King Mahmood and the Night Thieves

Mathnawi VI: 2816-59, 2906-21

2816 One night, when King Mahmood was returning [from
wandering the city] alone, he met a group of thieves.1

They then asked him, "Who are you, O man of good faith?"2 The
king answered, "I'm one and the same as you."

One (of them) said, "O gang (of those) practiced in deception! So
that each one of you can tell (us) about his own (special) learning,

"Let him talk in the night with (his) companions (about) what
talent he has in his nature."

2820 One (of them) said, "O gang of (those) selling deceit! My
specialty is in (my) ears,

"So that I know what a dog is saying with (its) bark." The group
said to him, "(This is worth less) than two cents out of a hundred

Another one said, "O gang of (those) worshipping gold! My entire
specialty is in (my) eyes.

"Whoever I see at night in the caravan (of the world),4 I know
him by day without a doubt."

One said, "My specialty is in (my) arms, since I can make tunnels
(through walls)5 with the strength of (my) hands."

2825 One said, "My specialty is in my nose. My job is detecting
the smell in (different kinds of) earth.

"The secret of 'Men are mines'6 has been handed (to me)-- about
why the Prophet has said it.

"By means of the earth of (a man's) body, I know how much
good money is in it and what (type of) mine it has.

"(For) in one mine, gold beyond calculation (is) contained. But (in
the case of) another one, its income is less than the expense.

"Like (the famous lover) Majnoon,7 I sniff the earth (and)
discover the ground of (my beloved) Laylà without (any) error.

2830 "I smell, (and then) I know from each shirt if it is (owned by)
a Joseph8 or a devil.

"(And) like the Prophet, who took (in) the scent from Yemen,9
this nose of mine has gotten a portion of that (ability),

"So that (I know) which ground is the neighbor of gold, or which
ground is empty and worthless."

One (thief) said, "Look! (my) specialty (is) in my hand. I can
throw a rope ladder to the height of a mountain,

"Like Muhammad, whose spirit threw a lasso, so that his lasso
took him up to the heavens.10

2835 "(And) God (also) said to him, 'O lasso-thrower toward the
(Heavenly) Temple!11 Know (that) that is from Me: "you did not
throw when you threw!"'"12

Then they asked the king, saying, "O reliable one! In what is your

He answered, "My specialty is in my beard, since I can rescue
criminals from punishments;

"When they give criminals to the executioner, they are rescued
from them if my beard moves.

If I make my beard to shake in mercy,13 they wrap up (and finish
all) the killing and trouble."

2840 The group said to him, "You are our Pole (star),14 for you will
be the deliverance for us on a day of misery!"

After that, they all went out together;15 they went toward the palace
of that fortunate king.

When a dog made a bark off to the right, (one of the thieves) said,
"It is saying, 'The Sultan is with you.'"

Another one smelled the ground from a hill (and) said, "This
(scent) is from the house of a widow."

Then, the master of the lasso threw a rope ladder so that they (all)
went to (the top of) a high wall.

2845 When he smelled the earth in another place, he said, "It is the
ground for the treasury of a unique king."

The tunnel maker tunneled (and) reached the treasury. Everyone
hauled (away) some things from the treasury.

The gang16 took much gold, gold-brocaded cloth, and plump
pearls and hid (them) quickly.

The king saw specifically their dwelling places, dress, names,
shelters, and paths (of departure).

He stole himself (away) from them (and) returned. The (next)
day, he talked (about his) adventures in the royal court.

2850 Furious officers then rode (out) in order to catch and tie (up)
the thieves.

They came toward the royal court (with their) hands bound, and
they were trembling from fear of (losing) their lives.

When they stood before the king's throne, the king (as
handsome) as the (full) moon was the companion of their
(previous) night.

The (thief) who could cast his glance on anyone at night, (and)
could (then) see him during the day (and) recognize him without

Saw the king upon the throne and said, "This one was with us last
night, (our fellow) night wanderer and companion--

2855 "The one whose great specialty is in his beard. Our capture is
also because of his investigation."

His eye was the knower of the king.17 Therefore, he opened up
(his) lips about (this) knowledge to (his) followers

(And) said, "The king was (for us like the verse), 'And He is with
you.'18 He was seeing our actions and hearing our secrets.

"My eye took the way (and) recognized the king (in) the night.
(Then) it played (the game of) love all night with his moon-like

2859 "I will ask (mercy) from him for my people, since he will not
turn away (his) face from (his) knower."

. . . . . . .

2906 He brought (his) face to the king like a thirsty man to a cloud,
the one who was owned by the (luminous) Full-Moon19 on the
Night of Power.20

Since his tongue and soul were owned by Him,21 --(and) the one
who belongs to Him may be a bold speaker--

He said, "We have become like the soul, bound to the clay (of the
body), (and) You are the Sun of the soul22 during the Day of

"O king of hidden journeys, the time has come for you to
generously shake a certain beard for a good purpose.

2910 "Each one (of us) demonstrated his specialty, (but) all those
talents have (only) increased (our) bad luck.

"Those talents have bound our necks, (and) we are hanging (our)
heads and (brought) low because of those high positions.

"Those talents (are like) 'a rope of twisted strands around our
necks,'24 (and) there is no help from those arts (of deception) on the
day of death."

[Nothing helped the thieves] except the particular specialty of that
excellent perceiver whose eyes recognized the Sultan at night.

All those (other) talents were ghouls on the road,25 except for a
certain eye which was aware of the king.

2915 (And on) the day of (judgment at) court, the king became
ashamed of [denying the request of] him whose gaze at night was
upon the king's face.

And (even) the dog (who is) aware of the King of Love26-- must
himself be given the honored title of "Dog of the Cave."27

The specialty in the ears is also good, since by a dog's bark, he
(who has it) becomes aware of the (presence of) the Lion.28

When a dog is awake at night like a guard, he is not unaware29 of
the night-risings of kings.30

Take care not to have contempt toward those of bad reputation;31
one should assign (one's) intelligence to (try to understand) their

2920 Whoever at one time became (a person) of bad reputation
shouldn't seek a (better) name33 and (therefore) become half-

2921 (For there is) much gold which has been made (to look like)
polished black (iron) so that it may be safe from plunder and loss.

--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 1934 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 9/30/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (2816) a group of thieves: "This Story, illustrating the topic of the
last four verses ["From Thy infinite bounty there came an (inward)
eye to the falcon-soul that was flying for Thy sake./ From Thee its
nose gained (the inward sense of) smell, and its ear the (inward)
hearing: to each sense was allotted a portion (of the spiritual sense
that was) distributed (amongst them all)./ Since Thou givest to
each sense the means of access to the Unseen, that (spiritual) sense
is not subject to the frailty of death and hoary eld./ Thou art the
Lord of the kingdom: Thou givest to the (spiritual) sense
something (peculiar to itself), so that that sense exercises
sovereignty over (all) the senses." VI: 2812-2815, trans. by
Nicholson], shows that the spiritual sense par excellence, which
transcends every other sense and faculty, is immediate vision and
recognition of the Divine." (Nicholson, Commentary)

2. (2817) man of good faith: literally, "Father of Faithfulness (to a
promise)." Nicholson translated, "honest man."

3. (2821) two cents out of a hundred bucks: literally, "two dâng out of
a dînâr." The latter was a small gold coin. Refers to "...the small
value Súfís attach to hearing in comparison with sight..."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (2823) the caravan (of the world): "Persian poets use qayrawán
(the Arabicised form of kárwán) in the sense of aTráf-i ma`múrah
[= the bounds of human habitation]" (Nicholson, Commentary)

5. (2824) tunnels (through walls): "referring to intellectual
speculation (baHth), which picks holes in the Sacred Law
(sharí`ah)" (Nicholson, Commentary)

6. (2826) Men are mines: refers to a traditional saying of the Prophet
Muhammad, "'Men are mines like mines of gold and silver', i.e.
they have different natures and capacities." (Nicholson,

7. (2829) Majnoon: a legendary lover, whose passionate yearning for
his beloved, a woman named Laylà ("Laylî" in Persian), drove him

8. (2830) a Joseph: refers to a story in the Qur'an. After the Prophet
Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, he sent his shirt back
with them to his father Jacob, who instantly recovered his sight
(Qur'an 12:96).

9. (2831) the scent from Yemen: refers to a traditional saying of the
Prophet Muhammad: "'Lo I feel the breath of the Merciful (God)
from the direction of Yemen', is said to refer to Uways al-Qaraní,
an ascetic who fell in the battle of Siffín, fighting for `Alí against
Mu`âwiyah. Although Uways lived in Yemen, his saintly influence
was mysteriously communicated to the Prophet in the Hijáz" [= the
part of Arabia where the Prophet lived]. (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (2834) up to the Heavens: refers to the Ascension [Mi`râj] of the
Prophet, during which he was taken up into different levels of the

11. (2835 the (Heavenly) Temple: the Baytu 'l Ma`mr, around which
the angels circumambulate in eternal worship of God. In Islamic
belief, this is the Heavenly prototype of the cube-shaped Temple in

12. (2835) you did not throw when you threw: refers to the verse,
"You did not throw when you threw (a handful of dust), but God
threw" (Qur'an 8:17). "At the battle of Badr the Prophet threw a
handful of gravel in the faces of the Quraysh, who immediately
fled before the Moslem onset. The Qur'án declares that the gravel
was really thrown by God, 'that He might give the true believers a
good proof of His favour'. Here the text... refers to the mystical
union of the prophet or saint 'whose hand is the Hand of God'."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

13. (2839) in mercy: In the three lines ending with this verse,
"...Mahmûd signifies God, without whose mercy no sinner is
saved." (Nicholson, Commentary)

14. (2840) Pole (star): Nicholson translated, "supreme chief." A
technical sufi term referring to the chief saint of the age, by whom
the other living saints (and thus sufis in general) are oriented and

15. (2841) they went out together: the editor of the oldest manuscript
of the Mathnawi states (in Persian), "This verse has been
overlooked in the text, and has been added in the margin,
indicating its place." Nicholson originally said, "There can be little
doubt that it is spurious" because it was not in the two oldest
manuscripts (footnote). Later, he added, "This verse... helps to
elucidate the following passage and seems to have been put in for
that purpose" (Nicholson, Commentary)

16. (2847) The gang: "The 'night thieves' who break into 'the King's
Treasury' are types of the carnal soul and reason. Such knowledge
of the Truth as they acquire is merely superficial: e.g. the asháb-i
sam` [= "the people of (the sense of) hearing"] recite 'God is with
you' (Qur. LVII 4), but actually they do not realise His presence at
all. Vv. 2843 [= "Another one smelled the ground..."] and 2845 [=
"When he smelled the earth in another place..."] illustrate the
firásah [= "perception"] of the worldly wise, contrasted with
'seeing by the Light of God' (I 32, note). Ustád-i kamand [= "the
master of the lasso"] (v. 2844) describes any leader of those who
'for their bellies' sake Creep and intrude and climb into the fold.'"
(Nicholson, Commentary)

17. (2856) the knower of the king: "The thief who recognised Mahmúd
when they met by night is now identified with the mystic (`árif) [=
"(mystic) knower"] who knows and loves God in the dark world of
illusion." (Nicholson, Commentary)

18. (2857) And He is with you: "And He is with you wherever you
may be. And God sees (everything) that you do" (Qur'an 57:4,
slightly contracted to fit the meter).

19. (2906) the one who was owned by the Full-Moon: "i.e. 'he (the
gnostic) who attained to perfect union with God'." (Nicholson,

20. (2906) on the Night of Power: "see the notes on II 2935 [= "The
so-called Night of Power (Laylatu 'l-qadr) is celebrated in Qur.
XCVII [= Qur'an 97] as the night on which Mohammed received
the first Revelation and on which the angels and the Holy Spirit
descend from Heaven. Moslems believe it to be one of the last ten
nights of Ramadán"], III 2533" [= "...'tis from the Night of Power
that shone forth like a star"-- "Here 'the Night of Power'
symbolises Universal Reason which reveals itself in the Perfect
Man and rises, like a star amidst the darkness, to illumine the
hearts of the elect. This is the source whence exoteric knowledge
derives any value it may possess."] (Nicholson, Commentary)

21. (2907) owned by Him: here and in the preceding verse, king
Mahmood becomes a symbol for God, the King of Creation, and
his plea for mercy for him and his fellow thieves becomes a prayer
to God.

22. (2908) the Sun of the soul: Nicholson translated, "Thou art the Sun
(illuminator) of the spirit..."

23. (2908) the Day of Judgment (yawm-é dîn): a Persianized form of
the Qur'anic Arabic words addressed to God, "maliki yawmi dîn"--
"King of the Day of Judgment" (Qur'an 1:4).

24. (2912) a rope... around our necks: altered for poetic purposes from
the Qur'anic verse, "A rope of twisted strands around her neck"
(Qur'an 111:5).

25. (2914) ghouls on the road: demons who were believed to lure
travelers off the safety of roads, devouring them and their animals.

26. (2916) the King of Love: refers to God, who is al-Wadûd, the
All-Loving (Qur'ân 85:14; 11:90).

27. (2916) Dog of the Cave: a reference to the dog who is mentioned
as accompanying the Companions of the Cave (Qur'an 18:18), a
number of pious youths who escaped religious persecution by
taking refuge in a cave and who woke up over three hundred years
later. "Here 'dog of the Cave' signifies a devoted follower of the
saints... being constantly in touch with them, he knows God,
though his knowledge is not yet pure and undefiled." (Nicholson,
Commentary) Per Math. I:1022, "It is related that the dog of the
Seven Sleepers... will be admitted to paradise in the form of a
man..." (Nicholson, Commentary)

28. (2917) the Lion: another metaphor for a spiritual king.

29. (2918) is not unaware: "Spiritual knowledge conveyed through an
imperfect medium, e.g. a relater of the sayings of the awliyá [= the
sufi saints], is an excellent thing so far as it goes." (Nicholson,

30. (2918) the night-risings of kings: refers to "spiritual kings" who
rise from their beds after midnight for private prayers and

31. (2919) those of bad reputation: "I.e. those who have no regard for
worldly reputation." (Nicholson, footnote) "...alludes to the
malámatís, originally a school of Súfís who, in order to devote
themselves to God alone, kept their asceticism secret, made a show
of impiety, and behaved in such a way that they were regarded as
'black sheep' by all good Moslems." (Nicholson, Commentary)

32. (2919) their secrets: Nicholson translated, "their inward parts
(spiritual qualities)." shouldn't seek a (better) name: "i.e. he must
never again desire what the world calls 'a good name'." (Nicholson,

33. (2920) shouldn't seek a (better) name: "i.e. he must never again
desire what the world calls 'a good name'." (Nicholson,

34. (2920) half-cooked: also means raw, immature, unripe. It is a
technical term in sufism meaning "spiritually undeveloped."


2816 shab chô shah maHmûd bar mê-gasht fard
bâ gorôhê qawm-é dozd-ân bâz khward

pas be-goft-and-ash kiy-î ay bû 'l-wafâ?
goft shah, man ham-yakî-am az shomâ

ân yakê goft ay gorôh-é makr-kêsh
tâ be-gôy-ad har yakê farhang-é khwêsh

tâ be-gôy-ad bâ Harîf-ân dar samar
k-ô che dâr-ad dar jibillat az honar

2820 ân yakî goft ay gorôh-é fan-forôsh
hast khâSiyyat ma-râ andar dô gôsh

ke be-dân-am sag che mê-gôy-ad ba-bâng
qawm goft-and-ash ze-dînârê dô dâng

ân degar goft ay gorôh-é zar-parast
jomla khâSiyyat ma-râ chashm andar-ast

har ke-râ shab bîn-am andar qayrawân
rôz be-sh'nâs-am man ô-râ bê-gomân

goft yak, khâSiyyat-am dar bâzow-ast
ke zan-am man naqb-hâ bâ zôr-é dast

2825 goft yak, khâSiyyat-am dar bîniy-ast
kâr-é man dar khâk-hâ bô-bîniy-ast

sirri 'n-nâsu ma`âdin dâd dast
ke rasûl ân-râ pay-é che gofta-ast

man ze-khâk-é tan be-dân-am k-andar ân
chand naqd-ast-o che dâr-ad ô ze-kân

dar yakê kân zarr-é bê-andâza darj
w-ân degar dakhl-ash bow-ad kam-tar ze-kharj

ham-chô majnûn bô kon-am man khâk-râ
khâk-é laylî-râ be-yâb-am bê-khaTâ

2830 bô kon-am, dân-am ze har pîrâhanê
gar bow-ad yûsuf-o gar âhermanê

ham-chô aHmad ke bar-ad bôy az yaman
z-ân naSîbê yâft în bînîy-é man

ke kodâmîn khâk ham-sâya-yé zar-ast
yâ kodâmîn khâk Sifr-o abtar-ast

goft yak, nak khâSiyat dar panja-am
ke kamandê afkan-am Tûl-é `alam

ham-chô aHmad ke kamand andâkht jân-'sh
tâ kamand-ash bord sôy-é âsmân-'sh

2835 goft Haqq-ash ay kamand-andâz-é bayt
ân ze man dân mâ ramayt iZ ramayt

pas porsîd-and z-ân shah k-ay sanad
mar to-râ khâSiyyat andar che bow-ad?

goft dar rêsh-am bow-ad khâsSiyyat-am
ke rahân-am mujrim-ân-râ az niqam

mujrim-ân-râ chûn ba-jallâd-ân deh-and
chûn be-jonb-ad rêsh-é man, z-îshân rah-and

chûn be-jonbân-am ba-raHmat rêsh-râ
Tay kon-and ân qatl-o ân tashwîsh-râ

2840 qawm goft-and-ash ke quTb-é mâ tow-î
ke khalâS-é rôz-é miHnat-mân shaw-î

ba`d az ân jomla ba-ham bêrûn shod-and
sôy-é qaSr-é ân shah-é maymûn shod-and

chûn sagê bângê be-zad az sôy-é râst
goft mê-goy-ad ke sulTân bâ shomâ-st

khâk bô kard ân degar az rabwa'yê
goft în hast az wiSâq-é bêwa'yê

pas kamand andâkht ostâd-é kamand
tâ shod-and ân sôy-é dêwâr-é boland

2845 jây-é degar khâk-râ chûn bôy kard
goft khâk-é makhzan-é shâhê-st fard

naqb-zan zad naqb, dar mahkzan rasîd
har yakê az makhzan asbâbê kashîd

bas zar-o zar-baft-o gawhar-hây-é zaft
qawm bord-and-o nehân kard-and taft

shah mu`ayyan dîd manzil-gâh-eshân
Hilya-wo nâm-o panâh-o râh-eshân

khwêsh-râ dozdîd az êshân bâz gasht
rôz dar dîwân be-goft ân sar goZasht

2850 pas rawân gasht-and sarhang-ân-é mast
tâ ke dozd-ân-râ gereft-and-o bo-bast

dast basta sôy-é dîwân âmad-and
w-az nahîb-é jân-é khwad larzân shod-and

chûn-ke îstâd-and pêsh-é takht-é shâh
yâr-é shab-shân bûd ân shâh-é chô mâh

ân-ke chashm-ash shab ba-har-ke andâkht-y
rôz dîd-y bê-shak-ash be-sh'nâkht-y

shâh-râ bar takht dîd-o goft în
bûd bâ mâ dôsh shab-gard-o qarîn

2855 ân-ke chand-în khâSiyat dar rêsh-é ô-st
în gereft-é mâ ham az taftîsh-é ô-st

`ârif-é shah bûd chashm-ash lâ jaram
bar goshâd az ma`rifat lab bâ Hasham

goft wa h'wa ma`-kumu în shâh bûd
fa`l-é mâ mê-dîd-o sir-mân mê-shenûd

chashm-é man rah bord shab shah-râ shenâkht
jomla shab bâ rôy-é mâh-ash `ishq bâkht

2859 ummat-é khwad-râ be-khwâh-am man az-ô
k-ô na-gardân-ad ze-`ârif hêch rô

. . . . . . .

2906 rô ba-shah âward chûn teshna ba-abr
ân-ke bûd andar shab-é qadr ân-é badr

chûn lisân-o jân-é ô bûd ân-é ô
ân-é ô bâ ô bow-ad gostâkh-gô

goft mâ gasht-êm chûn jân band-é Tîn
âftâb-é jân tô-î dar yawm-é dîn

waqt-é ân shod, ay shah-é maktûm-sayr
k-az karam rêshê be-jonbân-î ba-khayr

2910 har yakê khâsiyyat-é khwad-râ namûd
ân honar-hâ jomla bad-bakhtî fozûd

ân honar-hâ gardan-é mâ-râ bo-bast
z-ân manâSib sar negô-sâr-êm-o past

ân honar fî jîdi-nâ Habl-un masad
rôz-é mordan nêst z-ân fan-hâ madad

joz ham-ân khâSiyyat-é ân khwash-Hawâs
ke ba-shab bod chashm-é ô sulTân-shenâs

ân honar-hâ jomla ghûl-é râh bûd
ghayr-é chashmê k-ô ze-shah âgâh bûd

2915 shâh-râ sharm az way âm-ad rôz-é bâr
ke ba-shab bar rôy-é shah bûd-ash naZâr

w-ân sag-é âgâh az shâh-é wadâd
khwad sag-é kahf-ash laqab bây-ad nehâd

khâSiyat dar gôsh ham nêkô bow-ad
k-ô ba-bâng-é sag ze-shêr âgah shaw-ad

sag chô bêdâr-ast shab, chûn pâsbân
bê-khabar na-b'w-ad ze-shab-khêz-é shah-ân

hîn ze-bad-nâm-ân na-bây-ad nang dâsht
hôsh bar âsrâr-shân bây-ad gomâsht

2920 har ke ô yak-bâr khwad bad-nâm shod
khwad na-bây-ad nâm jost-o khâm shod

ay basâ zar ke seyah-tâb-ash kon-and
tâ shaw-ad âmin z-e târâj-o goz-and

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)