Love and Religion in The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds is a love story about a man who chooses to change his lifestyle and religion in order to obtain the love of a woman. Sam’an, a Muslim sheikh, is in love with a Christian woman. During this time period, it was very uncommon for a man and a woman to come from such different cultures and be together. Sam’an and the Christian woman chose to be together, even though their religion and their cultures are pressuring them to stay apart. He and the Christian woman’s choice to stay together causes many conflicts and puts a strain on their forbidden love. Sa’man, a religious scholar, falls in love with a woman who requires him to forsake his religion in order for his love to be reciprocated. The story focuses on his inner struggle to do what he knows and believes to be true and right, versus his longing and passion for this woman. Although Sam’an wanted to stay true to his religion, his love for the Christian woman consumed him. Sheikh Sam’an’s faith played a very important role throughout the story, and is the root of almost all conflicts throughout the story. Sheikh Sam’an felt compelled to follow his dream, which he interpreted as a vision. He is a man of strong faith, even though he goes through a time of weakness and abandons it. He was revered in his community because he had traveled to the Muslim religious capital, Mecca, over 50 times. After Sheikh Sam’an had the dream about the Christian woman he decided to go to Rome, the Christians religious capital, to find out what his dream really meant. On Sheikh Sam’an’s journey to Rome he was accompanied by his friend and followers. After he met the woman who was in his dream he was infatuated with her beauty and instantly in love. The Christian woman symbolizes all things that are forbidden to Sam’an, thus making her even more desirable. Even though their lifestyles and beliefs are very different, things work out in the end. Their love was able to survive on and exist though the hardships that were presented to them. Another author, Rachel Adelman, says “life finds a way’ despite the seeming strictures of law. “ This quote supports the idea that even though Sam’an and the Christian woman’s love is forbidden, if their love is meant to be it will survive. Yet another thing that goes against Sam’ans religious faith is his infatuation with the woman’s beauty. He longs for her beautiful soft hair, and her full lips. Both are physical attributes that should not be advertised or shown in the Islamic faith. Those features, along with many other characteristics that the Christian woman possesses, contradict his cultures moral beliefs on how a woman should look and behave. In the Muslim culture women are supposed to be covered and show modesty. It is out of the cultural norm and would be very uncommon for a Muslim man to fall in love with another woman outside his faith and cultural beliefs. Young men’s opinions of how a woman should look and act are shaped at a very young age. (Morgan Lee p. 2) Even after he abandoned the traditions of his religion, Sam’ans followers do not abandon him. At first Sheikh Sam’an’s followers were furious that he had abandoned both them and his religion to be with this woman, and they wanted to leave. Sam’an’s friend, however, stayed loyal to Sheikh Sam’an and was able to convince the other followers to remain loyal and persuaded them to stay by Sam’ans side in his time of need. Without his friend and his followers, Sheikh Sam’an may not have returned back to Mecca, and with their guidance, Sam’an returned to his faith as well. Another strain that takes a toll on Sam’an and the Christian woman’s relationship is her demands for Sam’an to do things that go against his moral beliefs. She has presented Sam’an with temptations that go against his religious and cultural values. She requested that he drink wine, eat pork, and that he engage in sexual relations. The Christian woman says to Sam’an “to prove your love declare [it] to me.”( Farid Un-Din-Attar, 380). The woman wants to see how much Sam’an truly loves her and she wants him to prove it by abandoning some of the core principles of his religion. She gives him these requests because she knows they will all be very difficult for him to fulfill. She also feels that she is in control of him, and the relationship they share. She feels this way because when she asks him to do things that he would not normally do, he fulfills her requests to make her happy. In the Bible, the Christian woman’s book of faith, it states “A man may know a woman (physically)–as Adam knew his wife, Eve” (Gen. 4:1) The woman does not see anything wrong with the things she has asked Sam’an to do because they do not go against her religion, so she has no moral conflict. In the Bible, it is not a sin to drink wine, eat pork, or engage in sex. However because Sam’an and his lover belong to different faiths, all of the things she has asked of him, he sees as morally wrong. Sam’an obeys her commands and choses to do these things so he can prove his love to her. However the Christian woman does not feel the same way about Sam’an as he does about her. She is testing him to see the depth of his love, even though she does not reciprocate the feelings. After she commands Sam’an to do these things to ensure his love, she feels guilty for using him and making him do these things when she did not feel the same way. Sam’an felt an instant connection to the woman when he first laid eyes on her. As the story develops, the reader can see the problems Sam’an and the Christian woman have in their relationship begin to reveal themselves. V. Jaisre explains on his interpretation of, Love- a domination of a relationship, that “It is a known fact that there is no true love without quarrel. However, there should be some limit whether there is love or quarrel because too much of anything is good for nothing.” In Sam’an and the Christian woman’s relationship, the problem is that they don’t have enough conflict, he is too compliant. In the early stages of the relationship Sam’an only gives, and the woman receives. If Sam’an had stood up to his lover and refused to obey her commands then she would not have manipulated him into giving into the temptations she had presented to him. The Christian woman’s temptations to Sam’an have been successful, and he has sacrificed a great deal for this woman. His morals, friends, followers and his way of life have all been abandoned for the love of a woman. Sam’an showed weakness when he gave into the temptations that the Christian woman had presented him with.The Sheikh Sam’an gave into the temptations presented by his love, the Christian woman. He values the love of the woman that he had dreamed about, and put her love and her requests above all else. Sheikh Sam’an sacrifices his religion and his morals to make the woman happy. His friends and followers are also very angry with him, and surprised that a man of such high rank and strong religious value, could fall for the love of a woman, and give into the temptations of sin so easily. If Sam’an had known that the Christian woman did not reciprocate the feelings that he had felt, the story may have ended very differently. K. Jones says “To fail to perceive this is quite to misconceive it” ( 1963, p. 7). Sam’an did not realize how easily he was giving into the woman he loved. If he had understood from the beginning that her love was not always true he would not have given up his lifestyle, friends, and religion, to convince her of his love. At the end of the story the Christian woman dies from either an internal conflict as a result from the guilt that she has placed on herself from making Sheikh Sam’an change himself to prove his love, even though she did not reciprocate the feelings. Her death may be from the heartbreak she experienced, after she realized what drastic changes she had made to herself, in order to make herself feel less guilty for making Sam’an do such difficult tasks. The Christian woman also changed herself at the end of the story and took his religion. Because she knew that she had influenced him to change so much she may have felt stress and her heart was broken because she knew what a bad manipulative person she had been to him. Sheikh Sam’an, a religious leader, at first abandons his faith and culture for the woman he loves. His story comes full circle when the Christian woman, who has been testing his love for her, changes her own faith and returns to Sheikh Sam’ans home country asking for forgiveness. The story shows how the characters evolve as they develop different feelings than those of the cultural “norm”. This ultimately effects their moral decisions. There were many different factors that played a role in the development of Sam’an and the Christian woman’s relationship. The major cause of stain that they experienced was the issues they faced involving faith. If Sam’an and his lover had shared the same beliefs, there would not have been an issue with him fulfilling her request. Another factor is Sam’ans friend and followers. Without their guidance he may never have returned to his home country, or returned to his faith. Both of which had been a huge part of his life before he met the woman of his dreams. Sam’an also did not know that the woman he loved did reciprocate the feeling he had. If he had known, he most likely would not have chosen to give into the temptations that she presented him with, because he would have known she was just manipulating him to see how far he would go to prove his love to her. Throughout the story of Sheikh Sam’an, in the Confession of the Birds Attar addresses, in many different scenarios, the struggle that man forgoes to find God and be at peace with one’s self. Sheikh Sam’an has come full circle and regained his relationship with his god, with the help of his friends, followers, and even the love of a woman.