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Wisdom natural and divine
I have been greatly interested by a book that I was kindly sent by a friend, The Speech of the Birds by Farīdu’d-Dīn ‘Attār. 
This is an English-language presentation, by Peter Avery, of a masterpiece of medieval Persian literature.
Mantiqu’t-Tair, to use its original title, explains and illustrates the Sufi tradition’s Path of Love to spiritual enlightenment with the help of numerous allegorical tales, mostly involving birds.
For instance, we learn of the hoopoe:
“A crown there was of the Truth upon his head.
Swift of perception was he, having entered the Way:
Having of good and of evil become aware”. 
A strong moral code sets the direction of the path ahead, with a reference to Moses’ advice in the Qur’an to “act uprightly, and follow not in the way of those who cause corruption”. 
Authenticity is key and Avery explains how one bird tale is taking aim at the general type of the fake ascetic, “the devotee who uses a show of piety to attract worldly gain, and, instead of seeking seclusion and occupying himself in private prayer, hobnobs with rulers and men of influence, whom he sets out to impress with his sanctimonious bearing”. 
“So long as you are left in self-conceit and self-delusion,
Far from the Truth, far far away you are left”. 
A focus on material possessions forms part of this self-delusion, with the Sufis regarding lack of worldly goods as “a sign of readiness for the receipt of mystical knowledge”,  Avery observes.
The text states:
“So long as you do not divert yourself from power and property,
Not a moment will mercy show its face to you.
Turn your face at once from all,
To become, like the brave, free of all”. 
And in a message, from 800 years ago, to those who today have the hubris to imagine that their wealth and power will last for ever, ‘Attār warns:
“Though all the world might seem securely yours,
It vanishes in the twinkling of an eye”. 
The prime task in the Way followed by Sufis is to free themselves from the grip of the nafs, the carnal soul, which they believe is the equivalent of the devil within us. 
“Grant the annihilation of my dark, carnal self”. 
The means by which this can be achieved will vary enormously between individuals, as Avery sets out.
“Individuals perceive and express the reality of existence in a manner personal to themselves.
“Consequently conflicting views on form and substance arise, but the Sufis believe that by the Path of Love these conflicting views and contradictions can be cancelled out and the individual, freed of them, realise eternity without beginning (azal) and eternity without end (abad) as one”. 
Sometimes this spiritual process is presented as a reduction of the ego to the bare minimum.
“When your person becomes as slender as a hair,
There will be room for you among the locks of the Friend”. 
But often it is depicted as a metaphorical death of the lower self, which will free the transcendal self to gain eternal life. 
“Become nothing, so that you might be suffused with Being:
So long as you are, how can Being enter into you?” 
“Be lost in Him. This is the infusion.
Whatever is not this, that would be superfluity”. 
“Since all is one there are no two:
Neither does an I arise here, nor a You”. 
“If you’re a whole man, lost to the whole.
Seek the whole. Be the whole. Become the whole. Choose the whole”. 
While this pursuit of oneness with the divine is evidently the main subject of The Speech of the Birds, there is a fascinating sub-text around nature, as can even be seen in the title.
Birds are presented individually, in the context of the various allegorical stories, but also collectively and mythologically in the shape of the Símurgh, which Avery tells us is a name of the mythical Iranian Phoenix.
“The word can be read as a compound of sí, ‘thirty’, and murgh, ‘bird(s)’. The Símurgh comprehends but also transcends all the birds of creation”. 
He cites Reynold A Nicholson’s finding that “in Persian mysticism the símurgh represents God or the soul as a mode of Divine being… and is supposed to dwell on Mount Qaf”. 
Nature is much more important to the Islamic tradition than many in the West might imagine, as has been confirmed by Sufi perennialist philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr. 
He said in a 2014 radio interview: “The Qur’an addresses not only human beings, but also the cosmos. It is much easier to be able to develop an environmental philosophy.
“Birds are called communities in the Qur’an. Human beings, bees, it is so easy to develop an authentic Islamic philosophy of the environment”. 
Referring to the Prophet Muhammed, ‘Attār writes of:
“The call of living creatures when he revealed,
His witnesses the calf and the lizard were”. 
Avery remarks in his commentary: “The allusion is to the miracle attributed to the Prophet in his avoidance of being poisoned when a roasted calf containing poison was offered him and he stopped eating after consuming only a morsel because, as he told his companions, the dead animal had spoken to him and warned him that its meat had been poisoned to cause the Prophet’s death. There is also a legend that the lizards conversed with the Prophet”. 
Cats also make an appearance in the birds’ tale, with a reference to the companion of the Prophet Muhammed known as Father of the Kitten because he used to sit in the Prophet’s presence with a kitten on his shoulder or head.
Adds Avery: “There might also be allusion to stories of cats owned by Sufi Shaikhs, which passed into legend on account of actions that were taken for miracles inspired by God. Because of Abú Huraira’s love of cats and the Prophet’s tolerance of being accompanied by a cat, Sufis cherish them”. 
‘Attār further reflects that Sufi feeling for the feline when he notes:
“Sometimes He makes the road revealed by a cat”. 
The spiritual closeness to nature displayed in the text goes beyond birds and animals to include vegetation.
Avery describes how, according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammed used to preach while leaning against an old date palm trunk, until this was replaced by the minbar or staired pulpit.
“On his adoption of the pulpit, the tree-trunk’s lament resembled that of a woman hankering for a lost lover, husband or child…
“The tree was in fact treated like a mortal: it was buried as a human would be and the legend has it that on the day of the Resurrection it will be resurrected and allowed to flourish forever ‘among the green trees of Paradise'”. 
The Speech of Birds also gives a nod, in the following verses, to one of the oldest mythological characters of the Middle East, Persia and India, known as Khizr, Khidr, Pir Badar and Hızır, among other names.
“If you come in and come out of the self,
The way towards the inner meaning you’ll find through wisdom.
When wisdom conducts you towards spiritual meaning,
Khizr will bring you the water of life!” 
Avery writes: “Sufis see in Khizr an example of the Perfect Man, holy in the sight of God and exemplar of all ages, to be a guide to those who take to the Path in quest of the Divine, hence the allusion in ‘Attār’s verse to how the Ring Dove might through Khizr have access to the water of life.
“In popular belief, wherever this forever youthful holy person, whose name, Khizr, means the Green One (the ‘Green Man’), places his foot, verdure will sprout”. 
One of the birds’ voices we hear in the book is that of a green parrot:
“I, in this iron prison left encased,
Am from desire for the Water of Khizr pining.
I’m the birds’ Green Man. Hence I’m green-clad.
Would that I were able the Water of Life to drink!” 
I took a close look at Khizr, and his links to the likes of Hermes, John the Baptist and St George, in my 2017 book The Green One, (available here as a free pdf). 
I identified behind all the diverse forms a mythological manifestation of the vital spirit of nature and life.
Now I can also see an obvious connection to the Símurgh, that “mode of Divine being” in nature. Writes Avery: “The magical power of his feathers, when strewn on the ground, caused trees to fruit, and grass to grow”. 
The Símurgh’s reputed dwelling-place, Mount Qaf, is “the mountain which girdles the world and is said to be of emerald, so that in the mornings when the sun shines upon it, it emits green rays”. 
When we also consider the “green mantle” in which the Prophet Muhammed reportedly usually slept,  we can glimpse the truth in Nasr’s claim that authentic Islam is a “green religion”.
But the great themes of The Speech of the Birds and, in general,
“The valley of gnosis, a valley without beginning or end”, 
are, of course, not unique to the Sufi tradition.
Avery stresses: “A Christian saint has said, ‘All mystics speak the same language, for they come from the same country’.
“So much is this true that startling parallels between the utterances of western and eastern mystics seem to make, certainly at least in this context, the epithets oriental and occidental superfluous”. 
Or, as, ‘Attār puts it:
“All is one Essence but in varied categories:
All one language but of differing idiom”. 
The central shared spiritual insight is that we humans are part of the greater cosmic whole and also, within that, part of nature, which is a physical manifestation of that one indescribable all-embracing entity.
Our belonging is thus to something beyond our immediate senses and our immediate sense of subjective identity.
“However much you haunt external forms, you’re on the quest of imperfection.
Beauty is in the Unseen. Seek you beauty from the Unseen”. 
For Sufis, true being is sourced in zát, the essence which they regard as the reality of the universe, with sifát being the superficial, ephemeral “attributes” of that essence, such as our sense of individual identity.
“The difference between zát and sifát is that zát is not subject to change, but the attributes are”, says Avery. 
Understanding of zát, of this underlying essence, is often condemned by modern thinkers as the thoughtcrime of “essentialism”.
The reason for this, I would argue, is that the idea of innate natural order is anathema to those who limit our grasp of reality so as to more easily rule over us.
The universe is one living organism and thus has its own underlying structure, an eternal and unchanging essential pattern which, while itself invisible, is made manifest in everything from the behaviour of animals to the innate human sense of ethics.
The moral code that sets the direction of the Path of Love arises from the collective unconscious that we can all access when we free ourselves from narrow egotism.
Societies founded on this moral code, the human interpretation of the natural and cosmic pattern, find cohesion and organic order from below: in their culture and customs, their ways of thinking and living.
Not only do they have no need for self-appointed “authorities” setting down artificial laws and restrictions to shape society in the way that they see fit, but their very existence amounts to resistance against any such imposition.
While, in reality, such societies are never perfect, their moral code explicitly condemns as unacceptable the outlook and behaviour of those obsessed with gaining material wealth and social status, thus limiting the activities and influence of such rogue individuals.
One of the great long-term projects of the global criminocracy has therefore been to destroy these traditional societies and their beliefs, to deny the existence of natural harmony, wisdom and ethical values in order to justify and impose their greed-driven work-camp world of disempowerment, destruction and dictatorship.
This deliberate and self-interested cancelling of age-old knowing and understanding, and of the deep sense of morality innate to our species, has to be ended and then reversed.
Humankind needs to again pay heed to the voices of the birds, the animals and the green trees of Paradise; to return home to nature; to become once more a simple hair in the locks of our divine and infinitely wise Friend.
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 Farīdu’d-Dīn ‘Attār, The Speech of the Birds, Mantiqu’t-Tair, presented in English by Peter Avery (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1998). All subsequent page numbers refer to this work.
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 Islam and the Environment, CBC Radio,
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 Paul Cudenec, The Green One (Sussex: Winter Oak, 2017).
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