Moses and the Shepherd (part one)

Mathnawi II: 1720-1749

The condemning by Moses-- may peace be upon him-- of the
shepherd's devotional prayer1

1720 Moses met a shepherd on the road,2 who kept saying, "O
God!" and "O Allah!"3

"Where are You?-- so I can become Your servant, and mend
Your sandals4 and comb Your head.

"(So) I can wash Your robe, kill Your lice, (and) bring
milk in front of You, O Great (Lord).

"(So) I can kiss Your small hand, massage Your small
foot,5 and sweep Your little (dwelling) place (when) the
time for sleep comes.

"All my goats are a sacrifice for You. (And all) my
(shouts of) 'Hey!' and 'Ho!'6 are in remembrance of You.

1725 The shepherd was talking foolishly in this manner,
(and) Moses said, "O so-and-so, to whom is this (being said

He replied, "To the One who created us, by Whom the
earth and the heavens came into view."

Moses said, "Hey! You have become very backwards. You
have certainly not become a Muslim.7 (Rather), you have
become an unbeliever.

"What is this foolish talk? What is this gibberish and
ignorance of (true) belief?8 Press some cotton into your

"The stink of your unbelief has made the world (to)
smell bad. (And) your unbelief has made the brocaded silk of
religion (into) an old patched garment.

1730 "Sandals and sandal straps9 are suitable for you, (but)
things like these aren't right for (One who is like) a Sun.

"If you don't block your throat from (saying) these
words, a fire will come to burn up the people.

"(And) if a fire hasn't come,10 what is this smoke? Why
has (your) soul become black (and your) spirit rejected (by

"If you know that God is the Judge and Ruler (of the
world), how can this foolish babble and insolent familiarity
of yours be acceptable?

"The friendship of one who lacks judgment and reason is
(equivalent to) hatred. God Most High is Independent of
(needing) service such as this.

1735 "Who are you telling this to? You're uncles? Are the
body and (bodily) needs among the (Divine) Attributes of the
Lord of Majesty?

"One drinks milk who is (involved) in growth and
increase. (And) one wears sandals who needs feet.

"And if your words12 are (addressed) to His servant-- the
one (about) whom God said, 'He is Me and I am him';13

"The one (about) whom He said, 'Truly, I was sick (and)
you didn't visit (Me),'14 (meaning) 'I became sick, not only

"(And) the one (about whom He said), 'He became hearing
by Me and seeing by Me'--15 in regard to that servant, this
(talk of yours) is also absurd.

1740 "(For) speaking disrespectful words to one chosen by
God causes the heart to die (and) keeps the pages (recording
your actions) black.16

"If you call a man (by the woman's name) 'Fatima-- as if
men and women were one kind (only)--

"He will want (to shed) your blood, as much as it is
possible (for him to do so), even if he is pleasant-natured,
meek, and peaceful.

"In regard to women, Fatima is a praiseworthy (name).17
But if you say it to a man, it is (like) a spear-wound.

"In regard to us, 'hand' and 'foot' are praiseworthy;18
(but) in regard to Holy Purity of God, they are foul and

1745 "(The verse), 'He does not beget nor is He begotten'20
is suitable for Him, (since) He is the Creator of the
begetting parent and the begotten child.

"Whatever became embodied has the attribute of birth.
Whatever is born, is from this side of the river (of

"Because it is (made) from (what is physically)
existent, decaying, and contemptible; it is something
appearing and certainly needs a Causer to appear."

(The shepherd) said, "O Moses, you've sewn my mouth
(shut) and burned my soul with regret and repentance."

1749 He tore (his) robe,22 made a (deep) sigh, and quickly
turned (his) head toward a desert plain23 and left.

--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" (, 1/25/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (Heading) devotional prayer [munâjât]: a fervent,
heart-felt, and intimate form of personal prayer to God,
usually in one's native language (in contrast to more formal
prayers in Arabic). The "Intimate Invocations" [munâjât] of
the famous early sufi master, `Abdullah Ansari (died, 1089)
are famous examples of this, such as (from Persian): "O God,
people indicate how near You are, but You are more lofty
than that. People think how far You are, but You are much
closer than the soul. You are found in the spirits of Your
champions, (for) You are present in the hearts of those who
mention Your Name." (from "Abdullah Ansari of Herat: An
early Sufi Master," by A. G. Ravan Farhadi, Curzon, 1996,
pp. 120-121)

2. (1720) Moses met a shepherd on the road: just prior to
this line, Rumi had said (as translated by Nicholson): "Our
King (God) has given permission, (saying) 'Commemorate
Allah':* He saw us in the fire and gave us light. He has
said, 'Although I far transcend your commemoration (of Me),
(and although) the pictorial ideas (of human speech) are not
suitable to Me,/ Yet he that is intoxicated with (pictorial)
imagination and fancy will never apprehend My essence
without (the help of) similitude.'* Bodily commemoration* is
an imperfect fancy:* the Kingly attributes are remote from
those (forms of speech). If any one says of a king, 'He is
not a weaver,' what praise is this?* He (that person) is
surely ignorant." (II: 1715-1719)

*"Commemorate Allah" [uZkurû 'llâh Zikr-an kathîr]: "Remember
God (with) frequent remembrance" (Qur'an 33:41). *Bodily
commemoration: "I.e. praise and prayer uttered by the tongue."
(Nicholson, footnote) *an imperfect fancy: "'the idea of one
who is deficient (in knowledge'. Such persons use
anthropomorphic terms in praising God (dhikr-i jismánah [= bodily
commemoration], like the shepherd in the following Story."
*without (the help of) similitude: "cf. the saying of Dhú
'l-Nún [= an early sufi master, died 859]: 'Whatever idea
you may form of God in your mind, He is different from
that'. Nevertheless, without the aid of images, similitudes,
and metaphors most people could form no conception at all of
the Divine nature." *what praise is this?: "i.e. 'to praise
God by declaring Him to be exempt from bodily attributes is
really no praise at all'." (Nicholson, Commentary)

"Hazrat-i Moses-- upon him be peace-- met a shepherd on
the road: at the time of going to the mountain of Tûr [=
Sinai], he met a shepherd in the middle of the road..."
(Anqaravi, the famous 17th century Turkish commentator,
translated here into English from a Persian translation)

3. (1720) "O God!" and "O Allah!": these words are
corrections added in the earliest manuscript of the
Mathnawi, which originally had, "O God, the Chooser! [ay
gozînanda allâh]-- which is the text which Nicholson chose
and translated as, "O God who choosest (whom Thou wilt)."

4. (1721) sandals: a type of peasant's shoes, made from

5. (1723) Your small hand, massage Your small foot:
smallness of hands and feet were considered qualities of

6. (1724) 'Hey!' and 'Ho!' [hay-hay, hayhâ]]: these are
also the shouts of a shepherd when leading sheep and goats
to pasture.

7. (1727) a Muslim: In Islam, every Prophet of God is
considered to have been a muslim-- literally, "one who
surrenders (to the Will of God)." And the followers of the
Prophets, who believed in One God and kept the commandments
revealed to His Prophets are considred to have been true

8. (1728) ignorance of (true) belief [kufr]: Nicholson
translated this as "blasphemy" in this line and the
following line. This a Qur'anic term which means denial and
rejection of the existence of One God who has no partners,
as well as rejection of what was revealed by God to the
Prophets concerning the beliefs and behaviors expected of
true believers. The word also means unbelief and lack of
true belief, impiety, and blasphemy. Here, Moses is accusing
the shepherd of extreme anthropomorphism: viewing God as
similar to a creature such as a human being-- instead of as
the All-Powerful Creator of humanity, who utterly transcends
His Creation.

9. (1730) sandal straps: shoe straps twisted around the
feet from the ankles to the knees.

10. (1732) if a fire hasn't come: "i.e. 'a fire of Divine
Wrath', of which the shepherd's blasphemous language is the
'smoke,' i.e. the outward sign." (Nicholson, Commentary)

11. (1732) Why has (your) soul become black (and your) spirit
rejected (by God): "(It means), 'The foolish and nonsensical
words which you are speaking are... also a sign of the
blackness of (your) soul and of your soul being rejected.'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

12. (1737) your words: Nicholson later corrected his
translation, based on the earliest manuscript of the
Mathnawi/Masnavi to "these words of yours" (from, "these
words (of yours)").

13. (1737) 'He is Me and I am him': Nicholson referred here
to Mathnawi I: 423, (which he translated), "The shadow of
God is that servant of God who is dead to this world and
living through God." And he also cited I: 1936 (which he
translated), "Absolutely, indeed, that voice is from the
King (God) though it be from the larynx of God's servant."
Anqaravi quotes the following verses from the Qur'an to
explain this line: "Truly, those who pledge their allegiance
to you [O Muhammad] are pledging their allegiance to God,
(and) the Hand of God is over their hands." (Q. 48:10); "And
you did not throw (a handful of gravel, O Muhammad) when
you threw (it), but God threw [it at the enemy]..." (Q.
8:17). And he quoted a saying [Hadîth] of the Prophet (cited
by Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim): "The one who has seen me,
truly he has seen God" [man ra`â-nî fa-qad ra'â 'l-Haqq]
(quoted by Faruzanfar, "AHâdîS-é Masnavi," p. 63, in regard
to Mathnawi II: 2247; see also VI: 3197)

14. (1738) 'Truly, I was sick (and) you didn't visit (Me)':
"Cf. St Matthew XXV 43-45. The Hadíth runs as follows: 'On
the Day of Resurrection God most High will say: "O son of
Adam, I was sick and thou didst not visit Me." He will
reply: "O Lord, how should I visit Thee, who art the Lord of
all created beings?" God will say: "Didst not thou know that
such and such a one, My servant, was sick, and thou didst
not visit him? Did not thou know that if thou hadst visited
him though wouldst have found Me beside him?... "'"
(Nicholson, Commentary)

15. (1739) 'He became hearing by Me and seeing by Me':
Nicholson commented on this, per Mathnawi I: 1938: "These
words are quoted from the famous Hadíth-i qudsí concerning
qurb-i fará'id [= nearness to God due to required acts of
worship] and qurb-i nawáfil [nearness to God due to
voluntary acts of worship]: 'God said, "My servant doth not
draw nigh unto Me by any means that pleaseth Me better than
performance of the obligatory duties of worship (fará'id)
which I have laid upon him; and My servant doth not cease to
draw nigh unto Me by voluntary works of devotion (nawáfil)
until I love Him, and when I love him, I am his ear, so that
he hears by Me, and his eye, so that he sees by Me, and his
tongue, so that he speaks by Me, and his hand, so that he
takes by Me."' While in qurb-i fará'id the mystic is fání
[annihilated of self] and God acts through him, in qurb-i
nawáfil he is báqí [remaining in God] and acts through God.
The commentators cite [= unusual (rarely quoted by sufis as
authentic)] Traditions in which God says al-insánu sirr-un
min asrárí [= man is a secret among My secrets] and
al-insánu sirrí wa-ana sirruhu [= man is My secret and I am
his secret]." (Commentary)

16. (1740) the pages (recording your actions):

17. (1743) In regard to women, Fatima is a praiseworthy
(name): "Fátimah, the Prophet's daughter and the wife of
`Alí, is regarded by Shi'ites and Sunnís alike as the ideal
of Moslem womanhood." (Nicholson, Commentary)

18. (1744) In regard to us, 'hand' and 'foot' are
praiseworthy: "Because to be without hands and feet is a
fault and defect [= for human beings]." (Anqaravi,

19. (1744) (but) in regard to Holy Purity of God, they are
foul and unclean: "Because the intention is [to limit God by
viewing Him with] limbs. But if the aim is not [to limit God
by viewing Him with] limbs, it is not a fault and defect,
but a perfection. Because the Holy God Most High has
described Himself with hands and feet, and this is in the
Book (of the Qur'an) and established in the traditions (of
what the Prophet has said)." (Anqaravi, Commentary) This
refers to the "anthropomorphic" depictions of God in the
Qur'an as Speaking, Seeing, and Hearing, having a Face (Q.
55:27) and a Hand (Q. 48:10), and sitting on a Throne (Q.
7:54). Also, the Prophet said, "Adam was created in His
image." Whether these descriptions should be understood as
metaphorical or literal is a centuries-old controversy in
Islam. [Compare with: "His Throne extends over the heavens
and the earth" (Q. 2:255); "No vision can comprehend Him"
(Q. 6:103); "He is glorified and exalted beyond their
(attempts at) describing (Him)." (Q. 6:100)]

20. (1745) 'He does not beget nor is He begotten': "Say: 'He
is God, the One, the Eternal. He does not beget, nor is He
begotten. And there is no none comparable to Him.'" (Qur'an
112:1-4) Here, Moses is depicted as quoting from the
Qur'an-- an instance of Rumi's disregard for chronology.
21. (1746) Whatever is born, is from this side of the river
(of existence): "i.e. opposed to the eternal and
suprasensible world (`álamu 'l-amr) [= the world of (Divine)
Command]." (Nicholson, Commentary)

22. (1749) He tore (his) robe: refers to the ancient Middle
Eastern, and pre-Islamic, custom of rending one's garments
during times of great anguish and extreme emotions. It is
strongly discouraged in Islam. Rumi uses it as a symbol for
the passionate devotion of the mystic lover. In any case,
since public nudity is forbidden in Islam, the tearing of
robes by dervishes usually involved the upper part of the
shirt or the outer cloak.

23. (1749) a desert plain: Nicholson later changed his
translation, based on the earliest manuscript of the
Mathnawi/Masnavi to "a desert" (from, "the desert").


inkâr kardan-é mûsà-- `alay-hi 's-salâm-- bar munâjât-é

1720 dîd mûsà yak shobânê-râ ba-râh
k-ô hamê-goft ay khodâ-wo ay allâh

tô ko-jây-î tâ shaw-am man châkar-at?
châroq-at dôz-am, kon-am shâna sar-at

jâma-at shoy-am, shoposh-hâ-at kosh-am
shîr pêsh-at âwar-am ay muHtasham

dast-ak-at bôs-am, be-mâl-am pây-ak-at
waqt-é khwâb ây-ad, be-rôb-am jây-ak-at

ay fidây-é tô hama boz-hây-é man
ay ba-yâd-at hay hay-o hay-hây-é man

1725 în namât bê-hôda mê-goft ân shobân
goft mûsà bâ key-ast în ay fulân?

goft bâ ân-kas ke mâ-râ âfrîd
în zamîn-o charkh az-ô âmad padîd

goft mûsà hây bas mudbir shod-î
khwad musalmân nâ-shoda kâfir shod-î

în che zhâzh-ast, în che kufr-ast-o fushâr
panba'yê andar dahân-é khwad feshâr

gand-é kufr-é tô jahân-râ ganda kard
kufr-é tô dîbây-é dîn-râ zhanda kard

1730 châroq-o pâtâba lâyiq mar to-râ-st
âftâbê-râ chon-în-hâ kay rawâ-st?

gar na-band-î z-in sokhon tô Halk-râ
âteshê ây-ad be-sôz-ad khalq-râ

âteshê gar n-âmad-ast în dûd chîst
jân seyah gashta rawân mardûd chîst?

gar hamê dân-î ke yazdân dâwar-ast
zhâzh-o gostâkhî to-râ chûn bâwar-ast

dôstîy-é bê-kherad khwad doshmanî-st
Haq ta`âlà z-în chon-în khidmat ghanî-st

1735 bâ ke mê-gôy-î tô în bâ `amm-o Khâl
jism-o Hâjat dar Sifât-é Zû 'l-jalâl?

shîr ô nôsh-ad ke dar nashw-o namâ-st
châroq ô pôsh-ad ke ô muHtâj-é pâ-st

w-ar barây-é banda-sh-ast în goft-é tô
ân-ke Haq goft ô man-ast-o man khwad-é ô

ân-ke goft inn-î mariZtu lam ta`ud
man shod-am ranjûr ô tan-hâ na-shod

ân-ke bî yasma` wa bî yubSir shoda-ast
dar Haq-é ân banda în ham bê-hoda-st

1740 bê-adab goftan sokhon bâ khâS-é Haq
del be-mîrân-ad, seyah dâr-ad waraq

gar tô mardê-râ be-khwân-î fâTima
gar che yak jins-and mard-o zan hama

qaSd-é khûn-é tô kon-ad tâ mumkin-ast
gar che khôsh-khô-wo Halîm-o sâkin-ast

fâtima madH-ast dar Haqq-é zan-ân
mard-râ gôy-î, bow-ad zakhm-é sinân

dast-o pâ dar Haq-é mâ istâyesh-ast
dar Haq-é pâkîyy-é Haqq âlâyesh-ast

1745 lam yalid lam yûdlad ô-râ lâyiq-ast
wâlid-o mawlûd-râ ô khâliq-ast

har-che jism âmad walâdat waSf-é ô-st
har-che mawlûd-ast ô z-în sôy-é jô-st

z-ân-ke az kawn-o fasâd-ast-o mahîn
HâdiS-ast-o muHdiSê khwâh-ad yaqîn

goft ay mûsà dahân-am dôkht-î
w-az pashîmânî tô jân-am sôkht-î

1749 jâma-râ be-dr'îd-o âhî kard taft
sar nehâd andar beyâbânê-wo raft

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)