Masnavi Readers and the Principles of Teaching the Masnavi

[Excerpts from "Mevlâna'dan sonra Mevlevilik" [The Mevlevis After Mevlânâ], by the Mevlevi shaykh and scholar, Abdülbaki Gölpinarli (died, 1982), Istanbul, 1963; translated from Turkish into Persian as "Môlaviya ba`d az Môlânâ," by Tawfîq Sobhânî, Irân, 1987. Translated by Ibrahim Gamard from Persian and Arabic from Sobhânî's Persian translation (7/98)]

They [the Mevlevis] used to call the reading of the Masnavi and the explaining of its meaning and interpretation (by the name) "MaSnavî-khwânî"; (they called) the Masnavi reader, "MaSnavî- khwân."

Receiving a written certificate [ijâzat-nâma] was required for the teaching of the Masnavi. But for this task there was no urgency, since the Masnavi reader could read [from any of] the six books of the Masnavi. Anyone who was familiar with Persian, or knew it, and had the temperament for Persian books, (and) had participated in Masnavi lessons for a while-- and if there were no such (readers) among the Mevlevis-- a written certificate would be given to him. And the Chelebi or any other Mevlevi shaykh would recite the takbîr ["Allâhu Akbar, Allâhu Akbar, lâ ilâha illâ 'llâh, w-Allâhu Akbar, Allâhu Akbar wa li-llâhi 'l-Hamd"] over his sikka, and permission would be granted to him to wrap (it as) a turban.

In the appropriate passages prior to this, we have written that from the time of Mevlana, the Masnavi used to be recited; Masnavi recitation was also done in the time of Husâmuddîn Chalabî and SulTân Walad. And in the resting place of Mevlana or in other places, the Qur'ân, the Masnavi and the Odes [ghazaliyyât from the Mevlana's Dîwân] were recited. And the samâ` would (then) be started.

But in the Ottoman era, rigid fanaticism, a superficial mentality, and political rivalry existed between Iran and the Ottoman Empire. The seeking of advantage from the religious conflicts between the two countries, and the adding of fuel to the fire on the part of kings, caused the Persian language to become viewed as offensive. Certainly, the correct viewpoint concerning someone who knew Persian, (who) was under the influence of the thoughtful and exquisite Iranian poets, and (who was) possessed of a wide viewpoint-- especially if he was in the field of sufism [taSawwuf]-- (was that) fanaticism and hatred were set against him, and the Persian language and knowers of Persian. An expression came into being: "Whoever speaks Persian gives away half his religion."

But in this age, the Masnavi and Masnavi reading have not been kept in "four walls," (so) perhaps with the determination of the shaykhs, a new expansion will be gained, so that libraries with the name of "House of the Masnavi" [Dâru 'l-MaSnavî], which will only be assigned for teaching the Masnavi, will come into existence. The last "House of the Masnavi" opened in Istânbûl was the Dâru 'l-MaSnawî and Library of Murâd Mullâ in 1778, in the Chahârshamba district in FâtiH, Istânbûl.

In the Mevlevi houses [Mawlâwî-khâna] during the days of the (Whirling Prayer) Ceremony [muqâbala], the Masnavi was recited and explained by the noble shaykh at the "Masnavi Chair" [kursî- yé MaSnavî] after the congregational prayer. A dede who was called a "Masnavi reciter" [qârî-yé MaSnavî] used to sit opposite the Chair (and) recite four or five verses of the Masnavi, which he had ready. The shaykh would (then) translate into Turkish the recited verses, (starting) from the first verse, and then would proceed to the explanation. He would recite to a dede who would sit near the Chair and, prior to the Masnavi reader, he would recite any verse which needed to be explained. In the old days, during the periods after the influence of one custom had appeared, it was the duty of the Masnavi reciter to recall from memory any verse which he had memorized by way of indication, for sake of the shaykh, who did not have a paper or book in front of him. Since the practice (then) was that the Masnavi was recited from memory. (And) they considered it a fault if [for some reason] book [study] or recollection was left out. Memorizers of the (entire) Masnavi [HâfiZ-ân-é MaSnavî] even existed, (and) one of them is buried in the graveyard of the Mevlevi house in ânkâra.

After the shaykh would come to the end of the explanation of the Masnavi, these verses were recited and the FâtiHa was offered:

Our Mevlana, the revealer of the secrets of (Divine) Grandeur, spoke in this manner:

"It is not (unreliable like) astrology, geomancy, or dreams; (it is) the inspiration of God-- and God knows best what is right."

în-chonîn farmûd mawlânâ-yé mâ
kâshif-é asrâr-hâ-yé kibriyâ:
"na najûm-ast-o na raml-ast-o na khwâb
waHy-é Haqq w-allâhu a`lam bi 'S-Sawâb"

[Masnavi IV: 1852]

Any individuals who gave Masnavi lessons in gatherings who had no reciter would still recite the above two verses at the end of the lesson.

Regarding this subject, we would also add two (examples) of written certificates [ijâzat-nâma] for the teaching of the Masnavi [of which one in Arabic follows]: "In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. The praise is to God. And may His blessing be upon His Prophet and upon all his family. Now to begin: I give permission to Shaykh Sayyid `Uthmân SalâHuddîn al-Mawlâwî to transmit the book of Al-Mathnawî Al-Ma`nawî, to the extent that the [famous 17th century Turkish] commentator Anqarâwî has investigated [of the Mathnawi]-- as much as I myself acquired from my master Khwâja Amînuddîn Husaynî and from Master Khwâja Salîm al-Naqshbandî, may God sanctify their secrets. And I am Faqîr Hasan Husâmuddîn al-Mathnawî-Khwân. I gave permission in the same manner that my shaykh gave permission to me, when I recite the noble litany [al-awrâdu 'l- sharîf] and the noble Mathnawi of Spiritual Meaning [Mathnawiyu 'l-Sharîfu 'l-Ma`nawî]: "It is not (unreliable like) astrology, geomancy, or dreams; (it is) the inspiration of God-- and God knows best what is right."

--from (pp. 486-488) of The Mevlevis After Mevlana (Môlaviyya ba`d az Môlânâ), a translation (from Turkish to Persian) of `Abdul- Baqî Gôlpînârlî's Mevlâna'dan sonra Mevlevilik (1953), made by Dr. Tawfîq SubHânî, 1988.


Some comments on this section from Golpinarli's book are needed here, since the verse quoted from the Masnavi is clearly a very special one in the Mevlevi tradition. The preceding line in the Masnavi concerns a story about the famous sufi, Bâyazîd BisTâmî: "His guide is the Guarded Tablet [lawH-é maHfûZ]. From what is it guarded? (It is) guarded from error." Then comes the special verse ("It is not astrology...") followed by the next three lines: "As an explanation, the sufis call it the inspiration of the heart [waHy-é del]-- as a way of concealing it from the common people. Take it to be the inspiration of the heart, for that is the place for seeing Him. How can there be any mistake when the heart is aware of Him? O (true) believer, you have been seeing by the light of God [mû'min-â yanZur bi-nûri 'llâh]; you have become safe from mistakes and blunders." [Masnavi IV: 1851-55].

Nicholson's (1934) translation of the verse is: "The inspiration of God is not (like) astrology or geomancy or dreams-- and God best knoweth what is right." However, in his commentary on the Masnavi (Volume 8, 1940, p. 173), he says that it can also be translated: "it (this knowledge) is not (like) astrology, geomancy, or dreams: (it is) God's revelation." He also states: "We learn from (Ismâ`îl Anqirawî's Turkish commentary, "FátiHu 'l-Abyát," published 1872 in 6 volumes) that when portions of the Mathnawí were recited in public, the mathnawí-khwán would often conclude his performance and bring the meeting to an end by chanting the present verse in proof of the poem's Divine origin." Nicholson comments that the passage means that mystic knowledge is protected from error, since it is the "inspiration of God." He explains that sufis generally observed the popular distinction between this term (waHy-é Haqq) as meaning revelation given by God to a Prophet and the term used for inspiration given to a saint (ilhâm-é rabbânî). However, he says that the Qur'ânic word "waHy" can also be used to mean a minor kind of inspiration (as Mevlana used it in the phrase, "the inspiration of the heart" [waHy- é del]), because it is not always used in the Qur'ân to mean the Divine inspiration given to Prophets, but is used in a few instances to mean Divine inspiration given to lesser figures (such as the mother of Moses in Qur'ân 20:38, 28:7).

In the first line of the section, the "Guarded Tablet" [lawH-é maHfûZ] is a reference to the Qur'anic verses (85:21-22) which state that the origin of the "Glorious Qur'ân [qur'ân-un majîd] is in the "Guarded Tablet" [lawH-in maHfûZ). And in the last line in the section, there is a reference to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad: "Beware of the discernment of the true believer, for truly he sees by the light of God [al-mû'min... yanZuru bi-nûri 'llâh]."

In summary, this verse [line 1852 of Book 4] of the Masnavi is of great significance because Mevlana says that the Masnavi is Divinely inspired. Then, to avoid being condemned by narrower minds, who might accuse him of claiming to have an inspiration equal or similar to the Qur'ân, he suggests that it is better to conceal this by using the sufi term, the "inspiration of the heart." However, comparison with the Qur'ân is not a real issue here. And Mevlana has told us in the first words of the first page of the Masnavi:"This is the book of the Masnavi, and it is the roots of the roots of the roots of the (Islamic) Religion (hadha kitâbu 'l- mathnawîy wa huwa uSûlu uSûli uSûli 'd-dîn) and soon after added, "...and it is the Explainer of the Qur'ân" (wa kashshâfu 'l-qur'ân). Thus the famous (15th century) sufi poet Jâmî said of the Masnavi, "It is the Qur'ân in Persian" (hast qur'ân dar zabân-é pahlawî).

--passages from the Masnavi translated from the Persian by Ibrâhîm Gamard