's domain the Intellects lack power, Whatever they pretend with their idle doings.
Another poem which attracted the attention of SanaTs contemporaries was the qaslda opening with the exhortation:
Do not make the body and the soul your dwelling place:
the first one is inferior, the second is superior.
Go outside these two [stages]; do not stay on neither here nor there.10
In this poem Sana'l sets out to admonish his audience about the necessity for the human being to transcend the limitations set by his worldly existence. A concatenation of themes, which are recurrently broached in the zuhdiyat, is used to bring this warning home: one should seek a death while still in this world by letting oneself be killed by words of love so that eternal life may be found; one should not trust the world because, by her very unfaithfulness (bad-mihri), she warns you not to rely on her; one should be aware of the dangers of false piety and not boast of one's knowledge of the laws of Islam or one's asceticism ('the [empty] air of jurisprudence, the [empty] air of poverty'); one should take part in a spiritual war against the tyranny of the body; wisdom and knowledge must never be sought out of greed. The last mentioned piece of advice is illustrated by a line which lives on in the Persian language as a proverbial warning against an intellectualism which is not held in check by morality:
If you have acquired knowledge out of greed, be careful, for in the night A thief makes a better choice from your goods when he carries a lamp.
The poem as a whole provides a remarkable instance of the pointed formulation of homiletic wisdom which was the hallmark of SanaTs style. The wide reception of the poem can be demonstrated by listing the mystical writers who cited one or more of its lines: in the twelfth century, we find citations in the letters of 'Ayn al-Quzat HamadanI (executed in 1131, the year of SanaTs own death), in the Sufi commentary on the Koran by Rashld ad-Din Maybudl (begun in 1126), in the writings of the gnostic philosopher Shiháb ad-Din Yahyá Suhravardl (in 1191 executed at Aleppo as a heretic) and the Shirazi mystic Rüzbihán-i Baqll (1128-1209); in the following century, the same poem was cited from by the historian Ravandl (who wrote ca. 1204) and the mystics Najm ad-Din Dáya (d. 1256), Shams-i TabrizI and Sultan Valad, the latter two belonging to the entourage of Maul ana Jalál al-Dln Rüml.
Some of Saná'l's longer poems are distinguished by the use of extended allegories. In one instance, he gave an account of a pilgrimage to Mecca which looks like a poetic travelogue, but is in fact merely a device to illustrate the self-sacrifice demanded of the follower of God's commands. In the first section of the poem Sana'l traces the itinerary of an actual pilgrimage, including a visit to the grave of the Imam Abü Hanlfa in Iraq, incumbent upon a follower of the Hanafl school of Islamic law. Then the account takes a surprising turn: having sketched how intensely the exhausted pilgrim looks forward to his destination, the poet all of a sudden brings up the suggestion that this pilgrim could die before he reached his goal. If he were truly a traveller to God, he would even accept this final ordeal:
Each arrow hitting us from God's battlefield we will make
Into a gift to the soul; we ourselves will be the arrow's point.11
A very daring kind of symbolisation is to be found in a poem he wrote for the Chief Justice of Sarakhs, Muhammad ibn Mansür. He availed himself of the fortuitous circumstance that the latter's name was also the name of the Prophet. Although the poem, in the end, proves to be a panegyric to a real patron, the first half of the text consists of a curious interpretation of one of the shorter chapters of the Koran, Süra xciii. The oath contained in the first verse of this Süra ('By the white forenoon and the brooding night!') is taken to refer symbolically to the twofold nature of the Prophet's personality in which the lightness of religion and the darkness of the world that he had to live in were combined. This ambiguity corresponded externally to the shining face and the dark locks - a motif taken again from the imagery of erotic poetry.
To make his turn towards the praise of his patron, Sana'I resorts to the final words of the Sura: 'And as for thy Lord's blessing, declare it!.' The analogy of this injunction to make God's bounty known to the Arabs is, as Sana'l argues, the obligation incumbent on his own tongue to praise Muhammad ibn Mansur among the Persians.12
No more than these few instances of Sana'l's homiletic poems can be mentioned here. His zuhdiyat constitute a rich and still largely unexplored mine of imagery standing almost at the beginning of the full development of Persian mystical poetry.
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