Umar and the Harpist

Mathnawi I: 2199-2222

Umar1 -- may God be pleased with him -- changed (the harpist's)
viewpoint from the station of weeping, which is being "existent,"
to the station of being "drowned."2

2199 Umar then told him, "This weeping of yours is also (one of)
the signs of your sobriety.3

2200 "(But) the way of the one (who has) become annihilated4 is
another way (entirely), because sobriety is another error [for the

"Sobriety is due to remembering what is past-- (but) past and

future are a veil (covering awareness) of God.6

"Set fire to both (of them). How long will you be full of knots
like the reed,7 because of these two?8

"As long as knots are in the reed, it isn't a confidant of secrets
(and) it isn't the companion of the lips and outcry (of the flute

"When you are (engaged) in circling [the Ka'ba], you are
wrapped up in yourself in the circling. (Then) when you come
home [from Mecca], you are also with yourself.10

2205 "Your learnings are uninformed of the Giver of knowledge.
(And) your repentance is worse than your sin.11

"You are seeking repentance about a past situation. (But) say:
when will you repent from this repentance?12

"Sometimes you are making a low tone13 to be your direction (of
focus), (and) sometimes you are "kissing" (shrill) cries14 of

When Umar15 became a mirror (revealing) secrets,16 the old
man's soulbecame awake within.

He became without weeping and without laughing, just like the
soul. His soul17 left, and another soul18 became alive (within

2210 (In) that moment, (such) a bewilderment reached his interior
that he went beyond the earth and the sky.19

(It was) a seeking and searching beyond seeking and
searching.20 I don't know (how to describe it). (If) you know,

(It was) a state and an expression beyond states and
expressions.21 He became drowned in the Beauty of the Lord of

(It was) a drowning in which there could not be any deliverance
for him, or (in which) anyone could know (about) him-- besides
the Ocean.

The partial intellect would not be speaking about the Universal
(Intellect)23 if there wasn't urgent request after urgent request.
2215 Since pressing demand after demand is arriving, the waves of
that Ocean are reaching here.

(And) since the story of the (spiritual) state of that old man has
reached this place, the old man and his state have drawn (their)
faces in (behind) the curtain.24

The old man has shed speech and speaking from (his) robe-- (so)
half the talk has remained in my mouth.

(But) in order to produce this (kind of) joy and delight, it is
necessary to gamble away a hundred thousand souls.

While hunting in the forest of the soul, be a falcon. Be gambling
away (your) life, just like the sun of (this) world.

2220 The lofty sun falls (into the horizon), scattering (its) life.
Every moment it becomes empty (and) then is made full (again).

O Sun of (spiritual) Reality! Scatter life, (and) cause newness to
appear in this old world!

2222 Soul and spirit are coming into human existence from the
Invisible (world) like flowing water.25

--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" (, 9/28/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1(Heading) Umar: A famous companion of the Prophet Muhammad,
and his second successor, or Caliph. In Rumi's story, a gifted
harper became so elderly that his voice became worthless. He
became impoverished and even unable to buy bread. He went to
the graveyard in Medina and played his harp, singing out his grief
to God and praying for money to buy new strings for his harp. The
Caliph Umar heard a heavenly voice instructing him to bring some
gold from the public treasury to the man who was sleeping in the
graveyard. Umar brought the money to the man, who smashed his
harp, repented of his attachment to music, and began praying and
weeping loudly.

2(Heading) being "existent," to the station of being "drowned":
means being aware of one's separate self, in contrast to being
"non-existent" of self-- which is a state of mystical consciousness
beyond the mind, called "passing away" or "non-existence" [fanâ]
by the sufis. Nicholson later changed his translation, on the basis
of the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to "...weeping, which is
(self-) existence, to the stage of absorption (in God)" (from, "... to
the state of absorption (in God), which is non-existence (of self)").

3(2199) sobriety: "Hushyárí [= sobriety, being sensible] is here
opposed to mastí, 'mystical intoxication and self-abandonment'."
(Nicholson, Commentary) "It means, 'This weeping and lamenting
which you are making is in some way a cause of (self-) existence
and sobriety.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary-- translated here from a
Persian translation of the famous 17th century Turkish

4(2200) annihilated [fânî]: the mystical experience of being
ecstatically free from the bonds of material existence and bodily
and egoic identity. "The one whose path is becoming annihilated
with love of God, it is another path." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

5(2200) because sobriety is another error [for the mystic]:
Nicholson translated, "because sobriety is another sin." Nicholson
refers to I:517, which he translated, "This uttering of praise (to
Him) is (really) the omission of praise on my part, for this (praise)
is a proof of (my) being, and being is a sin." And he explained the
latter as related to a verse quoted by the famous sufi Junayd (d.
910), which he translated: "When I say, 'What sin have I
committed'? she says in reply, 'Thy life is a sin with which no sin
can be compared'." (Nicholson, Commentary)

6(2201) past and future are a veil (covering awareness) of God:
Nicholson translated, "past and future are to thee a curtain
(separating thee) from God." And he explained: "In the higher
planes of mystical experience all relations, including those of time
and space, are found to be unreal." (Commentary) "It means that
bringing to mind the events of the past is an indication of sobriety
and the action of the intellect." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

7(2202) full of knots like the reed: Nicholson translated, "full of
knots (joints) like a reed." Refers to the reed cane which is not
hollow (meaning here, "selfless") until the joints are removed from
the inside. "I.e. 'so long as you remain in the bonds of illusion, you
are cut off from Divine inspiration, just as a knotty unperforated
reed is incapable of receiving the breath of the flute-player and
making music.'" (Commentary)

8(2202) because of these two: "It means, 'Ignite the fire of unity and
the flame of negation of annihilation [lâ-yé fanâ] to the past and
future so that they become erased.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

9(2203) the lips and outcry (of the flute player): refers to the shrill
and yearning tones produced by the reed-flute player's breath.
Nicholson translated, "the (flute-player's) lip and voice." "It means,
'Human existence is like the reed. And the bonds of past and future
and the appearance of time and place in human existence are like
knots and veils.... he is with God in such a way that the breath of
the Spirit doesn't become his companion..." (Anqaravi,

10(2204) you are also with yourself: This line presents some
difficulties. While "you are wrapped up" [murtad-î] could also
mean, "you are rejected," the commentators interpret it as meaning
"wrapped in (an ordinary garment called) a ridâ." The sufi master
Junayd (d. 910) asked a man who had returned from the Pilgrimage
to Mecca, "When you put on the pilgrim's garb at the proper place
did you discard the attributes of humanity as you cast off your
ordinary clothes?" The man said, "No." Junayd replied, 'Then you
have not put on the pilgrim's garb. When you stood on 'Arafát [=
the large plain outside Mecca where pilgrims gather and stand for
one day in prayer] did you stand one instant in contemplation of
God?" The man answered no to every question, and Junayd told
him that he had not yet performed the Pilgrimage and he should
return to Mecca with the right spiritual attitude. (Hujwiri's "Kashf
Al-Mahjub," translated by Nicholson, p. 328)

Nicholson had a different interpretation, since he did not think the
passage related to the Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Ka'ba, or
Temple, therein. He later changed his translation to, "When thou
art touring (round thyself), thou art wrapped (absorbed) in the tour:
when thou hast come home, thou art still with thyself (self-
conscious)" (from, "When thou art (engaged) in going about:*
when thou hast come home, thou art still with thyself (self-
conscious)"; and he added in a footnote: *"I.e. 'thou art absorbed in
thy search, not in God'"). "Most commentators explain tawf [=
circling] as referring to the circumambulation of the Ka'bah, i.e.
'when you circumambulate the Ka'bah of Unity, wearing the ridá
[= ordinary garment] of egoism (instead of the ihrám [= ritual
garment worn during the rituals performed at Mecca] of self-
abandonment), you cannot attain to the realisation of Unity'. In my
opinion, however, tawf here describes the self-centered attitude of
the penitent whose thoughts, instead of being fixed on God, are
ever circling round his own past sins..." (Nicholson, Commentary)

"When will you find the way to the Ka'ba of Unity and how will
you circumambulate the place of circling (Divine) Reality if you
are circling around yourself and you are wearing the (ordinary)
garments of existence?" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

11(2205) your repentance is worse than your sin: "because self-
consciousness is the greatest of all sins. Hence the elect do not
repent of sinful acts as such, but only of ghaflat, i.e. forgetting God
even for a moment. The true penitent is he who has been made
immaculate by Divine grace, so that to him the very thought of sin
is impossible; he is the lover in whom every attribute of self has
been purged away." (Nicholson, Commentary) "Then, with (your)
making repentance [= asserting your own self-conscious will], you
are establishing yourself in partnership [sharîk] with God.... And
by this very cause, your repentance is worse than your sin."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

12(2206) when will you repent from this repentance: "i.e. 'when wilt
thou turn entirely to God?'" (Nicholson, Commentary) "Because
this kind of repentance is a kind of sin to the verifiers of truth and
those closest (to God), since (involvement with) that which has
passed away is for them being in bondage." (Anqaravi,

13(2207) a low tone: means groaning and moaning.

14(2207) you are kissing (shrill) cries: Nicholson translated, "thou
dost kiss (art in love with) weeping and wailing." In this verse
there are word plays between "low tone" [zêr] and "shrill cries"
[zâr]; and between "direction (of focus)" [qiblah] and "kissing"
[qublah]. "These two states [= moaning and shrieking] are a barrier
to the contemplation of God. So pass beyond this place."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

15(208) Umar: literally, "Fârûq"-- a title given to Umar, which
means "discriminating" between truth and falsehood.

16(2208) a mirror (revealing) secrets: "For his sake, (Umar) revealed
divine secrets. He revealed plainly the (various) aspects of (Divine)
mysteries for that old man." (Anqaravi, Commentary) (2208)
became awake within: "The spirit of the old harpist became awake
within his interior and he obtained a (higher) spiritual rank."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

17(2209) His soul: "i.e. his animal soul." (Nicholson, Commentary)

18(2209) another soul: "i.e. the 'human' spirit (ján-i insaní) which
God breathed into Adam." (Nicholson, Commentary) "It means,
his animal spirit departed and his godly spirit [rûH-é ilahî] became
alive. With the godly spirit he found eternal life." (Anqaravi,

19(2210) he went beyond the earth and the sky: "It means, he forgot
whatever is besides [mâ-siwâ] (God)." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

20(2211) beyond seeking and searching: "i.e. inapprehensible by the
intellect. This verse depicts the end of the mystic's quest, viz. faná
[= annihilation of self], as God's drawing him (jadhbah) to
Himself, so that he becomes majdhúb-i mutlaq" [= absolutely
attracted (to God from all else]. (Nicholson, Commentary)

21(2212) a state and an expression beyond states and expressions:
Nicholson later changed his translation, based on the earliest
manuscript of the Mathnawi, to "Feelings and words beyond (all)
feelings and words" (from, "Words and feelings beyond..."). "It
means, beyond these commonly known states and words."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

22(2212) the Lord of Majesty: "And the Face of thy Sustaining Lord
will abide (for ever): the Lord of Majesty and Honor" (Qur'an
55:27, 78).

23(2214) the Universal (Intellect): a term borrowed by Muslim
philosophers from ancient Greek philosophy. It refers to the first
"specification" willed by the Creator, from which the spirits of the
prophets, saints, angels, and all of creation proceeded. A person's
"partial" intellect is a particularization of the Universal Intellect, or
Universal Reason. "I.e. Divine Wisdom requires that the nature of
Reality should be made known through Man, whose spirit is an
emanation of Universal Reason and perpetually receives from that
source the grace and knowledge whereby it ascends to union with
God." (Nicholson, Commentary)

24(2216) in (behind) the curtain: means, "he reached the state of
(mystical) drowning and absorption." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

25(2222) like flowing water: "It means, soul and spirit are going into
the human body like flowing water, moment by moment. If you
offer your entire soul in the way of God, that repeated newness--
and much newer than what you have offered-- will reach you from
the Invisible World." (Anqaravi, Commentary)


gardânîdan `umar-- raZiyu 'llâhu `an-hu--
naZar-é ô-râ az maqâm-é gerya
ke hastî-st ba-maqâm-é istighrâq

2199 pas `umar goft-ash ke în zârîy-é tô
hast ham âSâr-é hoshyârîy-é tô

2200 râh-ê fânî-gashta râhê dîgar-ast
z-ân-ke hoshyârî gonâhê dîgar-ast

hast hoshyârî ze-yâd-é mâ-maZà
mâZî-wo mustaqbalat parda-yé khodâ

âtesh andar zan ba-har dô tâ ba-kay
por gereh bâsh-î az-în har dô chô nay?

tâ gereh bâ nay bow-ad, ham-râz nêst
ham-neshîn-é ân lab-o âwâz nêst

chûn ba-Tawf-î khwad ba-Tawf-î, murtad-î
chûn ba-khâna âmad-î, ham bâ khwad-î

2205 ay khabar-hâ-t az khabar-deh bê-khabar
tawba-yé tô az gonâh-é tô batar

ay tô az Hâl-é goZashta tâwba-jô
kay kon-î tawba az-în tawba be-gô?

ham-chô jân bê-gerya-wo bê-khanda shod
jân-sh raft-o jân-é dîgar zenda shod

gâh bâng-é zêr-râ qibla kon-î
gâh gerya-yé zâr-râ qubla zan-î

chûn-ke fârûq ây'na-yé asrâr shod
jân-é pîr az andarûn bêdâr shod

2210 Hayratê âmad darûn-ash ân zamân
ke berûn shod az zamîn-o âsmân

jost-o jôyê az warây-é jost-o jô
man na-mê-dân-am, tô mê-dân-î be-gô

Hâl-o qâlê az waray-é Hâl-o qâl
gharqa gashta dar jamâl-é Zû 'l-jalâl

gharqa'yê na ke khalâSî bâsh-ad-ash
yâ ba-joz daryâ kasê be-sh'nâs-ad-ash

`aql-é juzw az kull gôyâ nêsty
gar taqâZâ bar taqâZâ nêsty

2215 chûn taqâZâ bar taqâZâ mê-ras-ad
mawj-é ân daryâ ba-d-în-jâ mê-ras-ad

chûn-ke qiSSa-yé Hâl-é pîr în-jâ rasîd
pîr-o Hâl-ash rôy dar parda kashîd

pîr dâman-râ ze-goft-o gô feshând
nêm-é gofta dar dahân-é mâ be-mând

az pay-é în `aysh-o `ishrat sâkhtan
Sad hazâr-ân jân be-shây-ad bâkhtan

dar shekâr-é bêsha-yé jân bâz bâsh
ham-chô khworshêd-é jahân jân-bâz bâsh

2220 jân-feshân oftâd khworshêd-é boland
har damê tay mê-shaw-ad, por mê-kon-and

jân-feshân ay âftâb-é ma`nawî
mar jahân-é kohna-râ be-n'mâ nawî

2222 dar wujûd-é âdamî jân-o rawân
mê-ras-ad az ghayb chûn âb-é rawân

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)