The Thief's Excuse

Mathnawi V: 3077-3110

3077 Someone was climbing the top of a tree (and) was violently
scattering the fruits, as thieves (do).

The owner of the orchard came and said, "O vile and lowly (man)!
Where is any shame on your part from [being seen by] God? What
are you doing?

He answered, "If God's servant eats dates which God made (as) a
gift for him from God's orchard,

3080 Why are you blaming (him) as the common people (do)?
(Such) stinginess1 at the table of God, the Most Rich!"

(The owner) said, "O Aybak,2 bring that rope (over here), so that
I may give an answer to (this) good man!"3

He then bound him to the tree in that moment, and was beating
him on his back and legs with a hard stick.

(The thief) said, "At last, have some shame from [being seen by]
God! You are killing this innocent (person) very lamentably!"

(The owner) replied, "By means of God's stick, this servant of
His is giving the back of another servant a good beating!

3085 "(It is) the stick of God, and the back and sides [of your
body] belong to Him (as well). I am (but) His slave and the
instrument of His command!"

(The thief) said, "I have repented of Fatalism,4 O (brave) knight.
There is free-will, free will, free will!"5

His Free Will made (our free) choices to exist, (and) His Free Will
is like a horseman (hidden) beneath the dust.6

His Free Will makes our (ability to have) choice, (and His)
Command has become the basis for any choice (of ours).7

In regard to power, every creature has some dominion over forms
which lack choice,8

3090 So that it drags (away) the prey which lacks any choice.
(And) so that he may take Zayd (away)9 (after) having he grabbed
(his) ear.

But (it is) the Action of the Eternal One, without (need of) any
instrument, (which) makes his (superior power of) choice a lasso
for him.10

His Free Will makes him "shackles"11 for (capturing) Zayd;
without (need of) dog or snare, God makes him his prey.

The carpenter (certainly) is the commander of a piece of wood, and
the artist is (also) the commander of (the image he is creating of) a
good-looking one.

The blacksmith has a charge over the iron, (and) the builder has a
dominion over (his) tools.

3095 This is unusual: because all this choice (is) prostrating like a
slave to His Free Will.12

(And) your power of struggle over inanimate objects13 has never
denied any inanimate object of those [inanimate qualities].

(Likewise), His power over (our free) choices (is) such that He
does not deny14 any particular (human) choice of [some of] that

You may say (that) His Will (is expressed) in a perfect manner,
since it is not connected with (absolute) compulsion or [allowing
absolute freedom to fall into] error.15

Since you said, "My unbelief is His wish," know that it is also
your own wish.16

3100 Because without your wish (and choice), your unbelief itself
is non-existent. (And) unbelief, without wanting it, is a
contradictory statement.

(Giving) a command to a powerless and crippled person is
shameful and blamable, (and getting) angry (is) worse-- especially
from [being seen by] the Lord of Mercy.17

If the ox won't take the yoke, he is whipped. (Certainly), no ox
ever became downcast and miserable18 [from being beaten] because
he won't fly.

Since the ox isn't excused for being proud (and stubborn), for
what (reason) is the owner of the ox [allowed to be] helplessly
weak and excused?19

Since you aren't injured, don't bind (your) head (with a bandage):
you have (power of) choice, (so) don't make a fool of yourself.20

3105 Strive to obtain freshness from God's cup [of grace], (for) in
that moment you will become without self and without (need of)

In that moment all (power of) choice will belong to that Wine
(and) you will become completely excused, like a drunkard.21

(Then), whoever you beat is beaten by the Wine [of God], (and)
whatever you sweep is swept by the Wine!22

(For) the drunkard will never act without justice and rightness23
when he has drank from the Wine of God's cup.

The magicians24 told Pharaoh, "Stop! (Because) the drunkard has
no care for (his) hands or feet.

3110 "(For) our (real) hands and feet are the Wine of the One
(God), (and) the outward hands are only a worthless shadow."

--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" (, 3/30/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (3080) stinginess [bukhl]: considered one of the worst behaviors
for Muslims, who are supposed to be generous to all guests (the
traditional rule is to offer food and lodging to any guest, whether a
friend or an enemy, for three days). On the other hand, stealing is
punished, and a Muslim who steals repeatedly (unless due to
starvation during a famine) is subject to severe punishment.

2. (3081) Aybak: the name of the orchard owner's servant or helper.

3. (3081) to (this) good man [bu 'l-Hasan]: literally, "to the Father of
Hasan." Since the name Hasan means "good," this is an ironic or
mocking nickname given to the thief.

4. (3086) Fatalism [jabr]: literally, "compulsion." The extreme
theological doctrine of Absolute Fate or Necessitarianism
(Jabariyyah), which denies that human beings have any free will
and that asserts that human actions are completely predetermined.
Thus, according to this doctrine, human beings have no true
responsibility for their actions, because all events and actions
(including the future placement of souls in Heaven or Hell) are the
sole decision of God. This view was asserted by the thief.

5. (3086) free will [ikhtiyâr]: literally, "choice." The belief that
human beings are free to choose their actions and are therefore
responsible. Rumi condemns Fatalism and Necessitarianism and
strongly emphasizes the importance of free will, responsibility, and
the need to strive. However, he does not teach the extreme
theological doctrine of Free Will (Qadariyyah), according to which
human beings are absolutely free and the complete creators of their

Rumi also told this story in his "Fi-hi Mâ Fi-hi," chapter 40
(translated by Arberry as "Discourses of Rumi," 1961; translated
by Thackston as "Signs of the Unseen," 1994), where the orchard
owner confronts the thief for stealing apricots from a tree saying,
"Do you not fear God?" [az khodâ na-mê-tars-î]. In Rumi's
heading, just prior to this line he said (translated by Nicholson):
"Another Story in answer to the Necessitarian, confirming (Man's)
power of choice and the validity of the (Divine) commands and
prohibitions, and showing that the Necessitarian's excuse is not
accepted in any religious sect or in any religion and that it does not
save him from being duly punished for the (sinful) actions which
he has committed, just as the Necessitarian Iblís [= Satan] was not
saved (from punishment) by saying (to God), 'Because Thou hast
made me to err.' [Qur'an 15:39] And the little indicates the much."

6. (3087) beneath the dust: this is a metaphor for hidden power, since
the cloud of dust produced by the running horse hides the horse
and the rider from being seen at a distance.

7. (3088) any choice (of ours): Nicholson translated, "His command
is based on (is exercised in virtue of) a power of choice (in us)."

8. (3089) forms which lack choice: for example, grass is powerless
before a cow and a mouse is powerless before a cat. Nicholson
explained: "i.e. either lacking volition or temporarily deprived of
power to exercise it." (Footnote)

9. (3090) takes Zayd away: an image of punishment for someone
("Zayd" is a generic man's name used like "Tom" or "John
Smith"). Seizing by the ear was a punishment given to children by

10. (3091) a lasso for him: Nicholson originally translated, "a noose
for him (to catch Zayd)," and explained: "I.e. his free-will is
derived from, and subordinate to, the will and action of God."

11. (3092) makes him "shackles": means that God gives him the ability
to be the "shackles" or "fetters" for binding the man named Zayd,
which is superior power of choice or personal free will (likened to
a lasso in the previous line). Nicholson explained in his
Commentary: "God creates human free-will and uses it as the
means through which His eternal will is manifested and executed.
Although the general sense of these verses cannot be
misunderstood, their interpretation is difficult owing to the
ambiguity of the pronouns, and I do not think that the translation
given represents exactly the meaning intended by the poet."
Nicholson then gave a correction of his lines (in which he makes a
different interpretation: that God makes the captor "His prey"):
"But (it is) the action of the Lord (that), without instrumentality,
makes his (the free agent's) free-will a noose for him (the free
agent). His (God's) free-will makes Zayd (the object of his choice)
a fetter for him (the chooser): (thus) God makes him (the chooser)
His prey without (the help of) dog or snare." [From: "... without
(using) any instrument, makes his free-will a noose for him (to
catch Zayd). His (God's) free-will makes him a fetter for Zayd:
God makes him (Zayd's captor) His prey without (the help of) dog
or snare."]

12. (3095) prostrating like a slave to His Free Will: refers to the
posture of the humble worshipper who is prostrate [sâjid] with
head and hands on the ground before Almighty God in the Islamic
ritual prayer.

13. (3096) your power of struggle over inanimate objects: as the
carpenter and blacksmith struggle to impose their power over
wood and iron, respectively.

14. (3097) He does not deny: Nicholson translated, "His (God's) power
over (our) acts of free-will does not deprive any act of free-will of
that (quality)."

15. (3098) error: means that the Divine Will does not exercise too
much or too little control over human actions. For if absolute
compulsion was ordained, there would be no freedom of choice at
all, and if absolute freedom was allowed, there would be too little
influence of Divine Guidance to help human beings avoid falling
into error and sin. Nicholson translated, "Declare that His (God's)
will is (exercised) in a complete manner, (but) without there being
(involved in it) the attribution (to Him) of compulsion (jabr) and
(responsibility for) error (disobedience to His commands)."

16. (3099) it is also your own wish: Rumi here overturns the cynical
statement of the person who disbelieves in God (and therefore
rejects any responsibility for his actions before God), who says,
"God made me an unbeliever, so how can you expect me to act

17. (3101) the Lord of Mercy: Nicholson translated, "and anger (on
account of his disobedience) is worse, especially from the Merciful

18. (3102) downcast and miserable: Nicholson added, "Literally, 'made
abject or sick and sorry (by blows)." (Footnote) (In this line Rumi
uses two ancient Indo-European words: ox or bull [gâw] and yoke
[yôgh]-- the latter corresponds to the Sanscrit word "yoga".)

19. (3103) helplessly weak and excused: means that the owner of the
ox will not be excused by God for not exercising his free will.
Nicholson translated, "wherefore is the owner of the ox (to be
held) excusable and infirm?" And he explained in a footnote: "I.e.
incapacitated." He also referred to Rumi's earlier verse (line 2970),
which he translated: "God hath said, 'There is nothing intolerable
(laid) upon the blind' [Qur'an 48:17]: how should the Lord who
bestows relief lay upon any one what is intolerable?"

20. (3104) don't make a fool of yourself: literally, "Don't laugh at your
moustache." An idiom for making fun of someone's foolish pride.

21. (3106) like a drunkard: as a drunkard may be excused (and not
ordered to be whipped) by a judge for being unable to make
responsible decisions for his actions.

22. (3107) is swept by the Wine: means that all of existence is
experienced as being helplessly drunk from the ecstasy and bliss of
God's infinite grace and love.

23. (3108) the drunkard will never act without justice and rightness:
means that his actions will be guided and protected by God.
Nicholson referred here to Rumi's lines (I: 1463-64), which he
translated: "The word 'compulsion' (jabr) made me impatient
(uncontrollable) for love's sake, while it confined in (the prison of)
compulsion him who is not a lover. This is union with God, and it
is not compulsion: this is the shining forth of the moon, this is not
a cloud." Nicholson explained: "But mystics, who know God to be
Love and themselves one with Him, are not 'compelled'; on the
contrary they enjoy the unconstrained rapture (bê-sabrî) of self-
abandonment and the perfect freedom of feeling and acting in
harmony with the will of their Beloved."

24. (3109) the magicians: refers to the defiance of Pharaoh's
magicians, whom he ordered to defeat Moses in a contest. When
they saw that Moses defeated them, not by magic, but by the power
of God, they said, "We believe in the Lord of (all) the worlds, the
Sustaining Lord of Moses and Aaron." (Qur'an 7:121-122) Then,
when Pharaoh threatened to crucify them after cutting off their
hands and feet, they replied, "Truly, we will be returned to our
Lord. And you take revenge on us only because we believed in the
signs of our Lord when they came to us. O our Lord! Pour out
enduring patience upon us and make us die as surrenderers
[muslimîn] (to Your Will)!" (7:125-126)


3077 ân yakê mê-raft bâlây-é derakht
mê-fashând ân mêwa-râ dozdâna sakht

SâHib-é bâgh âmad-o goft ay danî
az khodâ sharmê-t kô, che mê-kon-î?

goft az bâgh-é khodâ banda-yé khodâ
gar khwar-ad khormâ ke Haq kard-ash `aTâ

3080 `âmiy-âna che malâmat mê-kon-î
bukhl bar khwân-é khodâwand-é ghanî?

goft ay aybak be-âwar ân rasan
tâ be-gôy-am man jawâb-é bu 'l-Hasan

pas bo-bast-ash sakht ân dam bar derakht
mê-zad ô bar posht-o sâq-ash chôb-é sakht

goft âkhir az khodâ sharmê be-dâr
mê-kosh-î în bê-gonah-râ zâr zâr

goft az chôb-é khodâ în banda-ash
mê-zan-ad bar posht-é dêgar banda khwash

3085 chôb-é Haqq-o posht-o pahlô ân-é ô
man gulâm-o âlat-é farmân-é ô

goft tawba kard-am az jabr ay `ayâr
ikhtiyâr-ast, ikhtiyâr-ast, ikhtiyâr

ikhtiyârât, ikhtiyâr-ash hast kard
ikhtiyâr-ash chûn sowârê zêr-é gard

ikhtiyâr-ash ikhtiyâr-é mâ kon-ad
amr shod bar ikhtiyârê mustanad

Hâkimê bar Sûrat-é bê-ikhtiyâr
hast har makhlûq-râ dar iqtidâr

3090 tâ kash-ad bê-ikhtiyârê Sayd-râ
tâ bar-ad be-g'refta gôsh ô zayd-râ

lêk bê-hêch âlatê Sun`-é Samad
ikhtiyâr-ash-râ kamand-é ô kon-ad

ikhtiyâr-ash zayd-râ qayd-ash kon-ad
bê-sag-o bê-dâm, Haq Sayd-ash kon-ad

ân dorôgar Hâkim-é chôbê bow-ad
w-ân muSawwir Hâkim-é khôbê bow-ad

hast âhan-gar bar âhan qayyimê
hast bannâ ham bar âlat Hâkimê

3095 nâdir în bâsh-ad ke chand-în ikhtiyâr
sâjid andar ikhtiyâr-ash banda-wâr

qudrat-é tô bar jumâdât az nabard
kay jumâdê-râ az ân-hâ nafî kard?

qudrat-ash bar ikhtiyârât ân chon-ân
nafî na-k'n-ad ikhtiyârê-râ az ân

khwâst-ash mê-gôy bar wajh-é kamâl
ke na-bâsh-ad nisbat-é jabr-o Zalâl

chûn-ke goft-î kufr-é man khwâst-é way-ast
khwâst-é khwad-râ nêz ham mê-dân ke hast

3100 z-ân-ke bê-khwâh-é tô khwad kufr-é tô nêst
kufr-é bê-khwâh-ash tanâquZ goftanê-st

amr `âjiz-râ qabîhH-ast-o Zamîm
khashm battar, khâSa az Rabb-é raHîm

gâw gar yôghê na-gîr-ad, mê-zan-and
hêch gawê ke na-parr-ad, shod nezhand?

gâw chûn maZûr na-b'w-ad dar fuZûl
sâHib-é gâw az che ma`Zûr-ast-o dûl?

chûn na-î ranjûr, sar-râ bar ma-band
ikhtiyâr-ast hast, bar sablat ma-khand

3105 jahd kon k-az jâm-é Haq yâb-î nawî
bê-khwad-o bê-ikhtiyâr ân-gah shaw-î

ân-gah ân may-râ bow-ad kul ikhtiyâr
tô shaw-î ma`Zûr-é muTlaq mast-wâr

har-che kôb-î, kofta-yé may bâsh-ad ân
har-che rôb-î, rofta-yé may bâsh-ad ân

kay kon-ad ân mast joz `adl-o Sawâb
ke ze-jâm-é Haq kashîd-ast ô sharâb?

jâdow-ân fir`awn-râ goft-and b-îst
mast-râ parwây-é dast-o pây nêst

3110 dast-o pây-é mâ may-é ân wâHid-ast
dast-é Zâhir sâyah-ast-o kâsid-ast

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)