Saturday, May 31, 2014

Remembering Shaykh Sa'di - the great sage of Islam


Shaykh Sa’di was one of the greatest sages of the Muslim world. Growing up as a child in Bangladesh, I first came across a story about this great scholar in my text book.  It was an intriguing piece which never escaped from my mind. 

Shaykh Sa’di was once invited to a wealthy man’s mansion.  He goes there shabbily dressed.  The guards would not let him in.  He returns after a short while wearing an expensive gown.  This time the guards let him inside the mansion.  The time for supper comes.  Instead of eating the food, he starts collecting the food in his pockets.  The host is puzzled by what he sees.  He approaches the Shaykh and inquires about the matter.  Sa’di says: “I don’t deserve the food, but my gown surely does.  Hearing this, the host is equally puzzled by the reply of his honored guest.  He begs the Shaykh to explain the matter.  When Sa’di explains to him as to what had happened, the host gets a lesson on morality and apologizes earnestly for the manner of his guards.  

Who can deny the moral behind the story that people are often judged by the dress they wear?

            Shaykh Sa’di’s full name is Musharraf-ud-din bin Muslih-ud-din Sa’di Shirazi.  He was born nearly 800 years ago in the city of Shiraz in Iran in ca. 1213 C.E.  He lost his father, Muslih-ud-din, in his early childhood.  He studied traditional Islamic sciences in Baghdad at the renowned Nizamiyah College.  During his time, the Mongols had devastated much of the Muslim lands, esp. Iran and Baghdad (in today’s Iraq).  The condition of Muslims was terrible.  No time in history before had they suffered anything like this.  Millions were killed, homes and business places razed, mosques and minarets demolished, schools, colleges and universities destroyed.  With the destruction of the famous library in Baghdad, much of the six hundred year old collection of the Islamic work in all branches of knowledge – science and medicine, logic and philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, history, literature, hadith, tafsir and kalam – were lost forever.  It was such a blow that Muslims could never again claim intellectual superiority over other nations.  Much of what passed on to Europe or the West, responsible for catalyzing western Renaissance later, was through the collections in Muslim Andalusia (Spain). 

            The uneasy and devastating situations in the Middle East led Sa’di to wander abroad through Iraq, Syria, Anatolia (Turkey) and Misr (Egypt) for many years.  He was held in captivity by the Christian Franks and put to work on the trenches of fortress of Tripoli (in Libya).  When he eventually returned to his native Shiraz, he was an old man.  He lived there till his death in 1291 C.E.  He took his pseudonym Sa’di from the name of the local Atabeg or Prince, Sa’d bin Zangi.  Because of his wisdom, he was more popularly known as the sage -  Shaykh Sa’di. 

            Shaykh Sa’di’s best known works are the Bustan (The Orchard, written in 655 A.H./1257 C.E.) and the Gulistan (The Rose Garden, written in 656 A.H./1258 C.E.).  The Bustan is entirely in verses and consists of stories illustrating virtues of justice, liberality, modesty and contentment recommended to all Muslims, as well as of reflections on the behavior of Sufis and dervishes and their ecstatic practices.  The Gulistan is mainly in prose and consists of stories and personal anecdotes containing aphorisms, advice and humorous reflections.

             In his introduction of Gulistan, Shaykh Sa’di wrote:

“Our intention was advice and we gave it.

We recommended you to God and departed.”

             Shaykh Sa’di is going to be remembered as an author of a number of masterly odes in Qasa’id, and as a lyricist found in Ghazzaliyat.  He is also known for a number of works in Arabic.  The peculiar blend of humor and resignation, human kindness and cynicism often displayed in Sa’di’s works make him the most lovable writer in the Iranian culture.  If not for anything else, he will always be remembered among the Muslims for his famous qasidah on the Prophet - Muhammad sal-lal-lahu alaih wa sal-lam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): Balagal ‘ula be-ka-malihi kashafad-duja be-ja-malihi .... meaning:

He attained exaltation by his perfection. 
He dispelled darkness by his beauty. 
Beauteous are all his qualities, 
Benediction be on him and on his family. 

             May Allah be pleased with Shaykh Sa’di.

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