The Book of Rumi: 105 Stories and Fables that Illumine, Delight, and Inform

The Book of Rumi: 105 Stories and Fables that Illumine, Delight, and Inform


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Philip Pullman, author of 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, has remarked that "after nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." This new collection of Rumi stories fills that need.

This fresh prose translation of 105 short teaching stories by Rumi, which form the core of the six-volume Masnavi, explores the hidden spiritual aspects of everyday experience. Rumi transforms the seemingly mundane events of daily life into profound Sufi teaching moments. These prose gems open the mystical portal to the world of the ancient mystic.

These stories include well-known and popular tales such as "Angel of Death," "The Sufi and His Cheating Wife," "Moses and the Shepherd," "Chickpeas," and "The Greek and Chinese Painters" as well as the less commonly quoted parables: "The Basket Weaver," "The Mud Eater," and "A Sackful of Pebbles."

Rumi's voice alternates between playful and authoritative, whether he is telling stories of ordinary lives or inviting the discerning reader to higher levels of introspection and attainment of transcendent values. Mafi's translations delicately reflect the nuances of Rumi's poetry while retaining the positive tone of all of Rumi's writings, as well as the sense of suspense and drama that mark the essence of the Masnavi.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571747464
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 11/01/2018
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 503,648
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Rumi was a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic. 
Maryam Mafi was born and raised in Iran. She went to Tufts University in the U.S. in 1977 where she studied Sociology and Literature. While reading for her Master's degree in International Communications at American and Georgetown Universities she began translating Persian literature and has been doing so ever since. Reading Rumi's poetry, she says, has led her to a 're-education' in her own language and a new appreciation of her spiritual heritage. 
Narguess Farzad is the Senior Tutor in the Faculty of Languages and Culture at the University of London.

Read an Excerpt


The Parrot and the Grocer

There was once a grocer who owned a handsome green parrot who sang sublimely and spoke most eloquently. The parrot was not only an ideal companion but also the perfect guard for the grocer's shop. He kept watch all hours of the day and spoke amiably with the customers, entertaining them and thus increasing the grocer's sales.

One day when the grocer left the shop in the parrot's care, having gone home for lunch, a cat suddenly ran into the shop chasing a mouse, frightening the bird. As the parrot flew about in his effort to save himself, he knocked a few bottles of almond oil off the shelves, breaking them and covering himself and the shop floor in oil.

Not long afterward, the grocer returned and found the place in disarray, the floor slippery with oil and the parrot perching guiltily in a corner. In the wink of an eye, the grocer lost his temper and hit the bird on the head with all his might. The poor bird, who was already feeling guilty and downtrodden about his clumsiness, could not bear the shame, not to mention the pain from the blow, and he instantly shed all the feathers on his head.

Soon after the almond oil incident, the parrot completely stopped speaking and singing. The grocer realized how grave his mistake had been in striking the bird; not only had he lost his jolly companion but he had also curtailed his thriving business. Having no one but himself to blame, he now felt dumbfounded that he had singlehandedly threatened his very livelihood.

"I wish I'd broken my hand!" he lamented. "How could I have struck my sweet-voiced bird like that? How could I have behaved so monstrously?"

The grocer began to give alms to each and every poor darvish who passed by his shop, hoping that by doing good deeds he might be forgiven, and his bird might again start to exercise his mesmerizing voice. After three days and nights of remorse and suffering the parrot's silence, the grocer came into luck. A bald darvish walked into the shop, and instantly the parrot began to speak: "Did you spill bottles of almond oil, too?"

The handful of customers in the shop were amused and smiled at the parrot, who had innocently thought that the bald man had suffered the same fate as himself!

"Darling little parrot," said one of the customers compassionately, "never equate one action with another. One must never compare oneself to others, even though they may appear to be the same on the surface; truly nothing is as it seems!"

The Angel of Death

Solomon, the wise prophet, held daily audiences during which he listened to his subjects' complaints and tried to address their problems. One morning, as he was listening to one person after another, a distraught man hurled himself into the great court. Solomon noticed how distressed the man was and beckoned him forward. Grateful for being invited to the front of the queue, the man fell to his knees before the great benefactor.

"What seems to be causing you such anguish, my dear fellow?" asked Solomon compassionately.

"The Angel of Death, my lord! I saw him a minute ago as I was crossing the street. He glared at me with such disdain that my heart nearly stopped!"

"We all know that Azrael takes his orders only from God and never wavers in his duties," asserted the great prophet. "Now tell me, what would you have me do?"

"I beg of you, my life's in your hands. Please tell the wind to carry me to India, where I'll be safe from the Angel's harm."

Promptly Solomon ordered the East Wind to carry the nearly paralyzed man to India and lay him down wherever he chose. He then duly returned to his other subjects' unattended affairs.

The following day when he returned to court, Solomon caught a glimpse of the Angel of Death among the crowd. He motioned the Angel to approach and asked him: "Why do you frighten people with that wrathful look, to the point that they abandon their livelihood and forsake their homes and family? What had that poor man done yesterday to deserve your crushing glare?"

Azrael was surprised. "My lord, I didn't look at him wrathfully at all! In fact, I was astonished to see him!" he said. "God had commanded me to take his pitiful life today in India, and I couldn't imagine, even if he had a million wings, how was he to get there on time. I was startled and gazed at him with surprise, not anger!"

When you look at everything in life with the eyes of want and greed, whom do you hope to escape? Yourself? God? Is that possible?

The Fly Who Thought She Was a Sailor

A poor donkey had been patiently carrying his heavy load all day long without a moment's respite. He had not even been allowed to stop to pee. Finally, his owner reached his destination, and the donkey was relieved of the merchandise heaped on his back. Free at last from his burden, the beast happily emptied his full bladder.

A short distance away, a tiny fly was resting on a leaf lying on the ground. The donkey's urine, flowing downstream, began to carry the leaf with the fly on it. The fly was initially taken aback, not quite understanding what was happening. After a little while, though, she began to believe: "I'm sailing away on the sea. I'm the captain of this ship, and what a perfectly seasoned navigator I am! Who dares to stop me now?"

The fly was gloating in her pride, floating on the stream of urine, believing that she was sailing the seven seas. Unbeknown to her, she was still the same lowly fly she'd always been, driven along by the furious pace of the urine's flow, unaware that nothing truly is as it seems.

Merchant and Parrot

Many years ago, a Persian merchant was given a beautiful parrot as a gift by his Indian trading partners. He kept the parrot in a formidable cage, where he could watch her and listen to her melodious song every day when he rested after his long hours at work. The time of year came when he normally traveled to India on a buying trip, and as is customary he asked his household help what they wanted him to bring back as gifts for them. Each person asked for something close to his or her heart, and so did the little green parrot.

"My dear master, my heart really desires nothing from my motherland," she said morosely. "But, should you come across a group of parrots like myself, would you please convey my greetings and tell them that I'm trapped in a cage in Persia, and I miss them terribly. Ask them whether they think it's fair that they're flying freely throughout the land while their cousin is slowly dying in captivity. I beg you to ask them on my behalf for advice on how I should reckon my situation."

The merchant didn't think much about the parrot's demand but promised to find the birds and deliver her message exactly as she had voiced it. Once in India, he diligently tended to his business but did not forget his promise of gifts for his servants or the parrot's message. One day, traveling from one town to the next, he happened to come across a group of parrots chirping noisily in a forest. He stopped his horse and delivered his parrot's message faithfully, but before he could finish, one of the parrots began to shiver uncontrollably, falling off the branch he'd been perched on and suddenly dying. The merchant ran to save the parrot, but the little bird looked perfectly dead!

He became distraught, feeling overwhelming guilt that he'd caused the poor bird's demise unnecessarily. He wondered whether the fallen bird was related to his parrot and had literally died from grief hearing about his trapped cousin. Was it not true that the human tongue is like an uneasy aggregation of rock and iron, which, when struck against each other, can spark off a fire? He regretted having recounted his parrot's message, but there was nothing he could do now, so he continued with his duties until he finished them up, and then he returned home.

Upon his arrival, he distributed the gifts that each servant had asked for but said nothing to his parrot. The bird, who had been impatiently awaiting the response of her mates, grew increasingly impatient and at last couldn't hold back any longer, asking the merchant: "So, where's my gift? Tell me, what did you see and hear from the Indian parrots?"

"I'd rather not remember!" said the merchant somberly.

"Master, what's the matter? Why this long face?"

"I told your story to a group of parrots in the woods," he said reluctantly. "But, before I could finish, one of them began to shiver, then fell from the tree and died! I'll never forgive myself for causing the poor bird's death. But what's the use? Once the arrow has left the bow it will never return, and so are words that leave our lips."

But before the merchant could finish his sentence, the little parrot fell from her perch and dropped dead on the floor of the cage. The merchant could hardly believe his eyes; he burst into tears, quickly blaming himself for causing yet another innocent death. He became hysterical, cursing and repenting, not comprehending why all this was happening. He walked back and forth staring at his bird, who lay motionless on a heap of leaves on the floor of her exquisite cage. He caressed the parrot's feathers tenderly, remembering her harmonious song, which had given him so much pleasure for so long.

After a while, the merchant hesitantly opened the dainty cage door and carefully picked up the bird, carrying her to the garden and laying her on the ground while he dug a grave to bury her. Instantly, the parrot shot up to the nearest tree and perched on a high branch, looking contentedly at her former master. The merchant was awestruck, not fathoming the secret of the words he had uttered.

"My darling bird, I'm thrilled to see you're alive and well, but tell me, what did I say that prompted you to emulate your cousin in India? Tell me your secret now that you're free."

"That parrot was no relation to me, but by his action he taught me how to free myself!" confessed the jolly parrot. "Without actually speaking, he helped me understand that my imprisonment was due to my beautiful song, my talent for entertaining you and your guests. My precious voice was in fact the cause of my servitude! By his action, he taught me that my freedom would lie in the act of dying in the sense of forsaking my attachment to my worldly talents, which I had prized so highly."

The parrot bid her merchant master farewell for the last time and quickly flew out of sight.

The Old Harp Player

Gifted musicians were a great rarity in the old days, but it was during the reign of the famous Caliph Omar that a certain competent harp player earned himself a fine reputation. Spectators loved his voice, the melodious sound of his instrument, and his entertaining presence, and thus they paid him handsomely every time he played.

The years passed quickly; the musician aged, and his voice lost its sweet timbre. People no longer appreciated him, and the more he tried to sing, the more his voice sounded like the braying of a donkey. People would shoo him away, and by the time he turned seventy, he was impoverished and unemployable. Eventually he came to the end of his tether and at long last turned to God:

"My Allah, You've granted me a long life but I've been guilty! I never appreciated Your kindness, yet You never turned Your back on me and always provided me with my daily bread. But now, I'm old and feeble and no longer have a beautiful voice. In fact, my singing revolts people when not so long ago they couldn't get enough of it. I promise You that as of today I will only play and sing for You, my Beloved, and nobody else!" He sighed and, wishing for a little privacy, began to walk toward the town cemetery.

He found the graveyard empty as he walked silently, swerving between gravestones, until he finally chose a spot to sit down. Making himself as comfortable as possible, he began to play his harp to his heart's content until he was utterly exhausted and eventually fell asleep. He dreamed that he was in a lush meadow and that his soul's wings fully opened, carrying him lightly toward the sun. He wished from the bottom of his heart that he could stay floating in the air forever; but fate would not have it, as his time on earth was not yet up. At that very same moment, Caliph Omar, who was in his palace, uncharacteristically fell asleep in the middle of the day and had a dream in which God instructed him as follows:

"Omar, it's time to tend to my special subject! You can find him asleep among the gravestones. Take seven hundred dinars from the public funds that you collect on my behalf and take them to him as his wages. Tell him to come back to you for more after he's spent it."

Omar woke up with trepidation, grasping the urgency of his dream. He quickly ran to the graveyard and searched but could only find an old man asleep by a grave with an ancient harp by his side. At first, he wasn't convinced that this could be God's special subject, so he searched further but to no avail. At last he concluded that the harp player must be the man he was sent to find. Unwilling to disturb the old man, as he looked so peaceful, Omar quietly sat down beside him but then suddenly sneezed. The old man woke up with a fright and noticed the regal person sitting next to him. His heart in his mouth, he began to beg God to save him from what he thought was the Angel of Death.

Amused, Omar told him gently: "No need to fear me, dear one, I've brought you good tidings. In fact, Allah has greatly praised you and has asked me to pass on His blessings. He's also sent you seven hundred dinars for your overdue wages! When you've spent it, you're to come back to me for more."

The old musician couldn't believe his ears and became even more distraught than before. Agitated, he let out a heart-wrenching cry, tore off his tattered shirt, and, greatly addled, bit into his own hand. "One and only Allah, You've shamed me into nothingness!" he sobbed as he stood up and rambled aimlessly through the graveyard.

In due time, he stumbled back to find Omar and his harp still in the same spot as before. He picked up his precious instrument and, in one quick strike, shattered it against a nearby gravestone, destroying his only source of livelihood. "You've been the veil between God and me," he blamed the harp. "You're responsible for leading me astray from His altar. For almost seventy years, you've sucked my blood and made me shamefaced before my Creator," he said as he bashed the harp again and again, reducing it to insignificant slivers of wood.

"I beg Your forgiveness, my God," he continued. "I've sinned throughout this long life that You've gifted me. I've spent it singing and playing music, forgetting the pain of being separated from You, and I and no one else am the cause of my guilt and shame," he confessed. "Please save me from myself, for my enemy is within me, closer to me than my own pathetic soul!"

Omar comforted the agitated man, telling him that he must let go of his past as well as his future, for he was still entangled between them; and that meant that he was not yet one with God and had not yet put his full trust in the Creator. As he listened to Omar's wise words, the old musician felt a purer light rising in his heart, enveloping his body and soul. Astounded, he felt that he was letting go of the world he had known until then and found himself positioned in a different space, untouched by superficiality; a world that required an alternative understanding where no words were left to speak, where solitude and silence were the order of the day.

The Sailor and the Professor

It was late in the day, and the professor needed to cross the water to get back to the island where he lived. He jumped into the first boat he chanced upon and ordered the sailor to take him home as fast as he could. The boat slowly pulled away from the harbor, and the professor made himself comfortable on the deck. He took one long look at the sailor and decided that this man must be illiterate, and before he could control his tongue, he blurted out pompously: "Have you ever been to school or studied any literature?"

"No," said the sailor innocently.

"Then you've missed out on half of your life, my good man!"

The sailor was deeply insulted but didn't respond, carrying on with his work and waiting for an opportune moment to take his revenge.

Almost halfway through their journey, the weather turned, and a vicious storm kicked up. The sailor had finally chanced upon his moment of sweet revenge! Cunningly, he asked the professor, who was already white with fright: "Most revered master professor, do you know how to swim?"

"Don't be silly, of course not, my handsome and capable friend!" he stammered squeamishly.

"Oh, what a pity! Because now you're going to miss out on the rest of your life! The boat is caught up in a whirlpool, and the only way out is to swim! Now all your precious literature can't help you one bit. You thought me an idiot, and now look at you! Stuck in the mud like an ass!"

The Man Who Wanted a Tattoo

There is a town called Qazvin in central Persia where it was customary for wrestlers to tattoo parts of their bodies. One day, a man, who was not in fact a wrestler but who wished to pretend that he was brave and mighty, went to a tattoo artist who worked in the public bathhouse. He asked the artist to create a beautiful design on his arm that befitted his courage.

"What kind of design would you prefer?" asked the artist.

"A fierce lion, what else? My zodiac sign is the mighty Leo, so make sure you use the darkest blue you ever tattooed on anyone!" said the man arrogantly.


Excerpted from "The Book of Rumi"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Maryam Mafi.
Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xiii

Introduction 1

Masnavi I

The Parrot and the Grocer 6

The Angel of Death 8

The Fly Who Thought She Was a Sailor 9

Merchant and Parrot 10

The Old Harp Player 13

The Sailor and the Professor 16

The Man Who Wanted a Tattoo 17

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox 19

The Deaf Man and His Sick Neighbor 21

Chinese and Greek Painters 23

The Lover Who Was Nothing 25

Spitting at Imam Ali 26

Masnavi II

The Snake Catcher and the Thief 28

Jesus and the Skeleton 29

The King's Falcon 31

The Shaykh and the Tray of Sweets 33

The Sufi Who Lost His Donkey 36

The Man Who Killed His Mother 39

Sound of the Splash 40

Thorny Shrubs 41

Zolnoun in the Hospital 42

Loghman and His Master 44

Moses and the Shepherd 46

Friendship with a Bear 49

Two Different Birds Flying Together 51

The Prophet Visits a Sick Man 52

The Clown and the Prostitute 54

The Wise Madman 55

The Night Watchmen and the Drunk 57

A Thief at Hand 59

Four Indians in Prayer 61

Setting an Example 62

The Old Man and the Physician 63

Juhi at the Funeral 65

A Sackful of Pebbles 66

God Will Not Punish Me 68

Camel and Mouse 70

Shaykh on the Boat 72

Reprimanding a Darvish 74

The Tree of Eternal Life 76

Grapes for Four 78

The Duckling 79

Masnavi III

Elephant Eaters 82

The Painted Jackal 84

Elephant in the Dark 86

The Grey Beard 87

The Sound of the Slap 88

The Love Letter 89

Students and Teacher 90

The Wise Goldsmith 93

The Basket Weaver 94

Not Mourning the Dead 95

Valuable Advice 97

Escaping the Fool 98

The Drummer Thief 99

Dogs' Shelter in Winter 100

Lover of Prayer 101

Patience 103

Balal's Passing 104

Which City Is Best? 105

Guest Killer Mosque 106

Camel and Drummer Boy 108

The Chickpeas 110

The Mosquito and the Wind 111

Masnavi IV

Praying Only for Sinners 114

The Most Difficult Thing in the World 115

The Sufi and His Cheating Wife 116

The Tanner in the Perfume Bazaar 118

Jump Off the Roof 120

Mud Eaters 121

The Darvish and the Firewood Gatherer 123

Giving Up a Kingdom 125

Darvish in the Garden 126

Silence Is the Reply to Fools 127

The Large Turban 128

Intelligence 130

Leadership 132

Three Fish 134

I Am God 136

The Bird's Advice 138

Child on the Roof 140

The King and the Servant 141

Ants and Calligraphy 142

The Crow and the Grave 143

Masnavi V

The Famished Dog 146

Peacock 147

The Ready Lover 148

Tears during Prayer 149

Charity 150

Majnoun 152

The Water Carrier's Donkey 154

Catching Donkeys 156

Fear of Hunger 157

Cow on a Green Island 158

The Zoroastrian and the Moslem 159

True Servitude 160

Love Pulls the Ear 161

The Muezzin Caller 162

The Jester and the Chess Game 164

Guest on a Rainy Night 165

Father's Will 168

Masnavi VI

Poet in Aleppo 170

Tolerance 172

Camel, Bull, and Ram 174

Treasure in Egypt 175

Bibliography 177

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