Abu Saeed Abul-Khayr (967-1049) was an Iranian born in what is modern day Turkmenistan and is one of the earliest Sufi poets. He received his formal education in Islamic scholarship and Arabic literature but at the age of 23 left them for Sufism. In his poetry, he emphasized the liberation from the “I”, which he believed was the cause of human misfortune and separation from the Divine. To enter the realm of the Beloved, you required not only personal effort but divine grace and the guidance of a Sufi master. Though virtually unknown in the West, Abul-Khayr is ranked amongst Farsi speakers above the three well-known Sufi master—Sanai, Attar and Rumi. His fame spread throughout the Islamic world and to Spain. Attar even referred to him as his spiritual teacher.
Abul-Khayr was a contemporary of the great philosopher and physician, Avicenna. A legend has it that upon meeting for the first time, Avicenna and Abul-Khayr meditated for three days in seclusion, exchanging mystical and philosophical ideas. After the meditation, Avicenna was asked what he thought of Abul-Khayr. Avicenna replied: “What I know, he can already see!” Abul-Khayr was asked what he thought of Avicenna and he replied: “Whatever I can see, he already knows!”
Abu-Khayr spoke forcefully against extremists and religious people who forced their personal interpretation on others. Here is a section of his poem which expresses that viewpoint and is beautifully translated by author, Vraje Abramian.
“Suppose you can recite a thousand holy
verses from memory.
What are you going to do
with your ego self, the true
mark of the heretic?
Every time your head touches
the ground in prayers, remember,
this was to teach you to
put down that load of ego
which bars you from entering
the chamber of the Beloved.”