Is the Mathnawí only a mathnawi?
Many years ago, when I was a university student in my twenties, I went to a small village with my mother. We met with an old man who was one of the sons of my father’s uncle. My father had by this time already reunited with rahmat e Rahman. After exchanging pleasantries for a bit he asked me if I had heard of the tauba of Nasuh. When I told him I hadn’t heard of it, he began to explain. The story went like this:
Many years ago there was a man named Nasuh. His face was smooth and hairless like that of a woman and so he was able to hide his manhood and work in the women’s hamam as a tellak. Nasuh worked as a tellak in the hamam for many years without anyone realizing he was actually a man because of his effeminant features. He wore a burqa and a veil over his face but beneath it he was a young man full of lust and desire. As time went by, he began to feel ashamed and regretted what he’d been doing and so he begged for Allah’s forgiveness (tauba) many times, but could never keep his promise and continued working at the hamam. One day Nasuh went to see a wali and asked him to pray for him to find his way and to be a better person. So this saintly wali prayed for Allah to help him solve his problem.
One day the sultan’s daughter was at the hamam and as Nasuh was filling a bucket of water, she discovered she has lost a pearl from her earring and so all of the women began searching the hamam for her pearl. The entrance to the hamam was barred so all of the women’s belongings could be searched for the missing pearl. Still they couldn’t find the pearl and so they began searching the women starting from their mouths and checking everywhere that they could potentially hide it. One of the Sultan’s daughter’s aides called out for everyone, old and young to strip down like when they were born from their mothers. Nasuh’s face went pale and with his teeth chattering he backed away in terror, knowing the punishment for his actions was death. In his head, he begged and pleaded to Allah and said: “O Allah, I asked for your forgiveness many times and I couldn’t keep my promise. If you will save me from this shameful and terrible misfortune, I swear to you that I’ll never do this again. Tauba Nasuha! (Sincere repentance).”
As everyone else had now been searched they called over Nasuh and told him it was his turn. As they were just about to remove his burqa someone called out from across the room, “The pearl has been found!” And so Nasuh barely escaped what would have been the shameful end of his life. Everyone was happy that the pearl had been found but then they asked Nasuh to come and wash the Sultan’s daughter. Nasuh made up an excuse and left the hamam and vanished, never to break his promise again.
After I had listened to the story, I wondered to myself who Nasuh really was, where did he live, and which Sultan’s daughter it was, but unfortunately I came up with no answers. Then I remembered later that there is actually a phrase in one section of the Holy Qur’an “Tawbatan Na????an”. I asked one of my haf?z friends and found out which surah and ayat it was from. It was Surah At-Tahrim 66, 8 ayat.
Y? 'Ayyuh? Al-Ladh?na '?man? T?b? 'Ilaá All?hi Tawbatan Na????an `Asaá Rabbukum 'An Yukaffira `Ankum Sayyi'?tikum Wa Yudkhilakum Jann?tin Tajr? Min Ta?tih? Al-'Anh?ru Yawma L? Yukhz? All?hu An-Nab?ya Wa Al-Ladh?na '?man? Ma`ahu N?ruhum Yas`aá Bayna 'Ayd?him Wa Bi'aym?nihim Yaq?l?na Rabban? 'Atmim Lan? N?ran? Wa Aghfir Lan? 'Innaka `Alaá Kulli Shay'in Qad?run.
O you who believe! Repent to God with sincere repentance (read nas?han or nus?han), a truthful [repentance], so that one does not return to [committing] that sin again, nor have the desire to return to it. It may be that your Lord (‘as?: [an expression denoting] ‘a hope’ that will be realised) will absolve you of your misdeeds and admit you into gardens, orchards, underneath which rivers flow, on the day when God will not let down, by admitting into the Fire, the Prophet and those who believe with him. Their light will be running before them, in front of them, and, it will be, on their right. They will say (yaq?l?na: this denotes the beginning of a new [syntactically independent] sentence), ‘Our Lord! Perfect our light for us, towards Paradise — whereas the hypocrites, their light will be extinguished — and forgive us, Our Lord. Assuredly You have power over all things’.
I researched the tafsir (explanation) of this ayat-e-karima. The word nasuha refers to “pure” or “true”. “Tauba Nasuha” is the repentance that prevents the sinner from sinning further or it may mean the repentance that purifies the person from sins and so he does not repeat his sins anymore. A tauba which is a model for other people to ask for forgiveness is called Tauba Nasuha.
The famous companion of our Beloved Prophet, Sayyidna Muaz ibn Jabal, Radi-Allahu anhu, once asked the Prophet Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam about the meaning of “Tauba Nasuha” and he said: “ The believer in God is ashamed of his sins and pleads to God that he will not repeat the same just as the milk cannot be returned to the udder.”
The story above was not mentioned in any of the hadiths or tafsirs. None of them mention a tellak named Nasuh. So, I wondered where my aged uncle, who was the hodja of the village, heard the story from? The next day I went to him and asked him that very question, and he told me that he read it in a book but he couldn’t remember which book it was.
More than ten years passed by after this event and I had all but forgotten about the story. I had become interested in the Mathnawi and by chance as I was reading the fifth volume 2229th verse I came upon the story that my uncle had told me long ago. I had finally learned where the story had come from but sadly I couldn’t share this with my uncle as he had recently passed away.
Another interesting event is this: I had been compiling a collection of regional idioms and proverbs that I found interesting; many of which my deceased mother used to recite from time to time when she was alive. After my mother had passed away my older sister in particular, but also my aunts and some other relatives, also began taking notes of these local idioms that they heard and I used to ask them the meanings of them. Later I published them in a small book titled “The things I heard from my mother”. In that book there is an idiom that goes: “What is your name? Honey seller’s daughter? [here refers to a girl sweet like honey] If so, then you are more sweet and pure.”
I tried to explain the idiom in this way: The girl represents the thing that someone wants or desires a lot. “Honey-seller’s daughter” means she is sweeter, and thus better. We use this idiom in times when we face with a situation that then turns out to exceed what our expectations had been for it. This idiom is synonymous with the idiom: “A blind person asked for one eye. Allah gave him two eyes.”
I had been thinking that this was yet another random idiom, but then I also came upon it in the forth volume of the Mathnawi. The story in the Mathnawi goes like this: … As the dallála who said, “O son, I have found a very beautiful new bride (for you). (She is) exceedingly pretty, but there is just one thing, that the lady is a confectioner's daughter.” “(All the) better,” said he; “if it is indeed so, his daughter will be fatter and sweeter.” (Mathnawi IV, 630-634)
A random idiom that my mother had been telling me for years turned out to come from the Mathnawi, and the story that my uncle told me and couldn’t remember where it had come from also turns out to have been from the Mathnawi. Who knows how many other stories and phrases are also commonly recited but were also taken originally from the Mathnawi. I can’t say that I wasn’t surprised to find that this is where they came from, but I was happy to find out that this was the source. The issues dealt with in many of these classic works were thereby woven into the fabric of our culture.
A final word: The Mathnawi is a work that gets into the souls of and becomes a part of everyone in our culture from the uneducated to the scholars, from the villagers to city-folk, from the old to the young, and from women to men. To better understand our ancestors and speak the same language they do, we should read the Mathnawi and other important classic works.
Translated by Semazen.net