Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beyond Forgiveness

It's a pleasant surprise in middle age when you run across something you have never heard before, something that stops you dead in your tracks to make you ponder. This happened to me with this ethical counsel:
Be like night when covering the faults of others.
We are asked not merely to forgive, but essentially to forget. When we see or suffer someone else's wrongdoing, not only must we avoid calling attention to the wrongdoer, or seeking revenge or justice for the wrong. This encomium advises us to conceal the wrong and spare the other person embarrassment or penalty.

This is obviously way beyond Christian forbearance. Way beyond our Western sense of tit for tat, dressed up in fancy legal codes.

The source is one of seven counsels attributed to a famous Muslim poet and mystic Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273), known to most of us in the West simply as Rumi, a saintly jurist and theologian who wrote in Persian and lived in what today are Afghanistan and Turkey.

Everybody claims Rumi as his own; and, yes, possibly Virginia Woolf, too.

The Sufis and the Shia and Sunni Muslims have regarded him as their own. Because he wrote in Persian, a variety of nations today claim him as theirs, as does Turkey. Even many Americans -- except me, of course -- have long regarded him as a favorite poet.

Yet, of course, although his poetry and sayings are quite ecumenical, he made plain that he believed in Islam. Indeed, this teaching goes back to a hadith* (verse) in the Quran that goes something like this:
Allah will cover up on the Day of Resurrection the faults of the one who covers up the faults of the others in this world.
This comes reasonably close to the reciprocity asserted in the Christian Lord's Prayer: forgive us our sins as we forgive others. Yet again, there seems to be a crucial difference between the Islamic idea and the Christian.

In Islam, it seems to me, an admitted non-Muslim ignoramus, the deity isn't even seeing the faults. There's some sense in which the moral defects of a person are treated almost as if they were private parts, to be covered by a robe of sorts.

Don't let other people's moral warts show and no one will look at yours. This is not merely the Christian "do not judge lest ye be judged." The whole idea of judgment is skipped over and replaced with a moral imperative to allow everyone to save face ethically.

Note also the quiet ease in which Rumi puts us while thrusting upon us a moral norm that is momentous and, insofar as I can see, runs against the grain of our Western common sense, at least. "Be like night ..." Make sure no one knows that there ever was anything deserving forgiveness!

So, now, for your enjoyment, the Seven Counsels* of Rumi:
Be like a river in generosity and giving help
Be like a sun in tenderness and pity
Be like night when covering others' faults
Be like a dead when furious and angry
Be like earth in modesty and humbleness
Be like a sea in tolerance
Be as you are or as you look like
And relax. I haven't converted to Islam.


* I do not claim to have translated these. I cannot seem to find the exact bibliographical information to identify the Quranic verse or the precise source of the "seven advices" [sic] widely attributed to Rumi. I will properly source them if someone has such information.
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