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Shahram Pazouki

Revivification of Knowledge in the Spiritual Mathnawī


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anslated by Muhammad Faruque

One of the issues that gained prominence in the Sufi tradition is the topic of knowledge and gnosis and its hierarchic structure and the difference between true knowledge and nescience that puts on the garb of the former and also how one may attain this true knowledge. Thus, one of the main efforts of the mystics of Islam has been their endeavor to revitalize true knowledge especially when sundry sciences become known as knowledge. The ‘‘The Revival of Religious Sciences’’ of al-Ghazali is one of the best specimens of such effort. The Mathnawī of Mawlana Rumi too, from a certain point of view, is a revival of religious science. Mawlana in this great work, while pointing to  idiocy and ignorance and accounting for the masses of ignorant, also elucidates knowledge and intellect and their hierarchic nature and discusses the relation between knowledge and nescience and that which is falsely considered knowledge and the relation between this knowledge and various sciences. This article while showing the hierarchy of knowledge in the Mathnawī starting from its transmitted, intellectual, intuitive, experimental, to mathematical mode, deals with the interrelation that each one has with the other and also the limits of each one of them. In addition, it analyzes true knowledge in the Mathnawī vis-à-vis modern science and modern conception of knowledge and the thesis that some Muslim intellectuals have put forth: did mystical thought prevent the progress of knowledge in the intellectual history of Islam?


Topics such as what is knowledge and what are its various modes and dimensions and the difference between true knowledge and nescience (jahl) in that the latter presents itself in the cloak of the former and how can one attain true knowledge and what relation is there between knowledge and action, have always captured the attention of the great Muslim mystics. This issue is especially pertinent to the knowledge of religion, concerning which mystics have always wanted to distinguish true knowledge of religion from the knowledge/sciences of their own day. Thus, revival of the true knowledge of religion is one of the chief efforts undertaken by the mystics of Islam, especially when other sciences have also become prominent as religious sciences.

‘‘The Revivification of Religious Sciences’’ of Imam Muhammad Ghazali in the 5th century Hijri is one of the better samples of this effort. But it is enough to review books of mysticism after this period so as to see how revival of knowledge was not the sole focus of Ghazali, but also one of the main goals of all Muslim mystics. In truth, except for the mystics hardly anybody else had voiced for the revival and none a la mystics sought knowledge in terms of verification (tahqīq). Therefore, from the viewpoint of the great mystics, faith is the quintessence of knowledge and as such, knowledge and gnosis are one of the loftiest goals of the spiritual voyage of Sufism. What is more, the deviation of the meaning of knowledge from its original status, as Ghazali in the introduction of ‘Ihya’ reminds us, has caused the word ‘irfān to be used instead of ‘ilm in the field of Sufism so that the signification and evidence of knowledge would be preserved.

The fundamental enquiries of the Mathnawī too, embrace the notion of knowledge that Mawlana throughout his Mathnawi deals with through different formulations.  Attention to the meaning of true knowledge and its multilayered hierarchy and implications and counsel to idiocy and ignorance and their various kinds have always been the concerns of Mawlana and from this standpoint perhaps the Mathnawī may be considered a rare book. 

Topics in the Mathnawī that makes Mawlana express his resentment and frustration is the very topic of idiocy and ignorance that causes him to use the word ‘‘donkey’’ and its derivatives (such as stupid and ignorant) 230 times in the Mathnawī and 150 times in the Diwan of Shams with well-known signification that is wide-spread in Persian language. Mawlana demonstrates who the people of nescience are and who can be called donkey. According to Mawlana, idiocy is not an illness like blindness that can be cured with the mercy of God through the exhalation of Jesus. Rather idiocy is the wrath of the Divine that is sealed in the hands of God and except for Him this seal cannot be expunged.

In book three of the Mathnawī in the story of ‘‘How Jesus fled to the top of a mountain (to escape) from the fools,’’ Mawlana tells the tale that oneday Jesus fled to the top of a mountain and someone asked him why was he fleeing so hastily as no one was in pursuit of him:

From whom art thou fleeing in this direction, O noble one? There is no lion pursuing thee, no enemy, and there is no fear or danger.” (2575/3)


 “I am fleeing from the fool. Begone! I am saving myself. Do not debar me!” (2576/3)

That man says: Are you not the King in whom the spells of the Unseen World have their abode?—(So that) when thou chant those spells over a dead man, he springs up (rejoicing) like a lion that has caught his prey.” Jesus says: I am that. (I swear) that the spells and the Most Great Name which I pronounced (them) over the stony mountain: it was cloven and tore upon itself its mantle down to the navel. I pronounced (them) over the corpse: it came to life. I pronounced (them) over nonentity: it became entity. But when I pronounced them lovingly over the heart of the fool hundreds of thousands of times, and it was no cure for his folly:

When I pronounced them lovingly over the heart of the fool hundreds of thousands of times, and it was no cure for his folly He became hard rock and changed not from that disposition; he became sand from which no produce grows (2588-89/3)

He asked what is the reason that the Name of God availed there, (while) it had no advantage (good effect) here?-

That (physical infirmity) is disease too, and this (folly) is a disease: why did it (the Name of God) not become a cure for this, since it cured that? (2590/3)


He (Jesus) said, “The disease of folly is (the result of) the wrath of God; (physical) disease and blindness are not (the result of Divine) wrath: they are (a means of) probation.”

Probation is a disease that brings (Divine) mercy (in its train); folly is a disease that brings (Divine) rejection (2592-94/3)

As we have seen Mawlana reckons suffering of idiocy and ignorance to be the ‘‘wrath of God’’ and he says analogously- in the tongue of Jesus-  that the suffering of blindness is not the wrath of God, rather it is a trial from Him. Trials of God cause His Mercy and Pardon to be overflown while the wrath of God is a seal in His Hand that nobody but He can obliterate.

Mawlana at the end of the tale says that Jesus does not flee from the idiot out of fear, rather he does it pedagogically in order to teach others. He wants to give a lesson to others that they should flee from the idiot as he is a hijacker of religion:

Flee from the foolish, seeing that (even) Jesus fled (from them): how much blood has been shed by companionship with fools!

The air steals away (absorbs) water little by little: so too does the fool steal away religion from you (2595-96/3)


However, Mawlana sometimes appeals us towards foolishness and discourages cleverness and thinks salvation lies in such foolishness:

Make yourself foolish (simple) and follow behind (him): only by means of this foolishness will you gain deliverance (1419/4)

But this foolishness is not contrary to knowledge; rather it stands in opposition to cleverness which is a form of arrogance and prevents one from following one’s master and expresses itself in the bewilderment of love. Mawlana interprets the hadith related to foolishness that says that most of the denizens of paradise are fools:

Sell intelligence and buy bewilderment: intelligence is opinion, while bewilderment is (immediate) Vision (1407/4)

Since, intelligence is the exciter of pride and vanity in you, become a fool in order that your heart may remain sound—

Not the fool that is bent double (abases himself) in buffoonery, (but) the fool that is distraught and bewildered (lost) in Him (God) (1421-22/4)

Calculative intellect which is the source of such cleverness in reality is the source of trouble in spiritual journey.  So such intellect must be sacrificed:

Sacrifice your intellect in love for the Friend: anyhow, (all) intellects are from the quarter where

He is (1424/4)

Acquisition of such loss results in bewilderment which is a higher-ranked intellect:

If, from bewilderment, this intellect of yours go out of this head, every head (tip) of your hair will become (a new) head and intellect (1426/4)


Mawlana prefers fools to such idiots and ignorant. Distinct examples of such cleverness can be seen in the person of a philosopher. Mawlana in the second book of Mathnawi in the tale of meeting between an Arab and a philosopher, narrates that the Arab although is a fool possesses potential for the spiritual journey whereas the philosopher who appears to be clever does not have any substance for acquiring true wisdom, that is, vision for spiritual actions, he says:

My foolishness is a very blessed foolishness, for my heart is well furnished (with spiritual graces) and my soul is devout.”

If thou desire that misery should vanish (from thee), endeavour that wisdom may vanish from thee—

The wisdom which is born of (human) nature and phantasy, the wisdom which lacks the overflowing grace of the Light of the Glorious (God) (3200-203/2)


In a general scheme, types of knowledge as it appears in the Mathnawī can be divided into transmitted, intellectual, intuitive, experimental and mathematical knowledge. In this article, we touch upon each and every category as they are discussed in the Mathnawī.

Mawlana himself was great a jurist and an expert on Hadith in his day. Throughout the Mathnawī one finds numerous references to the Qur’an and Hadith literature in the form of direct quotations or indirect allusions. Seen thus, the Mathnawī is a commentary on the meaning and understanding of the Qur’an and Hadith; meanings that takes one from the outward to the inner realm of the Qur’an. So even transmission plays a notable role in the knowledge of religion but according to Mawlana one who only focuses on the literal meaning of the transmitted verses, does not belong to the people of verifiers. Therefore, Hadith experts and jurists who only rely on transmission, according to him, do not reach the truth. This is the reason why he remarks about the great traditionalists of Sunnism, Abu Hanifa and Shafe’yi in the following manner:

In that quarter where love was increasing (my) pain, Bú Hanífa and Sháfi‘í gave no instruction (3832/3)

Relying solely on the transmitted sayings of the Prophet as one sees in the tradition of the people of ahadith, does not take one to true knowledge which is the essence of life:

Without the two Sahíhs and Traditions and Traditionists; nay, (they behold him) in the place where they drink the Water of Life (3464/1)

Knowledge which the people of form assert does not convey real essence and that is the reason the Hadith of ‘‘many a carrier of understanding does not possess understanding’’ says:

O sun, thou takest leave of this rose-garden (the earth) in order to illumine (the region) below the earth (43/2)

So knowledge must be acquired from the loin of a living saint and other than this, it is like doing ablution without water when there is water:

Know that beside the breath (words) of the Qutb of the time traditional knowledge is like performing the ritual ablution with sand when there is water (available) (1418/4)

Or that he had not been filled with traditional knowledge, (but) had carried away from a saint the knowledge divinely revealed to the heart! (1416/4)


Transmitted knowledge is knowledge without verification which is a discomfort to the heart:

Imitative knowledge is a trouble to our heart. It is like a borrowed object sitting over us (2327/2)

Mawlana pursues true verified knowledge instead of knowledge based on imitation. However, it should be noted that ‘‘verification’’ does not mean research in the modern sense as is prevalent in modern sciences. Research depends on the knowing subject vis-à-vis an object to be known in the external world but verification of the mystics can be characterized by what in philosophy is known as the union of the ‘‘intellecter and the intellect.’’ In scientific research whenever distance between the researcher and his object of research increases, it produces better results whereas in mysticism whenever this distance decreases, the mystic proceeds a step further toward the truth. Verification of the mystics is the realization of different levels of God-consciousness within the heart of man.  It is not hearing miscellaneous things from others. The outcome of verification is the attainment of ‘‘knowledge by presence’’ whereas the outcome of imitative knowledge is the attainment of representational knowledge. That is the reason Mawlana discerns knowers through verification from imitation and says:

Between the true knower and the blind imitator there are (great) differences, for the former is like David, while the other is (but) an echo  (2/493)


In other places he says in the tongue of Ali who has passed the level of imitation and reached the station of verification:

And that which I am doing for Gods sake is not (done in) conformity, it is not fancy and opinion, it is naught but intuition (1/3806)

Intellectual knowledge according to Mawlana ranks higher than transmitted knowledge which ends with imitation-as he says in the book one of the Mathnawī about the people of prophet Salih that the latter looked at prophet Salih and his followers with the eyes of sensualists:

For the sake of blind conformity and (for the sake of following) the standards of tradition, they set their feet (trampled) on the camels of Reason, the venerable guide.

They were not eager for a guide (pír-khar): they all had become (like) an old donkey (pír khar) from paying hypocritical observance to each others eyes and ears (2567-8/1)


Today one of the widespread confusions about Mawlana centers on his apparent belligerence to intellect. The main source of such confusion is the dominance of rationalism or the primacy of intellect in the sense of ratio or partial intellect in epistemology. Without doubt Mawlana was not a rationalist; in fact no true sage or mystic can be so. But Mawlana encourages the use of intellect and in the Mathnawī the word intellect and its various derivatives occurs more than 454 times which show the various types, ranks and levels of intellect. He describes various types of intellect innumerable times, viz, opportunistic intellect, farsighted intellect, universal intellect, partial intellect, faith-based intellect, illuminated intellect, second-rate intellect and intellect of intellect; one should not however, lose sight of the fact that in his view intellect possesses a fundamental hierarchy. Thus, if intellect did not have a value in the eyes of Mawlana, what need was there to describe various types of intellect in such details? About the hierarchy of intellect he comments as follows:

Know well that intelligences differ thus in degree from the earth to the sky.

There is an intelligence like the orb of the sun; there is an intelligence inferior to (the planet) Venus and the meteor (459-60/5)


In matters of religion, if intellect implies the intellect of the Mu’tazila or the Asharite theologians then Mawlana reproves such intellect, because such intellect is the intellect of the people of mysteries:

If the intellect could discern the (true) way in this question, Fakhr-i Rází would be an adept in religious mysteries;

But since he was (an example of the saying that) whoso has not tasted does not know, his intelligence and imaginations (only) increased his perplexity (4144-45/5)


According to Mawlana the intellect of Fakhruddin Razi, a great Asharite theologian who did not taste the true reality of religion, does not exceed mental imaginings. Intellect of the Mu’tazilite theologians too cannot be properly called intellect which penetrates the heart of religion. According to Mawlana intellect of the Mu’tazila is characterized by empiricism and short-sightedness. However, inner intellect possesses an inner eye and that very intellect takes one to heart-knowledge. He refutes the opinions of the Mu’talizilites who say concerning the vision of God that one would only see Him through senses and the outward eye:

The doctrine held by the eye of sense is Mu‘tazilism, whereas the eye of Reason is Sunnite (orthodox) in respect of (its) union (vision of God).

Those in thrall to sense-perception are Mu‘tazilites, (though) from misguidedness they represent themselves as Sunnites.

Anyone who remains in (bondage to) sense-perception is a Mu‘tazilite; though he may say he is a Sunnite, ’tis from ignorance.

Anyone who has escaped from (the bondage of) sense-perception is a Sunnite: the man endowed with (spiritual) vision is the eye of sweet-paced (harmonious) Reason.

If the animal sense could see the King (God), then the ox and the ass would behold Allah (61-65/2)



As far as the vision of God in the hermeneutics of the Mu’tazilites is concerned which appears in many verses of the Qur’an, Mawlana thinks it is unwise because partial intellect cannot convey proper understanding of such verses. So at the end the book one of the Mathnawī, Mawlana while commenting on the hadith “I pass the night with my Lord,”  “He gives (me) food” and “He gives (me) drink,” says:

Accept this (saying) without any (perverse) interpretation, that it may come into your throat (as agreeably) as honey and milk.

Because interpretation (alteration of the meaning) is a rejection of the gift, since he (the interpreter) regards that real (original) meaning as faulty

The view that it is faulty arises from the weakness of his understanding: Universal Reason is the kernel, and our reason is like the rind.

Alter yourself, not the Traditions (of the Prophet): abuse your (dull) brain, not the rose garden (the true sense which you cannot apprehend) (3741-44/1)


However, Mawlana in contrast to what some Mawlana-scholars have surmised does not want to place the foundation of religion on the outward meanings of scripture as traditionalists and Asharite theologians would and to refute the possibility of hermeneutics. Although he accepts the outward meanings of scripture and from this angle resembles the traditionalists and the Asharite theologians, yet he like other Sufis belongs to the people of hermeneutics. However, this hermeneutic does not contradict the outward sense of scripture, nor does it lead to some other horizontal interpretations. Rather the hermeneutic of Mawlana is the one that leads one from the outward to the inward, from the surface to the inner, and from the shell to the kernel.1 Thus, the hermeneutic of Mawlana lies in the vertical hierarchy of being  and reality from the outer to the inner. This hermeneutic is the function of universal intellect which is the intellect of saints, not the partial intellect of the Mu’tazilites. To this point, he addresses Ali because the latter has reached the station of true knowledge and the right of hermeneutics belongs to such great ones not to the Mu’tazilites:

“O ‘Alí, thou who art all mind and eye, relate a little of that which thou hast seen! (3745/1)


According to Mawlana if philosophers too like the Mu’tazlites want to base their argument on wooden legs which are but mental concepts then they will be far from the reality of religion and with their shallow intellect they think they can apprehend the realities of religion but in reality they move further away from it, so he says:

The philosopher killed (exhausted) himself with thinking: let him run on (in vain), for his back is turned towards the treasure.

Let him run on: the more he runs, the more remote does he become from the object of his heart’s desire (2361-62/6)


Philosopher who only relies on the sensible cannot fathom the speech of water, earth and mud. Therefore, they suppose those things are unintelligible:

The speech of water, the speech of earth, and the speech of mud are apprehended by the senses of them that have hearts (the mystics) (3279/2)


And they deny supernatural events like the moaning pillars:

The philosopher who disbelieves in the moaning pillar is a stranger to the senses of the saints (3280/1)


Philosopher who is caught in the web of mental concepts and intelligibles is far from the right track. When he searches out truth he discovers only partial intellect through his brain, brain that Mawlana interprets as ‘‘intellect of intellect’’:

The philosopher is in bondage to things perceived by the intellect; (but) the ‘pure (saint) is he that rides as a prince on the Intellect of intellect

The Intellect of intellect is your kernel, (while) your intellect is (only) the husk: the belly of animals is ever seeking husks (2527-8/3)


But intellect of intellect belongs only to saints and so one should unite with such intellect:

The saints are the intellect of intellect, and (all) intellects (from the beginning) to the end are (under their control) like camels (2498/1)


With all these, Mawlana thinks that even though farsighted intellect or partial intellect that is unable to discover the true linchpin of religion, it is necessary to run the affairs of this world. In the book one of the Mathnawī while delineating the tale of clawed old-man that says if one neglects or shuts the door of this intellect then one risks destroying the pillars of this world:

This world would at once become desolate: (all) selfish desires would go forth from men.”

Forgetfulness (of God), O beloved, is the pillar (prop) of this world: (spiritual) intelligence is a bane to this world.

Intelligence belongs to that (other) world, and when it prevails, this world is overthrown (2065-67/1)


With this partial intellect one should manage the affairs of life and not leave it idle:

Because when one intellect is joined with another intellect, it prevents evil action and evil speech;

(But) when the fleshly soul is associated with another fleshly soul, the partial (individual) intellect becomes idle and useless (20-21/2)

 (If) the intellect is paired with another intellect, light increases and the way becomes plain (26/2)


And in other places he says:

Even if thou hast intellect, associate and consult with another intellect, O father.With two intellects thou wilt be delivered from many afflictions: thou wilt plant thy foot on the summit of the heavens (1263-63/4)


But as it has been mentioned, this intellect with all its cleverness which helps us in our actions and speeches should enter the realm of faith and love or interfere with them because its essence does not open unto the station of love and nothingness:

Partial (discursive) reason is a denier of Love, though it may give out that it is a confidant.

It is clever and knowing, but it is not naught (devoid of self-existence): until the angel has become naught, he is an Ahriman.

It (partial reason) is our friend in word and deed, (but) when you come to the case of inward feeling (ecstasy), it is naught (of no account) (1982-84/1)


The fundamental difference between sacred and secular science that we observe today cannot be detected in in the Mathnawī. This difference is the consequence of modern thinking. In Mawlana’s scheme natural and mathematical sciences are subsumed in the umbrella of religious sciences and different of formulation of sciences all have their roots in the Revelation, but their progress and understanding depend on intellect:

This astronomy and medicine is (knowledge given by) Divine inspiration to the prophets: where is the way for intellect and sense (to advance) towards that which is without (spatial) direction?

The particular (individual) intellect is not the intellect (capable) of production: it is only the receiver of science and is in need (of teaching).

This intellect is capable of being taught and of apprehending, but (only) the man possessed of Divine inspiration gives it the teaching (which it requires).

Assuredly, in their beginning, all trades (crafts and professions) were (derived) from Divine inspiration, but the intellect added (something) to them (1294-97/4)


But the inability to understand the sources of these various sciences has caused some Muslim intellectuals to attribute a false accusation to Sufism that historically it was responsible for the eclipse of natural and mathematical sciences. Now history bears witness that Sufism or mysticism had never occluded the development of these sciences. Among famous Iranian Muslim natural scientists and mathematicians Jabir Ibn Hayyan, Ibn Sina, Khawja Nasir al-Din Tusi and Qutb al-Din Shirazi and in later period Mir Finderiski and Shaykh Baha’ī were directly related to Sufism or were Sufis themselves. However, the fact that Muslim intellectuals usually neglect is that understanding of the principles of science in Sufism differs diametrically with that of the founders of modern science.

The question that should be put forth is that science that had developed in the West, would it be possible for the Islamic civilization or for that matter the Indian or the Chinese civilization to develop such a science? Is it possible to conceive either in Islamic philosophy or mysticism the fundamental principles of modern science that create a scion a between subject and object? The way we see science of the soul, the world and reality in the Mathnawī, is it possible to think of them separately? Moreover, can we find the denial of teleology in the Mathnawī as we do in modern science? The aim of science that we find in Sufi mystics or philosophers which is finding of true knowledge about the world and the soul, can we find such knowledge in modern science? Rather modern science seeks to dominate the world though power as Nietzsche puts it, ‘the will to power.’

Muslim mystics consider true science a science which would present to one the truths of the Real, being, soul, and salvation and if a science does not aim to present such truths but claims to do so and seeks to limit the definition of science only to itself, then knowers of such science would be traversing a dark valley devoid of light:

This company washed their hearts (clean) of (the exoteric) kinds of knowledge, because this knowledge does not know this Way.

(In order to tread this Way) one needs a knowledge whereof the root is Yonder, inasmuch as every branch is a guide to its root (1124-25/3)

Mawlana addresses those scientists who believe that such science is a true science but cannot understand its limitation because it does not result in the knowledge of the Real, being or salvation, all of which help attain the self to know itself in the following way:

He knows a hundred thousand superfluous matters connected with the (various) a science, (but) that unjust man does not know his own soul.

He knows the special properties of every substance, (but) in elucidating his own substance (essence) he is (as ignorant) as an ass (2648-49/3)

In Mawlana’s view, knowledge of the essence of the external world is not really separate from knowledge of the self since they are fundamentally related. If someone surmises that he/she understands the external world but pays no attention to his/her soul then he/she would be dwelling in darkness. That person who relies on his outward knowing remains negligent of the reality of the soul or the reality of all sciences:

Thou hast become acquainted with the fortunate and inauspicious stars; thou dost not look to see whether thou art fortunate or unwashed (spiritually foul and ill-favoured).

This, this, is the soul of all the sciences—that thou shouldst know who thou shalt be on the Day of Judgement (2653-54/3)


The highest form of knowledge according to Mawlana is heart-knowledge as he says:

The knowledge of the Way to God and the knowledge of His dwelling place—that only the owner of the heart knows, or (you may say) his heart (itself) (1520/4)

All knowledge must culminate in this knowledge since heart-knowledge is the inner essence of all knowledge. Transmitted knowledge which deals with the outer aspect of things if realizes heart-knowledge then finds its own inner meaning; otherwise it will not produce any fruitful result. Intellectual knowledge too, if it can overcome its calculative and reductive approach and apprehends heart-knowledge then it becomes farsighted and faith-conducive upported intellect:

The particular intelligence of this (disciple) is derived from that Universal Intelligence: the motion of this shadow is derived from that Rose-bough (3643/4)

Intellect of intellect which was discussed earlier points to guiding intellect that leads to heart-knowledge. Descriptions of heart-knowledge are the following:

Source of this knowledge is mystical initiation in the context of Sufism.

This knowledge is attained not by the efficient of working of intellect but by following a saint and servitude of God:

The explanation (of the mystery) thereof is not (given) by the meddlesome intellect: do service (to God), in order that it may become clear to you (2526/3)

Since the saint resides in the station of the intellect of intellect:

The saints are the intellect of intellect, and (all) intellects (from the beginning) to the end are (under their control) like camels (2498/1)

Heart-knowledge is not the payer/outcome of actions; rather it is the essence of action. From a mystical point of view, this knowledge is not like theology, jurisprudence or knowledge of the norms of religion which is famously known and accepted in modern philosophy as the absence of any relation between ‘‘is and should.’’ Mawlana shows the relationship between vision/theory and action in a number of places, especially in the story of the boatman and the grammarian.2 However, it is to be noted that his intention in using the word ‘theory’ is not ‘theory’ in the modern sense of this term, rather it implies what in Sufism is known as the ‘owner of vision’ or theoria in Greek philosophy.

This knowledge is living and presential in contrast to transmitted knowledge which is  on credit:

He does not distinguish fact from fiction: he is misguided. Come, flee from him, even if he is spiritual (in appearance).

What has grown (genuinely) and what has been tied on (artificially) is (all) one to him: though he may claim (to possess) intuitive certainty, he is (really) in a (great) doubt.

If such a one is absolutely keen-witted, (still), when he has not this (power of) discernment, he is a fool (2566-68/3)

In other places he narrates the perennail nature of this knowledge:

When the water of (God-given) knowledge gushes from the breast, it does not become fetid or old or yellow (impure) (1965/4)

This knowledge is the wisdom of religion which is free from conjecture and imagination that are the foundation of worldly wisdom. Verification and realization are the very meaning of such knowledge:

The wisdom of this world brings increase of supposition and doubt; the wisdom of the Religion soars above the sky (3203/2)

Thus, the content of this knowledge is light, not darkness since conjecture and imagination have no place in it:

Imagination and opinion are the bane of the particular (discursive) reason, because its dwelling place is in the darkness (1557/3)

This knowledge is a knowledge through tasting (dhawk) and so Mawlana remarks on Fakhruddin Razi:

But since he was (an example of the saying that) whoso has not tasted does not know, his intelligence and imaginations (only) increased his perplexity (4145/5)

This knowledge is found when the ‘illusion of I’ is obliterated through the  mystical experience of annihilation (fanā) and when the ‘Real I’ manifests itself:

How should this “I” be revealed by thinking? That “I” is revealed (only) after passing away from self3  (faná) (4146/5)


This knowledge relies on the unity between man as a microcosm and the external world as a macrocosm and hence it is presential (hudūrī) rather than representational.4 And only basing oneself on the theory of presential knowledge may one understand what Mawlana says in the following regarding heart-knowledge:


On account of withholding the poor-tax no rain-clouds arise, and in consequence of fornication the plague spreads in all directions (88/1)

The following verses refer to the harmony between cosmic and legislative aspects of this knowledge:

Through discipline this Heaven has been filled with light, and through discipline the angels became immaculate and holy

By reason of irreverence the sun was eclipsed, and insolence caused an ‘Azázíl to be turned back from the door (91-92/1)


So far Mawlana’s viewpoint on types of knowledge and nescience, intellect and ignorance has been discussed and how they are categorized in a hierarchical manner.5 In Sufism the topic of knowledge has always been a central one and mystics like Mawlana have endeavored to reiterate and revive true knowledge.

Mawlana does not deny any knowledge per se whether they are religious or non-religious and tries to point to the proper place of each science. But he warns us against the reduction of science and true knowledge into one of the prevailing sciences of the day such as jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, physics and mathematics and exhorts us that we should circumvent it. He invites people of such sciences to higher knowledge.

Mawlana’s words have become ever more germane in our day because in his time no one science claimed such absolute status for itself as it did in recent times.

At present we have primarily two groups who are in opposition to one another: first there are those who restrict knowledge of religion to transmitted knowledge only and call upon others to imitate this knowledge and not to intellectually verify as the mystics do. They even extend their outlook to the principles of religion. Whenever this group calls for a revival of religious knowledge, they tend to imply only jurisprudence which is reduction of true knowledge of religion. And since they are unaware of the higher philosophy of religion, revival of religious knowledge in their eyes becomes reduced to the revival of Sharia devoid of spirituality and this Sharia too is interpreted in terms of a particular political ideology with worldly cravings. This group even if can cross the level of transmitted knowledge and show some intellectual thinking, their level of intellectualism would not exceed that of the Mu’tazilites- whether new or old- or in Mawlana’s word ‘opportunistic intellect’ which seeks to control the affairs of the world but remains incompetent in the understanding of religion.

The other group consists of modern philosophers and scientists who are mesmerized by modern philosophy and thinking and have especially been influenced by Kantian critical philosophy and positivistic philosophy of Auguste Comte. They have reduced the concept of knowledge to science and then in turn, reduced the concept of science to Newtonian paradigm of science. According to this group knowing is limited to the relation that sensual objects have among each other based on mathematical relationships. This group does not accommodate any knowledge or cognition if it is not positive or verifiable. Starting from Descartes they only admit concepts that are quantifiable or having a mathematical correspondence. With these premises, the denial of higher intellect and heart-knowledge and consequently, denial of all sorts of demystification in religious matters takes place. And the path towards the inner dimension of religion which according to Mawlana is the principle of principle of principle of religion as one finds in the beginning of the Mathnawi becomes unattainable.6 Knowledge of these people too according to Mawlana are imitative knowledge because from the standpoint of Sufism imitation is not limited to the rules of Sharia. The call of modern scientists too from certain a point of view, is an asking to accept the laws of science without analyzing their whys because they are a kind of transmitted norms and not the unveiling of an individual. It is an external unveiling about facts which depends on the information provided by another scientist. There lies the imitation of modern scientists in that they rely on the findings of the previous generation.

It is interesting to note that the first group which neglects the inner meaning of religion, with the coincidence being in modern times, benefits from the findings of the second group even though there is a real difference between them in terms of principles of their sciences. This becomes practicable owing to their nature of being surface-seekers of things. Both of these groups are in the dark about the relation between knowledge of the world, the soul and ultimately knowledge of the Real and fail to realize the importance of self-knowledge in the knowledge of both the world and its Sustainer.

From the standpoint of true knowledge, Mawlana reckons both of the aforementioned groups as ignorant. He addresses them in the book one of the Mathnawī in the appendix of the story of ‘rabbit’s knowledge and the exposition of the benefits of knowing’:

Sell your asinine (corporeal) ear and buy another ear, for the asinine ear will not apprehend this discourse (1028/1)


1 Mawlana in the book one of the Mathnawi (1088-95) in the appendix of the title The baseness of the foul interpretation given by the fly discusses the nature of such hermeneutics: the fly was propelling the raft on the “sea”: that (small) quantity appeared to him illimitable. That urine was boundless in relation to him: where was the vision that should see it truly?

His world extends (just) as far as his sight reaches; his eye is so big, his “sea” is big in the same proportion. So with the false interpreter: like the fly, his imagination is (foul ass) asss urine and his conception (worthless as) a straw.


2 Mathnawi, book one, 2835-50


3 this saying of Mawlana is comparable to the principle of cogito of Descartes in which he emphasizes the ego. In reality, Mawlana’s viewpoint differs radically from that of Descartes since ‘the real I’ cannot be acquired through outward thinking. Therefore, one cannot explain the structure of reality with the cogito since this is not the real I. The ‘real I’ is realized at the end of the spiritual journey when the traveler reaches the station of annihilation. For this reason, when Mawlana says ‘O brother you are the essence of your thinking’ (278/2), his motive behind this differs fundamentally with the cogito of Descartes.


4 this attribute of heart-knowledge is also comparable to modern science which is based on the scion between the subject and the object


5 in some sources of ahadith including Usul al-Kafi, book of al-‘aql wa al-jahl, opposite of intellect is read as ignorance.


6 the first sentence of the Mathnawi is as follows: ‘‘this is the book of the Mathnawī and it is the principle of principle of principle of religion in unveiling of the mysteries of principles and certitude.’’


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