For Rumi, God's grace allows us to be judged on our intentions, and to recognise our common dependence on him
Hindus praise me in the terms of India
And the Sindhis praise in terms from Sindh
Not for magnificats do I make them pure
They themselves become pure and precious
We do not look to language or to words
We look inside to find intent and rapture
Masnavi 2: 1757-59
Such is God's pronouncement toward the end of Rumi's tale about Moses and the Shepherd (Masnavi 1720-1815), in which Moses rebukes an illiterate shepherd for uttering a prayer to God that expresses his devotion as a naive desire to darn God's socks, rub his feet, wash his clothes, comb his hair, and pick his lice before sweeping a place for God to sleep. Speaking as the bearer of the Commandments, Moses (who is the prophet and the person most frequently mentioned by name in the Qur'an) denounces such prattle as blasphemy and harshly chastises the shepherd, who wanders off, deeply chagrined.
But God reveals that by this action Moses has torn a servant of God from the presence of God:
Were you sent in order to unite
or to distinguish and divide?!…
I to all their qualities assign
and give a form to their expression
What to some is praise, to you is blame
What's honey to his taste, your poison
Above pure/impure I'm sanctified
Far above all suave- and boorish-ness
I command my servants worship me
not for my profit, but to bless them …
We've no regard for words or language
We look for spirit and behavior
We see the heart and – if that's humble –
ignore the words used, brash or mumbled …
Masnavi 2: 1750-1760
Moses then goes after the shepherd to console him, only to find that the shepherd's pure intentions have made him take this rebuke to heart, and have caused him to climb to a higher rung on the ladder of spiritual ascent.
This tale presupposes God's love for his servants, and his willingness to overlook their shortcomings and to judge them by the spirit of their intent, rather than their outward conformity to the letter of law and dogma. Without the emanations of this divine grace and loving-kindness, all the eloquent hymns and praises, the subtle thoughts of humanity in description of the deity, would be so much anthropomorphic nonsense (Masnavi 2: 1800-1804). This grace flows from God to man not, for example, when he correctly performs rituals such as prayer, but when man's spirit is oriented God-ward (Masnavi 2: 1814).
We have seen how Rumi's theology of love and the effacing of the baser self points to an existential unity in which everything is love, or as the Qur'an puts it, the face of God eternally remains after all else perishes. We experience our lives as separate individuated consciousness because our light has become refracted in the realm of matter and creation and so takes on the appearance of conflicting spectrums. But if we could trace the differentiated bands of distinctly coloured light we perceive back into the pre-prismatic realm, they would of course revert to a single bright whiteness. It is our presence in the realm of colours that casts us into this refracted state, and leads us to identify with and choose a particular side or colour:
Slapped by the polo stick of His command
Be and it was, we roll through space and Beyond
When the colourless became enmeshed in colours
a Moses came in conflict with a Moses
Gain back that colourlessness you once had
and with Moses and Pharoah peace will reign
Masnavi 1: 2466
Here, then, is a ground of being for a genuine theology of tolerance. Difference certainly does exist – in religion, in morality, in spirituality (in physics, where light is both particle and wave) – but our standpoint determines the perspective we adopt, which side of the prism we view at any given moment.
Mention of Moses has bogged down your minds
supposing these tales tell of long ago
Mention of Moses, a veil cloaking eyes
But, my good man, Moses' light, look to it.
Both Moses and Pharoah dwell within you
Seek out these two foes in your inner self
If we look to the lamp rather than the light, we will see duality and difference. But if we look at the light itself, it remains unchanged, no matter what colour the lamp.
Mind of the universe! Point of view
makes all the difference we see between
believing Muslim, Zoroast, and Jew
Masnavi 3: 1251-58
The role of religion and spirituality, from this perspective, is to open a vista into the transcendent colourless realm so that it informs our vision:
As I enter the solitude of prayer
I put these matters to Him, for He knows
That's my prayer-time habit, to turn and talk
That's why it's said "My heart delights in prayer"
Through pureness a window opens in my soul
God's message comes immediate to me
Through my window the Book, the rain and light
all pour into my room from gleaming source
Hell's the room in which there is no window
To open windows, that's religion's goal
Masnavi 3: 2400-2404
We would like to thank Dr. Franklin Lewis for giving his permission to share his articles with our viewers.