The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din 'Attar

By Hellmut Ritter; John O'Kane | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
DEATH AND TRANSITORINESS

The medieval Islamic outlook on life is to a great extent dominated by the basic attitude that it is not worthwhile to engage very actively in this world, to enter into psychic and material commitments in it, because death all too quickly brings an end to everything. Nor is it by any means simply fear about the judgement which will occur after death, the thought of the necessity of presenting an account of all one's deeds, which dampens one's sense of enjoyment of life's pleasures and makes them appear to be punishable foolishness, but it is transitoriness itself which negates the value of all things. To modern man the thought that whatever lacks eternal duration has no value is not so compelling. For medieval people, on the other hand, the opposite of the earthly, transient life, namely the other-worldly eternal life, was a far more vivid, effective idea than it is for most persons today. It attracted the greatest degree of attention and interest, and as a result whatever is transitory became demoted in value. Certainly, in all times there have been people for whom the idea of the hereafter meant nothing. We shall also come across them in ₿Aṭṭār under the label of "worldly men". But in the literature which concerns us here, they are subject to the sharpest criticism, and this criticism is far more vocal than is the case in the present age which takes pleasure in the here and now.

Cf. H. Ritter, "Studien zur islamischen Frömmigkeit. I. Ḥasan al-Baṣrī" in: Der Islam
21/1933/1–83; C. H. Becker "Ubi sunt qui ante nos in mundo fuere" in: Islamstudien, Erster
Band, Leipzig 1924, pp. 501 ff. We cannot here enter into the Hellenistic and Christian mod-
els for this attitude toward life, the meditatio mortis. For such comparisons cf. Tor Andrae,
"Zuhd und Mönchtum. Zur Frage von den Beziehungen zwischen Christentum und Islam" in:
Le Monde Oriental 25/1931/301 ff. As for persons who were indifferent cf. Tor Andrae, Die
letzten Dīnge
, pp. 46–47.

Let us consider how this attitude is expressed in ₿Aṭṭār.

-34-

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