Umar and the Ambassador (part one)

Mathnawi I: 1423-1442

1423 (The ambassador looked at Umar and said): "This man
sleeping on the ground is unarmed, (yet) I'm trembling (with fear)
in the seven parts (of my body). What is this?1

"This isn't from (fear) of a created being; it is awe of God. It's
not awe of this man (who) owns a (dervish) robe.

1425 "Whoever is (piously) afraid of God and has chosen
reverential awe,2 the jinn and mankind and all who see (him) are
afraid of him."3

In this (state of) thought, (he stood with one) hand holding the
other, in reverence. After a period of time, Umar jumped up from

He expressed respect to Umar and (the greeting of) "peace"4--
(since) the Prophet said, "First (the greeting of) "peace," then the

Then (Umar) said to him, "(And) upon you (be peace)."6 And
(then) he called him forward, made him (feel) safe, and had (him)
sit in front of him.

"Do not fear"7 is the gift (of hospitality) for the fearful, (and)
it is suitable for (calming) one (who is) afraid.

1430 Whoever is fearful is made (to feel) secure; the frightened
one's heart is made (to feel) peaceful.

You never say, "Don't be afraid" (to) the one who has no fear.
What lesson can you give, (since) he has no need of (such)

(Umar) made that troubled heart happy8 (and) made his
devastated mind flourishing.

After that, he spoke subtle words to him, and (told) about the holy
qualities of God-- (that most) excellent Companion!9

And (he spoke) of God's soothing kindnesses toward the chosen
saints,10 so that (the ambassador) might know (the difference
between (spiritual) stations and (spiritual) states.11

1435 (For) a (spiritual) state is like the unveiling of the beautiful
bride12 (presented to the bridegroom), whereas the (spiritual)
station is (like) his being with the bride in private.

The king sees the unveiling, as well as (people) other than the
king. (But during) the time of solitude, there isn't (anyone else with
the bride) except the honored king.

The bride unveils (her face) to (both) nobles and commoners.13
(But) in privacy, (only) the king is with the bride.

There are many people of (spiritual) states among the sufis, (but)
people of (spiritual) stations are rare among them.

(Umar) mentioned to him about the stages of the soul. And he
mentioned to him about the soul's journeys;14

1440 And about a particular Time which has (always) been devoid
of time, and about a holy (spiritual) Station which has (always)
been sublime;15

And (also) about an Atmosphere in which, before this (existence),
the phoenix16 of the spirit has experienced (wondrous) flights and
openings17 --

1442 (In which) its every flight is greater than the (distance of the
world's) horizons, and greater than the hope and strong desire of
the yearning (lover).

--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 1926 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 9/7/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1423) What is this: In the section just prior, the story begins with
how the Emperor of Rúm ("Rome," meaning the former Eastern
Roman Empire and the Christian Anatolian "Byzantine Empire")
sent an ambassador to Arabia to meet with the Muslim Caliph,
Umar (a prominent companion of the Prophet Muhammad and his
second successor [khalîfa]). When the ambassador arrived, he
asked directions to the palace of the Caliph, but was told: "He has
no palace; for Umar, there is (only) a palace of the enlightened
soul" (1392)-- and that he lived in a hut, like the poor. The
ambassador searched all around for him and then someone pointed
to a palm tree and said that the Caliph was sleeping under it. As the
ambassador approached Umar, he felt a sweet ecstasy together
with a powerful sense of awe and fear, which surprised him
because he had never felt overwhelmed with fear before, either in
battle or in a jungle of lions. Then this verse follows.

2. (1425) reverential awe [taqwà]: this is the Qur'anic term, translated
variously as "fear of God)," "consciousness of God," "reverence,"
"piety." This term, fundamental also in Judaism and Christianity, is
nowadays commonly misunderstood as something similar to the
fear of a "cruel monster." But it is actually a form of love for God:
the pious believer, as well as the mystic lover of God, dreads doing
any self-willful behavior which might result in greater distance
from the Beloved.

3. (1425) the jinn and mankind and all who see (him) are afraid of
him: "The commentators quote the Hadíth: 'God makes His
creatures afraid of those who revere Him, and those who revere
His creatures He makes afraid of them.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)
Solomon was such a righteous prophet that God gave him power
over the jinn (genies) and men (Qur'an 27:17).

4. (1427) (the greeting of) "peace": The greeting of peace between
Muslims is "as-salaamu `alaykum: "(May) the peace (of God) be
upon you." The reply is a `alaykuma 's-salaam: "And upon you be
the peace (of God)." See Qur'an 6:54; 28:55; 7:46; 13:24; 16:32;

5. (1427) First (the greeting of) "peace," then the talking: "al-salám
thumma 'l-kalám. Another form of the hadíth is al-salám qabla
'l-kalám" [= the (greeting of) peace before the talking] (Nicholson,

6. (1428) (And) upon you (be peace) [`alayk]: "When a Moslem
receives the salám from a non-Moslem, he may reply 'wa `alayka',
but is not obliged to do so. Between Moslems raddu 'l-salâm [=
replying to the salaam] is obligatory." (Nicholson, Commentary)

7. (1429) Do not fear: "Certainly, those who say, 'Our Lord is God,'
(and) then stand straight and right (in their actions), the angels
descend upon them (and say), 'Do not fear! (And) do not sorrow!
But receive the good news of the Garden (of Paradise) which has
been promised to you.'" (Qur'an 41:30)

8. (1432) that troubled heart happy: a word play involving to idioms
containing the word "heart." Literally, "He made that gone-
from-(its)-place heart happy-hearted."

9. (1433) (that most) excellent Companion [ni`ma 'r-rafîq]: Nicholson
translated, "how good a Friend is He!"

10. (1434) the chosen saints [abdâl]: The highest class of saints in the
(hidden) spiritual hierarchy of sufism (if the chief saint, or "Pole"
[quTb], is included). The word means "changed ones" or
"substitutes" because an abdâl who dies is immediately replaced by
another saint who is raised, by the Will of God, to a more elevated
spiritual rank. It is believed that these hidden saints are known to
each other, and rarely by anyone else.

11. (1434) (spiritual) stations and (spiritual) states: Nicholson
translated, "(the meaning of) maqám (permanent station) and hál
(passing state)." And he explained: "In these lines the terms are
applied loosely to the lower and higher states of mystical
experience.... Hál [= spiritual state] refers here to the succession of
alternating psychological 'states' characteristic of the seeker of
God, while maqám [= spiritual station] indicates the spiritual
perfection of the adept hose 'states' have passed beyond change and
have become unified." (Nicholson, Commentary)

12. (1435) the unveiling of the beautiful bride: "Ecstatic 'states' are
produced by momentary unveiling (jalwah or jilwah, tajallí) of the
Divine Beauty and Majesty.... The saints are 'God's brides.'"
(Nicholson, Commentary)

13. (1437) nobles and commoners: Nicholson later changed his
translation, based upon the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to
"nobles and commons" (from "commons and nobles"), "i.e. 'to the
elect (saints) and to the common herd (of seekers) alike.'"

14. (1439 the soul's journeys: "... the mystical 'journeys' of the soul
from Unity to plurality and from plurality to Unity..."

15. (1440) sublime: "the state of pre-existence in which the soul was
one with God. Cf. the Hadíth: 'With your Lord there is neither
morn nor eve.' Maqám-i quds [= Holy spiritual Station], i.e. the
absolutely transcendent Divine Unity (Ahadiyyah), when 'God was
(as He is and ever shall be), and there was naught (no created
thing) beside Him'." (Nicholson, Commentary)

16. (1441) the phoenix [sîmorgh]: "...this mythical bird (the Avestan
saêna, to which murgh is a superfluous addition... In Persian
mysticism, the símurgh represents God or the soul as a model of
Divine being, and is supposed to dwell on Mt Qáf, like the `anqá
[= another mythical bird] with which it is often identified."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

17. (1441) openings [futûH]: in this sense, it can also mean
"revelations." Another meaning is "victories."


1423 bê-salâh în mard-é khofta bar zamîn
man ba-haft andâm larzân, chîst în?

haybat-é Haqq-ast în az khalq nêst
haybat-é în mard-é SâHib-dalq nêst

1425 har ke tarsîd az Haq-o taqwà gozîd
tars-ad az way jinn-o ins-o har ke dîd

andar-în fikrat ba-Hurmat dast ba-dast
ba`d-é yak sâ`at `umar az khwâb jast

kard khidmat mar `umar-râ-wo salâm
goft payghâmbar, salâm ân-gah kalâm

pas `alayk-ash goft-o ô-râ pêsh khwând
îman-ash kard-o ba-pêsh-é khwad neshând

lâ takhâfû hast nuzl-é khâyif-ân
hast dar khwar az barây-é khâyif ân

1430 har ke tars-ad mar ô-râ îman kon-and
mar del-é tarsanda-râ sâkin kon-and

ân-ke khâwf-ash nêst chûn gôy-î ma-tars
dars che d'h-î nêst ô muHtâj-é dars?

ân del az jâ rafta-râ del-shâd kard
khâTir-é wîrân-'sh-râ âbâd kard

ba`d az ân goft-ash sokhon-hây-é daqîq
w-az Sifât-é pâk-é Haq ni`ma 'r-rafîq

w-az nawâzesh-hây-é haq abdâl-râ
tâ be-dân-ad ô maqâm-o Hâl-râ

1435 hâl chûn jilwa-st z-ân zîbâ `arûs
w-în maqâm ân khalwat âm-ad bâ `arûs

jilwa bîn-ad shâh-o ghayr-é shâh nêz
waqt-é khalwat nêst joz shâh-é `azîz

jilwa karda khâs-o `âm-ân-râ `arûs
khalwat andar shâh bâsh-ad bâ `arûs

hast besyâr ahl-é Hâl az Sûfiy-ân
nâdir-ast ahl-é maqâm andar meyân

az manâzil-hây-é jân-ash yâd dâd
w-az safar-hây-é rawân-ash yâd dâd

1440 w-az zamânê k-az zamân khâlî bod-ast
w-az maqâm-é quds ke ijlâlî bod-ast

w-az hawâyê k-andar-ô sîmorgh-é rûH
pêsh az-în dîd-ast parwâz-o futûH

1442 har yakê parwaz-ash az âfâq bêsh
w-az omêd-o nahmat-é mushtâq bêsh

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)