Tales from the Masnavi | Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan


After the Holy Quran, the ‘Masnavi’ by Maulana Rumi is probably the most widely read book. Our culture is rich with anecdotes that contain invaluable advice on manners and morals. Let’s examine one such story through a free rendering of the translation by Reynold A Nicholson.

This is the story of Muhammad Khwarizmshah who conquered the city of Sabzawar. The city was known as a refuge for the wicked and Khwarizmshah’s troops eventually defeated them. The city’s inhabitants soon prostrated themselves before him saying: “Whatever you request by way of tribute or present, we will pay it at every fixed time”. Khwarizmshah replied that he would not save their lives unless they brought Abu Bakr to him. “Unless you bring me from your city one whose name is Abu Bakr, O people who have forsaken righteousness, I will mow you down like corn and will accept neither tribute nor blandishments.”

The people offered him many sacks of gold and said: “Do not demand an Abu Bakr from a city like this. How should there be an Abu Bakr in Sabzawar or a dry sod in the river?”.

Khwarizmshah ignored the gold and said: “O you infidels, unless you bring me an Abu Bakr as an offering, your entreaties are of no avail. I am not an innocent that I should be struck dumb by gold and silver. Unless you prostrate yourself in humble submission to God, you will not escape your punishment”. The inhabitants then dispatched emissaries to inquire as to where an Abu Bakr could be found in such a depraved city.

After searching for three days and three nights, they found an emaciated Abu Bakr. He was a traveller who, on account of his illness, had remained in a corner of a ruin in a state of utter exhaustion. When the emissaries saw him, they cried: “Arise! The sultan has demanded your presence. You will be the one to save the city from slaughter”. He replied: “If I was able to walk, or any other means of travel, I would have gone on my way to my own destination a long time ago. Why then would I remain in this abode of my enemies? I would rather have pushed on to the city of my friends”. The emissaries brought a bier and lifted Abu Bakr onto it so he could be taken to Khwarizmshah.

In this parable, Sabzawar represents this world and mankind is good for nothing. The inhabitants of Sabzawar should find a person who has a pure heart. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) has said: “God does not pay attention to your outward form; therefore seek out the owner of the perfect heart”. God says: “I see you as the owner of the heart, not as he who prostrates himself in prayer and the giver of charities alone”. If you give priority to your own needs, you have abandoned the search for “the real heart”.

The owner of the real heart becomes a six-faced mirror through which God looks out in six directions. Whoever dwells in the world of six directions, God sees him as the owner of the real heart. God rejects or accepts – He is the lone authority. God lays His gift on the palm of his hand and dispenses it to those who are the objects of His mercy. His bounty is unqualified and unconditional and perfect.

If you bring a hundred sacks of gold, God will say: “Win the heart of a saint and approach Me through him. If the saint is pleased with you, I am pleased; if he is averse to you, I am averse. I do not regard you, I regard that real heart; bring it to me as a gift”. The real heart is the originator of all creatures. A person who knows the difference between the real heart and his skin is truly blessed.

But it is not possible to find such a heart in Sabzawar. You will say: “O king! There is no better heart than this in Sabzawar”. God will answer: “Is this a graveyard that you should bring me a dead heart?” Go bring the heart that is kingly upon which the security of Sabzawar’s existence is derived.

There is a hereditary enmity between that heart and the wicked nature of Sabzawar. The heart is like a falcon while this world is the city of the crow. And if a human being behaves with mildness, he is seeking an advantage for himself by conciliating the owner of the real heart. He doesn’t do this with sincerity but in order to avoid admonition. For this carrion-seeking crow knows a thousand tricks. If the saints accept his hypocrisy, he is saved. We must seek the owner of the real heart and become congeners of the heart. But someone whose hypocrisy pleases you is merely your saint, not a representative of God.

We must renounce our wicked nature to allow the spiritual scent to become a part of us. Our minds have become corrupted by sensual indulgence and have lost their ability to recognise the spiritual scent.