The Obedience of the Angel of Death

Mathnawi V:1675-1676, 1683-1713

1675 [The angel Azrael1 said to the Earth,] "Don't consider
(making any further) plea to me, and don't make another plea
except to that Compassionate and Justice-Giving King.2

1676 "I am the slave of the (Divine) Command; I will not cause the
abandoning (of) His Command, which raises dust from the ocean.3

. . . . . . .

1683 "Don't seek mercy, foolishly, from the spear4-- (but) seek (it)
from the King, since that (spear) is in His hand.

"How could you make (such) a plea to the spear or sword?-- since
it is (merely) a captive in the hand of that Exalted One.

1685 "He is (like) Azar5 in workmanship, and I am (like) the idol:
whatever object He makes of me, I become that.

"If He makes me (into) a cup, I become a cup. And if He makes
me (into) a dagger, I become a dagger.

"If He makes me (into) a fountain, I give water. And if He makes
me (into) fire, I give heat.

"If He makes me (into) rain, I give harvest stacks, And if he makes
me (into) a small arrow, I spring into the body [of someone's

"If He makes me (into) a snake, I spew poison. And if He makes
me (into) a friend, I perform service.

1690 "I am like a pen in between "Two Fingers" (of the
Merciful).6 I am not mediocre7 in the row of obedience8 (to

Azrael9 diverted the Earth by (these) words, and grabbed a handful
(of clay) from the old Earth.

Magician-like, he seized (clay) from the world (while) the Earth
was preoccupied by (his) speech, like those (who are) enraptured.

He took the unwilling clay to God, so that the runaway (was
brought back) to school.

God said: "By My Glorious Knowledge,10 I will make you the
executioner11 of these creatures."

1695 (Azrael) said, "O Lord, the creatures will take me (to be
their) enemy when I squeeze the creatures' throats at (the time of)

O Supreme Lord, do You consider it suitable that You should
make me hated and (like) an enemy in appearance?"

(God) said, "I will produce certain causes (which are) clearly
visible, among (which are) fever, dysentery, delirium, and
spear (wounds).

"Since I will turn their gaze (away) from you to the diseases and
the various causes (of death)."12

(Azrael) said, "O Lord, there are also (those of Your) servants who
can tear (apart such) causes, O Almighty."

1700 (The vision of) their eye passes through causes, (and) by the
Grace of the Lord, it has passed beyond veils.

It has found the collyrium of Unity13 from the eye doctor of
(spiritual) states (and is) freed from disease and being sickly.

They don't look at fever, dysentery, and tuberculosis (since) they
don't give these causes a way into (their) hearts.14

Since there is a remedy for every one of these diseases-- (but) if
the remedy is not accepted, that is the act of Destiny.15

Know for certain (that) every disease has a remedy, (such) as the
remedy for the suffering of cold (is) a fur garment.

1705 (But) if God Wills that a man should freeze (to death),
coldness passes through even a hundred fur garments,

(And) puts a trembling into his being which will not become better
with clothing or from the nest (of his warm home).

(For) when Destiny comes, the physician becomes ignorant (about
providing a cure) and the medicine also becomes lost in
(delivering) benefit.

The seeing intelligence (of the mystic) never becomes veiled from
these causes (which are) a veil for catching fools.

The eye sees the root (of the cause) when it is perfected, (but)
when a man is cross-eyed, he sees (only) the branch [of the effects].

1710 God said,16 "The one who is aware (only of) the root and
origin will never see you in the middle.

"(For) although you have hidden yourself from (the eyes of) the
common (people), before the bright-seeing17 (mystics) you are also
a veil."

And regarding those for (whom) the moment of death is (sweet as)
sugar, their gaze will never be drunk with the changing conditions
(of life).

1713 To them, bodily death is not bitter since they are going from
a dungeon and a prison to a green meadow.

--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 1934 British translation)
© Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 12/30/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1675) The angel Azrael: This is part of a story which began prior
to this section, in which God commanded the angel Gabriel to take
a handful of clay from the Earth, in order to create the body of
Adam (starting at line 5: 1556), but he was unable to do so when
the Earth pleaded for mercy (from the tribulations sent by God
which would occur if human beings were to be created to live on
Earth). God then sent the angel Michael, and then Israfil
(Seraphiel), but they also could not resist the Earth's pleas for
mercy. Finally, God sent the angel Azrael, the angel of firm
resolution [`azm] and strong mind [Hazm] and the "Captain of the
(Divine) Decree" (5: 1651).

2. (1675) that Merciful and Justice-Giving King: refers to God, who
is called "Compassionate" [raHîm] in the Qur'an, and also "Just"
(although the term for this here is Persian)

3. (1676) dust from the ocean: perhaps refers to a cloud of dust
seeming to arise from the ocean (but actually from a far away

4. (1683) Don't seek mercy, foolishly, from the spear: Just prior to
this verse is a long heading introducing this section: "Explaining
that when injury befalls you from a creature of God, he in reality is
like an instrument. The gnostic [`ârif] is he that refers (all action)
to God, not to the instrument; and if he refer it to the instrument
formally, he does so not in ignorance but for a purpose. Thus [the
famous sufi, died, 875] Abú Yazid, may God sanctify his spirit,
said, 'During all these years I have never spoken to any creature or
heard any creature speak to me; but people fancy that I am
speaking and listening to them, because they do not see the Most
Great Speaker, of whom they in relation to me are (only) the echo.'
The intelligent hearer pays no heed to the echo. There is a well-
known [Arabic] proverb to this effect, (namely), 'The wall said to
the nail, "Why are you splitting me?" The nail replied, "Look at
him who is hitting me!"'" (translated by Nicholson)

5. (1685) Azar: "Azar, the father of Abraham (Qur. VI 74), is
described as an idolater and maker of idols." (Nicholson,
Commentary) "And when Abraham said to his father Azar, 'Do
you take idols for gods? Truly, I see (that) you and your people
have clearly gone astray.'" (Qur'an 6: 74)

6. (1690) "Two Fingers" (of the Merciful): "refers to the Tradition
qalbu 'l-mu'mini bayna isba`ayni min asâbi`i 'l-Rahmán, 'the true
believer's heart is between two fingers of the Merciful God'. The
'two fingers' are the Divine attributes of Majesty (Jalál) and Beauty
(Jamál). According as God reveals Himself in one or other of these
aspects, the mystic's heart contracts with grief (qabd) or expands
with joy (bast)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

7. (1690) mediocre: Nicholson translated, "I am not a waverer" and
explained, "Literally, 'betwixt and between.'" (footnote)

8. (1690) in the row of obedience: means in the ranks of obedient
servants or soldiers, as well as in the rows of worshippers in the
Islamic ritual prayer, obeying the Divine command to worship.

9. (1691) Azrael: see footnote on line 1675.

10. (1694) By My Glorious Knowledge: Nicholson translated
correctly, "(I swear) by My resplendent knowledge," because God
sometimes speaks in the Qur'an in this manner, with oaths and
adjurations such as: "By the Glorious Day,... Did He not find you
(to be) an orphan and (then) gave you shelter? (Qur'an 93:1, 6).

11. (1694) the executioner: this story explains how God appointed
Azrael, after he proved his firmness, to become the angel of death
for future mankind.

12. (1698) the various causes (of death): literally, "three-fold causes."
"I.e. according to the commentators, 'physical, mental, and
spiritual'; but the word seems to be used here in the sense of
'manifold.'" (Nicholson, footnote)

13. (1701) the collyrium of Unity: means that by the healing medicine
of witnessing Divine Unity, their eyes are no longer suffering from
double vision, which limits human vision to seeing only duality.
Collyrium is a medicinal powder, made from the dust of certain
stones, especially those containing antimony. It was used as an eye
wash to heal disorders of the eye which hindered good eyesight. It
is often a metaphor for improved discrimination, insight, and
judgment. Nicholson translated, "the collyrium of Unity from the
oculist of ecstasy," and explained: "I.e., mystical experience (hál)
has made them clairvoyant, so that they contemplate the One
Causer (musabbib) and pay no regard to secondary causes
(asbáb)." (Commentary)

14. (1702) a way into (their) hearts: in Islamic psychophysiology, the
heart is more often viewed as the "mind," and not the brain. Thus,
this means "a way into (their) minds."

15. (1703) Destiny [qaZâ]: literally, "decree (of God)." Refers to the
Will of God and what He has "written" that must take place. The
Qur'an teaches both Destiny and individual power to act
responsibly. Rumi does not teach a passive fatalism, but teaches
active striving for good deeds and intense yearning prayer (see
Mathnawi I: 618-38, 938-947, 1480-1493, for example).

16. (1710) God (then) said: Rumi's heading to this section is: "The
(Divine) answer, (namely), 'One who does not regard causes and
diseases and sword-wounds will likewise pay no regard to thy
action, O Azrael, for thou too art a (secondary) cause, although
thou art more concealed than those (other) causes.' And maybe it
(the real nature of Azrael) is not concealed from the sick (dying)
man, for He (God) is nigher [= "closer"] to him than ye are, but ye
do not see." Nicholson added the footnote: "Qur'án LVI, 84, where
the text has 'We are nigher.'" And Nicholson also added: "Qur. LVI
84, where the text has wa-nahnu aqrabu [= "We are nearer"]. God
is nearer to a dying man than his next of kin who keep watch at the
bedside." (Commentary)

17. (1711) bright-seeing: assumes the ancient psychophysiological
belief that the eye sees by means of an inner light-- which here is
especially luminous, by the Grace of God, in the case of the


1675 lâba ma'ndêsh-o ma-kon lâba degar
joz ba-d-ân shâh-é raHîm-é dâdgar

1676 banda-yé farmân-am, na-y-âr-am tark-kard
amr-é ô k-az baHr angêzîd gard

. . . . . . .

1683 aHmaq-âna az sinân raHmat ma-jô
z-ân shahê jô k-ân bow-ad dar dast-é ô

bâ sinân-o têgh lâba chûn kon-î
k-ô asîr âmad ba-dast-ê ân sanî?

1685 ô ba-San`at âzar-ast-o man Sanam
âlatê k-ô sâz-ad-am, man ân shaw-am

gar ma-râ sâghar kon-ad, sâghar shaw-am
w-ar ma-râ khanjar kon-ad, khanjar shaw-am

gar ma-râ chashma kon-ad, âbê deh-am
w-ar ma-râ âtesh kon-ad, tâbê deh-am

gar ma-râ bârân kon-ad, kherman deh-am
w-ar ma-râ nâw-ak kon-ad, dar tan jah-am

gar ma-râ mârê kon-ad, zahr afkan-am
w-ar ma-râ yârê kon-ad, khidmat kon-am

1690 man chô kelk-am dar meyân iSba`ayn
nêst-am dar Saff-é Tâ`at bayn bayn

khâk-râ mashghûl kard ô dar sokhon
yak kafê be-r'bûd az ân khâk-é kohon

sâHir-âna dar robûd az khâk-dân
khâk mashghûl-é sokhon chûn bê-khwad-ân

bord tâ Haq turbat-é bê-rây-râ
tâ ba-maktab ân gorêzân-pây-râ

goft yazdân ke ba-`ilm-é rôshan-am
ke tô-râ jallâd-é în khalq-ân kon-am

1695 goft yazdân ke ba-`ilm-é rôshan-am
ke tô-râ jallâd-é în khalq-ân kon-am

tô rawâ dâr-î, khodâwand-é sanî
ke ma-râ mubthûZ-o doshman-rô kon-î?

goft asbâbê padîd âr-am `ayân
az tab-ô qûlanj-o sar-sâm-o sinân

goft asbâbê padîd âr-am `ayân
az tab-ô qûlanj-o sar-sâm-o sinân

goft yâ rab banda-gân hast-and nêz
ke sabab-hâ-râ be-darr-and ay `azîz

1700 chashm-eshân bâsh-ad goZâra az sabab
dar goZashta az Hujub az faZl-¥rab

sorma-yé tawHîd az kaHHâl-é Hâl
yâfta, rasta ze-`illat-o i`tilâl

na-n'gar-and andar tab-o qûlanj-o sel
râh na-d'h-and în sabab-hâ-râ ba-del

z-ân-ke har yak z-în maraZ-hâ-râ dawâ-st
chûn dawâ na-p'zîr-ad, ân fa`l-é qaZâ-st

har maraZ dâr-ad dawâ, mê-dân yaqîn
chûn dawây-é ranj-é sarmâ, pôstîn

1705 chûn khodâ khwâh-ad ke mardê be-f'sor-ad
sardî az Sad pôstîn ham be-g'Zar-ad

dar wujûd-ash larza'yê be-n'h-ad ke ân
na ba-jâma beh shaw-ad na az âsheyân

chûn qaZâ ây-ad Tabîb ablah shaw-ad
w-ân dawâ dar naf` ham gom-rah shaw-ad

kay shaw-ad maHjûb idrâk-é baSîr
z-în sabab-hây-é Hijâb-é gôl-gîr?

aSl-bîn-ad dîda, chûn akmal bow-ad
far` bîn-ad, chun-ke mard aHwal bow-ad

1710 goft yazdân ân-ke bâsh-ad aSl-dân
pas to-râ kay bîn-ad ô andar meyân?

gar-che khwêsh az `âma penhân karda'î
pêsh-é rôshan-dîd-agân ham parda'î

w-ân-ke êshân-râ shakar bâsh-ad ajal
chûn naZar-eshân mast bâsh-ad dar diwâl?

1713 talkh na-b'w-ad pêsh-é êshân marg-é tan
chûn raw-and az châh-o zendân dar chaman

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)