Moses and Pharaoh (part one)

Mathnawi IV: 2301-2309, 2340-2365

In explanation that imagination1 is the counterfeit of discerning
reason, and is in opposition to it; it resembles it, but it is not (it).
And the story of the answers of Moses-- may the peace (of God) be
upon him, who was endowed with discerning reason,2 (which he
gave) to Pharaoh who was endowed with suspicious imagination.

2301 The discerning intellect is the opposite of craving
desire,3 O brave hero. That which craving desire has woven
don't call it clear reason.

That which is the beggar of craving, call it imagined
ideation. Fanciful opinions are the counterfeit of the true
coin of clear discernments.

(But) without a touchstone,4 (the differences between)
fanciful opinion and discerning reason are not revealed.
(So) quickly carry both to the touchstone.

The touchstone (is) the Qur'an, as well as the [inspired]
state of the Prophets.5 Like the touchstone, it says to
counterfeit (money): "Come!

2305 "So that you may see yourself, from my rubbing
(against you). Since you are not worthy of (either) my
height or base."6

If a saw makes clear reason7 (to be cut into) two halves,
it will be smiling like gold in the fire.8

Suspicious imagination is particular to Pharaoh,9 the
world-burner. (Whereas) discerning reason is particular to
Moses, the spirit-increaser.

Moses traveled on the Way of not-being.10 Pharaoh said
to him, "Tell who you are."

2309 He replied, "I am discerning reason, the Messenger of the
Lord of Majesty.11 I am the Proof of God. I am the protection
from being lost and astray.

. . . . . . .

2340 "Outwardly, I'm destroying your business, but I'm
(actually) making a thorn into a rose garden.12

(In) explanation that cultivation and building are after
destruction, tranquillity is after being scattered, mending is after
being broken, (attainment of) desire is after lack (of fulfillment) of
desire, existence is after non-existence, in addition to (all) the
other opposites and pairs.

"Someone came (and) was tearing up the ground. A
fool could not turn away (from the sight) and shouted,

"'For what (reason) are you destroying the ground, tearing (it) up,
and scattering (it)?

"He replied, 'O fool, go (away) (and) don't move against
me.13 Know the difference (between) cultivation and

"'It will never become a rose garden or wheat field as
long as it doesn't become ugly and ruined (first).

2345 "'It will never become an orchard or a planted field,
leaves or fruit, as long as it's arrangement doesn't become
turned upside down.'

"As long as you don't tear (open) the foul wound14 with
a surgical knife, it will never become well and will never
change to excellent.

"As long as (the doctor) doesn't cleanse your bodily
humors15 by means of medicine, the disturbance (in your
body) will never go (away. A cure will never come.

"(If) the tailor has cut a garment into pieces,16 will
someone hit that knowledgeable tailor,

"(And) say, 'Why did you cut this (specially) chosen satin? What
can I do with a shredded (garment)?'

2350 "Every old building which is made habitable (again),
is not the old building first destroyed?

"Just the same, the carpenter, blacksmith, and butcher--17 there is
destruction prior to putting into shape with them (as well).

"By means of the destruction of myrobalan fruit18 (by)
pounding, the body's restoration (to health) is accomplished.

"As long as you don't grind wheat in the mill, our table
cloth will never be decorated by it.19

"(And) the bread and salt (on the table cloth) made the
demand20 that I should liberate you, O fish, from the net.21

2355 "(So, O Pharaoh), if you accept the advice of Moses,
you will escape from such a wicked (and) endless net.

"You have made yourself so much the slave of craving
desire, (that) you have made a little worm (into) a dragon.22

"I have brought a dragon for (your) dragon, so that I
may bring reformation-- breath by breath,23

"So that the breath of that one may be defeated by the
breath of this one, (and so that) my snake may eradicate
that dragon (of yours).24

"If you accept,25 you will escape from two snakes. But if
not, (your dragon) will bring destruction to your soul."

2360 (Pharaoh) said, "Truly you are a very masterful magician,
since you have thrown duality into this place by means of

"(For) you have made a single hearted people (into) two
groups.27 Magic makes cracks in rocks and mountains."

(Moses) replied, "I am (actually) drowned in the
message of God. Magic is never seen together with the
Name of God.28

"The substance of magic is disregard and denial (of
God). (Whereas) the soul of Moses is the (luminous) torch
of (true) religion.

"How do I resemble magicians, O shamelessly rude one?--
since the Messiah is becoming full of jealousy because of
my (life-giving) breath.29

2365 "How do I resemble magicians, O foul one?-- since (holy)
books are getting light from my soul."30

--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 1930 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 11/16/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (Heading) imagination [wahm]:The word means thinking,
imagining; conceiving a false idea; opinion, conjecture; suspicion,
doubt; apprehension, anxiety. "Wahm is associated with the carnal
reason (`aql-i ma`ásh)" [= reasoning for the sake of subsistence,
livelihood, income]." "Wahm is opposed to `aql (the spiritual
reason), as fallibility and illusion to unerring perception of the
truth." "Wahm cannot apprehend the essential truth of things."
(Nicholson Commentary)

"It means that it [= imagination, opinion, conjecture] is not pure
reason, but is one faculty of perception. It is mixed with an
appearance of reason, since it perceives a little bit of reality. And
in its perception, it is not free from mistakes and blunders. And it
is the enemy and opponent of discerning reason." (Translated here
from a Persian translation of Anqaravi's famous 17th century
Turkish Commentary on the Mathnawi/Masnavi)

2. (Heading) discerning reason [`aql]: means intellect, reason,
discrimination; rationality; prudence. Nicholson translated,
"Reason," with a capital letter, indicating "higher intellection"
approaching the highest mentation possible for the perfected, or
completed, human being-- "Universal Reason." This is in contrast
to "partial reason" used by the ego for worldly survival, gain, and
greed. "Reason is the substance or essence, of which memory and
other mental faculties are only the accidents or attributes." "`Aql
refers to the spiritual reason (`aql-i ma`ád) [= ultimate reason]."

3. (2301) craving desire [shahwat]: Nicholson translate, "sensuality."
However, in addition to meaning lust, it means "appetitive" desire
for physical pleasures in general. "It means, someone who still
weaving (his opinions, based) upon the desires of (his) ego and the
demands of his personality, don't call him rational." (Anqaravi,

4. (2303) touchstone: a stone used by assayers to determine if a metal
is authentic gold or not. When rubbed against genuine gold, a
change of color takes place.

5. (2304) the Qur'an, as well as the [inspired] state of the Prophets:
"The touchstone is the Glorious Qur'an and the spiritual state of the
Prophets [= Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Muhammad,
among others mentioned in the Qur'an]-- may the peace (of God)
be upon them. Because the Glorious Qur'an and the states of the
prophets-- upon them be peace, (are) like a touchstone against
counterfeit. They say, 'Come and connect yourself to our existence.
The time of your becoming connected (will be) the time (when)
you will know and perceive.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

6. (2305) height or base: means the uppermost and lowermost part.
May refer to the dimensions of the touchstone itself. Nicholson
translated, "thou art not worthy of my high and lower (degrees of
spirituality)." And he explained: "may signify mystical knowledge
and religious faith." (Commentary) "The intended meaning of
'height' (is) the level of loftiness, which is the ranks and states of
the Prophets-- peace be upon them, and the noble saints. And the
intended meaning of 'base' is the level of being humble, which is
the ranks and states of those (true) believers who have firmness in
the stages of faith (in God)." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

7. (2306) clear reason [`aql]: "i.e. the holy man inspired by Reason.
The verse probably alludes to the martyrdom of Zakariyyá (father
of John the Baptist), who was sawn asunder inside a tree where he
was miraculously concealed." (Nicholson, Commentary) Here,
Nicholson referred to a non-Qur'anic Islamic legend. "Just as the
venerable (Prophet) Zakariyya [= the father of the Prophet John
(the Baptist)]-- peace be upon him, during the time when he was
concealed inside a tree, and the tree was cut into two halves with a
saw. He never grieved or feared, but was counted among the
friends (of God) and the grateful ones." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

8. (2306) smiling like gold in the fire: Nicholson referred to IV:822,
which he translated, "The gold gladly cast (itself with) hands and
feet into the crucible: its vein (original nature) laughs in the face of
the fire." The "smiling," of course refers to the gleam of pure gold.

9. (2307) Suspicious imagination is particular to Pharaoh: Pharaoh,
who vainly imagined that he was himself God to his people
(Qur'an, 79:24; Mathnawi IV: 1556-57) was very suspicious
toward Moses for challenging his status and authority. "It means
specifically that he is the possessor of egotism [nafsî], for he is
rebellious. And he is commanding violation of the ways of
justice." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

10. (2308) the Way of not-being [Tarîq-é nêstî]: means the path of
mystical annihilation of self-existence, ego-concerns, arrogance,
greed, etc. Nicholson translated, "the way of non-existence (self-

11. (2309) the Messenger of the Lord of Majesty: a reference to the
verse, "And Moses said, 'O Pharaoh, truly I am a messenger from
the Lord of (all) the worlds.'" (Qur'an 7:104)

12. (2340) I'm (actually) making a thorn into a rose garden: "It means,
'O Pharaoh, although according to appearance I am destroying
your thorny nature, your affairs, and works-- yet in regard to
reality, after destroying that thorn, I am making a rose garden.' It
means: 'Every harmful and foul characteristic and quality-- like a
thorn to you-- which is removed, in exchange for that I will make
for you a rose garden with Divine Attributes and lordly
characteristics...'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

Nicholson referred to I: 303-307, which he translated: "The
worldly sense is the ladder to this world; the religious sense is the
ladder to Heaven. Seek ye the well-being of the former sense to the
physician; beg ye the well-being of the latter sense from the
Beloved. The health of the former arises from the flourishing state
of the body; the health of the latter arises from the ruin of the body.
The spiritual way ruins the body and, after having ruined it,
restores it to prosperity: Ruined the house for the sake of the
golden treasure, and with that same treasure builds it better (than

13. (2343) don't move against me: Nicholson translated, "do not
interfere with me," and he explained: "Literally, 'do not advance
against me.'" (footnote). "It means, 'Don't protest against me and
don't interfere with my actions...'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

14. (2346) foul wound: "It is called a boil or abscess, and a wound."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

15. (2347) bodily humors: Nicholson translated "(corrupt) humours."
"It means the corrupt humors which are evident within you."
(Anqaravi, Commentary) This refers to the four "humors" or
temperaments, which correspond to the four elements. They were
originated in the ancient Greek school of Hippocrates and further
developed by Galen, after which they became accepted medical
doctrine for centuries. The temperaments and their traditional
qualities are as follows: (1) sanguine (air, warm-moist, red blood,
sweet); choleric (fire, hot-dry, yellow bile, salty); (3) phlegmatic
(water, cold-moist, white blood, bitter); (4) melancholic (earth,
cool-dry, black bile, sour).

16. (2348) The tailor has cut a garment into pieces: Nicholson
translated differently: "When a tailor cuts (the cloth for) a garment
piece by piece." He also pointed out a similar passage in I: 3204-

17. (2351) and butcher: "And the butcher also-- as long as he doesn't
slaughter an animal and doesn't cut the carcass in pieces, its meat
will not become fit and proper food." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

18. (2352) myrobalan fruit: a dried astringent fruit of an East Indian
tree used nowadays mainly in tanning and in inks. Nicholson
translated, "myrobalan and bastard myrobalan." He referred to
I:2933, which he translated: "Unless myrobalan is pounded up with
medicines, how should the medicines by themselves become
health-increasing (acting as tonics)?" He also explained:
"Myrobalans, especially the yellow and black varieties) were much
n favour as tonics and purgatives." (Commentary)

19. (2353) our table cloth will never be decorated by it: It is the
traditional custom of Middle Eastern peoples to eat sitting on the
floor with food placed on a piece of cloth or leather. Moses may,
or may not, have been speaking to Pharaoh in all these verses
regarding these various analogies. He speaks directly to Pharaoh
starting in the following verse.

20. (2354) the bread and salt (on the table cloth) made the demand:
Nicholson translated, "(The obligation of gratitude for) that bread
and salt (of thine) demanded..."

21. (2354) that I should liberate you, O fish, from the net: "It means:
'O Pharaoh.... I am taking this action, O rebellious one and one
resembling an ignorant and forgetful fish, so that I may liberate
you from the trap of calamity and grant you salvation from the
Wrath of God.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

22. (2356) you have made a little worm (into) a dragon: apparently,
this is a metaphor of when egotism becomes strong-- beginning as
a baby snake, a large snake, and then a horrible dragon. It refers to
the contest (mentioned in the Bible and the Qur'an) between Moses
and Pharaoh's magicians. The magicians used sorcery and threw
down their staffs, or rods, which took on the appearance of snakes.
Moses used Divine power and threw down his staff, by the
Command of God, which turned into a snake and devoured the
snakes of the magicians.

Nicholson cited a similar passage in II: 2285-86, which he
translated, "The black serpent that was (as) a worm fallen on the
road has become a dragon; (But) in thy hand, O thou with (love
for) whom the soul of Moses is intoxicated, the dragon or serpent
became (as) the rod (in the hand of Moses)." He also cited III:
1053-56, which he translated: "The dragon is thy sensual soul.... If
it obtain the means of Pharaoh.... Then it will begin to act like
Pharaoh and will waylay a hundred (such as) Moses and Aaron.
That dragon, under stress of poverty, is a little worm, (but) a gnat
is made a falcon by power and riches."

23. (2357) so that I may bring reformation-- breath by breath: "Moses
says that he has brought a dragon (i.e. his rod, which assumed the
form of a dragon) in order to subdue the dragon (i.e. the sensual
nature) of Pharaoh. For dam [= breath] applied to the powerful
enchantments of the nafs [= ego], cf. II 2289 seq. [which
Nicholson translated, "breathe (thy) enchantment over it..."] These
are overcome by the Divinely inspired prophet or saint. As the next
verse shows, Fa [= Anqaravi] is wrong in taking dam-ba-dam
[= breath by breath] to mean by 'degrees'." (Nicholson, Commentary)

24. (2358) my snake may eradicate that dragon (of yours): "(It means):
'Especially (so that)my snake, which is manifesting the power of
God, may eradicate and suppress the dragon of your ego-- which is
admitting denial and ignorance (of God). And so that you and your
disposition may become delivered from its evil and harmfulness.'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

25. (2359) If you accept: Nicholson translated, "If thou submittest..."
"It means: 'If you accept my invitation and the worship of God
Most High and surrender to me and become (my) follower, you
will find deliverance from the evil and bites of these two snakes.
For the intended meaning of the two snakes is: one of the snakes is
your ego [nafs] and the other one is a snake which comes into
manifestation from this rod.... And if not, the dragon of your ego
eventually will bring destruction for your soul, and it will defeat
and torment you.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

26. (2360) you have thrown duality into this place by means of
trickery: "Pharaoh did not accept the words of venerable Moses--
peace be upon him, and told him.... 'You have cast duality and
division in this place among the people by means of plotting and
trickery.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

27. (2361) two groups: Pharaoh accused Moses of dividing the
Egyptian people, who had been unified by his leadership, into
those loyal to Pharaoh and those loyal to Moses--such as the
magicians who proclaimed faith in Moses and the God he
proclaimed (and were executed): "Pharaoh said, 'Do you believe in
him before I give you permission? Certainly this is a trick which
you have plotted in this city to drive out its people...'" (Qur'an

28. (2362) Magic is never seen together with the Name of God:
"Because Truth is the opposite of falseness. And those acts which
are contrary to the usual, which come into manifestation by means
of the name of God and (His) Lordly Attributes, are called miracles
and wonders. But those imaginary forms which appear as a result
of wickedness and denial and disregard (of God) are named magic."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

29. (2364) the Messiah is becoming full of jealousy because of my
(life-giving) breath: "This reference to Jesus in the course of an
argument addressed by Moses to Pharaoh will not surprise any one
who have observed Rúmí's contempt for chronology.... Moses, no
doubt, may be supposed to represent the Súfí Perfect Man, and
perhaps Rúmí was thinking of a famous Tradition (Hadíthu
'l-ghibtah) [= the saying about wishing to be like someone without
feeling envy] to the effect that the prophets themselves regard
God's awliyá [= saints] with feelings of benevolent envy."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

30. (2365) (holy) books are getting light from my soul: "The
transcendental prophetic spirit is the Light of Revelation. See Qur.
XLII 52". (Nicholson, Commentary) "But We have made it [= the
Divine Revelation] a Light by which We guide whoever We will
of Our servants..." (Qur'an 42:52) "It means, 'O impure one, how
do I resemble magicians and tricksters? Since all books become
illumined from my soul and obtain life."' (Anqaravi, Commentary)


dar bayân-é ân-ke wahm qalb-é `aql-ast wa setêza-yé ô-st,
ba-d-ô mând wa ô nêst wa qiSSa-yé mujâbât-é mûsà--
`alay-hi 's-salâm-- ke SâHib-é `aql bôd bâ fir`awn ke
SâHib-é wahm bûd

2301 `aql Zidd-é shahwat-ast ay pahlawân
ân-ke shahwat mê-tan-ad `aql-ash ma-khwân

wahm khwân-ash ân-ke shahwat-râ gadâ-st
wahm qalb-é naqd-é zarr-é `aql-hâ-st

bê-miHak paydâ na-gard-ad wahm-o `aql
har dô-râ sôy-é miHak kon zûd naql

în miHak qur'ân-o Hâl-é anbiyâ
chûn miHak mar qalb-râ gôy-ad be-yâ

2305 tâ be-bîn-î khwêsh-râ z-âsêb-é man
ke na-î ahl-é farâz-o shêb-é man

`aql-râ gar arra'yé sâz-ad dô nîm
ham-chô zar bâsh-ad dar âtesh ô basîm

wahm mar fir`awn-é `âlam-sôz-râ
`aql mar mûsà-yé jân-afrôz-râ

raft mûsà bar Tarîq-é nêstî
goft fir`awn-ash be-gô tô kê-st-î

2309 goft man `aql-am, rasûl-é Zû 'l-jalâl
Hujjatu 'llâh-am, amân-am az Zalâl

. . . . . . .

2340 Zâhirâ kâr-é tô wîrân mê-kon-am
lêk khârê-râ golestân mê-kon-am

bayân-é ân-ke `imârat dar wîrânî-st wa jam`îyat dar
parâkandagî-st wa dorostî dar shekastagî-st wa murâd
dar bê-murâdî-st wa wujûd dar `adam-ast wa `alà haZâ
baqiyyatu 'l-iZdâd wa 'l-azwâj

ân yakê âmad zamîn-râ mê-shekâft
ablahê faryâd kard-o bar na-tâft

k-în zamîn-râ az che wîrân mê-kon-î
mê-shekâf-î-wo parêshân mê-kon-î?

goft ay ablah be-raw, bar man ma-rân
tô `imârat az kharâbî bâz dân

kay shaw-ad gol-zâr-o gandom-zâr în
tâ na-gard-ad zesht-o wêrân în zamîn

2345 kay shaw-ad bostân-o kasht-o barg-o bar
tâ na-gard-ad naZm-é ô zêr-o zabar?

tâ be-na-sh'kâf-î ba-neshtar rêsh-é chaghz
kay shaw-ad nêkô-wo kay gardîd naghz?

tâ na-shôy-ad khilTa-hâ-at az dawâ
kay raw-ad shôresh, ko-jâ ây-ad shifâ?

pâra-pâra karda darzî jâma-râ
kas zan-ad ân darzî-yé `allâma-râ?

ke che-râ în aTlas-é ba-g'zîda-râ
bar darîd-î, che kon-am ba-drîda-râ?

2350 har binây-é kohna k-âbâdân kon-and
ne ke awwal kohna-râ wêrân kon-and?

ham-chon-în najjâr-o Haddâd-o qaSâb
hast-eshân pêsh az `imârat-hâ kharâb

ân halîla-wo ân balîla kôftan
z-ân talaf gard-and ma`mûrîy-é tan

tâ na-kôb-î gandom andar âseyâ
kay shaw-ad ârâsta z-ân khwân-é mâ?

ân taqâZâ kard ân nân-o namak
ke ze-shast-at wâ rahân-am ay samak

2355 gar paZîr-î pand-é mûsà wâ rah-î
az chon-în shast-é bad-é nâ-muntahî

bas ke khwad-râ karda-î banda-yé hawâ
kerm-akê-râ karda-î tô azhdahâ

azhdahâ-râ azhdahâ âwarda-am
tâ ba-iSlâH âwar-am man dam ba-dam

tâ dam-é ân az dam-é în be-sh'kan-ad
mâr-é man ân azhdahâ-râ bar kan-ad

gar riZâ dâd-î rahîd-î az dô mâr
war-na az jân-at bar âr-ad ân damâr

2360 goft al-Haq sakht ostâ-jâdowî
ke dar afkand-î ba-makr în-jâ dowî

khalq-é yak-del-râ tô kard-î dô gorôh
jâdowî rakhna kon-ad dar sang-o kôh

goft hast-am garq-é payghâm-é khodâ
jâdowî ke dîd bâ nâm-é khodâ?

ghaflat-o kufr-ast mâya-yé jâdowî
mash`ala-yé dîn-ast jân-é mûsawî

man ba-jâdû-yân che mân-am ay waqîH
k-az dam-am por rashk mê-gard-ad masîH?

2365 man ba-jâdû-yân che mân-am ay junub
ke ze-jân-am nûr mê-gîr-ad kutub?

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)