Saturday, December 24, 2005

fallen enemies

He's fallen, King, no need for check and mate.

He's at your feet, so be considerate.

Though drenched in guilt, he needs no punishment.

For God's sake, there's no need to retaliate.

#1415: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: fall

I've been mulling over the story of the descent of Inanna into the underworld and the word fall was the nearest that yielded a Rumi verse. I've noticed here and there among Rumi's poems and stories of his life with Shams that chess was a favoured passtime for him and he sometimes uses metaphors derived from the chessboard.

Today's verse is about mercy shown to an enemy who has fallen in battle. It strongly echoes Jesus' advice:

Matthew 5:43-48 (KJV)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

This is probably the single most difficult teaching of Jesus to swallow, let alone follow: to take an enemy that one despises and to come to respect and even love him. Rumi's second wife was from a Christian background and I'm sure, from the references in his poetry, that Rumi had soaked up a good deal of Christian teaching. The idea of loving an enemy is too far from the Muslim mentality but showing mercy to an enemy who has been subdued, this much at least he could ask.

I've searched the Koran for any link between enemies and love or mercy and have found that Muslims are warned against getting close to a non-Muslim but the possibility that Allah might nevertheless bind the two in friendship and mercy is affirmed. Here are some passages representing these views:

Koran 060.001 (Shakir)

O you who believe! do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends: would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, driving out the Messenger and yourselves because you believe in Allah, your Lord? If you go forth struggling hard in My path and seeking My pleasure, would you manifest love to them? And I know what you conceal and what you manifest; and whoever of you does this, he indeed has gone astray from the straight path.

Koran 060.007 (Shakir)

It may be that Allah will bring about friendship between you and those whom you hold to be your enemies among them; and Allah is Powerful; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Koran 064.014 (Shakir)

O you who believe! surely from among your wives and your children there is an enemy to you; therefore beware of them; and if you pardon and forbear and forgive, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The Christian message is clearly the strongest, and quite unambiguous. It will be interesting to watch, in the coming years, whether and to what an extent it will prevail. I think Rumi's view is a good compromise. It is necessary for the Christian West to subdue the enemy of radical Islam but, once subdued, no further retaliation should be sought and, indeed, a time for mutual understanding might open up. Let's hope so.