Great thinkers, scientists, poets have all advocated human dignity and unity. Shaikh Saadi, renowned Persian poet, writer and Sufi of the 13th century, was also a staunch advocate of humanity and unity. He is recognised for his writing style as well as for his profound thoughts. He powerfully highlighted the concept of humanity in both poetry and prose. It was because of his universal message that one of his poems, Bani Adam (Children of Adam) decorates the entrance of the UN building. The same poem was quoted by former US president Barack Obama to felicitate people in Persia on Nauroz. Obama quoted this verse in translation: “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. He emphasises that when someone is suffering from pain, others should feel the pain and help him/her. Saadi was deeply inspired by the spiritual and humanistic aspect of Islam. He took inspiration from Islamic teachings and his creative works express the same message of humanity that was expressed by the Quran and the Holy Prophet (PBUH). For example, the Quran clearly says that human beings are created from one soul (4:1). Saving a person’s life is considered saving all of humanity and killing a person means killing entire humanity (5:32). 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, He said. The Prophet appreciated those whose hands and tongues were harmless to others.
Saadi’s writings indicate that he travelled extensively within Iran and in 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 only apparently in the physical sense. In essence 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 have been translated in many languages. In today’s world, hatred is increasing among different segments of society due to religious, political and ethnic differences. Terrorism is being associated with Islam. In this scenario, there is a dire need to make conscious efforts to promote literature like Saadi’s that teaches peace, harmony and connectedness not just among Muslims but all humanity. The powerful message of human unity that Shaikh Saadi gave centuries ago is still relevant. He teaches us the ways to transcend physical differences and create harmony and peace. Let me conclude with Ghalib:
bas-ki dushvar hai har kaam kaasañ hona
aadmi ko bhi mayassar
nahiñ insañ hona