Friday, January 29, 2010

6. The Poet

The first enclave in the Garden of Poetry is Secrets and Mysteries. It consists of two parts, ‘The Secrets of the Self’ and ‘The Mysteries of Selflessness’. The first appeared in 1915 and was thoroughly revised after feedback from public three years later, around the same time when the second part was opened to visitors. Around 1922, both parts were combined to form the standard edition which you are now visiting.
Instantly, you are greeted by Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi, rather like a dean welcoming someone from a fresh batch of students. The welcome note of the Mawlana is short, consisting of only six lines from his Divan:
Yesterday the Shaykh wandered about the city with a lamp:
“I am weary of demon and monster: I seek a human being.
I am sick of feeble-spirited companions,
I seek the Lion of God or Rustam of the legends.”
I said, “What we have sought is never attained.”
He said, “I seek that which is unattainable.”
Rustam was a legendary hero of ancient Persia and “the Lion of God” refers to Ali, the cousin and deputy of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was also the fourth caliph and most schools of Sufism trace their spiritual lineage to him. Here at the very beginning, you find two of the clues of Joseph combined in the person of Ali: Sufism and kingdom. “What I have sought is never attained” is reminiscent of the third clue, Time. Indeed, the master speaks in parables, and the apparent calm and simplicity which covers this intriguing riddle is awe-inspiring. You have received a heavy blessing.
As you enter the Prelude, you are greeted by another Persian poet. He is Naziri of Nishapur (incidentally from the same city as Attar, the predecessor revered by Rumi so much). His greeting is brief:
Nothing in my forest has gone waste:
Wood that could not be used in the pulpit has been made into gallows.
The gallows almost always refer to Mansur Hallaj, a ninth century Sufi who was executed for revealing a secret that could never have been uttered from the pulpit. “Ana al Haque,” he said. In Arabic, it could mean, diversely, “I’m the Creative Truth,” “The self is God” or “I’m God.” What Naziri has said about his metaphorical forest may also be true about the Garden of Poetry, if its architect is willing to be bold enough to reveal secrets like Hallaj.

It is daybreak as you enter the first part of the enclave. The Poet’s tears have beautified Nature and he is going to be your guide. His dust appears to be brighter than Jamshid’s Cup, the magical device in which the mythical king of Persia could see anything that existed in the world. The Poet has plucked flowers that were unborn in the sap of the tree and now they form parts of the Garden. In front of your eyes leaps a deer that has not yet sprung out from non-existence and it is also part of the Garden.

You are offered a special drink that has a strong base of water from Zamzam, the pure fountain in Makkah. The drink has the effect of washing away the vexation of Time from the hearts and illuminating the thought. It brings you a flashback in which you see the Poet as an unfinished statue. Rumi appears, chisels him with love and commands, “O frenzied lover! Take a draught of love's pure wine. How long will you be silent like a bud? Sell your fragrance cheap, like a rose! Like the reed, bring a message from the reed bed: bring a message to Majnun from the tribe of Layla. Create a new style for the song and enrich the assembly with your piercing strains. Inspire every living soul and give them new life. O bell of the caravan, awake!”

The statue that had been chiseled into the Poet now becomes a giant wave of the boundless and mysterious ocean which is Rumi. The wave lodges itself in the heart of the ocean and becomes a pearl. Now you see the vision from such great distance that the ocean appears tiny like a flower, and it is not the only flower in view. You can see the entire garden, which is the Muslim nation. Its countless flowers represent the great visionaries that sprung from it.

“I have no need of the ear of today,” the Poet is saying to you. “I am the voice of the poet of tomorrow. My own age does not know the secrets. My Joseph is not for this market. No one has told the secret which I will tell. Come, if you would like to know the secret of everlasting life. Come, if thou would like to win both earth and heaven. I unveiled the secret of the self and disclosed the mystery of its miraculous power. Poetizing is not the aim of this work, so do not find fault with the wine‑cup but consider attentively the taste of the wine.”

The ‘Prelude’ has comprised of five stanzas, each with a different theme, but the bottom line is that all previous knowledge must be held in abeyance while you are in the Garden. If the Poet’s contemporaries did not possess the means for discovering Joseph, then previous knowledge about Rumi, philosophy or anything of the real world cannot be applied here. Those tools were available to those contemporaries who, according to the Poet, did not have the means for discovering Joseph.

This leaves only one option. You should proceed without preconceived notions of any sort and see where the five clues take you in your search for Joseph in the Garden.
This is the sixth chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007). Next chapter: The System of the Universe.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

5. Enter the Garden

Rules must be observed if Joseph is to be found. “My own age does not know the secrets,” Iqbal warned his earliest listeners. “My Joseph is not for this market.” If his contemporaries did not possess the means for discovering Joseph then obviously anyone looking for the secret must approach these texts without preconceived notions. No previous knowledge about Rumi, philosophy or anything of the real world should be applied because those tools were available to Iqbal’s contemporaries who, according to him, did not have the means for discovering Joseph.

Collecting all references to themes associated with Joseph (Sufism, kings and Time) from the works of Iqbal cannot help either, because that would provide information but not the holistic experience that is the essence of poetry, the medium used by Iqbal.

That leaves one option. It is to “enter” the world of Iqbal’s writings as if it were a virtual reality. Leaving all prior knowledge outside, you should look for clues as they appear in their “three-dimensional” context and see where it leads.

The rest of the present book is your journey through this virtual reality. It is being called “the Garden of Poetry” here, because Iqbal himself referred to his work as “baagh-i-sukhan” which means the same in Persian. Each poetical work has been converted into an enclave, and hence there you are going to pass through nine enclaves. His prose work, the Reconstruction, consisting of seven lectures, has been converted into a “university” at the far end. His political speech, the Allahabad Address, will be given to you as souvenir on the exit. For your convenience, the contents of all these works have been listed as Appendix, which you can consult at any time if you feel lost.

Your search for Joseph in the Garden of Poetry will be, in fact, a walk through the works of Iqbal. Place names in the Garden of Poetry have been derived from these contents. For instance, Persian Psalms has been presented as “the Temple of New David,” since the working title of that book, while Iqbal was writing it, was The Song of a Modern David. The famous poem ‘The Mosque of Cordoba’ will appear as a grand mosque instead, but it will be constructed of stanzas instead of bricks. Needless to say, locations and descriptions of all structures have been kept strictly according to their occurrence in the original text.

Ideas which a reader gets while reading these works are going to be presented here as “experiences”. For instance, when you are told in the very next chapter that you enter the Garden at daybreak, it simply means that the first book of Iqbal’s poetry opens with some such lines as, “When the world‑illuming sun rushed upon night like a brigand…” Likewise, you may find the Poet turning to you and saying, “Come, if you wish to know the secret of everlasting life…” This would mean that at this point in the poem, the Poet addresses the reader directly (Navigating through this kind of virtual reality has become easier in the age of computers and the Internet. We “visit” websites, “exit” windows and so on. Hence it may not baffle you to “enter a chapter” or “exit” a book, which are the sort of things you shall be doing in the remaining chapters).

There are 111 chapters in the book, and you are now on the fifth. Beyond this chapter is the Garden of Poetry. The clues that will lead you to the secret are:

  • Rumi and Iqbal
  • kings;
  • Joseph
  • Sufism; and
  • Time

Remember these, and forget everything else. Enter the Garden with a clear mind, since no previous knowledge is allowed inside, or else Joseph may never be found.

This is the fifth chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007). Next chapter: The Poet.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

4. Joseph

Joseph was thrown in a well by his jealous brothers, and therefore he is a metaphor for closely guarded secrets. Here, he seems to be related to secrets of power as well as spirituality, and his coming out is subject to right timing. Incidentally, these same connotations surround the very first reference to Joseph in the prelude of the first book, where Iqbal says:

I am a song indifferent to the plectrum:
I am the voice of the poet of tomorrow.
My own age does not know the secrets;
My Joseph is not for this market.

It follows that this Joseph is the main thing to be found through Iqbal’s writings but wouldn’t be found in his lifetime. Curiously enough, there are many references to Joseph in his works, and he seems to be speaking of many Josephs distinguishable from each other. For instance, Joseph of the West has already come out and seized power:

Freed from his bondage, Joseph sits on Pharaoh’s high throne—
The lies and traps of Potiphar’s Wife have been washed from the slate.

Regarding the East, an angel informs the spirit of a Hindu philosopher:

Rubies come forth from the stones of the road,
Its Josephs are issuing out of the well.

Out of all these, there is one to which Iqbal refers specifically as “my Joseph” and it becomes “our Joseph” in a ghazal addressed to “one of the Sufis”:

Do not talk as yet about Joseph we have lost:
The warmth of Zulaykha’s heart neither you have nor I.

Apparently it is the same person about whom Rumi says later, “Even if the wolves take away our Joseph it is better than his getting sold to the unworthy.” It is an entity which seems to belong especially to Sufis (“my Joseph”, “our Joseph”) as well as kings (“secrets of politics and government”) but should not come out until the right time (“my own age does not know,” “do not talk as yet about Joseph” and “even if the wolves take away our Joseph…”).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

3. 'Who is Rumi?'

The following note appeared in a Sufi magazine published in Urdu from Meeruth, a city in India, on August 1, 1913:

Dr. Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal dreamed that Rumi was commanding him to write a masnavi (a long poem of rhymed couplets). Iqbal replied, “That genre reached its perfection with you.” Rumi said, “No, you should also write.” Iqbal stated respectfully, “You command that the self must be extinguished but I reckon the self to be something that should be sustained.” Rumi replied, “My intended meaning is also the same as what you have understood.”

He [Iqbal] found himself reciting the following verses as he woke up, and then he began to write them down…

This was Asrar-o-Rumooz (Secrets and Mysteries), the first book of Iqbal’s poetry, published in two installments in 1915 and 1918. Although Iqbal was an outstanding poet of Urdu for almost thirteen years by then, he had not written more than half a dozen poems in Persian, yet it was the language of Rumi, and the verses which flowed from Iqbal's pen when he woke up from the dream were in the same language, meter and style as Rumi's Masnavi.

Rumi as presented in 'A Parable Never Told' is how he appears in imagination after we have read Iqbal. In the works of Iqbal, we find the master from Konya in lively discourses with Goethe, Byron and Browning as well as giving expert opinions on Hegel and Nietzsche. Yet also, on occasions, we find him to be a catalyst for resurrection:

  • The dream of 1913 is described in the prelude of the first book (the first part of which was published in 1915). In the rest of the volume as well as the next two, Iqbal revisits his cultural, literary and personal constructs from this perspective.
  • In the second last poem of the third volume (Baang-i-Dara, or The Caravan of the Marching Bell, published in 1924), a character from the Quran delivers a message from Rumi, which transforms everything around the Poet. The old world “dies” and a new world is “resurrected” in the very next poem, ‘The Dawn of Islam’, a poem that a system of abstractions to be sustained throughout the next volume (Zuboor-i-Ajam, or Persian Psalms, published in 1927).
  • In the prologue of the next volume (Javidnama, or the Epic of Eternity, published in 1932), the spirit of Rumi appears in person and reveals the secret of immortality. The abstract world of the previous volume disappears, the Poet is “born” in a new dimension, and is guided through a heavenly journey culminating in a meeting with the Creator.
  • The next book (Baal-i-Jibreel, or Gabriel's Wing, published in 1935) presents yet another world, formed as an outcome of the heavenly journey and combining all genres from the previous volumes. A detailed "interview" with Rumi towards the end of the book is followed by a series of poems rejecting the contemporary world order and climaxing in “a declaration of war against the present age” in the sub-title of the next book (Zarb-i-Kaleem, or the Rod of Moses, published in 1936).
  • In the prologue of the volume after that (Pas Cheh Bayed Kard, or What Should Now Be Done? published in 1937), Rumi tells Iqbal to reveal the secrets of government as well as religion. The intellectual “war” against the prevalent world order acquires a new urgency to be sustained through the next volume (the last book of Iqbal’s poetry, Armughan-i-Hijaz, or the Gift of Hijaz, published a few months after his death).

While the concepts behind this worldview are explained in prose works written in English (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam published in 1930/34 and the Allahabad Address published in 1930), changes in the form of poetry itself, always occurring through Rumi, suggest an equivalent transformation of the real world. For that, the key seems to be Joseph, a figure who keeps appearing and reappearing as mysteriously as Rumi himself: “You should not tell the secrets of lions to jackals, for even if the wolves take away our Joseph it is better than his getting sold to the unworthy,” says Rumi to Iqbal in the prelude of the eighth book. He has just commanded his disciple to reveal the secrets of politics and government. Therefore, the question is: Who is Joseph?

This is the third chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007). Next chapter: Joseph.

Monday, January 18, 2010

2. The Second Coming

The earthly remains of Rumi lie buried at the crossroads of the East and the West, marked by a green dome of rather unusual shape and surrounded by the compound that used to house a monastery of dervishes until pressures of modern age forced the order to be disbanded.

Graves of Rumi's family and disciples still surround the tomb, but at least one of them is empty. The person named on the tombstone was born some six centuries after the death of the master, was not even remotely related by blood and never visited Turkey. He was Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), the Poet-Philosopher who proposed and predicted the birth of Pakistan seventeen years before the historic event. The actual grave of Iqbal in Lahore, but in the heart of the Muslim world he remains inseparable from Rumi. This matter of the heart stands revealed at the doorstep of the master.

In the Muslim world, Rumi is revered more than any other wordsmith: his Divan of Shams Tabriz remains unmatched for inducing magnificent ecstasy (and is the source of most of those “love poems” of his that are becoming popular in the West), while his Masnavi (a long poem of rhymed couplets) has been described as “the Quran in Persian" (the famous epithet is from Abdul Rahman Jami, one of the greatest Persian poets and literary critics). Just like Rumi’s Divan, the poems of Iqbal also combine unusual depth with immense appeal for everyone, and just like the Masnavi of Rumi, they were claimed to contain nothing “other than the Quran.” Despite this, while Rumi is the highest note in Sufi poetry, Iqbal can easily be described as the highest in political, since he is the only poet in history to be credited with inspiring the birth of a new state.

In the eyes of the world, no two poets could be more distanced from each other, but the transfer of power from the king to Rumi, allegorically described at the beginning of the previous chapter, seems to have started happening although it still awaits complete understanding. The symbolic grave of Iqbal at Konya is a subtle reminder.

This is the second chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007). Next chapter: 'Who is Rumi?'

Sunday, January 10, 2010

1. A Parable Never Told

This is a revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007). Feedback from audience is welcome, and may be incorporated as it comes, since it's about making informed contributions towards a better world, together.

1: A Parable Never Told


It so happened one day that the Sultan of Turkey came to Jalaluddin Rumi and said, “I banish myself in penance for sins committed against humanity by the kings. I leave the country to you.” Another Sufi may have declined, but Rumi was one in his own league. Spirit and matter had been separate for centuries but now the two became one.


One of the first things he did was a whirlwind tour of the country for imparting to the masses an understanding of religion. With the help of parables, poetry, flute and some whirling dance he soon raised the plebeians to such levels of spiritual elevation where they could all give opinion on everything.

The clergy became very upset and demanded that since it had always represented religion it was now its right to rule. Rumi announced a date on which the entire adult population of the country was to choose between him and the clergy. He won with overwhelming majority, and his detractors had no option but to leave. Their parting words were, “Democracy is against Islam.”


By now you may have noticed that this is a fictitious account, though not without purpose (a parable is seldom without purpose). A parable was thought to be the best way of introducing this book, since it is never asked about a parable whether it is "true" or not – the truth is rather perceived to be more than appearance.

Hence this first chapter, this 'Parable', is meant to take you straight to the heart of such matters as what the message of Rumi can do for us today, how it is relevant and what we need in order to get started. This first chapter, although divided into several sections by numbers, is just one story: it is quite usual for a parable to be broken down, often with subheadings, and to be interspersed with tales within tales, commentaries, and so on.

For instance, the present parable may digress at this point to inform you that Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi was born in 1207 in Balkh and died in 1273 in Konya (two cities of the ancient Persian Empire, now in Afghanistan and Turkey respectively), and that he wrote in Persian. Yet, not only his message sounds relevant today but there even appears to be uncanny similarity between his times and our own, which you may notice as you read on.


Those were, of course, the best of the times and also the worst. Crusades had long ended but the mind of Europe was unwilling to bury the dispute. In the Muslim world itself, barbarians were playing havoc—they had started with Afghanistan and did not seem to be stopping even after capturing the last caliph of Baghdad and beating him to death. Farther East, Hindus and Muslims were engaged in an armed rivalry since more than sixty years before.

Bringing peace to such a world was difficult but Rumi was able to send barbarians back to their homes, appease the agitated mind of Europe, settle the longstanding dispute over the Holy Land and create trust between Hindus and Muslims. Details are lost but it has been reported that his peace conferences used to open with a pantomime show of his famous ‘grape story’: four men who cannot understand each other’s languages are fighting over the choice of fruit they should buy with the coin that they found together; an interpreter arrives on the scene, takes the coin and puts grapes in front of the fighting men who then realize that they were, in fact, all pursuing the same choice but naming it differently.


Slavery was intolerable to Rumi. He issued a universal invitation to scientists and urged them to find alternate source of energy for doing away with the need for slaves. He suggested that replacing the Greek model of research with inductive methods could be helpful, since the boundary of the universe was in its centre.

In good time, a scientist came from the north of an island beyond mainland Europe and demonstrated a device that could harness the power of steam for performing several tasks. Rumi appealed to everyone to use this device and free the slaves. The age-old institution of slavery vanished in no time.


For a while, everyone was happy. People from around the world thronged to the court of Rumi and listened to words of wisdom. Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Christians and agnostics came for spiritual guidance and returned with a better understanding of the Path according to their own diverse beliefs.

There was no further trouble until reports started coming that the steam-device was creating problems. Trees were being chopped mercilessly for fuel, skies in some cities had blackened with smoke, and some people were building large monopolies for throwing smalltime competitors out of job. Age-old evils had reappeared in new forms, more powerful than before.


Rumi addressed the whole world and explained that in gratitude to God who gave them the power to harness the forces of Nature, they should voluntarily master their greed. Not all the wealth in the world could be sufficient for a heart unless it learns to be content by itself. Yes, you have the freedom to produce as much as your creative faculties desire but will you also find the time to create something in the depths of your soul?


“Whoever devours grass ends up under the butcher’s knife,” said Rumi. “Whoever feeds on the light of God becomes the Word of God.”


Unfortunately, it never happened in history. Can it happen now, and how? Watch out for the next installments, and see if you can make it happen.