Passage 1: Learning from an Apparent Delay

Peace, one and all…


I have spent the last couple of weeks firstly reflecting on the Prologue to Book One and secondly, trying to put my reponses to it into some sort of coherent post.  I confess it’s taking me a lot longer than I thought it would.  I’ve found myself feeling annoyed by my inability to express the things whirling round in my head fully.  I’ve found myself feeling rather guilty, as though I’m letting someone down.  But, as I think about it, I am coming to two essential conclusions: firstly, this will take as long as it takes.  The aim of this blog is live and struggle with the Masnavi, to open myself to it, and what it can teach me of a deeper surrender to the Divine.  Its aim is not to simply rush through the text, but to try and let Mevlana lead me.  Patience is not a virtue I possess in large amounts it would seem.  Secondly, the more I reflect on the Prologue and its contents, the more I realise its significance.  I begin to see ever more clearly that the Prologue really does set out some of the Masnavi’s key themes, concepts, practices and approaches.  Taking the time to do things properly is therefore important, and a sign of the Masnavi’s significance in the context of my own life.

I am working on two key posts at the moment, both of which emerge from the Prologue. The first of these explores the concepts and ideas of this key text, and my personal responses to them.  The second explores Mevlana’s use of Quranic quotations more fully.  As I read the Prologue, the significance of these quotations becomes ever clearer.  As God wills, I hope to have both posts finished in the next few days.

Ask olsun!



Passage 1: The Roots of the Roots…

Peace, one and all…


We begin our exploration with the opening dedication of Book One.  As with most Islamic texts, the Masnavi opens with a dedicatory prologue, in which God and the Prophet (as) are extolled.  I think this is an important place to start, mostly because it is how Mevlana himself chose to begin his magnum opus.  As will become clear, the prologue makes numerous direct quotations from the Quran.  As will also become clear, there are also numerous allusions to Quranic stories, characters and imagery.



‘This is the book of the Masnavi, and it is the roots of the roots of religion in respect of revealing the secrets of attainment and of certainty, and it is the greatest knowledge of God, and it is the most radiant way of God and the clearest proof of God; the likeness of its light is ‘like a niche in which there is a lamp shining’ (Quran 24:35) with a radiance brighter than the dawn.  It is the paradise of the heart with springs and boughs, among which there is one which the followers of this way call Salsabil (a reference to Quran 76:18), and among the possessors of the stations and graces it is ‘best as a station and fairest place of repose’ (paraphrasing Quran 25:24). The virtuous eat and drink there, and the free are gladdened and overjoyed by it.  And like the Nile of Egypt it is a drink to the patient and an affliction to the people of Pharaoh and the unbelievers, as He has said, ‘In this way He causes many a one to go astray and in this way He guides many a one aright’ (2:26).  It is a ‘cure for hearts’ (a reference to 10:57) and remover of sorrows and uncoverer of the Quran, source of abundance of boons and healer of characters, ‘by the hands of messengers, noble and most virtuous’ (80:11-16) who forbid, saying ‘none but the pure can touch it,’ (56:77-79) a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds; ‘falsehood cannot reach it from before of from behind,’ (41:41) and God oberves it and watches over it, and ‘He is the best of guardians and He is the most merciful of the merciful’ (12:64). And it has other titles by which God has honoured it. And we have constrained ourselves to this little, for the little is a sample of the much, and a mouthful is a sample of the pool, and a handful is a sample of the great threshing floor.

The feeble slave, who is need of the mercy of God Most High, Mohammed ibn Mohammed ibn al-Hosayn of Balkh, may God accept this from him, says, I have exerted myself in the composing of the poem of the Masnavi which contains marvels and rarities, the finest treatises and brilliant guidance and the way of the asceitcs and the garden of the devotees, brief in expression, copious in meaning, at the request of my master and support and dependable one, the location of the spirit in my body and the treasure of my today and my tomorrow, namely the sheikh, the model of the knowers of God, the leader of hearts and minds, entrusted by God among His creatures, the quintessence of His creation, and His orders to His Prophet and his secrets to the chosen favourite, the key of the celestial treasuries, custodian of the riches of the earth, the father of virtues, Hosam [Sword] of Truth and religion, Hasan ibn Mohammed ibn Hasan, known as Ibn Akhi Tork, the Abu Yazid of the time, Jonayd of the age, seddiq son of the seddiq, son of the seddiq, may be God be pleased him and with them, originally of Urmiya, descended from the sheikh who was endowed with miraculous grace inasmuch as he said, ‘In the evening I was a Kurd and in the morning an Arab.’ May God sanctify his soul, and the soul of his successors, how blessed is the ancestor, how blessed is the successor! He has a lineage upon which the Sun has cast its mantle and an esteem of ancestry before which the stars have dimmed their radiance.  Their courtyard has always been the qibla of good fortune, to whom the sons of sovereign power turn, and the Ka`bah of hopes which those who come for favour circumambulate, and may it always be so long as the star rises and a sun in the east rises resplendent over the horizon, so that it may be a refuge for those possessors of insight, godly, spiritual, heavenly, celestial, enlightened ones, those who are silent in their contemplation, the absent ones who are present, those who are kings beneath their tattered clothes, the nobles of the nations, the masters of virtues, the lights of divine witness. Amen, O Lord of the Worlds!

This is a prayer that will not be refused, for it is a prayer that includes all species of creation. Praise be to God alone, and blessings upon our Master Mohammed and his family and progeny. And God is sufficient – how excellent a Protector’. (Translated by Alan Williams; see here)

Ask olsun!


Say, ‘If you love God, follow me’

Peace, one and all…


Welcome to Blogging the Masnavi, a new blog dedicated to exploring Mevlana Rumi’s magnum opus, the Masnavi-yi Ma`navi, or ‘Spiritual Couplets’.  My aim is to explore this epic spiritual poem one passage a day. God willing, I intend this to be focused on my own personal experience, rather than on some academic explanation of this illuminating text.  That is, my purpose here is to write an honest, open and personal account of my own spiritual journeying. This blog won’t always be polished. It won’t always be ‘right’ (whatever that means) and it won’t always flow logically.  But, I do hope that it will always be as honest as I can make it.  And God is the Giver of success.

So, then, where to start?  I’ve been reflecting on this question quite a lot over the last few months, ever since I decided to embark on this project.  Al hamdu lillah, as I mulled it over, it became clear to me that I ought to begin at the beginning, so to speak, and start with the Quran, the ultimate well-spring of all Sufi meditations. This seems especially apt given that Jami, a celebrated Persian Sufi master of the 15th century, described the Masnavi as ‘the Quran in the Persian tongue’.

May it be of benefit.  Dem-i Hazret-i Mevlana…

As will become clear, love is perhaps the central theme of the Masnavi. In the opening section of Book 1, Mevlana pens a beautiful ode to love:

Rejoice, O Love, that is our sweetest passion,
physician of our many illnesses!
Relief from our pomposity and boasting,
O You who are our Plato and our Galen!
For Love the earthly body soared to heaven,
the mountain tool to dancing and to skipping.
When Love approached Mount Sinai’s soul, O lover,
Sinai was drunk and ‘Moses fell aswoon’
(Masnavi 1. 23-26)

Love is such a powerful thing. Its presence can lift us beyond our limitations, whilst its absence can create deep feelings of unworthiness.  As I perceive it at this moment, the entire Masnavi can be understood as a profound meditation on love, in all its variety and depth, and about how we might grow in love.  The Masnavi can thus be seen as an exploration of the deeper meanings of the following Quranic verse:

‘Say, ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you and forgive you your sins. And God is Forgiving, Merciful’ (3:31)

Firstly, in this verse, we encounter a God that speaks, a God that actively seeks a response from His creation.  As this verse is addressed to the Prophet (as), who is commanded to relay the Divine word to his followers, another important truth emerges: God sends a human being to communicate and thus embody this love,  Thirdly, following God’s beloved (as) draws us closer to Divine love.  God loves us enough to speak to us, to send a beloved messenger, that we might be drawn ever more fully into His embrace.  It is this love, therefore, that helps us move beyond unhelpful limitations, to dissolve the ice around our hearts.  God’s love is restorative and healing.  Love restores to ourselves, and to the fundamental nature of the living universe.  And above our every human failure stands divine forgiveness and mercy.  In the words of this verse, God is Ghafur (Forgiving), and this forgiveness penetrates to the very centre of our disharmony, cleansing our very roots.  God is also Merciful, or Rahim, a term derived from ‘womb’ and denoting an overwhelming loving kindness and concern.  It is this love that the Quran points to, and it is this love that Mevlana is leading us towards.

This brings us to another key theme of Islamic spirituality, and thus of the Masnavi, namely union.  Whilst this has been variously understood, the prophetic traditions (known as hadith) offer us a profound vision of where love leads. Abu Hurayrah reports a beautiful saying of the Prophet (as):

‘Allah (mighty and sublime be He) said: “Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him”‘.

Love bids us to model ourselves on our beloved, to strive to become ever more lovable.  As we wander along love’s road, we gradually melt into our beloved, because ‘Love demands, or inevitably leads to, a sacrifice of the soul’ (Source).  It is this sacrifice that the Masnavi helps us to make.  May our imitation become a reality!

So, then, what can I learn myself from these beautiful passages?  Firstly, I am called to honesty.  When I look at myself I find someone who is far from complete, who has many faults and limitations, whose work with his ego is, at best, far from concluded.  I need God’s loving kindness in the context of my own soul, my own life.  Secondly, I am called to an honest reflection on details.  There are questions I need to ask of myself, and there are answers I need to hear deeply.  Here are thus some of the questions I am aware of at this moment (I am sure many more will emerge):

  • What do I give to God?
  • What am I holding back?
  • What things, which parts of myself, am I refusing to hand over?
  • Why?
  • My own service is faulty.  How do I make it ever more real?
  • How can I become more fully human, more fully a part of that deeper unity, or comm-unity, as it were?
  • What does it mean to truly follow God?
  • Is it merely a question of outward action, of surface observance, or does it entail something more, something deeper?

Insha Allah, these are some of the questions I am hoping to find answers to.  And God’s mercy encompasses all things.

Ask olsun!

May there be love!