Friday, September 17, 2010

Faith and Envy

This is the second of the longer stories from the Masnavi of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi. The account is obviously fictitious, since it is meant to be a parable and not history, but Rumi might be sharing some insights about civilizations here.
“We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” (Quran, Chapter 2, Verse 285)
Soon after Jesus Christ there came a king who claimed to be a follower of Moses but an enemy of Jesus, and persecuted Christians in the hope of putting an end to the new faith.

Envy was the minister of this king. Persecution failed to eliminate Christianity because many Christians concealed their faith. Then Envy said to the king, “Cut off my nose and ears, and declare that I am a Christian who concealed his faith but now you have found out. Send me to the gallows and then get me rescued just in time.”

This was done. Thus Envy gained the confidence of Christians who appreciated the sacrifices it had offered, as they thought, for the sake of Jesus. It started delivering sermons that were full of esoteric wisdom but at the same time left a feeling of discomfort somewhere in the hearts of the listeners.

Six years passed by. The king became impatient and secretly asked Envy to hurry up. It obeyed, and wrote twelve edicts, each containing a doctrine contradictory to the other. Then it went into seclusion for forty or fifty days. Its followers became impatient and implored upon it to return but it called from within, “Jesus has asked me to leave everyone and I shall not speak a word after this.”

Then it called each of the twelve leaders of Christians separately, telling each one that he had been appointed its successor and all others should obey him. Each was given a doctrine but was told to keep it a secret until the death of Envy. After this, Envy closed its door again and killed itself after forty days.

Its followers became devastated and mourned it for a month. Then they gathered to nominate its successor. One of the leaders stepped forward, claimed to have been nominated the successor by the deceased and showed the edict. He was contradicted by another who was in turn contradicted by someone else, and so on. Soon they were fighting among themselves and Christian blood was shed by Christian swords.

In the Bible there was mention of the last Prophet. There was one group among Christians who respected his name and revered it. Members of this group remained free from discord and fear, and their descendants increased. Another group, which showed disrespect to the last Prophet upon reading his name in the Bible, became disgraced. Its members became unaware of themselves and of their faith.