Sharing the tale of “The Merchant and the Christian Dervish” serves a number of happy intentions for me.
Whether a ruby or a pebble
I wish to share something of the life of Jalaludin Rumi. I have shared a number of his poems so far. I will most likely share more in the future. But Rumi insisted that he was more than a poet. He told his audiences that like a good host, he gave them poetry because they demanded it, providing what was asked for. But he declared poetry to be tripe compared with a certain high development of the individual. I would like to take this idea a step further, claim that Rumi is one of those rare individuals who attained to Knowledge, and demonstrated its outward manifestations.
To me, this story offers certain hints and clues as to the secret aqueduct by which the influence of Rumi came to the West.
A rich merchant of Tabriz came to Konia, looking for the wisest man there, for he was in trouble. After trying to get advice from the religious leaders, the lawyers, and others, he heard of Rumi, to whom he was taken.
[The Arabic word “maula” has multiple connotations, including master, lord, protector, patron, client, charge, friend, companion, and associate. Adding “na” at the end of a noun signifies first person plural possessive. The title “Maulana” is used as an honorific.]
Jalaludin said to him “Your fifty coins are accepted. But you have lost two hundred, which is why you are here. God has punished you and is showing you something. Now all will be well with you.”
The merchant was amazed at what the Maulana knew. Rumi continued: “You have had many troubles because one day in the far west of Christendom you saw a Christian dervish lying in the street. You spat at him. Go to him and ask forgiveness, and give him our salutations.”
[I consider the phrase “Christian dervish” to signify a mendicant friar, a member of a religious order which by vow of poverty renounces all proprietorship both individually and in common. Mendicant friars rely for support on their own work and the charity of the faithful. The Friars Minor, founded by St. Francis of Assisi, pictured above, is an instance of a mendicant order.]
As the merchant stood terrified at the reading of his mind, Jalaludin said “Shall we show him to you now?” He touched the wall of the room, and the merchant saw the scene of the saint in the marketplace in Europe. He reeled away from the Master’s presence, completely nonplussed.
Traveling as fast as he could to the Christian sage, he found him lying prostrate on the ground. As he approached him, the Frankish dervish said “Our master Jalal has communicated with me.”
[Franks ruled a great deal of western Europe at the time of this story. The Merovingian and Carolingian empires of Europe were Frankish empires.]
The merchant looked in the direction in which the dervish was pointing, and saw, as in a picture, Jalaludin chanting such words as these: “Whether a ruby or a pebble, there is a place on His hill, there is a place for all…”
The merchant carried back the greeting of the Frankish saint to Jalal, and settled down in the community of dervishes at Konia.
Idries Shah writes “In the East there is considerable traditional insistence upon his [Rumi’s] close connection with western mystics and thinkers. This version of ‘The Merchant and the Christian Dervish’ is translated from Aflaki’s Munaqib el-Arifin, the lives of early Mevlevi dervishes, completed in 1353.” Rumi’s disciples founded the Mevlevi order of dervishes, and it exists to this day.
In the greater scheme of things, I consider myself but a pebble contemplating the great mountain, I take great comfort in Rumi’s words, that whether a ruby or a pebble, there is a place on His hill, there is a place for all.
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