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 SIX
WORLDLY PEOPLE

How do people react then in view of this situation? How do they deal with the inevitability of death, the transience of existence? How do they deal with the inadequate and uncertain provision of sustenance, the arbitrary distribution of earthly possessions? What do they do in face of the threatened sanctions for offenses for which they are not actually responsible; in face of predestination which disposes over their destiny even before they are born? How do they come to terms with the fact that it is denied to them to fathom the meaning of events in the world, that God remains eternally transcendent, unattainable and inaccessible to their requests?

Furthermore, is the situation really so hopeless, the darkness so dense, that nothing remains but fear, desperation, perplexity and "spinning of the head"?

₿Aṭṭār presents us with various typical groups of people, each of which has found, or believes it has found, a solution for itself. Their portrayal and criticism take up a considerable portion of the four epics which concern us here.


1

Numerically the largest of these groups of people is certainly the group of worldly men, for whom the problem of the earthly situation does not seem to exist, who take no notice of it but, untroubled by what is to come, with no thought for death and the final judgement that awaits them, live their lives devoid of cares and pursue their earthly purposes and goals. They are the representatives of "evasive concealment in the face of death, which stubbornly dominates everdayness" (Heidegger, Sein und Zeit § 51). Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, who describes their doings and activities in gripping images, calls them hypocrites, Muslims in name (munāfiqūn, "Ḥasan al-Baṣrī" 42 ff.), and Mālik ibn Dīnār thinks that there are so many of them that if they grew tails, the believers

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