In the name of Allah, who is merciful and compassionate.
All praise to God! Obey Him and you draw near Him. Thank Him and His bounty is yours. In each breath you take there are two blessings: The air that fills your lungs prolongs your life. Giving that air back to the world refreshes your soul. For each of these blessings, each time you receive it, you must thank Him.
But in whose words is there sufficient music,
in the work of whose hands sufficient grace,
to satisfy the terms of this sweet debt?
“O House of David, act and give thanks.”
But few among my creatures are thankful.1
Better to lie prostrate before God’s throne,
begging his forgiveness for our sins.
He bathes even the smallest speck of dust in His infinite mercy, invites the world to the feast that is His generosity, and so even those whose sins are great do not lose face before Him. Even if they deserve it, He does not let them starve.
Compassionate One, You hold heaven open,
nourishing the Christian and the Zoroastrian
despite the fact that they would see You fall.
What further proof do Your defenders need
that their portion will be even greater?
At His command, the morning breeze plays chamberlain to creation, covering the earth with the emerald carpet of spring. The clouds play wet-nurse, suckling His newly born daughters, seedlings nestled in the cradle of the soil. Trees draw the green robe of the new year across their breasts and each branch, a child sporting a new hat, wears a blossom to welcome the season of the roses. He takes the young grapes from the vine and makes their juices sweet, and it is His care that transforms the planted date-seed into the tree that towers over us.
Clouds and wind, moon and sun, all obey Him
for you. For you they work, crossing the sky,
coaxing from the land the food you harvest.
Justice demands that you obey Him as well.
Mohammad, the chosen one, prince of creation, most perfect of all that God has caused to exist; Mohammad, the merciful, whose life completes time in its turning2, blessing and peace be upon you:
Fearing your beauty, darkness fled before you,
prophet marked with the seal of God; kind,
majestic, generous, approachable;
intercessor whose word must be obeyed—
blessings be on you and your family.
Who would dare breech the wall our faith has built,
knowing we have you to give us strength?
Why should we fear the storm of any sea,
when the boat we sail has Noah for a pilot?
It is said that when a sinner stands repentant before the court of heaven, beseeching God with arms raised and hands outstretched, God chooses not to notice him. If the sinner increases his efforts, however, beating his breast and begging for mercy as the tears pour from his eyes, God turns to his angels, declaring, “To what other lord can he turn? His prayers have shamed Me. He is forgiven.”
Witness God’s benevolence and tact:
In judgment, He does not shame the sinner.
He takes the sinner’s shame upon Himself.
The akefan3, who fill their lives worshipping Him, confess their inadequacy, “Our prayers are only shadows of those your glory demands of us.”
Those who try to capture his splendor with words are themselves caught, entranced by his beauty, “We do not know you as you deserve to be known.”
And if someone asks me, what will I do
except despair? How give form to no-form?
The lovers lie mute, slain by the beloved,
silence the only shape their love can take.
A man of God immersed himself in meditation. When he emerged from the vision that was granted him, a smiling companion welcomed him back, “What beautiful gift have you brought us from the garden in which you were walking?”
The holy man replied, “I walked until I reached the rosebush, where I gathered up the skirts of my robe to hold the roses I wanted to present to my friends, but the scent of the petals so intoxicated me that I let everything fall from my hands.”
O morning bird, learn love from the moth,
which gives itself in silence to the fire.
Pretenders seek enlightenment in vain,
waiting to follow those who won’t return.
And You who transcend all we can imagine,
whose existence we can neither guess at
nor claim to know as fact, of whose glory
all the world’s words—spoken or written—fall
immeasurably short, the end is here,
and we stand as we did when it all began,
tongue-tied lovers, awe-struck at Your beauty.
From “The Manner of Kings”: Story 1
The condemned prisoner chose not to beg for mercy. Instead, in his native tongue, he called curse after curse down upon the head of the king, defiling the air around us with his words. As I stood there with nothing to do but listen, I remembered these lines:
A man confronting death who gives up hope
holds back nothing when he speaks. His tongue
grows long4, and in the fierceness of his despair,
like a cornered cat attacking a dog,
he throws himself on his enemy’s drawn sword.
When the king asked what the prisoner was saying, one of his viziers, a kind-hearted and merciful man, stepped forward. “My Lord, the prisoner has quoted from the Quran the verse that praises: ‘…those who suppress their anger and pardon their fellowmen; [for] God loves those who are upright and do good.’”5 The king was so moved by what he believed to be the prisoner’s piety that he stayed the execution on the spot.
A second vizier who was also standing with us, a bitter rival of the first, confronted his colleague, “The king looks to us for guidance. When he asks, men of our rank should speak nothing but the truth.” Then he turned to the king, “The prisoner insulted your majesty, cursing you with words not fit for royal ears.”
“I prefer the lie your colleague told to this truth that you would use to discredit him,” the king replied. “He was trying to make peace; peace is the farthest thing from your mind. Our sages have said it this way: ‘A lie that harmonizes dissonance is better than a truth that produces discord.’”
Pity that men whose words shape the shah’s actions
hobble their tongues with selfishness and greed.
Read the inscription in Feridun’s6 hall:
In the end, my brother, the world will not hold you.
Become, therefore, inseparable from God.
The trust you place in what you own betrays you.
Creation kills what it was made to love.
In the moments before your soul leaves you,
are you a king or a man condemned to die?