NEA Literature Fellowships

Jawid Mojaddedi

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(2015 - Translation)

Excerpt from Masnavi by Rumi

[translated from the Persian]

Story about that preacher who began every homily with a prayer for oppressors, unbelievers and the hard-hearted

A preacher prayed for highway robbers when
            Upon the pulpit, which astonished men.
He raised his hands, 'My Lord and my Possessor,
            Forgive the fraud, the evil, the oppressor,
And all who mock the people who act well,
            And those with doubting hearts, each infidel.'
He wouldn't pray for pure and godly people,
            Only for those whom most considered evil.
They told him, 'This is not the normal way;
            One shouldn't pray for those who are astray.'
He answered, 'Goodness is all I've received
            At their hands. This is why I'm not deceived:
They did so much wrong and such tyranny
           That from bad ways to good they prompted me.
Whenever worldly things stole my attention
           I suffered beatings from those men I mention.
I then sought refuge from them up above –
           Those wolves thus drove me to the path of love.
Since they have caused my self-reform, I should
           Pray for their sakes much more than for the good.'

God's slave cries out to Him because of pain;
           His suffering makes him desperately complain.
God answers, 'Pain and suffering in the end
           Have made you beg Me and find ways to mend
Your flaws – complain instead about My Grace
           That drives you far from Me and out of place.
Every foe is your medicine – it's true
           He's the elixir, benefiting you,
Because you flee them, then in your withdrawal
           You seek assistance from the Lord's bestowal.
In truth, your friends are your real foes, since they
           Distract you from God's Presence far away.
The porcupine's behavior is so similar:
           When it is beaten hard it then grows bigger.
It will expand the more men cudgel it,
           Becoming fatter every time it's hit.
The faithful one's soul is like this, you know:
           It grows expansive with each powerful blow.
That is why suffering and debasement both
           Were tasted more by Prophets – for their growth:
It's so their souls go stronger than the rest,
           For those have not experienced such a test.
People will rub harsh liquid into hide,
           To make it soft and fine, a source of pride.
If that harsh liquid isn't rubbed this way,
           The hide becomes unclean and rots away.
Consider Man an untanned hide, since he
           Becomes both stiff and foul so easily.
Rub in much liquid, though it's harsh and bitter,
            Then see the hide turn pliant, clean and stronger.
But if you cannot, try to be content
           With suffering you wish God had never sent.

Jesus was asked 'What is the hardest thing to face in existence?'

Jesus was asked by a clear-headed man once:
           'What is the hardest hurdle in existence?'
Jesus told him, 'God's rage is hardest, dear;
           Even hell trembles at it out of fear.'
The man asked, 'What can grant security
           From it?' 'Quit your own rage immediately!'
The watchman had become a mine of rage,
           His rage surpassing wild beasts' at that stage.
How could he hope for mercy from the Lord
           When he had not turned back from what's abhorred?
Although the world can't just discard their kind,
           Such talk can make you leave the path behind –
The world can't do without your urine either,
           But that is not exactly pure spring water.

Original in Persian

About Rumi

Rumi's Masnavi holds an exalted status in the canon of Persian Sufi literature, where it is recognized as the most consummate expression of Sufi mysticism. It is even referred to commonly as “the Qur'an in Persian.” Rumi was identified in 1997 by the Christian Science Monitor as the best-selling poet in North America, and he has kept this status ever since. His poetry therefore represents an overlap in values and aspirations held by readers in both the Persianate world and North America, making it the ideal poem to help achieve the goal of increasing mutual understanding at this critical time.

Jawid Mojaddedi is Professor of Religion at Rutgers University. His area of research is early and medieval Sufism. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and raised from the age of five in Great Britain, he completed his studies at the University of Manchester, receiving his Ph.D. in 1998. He served for two years as Assistant Editor for Encyclopaedia Iranica, before taking up his current position at Rutgers, where he teaches courses in the general field of Islamic Studies.

Since the publication of his verse translation, The Masnavi: Book One, which was awarded the Lois Roth Prize in 2005, he has been working toward completing the six books of Jalal al-Din Rumi's magnum opus. He has already published in the same Oxford World's Classics Series a translation of the second and third books, in 2007 and 2013, respectively.

Photo by Gabriella Percario

Translator's Statement

I have been translating into verse Rumi’s famous poem of 26,000 couplets for fifteen years, since 1999, and recently completed half of it. This literature translation award has therefore come at an important time. It encourages me to proceed with this project, and enables me to devote sufficient time exclusively to the translation of the poem to translate Book Four (out of six). Readers await the publication of Book Four eagerly because the last story in Book Three actually continues at the start of it, and this translation will represent the first ever verse translation. Looking at the project as a whole, this fellowship gives me renewed optimism that it can be completed before the 750th anniversary of Rumi’s death in 2023, which would be very fitting.