Ali and the Enemy Who Spat in His Face

Mathnawi I: 3721-3733, 3745-3751, 3787-3809

3721 Learn sincerity of action from Ali1: know that (that) Lion of
God2 was (completely) purified from deceit.

In a battle (against the unbelievers)3 he got the (upper) hand
against a certain champion. He quickly raised his sword and was
hurrying (to kill him).

(But the man) spat in Ali's face, (who was) the pride of every
prophet and every saint;

He spat upon a face before which the (beautiful) face of the (full)
moon bows low at the place of prostration.

3725 At (that) moment, Ali threw (aside his) sword (and) slowed
(down) in (his) fight against him.

That brave warrior became amazed by this action and by (his)
showing (such) forgiveness and mercy without (it being the) place
(for it).

He said, "You raised (your) sharp sword against me: for what
(reason) did you throw (it aside and) quit (fighting) me?

"What did you see (that was) better than fighting me, so that you
became unenthusiastic in hunting me?

"What did you see so that (a) rage of yours like this settled down,
(and) so that a lightning like that appeared and (then) jumped back?

3730 "What did you see so that a splendor appeared in my heart
and soul from the reflection of that sight?4

"What did you see which was higher than the universe (and
was) better than life, so that you gave me life?

"In being brave, you are the Lion of the Lord. (And) in manly
generosity, who knows who you are?

3733 "In generosity you are (like) the cloud of Moses in the desert,
out of which came incomparable trays (full of food) and bread."5

. . . . . . .

3745 "O Ali, (O) you who are entirely intelligence and vision! Tell
(me) a little bit about what you have seen!

"The sword of your mildness has ripped (through) my soul, (and)
the water of your knowledge has purified my earth.

"Speak openly.6 I know that these are His secrets, because killing
without (need of) a sword is His (way of) action.

"The Creator (who is) without (need of) tools or limbs, (and) the
Generous Giver of [all] these excellent gifts,

"Causes the understanding to taste a hundred thousand 'wines'
(of) which the two eyes and ears are unaware.

3750 "Speak openly, O Falcon of the (Divine) Throne (and
capturer of) good prey! What did you see this moment from the

3751 "(Since) your eyes have been taught understanding of the
invisible (realms), (while) the eyes of those who are present
[here]7 have been sewn up."

. . . . . . .

3787 (Ali) said, "I strike (with) the sword for the sake of God
(only). I am the servant of God; I am not commanded by the body.

"I am the Lion of God, not the lion of craving, (and) my actions
are evidence of my religion.

"In battle, (the verse) 'You did not throw when you threw'8 (is
the attitude) for me. I am like the sword, but the one who strikes is
(like) the Sun.9

3790 "I have removed the baggage of self from [blocking] the way,
(and) I have considered (anything) other than God (to be) nothing.

"I am a shadow (and) the Sun is my lord; I am the doorkeeper, not
a curtain (barring the way) to Him.

"I am like a sword, covered with jewels of Union; in battle, I
make (men) living10 not killed.

"Blood does not cover the lustre of my sword, (and) the wind
never takes (away) my clouds.

"I'm not straw. I am a mountain11 of restraint and patience and
justice. The strong wind never steals (away) the mountain!

3795 "Whatever leaves (its) place because of some wind is
(nothing but) twigs. Because there are many unfavorable winds.

"The winds of anger, lust, and greed carry (off) the one who isn't
among those devoted to the (daily ritual) prayers.

"I am a mountain and my existence is His foundation. And if I
become like straw, the wind (moving) me is remembrance of

"My affection doesn't move (toward anything) except by His
wind, (and) the captain of my cavalry is nothing except love for the

"Anger (is a) king over kings, but (it is) my slave; I have also
tied anger underneath the bridle.

3800 "The sword of my restraint has struck the neck of my anger,
(and) God's anger has come upon me like mercy.13

"I am drowned in light, even though my roof is destroyed.14 I
became a garden, even though I am (called) the Father of Dust.15

"Since a cause (other than God's cause) came [into my mind]
during the battle, I found (it) suitable to hide (my) sword,16

"So that 'he loves for (the sake of) God'17 may become my name,
(and) so that 'he hates for (the sake of) God' may become my desire.

"So that 'he gives for (the sake of) God' may become my
generosity, (and) so that 'he withholds for (the sake of) God' may
become my existence.

3805 "My avarice (is) for (the sake of) God, (my) generosity (is)
for (the sake of) God and (for) none else. I belong completely to
God, (and) I don't belong to anyone (else).

"And that which I do for (the sake of) God is not imitation or show
(of piety), nor is it (done from) imagination or opinion; it is
nothing other than (direct) vision.18

"I am liberated from striving and careful choosing, (for) I have
attached my sleeve to the (hem of) the robe19 of God.

"If I keep flying, (it is because) I keep seeing the place (worthy)
to fly to, and if I keep circling (it is because) I keep seeing the
object (worthy) of revolving around.

3809 "And if I am carrying a burden, I know where (to take it) to: I
am the moon and the Sun is the guide in front of me!"

--From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî" [Rhymed Couplets of
Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R. A. Nicholson's 1926 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 9/9/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (3721) Ali: the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad,
and the fourth successor (khaleefa). "This well-known anecdote of
`Alí, which illustrates the meaning of ikhlás [= sincerity], i.e. pure
disinterestedness and entire devotion to God..." (Nicholson,

2. (3721) the Lion of God: a title of Ali, who was famous for his
courage in battle.

3. (3722) battle (against the unbelievers): refers here to the battles
which the earliest Muslims fought to defend themselves against the
attacking armies of the Arab polytheists, who vastly outnumbered
them and were determined to destroy the new monotheistic faith.
Ali was one of the greatest champions among the Muslims, and
was famous for challenging the best fighter among the enemy and
defeating him in one-to-one combat.

4. (3730) the reflection of that sight: Nicholson later changed his
translation, on the basis of the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi
to: "What did you see, that from the reflexion of the vision seen
(by thee) thereof a flame appeared in my heart and soul?" (from:
"that from seeing (only) the reflexion thereof a flame...").

5. (3733) bread: a reference to the Qur'anic story of the Prophet
Moses and his people in the desert: "And We shaded you with
clouds and sent down manna and quails for you, saying, 'Eat of the
good things We have provided for you'" (Qur'an 2:57; see also

6. (3747) Speak openly: "Here 'Alí is described as the Perfect Man
whose actions are divine. It is God's way to kill without sword, i.e.
to mortify the carnal soul and bestow spiritual life. The
forbearance and generosity of 'Alí had killed the unbelief of his foe
and opened his heart to knowledge and love of God." (Nicholson,

7. (3751) those who are present [here]: "may mean 'those who are
present with God', i.e. in comparison with 'Alí even the greatest
adepts are blind and ignorant." (Nicholson, Commentary)

8. (3789) You did not throw when you threw': Qur'an 8:17. "At the
battle of Badr the Prophet threw a handful of gravel in the faces of
the Quraysh, who immediately fled before the Moslem onset. The
Qur'án declares that the gravel was really thrown by God, 'that He
might give the true believers a good proof of His favour'."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

9. (3789) like the sun: this is a word-play on the Persian idiom for a
ray of sunlight, which is poetically compared to the gleam of
sunlight reflected from a polished sword. "Tígh-i áftáb [= sword of
the sun] means 'sunbeam.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (3792) I make men living: "i.e. 'I endow the soul with spiritual life
by destroying the evil qualities which defile its purity, as a sheeny
sword is tarnished by blood.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

11. (3794) I am a mountain: "Cf. the saying al-rijál ka-'l-jibál, 'holy
men are like the mountains', i.e. they have attained to tamkín [=
being solidly established], so that the fierce blasts of sensual
passion leave them unmoved." (Nicholson, Commentary)

12. (3797) remembrance of Him: Nicholson later corrected his
translation here, based on the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi,
to: "my wind (the wind that moves me) is recollection of Him"
(from "is His wind").

13. (3800) like mercy: "i.e. 'to me the Divine attribute of wrath has
appeared in the form of mercy'. In God, and consequently in the
Perfect man, mercy prevails over wrath: his anger is a disguised
grace (lutf-i khafí)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

14. (3801) my roof is destroyed: "i.e. 'my egotism is destroyed, I am
dead to self.' (Nicholson, Commentary)

15. (3801) the Father of Dust: "The name Abú Turáb is said to have
been given to 'Alí by the Prophet, who on one occasion found him
lying asleep on the ground and covered with dust." (Nicholson,

16. (3802) my sword: Nicholson later corrected this translation, based
on the earliest edition of the Mathnawi, to: "Since a motive (other
than God) entered (my heart) in the (holy) war, I deemed it right to
sheathe the sword" (from: "Since (the thought of something) other
than God has intervened, it behoves (me) to sheathe my sword."

17. (3803) for (the sake of) God: refers to a Tradition of the Prophet:
"If the (faithful) believer loves, he loves for (the sake of) God, and
if he is angry, he is angry for (the sake of) God, and if he is
generous, he is generous for (the sake of) God, and if he withholds,
it is for (the sake of) God. For he is from God, he belongs to God,
and is (returning) toward) God." (Translated from Nicholson's
quotation of the Arabic, Commentary)

18. (3806) (direct) vision: literally, "seeing." Nicholson translated it as
"intuition," and added, "immediate vision (mu`áyanah), in which
every doubt vanishes." (Commentary)

19. (3807) (hem of) the robe: an idiom meaning earnest supplication.
Grasping the bottom edge of someone's robe was an action
expressing the need for protection or supplication for a request.
Nicholson interprets this line: "i.e. 'my heart is firmly attached to
the Divine command.'" (Commentary)


3721 az `alî âmôz ikhlâS-é `amal
shêr-é Haq-râ dân muTahhar az daghal

dar ghazâ bar pahlawânê dast yâft
zûd shamshêrê bar âward-o shetâft

ô khadô andâkht dar rôy-é `alî
iftikhâr-é har nabiyy-o har walî

ân khadô zad bar rokhê ke rôy-é mâh
sajda âr-ad pêsh-é ô dar sajda-gâh

3725 dar zamân andakht shamshêr ân `alî
kard ô andar ghazâ-ash kâhilî

gasht Hayrân ân mubâriz z-în `amal
w-az namûdan `afw-o raHmat bê-maHal

goft bar man têgh-é têz afrâsht-î
az che afkand-î ma-râ be-g'Zâsht-î?

ân che dîd-î behtar az paykâr-é man
tâ shod-î tô sost dar ishkâr-é man?

ân che dîd-î ke chon-în khashm-at neshast
tâ chon-ân barqê namûd-o bâz jast?

3730 ân che dîd-î ke ma-râ z-ân `aks-é dîd
dar del-o jân shu`la'yê âm-ad padîd?

ân che dîd-î bartar az kawn-o makân
ke beh az jân bûd-o bakhshêd-î-m jân?

dar shajâ`at shêr-é rabbânî-st-î
dar murûwat khwad ke dân-ad kî-st-î

3733 dar murûwat abr-é mûsî-î ba-tîh
k-âmad az way khwân-o nân-é bê-shabîh

. . . . . . .

3745 ay `alî ke jomla `aql-o dîda-î
shamma'yê wâ gô az ân-che dîda-î

têgh-é Hilm-at jân-é mâ-râ châk kard
âb-é `ilm-at khâk-é mâ-râ pâk kard

bâz gô dân-am ke în asrâr-é hû-st
z-ân-ke bê-shamshêr koshtan kâr-é ô-st

Sâni`-é bê-âlat-o bê-jâriHa
wâhib-é în hadya-hây-é râjiHa

Sad hazâr-ân may chashân-ad hôsh-râ
ke khabar na-b'w-ad dô chashm-o gôsh-râ

3750 bâz gô ay bâz-é `arsh-é khwash-shekâr
tâ che dîd-î în zamân az kardegâr?

3751 chashm-é tô idrâk-é ghayb âmôkhta
chashm-hây-é HâZir-ân bar dôkhta

. . . . . . .

3787 goft man têgh az pay-é Haq mê-zan-am
banda-yé Haq-am, na ma'mûr-é tan-am

shêr-é Haq-am, nêst-am shêr-é hawâ
fa`l-é man bar dîn-é man bâsh-ad gowâ

mâ ramayta iZ ramayta-m dar Hirâb
man chô têgh-am-w-ân zananda âftâb

3790 rakht-é khwad-râ man ze-rah bar dâsht-am
ghayr-é Haq-râ man `adam angâsht-am

sâya'yê-am kad-khodâ-am âftâb
Hâjib-am man, nêst-am ô-râ Hijâb

man chô têgh-am por-gawhar-hây-é wiSâl
zenda gardân-am na koshta dar qitâl

khûn na-pôsh-ad gawhar-é têgh-é ma-râ
bâd az jâ kay mord mêgh-é mar-â?

kah na-y-am kôh-am ze-Hilm-o Sabr-o dâd
kôh-râ kay dar robây-ad tond-bâd?

3795 ân-ke az bâdê raw-ad az jâ khasê-st
z-ân-ke bâd-é nâ-muwâfiq khwad basê-st

bâd-é khashm-o bâd-é shahwat bâd-é âz
bord ô-râ ke na-bûd ahl-é namâz

kôh-am-o hastîy-é man bonyâd-é ô-st
w-ar shaw-am chûn kâh, bâd-am yâd-é ô-st

joz ba-bâd-é ô na-jonb-ad mayl-é man
nêst joz `ishq-é aHad sar-khayl-é man

khashm bar shâh-ân shah-o mâ-râ ghulâm
khashm-râ ham basta-am zêr-é legâm

3800 têgh-é Hilm-am gardan-é khashm-am zad-ast
khashm-é Haq bar man chô raHmat âmad-ast

3800 gharq-é nûr-am, gar-che saqf-am shod kharâb
rawZa gasht-am, gar-che hast-am bû turâb

chûn dar âm-ad `illatê andar ghazâ
têgh-râ dîd-am nehân kardan sazâ

tâ aHabba li-llâh ây-ad nâm-é man
tâ ke abghaZ li-llâh ây-ad kâm-é man

tâ ke a`Tâ li-llâh ây-ad jûd-é man
tâ ke amsak li-llâh ây-ad bûd-é man

bukhl-é man li-llâh `aTâ li-llâh-o bas
jomla li-llâh-am ney-am man ân-é kas

3805 w-ân-che li-llâh mê-kon-am taqlîd nêst
nêst takhyîl-o gomân joz dîd nêst

z-ijtihâd-o az taHarrî rasta-am
âstîn bar dâman-é Haq basta-am

gar hamê parr-am, hamê bîn-am maTâr
w-ar hamê gard-am, hamê bîn-am madâr

3809 w-ar kash-am bârê be-dân-am tâ kojâ
mâh-am-o khworshêd pêsh-am pêshwâ

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)