Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Almond Kernels in the Same Shell: The Shaykh & the Travelling Merchant

Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.

Poetry of Shaykh Saadi Shirazi at the entrance of Hall of Nations, New York

From a family of scholars,  Shaykh Saadi Shirazi (1184 – 1283) lost his father (Mushrraf bin Muslih) at an early age and was educated by his maternal grandfather (Mas’ud bin Muslih). At fourteen years old, he was sent to Baghdad to study in the prestigious university, the Nizamiyya of Baghdad, where he acquired the traditional learning of Islam.
In 1226, t
he unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Persia led Shaykh Saadi to embark on a world tour covering a vast region from North Africa through the entire Middle East to India. He narrates stories of his visits to many important cities of the East, including Mecca, where he made pilgrimage several times. 

After thirty years of traveling, in 1256, Saadi returned to his hometown Shiraz, where Atabek Abibakr bin Saad was then the ruler. Saadi was welcomed by the court, but decided to live in the prestigious monastery of the Sufi master Abu Abdullah bin Khafif (882-992).

Today his tomb soon is a popular site for pilgrimage. His tomb was renovated in the eighteenth century when Karim Khan Zand was the Persian king in Shiraz, and most recently in 1951. 

His best known works are the Bostan (The Orchard) and the Golestan (The Rose Garden).  In his books, Saadi affectionately refers to two of his teachers: The Sufi master Shihab al-Din Abu Hafs Suhrawardi (died in 1234) and Shams al-Din Abul Faraj bin al-Jowzi. 

In his books, Saadi distinguished between the spiritual and the practical or mundane aspects of life. In the Golestan,  mundane Saadi lowers the spiritual to touch the heart of his fellow wayfarers. The Shaykh preaching in the Khaniqah experiences a totally different world than the merchant passing through a town. The unique thing about Saadi is that he embodies both the Sufi Shaykh and the traveling merchant. They are, as he himself puts it, two almond kernels in the same shell.

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