Apparently Irreligious Verses in the Works of Mawlana Rumi

By Ibrahim Gamard

Mystics sometimes surprise or shock listeners by statements that appear on the surface to be irreligious, heretical, blasphemous, or radically tolerant--but which are expressions of profound wisdom when understood on a deeper level. This is, in part, due to the frustration of trying to communicate mystical understanding to those whose minds are restricted by conventional thinking. It is part of the playful teaching style of some mystics to use unconventional statements to open such minds to deeper truths. In the case of orthodox religious mystics, radical-sounding statement are consistently harmonious with religious precepts when undertood at the level intended.

Such is the case in the poetic works of Mawlânâ Rûmî, the great Muslim mystic of the 13th century C. E. His references to things forbidden to Muslims such as "idols," "wine," and "unbelief" are not particularly provocative, in most cases, because these were commonplace images used in Persian Sufi poetry centuries before his time, understood to be spiritual metaphors by educated Persian listeners and readers.

Nevertheless, the use of such imagery has continued to be misunderstood by Muslims and non-Muslims down to the present time. Further confusion has been caused by current popularizers of his poetry, who are eager to portray Mawlânâ as a radical mystic who defied "fundamentalist" Muslim authorities by teaching heretical doctrines, drinking alcoholic beverages, welcoming students affiliated with other religions, and so on. As a result, some of Mawlânâ's major teachings are all too often not understood correctly. Another unfortunate consequence is that Muslim readers of popularized articles and books about Mawlânâ can have a negative impression of his teachings--yet he was one of the greatest Muslims in history.

Three categories will be discussed: verses that are authentic but sometimes misunderstood, verses incorrectly attributed to Mawlânâ, and (3) authentic verses that have been mistranslated or deliberately altered to make Mawlânâ appear more radical than he was.


Concerning "Wine"

(1) I am drunk, (but) I'm not drunk from grape wine [bâda-ye angûr]. I'm far away from anything you can imagine! (Translated by Gamard and Farhadi, "The Quatrains of Rumi," 2008; Quatrain no. 1322, p. 226) And: I will never drink (grape) wine [bâda]. But even if I do drink, it won't find any sober reason in my head--so what will it take away? (Quatrain no. 541, p. 245) And: My ecstasy is my wine [wajd-î khamr-î] and my thoughts are my cups. (Quatrain no. 432 [in Arabic], p. 387) And: He has a cup of 'forbidden wine' [may-e Harâm]. Don't ask about it. He has a wonderful goblet, an enemy of the [base] soul. Don't ask about it. (Quatrain no. 983, p. 244)

(2) Look, O heart! Don't be deceived by every drunkenness: Jesus is drunk with God [mast-e Haqq], (but his) donkey is drunk with barley. (Masnavi IV: 2691) And: (As for) the wine of God [sharâb-e Haqq], its seal is pure musk [a reference to Qur'ân 83:26], (but) as for (ordinary) wine, its conclusion is stench and torment. (Masnavi I: 323)

The above quotes show that Mawlânâ used "wine" and related terms as symbols of ecstatic states of spiritual consciousness, and not as an alcohožlic beverage (illegal for Muslims). The "forbidden wine" of spiritual ecstasy is not forbidden in the 'creed of (spiritual) love' [maZhab-e `ishq: Quatrain no. 768, p. 406] as cultivated by Muslim mystics. The term "wine worshipper" [may-parast: Quatrain no. 1240, p. 356] is an expression meaning "ecstatic religious mystic."

(3) O cupbearer [sâqî], for the sake of our meeting and for pious deeds, give me some of that wine which has never seen dust or water. (Quatrain no. 89, p. 240) The cupbearer is Love, and the lovers are filled to the brim. (Quatrain no. 1078, p. 384) O spiritual cupbearer [ay sâqî-ye rûHânî], bring forth the wine of the soul [may-e jânî]! You are the Fountain of Life (and) we are all in supplication for drink [istisqâ]. (From Tarji`-band no. 24)

Mawlânâ's references to the human beloved and to the cupbearer, or wine-server (depicted in poetry as a handsome youth), should not be interpreted as homoerotic images. Rather, these are metaphors for the spiritual master and are often, at the same time, metaphors for the divine Beloved (sometimes viewed as Love). The spiritual 'wine' served by the Sufi master gives the disciple a foretaste of the bliss of Paradise, depicted in the Qur'ân by the following metaphors: "rivers of wine delightful to those who drink it" (47:15), "and their Lord will give them to drink of a pure wine" (76:21), and "there will be passed around them vessels of silver and vessels of crystal.... And they will be given to drink of a cup therein.... And round about them will (serve) immortal youths" (76:15-19).

Concerning "Idols"

(4) (If) the idol is your face (then) idol worship [bot-parastî] is better. And if the wine [bâda] is from your cup, (then) drunkenness is better. I have become so non-existent in the existence of your love,that non-existence [nêstî] is better than a thousand existences. (Quatrain no. 904, p. 349)

(5) I met an idol [negâr] in the lane of the 'tavern'. I purchased his love for a thousand souls and hearts. (When) I smelled the fragrance of the strands of his two curls, I cut off the hand of greed for this world and the next. (Quatrain no. 1171, p. 59)

(6) My idol, whose religion is wine [may-kêsh], came shouting happily, and sat down, like a container of sugar, before me. He put harp and strings of silk upon his lap, and kept playing this melody: 'I am happy and free from self.' (Quatrain no. 1223, p. 126)

In Mawlânâ's poetry, and sufi poetry in general, the 'idol' often symbolizes the spiritual master, whose remembrance aids the spiritual seeker, or 'lover', to attain to pure worship of God, the source of all beauty and love. The 'tavern of idols' [kharâbât-e bot-ân: Quatrain no. 661, p. 11] is the gathering places of those possessed of true spiritual beauty--dervishes, who gather together for Islamic ritual and mystical prayers.

Concerning "Unbelief" or "Heresy"

(7) I am the servant of the Qur'ân [man banda-yé qur'ân-am] as long as I have life. I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one [muHammad-e mukhtâr]. If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings, I am quit of him and outraged by these words. (Quatrain no. 1173, p. 2)

In this quatrain, Mawlânâ makes it clear that all of his words (literal, symbolic, metaphoric, or allegoric) are intended to be supportive of Islamic revelation and Traditions.

(8) Beyond Islam and unbelief [az kufr-o ze-islâm] there is a 'desert plain'. For us there is a 'yearning' in the midst of that expanse. The knower (of God) who reaches that (plain) will prostrate [sar-râ be-neh-ad] (in prayer), (For) there is neither Islam nor unbelief, nor any 'where' (in) that place. (Quatrain no. 395, p. 407)

In the above poem, it can be understood that, for Mawlânâ, the presence of God's reality is so evident that mental concepts about belief or unbelief about God's existence can seem irrelevant. In this poem, Mawlânâ appears to discard Islam, whereas he is describing a profound state of mystical prayer that is beyond the ordinary mind, which is restricted by beliefs, concepts, and subjectve images about divine realities. As he said: The Sun has (always) been the proof of (the existence of) the Sun; if you require proof of it, don't turn your face from it! (Masnavi I: 116) And: Because the (mystic) lover is drunk in the immediate moment, therefore he is superior to (both) unbelief and belief [kufr-o îmân]. (Masnavi IV: 3280)

The above quatrain was altered by the Rumi version-maker Coleman Barks, who created (based on a translation by John Moyne) one of the most well-known and memorized "Rumi poems" in the United States: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make any sense." ("Open Secret," 1984, p. 8; "The Essential Rumi," 1995, p. 36) Here, Barks included the meaning of transcendence of ideas and concepts, but he divested the poem of its Islamic content. And he substituted his own very un-Islamic dichotomy in the first verse, which is suggestive of the amoral idea of going "beyond good and evil."

In the two quotes below, Mawlânâ defended a famous ecstatic utterance that was viewed by some Sufis as spoken from inspiration and by others as spoken in error. Husayn ibn Mansûr al-Hallâj, a well-known Sufi teacher, was executed in 922 C.E. According to legend, he was executed for the blasphemy of saying 'I am God' ['anâ 'l-Haqq]. Mawlânâ explained that these words were spoken by God alone when Hallâj was in an ecstatic state of consciousness and mystically annihilated of self. He compared Hallâj to someone who has fallen into a dyeing-vat of colorlessnesss [bê-rangî]:

(9) When he has fallen into the vat and you say to him, 'Stand up!'--he says out of joy, 'I am the vat, (so) don't blame (me)!' That (claim of) 'I am the vat' is (the same as saying 'I am God'. He has the color of fire, except that he is iron. The color of iron is effaced in the color of the fire: it boasts of fieriness and (yet) it is like one (who is) silent. (Masnavi II: 1346-48)

(10) When the master said, 'I am God' and carried (it) forth (to the end), he therefore strangled the throats of all the blind (sceptics). When a person's 'I' becomes negated from existence, then what remains? Think, O denier! If you have an eye, open (it and) look. After 'There is no [lâ] (divinity)', what else finally remains ('except God')? (Masnavi VI: 2095-97)

(11) The idiomatic speech (of the country) of Hind is the (mode of) praise (of God) for the Hindians [Hendow-ân], (and) the idiomatic speech of Sind is the (mode of) praise (of God) for the Sindians [Sendiy-ân]. I do not become pure and holy by their praise, but they become purified and shining (by it). We do not regard the tongue and (outward) speech, (but) We regard the soul and the (inward) state. (Masnavi: II: 1757-59)

These verses are from a well-known story in which God is represented as reprimanding the Prophet Moses--upon whom be peace, for his criticism of the crudely worded but heartfelt prayer of a simple shepherd. Here, what is nowadays usually interpreted as exceptional tolerance toward the sincere prayers of Hindu idolators and polytheists is correctly understood instead as referring to Muslims of India who spoke different languages: " the (mode of) praise (of God) for the [Muslim] Hindians, (and)... for the [Muslim] Sindians." After all, Islam had been established in the countries along the Indus River in India for over five hundred years before Mawlânâ's time. The word "Hendû" meant, in Persian, an Indian Muslim or, sometimes, an Indian slave owned by a Muslim (as in Masnavi III: 2839); only later did it come to mean a member of the religion of Hinduism. This is shown by Mawlânâ's verse, "(If) you are a man of (intention to go on) the Pilgrimage [Hajj], seek (another) pilgrim [Hajjî] (as your) companion, whether Hendû, Turk, or Arab" (Masnavi I: 2894). Here, Mawlânâ is clearly referring to fellow Muslims from different Muslim countries. Another example is the story of the elephant brought from India (Masnavi III: 1259) and kept in a dark house by "Hindus" [Hunûd, the Arabic plural of "Hindû"], a reference to Muslims from India who were earning money by exhibiting their elephant. Otherwise, it is hard to believe that people from India, who were viewed as pagan worshippers, would have been depicted as traveling freely in Muslim countries far from India. In addition, Mawlânâ must have chosen the words "Hendow-ân" and "Sendiy-ân" for the sake of the rhyme, not out of acceptance of non-Muslim religions. (See also Gamard, "Rumi and Islam: Selections from His Stories, Poems, and Discourses; Annotated and Explained," 2004, pp. xiv, 187.) Contrary to current views about Mawlânâ's supposed tolerance of other religions, his occasional references to people of other faiths are usually conventional and unfavorable.

B. Verses Incorrectly Attributed to Mawlana

There are verses and poems claimed to have been composed by Mawlânâ but that are not in the earliest manuscripts of his works. Sometimes they have been added by scribes in later manuscripts or added by editors in more recent times. Sometimes poems have been alleged to be by Mawlânâ, but were written before his time. In the case of quatrains, the present author found, using only his small library, 116 quatrains composed prior to Mawlânâ's works (or, in a few cases, composed afterwards by his son, SulTân Walad). These quatrains may have been recited by Mawlânâ when it was understood that these were composed by a known or anonymous poet, but which were later included in the earliest manuscripts of Mawlânâ's works. (See "The Quatrains of Rumi," Appendix I, pp. 579-609)

(1) As long as religious colleges [madrasa] and minarets have not become 'destroyed,' the (spiritual) states of a dervish [qalandar] will not become settled. (And) as long as faith (has not become) unbelief [kufr] and unbelief has not become faith [îmân], a servant of God [yak banda-ye Haqq] will not truly become a Muslim [musulmân]. (Gamard and Farhadi, "Appendix I: Quatrains Not By Mawlana," 2008, p. 580).

This is a quatrain that was included in four early manuscripts of Mawlânâ's works (see Forûzânfar, Vol. 8, p. 136), but which is much older and atributed to Abû Sa`îd Abi 'l-Khayr (died 1048 C.E.). It was translated by Nevit Ergin from a Turkish translation of the Persian text: "Not before the minarets and mosques come down will there be many Dervish around. Until Faith becomes Heresy and Heresy becomes Faith, no one will become Moslem." ("Crazy As We Are," 1992, p. 2) See also another version: "not until the mosques and minarets come tumbling down will real peace enter into our lives..." (Nevit Ergin (with Will Johnson), "The Rubais of Rumi: Insane with Love," 2007, p. 37). This apparently "heretical" Sufi poem should not be understood literally: it more likely refers to externalist and materialistic views of religion that are barriers to a deeper level of Muslim spirituality.

(2) Return (in repentance), return [bâz â]! Whatever you are, return! Even if you are an unbeliever or a Magian, or an idol worshipper, return! This court [dergah] of ours is not a court of despair. Even if you have broken (your) repentance [tawba] a hundred times, return!

This quatrain was translated by Nevit Ergin from Turkish: "Come again, please, come again, whoever you are. Religious, infidel, heretic or pagan. Even if you promised a hundred times and a hundred times you broke your promise. This door is not the door of hopelessnness and frustration. This door is open for everybody. Come, come as you are." ("Crazy As We Are," 1992, p. 1) This poem is not in Mawlânâ's "Dîwân" and has been attributed to the elevenh century Sufi poet, Abû Sa`îd Abi 'l-Khayr (see Abramian's translation, "Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil-Kheir," 2001, p. 4.) This poem can be misinterpreted as meaning that someone is always welcome to return to the Sufi circle no matter how often he indulges in immoral and sinful behavior. This is not how repentance is understood in Islam; nor is it compatible with the emphasis on self-denial in Sufism. More likely, it may have been composed at a time when Zoroastrians were more numerous in Iran, when there was more "outreach" to non-Muslims by Sufis such as Abu Sa`îd; if so, repentance in this poem may refer to reversion to pagan worship.

(3) What advice (is there for me), O Muslims? For I do not know myself. I am neither Christian nor Jew, nether Magian nor Muslim.

This is the first verse of a ghazal that was translated by Nicholson during the earlier part of his career as a scholar. He admitted in a note in an appendix that he had not seen this ghazal in any manuscripts or editions of Rumi's "Dîvân-e Kabîr" used by him. (See Nicholson's translation, "Selected Poems from the Dîwâni Shamsi Tabrîz," 1897, pp. 124-27, 281)

This verse was amplified in an interpretive version by Coleman Barks: "Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion or cultural system." ("The Essential Rumi", 1995 p. 32)

(4) I am (such), that I am sometimes hidden and sometimes revealed; sometimes I am a believer [mû'min] and sometimes a Jew and sometimes a Christian. So that this heart of mine may become a body for every heart, I emerge every day with a (different) appearance. (See Shahram Shiva's translation, "Rending the Veil: Literal and Poetic Translations of Rumi," 1995, p. 178.

This quatrain was made into an interpretive version by Coleman Barks (based on a translation by John Moyne): "Sometimes visible, sometimes not, sometimes devout Christians sometimes staunchly Jewish. Until our inner love fits into everyone, all we can do is take daily these different shapes." ("Unseen Rain," 1986, p. 83).

"In all Mosques, Pagodas, Churches do I find one shrine alone." This is a translation (by William Hastie, 1903) of a verse from idealized vesions of Rumi ghazal poems made by the German scholar, Friedrich Rückert ("Ghaselen," 1819). This was made into another version by Coleman Barks: "I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and I see one altar." ("The Essential Rumi," p. 246) This was quoted by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO in a speech on the occasion of the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the birth of Mawlana Jalaluddin Balkhi-Rumi at UNESCO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (September 6, 2007): "His notion of 'unity in diversity' is perhaps best expressed in his famous quote: 'I go into the Muslim mosque..."

(5) (For) the one who has been given the wine of union with the Beloved, the Ka'ba and an idol temple are one in his creed [dar maZhab-e ô ka`ba-wo bot-khâna yakî-st]. (See the translation by Shiva, p. 33.)

(6) In the circle of existence (only) `Ali is present [dar dâ'îra-ye wujûd mawjûd-e `alî-st]. In this world and the next, the only aim and goal is `Ali. If the house of (your) belief has not been destroyed, I would tell you openly, the (only object of worship is `Ali [ke ma`bûd `alî-st]. (See the translation by Shiva, p. 32)

(7) If you desire your own divinity, come out of yourself. The translator's preceding literal translation was more accurate: "if\ in the\ desire of\ yourself you are \ of\ yourself\ come out." (Shiva, "Rending the Veil," 1995, p. 10. (("If you are search of your (real) self [dar Talab-e khwod-î], emerge from yourself.))

The preceding four selections of verses were included in a book of quatrains translated by Shahram Shiva, many of which are not in the earliest manuscripts of Mawlânâ's "Dîwân." Shiva used both the authentic critical edition of the quatrains (Volume 8) by Forûzânfar as well as a one-volume edition of Forûzânfar's work, the quatrains of which were taken from an inferior edition of the quatrains (published in Isfahan in 1941). Unfortunately, most of the translations of Mawlânâ's quatrains into English have been based on this "pseudo-Forûzânfar" edition of the quatrains, including many that are inauthentic. The inclusion in Shiva's book of the extremist Shi'ite poem that views `Alî (the cousin, son-in-law, and fourth successor to the Prophet Muhammad) as divine, is especially unfortunate. It is well-known that Mawlânâ was a Sunni Muslim. This kind of belief about the fourth Caliph is rejected as un-Islamic by both Sunni Muslims and orthodox Shi'ite Muslims.

(8) We have kept the marrow of the Qur'an; we have left the skin for the donkeys/dogs [mâ ze-qur'ân maghz-râ bar dâsht-êm/ pôst-râ bahr-e kharr-ân/sag-ân be-g'Zâsht-êm]." This was translated by John Moyne: "We have picked the essence of the Koran, throwing away the skin to the dogs." ("Rumi and the Sufi Tradition," 1998, p. 70)

This verse is obviously too radical to be authentic. Hundreds of verses, as well as other "improvements," have been added to the Masnavi over the centuries. This verse was added to the story of Moses and the Shepherd (preceding II: 1763) and may be found in some contemporary editions of the Masnavi in Iran.

C. Verses Mistranslated, Mistakenly or Deliberately

In the following examples, mistranslated verses are followed by more accurate translations from Persian that are placed between double parentheses.

(1) "I know it's tempting to stay and meet those blonde women. I know it's even more sensible to spend the night here with them, but I want to be home. . . . Let's leave grazing to cows and go where we know what everyone really intends, where we can walk around without clothes on." (Version by Coleman Barks, "Open Secret," 1984, p. 55; "blonde women" was changed in subsequent editions of this book to "new people")

This interpretive version was based on Arberry's accurate translation: "Bright-hearted companions, haste, despite all the blond (sic) ones [a typographical error for "blind ones"], to home, to home! You reasonable, sober, full of sorrow, do not disturb our hearts! To home, to home! .... Make not how and why; friend, leave grazing to cattle, to home, to home: In that house is the concert of the circumcision feast, with the ritually pure, to home, to home! Shams-al-Dîn-i Tabrîz has built a home for the naked; to home, to home!" (From Ghazal no. 2345, translated by Arberry, "Mystical Poems of Rumi: Second Selection,"1979 pp. 76-77; in the corrected edition of "Mystical Poems of Rumi," 2008, p. 297.

(2) "They try to say what you are, spiritual or sexual? They wonder about Solomon and all his wives." (Version by Barks, based on a translation by Moyne, "Open Secret," 1984, p. 11; "The Essential Rumi," 1995, p. 37) ((O Love, you are known by (both) genies and humans. (You are) better known than the seal-ring of Solomon. --Quatrain no. 719, p. 454)).

The above verse is addressed to Love, which is universally known by invisible beings (jinns) as well as visible ones (humans). The second reference is to a famous ring worn by Solomon, which he used to wield power over the jinn (genies). The sexualized reference to Solomon and his wives is the version-maker's fantasy, since only Solomon's ring is mentioned in the original.

(3) "Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer. Let the beauty we love be the beauty we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." (Version by Barks, based on a translation by Moyne, "Open Secret," 1984, p. 7; "The Essential Rumi," 1995, p. 36; "the dulcimer" was later changed to "a musical instrument" in later editions) ((Today, like every other day, we are ruined [kharâb-êm], ruined (by wine). Don't open the door of worry [andêsha] and take up the viol (instead). There are a hundred kinds of prayer[namâz], bowing [rukû`], and prostration [sujûd] for the one whose prayer-niche [miHrâb] is the beauty of the Beloved [jamâl-e dôst]. --Quatrain no. 81, p. 391))

The second half of the poetic interpretive version ("Let the beauty we love...") is one of the most well-known "Rumi verses" in the United States, and believed to be a "translation." However, it is mostly the creation of C. Barks. The Islamic content has been removed and the ending (" kiss the ground") has been altered in a way that is suggestive of the contemporary reverence for "Mother Earth." The literal translation is far more profound because it is about authentic mystical religious prayer: God (viewed as the Most Beautiful Beloved) may be worshiped in a hundred ways throughout the day by the mystic (viewed as an ecstatically "drunken" lover) who has the remembrance of God [Zikru 'llâh] in his heart continually.

(4) "What is praised is one, so the praise is one too, many jugs being poured into a huge basin. All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different on this other one, but it is still one light." (Version by Barks, "One Song: A new Illuminated Rumi," p. 28), based on a (1930) translation by Nicholson of Masnavi III: 2123-24)

The first part ("What is praised") paraphrases part of Nicholson's translation while eliminating the direct reference to God ("Himself"): "In the salutations and benedictions addressed to the righteous (saints) praise of all the prophets is blended. The praises are all commingled (and united): the jugs are poured into one basin." The next part is a very altered and distorted version of Nicholson's translation: "Inasmuch as the object of praise Himself is not more than One, from this point of view (all) religions are but one religion. Know that every praise goes (belongs) to the Light of God and is (only) lent to (created) forms and persons. How should folk praise (any one) except Him who (alone) has the right (to be praised)?--but they go astray on (the ground of) a vain fancy. The Light of God in relation to phenomena is as a light shining upon a wall--the wall is a link (focus) for these splendours..." As the accurate translation shows, Rumi's emphasis here is on the unity of God, whereas Barks' interpretive version minimizes the context of divine unity and emphasizes the unity of religions. However, these words ("from this point of view (all) religions are but one religion") should not be interpreted to mean that Rumi was expressing approval for other religions or saying that religious differences don't matter and are "vain fancy." Rather, it expresses a sublime mystical awareness beyond the ordinary human mind in which all separateness has vanished (see also Masnavi I: 3504). Also, Rumi's words, "praise of all the prophets is blended" is harmonious with what the Holy Qur'ân says about the prophets sent by God (including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus): "We make no distinction between any of His Messengers" (2:136, 2:285).

(5) "When my poetic nature found life through the repetition of God's name, the goddess of poetry entered the house of the mind." This was rendered, in a preceding literal translation as, "it brought\ the bride (goddess) of \ poetry..." (Translation by Shahram Shiva, "Rending the Veil: Literal and Poetic Translations of Rumi," 1995, p. 116) (("When my talent found life from the splendor of thought, it brought the bride [`arûs] of poetry into the cell of (spiritual) remembrance [Zikr]." --Quatrain no. 914, p. 2))

(6) "I worship the moon. Tell me of the soft glow of a candle light and the sweetness of my moon." (Translated by Shiva, "Hush--Don't Say Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi," 2000, p. 71. (("I am the (admiring) slave of a Moon [ghulâm-e qamar-am], (so) don't speak of anything other than (my) Moon. Don't speak of anything to me except words about candles and sugar." --From Mawlânâ's Ghazal no. 2219))

(7) Who will talk about Soul and Heart In front of such a Beloved? Who will mention gold and silver In the presence of that silver statue of Beauty?" (Translated by Nevit Ergin, from Turkish [gümüsh bedenli bir güzelin--"silver-bodied beauty"], "Dîvân-i Kebîr: Meter 1," 1995, p. 375) (("Will anyone talk about the soul and the heart in the presence of such a beloved? Will anyone mention silver and gold in the presence of such a silvery bosomed one [sîmîn-barê]?"--From Ghazal no. 2435))

Although calling an attractive beloved an "idol" is common in Persian literature, depicting Mawlânâ, a Muslim poet, as comparing the beloved to a beautiful graven statue is excessive and unfortunate. In the Persian text the word "bar" (chest, breast, bosom) clearly occurs, modified by the word "silvery." This metaphor in occurs in the Masnavi to symbolize beautiful and pure spiritual qualities within the heart and soul: So that your heart may become a mirror full of images, (and so that) within it (there may be) an attractive silver-breasted beauty [malîHê sîmbar] (in) every part. (IV: 2470)

(8) "This universe, which resembles a flag, moves all the time. Your heart sees only the flag, your soul thinks air is moving it. But the one who knows how air is a helpless creature, accepts that everything is nothing but God." --Translated (from Turkish) by Nevit Ergin, "Mevlânâ Celâleddîn Rumi: Dîvân-i Kebîr: Meter 3," 1995, pp. 114-115) ((Although the world is dancing (like) the rag of a flag, your eyes see (only) the flag (but) your soul knows the wind (is moving it). And the person who also knows the wind, how helpless it is, knows that all (is) not permanent [bâqî hama lâ dân-ad] except the presence of 'except God' [joz HaZrat-e 'illâ 'llâh]. --From Ghazal no. 616))

Here, the Islamic content has been removed and Mawlânâ is depicted as teaching pantheism (that the universe is identical to God). However the original text refers to the Muslim testament of faith: "(There is) no divinity except God" [lâ 'ilâha 'illâ 'llâh--Qur'ân 47:19). It also refers to the verse, "All that is upon (the earth) will pass away, but the Face of your Lord will abide [yabqà], full of Majesty and Glory" --Qur'ân 55:26-27).

(9) "Come, O sweet-lipped beauty. Drink this haram* [*Forbidden by religion] wine if you have the nerve." (Ergin and Johnson, "The Forbidden Rumi," 2006, p. 156) ((O sweet-lipped idol, come (and) drink forbidden wine if you are a confidant [sharâb-e muHarram agar maHram-î]. --From Ghazal no. 3131, Meter Remainders [Meter 23]))

This verse is rendered as an invitation to drink alcoholic wine. However, it is mistranslated (perhaps from "if you are confident"?). We have seen (in section A.1&2 above) how Mawlânâ uses the term "forbidden wine" to refer to a spiritual state of ecstasy that transcends ego. Here, it also is used in word-play.

(10) "Islam and the other faiths have all come about so recently, yet Love has no beginning or end. You can't call the unbeliever an infidel if he's been the latest victim of Love." (Ergin and Johnson, 2006, p. 159) ((Unbelief and Islam [kufr-o islâm] have become (existent) now [konûn âmad] but (Divine) Love is from Eternity. Don't assume (that) an unbeliever whom Love has killed (is) among the unbelievers. --From Ghazal no. 1091, Meter 20))

The above verse was made into a version that falsely implies that Mawlânâ viewed Islam as just one of many outdated religions. The more accurate translation shows that he did not mention other religions, but used the Qur'anic terms "unbelief" and "islam" to refer to the transience of worldly conditions compared to the eternality of Divine Love. The verse that follows is consistent with Islamic Traditions [aHâdîth] about how God may show mercy to those whom others assume have died as unbelievers.

(11) "When Muhammad sees me drunk, my face pale, he kisses my eyes, then I prostrate before him. I am today's Muhammad, but not Muhammad of the past. I am the phoenix of the time, not some small hungry bird. I am the sultan of today, not yesterday's man." (Ergin and Johnson, 2006, p. 161) ((When Muhammad sees me pale of face (and) so joyously drunk [sar-mast], he kisses my hand; I (am) joined (with my lips) to his foot. I am this day Muhammad, not Muhammad of last year [emrôz man aHmad, nay aHmad-e pârîna]. I am this day the (fabulous) Simorgh, not the little bird of every (piece of) grain. (Regarding) a king, in regard to whom all kings are donkey-drivers (in service) to that king, I am this day that king, not the king of the day before yesterday.--From Tarji`-band no. 9, Meter Remainders [Meter 2]))

This is from an ecstatic poem of thirty verses, out of which Ergin has translated nine verses with separations: he passed over eleven verses before ending with the apparently heretical ones referring to Muhammad. There is an ecstatic pattern (earlier: I am Jesus to that Moon... I am joyously drunk Moses...), so that the words, "I am this day Muhammad" should not be taken out of context as blasphemous; nor should the words "not Muhammad of last year" be interpreted as viewing the sayings and teachings of Muhammad as outdated. Mawlânâ's love and devotion to the Prophet is clearly shown in the poem in his depiction of expressing greater humble devotion by kissing the Prophet's foot. Finally, Johnson's claim (p. 7) is shown to be false: "What is one to do with poems that refer to Muhammad as 'yesterday's man'...?" The reference in that following verse is to being a king.

(12) "What can I do? Your face became the face of a beggar. Nothing pleases you. If you don't act like a heretic, you can't reach the truth in Islam." (Ergin and Johnson, 2006, p. 155) ((Ah! You have become beggar-faced; your heart has not been pleased. As long as you don't act like an infidel, you won't carry off the wealth of Muslims [tâ na-kon-î kâfiriyî, mâl-e musalmân na-bar-î]. From Ghazal no. 2455, Meter 18))

(13) "Since the seminary of love was endowed by eternity, the difference between lover and Beloved has become the most difficult subject....The fly of the soul has fallen into this buttermilk forever. Muslim, Christian, Jew, and Zoroastrian: All are welcome here." (Translated by Ergin, 2006, p. 157) ((Since the religious school of Love [madrasa-ye `ishq] was opened with an eternal endowment, there wasn't the difficulty of any distinction such as (between) lover and beloved [farqiyê mushkil-e chûn `âshiq-o ma`shûq na-bûd].... the fly of the spirit has fallen into the everlasting buttermilk (of unity): (it is) neither Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, nor Jew. --From Ghazal no. 790, Meter 20))

The second verse quoted expresses a mystical state in which pure spirit is experienced as transcending all worldly distinctions and divisions; it is not an invitation for people of other religions to come study with Mawlânâ. The words, "All are welcome here" are fabrications added to alter the meaning of the verse.

(14) "I haven't acquired my faith in the power of the soul's beauty through idle chatter. I became his believer only after I became my own infidel. How long are you going to go on praising him? He is beyond praise. Enough. Be silent. I go to my ecstasy." ((Translated by Ergin, 2006, p. 163) ((I did not become a believer in the beautiful beloved of the soul [mû'min-e ân shâhid-e jân] by (formal) witnessing [ba-shahâdat]; I became a believer the moment when I became a disbeliever in myself [ke be-shod-am kâfar-e khwod]... How many descriptions will you attribute to Him? [chand Sifat mê-kon-iy-ash] -- since He cannot be contained by descriptions. Make (it) sufficient, so that I may go to the end of my (ecstatic) agitation [man be-raw-am bar sar-e shawq-o shar-e khwod]. --From Ghazal no. 543, Meter 20))

The mistranslation above is made clear by the more accurate translation: the Sufi's apparent rejection of belief [kufr] is revealed on a deeper level to be rejection of belief in ego and rejection of the "idolatry" of self-worship.

Nevit Ergin has made a monumental contribution by translating all of Mawlânâ's ghazal and tarji`band poems into English from the scholarly Turkish translation done by GolpInarlI. As a result, the richness of Mawlânâ's devotional imagery and the delightful ways that he repeats themes can be appreciated more than before. However, Ergin's translations are inconsistent in quality; sometimes this is due to a loss of meaning via Turkish as the intermediate language; sometimes this is due to Ergin's deficits in the English language; other times this is due to the obvious biases in his renderings. In the latter case, he does not translate in the manner of a scholar. Instead, his renderings are similar to those of "poetic version-makers" (who reinterpret the works of scholars and call their versions "translations"): in these cases, he wants Mawlânâ to speak as he wishes, not as Mawlânâ spoke. As a secularist, he wants Mawlânâ to be defiant towards Islamic orthodoxy and to be a radical and outrageous mystic who transcends differences between religions. However, for those who understand Mawlânâ's faithfulness to the Islamic tradition, Ergin's biased renderings are transplarently exaggerated, distorted, and unconvincing.

Let us now examine the claims in "The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication" (2006). From the Introduction by Will Johnson (who rewrote Ergin's translations for the book into versions): Rumi experienced a "conversion from orthodox Islamic cleric into ecstatic dancer, heretic, and passionate lover of God... through his chance encounter with... Shams of Tabriz.... After... the explosive encounter... Rumi let go of many of the precepts of formal religion." Johnson states that the Turkish government, which had funded the publication of twenty-two of "the original twenty-three volumes" of the Divan, refused to support the publication of the final volume. He claims that this is because the poems in this volume "always posed problems, even to the original compilers.... poems... that disturbed them.... poems that broke the rules of both poetic meter and content.... poems that must have stopped the devout Islamic complers dead in their tracks." Johnson then quotes from the mistranslated verses in the book (some of which are cited in selections 8-13 above) to "prove" his point. From the Afterword by Nevit Ergin: "...these last poems show how much at odds Mevlana was with the orthodox religious authority of his time.... Rumi does not reflect favorably in the eyes of present-day orthodox Islam..." And from the cover: "The first twenty-two volumes were published without difficulty, but the government withdrew its support and refused to participate in the publiction of the final volume due to its openly heretical nature." "Now... for the first time in English Rumi's poems... from this forbidden volume... songs to Shams and God, songs of advice and admonition, and songs of heresy. Rumi explains that in order to transform our consciousness, we must let go of ingrained habits and embrace new ones. In short, we must become heretics."

Firstly, Ergin's claim that his translation is based on the "original divan" (p. 166) is incorrect. The manuscript text used by GolpInarlI for his complete Turkish translation (in seven volumes, 1957-60) was primarily based upon a special edition used by the Mevlevi Sufis (completed in 1368 C.E.), in which the ghazal and tarji`band poems were arranged according to twenty-three poetic meters--instead of the standard listing according to the alphabetical order of the ending syllables. It is a beautiful and well-preserved manuscript that is on display in two volumes in the Mevlana Museum in Konya, Turkey (and which has been published in facsimile editions, as well as in modern Persian typography by Tôfîq SobHânî). However, there are older manuscripts. Of the oldest manuscripts used by Forûzânfar in his critical edition of the Divan, there are five that are older than the text used by GolpInarlI ("Kulliyât-e shams yâ dîvân-e kabîr," Volume 1, Editor's Introduction).

Secondly, his claim that only the twenty-third volume remains unpublished is misleading. Apart from the twenty-two volumes of his English that have been published (the last in 2003), the remainder consists of Meters 18, 20-23, Mixed and Rare Meters, and Meter Remainders. The latter category consists of poems from standard meters that somehow were not included before. There are over 550 unpublished poems from these sections.

It is difficult to evaluate the translations in this book because no citations to the Turkish edition are included. Using a searchable DVD that includes Forûzânfar's edition, the present author was able to find the Persian texts for twenty-two of the ninety-seven selections (which are mostly selected verses plus some entire ghazals). Of these, fifteen were easily determined in the first hundred pages; four of these were previously found by another scholar (Ali Jamnia). Texts for the final seven selections of the book (in the section entitled, "Songs of Heresy") were found with greater effort. The poetic meters of these poems were determined using a concordance on the present author's website: "The Golpinarli-Ergin-Foruzanfar Concordance".

Apparently, Ergin understands the "twenty third volume" of the Divan to mean all the final unpublished poems from his translation. The claim that the "Islamic compilers" sent all the "poems they didn't know what to do with or that disturbed them" into the twenty-third volume seems to refer to the Meter Remainders section of the Divan. However, there is no reason to view the poems in this section as other than unplaced left-overs. Out of the twenty-two texts located, nine are from the Remainders section; two are duplicates (that the compilers obviously added because they assumed these had been previously overlooked); and only two of these are among the final seven "heretical" selections in the book (the others are from Meters 8, 18, and 20).

It appears that Ergin placed what he believed were Mawlânâ's most heretical and blasphemous poems at the end of the book. The key verses from six out of seven of the alleged "Songs of Heresy" are shown to be mistranslations (in selections C.8-13 above).

In sum, Ergin's asssertions (and those echoed by his co-author) are not credible. The final poems from Ergin's translation were not "suppressed" by the Turkish government; rather, the government withdrew its financial support. Perhaps this was due to objections to Ergin's philosophy of translation. After all, he has long, but incorrectly, depicted Mawlânâ as teaching that true spirituality is based on rejection of religion and as welcoming heretics (see B.1&2, from 1992 above). The poems in this book are not from a "forbidden volume"; rather, they have been long published in Iran, and in Turkish translation since 1960. And the poems do not contain heretical or blasphemous verses--unless they are mistranslated to appear as such.

A similar conclusion was reached by Ali Jamnia, in his review of "The Forbidden Rumi" ("Mawlana Rumi Review," Volume I, 2010, pp. 156-62): "The publication of this book is based on the claim that the translated poems belong to a final 'twenty-third' volume of Rumi's Divan-i Kabir that features ghazals considered heretical by the Turkish government, and thus unsuitable for publication. Yet, regardless of their nature, these poems have been available and well known to the ordinary Muslim audience of Rumi's readers for centuries. The claim that there exists a particular collection of Rumi's lyrics which historically has been considered 'heretical' thus becomes rather groundless, for nowhere has it been demonstrated in this book that Rumi or Shams actually expressed any ideas contrary to the fundamental principles of Islam."


Translations not placed in italics are by Ibrahim Gamard, in the case of verses from ghazals, and by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, in the case of verses from quatrains and Masnavi ; the latter are from "The Quatrains of Rumi," 2008. All of these translations are from Persian and based upon the earliest manuscripts of Mawlânâ's works. Translterations of key Persian and Arabic words have been added. Page numbers accompanying translations of verses from quatrains are from "The Quatrains of Rumi."