How To Know Another

Mathnawi VI: 4900-4916

4900 (One brother) said, "I can know a man in a moment by
(the movements of his) mouth.1 And I can know him in three
days if he doesn't talk."

And the other (brother) said, "I can know him if he
talks. And if he doesn't talk, I involve him in

(The questioner) said,3 "(But) if he has (previously)
heard (about) this strategy, he will close (his) lips and go
into silence."


Just like the mother (who) said to (her) son, "If an
apparition comes to you during the night,4

"Or if you see an ugly apparition (coming out) from a
lurking place5 in a graveyard or scary place,

4905 "Keep (your) heart strong and charge at it, (and) it
will turn (its) face away6 from you at once [and depart].

4905b "Because (if) anyone goes fearlessly in its direction,
that demon-like apparition will quickly flee."7

The child said, "That demon-like8 apparition-- if its
mother says these (same) words (of advice) to it,

"(If) I charge (toward it), it will fall upon my neck by
(its) mother's orders [and bite me]. So what can I do then?

"You keep teaching me, 'Stand firm!' (But) that horrible
apparition also has a mother."

Regarding the jinn and mankind,9 the instructor is the
One God;10 even if he is a (mere) beggar, he is victorious
over kings by means of Him.11

4910 So that whichever side that Gentle One is (on),12 go
(there)! (And), by God, you will also be on that side.

(The questioner continued and) said, "If that noble man
is aware of (your) stratagem (and) does not enter into
speech according to (your) plot,

"How can you know his secret (character)? Speak the
truth! [The third brother] answered,13 "I sit silently in front of

"I make patience (my) ladder toward the (upper) levels,
so that I may ascend to the top of the roof of relief.14

"And if, in his presence, some eloquent words should
surge from my heart15 (concerning what is) beyond worldly
happiness and grief,

4915 "I know that he has sent it to me from a consciousness
as (bright as the star) Canopus (rising) in Yemen.16

4916 "(Then), the speech in my heart is (coming) from the
place of good fortune,17 because there is a window from (one)
heart to (another) heart."18

--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" (,7/5/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (4900) by (the movements of his) mouth: Nicholson
translated, "by his mouth (speech)." "It means, 'My laziness
and slowness in knowing a person is to the extent that, if
the person speaks I know him instantly by his speech and
(the movements of the parts of) his mouth whether that man
is sincere or lying, ignorant or knowledgeable.'" (Anqaravi,
the famous 17th century Turkish commentator, translated here
into English from a Persian translation)

2. (4901) I involve him in conversation: "It means, 'I will
draw speech from him. However it happens, I will (then)
become aware of (the worth of) his mind by a single word
which he speaks.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

3. (4902) (The questioner) said: refers to Rumi's final
(and uncompleted) story in the Mathnawi in which a Muslim
judge [qâZî] has to decide the inheritance of three
brothers. According to their deceased father's will, the
laziest of the three is to inherit everything. Here, the
brothers begin to give competitive answers.

4. (4903) If an apparition comes to you during the night:
this is a correction written opposite the original wording
in the earliest manuscript. Nicholson translated the
uncorrected line as follows: "The case is like that of the
mother who said to her child, 'If a ghost come to you in the
night" [ân-chon-ân-ke goft mâdar bachcha-râ/ gar kheyâlê
âyad-at dar shab farâ]. Nicholson also translated
"apparition" [kheyâl] as "bogle" (meaning "bogeyman" or

5. (4904) Or if you see an ugly apparition (coming out)
from a lurking place: this is the correction of the second
half of this line, added opposite the original wording in
the earliest manuscript. Nicholson translated the
uncorrected second half as follows: "... you behold a black
bogle full of rage" [tô kheyâlê bîn-î aswad por ze-kîn].

6. (4905) it will turn (its) face away: an idiom meaning to
go in some new direction, just as a rider turns the head of
the horse he is riding to the direction he wishes the horse
to go.

7. (4905b) that demon-like apparition will quickly flee:
this verse was added in the margin in the earliest
manuscript. Nicholson did not translate it, but noted that
one of his editions of the Mathnawi included it, as well as
Anqaravi's commentary. "(It means), 'Because a demon-like
apparition will run away from a human (who is) strong of
heart and has made a charge (against it); but it will rush
against anyone who is afraid of it.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

8. (4906) demon-like: the word translated here as "demon"
[dêw], actually refers to a jinn (genie), and here means an
ugly, scary, evil jinn. See the note for line 4909.

9. (4909) the jinn and mankind: Nicholson translated
over-literally "(the race of) devils", since the Persian
word "dêw" (related to the English word "devil") was used to
translate the Qur'anic word "jinn" (= genie). There are
several places in the Qur'an in which the phrase "the jinn
and mankind" occurs, such as the famous verse, where God
says: "And I did not create the jinn and mankind except that
they may worship and serve Me." (Qur'an 1:56; see also
55:33, 114:6)

10. (4909) is the One God: this line is the correction added
next to the original wording in the earliest manuscripts.
Nicholson translated the uncorrected line as follows: "The
instructor of (the race of) devils and of mankind is the One
(God): through Him the enemy prevails (even) if he is in
small force." [dêw-o mardom-râ mulaqqin ân yakî-st/ ghâlib
az way gard-ad ar khaSm andakî-st].

"It means, 'In reality, God Most High is the teacher and
instructor to the types of jinn and members of the jinn
race, as well as to the types of humans and to anyone who is
a member of the human race. And if the enemy is less (in
size), by God's permission, Will, and Power, that (enemy)
side will become victorious and find an opportunity [to
defeat the stronger force]. Otherwise, it would not be
possible for the enemy to have victory, whether being
greater or lesser (in power).'" (Anqaravi)

11. (4909) even if he is a (mere) beggar, he prevails over
kings by means of Him: Nicholson (following Anqaravi), in
his Commentary, referenced this to the Qur'anic verse: "How
often a small (army) has conquered a large one, by the
permission of God." (2:249)

"God Most High can give help to any group (He wills).
You also be part of such a people so that God Most High has
given them help. And (regarding) any side which He gives
help and aid, you also be a part of that group of people--
even if you are (all) weak of mind, meagre, weak and
helpless." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

12. (4910) whichever side that Gentle One is (on): Nicholson
translated, "On whichever side that Gracious One [ân yawâsh]
may be." In his Commentary, he stated that this was the rare
case of Rumi's use of a Turkish word [yavâsh].

13. (4912) [The third brother] answered: the text is not
clear whether this is the second brother still answering, or
the third. But it can be presumed that this is the third
brother, because two brothers have already answered how they
would know a man if he either talked or was silent. The
judge then focuses more on how to know a silent person. And
the wisest answer of the three-- as well as the laziest--
was to sit in silence before the silent man and observe the
mirror of one's own mind.

14. (4913) so that I may ascend to the top of the roof of
relief: this is the correction of the second half of this
line, added opposite the original wording in the earliest
manuscript. Nicholson translated the uncorrected second half
as follows: ".. to climb upwards: patience is the key to
success" [tâ bar ây-am Sabru miftâHu 'l-faraj].

15. (4914) And if, in his presence, some eloquent words
should surge from my heart: "In any case, with the blessing
of patience [barakât-é Sabr] and endurance... I become
rooted, for the sake of awareness. I become receptive to
him, like a mirror, concerning his inward mind. And with
complete attention, I notice his inward (state). And I make
myself a polished mirror for (glimpsing) him.'" (Anqaravi,

16. (4915) from a consciousness as (bright as the star)
Canopus (rising) in Yemen: "This parable of a manoevre that
fails because the adversary has been forewarned is
applicable to the case of a muríd [= spiritual disciple] who
desires to receive spiritual communication from his murshid
[= spiritual master]." (Nicholson, Commentary)

There is a prose version of these verses in Rumi's
"Discourses" (Fîh-i Mâ Fî-hi), Discourse 10: "If you want to
know a man, draw him into conversation (so that) you may
know him from his words. But (what) if he is an imposter*
and someone has told him that a man may be known by (his)
speech, and (so) he guards and holds (his) speech, intending
that he may not be found out? This (situation) is like the
story about the child in the wilderness who said to (his)
mother, 'A black terrifying thing resembling a demon's face
appears to me in the dark night, and I'm greatly afraid.'
(His) mother said, 'Do not fear. When you see that
appearance, bravely charge at it. (Then) it will become
clear that it is an imaginary image.' He said, 'O mother, if
the black thing's mother has advised the same as this, what
can I do then? (And) if she has advised him, saying, 'Don't
speak any words, so that you won't become visible [to
humans],'-- how can I recognize him (then)?' She said, 'Be
silent in his presence, present yourself to him, and be
patient. It may be that some words may spring from his
mouth. And if they do not spring (forth), it may be that
some words may spring from your (own) tongue, without your
desire (for it). Or within your (own) mind some word or
thought may raise (its) head, (so) you may know his (inward)
state by means of that thought or word. Because you have
(then) become influenced by him, (and) that is his
reflection and his (inward) states which have appeared in
your interior.'"

*an imposter [Tarrâr]: Nicholson translated this prose
story (in his Commentary), but rendered this term as
"devotee." He explained: "the term tarrár, like `ayyár [=
types of "sufi vagabonds," "reckless devotees"], is used of
a Malámatí [= seekers of blame, as a way to hide their
piety] or hidden saint." He also translated it by adding a
spiritual interpretation: "... or some mystic thought may
come into your mind in consequence of the impression made on
you by him." This story has also been translated by A. J.
Arberry ("Discourses of Rumi," 1961, p. 52) and W. M.
Thackston, Jr. ("Signs of the Unseen: The Discourses of
Jalaluddin Rumi," 1994, p. 42).

17. (4916) place of good fortune [maymâna]: literally, the
right hand side, the right flank of an army. It is also an
idiom meaning good fortune. "In this passage the intended
meaning of "maymâna" is the blessed and good-fortuned heart
of that (other) silent person (who was avoiding speech)."
(Anqaravi, Commentary) This word is also a play on "Yemen"
(in the previous line).

18. (4916) there is a window from (one) heart to (another)
heart: this is the very last line in the Mathnawi. Rumi must
have been too ill to complete his lengthy ongoing story
about the "Three Princes," of which this uncompleted story
about three brothers was a small part.

Anqaravi thought that the occurrence of the word
"silence" [khâmosh] (in line 4912) was a fitting way for the
Mathnawi to end, and pointed out that Rumi often used this
as a pen name [takhallaS] to end many of the final lines of
the ghazals, or odes, in his Dîvân. As an example, Anqaravi
quoted the following (second to last) verse (of Ghazal 75):
"(Be) silent, for silence is better than drinking honey.
Quit hints and allusions, in the burning up of (all) words
and phrases" [khâmôsh ke khâmôshî behtar z-`asal-nôshî/ dar
sôz-é `ibârat-râ be-g'Zâr ishârat-râ].


4900 goft dân-am mard-râ dar Hîn ze-pôz
w-ar na-gôy-ad, dân-am-ash andar seh rôz

w-ân degar goft ar be-gôy-ad dân-am-ash
w-ar na-gôy-ad, dar sokhon pêchân-am-ash

goft agar în makr be-sh'nîda bow-ad
lab be-band-ad, dar khamôshê dar raw-ad


ân-chon-ân-ke goft mâdar bâ posar
gar kheyâlê âyad-at dar shab ba-sar

yâ ba-gôrestân-o jây-é sahm-gîn
tô kheyâlê zesht bîn-î az kamîn

4905 del qawî dâr-wo be-kon Hamla bar-ô
ô be-gardân-ad ze-tô dar hâl rô

4905b z-ân-ke bê-tarsî ba-sôy-ash har ke raft
ân kheyâl-é dêw-wash be-g'rêkht taft

goft kôdak ân kheyâl-é dêw-wash
gar ba-d-ô în gofta bâsh-ad mâdar-ash

hamla âr-am, oft-ad andar gardan-am
z-amr-é mâdar, pas man ân-gah chûn kon-am?

tô hamê âmôziy-am ke chost îst
ân kheyâl-é zesht-râ ham mâdarê-st

dêw-o mardom-râ mulaqqin yak khodâ-st
ghâlib ây-ad bar shah-ân z-ô gar gadâ-st

4910 tâ kodamîn sôy bâsh-ad ân yawâsh
allâh allâh, raw tô ham z-ân sôy bâsh

goft agar az makr n-ây-ad dar kalâm
Hîla-râ dânasta bâsh-ad ân humâm

sirr-é ô-râ chûn shenâs-î râst gô
goft man khâmosh neshîn-am pêsh-é ô

Sabr-râ sullam kon-am sôy-é daraj
tâ bar ây-am bar sar-é bâm-é faraj

w-ar be-jôsh-ad dar HuZûr-ash az del-am
manTiqê bêrûn az-în shâdî-wo gham

4915 man be-dân-am k-ô ferestâd ân ba-man
az Zamîr-é chun suhayl andar yaman

4916 dar del-é man ân sokhon z-ân maymana-st
z-ân-ke az del jânib-é del rôzana-st

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)