known by his pen-name Saʿdī or simply Saadi, was one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period. He is not only famous in Persian-speaking countries, but has been quoted in western sources as well. He is recognized for the quality of his writings and for the depth of his social and moral thoughts. Saadi is widely recognized as one of the greatest poets of the classical literary tradition.
Born in Shiraz, Iran, c. 1213, his father died when he was an infant. In his youth Saadi experienced poverty and hardship and left his native town for Baghdad to pursue a better education. As a young man he enrolled at the an-Nizamiyya center of knowledge (1195–1226), where he studied in Islamic sciences, law, governance, history, Arabic literature, and Islamic theology. Saadi was also among those who witnessed first-hand Baghdad‘s destruction by Mongol Ilkhanate invaders led by Hulagu during the year 1258.
The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Khwarezm and Iran led him to wander for thirty years abroad through Anatolia (where he visited the Port of Adana and near Konya met Ghazi landlords), Syria (where he mentions the famine in Damascus), Egypt (where he describes its music, Bazaars, clerics and elites), and Iraq (where he visits the port of Basra and the Tigris river). In his writings he mentions the Qadis, Muftis of Al-Azhar, the grand Bazaar, music and art. At Halab, Saadi joins a group of Sufis who had fought arduous battles against the Crusaders. Saadi was captured by Crusaders at Acre where he spent seven years as a slave digging trenches outside its fortress. He was later released after the Mamluks paid ransom for Muslim prisoners being held in Crusader dungeons. After the Sack of Baghdad in 1258 by Hulegu and the Ilkhanate Horde, Saadi visited Jerusalem and then set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. It is believed that he may have also visited Oman and other lands south of the Arabian Peninsula.
Because of the Mongol invasions he was forced to live in desolate areas and met caravans fearing for their lives on once-lively silk trade routes. Saadi lived in isolated refugee camps where he met bandits, Imams, men who formerly owned great wealth or commanded armies, intellectuals, and ordinary people. While Mongol and European sources (such as Marco Polo) gravitated to the potentates and courtly life of Ilkhanate rule, Saadi mingled with the ordinary survivors of the war-torn region. He sat in remote tea houses late into the night and exchanged views with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and Sufi mendicants. For twenty years or more, he continued the same schedule of preaching, advising, and learning, honing his sermons to reflect the wisdom and foibles of his people. Saadi’s works reflect upon the lives of ordinary Iranians suffering displacement, agony and conflict during the turbulent times of the Mongol invasion.
Saadi mentions honey-gatherers in Azerbaijan, fearful of Mongol plunder. He finally returns to Persia where he meets his childhood companions in Isfahan and other cities. At Khorasan Saadi befriends a Turkic Emir named Tughral. Saadi joins him and his men on their journey to Sindh where he meets Pir Puttur, a follower of the Persian Sufi grand master Shaikh Usman Marvandvi (1117–1274). He also refers in his writings about his travels with a Turkic Amir named Tughral in Sindh (Pakistan across the Indus and Thar), India (especially Somnath, where he encounters Brahmans), and Central Asia (where he meets the survivors of the Mongol invasion in Khwarezm). Tughral hires Hindu sentinels. Tughral later enters service of the wealthy Delhi Sultanate, and Saadi is invited to Delhi and later visits the Vizier of Gujarat. During his stay in Gujarat, Saadi learns more about the Hindus and visits the large temple of Somnath, from which he flees due to an unpleasant encounter with the Brahmans.
When he reappeared in his native Shiraz, he was an elderly man. Shiraz, under Atabak Abubakr Sa’d ibn Zangy (1231–60) was enjoying an era of relative tranquility. Saadi was not only welcomed to the city but was shown great respect by the ruler and held to be among the greats of the province. In response, Saadi took his nom de plume from the name of the local prince, Sa’d ibn Zangi. Some of Saadi’s most famous panegyrics were composed as a gesture of gratitude in praise of the ruling house and placed at the beginning of hisBustan. The remainder of Saadi’s life seems to have been spent in Shiraz.