Rumi's Mathnawi (selections)

Week 6: Middle East - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The Dervish Who Broke His Vow

Reading time: 2 minutes. Word count: 400 words.

The next story is about the will of God, and its inevitable manifestation in the human world. In Arabic, the phrase "in-sha-allah" (if-wills-God) is used very often. In fact, in my Arabic class we were really struck by the fact that before the lunch break our teacher would say, "I'll see you after lunch, God willing, inshallah." It is an everyday phrase, kept in ind at all times. The following story is about the adventures of a dervish and the omnipresent will of God.

There was once a Dervish who took up his abode in the mountains, in order to enjoy perfect solitude. In that place were many fruit trees, and the Dervish made a vow that he would never pluck any of the fruit, but eat only what was shaken down by the wind.

For a long time he kept his vow; but a time came when there was no wind, and consequently no fruit was shaken down. The Dervish was true to his vow for five days, but he could then endure the pangs of hunger no longer, and he stretched out his hand and plucked some of the fruit from the branches. The reason of this lapse on his part was that he had omitted to say "If God will" when making his vow; and as nothing can be accomplished without God's aid, he could not possibly keep his vow.

Shortly afterwards the chief of the police visited the mountains in pursuit of a band of robbers, and arrested the Dervish along with them, and cut off his hand. When he discovered his mistake he apologised very earnestly; but the Dervish reassured him, saying that men were not to blame, as God had evidently designed to punish him for breaking his vow by depriving him of the hand which had sinned in plucking the fruit.


There is a tradition, "The heart is like a feather
In the desert, which is borne captive by the winds;
The wind drives it everywhere at random,
Now to right and now to left in opposite directions."
According to another tradition, know the heart is like
To water in a kettle boiling on the fire.
So every moment a fresh purpose occurs to the heart,
Not proceeding from itself, but from its situation.
Why, then are you confident about the heart's purposes?
Why make you vows only to be covered with shame?
All these changes proceed from the effect of God's will;
Although you see the pit, you cannot avoid it.
The strange thing is, not that winged fowl
Fall into the deadly snare without seeing it,
But that they see the snare and the limed twig,
And yet fall into it, whether they will or no;
Their eyes and ears are open and the snare is in front,
Yet they fly into the snare with their own wings."

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what vow did the dervish make? why did he break the vow?
  • why did the chief of police cut off the dervish's hand?
  • why does the dervish forgive the chief of police?

Source: E. H. Whinfield, The Masnavi (1898). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM