Altariq (The Road ) - Documentation: Original Sufi Poem (9th century)

Entrant: Sayyida Laila al-Sanna' al-Andalusiyya

Ffesty Pen Eisteddfod; Storytelling & Poetry; 3 November, 2018



Poetic Form

"Altariq (The Road)" is an original poem composed in English, in a Sufi style known as "ecstatic poetry," which dates back to at least the 9th century, and is still practiced today. Ecstatic poetry is religious in nature, and has neither rhyme nor metre. It is meant to be composed through divine inspiration, and thus has a spontaneous quality. It tends to be concise and to contain layered meanings.The form has not changed significantly in the last 1100 years.


Poetry in Sufism

Due to the mystical nature of Sufi Islamic practice, poetry is treated with tremendous religious significance. As Dana Wilde describes in "On Sufism and Poetry":

"Somehow [...] the Sufi master has to make the student aware of his inner self, the self that is an element of, or is the Divine. Poetry and music touch the inner sensibilities -- the emotional, intuitive, moral and spiritual parts of the inner self. They open the person living in the visible world to the realities of the invisible world.

"Sufism places emphasis on metaphor as a key to understanding because it conveys or creates meanings that are beyond the visible world -- which is also to say beyond the limits of logic, analysis, rationality -- and touches the emotional, intuitive, moral and spiritual worlds. Hence poetry."

With reference to the historical development of Sufi poetry, Abichal Watkins and Tejvan Pettinger explain:

"Often the great Sufi poets lived during times of religious fundamentalism. The authorities censored them, because they openly taught that man could have a direct contact with God. As a result poets such as Hafiz developed an increasing array of metaphors and synonyms to describe God. Frequently we come across references such as Friend, Beloved, Father, Mother, the Wine seller, the Problem giver, and the Problem solver. This ambiguity in describing God served a dual purpose. Firstly it made it difficult for his poetry to be censored for its unorthodox mystical ideas. It also illustrates the inherent difficulty a poet has in describing the nature of God. The infinite is beyond all name and form, how can the poet describe that which is beyond words?"


Period Examples of Sufi Ecstatic Poetry

"In the dead of night, a Sufi began to weep.

He said, "This world is like a closed coffin, in which

We are shut and in which, through our ignorance,

We spend our lives in folly and desolation.

When Death comes to open the lid of the coffin,

Each one who has wings will fly off to Eternity,

But those without will remain locked in the coffin.

So, my friends, before the lid of this coffin is taken off,

Do all you can to become a bird of the Way to God;

Do all you can to develop your wings and your feathers."

- Farid ud Din Attar (1145-1221 CE); Translation by Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanut - 'Perfume of the  Desert'


let's scatter roses and pour wine in the glass;

we'll shatter heaven's roof and lay a new foundation.

If sorrow raises armies to shed the blood of lovers,

I'll join with the wine bearer so we can overthrow them.

With a sweet string at hand, play a sweet song, my friend,

so we can clap and sing a song and lose our heads in dancing."

- Hafiz (1230-1291 CE); (Ghani-Qazvini, no 374) ' the Shambhala Guide to Sufism' Carl.W Ernst, Ph.D.

"Listen for the stream

that tells you one thing.

Die on this bank.

Begin in me

the way of rivers with the sea.

- Rumi (1207-1273 CE); Translated by Coleman Barks - from "Say I Am You"

Analysis of "Altariq (The Road)"

"Altariq (The Road)," like other Sufi ecstatic poetry, uses human experience to relate spiritual ideas. In this case, the human experience addressed is the great migration and the creation of the Spanish Diaspora which occurred after the fall of Granada, the final bastion of Islamic rule in Spain, in 1492. The speaker in this poem is traveling East, looking for a new home in the Ottoman Empire, or in Persia, the home of the greatest Sufi poets.

The outward story of leaving one's home for a new land is a metaphor for the spiritual journey a Sufi must undergo in her quest to connect with and serve the Almighty. This metaphor is revealed in part through a strong allusion to the biblical exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt.


Granger, Ivan M. "Poets in the Muslim/Sufi Tradition." Poetry Chaikhana. Accessed 23 October 2018.

Jamal, Mahmoud, ed. Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi. Penguin Classics, 2010. Print.

Lings, Martin, trans. Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology. Islamic Texts Society Books, 2005. Print.

Pettinger, Tejvan. "The Ecstatic Poetry of the Sufis." Accessed 23 October 2018.

Shelquist, Richard. "Sufi Poetry." Accessed 23 October 2018.

Wilde, Dana. "On Sufism and Poetry." Accessed 23 October 2018.