An enemy spits in the face of the Commander of the
Faithful Ali, who drops his sword
Learn how to act sincerely from Ali,
God’s lion, free from all impurity:
During a battle, he subdued a foe
Then drew his sword to deal the final blow.
That man spat in Ali’s pure face, the pride
Of every saint and prophet far and wide:
The moon prostrates itself before this face
At which he spat––this act was a disgrace!
Ali put down his sabre straight away
And, though he was on top, he stopped the fray.
The fighter was astonished by this act,
That he showed mercy though he’d been attacked:
‘You pointed your sharp blade at me before,
But then you simply dropped it on the floor––
Greater than fighting me what did you see
That you eased up in your attack on me?
What did you see to end your vehemence,
For lightning to flash bright then dim at once?
What did you see that was reflected here
Deep in my heart, and made a flame appear?
What did you see beyond both being and place
That you spared me though I spat in your face?
You are God’s lion through your bravery
And who knows your high rank in chivalry!
You’re Moses’s cloud in the desert heat
Which brought a feast beyond compare to eat.’
The clouds bring wheat which men can grind and bake
To make some sweet and wholesome bread and cake:
The wings of mercy Moses’s cloud spread
To give him ready-made hot cakes and bread;
For those who ate this bounty he unfurled,
Through such kind grace, their banner in the world,
For forty years that wonderful largesse
Fed those with hope without becoming less,
Until they asked, because they’d grown so base,
Why herbs and onions weren’t sent in its place!*
Mohammad’s people, noble men, can see
Such food from God will last eternally:
He said, ‘I was with God the night before,*
Who fed me’––this was not a metaphor!
Accept this reading, make no argument,
Such milk and honey you too might be sent;
Interpreting throws back what you’ve received,
Due to a fault in it that you’ve perceived.
Seeing faults shows your mind is weak as well,
Wisdom’s the kernel, reason’s just the shell.
Judge critically your own vile self instead,
Don’t criticize the rose bush but your head!
‘You are completely intellect and sight,
Ali, what did you see to stop the fight?
Our soul’s been split by your most gentle sword,
Our earth’s been washed by knowledge you have poured.
I know these are His secrets, but tell me!
Slaying without a sword’s His mystery.’
That Craftsman with no tools or hands still knows
How to create the gifts that He bestows:
He’ll make you taste a hundred wines and more
Which ears and eyes have never known before.
‘O heaven’s hunting falcon, please tell me,
Through the Creator what did you just see?
Your eyes have learned to see the hidden sphere
Unlike those stitched-up eyes of others here;
One sees the moon above as clear as day,
“The whole world’s dark,” another man will say;
Another sees three moons in the same space,
Though each observes the sky from the same place––
Their outward eyes are sharp, their ears are too,
And yet they flee me but hold on to you!
Is this illusion or His marvellous grace––
You looking wolf-like, while I’ve Joseph’s face?
If there were eighteen thousand worlds, not all
Would find each one of them perceptible––
The secret, great Ali, won’t you relate,
You who brought good fate after evil fate?
Either tell what your mind’s seen candidly
Or I’ll divulge what trickled down to me:
It shone on me through you, but still was bright.
Thus, like the moon, you silently spread light;
But if the moon should speak to us one day
It would lead men more quickly on their way––
They’re safe from errors of neglectful fools
Because the moon subdues the shrieks of ghouls,
Though silently the moon can serve as guide
A talking moon’s light would be multiplied.
Since you’re “the gate to where God’s knowledge is”*
A ray from the bright sun of grace that’s His,
Open up gate! To seekers you’re eternal,
And, through you, every husk can reach its kernel,
So open up forever, mercy’s gate
To There is none like Him*––don’t make us wait!’
Each atom is a place where He’ll appear
But if it’s closed who’ll say: ‘the door is here!’
Unless the guard should swing it open wide
Belief in this will not be roused inside,
But when it’s opened it can vivify
Your bird of hope, which then will start to fly.
If treasure’s found in ruins by a man
He’ll then search every ruin that he can;
If from a dervish pearls you fail to find
Why should you try the others of his kind?
Opinion, if for years itself runs on,
It can’t pass its own nose, where it was born––
If you’ve not caught a scent from the unseen,
Can you claim that beyond your nose you’ve seen?
The infidel asks Ali, ‘After defeating someone like me, why
did you drop your sword?’
That friendly infidel then asked Ali
Through drunkenness and savour, thoughtfully:
‘Commander, please inform me, go ahead!
Make my soul like a foetus bow its head!’
The seven planets play in turn a role
In nurturing the foetus, O dear soul,
But when it needs a spirit, then the sun
Provides the help required to get this done:
The foetus is stirred by the sun a bit
When quickly it provides a soul for it;
From planets it gains naught but a small trace
But then the sun shines down on it warm grace.
But how was this connection first begun
Inside the womb with the most gorgeous sun?
A hidden route beyond our human sight
Provides a path to that celestial light,
That route by which all hidden gold’s refined
And stones turn into jewels that are mined,
That route which gives each ruby its red shade
And sends a spark where every horseshoe’s made,
That route which ripens fruit while on the tree,
That route which gives the timid bravery.
‘Tell all, great falcon, with your blazing wing,
Who’s been trained on the forearm of the king,
O phoenix-catching falcon, make it known,
You who defeat vast armies on your own––
You are yourself my whole community,
Since I’m your prey, great falcon, please tell me!
Mercy in wrath’s place! I don’t understand
Why you would choose to shake a dragon’s hand!’
The Commander of the Faithful* answers, saying what the reason
was for dropping his sword in that situation
He said, ‘I use my sword the way God’s planned,
Not for my body but by God’s command;
I am God’s lion, not the one of passion––
My actions testify to my religion:
“You did not throw when you threw,”* God has said:
I’m just a sword the Sun swings at your head;
I’ve moved the baggage of my self away,
“All but God’s non-existent,” I now say,
My Lord’s the Sun and I’m the shadow seen,
For I’m His servant this side of the screen;
Adorned with jewels of union like a knife,
While fighting I don’t kill but grant new life.
My diamond-bright blade blood can never stain––
How can the wind drive off my clouds again?
A mountain of forbearance and deep calm
The fiercest winds can’t blow away or harm;
That which is swept by wind is trash, no more,
And there are many winds like this in store!
The wind of rage and that of greed and lust
Blow those who don’t pray at the time they must!
I am a mountain, He’s my solid base,
Like straw I’m blown just by thought of His face;
My longing changes once His wind has blown,
My captain is the love of Him alone,
Rage may rule kings but I have conquered it;
I’ve tied up anger to my horse’s bit,
The sword of my forbearance chopped my rage,
God’s anger is a mercy at my stage;
Although my roof ’s been wrecked I’m drowned in light:
Father of Dust’s* a garden blooming bright!
A reason had emerged in that attack
For me to choose to draw my sabre back,
So “he loves for God’s sake” should be my name,
“He hates for God” my sole desire and aim,
“He gives for God” my liberality,
“He clings to God” my being, as you see;
I’m mean or generous too for God alone,
I’m His possession, not what men can own.
My deeds for God are not based on opinion
Or mere conformity, but through His vision,
Reasoning and calculation I have fled
To tie my sleeve to God’s cloak hem instead;
While flying I can see the realm I’m in,
While whirling the sole point round which I spin;
If I should drag a load I know to where,
For I’m the moon––my chief ’s the sun up there!
I can’t tell any more humanity,
A narrow river can’t contain the sea!
I speak thus for their brains are limited,
This isn’t wrong, it’s what the Prophet did,
So hear my evidence, I’m free from lust,
The word of slaves is worth much less than dust.’
The testimony of a slave’s worth naught
According to the law upheld at court,*
Though thousands of slaves be your witnesses
The court still won’t give you allowances;
The slaves of lust are much worse in God’s view
Than men they’ve captured, bound, and auctioned too.
The latter type can be set free again
While lust’s slaves live with joy but die in pain––
The slave of lust has no means of release
Except the grace of God which doesn’t cease.
He’s fallen in hell’s pit now, it’s too late
And it’s his own fault––it’s not down to fate:
He’s thrown himself inside such a deep pit
That I can’t measure the full depth of it.
I’ll stop here, for if this speech should extend
Not only hearts but stones would bleed, my friend;
Not due to hardness would their hearts not bleed
But through distraction and not taking heed––
They’ll only bleed that day when blood’s worth naught
But you must bleed when blood is worth a lot.
Slaves’ testimonies are void as a rule––
Find witnesses who aren’t slaves of the ghoul;
‘We’ve sent you as a witness,’* God has said
Since he was free, from being’s grip he’d fled.
‘Rage can’t enslave me,’ said Ali, ‘I’m free,
There’s naught here but God’s attributes––come see!
Enter! God’s grace has liberated you!
His mercy comes before His anger too!
Come in! Now you’ve fled danger that you’ve known
You’re like a jewel that was once a stone;
You’ve fled the thorn of unbelief and doom
So in the rose-bed of ‘He’* you will bloom!’
‘Illustrious one, I’m you and you are I,
Ali, how could I cause Ali to die!
Your sins surpass good deeds of the obedient
And you’ve traversed the heavens in an instant.’
Sins of such men excel their piety,
Rose leaves can grow from thorns for all to see:
The Prophet once Omar approached to kill––
This led him to Islam’s acceptance still,*
And pharaoh ordered magic from his men
But fortune helped them save themselves again;
If magic and denial they’d not been taught,
To stubborn pharaoh would they have been brought?
Why did they witness Moses’s famed rod?
Their sin became obedience thus to God.
God has chopped off the thick neck of despair
For sin’s turned to obedience everywhere,
Since he can change round evil acts this way
To righteous deeds, despite what whisperers say,
Cursed Satan now gets stoned in strong attacks
And out of jealousy he finally cracks;
To us a sinful act he’ll try to sell
In order thus to lead us down to hell,
But when he sees that sin’s now piety
All he has left is sheer anxiety!
‘Enter! The door is open for you now––
You spat but I gave favours anyhow;
I grant such gifts to those who torture me
And bow my head down in humility,
Imagine what I give men who are loyal––
Treasures and kingdoms that are all eternal!’
The Prophet said in the ear of the stirrup-holder of the
Commander of the Faithful Ali: ‘Ali will be slain
by your hand, I swear to you!’
‘The honey of my generosity
Won’t turn to poison if you murder me;
Into my servant’s ear the Prophet said
That he would one day chop off my sweet head,
God’s Messenger thus made him understand
That in the end I’d be slain by his hand.
That servant now begs, “Kill me for my sake
So I won’t make this dreadful, vile mistake!”
I say, “Since you must bring about my end
How can I try to dodge God’s will, my friend?”
He falls before me, pleading, “Noble lord,
Split me in two, for God’s sake, with your sword,
So fate will not decree this as my role,
That my soul won’t burn pining for your soul.”
I tell him, “Go! The ink’s already dry,
That pen’s foiled giants who could touch the sky.
There is no hatred in my soul for you
Since this is not an act you choose to do;
You are God’s instrument with which He’ll write––
With God’s own instrument should I now fight?” ’
The warrior asked, ‘Then what’s revenge about?’
Ali said, ‘It’s a mystery God’s set out:
Should He now counter His own act, you’ll see
A garden grow from His change of decree;
To change His own acts suits God for He’s one:
He holds both grace and wrath in union,
He’s the commander of phenomena,
In every realm He is the emperor.
If He breaks His own instrument, He’ll then
Repair that broken instrument again:
We made it be forgotten–– comprehend That better things replace them in the end! God abrogates laws for our benefit: He takes grass but gives flowers in place of it, The day’s activity is stopped at night–– Watch stillness now bestow true wisdom’s light, But then the night is cancelled by the day, The fire of which makes stillness burn away. Though sleep and rest in darkness may abound The Water of Life too in there is found,
And aren’t minds refreshed while resting here
As pauses help a voice sound loud and clear:
From opposites thus opposites alight––
Inside your heart’s dark core He’s shone this light.’
The Prophet’s wars brought peace which all had sought,
Our peace these days stems from the wars he fought;
Though he slew thousands who showed enmity
This was so men could gain security:
The gardener trims the branches that cause harm
To cultivate a straight and tall date-palm,
And any weeds he finds he will uproot
So that the garden thrives and bears much fruit;
The dentist pulls out teeth that show decay
So that the patient’s pain will go away––
Loss therefore can hide many gains inside
As martyrs gain new life once they have died;
Once cut, the throat that ate its daily bread
Receives God’s bounty and feels joy* instead:
When throats of animals are lawfully slit
Men’s throats grow and from grace they benefit,
But what if one should stab another man?
Guess by analogy now if you can!
A third throat grows, one nurtured day and night
With tonic from God and His rays of light––
The throat that’s cut drinks tonic He lets flow,
The throat that dies in ‘Yes!’ has just fled ‘No!’ Say, ‘That’s enough!’ You miserable, vile troll, How long will you choose bread to feed your soul? You bear no fruit just like the willow tree For you have given bread priority–– If your base sensual soul can’t give up bread To turn to gold try alchemy instead! Since you would like your garments cleaned today From all the washers why now turn away? Although you break your fast with bread, my friend, He mends what’s broken, He’ll help you ascend, Since He mends what is broken, be aware: If He breaks things, in truth it is repair, But if you break things He will say to you: ‘Now fix it!’ But you won’t know what to do! He has the right to smash things up, for He Knows how to mend what’s broken instantly: He who knows how to sew can tear as well, He’ll buy a better thing than what He’ll sell; He’ll wreck a house so its roof hits the floor And then rebuild it better than before; Should He decapitate a man, His grace Would bring a thousand heads soon in its place–– If He had not decreed a confrontation, Saying: ‘There’s life through your retaliation,’
Who would have had the gall to strike His sword
At someone else and claim it’s from the Lord!
For anyone with open eyes can tell
That killer is a fool of fate as well;
If by the Lord’s decree a fool is led,
He’ll even strike against his own child’s head––
Don’t curse the evildoers, but beware
You’re impotent too in God’s ruling snare.
Adam is surprised at the accursed Satan falling
astray and shows conceit
Once Adam looked at Satan with disdain
Filled with contempt and scorn, when he was vain;
Self-conscious, he thought he was in the right
And laughed at wretched Satan’s awful plight.
The Lord’s possessiveness cried, ‘Who are you?
About the hidden truths you have no clue!’
If He should turn your waistcoat inside out,
He’d lift a mountain from its base no doubt,
He would unveil a hundred Adams then
And cause cursed Satans to be born again:
Adam said, ‘I repent now for that glance,
I won’t presume again with arrogance.
Now that I’ve begged, please lead me to decide
That wealth and knowledge don’t deserve our pride;
Don’t let a heart you’ve blessed now go astray!*
Make evil fates decreed now fade away!
Please spare our souls from meeting wretched ends,
Don’t separate us from pure-hearted friends.
There’s nothing worse than life apart from You,
Filled with anxiety, and helpless too.’
Our worldly goods steal what is spiritual,
Our body likewise strips our precious soul:
Our own hands broke our legs––if not for You
To save their souls what can mere humans do!
If he should save his soul from dangers here
He will have stopped calamity and fear,
For if the soul’s deprived of unity
It blindly mourns alone eternally––
Since You won’t grant admission though he tries
To save his soul, that exiled lover dies.
Call heaven and God’s Throne contemptible,
Say seas and mines are poor and miserable––
Compared with Your perfection that’s correct
For transitory things You can perfect.
If You should curse Your slaves, You have the right,
For You that’s fine, successful source of light!
The sun and moon You can call worthless things
And say that cypress trees are bent like springs,
From non-existence and from harm You’re free,
To non-existence You grant strength to Be:
Shedding is known by those who cause to grow,
Since those who tear know also how to sew.
Each autumn He makes gardens disappear
Then causes glorious roses to grow here,
Saying: ‘You’d withered; come back fresh and bright!
Bloom beautifully and fill men with delight!’
Once the narcissus’ eye went blind, He then
Healed it; a broken reed He fixed again.
We’re not the Maker but the objects made,
Content though weak––this is the way we’ve stayed,
Saying: ‘Myself! Myself!’* repeatedly;
We’d all be demons if You should decree.
Escape from demons due to this we find:
You have redeemed our souls from being blind;
You show the way to all who are alive––
Without their sticks how can the blind survive!
Whatever’s sweet or bitter, all but You,
Burns humans up and is fire’s essence too,
Whoever’s refuge and support’s a flame
As Zoroastrians has become the same,*
For everything but God is foul and vain;
God’s grace is that cloud which pours down much rain.
Resumption of the story about Ali and his leniency
towards his own killer
Think of Ali and his vile murderer,
The kindness he showed his inferior:
He said, ‘I see my foe by day and night
But I nurse no bad feelings, nor feel spite,
For, just like manna, death to me tastes sweet
Since Resurrection’s what I’m bound to meet.’
This deathless death is lawful for us now,
Lack of provisions feeds us anyhow:
Though it may look like death on the outside
There’s life through which we will live on inside,
As birth for foetuses seems like death too
Though in the world they are thus born anew.
Because I yearn for death so eagerly
‘Don’t cause yourself to perish’* speaks to me:
We all know sweet fruit’s banned, and we take heed
But to ban bitter fruit there is no need;
This berry with sour skin and flesh you see
Is banned for sourness and dishonesty,
The fruit of death though tastes sweet once it’s peeled––
For me ‘Now they’re still living’* was revealed!
Kill me, my trusty friends! I will live on:
Eternal life awaits once I have gone;
There’s life in my death, so please understand,
How long must I stay exiled in this land!
If I were not in exile here today,
‘We will return to God’* why would He say?
Returners go back to their home again,
To unity from separation’s pain.
Ali’s stirrup-holder falls before him, saying, ‘Commander of the
Faithful, kill me and release me from this fate!’
He said, ‘Ali, please kill me straight away
So I won’t live to see that awful day!
Please shed my blood––it will be lawfully––
So that the final hour my eyes won’t see!’
‘Should every atom be a murderer 3955
And aim their daggers at your jugular,
They couldn’t harm a hair or make you bleed
Because that isn’t what the Lord’s decreed.
So don’t you grieve! I’ll be your intercessor,
Not body’s bondsman, I’m the spirit’s master:
The body has no worth for me, it’s clear
Without one I’m a noble chevalier
The killing sword’s sweet basil now instead,
My death a banquet and narcissus-bed!’
The one who breaks his body in this way
Desire for leadership can never sway;
Though he may strive for power outwardly
That’s just to show how rulers ought to be––
To breathe life into leadership anew,
Grow fresh fruit on the caliphate’s tree too.*
In explanation of how the Prophet’s efforts to conquer Mecca and
other towns was not out of love for power, for he has said: ‘The
world is a carcass.’ Rather it was by God’s command
The Prophet strove to conquer Mecca, though
Power was not his aim––still some don’t know;
He whose pure breast ignored the treasure-chest
Of all the heavens when put to the test
(When they were filled with treasure to the brim
And houris* and the spirits looked at him,
Having adorned themselves just for his sake)
Has no desire but God––make no mistake!
God’s glory filled him so much it was clear
Even those close to God could not come near.
No prophet can fit in that place, my friend,
Nor angels even––try to comprehend!*
‘We’re not distracted and we’re not like carrion,’
He said, ‘We’re drunk with God and not His garden.’
The treasures of the heavens though he saw
The Prophet judged it worthless just like straw––
What then are Mecca, Syria, and Iraq
For him to covet and wish to attack!
If you think this you must be sick indeed,
Comparing him with your own stupid greed!
Put yellow glass up right in front of you
And everything will then look yellow too––
To smash such coloured lenses is a must
In order to distinguish Man from dust
Dust rose behind his horse as that knight sped,
You thought the dust a man of God instead!
Satan saw dust and said, ‘Things made of clay
Cannot be better than my fire, can they?’
If God’s dear friends as evil you should see,
That thought of yours is Satan’s legacy;
If you are not a child of Satan too,
How did the dog’s inheritance reach you?
‘I’m no dog but God’s lionheart instead,
The cage of form God’s lionheart has fled!
The worldly lion seeks prey, loves to hoard,
Death’s freedom draws the lion of the lord:
A hundred lives he sees in death––his aim
Becomes to burn moth-like within death’s flame!
Desire for death’s a necklace for the best
While for the Jews it was a major test:
“O Jewish people!” in the book God said,
“For the sincere there’s gain in being dead:
While profit can make men desire to kill
Desire for one’s own death is better still;
Let this desire be on your tongues now, Jews,
And thus among men honour you won’t lose.”
Not one Jew had the bravery to try
And face Mohammad’s challenge; this is why
He said, “If they’d accepted this, then none
Would have continued to be Jews––not one!”
Instead they offered tax on properties,
Begging: “Don’t put us all to shame now, please!”*
This discourse looks like it can’t reach its end,
Give me your hand, since you have seen the Friend!’
The Commander of the Faithful Ali says to his own foe,
‘When you spat in my face my carnal soul was aroused
and I lost the power to act sincerely, for God alone––that
was what prevented me from killing you’
The Leader of the Faithful told his foe:
‘During that battle fought a while ago
When you spat in my face, my self was moved:
I lost my temper though that’s disapproved,
Thus both God and my passions had their shares
But sharing’s not allowed in God’s affairs.
You were created by the Lord’s own hand––
You’re His, not made by me, please understand!
Smash up forms made by God when He condones,
Break the beloved’s glass with just His stones!’
The Magian heard this, found light in his heart,
His Magian girdle then he tore apart,
Saying, ‘I sowed the seed of wrong; just now
I thought you would be different somehow.
The balance of the nature of the One,
You are the pivot all scales hang upon;
You are my tribe and you’re my origin,
The light of my sect’s candle, and my kin!’
‘I’m the Eye-seeking Lamp’s* most humble slave,
The one which to your lamp its radiance gave,
The slave of that wave of the sea’s light too
Which has just brought a gorgeous pearl to view.
To witness your conversion is my dream,
For like the great ones of the age you seem.’
Then nearly fifty of his family,
Like lovers sought the faith of certainty;
His clemency’s sword had redeemed this way
So many souls in bodies made of clay;
Sharper than iron’s sword is mercy’s blade,
Much more successful than an army’s raid.
Alas, for those two mouthfuls Adam chose,
The fervour of pure thought in this way froze:
Wheat thus eclipsed his sun which had shone bright
Just like a full moon that’s eclipsed at night––
One fistful thus made grace from Adam’s heart
Scatter just like the stars so far apart.*
When spiritual then food was beneficial,
But when it was mere form it caused dismissal,
Like the green thistles that the camels eat
And from it benefit as though it’s wheat;
But when they have all dried up and turned brown
The desert camels swallow them still down––
They tear this camel’s palate up, O Lord,
A nourishing rose thus becomes a sword!
When food was spiritual it then was green
But once mere form it turned stale, as we’ve seen:
In the same way you were accustomed to
Pure, wholesome food––a gracious soul like you
Now eats this ghastly dry stuff every day,
Since spirit has become mixed with mere clay;
Once mixed with clay it’s dry and it cuts flesh––
Abstain from it now, camel, it’s not fresh!
This speech flows earth-soiled, it has lost its force,
The water’s turbid––block it at its source!
God will transform it to a pure stream then––
He made it dark, He’ll make it clear again.
Patience will bring fulfilment in the end,
Have patience––God knows best what’s right, my friend!
“Mathnavi of Maulana Rumi”