The Guardian of Layla’s Abode

Stay silent if you are not Majnun,

For the one who has not attained that love,

Layla is just a form.

Rumi

Majnun, melting with fondness before a drooling dog, was caressing the animal as he kissed its eyes. A passer-by was unable to bear this sight and cried out:

– O half-baked Majnun, what is the insanity that you are displaying? A dog’s muzzle is ever eating filth; have you stopped to consider this before kissing it?

Majnun responded:

– What do you understand of what I am doing since as a whole you are nothing more than a form, figure and body! Come within to the world of spirit, and view the dog through my eyes. Are you even remotely familiar with the virtues of this dog? In this dog there is a divine mystery that you can’t comprehend. Allah has hidden in its heart the treasure of love and loyalty that it feels towards its master. Among so many villages it has chosen to dwell in the village of Layla. This dog is the guardian of the abode of Layla. Look at its high aspiration and observe its heart, its soul and its knowledge acquired directly from Allah. It is the dog of the blessed countenance, the Kitmir of my cave; nay, it is the sharer of my happiness and woe. The dog that guards her abode, oh, it is impossible to entertain the thought that I could trade a single hair of it even for lions. For me, the soil it steps on is sacred. There is no possibility of speaking further. Silence and farewell!

THE MATHNAWI:

If you pass beyond form, O friends, it is Paradise and rose-garden within rose-garden. When you have broken and burned your own form, which is full of groundless fear, apprehension and arrogance, or if you break yourself from the worship of your own soul which is the mother of all idols, you will have learned how to destroy the idols in yourself. After that, you will find the power to break every form: like Khaydar[1] (Ali), you will uproot the gate of Khaybar; or like Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) you will be able to turn a vicious fire into a rose garden.

There is another story about Layla from the Mathnawi. It is the story of the Caliph who saw Layla.

The Caliph said to Layla:

– Are you she by whom Majnun was distracted and led astray? You are not superior to other fair ones.

She replied:

– Be silent, since you are not Majnun.

For those who rely on appearance, Layla was not remarkably different from other women. The reason why Qays became Majnun (i.e. crazy), with her love is because he saw her inner beauty. It was for this reason that the Caliph could not comprehend the mystery of Majnun’s love, because he could not look at Layla through the eyes of Majnun. To witness this love we must be asleep to the outer appearance of Layla and instead we must be immersed in the fire burning within her. For the one asleep to the inner, the soul has neither joy nor grace nor glory, and no way of journeying to Heaven.

Some people who were not familiar with this truth, out of pity for Majnun, said to him:

– O Majnun, leave Layla, for there are other women more beautiful than her.

Majnun answered:

– Our forms, bodies, and appearances are like urns. The beauty is as the divine drink within the urn. Know that Allah, the most Exalted, offers me this drink from Layla’s urn. You see only the appearance of Layla, but are unaware of what is inside! Because the divine drink, which is inside, is not visible to those who have no share in spiritual knowledge. The presence of the loyalty of a woman who is invisible to strangers and has no eyes for them resembles her internal beauty.

It was in this sense that Sheikh Sadi Shirazi, quddisa sirruh, said: “One should witness the beauty of Layla through the window in the heart of Majnun.”

Majnun means crazy, yet in reality, he is an intelligent person who has effaced his ego in divine love. There are many people, who limit intelligence only to rationality, but using this faculty alone may even fail to distinguish between what is right and wrong. Their earning is misery in this world and the next. For this reason, Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said:

Do not call the intelligence of love crazy! Do not call he who is absorbed in his soul a liar. Do not call an endless ocean a cup. He knows his name better.

The lines below are by Yunus Emre. They beautifully illustrate the madness of divine love because they are uttered at its burning zenith.

I wander around in flames,

Love completely covered me with blood,

I am neither sane nor insane,

Come and see how love treats me.

I, sometimes, blow like the winds,

Sometimes, I, raise dust like the roads,

I sometimes flow like the floods,

Come and see how love treats me.

***

One should keep in mind that the stories in the Mathnawi are metaphorical expressions. Layla is both the symbol and the horizon of divine love.

If you want to see Layla, you should be a faithful lover. Otherwise, what you will see is but the form. For those who are not true lovers, Layla is just a form.

Rumi has explained this as follows:

The appearance of every blessing and burden varies among people; it is a Paradise for some and a Hellfire for others.

Whether it is a human being, animal, plant or an inanimate being, in every thing there is a food and a poison. But not every one can see.

The urn is there. It is visible. But the elixir is inside and only those who taste it know it.

The appearance of Yusuf was also like a cup. His father was getting pleasure as he was drinking from it. Yet his brothers were drinking poison from the same cup and it was increasing the measure of their anger and the scope of their grudge.

Zulaiha also drank yet a different kind of elixir from the cup that was Yusuf, and she became drunk with a mundane love.

The wine of love within the urn of form is from the Unseen world. The urn, however, is from this world. Although the jug is of creation, what is inside is hidden and is accessible only to those who deserve it.

***

When Allah took Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) as an intimate friend for Himself, the angels said:

– O Lord! How can Ibrahim (a.s) be your friend? He has an ego, material wealth and children. His heart is inclined towards these things…

Consequently, Ibrahim was put through arduous trials. When he was about to be thrown into the fire with a catapult, the angels became nervous. Some of them asked for permission from Allah to go to his assistance. After gaining His approval, when they approached him and asked whether he needed assistance, Ibrahim (a.s) replied:

– Do not enter between two friends!

Later, Archangel Jibril (a.s) came and remarked:

– Can I be of any assistance?

Ibrahim (a.s) responded:

– I have no need of you. He alone is enough for me. He is the best of caretakers.

Eventually Ibrahim (a.s) because of his complete reliance on his Creator, was saved by a direct order from Allah to the fire: “O fire! Be coolness and peace for Ibrahim” (Anbiya, 69). This is but one example of why Ibrahim (a.s) was also called Khalilullah or the intimate friend of Allah.

With this order, the place where Ibrahim (a.s) fell became as a rose-garden and a spring with sweet water began to flow.

Again, on another occasion, when Ibrahim (a.s), was taking his son Ismail (a.s) to sacrifice him, the angels became nervous and said to their Lord:

– A prophet is taking another prophet to sacrifice him.

Ismail (a.s) however, said to his father:

– Father! Do what Allah has ordered you to do. Allah willing, you will see that I will remain patient.

While they were swimming in an ocean of submission to the divine, the Archangel Jibril (a.s) intervened at the last moment and prevented the knife from cutting Ismail (a.s). He brought a sheep to take his place as a sacrifice.

In another trial, Allah granted Ibrahim (a.s) a huge flock of sheep. The Archangel Jibril (a.s) came to him and asked:

– Whose flock is this? Can you sell me one of them?

Ibrahim (a.s) answered:

– The flock belongs to my Lord. It has been given to me as a trust. If you mention His name, you can take one third of it; but if you mention His name three times, you can take all of it.

The Archangel Jibril (a.s) said:

– Glorified and beyond all shortcomings is our Lord, the Lord of all angels and of all souls.

Ibrahim (a.s) responded:

– Take the entire flock with you and go.

The Archangel Jibril (a.s) said in return:

– I am not a man; I am an angel. So I cannot take them.

Ibrahim (a.s) said:

– If you are an angel, I am the Khalil (i.e. the intimate friend of Allah) so I cannot take back what I have given for His sake.

Ibrahim (a.s) sold the entire flock and spent the earnings in the path of Allah as charity.

Ibrahim (a.s) was put through difficult trials in which he was tested with his life, his property, and his children. In each case, he maintained his loyalty and his submission to his Lord. Thus, he rose to the zenith of service to Allah. He abandoned form and climbed to the level of being Khalilullah, the intimate friend of Allah.

***

There was a huge fire in Baghdad and two sons of a scholar were caught in it. No one could do anything but cry. The great Sufi Nuri witnessed the event as he was passing by and entered the fire as if he was entering a rose-garden. He took the children out of the fire with the permission of Allah while bystanders were watching.

The father of the children was so happy that he put a bag of gold in front of the great Sufi Nuri. Upon seeing this, he became openly displeased and said:

– If I did what I did for money, I would never have been able to take your sons out of the fire.

Entering fire is only possible by becoming spiritually one with the consciousness of Ibrahim (a.s) and by choosing to emulate him. The reason why the fire did not burn Ibrahim (a.s) but was instead a blessing for him was because it was a gift to him out of his boundless love for Allah and out of his submission to his divine Creator.

Inspired by this gift given to the great Prophet Ibrahim (a.s)Junayd al-Baghdadi remarked: “If there had been a sea of fire between me and my Lord, because of my love and my longing for Him, I would have thrown myself into it in order to reach Him.”

At the same time, we must exercise great caution. Attempting to emulate Ibrahim (a.s)without an awareness of our spiritual station and our limits would be utter foolishness and cause great loss.

Rumi has explained this as follows: “In the path of Allah it is possible for you to enter fire. Yet before doing so you must search in your soul for the qualities of Ibrahim (a.s) and enter into union with them, for the fire does not recognize you but rather only recognizes the qualities of Ibrahim  (a.s) and frees them alone from being burned.”

***

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, says moreover:

The Qur’an contains the states and qualities of the prophets. If you read the Qur’an with concentration you may consider yourself spending time with the prophets. After reading the stories of the prophets, the cage of the body becomes small for the bird of the soul.

We freed ourselves from the cage of the body only through a way. There is no way to obtain freedom from that cage except through the path of Tawhid, or faith in the unity of Allah.

The purpose in transcending the form is illuminated by the hadith: “Die before you actually die.”

Those who practice this hadith and die before physical death gain a new life in the spring of ultimate reality and abandon their forms. They attain a new life in the truth of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). As it is stated in the Qur’an: “We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples” (Anbiya, 107).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the reason metaphysically for the creation of the world. We should aim to benefit from this manifestation of divine mercy as we struggle to efface ourselves in it.

For this reason, Imam Malik did not ride in Medina where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had walked barefoot. He did not even put on his shoes. When someone came to ask about a hadith, he used to make ablution (wudu), put on his turban, use nice perfumes, and sit on a high place. Only then would he answer the question about the hadith. By performing these acts, he spiritually prepared himself for the presence of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He also used to strictly follow all rules pertaining to good manners as he was narrating any hadith of the Prophet J

During Ottoman times, a caravan was sent yearly from Istanbul to Mecca and Medina with valuable gifts and money for the inhabitants of the holy lands and to provide for the needs of the Holy Sanctuaries. This caravan was called “Surre Alayi”. When it approached Medina, the Surre Alayi used to stop at the outskirts of the city in order to allow everyone to prepare spiritually before entering the city and to ask for permission from the Prophet (pbuh) for visitation. The caravan moved when a spiritual sign of acceptance had been received and only then would the people in the caravan perform their visits. When they returned home, they would carry with them the soil of Medina both as a blessing and for healing.

Similarly, when Ottoman generals assigned to protect Medina wanted to visit the Prophet (pbuh) they used to abandon their carts at a remote place so as to visit on foot with the best of manners.

When the Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz was in his deathbed, he was told that there was a petition from the residents of Medina. He requested his assistants:

– Help me stand up! I should listen to it while standing. I cannot listen to the letter of the neighbors of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) while lying down.

This historical event substantiates the love and respect the Ottoman Sultans had for the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and too for the city of Medina and its residents.

The mother of Sultan Abdul Majid, Bazm-i Alem Valide Sultan, sponsored the transportation by camel of sweet water from Damascus to Mecca and Medina to be freely distributed to pilgrims. This service that she performed to the pilgrims at the Haramayn or the two sacred mosques, was done with the hope of gaining spiritual blessing.

The poet Nabi went on hajj with the Ottoman public officials in 1678. Nabi became sleepless as the caravan approached Medina. One day he observed a general stretching his leg in the direction of Medina. The general was unaware of what he had done. The soul of the poet was wounded by this act and he was inspired to write his celebrated poem about the Prophet (pbuh). Poems about the Prophet in Ottoman literature constitute a special genre known as “na’t,” which is a continuation in the tradition of earlier Arabic poetry. As the caravan approached Medina at the time of the morning prayer, the poet Nabi heard his na’t being recited from the minarets of the Mosque of the Prophet (pbuh):

Refrain from neglecting the etiquette, for this is the town of the beloved of Allah;

It is forever in Allah’s gaze; it is the abode of the chosen and praised Prophet.

Only when you follow the best etiquette, O Nabi, enter this Holy Sanctuary;

Sublime creatures circle round it; it is a land prophets come to visit and kiss.

Hearing the recitation of his poem praising the Prophet (pbuh) which he had just privately composed, from the minarets of the Holy Mosque, Nabi rushed to the muadhdhin, the one who had performed the call to prayer, and asked:

– How did you learn this poem?

The muadhdhin replied:

– I saw the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in my dream. He told me about you and your poem and asked me to recite it from the minaret. He told me, “a poet called Nabi from my ummah will come.” I simply followed his order.

Nabi began to cry uncontrollably. While he was crying, he said the following:

– The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said I was from his ummah. The sun of the two worlds has accepted me as one of his followers.

***

There is a genre in Islamic poetry known as Mawlid, which consists of poetry pertaining to the birth and the life of the Prophet (pbuh). In a Mawlid composed by Suleyman Celebi we find the following:

Allah is the one who created Adam;

He ornamented the world with Adam.

This couplet stresses the relationship between the human being and the world and illuminates the purpose of creation. The same poet described the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as follows:

A light for which the sun is as a moth (night butterfly).”

It illustrates that the sun, which enlightens the entire world, was in love with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and revolving around him like a moth revolves around a light at night. This is an excellent example of how even inanimate forms have love for the Prophet(pbuh).

Believers with refined and pure souls have considered it as the greatest of blessings to pursue oneness with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In this spiritual process of self-sacrifice, they have striven to efface themselves in his light. Drawn by the spiritual pleasure of proximity to the Prophet (pbuh) their path has been likened to that of a moth revolving around a night light.

***

An example, which portrays a similar love for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) may be seen in a story about one of his uncles named Ja’far Tayyar.

Ja’far, may Allah be pleased with him, was among those who returned to Medina from Abyssinia after having immigrated there due to mounting pressures from Arab polytheists in Mecca on the early Muslim community. When they arrived in Medina, they learned that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had gone to Khaybar and instead of waiting for his return they decided to continue on their journey and join him there. When he saw Ja’far, the Prophet (pbuh) said to him:

– You resemble me so much physically and spiritually.

This praise made Ja’far excited. He entered a state of ecstasy. He began dancing like an innocent small child as if he had lost himself.

The Prophet (pbuh) stood up and said:

– Should I be happy for the arrival of Ja’far or for having conquered Khaybar?

In the battle of Mûta, as specified by the Prophet (pbuh) Ja’far was the second in command of the army after Zayd. When Zayd fell in battle as a martyr, Ja’far took the flag of the army in his hands. In the course of the struggle, he lost both hands to the strikes of swords that reached him. He then tried to hold the flag with his half-mutilated arms on his chest. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was observing this incident from Medina through the eye of his heart. He was in tears as he was describing to his companions what was happening on the battlefield. Finally, he told them that Ja’far had been martyred. He commented:

– Allah granted two wings to Ja’far in Paradise as reward for having sacrificed both of his arms in the path of Allah.

From then on, he greeted the young sons of Ja’far, while patting them on their heads, as “the sons of the one with two wings.”

Ja’far, may Allah be pleased with him, was drunk with the love of the Prophet (pbuh). He thus attained both the praise of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as well as great gifts from Allah in Paradise. He was successful in attaining advanced spiritual depth before reaching the rank of a martyr on the path which brought him the blessing of Allah.

***

One gains the feeling when reading the following lines by Rumi that he is describing the love of Ja’far, may Allah be pleased with him.

The eyes of the prophets and the saints are wide like seas. Because of this wide openness, this world and the world to come are to them as but a hair.

Even if thousands of skies were to enter their eyes, they would remain as but a fountain compared to the ocean.

The eye, after having entirely given up this world of the senses, sees the unseen world and in this success is blessed with divine emanations and favors.

If tears were to come from such eyes, the Archangel Jibril would try to catch a drop.

He would, with the permission of that kind prophet or saint, place that tear on his wing.

Sheikh Attar has also remarked in his book, Maqâlât-i Arwah, “One day Junayd Baghdadi, quddisa sirruh, witnessed angels descending from the heavens while trying to catch something on the earth. He asked them:

– What is it that you are trying to catch?

The angles replied:

– A friend of Allah has sighed here with sorrow and has cried. The drops of his tears have fallen on the ground and we are trying to gain a share of it so that we can also reap the blessing of Allah.”

During the battle of Tabuk, seven poor companions came to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and asked for riding animals so as to join the battle. When they learned that no camels remained to be given to them, they returned to their homes in tears. These tears were accepted and were rewarded by Allah, which is stated in the following verse of the Qur’an: “…when they came to thee (asking) that thou shouldst mount them, thou didst tell: I cannot find whereon to mount you. They turned back with eyes flowing with tears, for sorrow that they could not find the means to spend” (Tawba, 92).

After the arrival of this revelation, the great companions, Umar, Uthman and Abbas, may Allah be pleased with them all, donated to the poor companions camels and food and took them along on the journey.

Let us not forget that the tears of those companions, who in their love for the Prophet (pbuh) cried at the thought of being separated from him during his journey, were looked upon with great admiration by the angels who vied to gain a share of it. Imagine the scope of the loss represented by the opposite of this state of consciousness!

It has been revealed in a Qur’anic verse that the one who is deluded by this world is like the one who has been deceived by a mirage in the desert: “Know that the life of this world is only play, and idle talk, and pageantry, and boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children…” (Hadid 20).

A hadith also affirms the same meaning: “For those people devoted to the next world, this world is filled with condemnation. However, for those who are in love with this world, the next world is condemned.”

***

Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with her, asked for a servant from the Prophet (pbuh) and said:

– Hasan and Husayn are so vibrant and my body is so weak.

The Prophet (pbuh) said:

– Daughter! If you want, I can give you more than one servant but know with certainty that you cannot find comfort in both worlds. If you patiently endure the trial of this world, you will realize comfort in the next world.

According to another narration, Fatima came to the Prophet (pbuh) and showed him her wounded hands from making flour with a hand mill and from retrieving water from the well. She requested a helper. The Prophet (pbuh) answered:

– How can you make such a request while the people of Suffah are living in poverty and while the orphans of the martyrs of the battle of Badr still suffer in poverty?

Today, we must ask ourselves what is the scope of our understanding of brotherhood, sharing, self-sacrifice and charity while many of our brothers and sisters are subjected to the ravages of oppression, cold, hunger, thirst, and homelessness.

On how many days and with how many of the poor, have we shared a meal? How many of the ill, have we helped to cure? How many people’s problems have been solved with our help and support? How many misguided people have received guidance from us, because we opened our hearts to them and strove to assist them? Do we stop to ask why we are in this world? Do we ever stop to contemplate the mystery of our birth or the mystery of the adventure that will ensue subsequent to our death? How will our fate meet us? How many hours of the twenty-four we are given each day, do we spend in remembrance of the sacred? Are we engaged in soul searching or not?

O Lord! Confer on us a portion of your true love and raise us to be among those of your true servants whose hearts are full of your love. Bless us with a taste of mercy and charity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Amen!

[1].      Khaydar, which means lion or hero, is a nickname used for the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph Ali, may Allah be pleased with him. He was given this title for his heroic actions.

Osman Nuri Topbas from the book of  “Tears of the Heart”