Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Rumi on Jews

Sometimes Rumi comes across as a "good Muslim", complete with the arrogance and ignorance we've become used to; sometimes he transcends that partisanship and heads toward his mystic universalism. Either way, his characterization of Jews is telling.

In the first passage below [my emphasis], from the Mathnawi, Rumi portrays the Jew as the archetypal non-Muslim: infidel, undiscerning, in the wrong, like a base coin, in the dark, with dust in his eyes, a hater of the light, and so on. The Jew is the Evil Guy or Baddy, the dark side of existence where all ugliness, deceit, folly, and blindness reside. This is just how most mainstream Muslims view modern Israelis (with the ever loyal exception of Salim Mansur). In the second passage below [my emphasis], Rumi emphasizes the One God that Muslims, Jews and Christians share and affirms the mystic union of the three.

Why the prophets were sent.

God sent the prophets for this purpose,

Namely, to sever infidelity from faith.

God sent the prophets to mankind

That they might gather the pure grain on their tray.

Infidel and faithful, Mosalman and Jew,

Before the prophets came, seemed all as one.

Before they came we were all alike,

No one knew whether he was right or wrong.

Genuine coin and base coin were current alike;

The world was a night, and we travelers in the dark,

Till the sun of the prophets arose, and cried,

"Begone. O slumber; welcome, O pure light!"

Now the eye sees how to distinguish colors,

It sees the difference between rubies and pebbles.

The eye distinguishes jewels from dust,

Hence it is dust makes the eyes smart.

Makers of base coin hate the daylight,

Coins of pure gold love the daylight,

Because daylight is the mirror that reflects them,

So that they see their own perfect beauty.

Rumi: Mathnawi Book II, Story I, trans Whinfield

Everywhere the secret of God is coming -
see how the people are coming uncontrollably;
From him for whom all souls are athirst,
to the thirsty the cry of the water carrier is coming.
They are milk drinkers of divine generosity,
and are on the watch to see from whence the mother is coming.
They are in separation, and all are waiting
to see whence union and encounter are coming.
From Moslems, Jews, and Christians alike
every dawn the sound of prayer is coming;

Blessed is that intelligence into whose heart's ear
from heaven the sound of "come hither" is coming.
Keep your ear clean of scum,
for a voice is coming from heaven;
The defiled ear hears not that sound -
only the deserving gets his deserts.
Defile not your eye with human cheek and mole,
for that Emperor of eternal life is coming;
And if it has become defiled, wash it with tears,
for the cure comes from those tears.
A caravan of sugar has arrived from Egypt;
the sound of footfall and bells is coming.
Ha, be silent, for to complete the ode
our speaking King is coming.

Rumi: Ghazal (Ode) 637, trans Arberry via Sunlight

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