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 TWENTY-THREE
SEEKING CLOSENESS TO GOD

In the Islamic world it was mysticism which developed or in fact gave depth to the religious-ethical character of relationships with one's fellow human beings and fellow creatures. Yet this social ethics is not the primary goal, not the point on which mysticism focuses its real interest. The soul of the mystic is not turned toward mankind or created beings, but toward God. Indeed, for the mystic God Himself is the highest value which cannot be replaced by anything else.

God says to David: "All things of the world, whether beautiful or ugly, visi-
ble or hidden, can be replaced by something of similar kind. I alone am not like
that. Therefore be satisfied with Me and desire nothing else but Me!" (MṬ 36/5,
p. 123).

A symbolic story:

Maḥmūd boasts of his power before Ayāz: Sind and Hind, Turkland and Rūm,
belong to me, seven hundred kings obey my command. I have soldiers and ele-
phants too numerous to be counted. No sultan is as famous as I am." At that Ayāz
jumps up and asks to be able to speak. The sultan consents. Then the slave says:
"Even if you possess a world full of warriors, you don't have a Maḥmūd like I
have." (MN 10/7).

The mystic's deep yearning is to enter personally into the most intimate and permanent possible contact with God. In the high states in which he feels close to this goal, humanity and all created beings sink to the level of insubstantial forms which, as long as they draw attention to themselves, are barriers between the soul and God which must be removed.

The paths which mystics travel in order to reach this goal are numerous: "The paths to God are as many in number as the breaths of human beings." The states of soul which come over mystics when they are seeking God are manifold, and the haltingstations they must traverse are great in number.

These are time and again described and treated in one or another systematic ordering in the textbooks of mysticism as maqāmāt, manāzil and ḥālāt.

-341-

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