Umar and the Ambassador (part two)

Mathnawi I: 1443-1479

1443 When Umar found the unknown face (to be) a friend,1 he
(also) found (that) his soul was a seeker of (spiritual) secrets.2

The (spiritual) master was matured (in his skill) and the seeker
(was) desirous; the man was agile and the horse (was) of the
(royal) court [and ready to go].3

1445 The (spiritual) guide saw that he had (receptivity for)
guidance, (so) he planted the pure seed in the pure ground.

The Byzantine4 ambassador's questioning of the Commander
of the Faithful, may God be pleased with him.

The man asked him, "O Commander of the Faithful! How did the
soul from above arrive to the earth?5

"How did the immeasurable bird go into the cage?" (Umar)
answered, "God uttered spells6 over the soul and (told
fascinating) stories.

"When He utters spells over the non-existent [essences]7, which
lack eyes and ears, they come to be continually agitated.

"(And) by means of His spells, the non-existent [essences] are
immediately dangling and somersaulting happily toward existence.

1450 "(Then) again, when He utters a spell over an existent
(being), He quickly8 drives the existent (being back) into non-

"He speaks into the ear of the rose and makes it laughing.9 (And)
He speaks to a rock and makes it a gemstone10 (in) the mine.

"He speaks an indication to the body, so that it becomes alive.
(And) he speaks to the sun, so that it becomes shining.

"(Then) again, He breathes a frightful saying into (the sun's) ear
(and) a hundred eclipses fall upon the sun's face.

"What saying did He recite into the cloud's ear, so that it expelled
tears from its eyes like a leather water bottle?

1455 "(And) what has God recited to the earth's ear, so that it
became an observer11 and has kept quiet?"

Whoever is disturbed (and) in (a state of) hesitation, God has
spoken a puzzling riddle into his ear--

So that He might make him imprisoned within two (contrary)
opinions: "Should I do that (action)? He said (to).12 Or the
opposite of it?"13

One side obtains superiority also because of (the Will of)
God,14 (and) from the two (choices) he selects (influenced) by
that (Divine) side.

If you don't want (your) soul's understanding (to be) in (a state
of) hesitation, (then) don't press cotton15 into (your) spiritual

1460 So that you may understand those puzzling riddles of His,
(and) so hat you may comprehend (what) is secret and

Then the spiritual ear may become the place for inspiration.17
What is inspiration? A speech (which is) hidden from the senses.

The spiritual ear and the spiritual eye are (something) other than
the senses, (since) the ear of the intellect and the ear of speculation
and opinion are poor and penniless of this (wisdom).

The term "(Divine) compulsion" makes me restless and
impatient18 in regard to Love, but it makes the one who is not a
lover restricted by (such) compulsion.

This is communion with God; it's not (something) forced.19
This is the radiant splendor of the moon;20 it's not a cloud.

1465 And if it is this compulsion, it's not the compulsion of the
common people. It's not the coercion of the domineering self-
willed (ego).21

O son, those who (truly) understand compulsion (are) those for
whom God has opened an eye in (their) hearts.22

The unperceived (realm) and the future23 have been revealed to
them, (and) the memory of the past has become a (worthless)
corpse to them24.

Their free-will and compulsion is (something) different. Raindrops
within oysters are (changed into) pearls.25

Outside, it is (merely) a small or large raindrop. (But) within the
oyster, it is (either) a small pearl or a large (one).

1470 For those people, (their) nature is (like) the navel of the musk
deer.26 Outwardly (they are like) blood, but their inward (quality
is like) musk (perfume).

Don't say, "This substance is (foul-smelling) blood (in its)
external (nature), (so) how can it become (fragrant) musk if it goes
into the (deer's) navel?"

(And) don't say, "This was lowly and contemptible copper (in its)
external (nature), (so) how can it become gold27 in the heart of
the (alchemical) elixir?"28

(While) free-will and compulsion within you is (something)
conceptual and imagined, it becomes the light of (God's) Majesty
when it goes into them.

When bread is on the table cloth29 it is inanimate, (but when it
goes) inside the body of a man it becomes happiness of spirit.30

1475 It doesn't become changed within the heart of the table cloth,
(but) the (animal) soul changes it by means of (the fountain of)

O correct reader (of the situation), (since) this is the power of
the (animal) soul, then what is the power of the Soul of the

The human piece of meat33 (which is) possessed of strength and
soul34 is splitting the mountain by means of water channels and

The soul's power in uprooting a mountain (is demonstrated by)
rock-splitting. The power of the Soul of the soul (is demonstrated)
by (the verse), "the moon was split."36

1479 If the heart opens the top of the leather bag of (this)
mystery,37 the soul will charge38 toward the Throne (of God).

--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" (,9/14/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1443) When Umar found the unknown face (to be) a friend: refers
to the earlier part of this story. The Emperor of Byzantium had sent
his ambassador to meet with the Islamic Caliph, Umar (a famous
companion of the Prophet Muhammad and his second successor as
the leader of the new Muslim community). Umar welcomed the
ambassador with hospitality and then discerned that he was
receptive to learning spiritual wisdom.

2. (1443) (spiritual) secrets: Nicholson translated, "(Divine) mysteries."

3. (1444) the horse (was) of the (royal) court [and ready to go]:
Nicholson translated, "the beast belonged to the royal court (was
nobly bred and docile)." He later explained: "i.e. a horse, saddled
and bridled, which was kept, day and night, at the gate (dargah) of
the royal palace in readiness for any sudden emergency."

4. (Heading) Byzantine: literally, "the messenger from Rûm,"
meaning the Eastern Roman Empire, later called the Byzantine
Empire, which ruled (a Christian and Greek-speaking) Anatolia
from the capital at Constantinople.

5. (1446) How did the soul from above arrive to the earth: "In reply
to the question asked in the second hemistich [= second half of the
verse], Umar declares that the soul's imprisonment in the world is a
mystery of Divine omnipotence. Such riddles, e.g. the problem of
free-will, are not to be solved by the intellect, but only through
mystical union with God; for perfect love harmonises every
discord." (Nicholson, Commentary) Nicholson then referred to a
similar passage-- I: 595-641.

6. (1447) God uttered spells: "God is described as an enchanter
creating in the soul the illusion of individuality, which is the
immediate cause of its descent into the material world."
(Nicholson, Commentary) This s a poetic interpretation of the
verses in the Qur'an in which God creates from nothing: "And
when He decrees something, He says to it, 'Be!' And it is." ((2:117)

7. (1448) the non-existent [essences]: "i.e. things not actually in
being, though existing potentially in the knowledge of God."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

8. (1450) quickly: literally, "quickly, with two fresh horses." "i.e. like
a courier, riding one horse and leading another." (Nicholson,

9. (1451) laughing: blossoming roses and flowers are often depicted
as smiling or laughing (as if open mouthed with gleaming teeth) in
Persian literature.

10. (1451) a gemstone: literally, "a carnelian," a type of translucent
quartz used by jewelers. According to the ancients, gold, silver,
and gemstones are produced in the earth by the rays of the sun.

11. (1455) an observer: "i.e. observing God intently, like a Súfí when
practising 'meditation' (muráqabah)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

12. (1457) He said (to): means God commanded it, such as in the
Qur'an or he Traditions of the Prophet's sayings and doings.

13. (1457) or the opposite of it: Nicholson later changed his
translation, on the basis of the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi,
to "Shall I do that? He said that (bade me to do that)-- or the
contrary thereof?" (from, "Shall I do what He told (me)"). And he
explained: "All Nature hears, understands, and implicitly obeys the
Divine Word. Man alone hesitates between obedience and
disobedience, and he is free to choose, though God has decreed
and creates both his vacillation and his final choice."

14. (1458) because of (the Will of) God: Nicholson translated, "From
(the decree of) God."

15. (1459) cotton: "i.e. ignorance, self-conceit, worldliness and all that
is an obstacle to communion with God." (Nicholson, Commentary)

16. (1460) so that you may comprehend (what) is secret and revealed:
Nicholson referred here to some earlier verses (I:933-935), which
he translated: "When the maser put a spade in the slave's hand, his
object was made known to him (the slave) without (a word falling
from his) tongue. Hand and spade alike are His (God's) implicit
signs; (our powers of) thinking upon the end are His explicit
declarations. When you take His signs to heart, you will devote
you life to fulfilling that indication (of His will). He will give you
many hints (for the understanding) of mysteries. He will remove
the burden from you and give you (spiritual) authority."

17. (1463) inspiration [waHî]: means mystic knowledge received from
God. It was a convention in Rumi's time that this word was used to
mean "revelation" received only by Prophets and another word
[ilhâm] was used to mean "inspiration" received by saints and
mystics. Rumi speaks specifically about this term in another place,
"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?" (IV: 1853-54) And the commentators explained that the
word "waHî" is, in fact, used in the Qur'an for someone not
considered to be prophets-- in the case of the mother of Moses
(20:38; 28:7).

18. (1463) The term "(Divine) compulsion" makes me restless and
impatient: Nicholson translated, "The word 'compulsion (jabr)
made me impatient (uncontrollable)..." And he explained: "Here
the poet answers Necessitarians who assert that Divine
omnipotence, as set forth in the foregoing passage, excludes the
possibility of free action on the part of Man. Such a view implies
separation between the creature and the Creator, the opposition of
two wills, and the subjugation of the weaker. But mystics, who
know God to be Love and themselves one with Him are not
'compelled'; on the contrary they enjoy the unconstrained rapture
(bí-sabrí) of self-abandonment and the perfect freedom of feeling
and acting in harmony with the will of their Beloved. The
commentators discuss the meaning and construction of this verse,
which they regard as one of the most obscure in the Mathnawi"
Nicholson also explained about this line: "In the first hemistich
jabr refers to jabr-i mahmúd (see note on v. 1073 supra [= "when
one has passed away from self-consciousness by dint of the utmost
asceticism and incessant concentration on God and has attained to
the degree of jabr-i mahmúd, he mounts the Buráq [= miraculous
steed] of Divine Power, and then actions proceed from him by the
volition of God: he does not attribute these actions to himself, for
he sees no agent except God"]); in the second, to jabr-i madhmúm,
i.e. the antinomian [= rejecting that there are Divine laws that one
should strive to obey] doctrine of necessitarianism." (Commentary)

19. (1464) This is communion with God; it's not (something) forced:
Nicholson said that this verse "describes the jabr ["compulsion"] of
the mystic as union (ma`iyyah) with God." (Commentary)

20. (1464) the radiant splendor of the moon: "i.e. the heart is illumined
by the Truth, and there is no room for error." (Nicholson,

21. (1465) the coercion of the domineering self-willed (ego):
Nicholson translated, "the compulsion of (exerted by) the evil-
commanding self-willed (soul)." This refers to the soul [nafs]
which commands to evil mentioned in the Qur'an (12:53). This
means that the compulsion experienced by most people is from
their own evil, selfish, greedy, angry, etc. desires.

22. (1466) an eye in (their) hearts: the sufi teaching that, for some who
are blessed by God, a spiritual "eye of the heart" opens up which
can see spiritual realities that the intellect cannot conceive of.

23. (1467) The unperceived (realm) and the future: Nicholson later
changed his translation, based on the earliest manuscript of the
Mathnawi, to "To them the unseen and the future became
manifest" (from, "...the unseen things of the future became

24. (1467) a (worthless) corpse to them: Nicholson translated, "... to
them recollection of the past became naught." And he
explained:"The unitive state is an 'eternal Now', comprehending in
itself both the future and the past." (Commentary)

25. (1468) Raindrops within oysters are (changed into) pearls:
"referring to the legendary origin of pearls. "As rain-drops when
received by oyster-shells become pearls, so in the bodies of the
saints evil is transformed into good. In them the pure doctrine of
Divine Unity and Love replaces those vulgar notions of freedom
and necessity, which represent Man either as the rival of the
Almighty or as His involuntary scapegoat." (Nicholson,

26. (1470) the navel of the musk deer: "a skin-pit (navel) or gland in
the male musk-deer, which produces a secretion that is dried and
used as a perfume. When freshly taken from the deer, this gland is
blood-stained, and the secretion itself is derived from the animal's
blood; hence khún [= blood] in the second hemistich [= half of the
verse]. The real nature of the saints is disguised by their outward
appearance." (Nicholson, Commentary)

27. (1472) how can it become gold: this is a correction was added in
the earliest manuscript, opposite the original, which had: "how can
it take (the quality of) a pearl?"-- which Nicholson translated, "how
should it assume nobility in the heart (midst) of the elixir?"

28. (1472) (alchemical) elixir [iksîr]: this word (derived from the
Greek "kseros," which became in Arabic, "al-iksîr") refers to the
"philosopher's stone," something which could be produced by a
secret formula known only to alchemists. This substance was
believed to have the power to transform a "base metal" (such as
copper or lead) into gold or silver. In sufism, these terms refer to
the spiritual power of the spiritual master to transform the disciple
(with the permission and help of God) from the "raw" state
symbolized by copper to the "ripe" state symbolized by gold.

29. (1474) the table cloth: means a cloth, or leather mat, laid down on
the floor or ground, upon which food is served. This is has been
the Middle Eastern custom for many centuries.

30. (1474) happiness of spirit: Nicholson translated, "the glad spirit (of
life)," which he explained as referring to the animal soul
(Commentary). Here, Rumi expresses the view that bread is
transformed into the "animal," or vital, soul of human beings. This
is part of the doctrine of the descent of spirit into matter, followed
by the ascent back to the heavens (from mineral, plant, animal
human stages-- and then beyond).

31. (1475) (the fountain of) Salsabeel: a fountain of deliciously sweet
and pure water in Paradise (Qur'an 76:18). "The commentators
explain salsabíl here as 'sweet and fresh water which promotes
digestion'; but in my opinion the word is used metaphorically for
'power of spiritual assimilation'." (Nicholson, Commentary)

32. (1476) the power of the Soul of the soul: "the spirit of the Perfect
Man." (Nicholson, Commentary)

33. (1477) The human piece of meat: Nicholson translated, "The piece
of flesh which is Man," and he commented: "Gásht-párah may be
the human embryo (mudghah), as is most likely, or the body. I
disagree with the commentators who say it is the hand."

34. (1477) possessed of strength and soul [zûr-o jân]: this is a
correction written above the text of the earliest manuscript, which
has "intellect and soul" [`aql-o jân]-- which Nicholson translated,
"endowed with intelligence and soul."

35. (1477) splitting the mountain by means of water channels and
mines: Nicholson later corrected his translation to, "cleaves the
mountain by means of water-channel and mine" (from, "cleaves
mountain and sea and mine").

36. (1478) the moon was split: "The splitting of the moon in twain
(Qur. LIV 1 [= 54:1]) is a portent of the Resurrection; at an early
date it was explained as a miracle wrought by the Prophet, and this
is the view generally taken by Moslems." (Nicholson,

37. (1479) mystery: "i.e. the mysterious nature of the Perfect Man."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

38. (1479) will charge [tork-tâz]: literally, "will make a Turkish raid."
An idiom which means a swift rush forward. Nicholson translated,
"the soul would rush (in rapture) towards the highest heaven."


1443 chûn `umar aghyâr rô-râ yâr yaft
jân-é ô-râ Tâlib-é asrâr yâft

shaykh kâmil bûd-o Tâlib mushtahî
mard châbok bûd-o markab dargahî

1445 dîd ân murshid ke ô irshâd dâsht
tokhm-é pâk andar zamîn-é pâk kâsht

sû'âl kardan rasûl-é rûm az amîru 'l-mû'minîn `umar, raZiyu
'llâh `an-hu

mard goft-ash k-ây amîru 'l-mû'minîn
jân ze-bâlâ chûn dar-âmad dar zamîn

morgh-é bê-andâza chûn shod dar qafaS?
goft Haq bar jân fosûn khwând-o qiSaS

bar `adam-hâ k-ân na-dâr-ad chashm-o gôsh
chûn fosûn khwân-ad hamê ây-ad ba-jôsh

az fosûn-é ô `adam-hâ zûd zûd
khwash mu`allaq mê-zan-ad sôy-é wujûd

1450 bâz bar mûjûd afsûnê chô khwând
zô dô asba dar `adam mûjûd rând

goft dar gôsh-é gol-o khandân-'sh kard
goft bâ sang-o `aqîq-é kân-'sh kard

goft bâ jism âyatê tâ jân shod ô
goft bâ khworshêd tâ rokhshân shod ô

bâz dar gôsh-ash dam-ad nukta-yé makhûf
dar rokh-é khworshêd oft-ad Sad kasûf

tâ ba-gôsh-é abr ân gôyâ che khwând
k-ô chô mashk az dîda-yé khwad ashk rând?

1455 tâ ba-gôsh-ê khâk Haq che khwânda-ast
k-o murâqib gasht-o khâmosh mânda-ast?

dar taraddud har ke ô âshofta-ast
Haq ba-gôsh-é ô mu`ammâ gofta-ast

tâ kon-ad maHbûs-ash andar dô gomân
ân kon-am ân goft yâ khwad Zidd-é ân?

ham ze-Haq tarjîH yâb-ad yak Taraf
z-ân dô yak-râ bar gozîn-ad z-ân kanaf

gar na-khwâh-î dar taraddud hôsh-é jân
kam feshâr în panba andar gôsh-é jân

1460 tâ kon-î fahm ân mu`amma-hâ-sh-râ
tâ kon-î idrâk-e ramz-o fâsh-râ

pas maHall-é waHî gard-ad gôsh-é jân
waHî che b'w-ad? goftanê az His nehân

gôsh-é jân-o chashm-é jân joz în His-ast
gôsh-é `aql-o gôsh-é Zann z-în muflis-ast

lafZ-é jabr-am `ishq-râ bê-Sabr kard
w-an-ke `âshiq nêst Habs-é jabr kard

în ma`îyat bâ Haq-ast-o jabr nêst
în tajallî-yé mah-ast, în abr nêst

1465 w-ar bow-ad în jabr, jabr-é `âma nêst
jabr-é ân ammâra-yé khwad-kâma nêst

jabr-râ îshân shenâs-ad ay pesar
ke khodâ be-g'shâd-eshân dar del baSar

ghayb-o âyanda bar-îshân gasht fâsh
Zikr-é mâZî pêsh-é êshân gasht lâsh

ikhtiyâr-o jabr-é êshân dêgar-ast
qaTra-hâ andar Sadaf-hâ gawhar-ast

hast bêrûn qaTra-yé khord-o bozorg
dar Sadaf ân durr-é khord-ast-o sotorg

1470 Tab`-é nâf-é âhow-ast ân qawm-râ
az berûn khûn-o darûn-ash moshk-hâ

tô ma-gô k-în mâya bêrûn khûn bow-ad
chûn raw-ad dar nâf moshkê chûn shaw-ad?

tô ma-gô k-în mis bêrûn bod muHtaqar
dar del-é aksîr chûn gasht-ast zar?

ikhtiyâr-o jabr dar tô bod khayâl
chûn dar-eshân raft shod nûr-é jalâl

nân chô dar sufra-st bâsh-ad ân jumâd
dar tan-é mardom shaw-ad ô rûH-é shâd

1475 dar del-é sofra na-gard-ad mustaHîl
mustaHîl-ash jân kon-ad az salsabîl

quwwat-é jân-ast în ay râst-khwân
tâ che bâsh-ad quwwat-é ân jân-é jân?

gôsht-pâra-yé âdamî bâ zôr-o jân
mê-shekâf-ad kûh-râ bâ baHr-o kân

zûr-é jân-é kûh-kan shaqq-é Hajar
zûr-é jân-é jân dar inshaqqa 'l-qamar

1479 gar goshây-ad del sar-é anbân-é râz
jân ba-sôy-é `arsh sâz-ad tork-tâz

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)