Farid al-Din Attar, who died in the early thirteenth century, is one of the greatest of all Muslim mystics. His most famous work is a lengthy allegorical poem entitled Mantiq al-Tayr, which is typically rendered in English as The Conference of the Birds or The Parliament of the Birds. It’s full of little sermonettes and stories and exhortations, subordinate to the overall plot of the story that it relates. Here is one of them, as translated by
A Moslem fought an infidel one day
And as they fought requested time to pray.
He prayed and fought again – the infidel
Then asked for time to say his prayers as well;
He went aside to find a cleaner place
And therefore his idol bowed his face.
The Moslem, when he saw him kneel and bow,
Said: “Victory is mine if I strike now.”
But as he raised his sword for that last stroke,
A warning voice from highest heaven spoke:
“O vicious wretch – from head to foot deceit –
What promises are these, you faithless cheat?
His blade was sheathed when you asked him for time;
For you to strike him now would be a crime –
Have you not read in Our Koran the verse‘Fulfill your promises’? And will you curse
The word you gave? The infidel was true;
He kept his promises, and so should you.
You offer evil in return for good –
With others act as to yourself you would!
The infidel kept faith with you, and where
Is your fidelity, for all your prayer?
You are a Moslem, but false piety
Is less than this poor pagan’s loyalty.”
The Moslem heard this speech and went apart;
Sweat poured from him, remorse accused his heart.
The pagan saw him as if spell-bound stand,
Tears in his eyes, his sword still in his hand,
And asked: “Why do you weep?” The man replied:
“My shame is not a matter I can hide” –
He told him of the voice that he had heard
Reproaching him when he would break his word,
And ending said: “My tears anticipate
The fury of your vengeance and your hate.”
But when the infidel had heard this tale,
His eyes were filled with tears, his face turned pale –
“God censures you for your disloyalty
And guards the life of His sworn enemy –
Can I continue to be faithless now?
I’ll burn my gods, to Allah I will bow,
Expound His law! Too long my heart has lain
In darkness bound by superstition’s chain.” (137-138)