Dr. Bilal KUSPINAR**

A preface placed at the outset of any serious work is generally expected to offer, besides some introductory information about the content of the work, certain principles and objectives that the author desires to communicate to the reader. The length and content of preface may vary, depending on the nature of the work and the intention and predilection of its author. In what follows, we shall examine into the content of the Preface to the Mathnawi in the light of an original commentary written by one of the most faithful followers of Mevlâna Jalâl al-Dîn al-Rümî, the author of the Mathnawi.
To begin with, the Prefaces written by Mevlâna to the First, the Third and the Fourth Books of the Mathnawi are all in Arabic, whereas the others, namely those to the Second, the Fifth and the Sixth Books, are in Persian. The Preface to the First Book, composed in prose, has so far become the subject matter of several good commentaries. In spite of its succinct content, it stands out for the ardent followers and profound admirers of Rumi, not only as a candle, casting light on the teachings of the Mathnawi, but also as a primer in hand, setting a methodology as to how to read and contemplate it and benefit from itAs such, it is considered to be an extremely useful companion to understanding Rumi”s inward world and also a sine quo non for a sound comprehension of the wisdom imparted in the Mathnawi.
It is no doubt the spiritual leaders of the Mevlevî Order who have better recognized the importance of the Preface and hence thrust themselves to the task of its interpretation alongside the Mathnawi. One of the most celebrated of these Mevlevî leaders was, of course, Isma”îl Ankaravi (d. 1041/1631), who had devoted his entire life to studying, comprehending, and disseminating Mevlàna”s teachings. So much so that he has earned a worldwide reputation by virtue of his magnum opus, Majmü”at al-Latâ”if wa Matmümt al-Ma”ârif briefly known as Sharh-i Mesnevî (Commentary on the Mathnawi), which he has composed in Turkish and is now available in two different poor prints within six and seven volumes. If we put aside the controversial question which he had raised by his discovery of the pseudo seventh defter, we can fairly regard his Sharh as one of the most articulate expositions of the Mathnawi .1 Well cognizant of the significance of the Preface to the Mathnawi, Ankaravî has also composed a separate commentary on it. For him embarking upon such a task has been as formidable as that of commenting on the rest of the Mathnawi, because in grasping the message of the latter and its appeal to and relevance for the readers, the initial guidelines laid down by Rümî in the Preface ought to be comprehended first and borne in view all the time throughout the study of the rest of the Mathnawi. In other words, a thorough comprehension of the Preface not only paves the way for the reader to make an apt entry into the Mathnawi but also equips him with the needed guidance while journeying together with Mevlâna through the depths of its mysteries. Moreover, a careful study of the Preface will contribute considerably to the efforts at establishing the intellectual personage of Rumi and facilitate the rightful interpretation of his Mathnawi.
From this point of view, Ankaravî”s commentary on the Preface, which is the central focus of the present paper, will offer hopefully as much insight into the proper comprehension of the Mathnawi as into its author, Rümî”s weltanschauung. Remaining faithful to the original language of the Preface, Ankaravî has written his commentary in Arabic, too, and entitled it, upon the suggestion of a luminous spiritual master who, as he narrates, had appeared to him in his dream in the Mevlevî cloak, Simât al-Müqinn (The Rank of the People of Certainty). This work, which consists of approximately twenty folios, is currently under preparation for publication by myself in a critical edition together with its translation and annotation, on the basis of its available manuscript copies, which have been obtained from various libraries.2
Ankaravî seems to propose at least two specific objectives for the composition of his work, Simât. One of them is to clarify and elucidate the difficult phrases in the Preface, which had been either inadvertently neglected or inaccurately interpreted by the commentators prior to him. The other is to disclose the mysteries hidden in the text and unveil the metaphorical meanings and symbolic indications of certain words therein. To accomplish these objectives, Ankaravî declares, one would have to comply with the rules of Arabic language. This was also one of the reasons for his preference of Arabic over other languages, such as Turkish and Persian, in writing his commentary. Even he appears to criticize some of the commentators before him for having composed their commentaries carelessly without abiding by the rules of the Arabic language.
For the sake of convenience, we wish to divide the whole Simât into three principal parts according to their central themes: the firs part, which occupies the largest space of the commentary, introduces the Mathnawi in a detailed description. The second one, which is the shortest in scope, presents Mevlâna”s own profile. The last part deals first with the genealogy of Husâm al-Dîn and then with his highly esteemed position in the eyes of his master, Mevlâna as his direct interlocutor and addressee in the Mathnawi. Notwithstanding the significance of the last two, we shall confine our exposition here to the first part only due to the shortage of space.
The Description of the Mathnawi
Ismâ”îl Ankaravî at first puts forward the literal meaning of the term mathnawı as “making something double” and then turns attention to its particular usage by the poets as the form of poetry composed of couplets, each consisting of two rhyming hemistiches. Both of the two aspects, literal and technical, might have been considered by Rümî himself prior to his composition of the Book of the Mathnawi. This title as such must have been chosen for the Book, Ankaravî declares, is not merely due to its poetic style, but mostly because of its all-inclusive content that encompasses the mysteries of all beings existing in the world in pairs. In other words, the Mathnawi enunciates the secrets of all these beings in two-by-two rhythmical lyrics, in emulation of the universal truth of the Qur”an: “Of everything He (God) made in pairs, two and two.” (13: 3)
The significance of the Mathnaw, then, lies not only in its splendid poetic fashion but in its profound substance that is laden with threefold meaning of the Religion, namely Islam, as Ankaravî explains it. It is a Book, to revert to Rümî”s own words, about “the roots of the roots of the roots of the Religion.” By the first roots he means, according to Ankaravî, “the well-known five fundamentals of Islam, such as the attestation of the Oneness of God, prayers, legal alms, fasting, and pilgrimage, and by the second roots “the fundamentals of its mystical path which is journeyed by the aspirers of spiritual perfection. These fundamentals, though many, says Ankaravî, may be summed up under five as well: (i) faithful service to a Gnostic master who is knowledgeable in both exoteric and esoteric knowledge; (ii) irrevocable repentance and resolute return to God from all kinds of evil thoughts and sinful acts; (iii) complete detachment from the mundane and immaterial concerns of the soul; (iv) constant remembrance of God; (v) utter poverty in himself and perfect contentment with God. As for the third and the last roots of the Religion, they, though multiply indicated here, stand for the Reality Itself, which, Ankaravî explains further, cannot be couched in words.
The Mathnawi is further characterized as the book whose objective is to take its reader into the deepest roots of the Religion by unveiling the mysteries concerning the arrival in and certainty (al-yaqîn) of, the Real (al-Haqq) The arrival (al-wusül) in the Real can be realized, Ankaravî goes on to elaborate, only through the elimination of the imaginary and the removal of the veils of “otherness,” “duality,” and “multiplicity” from both visible and invisible beings. This ultimately leads to the annihilation of all, including the arriver, in the presence of the Real.
As we might have noticed, Ankaravî”s so far exposition of the Preface runs generally in mystical lines, which is quite understandable, in view of his eminent status as a Mevlevi leader. For a better understanding, we shall offer, in what follows, an approximate and abridged translation of Ankaravî”s Arabic commentary, Simât, but only certain part of it, the part that deals specifically with the characteristics of the Mathnawi. In the meantime, some of the passages will be further elaborated in the light of Ankaravi”s other Turkish commentary, Sharh-i Mathnaw. Again, for the sake of convenience Mevlâna”s own words will be italicized bold and placed right before Ankaravî”s comments. Occasionally, I shall insert my own remarks within the square brackets.
This is the Book of Mathnawi. And it is the roots of the roots of the roots of the Religion. And it is the greatest comprehension [or knowledge] about GodThis Mathnawi by itself is the most comprehensive knowledge about God and hence whosoever is well versed in it becomes knowledgeable about all questions concerning the Reality, the mystical path, the mundane and the spiritual matters, as well as the true natures of things, outward and inward alike. For nothing whether be fresh or dry [green or withered] is missing in this book of knowledge.3
And [it is] the most luminous sacred road of God. Al-Shar” (sacred road) is one of the paths of the prophets. The intended meaning of the phrase here is that it is the path of the Unity (al-Tawhıd) and the secrets of the sacred road through which our Prophet Muhammad has guided to the straight path.
And [it is] the most self-evident proof of GodThat is, it [i.e. the Mathnawi] is the most explicit evidence of God for the one who believes it to be an exposition of God”s Word as well as of Its meanings as descended from the sight of God.4
The parable of His Light is as if there is a niche, within which is a lamp.5 This parable has been made to illustrate the function of the Mathnawi, which is compared to a lamp in manifesting and elucidating the reality. After all, striking parables is obviously an effective way in disclosing the hidden meanings and lifting up the veils from the realities. Indeed, such parables abound in the heavenly Scriptures and the discourses of the prophets and of the saints. For instance, God most High states, “to God applies the highest similitude. ”6 Again, He says, “Such are the parables We set forth for mankind. But only those who have knowledge understand them. ”7… Parable is used figuratively as either a circumstantial expression or a modifying adjective. So, [in the above-cited context] he might be describing the spectacular nature of the Mathnawi”s light, which is in a way similar to the niche in its luminosity and brightness. The niche is a convex outlet perforated in the wall, different from window, in which is placed a big radiant lamp. [Such comparison seems to imply that Mevlâna”s achievement in the Mathnawi is due to God.] How excellent this eminent master”s Mathnawi is! The lights emanating from the spiritual truths of the Mathnawi are comparable to the shining lamp, so are its couplets to the niche. For by the lights of the Mathnawi all the gloomy obscurities pertaining to the soul, as well as all the defilements associated with the corporeal body are eliminated. In other words, by virtue of its lights God illumines the hearts of the seekers of the spiritual path, enlightens the breasts of His lovers through its secrets, and leads to His guidance whomever He pleases amongst His servants, through its meanings.
The light of Mathnawi opens up the eye-sight of its reader and makes the realities of things and their meanings manifest to him. Thus it has two essential functions, one is to emit light and the other is to make things luminous and intelligible. The Mathnawi offers profound insights into the discourse of God by way of unveiling and through parables and metaphors. The way it yields knowledge in its enclosure is comparable to the way the lamp shines forth in its niche. Wherever the Mathnawi is found, whether it be in a house or in the heart of a person, it shines forth therein and enlightens it, just as the lamp, wherever it is situated, spreads its radiance around. In other words, if a person keeps in his heart the couplets of the Mathnawi, he not only polishes his thought but enlightens others too. The Mathnawi readers, therefore, become directly illuminated by the lights sprung forth from the depth of its couplets and also pass illumination onto their audience.
If, however, by the niche is intended the noble body of Mevlana, then it may be interpreted as follows: The condition of the Mathnawi is my body, which is the niche. My heart behind the glass of its niche is just like the lamp that is kindled from the oil of the blessed olive-tree, which is the Muhammadan Spirit and which is of neither East nor West. The knowledge imparted in the Mathnawi originally emanates from the fountain-head of all knowledge as the oil kindling the wick of the lamp emanates from the olive-tree. The Mathnawi pours its wisdom from the quintessential source of Muhammadan knowledge.8
(Lamp) shining with a radiance brighter than the dawn. The light of the Mathnawi is brighter than the light of the dawn in enlightening its reader. The inspired message of the Mathnawi is so luminous that it removes all sorts of darkness, ignorance, doubt and heedlessness from the mind of its reader. It is just like the daybreak outshining the night.
It is the Paradise of the heart, having fountains and boughs. This Mathnawi becomes the Paradise for the hearts of the spiritual masters, quenching them with the water of life flowing from its river-like lines and breeding them with the fruits of wisdom descending from its branches.
According to the spiritual masters, the Paradise is of two kinds: The future Paradise (Jannat Âjila), which is in the next world, and the present Paradise (Jannat “Âjila), which is in this world. The assemblies of the scholars and the study circles can be regarded as the paradise of this world as stated in one of the hadiths of the Prophet. When you come across, as the Prophet indicates in his another saying, a tree from the trees of the Paradise of this world, you should dwell under its shadow and eat of its fruits. Out of curiosity his Companions asked, what is the tree of this world”s Paradise? He replied: it is the possessor of knowledge. So, the Mathnawi is this-worldly Paradise for the spiritual masters and the rose-garden for the sages.
One of them (the fountains in Paradise) is a fountain called Salsabil amongst the travelers on this Path. Salsabll is mentioned in the Qur”an as the name of a fountain in Paradise: “a fountain there called Salsabîl. ”9 As the Prophet states, “whosoever drinks from it will never be thirsty.” The travelers who journey towards God in compliance with the guidelines of this spiritual path [i.e. the Mevleviî path] call this fountain Salsabil. No one except those who know the Salsaîil can drink therefrom. The Mevlevi disciples, being well aware of its importance, always ask for it and know how to attain to it. After all, sal sabilan means “ask or seek a way” leading to God. [Salsabıl may refer to Mevlâna Jalâl al-Dîn, who is the fountain-head of all Mevlevî dervishes.]
In the view of the spiritual masters (who have traversed) the mystical stations and thus been endowed with miraculous gifts, it (the Mathnawi) is best as a station (maqâman) and most excellent as a (spiritual) resting-place (maqlan). The Mathnawi serves as the best station and as the most excellent resting-place for the spiritual adepts. Whenever these adepts occupy themselves with the study of the Mathnawi, they are not only relieved from the turbulences and evil whisperings of the carnal soul, but they are also liberated from the temporal affiliations and the corporeal attachments, and finally they are satisfied with its spiritual pleasures. “The companions of the Garden will be well, that Day, in their abode, and have the fairest of places for repose. ”10“Which of the two sides is best in point of position? Which makes the best show in Council?”11
Therein the righteous eat and drink. The pious and righteous companions benefit from the fruits and drinks of the Mathnawi. In other words, they enjoy receiving from the knowledge and wisdom of the Mathnawi, which is the principal source of the esoteric knowledge and subtle realities.
Consequently, the (spiritually) free become gladdened by it (the Mathnawi) and rejoice in it. Once the spiritual adepts have become completely disengaged from the worldly desires and vicious feelings and then plunged in the depths of the Mathnawi, they start experiencing so much elevation and joy that they become intoxicated with it and enter into ecstasy, while turning around with rapture.
It (the Mathnawi) is like the Nile of Egypt, (whose water is) a (pleasant) drink to those who endure patiently, but a grief to the people of Pharaoh and the unbelievers. This Book of the Mathnawi resembles the river Nile flowing in Egypt, whose water is sweet and tasty for God”s sincere devotees who persistently keep themselves away from sensuous desires. But it is bitter for the people of Pharaoh and the people who become slave to the desires of their carnal souls. Such an analogy finds its counterpart in the Qur”an: “We sent (plagues) upon them (i.e. the people of Pharaoh): wholesale death, locusts, lice, frogs, and blood…”12According to the story related in the Mathnawi, Book IV, 3431 ff., among the plagues sent upon the people of Pharaoh was the plague of blood. And whenever an Egyptian would drink water, it turned to blood in his mouth. Likewise, the water of the Mathnawi can be abhorrent like blood for the people who follow their lusts, like the people of Pharaoh, whereas it can be very delightful for the people of illuminative knowledge, like the followers of Moses.
As God states, “By it He causes many to astray and leads many into guidance. But He causes many not to astray except those who are wicked. ”13 “By it” refers here to the Mathnawi, while it refers in the Qur”an to parables, since God asks in the preceding part of the above-quoted verse, “what does God mean by this similitude?” So by the Mathnawi God lets many among people go astray because of their slavish adherence to their own selfish desires, while He lets many others find guidance on account of their perseverance in traversing the spiritual stations. In other words, the Mathnawi can be quite inspirational for the sincere learners and the seekers of perfection, but it can also be very misleading for those who cannot apprehend its mystical meaning due to their self-indulgence in worldly desires.
It is the cure for the (sick) breasts. “A healing for the (diseases) in your hearts…”14 The Mathnawi is a book containing divine elixirs (drinks) and all kinds of spiritual remedies, so much so that it is a healing for all diseases in the hearts, stemming from ambiguities, doubts, confusions, immoral acts and deceitful beliefs.
It is the purge of sorrows. The Mathnawi, when studied with reflection, rids off pains form the hearts. And if it is read with attention, it removes worries and anxieties pertaining to both this world and the other world.
It (the Mathnawi) is the expounder of the Qur”an. It uncovers manifold hidden meanings of the Qur”an and also elucidates its truths in terms of their outward and inward significations. It brings to light the mysteries of the verses of the Qur”an by going in-depth from seven to seventy times of their inner senses which can be discerned by elite or even by the elite of the elite. Such a comprehensive and in-depth commentary on the Word of God and the mysteries of the Prophet had not been composed prior the Mathnawi, as the following anecdote testifies it: I saw in my dream the Prophet holding in his hand the Mathnawi and saying to me, “many books have been composed on the inner meanings of the Prophet”s tradition, but none could match this one, which astonished me.”
It is the wealth (or source of abundance) of divine favors. The Mathnawi is full of physical benefits and material goods pertaining to the body, as well as immaterial benefits, contemplative and religious knowledge pertaining to the spirit. It also helps to purify the heart and beautify the character, as the author states:
It is the (means of) cleansing (sordid) dispositions. In other words, the Mathnawi purifies one from bad habits and carnal desires. It is the means of purification and the source of gifts. The Prophet once advised to one of the Companions who had lamented to him about poverty and scarcity as follows: “Be steadfast in cleanliness so that the means of subsistence will increase for you.”
“(It is written) by the hands of noble righteous scribes. This refers to the verse that speaks of the Angels who have copied the divine original of the Qur”an preserved in Heaven.15 The Mathnawi has been transcribed by the scribe Angels from the Preserved Tablet (lawh mahfüz) as the Qur”an had been originally transcribed by them from the same Tablet. For the Mathnawi is the meaning of the Noble Qur”an, even though the words of the former are different from those of the latter. According to Abü Hanîfa, the foundation of the Qur”an consists in its sheer meaning, hidden in the knowledge of God, as the Qur”an in reality is the Arabic name of the Divine Discourse whose essence subsists in God. It is so named on account of its denotation for Arabic prose, not because of its meaning, which lies with God only. The Mathnawi, after it was inspired to the Master Mevlâna in meaning, has been committed to writing in words by the noble scribes such as Husâm al-Dîn. [Thus Ankaravî draws an analogy between the Angels who have transcribed the Qur”an from the Preserved Tablet and the scribes who have transcribed the Mathnawi from the memory of Mevlâna. The scribes of the Mathnawi are, like those of the Qur”an, noble and righteous saintly human beings.]
They forbid impurity. None shall touch it but the purified.16 The meanings and mysteries of the Mathnawi, as well as its sublime pleasures, shall be touched and appreciated by those who have purified themselves from erroneous beliefs, evil thought and immoral character. Just as one who does not clean oneself outwardly and inwardly remains heedless of the wisdom of the Qur”an, so too one who approaches the Mathnawi with impurity is deprived of its benefits and lessons. Nevertheless, one may still continue to read it but with no avail. The one who reads it without grasping its meaning resembles, as it were, the one who carries heaps of books, like donkeys bearing burden on the back, without getting its beneficial and pleasurable wisdom for the heart.
“A revelation (descended) from the Lord of the worlds.”17 The meaning of the Mathnawi has descended gradually to Mevlâna by way of inspiration from the Master-Teacher and the Sustainer of the worlds.
“No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it.”18 Since the Mathnawi is a manifest truth, no falsehood can approach it either from before it or behind it. After all, as the Qur”anic verse indicates, “say: the truth has come, and the falsehood perished. Indeed, the falsehood is bound to perish, ”19 as the two opposites cannot be found in one and the same place.
For God observes it and watches over it. Because of His perfect Grace, God always takes care of this book (the Mathnawi) and protects it.
“He (God) is the best guardian and He is the most merciful of those who show mercy.”20 Khudâwandigar, after having characterized the Mathnawi with certain honorific titles of the Qur”an, proceeds to ascribe some other titles of the latter to the former. And he says,
It has other titles of honor by which God Almighty has addressed it. One of these titles is Sâmî-Nâme (Eminent Book). The Mathnawi has at first been described in terms of knowledge it contains and now by a few titles it bears. Both of them have resemblance to those of the Qur”an. However, there is a difference between naming a thing by knowledge and naming it by title. For “knowledge” denotes the very essence of that which possesses knowledge in a direct and explicit form, whereas the title signifies the very essence of that which is entitled but by an attribute of either praise or blame.
We have confined ourselves to this little. We are content with this short description of it by these few above-mentioned titles.
For the little is indicative of the much, just as a mouthful water is indicative of a big pool, and a handful (of wheat) is indicative of a great threshing flour (granary). By mentioning some of its characteristics, one would infer some other unmentioned aspects of the Mathnawi, as many are familiar with this rule: little is an index to big.
Says the humble servant who is in need of the mercy of God most High, Muhammad son of Muhammad son of al-Husayn of Balkh -may God accept (this work) from him: “I have exerted myself to articulate at length the poem in rhymed couplets. ….In putting this Mathnawi in poetical metrics, some efforts have been exerted by Mevlâna. But a confession as such may appear to be in conradiction with the author”s earlier statements on how the Mathnawi was written by the noble scribes and how it was descended from God. If the Mathnawi was committed to writing by the noble hands of the angel-like scribes, as has been alluded in the verse cited previously, and if it was an outcome of divine inspiration and revelation, as has been referred to in the verse quoted before, then why should there be an effort on the part of the author to produce it? How would then Mevlâna confess that he has exerted efforts for it? This would mean that like any scholar or poet, he must have produced his work as a result of his study and meditation, rather than a product of spontaneous inspiration occurring to his heart from the High. This apparent paradox may be resolved when we recall the Prophet”s experience of revelation, which occurred to him with and without toils. At times he had received revelation instantly; at other times he had gone through certain hardships and then put some efforts prior to the occurrence of revelation. So, the ways and means of communication of revelation and inspiration to prophets and saints may vary; some require efforts, some preparation, some need no labor at all.
It comprises strange tales and rare sayings, as well as fine delicate discourses and precious indications. The Mathnawi encompasses both extraordinary stories and uncommon similes, along with explicitly recounted discourses and implicitly alluded subtleties.
It is the path of the ascetics and the garden of the devotees. The Mathnawi becomes both a spiritual path for those who assign little value to this world and who seek the pleasure of God and a heavenly delightful garden for those who increase their efforts in their obedience and service to God…
It is brief in expression but manifold in meaning. The Mathnawi, in accordance with the hadith, “though stated little, intended numerous (ma qalla wa dalla),” is composed in brief words but imbued with myriad meanings. It is a collection of maxims; every couplet of it is as wide as a continent and every hemistich of it is as big as a fountain. It is, above all, a book of wisdom full of lessons and a grand scroll of mysteries….
* I would like to thank for the Director and staff of Selcuki Research Center, Selcuk University for doing, despite their limited resources, a great deal of service by publishing scholarly works as well as organizing local and international conferences as this in the field of Mevlāna and his intellectual legacy.
** Ph.D McGill University
1 See for a general review of Ankaravi”s Sharh and a discussion about his arguments for the questionable seventh volume of the Mathnawi, Bilal Kuspinar, “Isma”il Ankaravi and the Significance of His Commentary in the Mevlevi Literature,” Al-Shajarah 1 (1996), 51-75.
2 See for some of its original manuscripts, Suleymaniye Library, Haci Mahmud MS 2638; Hasan Husnu MS 659; Esad Efendi MS 1316.
Cf. the Qur”an, al-An”am 6: 59.
The Mathnawi, in so far as it equips its ardent reader with divine qualities and leads him to the state of divine unity, is the most obvious proof of God and the most triumphal evidence of Him. Ankaravi, Sharh-i Mathnawi, vol. 1, p. 6.
Al-Nur 24: 35.
Al-Nahl 16: 60.
Al-“Ankabut 29: 43.
8 See for further analysis Sharh-i Mathnawi, vol. 1, p. 7. 308
Al-Insan 76: 18.
10 Al-Furqan 25: 24.
11 Maryam 19: 73.
12 Al-A”râf 7: 133.
13 al-Baqara 2: 26
14 Yūnus 10: 57. “Abasa 80: 15.
16  Al-Wâqi “ah 56: 79.
17  Al-Wâqi “ah 56: 80.
18  Fussilat 41: 42
19  Al-Isrâ” 17: 81
20 Yūsuf 12: 64