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 TWELVE
RENUNCIATION OF THE WORLD AND ASCETICISM

We have seen how the natural and religious situation of man presents itself to ʿ Aṭṭār and his characters, how worldly men respond to it in practical terms, and what the frame of mind of the pious is in the face of this situation. What practical conclusions do ʿAṭṭār's men of piety draw from their insight into this situation? Do they go beyond a merely emotional reaction and adopt a more active stance, a rule of behavior which determines their actions?

In answering this question we come up against one of the basic concepts of Islamic mysticism, the concept of maqām (a station). The maqāms of mystics are specific, permanent religious attitudes, outlooks on God and the world, which determine a person's behavior. Each one possesses a special color which characteristically distinguishes it from the others. In accordance with his temperament and talent, and depending on the level of maturity he has reached, one mystic is more prone to achieve this maqām and another that maqām. Meanwhile, an adept proceeds from one of these maqāms—which were early on ordered in various hierarchical categories—to the next highest stage. In so far as some men of piety are inclined to occupy the one while others occupy another "station", we might here speak of different types of piety. But by enumerating these types we would not exhaust the nature of Islamic mysticism, because the interior life of mystics is spent in still other forms, the so-called (spiritual) states (aḥwāl), which are of transitory nature and, in contrast to the maqäms, come over the mystic independently of his will. Moreover, certain forms of later mysticism, such as pantheism, cannot be classified within the traditional scheme of maqāmāt and aḥwāl. Finally, the representation of maqāms in the textbooks only pursues partially descriptive goals—who would expect in the early middle ages a purely descriptive outlook vis-à-vis religious phenomena?—but the description of maqāms at the same time always has a normative significance. Precisely this unavoidable normative treatment of the maqāms necessitates ordering them in a series which every

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