THE SPEECH OF THE BIRDS
Concerning Migration to the Real
(Mantiq al-Tair by Farīd al-Dīn ‘Attār)
P. W. Avery Mantiq al-Tair is one of the masterpieces of Persian literature of which a complete and annotated translation into English is here presented for the first time. The text revolves around the decision of the birds of the world to seek out a king. Their debilitating doubts and fears, the knowing counsel of their leader the Hoopoe, and their choice of the Simurgh as king, is in reality an allegory of the spiritual path of Sufism with its demands, its hazards and its infinite rewards. The poem contains many admonitory anecdotes and exemplary stories, including numerous references to some of the early Muslim mystics such as Rabi’a aVAdawiyya, Abu Sald ibn Abi `I-Khair, Mansur al-Hallaj and Shibli, amongst others. `Attar’s work remains one of the world’s major testaments to the possibility of the fulfillment, or, in a term used by mystics, the fruition of the human spirit— it is above all, as is Sufism as a whole, of an intensely humanistic nature. Not “humanistic” in the sense sometimes given to this word nowadays, but in the sense of mysticism being an intensely personal matter. Peter Avery has not only given us a precise and moving translation, but also ample annotation providing much information to fill in what `Attar would have expected his readers to know. The result is a fascinating insight into a remarkable aspect of Islam: the world of the ecstatic love and ultimate sacrifice of the Persian mystics who, in their wise discernment of the true meaning of life, relinquish all for All.