Moses and Pharaoh (part four)

Mathnawi IV: 2467- 2489

2467 (Moses said to Pharaoh), "Take care, (and) be aware--
if you need a (protected) heart.1 Since something is born to
you by way of every action (you do).2

"And if you have more (spiritual) determination than this,
(and) the task goes beyond (the level of) observation-- 3

In explanation that the earthen human body, like iron of
excellent quality, can become a mirror. So that Heaven, Hell,
the Resurrection, and [spiritual realities] besides those may
manifest visibly to the sight in the (present) world as well
[as the next]-- (and) not (merely) by way of imagination.4

"Then even if you are dark-shaped like iron-- make
(yourself) polished, polished, polished.5

2470 "So that your heart may become a mirror full of forms
and images, (and so that) a beautiful silver-breasted (form may
appear)6 within it (in) every direction.

"Even if the iron is dark and lacking brightness, polishing
cleansed the darkness from it.

"The iron experienced the polishing, which beautified (its)
face7 so that forms and images were visible in it.

"If the earthen body is coarse and dark, polish it.
Because it is accepting of (being) polished.8

"(And) so that forms from the Unseen (world) may show
(their) faces, (and so that) the reflections of the maidens
of Paradise9 and the angels may leap into it.

2475 "God has given the polishing of Reason10 to you for
that (very task), so that by means of it the page of the heart11
may become shining.

"You've shackled the polisher and have freed the hands of
craving desire,12 O prayerless man.13

"(But) if shackles are placed on craving desire, the hands
of the polisher will be freed.14

"All (hidden) forms would be sent into a piece of iron
which becomes the mirror for the Unseen (world)--.

"(Yet) you've made (it) dark and have given rust to (your)
nature. This is (the meaning of the verse), "they strive to
spread corruption on earth."15

2480 "You've acted like this until the present, (but) now
don't do it. You've made the water murky, (so) don't increase
(the darkness).

"Don't stir (it) up so that the water may become clear and
(so that) you may see the moon and stars circling16 in it.

"Because man is like the water of a river;17 if it becomes
muddy, you can't see its bottom.

"The river's bottom is full of jewels and full of pearls.
Take care, (and) don't make (it) muddy. For it is
(naturally) pure and free.18

"The soul of man is similar to the air; when it becomes
mixed with dust, it becomes a veil (over) the sky.

2485 "(Then) it becomes an obstacle to the sight of the
sun.19 (But) when its dust has gone, it becomes pure and clear.

"Despite (your) complete darkness, God was showing you
visions (of warning)20 so that you might travel the road of

(How) with the help of the Unseen, Moses-- may the peace (of
God) be upon him, related the secrets of Pharaoh and his visions so
that he might accept faith in the All-Knowingness of God, or take
that view.

"By means of His Power, He was revealing through the dark
iron (of your nature) some visions which would eventually

"So that you might not do that injustice and evil. (But)
you kept seeing those (visions) and becoming worse.

2489 "He was showing you ugly forms (in) your dreams, from
which you were fleeing. (Yet) those were (actually) your own

--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" (,12/21/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (2467) if you need a (protected) heart: refers to the sufi
practice of watching and guarding the heart from thoughts
about other than God, and from intentions other than those
pleasing to God. As the Prophet Muhammad said, "Actions are
judged by intentions." Nicholson translated, "if thou
wouldst have a (pure) heart." Later, he changed his
translation: "Translate: 'if thou hast need of the
(understanding) heart.' This is gained by means of muráqabah
[= the sufi term for contemplation], i.e. knowing that God
oversees us and keeping Him constantly before our eyes."

2. (2467) Since something is born to you by way of every
action (you do): just prior to this verse, Rumi had said (as
translated by Nicholson): "If thou wilt be observant and
vigilant, thou wilt see at every moment the response to thy
actions. When thou art observant and dost grasp the cord (of
apprehension), thou needest not the coming of the
Resurrection (to reveal the ultimate effects.... When thy
heart has been blackened and darkened by wickedness,
understand!" (2460-62, 2464)

3. (2468) beyond (the level of) observation: Nicholson
translated, "beyond (the spiritual rank of) the observer."
And he explained: "I.e. 'if thou aspire to mystical
contemplation of God (mushádah), an experience reserved for
adepts'" [= sufi masters]. (Commentary)

"It means, 'If you are watching the rewards and
retributions of every action, and you definitely know that
the compensation for every (good or bad) action and deed
will (eventually) come to you, your (spiritual) aspiration
will become greater. And your spirit will advance to this
(higher) rank from the level of observation... and you will
progress to the rank of contemplation (of God).... And if
your (spiritual) determination again becomes greater, you
will reach the stage of the truth of certainty. And (then)
you will cause the reality of every action to appear (to
your vision) in this world. And you will know, in this
world, everything which will manifest in the Hereafter."
(Translated here from a Persian translation of the famous
17th century Turkish commentary by Anqaravi)

4. (Heading) not (merely) by way of imagination: "(It means),
it will not appear visible to the heart like the imaginary
forms which are seen in sleep or like the fantasies and
imagined things (seen) at the time of wakefulness."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

5. (2469) polished [Sayqalî]: refers to a saying attributed to
the Prophet Muhammad, "Truly for everything there is a
polishing [Siqâlat], and the polishing for the heart is the
remembrance of God [Zikru 'llâh]." Related to this is a
verse in the Qur'an: "that which they have earned is rust
upon their hearts" (83:14). Mirrors used to be made of iron,
which was subject to rust. The "rust" of the heart's mirror
is the result of sins, selfish behavior, and ego-centered
thinking. Rumi said, "Do you know why your mirror does not
twinkle? Because the rust is not separated from its face."
(I: 34) "(For the sufis) have made polished hearts by (means
of) recollection and meditation, so that the mirror of the
heart may receive virgin images." (I: 3154) Nicholson
referred to I: 3484-86, which he translated, "But they have
burnished their breasts (and made them) pure from greed and
cupidity and avarice and hatreds. That purity of the mirror
is, beyond doubt, the heart which receives images
innumerable. That Moses (the perfect saint) holds in his
bosom the formless infinite form of the Unseen (reflected)
from the mirror of his heart."

"It means, 'Polish your earthen body with disciplined
austerity [riyâZat], the remembrance of God [Zikru 'llâh]
and pure actions." (Anqaravi, Commentary)
6. (2470) a beautiful silver-breasted (form may appear): "it
means, at the time when your heart becomes purified and
polished, beautiful images from the unperceived (spiritual)
world and lovely forms will be reflected in it.... Every
Divine creation will be like a silver-breasted beauty, and
every Divine manifestation will be like the fragrant
appearance of a (lovely) beloved.... Then you will see the
forms of the Unseen world and you will contemplate the
realities of existent beings in (your heart). And you will
find deliverance from the stage of blindness and ignorance."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

7. (2472) The iron experienced the polishing which beautified
(its) face: literally, "The iron saw the polishing and (it)
[= the polishing] made (its) face beautiful." Nicholson
translated, "The iron saw (suffered) the polishing and made
its face fair." And he explained: "Fa [= Anqaravi] takes
sayqalí [= polishing] in the sense of saqqál [= polisher]
and translates the first hemistich of v. 2472: 'the polisher
saw the iron and beautified its surface.'" (Commentary)

"In this verse, it means the master of polishing. He saw
the tarnish of the iron, gave it polishing, and gave a shine
to the iron. He achieved such a purification that all forms
were able to be seen in it." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

8. (2473) Because it is accepting of (being) polished:
Nicholson translated, "for it is receptive to the polishing
instrument." "(It means), 'O seeker of purity, polish (your
heart) with the polishing of the remembrance of God [Zikru
'llâh] and submit to the master of polishing [= a sufi
master], so that with his guidance and training your coarse
and dark body may find polishing and become illumined...'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

9. (2474) the maidens of Paradise [Hûrî]: Nicholson
translated, "the reflexion of houri and angel..." These are
the maidens or virgins of Paradise, mentioned in the Qur'an
(44:54; 52:20).

10. (2475) Reason [`aql]: this word means much more than
rational or logical thinking here. It means the highest
faculty of the intellect, the clearest discernment of truth
from falsehood, and the direct perception of the realities
underlying appearances. It is linked to "Universal Reason"
by its luminosity of perception.

11. (2475) the page of the heart: Nicholson translated, "the
leaf (surface) of the heart." The word also means the
"leaves" of a book, meaning page.

12. (2476) craving desire [hawâ]: Nicholson translated,
"sensuality." Means selfish, ego-centered, worldly desires
which Rumi has compared elsewhere to flames which produce
black smoke-- opposed to the light of the pure Intellect.

13. (2476) prayerless man [bê-namâz]: a term of contempt. Means
someone who doesn't do the obligatory five daily prayers (or
does them only when present with other who do the
prayers, in order to avoid condemnation).

14. (2477) if shackles are placed on craving desire: "Meaning,
craving desire in the body of man is like an unjust prime
minister [wazîr]. And discerning reason is like a just prime
minister..... If sensual desires are bound by the religious
[shar`î] restrictions (of Islamic law) and a seeker holds
firmly to the 'rope of God' [Qur'an, 3:103], the hands of
the discerning intellect will certainly be freed."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

15. (2479) "they strive to spread corruption on earth": Qur'an
5:36. "(It means), 'O captive of ego and desire, you have
darkened your heart'.... If one person's inward nature
becomes dark from the effects of sin and wrongdoing, and it
becomes full of sinful and blameworthy qualities, this is
the meaning of striving on the surface of the earth."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

16. (2481) circling [Tawâf]: this word is usually used to mean
the circling, or circumambulating, around the Ka'ba (the
temple dedicated to pure monotheism in Mecca, Arabia).

17. (2482) Because man is like the water of a river: "The
discerning intellect and the spirit are like water. The
bodily demands and craving desires are like earth. Any time
that the bodily demands and craving desires become dominant
over the discerning intellect and the spirit, the water of
Reason and the water of spirit become darkened." (Anqaravi,

18. (2483) For it is (naturally) pure and free: "(It means),
'Don't muddy it, since that river water is completely pure
from darkness in its essential nature-- meaning utterly
free..... And the water of the spirit is full of spiritual
jewels and pearls of Divine secrets. Therefore, be aware and
observant, and don't darken the water of the spirit with the
earth of the body and bodily demands.'" (Anqaravi,

19. (2485) it becomes an obstacle to the sight of the sun: "It
becomes a veil for the sun of Truth and an obstacle to
contemplating the sun of Truth." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

20. (2486) God was showing you visions (of warning): Rumi
returns more directly here to the speech of Moses directed
to Pharaoh. "If God-- blessed and exalted is He, intends
good for His [erring] servant, He reprimands him by giving
signs through fearful dreams. Just as (the Prophet) said--
may the peace (of God) be upon him, 'If God wills some good
to a servant, He admonishes him in his dreams.'" (Anqaravi,

21. (2489) those were (actually) your own form: "It means,
'Those shameful images which you saw in the world of sleep,
and which you hated, all of those were the qualities of your
wicked ego [nafs].'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

Nicholson referred to some other verses of the Mathnawi,
which he translated: "Oh, many an iniquity [= wickedness,
gross injustice] that you see in others is your own nature
(reflected) in them, O reader!" (I:1319) "And if you see an
ugly face (in that mirror), 'tis you..." (IV: 2142)


2467 hîn murâqib bâsh gar del bây-ad-at
k-az pay-é har fa`l chêzê zây-ad-at

w-ar az-în afzûn to-râ himmat bow-ad
az murâqib kâr bâlâ-tar raw-ad

bayân-é ân-ke tan-é khâkî-yé âdamî ham-chûn âhan-é
nîkô-jawhar qâbil-é âyena shodan-ast ta dar ô ham
dar dunyâ behesht-o dôzakh-o qiyâmat-o ghayr-é ân
mu`âyana be-nomây-ad na bar Tarîq-é kheyâl

pas chô âhan gar che tîra-haykalê
Sayqalî kon, Sayqalî kon, Sayqalî

2470 tâ del-at âyena gard-ad por-Suwar
andar-ô har sô malîHê sîm-bar

âhan ar-che tîra-wo bê-nûr bow-ad
Sayqalî ân tîra-gî az way zedûd

Sayqalî dîd âhan-o khwash kard rô
tâ ke Sûrat-hâ tawân dîd andar-ô

gar tan-é khâkî ghalîZ-o tîra-ast
Sayqal-ash kon, z-ân-ke Sayqal-gîra-ast

tâ dar-ô ashkâl-é ghaybî rô deh-ad
`aks-é Hûrî-wo malak dar way jah-ad

2475 Sayqal-é `aql-at ba-d-ân dâd-ast Haq
ke ba-d-ô rôshan shaw-ad del-râ waraq

Sayqalî-râ basta-î ay bê-namâz
w-ân hawâ-râ karda-î dô-dast bâz

gar hawâ-râ band be-n'hâda shaw-ad
Sayqalî-râ dast be-gh'shâda shaw-ad

âhanê k-âyîna-yé ghaybî bod-y
jumla-yé Surat-hâ dar-ô mursal shody

tîra kard-î, zang dâd-î dar nehâd
în bow-ad yas`awna fî 'l-`arZi 'l-fasâd

2480 tâ kanûn kard-î chon-în, aknûn ma-kon
tîra kard-î âb-râ, afzûn ma-kon

bar ma-shôrân tâ shaw-ad în âb Sâf
w-andar-ô bîn mâh-o akhtar dar Tawâf

z-ân-ke mardom hast ham-chûn âb-é jô
chûn shaw-ad tîra, na-bîn-î qa`r-é ô

qa`r-é jô por gawhar-ast-o por ze-dur
hîn ma-kon tîra ke hast ô, Sâf-é Hur

jân-é mardom hast mânand-é hawâ
chûn ba-gard âmêkht, shod parda-yé samâ

2485 mâni` ây-ad ô ze-dîd-é âftâb
chûn-ke gard-ash raft, shod Sâfî-wo nâb

bâ kamâl-é tîra-gî Haq wâqi`ât
mê-namûd-at tâ raw-î râh-é najât

bâz-goftan-é mûsà-- `alay-hi 's-salâm, asrâr-é
fir`awn-râ wa wâqi`ât-é ô-râ Zahra 'l-ghayb
tâ ba-khabîrî-yé Haqq îmân âward yâ gomân

z-âhan-é tîra ba-qudrat mê-namûd
wâqi`âtê ke dar âkhir khwâst bûd

tâ kon-î kam-tar tô ân Zulm-o badî
ân hamê-dîd-î-wo battar mê-shod-î

2489 naqsh-hây-é zesht khwâb-at mê-namûd
mê-ramîd-î z-ân-o ân naqsh-é tô bûd

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)