Someone said: “Ibn Muqri recites the Koran correctly.”
Rumi said: Yes, he recites the form of the Koran correctly, but he has no knowledge of its meaning. This is proven by the fact that when he is questioned for its meaning, he cannot answer. He recites blindly. He is like a man who holds an old, tattered sable in his hand; he is offered a newer, finer sable, but he refuses it. So we can see that he doesn’t know what sable really is. Someone told him that this is sable, and he blindly accepted it.
It is like children playing with walnuts. Offer them the nut itself, or the oil of the walnut, and they will refuse it, saying, “The walnut is what we spin on the table. This doesn’t spin.” God’s treasuries are many, and God’s sciences are many. If he recites this Koran with knowledge, why does he reject the other eternal Koran?
I once explained to a Koran-teacher: The Koran says, “If the sea were ink for the Words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the Words of my Lord are spent.” Now, with fifty drams of ink one can copy the whole of this Koran. Therefore, the Koran is only a symbol of God’s knowledge and all the knowledge belonging to God.
An apothecary puts a pinch of medicine in a piece of paper. You wouldn’t say, “The whole of the apothecary’s shop is in this paper.” That would be foolishness. After all, in the time of Moses and Jesus and the other prophets, the Koran existed. God’s speech existed, but it was not in Arabic. I explained this to the Koran-teacher in this way, but I could see that it made no impression so I let him go.
It is related that during the time of the Prophet anyone who knew one Sura by heart, or half a Sura, was called a great person and pointed out, “They have a Sura by heart,” since in that day they devoured the Koran. To devour a loaf of bread, or two loafs, is certainly a great accomplishment. But people who put bread in their mouths without chewing it and spit it out again can devour thousands of tons in that way.
Still this is a good thing. God has sealed the eyes of some people so they can cultivate this present world. If no one were blind to the other world, this world would be empty. It is this blindness that gives rise to culture and progress. Consider children, how they grow up recklessly and become tall, but when their judgement reaches maturity they stop growing. So the cause and reason for civilization is blindness, and the cause of devastation is sight.
What I am saying is motivated by one of two things: Either I speak out of envy, or I speak with compassion. God forbid that it should be envy! It is stupid to envy even those who are worthy of envy, then how can we envy one who is not worthy? No, I speak out of great compassion and mercy, for I wish to draw you into the true meaning.
A story is told of a man on the way to the pilgrimage who collapsed in the desert, overcome by thirst. Suddenly he saw in the distance a small and tattered tent. He struggled there, and seeing a young girl, he cried aloud, “I am a guest! I have attained my goal!”
Saying this, he sat down and asked for water. She brought him water that was hotter than fire and more brackish than salt, and from lip to throat it burned every part. The man, out of extreme compassion, addressed the woman.
“I am indebted to you for what relief you have given me,” he said. “Compassion has welled up within me. Listen to what I say to you. Behold, Baghdad is nearby, and Kufa and Wasit and the rest. There you will find plenty of sweet, cool water, foods of various kinds, baths, luxuries, rich delights.” And he described the pleasures of those cities.
A moment later the Bedouin came on the scene who was the woman’s husband. He had caught a few brace of desert rats, which he told the woman to cook. They offered some to the guest, who being in such desperate straits ate them. After that, in the middle of the night, the guest slept outside the tent. The woman spoke to her husband.
“Did you hear all the stories our guest had to tell?” And she repeated to her husband the guest’s entire account.
“Don’t listen to these things,” the Bedouin answered. “There are many envious people in the world. When they see others living a life of ease and abundance, they envy them and want to send them wandering away to deprive them of their fortune.”
So it is with many people. When anyone out of pure compassion offers them a piece of advice, they see it as envy. But if there are roots in a person, in the end they will turn their face to the truth. If, since the day of the Primordial Covenant a drop has been sprinkled upon them, in the end that drop will deliver them out of all confusion and misery. Come then! How long will you be remote from us and estranged? How long locked up in confusion and sadness? And what should we say to people who have never heard stories like this before, even from their own teacher?
Since greatness never graced their forebears,
They cannot bear to hear the great ones praised.
Although facing the truth is not attractive at first, the longer one follows it the sweeter it becomes. This is the opposite of outward forms that charm us at first, but the longer you sit with them thinking they are all there is, the colder you become. What is the form of the Koran compared with its meaning? Examine a man or woman: what is their form compared with their meaning? If the sense of that person departs, we wouldn’t let them loose in our house for one moment.
Our Master, Shams, once told this story: A great caravan was on its way to a distant city. Along the way they found a certain place with no sign of habitation or water. Suddenly they came upon a well with no bucket. So they took a kettle and some rope and lowered this kettle into the well. They drew up the rope, but the kettle broke away. They sent down another, but it broke away too. After that they tied people from the caravan with a rope and lowered them down into the well, but they disappeared as well.
Now there was a man of great heart present. He said, “I will go down.” They lowered him down. He was nearly to the bottom of the well when a terrible black creature suddenly appeared.
“I will never escape,” the man thought. “But at least let me keep my wits about me and not lose my senses, so that I can see what is going to happen.”
“Don’t make a long story of it,” the black creature said. “You’re my prisoner. You won’t escape unless you give me the right answer. Nothing else will save you.”
“Ask on,” said the man.
“Where is the best place?” the creature asked.
“I am a prisoner and helpless,” the man reflected. “If I say Baghdad or some other place, I might insult his own hometown.” Then he spoke aloud, “The best place to live is wherever we feel at home. If that is in the bowels of the earth, then that’s the best place. If it’s in a mouse hole, then that’s the best place.”
“Well said, well said!” cried the creature. “You’ve escaped. You’re one in a million. Now I’ve let you go, and set free the others on account of your blessing. From this time forward I’ll shed no more blood. I bestow this gift on all the people of the world out of love for you.”
Then he gave the people of the caravan water to satisfy their needs.
The purpose of this story is contained in its inner meaning. We can tell the same meaning in another form, but the lovers of traditional forms will accept this version. It is difficult to speak with them. If we speak these very same words in another parable they will not listen.