"Illusion" in Mathnawî

Ahmed Yüksel


* *


The "Illusion" According



Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî

The "Illusion" (Al

Wahm) is, within

its simplest definition, the faculty to imagine as existent what, in fact,

doesn't exist. Mawlânâ states in his Mathnawî that the "Illusion" constitutes a

very big obstacle for people of wayfaring (Al


(V/2649)1. It is such

a big obstacle that even a prophet like Abraham (Ibrâhim) unduly

declared for the star he observed in the sky: "This is my Lord (Al

Rabb)", because

the illusion and the imagination always veil the eyes and blind the perception

(V/2650); and that he also wanted to sacrifice his son because he deluded

himself believing in his dream as a veridical one, whereas his dream should have

been, in fact, adequately interpreted (Al


The Reason which is under the constant

watch of an ogre such as the "Illusion", may only grasp entities of this world

and forsee only up to the tomb (IV/3311). Reasons even as solid as mountains

often annihilate themselves in the oceans of Illusion and of Imagination without

leaving any trace (V/2654), because the "Illusion" is the disaster of the Reason

(III/1558). The one who made himself the slave of the Reason, may sometimes

discern what a big obstacle was that for him, and may perhaps finally perceive

also that he was continuously fluttering in an ocean of Illusion and of

Imagination because his vanity prevented him to pay attention to the teaching of

those who already attained God (


(IV/3353-3356). Wasn't it the Pharaoh who was quite rational and philosopher to

debate Moses (V/2660), but whose people excited his "Illusion" by proclaming him

as God (

Allâh) (III/1556)

and who also defended his cause like a dragon with insatiable voluptuousness

stimulated by his illusion to possess the Divine Lordship? (III/1557). What a

big lesson to be learned from this edifying


Voluptuousness is the opposite of Reason; and the origin of the voluptuous-ness

is not the Reason, but the "Illusion". The reason weaving and nourishing the

voluptuousness is not the Reason; it is just the "Illusion" which manifests

itself under the cover of the Reason. If the Reason is gold, the "Illusion" is

its counterfeit. The "Illusion" is in continuous war against the Reason; it

looks like the Reason, but it isn't like it at all! The relation of the

"Illusion" to the Reason is like that of the state of Pharaoh full of illusions

to the state of Moses, owner of the real Reason (or Al Aql al-Meâd as explained

inf.). The "Illusion belongs to

Pharaoh, the destroyer of worlds, whereas the Reason belongs to Moses, the

polisher of souls (IV/2301 and inf.)

The eye of the "Illusion" is

veiled; it doesn't discern and see the

Truth (



) (IV/3278).

It is therefore often impossible to discern the "Illusion" from the Reason. For

this reason, we must apply an infallible touchstone to both of them in order to

prove what a big counterfeit is the "Illusion". And here the touchstones are

Qur'ân and the traditions of prophets


Intelligent men lost their Reason under

the power of the "Illusion" and may simply become mad (III/1530). Any little

illusion may immediately induce doubt in hundred thousands of those who are


taqlîd (unconscious

imitation) and



deduction); because their unconscious imitations as well as their logical

deductions are based only on conjectures (I/2125-2126). But the conjectures

induce man to logical comparisons (



). The great

error of

Iblîs, which also

caused his fall, was his illusion to consider himself superior to

Âdam when he

declared it by the means of a






qiyâs performed

with the aim to determine the direction of the

qiblah in a cloudy

day or in the night is an adequate act. But when the Sun is shining in the sky

or when

Ka'bah is in front

of you, any

qiyâs, which may

very well direct you to an illusion, is futile. Would it be an adequate

behaviour to surrender to the illusion of considering the

qiyâs as the only

key of the truth and to discard the big

edifice in front of you? Of course, not!


What an edifying example is the case of

that man, who, having seen a hair hanging over his eyebrow, didn't discern it

exactly and surrendering himself to the "Illusion", beleived to be observing the

new crescent of Ramadan and went to caliph Omar to report his observation

(II/113-119). An another not less edifying example is the case of that stupid

man who believed that the bear rescued by him would forever be a devoted friend

full of comprehension, but who was killed asleep when the same bear wanted to

send away a disturbing fly off the face of

his saviour by a big stone (II/1932, 1970-1971,



of Illusion

Now, what is in reality this "Illusion"

which bewitched and dominated such quantities of intelligent men, engineers,

scientists, philosophers, sages and even prophets? Where does it originate from?

How and when does the domination of "Illusion" over the man come to an end? What

would be the qualities of the man freed from the


We already stated that the "Illusion"




) points out

to the faculty to imagine as existent what doesn't exist in fact. This faculty

has also the potential to be easily transformed into the illness of defending a

faith or an opinion developed in the "Imagination" with insistence and without

thinking about its adequacy..

In one of his edifying tales in

Mathnawî, Mawlânâ

relates how students excited the "Illusion" of their teacher and induced him to

believe that he really was ill, and how the teacher was so convinced about his

imaginary illness that even he repugnantly hated his wife who was telling him

according to her observation that he wasn't ill at all (III/1523 and inf.).

When Abraham decided that the star he

saw in the sky was indeed his Lord, his decision was only reflecting an

illusion. That was also his illusion which induced him to admit:

1) that the

apparent reality of each fact observed in dreams (

Al 'Alam al-Mithâl) has a

premonitory character, and

2) that it

corresponds without exception to a reality in the physical world


Al 'Alam


) we live in.

And that was this illusion which

oriented him to sacrifice his son to God. Or such a correspon-dence doesn't

exist in full extend and for each dream. Each dream should be adequately

interpreted by a wise man who really holds the very "Science of Interpretation

of Dreams". The fact that the Angel brought him a ram to sacrifice instead of

his son, was indeed the realization of the true meaning of his dream, which

could also be obtained by an adequate


In the same manner Pharaoh had the

illusion to have the Godhood. Another remarkable case of illusion is that of

personal secretary of the Holy Prophet for divine revelations, before Othman

assumed this charge. The heart of this secretary was so illuminated by the light

of the revelations that he sometimes read the revealed verses before Muhammad!

This extraordinary intuition led him unfortunately to the illusion that he also

was an authentic and independent recipient of the divine revelations like the

Holy Prophet. He said: "Verses are

revealed to me too", and consequently refused to be obedient to Muhammad

(I/3227 and inf.).

The situation of 'Âishah, the cherished wife of the Holy

Prophet, is also full of lessons. Her case makes evident in what extend the

tragical and ominous dimensions of an illusion may be. In fact, 'Âishah had the

illusion to have personally

de jure

responsability as well as the political power to punish the assasins of Othman

and to restore the moral order amongst the muslims. She unduly accused 'Alî, the

forth caliph, cousin and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet, for the murder of Othman the third caliph and declared war on

'Alî, and doing so she has been the cause of much more dissensions as well as

the cause of the death of many of the believers.

The same situation is true for the case

of Mu'âwiyah, the governor of Damas-cus, whose voluptuousness for the political

power induced him to nourish the illusion that he had the right to rebel against

the caliph 'Alî, without taking into consideration not only the tragical

dissensions his act would induce in Islam but also the verse of the Qur'ân which

states: "O ye who believe! Obey Allah,

and obey the Prophet and those charged with authority (ûlî al-amr) among

you'" (




The Origin of the


For the true

knowers (



) the

"Illusion" is a ruse belonging to the soul (



), hindering

the man to reach the truth (



). The origin

of the illusion is therefore the soul itself. For this reason, the soul is the

mother of all the idols. But the soul itself is another idol. Any idol is like a

snake, but that of the soul is like a gigantic dragon


The soul has seven different faces:


Al Nafs


(the soul

sugges-ting and commanding evil acts),

2) Al Nafs al-Lawwamah

(the soul

criticizing and condemning itself),

3) Al Nafs


(the soul

subjected to all kind of inspiration)3


4) Al Nafs


(the soul

who realized the state of trust),

5) Al Nafs


(the soul

who is satisfied with God),

6) Al Nafs


(the soul

with whom God is satisfied),

7) Al Nafs al-Kâmilah


Sâfiyyah (the soul

who reached the perfection or the purity). In each of these steps the "Illusion"

has many extremely specific ruses. The seven faces of the soul is called

Al Atwâr


or "The

Seven Attitudes (of the Soul)".

The "Illusion which appears in the step

of "Al Nafs al-Ammârah" is extrovert; and it manifests itself by means of

"suspicions" about others, whereas that which appears in the step of "Al Nafs

al-Lawwâmah" is introvert. It manifests itself by attributing to the soul

qualities or defects which are in fact non-existent. The majority of tales in

Mathnawî are edifying examples dealing with the activity of the "Illusion" in

both of these steps of the soul and narrated in the framework of quite shocking


The necessity to preserve oneself from

the "Illusion" is stated in

Qur'ân as in the

following verse:

"And don't

pursue that of which thou hast no knowledge! In fact, all the acts of hearing

and of seeing as well as the heart are toghether responsible for that"




By the way, Qur'ân exhorts the

believers as follows:

"... This

seemed pleasant in your hearts and ye conceived a sinful conjecture. So ye are a

people who deserves to perish"




"O ye who

believe! Avoid cojecture as much (as possible). Conjecture, in some cases, is in

fact a sin. And don't spy on each other nor speak ill behind their backs"




"But most of

them follow nothing but conjecture. Truly, conjecture avails nothing against the






Al Najm/28).

We must sincerely confess that these

exhortations are unfortunately not strict-ly followed in the Islamic World, so

quantities of bad innovations, superstitions, myths and unrealistic questions,

all foreign to the faith, invaded religious applica-tions and behaviours. It is

not of rarity to meet persons who endeavour to give and to diffuse, in the name

of God or at least in the name of His Holy Prophet, conjectural opinions on

religious questions without refering neither to

Qur'ân nor to


In today's world where the mass media

is dominant, we are witnessing the birth of a kind of

Industry of Illusion


with a

definite task to enhance the "Illusion" in the people, to hinder the people to

have healthy thought, to engender suspicions against certain persons and

institutions and to be a powerful obstacle for the people to reach the truths.

This industry with its bosses, its big financial resour-ces, its networks of

telecommunication all around the World, its strategists, its planning experts,

its social engineers, its teams of applications, its representatives and its all

kind of agents is a damned diabolic instrument to enhance the "Illusion" and to

give rise to utopia, to conjectures, to suspicions and to collective paranoia in

the people.

In the "Holy

War" (



), the

believers ought to declare against the ignorance, the blamable acts and the

"Illusion", their only refuge is



Sunnah. In fact,

Qur'ân states as a good news that believers having fear of God will be bestowed


Furqân which is the

holy power of discernment [of the good from the evil, of the favorable




) from the

fatal (



), of the

clean from the filthy, of the meritorious act from the sin, of the right way

from the aberration, of the Islam from the "attribution of partners to God"




), of the

well founded science (



) from the

"Illusion" (



), and of the

Truth (



) from the

imagination or lie] (




God promises

to facilitate the difficulties to whom who gives alms, who fears God and who

attest the best (




Therefore, it is futile to be hopeless because God confirms the Truth by his own

words in spite of guilty sinner who hate It (



/82); at the

end, the lie is bound to perish (






/18). The

believer knows that the Truth is from the Lord; and for this reason, he is never

in doubt (






/60). For,

outside of the Truth there is only error (



/32). Verily,

those who know aren't at all like those who don't know (



/9). God will

give a great reward to those who are "provided with a deep special knowledge"









And the Holy

Prophet says in his


(Suyûtî: Jâmi' al-


  • The Truth may

    be known only by the veridical ones.

  • To be

    submitted to the Truth is better and much more honourable than to impose oneself

    by the means of lie (



    ). Whoever

    will impose oneself with lie, God will punish him by forced


  • To search for

    the Truth entails "to be in a foreign land" (




  • Be veridical

    one! For, veracity is one of the doors of the Paradise. Abstain from lying! For,

    lying is one of the doors of the Hell.

  • The men are

    divided into two categories: the knowers and those who accumulate knowledge. Any

    third category is futile.

  • Woe is the

    knower on account of the ignorant! Woe is the ignorant on account of the


  • Woe is he who

    doesn't know! Woe is he who couldn't protect what he


  • Up to the end

    of the world, a bunch from my community will con-tinuously be in Holy War to

    defend the Truth and will be victo-rious.

These hadîths

clearly discern the differences between those who defend the Truth without

taking into consideration neither illusion nor suspicion, and those who esteem

to obtain advantages by lying.

Holy War Against The Soul



Annihilation of The




Knowledge which is

absolutely free from any kind of conjecture, suspicion, hesitation, imagination

and illusion

". The last

verse of the Sûrah



states: "Be obedient to your Lord until the

Yaqîn will be

given to you!

". As the

origine of the "Illusion" is but the soul, so it becomes clear that, in order to

reach the certitude (



) in the

aforementioned meaning, the bad acts of the soul must be, in any way,

annihilated. Therefore a Holy War (



) against the

soul becomes necessary.

jihâd is the Holy

War for God, i.e. fighting enemies in order to make the decrees of God dominant.

It is related that the Holy Prophet, coming back from a military engagement,

said: "You came back from the littlest

jihâd (

Al Jihâd


) to the greatest jihâd


Al Jihâd


); this greatest jihâd is that one the

believer declares against his soul" (Abdurraûf al-Munâwî: Kunûz al-haqâiq fî hadîthi hayr

al-halâyiq). This hadith which is in concordance with the following ones, is

concieved by the "people of wayfaring" (



, i.e. by

those who are engaged in the way conducting to God) as a guide pointing out not

only to the importance of the Holy War against the soul, but also to its


    • The holy

      warrior (



      ) is the one

      who is in holy war against his or her soul (Tirmidhî: Fedâ'i


    • The holy

      warrior is the one who is, in holy war, against his or her soul for the purpose

      to let it be obedient to God (Ahmad bin Hanbal: Musnad).

    • Your

      strongest enemy is your soul which dwells in you (Abdur-raûf al-Munâwî: op.cit.).

    • The greatest

      holy war is against the soul, against the earthly vain desires and passions

      (Suyûtî: op.cit.).

    • The most

      virtuous holy war is (to have courage) to express, in the presence of a cruel

      ruler, only words in keeping with justice (Ebû Dâvûd: Melâhim, Ibn Mâjah: Sunan, Tirmidhî: Fitan, Ahmad bin Hanbal: Musnad).

And Qur'ân

points out to the reality of the soul as follows:

    • "Nor do I

      abstain my soul (of all kind of blamable acts); the soul is certainly commanding

      the evil, unless my Lord does bestow His Mercy. Verily, my Lord is The Forgiver

      and The Merciful"





    • "And it was

      We Who created man, and We know what dark sug-gestions his soul makes to




    • "Then seest

      thou such a one who takes as his god (idol) his own vain desire? And God


      Allâh) induced him

      to error about science, and sealed his hearing and his heart and put a cover on

      his sight. Who will now guide him after God? Will ye not then receive





Except for

that one whom God does bestow His Mercy, we can deduce from these verses that

the soul, in general:


does command

the evil,



dark suggestions and illusions,



degenerate man by inducing him to assume his or her earthly and vain desires and

passions as his or her god (or idol), and by recognizing no commander greater

than his or her own soul. Such a

shirk (i.e.

attribution to God any partner similar to Him at least from the point of view of

power) is due to the fact that man is led to error about the "Knowledge"

concerning his or her soul: because he or she is ignorant of the ultimate

reality of the soul.

In the ways

conducting to Allâh called

Al Turûq



Ways" or "Ways Attibuted to Alî4

"), the Holy

War against the soul is conducted according to the method of

Al Atwâr


. This method

aims the purification of the soul in each of its seven faces by

zikr (i.e.

remembrance of Allâh by continuous mention of Its Holy Names or

Al Asmâ'


), colloquial

teaching (



), effective

and transforming glance (



), meditation




), deep

concentration (



) and

mortification (



). The

application of all these methodical steps gradually transforms the material

density (



) of the

soul into a spiritual substance




) and weakens

the admonition of the "Illu-sion" on the soul.

But, even

those who reached the top of the evolution of the soul in this pro-cess where

the soul got an ethereal quiddity and where it became really "muslim", the

"Illusion" is still existent. In order to attain a state free of "Illusion" or

in other words to reach to the

Yaqîn , it is

necessary to desicate the source of the "Illusion", i.e. the soul must taste the

death. The hadîth: "Die before

death!" points out to this necessity. On the other side, the verse: "Every soul shall have a taste of death; in the end, to Us shall ye be brought

back" (



/57) states

that the natural result of tasting the death is the turning back to the presence

of God. Therefore, it becomes evident that the turning back to the presence of

God by tasting the death is also equivalent to reach to the state of knowledge




we understand that there are two kinds of death: the first one is the death as

pointed out by the hadîth of the Holy Prophet and which is a death before having

been dead, i.e. the (temporary) death of the soul; and the other one is the

death of the body.

is the

ascension of the Spirit (



) and its

reception to the presence of God. It is the end of all the illusions,

suspicions, conjectures as well as unrealistic and unadequate imaginations. It

is the bestowal of the

Yaqîn as well as

Al Aql al-Meâd

and the Walâyah. In the man,

it marks the annihilation of the domination of the soul and the forever

establishment of the sovereignty of the Spirit. So, the man becomes "Perfect

Man" (

Al Insân


) who is the

living mirror of God, the place of theophany for His Holy Names as well as



(His Deputy)

on the Earth.

Al Aql al-Meâd is the faculty to grasp

immediately the true reality beyond the manifested. And Walâyah means The Friendship of


For the realization of the


it is necessary for the soul to taste the death of the soul before the death of

the body.

In this context, Mawlânâ says in


O you who are looking for

mysteries! (V/742). If you desire to be a living dead who moved from this world

before the death, and whose state may not be grasped by the means of reason but

only if you are dead too; whose soul isn't moved (suddenly) as that of the

ordinary people, but following a sequence of stations till to the last one...

(V/745-746), who is walking as a dead on this earth as all really living do so

whereas he is in the skies, and if you want to see the beloved directly without

any curtain, opt for the death and tear this curtain.

But choose not the death which

conducts you to the tomb, but that which transforms you and conducts you to the

Light (Al Nûr)! (VI/738-739). How

happy is that one who is liberated from his or her soul and reunited with "Who

Is Living" (Al Hayy) (I/1535). The

spirits liberated from the prison of the soul are but deserving of God and "His

Guiding Ambassadors" to the people (I/1542). For such a man, there is a special

Mi'râj at each breath (I/1580). The

body of such a man is on the earth whereas his spirit (Al Rûh) is in the "World of Unspace"

(Lâ Mekân). This world is such that

it can't, in any way, fit into "Illusion" of the "people of wayfaring"; and it

can't even be born in imagination! (I/1580-1581).

The Biggest


According to the people of "True

Knowers" (Al Ahl al-Hikmah) the man is in

sleep in this material world. What he lives is but a dream. He is not aware of

this fact and has the illusion that this dream is the ultimate reality. As

another illusion, he is also attributing in this dream an existence to himself.

What is keeping him remote from his Lord is, indeed, this illusion which is

called "The Biggest Illusion". This illusion, like the others, is generated in

the very soul of the man.

If the man becomes sâlik under the guidance of a

Perfect Man, "... he will be purified

from all desires and passions, and his heart will become aquainted with the

mystery of The Merciful (Al Rahmân)

established Himself on the Divine Throne (Al 'Arsh) (

Hâ/5)" (I/3665); and he begins to perceive that all the apparent things

as well as his soul are rather illusions and outcomes of the imagination. In

fact, accor-ding to His Unfathomable Wisdom, God manifests to us what is indeed

non-existent as if it was majestically and magnificiently existent, and what is

really existent as if it was non existent (V/1026). At the end of the way

conducting him to God, the man becomes totally free of the "Illusion",

independent and blessed, mirror and Walî (Friend) of God and, by these

qualities, His Deputy (Al Halîfah) in this World of



Mawlânâ Jalâl al-Dîn states in his

Mathnawî that the "Illusion" is a big obs-tacle for those who engaged themself

in the way conducting to God. He enhances this fact by examples presented under

the form of edifying tales. The origin of the "Illusion" is the soul,

because the "Illusion" is a

characteristic ruse of the soul. The Holy War against the soul is, according to

the Holy Prophet, the Greatest Holy War. To whom who will be victorious in this

war, the way of Yaqîn, i.e. the way of the Knowledge

free of any kind of illusion, suspicion, conjecture and imagination is open. But

the man can only reach the Yaqîn when the truth of the hadîth:

"Die before death!" is manifested to

him, i.e. when his soul is dead and consequently when he is given the

opportunity to be in the presence of God and to receive Walâyah. And it is only then that he

became awakened from this earthly transitory life to the eternal real and divine


* *


[1]The numbers in parenthesis successively point to the volume and to the distich in Mesnevî

trans-lated in Turkish by

Çelebî Veled Izbudak and published by the Ministry of National Education of


[2](Name of the Sûrah/Number of the

corresponding verses)

[3]As well as satanic as divine inspirations.

[4]Forth caliph, cousin and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet.

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