Rumi and Self-Discovery

by Ibrahim Gamard

The following is a talk presented to a sufi conference in April,
1999. Sections in brackets have been added, since this material had
to be eliminated due to the time limits allowed for the talk.

I want to assert something from the start: In order to discover
yourself, you have to submit to the Creator of yourself, my Lord
and your Lord, the Lord of all the worlds, glorious and exalted is
He! --beyond anything that we can conceive!

The Holy Qur'an tells us about how special the creation of
humanity was: how God breathed into Adam (meaning mankind)
of His spirit; how God taught Adam all the names, which even the
angels did not know; how God drew out from the loins of Adam all
the souls of future human beings and asked them, "Am I not your
Lord?" And they replied, "Yes, of course!"

However, since the fall of mankind, we have forgotten all this and
we resist submitting our small wills to the Almighty Will of our
Lord. And so He sent many prophets, known and unknown, to
remind us that submission [islâm] to the One God leads to peace
and safety [salâm]. It is the goal of sufism [taSawwuf] to return to
this primordial homeland of harmonious surrender with our Lord,
the only one worthy of worship and the only true Beloved of
mankind, the Infinitely Loving One.

The model of submission to the Divine Will for the sufis is the
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who said, "My self
[meaning 'my ego' (nafs)] has become a muslim" [meaning one
who has submitted to God Most High]. Even though he attained to
higher and higher spiritual stations, he never ceased praying. His
wife `âyisha reported that she asked him why he continued to do
so many extra prayers, standing through much of the nighttime
hours until his feet became swollen, when he was the Prophet of
God. He replied: "How can I not be grateful to my Lord!" And the
Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) has
given us so many examples of inspired surrender to the Will of
God in a wide variety of situations in the collections of sayings
known as the Traditions, or Ahâdîth.

Now I want to say some things about the topic of "Rumi and
Self-Discovery": I looked up some of the terms Rumi uses for
self-awareness in a Persian concordance of all the words in Rumi's
"Mathnawi. He uses the term "khod-parast" (self-worshipper) three
times to describe someone who is dominated by the base self, or
ego [nafs]. Rumi describes the nafs in this way: "The mother of
(all) idols is the idol of your (base) self, because that (outward)
idol is (only) a snake and this idol is a dragon. . ." [I: 772] A
related term is "khod-bînî," literally "self-seeing," which is an
idiom in Persian, meaning self-conceited, proud, arrogant. This
term occurs seven times, six times in this negative sense and once
in a positive sense ["I am the (devoted) slave of the man who sees
himself in this manner"-- meaning as his true self-- VI:3776].
Rumi also uses the words "self" and "seeing" next to each other,
but separately, (where the term "self" refers to God) in a mystical
sense where he says that God is so mighty that He can show in an
instant a hundred worlds like ours to the sight: "When He makes
your eye seeing by means of Himself [chûnke chashm-at-râ
ba-khod bînâ kon-ad-- Mathnawi I:522-23].

Rumi speaks about "khod-shenâsî" (self-knowing) in the one
instance in the Mathnawî where he quotes the saying so often
quoted by the sufis and attributed to the Prophet Muhammad,
peace be upon him: "He who knows himself knows his Lord" (man
`arafa nafsa-hu fa-qad `arafa rabba-hu), which he translates
directly into Persian [V: 2114]: "har ke khod be-shenâkht, yazdân-
râ shenâkht."

However, contrary to what one might expect, Rumi doesn't
interpret this in a mystical sense, as in his sublime passages about
the union of the lover and the beloved; or in a way similar to Hindu
Vedantic mysticism (such as meaning, "He who truly knows
himself, knows his Lord as his true Self"; or as meaning, "He who
knows the light within his eye becomes the eye of God"). Instead,

Rumi interprets this saying in a very religious and Islamic sense, as
meaning that the human self is as nothing before the Divine
Majesty of God.

He quotes this saying in a story [in Book V of the Mathnawi] about
Ayâz, the favorite slave of Mahmûd, the King of Ghazna. In the
story, the King symbolizes God and Ayâz represents the humble
saint whose spiritual purity and compassionate wisdom are envied
by those of lesser capacity. Ayâz's fellow servants disgraced
themselves because they destroyed his locked chamber, convinced
that he had hoarded hidden treasure there. All they found was his
original rustic shoes and sheepskin jacket, which he kept there to
remind himself of his humble origins as a shepherd before being
raised to prominence by the King. (In earlier centuries, kings often
elevated their favorite slaves to positions of great power and
wealth.) The King said, "O Ayâz, pass judgment on the
wrongdoers. . . . (your knowledge) is a bottomless ocean (and) not
(human) knowledge alone; (your patient forbearance) is a
mountain and a hundred mountains; it is not (human) forbearance."
Ayâz replied, "I know that this is Your gift, since otherwise I am
(nothing but) these poor shoes and sheepskin jacket." Rumi then
comments: "The Prophet explained this (by saying): 'Whoever has
known himself, has known God.'" ["bahr-é ân payghâmbar în-râ
sharH sâkht/ har ke khod be-sh'nâkht, yazdân-râ shenâkht"--
Mathnawi V: 2114]. Rumi further comments further on the
meaning of the story: "The (foul-smelling) semen (which
conceived you) is your rustic shoes and your blood is the sheepskin
jacket [this is a reference to Qur'anic reference to the humble
origins of the human being in semen and blood]: anything else, O
sir, is His gift. He has given it for this sake: so that you may seek
another (gift). Don't say that there is nothing from Him besides this
amount." [V: 21152116]

Rumi is saying that the servant of God knows that he is only a
container for God's gifts, and not the possessor or source of those
gifts. In Nicholson's commentary, he quotes the famous 17th
century Turkish commentator on the Mathnawi, Anqaravî, as
saying that Rumi interprets the saying, "He who knows himself
knows his Lord" as meaning, "He who knows himself to be
helpless and contemptible knows his Lord to be Mighty and
Glorious" (Volume 8, 1940, p. 269).

[Now this kind of religious terminology, of being helpless and
lowly before God brings up resistance for some people who are
attracted to Westernized versions of sufism which teach that the
Divine is an impersonal and essential Beingness within human
beings. Perhaps due to negative experiences with religion when
young, such people are uncomfortable with viewing the Divine as
personal and external, since this involves a personal relationship
with God that includes issues such as sin, repentance, submission
to a Higher Will, and salvation by Divine Mercy and Grace or
punishment by Divine Justice.]

Recently, I had dinner with a friend who had been learning this
kind of sufism for less than a year, but who became disturbed by
some traditional Islamic sufi teachings, such as the practice of
repeating the prayer, "astaghfirullâh!" (I seek the forgiveness of
God!). He had been physically abused during childhood and was
taught that God's anger and punishment toward him would be
terrible. [He was somewhat comforted when I asserted that God's
Justice is truly just, and that the Qur'an states that His recompense
for a wrong deed is exactly equivalent to it and no more, but that
His recompense for a virtuous deed is many-fold. But my friend
still found it extremely difficult to trust God as a personal Being
separate from him, and preferred the idea of meditating and
reaching a state of pure Consciousness as an undifferentiated
cosmic Light. I responded that, as a mystic, I believe that God is
both within and nearer to us than our very selves, as well as a
Divine Other to whom we must submit harmoniously; that since
there is only One Being and One Will, my identity is not ultimately
separate from the Divine Identity, and whatever happens in the
world can be interpreted as ultimately "my" will also; that since
God is not absolutely separate from our most essential selves, God
is worthy of our trust and love. My friend is still struggling with
this important question of trust.]

[In my own case, I was fortunate to be one of the first Americans
to be trained in the "Whirling Prayer" of the Mevlevi dervish
tradition, beginning in 1975 in Los Angeles. The next year there,
my wife and I were blessed to be among the semazens in the
Whirling Prayer Ceremony, or Samâ`, which was led by Shaykh
Sulayman Dede Effendi, the Shaykh of Konya, Turkey, and the
head of the Mevlevi Sufi Order. The following year, in 1977, we
traveled to Konya for two weeks, went daily to Rumi's tomb (a
place filled with the perfume of God's Love), and visited Sulayman
Dede Effendi at his home. Dede was a saintly and very pious
Muslim, and his American disciples whom we met there were all
converts to Islam. They very graciously invited us to stay among
them in Konya, but I declined. I felt disappointed that Dede
seemed primarily to want them to learn to become Muslims, go to
mosques, and learn to read the Qur'an in Arabic. I wanted to learn
about Rumi's mystical teachings and practices, such as in the
Mathnawi. But we were told that whatever Dede could teach about
the Mathnawi was far too difficult to translate into English. At the
time, I believed that sufism was a universal and esoteric form of
mysticism that transcended Islam, which I looked down upon as
merely an "exoteric shell." We travelled on to Iran, Afghanistan
and India, and all the sufis I met were devout Muslims.]

[By 1983, however, my attitude toward Islam had changed
completely. I became convinced that sufism was Islamic
mysticism, that 99 percent of all sufis who had ever lived were
devout Muslims, and that if I wanted to go deeper on the dervish
path, I needed to practice Islam, as had so many generations of
dervishes in the past. I converted to Islam, joined an Islamic sufi
order, and decided to stop going to non-Islamic sufi gatherings.]

[By then, I had been teaching myself Persian for a couple of years
in order to read Rumi in the original. I was convinced that Rumi
was the greatest mystic who ever lived, and one of the greatest
Muslim saints. In 1985 I met Professor Ravan Farhadi, an Afghan
scholar of classical Persian sufi texts, who suggested that we
translate all of Rumi's quatrains, or rubâ`iyyât. This is now a large
unpublished manuscript. I have been able to study almost every
translation and version of Rumi's quatrains published in English
and to make a comparison to the original Persian text. I have also
compared many translations and versions of Rumi's odes, or
ghazaliyyât. As a result, I have a good understanding of the
strengths and weaknesses of the popular translations and versions
made of Rumi's poetry, as well as their anti-Islamic biases.]

[In conformity with the popular elements of non-Islamic sufism in
the West, popular versions of Rumi's poetry have been created
which avoid or minimize his religious teachings. Rumi has been
portrayed in a way which is appealing to Americans: as a
maverick, an individualist, unafraid to be a "free spirit," a wild
mystic who is crazed with passion, an inspired poet who is
spontaneous and sensual, and a universal mystic who ignores the
Muslim authorities and their "uptight" religious laws.

[The idea that Rumi cared little for religion has been strengthened
by translations of poems attributed to Rumi which are actually not
composed by him and which express radical sufi ideas which are
not characteristic of him. The following lines are not in the earliest
manuscripts of his poetry and therefore were not composed by

What is to be done, O Moslems? for I do not recognise myself.
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabr, nor Moslem.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the
sea. . . .

--Nicholson, "Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz,"
1898, XXXI. [From a ghazal, which Nicholson admitted he had
not found in any editions or manuscripts of Mawlânâ's Divan used
by him.]

"If you desire your own divinity, come out of yourself"
--Shahram Shiva, "Rending the Veil," 1995, p. 10

"That one who has tasted the wine of union with the supreme soul,/
In his faith, the Ka'ba and an idol temple are one."
--Shahram Shiva, "Rending the Veil,"1995, p. 33 (also trans. by
Shahram Shiva and Jonathan Star, "Rumi: In the Arms of the
Beloved," 1997, p. 177)

"The ones who reach the truth/ Become believers, but the people
call then infidels."
--Shahram Shiva, "Rending the Veil,"1995, p. 107. (Also
translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks, "Unseen Rain," p.

"This is me: Sometimes. . . a devoted Muslim, sometimes a
Hebrew and a Christian./ For me to fit inside everyone's heart, I
put on a new face every day"
--Shahram Shiva, "Rending the Veil,"1995, p. 178. (also trans. by
John Moyne and Coleman Barks, "Unseen Rain," p. 83)

"We have caused much uproar./ We have picked the essence of the
Koran/ throwing away the skin to the dogs"
--John Moyne, "Rumi and the Sufi Tradition," 1998, p. 70.

Then there are poems attributed to Rumi even in the earliest
manuscripts of the quatrains, which I have tracked down as written
before his lifetime. Some lines which are uncharacteristic of Rumi

"Come again, come again, whoever you are/ Even if you are an
unbeliever, a fire-worshipper, or an idol-worshipper, come again!"
[bâz â, bâz â, har anche hast-î, bâz â/ gar kâfir-o gabr-o bot-parast-î
bâz â]

--see Nevit Ergin, "Crazy As We Are," 1992, p. 1. (in the quatrains
of Bâbâ Afzaluddîn Kâshânî (died 1274-- Rumi died 1273) and is
related to a similar quatrain attributed to Abu Sa'id ibn Abi 'l-
Khayr (died 1048).

"I want to be free from good and bad"
--Nevit Ergin, "Crazy As We Are, 1992, p. 18. (in the quatrains of
Farîduddîn `Attâr, died 1221)]

[Some anti-Islamic writers have even claimed or suggested that
Rumi really wasn't a Muslim, because they falsely believed that the
line, "I am not a Christian, a Jew, a Zoroastrian, or a Muslim"
expressed Rumi's true attitude toward Islam. But as I said, this
poem is not in the earliest manuscripts and so is not a genuine
Rumi poem. Nicholson first published a translation of this line [na
tarsâ na yahûd-am man na gabr-am na musalmân-am] in 1898, but
he admitted that, "The original text does not occur in any of the
editions or MSS. used by me" (p. 281)

[In his book on Rumi, "The Way of Passion, Andrew Harvey went
so far as to claim that "Mohammed wasn't a Muslim, Buddha
wasn't a Buddhist, and Christ wasn't a Christian! So how could
Rumi be a Muslim? Religions are a cosmic disaster because
immediately when the sacred fire is lit, somebody steals it to
illuminate some grim old sanctuary." (p. 151-52) Apparently
ignorant of the universal Islamic belief that Muhammad was the
final prophet, he declared, "Rumi is a prophet, talking to us with
poetry to inspire our transformation." (p. 158) Harvey, like many
Westerners, tries to elevate sufism (Islamic mysticism) as a
universal religion of love, distinct from "orthodox Islam." For
example, he mistranslates part of a Rumi quatrain as a rejection of
Islamic religious laws in a way reminiscent of the Christian
rejection of the laws of Judaism: "Tell the night 'Our day has no
night; Our religion has no law but love'" (p. 47) [correct
translation: "Repeat until night: 'Our days have no nights/ In the
path of Love, and Love has no rules'" (tâ shab mê-gô ke rôz-é
mâ-râ shab nêst/ dar maZhab-é `ishq-o `ishq-râ maZhab nêst)
Rumi's Quatrain No. 375]

[In his book, "Rumi and the Sufi Tradition: Essays On the
Mowlavi Order And Mysticism," John Moyne, who provided the
literal translations for Coleman Barks' immensely popular versions
of Rumi, first stated that "Rumi was a devout Muslim" who
"frequently expressed utmost reverence for the Prophet" and who
"had memorized the Koran and frequently quoted from it. . . " (p.
25). After saying, "It is generally understood that Sufism,
tasawwuf, grew within the Islamic milieu, and the terms Islamic
mysticism and mystics have often been used as synonyms of
Sufism and Sufis" (p. 31), Moyne then expresses agreement with
the earlier generations of Western orientalists by saying,
"However, there are compelling arguments that the origins of the
theosophy and doctrine of Sufism go back to the pre-Islamic era"
(p. 31). He also refers to "the alien origins of Sufism" (p. 53). In
the last chapter of the book, Moyne constructs an imaginary debate
between Rumi and a group of orthodox Islamic jurists. Moyne
describes it as "an imaginary account of what could have taken
place in the encounter between our mystical poet and the members
of a delegation who attempted to persuade the celebrated Sufi poet
back to formal and ritual orthodoxy" (p. 59). He suggests
misleadingly that this imaginary account is "reconstructed from the
available texts." And with a false appearance of objectivity, he
adds: "This genre of writings integrates what can be extracted from
actual writings of and about Rumi, and a historical novel. Often the
free flow of fictions depicts more effectively the sentiments of
such an encounter than the concatenation of a set of passages from
limited documents." In Moyne's fantasy about Rumi (which seems
to express his own resentment toward the ayatollahs in Iran than
anything having to do with Rumi) by saying that the most learned
and capable among the "priests" (but there are no priests in Islam)
were sent to "go to Rumi and persuade him to come back to the
fold. . . to the norms of the Islamic law and tradition. It was in the
pursuit of this mission that a delegation of the most learned and
respected, but highly conservative, jurists arrived at the Monastery.
. . . A prolonged debate and discussion ensued which lasted for
several days. Here are some excerpts from the records of this
debate:" (pp. 61-62).

[In Moyne's fantasy, Rumi says the following: "There are many
ways to reach God, I have chosen dance and music as my path. . . .
Dance. . . leads to a frenzy that results in understanding humanity.
In performing Sama, a man can reach a state of spiritual frenzy
where he is under the control of a Divine power; he whirls and
dances under the spell and control of mysterious angelic powers. . .
. A mystic whirls around his own soul and the soul of his beloved. .
. . Shams and I say that we must find God from among His
creations. We must find the WAY to feel God and see Him within
ourselves. At that stage we will be beyond all worldly and
heavenly elements. All religions will merge and we will reach a
height that is beyond human perception. . . ." Moyne then quotes
the non-Rumi line, "I am not Christian nor Jew, I am neither Gabr
nor Muslim." (pp. 63-65)

[But Rumi did not abandon Islam after becoming absorbed in
ecstatic dance and music-- as many would like to believe. We have
many accounts of his performing the five daily prayers with his
disciples and attending the weekly Friday congregational prayer in
the mosques in Konya. It has been recognized for centuries that
much of Rumi's Persian poetry is an inspired translation of
thousands of verses of the Qur'an as well as translations of many
traditional sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

[In an article written by Seyyed Hossein Nasr entitled "Rumi and
the Sufi Tradition," he states, "One of the greatest living authorities
on Rûmî in Persia today, Hâdî Hâ'irî, has shown in an unpublished
work that some 6,000 verses of the Dîwân and the Mathnawî are
practically direct translations of Qur'ânic verses into Persian
poetry." (p. 183, from "The Scholar and the Saint," edited by

[In an authentic quatrain composed by Rumi, he tells us:

I am the servant of the Qur'an as long as I have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one.
If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings,
I am quit of him and outraged by these words.

man banda-yé qur'ân-am, agar jân dâr-am
man khâk-é rah-é muHammad-e mukhtâr-am
gar naql kon-ad joz în, kas az goftâr-am
bêzâr-am az-ô, w-az-în sokhan bêzâr-am]

[--Rumi's Quatrain No. 1173, translated by Ibrahim Gamard and
Ravan Farhadi in "The Quatrains of Rumi," an unpublished

[Here, the Persian word "bêzâr" translated as "quit of" and
"outraged" also means disgusted, fed-up, repelled, estranged. The
meaning is that no one should interpret Rumi's speech and poetry
as having meanings that do not conform to the revelation and
practice of Islam.]

[After generations of biased books written by Western orientalists
about sufism, during the last couple of decades, Western scholars
of sufism are finally acknowledging that sufism is none other than
Islamic mysticism, inspired by the Holy Qur'an and the traditions
of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). For example, in a
book titled "All the King's Falcons" by Professor John Renard, he
wrote that Rumi's popularity in the West is mainly "as a mystic, a
Sufi, and a source of spiritual inspiration," secondly as a great poet
with a vast repertory of imagery, and thirdly as a thinker
influenced by Neoplatonic metaphysics. Renard asks what is
missing from material available on Rumi's life and works. He

["Although it may seem all to obvious to need saying, Rumi was a
Muslim. Yet what one sometimes hears about his attitude to formal
religious affiliation is that he cared not a fig to what community
one belonged-- and perhaps even went so far as to deny the
importance of his own adherence to Islam. For reasons such as
that, or perhaps because of the oddly persistent notion that Sufis
have always drifted off toward the fringes of Islamic society,
relatively little attention has been given to what one of the world's
most prominent and popular Muslims thought and felt about
Islam's most fundamental notions and principles." (John Renard,
"All the King's Falcons: Rumi on Prophets and Revelation," 1994,
p. xiv) Renard's book gives examples of the treasures which Rumi
excavated from the Qur'anic "mother lode." He writes, "From that
mine he brings forth the rough gems of the tradition, cutting and
polishing them as only he can, so that they reflect his own insight
into, and interiorization of, the central themes of Islamic life. . .
ritual prayer, jihad, pilgrimage, fasting, his understanding of the
significance of revelation, and his interpretation of the crucial
events of early Islamic history as enshrined in the life of
Muhammad." (Renard, p. xiv)]

[It is because I spent over ten years as a student of non-Islamic
sufism, then converted to Islam when I realized that it is the
foundation of the dervish way, learned to read Rumi's poetry in
Persian, and compared the popular versions of his poetry to the
original texts, that I was invited to speak at this Symposium.

[I was also invited to be a "counter-balance" to Coleman Barks'
presentation. I've never heard him read his versions of Rumi's
poetry until two nights ago here. I have to say that what he read
didn't sound like Rumi to me. Although I did recognize a couple of
stories from Rumi.

[I'd like to read you one of Mr. Barks' versions which he read here
the other night and which he entitled "The Guest House" [The
Essential Rumi, p. 109] and compare it to the text he used to
produce it: a translation into English from Persian made by
Nicholson in 1934.

[Mr. Barks used three separate sections from the translation
(Rumi's Mathnawi, V:3644-46, 3676-81, 3693-95). The first
section is preceded by Rumi's own heading, which Nicholson
translated: "Comparison of the human body to a guest-house and
of the diverse thoughts to the diverse guests. The gnostic,
acquiescing in those thoughts of sorrow or joy, resembles a
hospitable person who treats strangers with kindness. . . . [and
shows] a cheerful face to all his guests." Then comes the following
verses: "This body, O youth, is a guest-house: every morning a
new guest comes running (into it). Beware, do not say, 'This
(guest) is a burden to me,' for presently he will fly back into
non-existence. Whatsoever comes into thy heart from the invisible
world is thy guest: entertain it well!"

[From this section, Mr. Barks modified only the first line to
produce his first line: "This being human is a guest house."

[Nicholson translated the next heading: "Comparing the daily
thoughts that come into the heart with the new guests who. . .
behave with arrogance and ill-temper towards the master of the
house. . ." Then comes the following verses: "Every day, too, at
every moment a (different) thought comes, like an honored guest,
into thy bosom. O (dear) soul, regard thought as a person, since
(every) person derives his worth from thought and spirit. If the
thought of sorrow is waylaying (spoiling) joy, (yet) it is making
preparations for joy. It violently sweeps thy house clear of (all)
else, in order that new joy from the source of good may enter in. It
scatters the yellow leaves from the bough of the heart, in order that
incessant green leaves may grow. It uproots the old joy, in order
that the new delight may march in from the Beyond. . . ."

[From this, Mr. Barks produced the bulk of his version: "Every
morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some
momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome
and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who
violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each
guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new

[In the third section, Nicholson's translation reads: "(Whenever)
the thought (of sorrow) comes into thy breast anew, go to meet it
with smiles and laughter, Saying, "O my Creator, preserve me
from its evil: do not deprive me, (but) let me partake, of its good!
'O my Lord prompt' me to give thanks for that which I see
(receive): do not let me feel any subsequent regret, if it (the benefit
received) shall pass away.'"

[This was modified by Mr. Barks to: "The dark thought, the shame,
the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be
grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide
from beyond."

[It can be seen that Mr. Barks' versions of the first two sections of
Nicholson's translation miss much of Rumi's rich imagery and
meanings, but do convey some of the basic meanings in fewer
words. However, Mr. Barks' version of the third section actually
contradict's Rumi's meaning. Rumi here prays to God that he be
protected from the evil of sorrow-- not that he be guided by evil
thoughts! If Mr. Barks had translated more faithfully, he could
have written instead, ". . . because each has been sent as a guest
with some hidden good."

[A consequence of Mr. Barks' tendency to minimize the religious
aspect of Rumi's teachings is that he eliminated Rumi's prayer
here, which contains a reference to a verse from the Qur'an: "O my
Lord! Prompt me, so that I may be grateful for Your favors, which
You have bestowed on me. . . " (Qur'an 27:19; 46:15)

[Mr. Barks here distorts Rumi's religious teaching, and produces a
version instead which presents Rumi as teaching acceptance of
what arises from the mind and the universe. But Rumi does not
teach an Impersonal divine reality, but rather he teaches that God is
both our Almighty Lord as well as our Merciful Beloved. As
someone on the path of religious mysticism, I find that Rumi's
teachings about prayer and RELATIONSHIP with God as the
Divine Other are especially valuable.

[I wasn't always religious. I started out as a pantheist, after having
an experience of the transcendent Oneness of the universe when I
was a young man: all was miraculously One, uniquely Many, and
blissfully No-Thing-- all at the same time. Since all was One and
nothing was separate, I could not see the use of prayer, since there
was nothing separate from me to pray to. However, years later I
became religious when I experienced that, in addition to
transcendent Oneness, there is also the simultaneous reality of the
Divine Other: the Lord of Majesty who governs the universe, who
is also the Only Beloved who attracts true lovers nearer and nearer.

[After I became more and more religious, I found that I loved to
pray more and more. I found much solace in prostrating my head
to the floor or ground, as if before the Throne of God's Majesty.
Recently, I was in Mecca and was able to prostrate my head at the
base of the Kaaba, in Mecca, which has been called "the Shadow
of the Divine Throne" on earth"-- which was very profound and a
great blessing (thanks be to God!).

[Prostrating one's head to the ground in humble submission to
Almighty God is mentioned in many places in the Bible, but this
form of worship has been abandoned by Jews and Christians, with
rare exceptions. And the idea of prostrating tends to seem strangely
"oriental" to Westerners and perhaps embarassing. The Book of
Chronicles (II, 7:1-3) says: "When Solomon had finished his
prayer. . . the glory of Yahweh filled the Temple. The priests could
not enter the house of Yahweh because the glory of Yahweh filled
the house of Yahweh. All the sons of Israel. . . bowed down on the
pavement with their faces to the earth; they worshiped and gave
praise to Yahweh, 'for He is good, for His love is everlasting.'"
That is pure Islam. And in a famous story about the Prophet Jesus,
peace be upon him, the "Gospel of Matthew" [26:39] states that he
"fell on his face in prayer saying, 'Father, if possible let this cup [of
suffering] pass from me, but not as I will, but as You Will.'" That
is the essence of Islam and the essence of sufism. This ancient
form of prayer expressing surrender to the Almighty Will of the
One God, as done by the prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and
Jesus (peace be upon them all) was revived by the renewal of pure
monotheism known as the Islamic revelation. And the Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that in the last days prior to
the Day of Judgment, "a single prostration to God (in prayer) will
be better than the whole world and whatever is in it" (Sahih
al-Bukhari, as narrated by Abu Hurayra). He also said (may the
peace and blessings of God be upon him): "The nearest a servant
comes to his Lord is when he is prostrating himself. So make
supplication (in this state)" (Sahih al-Muslim, as narrated by Abu
Hurayra). A related sufi saying, which has also been attributed to
the Prophet (peace be upon him) is: "Whoever humbles himself
before God is elevated by Him" (man tawâZa` li-llâhi rafa`a-hu--
Tabaqat as-Sufiyyah, p. 76, as quoted in "Traditions of the
Prophet," Volume 2, by Javad Nurbakhsh)]

Related to this, we have an account about Rumi's absorption in
prayer written by Rumi's disciple, Sepahsâlâr ["Zendegâna-yé
Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Mawlawî," pp. 41-42; also quoted in
Schimmel's "The Triumphal Sun," pp. 357-58]. After quoting a
saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), "There is
no ritual prayer without presence of the heart" [lâ Salàtu illâ
ba-HuZûru 'l-qalb], Sepahsâlâr relates (and I translate here from
the Persian): "One time when he was residing in a college
[madrasa] during the winter season, he prostrated upon the carpet
during the first part of the night. So many tears flowed from his
blessed eyes that his blessed beard and face became covered with
ice because of the coldness of the air and became stuck to the
surface of the floor. In the morning, (his) companions prepared
warm water which they poured onto his blessed face so that the ice
became completely melted." Sepahsâlâr then asks, "And who
knows about the secrets of his inward prayer?" He then quotes
from one of Rumi's quatrains [No. 81]: "There are a hundred kinds
of prayer, bowing and prostration for the one whose prayer-niche
[miHrâb] is the beauty of the beloved." [Sad gûna namâz-ast-o
rukû`-ast-o sujûd/ ân-râ ke jamâl-é dôst bâsh-ad miHrâb]

[There is a wonderful description of the Islamic prayers in Rumi's
Mathnawi [Book Three, lines 1924-2305] in the story of the sufi
saint named Daqûqî, who "traveled on the earth like the moon
upon the sky" and by whom "the souls of night-travellers became
luminous." "He travelled during the day; at night he was (engaged)
in the ritual prayer [namâz]. His eye (was always) open toward the
King, (and) he was like the (King's) falcon." "In addition to such
piety [taqwà] and devotions [awrâd] and standing (at length) in
prayer, he was always the seeker of the special elect ones of God.
His main goal in travel was that he might contact one of the chosen
servants of God (even) for a moment." For years and months he
went traveling "because of love for the Moon, unaware of the way,
bewildered by God." He reached a certain shore and had a vision
of seven candles, the flames of which reached up into the sky. The
seven candles became one, then seven again, then became seven
men, then seven trees, then one tree, then seven trees lined up as if
for the Islamic ritual prayer, with one tree in front as if the prayer
leader. The trees became seven men who understood Daqûqî's
thoughts, and who asked him to lead them in the ritual prayer. He
spent an hour in that chosen company in contemplation, became
separated from himself, and his spirit became freed from the
bounds of Time. Rumi comments here that during the part of the
ritual prayer in which the worshipper prays for salutations and
benedictions upon the righteous [aS-SâliHîn], that praises for all
the prophets is blended: "The praises become entirely mixed; the
jugs (are) poured into one basin. Since He (who is) the object of
praise is no more than One, from this viewpoint religions are but
one religion." (z-ân-ke khwod mamdûH joz yak bêsh nêst/ kêsh-hâ
z-în rôy joz yak kêsh nêst-- line 2124) Daqûqî went forward to lead
the prayer. "When they proclaimed the greatness of God [takbîrs--
Allâhu akbar], they went out from the world, like sacrificed
animals." For the meaning of proclaiming the greatness of God is,
"O God, we have become a sacrifice in Your Presence!" "At the
moment of slaughtering, you say 'Allâhu akbar,' (which you should
also do) likewise in slaughtering the base self [nafs] which is
worthy of being killed." "They had lined up in rows in the presence
of God, as (during) the Resurrection, reckoning (their sins) and
saying fervent devotional prayers [munâjât]. They were shedding
tears, standing before God like one rising straight up on the Day of
Resurrection." Each time the worshipper bows and prostrates, he is
commanded to account for his deeds and for his gratitude to God.

[However, Daqûqî became distracted from pure absorption in the
prayer before God and heard the cries of people on a ship in danger
of sinking because of a whirlpool. He prayed to God to be merciful
and to save the people from death, and because of his prayer they
were saved. "God makes that (kind of) prayer, since he is
annihilated [fanâ-st]; that prayer and that answer are from God."
The people on the ship were saved at the same moment the ritual
prayer ended. But the seven exalted saints objected to the
interceding prayer of Daqûqî as interfering with the Supreme Free
Will of God, and so they disappeared. [It is interesting to note here,
that Rumi presents the most exalted sufi saints as continuing to do
the ritual Islamic prayers and being extraordinarily submitting of
the Will of God-- in a way which is similar to the mysterious
Khizr, who was so obedient to God's Will that even Moses could
not tolerate his mysterious actions.]

[Daqûqî grieved over losing contact with those seven saints for
years, shedding lifetimes of tears in longing for them. In a manner
that would seem to express his own longing for his own missing
teacher, Shams-i Tabrîz, Rumi ends the story by saying:

["O Daqûqî with eyes (shedding tears) like a stream! Don't cease
hoping (and) seek them! Seek! For search is the pillar of good
fortune. Every opening (of happiness) is from fixing (the goal)
within the heart. (Detached) from preoccupation with the business
of the world, keep saying with (all your) soul, 'Where? Where?'
[kû, kû?] like the dove." "(For) God has tied asking in prayer
[du`â] to (His saying in the Qur'ân, 40:62) 'I will answer!' The
prayer of anyone whose heart is purified from ailments will go
(directly) to the Lord of Glory!"

ay daqûqî bâ dô chashm-é hamchô jô
hîn ma-bor ômêd, îshân-râ be-jô

hîn be-jô ke rukn-é dawlat jostan-ast
har goshâdê dar del andar bastan-ast

az hama kâr-é jahân pardâkhta
kû-wo kû mê-gû ba-jân chûn fâkhta

nêk be-n'gar andar-în ay muHtajib
ke du`â-râ bast Haq dar istajib

harke-râ del pâk shod az i`tilâl
ân du`â-ash mê-raw-ad tâ Zu 'l-jalâl

--Rumi's Mathnawi, III:1924-2305

(translations and transliterations from Persian by Ibrahim Gamard)