About Rumi's Arabic Poetry

In Forûzânfar's edition of Rumi's Divan, there are 90 ghazals (Vol. 1, 29;Vol. 2, 1; Vol. 3, 6; Vol. 4, 8; Vol. 5, 19, Vol. 6, 0; Vol. 7, 27) and 19 quatrains entirely in Arabic. In addition, there are ghazals which are all Arabic except for the final line; many have one or two lines in Arabic within the body of the poem; some have as many as 9-13 consecutive lines in Arabic, with Persian verses preceding and following; some have alternating lines in Persian, then Arabic; some have the first half of the verse in Persian, the second half in Arabic. Also, in Rumi's "Discourses" [Fî-hi Mâ Fî-hi] there is one discourse entirely in Arabic (Discourse 22) and one in Arabic except for the first five words (Discourse 34). In Rumi's Sermons there are short Arabic introductory prayers for each of the seven sermons. And in his Letters, there are three entirely in Arabic, some half in Arabic, and four which consist entirely of Arabic poems. In addition, there are quotations of Arabic poetry in many of the letters. In Rumi's Masnavi, there are numerous instances of single lines entirely in Arabic, as well as instances of multiple consecutive lines in Arabic.

Translations into English from Rumi's Arabic works are few: Professor Franklin Lewis translated a sermon (the sixth) from Rumi's "Seven Sermons" that begins with a benediction in Arabic ("Rumi-- Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rumi," 2002, pp. 130-33); Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi translated Rumi's twenty-one Arabic quatrains--a few are half-Persian--"The Quatrains of Rumi," 2008); Nesreen Akhtarkhavari (with Anthony A. Lee) has made 33 selected translations from Rumi's Arabic ghazals in a bilingual edition (Love Is My Savior: The Arabic Poems of Rumi, 2016).

Franklin Lewis wrote the following about Rumi's advanced knowledge of Arabic:

"Rumi obviously had an excellent command of Arabic, not only as a reading language, but as a language in which he could compose poems, deliver sermons and so on. He appreciated the poetry of al-Mutanabbî, even though he represented the professional class of panegyrists. Aflâki (Af 623-4) has Rumi reading Mutanabbî at nights for pleasure, a practice which Shams al-Din condemned and tried to wean him of. Rumi quotes from Mutanabbî's poetry in Fihe mâ fih and also in the Masnavi, so Shams did not succeed in rooting this poet out of Rumi's memory. Quite likely, Rumi had come to appreciate al-Mutanabbî during his student days in Syria." (Franklin Lewis, "Rumi-- Past and Present, East and West," p. 315)

And Professor Annemarie Schimmel wrote:

"Up to that time [= age 24, when his father died in 1231] the young scholar seems to have been interested mainly in the outward sciences; he was fond of Arabic poetry, especially of the highly difficult verses of Motanabbi (d. 965). . . " (Schimmel, "The Triumphal Sun," p. 15)

". . . and the traditions agree that Rumi greatly admired the Arabic poet al-Motanabbi (d. 965) whose panegyrics constitute the apex of traditional Arabic poetry. He was fond of him to the extent of quoting his verses verbally."* (Schimmel, p. 42)

*"D 3115/33238; 2266/24079; 103/1192; 1209/12872; M I 3039 (the lion's smile), F 20, F 23. AF II 623/4 tells how Shamsoddin cured Mowlânâ from his love of the Arabic poet: he appeared to him in a dream, grasping poor skinny Motanabbi by the beard, shaking him in front of Jalâloddin whom he blamed for reading poetry of such a person. . . " (Schimmel, Notes, p. 403)

Mutannabi (Abû 'l-Tayyib Ahmad Al-Mutanabbî), who died in 965 C.E., was a famous Arabic poet who specialized poems praising his patrons. His eloquence was so admired that he was given the name "Mutanabbî," which means "one who seeks to rival the Prophet" [nabî], suggesting that his eloquence was an attempt to match the miraculous eloquence of the Qur'an. (The Qur'an itself challenges anyone to compose a book like it: "produce a chapter like it"-- 2:23; 10:38; 11: 13.)

Here is a translation of one of Aflâkî's stories about Rumi's love of Mutanabbi's Arabic poetry:

This is related: 'That Hazrat-i Mawlânâ [Jalâluddîn Rûmî], during (the time of) his first close contact with Mawlânâ Shamsuddîn, he was studying the Dîwân of Mutanabbî. Mawlânâ Shamsuddîn said, 'That is not suitable; don't read it again.' He said this one or two times but he again kept reading it because of being drowned (in a spiritual state). By happenstance, he fell asleep one night (after) reading (Mutanabbî) with great effort. He dreamed that. . . ' (Aflâkî, "Manâqibu 'l-`ârifîn," 4/14).


Mawlânâ Rûmî refers (in Persian) to a verse by Mutanabbî in Masnavi I: 3039:

With this thought, the lion smiled openly. Don't be secure on account of the smiles of the lion!

shêr bâ în fikr mê-zad khanda fâsh bar tabissm-hây-é shêr îman ma-bâsh

Nicholson commented on this Persian verse by writing: "Cf. Mutanabbí, Díwán, p. 483, vv. 17-18. V. 18 runs:

"idhá ra'ayta nuyúba 'l-laythi bárizat-an fa-lá taZunnanna anna 'l-laytha yabtasimu

"When you see the lion's side-teeth bared, Do not suppose that the lion is smiling."

And he added: "The greater part of the qaSídah is translated in LHA [= "A literary History of the Arabs," by R. A. Nicholson, 1907, 1930, 306 seq." (Nicholson, Commentary)


Mawlânâ Rûmî may have referred (in Persian) to a famous verse by Mutanabbî in Masnavi I: 672:

Since the rose has passed (away) and the flower garden has become decayed, from whom can we obtain the scent of the rose? From rosewater.

chûn-ke gol be-g'Zasht-o gol-shan shod kharâb bôy-é gol-râ az ke yâb-êm? az gol-âb

Nicholson commented on this Persian verse by writing: "Rúmí, no doubt, was thinking of a well-known verse by Mutanabbí:

"fa-in yaku Sayyáru 'bnu Mukrim-in inqaDá, fa-innaka má'u 'l-wardi in dhahaba 'l-wardu.

"If Sayyár ibn Mukrim is deceased, Still thou (his descendant) art (like) the rose-water though the rose (itself) is gone." And he added: "Cf. another line by the same poet, 'fa-inna 'l-miska ba`Du dami 'l-ghazáli,' 'musk is part of the musk-deer's blood', though in this instance the idea conveyed is not 'the very essence of the ancestor survives in his descendant' but 'the part is more excellent than the whole'." (Nicholson, Commentary)


And Mawlânâ Rûmî may have referred (in Persian) to another verse by Mutanabbî in Mathnawi V: 1090:

Justice is establishing a (particular) benefit in its (appropriate) place-- not to any root which is (capable of) drawing water.

`adl waZ`-é ni`matê dar mawZi`-ash na ba-har bêkhê ke bâsh-ad âb-kash

Nicholson commented on this Persian verse by writing:". . . cf. Mutanabbí, ed. [=edited by] Dieterici, 533, 9:

'wa-waD`u 'l-nadá fí mawDi`i 'l-sayfi bi-'l-`ulá muDirr-un ka-waD`i 'l-sayfi fí mawDi`i 'l-nadá'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

This may be translated:

And establishing the call (for justice) in the (appropriate) place for the sword (held) aloft, Such as establishing the sword in the place where the cry [for justice occurred against] a harmful one.

In regard to Rumi's intended meaning here, Nicholson wrote:

"Rúmí's conception of Divine justice (cf. V 1089 sqq.; VI 1887 sqq., 2596 sqq.) agrees with the orthodox view stated by Shahrastání in a passage of which Wensinck gives the following translation "Muslim Creed," 84): 'According to the people of the sunnah, the justice of Allah lies in His dealing as possessor and Lord and in making decisions acording to His will as He pleaseth. Justice, in fact, consists in giving things their place, and this implies acting as Lord according to His own will and knowledge. The opposite is injustice and it is inconceivable that He should be wrong in His decisions and unjust in His dealings.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)


According to Schimmel (quoted above), Mawlânâ Rûmî referred to an Arabic verse of Mutanabbî in the following (Persian) verse from "Dîvân-é Shams-é Tabrîz" (Ghazal 1209, line 12872; also quoted by Aflâkî, 9//9, p. 991):

Even though the support of kings makes you brazen and bold, be wary of rashness (which is) ill-timed.

luTf-é shâh-ân gar-che gostâkh-at kon-ad tô ze-gostâkhî-yé nâ-hangâm tars


As noted by Schimmel (quoted above), Mawlânâ Rûmî quoted an Arabic verse of Mutanabbî in the following lines from "Dîvân-é Shams-é Tabrîz" (Ghazal 103, lines 1191-92):

I became silent. Brief words are better, since at this time there is no room for (ecstatic) shouting.

The reply (is given in) that ghazal where the poet said: "My stay will not be a departure for them."

khamosh kard-am sokhon-é kôtâh khwash-tar ke în sâ`at na-mê-gonj-ad `alâlâ

jawâb ân ghazal ke goft shâ`ir: "baqâ'î shâ' laysa-humu 'rtiHâlâ"

According to a footnote in Forûzânfar's edition (Vol. 1, p. 69), Mutannabî's qaSîda begins with the lines:

baqâ'î shâ' laysa-humu 'rtiHâl-an "wa Husna 'S-Sabri zammû lâ 'l-jimâlâ" [My stay will not be a saddling up (and departure) for them, and the best patience is "Muzzle!" -- (but this does) not (mean) the camels."


Mawlânâ Rûmî quoted an Arabic verse of Mutanabbî in the following line from "Dîvân-é Shams-é Tabrîz" (Ghazal 3115, line 23238):

Do you know what the nightingale is shouting upon your rose bush? "Desire tormented my body (with) sorrow on the day of (my) intention."

dân-î ke bar gol-é tô, bolbol che nâla kon-ad? "ablà 'l-hawà asaf-an yawma 'l-nawà badan-î"

According to a footnote in Forûzânfar's edition (Vol. 7, p. 7), this line is from the "Dîwân" of Mutanabbî and he gives the poem and page reference.

Mawlânâ Rûmî also quoted an Arabic verse of Mutanabbî in the following line from "Dîvân-é Shams-é Tabrîz" (Ghazal 2266, line 24079):

The reply is these words spoken by Mutanabbî: "(For) the heart, wine is not its entertainment."

jawâb gofta'yî mutanabbî-st în "fuw'âd-un mâ tusallî-hi 'l-mudâm "

--Translations from the Persian and Arabic by Ibrahim Gamard (unless noted otherwise) Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)