Archive for the ‘ Life Considered ’ Category



The most popular Persian poet

Keyvan Tabari


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2019. All Rights Reserved.


The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.






I. Legends

          Most Popular



II. Literature


          The Work

          The Man

III. Interpretations

          Hafez Studies

Principal Subjects

IV. Love

          Common Themes and Figures




V. Wine-drinking






VI. Clergy




VII. Islam


       Sayings and Stories in Islamic Traditions

       Iconic figures

       Pre-Islamic Iran

       Other Religions

       Islamic Rituals

      Islamic Principles

VIII. Sufism



IX. Early Years

      Ages 22-25 (During Mas’ud Shah’s Reign: 1338-1342)

      Ages 25-40 (During Abu Eshaq’s Reign: 1342-1357)

      Ages 40-42 (During Mobarez-al-Din’s Reign: 1357-1359)

X. The Second Half

      Ages 42-46 (During Shah Shoja`’s Initial Reign: 1359-1363)

     Ages 46-49 (During Shah Mahmud’s Reign: 1363-1366)

     Age 49 (At Shah Shoja’s Return to Power: 1366)

     Age 50 (At Shah Shoja’s Victory over Mahmud: 1367)

     Age 51 (At Turanshah’s Imprisonment:1369)

     Ages 51-58 (During Islamist Shoja` Reign: 1369-1375)

     Age 59 (Shoja` Reign as Most Powerful King: 777/1376) 

     Age 62 (Fortieth Year as a Poet: 1379)

     Age 66 (At Giving up on Shoja`: 1383)

    Ages 67-70 (During Zayn-al-ʿAbedin’s Reign: 1384-1387)

    Age 70 (During Shah Yahya’s Reign: 1387)

    Ages 70-83 (During Shah Mansur’s Reign: 1387-1390)

XI. Social and Political Positions

XII. Personal



     Old Age 

     Limited World

XIII. Introspection



    Guiding Rules








There is a plethora of published works on Hafez. He may well be the most covered poet in the Persian language. Nor is there a dearth of work on him in other languages; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s admiration made Hafez an important figure in international literature in the early 19th century. Authors in Great Britain have since penned many commentaries in the English language. Even in the United States, Hafez has been noted in some detail by Ralph Waldo Emerson and, in our time, by  more recent scholars. He has also been incorporated into the cottage industry of “Sufis” in this country that grew mostly around Rumi, another medieval Persian poet.

This embarrassment of riches begs the question: why another study? The answer, paradoxically, is in what gave rise to the question itself. There are so many, often conflicting, views on Hafez that sorting them out eventually leads one to the imperative of reading Hafez anew and interpreting it for oneself. Granted, the conclusion will share many parts from the results of others’ earlier efforts. The selection of those agreeable parts, however, is an exercise of an independent labor. The outcome, composite as it may be, will be gratifyingly unique and personal.

The process of selection in any research mitigates the goal of objectivity. The investigator’s mark is indelible. Ideally, one hopes to pursue inductively, avoiding deduction from any presupposition about Hafez. Subjectivity, however, continues in the selection of sources and beyond.

There seems to be no disagreement that reliable sources on Hafez are exceptionally limited. This makes Hafez’s own words virtually the ultimate source about him and his thoughts, reducing the problem of subjective selection among sources.

But interpreting those words again brings the problem of subjectivity into the study. To begin with, converting poetic language into evidentiary material for explanatory exposition of what Hafez said is hazardous. Poems are the distillation of the complex combination of various, sometimes clashing, emotional responses of a skillful bard.

In Hafez’s case the problem is confounded because in any of his ghazals (odes) which generally consist of 8 lines, every line potentially contains an idea independent of the other lines. An ode, therefore, does not necessarily, develop a unified idea or ideas. Furthermore, Hafez’s ghazals are not organized sequentially, either in the chronological or logical progression of thoughts. Rather, the compiler, who was not Hafez himself, organized the ghazals on the basis of the letters in the ending word of the lines. The interpreter of Hafez has no choice but to organize the poems, as well as individual lines, in sequences not ordained by the poetbut by his own choice to make the sense that he offers.

Therefore, the best that can be hoped is a diligent and disciplined effort to produce an objective and inductive interpretation of what Hafez said. An interpretation, even that faulty, is still worthwhile, because the alternative is to leave the collection as others had compiled it which still needs to be subjectively interpreted by the reader. Even in that case, this work can be useful as an introduction to Hafez.

I. Legends

Most Popular

The 14th century Hafez is generally believed to be Iran’s most popular poet. In the pantheon of the four leading Persian poets of all time – which include the 10th century epic poet Ferdowsi, the 13th century philosophically profound Molavi (Rumi) and the wise poet Sa`di- Hafez is the supreme lyrical poet {Y; Fo:17; D:596}. His poems are venerated by Muslims, Christian, Jews, and secular non-believers alike. Many of them are memorized and recited in casual conversation. By one estimate, some 700 lines his poetry (or roughly more than 18% of all his nearly 40,000 lines of output) are repeated so often that they are used as adages and proverbs {R:684-719}.


While repetition perpetuates the popularity of Hafez’s poems, their welcome reception is due to the fact that the sound of Hafez’s language is especially pleasing to Persian ears. As a maidservant succinctly put it: “the words have been banging on my ears all my life and I love their sound {Av2:x}.”  There is another, rather unique, major reason for Hafez’s popularity. His Divan is widely consulted by Iranians in bibliomancy for divination (fal-e Hafez); belief in his inspired predictions encouraged by many stories which have given him the sobriquet the Tongue of the Unseen (lesan-al- gheyb) [1].  This despite the fact that Hafez in the Divan explicitly says that: “No one knows the secrets of the Unseen (gheyb) {K114:8}.” [2]; and: “It is not known what the painter of the Unseen has done on the canvas of mysteries {K134:5}.” His book remains a favorite guide to future action.


Hafez boasted that he was a famous poet in his time {K240:11) as his poems were widely read and admired in Hejaz and Iraq {K253:7), Egypt, China, Rum, and Rey {K421:12). He claimed that Kashmiris and Samarqandis danced to Hafez’s poems {K431:9}. Three contemporary poets mentioned Hafez in their works: Rooh `Attar, Kamal al-Din Khojandi and Jamal al-Din Abu Eshaq {Gh: (pages) lo, lez, let}.

A contemporary of Hafez, Mohammad Golandam, has said that Sufis danced to Hafez’s poems {S:662}. On the other hand, Hafez refused Golandam’s urging that he should collect his poems, giving as the reasons “the inappropriateness of circumstances and the treachery of the people of his time {S:662}.  Hafez, in his Divan, complains that “the sorrow of this base world (gham-e roozegar-e doon)” killed his natural eloquence {K406:7}. In another poem, he wonders why he is not appreciated {K462:4}. Indeed, it was rumored that popular feeling against him at his death was so strong -due to accusations of heresy and even of atheisms- that religious authorities denied him the rites of burial until they were persuaded that in some poems, he proved that he was indeed a believer {Be:36-37}. The first dome-like structure over Hafez’s grave was not built until 1452 (856 H), some 60 years after his death [3]. In comparison, the tomb of his fellow poet from Shiraz, Sa`di, had become a shrine soon after his death, according to the Arab traveler, Ibn Batuta, who visited Shiraz at the time {Be:169]

Beginning some 20 years after Hafez’s death, manuscripts of his poems were produced in Shiraz, both excerpted for anthologies of oblong (safineh) and rectangular (jong) formats and collected as an independent Divan of over 400 odes (ghazals). These were done by professional calligraphers and illuminators, for highly placed patrons [4]. Mohammad Golandam’s collection of Hafez’s works into a Divan is said to have been finished around 22 years after Hafez’s death [5].

A metal jug (mashrabeh), dated 866 /1461-62, with verses of Hafez on it and other similar metalwork vessels, including a wine bowl (badieh)produced in Khorasan, the province of Iran northeast of Shiraz, are among the earliest evidence of the spread of the poet’s audience beyond his hometown. The reference of those verses to the act of drinking indicates that Hafez was known for his wine-drinking poems {So}.

Further east, in today’s Afghanistan, the prominent Persian Sufi poet, `Abd al-Rahman Jami, writing in 1478, maintained that Hafez’s Divan was among the best books that a Sufi could read [6]. The scenes of gatherings in mosques or taverns dominate the illustrations of many copies of Hafez’s Divan produced in Shiraz in the 16th century. By the 17th century, the illustrators turned to studies involving couples, usually a mature man and a youth {So}. In lands east of Iran, however, mystical commentaries on the Divan were the major development. The most important of these was the one written in the 17th century in India by `Abd al-Rahman “Khatmi” Lahuri {Ig} [7].

Marginal notes on an older manuscript of the Divan by India’s Mughal rulers Homayun (1508-1556) and Jahangir (1569-1627) indicate that it was used for bibliomancy {Me}.  Hafez’s popularity increased in India during the Mughals’ rule. Kashmir became a major center for production of his Divan in the late 18th century {So}.

The Mughals court hosted several great Persian poets at this time [8]. On the other hand, no notable major poets existed in Iran under the contemporaneous Safavid rulers (1524-1722).  Focusing on the propagation of the Shiite doctrine, the Safavid Kings intentionally injured and harmed poetry, as well as Sufism [9]. The same dearth of great poets in Iran continued into the Qajar Dynasty period (1722-1925) {B}.

The literary language of Iran became fixed by Hafez’s time. As a result, his ghazals appear as though they were written yesterday {B}.  In the last four centuries lines from Hafez’s Divan were incorporated in popular ballads (tasnifs) which are simple love-songs {B} They have become uniquely important in both tasnif and avaz (vocal section of a musical mode) parts of traditional Persian music, more often sung than the ghazals of any other poet {L1}.  In the Qajar era a new gusheh (corner, piece) in the mode of mahur, named saqi-nameh, was created for performing selected lines of Hafez’s other poems, saqi-nameh (book of the cupbearer) and moghanni-nameh (book of the singer) {L1}.

II. Literature


Historically, no standard procedure existed for publishing a Persian poet’s work in written form. The lyric poems such as ghazals were not routinely collected in Divans. A Divan was only a selection of poems compiled for a specific purpose, usually for presentation to a patron or for circulation among friends {Me}.


No collection of Hafez’s poems existed at his death, as Moḥammad Golandam reported; he gathered and recorded Hafez’s scattered ghazals {Me}. In fact, the earliest stages of the “publication” of Hafez’s poems were mainly in the form of excerpts in Persian anthologies {Me}.  These were “Memorials of the Poets (Tazkareh-nameh) [1],” books which aimed at providing samples of the poet’s work for various reasons. They were in vogue especially during the reign of the Timurids (15th and 16th century) who patronized the arts of the book {Me}. Notable among such Memorials that covered Hafez was Dawlatshah Samarqandi’s* Tazkerat al-Shoʿara (Memorial of Poets) [2]. Completed in 1486, it consisted of specimens of some 150 poets with their biographies and some historical information [3].  This and other similar works, such as anthologies of poets found  in Moḥammad Khwandamir’s Habib al-Siyar (The Friend of Biographies), finished in 1524 [4], suffer from reflecting the general perception of the poets and their works in later era, and often couching historical events in apocryphal anecdotes { KEIr1}


In 1501, on the order of the Timurid ruler of Herat (Khorasan), Faridun ibn Hosayn Mirza Bayqara, a version of Hafez’s Divan (a collection of all of his poems) was prepared based on over five hundred copies of different numbers of his poems {Me}. The earliest copy of Hafez’s poems to be identified so far is a manuscript dated 1401 with 127 ghazals attributed to Hafez {Me}. Another manuscript, dated 1424, however, is considered far more reliable.  It has 496 ghazals, as well as other poems by Hafez: qat`eh (fragment), masnavi (didactic poems in couplet form) and roba’i (rubai/quatrain). It is now known as “the Kalkhali Manuscript [5]. After the Bayqara compilation in the 16th century, the efforts to collect Hafez’s poems continued mostly outside of Iran, especially in Mughal India and Ottoman Turkey.  In the 18th century Kashmir emerged as a major center for production of manuscripts of Hafez’s work {So}.

Many lithographs of the Divan were published in various cities of India — Bombay, Calcutta and Lucknow– as well as Istanbul, Turkey. Not until 1838 was one produced in Iran. The first printed edition of Hafez’s Divan was published by the East India Company in Calcutta 1791. The first printed edition to be published in Iran dates to 1937, by Ḥosayn Pezhman Bakhtiari. However, a lithographed edition of the Divan by a Persian author, Moḥammad Qodsi Ḥosayni Radfar, which was produced in Bombay, remained the most popular in Iran {KELr2}.


Moḥammad Qazvini is considered the pioneer in establishing the tradition of critical editions of Hafez’s poetry in Iran. The Divan of Hafez (Divan-e Khawjeh Shams al-Din Moḥammad Ḥafez-e Shirazi) which he published, with the help of Ghasem Ghani, in 1941 marked a turning-point in the history of the authenticated editions of the collection. It is still accepted as one of the best. That work was based on collating the 1424 Khalkhali  Manuscript with 17 later manuscripts {KELr2}.

In recent years scholars have discovered other old manuscripts of Hafez’s poems. Accordingly, Parviz Natel Khanlari has since published several editions of Hafez’s ghazals. The first was based on an anthology from 1410 collated with three later manuscripts. The second edition was based on fourteen old manuscripts, dating from 1404 to 1432. This edition of the Divan was later revised and reprinted. It is now generally used in scholarly writings on Hafez [6].  This has not stopped the publication of new versions of Hafez’s works. Indeed, the version that enjoys perhaps the widest popularity is Ahmad Shamlou’s [7]. Shamlou did not mention the manuscripts he used {KELr2}.  In 1993, Hushang Ebtehaj, with the pen name of Sayeh, published his noteworthy version of the Divan [8] which was based on collating thirty manuscripts, most the same as those used by others but with the difference that he would not necessarily give preference to the older manuscripts, arguing that their dates indicated only when they were copied, not the original date of compilation {KELr2}.

The establishment of an absolutely reliable text of Hafez’s poems may be impossible as there are still, by some estimates, 1,000 known but unexplored manuscripts of the Divan in Iran and other parts of the world, and perhaps two or three times that many that are as yet unknown {Me}.

On the other hand, the versions accepted as most reliable do not show great differences. For example, a comparison of Khanlari’s version with Qazvini-Ghani’s shows that Khanlari’s total of 484 ghazals apparently only includes a handful ghazals not found in the Qazvini-Ghani’s, while omitting an equally small number of the ghazals contained in the latter.

The Work

There is no indication that any major part of Hafez’s poetic output has been lost {Br}. By far the largest part of his Divan consists of ghazals which, usually, are lyrical poems of 7 to 12 lines. Hafez’s fewer than 500 ghazals are substantially smaller than the number of ghazals produced by his contemporaries, such as Kamal Khojandi who, like Hafez, specialized in the ghazal, and Khwaju Kermani and Salman Savaji {Me}.

Hafez’s legacy in other forms of poetry is considered of less importance than his ghazals. Some of his qasayed (plural of qasideh) or odes, and qat`eat (plural of qat`eh) or fragments, help to elucidate his ghazals. He also wrote a few masnavis {S:609-612}.The authenticity of the rubais  (quatrains) {S:643-651} , attributed to him have been seriously challenged {Br}.

Hafez’s saqi-nameh {S:613-617} [9], is a poem in couplet form about wine and drinking which is popular and sung in traditional music in Iran {Y}. Although features of saqi-nameh existed in Persian poetry for a century before Hafez [10], Hafez is credited with establishing it as an independent genre {Lo2}.

The Man

Little reliable information exists about Hafez’s life. The brief references in anthologies are often purely fictitious. The veracity of reporting by Mohammad Golandam, in the preface to the Divan he compiled, is suspect in view of many scholars {KEIr1}.Conjectures derived from Hafez’s poems are often based on overly literal reading {KEIr1}.  Yet, these three groups are the best among sources available. According to them, the following sketch may be drawn of the man.

Hafez’s name was Shams al-Din Mohammad. He was born in 717/ 1317 {Gh:354} [11], and died in 792/1390. His pen-name, Hafez, refers to his knowing the Koran (Qur’an) by heart {KEIr1}.  He studied Koranic disciplines and Arabic, which were the curriculums of the time, under Qavam al-Din `Abdullah Shirazi [12].  He was especially well acquainted with Kashshaf, the iconic scholarly book of learning about the Koran [13].

Hafez was a poor man. He depended on the patronage of the rulers and their ministers, although he could have also had some earnings by reciting the Koran for others. He witnessed the political turmoil and fluctuating fortunes of the last Inju King and the following six Muzaffarid rulers of Shiraz. He may have had a son {Kq281,2} [14].  There is no information about other members of his family, if any, or his parents. He probably lived a life alone. He probably spent all of his life in Shiraz [15]; he might have travelled briefly to Yazd.

III. Interpretations

Hafez Studies

Critical studies of Hafez and his poetry have proliferated in Iran during this generation [1].  It is a phenomenon which has generated another: a Hafez phenomenon. The application of modern, largely Western, methods of rigorous and meticulous investigation which aimed at an objective picture of Hafez have produced, instead, many Hafezes, each a refracted subjective perception of Hafez by different investigators. The investigators have been widely diverse in political, religious, moral and aesthetic predispositions. This was a result of the unusually fertile market place of ideas and in the freedom unleashed by historical events since 1941, when the two decades of autocratic rule by Reza Shah was ended by the World War Two Allies occupation of Iran.

Mohammad Qazvini’s1941 seminal edition of the Divan was the product of a scholar who “superimposed” on the foundation of his “editorial practices of the traditional Muslim scholarship,” the “knowledge of European critical methods” which he had acquired in Europe, where he lived and edited ten such texts by various Iranian Poets from 1904 to 1939. He was closely associated with Edward G. Browne and R. A. Nicholson, British orientalists whose works have greatly influenced critical studies of Persian literature by Iranians {O2}.

Qazvini also wrote several important essays about Persian poets, but none on Hafez. It was his collaborator in preparing Hafez’s Divan, Qhasem Ghani, who produced, in 1942, the early seminal work on the history of Hafez’s times {Gh}.  Before Ghani, the latest sources on Hafez by Iranian authors [2] were the two 19th century works by Reza Quli Khan Hedayat, Majmaʿ al-Fosaha (1871) and Riaz al-ʿArefin (1840s), which are considered “a final summation of the classical tradition of literary biographical dictionaries {Lo},” and the earlier tazkareh type 16th century* work by Qazi Seyed Nourallah Shoostari [3].  Another frequently used source was by an English author:  Edward G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia (1908),* volume 3 of which covered 1265-1502, Hafez’s times [4].  It is “dense with nearly always accurate detail” and based almost entirely on original sources (many of which were at that time accessible only to Browne himself) {W}.” It appeared in English in 1920 and was later translated into Persian.

The renovation project of Hafez’s tomb which began in 1935 generated renewed interest in Hafez. A number of scholars published works lauding the poet. Many of them regarded Hafez as a Sufi, or at least a free-thinking mystic, in a positive light {Ri}. There were other intellectuals, however, who opposed Sufism {Ri}.  Among them was Ali Dashti who wrote a book in 1936, exploring the art and meaning of Hafez’s poetry [5].

In1939, in an article, Mohammad Moin, who had the distinction of being the first PhD graduate in Persian literature from the University of Tehran, after having already studied “applied psychology, anthropology and cognitive science” in Belgium [6],  “interpreted” Hafez, as a full-fledged Sufi, and even identified a specific person as his spiritual Guide (pir) [7]. In 1942, Ahmad Kasravi, a severe critic of Sufism, published his own book on what Hafez said {Ka1}.  He saw Hafez as the example of socially useless poets who simply spun words to perfect the rhyme without providing any coherent or consistent worldview. He denounced Hafez as a kharabati (denizen of kharabat/ Sufi) who promoted a harmful hedonistic lifestyle of drinking, belittling reason and counselling the futility of human efforts {Ka1}.

Kasravi’s views on Hafez were already well known as he had discussed them in articles in his newspaper, Peyman, and, by implication, in his address on Sufi poetry at Tehran’s Anjoman Adabi (Literary Society) in 1935.  They were rooted in his nationalistic Iranism (Irangari) and advocacy of a rationalist approach to modernize the country, based on kherad (reason). The other Iranian intellectuals whose writings on Hafez noted the Sufism in his poems positively, were no less eager to see Iran develop than Kasravi; they differed with him in that they found a source of national pride in Hafez and the Iranian version of Sufism which they called `Erfan (Gnosticism).  Kasravi, however, viewed them as implementing the evil plan by the Orientalists, especially Edward G. Browne, to weaken Iran by spreading Sufism {Ri} [8].

Two other influential Iranian intellectuals of this time also opposed Sufism. One was Taqi Arani, the “intellectual initiator of the communist Tudeh Party {AA},” and the other was the widely read writer Sadeq Hedayat.  Arani’s views were expressed in his magazine, Donya (the World) which he began in 1311/1933. A firm believer in the ideology of materialism, Arani, in an article entitled “`Erfan va Oṣul Maddi (Mysticism and Materialistic Principles),” argued that in times when mystic intuition dominated, science and hence human progress stagnated {AA). Sadeq Hedayat, who had been a student of the poet `Omar Khayyam for a long time, having written a critical essay on him in 1923 [9] – entitled Rubayyat (Quarain)-, considered Hafez as (the 11th-12th centuries) Khayyam’s most important follower {T:465}.

Ehsan Tabari agreed with Hedayat with respect to Hafez’s Agnosticism (shakkakiyat va la-edriyat) and Hedonism (shiveh-ye khoshbashi), but he found Hafez to be far more than simply a lyric (ghana’i) poet {T:465}.   Tabari’s views were influential as he had become the heir to Arani, both as the editor of Donya and an intellectual leader of the communist Tudeh Party. He was also an admirer of Kasravi [10], and also of Hedayat’s writings. But considerably more than all those three (including Arani), Tabari was interested in the rich tradition of philosophy in Iran, which he explored in great depth during his 30 years of political exile while he received advance and doctorates degrees in philosophy, respectively, from universities in Moscow and Berlin. The results were published abroad during 1958-1968 in Donya, compiled in the book form in 1969 [11]. Tabari expressed his methodology as critical (scientific and historical), his approach as Marxist, humanist, Iranian and revolutionary. His three long articles on Hafez constitute 20% of that whole book, far more than any of the many other persons, events, and movements covered in the work he called the history of philosophy and social thoughts in Iran.  He gives specific citations to Hafez’s poems to support his points.

Tabari concludes that Hafez’s “philosophy” is unique, special, and not easy to discover. It is different from the Hanafi and Shi`ah Islam, different from Sufigari (organized Sufism), and other schools of thoughts in Iran [12]. This, Tabari says, is the reason for Hafez’s “loneliness,” and for the extraordinary “feeling” in his poetry. But in our age, Tabari continues, Hafez’s philosophy is far more understandable. There is something new and contemporary in it. Iranians can be proud of Hafez, Tabari proclaims, no less than any other of their luminaries {T:504}.

To demonstrate that Hafez and Khayyam’ shared views on Agnosticism and Hedonism, Tabari chose the subjects of the denial of the eternal existence of the spirit (rooh), Resurrection, Heaven, and Hell. He said these are important because by expressing doubt about them, the poet in fact doubted one of Islam’s foundational principals: belief in the Resurrection (Mo`ad).  Thus, the poet argued that the promises of religion about another life was vahi (an unfounded, chimerical hope) and that, therefore, we should value the life in this world, enjoy it and not fall in the trap laid by zohd (false piety), and hypocrisy of religious leaders who promoted ignorance {T:465}.

Tabari’s views were reflected in the writings of his followers in the Tudeh party. The poet Ahmad Shamlou echoed him when in the introduction to his 1975 book on Hafez, he referred to Hafez as one who denies Resurrection and openly confesses that he does not believe in Islam’s promises {Sh:25-26}. Shamlou was an immensely popular poet and his comments provoked strong reactions from the clerics in Iran. Their main response came from Morteza Motahari, in his 1978 book, The Causes of Attraction to Materialism, Addition to Materialism in Iran {Mo1} [13].In it, Motahari argues, on the basis of Mohammad Golandam’s saying, that Hafez was a great religious scholar and that he did not collect his poems because he was preoccupied with the teachings of Koran and practicing religious piety {D:586}.

When this proved inadequate, another writer, Bahaʾ-al-Din Khorramshahi, took up the task by attacking Tabari’s views directly. He argued that Hafez’s skepticism (shakk) did not equal denial of Resurrection, citing his own choice of Hafez’s poems to prove his point {Kh1:215} [14].

A prolific author with views on many aspects of Hafez and Divan, Khorramshahi ultimately sees Hafez as a creature of his immersion in the Koran, his thoughts and language (zaban va zehn) inseparably rooted in the Holy Book {D:588,595} [15].

Khorramshahi has critiqued the works of many other contemporary writers on Hafez [16]. While any impression that Khorramshahi claims exclusive right to interpret Hafez for Koranic scholars like himself may be conjectural {D:586}, Morteza Motahari is not shy to claim such exclusivity for the `Orafa (Gnostics). This Gnosticism is a variant of Sufism which contemporary Shiite clerics of Iran accept, indeed honor, despite the fact that Sufism has often posed as an alternative to the clerics’ practice and even interpretation of Islam. In a series of talks, later published in 1358/1979, Motahari declared that only an `Aref (singular of `Orafa) who is also a literary scholar can explain Hafez {Mo2: 87-88} [17], because his Divan is “a Gnostic (`Erfani) book plus the technical aspect of poetry {Mo2:15}. “ Motahari said that Hafez was an `Aref who thought of himself as a “qualified (shayesteh) Sufi,” while Motahari considered the common “professional (herfe’i) Sufis of the poet’s time as “non-qualified Sufis {Mo2: 133}”. Motahari said the language of `Erfan is a special, coded (ramz) language and the key to these codes are given to us in some books {Mo2:11} [18].

Understanding Hafez, Motahari said, is not in the capacity of a mere literary scholar (adib), who is not also an `Aref {Mo2:77-78}. Iranian literary scholars, on the other hand, have ignored such exclusion.  Indeed, typically {Dd: xxxvi- xxxvii}, Ehsan Yarshater has said that claiming a mystical meaning for Hafez’s every single word is “utter absurdity” {Y}. Hafez’s language, he has argued, is transparent: while showing familiarity with Sufism as he was immersed in the culture of his time, it also described, for example, wine with the accuracy of a connoisseur. In short, Hafez was “a poet’s poet” {Y}.

For eminent contemporary Iranians poets being compared with Hafez is considered a great honor [19]. Some deem Hafez’s ghazals to be the zenith of poetry unattained by virtually no other Iranian poet [20].

The phenomenon of Hafez, thus, changes depending on the person creating it. It is the creature of the perception of the poet by critics of various backgrounds [21]. Ultimately, Hafez is the image in the mind of his reader. To understand him, and fathom his thoughts, one needs to read his poetry afresh for himself.


In contrast to the disagreements about the meanings of Hafez’s poetry, there is virtual unanimity on its artistic value. Even such a harsh critic of Hafez’s thoughts as Ahmad Kasravi concedes that the language of his poetry is sublime {Ka1} [22].


The discussion of the art of Hafez’s poetry focuses on his ghazals; his few poems in other genres are not considered significant {Y}.  These ghazals are lyric poems of about 8 lines. The lines are held together by the same single meter and single rhyme, and sometimes, further, by a radif, which is a word or phrase ending the line. The mood of each ghazal is usually set by the first line, but the other lines may show other thoughts and sentiments.

Hafez’s ghazals appear designed to be sung as well as read{Y}.  Euphonic effects such as alliteration and internal rhymes are numerous, which is a distinguishing feature of his poetical language {Br} [23]. Hafez’s intimate knowledge of the cantillation rules, as a reciter of the Koran, helped in harmonizing text with melody {L1}.

He uses repetition a lot, a method which is important in other Persian arts, like music [24]. In 98 percent of his ghazals, Hafez uses only 8 metrical patterns, three most frequently {Br} Deleted [21]. Ghazal was rooted in ancient minstrelsy {Br2}. By the 11th century when the ghazals became a prominent feature of literary life in Iran, they were closely associated with the arts practiced by minstrels and musicians {Br2} [25].

Hafez recommends that there should be music when drinking wine {K97:10}. In his Divan, there are at least 43 references to motreb and 7 times to moghanni (both generic nouns for musician or singer) {L1}, and a number of terms such as ahang, meaning melody, song, or music. Several musical modes are mentioned, including `Araq, Isfahan, and Hejaz {L1}. Songbirds are used to metaphorically represent the voice of human singers or lovers, especially bolbol (nightingale) { L1}.

In Hafez’s ghazals, chang (a kind of harp) is the most frequently mentioned instrument, followed by nay (flute) and several others – ʿud, rabab, daf, chaganausually in contexts suggestive of merriment, and dance {L1}. Golandam reported that Sufis did Sama (dance) to Hafez’s musical poems {S: 66 2}.

The Arabic word ghazal, meaning spinning, with the figurative sense of flirting with women, over time came to be associated with erotic poetry {Br2}. It was mainly regarded as a type of oral poetry, not worthy of recording in writing. In Persian literature specimens of love poetry are attributed to the 10th century poet Rudaki.  The earliest collection of Persian ghazals, however, dates to the 12th century Divan of the poet Sanai. Spreading to the works of other poets, ghazal reached its zenith with Sa`di (1210-1291) who perfected the formulation of its conventional motives. Hafez added little to what his predecessors accumulated in motives, themes and images, but he applied them with unpatrolled “density, verve and skill,” giving his ghazals a strong feeling of originality {Br2} [26].

By Hafez’s time, there were about 200 traditional poetic devices available. The Koran which was a major model used by Hafez employed some 100 of them. Hafez often uses only 7, the most important of them being tashaboh (analogy), tazad (opposites), and tanavvo` (diversity). Their function was to help create movement and harmony (mozoniyyat) in the poem {Es}.

Hafez also uses symbols and stylization, which were characteristics of Persian poetry and other arts, especially painting and music {Es}. Similarly, his poems are endowed with word-plays common to works of other Persian poets, especially, paronomasia or puns (jenas) and double entendre (eeham) {Br}.


Some experts maintain that the Koran was Hafez’s major poetic model {Es}.   Hafez’s ghazals have ample implied, and sometimes explicit, references to poems of many major Persian poets, including Rudaki {K257, 461}[27], Nezami Ganjavi {K216, 460} [28], Anvari {R465}[29], and Molavi Rumi {K193,349} [30].

More than all of them, Hafez’s ghazals show the influence of Sa`di. That influence could be detected in the following ghazals: {K 117, 169, 181,183,188, 191, 216, 221, 226, 297, 308, 314, 318, 361, and 393} [31]. There are several key concepts used by Hafez which are also in Sa’di’s ghazals, such as: pesar (boy) {Fo : 427, 428}; riya, kharabat, zohd, mey, ab-e kharabat, tamat {Fo:794}. Mosharref al-Din Mosleh Sa`di (1210-12191) was also from Shiraz which venerated him by the time of Hafez [32]

The size of Hafez’s poetic output is dwarfed by that of other great Persian poets. Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh had as many as 50,000 lines; Molavi Rumi’s collection of qhazals and quatrains in his Divan exceeds 40,000 lines, and his Masnavi had more than 25,577 [33]; and Sa`di’s Bustan, qhazals, and other poems combined total more than 15,000 lines {Fo}. Hafez spent more than forty years on about 4,000 lines of his some 500 qhazals, or roughly 10 poems a year. They are not arranged chronologically in his Divan [34], but the earlier poems, as indicated by historical clues in the content, equally the later ones in the polish of craftsmanship {Es}.

The horizon of the physical world which Hafez observes in these poems is exceptionally limited. It is almost exclusively two sites in his hometown of Shiraz, a few flowers and birds, only the season of spring. His descriptive observations become at times tedious. He reports almost nothing about the various interesting types of people who lived in the bustling environment of the center of international trade that Shiraz was at his time. He tells no stories other than brief reference to old legends. He is a biographer of his own introspection. Even his admirers admit that he has some, artistically, “weak” poems {Es}. But he also has many that are simply sublime.

Ehsan Yarshater, a doyen among scholars of Iranian literature, concludes “In no other Persian poet can be found such … a lyrical exuberance {Y}.” What distinguishes Hafez’s poems from the others’ is a combination of his apt choice of words, polished diction, and “silken melodious expressions{Y}.”   Their appeal, however, cannot be searched by analyzing their various elements. Rather, it is due to his artistic gift, that ineffable, indiscernible thing, that “anin Hafez’s word {K121:1}.


Hafez wrote in Persian, a language which, for poetic reasons, he also called Dari {K174, K10, K391:7, K443:12}[35], and Pahlavi {K477:1} which was the old language of Iran before the Arab domination. The Persian literary language in Iran had become fixed by Hafez’s time, so that his poems appear as though they were written today {B:122}. The transparency and lucidity of Hafez’s diction simply raised his natural use of the ordinary colloquial Persian to the high literary level {Y*; Av2:xxii}. He is understood by contemporary Persian speakers of our time [36].

In at least one Ghazal {K429:3}, Hafez has used some words in the old dialect of Shiraz {R:596}. Far more, his ghazals include macaronic poems (molam`at)* in which Persian and Arabic verses alternate {K416, K451, K452, K453, K454, K460}. There are also Arabic insertions, consisting of Koranic verses, pious proverbs and sayings, and lines of poetry {Br}.  These which are not inconsiderable [37] were probably understood by the learned Persian in Hafez’s time -if not as much now. Hafez was aware, however, that a poet could best express himself in the language he knew best, although Arabic (Tazi) and Turkish (Turki) were also adequate languages for those who knew them {K467:7}. Scholars have treated the Arabic in Hafez’s ghazals as incidental inserts in Persian poems {Br}.

Hafez has said that knowing the Persian language is the prerequisite to appreciating his poems {K174:10}. Attempts at translating Hafez’s poems into other languages have been difficult. Since Sir William Jones’ first translation of some of Hafez’s poems into English toward the end of 18th century, A Grammar of the Persian Language (Oxford, 1771), his poetry has been translated into this language more than the poems of any other Persian poet. Yet, rarely, has “a glimpse of the rich clarity and vigorous beauty” of Hafez’s poems been shown to the English reader {Lol}.

There have been four main categories of translation of Hafez into English: (A) the literal prose [38];  (B) verse, by imitation of the meter, the rhyme or both [39], or in a more familiar English verse form [40],  or free verse [41] ; (C)  “imitation” and “creative translation” [42]  ; and (D) scholar-translation [43].

Readers in the United States had an early exposure to Hafez in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s translation of some 500 lines of his poetry in the 1850s [44].  Emerson’s translation was based on a German text, the 1812 translation of Hafez’s poems by the Austrian Von Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall. This was the first ever complete translation of Hafez’s Divan into a Western language. Hammer himself relied on three Turkish translations of Hafez [45]. Not only did this remove Hammer’s translation from the Persian original, but it was also colored by the views of at least one, the 16th century Sudi of Bosnia, whose Turkish translation was accompanied by his commentary. Indeed, it was this commentary that formed the basis of most European interpretations of Hafez {Ta}.

Hammer-Purgstall’s translation was greatly influential in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s understanding of Hafez {Ta}{{7]. The status that Goethe accorded Hafez in his 1819 West-östlicher Divan, a major work of German literature, made the Persian poet an important figure in the international literature {Ta} [46].

The translation of some 39 poems of Hafez by Gertrude Lowthian Bell, who knew Persian and spent time in Iran, is considered as the best by many British scholars {Be:15-16}. She readily acknowledged that Hafez’s poetry is “of a different age, a different race, and a different civilisation from ours.” Yet, she argued that “These are the utterances of a great poet, the imaginative interpreter of the heart of man; they are not of one age, or of another, but for all time [47].”

What was elegant in Bell’s phrasing may sound a bit archaic now, more than a century later. Reza Saberi cures that problem for the contemporary readers in his 2002 book, The Divan of Hafez, A Bilingual Text, Persian-English (Lanham, Maryland). An experienced author in Persian, he also manages to be remarkably faithful to the language of Hafez. His fidelity remains throughout a book that covers all of Hafez’s poems.

Principal Subjects

Hafez’s poems may be organized in the following general categories of subjects: love, wine-drinking, clergy, Islam, and Sufism.

IV. Love

Common Themes and Figures

Much of Hafez’s poetry is about love. Nothing engages his passion more than describing love and beauty {Br}. The poet-lover is the central figure in a tale of trials and tribulations which includes an often reluctant, indifferent, and unfaithful {K205, K266} beloved, the warden of the beloved, who can turn into a rival (raqib), and the dispenser of advice against love. The major themes are the worshipful craving of the lover, the scandal of revealed love {K221}, the lover’s jealousy and fear of the other admirers of the beloved. These figures and themes are common to Persian lyrics {Y}.


Hafez says that the way to love is long and hard {K276:5). and that love is full of danger {K151:5}. To reach love one must have persistent will {K196:9} [1].  The absence of the lover is painful {K82:5, K88:1}.  To love requires willingness to suffer {K155:4}. Patience and suffering because of separation are necessary to obtain love {K271:1,2}. Be happy even in missing the beloved {K192:9}. Sadness is a great gift of love {K396:5}. Hafez says his art needs the mirror of the beloved to show itself {329:8}.  He is happy just that Shiraz is full of beautiful beloved, even though they are not his. {K329:5}. He says he cannot look at books when there is so much beauty to look at {K338:3}.

I will always pursue love, Hafez says {K175:7}. What is the use of life if not to sacrifice it for the beloved {K231:5}?  Age is immaterial: I am not old, Hafez say, if I am still a lover of a child {K325:5}. In old age, Hafez says: If the beloved comes, I will become young again {K232:1}.  As he thinks about death, Hafez says he wants love at death and afterward {K328:1,4}.

Hafez says that understanding love is the height of knowledge {K56:5}. Love is hard to describe {K64:7}.  All languages are the same in the matter of love {K467:7}.  But love is not by words {K81:7}; it cannot be proven by words and logic {K90:5}. The knowledge of love is not found in books {K158:6}. No one becomes privy to secrets on the path of love; each makes his own conjecture {K121:7}.

Reason is not that helpful in treating the affliction of love {K462: 2}. Common physicians can not treat the pain of love; go “find a Messiah-breath type” person {K462: 8}.


In many of his poems, the love Hafez describes is physical love. He yearns for kissing and hugging the beloved {K161:6}.  “To be with a beloved who has sweet lips and elegant stature/ Without kissing and embracing is not pleasant {K159:4}.” “My expectations are limited just to kissing and hugging the beloved {K435:4}.” In one poem he calls on the beloved: “Open your cloak’s knot, so that you may relieve my heart/For any relief I ever had was from being on your side {K204:6}.” In another poem, he describes how “a hundred beauties tore their collars enviously,” as his beloved walked by them {K415:1}. “May a thousand garment of virtue and cloak of chastity/Be sacrificed for the rent shirt of the beauties {K260:2}.” “My desire was for piety and safety/But that charming eye displays such coquetries that don’t ask {K266:5}.”

One cannot find love in the monastery, he says {K437:9}. Indeed, the “beauty” that is Hafez’s object of desire is sometimes simply one for the hire: “I, a beggar, fancy a cypress-statured one/Who cannot be embraced except with silver and gold {K219:7}.” He advises, pay the money and take a beauty: “Let silver go, and with gold, embrace one of silvery body {K252:6}.” He calls for an experienced, sly (`ayyar), lover, not a naïve simpleton {K244:6}.  Hafez “is the lover of the face of a good-looking youth {K305:1}.”

In many poems Hafez describes the physical features of such a beloved. They include: tress {K:180:3}, face {K87:6, K107:3, 9}, lips {K206:1}, double-chin {K198:2}, eyebrows {K90:7}, eyes {K 48:6, K:165:7}, bare forearms, and alabaster legs {K202:8}, small mouth {K69:5}[2], and black mole {K83:1}.

Hafez does not name anyone as his beloved. In one poem, only, he refers to his beloved as “Farrokh” {K:95:1}. It has been suggested that Farrokh was the name of a male to whom Hafez was attracted [3]. In one poem, Hafez refers to his beloved as “ma`shouqeh” {K222:6}, a word which is feminine in Persian.  In some other poems the word he uses is “ma`shouq”, which is generally the word for a male beloved but can also mean a female beloved -Persian is basically a genderless language. This has led a few to translate Hafez’s poems as though his beloved is female [4].

In all other poems, the beloved Hafez describes is often clearly a young male: “sweet boy (shirin pesar)” {K274:7}; “sweet boys’ lips (lab-e pesaran) {K414:4}; calling “boy (pesar)” to pour wine {K446:1}. The khat (downy hair on the jawline) that Hafez admires on his beloved {K275:5} is that of “a not yet hirsute adolescent boy” – an ephebe {Le2}  [5].

In one poem, the beloved is referred to as javan (young man) {K139:3}. Other poems specify that Hafez likes his beloved to be a “14-year-old {K251:9, K284:3},” “a child {K284:2}”, “with the smell of milk on his lips {K284:4}.” He says I am not old if I am still the lover of “a child {K325:5}.”

The women beloved in Hafez’s ghazals are characters from legendary love stories of the Persian culture of his time – such as Layla and Majnun* {K341,K1,5}, Khosrow and Shirin {K466:2}, Shirin and Farhad {K309:3}, Golchehr and  Orang {K336:3}, Zoleikha and Joseph {K3:6}, and Salmi (a beloved woman among the Arabs- {K261:2, K275:3} or they are allegorical religious figures such as hoor (black-eye woman of the heaven) and pari (fairy) {K404:6}.

The physical beauty that Hafez wants in his beloved is God-given, not the result of any make-up {K174:1}, or ornaments {K158:7, K169:6}. In addition, he requires much more than physical beauty in the beloved {K221:8}. He says love does not “arise” from appearance {K67:5}. We are focused on character (akhlaq) more than appearance of the beloved {K202:4}.


In a number of poems, Hafez’s beloved is God. Hafez describes him as an anthropomorphic deity with human form, as well as emotions {K259:1,2,7; K309:10; K315:3}. This is the God that Islam introduces in its creation narrative. Hafez, rather, adopts him for his own “religion of love (mazhab-e `eshqh) {Ig:85}” [6].

As Hafez depicts it {K: 148:1}, on the day of creation, Pre-eternity (Azal), the light of God’s “Beauty manifested itself /Love appeared and set fire to the whole world.” The King of Azal gave us the “treasure of love’s sorrow” when we arrived in this world {K364:3}. “Man, and angles, are creatures of the existence of love {K443:1}.” Become a lover, Hafez says, or else you would not know the purpose for which you were created {K426:5}. Until you become Gnostic of love you won’t understand the secret of mysteries {K281:6}. Hafez says that on the day of creation he received a cup of “the wine of love (mey-e alast) {K: 144:5}” [7]. Alast (First) is another word for Azal [8]. In contrast to Sufis’ some`eh (convent), Hafez chooses to have the discourse of his religion of love in wine bars {K215:7; K208:1, 2}. The subject, he says, is beyond the understanding of school and rational discussion {K 208:3}. He adds, Mansur Hallaj (an iconic Gnostic) said it well that Shafe’i (an iconic jurisconsult) does not know the issues of love {K301:4}.

Don’t disclose the secrets of love before rational people, Hafez says {K300:9}. When brain fails to explain things, love does it {K203:3}. The rational people (a`qelan) are at the center of the world but love knows that they are lost in this circle {K188:2}. “Angels do not know what love is {K260:3},” and Satan (Eblis) is a jealous “non-adept’ (na-mahram),” a “pretender (mudda`i),” as he “quarreled with God and thus is cursed with eternal separation from Him {Sgh:117}.”

Man, on the other hand, accepted God’s call and entered into a covenant with him.  This covenant was the promise by man to safeguard love, which God entrusted to him {K475:6} [9]. We came to this world carrying that burden of trust (bar-e amanat) as seekers of love {K359,1.2} [10].

It is a difficult journey for true lovers. Those who are always self-absorbed, are excused if they are not in love (444:1).  “A dark night, fear of waves, and a maelstrom so forbidding! /How can the light-burdened of the shore know our plight {K1:5}?” The first rule on the journey of love is to be passionately insane, like the legendary lover Majnun (449:3). If you are a rational person, don’t mix with those who are crazy in love {K444:2}.

Hafez believes that for him being in love was not voluntary; it was an inherited gift of his “nature (fetrat)” {K306:5}. He spends his life taking steps to be fulfilled in loving God {K336:1}. Although he fears that He will not grant his wish, yet he imagines it and augurs it realization {K336:6}, trusting that there will be a happy ending {K336:4}. He asks God: “When will You have mercy on my frail life/He said: ‘When your life is not an obstacle between us’ {K301:3}.“  Thus, Hafez speaks of the Sufi “annihilation (fana)” [11]. That is the goal, which Mansur Hallaj attained on the gallows, and Hafez who aspires to it, has not yet reached: “Those who have attained their goal are at gallows like Mansur/When they call Hafez to this door, they drive him away {K189:6}.”

On the other side fana, after death, the journey for love continues, still full of dangers; you don’t escape because “your life ended {K307:5}.” Thus, Hafez implies that fana annihilates the body, while the spirit will continue to live [12]. In another poem, Hafez refers to spirit (rooh) as existing in the person while alive {K360:2}.

V. Wine-drinking

After love, wine drinking is the theme which appears the most in Hafez’s ghazals. His celebration of uninhibited and drunken revelry exceeded other Persian poets who had included bacchanalia in their works {Y}.


The wine Hafez speaks of is usually physical, with a few exceptions {Kh2:677-689}. It is not a symbolic construct of the imagination {L2}.  He describes the wines in his poems as “the vine’s beautiful daughter {K257:6},” the fragrant and “rose-colored” wine {K257:4}, and “fiery water” {K259:3}. He declares his preference: “two-year wine” {K251:9}, intoxicating wine that can knock down a man {K273:1}.  This is an earthy product.

In two poems, however, Hafez uses the term wine to mean the intoxicating drink (of love) God gave to man on the day of creation (day of Alast) {K:21: 1}, which Hafez calls the wine of Alast {K144:5}. In another poem, wine is called as the “intoxicating drink (badeh-ye mastaneh)” {K179:2} which some interpret as meaning “the drink of Gnosticism” {L2} [1].  On the other hand, in another poem, Hafez distinguishes his wine from the “heavenly wine (sharab-e kosar)” {K66:8}[2].


Hafez seems to say that he became a wine-drinker, “on the path of love,” in reaction to the hypocrisy of the Sufis {K405:4} [3]. He asks for wine to wash away the dust of hypocrisy {K372:9}. Elsewhere, he says that during the reign of the ruler who forgave drinking as wrongdoing, in addition to Hafez, the Mofti, Sufi, Mohtaseb, Shaikh and Qazi all also drank wine. When he asked the old wine-seller about their drinking in secrecy, he was told to keep quiet and drink his wine {K280:1, 2,3,4} [4]. Hafez also says that destiny (taqdir) is responsible for his drinking {K337: 3}; it directs him toward the tavern {K314:5}.  Elsewhere, he says he became a wine-drinker because of that beautiful beloved (hoor) {K321:2}.


Hafez implies that he repented from drinking before, but cannot keep such a promise {K322:7}. Elsewhere, he says he will not stop drinking: “I have repented a hundred times and will do not more (repenting) {K345:1}.” The Sufis and the likes have erased their drinking past, but his reputation for drinking, Hafez says, has lingered on {K175: 3,4}. He asks for a drink because Shaikh, Hafez, Mofti, and Mohtaseb all lie {K195:9}. For a draught of wine that harms no one, Hafez says, I have so much trouble from ignorant people {K266: 3}.

He guarantees that God’s mercy will extend to the sin of drinking {K422:9}. Even though drinking is a sin, Hafez says, one cannot lose hope of God’s grace {K453:4}. Indeed, in the Magians’ kharabat, Hafez, “surprisingly,” sees God’s light {K349:1}. He imagines a “wine-house of love (meykhaneh `esqh)” where Adam’s character was fermented {K194:6}.


Hafez resorts to wine to cope with problems facing him as a creature. The only medicine for the endless sorrow (gham) of the world is the purple wine, he says {K350:1}. He prescribes the wine cup as the dam against the drowning flood of sorrow {K124:8}. Bring wine for one cannot be safe from the heaven’s ruse and the plays of the lutist Venus and warrior Mars {K273:2}. In this world where all can easily be lost, worrying is not good, better drink wine {K365:3}.

In some poems, to fight sorrow Hafez calls for wine to bring about happiness, in the company of musicians and a singer {K470:4, 5, 6}. He seeks “the scent of life” from wine {K372: 1}. Such expectation of joy from wine, however, is minor compared to Hafez’s seeking to drown his sorrow by simply getting drunk (mast).  Drench me in wine, he pleads, for I see no good in these circumstances {K287:3}.  Make me so drunk that I would not be conscious of what is happening {K84:4}. Unless wine makes us forget the sorrow, Hafez says, our foundations will be destroyed by the dread of events {K125:1}.

Wine is the drink for “losing your base self (bikhodi)” {K 469:3}. Become its votary so you can destroy hypocrisy and false piety {K469:5}! Wine is the potion to use for love-sickness, Hafez says, as it is soothing and stops wrong thoughts {K125:6}. “Other than the Plato who resides in the barrel of wine/ who can tell us the secret of wisdom,” Hafez asks rhetorically {K256:5}.   “Let’s, inebriated, pull away the veil from the mystery of destiny” {K368:3}!” I will show you “the secret of the world in the clear wine,” Hafez says, “provided that you don’t share it with the ill-natured and blind-hearted {K273:6}.” “In this world which is unreal, hold nothing but the goblet of wine {K254:7}!” Put a cup of wine on my coffin, Hafez asks, so that with it, I lose the terror of the day of Resurrection {K260:8}. My heart which was dead was revived by the scent of wine, he says in another poem {K84:6}.

Hafez admits that wine has vices {K177:6}. In one quatrain, roba’i 31, he warns that it will likely ruin (kharab) you and give you a bad reputation {S:651}). In a ghazal, however, he explains that he destroyed his image by wine-worshipping because he wished thus to destroy his self-worshipping {K385:2}.


Because of the threat of being charged with religious heresy, Hafez considers the advice that wine should be drunk in hiding {K195:1}. He asks, rhetorically, is it not better thus to hide the problem of wine-drinking {K212:9}?  This wine was likely made at home (khanegi), to avoid religious police {K278:4}. Drinking in secret was called “drinking ala Jews (shorb al-Yahoud) {K 280:3},” as it was the way Jewish people drank wine in Shiraz at that time {R:386}.

Hafez believes in “the old saying” that wine is forbidden without a friend as a drinking partner {K360:1}.  Hafez can drink even in the absence of music {K271:8}. Hafez gets tired of drinking in hiding {K342:9}. He comes to think that drinking and having fun (`aysh) in secret is “baseless (bi bonyad) {K97:1”}. He decides to reveal his drinking with the music of the harp and reed {K342:9}.

Hafez sets limits on drinking time. He says don’t drink wine all year long: drink only three months and abstain nine months.  {K269:2}. He says don’t drink during the day as that would “darken your heart;” you should spend the day, instead, learning a skill {K146:4}. The time for drinking is after the sunset {K146:5}. However, you may celebrate with a glass of wine at dawn to behold the arrival of your beloved {K172:2}. Another exceptional occasion is the coming of spring when “there is talk of the cypress, the rose and tulip;” that calls for drinking “the three glasses of wine (salaseh-ye ghassaleh) {K218:1}” – as the ancient Greek philosophers prescribed {R:305}.

Hafez’s preferred venue for drinking is the wine-house/ taverm (meykhaneh, or meykadeh). The place for him assumes a role far greater. It is only there, he says, that he can be aware of himself {K345:4}. He goes to the wine-house because the Sufi temple (khanehqah) did not “open” anything (nagshood) {K363:2}. He says don’t waste your time at school, seek that goal, “opening (goshadi),” at the wine-house {K361:9}. In both these instances, by opening Hafez seems to be referring to the Gnostics enlightenment. In the same vernacular, he says I am a “beggar (geda)” at the wine-house, “but watch me when I am drunk/How I stand proudly before the sky and command the stars {K342: 6}.”

The wine-houses in Hafez’s poems are located in kharabat. In Hafez’s times, there were many wine-houses in Shiraz, and there were run-down areas on the outskirts of the city which were called kharabat. Those wine-houses were not necessarily located in those ruins. They were managed by either Jews or Christians {Li1:52}. The imaginary wine-house in Hafez’s poems, however, are presided over by Magians (Moghan), Zoroastrian priests {Li1:52}. Hafez’s imaginary ruins are also named after them kharabat-e Moghan {K10:2, K327:1}.

In Hafez’s Gnostic musing, the “ruins” assumes the connotation of destruction associated with the Gnostic concept of fana, or annihilation of the base-self, and his wine-house becomes the “house of love (maykhaneh-ye `eshq)” {K194:6}. Here the ephebe Zoroastrian youth (mogh bachcheh/ wine seller’s errand boy) is the beauty {K165:4} who arouses Hafez’s desire {K197:5}, lures him by playing a harp and a tambourine {K290:6}, and pours him wine {L2}.

Hafez brings his problems to the Zoroastrian guide/elder-priest, pir-e Moghan (the pir of the Magians) who would solve them by his “insights (nazar)” {K136:3} [5].  The pir-e Moghan gazes into a wine goblet (136:4} which is “world-seeing (jahan bin)” {K136:5}. Thus, Hafez describes the legendary crystal bowl, called Jom-e Jam (Jam’s Bowl), of the mythical ancient Persian King Jamshid, which he mentions in this and other ghazals [6]. For Hafez, the ruins, which he also calls the Magians’ cloister (dayr-e Moghan) –literary, convent of the Magians-, is a refuge from restrictions of Islam. There the pir-e Moghan issues decrees (fatwas) {K360:1} in accordance with his own creed (mazhab) which allows drinking {K193:6}. Accordingly, if he says, “dye your prayer mat with wine,” Hafez follows {K1:3}, feeling secure in the sanctuary of the pir-e Moghan {K263:4}. The blasphemous contrast with Islamic decrees, which forbid drinking, is also depicted in the juxtaposition of wine with kherqeh (the Islamic religious leaders’ cloak): “wine and kherqeh represent these two different religions {K193:6}.

Hafez further uses the same symbol, kherqeh, in declaring his freedom to love: “Because the beloved’s hair commands us to wear the Christians’ belt (zonnar)/Go away, O Shaikh, as kherqeh has become forbidden to us {K304:4}”[7]. The freedom that Hafez seeks in the Magians’ cloister is, however, even broader than to love and to drink; it is general “release (goshayesh)” {K40:4}.

This imaginary domain of a pre-Islamic priest enhances Hafez’s iconology of the Zoroastrian Iran [8]. On par with his reference to Jom-e Jam, is Hafez’s invocation of Nowruz, the ancient celebration of spring [9]. The “breeze of Nowruz,” he says, “brightens your heart {K445:1}.”  “Like rose, spend the little that you have for enjoyment {K445:2}.” “It is fresh spring, make efforts to have fun/For many a rose will bloom while you have turned to dust.” {K447:1}.”

Following an old Persian rite of spring, Hafez sets a celebratory stage by strewing rose petals on it [10]  and, additionally, asks for wine {K198:9} as he recalls the rituals of the Zoroastrian religion {K198:8} [11] , before issuing his exuberantly unconstrained, audacious call to his guests: Come! let’s break the mold of the universe and “cast a new design {K367:1}!”

VI. Clergy

No part of the established order of things arouses Hafez’ wrath more than the Muslim clerics who occupied the positions of leadership in Shiraz’s organized religion. In no fewer than 170 ghazals, he jeers at the clique {Y}.  With 35% of his poems thus harping on a theme which is totally unlyrical {Y}, Hafez’s Divan becomes unique among Persian collections of love poetry {Sgh :159} [1].

His target is all inclusive. Hafez attacks all officials: the Mofti (the clergy who issues religious rulings), the Faqih (scholar of religious law) the Qazi (the judge in Islam), the Zahed (ascetics), the Shaikh (religious elder), the Moḥtaseb (morality police), the Va`eẓ (preacher), and the Emam-e Jamaʿat (leader of public prayer). In this list, he also includes the Hafez (memorizer of the Koran), and Sufi (Islamic mystic) {Y} [2]. His critical position is absolute as no praise for any aspect of their lives or works is offered [3]. No person is specifically mentioned and thus, by implication, it was immaterial if there was any change of the occupant of the position.

Hafez spoke positively about some Islamic principles, as distinguished from Islamic institutions and their incumbent leaders. On 17 occasions in his poems, he refers favorably to Sufis’ “Way (Tariqat),” “men of God (mardan-e Khoda)” and “the contented (darvish)” and “contentment (darvishi).”  He praises the virtuous (parsa) and virtue (parsa’i) six times. He is unforgiving, however, toward the Zaheds (who in Hafez’s view are ones who practice sham piety), as well as the Mohtasebs (who police morality) and Shaikhs (elders of religion). {Y}. These, Hafez always charged with hypocrisy. They pose as spiritual and moral leaders forbidding that which they practice in secret {Y}.


Hafez illustrates the hypocrisy of the clerics in a variety of ways, using a vast collection of words denoting duplicity, deceit, chicanery, dissimulation, pretense, inauthenticity, sham, and counterfeit. Chief among these terms are riya {K126:10, K 129:9, K 171:8, K 191:6, K 197:6, K 238:5b, K 262:2 , K 269:1, K 290:7 , K 319:9, K 347:4, K 357:1, K 358:1, K 360:2, K 368:2,  K 373:5,  K 399:8, K 476:8}, salus { K 28:7, K 220:1, K 368:1, K 379:4, K 462:5, K 469:5} tazvir { K 9:10, K 195:9, and K 195:9}, zarq { K 67:3, K 131:7, K 145:3, K 368:1, K 372:9, K 407:12} [4].

Hafez acknowledges that anybody can be a hypocrite {K 357:1; 126:8}. Indeed, he admits that he is sometimes guilty of hypocrisy {K319:9, K476:8}. However, he expresses strong desire to avoid it {K131:7}. In one poem, he lumps together the whole group of “Shaikh, Hafez, Mofti and Mohtaseb” as hypocrites {K195:9}. In another, he condemns all who use the Koran as a snare of deceit {K9:10}. In yet a third poem, Hafez targets all who engage in a counterfeit charade of spirituality to fool people {K194:3}. In many other poems he directs his accusation, separately, at the Zahed {K254, K399:8}, Mohtaseb {K290:7}, Va`ez {K 220:1, K 339:7}, and Sufi {K28:7, K 238:5, K368.1}.


This anti-clerical attitude does not appear in Hafez’s early poems. On the contrary, in a qat`eh (fragment) – a genre of poems different from ghazal- Hafez lavishly praised a certain Qazi (Majd al-Din, d. 1355), a leader of the Sufis (Amin al-Din, d. 1344), and a Faqih (Azod al-Din, d. 1355), from the time of Shah Shaikh  Abu Eshaq (r.1342-1353), crediting them, as among five extraordinary people (along with the ruler and his Vizier) who made Fars prosperous  {Kq9}. At that time Hafez was in his mid-30s. In another qat`eh, Hafez refers to a Qazi’s classroom as “the source of knowledge {Kq3}.”

Hafez’s ghazals attacking religious officials and their hypocrisy first appeared in relationship to the reign of Amir Mobarez al-Din Mozaffarid in Shiraz (754/1353-759/1358) {Le1:23}[5]. The Amir showed respect and deference to the puritan ascetics (Zaheds) and strict clerics [6]. He closed the town’s wine taverns and boarded up its dens of vice {Le1:23} [7].” When “they closed the wine-houses,” Hafez expressed fear, in a poem, that they would open the door to pretense and hypocrisy {K197:6}. He says that the sin of wine-drinking in private is better than ostentatious sham worshipping {K191:6}. He would rather drink than suffer hypocrisy {K462:5}. He advises both drinking and avoiding hypocrisy {K269:1, K 407:12}. In fact, he prescribes wine as the cure for hypocrisy {K67.3, K368:2}. Against his own inclinations, however, to please his benefactor, Hafez now tried to repent from drinking and to follow the example of the Zahed {K397:8}. The benefactor, whom Hafez calls Khwajeh in this poem, probably was Burhan al-Din, the Vizier of Amir Mobarez, whom Hafez praises in a poem {K453:10}[8].

On the other hand, Hafez asks rhetorically, why is it that those who preach repentance, do not repent themselves. He points out that the preachers who put up such a show in their public sermons, themselves do otherwise in private {K194:2}. He says that he is ashamed of boasting of piety while still drinking {K 347:3}.

He resolves to drink and stay away from the hypocrites: “to rise above them in liberation,” if he can free himself from worldly needs {K347:5}” [9].  He declares that if thus he is “the rend in kharabat (the debauchee in the city’s ruins), on the one hand, and the town’s Hafez (reciter of the Koran), on the other, so be it, “I am what you see and even lower {K 347:7}.” He depends on his lord, the current “great Vizier (asaf-e `ahd),” to avenge him if fate leads him astray {K347:9}. Hafez was referring to Turanshah, the Vizier of the new ruler of Shiraz, Shah Shoja` [10]. Hafez now declares: “I have repented (from drinking and loving) one hundred times and I won’t again {K345:1}.” He says, “I am not such a real man (rend) who would abandon the beloved and wine/Mohtaseb knows that I seldom do such things {K338:1}.”

Referring to Mobarez’s son and successor Shah Shoja`, who dramatically reversed the policies of his father, Hafez says, “In the age of the King who forgave mistakes and ignored violations/Hafez carried the flask and the Mofti drank from the cup// Sufi moved from the monastery to sit at the wine vat/When he saw the Mohtaseb carry a jug of wine on his shoulder.” Shaikh  and Qazi were drinking in secret {K280: 1-3}.

Hafez’s attack on the religious leaders is primarily caused by their position on drinking wine. However, Hafez finds additional faults with the bunch. The superficial Zahed “does not understand us {K72:1},” He is so self-absorbed that he can do nothing but to criticize others. {K258: 8}. The Zahed is ignorant, the Mohtaseb is “drunk with hypocrisy,” and the Sufi is an animal {K290:7,8}.


Hafez separates himself from the clerics and the establishment that they represent. Since the Va’eẓ chose the favor of the King and his political police (Shahneh), Hafez says, “I choose the love of a beloved {K222: 4}.” Lovers are “the people of God,” not the Shaikhs, he adds in another poem {K350:5}. As the opposite of hypocrisy, Hafez proposes the “path of love and rendi.” {K131:7}. He says “learn rendi to become human. {K220:2}.

Rendi was the way the rend (hoodlum, debauchee) lived his life [11]. Hafez says, he became “a legend for his rendi,” in reaction to the “ignorant Sufi elders and the Shaikhs who had lost their ways {K409:3}” [12]. Thus, he repented from following the false pious, and asked God that He may forgive the deeds of pretentious worshippers {K409:4}.

Hafez longs to become a qalandar (ascetic dervish/dissolute hoodlum) by freeing himself from the Sufi cap and cloak (kherqeh) {K389:8}[13]. He recalls fondly that certain “sweet qalandar” who recited the Muslim angels’ praise of God, wearing zonnar, the belt Christians wore to mark them in Muslim lands {K79:7}. Similarly, the rend who would “set fire to the world (`alam suz),” Hafez says in a poem, “has no use for prudence {K271:4}” [14]. Far more often, Hafez identifies himself with the rend [15]. “I am a rend and say it openly {K305:2}.”  He repeats, in another poem, “loudly, I am a rend {K321:2},” and in still a third poem, “we are rends {K47:9}.”

Hafez finds the rend’s “purity of heart (safa-ye del)” to be a miracle worker that helps open doors {K197:3}. The rend’s humble ways would take him to heaven, while Zahed’s pride would block his way {K84:7}.  Hafez even calls the rendan (plural of rend) “saints (awliyay-e haq)” {K93:3}. He says his own grave would become the shrine for pilgrimage of the world’s rendan {K201:3}.

Hafez warns the Zahed to be careful when passing through the “rendan’s street,” lest the company of some “ill-reputed (bad- nam)” ones corrupt him {K177:6}. In Shiraz of Hafez’s time, the aristocratic families, from which the Zahed usually came, looked down upon the rendan, who were among the street mobs, the lowest social group {Li1} [16].  rendan was one of their several disparaging names for these mobs [17].  “In the streets and bazaar of Shiraz there existed an undercurrent of resistance to” the ruling class, which “most often appeared as a sullen, passive opposition using weapons of mockery and ridicule” but occasionally expressed in violence {Li1:89} [18].

Hafez emphasizes the impossibility of bridging the social distance between such “a bazar rend (rend-e bazari)” and “the King (Sultan)”: “How can the Sultan have a secret love affair with a bazar rend {K186:6}?”[19]. In that poem, it is the rend that Hafez identifies with, not the Sultan [20]. In another poem, he mocks those who criticize him for being a rend: “Many thanks that they are faultless! {K196:2}!” He says it is better to act as a rend than “to make the Koran a snare of deceit, like others {K9:11}.”

In one ghazal, Hafez says that a person is fated to be a rend {K145:6}. He asserts that on the day of creation (Ruz-e Azal), he was assigned to act only as a rend {K161:3}. This claim was, of course, not included in the Islamic narrative of the day of creation. Hafez, furthermore, swears by the “purity of heart (safa-ye del)” of the rendan that “morning wine (saboohi)” drinkers can open many a closed door with their prayers {K197:3}.”  He continues contrasting the rend with the pious Muslim: Zahed’s “arrogant pride (ghoroor)” prevents him from reaching safety, while the rend, by way of his humility, enters Heaven {K84:7}[21].The rend is a poor beggar (geda) who knows the alchemy for spiritual riches, Hafez says in the manner of the dissenters in Islam who embraced “material poverty (Darvishi)” {K174:6}.

Hafez embraces that ethos, calling himself geda {K262:3}. He adopts yet another principle of the rendan, “the attitude of caring the less (laobali)” {K454:11}, and a third one: he vows not to forget “humility (oftadegi)” as pride has caused the “jealous (hasood)” Islamic leaders to lose their “honor, property, heart and religion {K135.7}.”

While he considers himself a rend, Hafez does not forget to add that he is also “a lover (`asheq)” and one “intoxicated with wine (mast) {K196:2}.”  He is a “heedless wine-worshipper (qallash-e badeh parast) {K453:5}.” He is the follower of “the religion of love (mazhab-e `eshq) {K119.7}.” In fact, he has his “own religion (mazhab-e ma).” {K47:3}.

The rend is not the alter ego of Hafez’s composite persona [22]. To those who protest for such a simple identification, Hafez responds with shouting out a duo of his opposite faces: “If I am the rend of the ruins or Hafez (the Koran memorizer and reciter) of the city/I am what you see, and even less {K347:7}”[23].

VII. Islam

The comments in Hafez’s Divan about Islam may be searched in various poems relating to the Koran, the sayings and stories in Islamic traditions, Islamic rituals, Islamic principles, iconic figures in Islam, elements from the pre-Islamic past of Iran which had been integrated in the Persian Islamic culture, as well as those poems relating to other religions.


Hafez, the pen-name of the poet, Shams-al-Din Mohammad, referred to his knowing the Koran by heart. Indeed, he was extraordinary as he could recite it from memory in fourteen different versions {K93:10}. Each version (ravayat) was based on the textual variant promulgated by one of the fourteen recognized “readers (qarian)” [1] of the Koran. Although the text of the Koran was codified by the Caliph `Uthman in 650, because of the limitation in the Arabic script, when reading it, the appearance of  the placement of a vowel sign or a dot over or under a letter in  different places in the hand-written manuscripts, produced significant variations in the understanding of a passage. There are an estimate1,100 instances in the Koran which can generate such different readings of particular verses [2].

Hafez indicates his education in the academic commentary on the Koran, in a ghazal where he mentions “the discussing of Kashf Kashshaf” in “school” {K45:3}. Kashf Kashshaf was a commentary on Kashshaf which, in turn, was the iconic commentary on the Koran, authored in the 12th Century by Mahmoud Jarrollah [3]. Mohammad Golandam, the collector of Hafez’s Divan, has said that he was Hafez’s schoolmate, in a class taught by `Abdullah, where presumably Kashf Kashshaf was taught [4].  

The only book other than Kashshaf, that Hafez mentions by name in all of his poems is the Koran [5]. In comparison to the sole reference to Kashshaf, there are at least 8 mentions of the Koran. Hafez’s reverence for Islam’s sacred scripture is manifest in three ghazals where he swears to it {K 150:10, K 266:8, K 438:7}. In another poem, he professes his gratitude: “no one benefited as much from the munificence of the Koran {K312:9}.” In another ghazal, Hafez says that reading the Koran, and praying, would block all worries {K250:10}. In still another poem, he says the Devil is scared away from the people who read the Koran {K188.11}. Yet, notwithstanding all of that which you may receive, even from reciting the Koran in fourteen versions from memory, Hafez says, it is “love” that would save you {K93:10}. Furthermore, the worst sin is to make the Koran a “snare of deceit (dom-e tazvir),” as “others” do, meaning religious officials {K9:10}.


In at least 42 of Hafez’s ghazals there are references to various verses of the Koran, sometimes more than one in a ghazal. These references are usually in the form of allusions (tamlih), common in Persian poetry. There is hardly any verbatim quotation from the Koran in the Divan [6].


The largest group of Hafez’s ghazals with allusions to the Koranic verses are  those about God and man’s relationship with Him.

There is an allusion in two ghazals {K10:2} [7], and {K21:1} [8] to the Koranic verse 7:172 (sureh/chapter 7: ayeh/verse 172), which in effect says that man’s destiny is set on the First Day (Azal or Alast). In another poem, Hafez alludes to verse 33:73, to the effect that man, who accepted God’s burden of trust was weaker than the mountain who was refused the same {K21:4} [9]. In still another ghazal, Hafez alludes to verse 2:34 in which God ordered the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam {K465:5} [10]. Hafez alludes, in another ghazal, to verse 7:16 about the Devil’s turning into fire and striking on Adam, out of jealousy as he was not incapable of loving God {K148:2} [11]. In a ghazal, Hafez alludes to verse 37:11 which is about warding off the Devil (Eblis) from the sky with the burning meteor {K6:2} [12] , while in another ghazal, he alludes to verse 15:18 with a similar content {K257:8} [13].

The poet in a ghazal alludes to the Koranic verse 4:28 which says that man was created weak by God {K181:6} [14]. In another, the allusion is to the verses 20:120-123 which are about Adam being driven out of Heaven to earth because of disobeying God {K310:3}[15]. This allusion is repeated in another poem which specifically refers to Adam’s infraction of eating “two grains of wheat” {K332:6} [16].

Hafez alludes to the God’s command in verse 17:23 that he would be the only one worshipped {K337:4} [17].  In another poem, the allusion is to verse 28:31 in which God says he is the sole God {K136:6} [18]. In still another ghazal, Hafez alludes to verse 2:115 which says whichever you look you are looking at God {K193: 4} [19]. In a poem, Hafez alludes to verse 35:18 in which God says a person will not be charged with the sins committed by others {K78:1} [20]. In another ghazal he alludes to verse 2:44 which admonished those who order people to do right while failing to do so themselves {K194:2} [21].


In a ghazal, Hafez alludes to verse 98:8 which describes the beauty of Heaven as having running rivers under it {K79:8} [22].  In another poem, allusion is made to verse 53:15 which calls Heaven “the home of those who are not enamored of the trappings of this world (jennat al-ma’avi) {K422:7}” [23]. In two ghazals Hafez alludes to verse 53:14 which mentions the sedreh tree located in the “seventh sky” as, symbolically, the highest point man can reach {K37:4} [24], and {K71:3}[25].


In Hafez’s ghazals there seems to be no allusion to any verse of the Koran which might mention the “Prophet Mohammad” [26].  In one ghazal, however, there is allusion to verse 68:51, which is addressed to Mohammad, that says that the deniers “nearly (va en yekad)” hurt you when they heard the Koran and in envy called you a lunatic {K239:2} [27].

In one ghazal Hafez alludes to verse 5:110 which talks about Jesus’s ability to revive the dead, a miracle ordered by God {K71:6} [28], and in another to verse 2:49 which is about “Jesus’s breath” enabling him to perform that miracle {K428:2}[29].

There are more ghazals with allusions to verses relating to Moses than any other prophet. In one ghazal Hafez alludes to verse 28:29 which talks about the Right Vale (Vadi-e Ayman), to the right of Mount Sinai (Toor),  where Moses heard God’s voice {K:27:2} [30] ; and in another ghazal, Hafez paraphrases verse 28:30 in which Moses, seeing a bright light on Mount Sinai, tells his household wait, I hope I will bring you a torch from that flame {K446:6} [31]. In another ghazal, Hafez alludes to verse 7:143, in which Moses, asking God to show himself, walked to what he thought was the meeting place {K366:4} [32].

In one ghazal, Hafez alludes to verses 7:147, 20:85, 20:87 and 20:95, which are about the golden calf which Moses’ tribe worshipped after his departure to Mount Sinai, and that say the sound of that the Sameri’s calf could not prevail over Moses’ “shining hand (yad-e bayza)” – alluding to verse 20:22, which said the shining hand was one of Moses’ miracles. {K:124;7} [33]. In another ghazal, Hafez alludes to verses 20:85 et seq which refer to Sameri as a symbol of deceptive tactics since he was the magician who deceived Moses’ tribe into worship his own golden calf as the God which Moses had talked about {K:391;1}[34].

In Hafez’s ghazals there are allusions to two other persons the Koran calls prophet (nabi): Solomon and Joseph. In two ghazals, {K141:5} and {K312:2}, Hafez alludes to verses 27:19-22, which say the prophet (nabi) and King (Malak) Solomon’s bird hoope (hodhod) brought glad tidings to him from Belqis, the Queen of Sheba [35]. In another two ghazals, {K167:6} and {K273:5}, Hafez alludes to verses 27:17-19, which indicate that Solomon paid attention and understood the lowly ants [36].  In one ghazal {K115:9}, Hafez alludes to verses 12:18 and 19, which are about the prophet (nabi) Joseph’s jealous brothers throwing him into a well [37].  In another {K237:5}, he alludes to verse 12:11, which is about Joseph coming out of the well and rising to the highest position [38].  In a third {K191:7}, Hafez alludes to verse 12:93 which is about Joseph’s shirt being sent to cure his father’s blindness [39].

Sayings and Stories in Islamic Traditions

Many of Hafez’s ghazals contain allusions, to popular “Sayings and Stories (Ahadis va Akhbar)” which formed part of the Islamic traditions. A large group of these is related to the Prophet Mohammad.

In five ghazals reference is to a saying attributed to the Prophet, to the effect that God said He is the heart of the broken-hearts: {K24:3, K 53:7, K312:4, K396:5, and K425:6} [40]. In another three ghazals reference is to a saying attributed to the Prophet that a man (Ovays Gharani) became a believer by merely smelling the scent of God coming from Yemen: {K21:3, K49:6 and K382:4} [41]. In one ghazal there is an allusion to a saying of the Prophet that it was his honor to be poor (in need of God) {K53:5} [42]. In one ghazal there is an allusion to a saying of the Prophet that Sahib, one of his companions, was a paragon of obedient abstinence {K183:4} [43]. In another ghazal there is an allusion to the saying of the Prophet that after him his followers will split into 72 factions and only one of them will find salvation {K179:4} [44].

There is one ghazal with an allusion to a saying attributed to `Ali, the last of the four Rashidun (Rightly-guided) caliphs, who immediately succeeded the Prophet, to the effect that being amazed at God is the sign of greater appreciation of Him {K168:1} [45].

The remaining sayings, also from the Islamic traditions, which are alluded to in the ghazals are not attributed to specific persons.  Two ghazals allude to the saying that suffering is unavoidable in loving {K20:5 and K310:7) [46].  Two other ghazals allude to the saying that God said my kindness is greater than my anger {K78:5 and K399:2} [47]. One ghazal alludes to the saying that those who got rid of belongings are better off than those who did not {K44:6}[48]. Another ghazal alludes that the saying which advises going with a positive divination to get positive results {K57:7} [49].  A third ghazal alludes to the saying about choosing a trusted counselor {K382:10} [50]. One ghazal alludes to the saying that presence of heart is required for an acceptable prayer {K392:7} [51]. A ghazal alludes to the saying that everything returns to its origin {K397:7} [52]. Another ghazal alludes to the saying that this world is the farm where you sow for the other world {K398:4} [53]. Still a third ghazal has an allusion to the saying that the corruption of the learned is the corruption of the world {K427:8} [54]. Finally, another ghazal alludes to the saying that peace is better than conflict {K442:7}[55].

Iconic figures

In his ghazals, Hafez refers to several figures in their positions as iconic symbols in Islamic culture. The most numerous are references to Solomon. In two ghazals, Hafez alludes to the wind being Solomon’s ride, or vehicle {K21:7, K88:6} [56].   In another ghazal, the allusion is to the bird Hodhod who brought messages to Soloman {K312:2} [57]. In four ghazals, Hafez alludes to the legend that Solomon had a ring which enabled him to rule the world {K59:2, K117:3, K156:2, and K157:2} [58]. In one ghazal the allusion is to the practice, in the Islamic traditions, of using Solomon as a synonym for the word King {K170:2} [59]. In another, Hafez uses “Solomon” to imply reference to his actual King, Shah Shoja`{K167:1} [60].   In two ghazals, there is reference to the country of Solomon as meaning Pars, reflecting the common belief that Solomon was in fact Jamshid, the mythical ancient Persian King {K351:4, K355:8} [61]. One ghazal refers to Solomon’s legendary majesty {K480:4}. In another ghazal, Hafez alludes to the belief that Solomon with all his majesty was kindly and attentive even to the lowly ants {K273:5}.

The Prophet Khezr’s proverbial long life is referred to in two ghazals {K268:3 and K285:5} [62]. In two other ghazals, reference is to the legend that Kezr’s long life was due to the “water of life” {K40: 9 and K274:2} [63]. The legend that this “water of life (fountain of youth)” ran in darkness {K40: 9) [64] is reflected in several ghazals associating it with darkness {K125:4, K164:2, K299:8} [65]. The belief that Khezr had “blessed steps” so that wherever he went grass would grow, is reflected in reference to him as (Pey-khojasteh) in two ghazals {K190:7 and K306:7} [66]. In four ghazals there are allusions to the legend that Noah’s Ark provided safe refuge in the great storm {K19:7, K24:2, K250:5, and K301:7} [67].

There are references to several secular figures who were archetypal in Islamic tradition. Seven ghazals allude to the fabulous treasures of Korah (Qaroon) {K5:10, K50:8,K55:9, K122:7, K285:9, K341:6, and K449:1}, the archetypal rich man of Moses time  [68].  In two of them the reference is to the belief that all that treasure was lost in due time {K122:7} and sank in earth because of the wrath of Moses and his followers {K50:8}.

One ghazal refers to the proverbial belief that even Alexander’s kingdom did not last {K285:5}. In two ghazals the reference is to his failure to find the fountain of youth despite all his power and wealth {K240:7, K430:5}. His legendry quest for the fountain of youth is mentioned in a third ghazal {K402:7}. That the fountain famously eluded him is mentioned in another ghazal {K268:3}. One ghazal refers to the legend that following the advice of Alexander’s teacher, Aristotle, a mirror was installed on a tower in Alexandria to watch the movements of ships and report on the world beyond {K5:5} [69].

One ghazal alludes to the belief that Plato was the symbol of wisdom and knowledge {K256:5}. One ghazal refers to the legendary pleat of Cesar’s toga {K421:2}.  One ghazal mentions Zaleykha*, a noble Egyptian woman, as the symbol of a person who loses her chastity for irresistible love, in her case, of Joseph {K3:6}[70]. Joseph’s father, the Shaikh of Can’an* is mentioned as one whose suffering due to being separated from his son was proverbial {K88:1} [71].  One ghazal mentions Hatam Ta’i as the symbol of generosity {K422:8}.

Mansur Hallaj, the symbol of love for God at all costs, especially by going up on the gallows, is mentioned in two ghazals {K189:6; 301:4}. Dajjal, as the symbol of a man who falsely claims he is Messiah, is referenced to in one ghazal {K237:6} [72].  The proverbial love of Sultan Mahmoud Qaznavi for his slave Ayyaz is referred to in two Ghazals {K41:6, and K326:8}[73].

Remarkably, the ghazals do not contain specific mention of the Prophet Mohammad as a historical figure, other than allusions to him in the Sayings and Stories in Islamic Traditions, discussed above. Nor is there any mention, as historical figures, of the four Rashidun caliphs who immediately succeeded the Prophet. This includes ‘Ali, the only one to whom there is a reference in the Islamic Traditions. Hafez does not say that ‘Ali was a Shiite or a Sunni. Hafez refers to Shafe`i as the iconic jurisconsult {K301:4}. The Shafe`i branch of Sunni Islam was dominant in many parts of Iran in Hafez’s time.

Pre-Islamic Iran

There are many references in Hafez’s ghazals to the legends about Pre-Islamic historical figures. These were evidently parts of the distinctly Iranian-Islamic culture of Hafez’s time [74].  The treatment of that culture and those legends in Hafez’s poems, examined here, constitutes an important element of his views about Islam.

In two ghazals there is an allusion to the story of Bijan and Manijeh, the jailing of Bijan in a well on the order of Afrasiyab, the King of the Turks, and his release by Rostam (Tahmetan) {K 337:5, K 461:5}. Bijan was the Iranian warrior son of Giv and fell in love with Manijeh who was Afrasiyab’s daughter and this led Afrasyiab to throw him in a well. This story is told in details in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh [74].

In one ghazal, allusion is made to the widespread stories about Afrasiyab’s (Poor-pashang’s) swordsmanship {K382:5} [76].  In one ghazal, Hafez alludes to the belief that Afrasiyab should have been ashamed to have shed Siyavash’s blood unjustly as he listened and followed those who maligned Siyavash {K101:4} [77]. In another ghazal, allusion is made to the victory of King Kay Khosrow*, Siyavash’s son, in the fight over Afrasiyab {K 425:3}. This story of Kay Khosrow’s revenge of his father’s killing is related in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh [78].

In that poem there is also a reference to Jom-e Kay Khosrow, which is Ferdowsi’s name for what Hafez elsewhere in his Divan usually calls Jom-e Jam (after King Jamshid)- the allseeing Crystal Bowl.  In two other ghazals, Hafez distinguishes between Kay Khosrow and Jamshid, as two Kings, which are “the subjects of many stories.” {K116:10 and K117:8}. In another poem, Hafez refers to the two of them as iconic Kings {K117:8}.  In another ghazal, Hafez’s refers to Kay Khosrow’s cummerbund (kamar) {K399:4}, which was an important part of Persian Kings’ formal attire [79].

Kay Khosrow was from the Kayanian Dynasty, a semi-mythological group of ancient Kings, preceding the historical Achaemenid dynasty, in Persian folklore. Kay in the beginning of their names connotes the royal title. Several of them are mentioned in Hafez’s ghazals. In one ghazal, Hafez refers to three of them, Qobad, Kavous, Bahman, as well Kay, with which he means the Kayanian Dynasty {K 97:4,5} [80]. Kavous is also mentioned in two other ghazals {K343:5, K399:4}.  Kay is also mentioned in three other ghazals {K343:5, K 421:2, K423:4}.

In several ghazals, Hafez refers to the Kings of the Pishdadian Dynasty, which according to Persian traditions came even before the Kayanians. They were indeed the mythological dynasty that produced the first Kings to rule the land of Persia. One ghazal mentions the Pishdadian Kings Zav and Siyamak{K398:6} who was the son of Persia’s very first King, Kayumars.


Jamshid, from the Pishdadian Dynasty, is the King Hafez mentioned by far the most. Hafez sometimes calls him Jam. Hafez is eager to tell the tales of Jamshid {K343:5},of which there are many {K116:10}. He, along with Kay Khosrow, are referred to as the iconic Kings {K117:8}.  In one ghazal, it is implicitly acknowledged that Jam was more a legend rather than a historical person: “Who knows when Jam lived {K423:4}.” In another, Hafez says we don’t know how Jamshid lost his throne. {K97:5}. Another ghazal notes that he was from a time past {K12:9}.

Jamshid’s “kingship,” to which another ghazal refers {K115:1}, is the core of his legend. His royal “nature” is noted in one ghazal {K49:6}. His “throne” is mentioned in two ghazal {K97:5; 425:10}. He is referred to as the symbol of luxury and wealth {K459:1}. He is the metaphor for the ruler of the time {K439:1}. He is likened to the sun in the universe {K288:3).

Three ghazals refer to Jamshid’s ring (khatam) {K222:3; K24:5, and K382:3} which, as the last two ghazal make clear, is the same as Solomon’s ring [81]. This was the ring that, as those two ghazals indicate, was lost to Ahriman (the Devil) but was retrieved because God’s greatest “name” was inscribed on it. With its help Solomon ruled over all creatures [82].  In one ghazal, Hafez places Jamshid’s throne as high as Solomon’s throne, in an allusion the Koranic verses 27:17 and 18, about how high a determined lowly ant can climb {K167:6} [83].  In yet two other ghazals, Hafez implies identifying Jamshid with Solomon: when he refers to “Jom-e Jam” (Jamshid’s Bowl) in the context of the loss of Solomon’s ring {K114:1} [84], and when he refers to the same bowl in the context of Solomon’s Vizier having a position as high as Jamshid {K267:7} [85]. Jom-e Jam, according to legend, was the bowl that the learned men had made for King Jamshid in which he could see the conditions of “the seven universes” [86]. Hafez refers to it in several other ghazals {K80:5; K 136:1; K 273:4, and K 269:4}. In the last poem, Hafez also attributes to the Bowl the ability to reveal the secrets of the Unseen (gheyb) world. In another Ghazal, Hafez refers to the cup-bearers of Jamshid’s wine drinking parties {K12:9}. In another, he says that the King drank wine, implying that such drinking was related to his ability to learn about the world through his Bowl {K479:2}. As that poem indicates, for Hafez, indeed, the cup of wine served that goal. In another ghazal, Hafez says that the person who drank wine in Jamshid’s parties could see the world in the cup as an amazing mirror, provided that he kept his “heart clean” {K405:3}. The same condition is repeated in another ghazal which says Jom-e Jam is not useful for those who are not “capable of perception {K443:2}.”

In one ghazal, Hafez calls Jamshid victorious {K241:3}. In another, he notes that he did not remain so, and lost his throne {K286:7}. In another, Hafez repeats that Jamshid could not keep his throne {K365:3}. In a third, Hafez concludes that the lesson of Jamshid was that even he would not last {K176:5}.

In contrast to the mythical, pre-historic Persian Kings, there is remarkably scant mention of the Persian rulers of the historical era. Hafez says nothing about the first historical dynasties, the Medes, Achaemenians and Parthians, with the sole exception of Darius III, the last Achaemenian King. One ghazal reminds the reader of the loss of “Dara’s” country in his defeat to the Macedonian King Alexander in 331 BC {K5:5}.

Hafez also refers to three Kings of the Sasanians who ruled Persia from the early 3rd century AD until the Arab Muslim conquest of 651. In one ghazal, Hafez refers to the popular story of the 5th Century King Bahram’s haunting of onagers (wild ass) {K273:4}. Another ghazal refers to the “head” of King Kasra (Khosrow Anooshiravan), famous as a philosopher-king, and the throne of King Parviz (Khosrow II) who lost it to the victorious

One ghazal mentions the Pahlavi language {K477:1} which was the one used during the Parthian Dynasty in the last century BC and continued to be Iran’s language until sometime after the Muslim conquest [87]. Its old script was not replaced with Arabic until the 9th Century, (at least) in Khorasan [88].  One ghazal mentions Mani as “the Chinese painter” {K348:8}. He was the Persian founder of Manichaeism, a religion which challenged the country’s official religion, Zoroastrianism in the 3rd Century. For that, Mani was arrested and died as a prisoner of King Bahram.  “Mani was a gifted painter who illustrated his written texts with a kind of picture books {Su}.”

Other Religions

Hafez does not say anything about Manichaeism. Neither does he seem to say anything about Zoroastrianism, except once, when (at the time of the reign of Shah Shaikh Abu Eshaq) he calls for a morning wine cup as “in the rituals of the Zoroastrian religion {K198;8}.” Nor does Hafez mention any Zoroastrians, except the Moghan (Magis).

Under the generally tolerant Buyid rulers in the 10th and 11th Centuries, Fars was famous for having the largest Zoroastrian population of any Moslem province – every region of Fars possessed a fire temple. The Buyid rule ended in 1062, however, and by Hafez’s time in the 14th Century, the Zoroastrian community had survived “only as a convention” in his poetry with its references to Moghan (priests) { Li1:11}.   In one ghazal, Hafez also mentions the Fars fire temples, but perhaps, again, merely as a convention {K245:4}.

Hafez mentions the words associated with the Zoroastrianism’s references to God (Yazdan) and Devils (Ahrimanan) in one poem {K380:9}, and the latter (Ahriman) in one more poem {K382:3}. More frequently, however, he uses the customary Persian word of his time for God (Khoda). The contexts in these ghazals make clear that Khoda is Hafez’s preferred word for the theological God: the creator of all things {K181:5}, the one you should rely on for mercy {K182:5 and 269:3}, and in whose name you make demands on others {K268:5}. He uses the Arabic Islamic word for God, Allah, at least in one ghazal in Persian language, in referring to Divine attributes {K452:9}.

In one ghazal, Hafez declares that “everywhere, be it a synagogue or a mosque, is the house of love {K78:3},” by which he implies it is both for worshipping (loving) the same God. In another ghazal, the same ecumenical tone is discernible about Christian religious institutions, where Hafez says that the rituals of the Christian monks’ monastery and the sign of the cross are among the decorations of the abode of a true lover of God {K64:6}.

In one ghazal, Hafez likens his beloved’s hair to zonnar, which was the belt the Christians were required to wear, so as to mark them as non-Muslims, thus forbidding to them the Muslim clerics’ garb {K304:4}. In another ghazal, Hafez blesses that sweet qalandar (heedless lover of God) who, traversing the stages of Gnostic path, recited the angles’ praise, using zonnar (the Christian belt) as the Islamic prayer beads {K79:7} [89]. In another poem, Hafez says, he liked the news that at dawn, a Christian raucously shouted at a tavern’s door that “if Islam is what Hafez practices, woe is me if there is a tomorrow {K481: 9 and 10}.”

Islamic Rituals

In a ghazal, Hafez himself foresees that wine would shake the foundations of his religion {K222:5}. In another, he says that the amorous glance of the cup-bearer, destructive of Islam, is such that all but the most obedient Muslim cannot resist the wine {K183:4} [90]. In a third, Hafez says drinking wine in clerical garb is not an Islamic ritual {K193:6}. In another, he declares that he performs the Islamic ritual of washing oneself (taharat) with wine {K128:6}.  Hafez is willing to sell his prayer-rug for wine {K369:2}; adding, in another ghazal. that a prayer-rug of the pious does not even fetch a cup of wine {K147:2}. Hafez would eagerly walk around the wine-vat, in a manner that is the ritual of Hajj around the house of God {K256:7}[91].

Hafez says his getting drunk is too insignificant to damage Islam’s honor {K219:6}. He adds that it is not such a great merit not to drink wine but remain an animal {K220:2}.  Indeed, what earns merit is wine-worshipping {K388:6}. On the Judgment Day, the Islamic elder’s prayer beads and the garb of wine-drinking rend will rank equal {K241:8}.

In drinking wine and kissing the beloved’s lips, Hafez finds the elixir of eternal life (ab-e zendegani) {K423:1} [92]. In another ghazal, Hafez says wine-house is his palace and his beloved is the beauty (hoor), both of which the Islamic pious hopes to find in Heaven {K249:5}. He says he does not care for Heaven when he has the dust of his beloved’s street {K365:5}. He says, if he cannot reach the top of the palace of union with the beloved, he will be content with the dust of its threshold {K365: 8}.

Hafez says once he learned about the pilgrimage to the Ka`ba in the beloved’s place, he has had no desire for the one in Mecca (Hejaz) {K255:6}. He says the merits of the Hajj pilgrimage and fasting go to the person who paid homage to the wine tavern of love {K127:2}. He asks for a cup of “the wine of love, even though” it is the fasting month of Ramadan {K458:1}. In another ghazal, he repeats his request for two or three cups from the wine they sell in the tavern of love, even though it is Ramadan {K267:2}.

Hafez would give up the merits gained from his prayers for the sake of the beloved {K364:1}.  Elsewhere, Hafez says there is no need for other invocations (verd), as mid-night prayer and reading the Koran in the morning are enough {K263:8}. As a student of Hafez’s treatment of Islam has summarized, of what are sacrosanct in Islam, Hafez spares only the Koran; others, like fasting, prayer, pilgrimage of Hajj, and the sanctuary of the mosque are all targets of his satire { Kh1:122}.

Hafez says that he admits to his “sins,” although “committing them was not within my control {K54:7}.” He will not abandon wine and the beloved {K338:1}. He repeats this in another poem and says that he repented a hundred times and will not repent again {K345:1}. In yet another poem, he says he will not repent from drinking {K338:2}. Elsewhere, he says anytime I wanted to repent from drinking, I realized that I will regret the result {K212:2}. He asks why those who command you to repent don’t repent themselves {K194:2}. In the same ghazal, he points to the preachers who put up a show on the pulpit and do otherwise in private {K194:1}. He says if you are a lover you should not be afraid of being called by bad names {K99:6}.

Islamic Principles

Hafez is concerned about the consequences of his conduct in this world, at the end of his life: what he might reap from what he has sown {K399:1}. He expects to continue facing dangers in the path of love, after death {K307:5}. He refers to the entity that would continue after his death as a lamp (cheraq) which would emanate light {K399:3}, and, in another poem, arguably, as spirit (ravan) {K160:9} [93]. He recalls the preachers’ stories of the horrors of the Day of Resurrection {K88:2}.  He calls for a cup to be attached to his burial shroud so that he would wash away, with wine, the fear of the Day of Resurrection {K260:8.) He says that on that day of judgment, he will be able to quash all charges against him by God’s grace {K343:6}. He says God is forgiving, regarding wine-drinkers {K249:6}. Elsewhere, he says that God’s mercy “covers all {K397:4}.”

Remarkably, Hafez does not say anything about Hell, the ultimate punishment that Islam provides for sinners after death. He has much to say, on the other hand, about the rewards they are promised after death if they are judged to have been good Muslims. Their place will be Heaven, forbidden to the person who succumbed to the temptations of this world {K422:7}. There are indeed “eight Heavens”, Hafez alludes to the Koranic verse 98:8, with running rivers under them {K: 36:4 and K79:8} [94].

In another ghazal, Hafez alludes to the descent of Adam from “the garden of Heaven” in quest for love {K359:3}[95]. He says that having the dust of the beloved’s place, we are not interested in Heaven {K365:5}. He proclaims that he would not trade the dust of the beloved’s place for Heaven’s garden, the shade of its Tuba tree, its palace of the beauties (hoori) {K345:2}. He besieges his beloved not to send him away even to Heaven as the beloved’s street is enough for him {K262:7}.

In comparison to the ascetic Muslim, our Heaven’s palace is the wine-house and our huri is the beloved, Hafez says {K249:5}. In contrast to the ascetic Muslim who desires water of Heaven’s Kosar River, Hafez wants a cup of wine {K66:8}. In comparison to the Heaven’s palace that is awarded for the pious’ good deed, Hafez says, in another ghazal, dayr-e Moqan (Magians’ cloister) is good enough for him who is a rend and geda {K262:3}. Being content is what God accorded to the geda {K108:4}. Hafez calls the Muslim ascetic’s promise of Heaven’s bounty – “apple, honey and milk”- tricks, as though Hafez was a “child” {K324:7}. He says so long as the preacher is engaged in trickery, he is not a true Muslim {K220:1}. Trickery cannot convert demons to Islam {K220: 4}.

Hafez dismisses the sectarian disputations about Islam, engaged in by its 72 factions, which followed the death of the Prophet [96], because as they could not see the truth, they took to the falsehood which they imagined {K179:4} [97]. In one ghazal, Hafez says he lost his “religion” on the first day he met his beloved {K259:2}.  Indeed, for Hafez the mission of life is the quest for love, as he says in a poem {K359:2}. In that poem the Beloved could well be God; in another poem, Hafez declares that he will have been fulfilled if he satisfies God {K263:9}. In doing so, Hafez relies simply on midnight prayers and reading the Koran in the morning {K263:8}. Elsewhere, he says that merely invoking God’s name “will do its work {K220:4}.” The wide extent of God’s grace which exceeds our infractions is a secret that should not be publicized, Hafez says {K279:3}.

“Love for you” (probably God) was the source of amazement for Hafez, while “union with you” would perfect that amazement {K168:1}. “No vice or virtue exists without His will {K397:6}.” “Both worlds are one radiance from His face {K355:4}.”

Destiny can be so cruel as to make you wish death {K257:8}.  Hafez complains to God for not shielding him from bad times {K432:5}. For protection against the danger of the evil eye, Hafez appeals to God {K279:9}. He says, without God’s help Adam could not prevail over the Satan {K360:10}. However, even if man’s efforts would not alone achieve his goals, he must also do his best {K279:5}.

It is not surprising that the Beloved would protect the lovers, as they are in need of Him and He is eager for their love {K202:7}. Hafez’s God is marked as the one who “forgives” {K249:6}. His forgiveness covers all {K397:4}. Hafez expects it to shield him against all charges of sin {K343:6}.

Hafez says not every person sees God the way He really is; everyone understands Him to the extent of his ability {K294:8}. Hafez’s Islam is also specific to him. It is founded on the Koran and imbued with the Iranian-Islamic culture of his time. Hafez defies many of its rituals and dismisses the rewards it offers in after-life. He sees God’s mercy in place of harsh punishment for sins. Hafez’s Islam rejects factionalism. Rather than being exclusivist, it is ecumenical.

VIII. Sufism

Hafez says that: “The sign of the people of God is being a lover, beware/I don’t see this sign in the religion leaders of this town {K350:5}” [1].  He leaves the Mosque because he could not find timely answer in the seemingly endless sermons to his questions {K160:4}.  The house of the religious judge is a source of knowledge, Hafez says, “but the truth is, it is devoid of the science of perception (`elm-e nazar) {Kq3}.” “The arena of school, with its discourse, arch, and porch/What good is it without a perceiving heart and seeing eye {Kq3}.” Man’s reasoning and learning are woefully inadequate to fathom God’s work, Hafez concludes {K181:6}.


Hafez says that his “spiritual journey” (sayr-e m`anavi) and the corner of the Khaneqah (Sufi center) are enough for him {K263:2}. Khaneqah was the meeting place of the Sufis who were organized in groups led by masters [2].  Hafez speaks approvingly about the Sufis’ practice of forty-day concentrated meditation (riyazat) {K474:2}[3]. He “carries himself” like a Sufi {K142:7}. He notes that for the Sufis homemade wine is like a red ruby (464:8}.

Hafez leaves the Khaneqah for the wine-house (meykhaneh) as he sobers up from the intoxication of the hypocritical piety (zohd-e riya) of the place {K171:8} [4].  Hafez declares that Khaneqah does not have the capacity for the secrets of loving {K150:4}. He says that Khaneqah did not resolve any problem, and so asks for the wine-house to open its door {K363:2}. He says don’t fault me for leaving Khaneqah for kharabat (where the wine-houses were) as the “the free men’s feet are not tied;” if they go to any place, let it be {K83:7}. Hafez says don’t pay much attention to the difference between Khaneqah and kharabat as the venue, I am with God wherever He is {K372:5}. He says you may be surprised that I see the light of God in kharabat {K349:1}. In another ghazal, Hafez says “the secrets of God which the Gnostic seeker did not tell anyone, I wonder whence the wine-seller heard it {K238:8}.

Hafez says come to the wine-house and don’t go to the monastery (some`eh) as that is where the evil people (siah karan) are {K190: 8}. He says he is the “Sufi” of the monastery of the sacred (qods) world but now he is stationed in dayr-e Moqan{K353:5}. One can drink the Magian wine only with the Magians, he says {K150:4).  The proprietor of the wine tavern is the Magian elder (pir-e Moghan) {L2}. Hafez accepts him as his spiritual leader (morshed) {K70:9 and K141:8}. He issues fatwas {K360:1} according to his own creed (mazhab) {K193:6}. The Magian elder overlooks the disciples’ faults {K199:2}. When he says that there was no mistake in the Creator’s design, Hafez takes it as the Magian elder covering the mistake {K101:3}.

Hafez indicates that he is on the Sufi Path/mystical Way (Tariqat) where you do not take offense with your fellow travelers {K83:5}. However, he distinguishes his own style of journey as that of the rendan and “being happy (khoshbashi)” of the `ayyaran {K44:5}.

He calls on the Sufi to give up his rigid, bitter (talkh) piety {K270:1}. He accuses the Sufi of being two-faced (monafeqh) {K364:5}. He calls the Sufi a deceiving Antichrist (dajjal) and apostate (molhed) {K237:6}. Make the Sufi dance and you will cause thousands of idols (bot) fall from each patch of his clothes, Hafez says {K465:3}. God hates a hundred times that Sufi cloak (kherqeh) which has a hundred idols in each sleeve {K474:4}.

Hafez sees much stain on the Sufi garb {K379:2}. Referring to the blue color (arzaqh) of the Sufis’ garb, Hafez says, “their heart is black” {K196:7}. His pir does not allow Hafez to speak ill of the “blue attired,” otherwise, there are many (critical) stories about them {K199:8}.

Hafez says the Sufis’ dance and trance are like jugglery to attract people {K365:6}. He calls them out on their showy boasting of having extraordinary ability to discover and to cause things to be (tamat va shatt) {K270:2}[5].  He points out the failure of those who claim such ability (karam) to provide spiritual “treasure” {K166:3}. In another ghazal, he mocks their claim to turn dust into elixir by their mere glance {K191:1}. In that latter poem, indeed, Hafez directly mocks a leading Sufi master of his time, Shah Ne`matollah Vali, who had made such a claim in a ghazal of his own [6].

In a ghazal Hafez complains that all Sufis are actively engaged in erotic gazing at human bodies (harifand-o nazar baz), although he is the only one who has gotten the bad reputation {K107:11} [7]. In another ghazal, he makes clear that such erotic gazing is not “love”. In such “pretending” Sufis, he sees no “pain” {K379:6} which, to Hafez, is the sign of the love of God. He says the Sufi has not even smelled the scent of love. Tell him the secret of becoming drunk with wine, so that he may loosen up {K186:5}.

Hafez asks for the wine that would break down the Sufi, because he is “tormented” by the Sufi’s hypocritical piety {K483:5}. He wants the bitter wine which would burn the Sufi {K348:2}. He calls on the Sufi to take off the cloak of hypocrisy {K368:1}.


Hafez calls his own spiritual journey the quest for divine knowledge (ma`refat).  “Hafez’s poetry,” he says, “all are the best ghazals of ma`refat (Gnosticism) {K275:9}.” He searches for the Gnostic (`Aref) who understands the answer to the puzzle of why creatures come and go {K170:4}. Hafez strives “in the school of truths, before the master of love {K478:2}.”  He says: “That day the door of meaning opened to my heart that/I became one of the dwellers of the house of the pir-e Moghan {K314:7}.”

He besieges those who can reach the great enlightened ones {K475:7} to ask those master Gnostics the secret in their stories and come tell him {K407:6}. The one story that stands out for him, at the end, is that of Mansur Hallaj. Hallaj was a 9th-10th Century Persian teacher of Sufism, who is known for his saying “I am the Truth (ana al-haqq),” and was executed by the Abbasid rulers, after being charged, in a religious fatwa, with blasphemy for claiming, in effect, that he was God. To his admirers, however, this was the case of a true Sufi’s annihilation (fana) of his ego which allows God to speak through the individual [8].  Hafez says: “Like Mansur, those who are on the gallows have attained their goal.” He adds “when they call Hafez to this threshold, they turn him away {K189:6}.”  Elsewhere, Hafez says: “Loving You was the sapling of amazement/Union with You will be the perfection of amazement {K168:1}.”

As Hafez expounds on his understanding of fana: “You are the obstacle on the road, Hafez, get off the way! /Blessed is the one who walks the road unobstructed {K216:9}” [9]. He repeats, in another poem: “There is no obstacle between the lover and the Beloved/You are your own obstacle, Hafez. Get out of the way {K260:9}.” Aspiring for union with God through fana, Hafez calls: “Come and take away Hafez’s existence /For while You exist, none will hear me say ‘I exist’ {K334:7}” [10]. Hafez makes clear that by fana, he means the annihilation of the physical self: “My body, like dust, covers the face of my soul/Blessed is the moment when I drop the veil off that face {K334:1}.” He calls for renouncing the mean material world (donya-ye doon) {K147:7}. He says: “You who do not get out of the physical world (sara-ye tabi`at)/How can you find your way to the street of Sufism (Tariqat) {K137:7}?”

An aspect of fana is “selflessness,” the opposite of “I-ness and we-ness”, which, for Hafez, wine can help attain: “If you gulp a gallon of wine from the bowl of selflessness/ You will not brag of yourself any longer {K469:3}.” “I have fallen in the sea of we-ness (ma’ee) and I-ness (mani)/ Bring wine and save me from we-ness and I-ness {K470:2}.”  Thus, while Hafez’s poetry reflects fana and several other themes [11] found in the Sufism of organized Sufis [12], he distinguishes himself as a true Sufi, not only by rejecting the Sufis as hypocrites but also in such details as stressing the value of drinking wine. Referring to himself as a seeking Gnostic, Hafez says: “Now that you set fire to your Sufi cloak (kherqeh), O seeking Gnostic (`Aref-e salek),/Make an effort to be the chief of the rends of the world {K267:3}.”


Hafez’s Divan provides valuable biographical sketches of the poet. His poems are the sole reliable source of information about how he saw himself as a “real (historical)” person, interacting with “real (historical)” persons and events of his time. Selecting the relevant poems and interpreting them, are both ultimately subjective tasks [1]. With due care, however, the process can help produce an autobiographical picture more reliable than what is available in biographical sources about Hafez.

Those poems that relate to persons or events described in sources which are generally considered as reliable about them, can be, accordingly, dated [2]. The pioneering work in this field was done by Ghasem Ghani [3]. A detailed examination of those poems, attempted here, would help show not only the circumstances which might have shaped the poems, but also the inception and evolution of the major themes in Hafez’s poetry. The goal would be to focus on those poems which shed light on Hafez’s life; other persons and events are used as signposts to date the poems [4].

IX. Early Years

Ages 22-25 (During Mas’ud Shah’s Reign: 739-743 [1] / 1338-1342)

A panegyric qat`eh, for a ruler of Shiraz, the Inju Dynasty’s Mas’ud Shah {Kq38}, is believed to be one of Hafez’s earliest poems {Gh:49-50} . Mas’ud Shah ’s reign was from about 1338 to 1342. In this poem, after praising Mas’ud Shah as a just, brave, and a ruler especially generous toward artists, Hafez tells him that perhaps he had heard about how Hafez suddenly lost all that he had earned “in three years, from the Shah [2] and Vizier {Kq38:4}.” Hafez continues that he dreamed he passed his mule in the King’s stable. He finishes by asking Mas’ud Shah to interpret his dream.

This implied request for Mas’ud Shah’s financial help perhaps was based on Hafez’s expectation that the ruler supported arts, including poetry. Shiraz was a center for artistic patronage under the Inju rulers [3]. Vanity played a large part, although some rulers also had a genuine appreciation of poetry [4].

Hafez’s reference to the Vizier as well as the Shah, in this poem, indicates that he received income from other than the rulers, at least from their chief ministers. He does not identify them. Nor is it clear that by the “Shah,” Hafez means a ruler other than Mas’ud Shah. However, that cannot be ruled out, in which case it might be conjectured that Hafez’s career as a court poet began even before Mas’ud Shah.

The poem does not indicate when Hafez presented it to Mas’ud Shah whose control and presence in Shiraz were interrupted several times [5].

Hafez does not say anything about his life before the time implied in the above-referenced qat`eh. Based on other sources, it is generally believed that he was born in about 717/1317 {Gh:354} [6].

Since Mas’ud Shah’s reign ended in 1342, for the period until, at least, 3 years before that (as referenced in the poem), which would be the first 22 years of Hafez’s life, it can only be conjectured that he had spent his time studying {Gh:354) [7].

Ages 25-40 (During Shah Abu Eshaq’s Reign: 743-758 /1342-1357)

In a ghazal, Hafez called the short period of rule by the Chupanid who had murdered Mas’ud Shah in 1342, as one that caused him incredible sorrow {K162:6}. He thanks God for ending that “autumn, …thorn, … those long anxious nights,” for the rise of the “sun of hope” that hid behind the veil of the Unseen {K162:2, 3, 4}.” He says that the nights and days of separation from the “friend” ended. That friend, which Hafez also calls beloved {K162:1,5}, was Mas’ud Shah’s younger brother, Shah Shaikh Abu Eshaq, who took control of Shiraz in 743/1342 [8]. Hafez is circumspect in referring to the historical players he mentions here, as their fortune and hold on power shifted in a fast-changing development of events {Gh:47-48} [9].

In the poem under discussion, Hafez called himself as “perhaps not being counted important by anyone {K162:8}.” Awhile later in Abu Eshaq’s reign, however, Hafez boasts that he is now a center of attention in an august company, as “a clever, witty, sweet-tongued” poet. This is a gathering arranged by Abu Eshaq’s Vizier, Haji Qavam, who is called the “teacher of generosity” in the poem {K303:8}.

The gathering is an “intimate party” of “compatible,” “upright,” “well-repute,” “erudite,” “well-wishing,” “well-informed friends,” and “benevolent competitors {K303:1.2,5}.”  The assembled group is entertained by “minstrels”. There are “ruby-colored wine,” “and an ephebe who is the envy of the elixir of life,” and “love-making,” in a “place of festivity like paradise, with a rose garden like the Heaven’s {K303:1.2,3,4}.”  “The cup-bearer’s glance is like a sword that aims at plundering reason, while the beloved’s tress spreads a net to capture hearts {K303:7}.”  Hafez is in his “youth” {K303:1}.”  He marvels at his fortune: “Whoever declines this kind of feast does not deserve happiness/Whoever does not seek this type of assembly is not worthy of life {K303:7).”

In a qat`eh, {Kq 32}, Hafez reiterates the same feelings about another gathering. The attendees are the same type: “erudite,” “well-wishing,” “friends,” and competitors {Kq 32:3}.” There is wine and beloved but also, now, “harp music” and a “dance floor {Kq 32:4}.” Hafez concludes “it cannot be better (Kq 32:5).” He calls on the cupbearer to fill up his wine glass, “because the host grants your desire and keeps the secret.” {Kq 32:1} He goes on: “This is paradise in hand,” and “in paradise God does not write up sins {Kq 32:2},” mindful that drinking wine would otherwise be considered a sin in Islam -which was the prevailing religion.

In a ghazal, Hafez takes up the subject of drinking, discussing it in some details perhaps for the first time. He tells the minstrel to announce that the world is as he desired. Then, Hafez calls on the cupbearer “to brighten his cup with the light of wine.” He tells those who might wonder about his pleasure of drinking all the time that he “sees in the cup the reflection of the beloved’s face {K11:1, 2}.” His ephebe likes drunkenness and therefore Hafez is destined to be drunk, he says {K11:6}.  Hafez claims immortality because his “heart is alive with love {K11:4}.” He returns to the sinful aspect of drinking and says: “On the Day of Judgment, the clergy’s legitimate bread would not fare better than my sinful water {K11:6}.” He now cries “a tear” in the anxious hope that his “friend” who had been “intentionally forgetting him” would come back for a reunion.” The friend is referenced, by implication, in the next line where Hafez says the whole world is covered by the bounty of “our Hajji Qavam” {K11:10}.

Hafez’s reliance on Haji Qavam becomes a main subject of another ghazal {K322:10}. He has come to have a heart-to-heart with Qavam {K322:8}. He starts by pledging that he will always love Qavam’s votaries {K322:1}, but he adds that he has gotten “the reputation of a rend” among them. He proclaims that such labeling would not cause him concern as he “has Qavam al-Din Hassan” – which was another name for Haji Qavam {K322:10}. Hafez says he looks to Qavam for “peace of mind and light for eye and heart {K322:2}.”  With those in place, he is not worried about “the malice of the ill-speakers among the group {K322:4}.” Even if one-hundred of them plan to ambush him, Hafez, thank God, has a supporter who would break them. That supporter is like the God, with whose support, Hafez has no fear of the Devil (Ahriman) {K322:5,6}.

Hafez singles out the reason for his fallout with others: do not forbid me “wise old man” from going to the wine-house, as I tend to break promises to abandon wine {K322:7}. The “wise old man” in Hafez’s view is perhaps the type identified in a qat`eh {Kq9}. In that poem, Hafez says the region of Fars prospered in the time of Shah Shaikh Abu Eshaq due to five extraordinary persons. In addition to the Shah and Vizier Haji Qavam, Hafez names three: “Shaikh Majd al-Din, the Mentor of Islam, a better judge than whom Heaven cannot recall,” “the saint Shaikh Amin al-Din, whose efforts untied many knotted affairs,” and “the king of knowledge, `Azod, whose donations established pious trusts {Kq9:3,4,5}.” It is with this type of people that Hafez now finds himself in conflict because of his wine drinking.

Shaikh Majd al-Din Esma`il Fali (1271-1355) {Li1:86}, as Hafez describes him in a poem marking his death date, 756/1355, was the “Sultan of Judges” whose “pen described the laws of religion {Kq23}, Shaikh Amin al-Din Bliyani Kazeruni (d. 1344) was perhaps the greatest Gnostic (`Aref) or Sufi leader of the time {Gh:125; Li1:86}, and Qazi `Azod al-Din Iji (d. 1355) was a judge and scholar {Li1:75} who wrote the famous manual of theology, “Ketāb al-mawāqef fi ʿelm al-kalām {KEIr1}” [10] .

Hafez’s praise for this specific judge, Sufi leader, and theologian in a poem that dates to after the death of Abu Eshaq in 1357 [11] indicates that he had not begun his antinomian attitude shown so strongly in his later poems. However, the potential conflict with those “wise old men” was being aggravated beyond the matter of Hafez’s wine-drinking. As mentioned before, Hafez “sees in the cup the reflec He was so qualified, in Hafez’s opinion tion of the beloved’s face,” and in addition to the wine and ephebe cupbearer, he relishes the “harp music” and the “dance floor” in the gatherings {Kq32:4; K303}. But perhaps the greatest reason for his alienation is that, as he says, Hafez now has “the reputation of a rend” among them.

The luminaries he praised above were all members of a small, tightly knit elite. According to historians, nearly all the leading Islamic judges, scholars, teachers, and preachers and Sufi leaders came from an inter-related group some 20 aristocratic families with great wealth in land. Rendan was the disparaging name used by the aristocrats of Shiraz for street mobs. Rendan were viewed as feared political class enemies by the Shiraz establishment.

The establishment was the locus of political power in Shiraz in Hafez’s time, a city which had about 50,000 to 60,000 people {Li1:50}.  The Shah as ruler was always an outsider, aloof from Shiraz and its people. Far more than him, the Vizier was in charge of administration, assuring the physical security through the police force and economic prosperity by collecting taxes {Li1:87-96; Gh:144-145}.   It was to Vizier Haji Qavam that Hafez, as mentioned, looked for protection when he feared having been labeled a rend {K322:10}. This Vizier whose title, Tamghachi, signified his role in collecting taxes (tamgha) {Li1:72}, was indeed an exceptionally attentive patron of Hafez. In the qat`eh where he mentions the five people he credits with Shiraz’s prosperity, he singles out Haji Qavam for his kindness and generosity which, Hafez says, will be his legacy {Kq 9:6}.

AGE 36 (HAJI QAVAM’S DEATH, 754/1353)

Hafez lost Haji Qavam in 754/1353, as he marks the death date of this “candle of the assembly (Kq27:1}.” He also says that Qavam’s “bird of soul” which belonged to “the holy nest” went toward “the garden of heaven,” thus indicating that, by this time, Hafez had not yet rejected these common Islamic notions about the afterlife (Kq27:4}”.

The poet now looked to another Vizier of Shah Abu Eshaq, `Emad al-Din Mahmud {R: 298; Gh:107-108,110}, to provide “all things that Hafez’s gathering needs,” as he says in a ghazal {K198:10}. For this gathering, Hafez calls for “morning wine,” “the sound of tambourine and harp,” “the music of lute and reed,” “cupbearer” and “boy lover (shahed)”. This party is taking place in the beginning of spring and Hafez wants to “renew “the ritual of the Zoroastrian religion.” He asks for “a morning drink” to thank the Vizier {K198:2, 3, 8, 9}. This is the first time [12] Hafez calls drinking wine, in a morning in the beginning of the year, a Zoroastrian religion’s ritual, perhaps referring to the rite of Nowruz  [13] . In this poem, Hafez also refers to Christianity favorably, as he says drink from the hands of that lover who has “breath like Jesus,” and he distances himself from Islam by saying “forget the (Islamic) stories” about the two peoples – one group (`Ad) from the time of the ancient Prophet Hood who were destroyed because they did not follow Hood’s orders and the other (Samood), the loyal people of the Prophet Mohammad {K198: 5} [14].


Invoking the pre-Islamic Iranian religion, Zoroastrianism, to support his drinking is repeated by Hafez in another, virtually contemporaneous poem, a qasideh (panegyric ode) in Praise of Shah Shaykh Abu Eshaq {S: 597-602}.  In it, Hafez, apparently for the first time, mentions Moghan (Magis), who were priests in Zoroastrianism {Li1:52}, as those in charge of wine-houses [15]. The drink-shops of Hafez’s time were in the hands of other non-Moslems, either Jews or Christians {Li1:52}.  By now, the 14th century, the Zoroastrian community in Fars, which in the 10th and 11th centuries had been the largest in any Moslem province, had survived “only as a convention” in Hafez’s poetry with its references to Moghan {Li1:11, 52}.

Hafez was brought and introduced to the court of Abu Eshaq by Haji Qavam {Li1:78}. The qasideh recalls Abu Eshaq’s “sessions” which Hafez presumably attended {Line 20}. It appears to be the only poem in the Divan which Hafez had the opportunity to present to Abu Eshaq [16] It is, on the other hand, with 45 lines, the longest of Hafez’s poems [17].   Several lines describe the time. It is when the “flood of events so rushes from left and right that the middle is threatened {Line 40},” with “powerful waves of the sea pounding {Line 41}.” These images depict “the enemy who is now moving aggressively {Line 42}.”

The “enemy” was Abud Eshaq’s longtime rival Amir Mobarez al-Din Mohammad (718-765/1318-1363), from the Muzaffarid dynasty whose princes would rule in Shiraz as their capital for the rest of Hafez’ life [18].  Mobarez and Eshaq had been fighting each other for control of Shiraz since 740/1339-40. After Haji Qavam’s death in 754/1353, when Mobarez again approached Shiraz, Eshaq who had lost in eight of his last fights with Mobarez felt “exhausted and dispirited,” and to escape his fear of defeat took to drinking and excessive partying {Gh:95-96,100}.  Eventually, he fled to Isfahan from the advancing Mobarez forces. After taking Shiraz, Mobarez had Eshaq seized and executed in 757/1357 or 758/1357 {KEIr1}.

Hafez’s poem was written around the last battle of Eshaq with Mobarez. Wishing long lasting life for Abu Eshaq, Hafez marks the King’s importance to himself as a special “gift {Line 45}.” He encourages Abu Eshaq to be “a stable mountain” against the “waves” {Line 41}. He says, for its mistreatment of Eshaq’s clan, his enemy’s wife, children and clan will be punished {Line 43}. He tells Eshaq “not to lose hope in the grace of God {Line 38}.” He promises him that the “suffering you have endured will bring happiness, {Line 32}” as “the purpose of putting you through the ordeal is to purify your heart {Line 33}.”

Abu Eshaq had a reputation for opting to have a good time at the expense of fully preparing for the threat posed by enemies {Gh:141-143}. Hafez, as though justifying such behavior, opines that: “He enjoys the fruit of life who, in every situation, first studies the case and then takes action {Line 36}.” Accordingly, “When he sees no reason for war, he picks the glass of wine/But, when it is time to fight, he picks up a fatal sword {Line 37}.” Hafez adds that “the lightning of sword” of Eshaq sets the enemy’s dynasty on fire {Line 25}.” “As he draws, the wave of blood rises to the moon/As he takes up the bow, he charges on Mercury in the sky {Line 26}.”

Hafez follows this with similar exaggerated praises of Eshaq involving celestial bodies, the Gemini {Line 28}, the Arcturus {Line 30}, the sky and the Milky Way {Line 31},” and the eighth heaven {Line 24}. He calls Eshaq “the beauty of the face of Islam, who has beautified the country like an orchard {Line 23}, an angel, a messenger of the Unseen {Line 21}, an Alexander whose palace’s residents find immortal life, like Khezr, from the bounty of his door’s dust {Line 22}.

Persian qasayed (plural of qasideh) presented to rulers were usually celebratory and focused on praising them. Hafez’s two later odes, praising other rulers, the Mozaffarid Shah Shoja` and Shah Mansur, fall in this category [19].  His ode to Abu Eshaq, however, was occasioned by unhappy circumstances, an uncommon time for composing an ode to rulers {Gh:95-96}.

The poem expresses the impact of these unhappy times on Hafez himself. He wonders “Why does the spherical heaven encompass me/Like a point inside a circle, with many griefs and sorrows {Line 12}.” This is one of several questions he asks himself [20].

Contemplating these matters, Hafez yearns for his “beautiful cupbearer who would lovingly take a big bowl of wine {Line 18},” “would bring a message from my love and then would drink to the joy of that kind beloved {Line 19}.” Additionally, Hafez wishes for the minstrel who would play the musical mode of `Iraq and then the mode of Isfahan, recalling the King’s (Abu Eshaq’s) parties {Line 20}.

In the ode, Hafez calls Abu Eshaq’s existence a blessing in everyone’s life {Line 45}. In a qat`eh, marking his death date, Hafez eulogizes Abu Eshaq as “the redresser of grievances {Kq24:2}.”  In another qat`eh, written also after Abu Eshaq’s death, Hafez remembers him as a generous King who ruled justly {Kq9:2}.

Ages 40-42 (During Mobarez-al-Din’s Reign: 758-760/1357-1359)

After Abu Eshaq, the ruler of Shiraz was Amir Mobarez-al-Din Moḥammad Mozaffarid, who had Abu Eshaq killed in 757/1357 [21]. His reign came to an end by his sons who blinded him in 760/1359 {Wi}[22]. Mobarez-al-Din cultivated his public image as defender and enforcer of Sunni Islam.  He valued his reputation for strict personal piety.  As “the official enforcer of public morality, … he shut down the taverns of Shiraz, which had been lively under Abu Esḥāq {Wi}.”  In a ghazal, believed to be from this period {Gh: 134,167}, Hafez talks about his reaction to this development. His nostalgia for the time of Abu Eshaq’s reign is expressed in a poignant line: “Indeed, the turquoise signet of Bu Eshaq shone beautifully/But it was a precipitate fortune {K203 :7}.” Hafez depicts the failure of Bu Eshaq to prepare for the challenge of Mobarez al-Din, metaphorically: “Did you see the chatter of the strutting partridge/ Who was unaware of claws of the eagle of fate {K203:8}?” What Hafez especially missed now was the “company” of a good “friend” where “I had on my tongue whatever you had in your heart {K 203:2, 4}.”The memory of those friends takes Hafez to kharabat which had been “frequented by the rends, qalandars, beggars and other outcasts {Y},” but there he finds that “the wine-jar’s head was in the mud and its heart in blood {K203:5}.” Hafez wanders a lot about “the cause of his pain of separation/But his intellect could not provide an answer {K203:6}.”

Hafez recalls his recent past in another ghazal; “Remember that I was a ruins-dweller and a drunkard/What I lack today in the Mosque, I had there then {K200:8}.” The refrain “remember (yad bad)” starts every one of the 9 lines of this ghazal. The poem is addressed to an unnamed beloved (yar) {K200:3}. “Remember that you had an eye on me secretly {K200:1}.”  Hafez recalls “the banquet of fine people and art-lovers” where only “the morning-wine laughed drunkenly {K200:5}.” He says: “Remember when, drunk from the morning wine, we sat intimately together/It was only the beloved and me, and God was with us {K200:3}.” The beloved helped Hafez in his art, perhaps as a muse: “Remember that by your correction was set straight/The order of any un-pierced pearl that belonged to Hafez {K200:9}.”

The call to remember (celebrate its memory) is repeated in another ghazal {K202:3} which has which has other signs that date it to the recent “past”{K202:1,6} of the period under discussion.  “If I have drunk wine on the Night (shab) of Qadr, don’t blame me/ My lover came drunk, and a cup of wine was on the shelf {K202:9}.” The Night of Qadr is the sacred night when the Koran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad.* This satirical type of response to the religious strictures enforced by Mobarez is repeated in another line: “If the threat of my rosary is broken, excuse me/ My hand was in the arm of the silvery-legged cupbearer {K202:8}.”

Hafez goes further in mixing the sacred and the profane. In the previous ghazal, discussed above, he brought God to his intimate encounter with his beloved while both were inebriated with wine {K200:3}. In this ghazal Hafez alludes to a Koranic verse by implying that we needed Him and He wanted us [23] , to justify, as analogous, the attraction between himself and his beloved {K202:7}. In another line, invoking the Qur’anic terms Azal (first day) and Abad (eternity), Hafez makes another such Koranic allusion, this time to the covenant (misaq) between God and man. He maintains that, similarly, there was a covenant, to create forever the love and friendship between humans {K202:5}.

Hafez brings up yet another theme in his poetry at this time. He says in this ghazal that, in those just-bygone nights, the conversation regarding the mystery of love, notwithstanding the physical attraction of the beloved, was really focused rather on “character and graciousness {K202:3,4}.”

Another ghazal describes how Hafez perceived his environment a few years into the rule by Mobarez, as a line indicates the time: “for years, no ruby has come out of the mine of generosity (morovvat) {K164:5}.” “This was the city of friends and the land of kind people/When did kindness end? What befell the city of friends {K 164:4}?”  [24]. “What happened to companions?” Hafez asks, “When did friendship end {K164:1})?” “No one says that a friend has the right to friendship,” Hafez say, but “what happened to the grateful ones {K164:3}?” Even nature looks gloomy: “The rose lost color. What happened to the spring breeze {K164:2}?”

Hafez sees the same problem in another ghazal: “A thousand roses blossomed but no bird sang/What happened to the nightingales and starlings {K164:7}?” “The polo-ball of success and achievement (keramat) is cast in the field/ Nobody enters the arena. What happened to the horsemen {K164:6}?” “No happy tunes from Venus, Did its lute burn? /Nobody yearns for drunkenness. What happened to topers {K164:8}?” Finding no answers, a wistfully dejected Hafez, concludes by telling himself: “Silence, Hafez! Divine mysteries are not known to anyone {K164:9}.” This is the period when the poet engages in introspection, marking the occasion of keeping his own company (after repeatedly expressing how he misses his old companions {K164:1,3,4} with addressing himself by name, Hafez.

He does the same in two other ghazals that further describe Hafez’s life in this period of rule by Mobarez. In one, the poet says: “Like Hafez, try to be content and renounce this mean world/ As a ton of gold is not worth a grain of obligation to the mean people {K147:7}.” The poet is “scolded by his rival that he should stay away from this door,” Hafez says, wondering “what happened to my head that it is not worth the dust of the door {K147:3}?” That door might have referred to Mobarez’s court.

In this poem, Hafez applies the “not worth it (nemi arzad)” assessment in several other cases relevant to this period. A cloak of piety is not worth more than wine {K147:1}. A prayer-rug is not worth a cup of wine {K147:2}.  The sultan’s crown is not worth risking one’s head for it {K147:4}. One hundred pearls are not worth the troubles of the sea {K147:5}. Conquering the world is not worth the troubles of managing an army {K147:6}.  Therefore, Hafez says, “it is better to hide your face from those who might desire you {K147:6}.”

As mentioned above, Hafez’s discontent in this period is manifested also in another ghazal. He is advised by an old wine-seller to drink wine to wash away his “sorrow of the heart {K96:1}.” Hafez is mindful that “wine will ruin” his name, but he is told to “accept” the advice and “let be whatever will be (harcheh bad-a bad) {K96:2}.” By his approving tone, Hafez here adopts the attitude of laobaligari, a devil-may-care posture, “a cavalier attitude that damns the consequences of all immoral conduct {Ig:91}” [25]. Since gain, loss, and capital, all will eventually disappear, “don’t rejoice or grieve” for the business of life {K96:3}. Remember that “if you put your heart in nothingness,” you will likely end up with nothing but the wind, as happened to the Solomon’s throne {K96:4}. The poet addresses himself: “Hafez, …this is the counsel of sages, although it may vex you {K96:5}.”

Hafez follows that counsel. He asks for wine, reasoning that,  “Although I have become infamous for a black record/ How can one despair of  the Eternal grace {K453:4}.” He asks the cupbearer for a wine to draw him out of seclusion, “So that I can wander around like a heedless (laobali) vagabond (qallash) {K453:5}.” He says, “Since the state of the world is not firm under any condition/Hafez, do not complain; let us drink wine now {K453:6}.”

Hafez is conscious of the practical dangers of drinking in these “perilous days” of the “season of abstinence and time of continence” with an “alert Mohtaseb (moral police) {K42: 2,3}.” So he is careful to drink quietly, “not with the music of the lute,” and hiding “the wine-cup in his sleeve {K42: 2, 3}.” He says “don’t seek a joyous life during this down turn of the sky/For the clear wine of the top of this vat is mixed with dregs {K42: 6}.”  Authorities, Hafez says, “accuse you of heresy” if you drink, and forbid you to discuss “the mystery of love,” disparaging love and lovers {K195:1, 2,3}. Behind the scene, however, they act differently themselves {K195:4}. He calls for wine, “Because if you look carefully, the Shaikh, Hafez, Mofti, and Mohtaseb all dissimilate {K195:9}.”

It is not just wine, Hafez also pursues illicit love {K453:1, 2, 6}. “My pain is from the beloved; and my remedy, too {K355:1}.’’ “I am telling the story confidentially/But it will be told openly, too {K355:3}.” “Happy the memory of the one who, intent upon my blood…broke our agreement {K355:5}.” “The affair of this world is unreliable {K355:6}.”  But just as “the nights of union ended, the days of separation will pass away, too{K355:7}.” “The Mohtaseb knows that Hafez is a lover/And the Vazier (Asef of Solomon’s kingdom) knows, too {K355:8}.” “Bring wine, a lover has no fear of the Judge/And of the Sultan’s persecution, too {K355:9}.” In another ghazal believed to be from this time {Gh:181-185}. Hafez calls for music: “Let us listen to the tambourine and reed, O Mohtaseb/The law of religion will not be violated by this act {K161:4}.”

This is “the era of the Asef of the age,” Hafez says {K453:8}. Asef was King Soloman’s legendary Vizier, and Hafez uses it as an honorific for  the person he identifies in another line: Borhan, Bu Nasr Bu al-Ma`ali {K453:10}, He was the Vizier of Mobarez who served him for 14 years until he lost his life in 1358, together with his King, Mobarez {Li1:77} [26] . Hafez praises Borhan as “the illuminer of the throne and the source of glory and pomp” {K453:10}. Borhan was from a wealthy and established family of Shiraz, and Hafez notes that Borhan and his ancestors “honored” the kingdom. He prays: “O Lord, let his merit and honor last forever {K453:9}.” Hafez looks to Borhan for support in the time of Mobarez’s rule.

In due time, Hafez was celebrating the departure of the “Mohtseb” {K354:4}. This is the title that Shah Shoja` gave to his father, Mobarez [27], whose reign he ended in 760/1359 {Wi}. For this, Hafez is “thankful” to his “luck, and to the world, too {K354:1}.” He says: “The time passed when the evil eye stared from the ambush/Gone is the enemy from our midst; and tears, too {K354:5}.”  “The world is full of wine; and of wine-drinking beauties {K354:4}.” “Visting has become possible; kissing and embracing, too {K354:1}.” “Go away, Ascetic. For if the luck is my luck/I will have the cup of wine in my hand; and the beloved’s tress, too {K354:2}.” “We do not blame anyone for drunkenness and rendi/Delicious is the ruby lips of the beauties; and the wholesome wine, too {K354:3}.” “To put the mind in the hand of distraction is not cleverness/ Seek peace of mind; and the goblet of wine, too {K354:6}.” “Spray a sip of his lip’s wine on the ones humbled by love/So the dust may become ruby-colored; and musky in fragrant, too {K354:7}.”

In the same ghazal, Hafez now devotes several lines in praise of Borhan. He tells the beloved “Fear God/ And the justice of Asef, mighty as (King) Jamshid, too {K354:10}.” He says due to Borhan’s ministry, Shiraz prospered greatly {K354:11}. His justice has covered the earth and sky {K354:12, 14}.”, His resolve moves the world {K354:13}.” Hafez concludes: “May his palace of glory be full of the great ones/And of the cypress-statured and rosey-cheeked saqis, too. {K354:16}.”

X. The Second Half

Ages 42-46 (During Shah Shoja`’s Initial Reign: 759-765/1358-1363)

In 759/1358 Mobarez al-Din Mohammad was seized and blinded by a coalition of his sons, Shah Shoja` and Shah Mahmud, and his cousin, Shah Sultan [1]. Alluding to the Persian adage that a son is the father’s “light of the eye,” Hafez marks the blinding of Mobarez al-Din by his son, Shah Shoja, in a qat`eh: “The one who had illuminated his sight before/ Gouged his world-viewing eyes {Q18:10}” [2].

In Shiraz at this time, in Hafez’s view much power rested in Mohammad ibn Ali Saheb `Ayar, who served as Shah Shoja` first Vizier [3]. In a long qhasideh praising him, Hafez referred to Saheb `Ayar as “the Vizier who seats Kings (on the throne), the master of time and space [4].”  He was so qualified, in Hafez’s opinion, as to deserve claiming “the guardianship of the world” {Line 13}. He was “the divine solver of problems {Line 21}.” He was famous for “the thunder of his wrath,” from which Hafez would take refuge in God {Line 20}. But he was in fact an “angel in human clothing {Line 16}.” His generosity surpassed all {Line 19}.  Without the treasure of his generosity, “the whole stretch of the world would face destruction {Line 15}.”  Because of him “humans and jinn are happy,” Hafez said {Line 11}.

Addressing Saheb `Ayar, Hafez continues: “It was you, that dawn of hope, who lovingly/Came out and ended the dark night {Line 33}.”  Referring to Mobarez’s “dark night,” Hafez says: “Cruelty is not the way to promote religion/The religion of God is all generosity and kindness {Line 29}.” “How does an ignoramus who has never been drawn by the divine attraction know the mystery of ‘I am the truth (of the real Gnostic)’ {Line 30}?”

“In gratitude for the disappearance of the accusation of heresy/Try to obtain your justice with wine and roses,” Hafez says {Line 28}.  Repeatedly, Hafez calls for drinking wine: “Why are you sitting forlorn? Come out/ For there is wine in the vat like the red ruby {Line 26}.”   “Let no month pass without drinking to the rose’s beauty/So that you do not regret it the following month {Line 27}.”  “Bring the colorful wine and let me tell you a true story/Without causing a breach in being a Muslim {Line 6}.”  “I never came across a pretentious (Muslim) ascetic/Who did not have a non-believer’s girdle, under his cloak {Line 8}.”  “Condescend to be the companion of rends/For there are treasures in this destitution {Line 5}.”

In “the pleasure house of the Vizier,” referring to Saheb `Ayar, Hafez says, “let nothing but the cup of wine weigh heavy {Line 32}.”  Hafez, however, is not invited to that house. He tells the Vizier: “I have heard that you mention my name once in a while/However, you do not call me to your special assembly {Line 34}.”  “You do not ask me for words. This is unkindness/Otherwise, why should I spare my locution from you {Line 35}?” He says: “Among the Hafezes of the world, none like me combined/Philosophical subtleties with the Book of Koran {Line 36}.”  He calls “a precious commodity,” these praising poems which he offers to the Vizier {Line 37}.” He apologizes for the length of this panegyric poem {Line 38}, which runs 41 lines. He says, however, that his poetry is the way he can attract the Vizier’s (Saheb `Ayar’s) favor {Line 3}.

Hafez offered another “jewel of verse,” as he called his ghazal, to this Vizier {K49:9}. In it, however, he acknowledged that the Vizier “did not deem my comfort advisable at present,” despite being aware of “my anxiety” {K49:8}. This ghazal records some of Hafez’s thinking at this time. He says “Time has passed when I worried about the masses’ opinions/Now even the moral police knows about my secret pleasure {K49:7}.” That pleasure is drinking wine. He says that a true Sufi learns “the hidden secret” from wine {K49:1}. He says that reason cannot teach you about love {K49:3}.  He says drink wine because good times do not last {K49:4}. In fact, all but true love is transient {K49:5}.

In a chronogram marking Saheb `Ayar’s death, Hafez said that “no one should hope for generosity from another person {Kq16:3}.”  The Vizier who eventually [5] succeeded Saheb `Ayar, however, proved to be equally, if not more, kind to Hafez Jalal al-din Turanshah (d. 787) served as Shah Shoja’s Vizier until the King’s death [6]. In a ghazal, Hafez describes that Turanshah sent a courier with the good news that the King had ordered joy {K167:1}. To Hafez, this means that “it is the time for building the ruined house of the heart {K167:1}.” Behold, he says, that an ant so small has been summoned to Jamshid’s throne {K167:6}. He calls on himself to “ask a favor from the King,” as his “generosity” came toward him {K167:8}. “His assembly is an ocean. Seize the opportunity, seize!/Wake up, Oh loser! The time of commerce has come {K167:9}.”

At dawn, Hafez says, a voice from the Unseen gave him the glad tidings: “It is the era of Shah Shoja`, drink wine fearlessly {K278:1}.” “Past is the time when men of perception walked aloof, /A thousand words in the mouth and silent the lips {K278:2}.” “Now with the sound of the harp, we can tell those stories/ Whose concealment made the pot of breast boil {K278:3}.” We will drink the homemade wine, “which felt the fear of the moral police,” to the beloved and say “cheers!” {K278:4}. “Last night, from the tavern street, they carried on their shoulders the Imam, who carried the prayer-rug on his shoulder {K278:5}.” “Let me guide you to the road of salvation:/Neither be proud of your vice nor show off your piety {K278:6}.” “The King’s brilliant mind is the place of manifestation/If you seek proximity to him, try to purify your intention {K278:7}.” “Let your heart have no chanting than his glorification/For his heart is confidant to the angel’s message {K278:8}.” “Kings know the secrets of what is good for the country/Hafez, you are a recluse mendicant, do not roar! {K278:9}.”

Ages 46-49 (During Shah Mahmud’s Reign: 765-767/1364/1366)

After Mobarez, conflict arose between Shah Shoja` and his brother  Shah Maḥmud for control of Shiraz.  With the help of the Jalayerid rulers of Baghdad, Shah Maḥmud captured Shiraz from his brother in 765/1363-64.  However, the notables of Shiraz invited Shah Shoja` back in 767/1366 [7].

Hafez expressed himself in several poems during this interval, which are believed to be addressed to Shoja`, although he is referred to only indirectly as, for example, simply the Shah or Turk or beloved {Gh:234-240} [8]. Hafez observes that “The arena of festivity is left empty of the friends and brimful cup {K296:3}.” And “Our Turk is not looking at anyone {K296: 7}.” “How long will you have patience and love, Hafez/Joyful is the lovers’ lament. Lament! {K296: 9}.”  “O messenger of the beloved, may God protect you/Welcome, welcome. Come here, come. {K430: 10}.”

He is nostalgic: “Let the time be remembered when from the roof and the door/Every moment a message and the beloved’s letter arrived {K430: 6}.” “May his memory be happy/ My auspicious saqi always came in from the door with a bowl and a flask {K430: 3}.”  The “rival,” Hafez says, implying Mahmud [9] “has found an opportunity for cruelty” and injustice toward the oppressed {K430: 7},” while the “Shah,” implying Shah Shoja’ [10], knows how to establish justice {K174:9}.

Hafez also calls the Shah, implying Shoja`, “a patron of arts [11],” while praising his own art (430: 10). He believes that “Only he who knows the grace of the Persian verse and prose can appreciate the charming poetry of Hafez {K174: 10}.” He tells himself: “Do not expect a wage for your service, like beggars/For the friend himself knows how to treat his servants {K174: 3}.”

Hafez “repeatedly and continuously prays for those (like Shah Shoja`) who are away from their homeland {K454: 3}.” He prays to God to return Shoja`, referring to him as “the soul that has left my body,” “my beautiful beloved,” “the one whose homeland was Hafez’s eye.”  {K378:1,2 3,7} He says, tell him “Without you, we do not want to live {K 378:6}.”

Hafez says the he wrote “a hundred letters” to Shah Shoja` but never received any reply {K105:2}. He is disappointed: “He knows that I am drunk, and he did not send me a cup of wine {K105:5}.  But, the poet says, “Be respectful, Hafez, for there can be no protest/If the King did not send a message to a servant {K105:10} [12].

Hafez asks: “How can I obtain union with a King like you/I who am an ill-reputed, careless rend? {K454:11}.” Yet, he says “I wish I knew when the messenger would speak of union {K454: 5}.”  He dreams of seeing Shah Shoja` and ending “the night of separation {K430:1,2}.”  He has “this expectation from the design of destiny that my beloved would return {K231: 9}.”  He repeats: “Soon the day of separation from the beloved will end {K460:5}.” “Happy is the time my beloved comes back {K231:1}.”   “Blissful is the moment you arrive and I welcome you {K460: 6}.”  “By good fortune, I hope I will see you soon/Then you will gladly give order and I will gladly obey them {K460: 9}.”

Age 49 (At Shah Shoja’s Return to Power: 767/1366)

With the promise of help from the notables of Shiraz, Shah Shoja’ decided to return from his exile in Kerman. Before he reached the city, Mahmud escaped Shiraz and his wife ruled while Shah Shoja` awaited his supporters to open the gates of the city for him {Gh: 241-242}.  The following ghazals which are probably from this period and the first days after Shah Shoja` subsequent arrival in Shiraz {Gh: 242}, express Hafez’s views. He requests the King’s attendants to convey his prayer that the King would not ignore him {K6:1}. “I take refuge in my God from the demonic rival,” he says, referring to Mahmud {K6:2}. He warns: “Beware of his deception and make no mistake {K6:3}.” “All night, he keeps hoping” that he would hear a message from the King’s camp {K6:5}. “Show me your face,” he begs {K6:6}. Give a cup of wine to Hafez, he asks, “So that (thus) his morning prayer may have had an effect on you {K6:7}.”

“I am surprised that during this period of separation, you took your heart from friends” Hafez addresses the King {K19:2}. “The joy of our gatherings depends on your welcome arrival {K19:4}.” “Thank God that the plunder of the autumn did not damage your garden {K19:5}.” “Your well-known luck and inborn good fortune brought you out of that separation fine {K19:6}.” “Hafez, do not let go of this Noah’s Ark/Or else, the storm of events will ruin your foundations {K19:7}.”

“A thousand thanks that I saw my wish fulfilled again/You became my heart’s intimate sincerely and truthfully,” Hafez again addresses the King {K253:1}. “The travelers of the Gnostic Path walk a perilous road/Why should a lover worry about the ups and downs {K253:2}?”  “In gratitude for the assembly being illuminated by you/If I am hurt, I should burn like a candle and tolerate {K253:5}.” Hafez ends by praising his own ghazals: “The sound and melody” of them brought the murmur of love” to distant lands {K253:7}.

Hafez is told by his “wakeful fortune,” that the “beloved King” has arrived {K172:1} and commanded: “Drink a bowl of wine and, drunken, strut out to see the sight/Behold in what style your beloved has come {K172:2}.” Hafez calls on the cupbearer: “Give wine and don’t worry about friends and foes/For, to my heart’s desire, the foe went, and the friend came {K172:6}.”

He now addresses the Shah: “The kingdom and signet are yours. Order what you wish {K480:3}.” “O King, my cup has been empty of wine for a lifetime/The moral police is witness to this claim of mine {K480:10}.” He tasks the cupbearer to bring wine, “So that we wash the monastery’s vanity from our cloaks {K480:12}.” “Whereas the lightning of disobedience struck the prophet Adam/How can we be worthy of the claim of innocence {K480:13}?”  “Hafez, if your King mentions your name only occasionally/Do not complain of your luck. Offer your apologies {K480:14}.”

Age 50 (At Shah Shoja’s Victory over Mahmud: 767/1367)

Mahmud’s wife left Shiraz and went to Isfahan. Learning that Mahmud wanted to marry another woman, she encouraged Shoja’ to come and take Isfahan. Shoja` attacked Isfahan. Mahmud submitted and Shoja` gave the governing of Isfahan to him [13]. Hafez’s ghasideh praising Shoja` was most probably done at this time, in 768 {Gh:251}. The qasideh {S:587} is a full-throttled panegyric poem with effusive praise of Shoja` in all fields. It calls him a “Just King {Line 3},” speaks about his mighty sword {Line 9}, his pen {Line 16}, and his knowledge {Lines 16, 21], his generosity {Line 23}, his unequal wealth, organization and army {Line 27} and the size of his realm {Line 31}. It says, “The country is happy with you {Line 33}.”

Hafez finishes the qasideh with this line: “My affairs have found an order because of you/My name has become eternal by praising you {Line 40}.” In a contemporaneous ghazal, Hafez amplifies these feelings: “Like gold, my verse is the darling of existence/The elite’s acceptance became the alchemy of this copper {K163:10}.” He describes Shah Shoja`s assembly in which the King is the star who shines like the moon, “and became the friend and intimate of my disillusioned heart {K163:1}.”  Shah Shoja` “now seats me in the position of honor,” Hafez says, “Look at the city’s beggar who became the assembly’s emir{K163:4}.”

Hafez tells himself: “For God’s sake, wipe your lips from the moisture of wine/For my heart became tempted with thousands of sins {K163:6).”  Shoja`’s “lovely glance gave such a wine to the Gnostics/That knowledge felt unconscious and reason became senseless {K163:7}.”  He advises: “Friends, turn the rein away from the road to the wine tavern/Because Hafez went down this road and became bankrupt {K163:8}.” “He wanted the water of Khezr and the cup of Kay Khosrow/He became the drinker of the wine of Sultan Abul Favares (Shah Shoja’) {K163:9}.”

A while later, however, Hafez, in a ghazal, is drinking from the flask of wine {K280:1} which he gets from the “old wine-seller {K280:3}.” He is not alone. It is “the age of the guilt-forgiving and fault-covering King,” and the Mofti drinks from the cup {K280:1}, “the Sufi moved from the monastery to the wine-vat’s side/When he saw the Mohtaseb carry a jug of wine on his shoulder {K280:2}.” Hafez asks the old wine-seller about “the Shaikh and the Qazi and their Jewish (secret) way of drinking {K280:3}.” He is told to “draw in your tongue, keep the veil on, and drink wine {K280:4}.” He asks forgiveness for his sins because “it is love, poverty, youth and fresh spring {K280:6}.” He is worried that the spring is coming and “no money is left for wine {K280:5}.” He tells himself: “What you had desired has come/Silence, O lover {K280:7}.” He prays long-life for Shah Shoja`, the like of whom “nobody has seen or heard {K280:8}.”

Hafez repeats the call for being content with his fortune in another ghazal in which he advocates being at the service of Jalal al-Din, Shoja`s Vizier Turanshah {K472:8}. To free yourself from grief, Hafez says, do not desire what is not destined for you {K472:1}. “You cannot take the place of the great ones by boasting/You must first meet all the requirements of greatness {K472:4}.” “Hafez, if you trust your affairs to (God’s) generosity/You will have plenty of joy with your God-given fortune {K472:7}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez hears from the messenger of the wine-house, wishing him well, who says: “Come back, you are an old-timer of this palace {K479:1}.” He is told “to drink from our wine cup,” so that “it reveals the mystery of the two worlds to you {K479:2}.’’ “At the door of the wine-house there are some qalandar rends/Who give and take royal crowns {K479:3}.” Behold their power and glory {K479:4}. Do not travel this road without a guide, however.  “It is pitched dark, fear the danger of going astray {K479:6}.” “If they grant you the sultanate of poverty/Your smallest kingdom will be from the earth to the moon {K479:7}.” To those who cannot boast of poverty, Hafez says, “Do not give up the seat of Lordship and the assembly of Turanshah,” the Vizier (479:8}. He asks himself: “Hafez, what have you done to think deserving of both those as your reward {K479:9}?”

Hafez praises poverty in another ghazal about dervishes. “The highest garden of Heaven is the retreat of dervishes /The substance of grandeur is the service of dervishes {K50:1}.”  “The treasury of glory which has the talisman of wonders/Opens by the blessed look of dervishes {K50:2}.” “That which turns the black metal into gold by its radiance/Is an elixir that is the company of dervishes {K50:4}.” “The wealth which is not in danger of decline/Without exaggeration, is that of dervishes {K50:7}.”  “The goal that Kings seek in their prayers is manifested/ In the mirror of the countenance of dervishes {K50:10}.”  Sovereignty and country are “all due to servitude in the presence of dervishes {K50:11}.” Hafez keeps Turanshah (Asef) in mind: “I am the servant of the Asef of the age, who, in this kingdom/Has the looks of a master and manners of dervishes {K50:12}.”

Hafez shows the same anxiousness to stay in good graces of Turanshah, in another ghazal where he is strongly tempted to return to drinking and loving. “From that wine which is sold in the tavern of love/Give me a few cups even if it is the month of Ramadan {K267:2}.” “Now that you set fire to your cloak, O seeker Gnostic/Make an effort to be the chief of the rends of the world {K267:3}.” To the beloved who said “my heart is anxious for you,” Hafez says “I am about to arrive {K267:4}.” All along, however, Hafez tells himself “Be, in the sight of” the Vizier {K50:7}.

Age 51 (At Turanshah’s Imprisonment: 770/1369)

The importance of Turanshah to Hafez was expressed in yet another ghazal, believed to have been occasioned by a dramatic event in the Vizier’s life.  During Shah Mahmud’s attack against Shiraz in 770/1368-9, Shah Shoja` imprisoned Turanshah, believing the accusation by his other Vizier, Shah Rokn al-Din Hassan, that Turanshah had promised Mahmud to open the gates of Shiraz for him. Once Shoja` found out that the accusation was a lie, he released Turanshah from prison and made him Vizier, and killed Rokn al-Din Hassan. Hafez marks this development in these two poems {Gh: 264, 276}: “My moon of Canaan, the throne of Egypt is now yours/It is time you bade farewell to the prison.// Hafez, drink wine, practice rendi and be happy; but/ Do not make the Koran, like others, a snare of deceit {K9: 9, 10}.”

Ages 51-58 (During Islamist Shoja` Reign: 770-776/ 1369-1375)

While in exile in Kerman, Shah Shoja` came under the influence of religious leaders there who blamed his misfortunes on his disregard of Islamic restrictions. Upon return to Shiraz, Shoja` stayed close to the clerics, attending the lectures of the religious scholar Mowlana Qavam al-Din `Abdollah, and appointing as judge Mowlana Bahah al-Din `Osman Kuhkilouei, a major Shafe`ee (a principal Islamic School) leader {Gh:246-247} [14].

Hafez’s reliance on Turanshah in this environment is indicated in the ghazals which are probably dated to this period. In one ghazal, he asks for wine, “even though it is the month of Ramadan {K458: 1}.”  He calls the ending of Ramadan a gift {K458:3}.  He complains that there have been many days since he held the leg or arm of a lover (“fair one”) {K458: 2}. “No clever bird flies over the door of a monastery now/Because there is a trap in every assembly of preaching {K458: 4}.” He calls the acetic a bad-tempered person who is like a night that follows the dawning of a morning {K458: 5}. “That companion who drinks pure wine day and night/May he ever think of a dreg-drinker {K458: 7}.” Referring to Turanshah, he says “Hafez, if the Asef of the age does not give the justice of your heart/You will have difficulty obtaining your wish through willfulness {K458: 8}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez begs Turanshah “not to choose anyone in place of this old-time servant of yours {K475: 2}.” He says to him: “Decency and modesty made you the monarch of beauty {K475:3},” but “How kind of you, O rose, that you sit with thorns/Apparently this is what you deem advisable for now {K475:5}.”  He implores Turanshah: “It is better that a virtuous person like you/Pure in heart and nature, not to sit with bad people {K475: 10}.” He tells himself: “What can I do except be patient to the cruelty of my rival {K475: 4}.” In the meantime, “it is easy to be a lover if loss of faith does not come next {K475: 6}.” He says look at my tears {K475: 9}. “The torrent of these flowing tears taxed Hafez’s patience {K475: 11}.” With such charm and elegance, he tells himself, “you deserve to be in the banquet of Khwajeh Jalal al-Din (Turanshah){K475: 12}.”

In another ghazal, however, Hafez says “As I see it, the best thing for me to do at present is/To take my chattel to the wine-house and sit there happily {K347:1}.” “To have no friend or companion except a book and a cup/So that I see less of the deceitful colleagues around {K347:2}.” “So much I boasted of piety in my stained kherqeh that/I am ashamed of the saqi’s face and of the colorful wine {K347:3}.” “I will take the cup of wine and stay away from hypocrites/That is, of the people of the world, I choose the one who has a pure heart {K347:  4}.” “If it be possible to gather up my skirt from this world/I will freely raise my head above the people, like a cypress {K347:   5}.” “My heart has the dust of many cruelties. O God, /Allow not this mirror which is accustomed to love to be tarnished {K347: 6}.” “My strained chest and the burden of grief/My wretched heart is not a match for this heavy burden {K347:  8}.” “If I am the rend of the ruins or the Hafez of the city/I am what you see or even less {K347:  7}.” Addressing Turanshah, Hafez ends the poem: “I am the slave of the Asef of the Age. Do not mislead my heart/For if I complain of the fate, he will avenge me thereon {K347:  9}.”

In the next ghazal addressed to Turanshah, Hafez compares himself with rivals for the Vizier’s attention. “Faithfulness and truth-speaking are not for everyone/I am the slave of the Second Asef, the glory of Truth and Faith {K348: 9}.” “Not everyone who composed a verse appealed to the heart/It is I who catch the best pheasant, for my falcon is nimble {K348:7}.” “If you do not believe me, go ask the painter of China/Even Mani wants a copy of the work of my musky pen {K348: 8}.” “The mysteries of drunkenness and rendi, hear from me, not from the preacher/For every night I am the companion of the moon and the Pleiades with a cup and a goblet {K348: 6}.” He says “Any dust the wind brought had profited of your generosity/Remember me too, for I am your old-time servant {K348:4}.” He complains that he is in “utter deprivation,” of that generosity {K348:5}. He says “If I could sit with my beloved, I would drink wine from the cup of union/And pick roses from the garden of delight {K348:1}.” “The bitter Sufi-burning wine will erase my foundation/Put your lips on mine, O saqi, and take my sweet life {K348:2}.”

Around this time, in a ghazal which mostly praises Shah Shoja`’s physical beauty (tress, chin-dimple, moon-like face) {K30:2, 3, 4}, Hafez calls this occasion of his audience with the King a time of achieving his wish (shab-e qadr) {K30:1} [15]. He boasts that “The water of life drips from the eloquent beak of my pen’s crow {K30:8}.” He defiantly addresses his Islamic critics: “I will not abandon the beloved’s ruby (lips) and the cup of wine/My apologies, O ascetics. This is my religion {K30:6}.”

In the wine-house, Hafez hears a celestial voice: “Drink wine, your sin will be forgiven {K279: 1}.” “Divine forgiveness will do its work {K279: 2};” “God’s kindness is more than our sins {K279: 3}.” In this ghazal, Hafez calls Shah Shoja` “the judge of religion {K279: 8},” and adds that “Hafez’s rendi is not that bad a sin/ Before the generosity of the fault-covering King {K279: 7}.”  Hafez prays for the King’s success and safety {K279: 9}. He says that “Although getting an audience with him is not achieved by your insistence/O heart, strive for it as much as you can {K279: 5}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez, after praising Shah Shoja` as a King, testifies that “Of thousands of different laws of religion and wisdom/Not a single point was lost to your (Shoja`s) learned heart {K402:5}.” Then he says “There is no need to express one’s wish in your presence/No one’s secret remains hidden in the light of your insight {K402:8}.” He adds “Hafez boasted of being a servant in your presence/In the hope of your life-giving and world-granting forgiveness {K402:9}.”

Age 59 (Shoja` Reign as Most Powerful King: 777/1376) 

After the death of both Shah Mahmud, and his supporter Sultan Oveys, the Jalayerid ruler of Baghdad (soon after their failed last attack on Shiraz) in 776/1375, Shah Shoja` became the most powerful King in Iran. In 777/1376 he defeated Sultan Hosayn, the Jalayerid ruler of Tabriz and became the King of Azerbaijan as well {Gh:293-296}. Hafez sent a ghazal to Shah Shoja` in Tabriz at this time {Gh:299}. In it he said: “I have burned in separation from you, O kind one, come to my aid {K261:3}.” He begs for a reply: “If Hafez’s name occurs to the tongue of my friend’s pen/This favor is enough for me from His Majesty’s threshold {K261:9}.”

In a ghazal, likely soon afterward, Hafez sends his poems to Shah Shoja`: “The carol of your assembly will bring the sky to dancing/Now that the verse of Hafez, sweet of tongue, is your song {K35:9}.” He reaffirms his devotion while he indicates that he is not in Shah Shoja`s audience: “My body is deprived of the fortune of your company/But my whole soul is the dust of your threshold {K35:5}.”

The deprivation from seeing Shah Shoja is the central theme of another ghazal. “My soul, which has risen to my lips, desires you/Should it return or leave? What is your command {K12:3},” Hafez asks Shoja`? “My heart is raising havoc. Inform my beloved/Please, my friends, have mercy on my soul and yours {K12:5}.” “Perhaps my slumbering fortune is going to awaken after all/Since your shining face would splash water on its eyes {K12:7}.” “Even though I am far from you, my spirit is near/I am the servant of you, King and singing your praises {K12:12}.” “O fortunate King of Kings, do me a favor, for God’s sake/Let me kiss the ground of your palace as the stars do {K12:13}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez finds his efforts wanting: “With this fresh and sweet poem, I wonder why/The King of Kings does not cover Hafez with gold from head to foot {K145:12}.” He says “I laugh while I cry. For like the candle of this assembly/I have a fiery tongue, but it does not catch on anyone {K145:7}.” He addresses the critics who admonish him “O admonisher, speak of the saqi’s thin line of hair over the lip/For no other image better than this takes form in my mind {K145:2}.’’ “I find the admonisher of rends, who is at war with destiny, very despondent/Does he never take a cup {K145:6}.” He says: “One day I am going to burn this particolored kherqeh/For the elder of the wine-sellers does not trade it for a cup {K145:4}.”  For Hafez: “The point is that I am needful, and the beloved is needless/What good is conjuring if it has no effect on the beloved {K145:10}.” He begs, “Have mercy, O wealthy one/For the dervish of your street knows no other door and takes no other road {K145:11}.”

In yet another ghazal, Hafez makes his pleading for Shoja`s patronage more explicit. First, he swears to Shoja’s splendor and glory that “I have no quarrel with anyone over property and luxury {K287:1}.” He wants “No more homemade wine; bring me some Magian wine/The fellow drinker has come, good-bye, O fellow repenter {K287:2}.” He asks: “Wash my kherqeh with wine, for God’s sake/For the present circumstances do not seem good to me {K287:3}.” He says “Look, he who would not allow anyone to hear music and dance/How he now goes, dancing to the harp’s twang {K287:4}.” He calls on Shoja` to “pay attention to the lovers/ As I am a servant obedient to you, a King who is obeyed {K287:5}.”  “I am thirsty for the bounty of a sip from your cup/But I am not bold and I do not cause headache {K287:6}.” He laments “Art has no buyer these days and I have nothing else/Where should I go for trade in such a dull market {K287:8].” In the way of affirming allegiance, he ends: “May God not separate Hafez’s brow and cheek from/The dust of the magnificent court of Shah Shoja`{K287:9}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez emphasizes his dependence on the patronage of Kings: “If the King’s justice does not reach the oppressed of love/The recluse (lovers) must give up their hope for comfort {K225:9}.” He specifies his needs: “I want money for wine and minstrel {K225:1}.” “The lovely ones in splendor and I ashamed of my purse/Love in poverty is a heavy burden, which must be carried {K225:2}.” In another ghazal, he says “If the stipend (from the patron) comes, I will spend it for wine and rose {K224:1}.”

Age 62 (Fortieth Year as a Poet: 780/1379)

In a ghazal addressed to Shah Shoja`, Hafez laments that after “forty years of toiling and suffering,” and producing poems, “a couplet of which is better than a hundred theses,” his “allotted share from the table of generosity,” is as little as a cup of wine in his dreams. He complains that he is always despondent at the doorway of the wine-house {K209:1, 2,3, 5,6,7}.

He has another ghazal for Turanshah at this time, “Who made me much obliged with his generosity {K335:9}.”  “For more than forty years I have been bragging that/I am the least of all the servants of the Magian elder {K335:1}.”  “Blessed by the kindness of the wine-selling old man/My cup never became empty of pure and clean wine {K 335:2}.” My place has been in the honor-seats of the wine-house {K335:3}.”

However, he says, “I am the royal falcon of the King’s hand. O Lord/Why have they forgotten the desire for my abode {K335:5}.” It is a pity that a nightingale like me with such a pleasant tongue/Is now silent in this cage, like a lily {K335:6}.” Then Hafez concluded his disappointment: “What a knave-breeding climate Fars is/Where is a fellow traveler, so that I pluck my tent from this land {K335:7}.”

Age 66 (At Giving up on Shoja`: 784/1383)

In about 784/1383 {Gh:305-307}, Hafez gives up on Shoja`’s Shiraz and hopes to go to Shoja`’s rivals, the Jalayerid rulers in Baghdad: “I did not attain my goal in Shiraz/Joyful is the day when Hafez takes the road to Baghdad {K185:7}.” He prays to God that the King there would be kind to him {K185:1,2,3,4}. He is modest in what he can offer to that King: “Your pure essence is needless of my eulogy/What can a beautician’s mind do to a God-given beauty {K185:6}.” Nonetheless, he submits this ghazal: “I thank God for the Sultan’s justice/Sultan Ahmad Shaykh Ovays Hassan Ilkhani {K463:1}.”  “I believe in your good fortune without seeing you {K463:3}.” “Though we are far from you, we drink to you/There is no distance in the spiritual journey {K463:7}.” “From the soil of Pars, no bud of joy blossomed for me/Blissful is the Tigris of Baghdad and its fragrant wine {K463:8}.” “The lover’s head that is not the dust of the beloved’s door/How can it be free from the trouble of wandering {K463:10}.”

Ages 67-70 (During Zayn al-`Abedin’s Reign: 786-789/1384-1387)

Before his death in 786/1384, Shah Shoja` chose his son, Sultan Zayn al-`Abedin, to succeed him in Shiraz.  Hostility between the new ruler and his cousins, Shah Yahya and Shah Mansur, dominated the political life of Shiraz in the remaining years of Hafez’s life. The armies of Amir Timur (Tamerlane), who was from the Ulus Cagatay Turks of Central Asia began to arrive in Persia, first in `Araq `Ajam in 789/1387.

Several of Hafez’s poems can be dated to this period as they refer to these princes and, on a few occasions, to the specific events relating to them. In one ghazal, Hafez complains of heartfelt pain and discomfort caused by the fast-moving events of a perturbed world. “The chest is brimful of pain, a remedy please {K461:1}!” “Who can expect comfort from this fast-moving sphere {K461:2}.” “I said to a wit, ‘Behold these circumstances.’ / He laughed and said: ‘A hard day, a strange work, a perturbed world {K461:4}!” “Humanity is not found in this earthly world/another world must be built and a new human{K461:8}.” Referring to Timur, Hafez calls out: “Arise and let us fall in love with that Turk of Samarqand {K461:3}.” Hafez was expressing the sentiment of not a few in Shiraz who hoped that with Timur there would be an improvement in their troubled life created by the native rulers of Shiraz {Gh: 395-397}.  Timur, eventually proved to be wishing to reconstitute the Mongol empire that existed in Persia, but “initially allowed the Mozaffarid princes to maintain their local authority, as long as they acknowledged Timur’s supremacy and the right to collect taxes {Wi}.”

Three ghazals can be traced to Sultan Zayn al-ʿAbedin’s reign at this time {Gh:368-369}. In one ghazal, Hafez celebrates the victory of Zayn al-ʿAbedin in a war, asking him to show gratitude for God’s help {K442:1}, by doing his duty of caring for others who are down. “Tell the one who fell and whose hand God took/’Now it is your duty to care for the ones who have fallen’ {K442:3}.” “With the tiding of joy,” Hafez wants the cupbearer to come to him: “So that you take the world’s sorrow out of my heart for a moment {K442:4}.” Let the King “worry about his army, his crown and treasury,” Hafez says; for himself he rather “rest peacefully in his corner of qalandari {K442:6}.” He repeats: “Hafez, do not wash the dust of poverty and contentment off your face {K442:9}.”  He has a “Sufi advice” for the King: “Peace is better than war and hostility {K442:7}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez repeats his aspiration for poverty and contentment: “If there is any profit in this bazaar, it is for the contented dervish/O God, make me rich through poverty and contentment {K431:7}.”  He believes that “morning prayers and nocturnal sighs would lead him to that goal {K431:2}.” This world “has no compassion in its nature {K431:5}.” You cannot trust others, Hafez says, reminding one of “The infidelities that the Samarqand Turks did with the Khwarazmis {K431: 8}.” In that line, Hafez is referring to the 781/1379 destruction of Khwarazm by Timur {R:600; Gh:368-369}. Hafez was apparently already disillusioned by what Timur had done in Persia, including a massacre of the inhabitants of Isfahan in response to an uprising among some of the Isfahanis against Timur’s tax collectors {Wi}.

In still a third ghazal from this time, Hafez is again offering advice, apparently to the young King Zayn al-ʿAbedin: “Listen to the counsel, my dear. For the felicitous youths/Love the counsel of a learned old man better than life {K3:8}.” The King seems not to have been responsive: “You spoke ill of me and I am glad. You said it well. May God forgive you/ A bitter response well suits sweetened ruby lips {K3:7}.” “The beloved’s beauty is needless of our incomplete love {K3:4}.” Hafez calls for wine and says: “Speak of minstrel and wine, not of the secret of being/For no one has solved this puzzle by wisdom, nor ever will {K3:5].”

Age 70 (During Shah Yahya’s Reign: 789/1387)

Zayn al-ʿAbedin was captured and imprisoned by his cousin Shah Mansur on his way to pledge allegiance to Timur in Baghdad. Timur now assigned the government of Shiraz to Shah Yahya, Mansur’s brother.  In the few months in 789/1387 that Shah Yahya ruled in Shiraz, Hafez thought that his rule saved the city and its religion from chaos: “If Shah Yahya had not generously helped the religion/The affairs of the country would have fallen into chaos {K206:8}.”

In this “jumbled verse,” which Hafez composed while “fallen in the net of longing {K206:7},” he says that early that morning he had drunk “a couple of glasses of wine from the lips of the cupbearer {K206:1}.” “While drunk, I wanted to return to the sweetheart of my youth/But the divorce had already been completed {K206:2}.”  “I was planning to stay away from his languishing eyes/But to be patient before his eyebrows was not possible {K206:5}.” He recalls: “In the stations of the Gnostic Path, wherever I traveled/There was a distance between loving (nazar-bazi) and one’s welfare {K206:3}.” He calls on the cupbearer: “O saqi, keep filling my cup, for in traversing the Path/Whoever did not travel like a lover was a hypocrite {K206:4}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez describes Yahya this way: “The sky pulls the led-horse of Shah Nosrat al-Din (Yahya) {R:573} /Come and see how the angel holds his stirrup {K413:9}.”  Hafez chooses to spend his time in the ruins’ wine-house with Magian youths where he is told by the elder (pir): “Who would do as you did with your weak effort and will/To leave the house of treasure and pitch a tent in the ruins? {K413:7}.” The pir warns Hafez that he may not achieve his goal as his fortune is asleep {K413:8}.” The poet’s response is: “Come to the wine-house, Hafez, so that I show you/A thousand rows of answered prayers {K260:11}.”

In a third ghazal, Hafez describes Yahya as “the one who threw the country’s enemies, like fire, into water with his sword. {K425:14}.” He calls on him: “Do not refuse my worship, though I am very drunk/For, you threw me in this business in the hope of rewards {K425:5}.”

In another ghazal, Hafez refers to Yahya as the Shah of Yazd, since he had been appointed the ruler of Yazd by Shah Shoja` just before his death [16].  Hafez tells the inhabitants of Yazd: “Even though I am far from you, my spirit is near/I am the servant of your King and singing his praises {K12:12}.” He begs to see Shah Yahya {K12:13}. “My soul, which has risen to my lips, desires to see you/Should it return or leave? What is your command {K12:3}?” He says his “cup of wine was not filled in your time {K12:9}.”  “Perhaps my slumbering fortune is going to awaken after all/Since your shinning face would splash water on its eyes {K12:7}.”

Ages 70-83 (During Shah Mansur’s Reign: 789-792/1387-1390)

Shah Mansur drove Shah Yahya out of Shiraz after he had ruled the city for six months in 789/1387 {Gh: 399} [17]. Hafez celebrated the arrival of Shah Mansur in Shiraz after his victory over Yahya, which he compares to the return of Joseph from the well “despite his jealous brothers’ wish {K237:5}.” He says “the perfection of justice responded to the plaintiff’s pleads {K237:2}.”  “The world would attain to its wish now that the King has arrived {K237:3}.”  Manwsur is the guard who would protect “feelings and knowledge {K237:4}.”

Hafez now condemns Yahya’s patron, Timur. Referring to Timur, who catered to Sufi leaders {Gh:399-400}, Hafez tells “that imposter Sufi who looked like an infidel, “to burn “for Mahdi (Islam’s counterpart of the Messiah), refuge of religion, has come {K237:6}.”  Hafez complains about how he suffered in the meantime as “a prisoner of separation {K237:8}.”  He tells himself: “Do not go to sleep as Hafez’s nocturnal incantations and morning readings of the Koran led him to the palace of acceptance {K237:9}.”

In a ghazal, Hafez describes how one night his “beloved rose to dance in the assembly… untied his hair …” and “with his intoxicating eyes greeted the sober ones {K149:3, 4}.” He continues: “Oh how much I suffered in desire of the luster and hue of his cheek/Yet, when he achieved his goal, he crossed out the devotees {K149:7}.” He despairs: “How can I … be a match” to him {K149:8}. “My hope is for the King’s happiness and success/Grant the wish of Hafez who predicted your success {K149:9}” [18]. He praises the “victorious King of Kings” Mansur and his “unsparing generosity {K149:10}.” “From the time his hand honored the wine-cup /The world has drunk the cup of joy to the topers’ health {K149:11}.” He recalls a story current about Mansur [19]: “From whose decapitating sword, that day victory shone when, like the sun which burns the stars, he alone attacked thousands {K149:12}.” Then Hafez asks God to “continue his (Mansur’s) life and kingdom, as destiny has determined that his fortune will endure {K149:13}. In a qat`eh, Hafez sees Gabriel at dawn making a similar wish: “O Lord, …let Mansur…remain on the royal throne in everlasting glory and fortune {Kq11:3}.”

Hafez refers to Mansur’s might again in another ghazal: “Oh Heaven, do not disobey Shah Mansur’s wish/See the sharpness of his sword and the power of his arm {K394:8}.”  In this ghazal, however, Hafez’s focus is more about his own beloved’s hair: “How his tress has chained the mind and soul {K394:1}” and “how the life of a hundred man is tied to one strand of his hair {K394:2}.” Look at that beauty, Hafez offers as response to the “blamers,” his religious critics {K394:7}.

Mansur “performed his royal responsibilities to his subjects {K240:12},” Hafez says. “Blessed by the good auspices of Shah Mansur/Hafez became well-known in composting poetry {K240:11}.” Hafez had been “speaking in codes with his fellow drinkers,” but now he would remove “the veil from this puzzle {K240:3}.”  Hafez asks for a splash of wine on his face, “for I am sleepy,” calling on those whose “fortune is awake {K240:4}.”  He hears minstrels playing a melody to which “the drinkers and the sober are dancing together {K240:5}.”  “Because of this opium that the saqi cast into wine/The drinkers have lost their turbans and heads {K240:6}.”  “Come and hear the state of people of pain/With less words and more meaning {K240:8}.”  “Do not tell the secrets of drunkenness to the pious,” as you cannot discuss spiritual matters with “a painting on a wall {K240:10}.”

In another ghazal, probably from this time [20], Hafez is defiant: “I am not the rend who would quit the shahed (beauty) and wine {K338:1].”  “I who have often criticized repenters {K338:2}.”

“Now that the zephyr washed roses with the water of grace/ Call me ill-natured if I gaze on the page of a book {K338:3}.”  As he is labeled “ill-reputed”, he says, “Oh Lord, I have complaints; who shall defend me {K338:4}?”   “Love is a pearl, the wine-house a sea, and I, a diver/I submerge in this sea and wonder where I shall emerge {K338:5}.”  “Although the dust of poverty has covered me {K338:6},” Hafez says, “I who own a royal treasure in my beggary, how can I desire/A favor from the revolution of this knave-breeding sphere {K338:3}?”

In another ghazal, Hafez claims that Mansur’s throne and diadem “are protected by Hafez {K374:5},” and tells Mansur to “appreciate my efforts as I am awake when you are asleep {K374:6}.”  He continues: “Shah Mansur knows that whichever way I direct my efforts, I make shrouds of blood for his enemies and give robes of victory to his friends {K374:7,8}.” Then, Hafez makes his demand: saying that his “purse is empty {K374:2},” he begs of Mansur to “tell them to pay back the loan to Hafez, which you admitted and I am the witness {K374:10} [21].

In a qasideh in praise of Shah Mansur {S:603-606}, Hafez says that “with the aid of favorable fortune, the wish I had sought of God was granted {Line 2}.” He says he finds comfort because of the King {Line 11}.  He calls on the saqi: “Give me a cup, for I have a fancy in my old head/To become young again to the joy of the Shah’s face {Line 3}. A few lines later, Hafez again refers to his old age: “I have aged, nurtured in a wine-house {Line 18}.” He quotes a verse from the poet Kamal al-Din Isfahani [22]: “If I pluck my heart and lift my love from you/Whom should I cast this love on and where should I take this heart {Lines 7 and 8}.” Hafez lauds his own poetry as “pearls {Line 11}, which, thanks to their praising Mansur, “like your sword, has conquered a hundred countries {Line 14}.  He concludes that his goal in this poem is to cultivate a market for his poetry: “The purpose of this trade is to make the market brisk/I am neither the seller of glory nor the buyer of pride {Line 26}.”

This detailed review of Hafez’s poems which can be credibly dated, based on their references to events and persons reported in generally reliable sources, shows no dramatic changes as Hafez moved through different periods of his life. The dominant themes of his poetry remained the same: wine-drinking, love, complaints about religious restrictions. Hafez, remarkably, adjusted to the turbulent political changes in the Shiraz of his time. He accommodated successive new rulers who disposed of their predecessors, often violently. He sought their patronage, but equally, if not more, that of their Viziers’ – whose own fortunes and lives were no less in peril, at the hands of their masters.

XI. Social and Political Positions

In a qat`eh, Hafez indicates that he complained to Shah Mansur about his aides reducing the certain sum of pension which the King paid him, and in response Mansur raised it back to the previous level {Kq39:4} [1]. The payment of such regular pension (vazifeh) by rulers to poets and writers (ahl-e qalam), was customary in Hafez’s time in Shiraz [2].

Hafez also received financial support from his other benefactors. In a poem {Kq40:2,4,5, 7}, he describes that for some time he stayed in the house of a Vizier who, in addition to financial support, gave him refuge against a claimant. The latter had gone to court and had obtained a warrant for his arrest which was then in the hands of the Judge’s agent waiting outside.

In another poem, Hafez describes how he asked for financial support from a benefactor: “tactfully,” “in private,” “tell a joke and make him laugh joyfully/With a subtlety that can please his heart//Then, ask kindly, this little favor/Is it all right if I request my pension (vazifeh) {Kq13:1,2, 3}.” Here the benefactor is a “Khwajeh (Master),” which can be a patron than a Vizier.

The significance of such financial support is shown in many of Hafez’s poems referring to his poverty {K219:7; K449:8; K 280:6; K 60:8; K 338:6; K 442:9}. His precarious financial situation which was the reason for his dependence on patronage arose from the fact that Hafez did not seem to have any other significant source of income. His poems do not reveal any inherited wealth.  The only other income possibly hinted at in his poems is from performance as a reciter of the Koran in gatherings {K344:8}, a service that might have been paid for.

Hafez refuses to feel indebted to his mighty benefactors. “Although the dust of poverty has covered me,” Hafez declares, “shame on me if I would want to wash it” with donations from the rich and powerful {K338:6}, “I who own a royal treasure in my beggary {K338:7}.”  He calls “the company of rulers…the darkness of the longest night {K228:3}.” He rebukes himself: “At the door of the unmanly lords of the world/How long shall you sit, waiting for the master to come out {K228: 4}.” “Hafez, do not wash the dust of poverty and qan`at (being satisfied with whatever little one has) off your face {K442:9}!”

Next to financial support, Hafez in his relationship with his powerful benefactors, the rulers and Viziers, sought protection to live a life style that was opposed by clerical leaders. Central to that desired life was drinking wine, followed by loving adolescent boys and enjoying music and dance. Otherwise, Hafez expresses his categorical position that he would leave all matters of state to the ruler: “Kings know the secrets of the prosperity of the country/Hafez, you are a recluse mendicant, do not raise your voice {K278:9}” [3].

He compares his role with that of the King, in another poem: “The Sultan worries about his army, his crown and treasury/The dervish rests peacefully in the corner of qalandari {K 442: 6}.” Only “humbly”, he offers one advice to the Sultan: “Peace is better than war and hostility {K442:7}.” Hafez’s concern with peace is expressed yet in another poem: “Saqi, give wine in just portions, so that the poor beggar (geda) /May not fill the world with calamity by his anger {K181:2}.”

In many poems, cited before, Hafez praises and identifies with rendan. His comments are about their way of life. For Hafez they were beggars in the Gonstic sense of geda. The rendan, as poor street mobs, were the lowest social group and a potential political force in Shiraz. Hafez’s poems, however, avoid explicit comment about their political activities.

In only one poem, discussed before, Hafez specifically identifies the major figures in the life of Shiraz during Abu Eshaq {Kq9}.  Otherwise, Hafez refers to religious leaders and Sufis merely in general, as groups. His poems say nothing about other groups who were also important in the Shiraz of his time, especially, the leaders of street mobs (kaluviyan), who often played a major role in the power struggle among rivals for ruling Shiraz {Li1:89}, and merchants and traders, who provided much of the famed prosperity of the city.

XII. Personal


In one poem, Hafez seems to indicate that he had a child who died before him. “Oh, the memory of my eye’s light and my heart’s fruit/Who itself departed easily and made life difficult for me {K130:3}.” In another poem, there is an implied reference to the same: “O heart, do you know what this noble child saw/Under the curve of this colorful arch? // In place of a slivery tablet on its side/Heaven put a tombstone on its head {Kq28}.” Other than these rare exceptions, Hafez’s poems reveal nothing about his family and relatives.

Notwithstanding frequent references to his lover and beloved, Hafiz’s poems do not indicate who they might have been. The characters of saqi, wine-seller, and pir-e Moghan are, likewise, only archetypal.


There are many poems in Hafez’s Divan on friends. They range from the early days, soon after Abu Eshaq {K203:7}, to the era of Shah Shoja` {K458:8} and Hafez’s last years, during the reign of Shah Mansur {K384:7}. Hafez puts great value on companionship of friends. “It is easy to let go of the desire for life/But hard to separate from friends who are dear as one’s soul {K384:2}.” “Appreciate the value of companionship/For once we pass beyond this station …we cannot meet again {K384:6}.” In another poem, he says: “Two agreeable companions and two gallons of old wine/Some leisure time, a book, and the corner of a green//I will not trade this position for this world and the next {K468: 1, 2}.” This sentiment is repeated in another way elsewhere: “A secure place, pure wine and a kind friend/If these are available all the time, what a success {K292:1}!” He calls friend “the elixir of happiness {K292:3}.”

Hafez’s friends are fellow-drinkers. “Last night, remembering the friends, I went to the ruins {K203:5}.” He calls them “happy drinkers {K99:2}.” He recalls that “With a cup of wine, I sat on the throne of fortune, as my friends had wished {K314:8}.”

“Companions,” Hafez calls out: “This is a pleasant night {K239:1}.” “This is the retreat of intimates, the gathering of friends {K239:2}.” “The rebec and the harp are saying in a loud voice/Listen carefully to the message of the people of mystery {K239:3}.” “Avoid the company of an incompatible person {K239:6}.” Hafez would, in another poem, call on them: “Companions, recall your friend of the night {K236:1},” “When you are drunk, with the sound and song of the harp {K236:2}.”

Nostalgically, he would ask: “That companion who drinks pure wine day and night/Does he ever think of a dreg-drinker {K458:7}?” He would complain “my friends have forgotten me {K99:4}.” “I don’t see any companionship; what happened to companions/When did friendship end; what happened to the friends {K164:1}?”  “None says that a friend had the right of friendship/What happened to grateful ones and what to companions {K164:3}?” He would express disappointment: “We expected friendship from our friends/Indeed, what we thought was wrong {K362.1}.”

Hafez describes the relationship with his friends: “Argument was not the way of the darvish/Otherwise, we had many quarrels with you {K362:3}.” “Many things happened but no one complained/We never failed in our respectfulness {K362:6}.” He summarizes the nature of his communications with his friends: “As a result of pure companionship/I had on my tongue whatever you had in your heart {K203:2}.”

These friends are not named. In Hafez’s poems, no interlocutor, other than the rulers and Viziers, is identified. Details about Hafez’s person, himself, are not found in his poems, either. There is no description of what he looked like, what he ate, and the place where he lived.

Old Age 

Several poems hint at what preoccupied Hafez in his old age. In a poem composed when he was in his 60s [1], Hafez says “I toiled and suffered forty year, and in the end/My fate was in the hand of a two-year-old wine {K 209:2}.” “I saw in a happy dream that I had a cup of wine in my hand {K209:1}.” “At dawn, the hangover of grief was about to destroy me/Fortunately, there was some wine in the bowl {K 209:4}.”

In another poem of the same time, Hafez expands on his musing about wine: “For more than forty years I have been bragging that/I am the least of all the servants of the Magian elder {K335:1}.”  “Blessed by the kindness of the wine-selling old man/My cup never became empty of pure and clean wine {K335:2}.” My place has been in the honor-seats of the wine-house {K335:3}.”  He regrets that he had hidden his drinking under the cloak of respectability: “Hafez, how long will you drink wine under your kherqeh (as cloak of respectability) /I will unveil your secret in the banquet of Khwajeh {K335:8}” – by whom he means Turanshah, the Vizier {K335:9}.

Hafez refers to the role of his cloak in another poem from the time of his “old age,” this time in hiding his love activity: “Did you see what my love-seeking eye did to me/In my old age after all that piety and learning {K392 :2}?” “I tried to cover the sign of love with my deceptive cloak (delq zarg)/My tear was a talebearer and disclosed my secret {K392 :3}.”

Hafez reproaches the ascetics for deception in another poem from old age: “O ascetic, how long shall you deceive me, like children, with the apple of the orchard and with honey and milk? {K324:7},” implying the fruits in Heaven. “Ascetic, since your prayers do not accomplish anything/My nightly intoxication and supplication are better, at least {K392:9}.”   He acknowledges another authority than the ascetics: “I am much obliged to the pir-e Moghan {K324:6}.”   He calls for wine: “Fill the cup, for though old/ I am young at heart by the bounty of love {K324:3}.”

In a ghazal from this time, Hafez summarizes his life: “For years, I followed the creed of rends {K312:1},” under the spiritual guide {K312:2}, ruined my body for the sake of love {K312:4}. I should not have repented from kissing the saqi’s lips, by listening to the ignorant people {K312:5}. “I did what God told me to do {K312:6}.” I expect to go to Heaven by the grace of God, although I drank wine a lot {K312:7}. No memorizer of the Koran (Hafez) could achieve the blessings I gained from the bounty of the Koran {K312:9}. “I occupy the honor-seat in the palace of ghazals {K312:10].” I expect the return of the beloved, “as a reward for patience in the hut of sorrows {K312:8}.”

“Hafez’s story causes blood to drip from the eye/When he recalls the days of his youth and old age,” he says {K183:7}. “The shepherd of the Canaan will attain his goal only when/He has served Jethro [2] with all his heart several years {K183:8}.” “That meddler criticizes me for being a rend and a lover/Who is the one objecting to the secrets of the knowledge of the Unseen {K183:1}.” “See the perfection of love’s mystery, not the defect of sin/For he who happens to be without merits sees the demerits {K183:2}.” “Saqi’s amorous glance so cut the path of Islam/That perhaps only Sahib (the model of an obedient Moslem) [3] can avoid the red wine {K183:4}.”

Feeling nostalgic, Hafez says that if his beloved comes through the door, “My past life will return to me at my old age {K232:1}.” He repeats this feeling about the power of love in another poem: “How can reason respect my old age now that/I have fallen in love with a child-idol again {K325:5}.” He is consumed by the sighs of a “forlorn person (gharib)” {K325:1, 6}. “With the memory of my friend and my country,” he cries bitterly {K325:2}. “Take me back to my friends,” he pleads {K325:3}. “Help me so that I can hoist my flag in the Tavern Street again {K325:4}.” “The air of my beloved’s home is the water of life for me/Zephyr, bring me a breeze from the land of Shiraz {K325:7}.”

In a poem from the time he was about 70 years old, from the time of Yahya Shah (K206: 8}, Hafez composes what he calls a “jumbled verse,” while “the bird of his thought had fallen in the net of longing {K206:7}.” He says “While drunk, I wanted to return to my youth’s sweetheart? But divorce had already been completed {K206:2}.” He calls on the saqi: “Keep filling the cup, for in traversing the (Gnostic) Path/whoever did not travel like a lover was a hypocrite {K206:3}.”

In yet another poem from these times, Hafez again emphasizes the importance of love: “Young love has fallen into my head in the old age/And the secret I was hiding in my heart has fallen out {K106:1}.” He is aware of his unusual situation: “Hafez whose hand used to hold the tress of the idols/ Is a unique suitor who has now fallen down on his head {K106:8}.” Nonetheless, he is still hopeful: “God willing, the old Hafez will sit again in this garden/By the edge of a stream and will embrace an elegant youth {K111:7}.”  “O heart, pray for the spring of life {K111:5}!” “O God, put into his heart that he may pass by (me) {K111:4}!”

In this poem, Hafez lists relevant life lessons that he has learned: “Plant the tree of friendship, as it bears the fruit of the heart’s desire/Pluck out the sapling of enmity, as it brings countless troubles {K111:1}!” “When you are a guest in the ruins, be respectful with the rends {K111:2}!” “Appreciate the night of companionship {K111:3}!”

In what sounds as if it is one of the poems composed at his oldest age, Hafez declares: “This old man, stricken in years, began his youth again {K86:2}.” He calls on the saqi: “Come, the beloved took the veil off his face,” and again lit Hafez’s lamp {K86:1}. “The burden of grief which weighed heavily on my heart/God sent someone with a Messianic breath and lifted it {K86:5}.”

Limited World

One poem may be understood to refer to Hafez’s very brief trip to Yazd. “My heart grew sick with the horror of Alexander’s prison/I will pack up and go to Solomon’s kingdom {K351:4}.” Alexander’s prison was in Yazd and Solomon’s kingdom was a common reference to the Fars province {R:489}. In another poem, Hafez asks “Why should I not be heading toward my homeland {K330:1}.” “Since I cannot endure the grief of living in a foreign land/I shall go to my own city and be my own prince {K330:2}.” In still another verse, he says “the day of sorrow and grief is over {K143:1},” as “I am going to Shiraz with the favor of a friend {K143: 3}.” The “friend” may be a reference to Shah Mansur, whom Hafez mentions at the last line of the ghazal: “Hafez raised Mansur’s banner to the sky {K143:7}.” This would then date Hafez’s sojourn in Yazd to no earlier than 789/1387, when Hafez was about 70 and three years before his death.

Hafez probably never left Shiraz at any other time [4]. All references to other towns and areas in Hafez’s poems are to destinations he never personally visited. Hafez’s experienced geographic environment was limited to Shiraz. He praised Shiraz’s “peerless position {K274:1}” and its “accomplished people {K274:4}, calling it “the quarry of ruby lips and the mine of beauty {K329:4}.” His poems only depict a few sites in Shiraz: “The Garden of Aram, the bank of Roknabad and the pleasure-walk of Mosalla {K3: 2}” He praises the immortal life-granting “pure water” of Roknabad {K274:2} – a river originating from the nearby mountains-, “the pleasant air of the Garden of Aram {K81:5}, and the “perfumed north wind” that blows into Mosalla from the nearby village of Ja`farabad {K274:3}.

The gentle breeze Saba is the favorite natural element in Hafez’s poems [5].  It is the spring breeze {R:186,545}. Spring is the favorite season in Hafez’s poems. “The glad tidings arrived that spring has come {K224:1}.” “The spring cloud came, and the Nowruz wind blew {K225:1}.”  The cloud of the winter month of Bahman, however, is noted for its rain {K470:1}. Hafez calls that month and another winter month, Day, as “thieves” that steal the “color and scent” of the spring season {K422: 2}.

Hafez’s poems thus focus on a narrow range of nature. The poet was also mostly confined to gardens. Flowers and trees are frequent in Hafez’s poems; his favorites among them are repeatedly mentioned. Hafez seldom ventures out.  The streets and buildings, let alone fields and mountains, are ignored. No details are drawn about the frequently mentioned sites, the ruins and the wine-houses. They are only abstract forms.

Nights are mentioned often in Hafez’s poems, but many more times he explicitly refers to dawn or early morning. That was evidently the most productive time for the poet [6].

XIII. Introspection

          Hafez’s poems do not tell stories. In this, he was unlike his worthy peers in the pantheon of Persian poetry: Rumi, who told stories based on books such as Kelileh va Demneh, and Sa`di, who originated his own stories {Fo:11}. Even the occasional descriptive lines in Hafez’s poems are brief introductions only to set the stage for a narrative which is largely the introspection of the poet: Hafez wants to tell his views about the abstract issues which preoccupied the thinking men of his age.

In a poem early in his life, qasideh in praise of Shah Shaikh Abu Eshaq {S:597-602}, Hafez describes the scene for his inspired musing: It is dawn, “the tender scent of life is in the air {Line 1},”  “the meadow is tented under the fragrance of rose {Line 2},” “the harp’s melody calls for the morning wine {Line 3},” “the lamp of dawn lights up the wine cup that was black by the pain of the night {Line 4},” “the King of the sky conquers the world {Line 5},” “the banquet of meadow is beautiful with tulips and jonquil and Judas-tree {Line 7},” “the zephyr, like a shahed (beauty)-loving rend kisses the rose’s lips now, and grasps the wild basil’s tress next {Line 10},” “ from the union of matter and diverse forms, intellect finds in every fresh rose the images of a hundred idols {Line 11}.”

Aroused by this scene, Hafez wonders: “Whose blessed breath is this which envelopes this black earth in the morning {Line 12}?” “What is this ecstasy that the rose shows at dawn? / What is this fire that catches the morning bird {Line 13}?” “What is this radiance that the lamp of the morning diffuses? /What is this flame that catches on the candle of the sky {Line 14}?”

“I will not disclose to anyone what is in my heart,” Hafez says {Line16}. In another poem, he tells himself, “I do not know who is within me, the heart-sore/For while I am silent, he roars and clamors {K26:3}.” In yet another poem, he repeats: “A confident to my frenzied heart’s secret/I see none among the common or the noble {K8:5}.

His meditations lead Hafez to develop a detailed cosmic perspective. This is expressed in many poems. Organizing the dispersed fragments in a coherent whole is possible by purposefully arranging those poems. Verbatim, they convey Hafez’s intent, with little need for interpretive analysis.



Hafez finds himself very unhappy even in the wine-house {K209:5}. Sorrow kills his appetite to speak {K406:7}. Reflecting on his life, he says it has been wasted in futility and unworthy desires {K446:1}. He has endured much pain and cruelty {K178:6}. He does not “see any boundary to the world’s suffering {K350:1}.” He cries: “What grief loneliness is {K484:1]!’’

Hafez saw the world –which he variously calls by different names: donya, zamaneh, dahr, falak- as a “ruined house {K 337: 7},” full of “deception {K288:6},” and “unfaithful {K238:10; 97:7}, one which “fulfills the wishes of ignorant people” while holding him “guilty for choosing knowledge {K263:7}.” He saw no “good in these circumstances {K287:3}.”


Hafez laments that “It did not become clear why I came and where I was/Alas! Alas! I am ignorant about my purpose {K334:3}.”  He says, “Our existence is a puzzle/Answering which is making a legend or a myth {K418:9}.” “No one knows the secrets of the Unseen (gheyb), do not spin a yarn {K114:8}!”  He repeats: “Divine mysteries are not known to anyone, be silent {K164:9}!” Do not try to understand what God does as reason and learning do not help {K181:6}.

He says: “No one became privy to secrets/Everyone has a conjecture according to his understanding {K121:7}.” “No one has shown me a sign of Truth/ Either I have none or its sign is no-sign {K418:9}.” “Do not say that Hafez understands subtleties/For I found out that he was terribly ignorant {K211:8}.” Even “the sky (falak) does not know the secrets behind the curtain {K66:6}.”


Hafez says that if he is not happy, it is his “allotted provision” from God’s offerings {K209: 5}. “I did what God (Sultan of Azal /pre-Eternity) told me to do {K312:6}.” Like a parrot, “I say what God (Master of Azal) told me to say {K373:2}.” “If I am a thorn or a rose/ I come out as His hand draws me {K373:3}.” “Do not blame me for self-growing/I grow the way I am nurtured {K372:4}.”

“Destiny (qesmat/ kismet) sends me to the wine-house/No matter what road I take in my life {K314:5}.” I am the Sufi of the monastery of the heavenly world/But at present, I am consigned to this Magians’ house {K353:5}.” “Do not censure drainers of dregs/The commander of destiny (qadar) does this. What can I do (337:3}?”

“I have in mind not to drink wine and not to commit sin/If destiny goes along with my decision {K251:10},” Hafez says. “Do not censure me for my rendi and ill-repute/For this was my fate from the tribunal of destiny {K306:4}.” “I was not given any work but rendi on the Primordial Day (Ruz-e Azal){K161:3}.”  “I, too, know the way of piety/But what can I do with a fortune which has gone astray {K410:2}?”

“Drink wine, for being in love is not acquired or intentional/This blessing has come tome as an inheritance of my nature {K306:5}.” “Your lot with the lovely ones is no more than this/If you are not content, change the command of destiny {K377:7}.” Even heavens (falak) were ensnared by destiny: “I asked the ball in the sky (falak) in what state it was/It answered: ‘so much I suffer in that polo-stick’s crook that don’t ask {K266:8}.”


Destiny is God’s will. “What You think is kindness, what You say is an order/I am the point of surrender in the circle of destiny (qesmat) {K484:9}.” “I did what the Pre-eternity (Azal) King told me to do {K312:6}.” Like a parrot, “I say what the Primordial Master told me to say {K373:2}.”  “Both worlds are one radiance of His face {K355:4}.”

“That Lover (shahed) who is everywhere {K484:6};” “God is witness, wherever He is I am with Him {K372:5}.” “Your love came as the sapling of amazement/Your union as the perfection of amazement {K168:1}.” “From every direction that I listened/Came the question of amazement from Him {K168:5}.”

“The Divine attributes are beyond realization {K452:9}.”  “He showed His face to no one {K484:6}.”  “Since the Beloved does not remove the veil from His face/ Why does everyone make up a story from imagination {K191:3}?”  Do not try to understand what God does as “reason and learning” do not help {K181:6}.


“If the spiritual master (pir) of seeking love directs you to wine/Drink and hope for God’s mercy (rahmat) {K269:3}.”   “Give wine! For though my record of deeds became black/How can one despair of the grace of the Eternal? {K453:4}.” Bring me wine because the bounty of His mercy covers all {K397:4}.  “On the Day of Judgment, I can ignore a hundred black records through the bounty of His grace {K343:6}.” “Pick up the glass …, I am your warrant/ A miser cannot smell the scent of (the forgiving) God {K422:9}.”


“Do not look at me, a drunkard, with contempt/For neither sin nor virtue is without His will {K397:6}.” “I do not complain of the bad-tempered ascetic/For, as it happens, after a morning dawns a night follows it {K458:5}.” “Our pir said ‘the pen that designed creation committed no mistakes’/Praise on his pure, error-covering appraisal!”  {K101:3}.” “Who dares to find fault with Your purity/For, You are as pure as the dew that appears on a rose-petal {K452:4}.”


“If the wheel did not turn as we wished for a couple of days/This turning does not always remain the same, grieve not {K250:3}!” “The lost Joseph will return to Canaan, grieve not! /The hut of sorrows will become a rose garden, grieve not {K250:1}!”  “The sweetheart who frustrated my soul and heart/I should not despair of him. Perhaps he will console me {K186:3}.” “Hafez, why do you complain of the pain of separation? /There is union in separation, and light in darkness {K249:7}.”

“Glad tidings came that the days of sorrow will not remain/They did not remain like that, and like this they will not remain either {K176:1}.” “Why thank or complain about the pattern of good or bad/For on the page of existence, no pattern will remain {K176:4}.” Respectability, protection, kingdom, treasures, love affair, cruelty and unkindness, will not remain either {K176:2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9}. “In short, do not trust in the stability of the world/For this is a workshop where they do make changes {K195:8}.”

The “changes” Hafez talks about in his poems are between opposites. He does not explicitly say that the process of change necessarily evolves them into a new, third, element or situation. In this dialectic of thesis and antithesis there is no mention of a synthesis.


“Leave arrogance and pride behind, for the world has seen/The pleat of Caesar’s toga and the design of Kay’s crown {K421:2}.” “Sober up! For the bird of the meadow became drunk/Wake up! For the sleep of non-being is at your heels {K421:3}.” “So delicately you flaunt, O branch of fresh spring! /May you be saved from the turmoil of December’s wind {K421:4}.” “The kindness and coquetry of the world cannot be trusted/Woe to the one who felt safe from its deception {K421:5}.” “Do not be deluded by the glory and pomp of the rose/For the wind’s sweeper scatters every petal of it under the foot {K421:8}.”


“If the humans’ errors and sins were unforgivable, then/What is the meaning of God’s kindness and mercy {K66:7}?” “Put your affairs in the hands of God and be happy/For if the enemy (modda`i) does not show mercy, God does {K182:5}.” “The polo-ball of success and honor (keramat) is cast into the field/ None enters the arena. What happened to the horsemen {K164: 6}?”


Hafez says man’s goal in life is to be in love: “Become a lover, or else one day the affairs of the world ends/Before you achieve the intended goal in the workshop of existence {K426: 5}.” He extends that thought to fairies: “Humans and fairies are dependent on the existence of love {K443: 1}.” That “love” is loving God, and Hafez makes a promise: “The Primordial King gave me the treasure of love’s grief {K364: 3},” “From now on, I will not let the idols’ love enter my heart/I have put the seal of His lips on the door of this house {K364: 4}.”

“We have come to this world,” Hafez says, “heading for the house of love; we have come all the way/From the border of non-existence to the region of existence {K359: 1, 2}.”  Referring to love as entrusted by God to him, Hafez says “If I can safely carry what is entrusted to me, there is no fear/It is easy to be a lover if the loss of faith does not come next {K475: 6}.”  He thus implies that the covenant to keep love safe from impure desires is his religion [1]. “Love appeared on the First Day (Azal),” as “the light of Your beauty manifested itself {K148:1}.”  “Reason wanted to kindle its lamp” from the flame of “Your face,” but the “lightening of love’s jealousy (qheyrat) [2] flashed and threw the world into chaos {K148:3}.”


Until you become Gnostic of love you will not learn the secret {K281:6}. “The sign of the people of God is being a lover/For I do not see this sign in the Shaikhs of the city {K350:5}.”   “O unaware one, strive to be aware” as a “path-finder” … “in the school of truths, before the master of love,” … “so that you may find the alchemy of love {K4784:1,2,3}.” “If the light of love and Truth enters your heart and soul {K478:5}’’ “…for a moment, be immersed in God’s ocean {K478:6}.”  “You shall be the light of God from head to foot/If on the way of the Lord of Glory you lose head and foot{K478:7}.”

When reason finds it hard to explain, “love does it {K203:3}.”   “The rational people are at the center of the compass of being/Yet love knows that they are wanderers in the circle {K188:2}.” Love cannot be by words {K90:5}. The discourse of love which goes on in the wine bar is “beyond the scope of school and debates {K208:1,3}. The most educated man does not know the issues of love {K301:4}.


Hafez sees love as full of danger: “The ups and downs of the desert of love is a net of disaster/Where is a lion-hearted man who would not evade disaster {K151: 6}?” The danger continues even after death: “In the path of love, there are a hundred perils after death (fana)/Therefore, do not say, ‘when my life ends, I will be free {K307: 5}.’”

“The travelers of the Gnostic Path/Way (Tariqat) walk a perilous road/Why should a lover worry about the ups and downs {K253: 2}.” “If the particle did not have a great aspiration/It would not be desirous of the fountain of the shinning sun {K220: 8}.” “Give up laziness and prosper, for there is a famous proverb/’The provision of wayfarers is quickness and nimbleness {K452: 7}.’” “The position of pleasure cannot be gained without pain/The ‘yes’ of the Primordial Covenant was yes to suffering {K20: 5}.” “Life passed in futility and whimsicality {K446: 1};” yet, Hafez seems to tell himself, still strive: “Open your wings and sing from the Tuba tree /It is a pity that a bird like you should be captive in a cage {K446: 4}.”

“The threshold of love is lofty. Aim high, Hafez/For lovers do not associate with those who aim low {K196:9}.” “If you desire ruby wine from that gem-studded cup/You must pierce pearls and rubies with our eyelashes {K81:3}.” “If you bear the pain of storm like Noah/The disaster will vanish and a thousand-year-old wish will come true {K230:5}.”

“In Gnostic-seeking (Tariqat), reliance on piety and erudition is infidelity/The Path-farer must trust in God even if he has a hundred kinds of skill {K271:5}.” “One cannot obtain the jewel of desire by one’s own effort/It is an illusion to think this work can be done without help {K230:6}.” “In this difficult snare, unless God’s grace helps, /Adam cannot prevail over the driven Satan  {K360:10}.” “That is wealth which can be gained without heartache/With struggle and strive even the paradise is not important {K75:4}.” But “Although His union is not obtained by striving/O heart, strive as much as you can {K279:5}!”

Guiding Rules


The lover “must endure” the pain of separation if he desires the company of the beloved {K271:1}. “The dainty nurtured in affluence cannot attain the friend/To be a lover is the way of calamity-enduring rends {K155:4}.” “My advisor asked: ‘What merit except grief has love?’/I said, ‘O wise man, go away! What merit better than this? {K396:5}.” “O heart accept sorrow happily! For owners of the secret have their joy in the crucible of separation {K192:9}.”

“We were content with a fancy of You/O Lord, how low our goal was and how strange our nature {K364:8}.”  “You are the obstacle on the road, Hafez, get out of the way! /Blessed is the one who walks this road unobstructed {K216:9}.” “In a place where they drink to the memory of His lips/Mean is that drunkard who is conscious of his own self {K275:6}.” “Cast a shade on my sore heart, O desired treasure. /For I ruined this house for the sake of Your love {K312:4}.”

“Now that you set fire to your seeker’s cloak (kherqeh), O Gnostic seeker/Make an effort to be the chief of the rends in the world {K267:3}.” “You who do not go out of this physical world (the house of nature)/How can you find your way to the quarters of the Gnostic Way {K137:7}?” “Those who have attained their goal are on the gallows, like Mansur (the iconic Gnostic)/When they call Hafez to this door, they drive him away {K189:6}.”


“Hafez, if there is no way to the palace of union, /I will be content with the dust of the threshold of His door {K365:8}.” “The dust of the road of quest is the elixir of prosperity/I will slave for the riches of that ambergris-scented dust {K372:6}.” “Resign to the will of God and do not run from destiny {K260:7}.”


“Endeavor for patience, my heart. For God will not allow/Such a precious signet fall into the hand of a devil {K468:8}.” “Be firm of step like a rock. Don’t be a cloud:/All coloration and wet of skirt {K469:4}.” “On the way to Layla’s (lover’s) home, which is full of perils/You cannot take the first step unless you are Majnun (insanely in love) {K469:4}.”


“He who neither planted love nor picked a rose from beauty/Was the guard of a tulip in the passage of the wind {K209:6}” – that is, he was engaged in the futile task of trying to keep the tulip’s fragile leaves from falling. “Whosoever is not alive by love in this circle/By my decree, say his prayer for the dead before he is dead {K239:7}.”


“The mystery of destiny which is hidden in the tent of the Unseen/Let us pull the veil off its face drunkenly {K368:3}. “Let me show you the secret of the world in the clear wine {K273:6}.” “I am never conscious of my own head/Until I raise it in the middle of a tavern {K345:4}.” Stop sitting in the school, “rise, let us seek enlightenment at the wine-house {K361:9}!” “Except the Plato who dwells in the vat of wine/Who shall explain the secret of wisdom to me {K256:5}?”


“Where the throne and seat of Jamshid go with the wind/It is not good to suffer. It is better to drink wine {K365:3}.” “I said: ‘Wine casts my name and fame to the wind/He said: ‘Accept the word and let be whatever be’// Since gain, loss, and capital will pass away/Neither rejoice nor grieve for this transaction {K96:2, 3}.” “As long as the world is in such chaotic conditions/Fancy for the saqi in the head and wine in the hand are better {K457:5}.”

“At the end of life, take a pledge from wine and the beloved/It is a pity to spend your whole life in idleness {K217:3}.”  “In the end, our residence is the valley of silence/For now, cast a tumult in the dome of the skies {K258::2}.” “Let us have joy, or else we will be dragged with grief on/The day we take this chattel of the soul to the next world {K368:5}.”  “I kiss his lips and drink wine/I have found my way to the water of life {K423:1}.” “The abstemious and the drunkard will be judged at the end/No one knows how the end will be {K217:5}.”


Hafez says: “Appreciate the value of time as much as you can/The fruit of life is this moment, my dear, if you know it {K464:1}.” “Appreciate the value of companionship/For once we pass beyond this station at the junction of two roads, we cannot meet again {K384:6}.” “Two elegant companions and two gallons of old wine/Some leisure time, a book, and the corner of a meadow//I will not trade this position for this world and the next {K468:1, 2}.” “For God’s sake, spend the little you have, like a rose, for enjoyment/For Koarh’s passion of gold-gathering caused him many troubles {K445:2}.” “To save for one’s heirs is blasphemy as the minstrel and the saqi say/And the tambourine and the reed-pipe decree {K422:4}.”


Hafez says: “Save a supply of the color and scent of the spring season/For the brigands of December and January will arrive soon {K422:2}.” “Grasp the moment of joy and know that/There is not a pearl in the shell all the time//Seize the opportunity and drink wine in the rose-garden/For rose will not last till the next week {K158:2, 3}.”

“Open your eyes, like a bubble, to the face of the goblet/And compare the foundation of this house to a bubble {K387:7}.” “Hafez, since the fasting is gone, and the rose is going too/Make sure to drink wine before the chance is lost {K241:9}.” “O saqi, either do not postpone today’s joy until tomorrow/Or bring me a written guarantee from the court of destiny {K243:6}.” In a satirical poem, Hafez says time is of the essence: “If I left the mosque to go to the ruins (for wine), do not carp/The preaching was too long, and time was passing {K160:4}.”


Hafez says: “I see the light of God in the Magians’ ruins {K349:1}.” “That day the door of meaning opened to my heart that/I became one of the dwellers of the house of the pir-e Moghan{K314:7}.” “My head rests at the door of the wine-house/Whose roof reaches the sky {K479:7}.” “Do not travel this road without the accompaniment of the (Gnostic Guide) Khezr/It is pitch dark, fear the danger of going astray {K479:6}.” “O guide of the lost heart help me for God’s sake/For, if a stranger is not guided, he will not find his way {K217:4}.”  “I did not find my way by myself,” I traversed this road “with the help of Soloman’s bird (the Guide) {K312:2}.” “If you want to find, like Jamshid, the secret of the Unseen/Come and be the companion of the pir (world-viewing cup) {K269:4}.” “Show me the way to the wine-house /So that I ask a foreseer about my fortune {K474:10}.”


Thus, Hafez uses his detailed cosmic perspective as the source for guidance in his conduct. The strong ethical principles which Hafez pronounces are also firmly rooted in his philosophy [3].


Hafez says: “If I drink wine or not, why should I worry about others/I am the keeper (hafez) of my own secrets and the Gnostic (`Aref) of my time {K333:7}.” “Do whatever you want, only do not hurt others/For there is no sin other than this in our religion {K76:6}.” “I am very grateful to my arm/For I do not have the power to hurt people {K318:5}.”

“It is I who am well-known in the city as a lover/It is I who have not contaminated my sight with seeing bad {K385:1}.” “It is bad to blame the rich or poor for having much or little/It is best not to do any evil at all {K371:3}.”

“Tell the one who fell and whose hand God took (to get up)/ ‘Now it is your duty to care for the ones who have fallen’ {K442:3}.” “O saqi, throw me in the vessel of wine/For it is said ‘You do good and throw it in the water’ {K257:2}.” [4]. “If the King does not drink the rends’ wine with respect, /We will not favor him with drinking his pure and clear wine {K371:5}.” “Have wine, not grief. Do not listen to the imitator’s advice/What value do the words of the common people have {K383:4}?”

“Hafez, if the enemy spoke wrongly, do not accuse him/And if he spoke rightly, we do not dispute the truth {K371:7}.” “We neither write any falsehood in our book of knowledge/Nor attach the divine mystery to the page of sleight-of-hand {K371:2}.”


Hafez says: “In the world of rendi, there is neither thought of self nor opinion of self/It is a blasphemy to be selfish and opinionated in this creed {K484:10}.” “For years I followed the creed of rends/Until I incarcerated my greed by the verdict of reason {K312:1}.” “Why do you drive a broken-hearted one like me from before yourself/ All I expect from you is either a kiss or an embrace {K435:4}.”

“O heart, let me guide you to the road of salvation/Neither be proud of your vice nor show off your virtue {K278:6}.” “Like a cup, have smiling lips while your heart is bleeding/Do not roar, like the harp, as soon as you are touched {K281:5}.”

“Neither Khezr’s life nor Alexander’s kingdom is forever/Darvish, do not fight over this mean world {K285:5}.” “What is the way of fulfilling desires? Renouncing one’s own desires/The crown of honor is that which you make from such renunciation {K445:5}.”


“Hafez, do not complain of the hardship of life/How do you, O God’s slave, know the work of God {K483:11}?” “The King worries about his army, his crown and his treasury/the dervish rests peacefully in his corner of qalandari {K442:6}.” “Your sweet friend departed. Now stay alone, O candle/This is the will of the heaven, whether you burn or endure {K445:7}.” “Hafez, since the joy and sorrow of the world are transient/It is better that I keep my spirits high {K321:7}.” “I give you two counsels. Hear and win a hundred treasures:/Enter by the door of joy and quit the way of fault-finding {K476:7}.”


“Hafez, it is not fair to complain of your predestined lot/A talent like water and fluent ghazals are enough for me {K262:8}.”  “Hafez, your verse gave me a drink from the water of life {K375:8}.”  “The water of Khezr veiled itself because/ It was ashamed of Hafez’s talent and this verse, fluent like water {K299:8}.”  “Hafez put the story of his ruby lips into writing/Hence, the water of life still flows from my pen {K259:9}.”  “Hafez, write! For this impression of your pen will remain/On the pages of the world as the legacy (yadgar) of life {K248:9}.”

Thus indeed, a sensitive man, living in virtual social isolation, with the luxury of time and patronage, Hafez gave us the product of a keen mind in an unsurpassed magnetic lucidity of a small number of poems.



Abbreviations for frequently cited sources

To keep notes to a minimum, most of the references in the book are given in curved brackets in the body of the text. The following two- or three-letter codes indicate the source, followed by a colon and the page number(s). Additional listing of the sources used, bibliographic annotations, occur throughout the narrative of the text and notes (which are indicated in brackets in the text).

An               Leili Anvar, “The Radiance of Epiphany: The Vision of Beauty and Love in Hafiz’s Poem of Pre-Eternity,Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London: 2010).

Av1             Peter Avery, “Hafiz of Shiraz,” Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London: 2010).

Av2             Peter Avery, The Collected Lyrics of Hafiz of Shiraz (2007)

AA              E. Abrahamian, B. Alavi, “ARĀNĪ, TAQĪ ii. Political thoughts and activities,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at < >(accessed on February 25, 2019).

B                           Edward Granville Browne. A Literary History of Persia, 4 vols. Vol IV (1500-1924) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928).

Be                          Gertrude Lowthian Bell, The Hafez Poems of Gertrude Bell (Bethesda, Md., 1995)

Br                J. T. P. de Bruijn, “iii. HAFEZ’S POETIC ART,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

Br2              J. T. P. de Bruijn, “ḠAZAL i. HISTORY,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, X/4, pp. 354-358, available online at (accessed on 3 March 2019).

D                 Hamid Dabashi, “In Hameh Naqhsh dar Aieneh-ye Oham: Ta`biri bar Ta`birat-e Hafez (Hafez: Interpreting the Interpretations),” Iran Nameh, 6 (1988).

Dd                         Dick Davis, Faces of Love; Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz (New York: 2012).

EB               The Editors, “Pahlavi language,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, available online at (accessed on February 25, 2019).

EIr               Multiple Authors, “BELTS,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, IV/2, pp. 130-136, available online at (accessed on February 25, 2019).

Es                Mohammad Ali Eslami Nodushan, Shiveh-ye Sha`ery-e Hafez (Hafez’s Poetic Method),” Iran Nameh, 6 (1988)

Fo                          Mohammad `Ali Foroughi, Kolliyat-e Sa`di (The Sa`di Collection) (Tehran: Amir Kabir Publications, 1363 Sh /1984).

Gh               Qasem Ghani, Bahs dar Asar- o Afkar-o Ahva-e Hafez (Discussing the Works and Thoughts and Life of Hafez), 2 vols. (Tehran, 1321-22 Sh/1942-43).

GQ              Divan-e Khwajeh Shams al-Din Moḥammad Ḥafez-e Shirazi (The Divan of Khawjeh Shams al-Din Moḥammad Ḥafez-e Shirazi) , ed. Mohammad Qazvini and Qasem Ghani (Tehran, 1320 Sh/1941).

Ig                 Husayn Iliahi-Gomshei, “The Principles of the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry,” Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London: 2010).

K                 Divan-e Hafez (The Divan of Hafez), 2 vols. ed. Parviz Natel Khanlari (Tehran: 1375 /1996).

K1:              K followed by a number indicates the Hafez ghazal by the number(s) given it in K. The number following “:” is the line in that ghazal.

Kq1: Kq followed by a number indicates the Hafez qat`eh (fragment) by the number given it in K.  The number following “:” is the line in that qat`eh.

Ka1              The Editors, “Hafez Cheh Migooyad (What Does Hafez Say),” site ahmad Kasravi (Ahmad Kasravi’s Cite), online edition, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

KEIr1                    Bahaʾ-al-Din Khorramshahi and EIr, “HAFEZ ii. HAFEZ’S LIFE AND TIMES,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

KELr2                   Bahaʾ-al-Din Khorramshahi and EIr, “HAFEZ  vi. PRINTED EDITIONS OF THE DIVĀN OF HAFEZ,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <>(accessed on February 25, 2019).

Kh1                       Baha’ddin Khorramshahi, Zehn-o Zaban-e Hafez (Hafez’s Thoughts and Language) (Tehran 1384/2005).

Kh2                       Baha’ddin Khorramshahi, “Osloob-e Honari-ye Hafez va Qora^n (Artistic Style of Hafez and Koran),” Nashr Danesh, Second Year, No. 4

Kh3                       Baha’ al-Din Khorramshahi, “Mayl-e Hafez beh Gonah (Hafez’s Attraction to Sin),” Iran Nameh , 6 (1988).

L1                          Franklin Lewis, “HAFEZ ix. HAFEZ AND MUSIC,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <> (accessed on February 25, 2019).

L2                          Franklin Lewis, HAFEZ viii. HAFEZ AND RENDI,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at < > (accessed on February 25, 2019).

L3                          Franklin Lewis, “The Semiotic Horizons of Dawn in the Poetry of Hafiz,” Leonard Lewisohn, Ed. Hafiz and the Religion of Love

Le1                        Leonard Lewisohn, “Socio-Historical and Literary Context: Hafiz in Shiraz,” Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London: 2010).

Le2                        Leonard Lewisohn, “The Mystical Milieu: Hafiz’s Erotic Spirituality, Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London: 2010).

Li1                         John Limbert, Shiraz in the Age of Hafez (Seattle: 2004).

Li2                         John Limbert, “INJU DYNASTY,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <>(accessed on February 25, 2019).

Lo                          Paul E. Losensky, “HEDĀYAT, REŻĀQOLI KHAN,”Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at < (accessed on February 25, 2019).

Lo2                        Paul E. Losensky, “SĀQI-NĀMA,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at < (accessed on February 25, 2019).

Lol                         Parvin Loloi, “HAFEZ X. TRANSLATIONS OF HAFEZ IN ENGLISH,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <>(accessed on February 25, 2019).        

M                           Jalal Matini, “Divan-e Hafez: Miras-e Farhangi-ye Ma (Hafez’s Divan: Our Cultural Legacy,” Iran Nameh , 6 (1988).

Me                         Julie Scott Meisami, “HAFEZ V. MANUSCRIPTS OF HAFEZ,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

Mik                        David Mikics, The Annotated Emerson (Cambridge: 2012).

Mo1                       Morteza Motahari, `Elal-e Gerayesh be-Maddigari, be- zamimeh Materialism dar Iran (The Reasons for Attraction to Materialism, Annex to Materialism in Iran) (Qum, 1357/1978)

Mo2                       Morteza Motahari, Tamashagah-e raz (The Lookout for Secret) (Tehran 1368/1989).

O1                         Mahmoud Omidsalar, “DIVINATION,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at  <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

O2                         Mahmoud Omidsalar, “QAZVINI, MOḤAMMAD,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at  < > (accessed on February 25, 2019).

R                            Khalil Khatib Rahbar, Divan-e Ghazaliyat-e Hafez (Divan Ghazals of Hafez) (Tehran: Safialishah Publications, 1381 Sh/2002).

Ri                           Lloyd Ridgeon, “KASRAVI, AḤMAD vi. On Mysticism and Persian Sufi Poetry,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

S                            Reza Saberi, The Divan of Hafez (University Press of America, 2002).

Sgh                        Ali-Asghar Seyed-Ghorab . “The Erotic Spirit: Love, Man and Satan in Hafiz’s Poetry,”  Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London: 2010).

So                          Priscilla Soucek , “HAFEZ xii. HAFEZ AND THE VISUAL ARTS ,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <>(accessed on February 25, 2019).

Sh                          Ahmad Shamlou, Hafez-e Shiraz (Hafez of Shiraz), 3 editions (Tehran: 1354 Sh/1975, 1360/1981) .

Su                          Werner Sundermann, “MANI,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2009, available at (accessed on February 25, 2019).

T1                   Ehsan Tabari, Barkhi Barresiha dar bareh Jahanbiniha va Jonbeshha-ye  Ejtema`I  dar Iran (Some Reviews of the Worldviews and Social Movements in Iran) (Tehran: Alfa Publication, 1358 Sh/1979)

T2                          Ehsan Tabari, Khanevadeh Boroumand (The Boroumand Family) (Tehran: Alfa Publications, 1358 Sh/1979)

Ta                          Hamid Tafazoli, “HAFEZ xi. TRANSLATIONS OF HAFEZ IN GERMAN,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <>(accessed on February 25, 2019).

W                          G. Michael Wickens, “BROWNE, EDWARD GRANVILLE i. Browne’s Life and Academic Career,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at  <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

Wi                             Patrick Wing, “MOZAFFARIDS,”

Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2014, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

Y                               Ehsan Yarshater, “HAFEZ i. AN OVERVIEW,”Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).



Chapter I

1.  “One of the earliest references to the use of Ḥāfeẓ in bibliomancy occurs in Abū Bakr Ṭehrānī’s Ketāb-e Dīārbakrīya, written 1469 … where the epithet Lesān-e ḡayb (“the Tongue of the Unseen”) is used about him….In his account of Ḥāfeẓ, Edward G. Browne gives a succinct description of different methods of bibliomancy used in the case of the Dīvān, including the use of numerical tables, and provides examples of historically famous instances of auguries drawn from the Dīvān (Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia III, pp. 311-19).” {Īraj Afšār, “FĀL-NĀMA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, IX/2, pp. 172-176, available online at (accessed on March 1, 2019).

The use of Divan for divination (fal-e Hafez) may be done for one or more persons. “In group bibliomancy, the dīvān will be opened at random, and beginning with the ode of the page that one chances upon, each ode will be read in the name of one of the individuals in the group. The ode is the individual’s fāl. Assigning of the odes to individuals depends on the order in which the individuals are seated and is never random. One or three verses from the ode following each person’s fāl is called the šāhed, which is read after the recitation of the fāl. According to another tradition the šāhed is the first or the seventh verse {O1}.”

2. The translation into English of all the poems cited here is based on Reza Saberi’s The Divan of Hafez {K} modified as deemed fit by this author.

3.  Kuros Kamali Sarvestani, “HAFEZ xiv. HAFEZ’S TOMB (ḤĀFEẒIYA),” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <>(accessed on February 25, 2019).

4. Nine such manuscripts dated between 813/1410 and 827/ 1423 have been discovered {So}.

5. The Editors, “Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding Hafez,” FAS Wiki Service, online edition, 2009, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

6.  Jami’s Nafahat al-ons, cited in Hamid Algar, “JĀMI ii. And Sufism,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <<; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

7. `Abu al-Hasan `Abd al-Rahman “Khatmi” Lahuri, Sharh-e `Erfani Ghazalha-ye Hafez (The Gonstic Meaning of Hafez’s Ghazals), ed. Bahaʾ-al-Din Khorramshahi, Kurush Mansur, and Husayn Amin, 4 vols. (Tehran: Nashr Qatreh, 1378).

8. These included `Urfi of Shiraz (d. 1590) and Sa’ib of Isfahan (d. 1670) who was a great admirer of Hafez {B}.

9. “Rida-quli Khan Hedayat, Majm` al-Fosaha (The Concourse of the Eloquent). Lithographed in 2 vols. : Tehran, 1295/1878,” as cited in {B}.

Chapter II

  1. Peter Avery, “Introduction,” Selected Lyrics of Hafiz (2003).
  2. Dawlatshah Samarqandi: Tazkerat al-Shoʿara (Dawlatshah Samarqandi: The Memorials of Poets), ed. Fatemeh Alagheh (Tehran 2007).
  3. “ḎABĪH-ALLĀH ṢAFĀ, “DAWLATŠĀH SAMARQANDĪ,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at < > (accessed on February 25, 2019). A number of anthologies were produced at the court of Faridun ibn Hosayn Mirza Bayqara before 1501 {Me}.
  4. Mohammad Khwandamir, Habib al-Siyar (The Friend of Biographies), 4 vols. ed. Moḥammad Dabirsiaqi (Tehran, 1954).
  5. It is so called because it was published by ʿAbd al-Raḥim Kalkhali, in Tehran in1927 { KELr2}.
  6. See, e.g., the several entries under Hafez, beginning with “Hafez-i,” in Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019). They refer to Parviz Natel Khanlari’s Divan Hafez as: Divān-e Ḥāfeẓ, 2 vols, 2nd ed. Parviz Nātel Ḵānlari, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.
  7. Ahmad Shamlou, Hafeẓ-e Shiraz, be Ravayat-e Ahmad Shamlou (Hafez of Shiraz, as Related by Ahmad Shamlou)  (Tehran 1354/1975, and 1360/1981)
  8. Hushang Ebtehaj, Hafez be-Sa`y-e Sayeh (Hafez Prepared by Sayeh) (Tehran, 1372/1993).
  9. Also see moghanni-nameh {S:618-619}.
  10. The defining formal and thematic features of the saqi- nameh first began to take shape in the works of Nezami Ganjavi (d. 1209). “The closing section of the introduction of his Leyli o Majnun is punctuated every seven to ten verses by invocations of the sāqi and short descriptions of wine. Neẓāmi marks the transitions between major episodes by short passages of eight to ten verses beginning with the formula beyā sāqi (Come, sāqi), {Lo2}.”
  11. The first date, 717, is according to the Islamic lunar calendar (Hijri-Ghamari) used in Iran at the time. Some authors suggest Hafez was born in 715/1315 {KEIr1} citing “Moḥammad Moʿin, Ḥāfeẓ-e širin-soḵan, 2 vols, Tehran, 1369 Š./1970, at I, pp. 110-12.”  The Š. refers to Shamsi (Hejri-Shamsi), which is the solar Islami calendar now used in Iran. Instead of Š., In the present work the abbreviation Sh is used.
  12. Shirazi was reportedly renowned for his opposition to rationalist philosophy. Hafez reportedly excelled in the fields of Koran commentary (tafsir) and recitation (talavat) {Le1}.
  13. Kashshaf was the commentary of the Koran by al-Zamakhshari {Le1}.
  14. See also reference to a ghazal,”Ḵ. I, Ḡ. 13,” in {Le1}.
  15. In one poem he says “I who chose not to travel from my homeland all my life {K306:6}.

Chapter III

  1. A number of scholars published works about Hafez at the time of renovation of his tomb in 1935. In 1350/1971 there was a world conference on Hafez and Sa`di which produced a volume of talks by scholars from abroad as well as Iran {M:637}. In 1996 a non-governmental Center for Hafez Studies (Markaz-e Hafez-shenasi) was established in Shiraz and planned to issue its own Research publications. See: <; (accessed 4.19.18).
  2. For notable sources see the citations given in {D}
  3. Qazi Seyyed Nourallah Shooshtari, Majales al-Mo`menin (Tehran 1365/1986), cited in {D}.
  4. – Note, however, that much of what Browne said about Hafez and referred to in this work is from volume IV.
  5. Ali Dashti, Naqshi az Hafez (A Picture of Hafez) (Tehran, 1936). Also see his Kakh Ebda’, Andishehay-e Gunagun Hafez (The Palace of Creativity, Various Thoughts about HafezI).
  6. The Editors, “Mohammad Moin,” Wikipedia, online edition, 2018, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).
  7. Dabashi {D:578}, referring to Moin’s article, “Tarjomeh-ye Ahval-e Hafez (Interpreting Hafez’s Situation)” in Majmu`eyh-ye Maqalat Doctor Mohammad Moin  (The Collection of Dr. Mohammad Moin’s Articles), (Tehran, 1364/1985).
  8. Also see Ahmad Kasravi­, Sufigari (Tehran, 1943), Bahaʾigari, Shi`ehgari va Sufigari (Shi`ism, Bahaism, and Sufism) (Tehran 1943) {Ri}.
  9. The Editors, “Sadegh Hedayat,” Wikipedia, online edition, 2019, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).
  10. See Tabari’s semi-autobiographical novel, Khanevadeh-ye Boroumand (The Boroumand Family) (Tehran: Alfa Publications, 1358/1979).
  11. See “Pish- goftar (Preface)” and Pish- goftar Dovvom (Second Preface),” of that book, Barkhi Barresiha dar bareh Jahanbiniha va Jonbeshha-ye Ejtema`I  dar Iran (Some Reviews of the Worldviews and Social Movements in Iran) (Tehran: Alfa Publication, 1358/1979) {T}.
  12. Tabari enumerates those as Hekamt-e Moshsha` (Peripatetic Aristotalian Philosophy), Kalam (Scolastic theology), Elahyyiat (Theology), Jadoogari and Jookigari (Sorcery) {T:504}.
  13. Motahari’s reaction has also been seen as a political response to Shamlou’s perceived portray of Hafez as a person who rose up against injustice and oppression {D:586-587}. Dabashi cites Morteza Motahari’s The Reasons for Attraction to Materialism, Annex to Materialism in Iran ( `Elal-e Gerayesh be-Maddigari, be- zamimeh Materialism dar Iran), (Qum, 1357/1978), pp 15-17, and Motahari’s Tamashagah-e Raz:Mabahesi Piramoon Shaenakht-e Voqe`-ye Khwajeh Hafez (The Lookout for the Secret:Some Issues about Understanding the Episode of Khawjeh Hafez) (Qum: 1359), pp 51-52 {D:586-587}. Long before that, the poet Malek o’Shoara Bahar, a favorite of the left in Iran, was among those who had seen Hafez as “an incipient political activist, protesting the cruelty and hypocrisy of oppression {L2}.”
  14. Furthermore, Khoramshahi pointed out, Tabari himself later, in 1359/1980, said that we cannot precisely say what was Hafez’s understanding of religion (in which he believed) and the extent of his commitment to its rituals (which he surely observed) and in what specific form Hafez free thinking and free conduct was demonstrated {Kh1:215}.

This hint of recantation was yet another measure of the politicization of views about Hafez. In a 1989 poem, the poet Sayeh (Hushang Ebtehaj), politically a sympathizer and also a friend of Tabari, while saying that “he loved him better than myself,” takes him to task, for repenting under pressures in the prison of Iran’s Islamic regime in 1983, and “returning to Islam,” as the regime put it. Hafez’s refusal to repent (tobeh) is portrayed by Sayeh as his great virtue. Masnavi-ye Marsyyeh dar Soug Ehsan Tabari (An Eulogy Masnavi Poem in Mourning for Ehsan Tabari, available at  <; (accessed on March 4,2009).

15.  This is the view expressed previously, to a large degree, in the works by two other writers on Hafez, Moretza Zarqamfar in 1345/1966, and `Abdol-hosayn Zarinkoob in 1949/1970  {D:588}.

  1. See his articles in {Kh1} and also see {D:686}.
  2. Motahari enumerates the groups whose approaches to reading Hafez are wrong: materialists, naturalists, philosophers, hokama, even theologians, literary critics (odaba), journalists, existentialists, orientalists (Sharq-shenasan) {Mo2: 39-67, 98-99}.
  3. He refers especially to works by Mohioddin `Arabi {Mo2:76-77} and by Mahmoud Shabastari {Mo2:79-80}, presumably to his Golshan-e Raz (Garden of Mystery),  see {Mo2: 9}.
  4. See, e.g., Sayeh’s case. `Ali Ostadi, “Hameh-cheez dar Bareh Amir Hushing Ebtejhaj (Sayeh) (Everything about Amir Hushang Ebtehaj,”, available at

<; (accessed on April 4, 2016).

  1. See Ahmad Shamlou, quoted in {M:641}.
  2. Khorramshahi has come up with the phrase “Hafez, hafez-e qumi mast (Hafez is the collective memory of our people) {Kh2:14}”, which has gained some currency: see {D: Dabashi: 595}. Perhaps more accurately, Hafez has become a mirror in which every critic sees his own reflection.
  3. Kasravi says it is shivatarin zaban (the sweetest and most expressive language). Hafez Cheh Migooyad (What Does Hafez Say):19 {Ka1:19}.
  4. In addition to the common sound patterning by meter and rhyme, and such techniques as parallelism, there are imitative passages, “such as the gurgling of the juice of the grapevine as it pours from the jug in . . . ke ḵun-e ḵom / bā naḡma-hā-ye qolqola andar galu . . . (32:5) {L1}.”
  5. It accords with the lack of variety in the country’s monotonous landscape
  6. The association of Hfez’s poems “with musical performance was s strong one from the time they were written {Dd:xLi}.”
  7. And “a stylistic and rhetorical virtuosity unmatched by any other ḡazal writer {Br}.”
  8. See, respectively, R: 356, 640.
  9.  See, respectively, R: 300, and 639.
  10. See R:648.
  11.  See, respectively, R:268, and 485.
  12.  See, respectively, R: 164, 234, 251, 253, 262, 266, 301, 307, 312, 411, 426, 435, 438, 502, and 546.
  13. See Arab Traveler Ibn Battuta’s account of his visit to Shiraz about the year 1340, quoted in {Be:169-170}.
  14. Keyvan Tabari, “Rumi’s Imagination, Collected Works of Keyvan Tabari, available at <> (accessed on March 4, 2019).
  15. The arrangement in the Divan was done by others after Hafez’s death, and it is based on the last letter of the lines of the poems.
  16. Dari literary meant the language of Darbar, the court of the ruler, or the official language {R:615}.
  17. Compare, e.g., with the out-of-reach “literary-style” of the writing of his contemporary, Mohammad Golandam {S:653-664}.
  18. See the list of poems with Koranic verses (ayat) and pious proverbs and sayings (ahadith va akbhbar) in {R:681-683}.
  19. Word by word, as in H. Wilberforce Clarke , The Divan of Hafiz-i Shirazi (Calcutta, 1891 and London, 1974), or smooth idiomatic English as in Edward Byles Cowell: see his articles in various periodicals listed in Parvin Loloi, “COWELL, EDWARD BYLE” Encyclopedia Iranica , on line edition, available at <; (accessed on March 5, 2019).
  20. As in John Payne, The Poems Of Hafiz of Shiraz, London, 1901).
  21. As in Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell’s in {Be}.
  22. As in P. Avery and J. Heath-Stubbs, Hafiz of Shiraz (London, 1952).
  23. As in R. A. Nicholson, The Don and the Dervish, A Book of Verse Original and Translated (London, 1911).
  24. As in M. C. Hillmann, Unity in the Ghazals of Hafez (Minneapolis and Chicago, 1976) {Be:15-16; Loo}.
  25. Emerson’s “From Hafiz” is one of the two odes of Hafez which are his translation {Mik:524,525}. Emerson’s 4 stanza poem called “Hafiz,” done in 1855, in his May-Day and Other Pieces (1867), was in imitation of Hafez {Mik:522}.
  26. Those of “ Schemii’ (i.e., Šamʿi)” and Soruri, and Sudi of Bosnia {Ta}.
  27. Inspired by Hafez’ poems, West-östlicher Divan (West-Eastern Divan) consisted of twelve books, several of them with Persian names, Moganni Nameh, Hafez Nameh, `Eshqh Nameh, Saqhi Nameh and Parsi Nameh. The Editors, “West–östlicher Divan,Wikipedia, online edition, 2017, available at

<; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

  1. Bell continued, “Fitzgerald knew it when he declared that Hafiz rang true {Be:52-53}.” It should be noted that 4 of Bell’s 43 poems in her book are not Hafez’s {Be:52-53}.

Chapter IV

  1. See {R:274}.
  2. See {R:96}.
  3. See footnote to this poem in {Av2}.
  4. See poem 26 in {Dd}. Some other writers treat Hafez’s beloved as female, but do not offer any reason for their position. See, e.g., {Le2:48-50}.
  5. “We may assume from the homoerotic conventions of the ghazal, the masculine connotations of moḡ-bačča (magian boy more than child) … {Le2}.”
  6. “The concept of ‘Religion of Love (din-i `ishq or madhhab-i `ishq) … was first vocalized by Rudaki Samarqandi (d. 329/940) …. The earliest major Persian Sufi poet to make love an axiom of …personal religious creed was Sana`i of Ghazna (d. 525/1131) {Ig:78}.” Sufis referred to the Koranic verse that God will bring forth a people “whom He loves and who loves Him (yuhibbuhum wa yuhibbunahu, V:54)” {Ig:85}. They believed that the verse 5:59, which distinguishes the believers from non-believers, indicated “the special loving relationship between man and the creator, in which God functions as the Lover… { Sgh:108}.”

The term Hafez usually uses for love is `eshq or ‘passionate love’, a non-Koranic term depicting man’s relationship with the divine in erotic terms. (The Koranic terms are hubb and wudd.) Hafez follows a tradition of love founded by the 12th century Persian mystics such as Ahmad Ghazali (d. 520/1126), as in his work, Savanih. Before the 12th century, mystics commonly used mahabbat, avoiding `eshq when referring to relationship between man and God because of its erotic import. When mystics began using `eshq, they were criticized by Theologians {Sgh:108-109}.

  1. Also see {K17:9}.
  2. See {R:36}.
  3. “Man’s relationship with God starts in the pre-eternity (Azal), when God created Adam. Afterwards, He spoke to the loins of Adam on the day of alast… ‘Am I not your Lord?’ Adam’s progeny answers: ‘Yes, we witness you are’ (7:171). Mystic poets interpret this verse as the Covenant (mithaq) between man and God {Sgh:110}.” Also see the Koranic verse 7:172 {R:16}.
  4. See {R:498}. The burden was offered, according to the Koranic verse 33:72, to the heaven, earth, mountains, but they refused and man undertook to bear it. Hafez also coins another term for the same: the burden of love (bar-e `eshq) {Sgh:114-115}. Interpreting {K21:4}, Rahbar writes, in carrying the heavy burden of love (bar-e `eshq), “a mountain’s waist is narrower than an ant’s/O wine-lover, do not lose hope of God’s grace,” alluding to Koranic verse 33:73 {R:36}.
  5. See {K301:4}.
  6. See{R:424}.

Chapter V

  1. Referring to “Bahāʾ-al-Din Ḵorramšāhi, Ḥāfeẓ–nāma, 2 vols., Tehran, 1366 Š./1987; 3rd rev. ed. 1368 Š./1989, pp. 677-80 and 685-89” for specific examples.
  2. Notwithstanding these poems, some authors say that Hafez was an `Aref (Gnostic), and that one should read what he says only in that light; there is no alternative reading. Therefore, none of Hafez’s poem should be read as referring to real wine. See, e.g., {Mo2:144-146}.
  3. “The celebration of wine and intoxication. … was partly meant to shock and embarrass the hypocrites. … to annoy the hypocrites and show them his abhorrence of their false piety , {Y}.”
  4. In this poem, the ruler Hafez refers to is Shah Shoja` {Gh:262-264}. The wine banquets of shahs and sultans were celebrated from the earliest period of Persian poetry {L2}. In Hafez’s era, Shiraz’s Salghurid ruler, Saljuqshah (1263-64), was reported to have lived only for wine and pleasure like his predecessor. Abu Eshaq, a favorite of Hafez, at crucial times, would withdraw into debauchery and drinking.  In 1383, in a fit of drunkenness, Shoja ordered his men to blind his own son. He finally fell into fatal illness as a result of drunken orgies {Li1:20, 33-34.41}.
  5. Pir-e Moghan is also referred to as pir-e meykhaneh {K177:8} and pir-e meyforoush (wine-selling) {K280:3}. One explanation for the use of pir-e Moghan as “guide” is offered by Gertrude Bel: When the Muslims came to Iran, the Magians position degraded so far to mean only the keeper of a tavern or caravanserai. In that position they were able to guide other travelers. “And here the Sufis took up the ancient name and used it to mean the wise old man who supplied weary travelers upon life’s road with the spiritual draught of Sufi doctrine which refreshes and comforts the soul {{Be:150}.
  6. The learned men made a bowl for Jamshid in which he could see the conditions of the seven worlds {R:193}.
  7. Zonnar was a braided belt which Christians wore {R:419}. They were forced to wear it in Levant (Sham or greater, historical, Syria) to distinguish them from the Muslims {Haim’s New Persian -English Dictionary.
  8. Hafez’s exceptional focus on Zoroastrian symbols is exemplified especially in his saqi-nameh, lines 3,4, 8-10, 14-17 {S:613-615}.
  9. Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh was a popular work for book illustration in Shiraz in Hafez’s time {Wi}. Many of Hafez’s poems on ancient Iran show Ferdowsi’s influence  Djalal Khaleghi Motlagh, “Hafez va Hamseh Melli Iran (Hafez and the Iranian National Epic),” Iran Nameh, 6 (1988). Additionally, however, in the 10th Century, during the Buyid dynasty (which ended in 1062), Fars was famous for having the largest Zoroastrian population of any Moslem province. The bazaars of Shiraz town were illuminated during Nowruz and such other festivals such as Mehregan {Li:11} . At least one of the several Zoroastrian fire temples in Fars survived until Hafez’s time.  He refers to the “flames of the Fars fire temple (ateshkadeh)” {K245:4}.
  10. Jaleh Mottahedin, Daneshnameh Kochk-e Iran (A Concise Encyclopedia of Iran) (Bethesda, Md., 1998) p 386, citing Tarikh-e Beyhaqi.
  11. `Omar Khayyam in his book, Nowruznameh, describes, as a part of the Nowruz celebration in the Persian royal courts in the era from the mythical King Keykhosrow until last of pre-Islamic Kings, that on the first day of the new year, the King’s first visitor was the High Mobad (Priest) of the Zoroastrians, who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine,” and several other things. The Editors, “Epistle of Nowruz or Nowruznameh,”¸ available at < < (accessed on April 1, 2019).

Chapter VI

  1. His animosity is passionate {Y}.
  2. In one poem, {K237:6}, he venomously describes the Sufi as having the “faith of the Antichrist (dajjal kish)” and the “figure of an infidel (molḥed shekl)”.
  3. We do not find “good” or “exceptional” Zaheds, Shaikhs or Moḥtasebs {Y}.
  4. See {L2}.
  5. “Efforts to sketch a chronology of the poems and relate them to the life events of the poet and the changing political circumstances in Shiraz during the reigns of Abu Esḥāq, Mobārez-al-Din Moḥam-mad, and Šāh-Šojāʿ have however proved promising, referring to work by (Lescot, Ḡani, Zarrinkub, 1987) {L2}.” These works are identified in this source’s bibliography as:

“Roger Lescot, “Essai d’une chronologie de l’šuvre de Hafiz,” Bulletin d’Études Orientales 10, 1944, pp. 57-100.

Qāsem Ḡani, Baḥṯ dar āṯār o afkār o aḥwāl-e Ḥāfeẓ I, Tāriḵ-e ʿaṣr-e Ḥāfeẓ, Tehran, 1321 Š./1942.

Zarrinkub, 1987: ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Zarrinkub, Az kuča-ye rendān: dar bāra-ye zendagi wa andiša-ye Ḥāfeẓ, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970, 5th ed., 1366 Š./1987 {L2}.”

  1. “Mobārez-al-Din Moḥammad cultivated his public image as defender and enforcer of Sunni Islam.  He had a reputation for strict personal piety.  The contemporary poet Ḥāfeẓrefers to him as moḥtaseb, the official enforcer of public morality, after he shut down the taverns of Shiraz, which had been lively under Abu Esḥāq …Mobārez-al-Din sent an envoy to Egypt, requesting a patent from the ʿAbbasid caliph in Cairo, al-Moʿtażed Be’llāh, naming Mobārez-al-Din wāli amir al-moʾmenin …Thus, Mobārez al-Din would base his claims to legitimate sovereignty on his role as a representative of the ʿAbbasid caliph and upholder of Sunni Islam in Iran… came one hundred years … renewer of the Sunni Muslim relationship of caliphal religious authority legitimizing the political authority of the military elite. … Mozaffarid … not an alliance with the Mamluk protectors of the caliph in Egypt… {Wi}.”
  2. Quoting {Gh:214}.
  3. In that poem, Hafez praises him as the one who illuminates the government and is the source of glory and pomp {R:493, 630}. His full name was Abu Nasr Fathollah ibe Khwajeh Kamal al-Din Abulma`ali {R:727}.
  4. See {R:483}.
  5. See {R:483}. In some other poems, Hafez calls himself Turanshah ‘s servant (gholam {K348:9} or bandeh {K472:8}), looks to him as his benefactor {K267:7}, pleading his case as better than rivals in longevity of service, loyalty, sincerity, and composing poetry {K348:4,7,9}, expecting him to respond to his complaints against others {K 464:13}, and expressing indebtedness and gratitude for his generosity {K335: 9}. In some of these poems, Hafez refers to Turanshah as Asaf, a title he uses for some other Viziers as well, but in these poems the context indicates he means Turanshah {R:369}.
  6. The rend was especially able to love because he was willing to suffer, which was a requisite for loving {K155:4}. In that respect, for Hafez, rendi was the same as `ayyari, the creed of the `ayyar (roughly translated as brigand) {K149:5} who would go to the gallows for the sake of love, or for his other convictions {K67:4} {R:93}.
  7. “The antinomian stance … motifs centered around the figure of the ‘tramp’ (qalandar) is already a predominant element in the poems of Sanāʾi, ʿAṭṭār and ʿErāqi, who were all mystical poets of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They used it as a forceful metaphor in denunciation of false piety in Sufism and in adhortations to a radical renunciation of the world…. Hafez frequently poses as a rend (“debauchee”), the term which he prefers to qalandar {Br}.” “Figures such as rind, vagabond and brigand (`ayyar) all originally possessed negative social values, but reappeared with positive connotations accorded them by the Sufi poets {Le2:40}.”. The word rend is derived “from the Sufi literary genre known as ‘Wildman poetry’ (qalandariyya). All Sufi poets and writers used the symbol of the qalandar….(These include) Sana’i, `Attar and Rumi {Le2:36}.” “By the time of Saʿdi and Salmān-e Sāvaji, we find the vivacious humanism of the rend commonly juxtaposed with the mortifications of the ascetic (Ḵorramšāhi, 1989, pp. 405-7), a topos particularly prominent in the Hafezian rend {L2}.”   
  8. He covets the serenity of the “corner of qalandari (being a qalandar){K442.6}. He acknowledges the “very-nuanced” fact that qalandari is not in mere appearance {K174:7}.
  9. Hafez hails that rend who would “set fire to his fortune (`afiyat suz),” because he foresees alchemy in the poverty” of a dervish {K174:6}. Hafez says: there are “qalandar rendan who can take away and grant royal crowns {K479:3}.”
  10. Hafez frequently poses as a rend, the term which he prefers to qalandar {Br.}
  11. “To read anything other than social outcasts and men of ill repute in Hafez’s rend and qalandar is to miss the point. A glance at the context of occurrences of rend and rendi (see Ṣadiqiān, pp. 600-602) is sufficient to show that by rend Hafez did not mean anything other than a derelict, an embodiment of sin and dissoluteness occupying the basest position in society{Y}.”
  12. The other names were owbash (ruffians) and shatter {Li1:90-92}. “The strongest social group in Shiraz and the base of the city’s cultural and social life were the 15 to 20 aristocratic families that produced most of the city’s judges, teachers, scholars and preachers {Li1:92}.”
  13. The poet Sa`di, himself from an upper class family, provides an example of the perceived rendans’ thuggish conduct in Shiraz, dating to a few decades before Hafez, as “a tayifeh-ye rendan (a gang of thugs ),in his Golestan (Rose Garden) {Le2:33}. “In Konya as well, the word rend (pl. ronud) continued to hold this meaning of hoodlum, even among the mystically-oriented Mevlevis, as late as Hafez’s own century (Āšuri, pp. 288-90) {L2}.”
  14. Paradoxically, however, the rulers depended on the support of the rendan and that was another source of the resentment of the aristocracy. “The leaders of the trade guilds and the neighborhood organizations played key roles in running the city. Any ruler needed their support. They were called kalu, pl. kaluviyan. They were responsible for the security and the day-to-day operation of two of the most important institutions: the bazaar and the neighborhood. These leaders drew much of their power from their control of street mobs and their ability to turn those mobs for or against a ruler or official. Both rulers and city aristocrats feared their power {Li1:89}.” The street mobs whom the aristocrats called by the disparaging names of rendan, owbash (ruffians) and shatter… attained their greatest strength during the reign of Abu Eshaq. The Mozaffarids earned the gratitude of the Shirazi aristocrats by suppressing the street mobs and restoring security {Li1:90-91}.”
  15. In another poem, he calls himself a “bad-nam (bad-name) rend{K454:11}. In still a third, he says: “Do not fault me for being a rend and bad-name/That was my share of destiny {K306:4}.”
  16. See {R:118}.
  17. Cf. see “Khurramshahi, Hafiz-nama, I, pp 407,” quoted in {Le2:43}; Daryush Shayegan, “The Visionary Topography of Hafiz,” Elizabeth T. Gray, The Green Sea of Heaven (Ashland: 1995): p 28); “Moḥammad-Reżā Šafiʿi-Kadkani, (Moḥammad-Reżā Šafiʿi-Kadkani, Musiqi-e šeʿr, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978, 3rd revised ed., 1370 Š./1991) , p. 439 ff.,” quoted in {L2}.
  18. A hafez, literally meaning memorizer, would often be asked to recite the Koran, and as such was a figure which Hafez decried along with other Islamic institutional figures {Y}.

Chapter VII

  1. See {R:131}.
  2. Bahaʾ-al-Din Khurramshahi, Chardah Ravayat (Fourteen Narratives) , p 23; as cited in {Le1}.
  3. The latter was also known as Kashshaf Zamakhshari {R:64}.
  4. `Abdullah, the teacher, whom Golandam refers to by the title “Qavam al-Melleh val-Din”, is said to be renowned for his opposition to rationalist philosophy {Le1:19}. The other books which, Golandam says, Hafez read were Meftah (Miftahu’l-‘Olum of as-Sakkai (d. 626/1229), Matali (Mataliul –anzar of al-Baydawi (d. 683/ 1284), and Mesbah (al-Mutarrizi’s work on Arabic grammar) {S:663}. The details on the books are from {Le1:20}.
  5. The reference to Shahnamehha (shahnamehs) in {K382:5} is to the genre and not a specific book.
  6. The one rare verbatim is verse 97:5 which is in Arabic as a second stanza in K246.1: See {R:340}. It has been argued that the ghazal’s text in the Divan is incorrect as the Koran says “hay” instead of “fi {R:340}.
  7. See {R:16}.
  8. See {R:36}.
  9. See {R:36}.
  10. See {R:648}.
  11. See {R:206}
  12. See {R:10}.
  13. See {R:356}.
  14. See {R:251}.
  15. See {R:428}.
  16. See {R:462}.
  17. See {R:469}.
  18. See {R:194}.
  19. See {R:269}.
  20. See {R:112}.
  21. See {R:271}.
  22. See {R:109}.
  23. See {R:585}.
  24. See {R:55}.
  25. See {R:99}.
  26. Verse 5:99 says that “There is no duty for the Messengers but to deliver the message.” Khanlari does not accept the attribution to Hafez of a ghazal which has an allusion to this verse. See {R:400}.
  27. See {R:330}. In one version of the Koran it is verse (ayeh) 50
  28. See {R:99}.
  29. See {R:594}.
  30. See {R:30}.
  31. See {R:620}.
  32. See {R:509}.
  33. See {R:174}.
  34. See {R:543}.
  35. See {R:198, 432}.
  36. See {R:231,377}.
  37. See {R:159}.
  38. See {R:327}.
  39. See {R:266}.
  40. See, respectively, {R:42}, {R:75}, {R:432}, {R:550}, {R:589}.
  41. See, respectively, {R: 36}, {R: 69}, {R:531}.
  42. See {R:75}.
  43. See {R:254}.
  44. See {R:248}.
  45. See {R:232}.
  46. See, respectively, {R:38} and {R: 429}.
  47. See, respectively, {R:113} and {R: 554}.
  48. See {R:63}.
  49. See {R:83}.
  50. See {R:532}.
  51. See{R:545}.
  52. See {R:552}.
  53. See {R:553}.
  54. See {R:593}.
  55. See {R:613}.
  56. See, respectively, {R:37} and {R: 123}.
  57. See {R:432}.
  58. See, respectively, {R:81}, {R: 164}, {R:217}, and {R: 218}.
  59. See {R: 235}.
  60. See {R:231}.
  61. See, respectively, {R:489}, and{R: 495}.
  62. See, respectively, {R:370} and {R: 393}.
  63. See, respectively, {R:58} and {R:378}.
  64. See {R:58}.
  65. See, respectively, {R:176}, {R:228} and {R:413}.
  66. See, respectively, {R:264} and {R:423}.
  67. See, respectively, {R:29}, {R:42} and {R:345} and {R:416}.
  68. See {R:9}.
  69. See {R:9}.
  70. See {R:5}.
  71. See {R:123}.
  72. See {R:327}.
  73. See {R:59} and {R:454}.
  74. “It has been commented that almost no poet after Ferdowsi had focused so much on pre-Islamic themes as Hafez; and the political symbols of pre-Islamic Iran in the sāqi-nāma (esp. lines 3-15, Divān, pp. 1052-3) are indeed particularly striking, though other poets’ writing in this genre also feature the iconology of pagan Iran (cf. the sāqi-nāma of Ḵvāju Kermāni) {L2}.”
  75. See {R:469} and {R:640} and {R:646}.
  76. See {R:532}.
  77. See {R:143}.
  78. See {R:589}.
  79. See {R:554}; Multiple Authors, “BELTS,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, IV/2, pp. 130-136, available online at (accessed on March 9, 2019).
  80. See {R:139}.
  81. See {R:42}.
  82. See {R:531}.
  83. See {R:231}.
  84. See {R:160}.
  85. Iranians believed that Jamshid was the same person as Solomon {R:368}
  86. See {R:193}.
  87. The Editors, “Pahlavi language,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, available at <; (accessed on March 9, 2019).
  88. Ira M. Lapidus, Islamic Societies to the Nineteenth Century: A Global History (Cambridge University Press) pp. 256–, cited in The Editors, ” Pahlavi scripts,” Wikipedia, online edition, 2019, available at <; (accessed on February 25, 2019).
  89. See {R:109}.
  90. See {R:254}.
  91. See {R:355}.
  92. See {R:586}.
  93. See {R:222}.
  94. See {R:109}.
  95. See {R:498}.
  96. It was believed, according to a Hadith, that the Prophet said that after him his followers would split into 73 factions, and only one among them will be saved. See {R:248}.
  97. As discussed above, Hafez does not say that he was a Shiite or a Sunni, or the follower of any other branch of Islam.

Chapter VIII

  1. See {R:487}.
  2. Sufism began as a movement critical of the official interpretation of Islam in the 8th Century. Broadly, it advised direct and personal relation with God, especially through love, as it considered reason and learning inadequate for full understanding of the truth. For a general discussion see, e.g., {Mo2}, volume 2 of {Gh}: entitled Tarikh-e Tasavvof dar Islam (The history of Sufism in Islam), and Annemarie Schimmel, “Sufism,” Encyclopedia Britannica at < > (accessed on May 10,2019).
  3. See {R:659}.
  4. See {R:236}.
  5. See {R:272-273}.
  6. See {R:266}.
  7. For “nazar baz,” see, e.g., {Le2}.
  8. “Persian Sufi mystics considered this suffering as a purgative, purifying the lover from all attachments so that only love can exist. This was another way of describing the mystical stage of fana (annihilation) and baqa (indwelling with the Beloved), during which the mystic lover divests himself of everything that impedes his union with the Beloved {Sgh:113}.”
  9. See {R:301}.
  10. See {R:465}.
  11. Among those other themes are seizing the moment (nagd –e vaqt) {K464:1}, and striving to be content (qana`at) {K147:7}. See also the themes discussed in Introspection, below. On seizing the moment, see :“The Immediate Present Moment (naqd-i waqt) in the Religion of Love ….The lover is always the ‘Child of the Moment (ibn al-waqt) as Rumi put it: “Being absorbed in God, neither beginning nor end enter their mind. …time must not be wasted in expectation of any future Resurrection. Anyway, for them the Resurrection shall never come since it has already occurred ….For Hafiz and Sa`di the reference to the legends of Moses and his revelation on Mt Sana`i, or the tales of his Abrahams are not simply poetic devices, allusions (talmih), but actual occurrences within the poet’s soul. The interiorization of religious mythology within the psyche of the poet is reflected in Hafiz’s poems {Ig:99-100}.”
  12. “In Hafez’s time the Persian cultural climate was so saturated with expressions of mystical thought that it was nearly impossible for anyone to avoid them. … all Gnostic, mystical, or Islamic concepts—were on everybody’s lips, but this does not mean that those who used them were necessarily conscious believers in their implied philosophical or religious sense. It was simply a matter of falling in line with the cultural trend and ideological conventions of the time {Y}.


  1. “Attempt to conjure up biographical details by over-literal interpretations of highly polished and traditional medieval poems is to pursue a chimera { KEIr1}.
  2. The poems in Hafez’s Divan are not organized by the time they were written but on the basis of the last letter of the lines.
  3. In his book, Bahs dar Asar o Afkar o Ahval Hafez (Discussing the Works and Thoughts and Life of Hafez), vol. 1., Tehran, 1321 Sh (Hejri Shamsi)./1942, Qasem Ghani uses such valuable sources, which are generally considered reliable, as Hafez Abroo’s Joghraphia-ye Tarikhi (Historical Geography), written in 820 H, just some thirty years after Hafez’s death, and  Mahmud Katabi’s Tarikh al-Mozaffar (The History of Al-Mozaffar){Gh: seh}. Ghani also keeps in mind such early books such as Mirkhond’s Rawzat al-Safa on the Mozaffarids and Mohammad Khwandamir’s Habib al-Siyar (The Friend of Biographies) {Gh: nat-se and sa}.
  4. The goal here is not to tell the history of those other persons and events.

Chapter IX

  1. The dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar Hijri-Ghamari, followed in Iran at the time.
  2. Saberi, {S:639-40}, translates into English the word that appears as jah in the Persian text as Shah. It is in fact Shah in {QG}, the Qazvini-Ghani Divan of Hafez, {R:358}.
  3. They were continuing a tradition that began during the Mongols {Priscilla Soucek, “Art in Iran vii: Islamic, Pre-Safavid,” in EIr.II, 1987, pp. 603-18, at p 610, quoted in {Wi}. The Injus took their name from the title given to their founder who administered Mongol state lands (inju) in Fars. They ruled under the Mongol central authority. They took undisputed control of Fars in 1342, seven years after the death of the Mongol ruler Abu Sa`id. The Injus traced their ancestry to Khwajeh Abd-Allah Ansari of Herat (1006-89) {Li2}, citing: “(Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, pp. 142-43; Ḡani, pp. 6-8; Fārs-nāma-ye nāṣeri I, p. 49).” This was perhaps another reason for their patronage of poets as Ansari was a Persian known as pir-e Herat (sage of Herat), an outstanding figure as a spiritual master, but equally reknowned for his oratory and poetic talents in Arabic and Persian. The Editors, “Khwaja Abdullah Ansari,” Wikipedia, online edition, 2019, available at

<; (accessed on February 25, 2019).

  1. See {Li1}.
  2. Mas’ud Shah fled to Lorestan in when his enemies entered Shiraz and defeated him in 1339. Having returned by an uprising of the people of Shiraz against the invaders, Mas’ud Shah was again defeated by those enemies and had to leave Shiraz for Baghdad in 1340. He returned to Shiraz in 1342, helped with the forces of his Baghdad allies, unaware that at the same time his younger brother, Abu Eshaq Inju, had taken Shiraz. Abu Eshaq yielded control of Shiraz to Mas’ud Shah {Li2}, citing, inter alia, contemporary historians; “Hāfeẓ-e Abru, pp. 171-72; Zarkub Širāzi, pp. 114-15,” and “Ebn Baṭṭuta, Safar-nāma, tr. M.-ʿA. Mowaḥḥed, Tehran, 1958,”pp. 199-200.” Late in life, Hafez would say that he had “toiled and suffered for 40 years {K209:2}” and, in another ghazal, that for more than 40 years he had been “bragging” that he was a follower of the pir-e Moghan {K335:1}.” These indicate the minimum length of his working years, presumably all as a poet.
  3. Moḥammad Moʿin gives the earlier date of 715/1315 {KEIr1}, citing:  “Moḥammad Moʿin, Ḥāfeẓ-e širin-soḵan, 2 vols, Tehran, 1369 Š./1970,” at I, pp. 110-12.
  4. “Information about his immediate family comes either from late and unreliable sources or is based on conjectures derived from an often overly literal reading of his poetry. Some sources refer to his father as a certain Bahāʾ-al-Din from Isfahan while others maintain that he was called Kamāl-al-Din and came from Tuyserkān (Moʿin, I, pp. 107-9). Perhaps the elegiac verses grieving the loss of a child provide the clearest allusions to his having had children. These include the famous ghazals remembering the loss of the“light of his eyes” (qorrat-al-ʿayn; Ḵ. I, Ḡ. 130; tr. Bell, 1995 reissue, pp. 88-89) and the short qeṭʿa lamenting the passing away of an offspring and referring to the gravestone (Ḵ, II, Qeṭ. 28. . ; Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia III, p. 288) ….

“Hafez was born in Shiraz and died there. … Of his early life and schooling there, a few facts and names emerge from the account given in the Golandām preface as well as from the occasional references to names and books in the Divān itself. He studied the traditional curriculum of the time, Koranic sciences and Arabic (Golandām’s preface in Q and Ḡ Qazvini and Ghani’s Divan of Hafez. , p. qu; tr. Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia III {B}. , p. 272; Zarrinkub “ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Zarrinkub, Az kuča-ye rendān, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970”.  , pp. 20- 23) perhaps under the influence, if not the direct teaching, of such masters as Qewām-al-Din ʿAbd-Allāh Širāzi (Golandām’s preface, ibid, p. qaz), Mir Sayyed Šarif Jorjāni, and Qāżi ʿAżod-al-Din Iji (d. 756/1355). In a famous qeṭʿa beginning with be ʿahd-e salṭanat-e Šāh Šayḵ Abu Esḥāq / be panj šāḵs ʿajab molk-e Fārs bud ābād (Ḵ. II, Qeṭ. 9, tr. Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia III, p. 276), praising five notables whose achievements brought prosperity to the land of Fārs, the poet refers to Qāżi ʿAżod-al-Din Iji and his famous manual of theology, Ketāb al-mawāqef fi ʿelm al-kalām (Van Ess J. van Ess, “AL-ĪDJĪ,” EI2 III. , p. 1022; Schimmel Annemarie Schimmel, “Ḥāfiẓ and His Contemporaries,” in Camb. Hist. Iran VI, pp. 929-47.  pp. 929-30) {KEIr1}.”

  1. Abu Esḥaq Inju took undisputed control of Fars in 1342 {Li2}, and ruled until he was executed by the next conqueror of the city, the Muzaffarid Mobarez al-Din, “in 757/1357, or 758/1357{KEIr1}.”
  2. The Chupanids contested for power with the Inju brothers in Shiraz from 1342 when a Chupani commander, Yagi Basti, helped Mas`ud Shah to regain control of Shiraz. Yagi could not endure being Mas`ud’s deputy and had him murdered. After Abu Eshaq’s forces drove Yagi from Shiraz, Yagi and his nephew made their last attempt to take the city, slaughtering many on the way. They had to return to their stronghold of Tabriz, however, before reaching Shiraz, upon hearing that the head of the Chupani family, Shaikh Hassan Kuchak had just died there {Li2}. (That source cites, inter alia, “Ḥafeẓ-e Abru, Ḏayl-e Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ-e Rašidi, ed. Ḵān bābā Bayāni, Tehran, 1971; Moʿin-al-Din Zarkub Širāzi, Širāz-nāma, ed., Esmāʿil Wāʿeẓ Jawādi, Tehran, 1971” and {Gh}.)
  3. In this source, the author, Patrick Wing, cites: “J. van Ess, ‘AL-ĪDJĪ,” EI2 III, p. 1022’;” and “Annemarie Schimmel, ’Ḥāfiẓ and His Contemporaries,’ in Camb. Hist. Iran VI, pp. 929-47, pp. 929-30).”
  4. See {Kq9:7}.
  5. It may be the only time.
  6. A vivid description of the Nowruz celebration in the courts of the ancient Kings of Persia is provided by the Persian poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam in his book, Nowruznameh (The Book of Nowruz): “From the era of Keykhosrow till the days of Yazdegard, last of the pre-Islamic Kings of Persia, the royal custom was thus: on the first day of the New Year, Now Ruz, the King’s first visitor, other than the family (biganeh), was the High Mobad (Priest) of the Zoroastrians, who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine, a ring,…. This was the address of the High Mobad to the king: ‘O Majesty, on this feast of the equinox, … drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid….’ ” “Umar ibn Ibrahim Khayyam, bih kushish-i ʻAli Ḥuṣuri, “Nowruznamah“, Tehran : Nashr-i Chashmah, 1379 2000. , as cited in <; (accessed on April 8, 2019).
  7. See {R:298}.
  8. Qasideh in Praise of Shah Shaykh Abu Eshaq, line 3 {S:597}. On Nowruz, according to rituals, the King’s first visitor other than the family, (biganeh), was the High Mobad (Priest) of the Zoroastrians (Mogh or Magi), who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine. “Umar ibn Ibrahim Khayyam ; bih kushish-i ʻAli Ḥuṣuri., “Nowruznamah“, Tehran : Nashr-i Chashmah, 1379 2000. ” as cited in <; (accessed on April 8, 2019).
  9. See Line 23 of the Qasideh {S:600}.
  10. Hafez wrote a qat`eh, marking Abu Eshaq’s death date {Kq24} and mentions him after his death in another qat`eh {Kq9},
  11. Their rule lasted until Timur (Tamerlane) executed most of the remaining members of the family in 795/1393 {Wi}.
  12. They are in {S:587-591, and 603-606}.
  13. A note of anxiety is detectable in this qaṣida {KEIr1}.
  14. Or, by some account, 758/1357 {KEIr1}.
  15. In this source, the author, Patrick Wing, cites: “Kotobi Maḥmud Kotobi, Tāriḵ-e Āl-e Moẓaffar, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Navāʾi, Tehran, 1955; new ed., Tehran, 1985. , pp. 53-54, 59, new ed., pp. 74-75,77-80; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Joḡrāfiā-ye Ḥafeẓ-e Abru, ed. Ṣādeq Sajjādi, 3 vols., Tehran, 1996-99. , II, pp. 215-17, 219-20, . 287-88; idem, 2001, I, pp. 309-12; Ḵᵛāndamir Ḵᵛāndamir, Ḥabib al-siar, ed. Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, 4 vols., Tehran, 1954, III, pp. 273-325; tr. and ed., Wheeler Thackston, as Habibu’s-siyarTome Three: The Reign of the Mongol and the Turk, 2 vols., Cambridge, Mass., 1994. , III, p. 292-94; Šabānkāraʾi Moḥammad b. ʿAli Šabānkāraʾi, Majmaʿ al-anṣāb, ed. Mir Hāšem Moḥaddeṯ, Tehran, 1984. , pp. 318-19; Jaʿfari Jaʿfar b. Moḥammad Jaʿfari, Tāriḵ-e Yazd, ed. Iraj Afšār, Tehran, 1965. , p. 53.).
  16. It is the Koranic verse that God will bring forth a people ‘whom He loves and who loves Him (yuhibbuhum wa yuhibbunahu,’ 5:54) {Ig:78}.”
  17. As to the identity of those friends and people, “Obeid, Khaju Kermani and Hafez must have been members of Abu Eshaq’s poets’ circle {Li1:118}.”
  18. This was associated with “antinomian mystics who considered Islamic ritual practices and the sacred Law (shari`a) could be dispensed with {Ig:90}.”
  19. Cited in Google Books, available at < Mobarez-al-Din&source=bl&ots=ifToOsMHlD&sig=0Vt4bbnd613J0zbU9p9qHKNK7fk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiyk6HY66ndAhXIhVQKHS4lDrMQ6AEwB3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Amir%20Mobarez-al-Din&f=false> (accessed on March 20,2019).
  20. Mobarez’s “reputation for puritanical severity had earned him the sobriquet of moḥtaseb (the official enforcer of public morality) from his own son, Shah Šojāʿ, who in a robāʿi attributed to him) (Moʿin, I, p. 211) refers to his father as the town’s moral policeman (moḥtaseb-e šahr) {KEIr1}.”

Chapter X

  1. “The brothers’ actions seem to have been prompted by fears that Mobārez-al-Din was favoring his grandson, Shah Yaḥyā b. Shah Moẓaffar, and the resentment felt by the brothers after their father treated them harshly when they had indulged in frivolity during the (recent) Azerbaijan campaign {Wi}.”

In 758/1357, Mobarez al-Din, during a power vacuum in Azerbaijan following the end of the rule of Malak Ashraf Chubani, led his armies and conquered Tabriz which had been seat of Ilkhanid authority. But he soon abandoned the city when he received word that the Jalayerid Shaikh Ovays, with an army, was on his way to Tabriz.   Soon after returning to Isfahan in 760/1359 Mobarez al-Din was seized and blinded {Wi}. Also see {Li1:77} cited in Google Books, available at

< Mobarez-al-Din&source=bl&ots=ifToOsMHlD&sig=0Vt4bbnd613J0zbU9p9qHKNK7fk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiyk6HY66ndAhXIhVQKHS4lDrMQ6AEwB3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Amir%20Mobarez-al-Din&f=false> (accessed on March 20,2019).

  1. See {KEIr1}, citing “Eqbāl, Tāriḵ-e Moḡol, p. 424, footnote 1.”
  2. He was Shoja`s Vizier when he was the crown prince {Gh:193}, until he was killed by the King in 764/1363. Hafez recorded his death date in a chronogram {Kq16:3}.
  3. Qasideh in praise of Qavam al-Din Mohammad Saheb `Ayar, Line 11, in {S: 592-96}.
  4. After killing Saheb `Ayar, Shoja made Kamal al-Din Hosayn Rashidi his Vizier {Gh:201}; then Shoja`s Viziers , after Kamal, were Turanshah who remained “among his Viziers” till the end, then Khawjeh Qotb al-Din Soleyman Shah , Khawjeh Mahmud  Kamal,  and  then Shah Rokn al-Din Hassan ibn Sa`eed al-Dowleh Ashraf {Gh:217}.
  5. Some of Hafez’s poems referring to Asef-e Sani are in reference to Saheb `Ayar {Gh:318}.
  6. Shah Mahmud appealed to the Jalayerids again in 770/1369, and with their military support threatened Shiraz. But the death of the Jalayerid ruler followed soon by Mahmud’s own death in 776/1375 ended that danger.
  7. In about 39 cases, the references in the Divan to an unspecified shah are to Shah Shoja` {Gh:354-355}. Hafez called Shoja` Turk because his mother was from the Turkish Kings of Kerman {Gh:99}. Hafez often called his patron beloved in poems praising him. This was a characteristic of his lyrical style {Gh:47-48}.

The many poems mentioned here, as relating to the times of Shah Shoja`s reign, are referred to in Ghasem Ghani’s careful study based on the best available sources. These poems are about Shoja`, according to {Gh:234-240}: ghazals K105, K174, K231, K296, K378, K430, K454, and K460; and these poems according to  {Gh:242}: ghazals: K6, K19, K172, K253, and K480; and these poems according to {Gh:354-363}: ghazals K163,K279,and K287,  and “probably” ghazals K12,K30,K 35,K145,K209, and K280.  According to {Gh:251}the qasideh  in praise of Shah Shoja` dates to around 768/1367; and according to {Gh: 234-240} these ghazals date to 765-767/1364-1366: K105, K 430, K 454, K 460, K231,K232, K296, K378, K174; and according to {Gh:299}, also this ghazal: K261; and according to {Gh:304}these ghazals: K185, K305: and K463 .

  1. Hafez often referred to the person he disliked as “rival (raqib) {Gh:234}.
  2. “He whose face and stature made him the king of the beauty {K 174:9}.”
  3. Shoja` valued the company of learned and talented people {Gh:353-354}.
  4. This poem, ghazal 105, was written during Mahmud’s rule in Shiraz {Gh:241-242}.
  5. Mahmud later attacked Shiraz (Gh:262-264}.
  6. He also appointed as a Vizier, Qotb al-Din Soleyman Shah {Gh:246-247}.
  7. See {R:46}.
  8. According to Ghasem Ghani, he was in Yazd {Gh:370 . Also see {Li1:41}, cited in Google Books, available at

< Mobarez-al-Din&source=bl&ots=ifToOsMHlD&sig=0Vt4bbnd613J0zbU9p9qHKNK7fk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiyk6HY66ndAhXIhVQKHS4lDrMQ6AEwB3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Amir%20Mobarez-al-Din&f=false> (accessed on March 20,2019).

In a qat`eh, Hafez complains that “The King of Yazd saw me and I praised him, but he gave me nothing {Kq10}.”   This could be referring to Yahya who had a reputation for not keeping his promise and for being a miser (bakhil) {Gh:399).

  1. In 793/1391, Zayn al-ʿAbedin was released from prison and joined Shah Yahya to fight Mansur, but Shah Mansur defeated them and by 793/1391, he was the most powerful Mozaffarid prince {Wi}.
  2. Hafez was especially fond of Mansur {Gh:399}.
  3. See {R:209}.
  4. Ghani, using Sudi’s Divan of Hafez, as a reliable source {Gh:417}.
  5. In {Kq39:4} Hafez indicates that he complained that Mansur’s aides had reduced the certain sum of pension (vazifeh) that Mansur, like his forefathers, paid to poets and writers (ahl-e qalam), and in response Mansur raised it to the previous level {Gh:416}.
  6. That poet had died in 645/1237.

Chapter XI

  1. See {Gh:416}.
  2. See {Gh:416}.
  3. Thus, Hafez stands in stark contrast with his contemporaries, Ibn Khaldun who was a counselor to the King of Egypt, among others, and Dante who was very active in the politics of Naples.

Chapter XII

  1. This assumes that Hafez was about 22 at the time of his qat`eh 38 about Mas`ud Shah, according to Ghasem Ghani {Gh:49-50}.
  2. Moses (the shepherd) will achieve his goal of marrying into the family of the prophet Jethro (Sha`ib), who became Moses’s father-in-law {R:254}.
  3. See {R:254}.
  4. In one poem he says “I who chose not to travel from my homeland all my life {K306:6}.”
  5. See ghazals {K 132:6; K 242:1; K 243:1; K 244:1; K 392:5}.
  6. – It has been estimated that nearly 20 percent of Hafez’s ghazals explicitly refer to dawn or early morning. Franklin Lewis, “The Semiotic Horizons of Dawn in the Poetry of Hafiz,” Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London: 2010).

Chapter XII

  1. See {R:661}.
  2. See {R:207}.
  3. The comparison to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, also written for the author’s own guidance and self-improvement, is tempting. Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall, who played the key role in introducing Hafez to the West, apparently was not immune to such temptation. (His first ever complete translation of the Divan of Hafez into a western language which began to appear in German in 1812 was highly influential in Goethe’s understanding of Hafez. It is because of Goethe’s work about Hafez, in turn, that the Persian poet became an important source within international literature.) A distinctive quality of Hammer’s translation lies “in his allusions and comparative references to Latin and Greek literature in his explanatory notes, which demonstrate the translator’s attempt to make Hafez’s poetical world comprehensible to contemporary readers more at home with classical poetical forms.” Hammer was trained to be a diplomat. The only important function he fulfilled in that profession “was that of an interpreter, when, in 1819 and 1820, the Persian ambassador Mirza Abu’l-Ḥasan visited the court of Vienna. As a gift to the Shah, Hammer translated Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations into Persian, for which the Shah rewarded him with the Order of the Lion and Sun.” J. T. P. de Bruijn, “HAMMER-PURGSTALL, JOSEPH FREIHERR von,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, XI/6, pp. 644-646, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012). (accessed on March 20, 2019).
  4. The rest of the popular saying is “For God will return the favor in the desert {R:356}.”


The transliteration rules in common academic literature are followed with modifications deemed to simplify them. Persian (and Arabic) words are not italicized. The primary goal is for a Persia-speaking reader to recognize the word(s). Spelling of names and words which are used frequently by other authors in contemporary American English are adopted. Words are capitalized and pluralized as they are in English. The symbol ` is used for the leter `ayn; the symbol ‘ is used for the letter hamzeh; the additional  –e and –ye are used at the end of a word to connote relationship with the following word.







Keyvan Tabari

Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.



Table of Contents


The Platform



           The Masnavi  



          Mystical poetry


Spiritualized Religion

          Spiritualizing Islam

          Religious Conflicts

          Religious Tolerance

          Primacy of Islam



 Persian Gnosticism (`Erfan)


          Knowledge and How to attain it




                   Greek Influence



          Fundamental Questions 




                   Free will


                   Unity of Being





This is one of several chapters in my project on Rumi, the Islamic Gnostic Persian poet who was named Jalal al-Din (1207-1273). The other chapters cover the following subjects: Rumi in today’s world, Rumi’s biography, Rumi in ecstasy and Rumi’s world, the natural or material world in which he lived. The present chapter is about Rumi’s imagination. There are, inevitably, some overlaps among these chapters despite the individual subjects of their focus. The literature on Rumi is copious. If there is anything new in this project it results from reading Rumi’s words anew on the cumulative basis of the worthy works of others.

Imagination is the source of creativity. In Rumi’s case the flight of his imagination took the form of poesy, or she’r as he says in Persian, his native tongue. In this chapter the focus is on Rumi’s profound (ma’navi) didactic (masnavi) poetry. This was the product of Rumi’s prolonged contemplative musing on virtually all the knowledge available at his time, but especially in philosophy and theology.

The culture which engulfed Rumi was Islamic, but it was built upon a longstanding and highly developed Persian tradition. That distinction made it a unique civilization in the Islamic world. Other Muslim lands, including the Arab and Turkish areas, differed from the Persian environment which nourished Rumi. Rumi accentuated this differentiation by not venturing beyond his home town of Konya. The spiritual poetry that is his creative legacy is indeed singular as it was, furthermore, the product of his meditation in isolation.

That product is mainly on display in the six books of Rumi’s Masnavi. The construct of this complex platform for images and symbols of Rumi’s profound poetry is discussed here first, followed by a summary description of the content drawn from Rumi’s own prefaces to each of the six books.  The next section is an analysis of Rumi’s thoughts about Islam in comparison with other faiths, and his opinions on religious conflicts as well as ecumenism. Rumi’s spiritualization of Islam also serves as the preview to his broader ontological discourse on existence, God and His creation. That is the subject of Rumi’s distinct Gnosticism with its own roots, epistemology and core concepts, all detailed in the last part of this essay.

The Platform


Sometime past the age of 50 years, Rumi (Mawlana Jalal al-Din, 1207-1273), speaking to his circle of disciples, offered this apologia:

“I have studied the various branches of learning and taken pains in order that the learned, the seekers of truth, the clever and the profound thinkers, may come to me for an elaboration of things precious, strange, and precise. God too wanted this, for He gathered all this learning here and put me through all the agony that I should occupy myself with this labor. What am I to do? In our country and among our people there is nothing more dishonorable than being a poet. Had we remained in that land, we would have lived in harmony with their taste and would have done what they wanted, such as teaching, writing books, preaching, practicing asceticism, and doing pious works {Fih: 74; Th: 77-78}.”

This defensive explanation of why he had become a poet was prompted by criticisms from Rumi’s fellow clerics and Sufis in Konya. They considered his lyrical poetry worshipping Shams al-Din Tabrizi to be against both the Shari’at of the Islamic religion and Tariqat of the Sufis’ way [1] {F1: 15}. Contrary to what was expected of him, Rumi had not written any religious books; a group of seven very short formulaic sermons delivered at memorial occasions is all in strictly Islamic tracts that he has left behind [2].  He had aspired to be a teacher but he was better known merely as a preacher (va`ez).

Following the above-quoted “discourse,” sometime between 1258 and 1261, Rumi began composing his religious, Gnostic work, the Masnavi poem. The task preoccupied him for the next ten years which was the rest of his life. He stopped teaching altogether. Such life in virtual seclusion was the model established by two Islamic thinkers Rumi admired the most: the theologian Sufi Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and the poet Abul-Majd Majdud Sana`i (1080- 1131).  “Harken to the words of Hakim who lived in seclusion,” Rumi would say, referring to Sana`i {Mi: 3426}. Ghazali, also, had returned to his hometown of Tus in 1096 to spend several years in seclusion (‘ozlat); abstaining from teaching, he would only write.

Rumi was asked to compose the Masnavi by Hosam al-Din Ormavi who succeeded Salah al-Din Zarkub, Shams’ immediate successor as Rumi’s most important spiritual friend [3]. Hosam’s intention was to satisfy demands by Rumi’s disciples who had read the philosophical spiritual works of  Sana’i  [4] and his contemporary, the gnostic (‘aref) poet Farid al-Din ‘Attar Nishapuri (1110-1220) [5], and wanted to know their own master’s thoughts, ideas and teaching {F1: six}.

Rumi  may have already considered doing a comprehensive work on what he knew and believed;  he reportedly wrote the first 18 lines of the Masnavi  in his own hand-writing [6] before later dictating the rest for Hosam to take down {F1: 25}. The linkage of those initial lines poetic introduction to the Masnavi with the subject that caused the above apologia is telling of Rumi’s simmering motivation. Lines 6, 7, 9, 10, 14 and 18 of that poem, She’r Ney (the Flute Reed Poem), indicate that Rumi most likely had in mind the critics of his devotionary odes about Shams {F1: 14-15}: “My secret is not far from my naleh (singing complaint) {mI: 7; F1: 14}.”  “The cry of the flute reed is fire; it is not wind {mI: 9; F1: 14}.” “It is the fire of love which fell into the flute reed {mI: 10; F1:  15}.”

However, as Rumi has said, Hosam’s role was crucial in the making of the Masnavi. Hosam was not just the enabler and the scribe, he was also the muse and the audience for Rumi’s Masnavi [7].  Rumi called Hosam “the origin of the Masnavi” and the one who “caused it to increase {Miv: 5}.”  “Since you wish it so, God wishes it so….  {Miv: 6}.”  “It was through your (Hosam’s) efforts (that) (the Masnavi) came from the (world of) spirits into the trap of words and were confined (here) {Mvi: 186}.”  “When (I say) he (Hosam) returned from the Sea toward the shore, the lyre of poesy (chang-e she`r) of the Masnavi became attained (again) {Mii: 5}.” To Hosam, Rumi says: “Now write… {Miii: 2120}.”   “Make the Masnavi nimble and pleasing; abridge and shorten their controversy {Mvi: 525}.”


The Masnavi that thus came into existence was anything but short.  At about 25, 577 lines, it has “almost as many verses as the Iliad and Odyssey together and about twice as many verses as Dante’s Divina Commedia {Nic2: xiii}.” Writing enormous amounts of poetry, however, was not uncommon among famous Persian poets of the age, beginning with Abu Abdollah Rudaki (858-940). Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi’s epic, Shahnameh (composed 997-1010), had as many as 50,000 lines.  Rumi’s own collection of Odes and quatrains in his Divan exceeds 40,000 lines.

Masnavi displays Rumi’s philosophical imagination. With only Hosam as his listener, Rumi’s stream of thoughts in the Masnavi is not interrupted by interlocutions of visitors so frequent in his other, contemporaneous work, the Discourses (Fih ma fih). There seems to have been no attempt by him at preparation, no studying other poems, no conscious reflections: Rumi introduces himself in She’r Ney as a reed flute, empty of self and letting out only the breath of the reed player {F1::2}. The real poet is ‘eshq (love) and Rumi is no more than a tool {F1:7}. In the process, the Masnavi becomes the meditation of a profound thinker on a full range of epistemological, spiritual, theological and philosophical discussions current in the medieval times. Rumi’s rare worthy contemporary, the Persian Sa’di was a better poet on many of these subjects but Rumi’s didactic approach is much more insightful. In the literature of the Persian-speaking world he is the ultimate thinker. What Rumi called simply his Masnavi (or The Book of Masnavi) is often referred to by scholars as Rumi’s Spiritual Couplets, a translation of Masnavi ma`navi.  Rumi’s treatment of the main subjects of the Masnavi indeed portrays Rumi as an Islamic Persian Gnostic thinker.

After more than 2,000 poems in the Masnavi,  Rumi foretells that “If the Masnavi were as the sky in magnitude, not half the portion of this (mystery) would find room in it {Mi: 2098}.”  That prospect did not stop Rumi.  Some 23,000 poems later, he confessed that “(Even) if (all) the forest should become pens (medad, Rumi’s word) and (all) ocean ink; (yet) there is no hope of bringing the Masnavi to an end {Mvi: 248}.”  Now he was exhausted, repeatedly complaining in many passages that “this topic is endless {Mvi: 2665, 2940, 3699 and 3760}.”  Rumi began the Sixth Book of the Masnavi intending thus “to complete” it {Mvi: 3}. Even though that book became the longest of all, Rumi left it unfinished {Nic5: XI; Sc: 35} [8].

The Masnavi

The word masnavi is a verse form: rhyming couplets with a certain rhyme scheme. Persian poets used it in epics (Ferdowsi in Shahnameh) and romances (Nezami in Layli Majnun). Sana’i adapted this form to ethical-didactic spiritual poetry. ‘Attar and Rumi followed Sana`i’s model {Le:  298}. Rumi’s Masnavi shows the deep influence of Sana`i’s Hadiqat al-haqiqat (Garden of Truth) {Le: p 19-20} and Attar’s Mantaq al-teyr (Conference of Birds) and Mosibat-nameh (Book of Affliction) {Sc: 40}. It is composed in the vazn (meter) used by Manteq al-teyr {F1: six}. Its style echoes Rumi’s preference for Sana’i’s matter of fact expression; many verses are variations of Sana’i’s {Sc: 40)}. The Masnavi has many allusions to the Sage (Hakim) of Ghazna, as Rumi called Sana’i; a favorite saying of Rumi, barg bibargi (the leaf of no leaf), referring to spiritual poverty and contentment is borrowed from him {Sc: 37-39}. The Masnavi also borrows fundamental images from `Attar, especially the cross-eyed person who sees everything double; he is the symbol of the unbelievers who are unable to recognize God’s unity {Sc: 40}. Rumi expresses the “utterances of `Attar” on some of the same subjects covered in the Masnavi, as in the story of Mahmud and Hindu Boy {Mvi: 1382}, and offers commentaries on the sayings of the “Master of Nishapur,” as `Attar is called {Mvi: 1382}.

Masnavi displays the erudition which was not unusual for an intellectual in the medieval Persian-speaking Islamic world.  The still small body of knowledge allowed a few like Rumi to be encyclopedic.  The Masnavi has many references to the Qur’an, Hadith (the narrative that is the Islamic Tradition) and other Islamic Narratives (Revayats) {Nic5: Index}. Rumi draws from the collection of animal fables in the late 8th century Kalileh va Damneh (Arabic: Kalila wa Demna, later known in the West as The Fables of Bidpai ). He refers to the heroes in the Iranian national epic, Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh,  and, far more, to the heroes in the famous Persian love stories of Fakhr al-Din Gorgani’s Vis Ramin and Khosrow Shirin, as well as Nezami’s romantic epics, Layli Majnun and  Khosrow Shirin. Numerous similarities can be found between the Masnavi and the Ma`aref (Wisdom) of Baha al-Din, Rumi’s father. The Masnavi also shows the great impact of Shams’ Maqalat (Discourses) in its words, imagery, stories and their meaning. Far more significant for Rumi’s thoughts, knowledge, style and manner of discussion was the impact of  Ehya-ol-ulum al-din ( Vivification of Religious Sciences) by Ghazali, dated 1106 {Fi: five}.  Rumi uses these sacred and profane sources more for allegorical purposes; his attention is focused on the philosophical and spiritual. The Masnavi is mostly austere and chaste language, but it also has occasional humorous [9], and crude passages [10].

In the Masnavi Rumi casts his net wide but leaves his distinct marks on what he chooses.  He presents the views of a variety of philosophers, theologians (motekallemin), mystics and even astrologers (monajjemin) without endorsing them. The examples and stories Rumi gives in the Masnavi are to explain and express the subject; Rumi does not intend them to be the moral and social models. Between what the Masnavi says with what its sources say there is a major difference. Rumi draws an appropriate lesson from every part of the story and includes many points, moral, philosophical, religious, theological or gnostic in explaining the story. As appropriate, he tells one or several stories in the middle of the principal story by drawing on its parts. Bringing in secondary stories into the principal story is a method which is seen in previous works such as Kalileh va Damneh [11]. But drawing results from the parts of a story is distinctly Rumi {F1: 43}. It is with those results that Rumi awes the reader by the depth of his thoughts.


The Masnavi is not the place to find the overt disclosure of Rumi’s feelings about Shams [12]. As he says early in the wok: “It is better that the Friend’s secret remain in veils {Mi: 135; F1: 97}.” The story of Rumi’s love for Shams was best told in Rumi’s Divan Kabir {F1: 92-93}. Nor does the Masnavi especially show the stress of turbulent political conditions of the time [13]. For that one can look in other works of Rumi such as the Discourses.  There are some references to contemporary events and places [14].  His childhood memories influenced Rumi to call Samarqand “cubed sugar (qand)” in a Masnavi poem {mI: 167; F1:103}. The nearby Bukhara’s religious status in contrast to the politically important Samarqand is noted in this comparison of symbols: “The (material) candy is in Samarqand, but his lip got it from Bukhara and that (spiritual candy) became his creed.” {Miii: 863}. Rumi gives the same sobriquet, qand, also to Damascus, joining it with Samarqand {Miv: 1889}. Damascus might have earned that position because Rumi associated it with Shams {Sc: 191}. The reference to Damascus in another poem typifies the way places are mentioned in the Masnavi: “The beauties of Damascus are not fully revealed … unless the view is from the top of (the Mountain) Rubwah overlooking it {Miii: 3753}. This expression was a current proverb [15] {Nic8: 95}. Proverbial association is similarly the reason the  Masnavi  refers to the  cities commonly  known as overwhelmingly Shiite such as Kashan [16]  and  Sabzawar [17]  where  no person named after the Sunni Caliphs  ‘Omar  and Abu Bakr can be found. In the Masnavi those cities become the metaphor for “the state of utter destitution, the state of the spiritual man in the world of matter {Sc: 184-85}. Finally, the Masnavi makes a model of the lamentations of the Shiites of Aleppo in their mourning rituals during the Ashura for their martyred fourth Imam, Hosayn. Rumi upbraids them for focusing on someone who had been dead almost 600 years: they should instead mourn for the corruption of their beliefs:  “Loudly lament over your own ruined heart and creed {Mvi: 802a, Mvi: 795; Le: 13}.”

Just as in the case of places, the Masnavi’s references to events are not description of Rumi’s contemporary time; they are for symbolic reasons. Thus the taking of the city of Sabzawar by Sultan Muhammad Khwarazmshah  (r. 1200-1220) is the subject of a Masnavi story in which the Sultan is depicted as “God Almighty who demands from this wicked folk (the Shiite inhabitants of Sabzawar) the (pure) heart {Mv: 868]  [18].” Similarly, in reference to Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (971-1030), the Masnavi notes: “What a hellish person Mahmud must be, since he has become proverbial for woe and anguish {Mvi: 1397},” to make a point in “The story of Mahmud and the Hindu boy (servant) {Mvi: 1383}.” There, the Hindu, by surrendering completely to his master, wins his love, the two becoming mutually interdependent {Sc: 188}: “Hark, O fellow-servant, go and, like the Hindu boy, be not afraid of the Mahmud of non-existence. Be afraid of the existence in which you are now. That fantasy of yours is nothing and you (yourself) are nothing {Mvi: 1446}.”


References to all aspects of contemporary world in the Masnavi aim to help construct a different world of imagination. Objective reality is transformed into a realm of symbols for a subjective truth. Rumi spares nothing in this process of describing his spiritual world.  He takes us to the bazaar where he tests the earthen pots: just as those that give a good sound and those with hidden cracks sound different,  he tells us, the faithful and hypocrites are discernible by the words and sound they produce  {Miii: 792; Sc:792 f}. Villagers are used as symbols for the uneducated base faculties who cause all kinds of troubles in the bazaar and are eventually stopped by the market-superintendent, “reason {Miii: 517; Sc: 54, n126}.”

Rumi spiritualizes images from various spheres of daily life, including foods:  the sweet desert paloodeh is mentioned as a symbol of spiritual sweetness. {Sc: 143}. The cupbearer of the day of alast, the Qur`anic Day of Covenant when man accepted the Divine call, pours the wine that true lovers need. A Pig, dog, ass and cow portray man as following his lusts. Bird imagery represents other human qualities: the duck for greed, the peacock eminence, and the crow worldly desire. The unhappy bird longs for the company of those who sing the same tunes: “Birds of one feather flock together {Sc: 115, n 251}.” Many of images Rumi used existed in proverbial saying {Sc: 99}:  the Prophet’s winged steed, the lion as the model of the holy man, the elephant that sees India in his dream, moth and candle depicting the approximation to and annihilation in the light of God. The Masnavi is full of personalities which folk tradition had transformed into half-mythological beings:  Ibrahim Khalil, Job, Jacob, Jonah, Harut and Marut {Sc: 176-179}. Jesus is the physician of the soul because of his life-bestowing breath; while Moses is seen as shepherd. Figures from pre-Islamic Iran are presented as archetypal: Sohrab as mighty {Mv: 466}, Rostam for manliness “who was the son of one-hundred Zals (for heroes) {Mii: 372}; Kay Khosrow for being splendid {Miii: 534}; Bahram as sovereign {Mvi: 2860}.

Mystical Poetry

In the Masnavi Rumi expresses his true feelings behind multicolored veils of images and stories. Early in the Masnavi, Rumi declares that he would conceal certain secrets and reveal them only in tales [19] {mI: 135, 136; F1:97}, a rule which he repeats several times later in the Masnavi {mII: 2494, 2495; F1:97, 198}. Some of the passages in the Masnavi will remain mysterious as the meanings of words of a spiritual teacher can become ambiguous outside the group of his intimate disciples {Nic2: xvi}. Explaining the true meaning of the Masnavi ’s allusions, the mysteries behind the veil, has been the purpose of a genre of literature in Persian called Sharh Masnavi  (explaining the Masnavi) {Le: p 394-419} [20] . Commentaries on the Masnavi reportedly began by Rumi himself: a manuscript containing an explanation of some of the poems of the Masnavi by Rumi and his son Soltan Valad has been found [21] {F1: tenth}.  

The Masnavi does not give us a systematic theology [22]. Nor was the Masnavi a philosophical system [23]. The work, indeed, lacks a “logical” system with “degrees” and “hierarchy” and different “conditions” {Ta: 320}. Its “verses lead one into the other, and the most heterogeneous thoughts are woven together by word associations and loose threads of stories {Sc: 35,236, 273}.”  Rumi “creates an aesthetic atmosphere which defies analysis. As a rule, we apprehend the main drift and broad sense of his words; the precise and definitive meaning assigned to them is a makeshift; we can really do no more than indicate parallel lines of the thought, call attention to affinities, and suggest clues {Nic7: XIII}.”

While attempting to turn the Masnavi’s mystical poetry into intellectual prose thus has confounded some commentators {Nic7: XIII}, others, to the contrary, have marveled at the work’s ability to condense “a whole thought system” into a few poetical lines {Sc: preface}. The Masnavi’s structure, actually, “is far from being so casual as it looks.” Its stories “are bound together by subtle links and transitions…; and each Book forms an artistic whole… {Nic6: xiii-ix}.” The stories are connected because at the end each implicitly introduces the reason for the next story. Thus in Book I, the second story is related to the first by the latter’s last lines, in poem 316, which talks about Eblis (Satan) who looks like humans and their deceptions. The purpose of this second story is criticizing religious prejudices which those who are after high status use to deceive simple folks for their own bad goals {F1: 152}.  Similarly, the purpose of the third story is to say that coercion cannot stop the influence of faith and the spread of ideas;   the previous, second, story showed that neither could deception and tricks. Rumi then finishes this third story in the way that provides introduction to the fourth story, of Lion and Hare, as evidence of God’s power and his control over events {F1: 292}. It is often the same in the other Books of the Masnavi. Book IV, for example, starts with “the end of the story of that lover” from the last story of Book III {Nic3: J-D}; and the stories in this Book are related each to the theme of the previous ones. Similarly, the stories in Book VI are set up by the last line of the previous stories {Mvi: 3129, 3345}.

The sequence of the stories does not indicate any systematic design to create a whole theory; rather Rumi tells them in the order compelled by what preoccupied his thoughts at the time.  Thus, for example, the First Story in the Masnavi was prompted by Rumi’s separation from Shams; the Second by the strong opposition he experienced from various Islamic religious groups, especially the faqihan (religious law experts) and ahl zaher (lovers of appearance of piety); and the Third by the coercion of the faithful by the rulers which Rumi personally observed {F1:43, 152-53, 292}.

An example that Books of the Masnavi each concentrates on a few separate subjects is Book III. In it the details of the ascetics’ practice of riyazat (avoiding worldly desires) and the justification for it are discussed in more than one hundred poems (mIII: 4109- 4211; F1:122}.  All of the Masnavi’s six books, however, must be reviewed together in order to abstract the sum of Rumi’s distinct insights and thoughts.


At the beginning of each of the six Books of the Masnavi, Rumi provides a short paragraph in prose [24]. Together these prefaces make a summary description of the whole work and its main points. The preface to Book I  says that the Masnavi is a “poem in Rhymed Couplets, which comprises strange tales and rare sayings and excellent Discourses and precious indications, and the (religious) path of the ascetics and the (spiritual) garden of the devotees – (all this being) brief in expression but manifold in meaning {Nic2: 3 }.” That description is amplified in the preface to Book V:

“This is the Fifth Book of the Poem in rhymed couplets and the spiritual Expositions, setting forth that the Religious Law is like a candle showing the way. Unless you gain possession of the candle, there is no wayfaring; and when you have come on the way, your wayfaring is the Path; and when you have reached the journey’s end, that is, the Truth. Hence it has been said, ‘If the truth (realities) were manifest, the religious laws would be naught.’ In short, the Law is like learning the theory of alchemy from a teacher or a book, and the Path is (like) making use of chemicals, and the Truth is (like) the transmission of the copper into gold. Those who know alchemy rejoice in their knowledge of it, saying, ‘We know the theory of this (science)’; and those who practice it rejoice in their practice of it, saying, ‘We perform such works’; and those who have experienced the reality rejoice in the reality, saying, ‘We have become gold and are delivered from the theory and practice of alchemy: we are God’s freedom.’ Each party is rejoicing in what they have.

“Or the Law may  be compared to learning the science of medicine, and the Path to regulating one’s diet in accordance with (the science of ) medicine and taking remedies, and the Truth to gaining health everlasting and becoming independent of them both. When a man dies to this (present) life, the Law and the Path are cut off (fall away) from him, and there remains (only) the Truth. The Law is knowledge, the Path action, the Truth attainment unto God.” {Nic6:3}

The preface to Book VI describes “The Books of the Masnavi,” which is here referred to also by the name “Books of Spiritual Evidence (shohood ma`navi)” as “a Lamp in the darkness of imagination and perplexity and phantasies and doubt and suspicion. And this Lamp cannot be perceived by the animal sense… since they (the animals) have been created to keep in good order the outward form of the lower world {Nic6:257}.”

The preface to Book II addresses the subject of love, so central in Rumi’s thinking:” Some one asked, ‘What is love?’ I answered, ‘Thou wilt know when thou becomest (lost in) me.’… “Love is uncalculated affection. For that reason it has been said to be in reality the attribute of God and unreal in relation to (man who is) His slave. He (God) loveth them (yuhibbuhum) is the entire sum. Which (of them) is (really the subject of the word yuhibbuhu) they love him?” {Nic2: 221}

The preface to Book III tells us who are favored by God: “God … purifies the initiates’ knowledge from the defilement of ignorance, their justice from the defilement of iniquity, their generosity from the defilement of ostentation, and their forbearance from the defilement of foolishness {Nic4 : 3}.” In return, they, the initiates, like Rumi, have the duty of teaching others:  “But it behooves one who hath knowledge and is seeking (God) that he should learn whatever he does not know, and teach (others) what he knows already, and deal gently with those of weak intelligence, and neither be made conceited by the stupidity of the stupid nor harshly rebuke him that is dull of understanding {Nic 4:4}.”

It is thus that the Masnavi became Rumi’s main stage for teaching his lessons on what he knew best, religion, and the fundamental questions which have always preoccupied thoughtful minds: the truth about god, creation, human being and the connection among the component elements of the universe.

Spiritualized Religion  

Spiritualizing Islam

Many passages in the Masnavi indicate that Rumi considered it as “nothing less than an inspired exposition of the esoteric content of the Qur’an {Nic 7: 1-2}.” The Masnavi contains more than 400 quoted Qur`anic verses; often several in the same, long, poem {Nic 5: Index}.  It has been estimated that 6,000 lines of the Masnavi, roughly one-fourth of all of the poems, consist of direct translations or paraphrases of the Qur’an {Le: 396} [25]. In the Flute Reed Poem which serves as the introduction to the Masnavi, Rumi’s makes clear that he had in mind the criticisms that he was not in accord with Islam and the Sufi ways {F1:14, 15}. In a poem in Book III, Rumi specifies those objections as applied to the Masnavi itself by the critics:

“(Saying) that this discourse, namely the Masnavi, is low; (that) it is the story of the Prophet and (consists of) imitations; (That) there is no mention of (theosophical) investigation and the sublime mysteries towards which the saints make their steeds gallop;  (That) from the stations of asceticism to the passing away (from self-existence), step by step up to union with God; (It contains not) the explanation and definition of every station and stage, so that by means of the wings there of a man of heart (a mystic) should soar.” {Mii: 4233}

In the next few lines, Rumi gives his specific response: “When the Book of God (the Qur’an) came (down), the unbelievers railed likewise (at it too) {Miii: 4238];” and “He (God) said, ‘If this seems easy to you say (compose) one verse (in the style that is) so ‘easy’ as this (the Qur`an) {Miii: 4242}.”  In Book VI, Rumi compares the Masnavi with Shahnameh and Kalileh va Damneh [26]. “By reason of contumacy {obstinate rebelliousness}, the Shahnameh or Kalileh seems to you just like the Qur’an {Mvi: 3463}” Referring to the reader of those books, the Masnavi says:  “His aim is to divest himself from ennui {dissatisfaction)… {Mvi: 3467}… (So) that by means of that (entertaining) discourse he may quench the fire of distress and anxiety and provide a cure (for his malady) {Mvi: 3468}.”  Now Rumi makes a comparison with the Masnavi: “For the purpose of quenching this amount of fire, pure water and urine are alike in skill (are equally serviceable) {Mvi: 3469}.” “But if you become (really) acquainted with this pure water (the Masnavi) which is the Word of God and spiritual, all distress will vanish from the soul, and the heart will find its way to the Rose-garden {Mvi: 3470}.” Rumi had already called Kalileh va Damneh merely a book of fiction “or else how has the stork a quarrel with the cow {Mii: 3621}?” In Book VI he says “You will have read it (the Story of the lake and the fishermen and the three fishes) in Kalileh va Damneh, but that is (only) the husk of the story, while this (the Masnavi) is the spiritual kernel (maghz) {Mvi: 2203}.”

Religious Conflicts

Rumi’s disagreement with rigid Islamic law experts whom he deemed to be focused on appearances  prompted him to make religious conflicts the subject of the second story of the Masnavi, and continue dealing with it throughout the work. This was the time when the Crusades had not yet ended and Christians and Muslims were shedding each other’s blood,  while Muslim groups were fighting among themselves: Shiites and Sunnis , and among the Sunnis, the Hanafi, Shafei, Hanbali and Maleki groups. Rumi’s own Hanafi Sunnis as well as the Shafeis were causing troubles and even destroying rivals’ schools and burning their books in important cities like Isfahan, Nishapur, and even Baghdad {F1: 152-53}.

The Masnavi says religious disputes arise from attachment to the appearance and if you pay close attention all prophets are one {mI: 682-683; F1: 280-281}. The principles of religions are the same, differences are due to ignorance {F1: 164}. “Many the believers, but their faith is One; One is soul, though many are their bodies {Mv: 408; Le: 416}.” Prophets were friends; Moses promised the appearance of Jesus and Jesus, in turn, affirmed Moses, and Mohammad called Moses and Jesus the messengers of God who brought the gospel of his own (Mohammad’s) coming {F1:164}. Mohammad defended Jesus against the false accusations by his enemies.

The Masnavi says clearly that Christianity and Christ’s approach are that of union and oneness {F1: 157}. Jesus invited people to unity and kindness and he who reaches the truth of his religion and its rituals will be free from the differentiating colors and conflicts and will join the world of “no color (beerangi)” and “same color (yekrangi)” {mI: 500, 501; F1: 218-219}.There is unity among the prophets and saints, and this is unity (vahdat) with God {F1:154}. There is no more than one Truth (Haqq) {F1: 216}.  God’s power is expressed in the miracles by Moses and Christ and Mohammad {F1: 157} [27].  The Masnavi goes to the extent of calling all faithful “Muslims (Mosalmanan),” the reference not being limited only to the specific followers of Islam {mI: 801; F1:314). This usage was drawn from Qur’an itself which employed the word Muslim in the same way in three of its verses {F1: 314}.

When the Masnavi is specific, however, its ecumenism does not extend beyond the three Abrahamic religions. It is expressly critical of the beliefs and rituals of both the followers of the Iranian Zoroaster and Mazdak (the Majous) and the post-Vedic Buddha idol-worshippers (botparastan) {F1:261, 292}, the two other basic systems of spiritual beliefs familiar to Rumi. The Masnavi opposes Buddhism for its “idol-worshipping,” and the Iranian (Mazdisani) religions for their principle of the duality of God and Devil (Ahriman) {Mvi: 2377; Fih: 126, 214}, both so fundamentally abhorrent to Islam.

Religious Tolerance

The Masnavi’s tolerance of the specific non-Islamic religions was based on the sacred Islamic text; it was not the “interfaith” acceptance of all “sacred traditions” [28].  Furthermore, the Masnavi’s religious tolerance was in abstract. There is no evidence of any actual interaction between Rumi and the Jews of his time. The Masnavi’s two stories about the Jewish Kings in the first book are from the old Islamic lore, as are its numerous references to Moses and other figures of the Jewish history. With the Christians, on the other hand, not only did Rumi live practically in their midst as they (ethnic Greeks and Armenians) populated the countryside around Konya {Le: 79}, but he was also conscious of the Crusades. The negative impact of the Crusade is manifest in several of Rumi’s Divan poems lamenting  that the European Farangi (the Franks), defiled and desecrated Jerusalem, the “Sacred (Qods)” city to the Muslims, by bringing pigs there {D 361/3882 & 694/7227; 1211/12885; 2517/26632; Sc: 197, n s 117, 119} . Rumi’s reference to Farangi in the Discourses, distinguishing them from the Jehoodi (Rumi’s word, Jewish) {Fih: 85} makes it clear that he does not mean the Jews but the Christian Europeans.

With the Crusades in mind, in one passage, Rumi contrasts Islam, as the religion of war and glory, with Christianity as a religion promoting the monastic life of cave and mountain {Sc: 183}. Elsewhere, the Masnavi compares the approach of Christian monks unfavorably with Islamic Sufis since “Christian (Issawi) poverty,” unlike “Mohammadan poverty,” disregards the protection of physical power and health and life {F1: 139}.

In the Discourses, Rumi tells of his encounter with a “Christian surgeon” who repeats the claim that “Jesus is God,” and  said that “but we conceal our belief and deny it publicly on purpose in order to preserve the community.”  Rumi responds “How is possible for a weak person, who fled the wiles of the Jews from one place to another and whose physical form was less than two cubits, to be the preserver of the seven heavens?… If Jesus’ spirit was God… then where did this spirit go?” The surgeon replies: “This is how we found things, and so, as a community, we adopted it.” Rumi reproaches him:

“If you found or inherited from your father tarnished, worthless, counterfeit coins, wouldn’t you exchange them for gold of sound assay, free from alloy and adulteration?  … It would be proper to say that Jesus’ Lord ennobled him and placed him among the elect and that whoever serves and obeys him serves and obeys the Lord. And if any God sent a prophet better than Jesus and manifested through Jesus, then it would be obligatory to follow that prophet for God’s sake, not for the sake of the prophet {Th:130; in Arabic}”

Shiites. Just as the case of the Christian adversary in the Crusades, in a commentary about another contemporary actual religious conflict, between his own Islamic branch of Sunnis and the Shiite branch, Rumi clearly shows a harsh attitude toward the Shiites. The Masnavi’s tone regarding various groups of Shiites is highly critical in several passages. In Book VI the Shiites of Aleppo are upbraided for their mourning rituals commemorating Ashura for their Fourth Imam, Hosayn, slain in the 7th  century in Karbala {Mvi: 775-793}. Elsewhere, the Masnavi had acknowledges the magnitude of that tragedy for the Shiites, referring to “Slain of Karbala {Mv: 1624}, and using Karbala as a symbol of “killing” {Miii: 423}, disaster {Miii: 831}, and “great suffering” {Miii: 72}. Nevertheless, the Masnavi calls on the Shiites of Aleppo to, instead, “Loudly lament over your own ruined heart and creed {Miv: 802; Mvi: 795; Le: 13}.”

In the heartland of what is today Iran, the Masnavi finds Shiites in the cities of Kashan (Kashi) {Mvi: 3220, 3233}, and Sabzawar. In a long poem entitled “Story of Sultan Muhammad Khwarazmshah’s, who took by war (force) the city of Sabzawar” {Mv: 845}, the Masnavi depicts the Rafezi (Shiite) inhabitants of Sabzawar as infidels, Moghan (Magicians) – a term also used for the infidel Zoroastrians- while it refers to Muhammad Khwarazmshah, symbolically, as God Almighty who demands from this wicked folk the (pure) heart {Mv: 868}. This is the same Muhammad Khwarazmshah which the Masnavi in another story calls “very bloodthirsty, and that perverse (tyrant) had killed many kings in that region either by craft or violence {Mvi: 2537}.”

Primacy of Islam

Masnavi reserves a special place for Mohammad, the prophet of Islam. He is singled out among “all prophets,” in the salutation of Book IV of the Masnavi {Nic 4: 271}.  Allusions to Mohammad are frequent throughout the Masnavi {Sc: 283}.  His name is mentioned by far more than anyone else, twice as many as the next person, Moses {Nic 5: Index}. He is often called by the honorific names Mostafa (chosen one) and Ahmad (praiseworthy). Mohammad is “the final of the prophets” and fulfills what his predecessors have taught {Sc: 281}.  His “name (nam)” and “features (helliyha) are heralded in the Gospel (Enjil) {mI: 727, 729; F1: 289}.” Islamic legends of several centuries about Mohammad are echoed in the Masnavi.  He is drawn as the paragon of mildness and wisdom, and the embodiment of love {Sc: 281, 284}.

The very rare reference to the Gospel in the Masnavi  was occasioned by its “mentioning” Mohammad, presumably as “another Paraclete” in John 14:16 {Sc: 287}; in other places, the Masnavi, for the same reason, refers to  Zoboor (Psalm) and Torit (The Pentateuch)  along with Enjil as bearing witness  to the truth of the Qur’an {Miii: 2593}. The Masnavi makes no other direct reference to either New Testament, Old Testament or, indeed, to the sacred texts of any other religions than Islam. On the other hand, its references to the Qur`an are ubiquitous, as has been mentioned [29].  Rumi treats the Qur`an and Hadith as incontrovertible written evidence (sanad) of the points he makes in the Masnavi {F1: 43-45}.


The heading for one of the Masnavi’s stories alludes to one Hadith which posits that there are seven layers of meaning to Qur`anic verses. In the third layer beneath the words the meaning is lost to all human reason. Further beneath, the fourth layer is impenetrable to all. In short, the Qur`an must be read with insight; the literal-minded fails to apprehend its meaning {Miii: 4247-9; Mvi: 4862; Le: 418}.

The Masnavi denounces those scholastic theologians whose pedantic and literal disputations lead only to false interpretation of the Qur`an. In the Masnavi’s view a human being himself is capable of knowing and discernment and does not need the theologians {F1: 216}. In that pursuit, however, man needs some preparation. As “(God) has said in the Qur’an ‘This Qur’an with all its hearts leads some aright and others astray {Mvi: 655, 656}.”  To begin with, a spiritual orientation is required. The Masnavi says there are spiritual senses which are different from the outward (zaheri) senses (hess). The latter are the senses of this world; they comprise the faculties of understanding (fahm and edrak).  Spiritual senses, on the other hand, consist of the “underneath (bateni)” faculties {F1:139}. A philosopher relies on his outward senses and does not hear the spiritual voice of everything created {Sc: 298}. It is through the spiritual senses, Rumi says, that man can reach the true meaning (ma’ni) of things and words. That is an experiential comprehension, beyond understanding of the outward surface or appearance. It demands self-discipline and purity {Le: 405}.

The way to get to the treasure underneath the appearance is struggle, the Masnavi says, although even “if appearance (face) is not melted by you, then God himself will melt it because His nature is dropping the veil of His face. {mI: 684,685; F1:280-281}.” Nevertheless, one may not dispense with the outward observance of religion. A good Muslims does not neglect the rituals such as praying, fasting and going to pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). But the mere performance of such obligations does not suffice.  “Hypocrites may pray beside the pious; prompted not by abject need, but malice {Le: 394-419}.” In remembering God, just saying words like ensha’ al-Allah (God willing) is not enough; the objective is “the feeling of the heart,” the intent {F1: 44}.  The Masnavi describes the moral characteristic of an action (whether it is good and bad) as dependent on intention. When it is in accord with maslahat (good cause), the action is good; and if it is mixed with corruption it is bad. It is the same way with ascetic practices (riyazat) which the Sufi seeker (salek) may undertake {F1: 48, 49}.


All actions and external movements of man are due to his internal transactions (enfealaat) and conditions (halaat) {Mi: 108}. The Masnavi posits this view as an epistemological (marefat) principle in the didactic ethical construct of his Islamic spirituality {mIII: 4386 ff; F1: 81} . In the Masnavi, nafs (body) is the combination of all bad characteristics in man and the source of all bad that comes from him. Nafs is the opposite of ruh (spirit) which is the combination and source of all goods in man {F1: 170-171} [30]. Excessive desires (shahvat) are created in man by the order of God and acted on by the body {F1: 212-213}. Killing the nafs and emptying (takhliyeh) oneself, however, is the prerequisite to achieving pleasures (`aish) {F1: 140}. The Masnavi says “a man is he who rises above shahvat and hers (excessive and inappropriate desires) and mature is the one who is drunk with Truth, not earthly desires {mI: 3430ff; mV: 4026 ff; F1: 76}. What is required is separating oneself from being (hasti) and self-worshipping (khod parasti)” {mI: 306; F1: 140}.

The taming and killing of the nafs is not possible without the grace (‘enayat) of God {F1: 178}. The Masnavi prescribes steps, however, that are useful. They include the common Islamic (shar`iat) rituals, especially prayer and fasting, but with one’s heart being present {Sc: 290, 302-03}. Past that, on the spiritual path (tariqat), there are the familiar Sufi praxis of towbeh (repentance) and nedamat (remorse) {Sc: 301}, and maintaining the attitudes of tavakkol (trust in God), sabr (patience), shokr (gratitude) {Sc: 304} and razdari (keeping confidence) {mI: 175: F1:104-05} and being ibn al-vaqt (time-conscious) {mI: 133; F1:96}. Finally, come the ascetic practices of khalvat (seclusion) and mojahedeh (struggle) {F1: 205}. The goal, following the Masnavi, is destroying the stages of distinction and the borders of multiplicity so as to reach vahdat (unity) which is the resting place of heart and spirit {mI:497-498; F1: 217-218}.

The Masnavi calls itself “the shop for (spiritual) poverty (faqr) {Mvi: 1525}.”  This is following the Prophetic saying “Poverty is my pride.” That poverty is not the outward appearance of the dervishes:  “Don’t seek it in the coarse cloth.” It means to possess nothing and be possessed by nothing {Sc: 307}. It is the result of fana (annihilation), a concept spoken before Rumi by Sana’i and `Attar {Sc: 307}. The seeker must accede completely to God’s will; he must metaphorically die to self, before he dies physically. His ego must be extinguished before God. As Rumi puts it in the Discourses: “In His presence there is no room for two egos (do ana). …Either you die or … He will die…Yet it is impossible that He should die, either in the universe or in the mind, for ‘He is the living, who does not die.’ … you die so that He may become manifest in you and the duality be lifted {Fih: 24-5, Le: 418}.”

Rumi says that worshiping idols comes from worshiping self because it comes from hope and fear which are seeking benefit for or avoiding loss from self. Pleasures are similarly the manifestation of selfishness and so long as this attitude remains man every so often creates an idol and bows to it. Thus one must break the real idol that is the idol-maker {mI: 779; F1: 294, 311}. Even praising God is seeing him separate from yourself and the result is thus sherk (sharing with God) and duality; therefore, it is best for the seeker to die onto himself and remain in God {mI: 225; F1: 225}. The perfect man, annihilated in God is like shadow which does not have an existence of itself but is perfect because it is joined to God {F1: 195}.

Fana. Rumi says annihilation (fana) is the basis of baqa (permanent life in God) {Sc: 310-11}. The appearance of fatal sacrifice (shahadat) for God is death but its real meaning (haqiqat) is eternal life; while the appearance of sensual (hessi) living and material world are pleasure and their real meaning is ill-feeling (nakhoshi) {mI: 782, mV: 420 ff; F1: 312}. Rumi does not describe in detail the state of rapture which is the Sufi fana.  It is not a union with God so much as man becoming the interpreter of Truth or God. Rumi calls it experiencing kebriya (Divine Grandeur) {Sc: 312-13}.

Pir.  One of the main, perhaps the fundamental, principle of Sufism was that going the way of God (solook) was not possible without a guide (pir, literary elder). The advantage of  a Sufi guide (Pir Tariqat) over other Islamic religious leaders was that those clerics considered knowing religious rules (ahkaam) and fundamentals of  the  Shari`at (Law)  enough for reaching the fullness (kamal) and happiness (sa`adat); while Sufis, on the other hand, believed that he who does not ask for Pir’s help will never achieve those goals.  Accordingly, whenever the Pir disappears, of necessity another one must replace him {mI: 671; F1: 274-275}. The Pir provides answers to the questions and problems of the Sufi seeker (salek) {mI: 97-98; F1: 78-79}.  His impact on the seeker is like kimia, a completing element {mI: 716; F1: 287-288}. There are real Pirs and false and deceiving ones {F1: 288-289; mI: 718, 719}. An archetypal real Pir in the Masnavi is the Persian Bayazid Basmati (804-874) {Mii: 2183, Mvi: 2548, 3649}. God’s ordainment comes into view on Bayazid’s heart (Miv: 1924} and God speaks through him {Miv:  2123, 2124, Mv: 1683} .

Qotb. Masnavi names Bayazid as a Qotb (Pole or Pivot),  or spiritual axis mundi, in  a list that consists of such other Persian Sufis as the Jonayd (830-910) , Mansur Hallaj  (858-922) and Ibrahim Adham (718-782),  as well as the four first caliphs of Islam, and several prophets from Adam to Moses, and Jesus and Mohammad. There must always be present in the world such a deputy (vali) of God. These deputies of God are not different from God himself {F1: 159}, and the seeker (salek) must follow their orders as exactly those of God {mI: 674; F1: 277}. Without the prophets and the Qotb of the age to lead, the world would remain devoid of true life {Le: 400}.

As Rumi says about Hallaj: “I am God’ on the lips of Mansur (Hallaj), is the light (of truth or God) {Mii: 305}. Similarly, “Though the Qur’an is (dictated) from lips of the Prophet, if any one says God did not speak it, he is an infidel {Miv: 2122}.”  “Because God does not appear to our senses, we can see Him in His deputies: the prophets {mI: 1673; F1: 276-277}”.  They do not have to express themselves “by the way of speech,” but can do it, as Bayazid did, “by the way of vision (az rah-e `ayan),” that is by the way of immediate experience {Miv: 2102}. A seeker can know God only through a person who, by examples, can have God’s characteristics and the prophets are those persons {mI: 1673; F1: 276-277}.

Sohbat. The Masnavi says that man needs true companions on his spiritual journey {Sc: 293}. He should avoid mixing with those who do not have the same understanding of the realities of life {Sc: 294}. The Masnavi says that the way to reach meaning (ma`ni) is keeping company (sohbat) and association (hamneshini) with the people (ahl) of meaning {mI:1711; F1: 285}.The Masnavi considers sohbat as the essential foundation for seeking spirituality (solook), Rumi differentiates between sohbat and hamgami (walking together), on the one hand, and the learning  (`elm amouzi) that is done by teaching the Tradition (ravayat) and listening (sama` ) {F1: 286}.

Community. The Masnavi justifies the killing of an apparently innocent man if a person ordering it was appointed by the community for such rulings; this is called maslahat (good cause) {mI: 230, 263; F1:120, 127}. Elsewhere, the Masnavi  makes another observation on the importance of community: different religions are each good for their followers and obeying them is made easy and for that reason they do not follow other religions {F1: 213-214}.

The Masnavi indicates the community of Sufis which Rumi would have chosen in poems that show the type of Pir he preferred for his own sohbat as a disciple:  “Give me leave … that I may perform a rope-dance, like Mansur {Miii: 4214}.” “You make yourself a Mansur Hallaj and set fire to cotton of your friends {Miii: 693}.”  Rumi was conscious of the animosity of many Sufis in Konya toward him, as the Masnavi indicates in several places {mII: 2494; F1: 198}.  Some would criticize the Masnavi because it did not show sufficient Sufi training {Sc: 299}. Indeed, the Masnavi does not even mention the most famous Sufi teacher of the time, Ibn Arabi, or the standard books of Sufism: Qosheyri’s Resala and Abu Taleb Makki’s Qut al-Qolub.  It aimed at “immediate knowledge” which was learned not from books but from “experience” {Sc: 299}. Similarly, Rumi rejected the prominent Sufi Ahmad Ghazali and his fellow Holmanians who saw in a pretty person (shahed) the sign (gavah) and reason of the beauty of God. Instead, Rumi chose loving mard kamel (the perfect and complete man) which was the same as loving God, as the principle of his own way (tariqat) {mI: 700 ff; F1: 30-31}.

Persian Gnosticism (`Erfan)

Although the Masnavi refers to Rumi as a Sufi, he sometimes uses the word Sufi in a pejorative sense. True Sufi for Rumi was not the one who wore woolen (suf) frocks (the vernacular meaning of the word) but, rather, the one who sought purity (safvat) -another word derived from the same Arabic root (tasavvof ) {Sc: 4, 299}. Even darvish (dervish), the Persian word for the Arabic faqir derived from faqr (poverty), did not always please Rumi who so fervently espoused spiritual poverty as the goal. The Masnavi in a story ridicules the simpleton dervish who loses his donkey in a trick by other Sufis of a convent where he is a guest {Mii: 203 ff; Sc: 56-7, n. 153}.  In Rumi’s time, claiming to be a dervish (darvishi) was popular and was sometimes used as a tool for getting money and worldly status. The Masnavi warns against such “devils in the form of man”. The seeker should avoid such unsuitable companions {mI: 316; F1:145}. Indeed, he should generally “Make a practice of seeing (for yourself) without blindly following (taqlid) any authority: think in accordance with the view of your own intelligence (`aql) {Mvi: 3345}.”The term mysticism comes from the Greek μυω, meaning “to conceal”  {Ge}; Rumi’s goal was to reveal: he was a Gnostic (‘aref), seeking knowledge, not reveling in the unknowable. What his quest produced was conditioned by the limits of empirical information available at his time. His imagination filled in the gaps.


Rumi’s epistemology is fundamentally different from that of the two main currents of his times: theological (kalaami), and philosophical (falsafi). In both of those, each consisting of many branches, the dominant approach was rationalism. The Masnavi shows Rumi accepting reason and logic as useful but inadequate in the search for truth. What is further needed, he insists, is meta-rationalism.  For him the ultimate step is not learning but beyond that, experiencing the truth. To make this point he employs various metaphors. Seeing as distinguished from hearing is his favorite: “Wherever there was ear it was made by Him into an eye  (har koja goshi bood az vey cheshm gasht) {mI:515}.”   The  result is that from the level of “hearing,”  and understanding of formal disciplines, which at its height is “the knowledge of certainty (`elm al-yaqeen )” one, by the grace of  God, reaches to the level of  seeing and “certainty itself ( `ein  al-yaqeen )”{F1:224}.”


The Masnavi makes clear that it is not opposed to reason: “Blessed is the eye that is ruled by reason {Mvi: 2966},” but Rumi notes its limitations in the Discourses: “Reason is good to bring you to the king’s gate, then you divorce (talaq deh) reason  as from then on reason is to your detriment {Fih: 112, 309}.”  The  Masnavi gives examples:  “Reason can’t perceive another trap, hence the inspiration (vahy) which sees the unseen (ghayb) spied in this direction (for help) {Mvi: 2970},” and “By reason you can recognize congener (hamjens)  and non-congener, you ought not to run at once to (outward) form; Jesus, in the form of man, was (really) homogenous with the angels {Mvi: 2972}.”  The Masnavi compares reasoning with “unveiling (kashf)” by “signs (shohood)”: “Reasoning is shade and signs are like the sun: if there is no sun there won’t be any shade {mI: 117; F1: 89}.” Rumi calls his Masnavi “the book of spiritual signs (shohood ma`navi) which are a Lamp in the darkness of imagination and perplexity and phantasies and doubt and suspicion {VI: Preface}.”

For Rumi there are two types of knowledge: one, “`Elm Maktaseb (Acquired Knowledge),” is obtained by arranging the thinking process or through senses, and the other, “`Elm Ladoni (Immediate Divine Knowledge), is achieved through discovery by means of signs (shohood) and “inspiration by revelation (elham)” [31]. Those who Rumi calls `aqelan (clever ones) have learned all kinds of knowledge and got into details in discussions but nevertheless deny God and miracles because they are deprived of seeing, and this is the sign of God’s disfavor (qahr) toward them {F1:223}. The way of the philosophers who spend a life in “discussion and disputation (bahs va monazareh)” is not the right way {mI: 532; F1:231-232}. “Although by language we can clarify the meaning of love (as is the way of ‘those who engage in discussion (ahl bahs)’ but the way of ‘followers of discovery (ahl kashf)’ is clearer {mI: 113; F1:88}.”  Indeed, “knowledge based on discussions (‘elm bahsi) and exchange of views (nazar),” prevents, as a curtain, reaching the goal of “knowing (ma`refat)” {mI: 477; F1:212}.  As Rumi says in the Discourses, “knowledge is based not on words and sounds but derives from the other world; God does not speak by words and sounds {Ar: 268}.”

According to the Masnavi, however, God does communicate to man by elham which to Rumi was a form of “spiritual inspiration (kashf ma`navi).” This was different from vahy which was “unveiling by signs (kashf shohoodi), considered by the theologians to be addressed only to the prophets {F1: 117}. The Masnavi also considered sleep as an important channel for discovery {F1: 40}. In Rumi’s views dream is due to a kind of freedom of spirit from external restrictions. Some of the poems in the Masnavi in this regard resemble those of the Sufis and philosophers. They stand in contrast to the two dominant theological thinkers of the time:  the Mu`tazilites who considered dream as “nonsense (mohoom)” and the Ash`arites who said it was not “the reality of understanding (edrak) {F1:179-181}.”


The most important philosopher of Rumi’s times, Avicenna (Abu `Ali Ibn Sina, 980-1037) had done a very detailed study of dreams (ro’ya) and concluded that dream was a combination of external stimulus of senses and the work of imagination {F1:180}. Avicenna’s works as a physician -part of the expertise of a philosopher (hakim) of his time- duly impressed Rumi. The Masnavi mentions Avicenna as an iconic physician on par with Galen (Jalinous) {Sc: 156}, the Greek whose books were foundational both to the Islamic and pre-Islamic, Sassanid, medicine {FI: 230; EIrS2; Sc: 156}.  More broadly, the Masnavi represents Avicenna “as the highest flight of philosophical speculation {Nic 8:138}.” In the same place, however,   Rumi rhetorically shows the limitations of Avicenna (Bu Sina):  “And he (a person) has vision of that Light- how should the explanation of him (his state) be a task (within the capacity) of Bu Sina {Miv: 506}?”  In a few poems later, the Masnavi juxtaposes Philosophy (Hekmat) and Theosophy (Hekmat Elahi), maintaining that “Philosophy is confined to ‘the phenomenal form (surat)’ of Man, whereas Theosophy is connected with ‘the essential truth (haqiqat haqiqat)’ of his true nature {Miv: 521ff}.”

Masnavi, of course, favors Gnosticism, akin to Theosophy, or more precisely, the Persian version of it called `Erfan {mI: 860; F1:326}. The main difference between `Erfan and philosophy (Hekmat) is that the latter accepts logic and logical reasoning and is after “scientific certainty (`alm al-yaqin),” whereas ‘Erfan disfavors reasoned philosophical systems and is after certainty itself (`ain al-yaqin) {Ta: 326}. Thus “Avicenna’s philosophical system, rooted in the Aristotelian tradition, is thoroughly rationalistic and intrinsically alien to the principles of Sufism…. It is also self-consistent and unified, and therefore free of any other mystical or esoteric aspect—however these terms are understood—that would represent a different form or body of knowledge and create a dichotomy within the system {EIrG2}.”

Avicenna maintained the validity of Sufism but he interpreted it in terms of his own system {EIrG2}. Indeed, there are areas of common grounds between Avicenna’s works and Rumi’s Masnavi. It has been noted that Avicenna is probably the source of the Masnavi’s imagery of spirit as birds.  Also, the force of love working on all things and compelling them toward unification,  the subject of several Masnavi poems, appears to be the same in Avicenna ‘s  Risalah fi al-`ishq {Miv:3637, Miii: 440 sqq, Mv: 2012 sqq,  Mv: 3853 sqq; Nic8: 217}. Furthermore, in his Daneshnameh (Book of Science) [32], Avicenna denounces the scholastic theologians, whom he refers to disparagingly as “dialecticians” (jadalîan) {EIrA}, and Rumi joins him in such disparagement {Le: 401-402; Fih: 157-8}. The two men’s objections, however, are different. Avicenna “ridicules those theologians’ method of proving the existence of the invisible (qayeb) from the existence of the witness (shahed) {EIrA}.” Rumi is just the opposite. He criticizes their rationalism {Le: 400-402}, the very heritage of Avicenna [33].


Rumi is insistent that both rationalists’ reasoning and scholastic theology are inadequate where “love” is concerned. Alluding to the founders of the two dominant school of Muslim theology of the time, the Masnavi says: “In that quarter where love was increasing (my) pain, Bu Hanifa and Shafi`i gave no instruction {Mii: m 3832}.” Following Sana’i who had said those theologians did not teach love, the Masnavi says “the doctor (who taught you) was not acquainted with love {Mii: 3831}.” The school of love was one in which you would learn “immediate Divine knowledge (`Elm Ladoni)” without madrasa (religious school) {Miii: 3832; Sc: 337 n 38}.  In Rumi’s own time the towering theologian was Fakhr al-Din Razi {F1:32}.The Masnavi specifically chooses him as the example of inadequacy: “If intellect could discern the (true) way in this question, Fakhr Razi would be an adept in religious mysteries {Mv: 4144; Sc: 14}.”

          Greek Influence

The rationalists were firm followers of Aristotle.  Avicenna called him “the Chief of the Sages (Emam Hakiman)” and “the guide and master of the philosophers” {EIrA}. The Masnavi, in comparison, singles out Plato as the ultimate intellect and, by connotation, philosopher {F1: 32}.  Avicenna, on the other hand, directly criticizes and ridicules Plato and the Platonic “ideas” {EIrA}.

Much has been written about the influence of Greek thinkers on Rumi, most largely speculative and conjectural. It is said that he represents many of the concepts of Neoplatonism [34], although “the depth of his acquaintance with Greek … philosophy cannot be fixed {Ni: xxx-xxxi};” that “the belief of a pure Sufi (Rumi) is the same as that of the Platonists (`Eshrqiyoon) {Ni:  xxx1, n. 1};” and that there is parallelism in the chief doctrines of Rumi and the  Neoplatonist Plotinus, although “Plotinus’s name was unknown in the East but (yet)  his philosophy, reflected in Aristotelian commentaries had considerable influence in the East {Ni: xxx-xxxi}.”

There is no doubt about cultural interactions between ancient Greece and the Persian-speaking world before Islam as well as after Islam [35]. The Sassanid period scholars’ knowledge of Greek thoughts is clearly reflected in the 10th century Denkard (Acts of Religion), which is a collection of the dominant Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs of their time. Its philosophical terminologies are largely Aristotelian. However, Mazdean philosophy was a syncretic system incorporating with thoughts of the Greek philosophers [36] those of Indian and native sages {EIrS}.


The difference between rationalism and Rumi’s Gnosticism leads to difference in their way of proof {Le: 401; Fih: 157-8}.  For Rumi that way is experiential and heuristic: “The sun came out as proof of the existence of the sun {mI: 116; F1:88}.”  Love (`eshq) is the proof of love. In contrast, in the Discourses, Rumi ridicules the claim of a certain man that he has proven the existence of God by logical reasoning {Ar: 260}.  Instead, Rumi explains the gnostic Hallaj’s utterance “I am God,” which critics called a blasphemy, as an actual experience, not a logical proof, of God’s existence {Ar: 252}.  Rumi tells us of the difference, more poetically: “By words you know for sure that fire exists?/Don’t alight (come down and settle) at a certain stage –seek fire!/The cooked, alone, knows Certainty itself/ If certainty you want, jump in the fire {Mii:860-61; Le: 404}.”


Rumi talks about two types of intellect.  Common men only possess “‘aql jozvi (partial intellect)” which enables them to acquire knowledge, while prophets and saints are endowed, additionally, by the grace of God, with “‘aql koll (Universal Intellect)”. The knowledge we acquired by our partial intellect is not enough to attain complete truth; indeed, it hampers us. “God’s seal upon the eye and ear of the intelligence makes him (the intelligent man) an animal, (even) if he is an Aflatoon (Plato) {Mi: 24} [37].” In contrast, Rumi offers this description of the “unlettered” Prophet Mohammad, in the Discourses:

“Mohammad is called ‘unlettered’ not because he was incapable of writing and learning; he was called ‘unlettered’ because with him writing and learning and wisdom were innate, not acquired…. And what is there in all the world he does not know seeing that all men learn from him; what then… should appertain to the partial intellect that the Universal Intellect does not possess? … Those who invent something new on their account, they are the Universal Intellect. The partial intellect is capable of learning and is in need of teaching! The Universal Intellect is the teacher, and is not in need…It is the prophets and saints who have effected union between partial and Universal Intellect so that they have become one…{Ar:151f;  Sc: 287-88; }.”

Of all subjects of study, Rumi says, the Gnostic way of learning about God teaches us the most. Its goal of the knowledge of “spiritual poverty (faqr)” goes beyond the prevalent Islamic pursuits of theology (kalaam), law (feqh) and grammar (nahv). By humbling yourself, your heart receives God’s vision and you understand the meaning of grammar, the coherence of syntax and justice of jurisprudence {Mi: 2830-34, 2874; Le: 403}. Following that dicta, Rumi developed his own distinct thoughts which many consider to be the height of `Erfan, or Persian Gnosticism in the Islamic period.

Fundamental Question

`Erfan had roots in the ancient Indian and Arab mysticism (especially in practices of riyazat or asceticism, and zohd or ferveent religious observance) and, on the other hand, in the ancient Iranian and Greek mysticism (especially, attempts to understand the essential general essence of things mostly based on the notion of love). Out of this combination there emerged two groups in `Erfan in the early Islamic period. One group observed religious appearances and “kept secrets” which meant it did not talk about man’s oneness with God as in the doctrine of Vahdat Vojood  (Unity of Being ). They were exemplified by the late 9th Century Jonayd. The second group did not observe religious appearances and openly proclaimed belief in the principle of oneness with God (that is, they “revealed secrets”). These were exemplified by Bayazid and Hallaj, both Jonayd’s contemporary.  Soon, Islamic Gnosticism, led primarily by Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) in the Arab world, found separate contemporary leaders in the Persian world, primarily Ghazali, `Attar and Sohravardi . The last one, Shahab ad-Din Yahya Sohravardi (1155-1191) gave a strong Persian color to his teaching in which he used many of the terms of the pre-Islamic ‘Erfan [38]. Rumi’s contributions to this Persian Islamic Gnosticism covered many of the fundamental ontological questions which had preoccupied philosophers and theologians alike, ranging from God and his creation to man and free will, love, unity and diversity.


The Masnavi does not speak much about God’s essence; it focuses on His attributes, many expressed in the various names by which Rumi calls God. Among them are the Persian Khoda (Lord), the Islamic Allah (the Sole, Eternal, Not Begotten nor Begetting), the Gnostics Haqq (Truth), the Romantic Spiritual Ma`shooq (Beloved), and the Cosmological Khaleq (Creator). The essence of God is hidden because He has no contrast through which man can recognize Him. He cannot be found in any place , although his signs are everywhere . The Masnavi avoids anthropomorphisizing God, but sees His personalist aspects as almighty, powerful, and merciful {Sc: 226, 238-239}.

The Masnavi is mystical Theo-monist [39]. It firmly asserts by the methods of `Erfan that there is only one God. The pure monotheism of Islam had already been defended against Persian Mazdaen-Zoroastrian dualism and Christian trinitarian thoughts by the Mu`tazilites [40], using the methods of philosophy {Sc: 4}. That was not sufficient for Rumi; in the Masnavi he also finds occasion to refute the Mu`tazilites’ positions {Sc: 187}. He defines their type unfavorably: “Ahl `Etezal (Mu`tazilites) and those who do not possess the light of immediate (noor haal) (mystical) intuition {Miii: 1027}.” The Gnostics were themselves divided between dualistic mysticism and monistic mysticism. The former were in part influenced by the Persian (Mazdisani) duality elements {Ta: 329}. Rumi, however, followed the example of `Attar in retelling his story of the squint-eyed man who saw two moons, not being able to imagine that they were in fact one. This way Rumi argued that the cause was the illness of those who could not see that God is one, and not two or three {Sc: 238}.

While Rumi would use this argument to prove the unity of all religions, he employed his own version of a broader doctrine, that of Unity of Being (Vahdat  Vojood) (discussed below) to help sweep away the dualist mysticism of   Hamed al-Ghazzali (1058-1111) {Le:26}. Rumi also finds occasions in his Discourses to specifically reject the Majous (Zoroastrian) doctrine of the duality of God and Ahriman (Devil) {Fih: 126, 214}.


The Masnavi’s God is not one that once brought the world into being to move according to a prefixed schedule. He is a living God who continues to manifest Himself. In His way of permanent creation, God brings in different creatures appropriate for the time and place.  All events are decreed by Him. Good and evil both come from God, each for a purpose as He does nothing without purpose {Sc: 233, 225, 227-228}.

God is the immediate creator; secondary causes are just veils. The Masnavi says we will never understand the way God creates. He brought the world into existence by a single word Kun (Be!) and formed it in six days, but ‘every day of His has a thousand years’.  God’s goal of perfecting the creatures is a slow process.  God may destroy a thing so that He may replace it with something better.  Rumi’s world was a place of strife. To Rumi this outward disharmony was only the manifestation of God’s creative power: God wanted to reveal Himself and, as Rumi believed, things can be known only through their opposites {Sc: 223, 226-227, 229, 230-233}.


According to the Masnavi, God created things in ranks, gradually rising from minerals towards man {Mi: 1964ff; Sc: 228}. Man is the central figure in the creation. He became so when he alone accepted God’s offer of the special trust (amanat) {Sc: 247}. When humanity was yet to be created, God addressed it “Alasto bi-rabbikom (Am I not your Lord?)” and the future generations responded “Bala, shahedna (Yes, we witness it)”. Since that Day of the Primordial Covenant man has lived and grown under the charm of that Divine address. In the 10th Century this “‘banquet of alast” in the Qur`an  became a cornerstone of Islamic mystical theology. Rumi often refers to it. For him it establishes that the first word was spoken by God; it confirmed his rule over human life: man could answer only if God had enabled him to do so.

Man’s whole being is suspended between that beginning day of history and the end of time, the Day of Judgment: yesterday of the ruz (day of) alast and tomorrow of Resurrection. That Divine address leads man into conscious and responsible life, but it also leads him into fana (annihilation).  The goal of the mystic is to become as non-existent as he was at the day of the Covenant. The “Friend’s (God’s) light” reminds Rumi of the Covenant because it is He who leads the seeker towards the final state of their union. The higher the man’s rank at the Divine banquet, the greater the amount of suffering he will have to endure; that is why the prophets are those who suffer the most. This affliction is meant as a test for man: only if his primordial answer was sincere, will he be able to take gratefully the burden of affliction {Sc: 249-250}.

Rumi says that God’s greatest gift to man was teaching him every possible field of knowledge {Sc: 227}, enabling him to rise above the angels. Man thus came so close to God as to be virtually the same as Him, “mazhar (reflection)” of God. Hallaj saw himself even closer to God than the Prophet Mohammad {Ta: 404}. His mystical experience aimed at a complete annihilation in God, even a ”deification,” in contrast to a prophetic thinker who is always conscious of being a mere servant (`abd) of God and, therefore, may reach at most “two bows’ length” from God, as the Qur`an said {Sc: xvii}. In Persian `Erfan God and man are seen as being in need of each other: God needs to be recognized and man’s role is to recognize God. The reciprocal needs make them equal. On the other hand, religions (including Islam) see man as a sinful subject of God and only deserving of God’s mercy {Ta: 401-402}.

The seeker in `Erfan will find that he and God are no longer separate after undergoing Sibghatullah– the Qur`anic coloring of God, or baptism in His dyeing vet (khom) through which the differently colored pieces of cloth become one color{Mvi: 4711; Nic8: 400}. That is a long process which ends in man’s annihilation: “What is Towhid (Islamic monotheism)? To burn one’s self before the One {Mi: 3008; Sc: 238}.”

Man forgot his primordial oath due to his transgression of stepping into sensual pleasures caused by his own pride [41].   Man’s way back to God’s grace can be found only by constant weeping {Sc: 250-51}. He can take refuge in his affliction with God (yawlahuna) who so promised him {Sc: 230}. Rumi knows that only rarely can a man reach the goal of reunion with God. Paraphrasing  the Greek Diogenes, Rumi tells the story about going around with a lamp in search of a true man,  which to Rumi is a  man who has completely surrendered himself to God’s will and acts through Him {Mii: 222; Mv:2887; Sc: 254}.

          Free will

The Masnavi says that the helping “light (noor)” of God is continuous and permanent but finding it requires that man seek it fervently {mI: 760-762; F1: 306}.  The grace of God is achieved through hard work and action {F1: 294}. In his Discourses, Rumi says that God is the creator of men’s action contrary to the arguments of the Mu`tazilites {Ar: 272}. In the Masnavi, he is not that consistent. There he brings up the subject of pre-destination (jabr) versus free will (ekhtiyar) in no fewer than 65 places; this shows how important the debate was in Rumi’s times among both theologians and philosophers. In those many places the Masnavi sometimes sides with the arguments of one side and sometimes with those of the other {F1: 264}.  Rumi held that only a saintly person with spiritual insight can comprehend the mystery of free will and divine decree {Mi: 1466; Le: 413}.

In two places where the problem is discussed in detail, the Masnavi chooses free will over pre-destination {mI: 1463, mV: 2912 ff; F1: 265}.  That is remarkable since the ancient (Persian religion) Zervani idea of jabr (compulsion),  or pre-destination, was more attractive to all other great Persian poets of  Rumi’s (classical) age, from Rudaki and Ferdowsi to Hafiz and including Khayyam and Sa`adi  {Ta:267}. This was despite the fact that the newer Persian Mazdaki-Zoroastrian religion held that “Man is created as his own lord, the guardian over his own person (i.e., endowed with free will) and of all creations with the faculty of discernment {EIrS}.” Even among the Islamic theologians the Jabriyya and subsequently Asharites, were determinists holding that no human action could occur except at God’s command.  They were opposed by the Qadriyya and later the Mu’tazilites who argued that man was a free agent and chose his course of action. The latter would thus hold man responsible for his acts. The former had to justify punishment and reward for their (compelled) man by saying that he became deserving of God’s predetermined decree (qaza) through kasb ( a process of acquisition) {Le: 411}.  Rumi, on the other hand, held that precisely because man deserved reward and punishment for his action, he had free will {Miii: 3287-8; Le: 412}. As the Masnavi says “Our shame is the evidence of our free will {mI: 618; F1:264}.”

Rumi believed that good and evil actions are bound to bring forth different fruits in this world, or the world to come. Man is responsible for his action. Hell and Paradise as are both real, but as conditions produced by man’s actions and thoughts rather than as places {Sc: 258-259, 261}. God’s judgment would be based on man’s intentions rather than his action. Rumi sees free will as the ability to endeavor to thank God for His Beneficence, which requires working hard and acting in perfect sincerity.  The more man thus strives the more will he be supported by God. {Sc: 262}. The action of a purified man through love is in conformity with God’s will; that is jabr mahmud (praiseworthy necessitarianism) –in contrast to jabr mazmum (bad) of the Jabriyya {Mv: 3187f; Sc: 263; F1: 265}.


In the Masnavi ’s narrative God created everything from “the nothingness (`adam)”  and man’s goal is to return to this `adam {Sc: 239}, but there is something even  higher than the nothingness and that is love {Sc: 243-44}. Man’s promise to God is a promise of love: love for all the manifestations of existence (vojood) {Ta: 404}. Man alone of all creatures is capable of loving truly {Sc: 248}. The Masnavi rejects the assertion of the theologians who said that “loving” God is not possible because God’s essence (zaat) is different from His creatures and hence whenever there is the word love (hobb) in the Qur`an it is deemed to mean “obedience”. Contrary to this view, the Masnavi says there is no separation (mobayenat) between God and man.  The Masnavi argues that when the Qur`an calls God karim (munificent) that adjective really means that He grants the seeker favor without needing any reason.  He himself makes it easy for the `asheq (lover) and shows him the way to reach Him.  “Don’t say we do not have audience with that Shah (God); with kariman (the munificents) working is not hard {mI: 221; F1: 116-117}.  Indeed, it was God who poured the “wine” of love in man’s mouth {mI: 219; F1: 114-115}.

The Masnavi says that love cannot be adequately described in words {mI: 112; F1: 87}. “Although by language we can try to discuss the meaning of love, the way of Gnostics makes it clearer {mI: 113; F1: 88}.”  Understanding love is beyond the ability of intellect (`aql); the only way to understand love is to attain it {mI: 115; F1: 88}.  Love is the proof of love {mI: 116; F1: 88}. In the prose of the Preface of Book II of the Masnavi, Rumi says: “Some one asked, ‘What is love?’ I answered, ‘You will know when you become (lost in) me.’” Rumi then elaborates: “Love is uncalculated affection. For that reason it has been said to be in reality the attribute of God and unreal in relation to man {Nic 2: 221}.”

Physicians of Rumi’s time treated love as a mental disease, like hallucination (malikholiya). But Rumi called love the measure of the health of mind {F1: 84-85}. The Masnavi says love is the “asterlabe (celestial navigator)” to God’s secrets {mI: 110; F1: 84-85}.”  It enables the “spirit (ruh)” to “unveil knowledge (kashf marefat)” {F1: 84-85}.  “Falling in love eventually takes us toward the goal {mI: 111; F1: 85}.”  To the Masnavi love was the negation of want, the drowning in the beloved and the fire that burns the seeker and makes him naught {F1: 116-117}.  Loving God will take man beyond conventional piety. “The knowledge learned in school is one kind of thing/ trafficking in love is quite another {D: 314 or 226; Le: 404}.”

Women. The Masnavi make is clear that the love it is heralding is the love of God {F1:  114-115}. Loving pretty face and colors is not love and ends in infamy (nangi) {mI: 205; F1: 109}.  Sexual intercourse causes man’s spirit to descend into the realm of corporal existence. For this Rumi blames seduction by women {Sc: 255-56}.  Humans who are the subject of the Masnavi’s consideration are men. The poems are not meant to be about women. Rarely does the Masnavi make references to women and even then, mostly in the context of their relationship to man.  Woman is valued as a source of comfort to man. The Masnavi exemplifies the worldly relationship of the Prophet Mohammad and his wife `Ayesheh, conversations with whom soothed him. “He (the Prophet), to whose words the (whole) world was enslaved (obedient), used to cry ‘Speak to me (kalimni), O Humayra (`Ayesheh) {Mi: 2428}.”  The wife’s controlling authority over the husband is the subject of another poem: “Though he (the husband) be Rostam son of Zal and greater than Hamza (in valor), as regards authority he is his old woman’s (wife’s) captive” {Mi: 2427}. In his Discourses, Rumi maintains that it is useless to argue with a woman {Ar: 259}. Elsewhere, Rumi portrays woman as a tool Satan often uses to lead man astray;  she is a trial for man who becomes good through forbearing her ;  he should  never follow her  advice because women are less intelligent and cannot understand what man has to learn {Sc: 255-56}.

Unity of Being    

The Masnavi divides humans and other creatures into types. It agrees with the general principle accepted at the time by both the scientists (hokama) and Sufis that Members of each type, congeners (hamjens), attract each other:  “Each one of the  atoms (zarreh) on atoms which exist in this earth and heaven is like amber (kahroba) (a magnet) for its congener (attracts it) {Mvi: 2900}.” Rumi elaborates his specific views on the subject in no fewer than 42 occasions in the Masnavi {F1: 271-272}.  The kinship that the Masnavi considers important is due to relatedness (nesbat) based not on heredity (nesab) but on spiritual race (nejhad) {mVI: 174-178; F1: 299}.  On that basis the deniers (kafaran) go to hell and the prophets to heaven “Because each bird flies towards his congener, following his spirit.” {mII: 2103; F1:271-272}.  It is not the appearance of a creature that shows his type: “By reason you can recognize congener and non-congener: you ought not to run at once to (outward) form; Jesus, in the form of man, was (really) homogenous with the angels {Mvi: 2972}.” It is the essence of a person that determines his type: “Unbelievers (monkeran) all burn in fire because in essence (be hasb fetrat) they were born of fire {F1: 296}. The Masnavi sees three situations for attraction (zoq): one congener to the other, a potential candidate as congener to a congener and a part of a congener to the whole {mI: 889-890; F1: 334}.  

 Notwithstanding apparent differences in the world which the Masnavi acknowledges, it asserts that at the core there is unity among all beings. “The conflicts among men stem from names/Trace back the meaning and achieve accord {M2:3680; Le: 405}.”That is Rumi’s version of pantheism, a doctrine called Vahdat Vojood (Unity of Being), manifested early on in the Masnavi {mI: 30; F1: 35-36}.   In `Erfan the central idea is Unity of Being which maintains that the entire universe has a single gohar (essence) and mayeh (source) {Ta: 443}. That doctrine was based on the foundations of ancient Indian, Babylonian, Iranian and Egyptian thoughts {Ta: 328}. In Rumi’s time, Ibn Arabi had argued that the Islamic doctrine of towhid (Unity) meant that the created universe was a continuation of God’s being [42].  In the Masnavi, Rumi developed the argument about towhid his own way.

The Masnavi sees the universe as “the emanation (esha`eh)” of God, in the language of Persian `Erfan which was influenced by the thoughts of Shahab ad-Din Yahya Sohravardi.  Acclaimed as the founder of Hekamt Eshraq (Philosophy of Illumination),  the Persian Sohravardi,  had revived in his work, also known as “Hekmat Nooryieh (Philosophy of Light),”  the pre-Islamic Iranian idea of noor (light) as being the single and basic “element (moddeh)” in the universe {Ta: 322}. Sohravardi considers everything to be the result of the close or distant “emanation” of God whom he calls “Noor al- anvar (Supreme Light) {Ta: 324]. It is that source of light which the Masnavi calls “Noor Sareh (Pure Light).” When it falls on a wall with a serrated- top (kongereh), that single-source of light appears as several in the shadow of the wall {mI: 687; F1: 283-284}.  This takes the Masnavi to a discussion of its own meaning of the Islamic towhid.

Rumi goes to the very source of the doctrine of towhid, the word “sibghatullah (colors of Allah)” in Qur`an’s verse 138. The Masnavi interprets that word to mean that God’s color is singular:  “on rang (that color) {mI: 766; F1:307};” and it is that of “colorlessness (beeranagi).” White and black colors appear so only because of their environment {mI: 2894 ff; F1:  308}.  Rumi emphasizes the “vahdat (oneness)” of the prophets and saints with God. He says there is no difference between the Prophet and the “Perfect (Kamel) Man” in this respect {F1: 154, 159}. The Masnavi says, further, the source of belief (eeman) and disbelief (kofr) is the same although outwardly the two differ. The seeker must avoid duality in appearance and focus on the single “source (asl)” {mI: 298; F1: 137-138}.

Opposites. Unity of Being does not preclude the creation of opposites. The Masnavi espouses the position of the theologians that God’s work is not restricted; He does what He wants. Especially, His power for constructing zeddain (contradictory opposites) is awesome: “Sometimes He constructs this and sometime zeddain/ religion cannot do but be amazed {F1: 142-43; mI: 311, 312}.” We are created with attributes that bring us into conflict and opposition. “Once colorlessness fell into color’s grasp/A Moses came in conflict with a Moses {Mi: 2467-8; Le: 415}.”

The Masnavi has numerous examples of such conflict (tazaad). Its world is the stage for wars of opposites which interact and transform into each other but ultimately reach harmonious co-existence (hamahangi), the outcome reflecting Rumi’s `Erfani belief {Ta: 411-412}. The Masnavi posits that things can be known only through their opposites. God reveals Himself in paradoxical twofolds, wrathful and merciful, majestic (jalal) and beautiful (jamal), full of anger (qahr) and grace (lotf). He raises and lowers man {Sc: 251-253}. Without these two contradictory measures nothing can come into existence. Behind everything visible is another invisible reality. Every nothingness conceals the possibility of existence {Sc: 231}.

Some of these dialectical principles in the Masnavi resemble those of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) who believed in the ever-present change in the universe and the unity of opposites {Ta: 415-416}.  Rumi’s knowledge of Heraclitus’s ideas could have come from the 3rd Century Diogenes who is our main source about Heraclitus. On the other hand, Rumi’s ideas could have had roots in the Persian Mazdean philosophy which maintained that all objects come into existence from the union of unlike substances. At the heart of the Mazdean ontology is the belief that being is a synthesis of antithetic elements. This sets up the next principle: the mutual interaction of all opposites is the motive force of existence. Once set in motion, the process would not need a transcendental mover. The theological conclusion is that the world is so disposed as to move toward eternal bliss driven by its own natural impulsion {EIrS}.


In the Vahdat Vojood  (Unity of Being) of Persian `Erfan,  the ontological story of existence (hasti) is a  similar narrative of the movement of the single element (maddeh),  sometimes downward -which produces the nasooti (temporal) world and sometimes upward -which results in the evolution and rise of human and his joining the lahooti (the pre-eternal Divine) source {Ta: 443}. Belief in Unity of Being compels that the internal bonds of all its different manifestations be proved. This requirement became the inevitable principle of the Erfani dialectic: the evolving of the single element toward an ever more complete form. On this movement toward the complete (takaamol), the Masnavi has much to say.

The Masnavi says that God created the world by the continuous movement of his grace (fiyazan) {Ta: 414}.  The Masnavi portrays the world of existence in an evolving movement from inorganic to plants to animals to humans and further {Fih: 311}. Sana’i and `Attar had spoken of the slow upward development of the world, but Rumi embellishes their spiritual concept far more with his philosophical verses, especially in Masnavi’s Books III and IV {Sc: 321, 326-328}.  The lines in the Story of the Chickpeas are particularly notable: “I died a mineral and became a plant/I died as plant and rose to animal/ I died as animal and I was Man/Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar/With angels blessed; but even from angelhood/I must pass on: all except God does perish…. {Miii: 3901.” The Masnavi follows this in some passages later: “At first you were dust/ you were inanimate and were brought into the world of plant life/ whence you traveled into the world of animality/, and thence into the world of humanity/. These are miracles… / Likewise you will be transported to a hundred various other worlds {Mv: 2734, Sc: 328}.

This movement is spiral, not circular. Nothing can return to its previous state {Sc: 324-325}.  In each stage the past stage is forgotten {Ta: 410; Sc: 289}.  Moving from one stage to the next is the negation of the previous one. Hence, negation and death are not absolute ends but are bridges for moving to a higher level. Death has a creative role {Ta: 410}. The Masnavi proclaims that death is not a severing from living but is itself a step in the evolution of life to a more complete form {F1:295}.

The notion of an evolutionary development in these verses of the Masnavi evokes comparison with Darwin’s theory of evolution which was articulated several centuries later. The spiritual Rumi, however, is not a naturalist; he is not concerned with the matter of the Darwinist.  Nor do they agree on the motive forces of their evolution.  Unlike Darwin’s doctrine of the struggle for survival, chance diversity and natural selection, in the Masnavi development is caused by the need for evolving into a higher organism and evolution has a Divinely ordered direction with God as its final destination. In the Masnavi’s `Erfani outlook, the grace of God creates love, the attraction which produces that upward movement {Sc: 330-332;   Le: 416-41}.  The Masnavi’s articulation of the movement of things to a higher level by way of negation was a dialectic idea which also recalls Hegel’s thinking. Like Rumi, furthermore, Hegel proposed the notion of the absolute as a moving force which in different phases reveals its content in ever more complete form. The Masnavi is not quite a work of Hegelian dialectic, nor a scientific study of evolution like Darwin’s, but it anticipated important parts of both.


Rumi’s religious and philosophical musing is scattered primarily in his six books of the Masnavi, comprising some 25,577 poems. Rumi divided the Masnavi into about 400 sections, the title of each designating a principle story. Rumi’s views must be culled from the maze of stories within those stories, in the form of morals he draws from them. The stories originated in a staggering number of sources in the rich Persian Islamic culture which Rumi perused. His creative genius left its mark in his retelling them.

Rumi does not create a philosophical or a theological system.  His thoughts are not neatly packaged.  He frequently returns to a topic and modifies or amplifies what he has already said:  hamjensi (cogeneity or affinity) receives 42 such treatments in the Masnavi, and jabr o ekhtiyar (free will and pre-destination) is visited even more, 65 times.

The pleasure of reading Rumi, especially his magnificent Masnavi, is in bearing witness to his transcending interpretation of conventional religion, in which he was rooted, on a triumphal journey to reach the God of his imagination. Rumi comes through not as a mystic but as a Gnostic (‘aref). He does not deny mystery, but he wants to know it and reveal it. Rumi faults the method of discussion and observation in the epistemology of the science of his time (philosophy) and also finds the dominant approach in the speculative theological quest for truth, which was rationalism, inadequate. With Rumi, truth is ultimately reached only by the grace of God, who is indeed called the Truth (Haqq). Rumi humbles himself to apprehend the true nature of things. At the end, as Rumi says, truth is not learned but experienced.


  1. Those were the odes which have been collected in Rumi’s Divan.
  2. These have been colleted in Majales Saba (Seven Sermons).
  3. “Mystical union” is the expression some scholars suggest as best to describe the nature of this relationship, adding that this was exactly that which existed at an earlier date between Rumi and Shams. Just as Rumi entitles his collection of odes Divan Shams Tabrizi, so he calls his great didactic poemHosamnameh (the Book of Hosam) {Nic6:2}. Both Shams and Hosam are “Perfect Men,” in whom Rumi sees the Divine manifest, so that, by losing himself in them, he realizes his essential unity with God {Nic7:5}.
  4. Tazkarat al-Olyia (Biographies of the Saints) and Hadiqat al-Haqiqah (The Walled Garden of Truth)
  5. Mosibatnameh and Mantaq al-teyr (Conference of Birds)
  6. Nothing is in Rumi’s own hand-writing has surfaced, despite claims to the contrary {Le: 298}.
  7. To be all of that, Hosam had to be more than Shams who was impatient, and Salah al-Din who lacked Hosam’s learning. Taking over the teaching position vacated by Rumi, Hosam would also become Rumi’s successor as the leader of his group of disciples, the first head of the nascent Mevlevi Order.
  8. The original manuscript of Rumi’s Masnavi has not been discovered. In the pre-print culture of his time, manuscripts were copied by hands. Scribal and editorial mistakes in these copies were not uncommon, caused by misreading of words, and interpolations due to misattribution or sometimes intentional “improvements.” The Konya (Historical/Archeological) Museum Manuscript, dated 677 H (Islamic year/1278)) is considered to be  “the most ancient and authentic copy of the Masnavi  in existence {Nic3: X}.”  It is traced to the original text read in the presence of Rumi {FI: Nine}. It is copied form a manuscript written probably three years after Rumi’s death which manuscript, not yet found, was itself probably a revised critical edition based on more than one volume {Nic3:XIX}.
  9. The Masnavi’s humors passages are usually about people Rumi dislikes: the market-inspector {Sc: 57, n 153, 157}; those behaving stupidly { Miv: 2222; Sc: 57, n 157}.
  10. A few passages are so crude that the Cambridge University Professor who has given us the best English translation of it in the more prudish 1920s chose Latin for those unseemly parts  {Mv: 3943, 3862} which he called “too outspoken for our taste  {Nic 2: xvii}”
  11.  Also Alf Laylah, and books which have been written on the style of Kalileh va Damneh, like Sendbadnameh, and Marzbannameh.

12   To be sure, in the First Story of the Masnavi, Rumi complains about the separation from Shams {F1: 43}. The word sun (aftab) which is shams (an Arabic loan word in Persian) recalls to Rumi his beloved, but Rumi could not talk more about him so burdened is he with resulting drunkenness and anxiety. Thus he leaves it to some other times -which in the Masnavi come only on a few more occasions- to complain, just briefly, about separation from Shams. Rumi is constrained because consideration of his love for Hosam does not let him go to his first beloved, Shams {F1: 46-47}.  In another poem Rumi declines to praise Shams because he is overcome by the sensation of drowning and thus losing the ability to speak {F1: 93; mI: 128}. Furthermore, as he says, Shams is the lover like no one else while meaning can be communicated only by comparison {F1: 93-94; mI: 130}.

13.. Goethe dismissed Rumi’s poetry as being “turned too much to strange and abstruse theories as a consequence of the confused situation in” politics, upon reviewing a specimen of their first translation into a European language by the Austrian diplomat Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856) {Sc: 388-89}. The political situation in Anatolia indeed seemed to grow worse every year in Rumi’s time. The ruling family of Saljuqs, who had lost their independence, becoming a tributary to the Mongols, continued to experience internal political feuds {Sc: 35}.

  1. Rumi specifically names a district in Tabriz {Mvi: 3113} and another district, Sar pol, which at the time was the best in Samarkand {mI: 170; F1: 103}. His references to some other cities are also related to contemporary times: Bukhara {Mvi: 3800}, Kashan {Mvi: 3220}, Sabzawar, Balkh and Aleppo. As he explicitly says in the Discourses, early in life Rumi lived in Samarkand for a while {Fih: 173, 333}.
  2. It should not be taken literally as describing Rumi’s own visit {q.v. Le: 112-114}.
  3. In the story entitled “No shop will sell you bread in Kashi (Kashan) if your name is `Omar (the second “Sunni” Caliph) {Mvi: 3233, 3220}.”
  4. In the Masnavi that story of a man lonely and lost as an Abu Bakr in Sabzawar  which the Masnavi  depicts as a model  of a Shiite environment where it is  impossible to  find  a man named  Abu Bakr (the first “Sunni” Caliph).
  5. Because the Sultan tells the Rafezi (Shiites) inhabitants who begged him to spare their lives that “I will grant (you) security as soon as you produce from this city a man named Abu Bakr and present him to me.
  6. Because of the bitter experience of his open love to Shams, in order to avoid further provoking the animosity the narrow minded religious clerics and Sufis who were many in Konya in those times, Rumi in the beginning of the Masnavi declares that he would conceal the secrets of his friend as it would be better to reveal them in the tales of others. “It’s better that the Friend remain in veils/Come, listen to the content of the tales! /It’s better that his mysteries be told/In other people’s stories, tales of old” {mI: 135, 136; F1: 97-98; Sc: xvii},”
  7. Even today it is the agenda of a pastime of many educated Iranians,  called Masnavi khoni (group reading and explanation of the Masnavi’s poems).
  8. Forty seven years after Rumi’s death, an author named Ahmad Rumi wrote a longer commentary of the Masnavi consisting of 80 chapters {F1: tenth}.
  9. By the 10th Century an elaborate system of theology had been created in Islam, and by the 12th Century Persian had increasingly become a rival to Arabic as medium of theological discussion. Ghazali Tusi (Abu Hamed Mohammad al-Ghazzali, 1058-1111) wrote what was considered the best in systemic theology, Ehya ‘olum al-din (The Vivification of the Religious Sciences) {Le: 395} which he later summarized in a shorter Persian language version as Kimiyay Sa’adat (The Alchemy of Happiness) {Le: 79}.
  10. For that one has to go to Avicenna (Abu `Ali Ibn Sina, 980-1037) who, two generations before Ghazali had created a thoroughly rationalistic, self-consistent and unified philosophical system for the Persian-speaking world. Avicenna’s writings, rooted in the philosophic tradition established by his teacher Abu Nasr Farabi (870-950) have been until today the basis of philosophical education in the Islamic world {EIrS}.
  11. Three of these are in Persian (to Books II, V, and VI) and three in Arabic (to Books I, III, and IV).
  12. Indeed, S.H Nasr describes an unpublished study by Hadi Ha’eri which argues that almost 6,000 lines, or about one-fourth of the Masnavi, consists of direct translation or paraphrases of the Qur`an{Le: 396}. An 1894 commentary by the (Subcontinent) Indian author Wali Muhammad quoted the 15th Century Persian poet Jami as calling Rumi’s Masnavi  “the Qur’an in Persian (hast Qur’an dar zaban-i Pahlavi),” {Nic 7: XI, n 2}. Even allowing for poetic license – the pre-Arab invasion language Pahlavi is not Persian (or Parsi, as Rumi would say {mI: 887; F1:333) -a statement with those exact words does not seem to exist in Jami’s works {Le: 467}. On the other hand, Sana’i did call his own Hadiqah “The Persian Qur`an (Qur’an-i Parsi)” {Nic7: XI, n 1}.
  13. He meant the poem version of it by Qane`i Tusi {F1:125}.
  14. Rumi puts the blame on the leaders of religions and the powerful; he holds the common people innocent {F1:218-219}. They just follow what has become customary to them {mI: 888; F1:333-334; }.
  15. On the other hand, the Masnavi is far superior in tolerance of other religions it advocates than its closest contemporary Christian epic poem, Dante Alighieri s Divine Comedy, produced some forty years later {Le: 394-419}.
  16. Parts of more than 400 Qur’anic verses are quoted in the Masnavi, often several in one long poem {Nic5: Index}. In many passages Rumi indicates his belief that the Masnavi is an inspired exposition of the esoteric content of the Qur’an {Nic7:1-2}.
  17. The Masnavi sometimes uses jon (soul) in place of ruh, interchangeably, but the Discourses differentiates the two: “In sleep the soul (jon) fares abroad… wanders and is transformed …but the spirit (ruh) remains in the body {Sc: 277; Fih: 68}.”
  18. This is Rumi’s interpretation of verse 65 of the Qur`an {F1:315}.
  19. This was Avicenna’s only treatise on philosophy in Persian. His other extant book in Persian was  Andar danesh rag (On the Science of the Pulse, also known as Resaleh Nabz).
  20. This heritage of Avicenna, as Abu Hamed Ghazali (1058-1111) soon proved, no serious Muslim thinker could ignore {EIrM}.
  21. Perhaps through the influence of the quasi-pantheistic doctrines of the Arabic thinker Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) {Le: 26}.
  22. The conquest of Lydia and Ionia and other regions of Asia Minor by the Achaemenian King Cyrus (558-529 B.C) brought the Persians into close contact with the Hellenes. Eventually, reportedly, more than one three hundred Greeks were attached to the Persian Achaemenid court. The Hyalinization of Persia which followed the conquest of Persia by the Macedonian King Alexander in 330 B.C. was deep. The influence of Greek science and culture reached its height when the Sassanid King Khosrow I Anooshiravan (531-65) opened a school of philosophy in his capital Ctesiphon. This was to replace the Academy of Athens, which Roman Emperor Justinian (527-65) had closed in 529, causing Diogenes and several other Greek philosophers to take refuge in Persia {EIrS2}.
  23. Predominantly Peripatetic and Neo-Platonic.
  24. The same man regarding whom, elsewhere Rumi says: “Hark, whatever the Plato of the age bid you do, give up thy self-will and act in accordance with that (counsel){Mvi: 144}.”
  25. From the 8th to the 12th Centuries `Erfan grew, but then declined and became a mostly conventional and establishment movement. At this point the rebellious elements separated themselves from the mainstream under the names of darvish, rend, qalandar, and khrabatgary. During the next major Iranian Gnostic poet, Hafiz, in the 14th Century there were several such popular dervish groups in various parts of Iran. Then they all disappeared, joining the mainstream or going underground, becoming secret associations {Ta: 408}.
  26. The Theo-monist form of Islamic mysticism reveals the nature of the so called coincidenta oppoisitorum (coincidence of opposites). Other scholars have highlighted the dualist mysticism in Islam in the medieval period.
  27. The Mu`tazilites, who were the dominant Islamic theologians in the 8th to 10th Centuries had been virtually banned by now the current orthodox schools {Sc: 4}, mostly because the Mu`tazilites had denied the status of the Qur’an as “uncreated”, argued that the injunctions of God were accessible to rational inquiry and that, instead of Tradition one should rely on reason.
  28. In the Masnavi, Satan (Iblis) is the very manifestation of pride. He refused to prostrate himself before Adam, the original man. The Masnavi says Iblis remained subject to God’s wrath while man is the ‘treasurer’ of God’s mercy. “(Cunning) intelligence (zerangi) is from Iblis, love from Adam.”{Sc: 254-55}.
  29. Rumi knew about Ibn Arabi whose stepson, Sadr al-Din al-Qunavi, Shaykh al-Islam of Konya (d. 1274) was a leading exponent of Ibn Arabi’s theosophical thoughts. Rumi, however, did not care for Ibn Arabiesque speculations, and in a story in his Discourses chose to commented negatively about  al-Qanavi’s companions {Fih:: 124, 314; Th: 256-257}. Remarkably, as in the Masnavi, Rumi does not even mention Ibn Arabi’s name in his Discourses.


Abbreviations for frequently cited sources

Ak                   Anna Akasoy, “Shiism and Sects,” Pathos, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ar                    A. J. Arberry,  Discourses of Rumi   (London, 1961).

Ch                   William C. Chattick,   Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi, Translated (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2004).

D                     Divan Shams Tabrizi, ed.  Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, Kolliat Shams ya Dian Kabir, 9 vols. (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1997).  D followed by Rumi or T and then a number indicates the number of the roba`i or tarji`band. (Le; Sc uses the same source but the system for the numbers is not clear)

EBA                Oskar Anweiler, “Academy of Gondēshāpūr, Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBB                John Andrew Boyle, “Ferdowsi, Persian Poet,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBE                The Editors, “Rudaki, Persian Poet,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBE2              The Editors, Nasir al-Din Tusi, Persian Scholar,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBI                 The Editors, “Iqta,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at  <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBM               The Editors, “Mazdakism,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrA                M. Achena, “AVICENNA xi. Persian Works,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrB                J.T.P. de Bruin, “SANĀ’I,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrD                Farhad Daftary, “Carmatians,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 1990, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrF                 Charles-Henri de Fouchecour, “IRAN: Classical Persian Literature,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at  < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrG                Dimitri Gutas, “FĀRĀBĪ i. Biography,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrM               M. Mahdi, “AVICENNA, i. Introductory Note,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrO                Mahmoud Omidsalar, “KALILA WA DEMNA, ii. The translation by Abul-Ma’ali Nasr-Allah Monši,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrP                 Andrew Peacock, “Saljuqs of Rum,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2010,   available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrR                B. Reinert, “Attar, Shaikh Farid-al-Din.” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <“; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrRi               Dagmar Riedel, “KALILA WA DEMNA, i. Redactions and circulation,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2010, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrS                 Mansour Shaki, “Falsafa,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrS2               Mansour Shaki, “Greek Influence on Persian Thought,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

F                      Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, Sharh Masnavi Sharif, 3 vols.  9th printing (Tehran: Zavvar, 2000). Reference to the book’s Masnavi poems in Persian are signified by m.  [mI is book I]

Fih                   Rumi, Ketab Fih ma fih; az Goftar Mowlana Jalal al-Din Mohammad mashhur be Mowlavi, ed. Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, 9th printing (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 2002)

GbF                 “Ferdowsi,” Books google, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ge                   Jerome Gellman, “Mysticism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” online edition, 2014 available at < > accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ha                   Gh. A. Hadad Adel, “THE LITERARY VALUE OF RUMI’S LETTERS.” Scientific Information Database of Iran (May 2002) available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ho                   Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 1991).

Le                    Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: Past, Present, East and West (Oneworld, Oxford Publications, 2008).

Le2                  Franklin Lewis, The Icon and the Man: in quest of Historical Rumi (Lecture: 2007) available at < >   (accessed on 18 April 2015).

M                     Rumi, Masnavi-ye ma`navi, ed. R.A. Nicholson as Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi,  E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, new series, 8 vols. ( London:Luzac & Co., 1925, 1929, 1993)  [Mi is Masnavi book I, etc.]

Mak                 Rumi, Maktubat Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, ed. Towfiq Sobhani (Tehran: Markaz Nashr Daneshgahi, 1992). References here are to pages used and so cited in Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: Past, Present, East and West (Oneworld, Oxford Publications, 2008).

Mo                   Mohammad ‘Ali Movahhed, Maqalat Shams Tabrizi (Writings of Shams Tabrizi) (Tehran: Tarh Now, 1996).

Ni                    Reynolds Alleyne Nicholson, Selected Poems form the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi (Bethesda, Md: Ibex, 2001.

Nic                  Reynolds Alleyne Nicholson,  Masnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rum,  E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, new series, 8 vols. (London:Luzac & Co., 1925, 1929, 1993)

Om                  Mahmoud Omidsalar, Iran‘s Epic and America’s Empire (Santa Monica: Afshar Publishing, 2010)

Pk                    Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, Liquid Frontiers (Draft 2013) available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ra                    Fariborz Rahnamoon, “Zarvan, The Creator of God” Iran Zamin, 13, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Sc                    Annemarie Schimmel, The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi, Bibliotheca Persica, Persian Studies Series (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993).

Sm                   Margaret Smith, Al-Ghazali: The Mystic (London 1944).

St                     “Al-Ghazali,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Sta                   S. Fredrick Starr, Lost Enlightenment, Central Asia’s Golden Age (Princeton University Press, 2013)

Ta                    Ehsan Tabari, Barkhi barresiha dar bareh jahanbiniha v jonbeshhay ejtema`i dar Iran (Some Reviews of the Worldviews and Social Movements in Iran) (Tehran: Alfa Publication, 1358/1979).

Th                    W.M. Thackston, Jr. Signs of the Unseen: The Discourses of Jalaluddin Rumi (1999)

Wa                   Warwick, “The Impact of the Middle East on the European Renaissance,” available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).



Keyvan Tabari


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


Table of Contents


Persian Civilization

            Preserving the Old

            New Persian



            Indians and Turks





           Love Stories





            National Epic

            Iran and Islamdom








          Soveriegn Lord






This is one of the chapters in a project on Rumi, the Islamic Gnostic Persian poet who was named Jalal al-Din (1207-1273). Four other chapters would accompany this. They cover the following subjects: Rumi in today’s world, Rumi’s biography, Rumi in ecstasy and Rumi’s imagination. The present chapter is about Rumi’s world, the natural or material world in which he lived. There are, inevitably, some overlaps among these five chapters despite the individual subjects of their focus.

In this chapter the world which shaped Rumi is the focus. It is viewed primarily as he depicted it in his writings of the mid-13th century. Rumi wrote in Persian, with occasional passages in Arabic. The audience which he aimed at was Persian-speaking. The world which he depicts is that of the Persian civilization at the height of its renaissance from the Arab conquest in the early 7th century. This was a multi-ethnic Muslim community. Its culture of the pre-Islamic times, already combining Persian, Indian and Greek thoughts, had evolved with philosophical and theological contributions of Islamic thinkers.

Rumi’s writing, while not a chronicle of his time, reflects his perception of his world.  Capturing that perception in a coherent form is the goal of this chapter as it is a key to understanding Rumi. That goal provides a distinct approach for this work which, otherwise, is based on the valuable studies others have already done on Rumi as well as on his world.

There is no dearth of speculative writings on Rumi. They have produced certain conclusions that might make him accessible to readers with basic common knowledge. He is projected variously, or together, as a Sufi, Muslim mystic, Turkish poet, oracle of love and prophet of ecumenism, to give a few examples. Often, these ascriptions are based on works of deductive reasoning in which the author starts with notions about Rumi also familiar to his reader, as they are formed by their shared cultural orientation. The potential problem with such works is, therefore, twofold: only such evidence is likely to be selected that would support pre-suppositions which are, themselves, affected by orientational preferences.

The ideal alternative would be inductive reasoning combined with mindful avoidance of restrictive orientations. That is, of course, easier aspired to than done. Furthermore, as this study’s own deficiencies show, the risk in refraining from unsubstantiated speculation is erring on the side of too descriptive an analysis. The reader may then be forced to draw his own conclusions, requiring more attention and effort from him than normal.  With that warning in place, attempting the said alternative is worthwhile. At the very least, essential issues will be exposed and fruitful fields of inquiry will be identified. Rumi was the product of an environment which we can glimpse through his writings and magnify by the use of relevant other sources. That task requires drawing a sufficiently informative picture of the complex conditions and events which influenced Rumi’s life and work. His responses are not always possible to specify; they are then outlined in his general reaction and conducts. In the process, Rumi emerges as sharing much with his notable contemporaries, but also differing in significant ways from them.

This review begins with sketching the cultural environment in which Rumi lived, pointing out  that Persian language was fundamental in bringing together many ethnic groups in a civilization that spanned from the Chinese Turkistan to the Byzantine borders.  Rumi spoke in Persian, as the next section stresses, although his work also demonstrates the strong influence of Arabic, the language of Islam which was the dominant religion of the area. Turkish as a language was insignificant, on the other hand, while Turkish rulers were, in fact, dominant. The Greeks who left a mark Rumi’s thinking were the ancient; he hardly had any contact with his Greek neighbors who lived in Anatolia’s countryside.  His contacts with the Europeans were indirect, except for a fresh memory of the Crusades.

The third section of this chapter shows how much Rumi was connected to his predecessors in Persian literature on subjects as varied as love, aesthetics, ethics and introspection. The following section, conversely, points out that religion divided Rumi from his compatriots. His Islam was different not only from the religions of the Zoroastrians and Buddhists but even from the bigger groups of Shiite Muslims. His allegiance to the community of Islamdom superseded his ties to Iran. But he shared as the common enemy the Mongol invaders. In the following section we note that, furthermore, Rumi also similarly faced political turmoil, nearly endemic in the whole region, sought favors with the powerful and in this he had to contend with rivals. The second group of Mongol rulers, the Ilkhanids, indeed, must have looked threatening to Rumi while appreciative of others, including the Shiites.

Rumi’s disciples, however, would eventually save his legacy in the Sufi Order which they established after his death. Their origin as a group is the subject for the discussion in the last section of this survey. Rumi’s writings depict them as primarily the extension of the group which migrated with his father from Central Asia. To that party were added new friends mostly from among traders and merchants, town folks below the landowners in status.  They looked to Rumi as their lord, more than simply their spiritual master. Accordingly, they demanded favor and assistance from him, even entertainment as Rumi says. Indeed, it is what Rumi says, that is what we will try to find out throughout this chapter.

Persian Civilization

Preserving the Old

In the West, when the contribution of the Moslem world to the European Renaissance is acknowledged it is usually attributed to scholars who saved the literature of the ancient world (especially in science and philosophy) by translating it from Greek into Arabic {Ho}. Missing in this facile summary are the facts that those scholars were overwhelmingly Persian and, secondly, in many case, they went far beyond mere translation of others’ works by adding transformative original ideas of their own. Both of these are fundamental in understanding the civilization, the cultural milieu, in which Rumi lived, which was transmitted to Europe from places such as Antalya.

Arabic, of course, was the Moslem world’s language of scholarly expression for much of this time. Its grip on the Persian-speaking people was established after the Arab conquest of the 7th century which resulted in making them abandon not only their Zoroastrian religion but also their Pahlavi language and script.  Additionally, largely lost was the translation of the works of the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, into Middle Persian and Syriac (Suryani) languages in the 6th century. This translation had been done mostly as the result of the return of the Persian Nestorian philosophers upon the closing of the School of Edessa in 489 by the Byzantine Emperor Zeno [1]. A few years later, when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian closed the Academy of Athens in 529 (for being a center of pagan and perverse learning),  seven notable Greek philosophers –namely, Diogenes, Simplicius, Damascius, Eulamius, Priscianus, Hermias and Isidorus- also took refuge in Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sassanid King Khosrow I Anooshiravan (531-579). The King welcomed them as he was himself a great admirer of the works of Plato and Aristotle {EIrS2}  and had established his own Academy of Gondeshapur (near Dezful in the present-day province of Khuzestan, southwest of Iran) {EBA}.  The Greek knowledge of Sassanid scholars is reflected in the Middle Persian books, especially in the encyclopedic Denkard (Acts of Religion), a 10th century collection of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The philosophical terminologies of Denkard are largely Aristotelian {EIrS2}.

The Academy of Gondeshapur was the model for Bayt al-Hikma (the House of Wisdom) founded in 832 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun in Baghdad, staffed with the graduates of Gondeshapur and emulating its learning method . After the Abbasids established their rule and shifted the capital of Islam from Damascus to Baghdad, Persian influences upon Islamic culture became palpable in all spheres of life {Sc: 3-4}.  The Abbasid period is considered to be the heyday of Islamic civilization; Baghdad attracted Persian scholars like Ghazali and Abu Nasr Muhammad Farabi (872- 950) who was from Central Asian area of Greater Khorasan (which extended beyond present-day Iran’s province of Khorasan) and is generally credited with having established the Islamic philosophic tradition {EIrM}.

The translation movement undertaken by the Abbasids through substantial contributions from a host of Persian scholars {EIrS2} soon created the Arabic version of the majority of Greek philosophical and scientific works. With Arabic being the language of scientific and scholarly works in the entire Muslim world, not only Ghazali and Farabi, but also their fellow Persian Avicenna (Abu `Ali Ibn Sina, 980-1037) wrote their major manuscripts in Arabic. The latter who considered himself a student of Farabi, is generally credited with charting the Islamic philosophical directions in the future investigation of both theoretical and practical sciences {EIrM}.

New Persian

New Persian was the first language in Muslim civilization to break through the Arabic’s monopoly on writing.  It was primarily a continuation of Middle Persian, the language of the Sassanid Persian Empire (224–654), itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BC).  However, it had borrowed and integrated much in vocabulary and grammar from Arabic. Indeed, that was also true about many of the other aspects of the new Persian culture. The Arabs brought Islam and joined the Persians with many other nations in a vast network of evolving international civilization in an unprecedented way. Trade relations became extensive and many big cities with numerous bazaars, mosques, schools and caravanserais were established.

In the common culture that emerged, with many ethnic groups, in the vast area from the borders with Byzantine east to the Chinese Turkistan, the lion’s share of contributions came from a historically rare collection of the Persian-speaking philosophers and scientists, polymaths, writers and poets [2]. Most were from Persian families of the region that is today’s Iran and the eastern part of Greater Khorasan which extended into today’s Central Asia. The Persians from the latter area are sometimes called Persionate, to distinguish them from the inhabitants of Iran. The linguistic stock of this whole area was Iranian; it consisted of the ancient Sogdian, Khwarazmian and Bactrian, as well as the language of the Zoroastrian holy books. Dari and Tajik also belong to the Iranian language group. People who communicated in these languages were Persian-speakers {Sta: 7, 17-18, 69}.”

Even those who might have had their own, separate, languages chose Persian as the dominant common language. The Turkic inhabitants of this land, in particular, who were mostly nomadic, did not develop any influential written work in Turkic until Nizam al-Din Alisher Harawi, known as Nava’i (1441-1501), long after Rumi. The 11th century works in Turkic, Wisdom of Royal Glory, by Yusuf Balasaguni from present-day Kyrgyzstan  and Compendium of the Turkic Dialects by Mahmud Kashgari from present-day Xinjiang,  China, were written in areas far to the east and had no discernible impact in the Persian-speaking world {Sta: xxi, xxv}

Rumi’s works were the products of that Persian civilization. The similarity between many of the terms used by Rumi and those in Denkard is a reflection of a renaissance of a Persian culture which had roots; this was not merely an isolated “golden age”.  A few samples of those terms should suffice here: soul (ruwan), wisdom (xrad zoor), movement (jumbishn), water (ab), unity of the universe (yak kardagihi gahan), radical dualism of being (do-buni Dtagîh), philosophers (fîlasofa) {EIrS}.  Just as in the European Renaissance, in many ways the new Persian civilization was a revival of an old one {Ni: xxvii-xxviii; Ta: 356}. It is noteworthy that Rumi lived at a crucial time when the Persian renaissance had reached a zenith from which it would not develop much further due to events taking place at Rumi’s time, principally the destructions wrought by the Mongols.



While this background is necessary for understanding Rumi, his own works are the best source for how he saw his world. He was not a chronicler, but his Masnavi’s over 25,500 poems, together with his Discourses (Fih ma fih, the collection of talks to his disciples) [3] and his Letters (Maktubat) [4] covered a wide range of revealing facets of society. Through them we learn about the people and cultural trends that influenced Rumi.

Although the Masnavi is in Persian, it also includes verses of Arabic. In one instance, after three verses in Arabic, Rumi says: “Speak Persian (Parsi goo) {Miii: 3843}!”  He repeats that directive elsewhere in the Masnavi: “Let’s say it in Persian (Parsi gooiim) {F1:333; mI: 887}.” Rumi’s usage of Arabic reflects the shifting style of Persian writers of his time. It appears akin to the artistic or ornate (fanni or masnu’) style, first introduced by Abul-Ma’ali Nasr-Allah Monsi in his 1145 Persian translation from Arabic of the originally Indian animal fable book Kalileh va Damneh (Arabic: Kalila wa Demna).  Monsi thus changed the style current from the beginning of the (new) Persian literature to the middle of the 12th  century, which was a straightforward manner of expression that avoided loan words except for those of a technical nature as well as insertion of Arabic Qur`anic verses and prophetic sayings and dicta [5].

But the impact of Monsi’s book on the Masnavi went far beyond this.  Like his (Persian) Kalileh va Damneh, Rumi’s Masnavi is based on using stories as a form of analogy (gheyas) – long employed in Persian literature as a method of proof {Ta:386-87}. Furthermore, Rumi’s bringing in secondary (far’i) stories into the principal story was a method used in Kalileh va Damneh. Although that method was then followed in other books [6], Kalileh va Damneh remained the best example and is believed to be the one Rumi considered the most {F1:43}. Of all the works in Persian and Arabic literatures that Rumi is assumed to have read, the traces of Kalileh va Damneh are most apparent in the Masnavi {Sc: 40-41}.

Kalileh va Damneh  which was first translated into Arabic in the late 8th  century, soon became an important source of inspiration for Muslim scholars, poets and mystics who used its collection of fables of animal behavior to illustrate their arguments {Sc:40-41}. The Masnavi’s employment of animal-imagery is remarkable: no fewer than 31 animals make appearances, some several times, just in the titles of its stories {Nic6: Index}. Many of these stories are taken from Kalileh va Damneh {Sc: 40-41}.  In several passages, the Masnavi specifically refers to the book as the source of the story it is re-telling {Mi: 899, ii: 3617, 3621, iii: 2738, iv: 2203, 3463}.   It assumes, as it says, that its audience “will have read” [7] the stories in Kalileh va Damneh {Miv: 2203}.  The Masnavi characterizes Kalileh va Damneh as “entirely fiction {Mii: 3621}.”  At best, the Masnavi says, it tells only “the husk of the story;” while the Masnavi claims to be “spiritual kernel (maghz) {Miv: 2203}.”  The Masnavi admonishes those to whom, Kalileh va Damneh “seems just like the Qur’an {Miv: 3463}.”

Indians and Turks

Kalileh va Damneh originated in India between 500 and 100 B.C., with two jackals, Kalileh and Damneh, as the main characters in the stories. The Sanskrit original known as the Pancatantra has not survived. The oldest extant versions of its story cycle [8], are translations of a lost Middle Persian version {EIrRi} based on a copy brought from India at the time of the Sassanid King Khosrow I. While Kalileh va Damneh may be the only concrete “written” evidence of the influence of India on the Persian civilization that nurtured Rumi, there is no doubt about extensive relations between India and the Persian world not only during the Sassanid rule but also in the periods before, going back to the Achaemenids [9].  Indian thoughts, including those from the Upanishad views about the union of the created and creator, and reaching salvation through asceticism (riyazat), influenced Iranian world-view.  The notion of reaching the truth directly by shohood (signs/evidence) in the Masnavi has a counterpart in the concept of darsana (Sanskrit: auspicious sight) which existed in the earlier Indian philosophical systems {Ta: 323}.

From the unorthodox trends in Indian thoughts which modified the Vedic principles, especially Buddhism, there were influences in the three later Persian philosophical systems of Zarvanism (Zarvangari) -built on the notion of “Zarvan Akarneh (The Eternal Time)” existing before God-, the dualistic Manichaeism (Manigari) {Ra} and Mazdakism, which sought an optimistic interpretation of the Manichaean dualism, and survived Zoroastrian pressures into the Islamic times of the 8th century {EBM}. The Mazdaens in their Denkard paid homage to the “Indian sages (danag i hindog)’’.

Hindu. The Masnavi distinguishes Sindh (Sind), populated by Sindian, west of the Indus (Sind) River, which is now a part of Pakistan, from the rest of India to its east which the Masnavi calls “Hindustan” or “Hind” (populated by “Hindu”) {Mii: 1757}. Nearly all of the references in the Masnavi to India are to Hindustan and Hindu.  Western India had been converted to Islam. In fact, by Rumi’s time many of the inhabitants had been won over by the wandering Sufis whose simple basic teaching of Islam and their mystical, warm and loving, practices appealed to those who would not be attracted by the official legalistic forms of that religion {Sc:7}.

In the Masnavi Hindustan is depicted as a faraway place {Mi: 960-68, iv: 2374; Fih: 95}.  It is the exotic land of elephants {Mii: 22233, iii: 69, 4199, iv: 1892, 3068, 3080, vi: 3561}, parrots {Mii: 154} and unique trees {Mii: 3645}. The Masnavi borrows the originally Indian story of   “The Blind and the Elephant,” which is in the Buddhist scripture, from the poet Sana’i (Abulmajd Majdud, 1080-1131) {Sc: 39}.   The Masnavi also adopts from the poet `Attar (Farid al-Din ‘Attar Nishapuri, 1110-1220) {Mvi: 1382} and Sana’i {Sc: 40; Le: 188} the story of “Mahmud and the Hindu boy (servant) {Mvi: 1383}.”

In the Masnavi’s version of that story, Mahmud becomes the model of the lover, infatuated with his slave, Ayaz {Le: 188}. Ayaz becomes the symbol of the loving soul who, by surrendering completely to his master, wins his love {Sc: 188}.   “Hark, O fellow-servant, go and, like the Hindu boy, be not afraid of the Mahmud of non-existence {Mvi: 1446}.”  The Masnavi is complementary toward Mahmud in another story, entitled: “Story of the night-thieves with whom Sultan Mahmud fell in during the night (and joined them) saying, ‘I am one of you’; and how he became acquainted with their affairs {Mi: 2816}.”   The Turkish Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi was the stern warrior who invaded and plundered parts of Hindustan, east of the Indus River 17 times. The Masnavi mentions these exploits by Mahmud {Mii: 1384}, and says that Mahmud had gained quite a reputation: “What a hellish person Mahmud must be, since he has become proverbial for woe and anguish {Mvi: 1397}.”  Indeed, until today, Indians still see Mahmud in that description. In contrast, the Masnavi calls Mahmud by his honorific title of Ghazi (religious warrior), as a champion of Islam against the infidels {Mvi: 1383}.

Rumi’s references to those infidel Indians (Hindu) are correspondingly highly prejudicial {Sc: 194-96}.  This is evident mostly in his Divan (the collection of Rumi’s odes) where the Hindu is regarded as ugly, black, of evil omen and the personification of the nafs (the base soul) which Rumi depicts as the undesirable world compared to the desirable “inner meaning” of things. Rumi contrasts the Hindu, as the dark world of the body and matter, with the Turk as the representative of the world of spirit and love. In this comparison Rumi was following the pattern found in the earlier days of Persian poetry from the times of the Ghaznavid Empire (977–1186). Turk has been used in the Masnavi as equivalent with the beloved, manifesting strength {Mv: 3778} and victory, although sometimes also cruelty.

Turk. Rumi considers himself a Turk “insofar as he belongs to the world of spirit, beyond the world of Hindu-like dark matter; but on the outward plan he knows not what he is {Sc:196}.”  As he says in the Masnavi, love destroys the border of separation between Hindu and Turk {Mi: 1205-7, quoted in Le2}. It is important to recall Rumi’s differentiation between (old) India’s Hindu and the Sind; it is among the latter that Rumi has enjoyed great love and admiration {Sc: XVIII, 375, 379}.  Rumi’s negative views about the Hindu were not based on the color of their skin.  To him, the Zangi (Negro), black-faced like the Hindu, is a model of spiritual happiness: he is smiling and seems happy {Mv: 417, vi: 1047, Sc: 197 n.13}.

Masnavi mentions the Turks as a group (Turkan) admiringly because fighting is their business, not that of the faint-hearted {Mv: 3778-9}.  It refers to lands occupied by those fighting Turks, as far away as Turkistan {Mvi: 2375} and the Turfan capital of the Uighur Turks {Miii: 1414}.  After the Persian Samanid state was overthrown by the Turkish Qarakhanids who entered Bukhara in 999, various Turkish tribes came to rule the Samanid’s land as well as the neighboring countries where Rumi was born. After the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes (r. 1068-71) was defeated by Alp Arslan Saljuq, Turks also ranged over eastern Anatolia where Rumi was to live most of his life. The founder of the Saljuqs Sultanate of Rum, Solayman, came at the call of another Turkish tribe, the Turkmen of Syria, in 1074, to lead them.  The Turkmen themselves would eventually be pushed to the peripheries of Anatolia in the late 13th century.  Masnavi mentions the Turkmen {Mii: 1}. Rumi’s Divan also has images from the daily life of the Turkmen he saw around Konya, such as the ragman who walked around the town, shouting in Turkish eski babuj kimde war?  (Who has old shoes?) {D: 1125/11876 cited in Sc: 54}.Rumi even composed a few more verses with such lines in Turkish {Le2}.  Beyond these negligible utterances there is no evidence that Rumi knew Turkish or was influenced by Turkish culture or literature.


Similarly, Rumi occasionally brought a few words of current vernacular Byzantine Greek into his poetry {Le2}: in one poem he employs the word agapos (beloved) as a rhyme word {Sc: 345}. In Rumi’s time the populace in Anatolia’s countryside was primarily Armenian and Greek by ethnicity, while the town and cities consisted of Turkish tribesmen, urbanized Turks and Persians  {Le:398; Si:31-32}.  As with Turkish, Rumi’s knowledge of Greek language was limited {Sc: 193}.  In his Discourses, he is explicit: the Greek-speaking Rumis (Rumian) “would not understand our language {Fih: 97}.”  The impact of Greek literature on Rumi’s writings was thus hardly due to his contact with contemporary learned Greeks or to his reading Greek texts; it  was through perusing Persian, or possibly Arabic, translation and the general (ancient) Greek influence in the Persian culture.


Nor is there any evidence of Rumi’s extensive intercourse with the learned Arabs of his time. Despite some claims that Rumi spent years studying in two Arab-speaking centers of learning, Damascus and Aleppo {Le: 109-114}, there is no mention of such activity in Rumi’s writings. Neither the Masnavi nor the Discourses refers to his alleged teacher in Aleppo, Kamal al-Din ibn al-‘Adim {Le: 109} or to Ibn ‘Arabi who was at the time the most prominent Sufi in Damascus. Indeed, Rumi scarcely mentions either Damascus or Aleppo of his times. Rumi mentions Damascus as a part of a proverb {Nic8:95}: “The beauties of Damascus are not fully revealed … unless the view (from)… the mountain overlooking it {Miii: 3753}.”  He also mentions Damascus along with Samarqand as “sweet” {Miv: 1889}, perhaps symbolically in remembrance of his beloved friend Shams (Shams al-Din Tabrizi) {Sc: 191}.

The Masnavi mentions Aleppo as the place where “a poet” observes the Shiite mourning of the centuries-old tragedy of ‘Ashura {Mvi: 777}; in the Divan Rumi describes Aleppo as destroyed, like the heart of a person who is deserted by his friend {Sc: 191}. The contemporary destruction of the city by the Mongol Ilkhanid Hulagu took place in 1256, making it highly unlikely that Rumi himself saw it.  Once again, Rumi is engaged in symbolism; in the same vein that he associates Syria (Shom) with “unbelief and hypocrisy {Miv: 2373}.” There is no indication in Rumi’s writings that he visited the other two major centers of learning in the Arab world, Baghdad and Cairo.

There is, of course, much Arabic in Rumi’s writings in the nature of “loan” words, imported into Persian and adapted for the Persian-speaking world.  Passages from Arabic sources in Rumi’s works were to be expected. Arabic was the language of  the religious scriptures referenced by the clerics like him, Arabs had ruled his homeland for centuries (directly or through Turkish proxies) and, finally, using Arabic was a part of the dominant style of Persian literature at his time as mentioned before.  Along with several hundred verses (surah) of the Qur’an, the Masnavi quotes many Hadith which were sayings established as a part of the Islamic Tradition [10]. There was also another category with considerable importance for Rumi and his time: the sayings of eminent Muslims {Fih: Index}.  The Masnavi uses personalities in Arab history mentioned in the Qur’an and the Tradition as symbols, made into almost mythological beings -counterparts to the heroes of Greece and Rome in the future Western literature- whose tales are told in many guises. This treatment reflects Rumi’s world as it also appears in the poems of other contemporary Persian poets {Sc: 175}.

The Masnavi contains many proverbs and popular expressions, thus telling us much about the folklore of Rumi’s world {Sc: 57}.  Not a few of these, especially if parts of the Tradition, originated in Arabic [11]: “A bowl full of poison {Mv: 4238}.” The world subsists on a phantom {Mi: 170}.”  “The believer sees with the light of God {Mi: 1331}.”  “My companions are as stars {Mi: 2925}. “The unbeliever eats in seven stomachs {Mv: 64ff}.”  “Do you not know {Miii: 1490}.” “A king read a letter {Miii: 1490ff}.”  “A man said, ‘Why {Mii:  776}?’” “This is like the story {Mv: 3077ff}.” “A friend of Joseph {Mi: 3158ff}.” “You are that very thought {Mii: 277}.” “Pharaoh’s magicians {Miii: 1721}.”

Well-known stories from Arabic literature are the sources of some of Rumi’s major ideas {Sc: 160}.  The language of the Masnavi is too allusive to measure the exact depth of Rumi’s knowledge of Arabic literature and philosophy {Ni: xxxi, n. 1}. There are enough traces of Rumi’s readings of Arabic works in the Masnavi to assume that he studied the bulk of Arabic literature, theology, and mysticism {Sc:40, 42}.  Among his sources for the Hadith which Rumi discloses in his Discourses are the following: Mohammad Ghazali’s Basit (a book of jurisprudence ) as well as his Ehya ‘olum al-din, Abdolrahman Siooti’s Jam’  Saghir, ‘Abdolro`ouf’s  Masnavi’s  Konooz al-Haqayeq, and Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn ‘Ali Shirazi’s Tanbih {Fih:309, 377, 379}.  The authors of many of these sources in Arabic were Persian.  Rumi’s references to these sources indicate that they were well-known to the audience of the Discourses, and thus among the widely-read in Rumi’s world.

The Masnavi sometimes quotes the Kitab al-aghani, the Arabic collection of poetry and literary history written in the 10th century {Sc: 41}. It makes allusions to the famous Arabic poet of the ‘Abbasid Caliphs, Abu Nuwas (d.965). Far more, the Masnavi shows fondness for the poet al-Motanabbi (Mutanabbi) (d.965) whose panegyrics reached the height of Arabic poetry {Sc: 42; Ar: 247}. Rumi quotes seven of his poems in the Discourses, as well as nine more from other Arab poets {Fih: 352-353}.

Rumi chooses Arabic to talk about subjects which he might have considered sensitive. Thus in the Masnavi it is in Arabic that he declines to praise and worship Shams –which was motivated by his concern that Hosam al-Din (who after Shams disappeared in 1248 was Rumi’s focus of affection) might feel slighted by too much attention to Shams  {F1:93, mI:128}.  Similarly, in the Discourses Rumi uses Arabic to tell a story in which he implicitly calls the companions of the important cleric in Konya,  Shaykh  Sadr al-Din,  “the enemy of God,”  liars and intoxicated  {Fih:124}.

The far greater number of poems in Persian than Arabic used in the Discourses {Fih: Index} is indicative of how much more comfortable Rumi’s audiences were with Persian. Rumi’s contemporary, the vizier Fakhr al-Din ‘Ali’s introduction of Persian in the place of Arabic as the language of administrative records in the Rum Saljuqs’ court signaled the culmination of the Anatolia elites’ adoption of Persian language and culture {EIrP}.  The vast numbers of the illiterates were even more ignorant of Arabic {Le: 405}.

Occasionally, Rumi sounds nostalgic for Arabic: “Speak Persian though Arabic is sweeter {Miii: 3843},” but he rationalizes the change by recalling his ultimate goal: “Love indeed has a hundred other tongues {Miii: 3843; Sc: 49 n. 95}.”   To illustrate this point, the Masnavi tells the story of “How four persons quarreled about grapes….  {Mii: 413}.” This is about four fellows – an Arab, a Persian, a Turk and a Rumi- who find a coin and argue about how to spend it. Everyone wants grapes but says the name of the fruit in his own language: ‘inab, angur, uzum, estafil. A learned man comes along and solves the problem by telling them that they all want the same thing {Mii: 3681 ff, Sc: 49, n. 96; Ta: 390}.

The story, coincidentally, shows a glimpse of the polyglot nature of the population in which Rumi lived. He applies its lesson to other languages: “Often Turk and Hindu can communicate /whereas two Turks may meet and feel estranged /…/Better a common heart than common tongue! {Le2}.” Indeed, the Masnavi extends his dicta to the multiple diverse religions of Rumi’s world which, following the folklore of the time, it estimates to be seventy two. The religion of love knows no difference between the 72 sects {Miii: 4719ff, cited in Sc: 336, n. 22}. It is different from all other religions {Mii: 1770 ff, cited in Sc: 336, n. 23}.”


In his works, Rumi refers to Europeans of his time only in the context of the Crusades. Called the Farangi  (the Franks), they are remembered as the Christian crusaders who came to take the Holy Land in a war that began in 1095 and lasted until 1291. In the process, the Farangi invaded many cities, including Konya, notably, in 1190.  In four poems in the, Rumi recalls the Farangi’s defiling Jerusalem by bringing pigs to that city which the Muslims call al-Quds (The Holy) {D: 361/3882 & 694/7227; 1211/12885; 2517/26632, cited in Sc: 197, notes 117, 119}. Rumi’s comment about the Farangi in his Discourses {Fih: 85}, makes it clear that he does not mean the European Jews but the Christian ones.

The paucity of Rumi’s references to Europeans and Europe was not unique; Persian poets of his time rarely mentioned them {Sc: 197}. Furthermore, outside of the Persian-speaking world, Rumi makes references just to a few Muslim cities in the neighboring Arab lands to the east. Besides those, he refers only to China {Miv: 2375} a few times and once to Bulghar, a town on the Volga river {Miii: 1414}, merely to use them as examples of distant and different places. Nonetheless, Rumi was connected to the world beyond his Persian-speaking land, especially Europe, albeit indirectly.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher (1225-1274), was Rumi’s contemporary. He was one of the many Christian writers of the time who were influenced by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058-1111).  A Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic who wrote more than 70 books, al-Ghazali was from Tabaran, a town in the district of Tus (in today’s Iran).  The works of Ghazali Tusi, as he is called in his native tongue Persian, more than any other author were the focus of Rumi’s attention. The style and manner of discussion, thoughts and knowledge of Ghazali in his major philosophical book, Ehya ‘olum al-din (The Vivification of Religious Sciences), greatly influenced Rumi {F1: five; Fih: 337}.  The Masnavi paraphrases many of passages from that work which had been written in 1106 {Le: 23}.  St. Thomas Aquinas studied Ghazali’s works at the University of Naples where the influence of Islamic literature and culture was predominant at the time {Sm: 220 ff}. St. Thomas was both a student and a professor at that university. Ghazali is credited with successfully introducing Aristotelianism, or rather Avicennism {St}, its interpretation by Avicenna into Muslim theology in an effort to resolve the apparent contradictions between reason and revelation, and for bringing orthodox Sunni theology and Sufi mysticism together. The Catholic Church, similarly, values St. Thomas for the highest expression of both speculative theology and natural reason .

The work of another Italian contemporary of Rumi also invites comparison with the Masnavi. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote his Divina Commedia only a few years after Rumi finished the Masnavi.  He chose the vernacular Italian over Latin which was the conventional language, just as Rumi had opted for Persian over Arabic. The Divine Comedy has been called the greatest mystical poem of the West, in comparison with the Masnavi which is considered the best poetic expression of the Persian Gnostic Islamic tradition. Like Rumi (who  often mentioned his birth province of Greater Khorasan) , Dante who also ever longed for his hometown (Florence), was on a spiritual journey as well, singing of Beatrice, Latin for the blessed one, as Rumi had done for Shams.  The similarities between these two poets end when they reach their spiritual destination. Dante’s Heaven –in a logically organized cosmic topography of inferno, purgatorio and paradise- was for his fellow Christians alone. Others were barred. For Rumi, the vision and the message of the Divine – discursive and digressive in his the Masnavi– was for all alike {Le: 2}.

Trade. No evidence has been revealed on Rumi’s direct impact on Dante, who came after him. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of profound interactions between the contemporaneous worlds of Rumi and Dante. Coastal zones were the most important places for facilitating the mutual influences of Anatolia and Europe on each other in that period of the medieval age. With the coming of the Rum Saljuq kings and the increasing presence of Italian merchants, maritime Anatolia became a zone of intensive contacts of Persians and Arabs with Franks and Latins, thus also between Christian churches and Islam. The Venetians and Genoese integrated many of those hubs of contacts into their commercial networks. Of all Anatolia’s ports for trade with the West, none was more important than Antalya.  It had become a veritable center of international trade by the end of the 11th century, attracting Byzantine, Muslim, Genoese and Venetians merchants.  After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, the Italians took over control of Antalya.  Two years later, however, the Rum Saljuq Sultan Kay Khosrow I (1205-1211) conquered the city. The Venetians negotiated with him for a treaty that secured their trade privileges; they did the same in 1220 with the Saljuq Sultan ‘Ezz al-din Kay Kavous I (1211-1220) who had to re-conquer the city due a rebellion of the Christian population.

Antalya remained under the Saljuq rule until the 14th century and all along was a most important node in the network of international trade.  Still a third treaty between Venice and the Saljuq Sultan ‘Ala`-al-Din Kay Qobad I  (1220-1237) enumerates some of the goods exported from Anatolia:  corn, pearls, precious stones, gold, and silver {EIrP}. In return, the Venetians and other merchants from Genoa, Pisa, Florence and Southern France brought to Anatolia, among other goods, textiles from Northern France.  The use of western-style textiles in the Islamic world and of eastern-style textiles in Europe, a “cultural cross-dressing,” was just one example of the exchange of numerous artifacts which produced “networks of affinity not bounded by religious, ethnic, or linguistic identity but by possession, consumption and display {Pk}.”  Commercial interests found a meeting ground beyond ethnic or religious antagonisms; money rather than religious scruples dictated relations at this geographic and ideological edge of the spheres of Islam and Christendom. The increase in the number of contact points for commercial border-crossing encouraged contacts among even the non-commercial members of society. In cities such as Antalya, as Ibn Battuta reported, Christian merchants lived in their own quarters but interacted with various other communities of the population. The European guild-type associations of traders found a counterpart in the grouping of the Muslim merchants called futtuwa. There were also shipboard societies, consisting of individuals of different religious and ethnic backgrounds interacting as they sailed on merchant ships {Pk}.

Rumi mentions Antalya (Antaliyeh) in no fewer than three of his 71 short Discourses.  One of these clearly indicates that Antalya, some 190 miles southwest of Konya, was a destination familiar to his audience {Fih: 115}.  In another Discourse, Rumi notes Antalya’s fame as a port on par with Alexandria, Egypt {Fih: 48}. Finally, in his longest comment, Rumi points out favorably that Antalya was a place of “warm climate,” which made it especially desirable compared to the harsh winters of Konya {Fih:97).  Indeed, perhaps for that reason Antalya was a secondary residence of the Saljuq Sultans {Pk}. Rumi further notes that the inhabitants of Antalya are mostly Rumian (Greek-speaking Rumis) and “would not understand our language, though there are some even among the Rumian who understand us {Fih: 97}!”  Not only Persian-speaking people were not numerous in Antalya but they were also hard to find on the ships that called on that port. The Moslem traders were mostly from Arabic-speaking Egypt and, occasionally, Syria {Pk}.


Love Stories

Rumi’s work shows ample evidence of the impact of his peers in Persian literature. He is fully aware that “A language shared brings kinship and a bond {Le2, citing Mi: 1205-7}.” The Masnavi covers many popular love stories of the Persian literature {Sc: 41}.  From them, Rumi draws up the views of the people of his time on love.  The story of Layli o Majnun (Layla and Majnun) appears in at least ten places in the Masnavi. This was a work by the poet Nezami Ganjavi (1141-1209) who brought a colloquial style to the Persian romantic epics. Nezami based it on the popular Arab legend of two ill-starred lovers: the poet Qays falls in love with his cousin Layla, but is prevented from marrying her. He becomes obsessed so much that he sees everything in terms of Layla, hence his sobriquet majnun (The Possessed). In the Masnavi, Majnun is depicted as the symbol of the Persian culture’s idea of “grief for a long separation from the beloved {Mv: 1999},” with his “desire being that of speeding to Layli’s presence {Miv: 1534}.”  “In the eyes of lover of Layli the kingdom of the world was (worthless as) a vegetable {Mv: 2719}.”  Rumi presents himself as Majnun in the Masnavi {Mii: 1381; Nic8:145}.  “Like Majnun, I smell the soil and detect the soil (abode) of Layli without mistake {Mvi: 2829}.”

Another love story by Nezami which is also given considerable attention by the Masnavi is Khosrow o Shirin (Khosrow and Shirin). It was based on a true story of the pre-Islamic Persian King Khosrow’s courtship of Princess Shirin. He endured long journeys and killed his rival Farhad out of jealousy. “The Khosrow (King) (who is the lover) of the spiritual Shirin has beaten the drum of sovereignty {Mv: 2525}.”   Khosrow o Shirin was influenced by yet another, earlier, Persian love story mentioned in the Masnavi {Mvi: 3952}: Fakhr ad-Din Gorgani’s Vis o Ramin (Wis and Ramin). “Read Vis and Ramin and Khosrow and Shirin {Mv: 1204}.”  Ramin was in love with Vis, the wife of King Mubad of Merv. “If you are Ramin, seek none but your Vis {Miii: 228}.”   The heroes of both of these tales by Nezami, Khosrow o Shirin and  Layli o Majnun, became standard types of lovers in Rumi’s poetry, and also for other popular 13th century Persian poets {Sc:41}.

The Masnavi also quotes other Persian poets on love. The work of another Nezami, poet and writer Nezami ‘Aroozi Ganjavi Samarqandi, called Chahar Maqaleh (Four Discourses),  written around 1156, is the source of the very first story in the  Masnavi  which is about how to deal with the symptoms of  the “disease” of love. Rumi’s prescription is similar to the treatment that Avicenna used {F1:42}. In Rumi’s time, physicians considered love to be a mental disease, similar to hallucination (malikholiya).  The Masnavi, however, calls love the measure of health of mind which enables the spirit (ruh) find gnosis (kashf marefat), a guide (ostorlab) to secrets of God: “’eshq ostorlab-e asrar-e khodast {F1:84-85, mI: 110}.”

The love in all of these stories is that between men and women. The Masnavi takes note of the practice of pederasty by some Sufis, especially the Holmanians, whose leading thinker in Rumi’s time was Ahmad Ghazali (1061–1123). They considered pretty faces (shahed) of boys to be the evidence and proof (gavah) of the beauty of God. Rumi rejected that position and in many verses of the Masnavi insists that, instead, loving mard kamel (the complete man) was loving God {Mii: 700 ff; Mv: 363, cited in F1:30-31; Sc: 299, n. 88}. The Masnavi treats the “effeminate man” as a woman {Mii: 1, v: 1}.


The women mentioned in the Masnavi are types well-known in its time: “the hag who wanted a husband {Mvi: 1}” and “the jealous wife {Mv: 1}.”   The Prophet Mohammad’s wife, ‘Aisha, was special as the Masnavi stresses her value to the Prophet as a soothing, conversationalist companion. Seeking comfort, the Prophet says to her: “Speak to me (kalimni), O Humayra {Mv: 2428}.”  The name by which Mohammad called her, Humayra (the fair one), showed the Prophet’s appreciation of women’s physical beauty. The Prophet Mohammad’s sexual appetite was evident in the many wives he kept.  The Masnavi, on the other hand, avoids both sex and physical beauty when talking about its favorite women lovers. Unlike Mohammad, Rumi was monogamous and conventional. He conveniently married the woman who as a child, like Rumi, came among the small circle of friends with his father from Samarqand. After she died, Rumi married a widow from Konya. In view of his disciples, Rumi was devoted to his wives. In approval of her second wife, they would remember her “loveliness… perfection… virtue and purity {Sc: 2, n. 87}.”  These qualities might not have been all that people in Rumi’s time sought in their wives.  Yet, in Khosrow o Shirin, Farhad is presented precisely as embodying the idea of pure and selfless love {EIrF}, and in Layli o Majnun, when the two finally arrange a secret meeting, they have no physical contact; rather, they recite poetry to each other. On the  other hand, when Rumi talks about women in general, not as the beloved, he sees them as the object of man’s lust (shahvat) and his need for procreation {Fih: 85}. In the Masnavi Rumi decries lust: “The lovers of filthy dolls (lo’batan) have sought each other’s blood and life {Mv: 1203}.” The Masnavi is emphatic: “Loving pretty face and colors is not love and ends in infamy (nangi) {F1:109, mI: 205}.”  Rumi is not shy to use direct language for sexual intercourse: “When pretty prostitute (hoor) comes to the devil’s dream; from lust she and the devil discharge sexual water {F1:417, mI: 191}.”    Indeed, the Masnavi can make some readers of our times blush [12]: there are poems about women who see the fornication by asses and say that in comparison “our husbands defecate on our vagina {Mv: 3390}.”


In addition to love, Persian poets of Rumi’s time dealt with other weighty issues, reflecting other aspects of the focus of the contemporary culture. Rumi knew about them as the Masnavi has references to those poets. Two poems in Masnavi are imitations {Sc: 160} from the well-known poems of Abu Abdollah Rudaki (858-940}, who is widely regarded as the father of the New Persian literature. As in Rudaki’s poetry which was the model of a refined and delicate taste, these Masnavi poems manifest the aesthetics of the Persian culture of the time with their emphasis on the beauty of nature: “The sands of Amun (Seyhoon River) seemed to him like silk, the River Amou (Oxus or Jayhoon) seemed to him like a pond. To him that wilderness was like a rose-garden {Miii: 3860}.”  In the second  poem imitating Rudaki, the Masnavi describes the light of the sun which bestows golden dresses upon the naked as able to  transform everything;  “rocks and thorns become, thanks to  its power, soft like parniyan (shot silk) {Miii:1267 }.”


In his Divan, Rumi establishes his linkage with Rudaki through Sana’i, by imitating both of them with an elegiac couplet, lyrical and elegant in simplicity: “Someone said khwajeh (Master) Sana`i has died. The death of such a man is not a small matter {D: 1007/10634 42, cited in Sc: 38, n. 6}.”  Sana’i had composed the same elegiac couplet about himself, imitating Rudaki’s poem about another person, Abulhassan Moradi. The second line in the poem of all three poets is exactly the same.  These poems reflected the significance attached to mournful elegy for admired men in the Persian culture of Rumi’s time. That culture was also self-critical. The insightful diagnosis of its faults by still another great Persian poet, Nasir Khosrow Qubadiyani (1004-1088) gained acceptance to the level of proverbs by Rumi’s time. The Masnavi {Mvi: 604} recalls the famous poem by Nasir Khosrow “az maast keh barmaast (What hits us comes from ourselves) {Nic 8:21}.”


Allusions to the poet Ferdowsi and his Shahnameh (Book of Kings) are mixed in Rumi’s poetry {Sc: 41}.  When the Masnavi refers specifically to the Shahnameh, it is in derogatory terms. The Masnavi does not say which of many works by that name, the Shahnameh, it means – even Rumi’s contemporary, Qane`i Tusi, had composed an epic on the Rum Saljuq dynasty called the Shahnameh, modeled on Ferdowsi’s work. It is clear, however, that the Masnavi’s target was Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, composed from 997 to 1010.  Qane`i Tusi’s work has been lost {EIrP}. Ferdowsi’s massive Shahnameh – at nearly 50,000 lines, the world’s longest epic poetry created by a poet- has continued to be popular as the national epic of Iran and the Persian- peaking world.

National Epic

The Masnavi indirectly acknowledges the Shahnameh’s huge popularity when it tells its Persian readers that: “By reason of contumacy, the Shahnameh,” like Kalileh, seems to you just like the Qur’an {Mvi: 3463}.”  The Masnavi admonishes such a reader whose aim in reading those books is “to divest himself from ennui, and neglect the Word of the Almighty {Mvi: 3463}.”  It expresses regret: “That by means of that (entertaining) discourse he may quench the fire of distress and anxiety and provide a cure (for his malady) {Mvi: 3468}.”   Finally, the Masnavi attaches a derogatory label to the Shahnameh: “For the purpose of quenching this amount of fire, pure water and urine are alike in skill (are equally serviceable) {Mvi: 3469}.”   Then, the Masnavi compares itself with the Shahnameh: “But if you become (really) acquainted with this pure water (Masnavi) which is the Word of God and spiritual, all distress will vanish from the soul, and the heart will find its way to the Rose-garden {Mvi:3470}.”

Nonetheless, the Masnavi cannot escape the popularity of the Shahnameh: it mentions many of the heroes of Ferdowsi’s epic work. The most prominent is the central figure, Rostam, who rescues people from div (the hermaphrodite).  Rumi depicts Rostam in his Divan as symbol of the “true man” {D: 895/9369; 1747/18320, cited in Sc: 41}. The Masnavi makes references to Rostam in numerous places {Nic5: Index}.   Rostam is treated as the symbol of the greatest in valor, surpassing even the Islamic icon Hamza: “Though he (the husband) be Rostam son of Zal and greater than Hamza (in valor), as regards authority he is his old woman’s (wife’s) captive {Mi: 2427}.”  Rostam is also the symbol of strength: “His weakness is like the weakness of the intoxicated, for in his weakness he is the envy of a Rostam {Mv: 975}.”  Furthermore, Rostam is the symbol of manliness: “Manliness of that Rostam who was the son of one-hundred Zals (meaning that he is the son of one-hundred heroes) {Mv: 3965}.”  Rostam is credited with having earned his worth {Mii: 372}.

Rostam’s immense popularity is noted in the Masnavi which refers to the paintings of Rostam in public bathhouses {Mv: 398, cited in Sc: 133, n. 19}. These defied all Islamic religious prohibitions against the depiction of human faces. Their endurable favor with the public was manifest when images of Rostam and other heroes of the Shahnameh came to dominate even the walls of royal palaces when Timur’s successor Sultan Shahrukh (1405-1447) launched the efforts which established the contemporary art of Persian painting {Sta: 485, 490}. In calling Zal, Rostam’s father, a hero, the Masnavi recognizes the status given to him in the Shahnameh.  The Masnavi also acknowledges the legendary speed of Rostam’s horse, Rakhsh, made famous by the Shahnameh: “Do not steal your heart away from the spirit-bestowing heart-ravisher, for he will mount you on the back of Rakhsh {Mv: 1160}.”

Iran and Islamdom

The Masnavi mentions two kings of the pre-historic Persian Kayani dynasty as though they resided in the skies, appropriate to their mythical images.  “When its self-consciousness is gone and its foot untied, the falcon flies towards Kay Qobad {Mv: 2281}.”  “For by traveling the moon becomes (splendid, like) Kay Khosrow {Miii: 534}.”   The pre-Islamic Sassanid Persian monarchs projected themselves as the heirs to the pre-Parthian Kayanid kings {EIrS2}. Ferdowsi belonged to the class of Dehqan, landowning Iranians who had flourished during the Sassanid dynasty and were intensely patriotic. Dehqan is sometimes used in the Shahnameh as a synonym for “Iranian”. The Dehqan considered it as their duty to preserve the cultural tradition of Iran and legendary tales about its kings.  The Saljuq rulers of Rum chose the heroic names of those Kayani kings mentioned in the Shahnameh, an indication of the growing importance of the Iranian tradition in the late 12th century. There were indeed several Saljuq kings, each named Kay Khosrow, Kay Qobad and Kay Kavous {EIrP}.

The other Saljuq Dynasty that governed the area west of Rum, including Iran, was founded by Turkish men who spoke Persian only imperfectly and did not read it. However, by the reign of Sultan Sanjar (1097-1153) those Saljuq kings had become well-acquainted with the Persian literature.  Their court followed the Siyasatnameh (Book of Government), a treatise in Persian on the realities affecting government and how it should be run, prepared by Nezam al-Molk, the vizier of  Sanjar’s  predecessor, Malek Shah.  The Siyasatnameh frequently cites the example of the pre-Islamic Sassanid King Khosrow I.  Its author, like Ferdowsi being from a Dehqan family near Tus, the Siyasatnameh shows the attitude of the Persian elite of the time towards the past of their civilization. The Rum Saljuqs of Anatolia strove to replicate the Sanjar court’s adaptation to the Persian culture and statecraft {Le: 397-98} [13].

Rumi does not share Ferdowsi’s passion for Iran. Indeed, the word Iran, or other versions of it, such as Iranshahr, are missing in Rumi’s works. The closest word Rumi uses for Iran is ‘Ajam. That is the term which the Muslim Arabs used for the Iranians. Accordingly, Persian kingdom was Molk ‘Ajam.  Rumi in the Discourses refers to ‘Ajam, meaning a land of some of  the Muslims coming to the Muslim holy site of Ka’aba,  as distinct from other places from which other Muslim groups may come to the same destination, such as Anatolia, Syria, China, India and the Yemen {Fih:97}.

Masnavi’s allegiance, if any, is to Islamdom, the community (ommat) of Muslims {EIrM}. In the Discourses Rumi criticizes Vizier Parvaneh  (aka Parvana)  for siding with the invading Mongols (Moghol) against the Muslim Egyptians and Syrians, and demands that instead he should support the latter in defense of Islam {Fih:5}.   Parvaneh ( Mo’in al-Din Solayman), a Persian, was for 17 years (1259-1276) the de facto ruler of Konya , treating his Turkish Saljuq kings as puppets {Sc:27-8}.  Notably, when King Qelej Arslan IV protested against Parvaneh’s securing his position through redistributing Saljuq crown lands among his own followers, the King was murdered by Parvaneh and replaced by his underage son Ghias-al-Din Kay Khosrow III {EIrP}.  Parvaneh’s accommodationist policy toward the Mongol was a necessary part of the complex task of his dealing with the “Mongol affairs”. Rumi was satisfied with the ultimate result of Parvaneh’s efforts and, in another part of the Discourses, praised him for working to promote the interest of Islamdom:“These are also works of God inasmuch as they have to do with the safety and security of Islamdom {Fih:11}.”


The Mongols were the contemporary enemy that Rumi saw against his community of Muslims. “When the Mongols first came into this land, they were bare and naked;” their property was what had been “seized” from the Muslims and it was, therefore, now lawful for the Muslims to take it back: “The Mongols seize property, but sometimes they give us property, which is strange. ‘What is (your order) on that?’ someone asked. ‘Whatever the Mongols seize,’ said the Master, ‘is as though it has come from God’s hold and storehouse.’…             Therefore, our property is unlawful for the Mongols, but their property is lawful for us {Fih: 64-65}.”  Rumi chided those who had submitted to the enemy: “What do we mean by considering ourselves Muslims when we bow and scrape to the Mongols {Fih: 77}.”

The feeling against the invading Mongols as enemy was widespread in Rumi’s world. The Mongol hordes swept from the east to the west; leaving death and destruction everywhere they went {Sc: 8-9}.    Samarqand which was a major economic center was laid in ruins by the Mongols in 1219. In 1221, the Mongol Genghiz Khan destroyed Balkh, a flourishing center of Islamic learning from the 9th century {Sc: 14}.   Other major cities in the Persian-speaking world faced the same fate: Reyy in 1220 {Sc: 191) and Nishapur in 1221 {EIrR}. Massacre of the population of the conquered land was a common practice by the Mongol.  The poet ‘Attar met his death that way in Nishapur {EIrR}.  “General terror” was the Mongols’ principle method of governance {Ta: 75}.  Under them poverty reached a new height. Persian historians have summarized the Mongol invasion in this sentence: “They came, uprooted, burned, killed, took and left {Ta:75} .” They believe that was the singular event that put an end to the renaissance of the Persian-speaking world, a blow from which it has not yet recovered {Ta: 82}. Some historians suspect that the Baghdad Caliph Al-Nasir li-Din Allah (1158-1225) was an instigator in the Mongol invasion because he was dissatisfied with the Turkish rulers, considered Baghdad’s designated subordinates, who would be thus vanquished by the Mongol invaders {Ta:75}.    Soon, however, the Caliph was alarmed by the threat of the victorious Mongols. He tried to build an organization of Muslim princes in a call to reunite against the rising power of the Mongols {Sc: 8-9}.  The Caliph’s resistance proved futile. In 1258, Genghiz Khan’s grandson, Hulagu conquered Baghdad and the last Abbasid Caliph was killed {Sc: 8-9}.

Rumi’s earliest written pronouncements about the Mongols are in his Divan: “People flee from the Mongols/ We serve the Creator of the Mongols {D: 1764/1849, cited in {Sc: 17 n. 23}.”  In another poem, Rumi says that although “fire fell into the world, the smoke of the Tatar (Mongol) army,” he saw the eternal sun rising before him. The reference here is to Rumi’s meeting Shams Tabrizi in Konya in October 1244 {D:  2670/28317, cited in Sc: 18 n. 25}.  Finding a silver lining in such catastrophe was typical of R: he would habitually see the bright side {Ch: 193-94}.  On the other hand, there is no evidence that Rumi was directly affected by the physical damages of the Mongol invasion. The Anatolian cities the Mongols pillaged, such as Arzenjan {EIrP} and Kaiseri {Sc: 171}, did not include Konya. Rumi had left his home province, at the eastern end of the Persian-speaking world, in 1216, before there was even a serious threat of the Mongol invasion. His departure was three years before the Mongols’ attack on Samarqand and five years before their sacking of Balkh  {Le:49}. The dispute of that region’s ruling Khwarazmshah with the Mongols did not start until 1218 {Le: 62}. After leaving, Rumi never returned from Konya. Nor is there any indication that he was in Nishapur, Rayy, Baghdad or any other cities damaged by the Mongols during or even after their attack.

Rumi was, of course, familiar with the fatal plight of the ‘Attar in Nishapur, and heard reports of the destructions in areas further east from his father’s old disciple Borhan al-Din Mohaqqeq who arrived in Konya 1232.  Borhan had fled from his hometown of Tormod, the closest city to Rumi’s birth town of Vaksh, some 250 kilometers from Balkh. The influx of other refugees from the invasion of the Mongols into Anatolia {EIrP} provided Rumi with additional information. The Masnavi has a story titled “The Mongol and the Egyptians {M3:p. 50, cited in Nic2}.” It is in his Discourses, however, that Rumi is more explicit with his views about the Mongols. He gives this narrative of why the Mongol invasion took place:

“When Mogholan (the Mongols) first came into this velayat (country), they were bare and naked; they rode on cows, and their weapons were made of wood… At first they were in a wilderness, remote from people, miserable, wretched, naked, and needy. The few of them who used to come as traders into the realm of the Khwarazmshah would engage in some buying and selling and buy karbas (muslin) to clothe themselves. The Khwarazmshah banned their trade and ordered their traders killed. He also levied taxes on them and barred the merchants from his lands….The Tatar (the Mongols) went complaining to their own king and said ‘We have been destroyed.’ Their king …went into a deep cave, where he fasted … humbling and abasing himself… A cry came from God, saying, ‘I have heard your plea. Come forth and be victorious wherever you go.’ Thus it was that when they came out at God’s command they were victorious and conquered the world {Fih: 64-65}.”

Although the reference to the Khwarazmshah’s mistreatment of the Mongol visitors as the triggering cause of the Mongol invasion is familiar to informed readers, Rumi’s account is different in some details from what contemporary historians reported [14]. Nonetheless, Rumi’s views were influential as he was a leader forming others’ opinions in his world. These views included his diagnosis of the reason for the Mongols’ success, and his prognosis of their future: “When they were down trodden¸ feeble and powerless, God found their need acceptable … and (helped) them. Now they have grown so in stature and might, God will destroy them… in order that they may realize that it was by God’s favor and power that they conquered the world, not by their own force and strength {Fih:65}.”  Rumi’s attitude, “God would destroy” the Mongol, was ingrained in the Persian ethical and Sufi literature {Le: 283-4}. It became the justification for a prescription of wishful passivity toward the Mongols. The Mongol invaders stayed as rulers of the Persian- speaking world for another 290 years –counting Hulagu’s Ilkhanids and the related Timurids who followed.

Active resistance to the Mongol rule was rare. Ironically, a dervish (Sufi) group in Azerbaijan, the Horoofiyeh (aka Horrifies) was the prominent example of such active opposition {Ta: 451}. The Horoofiyeh were the followers of a Sufi, Fazlallah Astarabdi known as Naimi. Born in 1339, at age 18, he had an extraordinary religious experience when he heard a nomadic dervish recite a verse by Rumi.  As a result, Naimi determined to devote his life to such religious pursuits in which, like Rumi, one aimed at experiencing the meaning of things rather than coming to know them intellectually. Gathering followers, Naimi eventually moved to Tabriz where, failing to convert the ruler Tamerlane, he was executed in 1394 by Tamerlane’s son, Miran Shah. The Horoofiyeh’s uprising was crushed but their popular movement survived for at least another decade in different guises.


Aside from the Mongols, the dervishes’ uprisings in this period were sometimes in opposition to the big landowners, aristocrats and their hired religious clerics {Ta: 449}. Rumi’s course was different. In the Discourses, Rumi recalls his experience in Samarqand when ‘Ala` al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah (r. 1200- 1220) laid siege: “We were in Samarqand, and the Khwarazmshah, having laid siege in that city, was waging war with his army (lashkar keshideh). In our quarter there was an extremely beautiful lady, who had no equal in that town. I kept hearing her say: ‘O Lord, how could you let me fall into the hands of the tyrants {Fih: 173}.” Rumi refers to this Khwarazmshah in Masnavi as “very bloodthirsty, and that perverse (tyrant) had killed many kings in that region either by craft or violence {Mvi: 2537}.”   Yet, in another story the Masnavi portrays him as “the God Almighty who demands from this wicked folk the (pure) heart {Mi: 868}.”

That one is the story of the Khwarazmshah taking by force of war the city of Sabzawar, further west, where all the inhabitants were Rafizis – Shiites who rejected the Sunni Caliphs Abu Bakr, ‘Omar and ‘Uthman as usurpers. When the inhabitants  begged the bloodthirsty  Khwarazmshah to spare their lives, according to the  Masnavi,  he said, ‘I will grant (you) security as soon as you produce from this city a man named Abu Bakr and present him to me {Mv:845}.”    It is not surprising which side the Sunni Rumi takes: the Masnavi refers to these inhabitants of Sabzawar as infidels (Moghan, Persian for Magicians, used to refer to Zoroastrians) {Mi: 868}. The Masnavi shows a similar attitude toward Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (r. 1002 – 1030). It refers to his reputation for ruthlessness: “What a hellish person Mahmud must be, since he has become proverbial for woe and anguish {Mvi: 1397}.”  This is, however, in a story Rumi tells to correct that “misapprehension {Mvi: 1382}.”    There, in “The story of Mahmud and the Hindu boy {Mvi: 1383},” the Masnavi advises “like the Hindu boy, be not afraid of the Mahmud of non-existence {Mvi: 1446}. The Masnavi calls Mahmud by his title Ghazi (the champion of Islam against the infidels) {Mvi: 1383}.  Among Mahmud’s earliest campaigns was his invasion of Multan (in the today’s Punjab province of Pakistan) in 1005. This war against the Shiite Ismaili Fatimid Kingdom that had been established there ten years earlier, was a bid by Mahmud to curry favor with the Abbasid Caliphate.  Some Ismailis were massacred in the war and some later converted to Sunni Hanafi sect of Islam.

Ismailis. The Ismaili threat continued as did the Ghaznavids campaigns to suppress them. In 1032, Mahmud’s own vizier, Hasanak, was executed on suspicions of becoming an adherent of the Ismaili Islam.   The Ismailis also posed a serious threat to subsequent Turkish rulers of the land.  Nezam al-Molk was the powerful vizier who held near absolute power for 20 years under the Saljuqs -the dynasty that followed the Ghaznavids. In his highly influential Siyasatnameh, Nezam al-Molk wrote about the ominous danger from the ascendant threat of the Ismailis.  Shortly thereafter, in 1092, Nezam al-Molk was assassinated by the Ismailis in the course of their political power struggle. Hence, the Ismailis gained the reputation as the Assassins –on the charge that they would drug the killers, hashishiun (Persian for assassins) with the narcotic hashish. Masnavi refers to the Ismailis as the symbol of fearlessness: “I am unafraid (of death) like the Ismailis {Miii: 4101}.”

The Ismailis were feared by the Sunni population of the land which described them as infidel (molhed) {Le: 12}, but they also had attracted large followings among the masses in the Persian-speaking world {Sc: 6-7}.  Both Rudaki and Amir Nasr Samani in whose court Rudaki served were Ismailis.  Nasir Khosrow Qubadiyani visited Cairo at a time when the Fatimid Ismaili ruler was waging a war against the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, and came back in 1052  as an Ismaili  da‘i (missionary), appointed as the Hojjat Khorasan  “Authority for Khorasan”. That mission henceforth became the main object of Nasir Khosrow’s life.  Ferdowsi is also believed to have been an Ismaili. There is little doubt that he was a Shiite, based on what he says in the introductory part of the Shahnameh, although some scholars think that he may have been a Zaydis Shiite {Om; GbF} The Zaydis were the earliest distinct major group that may be described as Shiite. Like the other two significant branches within Shiism, the Ismailis and the Twelvers (Imami), they believed that the successors to the prophet are ‘Ali and, after him, his descendants from his marriage to the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. The three differed on the succession after the fourth successor (Imam) –the Ismailis and the Twelvers sharing the same Imams until the 8th , with the Ismailis ending at their 8th while the Twelvers continued with their to the 12th Imam [15].

Attractions. In being opposed to the ruling Arab Abbasid Caliphates, the Shiite groups all shared a political appeal for the Persians who sought independence from foreign domination.  This fact was especially reflected in the case of the Carmatians (Arabic, Qarameta) {Ta: 74, 81}, a group that beginning in the 9th century, combined elements of the Ismaili Shiite Islam with Persian mysticism. It gained supporters in many parts of the Persian-speaking world. In 931, lead by a Persian, the Carmatians launched a program of forbidding Islamic law and prayer [16]. That leader did not last long, and the Carmatian movement was suppressed by the Abbasid Caliphs in the middle of the 11th century {EIrD}. Another source of appeal of Shiism to the common people in the Persian-speaking world was that it provided an outlet for their feelings in the more emotional form which they could not find in the dry forms offered by the Sunni theologians {Sc: 6-7}.  The culmination of such emotional manifestations by the Shiites was the ‘Ashura commemoration of the martyrdom of their fourth Imam, Hosayn [17]. The Masnavi comments critically on the rituals as held in Aleppo {Mvi: 7775- 805}, upbraiding the Shiites for such lamentations about some tragedy that took place so long ago. It calls on them, instead, to grieve the corruption of their beliefs: “loudly lament over your own ruined heart and creed {Le:13; Mvi:795}[18] . The death of Hosayn was in the battle of Karbala, in present day Iraq. Paradoxically, in the Masnavi Karbala becomes a symbol of disaster {Miii: 831} and killing {Miii: 423}, and Hosayn, the “slain of Karbala {Mv: 1624}” becomes, in the Divan, the model of the martyred lover {D: 2707/28715, cited in Sc: 186 n 20}. This reflects the wide-spread feelings about Hosayn and the battle of Karbala held in Rumi’s world.

The Masnavi does not engage in theological arguments with the Shiites- that was taken up by the Sunni theologians, especially Ghazali {Sc: 6-7}. Indeed,  Rumi shows high regards for spiritual purity and loyalty of a certain Shiite group of the early 10th  century,  the Ikhavan al-Safa  (Pure Brethren) whose works were read widely;  their very name Safa  (purity) indicated those with whom Rumi could speak about love {Sc:187}.  The Masnavi refers to several cities which had become symbols because of their Shiite inhabitants. Regarding Kashan (Kashi), it says: “No shop will sell you bread in Kashi if your name is ‘Omar {Mvi: 1220, 3233}.”  As in the case of Sabzawar where one could not find a man named Abu Bakr {Mv: 845}, the Masnavi’s allusion here clearly points to the political differentiation between the Shiite and Sunnis.  The Masnavi tells many positive stories about Abu Bakr, ‘Omar and ‘Uthman, the three first Sunni Caliphs. The Shiites considered the Sunnis’ fourth and last Caliph, ‘Ali, as the very first successor of the prophet, not recognizing the other three. ‘Ali’s party (Arabic, Shi`atu ‘Ali) considered Mu`awiya who usurped power from ‘Ali, as an eternal enemy.  The Masnavi, on the other hand, views Mu ‘away favorably {Mii: 2603-740; Le: 13-14}.  In the Masnavi’s words the Shiites (such as the Razi, the population of the city of Reyy) and Sunnis (such the Marvzi, the population of the city of Marv) may both perform religious duties but they aim at different results {F1:13, mI:288,289}. Rumi sighs disparagingly about the Shiites: “How can one speak of ‘Omar to Shiites? How can one play the lute before the deaf {Miii: 3200f, cf Miv: 32, cited in Sc: 49 n 103}. ”


The Mongols’ incursions into Central Asia coincided with the beginning of the reign of the Rum Saljuq’s ‘Ala` al-Din Kay Qobad I {EIrP}. ‘Ala` al-Din was proud for having received the formal recognition of his reign from the Sunni Caliph in Baghdad through a caliphalletter of confirmation granting him Anatolia. The Mongols, challenging the Caliph, would now also become ‘Ala` al-Din’s bitter enemies.  His forces proved incapable of dealing with them. After the Mongols penetrated deep into his territory in 1232, ‘Ala` al-Din formally submitted to the Mongol Great Khan Ogedei but direct Mongol rule would not be imposed for some decades.  ‘Ala`al-Din’s successor, Qias al-Din Kay Khosrow II, after his defeat in 1243, was granted a decree from the Great Khan Batu,  recognizing him as a subject ruler in return for a substantial annual tribute {Fih: 283}.  Henceforth the Saljuq sultans were allowed only a secondary political role, as virtual pawns of the officials appointed by the Mongols {EIrP}.

Rumi never lived under direct Mongol rule. He mentions that the Mongols attacked Rum “lands (mamalek)” and took them in 1242 {Fih: 283}.  The Mongols approached Konya, the last time in 1256, but did not enter that city {Sc: 27}. Around 1258 the Saljuq Sultan ‘Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II (r. 1246 or 1248-60} solicited the help of the Mongol commander in Baghdad, Hulagu, to secure his rule in Anatolia against the challenge from his brother Rokn al-Din Qelej Arsalan IV. Failing that, ‘Ezz al-Din withdrew from Konya to Antalya {Mak: 272}. When the Mongols threw their support behind Rokn al-Din, ‘Ezz al-Din withdrew, further, to Byzantine in 1260 or 1261 {Le: 277-78}.

Rumi had a particularity close relationship with this Sultan ‘Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II as several letters Rumi wrote to him indicate. Some of these were in response to the letters from the Sultan {Mak: 59-61, 107-9, 109-11, 133-4, 162-3, 177, 178-9, 187-8 and 189-92}. Even from Antalya he apparently sent a letter to Rumi inviting him there- which was declined {Fih 97}.  In his letters Rumi offers the prayers of all his disciples for ‘Ezz al-Din, gives advice on the unfaithful nature of the world, and suggests that the loss of political power is not an indication of the withdrawal of God’s blessing {Mak: 108, 187}. Rumi asks the Sultan’s assistance for various individuals close to him {Mak: 178}. Rumi also wrote similar letters to Qazi ‘Ezz al-Din of Konya who became ‘Ezz al-Din’s vizier about 1256, but was killed some two later for having encouraged a Saljuq attack on the Mongols {Mak:  150-52, 271-2}. That fate was symptomatic of the mortal dangers facing all Rum viziers and rulers in those turbulent years of Rumi’s world.

Rokn al-Din who was made Sultan by the Mongols after his brother ‘Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II, lasted from 1257-1267, but all that time under the control of his own vizier Mu ‘in al-Din Parvaneh.  The latter was promoted to that position by the Mongol Khans to serve as their supreme representative at the Saljuq court {EIrP}.  To consolidate his position, Parvaneh married his daughter to the Saljuq Sultan {Le: 279-280},   and himself married the late Sultan Kay Khosrow’s widow Gorji Khatun (aka Gürcü Hatun) {Le: 282}. The title the Mongols gave him, Parvaneh, which literally meant butterfly in Persian, indicated his overseeing responsibility.  Parvaneh interpreted the assignment as becoming the Mongols’ agent in all spheres.  When his plan to redistribute Saljuq crown lands among his own followers caused Sultan Rokn al-Din’s protests, Parvaneh arranged to have him strangled in 1265. Rokn al-Din’s  minor son, Ghias al-Din Kay Khosrow III was put on the throne and henceforth Parvaneh became the undisputed ruler of the Saljuq  dominion in Anatolia,  answerable only to the Mongols {Le:279-280}, until 1277. In that year Parvaneh was, in turn, ordered killed by the Mongol Ilkhan ruler Abaqa who suspected him of instigating the Egyptian Sultan Baybars’s foray into Anatolia against the Mongols {EIrP}.


The relationship with Parvaneh was most important for Rumi. The earliest encounter between  the two was in the late 1250s or early 1260s {Le: 80-81}. Their relationship continued until the last years before Rumi’s death in 1273 {Ar: 245}.  There exist 150 Letters (Maktubat) from Rumi.  The Letters shed light on Rumi’s life and work especially in the period from the 1250s to 1270s {Le: 128}.  Some of these Letters were exchanges with close friends, and a number were written to his sons and daughter-in-law to offer advice {Sc: 25, 26; Ha}.  The majority of the Letters are addressed to the officials and grandees of Konya {Th: xiv}. The biggest group of Rumi’s Letters, about two dozen, was addressed to Parvaneh.

The Letters to Parvaneh were written on behalf of those in need of assistance {Th: xiv}. Rumi sought help in their economic, professional and personal problems {Le: 294-5}.  A prime example was his son Mozaffar al-Din Amir ‘Alem {Mak: 100-101}. Aside from addressing Parvaneh directly, Rumi also wrote a Letter to Akmal al-Din Tabib, asking him to intervene with Parvaneh to secure a better salary for Mozaffar {Mak: 214-215}.   Rumi wrote a letter to Amir al-Savahel (Governor of the Coasts) Baha al-Din asking for assistance to his son, Mozaffar {Mak: 202-203}.

Rumi wrote additional Letters on behalf of his disciple Hosam al-Din to secure for him the position of shaykh at a Sufi lodge {Mak: 158, 219}. In a Letter to the Saljuq Sultan, Rumi complains that the governor of Konya was harassing Hosam’s son-in-law and asks that the sultan intervene and prevent the governor’s actions {Mak: 162-3}.  This Sultan was probably Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II to whom Rumi dispatched at least 9 Letters, several of which were to ask for similar kinds of assistance {Mak: 59-61, 107-9, 109-11, 133-4, 162-3, 177, 178-9, 187-8, 189-92}. Rumi wrote several Letters to Taj al-Din Mo’tazz Khorasani who was in charge of the Saljuq government’s financial concerns in Kastamonu and Ankara; most of these were on behalf of  Hosam and his children {Le:424}. An additional three Letters by Rumi were addressed to Amin al-Din Mika’il {Mak: 252-3}, a treasury official of ‘Ezz al-Din and later a viceroy (nayeb) in Konya 1259-1277 {Fih: 77; Le: 283}. A Letter from Rumi or on his behalf  that dates to the last two  years of Rumi’s life is  addressed to Parvaneh’s son-in-law, Majd al-Din Atabeg (d. 1277), who was the finance minister of Rokn al-Din, requesting financial help for a certain Nezam al-Din {Mak:75-6, 288}.

Benefits. Taj al-Din Mo’tazz Khorasani eventually secured a Sufi lodge for Hosam al-Din. He made additional contributions to the economic well being of Rumi and his disciples. The hall next to Konya’s ‘Amere school where Rumi taught was built for him by the same Taj al-Din {Le: 425}.   Rumi owed far more to Parvaneh. Even Taj al-Din’s ability to help Rumi indirectly resulted from Parvaneh’s appointing him to his high financial office in the government {Le: 424}. Parvaneh’s wife, at Rumi’s request, provided the dowry for the daughter of Salah al-Din Zarkub, whose other daughter was married to Rumi’s son {Sc:27}.   Parvaneh reportedly distributed cash among Rumi’s disciples through Hosam al-Din {Fih: 264}.  He would arrange sema’ sessions for Rumi and his disciples {Fih: 240}. As a measure of the gratitude of Rumi’s family and disciples, Rumi’s son Sultan Valad even composed a qasideh poem and two quatrains in praise of  Parvaneh’s {Le:281}.

Rumi’s dependence on the financial support of a major patron was typical of his time. The patron was commonly the king, or another de facto ruler. In Rumi’s world the ruler was commonly rich. Indeed, power brought wealth as Parvaneh’s case illustrated.  After the Saljuq king Kay Khosrow’s death, Parvaneh who supported the victorious Qelej  Arslan IV in the ensuing conflict for succession to the throne, took back from the Empire of Trebizond, the Saljuqs’ rivals, the important city of Sinop, some 700 kilometers north of Konya, and twelve surrounding castles. In the feudal system of Rumi’s world, that whole region was then accorded to Parvaneh and his family as an iqta. According to this form of land grant for a limited period in lieu of a regular wage {EBI}, the grantee took a charge (kharaj) from the farmers and gave a share of it (about 10%) to the king {Ta:77-78} [19].

With the rare exception of ‘Attar who, as his name indicated, earned his living as an independent apothecary, prominent Persian poets of Rumi’s world depended on financial support of rich patrons.   These included Rudaki who was supported by the Samanid king Nasr II ibn Ahmad,   Sana’i who looked to the Ghaznavid king Bahramshah, Ferdowsi who completed the first version of the Shahnameh under the patronage of Samanid prince Mansur and then sought support from the succeeding Ghaznavid dynasty’s Sultan Mahmud, and Nasir Khosrow who was appointed by the Egyptian Ismaili Fatimid dynasty as their da’i. Other men of letters and science in Rumi’s world followed the same rule of patronage. Mohammad Ghazali joined the entourage of Vizier Nezam al-Molk in Isfahan. The vizier eventually advanced him to the most prestigious professorship of the time, at Baghdad’s Nizamiyya Madrasa college of religion [20] .Even Avicenna was able to write his works only by employment as both a physician and an administrator in the courts of various Persian rulers, from Samanid Nuh ibn Mansur in Samarqand to ‘Ala’al-Dawleh in Isfahan {EIrG}.

Rumi‘s very presence in Konya was due to the common phenomenon of rulers’ patronage of men of talents in his world. Still barely in his teens, Rumi was brought by his father from the far-eastern part of that world to Anatolia. The father, Baha al-Din, was a minor preacher (va’ez) {Le: 52, 54} in search of employment, having last worked in Vaksh (where Rumi was born in 1207) from 1204 to 1210 and Samarqand from 1212, leaving in 1216 {Le: 46-64}.  Baha al-Din was in Karaman, 100 kilometers east of Konya {Sc:15}  when, in 1229,  the Rum Saljuq  Sultan ‘Ala` al-Din Kay Qobad I (r. 1219-37) called him to his capital and settled him and his family in Konya’s Altunpa Madreseh (Persian for religious school) {Le:71-74}.  Ala al-Din Kay Qobad was gathering around him scholars and mystics.  Well versed in Persian -he read Siyasatnameh and the Persian version of  Ghazali’s Ehya ‘olum al-din called Kimiyay sa`adat–  ‘Ala` al-Din created a Persian cultural environment in Konya. He took for role model two previous kings famous in his time as patrons of the learned, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Qabus Ibn Voshmgir, the ruler of Gurgan and Tabarestan (r. 977–981; 997–1012) {Le: 79}.  These two, however, were not exceptions. Rather, many rulers in Rumi’s world would have worn as a badge of honor a reputation as patron of arts (honar- parvar).  The Saljuq dynasty that ruled the land east of Anatolia boasted Sultan Malek Shah and his son Sultan Sanjar in that category.  The courts of the Abbasid Caliphs were famous for their resident scholars. When Caliph Naser wished to confer on `Ala’ al-Din Kay Qobad I the caliphalletter of appointment, he dispatched the prominent philosopher and Sufi scholar in his court, the Persian Shehab al-Din `Omar Sohravardi {EIrP}.

While the rulers of Anatolia supported men of learning partly out of personal interest in promoting a cultural environment, like other rulers  they expected that their patronage of clerics (such as Rumi’s father) would also help in co-opting them to cooperate with the government, create a pious image for the ruler and foster observance of law and order {Le:398}.  Under some free-thinking early Abbasid Caliphs, especially al-Ma’mun (813-833), there were opportunities to discuss diverse views, even those of other religions than Islam. But with the eventual domination of dogmatic Caliphs, scholars in Persia were forced to give a strong Islamic color to their thoughts in order to protect themselves {Ta: 333}. Baha al-Din died in 1231 and Rumi succeeded him in his position. He continued to live under the same kind of Saljuq state patronage that benefited his father {Le: 397}.  The record of how Rumi complied with the expectations of his patrons is in the Discourses. Rumi delivered the Discourses virtually in the same period that he composed the Masnavi {Ar: 6-7}.    He began the Masnavi probably between 1258 and 1261 and finished dictating it in 1267 or 1268. In that same period Parvaneh was the de facto ruler of the Saljuq Sultanate of Anatolia, the state patron whose expectations mattered the most to Rumi [21].


Parvaneh did not take orders from the Saljuq Sultan; he was responsible to the Mongol Ilkhanids.  The Mongol Commander Baiju promoted Parvaneh to chancellorship in 1256 {Ar:7-8}  but after the death of the Mongol Great Khan Batu, Genghis Khan’s grandson, in 1255,  the fate of Anatolia came to be determined not by his successors but by the new Ilkhanid dynasty created by another of  Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulagu {EIrP}.  The consequences of the change were substantial. Hulagu Khan (1215-1265) destroyed the Ismaili Nizari Hashshashins in 1256 by taking their stronghold of Alamut, and he destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 by taking their capital of Baghdad {EIrP}.   He established his own capital in Maragheh in today’s Iranian Azerbaijan. Persian historians have argued that in finally putting an end to the foreign Arab rule after six centuries, Hulagu was encouraged by a Persian vizier, Khwajeh Nasir al-Din Tusi (1201–1274)  {Ta:75}.  Perhaps, equally important, Khwajeh Nasir al-Din certainly visited the Shiite centers near Baghdad soon afterward {EBE2}.  He had been a prominent theologian of the Ismaili Shiites [22].  Upon the fall of Alamut to Hulagu Khan, however, Nasir al-Din now changed to become a Twelver. Indeed, eventually he evolved into the most prominent Persian theologian of that school of Shiism in his generation. Nasir al-Din provided the influential voice in the center of political power that the Shiites, regardless of their numbers, heretofore lacked. A man of exceptionally wide erudition, Nasir al-Din was also a prominent astronomer {EBE2}.  This endeared him to Hulagu who was a believer in astrological predictions. Hulagu constructed for Nasir al-Din an observatory (rasad khaneh) for creating accurate astronomical tables in Maragheh. This bonding enhanced Nasir al-Din influence on Hulagu.

Nasir al-Din had corresponded with Sadr al-Din Qunavi in Konya. He did not find the mysticism of Sadr al-Din or other masters of his time appealing. Nasir al-Din wrote his own book of philosophical Sufism, Awsaf al-Ashraf (The Attributes of the Illustrious). Rumi did not engage with Nasir al-Din’s works in his own writings. His encounters with Nasir al-Din came in reaction to the actions of Hulagu in which Nasir al-Din’s influence might be seen. In the Discourses Rumi addresses Parvaneh: “You united with the Tatar and assisted them to annihilate the Syrians and Egyptians and lay waste to the realm of Islam {Fih: 5}. Tatar, plural: Tararan,   {Fih: 65} was the name Rumi used for the Mongols, in addition to Moghol, the Persian for Mongol. The events in this segment of the Discourses are dated to the last years of Rumi’s life, at least after 1268 {Fih: 241}, hence by the Tatar, Rumi here means the Ilkhanids.  Syria had become part of the Mamluk kingdom which was founded in Egypt by former Turkish slaves, mamluk (owned), in 1250 {Sc: 8-9}. The Mamluks resisted the Mongols’ advance further west. Hulagu destroyed Mamluks’ Aleppo (in Syria) in 1256; Rumi had alluded to this destruction with sorrow in his Divan {Sc: 37, 191}.

In his Discourses, Rumi accuses those who cooperated with the Ilkhanids, presumably, especially Parvaneh (and perhaps Khwajeh Nasir al-Din) as being infidels: “we are now bowing and serving the Mongols like the nonbelievers (kafaran) who did that to the idols and  call  ourselves Muslims {Fih:77}.”   In another passage in the Discourses, Rumi warns the gullible of the Mongols’ deception: “Tararan also believe in the Resurrection (hashar) and say there would be judgment (yarghavi in Mongolian) {Fih: 284}.   “They are lying and want thereby to say we have things in common with the Muslims {Fih: 65}.”    The Mamluk-Ilkhanid war soon took a different turn.  In 1260 the Mamluk under their Egyptian Sultan Baybars (1223-1277), won a decisive battle against the Ilkhanids (in `Ayn Jalut, in current day Israel) {Sc: 37}.  With the strengthened Mamluks, Parvaneh’s policy changed and became one of multiple alliances with both sides, in the hope of keeping all his options open.

Rumi was now sympathetic and encouraging to Parvaneh as the Discourses tells us: “(Parvaneh) {Fih: 246} said, ‘night and day my heart and soul have been at your service, but I have not been able to attend to you because of my preoccupation with Mongol affairs.’ (The Master responded)… You have sacrificed your all, both materially and physically (to win them over) so as a few Muslims (may) occupy themselves with acts of devotion in security {Fih: 11}.”

In another passage in the Discourses, Rumi tells Parvaneh not to lose hope in God as “He is tricky, He shows nice pictures with bad pictures inside them {Fih: 5}.” In a different passage, however, Rumi warns Parvaneh of the danger inherent in associating with rulers not just because the desire to please them “may harm the religion,” but also because “you could lose your head (die) {Fih: 9}.”  Rumi’s advice was prophetic. Four years after Rumi’s death, Parvaneh was suspected of joining a party of Turkish nobles planning to join forces with the Mamluks in Caesarea against the Ilkhanid overlords. A Turkmen tribal chief seized Konya. Soon the Ilkhanids struck back, drove the Mamluks out of the area and executed Parvaneh in 1277 {Ar: 7-8; EIrP}.


Rumi never became the most respected religious scholar in Konya. During his time, Konya’s Qazi, the Islamic judge with jurisdiction over all legal matters, was Seraj al-Din Mahmud al-Ormovi.   Parvaneh was particularly attached to a mystic rival of Rumi, Shaykh al-Islam Sadr al-Din Qunavi. He took classes in the Qur`an and Hadith from him. Parvaneh was also fond of Fakhr al-Din `Eraqi, an interpreter of the Arab mystic Ibn Arabi’s ideas in Persian poetry. Yet another mystic in Konya at this time was Najm al-Din Daya Razi and Parvaneh built a tekkiyeh (a gathering place) for his followers {Le: 123-128; Sc: 29-30}.

In the Discourses, Rumi seems to show displeasure, in a (culturally common) circuitous way, at the rivalry for Parvaneh’s attention.  Rumi says, he kept Parvaneh waiting not to teach him a lesson, but because he wanted to have the opportune moment to spend more time with Parvaneh {Fih: 37; Th: 251}.  In another passage, Rumi, with considerable displeasure, reveals his clash with Parvaneh. The Vizier wanted Rumi to concentrate on “action” –which for the clerics meant praying and fasting-   and not on making speeches:

“Parvaneh said (to me) that the main thing is action.  I said where are the people who can act and are seekers of action for me to show them action. …Not finding a buyer for action but only for words, we occupy ourselves with talks. .. Action is not prayer and fasting; those are the form of action. An act is the inner content. .. .The basis of things is all talk and speech. You know nothing of this talk and speech and belittle it. But that is the fruit of the tree of action. Speech is born of action. You say that in this age words are          not creditable, but you deny speech by the same words {Fih: 74-75}.”

In another part of the Discourses, Parvaneh asks if “the good resulting from a human action is due to action itself, or a gift of God.”  Rumi answers it is the latter. Parvaneh comments that “in that case every seeker is bound to find.” Rumi responds that, nevertheless, a guide is still needed.  Intellect is that guide for the body, and a saint is the guide for humanity {Fih: 53; Ar:253-54}.


Rumi presumably saw himself as the guide for the audience that attended his Discourses. The composition of that audience reflected the types of people in Rumi’s world who would be attracted to his speeches, influenced by his “actions.”  They were Konya’s urban folk, especially merchants and tradesmen, and some clerics and men of state {Le: 398}. Rumi did not consider the country folk (roosta’i) worthy of his attention: “Anyone who has discernment will benefit from these words we speak, while our words are wasted on any who have no discernment. It is like two rational and qualified townsmen who go out of compassion to give testimony on behalf of a roosta’i. The roosta’i, in his ignorance, says something that contradicts the two so that their testimony has no effect and their good offices are wasted. For this reason they say that the roosta’i has testimony with himself {Fih: 148; Th:154}.” In the Masnavi, Rumi says: “Intelligence and culture are characteristics of townsmen; hospitality and entertainment (of guests) are characteristics of tent-dwellers {Mvi: 2398}, and … villagers (country folk) {Mvi: 2399}.”  The country folk around Konya were attracted to other dervishes, especially Hajji Bektash {Sc: 31-32}.  His background was in Qalandari.  The Qalandars were a group of dervishes [23]. With often shaved head as a sign of withdrawal, these wandering mendicants encouraged freedom from ties and bounds of religious laws. A large enough group was formed around Bektash in Anatolia such that Rumi’s disciples came to consider him a rival {Le: 36}.

Rumi had to share the town folk as potential followers with the highly influential Shaykh al-Islam Sadr al-Din Qunavi {Fih: 124, 314; Th: 256-257}.  His concern with this rivalry was so large that in his Discourses, Rumi singles out Sadr al-Din’s companions as having been (wrongly) accused of “drinking wine” and believing that “Jesus is God,” but “deny it publicly on purpose in order to preserve the community {Fih:124; Th:130}.” Kenya’s growth during the Saljuq was owed to the booming trade relations. No other city in Anatolia had so many bazaars and caravanserais as were built in Konya before the Mongol invasion. The population of the town expanded with many traders and merchants. Rumi found such key disciples among these as Zarkub (goldsmith).  Salah al-Din Zarkub Qunavi (from Konya) would become Rumi’s most important companion for ten years after Shams disappeared {Fih: 302} in 1248 {Le: 21} .  Traders and merchants constituted the lower ranks of the town folk, because in the Persian feudal system the higher ranking landowners lived in the cities –unlike the European feudalism.  Rumi had a following among some of the landowners who were often government officials. The Discourses mentions several of these officials who were frequent visitors or disciples: Qadi `Izz al-Din Mohammad Razi, vizier to Kay Kavous II  {Fih:201, 340; Ar:273},  Amir Nayeb Amin al-Din Mikaiel, Viceroy of Konya (1258- 1277} {Fih:43,44, 77, 252,270}, Shams al-Din Yutash Beglarbegi (d. 1259}, a high ranking official {Fih:125, 314; Th:259 },   Mir Akdishan, the chief  of the akdishes (an administrative or military class) {Th:255}  and Majd al-Din Atabak,  son-in-law of Parvaneh { Fih:19, 28, 19, 28, 260; Th:252}.

Small Group. The other contemporary persons mentioned in the Discourses reveal how small was the group that preoccupied Rumi.  Some are familiar names. Shams al-Din Tabrizi is referred to specifically in five places {Fih: 83, 88, 89, 92, 176}.  In yet one more place, Shams is mentioned by implication as the special man “who had the power to annihilate himself for his friend,” meaning Rumi {Fih:25, 257}. In two places {Fih: 83, 92}, Shams’s name is followed with the prayer qods sarah (May God bless his grave), dating those Discourses to after Shams’s death.  In another passage, Rumi curses “these people” who falsely “say they have seen” Shams {Fih: 25, 88}.  The Discourses also refer to a close disciple of Shams, Shaykh (Qotb al-Din) Ibrahim {Fih: 62}, the sight of whom “reminds us of Shams {Fih: 176, 281-82}.”

Salah ad-Din Zarkub, Sham’s successor as Rumi’s beloved friend {Fih: 302, 312},   appears in two places in the Discourses {Fih: 93, 95-96}.   In one {Fih:95-96},  Rumi defends him against a disciple, Ibn Chavush, who complained that  Salah ad-Din had ulterior motive in the counsels he gave ; Rumi says Salah’s directives should be unquestionably accepted by his followers {Le:209}. After Salah ad-Din’s death, Hosam al-Din replaced him as Rumi’s object of affection {Fih: 312} and would also succeed Rumi as the head of his close circle of disciples {Le: 434; Sc: 34-35}.   In the Discourses Hosam is referred to in a story as the “great man {Fih: 25, 258},” superior to the “saqil (bore)” Shaykh Sharaf al-Din Haravi, one of the leading clerics of Konya {Fih: 25, 258; Ar: 249}.

The Discourses also mentions Rumi’s father by name, Baha al-Din Valad, in a story along with the name of one of the father’s disciples, Khajegi {Fih: 12, 257}   who accompanied him from Central Asia {Ar: 247}.  Much more, however, the Discourses refer to another of Baha al-Din’s disciple, Borhan al-Din Mohaqqeq, who became Rumi’s teacher and mentor {Le: 96-118}. In four places in the Discourses, Borhan is quoted, thus expounding on his wisdom {Fih: 16, 111, 207, 219}.  There are also disciples Rumi himself had brought into this group: Akmal al-Din who was a prominent physician {Fih:209, 341; Ar:274},   Siraj al-Din {Ar:275} who was known as a good “reciter of Masnavis  (Masnavikhwan)” {Fih:230, 344; Th:258}, Nur al-Din Jicheh {Fih:32, 260; Ar:250},   and Ibn Chavush (Najm al-Din ibn Khurram Chavush) {Fih:95; Th:254}. Several other names are mentioned in Discourses about whom we do not have adequate information. One thing they have in common is that they are associated with the part of the Persian world where Rumi and his family (father and wife) came from, the place Rumi calls “our” homeland, velayat (province) {Fih:74}.   These include Shaykh Nassaj Bukhari {Fih: 110, 308}, Saif Bukhari {Fih: 159, 330}, Shaykh al-Islam Tarmadi {Fih: 111, 309},   Sadr al-Islam Abu al-Yusr Mohammad ibn Husayn of Pazda {Fih: 180, 335-336}.   These people were presumably known to Rumi’s audience, indicating provincial bond among a closely-knit group of disciples.

Rumi wrote letters to gain favor for these disciples. Ibn Chavush was the subject in one of such Letters in which Rumi calls him “dear child (farzand)” and asks that the addressee forgive certain transgressions committed by Ibn Chavush {Fih:302}.  However, as the Discourses reveals, Chavush later joined those who challenged Salah al-Din Zarkub’s qualifications to be the successor to Rumi {Fih: 302}.   As noted before, Rumi defends Salah al-Din against Chavush. In another passage, Rumi says nothing is harder to endure than stupidity in a disciple {Fih: 129-30; Ar: 264}.  He follows up in his exasperation at difficult disciples in another part of the Discourses about a mystic experience in which Rumi sees a rebellious disciple in the form of a wild animal {Fih:135; Ar:265}.   Finally, in still passage Rumi refutes an allegation brought against a kanizak (little girl) {Fih: 140; Ar: 260}.   Here the reference is to the dispute between Shams and his wife Kimia {Fih: 140, 319} which contributed to Shams’s disappearance.. The Maqalat (Writings) attributed to Shams refers to this dispute several times {Fih: 319}. The abuse and threat of the disciples of Rumi against Shams who bitterly resented their master’s devotion to him had already once caused Shams to take refuge in Damascus in 1246 {Ar: 6; Le: 177}.

There is no indication in the Discourses that they were attended by women. It has been suggested, however, that Rumi had female disciples and, indeed, arranged sama’ dance sessions for them {Mak: 279; Le: 282-3; Sc: 32}.  A single Letter from Rumi is addressed to the “Pride of All Ladies {Mak: 118-19},” welcoming her recovery from illness. She could have been the wife of the Saljuq Sultan, Ghias al-Din Kay Khosrow II or the spouse of Rokn al-Din Qelij Arsalan IV {Le: 282-83}.

Sovereign Lord

Rumi’s disciples often called him Khodavandegar {Fih: 4, 14, 28, 35, 37, and 42}.” The Arabic Mawlana (Our Master), also used, was a title of respect given to a Sufi master without clear reference to a specific person. In addition to Rumi {Fih: 7}, his father {Fih: 7} was called Mawlana –sometimes Mowlana Bozorg (The Elder Mawlana) {Fih: 204} – as was Shams {Fih: 83}. The Persian word Khodavandegar (Sovereign Lord) indicated perceiving Rumi not just as a spiritual master but also as the leader of a group of disciples. This was not the full-fledged Sufi (Mevlevi) Order which was yet to be established after Rumi’s death; it was rather an expanded version of another institution in the Islamic world, Ahl beyt (Household),  centered  on the some 300  persons who reportedly came with Rumi’s father from Central Asia. Rumi considered his role not only to include settling disputes among his disciples but even seeing to their needs for entertainment. That is the explanation Rumi gives in the Discourses for composing poetry and participating in the sama` dances -which would later become the basis for the trademark movements of the “whirling dervishes” of the Mevlevi (Turkish pronunciation of the Persian Molavi, singular of Mawlana) Order:

“My disposition is such that I do not want anyone to suffer on my account. I am not pleased when my friends try to prevent some people from throwing themselves on me during the sama`. I have said a hundred times that no one should presume to speak for me. Only then am I content. I am loved by those who come to see me, and so I compose poetry to entertain them lest they grow weary. Otherwise, why on earth would I be spouting poetry? By God, I am vexed by poetry. I don’t think there is anything worse. It is like having to put one’s hand into tripe to wash it for one’s guest because they have an appetite for it. That is why I must do it. A man has to look at a town to see what goods the people need and for what goods there are buyers. People will buy those goods, and will sell those goods, even if they are the most inferior merchandise around ….What am I to do? In our velayat (province) and among our qoam (people) there is nothing more dishonorable than being a poet. Had we remained in that land, we would have lived in harmony with their taste and would have done what they wanted, such as teaching, writing books, preaching, practicing asceticism, and doing pious works {Fih:74-75; Th:77-78}.”

Islam discouraged music and dance, associating them with a history of  kings’ courts, slave dancing women, drinking and debauchery; but music and dance were not forbidden outright {Le:28}.   From the early times, some Sufis often indulged themselves in sama` (literally, Arabic for listening), which consisted of listening to music and dancing in whirling movement to attain ecstasy.  As a community activity in Sufi lodges, the sama` sessions were held in many areas of Persian-speaking world by the late 9th century, expanding steadily by Rumi’s time {Le: 29; Sc: 6-7}.

Sama`. Rumi never danced before Shams, but after meeting him, music and dance became a part of Rumi’s life {Mo: 172}. “His whole being was transformed into poetry and music. Music became the only expression of his feelings; music echoed in the enthusiastic words, vibrating in the rhythms of his lyrics {Sc: 21-23}.” Rumi passionately regretted Shams’s departure and “bade the musicians chant songs of love and engage, day and night, in the sama` {Ni: xxii}.”  Rumi’s poetry came to manifest various stages of the experience of  longing, yearning, searching, and hoping for union; music echoed in words, vibrating in rhythms {Sc: 21-23}.  The introductory verses of Rumi’s Masnavi express his love of music. These “She`r ney (The Flute Reed Poems)” recall the use of flute reed by Islamic musicians, and even further back by ancient Greeks {Sc: 21-211}.  Rumi’s poems, however, also show his knowledge of other instruments common in his world: the sorna, similar to trumpet, often played by the wandering musicians,  the rabab, a stringed instrument, which the musician put at his breast and touched with the bow {Sc:212},   the stringed chang, the little harp {Sc:213}  and the large qanun {Sc:214),  the percussion instruments tabl (the large drum), daf  ( the tambourine), tanbura (the drone), and barbat (the lute) {Sc:215}. Rumi refers to the various pardeh (modes) in Persian music, such as the ‘oshshaq (lovers), in appropriate places in his poetry {Sc: 216}.  He knew of the psychic effect of music {Sc: 211}.  “When the harpist who plays the (musical notes) bist o chahar (the twenty and four) finds no ear (to listen), his harp becomes a burden {Mvi: 1658}.”  The instruments and musical knowledge found in Rumi reflect what was common in his world. Long before Rumi, in the middle of the 10th century Farabi had written his Ketab al-musiqi al-kabir  (Great Book on Music) in Arabic {EIrG}; and his student, Avicenna, followed a few decades later by a chapter on music in his Persian Daneshnameh (The  Book  of  Knowledge) {EIrA}.

Rumi held regular sama` meetings. He whirled alone, or encircled by his faithful followers. His radif pakufteh (foot stamping) poems and his rhyme-words were meant for the whirling dance of sama`. Rumi poetically imagines his beloved, carrying a rabab and acting as a dancer musician {Sc: 217}.  With him sama` becomes an antidote that rests the restless soul by encouraging it to experience freedom out of its confinement in the body {Sc: 218}. This is similar to the result which the mystics in other traditions sought by choosing dance as a form of religious expression. In Rumi’s imagination the sama` reflects the tension between union and separation without which no movement or sound would be possible. He believed that all nature participated in this dance {Sc: 219}.  The command for the sama` came from heaven as a breeze.  Only the dead twigs, the scholastic theologians and philosophers, were not moved. The sama` was a branch of the spiritual dance in which the soul ought to join, Rumi said {Sc: 221-222}.

To his disciples Rumi preached fasting for spiritual salvation, but his poetry is rich with imagery that reveals much about the culinary world of his times. Like other Persian poets, he sings about kabab ( roast) and  sharab  (wine) ; like other Sufis, he is fond of the sweets halva and paloodeh (a mixture of milk, noodles, sugar and  spices). Beryani (broiled meat) is mentioned, as is the spice somaq (used with roast).  There is a catalogue of fruit in Rumi’s poems, including apples and peaches, as well as vegetables, including eggplant, spinach and onion. Rumi indicates that in his time and place people ate tuzluq (pickles), sanbusa (with meat stuffing) and totmaj (vermicelli). They used the dik (cauldron) for cooking {Sc: 139 -148}. Rumi is insistent, however, that these descriptions are all meant as images to serve feeding a higher, spiritual, hunger: “The wine became intoxicated with us, not we with the wine {Mi:1812; Sc:152 }.”


Rumi did not join any of the existing Sufi orders. The Masnavi enumerates the distinct characteristic emphasis in the practice of many of those Sufi orders: tobeh (repenting); bakhshesh (alms); service to people, such as cooking or cleaning the Sufi center ( khaneqah);  tavakkol  (trust in God);   not feeling obligated  to obey amr and nahi ( Islamic mandates and prohibitions); khodbini (understanding oneself); focusing on  own powerlessness ; looking at neither the power or powerlessness but only at God; thinking  that with  observation and discussion one reaches the truth {Mi: 475, 476, cited in F1:211}. Rumi was conscious of the animosity of many Sufis in Konya toward him, as the Masnavi indicates in several places {Mii: 2494, cited in F1:198}. Some would criticize the Masnavi for it did not show sufficient Sufi training {Sc: 299}. Indeed, the Masnavi does not even mention the most famous Sufi teacher of the time, Ibn Arabi, or the standard books of Sufism: Qosheyri’s Resala and Abu Taleb Makki’s Qut al-Qolub.  It aimed at “immediate knowledge” which was learned not from books but from “experience” {Sc: 299}. Loving the complete man (mard kamel) which was the same as loving God was the principle of Rumi’s own “way” (tariqat) {Mii: 700 ff, cited in F1:30-31}.

Although the Masnavi refers to Rumi as a Sufi, he sometimes uses the word Sufi in a pejorative sense. True Sufi for Rumi was not the one who wore woolen (suf) frocks (the vernacular meaning of the word) but, rather, the one who sought purity (safvat) -another word derived from the same Arabic root (tasavvof ) {Sc: 4, 299}. Even darvish (dervish), the Persian word for the Arabic faqir derived from faqr (poverty), did not always please Rumi who so fervently espoused spiritual poverty as the goal.  The Masnavi in a story ridicules the simpleton dervish who loses his donkey in a trick by other Sufis of a convent where he is a guest {Mii: 203 ff, cited in Sc: 56-57 n 153}. In Rumi’s time, claiming to be a dervish was popular and was sometimes used as a tool for getting money and worldly status. The Masnavi warns against such “devils in the form of man”. The spiritual seeker should avoid such unsuitable companions {Mi: 316, cited in F1:145}.  Indeed, he should generally “Make a practice of seeing (for yourself) without blindly imitating (taqlid) any authority: think in accordance with the view of your own reason (`aql) {Mvi: 3345}. Following that dicta, Rumi developed his own distinct thoughts which many consider to be the height of `Erfan, or Persian Gnosticism in the Islamic period. To the extent that this was an attempt for the direct experience of the divine it was mysticism – a concept which evolved from the original Greek word   “muo,” meaning “to conceal” {Ge}.


Rumi’s works tell us much about what he read and saw and in his time. The world they depict is the Persian-speaking region which spanned Central Asia to Anatolia, a distance of  some two thousand miles away Rumi lived only in those two extremities, traveling as a young boy from Samarqand to Konya where he spent all of his adult life. The vast scope of what he read contrasted sharply with the limits of what he could witness in person. Rumi devoted his last ten years to composing his majestic Masnavi. It was his spiritual meditation on religions and the ontological questions which also preoccupied other contemporary thinkers.  Its stories were drawn from the culture that engulfed Rumi. This was the time of the renaissance of Persian civilization. Rumi shows its face and its roots in the Masnavi. That work reflects many distinctions of life and culture of an era that was both sublime and unique; a result which is enhanced in Rumi’s other works, especially the Discourses and Letters.

Rumi does not give us history in the conventional sense; at the closest, his work is a special kind of historiography.  What he says are hints directing us to fuller accounts of events and conditions by other chroniclers and historians; they also serve as evidence verifying that such further investigation would prove more on the impact of historical facts on Rumi personally. The examples abound here. Rumi tells us about the tumultuous politics and conflicts of religious beliefs in his times, the interdependence of the writers and rulers, the rich literary endowment left by his Persian predecessors, the multi-source heritage of his culture, the bonds between a Sufi and his disciples and how he, as a Gnostic navigated the shoals of a strict religion. These are all Rumi’s personal history but told enmeshed in a narrative that is based on many stories shared widely as part of the Persian folklore of the medieval times. Both of those subjects, of course, need to be further studied. This review is hardly complete; it only shows the worthiness of seeking to elucidate what Rumi meant by illuminating what he observed in his world.



Transliteration and Names. The method of transliteration of Persian words here aims at the phonetic spelling accessible to the common reader. Persian words, including names, are spelled in the way they are pronounced by Persians today. For the most frequently used names a different version which is often used in contemporary English text is given in parenthesis.

  1. The School was closed to stop teaching the Nestorian doctrine of Christianity. Led by the prominent Persian philosopher Narse, the returning Nestorian philosophers founded the School of Nisibis in the Persian Sassanid land, where they expounded on Aristotle’s work and even wrote a few treaties in Middle Persian on logic and philosophy.
  2. Among other major Persian thinkers contributing to the unprecedented expansion of human knowledge at these times one must mention Abu al-Hassan Bahmanyar (d. 1067) , Qotb al-Din Shirazi (1236 – 1311) , Rases or Mohammad ibn Zakariya Razi 845-925), Fakhr al-Din Razi (1149-1209), and  Nasir al- Din Tusi (1201–1274) {F1:32; Ta:95),  Abu Abdollah Rudaki (858-940), Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi  (940–1020),  Abu al-Rayhan Biruni (973-1048),  Abu al-Fazl Beyhaqi (995-1077) ,  Nasir Khosrow Qubadiyani (1004-1088), Nezam al-Molk (1018-1092) , `Omar Khayyam (1048-1113) , Nezami Ganjavi (1141-1209) , Shehab al-Din `Omar Sohravardi (1145-1234),  Baba Afzal (d. 1213), Farid al-Din `Attar (1145-1220) , Mohammad Awfi (d.1232), Fakhr al-Din `Araqi (1213 – 1289),  Muslih al-Din Saadi Shirazi (1210-1291), Rashid al-Din Fazl al-Allah ( 1247-1318),  Amir Khsorow Dehlavi (1252-1325), Allameh Helli (1250-1325), Hamd al-Alah Mostofi (1281-1349), Hendushah Nakhjavani (1323), Khajavi Kermani (1280-1352) , Ubayd Zakani (1300-1371),  Salman Savoji (1308-1376). The dates are from various sources.
  3. The most reliable manuscript of the Discourses available to us consists of a collection of 71   fasl (sections). It is a composite copy of two separate manuscripts, one being the notes from several Discourses taken down by a person who was present at the time of the delivery and the other part written during Rumi’s  lifetime {Fih:173}. The copier of the first part called it Ketab Fih ma Fih “the book which contains what it contains {Le: 43},” borrowing that title from a piece mentioned in a book by Mohy al-Din Arabi’s Fotuhat-e Makkiyeh. The copier of the second part named it al-Asrar al-Jalalliyeh (The Jalaly Secrets), alluding to Jalal al-Din, Rumi’s name {Fih: ya}.

The 71 Discourses in the collection are not ordered chronologically.   One of the earliest Discourses indicates that it was probably delivered just after Shams’s return from Damascus to Konya (1246) {Fih: 89, 301}, another seems to be from near the end of Rumi’s life {Fih: 339}, and still a third refers to a vizier who died in 1256 or 1258 {Ar: 273}. Most of the other 68 Discourses were probably delivered between 1256 and Rumi’s death in 1273.

  1. The manuscript of the collection of the Letters which is deemed to be the earliest reliable is from the early 1350s. It has been published under the name Maktubat-e Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi. {Le: 294-95}.
  2. That original style was exemplified in the 10th century works such as Mohammad Bal`ami’s history and the Persian translation of Mohammad Ibn Jarir Tabari’s commentary (tafsir) on the Qur’an. Monsi’s ornate “innovation” in that style would influence all Persian literary works for nearly four centuries {EIrO}. Rumi would be especially interested in Monsi’s Kalileh va Damneh as it was among the very first sources that contained quotations from Sana`i’ s poetry which was Rumi’s favorite {EIrB}.
  3. Such as Alf Laylah (One Thousand and One Nights), Sendbadnameh and Marzbannameh.
  4. One reason the stories of Kalileh va Damneh were well-known in Konya was perhaps because a poet at the sultans’ court, Qane`i Tusi,  had composed a versified Persian version of it for Ghias al-Din Kay Khosrow II {EIrP; F1:125}.  This was just one of the many other reiterations of the work
  5. These are in Syriac and Arabic, from the 6th and 8th centuries, respectively. Kalila wa Demna would eventually find its way to early modern Europe where it was often called Fables of Bidpai {EIrRi}, and would influence many authors, beginning famously with the French La Fontaine in the 17th century.
  6. The Sassanid King Shapur I (240-270) ordered the importation of Indian knowledge of astronomy {EIrS2}.
  7. The Hadith consisted of three categories, qodsi (Prophet Mohammad’s sayings), nabavi (related to Prophet Mohammad) and ashab (attributed to Prophet Mohammad’s disciples).
  8. These are cited in {Ar: 263, 265, 266, 268, 271, 272, 276. 277}.
  9. Some scholars translating the Masnavi into English have chosen to use Latin for these and similarly sexually profane poems {Mv: 3943, 3862}.
  10. `Ala’ al-Din Kay Qobad (r. 1219-1237) -who invited Rumi’s father to settle in Konya, and whose garden was frequented by Rumi and eventually became the site of his shrine {Le: 427} – himself read the Siyasatnameh as well as Ghazali’s Kimiyay sa`adat in Persian {Le: 79}.
  11. According to the Persian historian Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani (1193-1265), the Mongol leader Genghiz Khan had originally sent the Khwarazmid ruler, `Ala ad-Din Muhammad, a message seeking a trade relationship and a treaty of friendship and peace. The Khwarazmshah reluctantly agreed. The war started a few months later, when a Mongol caravan and then the Mongol envoys were massacred in the Khwarazmian city of Otrar.
  12. The Zaydis considered Zayd ibn ‘Ali as the fifth and last Imam (successor) while the other two Shiite branches chose his brother Muhammad al-Baqir. The Ismailis then shared two more successors with the Twelver Shiites but then chose Ismail as the eight and last Imam while the Twelvers chose his brother, instead, and continue with his descendants for another four successors (Imams) {Ak; WiZ}.
  13. The year 931 loomed important for the Carmatians’ millenarian fervor for the emergence of the Islamic Mahdi. It coincides with the 1,500 year anniversary after the Prophet Zoroaster’s death when the reign of the Magians, Zoroastrian priests, was predicted. Consequently, in that year the leadership of the Carmatian movement was handed over to a Persian.
  14. On the 10th (‘ashura ) day of the Arabic month of Moharram, in 680 AD, Hosayn  fell in a battle together with many of his family and kinsmen. The Shiites’ ritual mourning ceremonies on that annual occasion included flagellating themselves with razors {Le: 448}.
  15. The Shiites had lived in Aleppo and other parts of the Arab Syria since the rule of the Arab Shiite Hamdanids (800- 1004) {Sc: 14; WiH}.
  16. This feudal economic system was essentially the same as the one in the pre-Islamic Sassanid period and would last until the Iranian Constitutional era of the 1900s, with its later phase being called the tiyool system {Ta:77-78}.
  17. Ghazali was there 4 years until, following a spiritual crisis, he abandoned his career for an ascetic lifestyle in Tus..
  18. Rumi had stopped teaching, although he continued to live in a madreseh (religious school) {Ar: 6-7; Le: 423-424}.  Such life in seclusion was the model established by two scholars Rumi admired the most: Sana`i and Ghazali.  “Harken to the words of Hakim who lived in seclusion,” Rumi says referring to Sana`i {Mi: 3426}.   Ghazali, too, had returned to Tus after 1096 to spend several years in seclusion (‘uzlat); abstaining from teaching, he would only write.
  19. He was writing his important Ismaili work Tasawwurat (Notions) while living in the mountain fortress of ‘Alamut, which was the capital of the Ismaili state since 1090 when it was established by Hasan Sabbah. Upon the fall of ‘Almut to Hulagu Khan, however, Khwajeh  Nasir al-Din Tusi married a Mongol and was appointed by Hulagu as his minister of religious bequests. Khwajeh Nasir al-Din Tusi’s father had been a jurist in the Twelfth Imamate school of Shiite.
  20. They originated as an opponent of the fundamentalism of the Almohad Caliphate in Andalusia and spread east to the Persian-speaking world.


Abbreviations for frequently cited sources

Ak                   Anna Akasoy, “Shiism and Sects,” Pathos, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ar                    A. J. Arberry Discourses of Rumi   (London, 1961).

Ch                    William C. Chattick,   Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi, Translated (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2004).

D                     Divan Shams Tabrizi, ed.  Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, Kolliat Shams ya Dian Kabir, 9 vols. (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1997).  D followed by Rumi or T and then a number indicates the number of the roba`i or tarji`band. (Le; Sc uses the same source but the system for the numbers is not clear)

EBA                 Oskar Anweiler, “Academy of Gondēshāpūr, Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBB                 John Andrew Boyle, “Ferdowsi, Persian Poet,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBE                 TheEditors, “Rudaki, Persian Poet,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBE2               TheEditors, Nasir al-Din Tusi, Persian Scholar,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBI                  The Editors, “Iqta,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at  <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBM                The Editors, “Mazdakism,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at <>  (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrA                 M. Achena, “AVICENNA xi. Persian Works,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrB                 J.T.P. de Bruin, “SANĀ`I,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrD                 Farhad Daftary, “Carmatians,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 1990, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrF                 Charles-Henri de Fouchecour, “IRAN: Classical Persian Literature,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at  < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrG                 Dimitri Gutas, “FĀRĀBĪ i. Biography,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrM                M. Mahdi, “AVICENNA, i. Introductory Note,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrO                Mahmoud Omidsalar, “KALILA WA DEMNA, ii. The translation by Abul-Ma’ali Nasr-Allah Monši,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrP                 Andrew Peacock, “Saljuqs of Rum,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2010,   available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrR                 B. Reinert, “Attar, Shaikh Farid-al-Din.” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <“; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrRi                Dagmar Riedel, “KALILA WA DEMNA, i. Redactions and circulation,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2010, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrS                 Mansour Shaki, “Falsafa,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrS2               Mansour Shaki, “Greek Influence on Persian Thought,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

F                      Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, Sharh Masnavi Sharif, 3 vols.  9th printing (Tehran: Zavvar, 2000). Reference to the book’s Masnavi poems in Persian are signified by m.

Fih                   Rumi, Ketab Fih ma fih; az Goftar Mowlana Jalal al-Din Mohammad mashhur be Mowlavi, ed. Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, 9th printing (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 2002)

GbF                 “Ferdowsi,” Books google, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ge                    Jerome Gellman, “Mysticism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” online edition, 2014 available at < > accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ha                    Gh. A. Hadad Adel, “THE LITERARY VALUE OF RUMI’S LETTERS.” Scientific Information Database of Iran (May 2002) available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ho                   Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 1991).

Le                    Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: Past, Present, East and West (Oneworld, Oxford Publications, 2008).

Le2                  Franklin Lewis, The Icon and the Man: in quest of Historical Rumi (Lecture: 2007) available at < >   (accessed on 18 April 2015).

M                     Rumi, Masnavi-ye ma`navi, ed. R.A. Nicholson as Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi,  E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, new series, 8 vols. ( London:Luzac & Co., 1925, 1929, 1993)

Mak                 Rumi, Maktubat Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, ed. Towfiq Sobhani (Tehran: Markaz Nashr Daneshgahi, 1992). References here are to pages used and so cited in Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: Past, Present, East and West (Oneworld, Oxford Publications, 2008).

Mo                   Mohammad ‘Ali Movahhed, Maqalat Shams Tabrizi (Writings of Shams Tabrizi) (Tehran: Tarh Now, 1996).

Ni                    Reynolds Alleyne Nicholson, Selected Poems form the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi (Bethesda, Md: Ibex, 2001.

Nic                   Reynolds Alleyne Nicholson,  Masnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rum,  E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, new series, 8 vols. (London:Luzac & Co., 1925, 1929, 1993)

Om                  Mahmoud Omidsalar, Iran‘s Epic and America‘s Empire (Santa Monica: Afshar Publishing, 2010)

Pk                    Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, Liquid Frontiers (Draft 2013) available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ra                    Fariborz Rahnamoon, “Zarvan, The Creator of God” Iran Zamin, 13, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Sc                    Annemarie Schimmel, The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi, Bibliotheca Persica, Persian Studies Series (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993).

Sm                   Margaret Smith, Al-Ghazali: The Mystic (London 1944).

St                     “Al-Ghazali,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Sta                   S. Fredrick Starr, Lost Enlightenment, Central Asia’s Golden Age (Princeton University Press, 2013)

Ta                    Ehsan Tabari, Barkhi barresiha dar bareh jahanbiniha v jonbeshhay ejtema`i dar Iran (Some Reviews of the Worldviews and Social Movements in Iran) (Tehran: Alfa Publication, 1358/1979).

Th                    W.M. Thackston, Jr. Signs of the Unseen: The Discourses of Jalaluddin Rumi (1999)

Wa                   Warwick, “The Impact of the Middle East on the European Renaissance,” available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

George Soros: Important and Earnest

Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2001. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


The World Affairs Council of Northern California held its 55th annual conference at Asilomar from May 4 to May 6, 2001. The topic was Globalization in the Information Age. These conferences have long been a prestigious forum for famous and thoughtful speakers, including John F. Kennedy, and Henry Kissinger. The object is to allow the participants a weekend of in-depth exploration of the driving forces shaping the world.

The conference was superbly managed. An array of exceptionally qualified experts made presentations on a comprehensive list of issues, which were then further elaborated by knowledgeable and articulate discussants. The framework and the outline of the discourse were provided by George Soros. He was the keynote speaker, and delivered this assignment with obvious relish. Enjoying a widespread reputation as a financial guru, Soros now seeks recognition for his views on political and security matters.

The world according to George Soros is described in his book, Open Society, Reforming Global Capitalism, which was published in 2000. His address at Asilomar made ample references to the large themes of the book: the free movement of financial capital as the main driver of globalism, the Amismatch@ between economics and politics in the current phase of global capitalism, the restrains of  the nation state system which endures because of the allegiance to national interests, the unilateralism of the increasingly dominant United States, the dangerous widening gap between the rich and the poor, the need for advance crisis prevention worldwide, the necessity of invigorating foreign aid, establishing a global central bank and stronger international financial institutions, and the enlightened alliance of democracies as the means to salvation in the era of globalization.

The challenge of Soros=s speech was unmistakable. The new Administration in Washington has set upon a course, mapped by Vice President Richard Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, which is based on different coordinates. In their perception, the United States has to act alone as it faces mortal threats from various quarters, peacemaking mechanisms are merely diplomatic figments, and allies are inconsequential [1].

Against this background, the Asilomar conference, given the traditional liberal or progressive predilections of its attendees, could have best heeded Soros=s call by constituting itself as the town hall of a nascent community of individuals with transnational interests. Its purpose would have been to explore ways of defying the gravity of conflicting national interests in order to replace the existing world order with a lofty democratic and peaceable global system. This was not done. But that was the model that often seemed to be followed by the discussions at the Asilomar conference.

While Soros’s speech was invoked repeatedly at the conference, he was hardly oracular. In fact, his humility was disarming. I approached him, as he descended from the podium, to deliver a press pack showing the good use made of his contributions to a nonprofit (Roots of Peace). A number of others also wanted his attention. In this meeting on the “Information Age,@ Soros carried only a quaint little paper notebook. Not wishing to burden him with my pack, I looked for an aid who might, instead, receive the pack. Soros had come alone. So I stayed and waited for my turn.

In the ensuing half hour Soros responded to many. They were diverse and had different things to discuss. My collective impression of Soros=s demeanor, however, was rather coherently unified. I was struck by his attentiveness, gentleness, and engagement in his interlocutor=s subject. The co-discoverer of the HIV virus took some time. The range of issues he wished to bring up was catholic, and, like some others, he recalled friends he had in common with Soros. A petite middle age woman, apparently from Hungary, beaming with pride but deferential, introduced herself to Soros in the language of the old country. This widened his smile. He responded in a short exchange that was distinct, and more than simply because it was not in English. Their connection was almost subterranean, almost subversive of the melting pot. The phenomenon, of course, is familiar to all new immigrants to this hospitable land of many cultures.

But Soros is unique. Here is a man who has “pushed the envelope.” He speaks as a member of @we Americans,@ while going much further than his comparable contemporaries in questioning the values and assumptions of his adopted society. To be sure, he is far better shielded than an ordinary skeptic: his financial prowess is legendary, his prudence has the seal of approval from the Wall Street Journal as well as the Council on Foreign Relations, he is an American Jew, and he is an escapee both from Nazism and Communism. Kissinger and Madeline Albright also have enjoyed much similar protection. But they became Secretary of States; Soros takes pride in being a Astateless statesman.@

The existential paradox of being George Soros is perhaps explicable by the epistemological foundation of his beliefs. His conviction about the Ainherently imperfect understanding@ of human beings which leads to his rejection of all kinds of dogmatism- including the creed that capitalism will take care of all needs, which he calls Amarket fundamentalism@– justifies the contradiction implied in his aspiring to be an American, yet asserting independence as a citizen of the world.


[1]  See, e.g., George Seib F.Seib, ANote to Allies: There is a Method to Bush Policies,@  The Wall Street Journal,May 9, 2001; Condoleezza Rice, APromoting the National Interest,@ Foreign Affairs, January 2000.



The Past: The Latest in Iranian New Wave Cinema

Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise  distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.



abstract: The New Wave Iranian Cinema is a subject of multi-dimensional interest. It has been the paramount channel of artistic expression for a people under uncommon cultural repression. Paradoxically, it has thrived in the stressful negotiations for openings as the opposition. Garnering international acclaims for its excellence it has become, ironically,  a singular positive face of the Islamic Republic of Iran in much of  the world. By that feat it has touched a significant multitude of Iranian elite who had been forced into exile with lingering affection for their land of origin. Its most recent  product,  Asghar Farhadi’s film The Past, is taking one step further, dealing directly with the existential anxiety of Iranians in diaspora. This it does tangentially as it also compels a review of all that has gone in the maturing evolution of Iran’s New Wave Cinema.



I go to movies to be entertained, like most people. There might be some exceptions. For example, one sees documentaries primarily to learn. The Past [1], the latest movie by the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, clearly does not fall in such exceptional categories. At most he intended it to be an “art-film,” hoping to provoke thoughts beyond the passing pleasures of entertainment. Because it lacks such tools for amusing as songs and dance, The Past relies on storytelling to entertain. Its director, Farhadi, has won widespread acclaims as a master of the art of storytelling with his previous movie, A Separation (Jodai-e Nader az Simin) [2], which won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film in 2012.


That was only one of the 100 prizes bestowed on A Separation, by Farhadi’s own count. Not surprisingly, film critics’ expectations were high for the work that followed it.  The Past did not quite meet those expectations. Farhadi believes that this was because the time of releasing between the two films was short:  the critics, having established a deep emotional contact with A Separation, were not ready to make a connection with The Past. He hopes that as the time passes critics will come to like The Past more. Farhadi hopes that you would stop and reflect a few moments after seeing the film. For him that would be a sign that you are appreciating it.  In other words, beyond entertainment, he aims at provoking thoughts about the messages of the film.


Farhadi has earned the right to make that request if being named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world by Time magazine in 2012 is worth something. Farhadi dislikes “preachy” directors who give you “all the answers.” His role is to “create questions.” He wants you as audience to “participate.” Critics tell us that Farhadi’s storytelling is distinct because it is filled with symbols. As in the case of the Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s legendary film L’Avventura, we need to connect images with themes in Farhadi’s works. Critics have also maintained that, before The Past, Farhadi’s symbols were all comments on a certain culture: they could be best understood in the context of contemporary Iran. Indeed, the singular merit of A Separation to many Western observers was in its success for bringing into focus the Iranian society. Farhadi had no quarrel with that assessment. He called the occasion of the Oscar award as “a very good opportunity to think of the people of my country, the country I grew up in, the country where I learned my stories – a great people [3].” Farhadi has written the script of all the 6 movies he has made since 2003, all of which he has also directed. Like A Separation, all of his four prior films were about stories of Iranians which took place in Iran; they were about Iranians living there; they were made in Iran and exclusively with Iranian actors and crews.


 New Wave Iranian Cinema


Farhadi has emerged from a group of filmmakers whose works are called the Iranian New Wave Cinema. They have attracted considerable global attention in the last quarter of century, since the French film critics “discovered” one of them, Abbas Kiarostami, in 1990. Soon, the prestigious Parisian film journal Cahiers due cinema was devoting many pages to discussing Kiarostami’s films –by now it has published 53 articles about him! Even before Kiarostami, the works of other New Wave Iranian filmmakers had come to the attention of other European critics. Sohrab Shahid Saless and Parviz Kimiavi won the Silver Bear Award for directors at The Berlin International Film Festival, respectively for Still Life (Tabiat-e bijan) [4] in 1974 and The Garden of Stones (Bagh-e sangi)[5] in 1976. Almost a decade earlier, in 1965, Hajir Darioush’s Face 75 (Chehreh 75) was a prizewinner at the same festival.


Darioush’s 1964 film, Serpent’s Skin (Jeld-e mar), is usually credited with having started the New Wave Iranian Cinema. Three other films, The Cow (Gav) [6] directed by Darioush Mehrjui, Caesar (Qeysar) [7] by  Masoud Kimiai and Tranquility in the Presence of Others (Aramesh dar hozur-e deegaran) [8] by Nasser Taqvai, all released in 1969, consolidated the New Wave Cinema as a significant cultural and intellectual trend in Iran. The label was in imitation of the French La Nouvelle Vague, but the number of Iranian filmmakers involved clearly was a “wave” and the phenomenon was definitely “new” when compared with the previous films produced in Iran. Movies made in that country before the New Wave did not appeal to the educated classes.  They were referred to in derogatory terms, especially filmfarsi (Persian film) connoting that they were originally made in Persian language to distinguish them from the preferred Western movies which were dubbed into Persian.  (The history of filmmaking in Iran dates back to long before filmfarsi  when the court photographer made a film at the Shah’s order in 1900, only five years after the birth of cinema in the West; the first movie theater in Iran was opened in 1905 [9].)

Filmfarsi, also known by the more derogatory name abgooshti (Meat-soupy), which took form in the 1950s, has continued to be the commercially more successful genre in Iran with a larger audience. Abgooshti films are still by far the bigger group of films produced in Iran.  Of about 130 films made annually in that country only a handful fall in the New Wave group.  The rest are formulaic films, mostly consisting of family comedies and romantic melodramas with happy endings. The over-abundance of sex and violence has been replaced since the 1979 Islamic Revolution with some violence and religious motifs.


Popular stars have been vital to filmfarsi. The actor Mohammad Ali Fardin,, for example, was a major force in the commercial success of many such movies. The movies he starred in before the Islamic Revolution depicted too much scantily-dressed women and alcohol for the new regime which banned them. Fardin was able to perform only in one more film, The Imperiled (Barzakhiha) [10], in 1982.That war movie was about a group of the Islamic regime’s political prisoners who, having escaped and on the run, were caught in the ongoing war with Iraq. They ended up valiantly defending an Iranian border town.  The regime’s authorities disliked their favorable portrayal in the film and that contributed to ending Fradin’s career. Yet his enduring popularity was such that his funeral 21 years later was attended by 20,000 fans.


In stark contrast with the New Wave movies, filmfarsi’s directors were not widely known. The three who are noteworthy as transitional figures before the New Wave were Samuel Khachikian who attempted to imitate Alfred Hitchcock, Siamak Yassami who followed the style of Indian films and Ismail Kooshan who was famous more as a producer since he began making movies in his own studios, Mitra Film and later Pars Film. For years those were the only studios with a backlot in Iran


The emergence of the New Wave Iranian Cinema was commensurate with significant changes taking place in Iranian society. By the 1960s, substantially increased oil revenues resulting from the nationalization of the oil industry (in 1951) brought a new era of prosperity; the consolidation of power in the hands of the Shah (after the coup of 1953) produced a period of political stability; the return of many Iranian youth who had finished their studies in Europe and the United States increased the pool of westernized audiences for modern cultural experiences; works by new writers such as  Jamal Al-Ahmad, Forugh Farrokhzad, Ibrahim Golestan  and Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi flourished. These writers became eager participants in the development of the New Wave Cinema, in contrast to the past when literary figures, like other intellectuals, had dismissed filmfarsi as “not serious [11].” Sa’edi wrote the script for The Cow, Golestan  and Farrokhzad both made notable films, respectively, The Ghost Valley’s Treasure Mysteries (Asrar-e ganj-e darre-ye Jenni) [12] and The House is Black (Khaneh syah ast) [13].




Iranian New Wave filmmakers have acknowledged the influence of the French New Wave filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, and Italian neo-realist directors, especially Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and Vitorrio De Sica. Of the Americans, Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder are sometimes included in that list. Even Mehrjui who studied at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Department of Cinema, only credits the French filmmaker Jean Renoir as the sole teacher there who taught him anything worthwhile. Mehrjui also adds the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray as having influenced him. Other Iranian directors have paid homage to a few directors from other foreign countries, notably the Japanese Akira Kuroswa, Swedish Ingmar Bergman and Polish Krzysztof Kieslowski.


Notwithstanding those foreign influences, the Iranian New Wave has produced films that are distinct. For one thing, they are not copies of foreign films; they are different in both subject and form. To foreign observers they add something that is uniquely Iranian, “a humanistic aesthetic language,” rooted in a culture steeped in poetry, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction. Iranian film critics, similarly, have noted “poetic realism” as well as “surrealism” in these films [14].


The early New Wave Iranian directors might have been westernized and modern but they were also kept in check by the call for authenticity by such influential writers of the time as Jamal Al-Ahmad who raged against “Westoxification (Gharbzadegi)” in his widely talked-about 1962 book by the same name.  Al-Ahmad’s quest for authenticity led him to proto-Islamism. In the critic Hamid Dabashi’s words, in Iran Islamism “has been a form of ideological resistance to the colonial extension of … Technological Modernity [15].” That Al-Ahmad borrowed the term gharbzadegi from a concept often discussed by a well-known Tehran University professor, Ahmad Fardid, indicated that his book represented a cultural force that was widespread and potent.  Indeed, when some New Wave filmmakers were suspected of seeking “financial” rewards and a “greater audience,” as in the years just before the Islamic Revolution, they would be accused of becoming like Western filmmakers, abandoning their lofty “intellectual’ goals.


In contemporary Iran being intellectual has generally required also being in political opposition.  Filmmakers both before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution had to avoid the appearance of their films being identified as supporting the government’s line while, on the other hand, complying with its censorship requirements. These dual, conflicting restrictions severely limited the subjects the filmmakers could choose for their films and also how open their message could be.


In the years immediately after the Revolution, the strictures aimed at the Islamization of the Cinema stifled the New Wave. Detailed regulations specifically banned films that questioned, altered or negated “monotheism and submission to God and his laws, the role of Revelation in creation and in law, and the continuity of religious leadership.” An elaborate machinery of censorship was set up to implement these strictures, but the ensuing self-censorship ended up doing most of the work in this area as well in the prohibition against depicting  women in sensual or romantic relationship .  Directors have not engaged in the most fundamental political issues such as the structure of power and coercion [16]; even few clerics are seen in their films [17].


Censorship was gradually modified and relaxed. Much credit is given to Mohammad Khatami both as the Minister of Culture and later, President from 1997 for 8 years. He led the reformist segment of the Islamic regime. With his advocacy of open cultural policies, he had the active support of almost all of Iran’s New Wave cinematic community [18]. They exploited the division in the regime in what had become their continuous haggling with it for greater freedom. Their stronger position was exemplified by the joining to their ranks of the former Islamist filmmakers such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf who had evolved and matured by 1990 when he made A Time to Love (Nobat-e asheqi).  He was now a comrade-in-arms with the New Wave filmmakers of the Shah’s era whom he had been “savagely attacking” not so long ago [19].


The struggle, of course, continues. The case of Jafar Panahi is well-known as he has attracted the attention of human rights organizations as well as international filmmakers.  Panahi’s 1995 film, The White Balloon (Badkonak-e sefid) [20], was the first Iranian film to win a major award, the Camera d’Or, at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. He followed it with three other films which garnered awards in other international film festivals, The Mirror (Ayneh) [21] in 1997 (Locarno), The Circle (Dayereh) [22] in 2000 (Venice), and Offside [23] in 2006 (Berlin). Panahi’s 2003 film Crimson Gold (Talay-e sorkh) [24] was not allowed distribution in Iran because it was deemed too “dark.”  Panahi’s problems with the Iranian government over the content of his films persisted and, after he supported the 2009 political opposition Green Movement in Iran, he was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison and a 20 year ban on directing movies or writing screenplays. Panahi has defied the ban while awaiting the result of his appeal and made a video diary, This Is Not a Film (In film nist) in 2011 [25], and a feature film, Closed Curtain (Pardeh) in 2013 [26] which won the Best Script award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Another Iranian filmmaker suffering from his association with the 2009 Green Movement, Mohsen Makhmalbaf has been in exile in London where he has not made any more films.


Even the films which Panahi has produced all have tame subjects. Their general focus has been the hardship of the impoverished, the women and the children in Iran. The subversive messages that the government may see in them are conveyed by indirect methods rather than explicitly. Indeed, the constrictions that all Iranian New Wave filmmakers face have forced upon them an oblique method which some foreign critics have taken as a “poetic” tone and language.


The world of Iranian New Wave Film is strikingly confining. In addition to the limits on subject and method as well as inadequate domestic audience, it lacks money.  Directors often finance their works themselves; they receive little if any meaningful government support. Their operation is therefore on a shoestring. Paradoxically, these conditions have become the source of virtue. Denied breadth in subjects, the Iranian New Wave filmmakers have explored the depth. Self-financing has provided the individual independence which is essential for originality. Their small circle has enabled the New Wave directors to learn from each other. Panahi worked as an assistant director for Abbas Kiarostami who would later write the script for Panahi’s The White Balloon and Crimson Gold. Kiarostami has acknowledged learning from films by Sohrab Shahid Sales, Kimiavi and Mehrjui. His own 1990 film, Close Up (Nema-ye nazdik) [27] is homage to yet another fellow filmmaker, Mohsen Makhmalbaf.


Abbas Kiarostami


Enriched as Kiarostami has been by such tentacles of connections to other Iranian New Wave directors, he deserves his reputation as second to none for his own innovations. He is known for making films with almost no budget, amateur actors and improvised script which he does not write down.  His hallmark is the exploration of the movie’s ability to reconstruct reality.  He searches for “simple reality” hidden behind “apparent” reality. By refusing to recognize distinction between “fact” and “fiction,” Kiarostami traffics in indeterminability. This meditation on ambiguities confounds some critics who have labeled Kiarostami’s work as simplistic, moralistic and verging on didactic.


In his 2008 film Shirin [28], Kiarostami stretched the limits of his experimentation. The movie consists of the close-ups of 100 actresses viewing a film based on the Persian Romance, Khosrow va Shirin by the 12th century poet Nizami Ganjavi.  Kiarostami’s goal was to investigate the relationship between the spectators’ reaction to image and sound.  All the actresses were Iranian except one, the French star Juliette Binoche. She and Kiarostami had become friends in the 1990s and they had already agreed to make a separate film featuring Binoche. That project, began in 2007, was finally released in 2010 as the movie Certified Copy [29].


In several ways this was a radically new venture for Kiarostami. Unlike all his previous films which were made in Persian, in Iran, with Iranian actors and crew and with stories about Iranians, Certified Copy was mainly in French, shot in Tuscany with non-Iranian actors. It had no Iranian character or Persian dialogue. With the exception of Kiarostami’s son, Bahman as film editor, the crew included no Iranian. At the time, Kiarostami called Certified Copy “the simplest film for me to work on… because I was working with a professional team both in front of and behind the camera.”  Iranian filmmakers had come a long way from the pioneering days when they had to be multifunctional, undertaking almost all tasks from photography to editing themselves. In the 1960s with help from the United States Information Service, the Iranian Ministry of Culture provided training for thousands of Iranians in various aspects of film production. Some of those were still active [30], but the skills available were clearly not on par with advanced foreign film making centers.


Kiarostami has also noted that for once he felt free to express whatever he wanted in Certified Copy [31]. Some critics in the West applauded it as “a universal film.”  Yetthat movie was an extended discussion of a familiar Kiarostami subject:  there is no “true reality” in life, just as in “art” where everything original is a copy of another form. Kiarostami even retained his penchant for amateur actors: the main male character in the movie is played by an opera singer in his first film role. Finally, Kiarostami continued to be circumspect in the use of his “new” freedom of expression. Remaining “apolitical,” he left it to Binoche, in her acceptance speech of the award of the Best Actress for her role in Certified Copy at the Cannes Festival, to bring to the attention of the world that Kiarostami’s friend, director Jafar Panahi who was to sit in that very Festival’s jury was held back as a political prisoner in Iran. Kiarostami himself, at the press conference in Cannes, only said that the arrest of Panahi was “an attack on art.” Even this was a rare indiscretion. Kiarostami had always taken a covert path to deal with political problems in Iran, saying that personal problems such as the dynamics of a married couple which he treated in his movies could reveal the wider social malaise.


Kiarostami followed Certified Copy with another film in 2012, Like Someone in Love [32], a Japanese movie. As in France, where Kiarostami had been lionized by Jean-Luc Godard, in Japan he had as a fan no less a personage than director Akira Kurosawa who had gone on the record to declare Kiarostami as the finest living filmmaker. Like Someone in Love which was a French-Japanese production shared the Certified Copy’s distinction of having nothing to do with Iran and Iranians. Indeed, Kiarostami has not made any film about Iran or Iranians since 2008. He has only collaborated as a “co-writer” with an Iranian director, Adel Yaraghi, in the latter’s 2012 film, Meeting Leila (Ashnaee ba Leila), made in Iran and with Iranian cast and crew. Kiarostami has largely limited himself to conducting workshops for aspiring young filmmakers in Tehran.


Kiarostami’s decision to make films outside of Iran has been interpreted as a gesture of his frustration toward the constraints he faces at home. In late May of 2013, he would tell Western journalists that the situation in Iran had “never been this dark.”  He was not eager to make films in Iran, he explained, because “at the moment art in general has been intertwined with politics … more than it is necessary.”  He continued to refuse to make overt public statement about his political views after his sole indiscretion at Cannes in 2010.  He would say that his overseas ventures were because of his desire simply to “explore new experiences.” Kiarostami would now disclose, however, that in the two foreign movies he had made he faced “more constraints.”  His major problem was having to communicate his views to the foreign casts and crews through interpreters. It was a “nightmare…like you’re in a dream and your communication with the outside world has been turned off [33].”


Ideally, Kiarostami has concedes, he would like to return to making pictures in Iran again because “I have plenty of stories particular to Tehran that really cannot be made anywhere else.”  He has added, “It is natural for me to work directly in Farsi, with an Iranian crew.” For now, “that’s not possible,” and therefore, instead, “the world is my workshop.” Kiarostami consoles himself with the story of a friend who is a doctor. “He worked in Iran and now he’s in Paris. He does x-rays. Once I told him, ‘We do the same thing. You take x-rays and I take inner photographs.’  In x-rays there is no nationality [34].”


Good as Kiarostami’s x-rays may be, the subjects they focus on seem to have lost their appeal for foreign viewers. In Certified Copy Abbas Kiarostami tells the story of a woman and a man who over a long day together are variously tourist and guide, stranger and confidante, and wife and husband.  In Like Someone in Love, he essentially repeats this theme of multiple mistaken identities, with characters each telling a version of their own story while seeing only as much as they choose about others. Kiarostami’s skill “in making the profound appear lightweight” again impresses some critics. But when Like Someone in Love premiered the audience appeared dismayed; the reviews reflected irk and exasperation. It has been noted that Kiarostami’s acclaimed earlier films were also full of elusive meanings, but his non-Iranian films were now described as different because they seemed overtly concerned with notions of fakery, with lies that become true. One critic guessed that they reflected “the director’s own experience as a stranger in strange lands.” When Kiarostami was asked about this impact of “his life in exile,” he admitted: “Well maybe…. [o]n an unconscious level [35].”


Passing of the Torch?


While Certified Copy won the 2012 Best Actress Award in Cannes for Juliette Binoche, Kiarostami has not been awarded any international film prizes since winning the Golden Palm in Cannes in 1997.  Indeed, since then he has only received “Lifelong Achievement” awards, notably the UNESCO Federico Fellini Gold Medal in 1997. In Iran, Kiarostami’s mantle has been taken up by other directors. Two of them are, indeed, his former assistant directors. One, Hassan Yektapanah, has won international prizes for his feature films, Djomeh at Cannes in 2000, and Story Undone (Dastan-e natamam) at Locarno in 2004. The other, Bahman Ghobadi, has won international prizes (variously, at Cannes, Berlin, Chicago, San Sebastian) for each one of his five feature films made between 2000 and 2009: A Time for Drunken Horses (Zamani baray-e masti  asbha) [36],  Marooned in Iraq (Gomgashtegi dar araq) [37], Turtles Can Fly (Lakposhthâ ham parvaz mikonand) [38] , Half Moon (Kurdish: Nîwe mang) [39] and No One Knows About Persian Cats (Kasi az gorbehay-e irani khabar nadareh) [40]. Two other Iranian directors also have won international prizes: Mohsen Amiryoussefi in 2004 for his film Bitter Dream (Khab-e talkh) at Cannes, and Samira Makhmalbaf for her 2000 film Blackboard (Takht-e siah)at Cannes and her 2003 film At Five in the Afternoon (Panj-e asr) [41] also at Cannes.


Samira Makhmalbaf who began making films with her father, Mohsen, owes much to the tradition of Iranian New Wave films. Her two mentioned movies, however, were not in Persian; Blackboard was in Kurdish and At Five in the Afternoon was in Dari (Afghani version of Persian). Neither was filmed in Iran. Blackboard was shot near Halabtcheh, Iraq, on the border of Iranian Kurdistan, and At Five in the Afternoon in Afghanistan. Makhmalbaf also shot her next film, the 2007 Two-Legged Horse (Asb-e dopa) [42], in Afghanistan, although its story was about Iran, because she could not get Iran’s permission to film there. That film remains her last work. Further on the fringes of the world of Iranian cinema are two other women directors who have won international prizes. The French-Iranian Marjane Satrapi won the Jury Prize at the2007 Cannes Film Festival for her animated film Persepolis [43], an autobiographical story of a young girl as she comes of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. Shirin Neshat, who lives and works in New York, won the 2009 Venice Film Festival Silver Lion for best director in her Women Without Men [44] based on a Persian novel.


Asghar Farhadi


The importance of international recognition for Iranian directors cannot be exaggerated. Selection by a jury of world experts is considered far more objective and valuable in certifying their accomplishment than winning in the local festivals, such as the annual Fajr Film Festival held in Iran. International accolade also generates the much coveted audiences beyond the borders. Among them, the significant number of the Iranians now in exile are special. They have responded enthusiastically. The acclaimed cinema has been the rare positive press about Iran in their new communities. The government in Iran could not have remained indifferent. The filmmaker’s success abroad counters the regime’s urge to control him. Finally, the promise of a market for Iranian films has encouraged foreign financing. As early as 1996, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film Gabbeh was a beneficiary of such investment.  This kind of assistance is crucial in an industry where sales often cannot meet the costs [45].


For the last five years only one Iranian Director, Asghar Farhadi, has been winning International prizes. By that measure he is the dominant figure in the Iran’s New Wave Cinema. His awards from international film Festivals began with his first film Dancing in the Dust (Raqs dar ghobar)[46] in 2003 (Moscow and Pusan) and continued with every one of his other five films since: The Beautiful City (Shahr-e ziba) in 2004 (Warsaw, Split and India), Fireworks Wednesday (Chaharshanbe suri) [47] in 2006 (Chicago) About Elly (Darbare-ye elli) [48] in 2009 ( Berlin)  and  A Separation in 2012  (the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film,  the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film,  and nomination for the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award- the first non-English film in five years to achieve this distinction).


Farhadi’s last movie, The Past, released in 2013, has won prizes at several international film festivals (Cannes Ecumenical Jury, U..S. National Board of Review and Palm Springs International Film Festival) It was selected as the Iranian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, but it was not nominated. It was, however, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globe Awards. This was the third time that Iran had selected a film by Farhadi for entry in Hollywood’s Academy Award competition (after About Elly, and A Separation). Iran has also honored Farhadi at the Fajr Festival by awarding him the award for Best Director three times (for Fireworks Wednesday, About Elly and A Separation) and for best film for Dancing in the Dust. Finally, National Society of Iranian Film Critics in 2009 voted About Elly the 4th greatest Iranian movie of all time.


Selection for Oscar nomination has been a sign of special recognition for film directors in Iran. That country has submitted 17 films for Oscar consideration, one in 1977 before the Revolution and the rest since 1994 by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Aside from A Separation, only one other Iranian film has received an Oscar nomination, Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven (Bachehay-e aseman) [49]. Kiarostami did not achieve that distinction. Yet he is the only one who has otherwise achieved such international recognition, as well as stature in Iran, that Farhadi needs to be measured against him.


Comparing Farhadi and Kiarostami


When Kiarostami made his first feature film, The Traveler (Mosafer) [50] in 1974, Farhadi was only 2 years old. He made his own first film thirty years later. While Kiarostami’s long career still continues, Farhadi may represent the future of Iran’s New Wave Cinema. His roots in that movement are reflected in the similarities between his works and Kiarostami’s. Both have been filmmakers of low budget movies which are often overlong and sometimes feel lethargic. They allow information to creep in rather than trying to force it all upon us.  They aim at the depth of characterization, and by deferring to actors’ role in this effort they achieve substantial contribution from subtle performances. Both have been independent of government’s financial support, but forced to be within its bounds. There is no sex, nudity or alcohol in their movies. They avoid reference to public issues and institutions that would provoke Iranian authorities.  Like Kiarostami, Farhadi declines to make public statements about his political views following his own rare misstep at an international award ceremony in 2010, when he expressed support for Iranian opposition filmmakers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi. After the government consequently banned him from making films, Farhadi apologized, maintaining that he had been misperceived, in order to have the ban lifted.


While sharing much in common, Farhadi and Kiarostami are also very different.  Kiarostami has been interested in exploring the limits of film as a work of art. In that he is on the edge of modernity in experimenting with the form. Farhadi, on the other hand, is traditional as he is a storyteller. His narratives are complex, formally dense and gripping. Kiarostami makes up the script as he films; he does not write the details in advance. Farhadi is the opposite: “When I write a script, I write it completely and with a lot of details [51].” While Kiarostami is more interested in projecting the different reality behind the stories, Farhadi concentrates on developing the intricate ways his characters relate to one another.  He makes sure to incorporate the point of view of every character. He shows genuine compassion for the individuals concerned. He remains non-judgmental.


Kiarostami’s recent films show his preoccupation with verisimilitude; how, for example, an original work of art is not the true one even though it is closer to it than the fake. Farhadi is also preoccupied with a related issue:  the subjectivity and contingency of telling the truth. In his treatment, however, Farhadi looks to psychology, sociology and, indeed, history. He goes beyond Kiarostami’s philosophical speculations. Farhadi deems the inquiry practical as it is globally relevant. Ultimately, his characters lie because they are motivated by serious fear. He posits that as a universal truth, true for the French (in The Past) as for the Persians (in A Separation and About Elly).


The Past


Yet it is probably Persian history that compels Farhadi”s attention to this subject. Justified lying under duress (taqiyyeh) has a long history in Iran where telling the truth often has not been the best option, especially under often hostile oppressive governments.  In this and also other ways, Farhadi has not abandoned his distinct Iranian coloration even in his foreign film. Unlike Kiarostami, he uses several Iranian actors in The Past. One who plays the role of the main male character has a line which could well be Farhadi’s own declaration. In Persian, the character half-jokingly admonishes his just divorced French wife, who is eating a popular Persian dish he has made with a fork rather than spoon: “You don’t eat qormeh zabzi with fork!”  With this sensibility in mind, Farhadi has said that his movies are about Iran and Iranians. Indeed, he describes The Past as “a story of a man [from Iran] who travels to another country.”  He adds: “And the distance between this man and his family is important. It is important that they are far apart.” It is for that reason mainly, Farhadi says, that he has made the movie in Paris, not in Iran [52].


In The Past Farhadi explores a subject enormously important to a select group of his Iranian audience, the existential problem of living in another country. As he sees it, the problems of diaspora are “not just geographic but a great deal more, especially if forced.” He explains the connection of the people in diaspora with their past:  “In exile a part of them … is entangled with the past and the place they have left. Some could reconcile with the new place and leave the past behind but a group cannot. This group is undecided, suspended between the past and present.” That is the pivotal dilemma of Ahmad, the main male character of the film.After having left Paris to live in Iran, he has returned on a short visit to complete his divorce with his wife. Instead, he finds himself quickly embroiled not only in her problems but also in her children’s problems. Ahmad’s Persian friend in Paris warns him, in Persian, “If you hesitate you will be drowned!” He advises him, in English: “Cut, cut!” He explains why, in Persian: “You were not a man for here.  From the first day what did I tell you? Either this side or that side. It is not possible to have one of your feet on this side of the stream and another foot on the other side of the stream. At one point the stream widens.”


Among prominent Iranian critics of their country’s New Wave Cinema – such as Hamid Dabashi in the U.S., and Mohammad Tahminejad, Jamal Omid, Masud Mehrabi, and Hamid Reza Sadr in Iran- Hamid Naficy stands out with his impressive scholarly output. His four volume A Social History of Iranian Cinema is the most exhaustive study of the subject to date. In it, he undertakes the full exploration of Iran’s “national cinema” which, based on academic film theory, he defines as a complex mixture of several “key characteristics or formations: sociopolitical, industrial, cultural, ideological, spectatorial, textual and authorial [53].” In contrast to the New Wave, which might be called the mainstream contemporary Iranian national cinema, stands what Naficy has called “an accented cinema of exile and diaspora… both a cinema of exile and a cinema in exile…. Accented films are in dialogue with the home and host societies … whose desires, aspirations, and fears they express [54].” Naficy has counted over 300 such “accented films” produced by Iranian in exile in the first two decades after the Revolution. Alas, they have been “unrecognized and unappreciated [55].” Indeed, films produced by Iranian New Wave directors in exile have not fared much better; works by Amir Naderi in Japan, Susan Taslimi in Sweden and Shahid Sales in Germany have not become widely known [56]. What Farhadi has chosen is to stay rooted at home but comment on the conditions abroad. In this different formulation (from both national and exilic cinemas), he has found a way to look sympathetically at the Iranians in exile. Heretofore, in most films produced in Iran they were seen as outsiders [57].


In Farhadi’s view “Assimilation is possible depending on your age. If your personality is formed and your memories of the past make it difficult … leads to indecision: both attached to where they came from and the attraction of the new place.” Farhadi himself finds France familiar. He picked it as the site for The Past because “it was where I traveled most often during these years. Outside of Iran, my largest audiences have been in France, and this made me close to them. .. I didn’t feel like a stranger in Paris. The rhythm of life in Paris is very close to that of Tehran [58].” Paris has attracted several other Iranian New Wave directors – far more than any other foreign city.  In 1981 Darioush Mehrjui took refuge there and spent several years before returning to Iran. His work in that period was limited to producing a documentary about the poet Arthur Rimbaud for French TV. His fellow New Wave Director Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi died in Paris in 1985 due to depression and related alcoholism. Hajir Darioush committed suicide in Paris in 1995. Farrokh Ghaffari, whose 1964 film The Night of the Hunchback (Shab-e ghuzi) was deemed by Darioush to be the first Iranian New Wave movies, died in Paris in 2006. The Paris that was home to these Iranian exiles was hardly the glamorous City of Light. More likely, their environment was similar to the drab working-class, immigrant-filled Paris suburb which Farhadi shows in The Past. The inhabitants were of the types that the characters in the film portray. They are on the margin of the main society. They make a living as clerks and small shopkeepers. Their anxiety which is under dissection by Farhadi is palpably the same. Their fear is primarily the loss of the one on whom they depend emotionally.


What Farhadi says about them is applicable to many people from diverse lands who are in diaspora. In that sense it is universal. The context for his discussion is vintage Farhadi. As in several of his previous films, The Past focuses on domestic stories that transcend nationality. Like Ingmar Bergman, whose influence he has acknowledged, Farhadi too mines family dysfunction and tension in unhappy marriages.  At his estranged wife’s request, Ahmad returns from Iran to Paris to finalize his divorce with Marie who wants to marry Samir. Marie’s daughters from a previous marriage, Lucie and Lea, and Samir’s son, Fouad, live with them. Celine, Samir’s wife has been in coma following an attempted suicide. Lucie, who does not like Samir, believes that she has triggered Celine’s action. Marie wants Ahmad to help her handle the rebellious teenager Lucie.


Filmmaker’s Mission


Farhadi says he does not want to “become a political spokesman…  But whenever possible, in my films if I can allow people to understand each other and for cultures to come together, I would do that.” He believes “We do much with nationality. There are differences but deeper, emotions of all are similar.” He illustrates: “In The Past a woman [is] dying: at first glance, Ahmad might seem not concerned, but when you see the story, you see a connection. So everything [that] happens affects us and we all have a share and responsibility.” Farhadi follows up by this statement about divisions caused by emphasis on “nationality” and national interest: “This ‘national interest’ is the first thing politicians consider. This justifies the sacrifice of the people in other places.”


Kiarostami celebrated the “freedom” he was going to enjoy in making movies abroad. Farhadi does not see greater or less freedom abroad:  “I want the stories to determine … where I work. I might have a story tomorrow that happens in Iran, and I will definitely make it in Iran.” More broadly, he has said: “Ideal freedom does not exist anywhere. Even in free countries they have a greater ‘illusion’ that they have freedom. Illusion of complete freedom is dangerous.”  On his “Oscar experience from A Separation,” Farhadi says “It caused my audience to grow around the world and… it put me in touch with my audience and I could hear their opinions… I came to believe that people… all over the world… are very … similar to one another.” He was pleased to see that his film was “relatable to a lot of people that were far from the Iranian culture [59].”


French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard has said that one of his “life’s disappointments” was his failure “to force the Oscar people to reward Kiarostami instead of Kieslowski [60].” The Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieslowski awed Hollywood with his movies The Three Colors Trilogy (1993–1994); the Three Colors: Red won him the Oscar nomination for the Best Director in 1995. Farhadi mentions Kieslowski as among the handful that influenced him greatly [61].  It is striking to see how closely Farhadi sees his mission as a filmmaker to what Kieslowski said in the 1990s: “[I]f there is anything worthwhile doing for the sake of culture, then it is touching on subject matters and situations which link people, and not those that divide people…. Feelings are what link people together, because the word ‘love’ has the same meaning for everybody. Or ‘fear’, or ‘suffering’…. That’s why I tell about these things, because in all other things I immediately find division [62].”




Note: the sites are current as of April 3, 2014. Some refer only to a shorter version than the whole films.


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TWO TRAINS RUNNING: Updating an American Dilemma


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise  distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


I bought a copy of Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy in 1965 when its second edition came out. The Swedish sociologist’s 1944 study of race relations in the United States was commissioned by The Carnegie Foundation on the correct assumption that a non-American would be better positioned to offer an unbiased opinion. Myrdal was ably helped by African-American Ralph Bunche in research and writing. (Their versatile talents would later be separately recognized by Nobel Prizes in different fields.) The project that took 6 years produced a milestone, as noted in the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, and is credited with inspiring the future policies of racial integration and affirmative action.

An American Dilemma is 1,500 pages long. Much of what I know about the African-American condition first came from that exhaustive study.  The script of August Wilson’s 1992 Two Trains Running is just 110 pages. Seeing that magnificent play by the two-time Pulitzer Prize wining Wilson performed in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) this summer refreshed that knowledge and provided me with new insights about that American dilemma. The dilemma in Myrdal’s view was the clash between the commendable American ideals and the lamentable situation of blacks in this country. That view is reflected in Myrdal’s often quoted saying: “The big majority of Americans, who are comparatively well off, have developed an ability to have enclaves of people living in the greatest misery without almost noticing them.”

On this Wednesday evening in Ashland, Oregon, many did come to notice life in one of those black “enclaves” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as depicted in Two Trains Running. Indeed, the Angus Bowmer Theatre that seats 600 was completely full. Remarkably, however, I could not find a single black face in the audience. The Playbill for this production of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival said that OSF’s Artistic Director was proud of “his passionate dedication for diversifying the company and the audience.”   He has been able to do a better job regarding the company. All seven actors in Two Trains Running were African-American members of the OSF Acting Company. The guest director, also an African-American, could not have been a better choice. Lou Bellamy is the founder and artistic director of Penumbra Theatre* in St. Paul, Minnesota, which over the last 35 years has evolved into a premier venue dedicated to exploration of the African-American experience. In particular, Bellamy takes pride in having “produced more of the Wilson oeuvre than anyone in the world.” Two Trains Running is his special favorite. He has won the off-Broadway OBIE Award for directing it at Signature Theatre Company in New York.

As Bellamy correctly summarizes it, Two Trains Running is America in the turbulent 1960s as seen and experienced by African American “everyday folks.” They were profoundly affected by the momentous events of the time. Ongoing massive projects of urban re-development undertaken in Pittsburgh had recently displaced thousands of people and shut down hundreds of businesses in their neighborhood. This was not unique in the country. Similarly, as elsewhere the killing of Malcolm X and the assassination of Martin Luther King had led to riots in Pittsburgh as well.  Two Trains Running, however, has a longer perspective than the moment. The play spans back more than three centuries to find the roots of the issues it contemplates. That was when the “community,” as a part of the Yoruba people, was uprooted from its home in West Africa. The hurt is long-standing for African-Americans, and their demand for reparation is the foundation of a righteous sense of entitlement, as August Wilson tells us.

Wilson’s characters, all contemporary African- Americans, live in an isolated world, their contact with the “white folks” limited and colored with the singular goal of retrieving little pieces of what was stolen from them and avoiding further such loss. They are stubborn in the face of all evident odds: they persist and resist. Their attitude mirrors that of a colonized people, although in their case they are members of colonies created in the homeland of the colonizers.

The playwright does not give us a hero. This is a community without an organizer. It does not even have “role models” of the type prescribed by the dominant white culture. “Successful” professionals or businessmen are absent in its conversation. Aspirations of this community are remarkable in the limitations of their modesty.  Equally remarkable is how diverse are the members of this African-American community despite all that they have in common. In August Wilson’s story there are significant differentiations in their nexus with the white folks. One is the whites’ agent, another has done some independent work for them, a third violently steals from them, and the fourth fights to get a better deal from them in a forced sale of the business that is his livelihood. The remaining two have no direct dealings with the whites.

It is in dealing and discourse with each other that each character’s personae is fully developed in Two Trains Running. As Bellamy points out this play is unusual as it is an ensemble piece: “American theatre often favors a single black character to add color to a so-called diverse palette…. Rarely do Americans have the opportunity to see the depth, breadth and complexity of black life and culture on stage.”  He credits Wilson’s writing for “the profound understanding that is at the center of the characters’ discourse.” For his vision of “how the play works,”

Bellamy looks to the “rhythm and melodies” of the playwright’s voice. Those rhythms and melodies were there alright, but before hearing Wilson’s voice we were attuned to different types of sound in this production.

As the light came up on the curtain-less stage, which contained a scene from as a diner, what we noticed the most was the loud rhythmic click-clacking of the flat shoes of Risa, the waitress, as she ever-so-slowly moved across the room. This lasted a good few minutes in a silent space, a metronome establishing the tempo of the play. That click-clack would work henceforth as the leitmotif announcing the presence of Risa in a scene. It also attracted one’s attention to the shapely legs of the attractive woman who was the only source of sexual tension in the play. On those legs the unseemly scars of some wounds were clearly distracting. The wounds, we would learn, were self-inflicted. Risa’s intent was to avert unwanted attention, but the scars did not deter the lustful surreptitious gaze of any of the other characters, as Bellamy pointedly choreographed. Risa’s particular gait reflected her resigned indifference, a reaction she showed more explicitly against persistent reminders by her boss to be more attentive to the customers and her other tasks. The dragging in the gait also implied feelings held in check, which were manifested later, including passion for the right person.

Each of the other characters in the play was also introduced to the audience with a distinct movement of the body, especially feet and hands, serving as his identifying leitmotif. The restaurant owner, Memphis, showed the frenzy of a businessman frustrated in his efforts to succeed in a white-dominated world. Sterling, whose wild scheming mind had not been tamed by the years he had just spent in the penitentiary, had a hustler’s restlessness, his fingers always in motion as if throwing dice in a game. Wolf, who was a numbers runner, walked as a city slicker dude, his weight shifting from one foot to another in exaggerated nonchalance. Hambone who was uncontrollably upset that he was cheated out of his pay by a white employer blurted this in his agitated movements. Holloway’s slow, deliberate lumbering spoke of his role as an aging wise man. West’s fastidious transport in his all black outfit reflected his enviable wealthy position as an undertaker. While these leitmotifs differentiated the characters, the very focus on movements worked as a unifying element in the play. It established a framework of cadence for August Wilson’s words.

Wilson deftly interconnected the characters into a community. They all came to Memphis’ diner which remained the sole scene for the entire play. They were all served food and, especially, coffee by Risa, as they also lusted for her. Everyone played the numbers, serviced by Wolf. They were all accepting of a convict who had just returned from prison, Sterling. Everyone was urged by Holloway to go see Aunt Ester (ancestor) and seek her help. None could resist. Significantly, this manifestation of common faith in an African “tradition” was not compromised by any mention of Christianity. Finally, these characters had no kind word for the white folks.  They expected unkind treatment from them.

“United we stand, divided we fall,” Sterling reminded this community of African-Americans. Nobody paid attention. His attempt to mobilize Hambone with that battle cry only showed the futility of such slogans as Hambone was deemed to be a fool. Risa flatly rejected Sterling’s urging to go to a rally in support of Black activism. This community did not place trust in political action. Not engaged in efforts for a common goal, they harped on the shortcomings of each other. In this Memphis was most vocal. Not only did he constantly complain about Risa, he protested that Wolf was exposing his legitimate business to police raids by using his restaurant’s telephone to run numbers. He made it clear that Hambone was not welcome in the restaurant and finally threw him out physically. He maintained that the ham promised Hambone by the white grocer for painting his fence was on the condition that the job was done well; as it was not,  the grocer was justified in offering to pay only a chicken. Memphis was equally critical of Sterling, accusing him of being up to no good.

Memphis’ harsh attitude was challenged by Risa who was the most compassionate toward Hambone. West, on the other hand, was bent on taking advantage of Memphis’ failure to obtain his price for the restaurant from the city. He offered to buy it himself far below the market price, arguing that, otherwise, the city would take it for much less by the use of eminent domain. Wolf and Sterling, on their part, almost came to blows when Wolf did not deliver the money Sterling had won on the number Wolf sold him. A gun fight was averted only after Sterling confronted Wolfe’s white employer who had refused to keep his agent’s promise, and satisfied himself that like Wolf he too was powerless in such relationship. Shortly thereafter, unopposed, Sterling chose violence in order to avenge Hambone who had just died without receiving the promised ham: he broke into the grocer’s store and came back with a ham so that Hambone could be buried with it.

Another form of assault on the common white adversary brings members of this African-American community together. Their own vernacular English is the deformed version of his language. With its deceptively simple vocabulary they engage in an astonishingly complex examination of a whole array of subjects in the penumbra of life and death as though they are cargoes in “two trains running everyday” to the station of their existence. Their freedom of expression in that sanctuary is no better exemplified than their use of the “N” word when group self-loathing is called for -that use strictly denied others as if copyrighted.

These African-Americans’ ultimate bond, however, is their imagined African tradition, projected in the unseen Aunt Ester who is defined mainly as being 349 years old.  She lives in a house on the hill to which the characters in Two Trains Running go on pilgrimage seeking strength to endure. The community survives. The play ends not only with Hambone getting his ham, but with Memphis receiving a higher price than he had hoped for his property, and Sterling succeeds in becoming Risa’s “right” man. Even the long broken juke box of the restaurant is finally repaired. The song Risa plays on it (Aretha Franklin’s Take a Look) is the leitmotif for joy, its beat an invitation to frolic, and Risa teaches Sterling to hold her and begin dancing. This music is not gospel; these people are not looking for deliverance of the type promised by the white man’s religion. August Wilson has killed the former “reverend,” turned “Prophet Samuel,” even before the play begins. He is accused of having fooled many people while amassing a personal fortune.

Two Trains Running is about specific African-Americans at a specific time and place. What it says, however, has general application. You leave the theater protesting in your mind that surely there has been progress since. Yet the black President that comes to you as the prime proof of that change is distinguished by his hybridized specificity. He is half-white and he is the offspring of a contemporary Muslim son of colonialized Kenya. In the resistance that he provokes you see that Myrdal’s American dilemma not only persists but engulfs the discourse about other minorities. On the other hand, in the rise of this product of Harvard and Columbia you find the merits of the Swede’s prescription: “Education means an assimilation of white American culture. It decreases the dissimilarity of the Negroes from other Americans.”

The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa: Transition or Transformation


CopyrightKeyvan Tabari2012. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization ofKeyvan Tabari.


In the lobby of the venerable Ashland Springs Hotel the melodic voice of Dean Martin crooning: “Dance with me, dance with me, make me sway!” greeted arriving guests.  I asked the wholesome looking twenty-something clerk at the reception desk if she could name the singer. She was baffled and blushed. “No,” she said. She then asked her colleague, only a bit older but sporting an air of worldliness. “Have no clue,” was his answer. The lobby was nearly empty but guests were present at breakfast the next morning where they were serenaded once again by “Dino” intoning “Papa loves mambo, mama loves mambo.” The guests also revealed their generation as did the quaint furniture of the spacious dining room. The chow was a modest spread at the center of which was warm oatmeal and small unappetizing muffins worthy of a mass production bakery. In the evening, however, this Larks Restaurant was the domain of a proud chef who had just wonAshland’s award for being the best in using “local organic ingredients.” Minus the organic you could imagine yourself transported almost to an era when this venue was the best accommodations the town could offer. Now awkward, but still charming old wicker garden chairs were arranged around the tables in the indoor grand eating salon.Ashlandhas changed and yet remained the same. The question was whether we were witnessing a transition, a transformation, or simply a turning cycle.

That night the playwright Alison Carey addressed the same question for us in her The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa which debuted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this season. This was her take from the Bard’s late 16th century play by (almost) the same name. Like its inspiration, Shakespeare’s only “domestic comedy,” this one is silly and yet profound. It is a farce with dialogues that force you to ponder issues near and afar which are tenuously connected. The loose connections, ironically, make you focus on their weave to see the beauty of the yarns.

Just as Verdi had taken liberties with Shakespeare’s play in his opera Falstaff, Carey does not shy away from interjecting her views. The original themes are all there: love, marriage, jealousy and above all revenge, set against a background of clashing perspectives of deceptively gullible yokel folks and self-impressed foolish city slickers. The denouement is the predicable comeuppance of the latter.

Carey’s ambition is bigger than merely updating a biting comic tale. Her Wives of Windsor, Iowa is one of a series she has undertaken to create plays about “moments of change” in American history, inspired by Shakespeare’s more serious historical plays. The moment of change in this play is now. The play is pivoted on the contemporary issue of same-sex relationship. Not long before the 52 year old Ms. Carey was at Harvard, six students at the nearby Wellesley College were expelled for lesbianism. This was not then uncommon in comparably progressive institutions.  Today, the contrast cannot be any sharper if you listen to the Wives of Windsor, Iowa. In the last scene the heroin, Ann, apologetically asks her parents to be excused from the two marriages they had arranged for her, each to a separate woman. “Mom, Dad, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I love same-sex marriage, sure. But love it more than my own heart’s calling? I am straight. I must be true to myself, as I would everyone could do. That is whatIowa’s about.”

The same-sex marriage that Carey talks about is almost exclusively limited to lesbians. Shakespeare’s love story of the Merry Wives is about competing over a woman. But unlike Carey, Shakespeare had not constructed two of her three suitors as women; they were all men. The same was true about the spouse ofAlice Ford, one the two wives pursued by the villainous Senator John Falstaff for their money. In ShakespeareAlice’s spouse is a man. Carey makes that husband a “wife,” thus creating still two more lesbians in the play. It maybe that Carey is simply more at home with women characters, while in Shakespeare’s time they had the additional problems of having to be played by men -who alone could be actors. Thus 6 of the 15 characters who are women in Carey’s play are men in Shakespeare’s. She also shows subtle preference for women as when between the parents who want to impose their separate choices on whom their daughter, Ann, should marry, it is the mother (still conventionally preferring “the doctor” between the two choices) who first concedes to a third suitor: “My daughter will I question how she loves you/ And as I find her, so I may be moved.”

Carey turns Bard’s Sir Hugh Evans into her play’s sole male homosexual. His preference is expressed only in stereotypically effeminate gestures. Indeed, he is really neither gay nor straight: rather, he, as Reverend Hugh Evans, loves “only one man, and He’s above.”  Carey creates still a fourth category of men (counting the straights Fenton, George Page and Pistol), represented by Falstaff who “will love no man as I love myself.”

Unlike in Shakespeare, Hugh here is a foreigner. He’s a Canadian who in fact, at one point in Carey’s play, sings the whole bilingual version of the Canadian national anthem. Then he andCanadaare gently mocked as such by his singing these lines given to him by Carey: “Oh, caribou stew, oh boiled fiddleheads, oh maple syrup on everything.”  Hugh’s devotion to the “Canucks” is so strong that he accepts the challenge to a duel with the only other foreigner in the play, the German Dr. Kaya, in part because of their dispute regarding which country’s hockey team is better. The Americans are clever peace-makers by attempting to lead them to separate locations and when that fails, by breaking their weapons which are their beloved hockey sticks. This disarmament works only because the two parties determine that they should be friends against those mutual enemies, the Americans. They agree to divide hockey glory, with ice hockey going to Canada and field hockey to Germany.

New-immigrant management is made simple as Carey depicts these foreigners in old-fashioned stereotypes. For her part, Dr. Kaya is a rigid German “woman of science” who refers to her intended love, Ann, as a “patient” and whose ultimate medical treatment is using leeches. Her accent is thick, her speech is sprinkled with German words and her dream is to become an American citizen.

In Carey’s farce there are other current stereotypes and beliefs. Thus, America’s history shows that “no matter how sinful the original sin –genocide, slavery, utterly shameless, lawless inhumanity to man– you can always balance it out with a few high quality, rights-based ideas of which you are the primary beneficiary.” The “fancy footwork” that makes governance possible today consists of “lying, cheating and stealing.” The same works for “a giant, multi-national corporation.” Ethanol “is incredibly inefficient and threatens the food supply… But Iowans love it, because it makes them rich.” Lobbyists and their money are eagerly welcomed by politicians. The latter are insufferably vain. Their idea of an American melting pot is where they subject all to equal opportunity exploitation. The American notion of a healthy lifestyle is defined by carbs and calories, except for professional golfers for whom golf defines life. The price of “a little temporary safety” has become giving up “essential liberty” to the likes of FBI agents. On the other hand, we should be vigilant against “anthropogenic global warming.”  The discourse about church and state might best be held in contexts that tend to unite (not divide) them, such as wedding ceremonies.

If all of this sounds familiar and good to the old-fashioned liberals, say the readers of The New Yorker, it should be no surprise. In fact, as a marriage vow, Carey’s lovers are expected “to change the New Yorker subscription to both your names!” Compatibly progressive, such marriage can now be officiated with “an Internet certificate.” That is, incidentally, the only notice that the play takes of the enormously significant impact of the Internet on American society. Carey’s characters text but she does not go beyond this on the transformative role of High Tech. The transformation she is focused on is American society’s acceptance of lesbianism and, more broadly, same- gender marriage. This receives full exposition in her play as the inclusion of the word Very in the title hints.

The chauvinistic disparagement of lesbianism is noted. The lesbians are now all over, Falstaff says, even in truck stops where you see “a couple of dewy-eyed lesbians ordering cake and milk for everyone and twirling their new wedding rings like they never wore jewelry before.” In fact, however, “the gay gals are just one good man away from straightness.” The opposite view to Falstaff’s is juxtaposed by George, whose “enthusiastic embrace of same-sex marriage” has no bounds. “Some of my best friends are lesbians and as faithful follower ofIowa’s laws and traditions, I wholly embrace, serve, devote myself to and otherwise heartily endorse all things same-sex marriage related.” Supporting the rights of gays to marry, George denies the same to his straight daughter, as her heterosexual suitor Fenton points out. George who cannot imagine his daughter being anything but lesbian says: “Of course, not being a woman, Mr. Fenton can hardly enter into same-sex marriage with one. The whole notion is foolhardy poppycock and distinctly non-Iowan.”

Between those two extremes are other stereotypical views. Carey mentions several that are deemed wrong in the play although favorable to gays, such as “happy gay talk” and the impression that “homogenized marriage” is less complicated. On the other hand, one of Carey’s characters warns the other of “violent lesbian street gang members… with guns and knives and those leather wrist strappies.” The plight of prostitutes who might walk down the street “in being the object of undesired attentions,” is sympathetically mentioned. “The objectification of women” who participate in “a swimsuit competition,” is derided, invoking the feminist pioneers “Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Susan Faludi.” In Carey’s words the resolution of all those conflicting opinions about lesbianism is simply in avoiding impingement on “anyone’s freedom to love as they will.” In truth “only same-soul marriage earns the name.”

While Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa has the architecture of the original by the Bard, the texture of its story is not the same, until toward the end when “things get really Shakespearean,” by which Carey means the plot “thickens.”  Its language too, while embellished with Elizabethan wordplay and twisting of syntax, is more direct.  The setting of the play beingIowa the jokes here are corny and earthy. They are rolled in butter and manure. The referents of the allusions are also mid-American. The hole in the golf course evokes meaning as a sexual orifice. The all-around effect is that the play is more accessible to an audience in this country.

That goal, of course, has to be achieved by competent production, particularly in the actors’ performances. InAshland, veteran actor David Kelly sets the tone as he plays at slapstick comedy. He is ably supported by Gina Daniels asAliceFord. Catherine E. Coulson, Daniel T. Parker, Judith-Marie Bergan, and Ted Teasy (respectively as Miss Quickly, Reverend Hugh Evans, Manager of the Come On Inn, and George Page) all deliver their burdens well.  Robin Goodrin Nordil tries too hard as Francie Ford and as a result comes through a bit too strident. Brooke Parks is not quit convincing as Doctor Kaya. Terri McMahon needs to project her voice more.  Miles Fletcher, Joe Wegner and DeLanne Studi perform their respective roles of Fenton, Pistol and Nym satisfactorily.

The half-open Allen Pavilion in Ashlandwhich was the venue for this production is one of America’s oldest Elizabethan theaters. It seats 1,190 but tonight it was nearly one-third empty. This was unusual in my experience of seeing plays there which dates back for three decades. When I asked for an explanation, a fellow fan smiled and said the Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa was “controversial.” She was a resident ofAshland and an ardent supporter of this Oregon Shakespeare Festival for even a longer period. Referring to her group of “locals,” she said: “We thought the play was avant-garde and good, but it went too far.” By this she meant the emphasis on lesbianism. Could it be thatAshland, experimental as it prides itself to be, was not as progressive as Carey’s imaginaryWindsor,Iowa? I asked the volunteer at the Tudor Guild Gift Shop when I bought the official script of the play. She too was an old-timer. Pleased that I had noticed her Phi Beta Kappa pin worn around her neck -“Wheaton College,Massachusetts, one ofAmerica’s oldest college for women”- she said, “it was about time for this play.”

Outside, “on the bricks,” the courtyard fronting the Festival’s two main theaters, I sat with three budding Shakespearean actors from Iraqon the stage where earlier that evening they had performed. As members of the “AmericanUniversityof Iraq-Sulaimani Shakespeare Company,” these young women, along with their seven fellow male students, had been invited to provide that night’s installment of the 45 minute Green Show. Consisting of diverse groups, the nightly Shows are free and wildly popular with locals and visitors alike. The Iraqi women did not respond to my query about the Wives of Windsor, Iowa. The object of their love was demonstrably their country.

For Michael, whom I met later, love was his country. He said that his parents were Jewish but that he also “got to learn about Catholicism” from his mother’s best friend who was Catholic. He had journeyed beyond formal religions. He was from Marin, Californiaand had been a successful businessman. He was now a sculptor disdainful of material possessions. In the shady LithiaParkdown the slope from the Festival’s courtyard, Michael had set up one of his wood sculptures in the center of a spread dedicated to objects he considered evocative of the spiritual experience that he wanted to share with passerby. He invited all to “write a note” about their response to his installation. I noticed a book about Hafez (Hafiz) displayed prominently next to his sculpture. “I love Hafez. He is my idol,” Michael said to me. He encouraged me to thumb through the book. The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master, Translations by Daniel Ladinski was published in 1999, and this well-worn volumeshowed its age. I leafed through it. Ladinski has said that he offers interpretations and renderings of the poet, rather than literal or scholarly translations. There was no indication that he knew Persian. Too bad, because the singular value of Hafez’s poetry is that he is, indeed, the master of the poetic use of the Persian language. The Gift said that Ladinski’s knowledge about Hafez came from his time spent in a spiritual community in western India. That is probably the source of the title he gives to Hafez, the Sufi Master. Michael was interested in my assessment and in response I also shared with him my opinion that calling Hafez a Sufi was constricting him. He would accept the confinement of no frock. Indeed, in a celebrated stanza, Hafez specifically rejects the Sufi garb. Michael pursued and I recited in Persian: Hafez in khergheh pashmineh biandaz (Hafez throw off this Sufi wool frock.)” Michael was especially pleased to hear that what Hafez offered transcended such Islamic mysticism and was closer to what he was seeking. Love itself was Hafez’s “religion.” I gave Michael this proof in Hafez’s own poetic declaration: Rahro manzel-e eshghim o ze sar hadd-e adam/ta eghlim-e vojood in hameh rah amedeim! (We are pilgrims to the station of love and from the frontier of nothingness/wehave traveled the long distance to the world of being.)

A still different quest for love seemed to fuel what I saw just around the corner on the main street ofAshland. This town was without any sign of homeless people, except in the little square that ironically was where the Chamber of Commerce office was also located. The handful of men and one or two women who hung out there seemed to be more hippy than homeless. Loud drumming and a faint scent of marijuana smoke were their only intrusions into the others’ world. I asked youngSofiaabout them, suggesting that they were seekers for love in their own way. A hard-working innkeeper, she scoffed: “We call them trustofarians. They are spoiled brats.”Ashlanddid not suffer a summer of love -at least on its business streets. The stores here displayed a picture of a young man who had been killed recently. A woman who saw me reading the words under the picture which offered a reward of $10,000 for leads to solving the murder volunteered that she knew the victim: “He worked in Safeway. We think it was gangs or drugs.”

A relic of the 60s lifestyle was locked up behind the fence not far fromSofia’sInn. It was a converted bus that had been used as “Moonshine Luv Shack .” This was in the Railroad District of town. A bridge dated 1907 over the tracks marked the area’s heyday. The District is being revived as the new “old town,” with chic art galleries and coffee houses which proudly show the old signs on their older brick walls, yet another urban recycling so successful across this country. Enough overgrown grass of unattended yards and dilapidated structures still remain to tell the story of the times in between. That was when this place lapsed into the stagnant decay of a provincial small town in the farmlands which the proverbial Midwestern Iowa was supposed to look like before playwrightAlison Carey arrived for her make-over.Ashlandmay prove that the speedy make-over of the physical is easier. The change in human relationships is more incrementally transitional than a dramatic transformation.