Hazrat Hakim Sanai(رحمتہ اللہ علیہ)


Hakim Sanai is considered to be the earliest Afghan teacher to use the love-motif in Sufism.

Hakim Sanai was one of the famous and great classical Sufi authors of the eleventh century. Very little is known so far about the life and works of this great philosopher and there is also confusion about the exact timeline of Hakim Sanai`s living. However, though not supported by all, many scholars say that Hakim Sanai lived between the years of 1044-1150. Hakim Sanai was born in the province of Ghazna in southern Afghanistan and hence, he was also popularly known as Sanai of Ghazna. One of the earlier Sufi philosophers, Sanai influenced a number of other Sufi philosophers in the following centuries. Jalaludin Rumi was one of those, influenced by Sanai and he acknowledged both Sanai and Attar as his two primary inspirations.

Hakim Sanai was actually a court poet and he was also engaged in writing praises for the Sultan of Ghazna. However, Hakim Sanai left his job as the court poet at a young age and started to study and know about Sufism from a Sufi master named Yusef Hamdani. He also went on pilgrimage to the holy place of Mecca and after returning from the pilgrimage, he composed one of his best works, named “Hadiqatu`l Haqiqat” or “The Walled Garden of Truth”. Hakim Sanai is considered as the earliest Afghan teacher, who used the love-motif in Sufism. Sanai has composed his popular work, “The Walled Garden of Truth” in such a way that gives several readings for many passages. The book contains 10,000 couplets in 10 sections and describes Ha
kim Sanai`s ideas on God, love, philosophy and reason.

The walled Garden of Truth

We tried reasoning
our way to Him:
it did not work;
but the moment we gave up,
no obstacle remained.
He introduced himself to us
out of kindness: how else
could we have known him?
Reason took us as far as the door;
but it was his presence that let us in.My friend, everything existing

exists through him;
your own existence is a mere pretense.

My friend, everything existing
exists through him;
your own existence is a mere pretense.

“The Walled Garden of Truth” earned popularity among the people during Hakim Sanai`s time and even after 900 years the book is still popular even today. The book has also been constantly employed as a classic and Sufi textbook during these years. Sanai followed the path of poetry for spreading his knowledge and message among the common people. According to him, lust and greed and emotional excitement, always stood between humankind and divine knowledge that was the only true reality (Haqq). He said that Love (Ishq) and a social conscience are the foundation of religion. He felt that the mankind is asleep and living in what is in fact a desolate world. About common religion, Sanai said that it is only habit and ritual. 

A Ruby there is just a piece of stone:
and spiritual excellence the height of folly.
Silence is praise – have done with speech;
your chatter will only bring you harm and sorrow –
have done!
The dumb find tongues,
when the scent of life reaches them
from his soul

Hakim Sanai had a great influence on the Persian literature through his brilliant poetry and he is considered to be the first poet to use verse forms as the qasidah (ode). He also used the verse forms as the ghazal (lyric) and the masnavi (rhymed couplet) for expressing the philosophical, mystical, and ethical ideas of Sufism. The Dervish Songs of Hakim Sanai nicely represents the lyrical presentation of Sufi experience. Talking about the progress of human being, Hakim Sanai said that the human`s progress is that of one who has been given a sealed book, written before he was born. Sanai said that the person always carries it inside himself until he `dies`. Sanai further said that man does not know the contents of that sealed book, as he is subject to the movement of Time. Hakim Sanai felt that what appears to be truth is in fact a worldly distortion of objective truth. He said that the essence of truth is far superior to the terminology of `How?` or `Why?` Sanai told his disciples that the man usually does not notice the fact that he is like an infant in the hands of a nurse. Sometimes he feels happy, sometimes sad, according to what happens to him. Hakim Sanai further asked his disciples and the common people to not to speak of their heartache and the God is speaking. Sanai suggested people not to seek God, as He is seeking. He further said that the God has actually shown everyone, the Path of the Teaching. 


Hakim Sana’i was one of the most significant poets in the history of Islamic mysticism. The proper name of Sana’i of Ghazni was Abul Majd bin Majdud bin Adam. Sana’i was born in the province of Ghazni in southern Afghanistan. He was one of the three great mystical mathnavi writers of Persia, the second being Shaikh Faridu’d-Din ‘Attar and the third jalalu’d-Din Rumi, who write; “Attar is the soul and Sana’i its two eyes, I came after Sana’i and ‘Attar.”

Sana’i was the court poet of Bahram Shah, according to sources, and spent many years praising the king and his court but few years later he became more devoted to God and abruptly left the court of the king.

Bahram Shah was planning to lead an expedition to India, Sana’i wrote a verse and took read it to the palace at the presence the King. On the way to the palace he heard a drunkard ordering the Saqi (the, Cup bearer) to serve him wine, which he would drink for the King’s stupidity. The cupbearer said, “Don’t talk nonsense, Bahrarn Shah is not stupid, he is wise and just.” The drunkard retorted, “His expedition to Ghazni has not yet come to an end; he is planning to lead an expedition to India. What else can be more foolish than this?”

After finishing one jaam of wine he asked for another saying he would drink the second to Sana’i’s foolishness. The cupbearer said, “Why do you call Sana’i foolish? He is a good natured poet with lofty ideas.” The boozer answered, “He writes in praise of unworthy persons, goes to them and with folded hands recites what he has written for worldly gains. Is he not a fool? What will he say to God, on the day of the Reckoning when He (God) asks him, ‘what have you brought for me? “

The words of the drunkard opened Sana’i’s eyes; he left the king’s service, gave up writing panegyrics and retired into seclusion.

Sana’i wrote his most famous mathnawi Hadiqat-ul-Haqaiq (“Garden of Truth”) at a very old age and died soon after its completion in A.D. 1131.

A brief interlude …

(The tales of Nasrudin are sometimes adapted and used as teaching stories by followers of the Sufi way. Iranian mystic traditions use jokes, stories and poetry to express certain teaching. We shall proceed further with Tales of Nasruddin just as we enjoy Hakim Sanai’s poems.

Who Am I?

Mullah Nasrudin was going into a large inn to sleep for the night. There were many beds all in one room. The thought occurred to Nasrudin that in the dark he would not know who he was, so he tied a balloon to his ankle. While Nasrudin was sleeping, the man in the next bed decided to play a joke. He untied Nasrudin’s balloon and tied it on his own ankle. When Nasrudin woke up, he looked at the man next to him. Then he reached out to shake hands and said, “Ah, I know who you are. You are Mullah Nasrudin, but please, tell me who I am.” )

Not much is known about Hakim Sanai, often just called Sanai or Sanai of Ghazna. Sanai is one of the earlier Sufi poets. He was born in the province of Ghazna in southern Afghanistan in the middle of the 11th century and probably died around 1150.

Rumi acknowledged Sanai and Attar as his two primary inspirations, saying, “Attar is the soul and Sanai its two eyes, I came after Sanai and Attar.”

Sanai was originally a court poet who was engaged in writing praises for the Sultan of Ghazna.

The story is told of how the Sultan decided to lead a military attack against neighboring India and Sanai, as a court poet, was summoned to join the expedition to record the Sultan’s exploits. As Sanai was making his way to the court, he passed an enclosed garden frequented by a notorious drunk named Lai Khur.

As Sanai was passing by, he heard Lai Khur loudly proclaim a toast to the blindness of the Sultan for greedily choosing to attack India, when there was so much beauty in Ghazna. Sanai was shocked and stopped. Lai Khur then proposed a toast to the blindness of the famous young poet Sanai who, with his gifts of insight and expression, couldn’t see the pointlessness of his existence as a poet praising such a foolish Sultan.

These words were like an earthquake to Hakim Sanai, because he knew they were true. He abandoned his life as a pampered court poet, even declining marriage to the Sultan’s own sister, and began to study with a Sufi master named Yusef Hamdani.

Sanai soon went on pilgrimage to Mecca. When he returned, he composed his poetic masterpiece, Poems by Hakim Sanai

Sana’i wrote his most famous mathnawi Hadiqat-ul-Haqaiq (“Garden of Truth”) at a very old age and died soon after its completion in A.D. 1131. He uttered the following words at the time of death:

“I returned to what I had said previously because there is no word in meaning -nor words in meaning.”

Hakim Sana’i is the first writer to introduce “Tasawwuf” (mysticism) in poetry. Before him Abu Saeed Abul Khyr wrote several quatrains (A stanza of four lines rhyming alternately) in Sufi style but Sana’i’s verses were completely covered in Tasawwuf. He writes in Hadiqa: 

No one in the world wrote verses (of Tasawwuf) like myself; if anyone has written tell him to come and recite. In the world if there are verses like this (even if it is one in thousand) they are mine. No one can write like me banning the Quran and Hadith(the Traditions).

I have given up Tasawwuf half finished, hear it complete (in full) from Hakim of Ghazna i.e. Sana’i. Sana’i was also the first to lay the foundation of ethical poetry, and laid down rules for it. He introduces ethics in an uncommon manner, which produces great impression on reader’s mind.

People, as a rule, obey doctor or physician’s orders but they circumvent religious instructions. Sana’i saw that in his time the physicians in Iran were mostly Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. He also saw that what these physicians generally told their patients to abstain from were lawful things like sweets etc., while Shara tells people to abstain from harmful and unlawful things. He writes:

 “God forbids you to drink wine and a Christian (physician) forbids you to eat sweets. You give up sweets for the sake of your body, at your doctor’s command although eating sweets is lawful, but you do not give up drinks which you yourself consider unlawful and which God forbids you to drink.” 

This clearly proves that you consider a Christian’s command above God’s injunction. Everyone admits that death ends all troubles and tribulations of life. Hakim Sana’i thinks otherwise. He says:

“Behave with mankind in such a way that when you die you free yourself from the worries of the world; not in a way that when you die people may have to say “God has relieved us from a troublesome fellow.””

Against wine one can say that in a state of intoxication one loses his head, quarrels and starts abusing all and sundry. It can also be said that one becomes generous when drunk.

Hakim Sana’i presents the evils of drink in the following verses: “Wine is such an abominable substance that if one showers gifts in state of drunkenness that is attributed to liquor and not to one’s generous nature.”

To prove people’s judgment, their acceptance and rejection wrong, Sana’i says: “Let not people’s judgment influence you. Tribe of Moses worshipped the ‘golden calf’ and Noah’s tribe refused to accept him as a prophet. (They both were in the wrong.)”


Hakim Sanai was connected with the court of the Ghaznavid Bahram-shah who ruled from 1117 – to 1157. It is said that once when accompanying Bahram shah on a military expedition to India and Sanai , met the Sufi teacher Lai-khur. Sanai quit Bahramshah’s service as a court poet even though he was promised wealth and the king’s daughter in marriage if he remained.

He wrote an enormous quantity of mystical verse, of which The Walled Garden of Truth is his master work and the first Persian mystical epic of Sufism. Dedicated to Bahram Shah, the work expresses the poet’s ideas on God, love, philosophy and reason.

For close to 900 years The Walled Garden of Truth has been consistently read as a classic and employed as a Sufi textbook. According to Major T. Stephenson: “Sanai’s fame has always rested on his Hadiqa; it is the best known and in the East by far the most esteemed of his works; it is in virtue of this work that he forms one of the great trio of Sufi teachers — Sanai, Attar, Jalaluddin Rumi.” 

Sanai taught that lust, greed and emotional excitement stood between humankind and divine knowledge, which was the only true reality (Haqq). Love(Ishq) and a social conscience are for him the foundation of religion; mankind is asleep, living in a desolate world. To Sanai common religion was only habit and ritual.

Sanai’s poetry had a tremendous influence upon Persian literature. He is considered the first poet to use the qasidah (ode), ghazal (lyric), and the masnavi (rhymed couplet) to express the philosophical, mystical and ethical ideas of Sufism.