About Anqaravi and his Masnavi Commentary

Ism`l b. AHmad Ruskhu 'd-dn Bayrm, Mevlev, Anqarav (known also as "Ruskh," the pen name he used in his poetry), died 1631, was the author of the most famous Ottoman Turkish commentary on the Masnavi. He named his commentary "majm`atu 'l-laT'if wa maTmrtu 'l-mu`rif" (Collected Subtleties and Stored Mystic Knowledge). It has been, incorrectly, called by other names, such as by Nicholson (who called it by the title of another of Anqaravi's works, which was incorporated into his full commentary, "ftiHu 'l-abyt"-- Opener of the Verses) MeHmet Thir ("sharH-i maSnav sharf, al-musamm muftiHu 'l-abyt"-- Commentary on the Noble Masnavi, called Opener of the Verses), Ism`l Pasha al-Baghdd ("ftiHu 'l-abyt f sharHi 'l-maSnav"-- Opener of the Verses in Commentary on the Masnavi).

The work was first published in 1806 and last published in 1872, generally in six volumes. It was translated (but abridged) into Arabic by Chang Ysuf Dede b. AHmad al-Mawlaw (died 1669) and published in 1872 (as "al-manhaju 'l-qaw f sharHu 'l- mathnaw"-- The Firm Path of Commentary on the Masnavi). And it was translated (completely) into Persian by `ISmat Sattr-zdah in 1970, in 15 volumes ("sharH-i kabr-i anqarav bar maSnavi-yi ma`nav-yi mlav"-- Anqaravi's Great Commentary on the Couplets of Spiritual Meaning by Mlav [= Rumi]).

It has not been translated into English, although Nicholson quoted it often, in his own commentary, since (of the Persian, Turkish, and Arabic commentaries he consulted) it was the one which he most often used. He considered it to be "a work of great merit,"1 "the best Oriental exposition of the poem,"2 and the commentary by which he "profited most."3

Anqaravi's commentary consists of a translation of every line in the Masnavi into Turkish, followed by explanations. His work was so esteemed, that it was the primary commentary studied by members of the Mevlevi ("Whirling Dervish") order in order to master the meaning of the Masnavi. Certificates of mastery [ijzat] of the commentary were issued to those who were appointed the rank of Masnavi-reciters, or lecturers [maSnav- khwn]. It was considered the greatest Ottoman Turkish commentary, along with two others ("jawhir-i bawhir-i MaSnav," by Sr `Abdullh Efendi, died 1661; "rHu 'l- mathnaw," by Ism`l Haqq of Bursa, died 1727).

The major criticisms of Anqaravi's commentary are: (1) that he over-interpreted it through the viewpoint of the sufi theosophy of Ibnu 'l-`Arabi (died 1240)-- a system of thought that Rumi (as well as his spiritual master, Shams-i Tabriz) largely ignored; (2) that he failed to consult other works by Rumi, as well as the Maqlt (Discourses) of Shams-i Tabriz; (3) that his selection of a Masnavi text upon which to base his commentary was a poor one; (4) that his knowledge of Persian was limited to what he learned via books, and therefore he failed to understand many Persian idioms; and (5) that he made a commentary on the forged "seventh book" of the Masnavi.

Anqaravi was a famous Mevlevi shaykh, born in Anqara (formerly spelled Angora, and now the capital of Turkey, Ankara. He first became a shaykh of the Bayrm sufi order. However, a long- standing eye disease (cataracts) worsened, so that he was unable to continue his studies. But when he went to Konya (the city in which Rumi's tomb is located), he met the chief shaykh of the Mevlevis (and descendant of Rumi), Bostn Chelebi I (died 1630), who facilitated an effective cure of his eye disease. He became the Chelebi's disciple, completed the "Mevlevi retreat" of 1001 days, and eventually became the chief shaykh [pst-neshn] of the prestigious Galata Mevlevi center [takya, or "tekke" in Turkish] in Istanbul, a position he held for 21 years (and where he was buried).4


1. Nicholson, "The Mathnaw of Jallu 'ddn Rm, Volume VI, Containing the Translation of the Fifth & Sixth Books," 1934, p. xi.

2. Nicholson, "The Mathnaw of Jallu 'ddn Rm, Volume VII, Containing the Commentary on the First & Second Books," 1937, p. xii.

3. Nicholson, "The Mathnaw of Jallu 'ddn Rm, Volume II, Containing the Translation of the First & Second Books," 1926, p. xvi.

4. Most of the information here is from an article by Bilal Kushpinar, "Ism'l Ankarav and the Significance of His Commentary in the Mevlev Literature," Al-Shajarah: Journal of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), 1996, Volume 1, Nos. 1 & 2 (based on the author's Ph.D. dissertation, McGill University, 1995). Dr. Kushpinar is a Turkish scholar who is currently an assistant professor in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

See also the comments by Franklin Lewis, "Rumi-- Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jall al-Din Rumi," 2000, pp. 478-79.