By Khawlah Najeeb Maan
These are stories taken from the Masnavi:
The Love Letter
A young couple in love had been separated from each other for over a year. The young man had suffered greatly and written many long, heart-wrenching letters to his beloved, complaining about his sorry state of mind and heart. One morning, he walked to a lush garden near the girl’s home and, as luck would have it, the girl was there too. He didn’t miss a beat and quickly approached her, noting that her old nanny, who usually accompanied her, was absent.
Thrilled that after so long a time he was able to sit by her side and hold her soft gaze, he took out copies of his love letters, which he carried with him at all times, and began to read them out loud. He recounted over and over again how much he had suffered day and night, how his lips had not touched a morsel of food, how his eyes had been wet from tears every single day. The girl took a few minutes to gather her thoughts and realized what her beloved was doing.
“When you’ve already written all these words to me, why are you repeating yourself and wasting our precious little time together?” she said with obvious pain in her tone. “I’m sitting here next to you and you’re reading love letters to me? This isn’t the behaviour of someone in love!”
The boy, taken aback, responded in disbelief: “I don’t seem to recognize the same girl I knew last year! I drank from her fresh spring a year ago and bathed my eyes and heart in her crystal-clear water. I can still see the spring but there’s no water! Has a thief perhaps redirected the stream?”
“I’m not the one you love, my dear!” exclaimed the girl downheartedly. “I belong to one side of the world and you to the other. You’re only in love with the state of being in love, not with me! You’re attached to me hoping to experience the state once again. This isn’t true love. The true lover is as one with his beloved; his beginning and end are contained in her beginning and end. They’re one and the same. If you truly seek pure love, keep on searching for that’s the only water that will quench your thirst for a lifetime. That is the original fountain of purity that your soul has been reaching for, not me!”
She stood up, took one last look at the young man’s stunned face and quietly walked away.
Among the many interpretations this wondrous story lends itself to, the one which stuck out to me relies on the following words: “You’re only in love with the state of being in love, not with me!” Human emotions do remain the same and its extraordinary to find something so relatable to our modern age. Perhaps even more so than the time in which the Masnavi was written. For tv shows and movies have all led us to fantasize the state of being in love, of being in a relationship, rather than focusing on the object of love, a lot of times to satisfy our vanity. It is a selfish cause, and it is often with this that we look at all our relationships.
The Zoroastrian and the Muslim
Two men had been friends since childhood; one was a Muslim and the other a Zoroastrian. One day as they were drinking coffee, the Muslim turned to his friend and suggested: “My friend, how about you finally becoming a good Muslim?”
“If God wills it, I will convert,” said the Zoroastrian cunningly.
“Allah wants you to turn to Him so that He can save you from hell, but it’s your menacing ego that pulls you back toward disbelief.”
“I know you as a fair man, my friend,” replied the Zoroastrian gravely. “When that which you call the ego has conquered and continues to rule me, I’ve no choice but to obey it, for it is far more powerful than me. I would never dare think that anything in the world can be done without the will of God; therefore, I conclude that if He truly wanted me not to be a Zoroastrian, He wouldn’t have made me one!
“If your Allah holds absolute supremacy and dominates all realms but still can’t pull me toward Him, then His will does not exceed all. So, what’s the use of me converting? He has bestowed free will on us, and we’re responsible for putting it to good use, which I hope I’m doing!”
Having spoken his mind, the Zoroastrian continued to sit beside the Muslim, both quietly sipping their coffee in peace.
The debate on predestination and free will is a heated one and a great question of Islamic theology. There are countless treatises on it written by giants of Islamic scholarship. However, it is not this point which made me choose this story. The main point was tolerance. Clearly, the Muslim did not agree to the Zoroastrian’s point of view either but what was his reaction? Agree to disagree. They didn’t have a fight, neither one’s ego was hurt and neither of them disrespected the other’s religion. This story shows the wondrous harmony with which people of all religions have lived together in the Islamic world. Contrast this with today’s time when religious violence, and even sectarian violence within a religion, is raging. We need to learn from the past to correct our mistakes and apply it to our context of Pakistan, where we Muslims are in majority. And we know clearly that we are guilty of many injustices.
Taken from The Book of Rumi: 105 stories and fables. Translated by Maryam Mafi.