Saadi and Unity

HISTORICALLY, human unity and dignity have been inspirational notions advocated by many thinkers and humanists in different societies. Shaikh Saadi, a renowned Muslim Iranian poet, writer and Sufi of the 13th century, was also a staunch advocate of humanity and human unity.

He is highly recognised for his writing style as well as for his profound thoughts on humanity. He powerfully highlighted the concept of humanity in his works both in poetry and prose.

Hence, it was because of his creative and universal message of human unity that one of his poems, Bani Adam (Children of Adam) decorates the entrance of the UN building. This famous Persian poem has been translated by M. Aryanpoor as:

“Human beings are members of a whole

In creation of one essence and soul

If one member is afflicted with pain

Other members uneasy will remain

If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,

The name of human you cannot retain!”

Shaikh Saadi beautifully connects humans by terming them limbs of each other as in essence they are from one origin/soul. Furthermore, he emphasises that when one is suffering from pain others should feel the pain and help him/her. If one shows indifference and does not sympathise it means he/she is not of humankind.

The writings of Saadi indicate that he was deeply inspired by the spiritual and humanistic aspect of Islamic teachings. He himself recognises his inspirations from Islamic teachings and his creative works express the same message of humanity that were extended by the Quran and sayings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The abovementioned poem is a good example of his inspiration from the Quran and the Prophet. For example, the Quran clearly says human beings are created from one soul (4:1) while saving one person’s life is considered saving all of humanity and killing one person means killing entire humanity (5:32). Human beings are also repeatedly encouraged to be helpful and kind to each other.

Similarly, there are plenty of examples in the teachings of the Prophet that stress human unity and dignity. For example, the Prophet termed humankind ‘the family of God’. The best people are those who bring most benefit to the rest of mankind. The Prophet appreciated those whose hands and tongues are harmless to others. Hence, there are ample examples in the Quran and the practice of the Prophet that clearly stress on humanity and human unity, which inspired Saadi.

Saadi’s writings indicate that he travelled extensively within Iran and other parts of the world. As a keen observer he drew interesting lessons from nature as well as from cultures. It is evident from his writings that he observed human sufferings in different societies because of political, religious and ethnic differences. He felt disgusted by these and considered them baseless and inhuman.

He was of the view that humankind is different apparently in the physical sense. But in essence they are from one soul and there is no difference. The salvation of human beings depends on good deeds and love for other humans.

Saadi’s writings have been inspirational for numerous people for centuries in Iran and other parts of the world. His famous books Gulistan and Bustan are viewed as classics in Persian literature and have been taught for centuries in different regions such as Iran, Central Asia and India. His books — because of their powerful messages — have been translated in different languages.

Today, many of the Muslim societies are facing the challenges of violence and polarisation. Terrorism is a big threat to the fabric of societies like Pakistan. Hatred is increasing among different segments of society based on religious, political and ethnic differences. In this scenario, terrorism is sometimes associated with Islam.

The question arises why the level of religious intolerance and violence is increasing in Muslim societies despite having such powerful messages in Islamic teachings. There are many different reasons; however, it is evident that the humanistic and spiritual dimension of Islam has been dominated by theological and political debates based on ‘I am right, you are wrong’. The softer or spiritual and intellectual dimensions of Islam seem to be left out, which were the core for many Muslims scholars and intellectuals in the past such as Saadi, Rumi, Ibn Sina and others.

Hence, in this scenario, there is a dire need to make conscious efforts to promote such literature — like Saadi’s — that teaches peace, harmony and connectedness among the Muslims and broader humanity.

In short, the powerful message of human unity that Shaikh Saadi gave centuries ago is still very relevant to our societies. His message teaches us how to transcend physical differences and create harmony and peace in society by focusing on the spiritual and humanistic dimensions of Islamic teachings.

The writer is a freelance contributor with interest in cultures and religion. He can be reached at: [email protected]

                                                                                                     –Courtesy Dawn, Lahore

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