Category Archives: Art of Syria

The Art of The Arabic Lute










The Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq





The Ney Of Syria


The Reception of the Venetian Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511

In the Modes of



The Ney (flute) that is mentioned in Rumi’s stories in fact represents the perfect human. The stages a reed goes through from the reed bed to becoming a ney portrays the maturation of a human being, a representation of the steps of purifying the nafs (lower self) and refining the heart.

In the same way that the ney is severed from the reed bed and this separation causes it to lament in pain, the perfect human, who has come from the realm of souls and enters a body made out of clay, known as the cage made of flesh, yearns for the original realm. Through this yearning a human being goes through ascetic discipline (riyadaat), meditation (murakaba), reflection (tafakkur), divine love and tribulations until they reach maturity and find the level of perfection.

The ney that is removed from the reed bed is carefully cut by the craftsman. Then the inside is removed and the reed is left to dry. Later, holes are burnt through and rings are placed at the top and bottom. After being left in this state for some time, when the neyzen breathes into it, the ney starts to send out beautiful tunes, as well as wonder and wisdom, in accordance with the listener’s spiritual level.

A human being goes through similar stages on the path to perfection. Perfect humans are chosen from among other humans according to certain criteria. One of the most important attributes of a prophet is that they are “chosen”. They are cleansed of mortal bonds and preoccupations through various methods of nurturing. On the path of special religious training they face hardship, misfortune and trials, which are necessary to gain patience, and they mature by following the path of “revelation”. Finally, they become instruments in which Allah’s art, wisdom and might are manifested. People yield to the spiritual wisdom that emanates from them and they start to proceed in the direction of unity with the beloved.

A figurative story is narrated in the Mawlawi sources, about the first appearance of the ney, this instrument that shares the same fate as humans, and its use:

The Prophet entrusted a drop of the ocean of secrets and wisdom that had been bestowed upon him by Allah Almighty to Ali, who is known as the Gate of Knowledge, strictly warning him not to reveal these secrets.

Ali could not bear what had been entrusted to him and was crushed by its great weight. He took to the desert. He revealed what he had kept inside him down a black well. In time, the well flowed with water. Reeds started to grow in the water that overflowed from the well. A shepherd, realizing that these reeds made beautiful sounds when the wind blew through them, cut one and made a ney. The sound coming from this ney is so heartfelt and emotional that everyone fell in love with the deep, poignant and soulful tunes. They started laughing and crying at the sound. Soon this shepherd’s reputation spread and the Arab tribes started to gather around to listen to him. (Ahmed Eflâkî, Âriflerin Menkıbeleri, II, 440)

Hence, Mawlana’s Mathnawi is the written form of these pleasant tunes and the mystery they carry within them. For this reason, those who read the Mathnawi find themselves forced to admit that as the meanings deepen, they carry multifold mysteries and wisdom. Mevlana, who observed the profound ocean contained in a small drop, exhibits this to us in accordance with our capacity, and there are great seas and even oceans in these verses, each of which is considered to be a small drop. Although the Mathnawi carries deep meanings and wisdom, Mawlana is lamenting the fact that he cannot explain his secrets as he wishes. In this direction, contemplating the first recipient of Mathnawi, he says:  “I wrote this Mesnevi for Husameddin!”

Another time, pointing out the infinity of Allah’s knowledge and wisdom, he says: “I had the Mathnawi written down as an abstract. If I were to further interpret the mysteries and the wisdom, forty donkeys would have difficulty carrying them.”

To explain the inability of most humans to grasp the spiritual meanings in this work, a sage who dearly loved Mevlana said:

“We listened to the cries of Rumi’s ecstasy. It is impossible to see the depths of the sea of passion that he dove into. We only see what has come to the surface from the depths. We only acquire the cries of love that he has uttered, but not his love. It is this alone that we are trying to explain while we lisp. Only Rumi has been able to dive into the sea of peace. We are left with the sounds that come through the storm of his ecstasy. Alas! We think he is Mevlana!”
According to MathnawiThe spiritual echo (sada) of the perfect human. The crying of the ney

“If you were to pour the sea of sustenance into a pitcher, how much would it hold? Only as much as it is capable of… that is, the portion of every creature that has been preordained for them alone…. ” (v.1, 20)Mathnawi:

It is Allah Almighty Who preordains a sufficient sustenance for all creatures. It is absurd to be ambitious in securing this sustenance. In a hadith it is said: “Like death, sustenance will find the person.” (Ibn Hibbân, Sahih, VIII, 31).

This means no creature’s life will come to an end before it uses up the sustenance that has been preordained for it. Like other things that are predestined by Allah Almighty, sustenance is connected to means; effort and action are a necessity, a responsibility and are mandatory in reaching these means. But to think that the result, which is the sustenance, is from oneself is great heedlessness. Means produce results according to their relevance. Therefore, the wise human being knows that sustenance comes from Allah Almighty Who has created the means; it comes through His predestination, not through the means that one is pursuing.

He is the One who sends sustenance. We should seek the Razzak who send us this sustenance. In the Qur’an it is said: “…We ask not of thee a provision: We provide for thee…” (Tâhâ, 20/132)

“The pitchers of the eyes of the covetous will never be replete. And if the mother of pearl is not content it will never be impregnated with pearls.” (v1, 21) Mathnawi.

There is ambition in each and every creature, to varying degrees, but it is certainly there. If you give the same toy to two children, one will envy what the other has only to the degree of their innate inclination to envy. It is only possible to minimize this inclination through training the nafs. For this reason in the Qur’an it is said:  “But those will prosper who purify themselves (purifying from foul inclinations)” (A’lâ, 87/14).

The first condition of peace and felicity in society is to adhere to what Allah has preordained for us. This preordination is a requirement of the destiny that is absolute and unconditional (Qadar-i Mutlak). Destiny is an ocean of secrets. It is not possible to be aware of all the wisdom that is hidden within. So it is a necessity to submit to Allah’s will and to have faith in the wisdom of this will. Those who cannot obtain this state will be ruined in the whirls of the pit of hell, where all sorts of desires overflow.

“The person who is relieved from the sensuality and selfishness of his nafs and is freed from the shroud of the ego through divine love is entirely cleansed from covetousness, from all kinds of disgrace and ugliness.” (v.1, 22) Mathnawi

Those who nurture their soul and reach the pleasure of Iman are free from the worries of life and fortune. They become instruments and opportunities by which the Lord Almighty’s love can be reached. But this is not a maturity that can be easily reached. Through patience, determination, worship, prayer and the struggle against the nafs, one needs to show constant perseverance. Even the earth is beautified with the blessings of spring because it bears the difficulties of winter. The mother of pearl is blessed with the happiness of the presence of the pearl in its bosom through this endeavor.

“Our body which has been created from dirt rose to the skies through love and became sublime.” (v.1, 25) Mathnawi

The human body belongs to the earth. In this respect it is no different from other beings in creation. Like all of creation, humans are created from the earth; they feed on what they can attain from the earth and they are a changed form of the earth. In the end they return to the earth and are eternalized. But our spiritual qualities belong to Allah Almighty. In a verse in the Qur’an it is said: “…and breathed into him of My spirit…” (Hijr, 15/29; Sâd, 38/72).

The Lord Almighty has bestowed His servants with certain capabilities and inclinations so that they can be elevated towards Him. Those who can eliminate perverse, human tendencies and enter the path of perfection start to advance towards a divine union.

Rumi said:

“Do not care for nurturing the body in excess. In the end, it is a sacrifice that will be given to the earth. You nurture your soul! It is your soul that will be honored and reach noble places.”“Give little of the oily or sweet things to your body, because those who feed on it to excess fall into the wills of the nafs and are disgraced in the end.”

“Give your soul spiritual nourishment. Give it mature thinking, fine judgment and spiritual provision so it can go to its destination as an eternal traveler that is strong and powerful.”

“Those who are only familiar with their own language and soul would be speechless and silent when removed from the people who understand their expressions and resolve, even if they were to know hundreds of languages and tunes.” (v.1, 28) Mathnawi

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Talk to people according to their level of understanding” (Bukhari, Ilm, 49).

Regardless of their nobility, words and expressions that are beyond the listener’s comprehension are of no benefit. From this point of view, people who witness the deep and refine feelings that come from the soul must also be people of the soul, because being with people who are immersed in the corruption of sins blinds the eyes of the body and the soul. Words that are spent on senseless and ignorant people are wasted. These are like rare flowers that bloom on the edges of sidewalks, condemned to be trampled and perish.

Although Mawlana took a path that would bring his great work of the Mathnawi into existence so that it would be beneficial to both the common and the distinguished (havas) people, he said: “I will die longing for a man of insight…”

On the other hand, there has to be mutual love for any teaching to bring about the desired outcome in the respondent. Love is such a magical instrument of influx that through that channel, without even turning to speech, it can pass from one soul to another. It is for this reason that Sufis use love for all kinds of teaching and guidance.

True friendship for the sake of Allah consists of two separate bodies living in one heart. In other words, friends become two hands that wash each other. Just like the muhajiruun and the ansar…

“When the freshness of the rose has gone and the rose garden has entered the season of fall, the beautiful tunes and laments of the nightingale will not be heard.” (v.1, 29) Mathnawi

A human’s affection for another and the fruit of this affection, which is tender conversation, resembles the encounter of the rose and the nightingale. In general, words and thoughts that are uttered by humans are suitable to the listener’s aptitude and spiritual needs. The one talking is the heart, while the tongue acts as translator. Expressions are almost like a heartsick tune from the ney. The listener is the person who is playing the ney. If the person playing the ney is an amateur, then that assembly is similar to a rose garden that has reached the season of fall.

“Those who distance themselves from their mortal being and are free of the selfish nafs, namely those who are familiar with and are attached to immortals, are the fortunate ones. Pity those who are living but sitting with the dead and are spiritually dead themselves …” (v.1, 1513) Mathnawi

Lord Almighty says: “O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true (in word and deed)” (Tauba, 9/119).

True happiness is possible through reinforcing high morality, which is attained through fayz and the spirituality that emanates from the souls of people who are close to Allah. Their graceful demeanor, through togetherness, which is a prerequisite of affection, emanates and matures people who pass from one soul to another. The Companions of the Prophet are the best examples of this. These people, whose past was full of savagery, burying their daughters alive, not caring for justice or law, reached the highest peaks of morality and virtue through their love and closeness to Prophet Muhammad. In degrees, people who are close to Allah are all in the same situation.

This situation is expressed in Rumi’s language as such:

“O Friend!… Do not despair because you have not reached the beloved Prophet and are not able to reap similar benefits… Be with the faithful who are his followers, you will receive your sustenance according to your aptitude and inclination.”

The greatest humanitarian disaster is going against Allah’s order “…sit not thou in the company of those who do wrong!” (An’âm, 6/68) and being with those who live under the influence of their nafs. Feeling affection towards these people is the cause of a devastating loss that occurs through the reflection of all kinds of negativism from heart to heart.

Those who are always with the virtuous become one of them and those who are with the oppressors become oppressors and partners to their oppression and crime. Mevlana explains this truth in another place as follows:

“Keep company with people of spirituality, receive kindness and benevolence as well as spiritual strength; stay young, robust and healthy with divine love.”“This soul that is in the flesh, if it is unaware of love, is like a wooden sword in its sheath. As long as that wooden sword is in the sheath, it will be presumed worthy, useful; when it is drawn from its sheath it is only worth burning.” “If it is of wood, go and look for another sword. If it is o f diamonds, then spring forward with joy. A diamond sword is the weapon of the saints. To see this is alchemy for you. It is a spiritual strength…”  “Whether you are a very hard stone or a piece of marble, if you find a man of soul, you will become a jewel, namely an emerald, a diamond. Place the love of those pure saints in your heart. Do not give your heart to anyone except to the love of the wise.”

“When the voice of love came to the dead, souls started fluttering; the dead raised their heads from the tombs of their bodies.” (v.4, 840) Mathnawi

The Prophet and the saints are an elixir. With them hardened, lifeless souls are revived and invigorated.

“O desirous human! Know this; the soul is the greatest work of divine mercy. Other things are like shadows of this great work.” (v.4, 1362)

“A river flows amongst the trees. In its clear waters you will see the reflection of the trees on both sides.” “The reflections in the water are imaginary gardens. The true gardens are within the soul, because the soul is the place of the divine gaze.” (v.4, 1364-1365) Mathnawi

One should not forget that the heart is a place for the divine gaze, as according to a report Allah Almighty said: “The skies and the earths cannot contain me, save the heart of one of my believing servants.” (Ajlûnî, Kashfu’l-Hafâ, II, 195)

“Saints have such power bestowed upon them by the Lord Almighty that they turn the arrow, which has left the bow, from its route.” “When a saint is troubled regarding an incident that takes place, with the Lord’s hand of power, he will close the door of reason that generated the incident.” (v.1, 1669-1670) Mathnawi.

The value and attainment possessed by the people who are close to Allah are described in a Hadith-i Qudsi as follows:

“Whoever is belligerent against my saintly servant, I will declare war against him. My servant cannot come closer to me with anything more delightful than the fard I have enjoined on him. My servant comes closer to me ceaselessly with the nawafil (that he adds to his fard) and at last I love him. When I love my servant I will  become (as if I am) his tongue that talks, his heart that thinks, his ears that hear, his eyes that see, his hands that grasp and his feet that walk. I will give whatever he wants from me by all means, I will help him when he asks for help; I will protect him if he seeks protection in me…” (Bukhârî, Rikâk, 38)

In another hadith the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“There are some of Allah’s servants who are neither messengers nor martyrs, but on the Day of Judgment the messengers and martyrs will look at them with a longing because of their status with their Lord.”

The Companions of the Prophet asked: “Who are these and what kind of good deeds have they done? Let us know, O, Messenger of Allah, so we can show them affection and closeness.”

The Messenger of Allah replied:

“These are such people that, in spite of not having any ties of family, trade or business, they love each other only for the sake of Allah. I swear by Allah that their faces are alight and they are upon radiant pulpits. They have no fear at a time when people are in fear, they are not sad at a time when people are sad.”

And he then read the following verses from the Qur’an:

“Behold! Verily on the friends of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve; Those who believe and (constantly) guard against evil; For them are glad tidings, in the life of the present and in the Hereafter; no change can there be in the words of Allah. This is indeed the supreme felicity.” (Yunus, 10/62-64) (Hakim, Mustadrak, IV, 170)

Mawlana comments on these verses:

“Allah sent messengers and saints to the world as a mercy. For this reason they will give good council to people without fail. For those who do not take heed they pray and say: ‘O Allah! Have mercy on these; do not close the door of benevolence on them! Come to your senses and listen to the advice of the saints. Listen and break free from fear and sadness, find spiritual comfort and reach security! Before losing the opportunity and falling into doubt, hold onto the perfect human who has shunned the deceits of this passing world and completely surrendered himself to Allah so that you will be free of the seditions of these corrupt times that are close to the end! The words of the saints resemble a river that is lucid, pure and full of an elixir. While there is still an opportunity, drink from it heartily so that spiritual flowers and roses will blossom in your soul. Lord Almighty disclosed His names and attributes to Adam. But, it was through Adam that He proclaimed these names to others.” (v.1, 1943)

“Harvest Allah’s light whether through Allah or through a perfect human. Drink the wine of love whether from a jar or from a goblet.” (v.1, 1944)

“The one who has seen the candle that takes its light from another has indeed seen the actual candle. Thus, if that candle’s light is transferred to a hundred candles and hundreds of candles are lit by that candle, the person who sees the light of the last candle will have actually seen the first candle. Whether you take the light of hidaya, the light of love, from the last candle, or whether you take it from him, the candle of life, there is no difference between them.” (v.1, 1947-1949)Mathnawi

On account of the reasons listed above, the title warathatu’l anbiya (the succession of the prophethood) is given to those special people who, by developing their comprehension and perception, have reached a delicate understanding and a joy of iman, have attained perfection within their soul along with their outer appearance through spiritual manifestations in the way of ascetism and taqwa.

For those who have not seen the Prophet and his followers, people close to Allah who are working to eliminate the impediments that arise from their nafs on the way of reaching Allah Almighty are actual and concrete examples that can be followed. The exemplary lifestyles of these sages and their guidance are the ultimate manifestations of prophetic morals that reach beyond time.  Because they are like magnets, a core of attraction for those who have iman and aptitude, they are hubs of love and kindness for all segments of society, for they have been endeared to all by Allah Almighty. As stated in the following verse:

“As for those who believe and do right actions, the All-Merciful will bestow His love on them.” (Maryam, 10/96)

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