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Rubaiyats and Ghazals: The Sufi-Poems Mingled with Wine, Sakis and Divine Love

by Mustofa Munir

The doctrine of divine love in Sufism exists through the series of renunciations — the renunciation of the material world; renunciation of the inner-desires and renunciation of every mission other than the mission to God.  

A Sufi perceives the wisdom of the unseen God and His divine existence in everything around him through his engrossing ascetic engagement in God’s love. He wanders about, then makes his inner journey to God and derives his pleasure of divine love. This is the arena where the mysticism takes its birth. A Sufi finds the console in the abundance of God and rejects all illusions of the mundane world. He constantly penetrates the divine wisdom (aql) through his innate reasons and intelligence and gains the esoteric knowledge or hikmah lies therein. He wants to capture the knowledge lies in the Malakut (realm of Dominion) and Mulk (Dominion). He seeks the favor of the Lord of the invisible world and the visible world. He disinters the knowledge of the things (Irfan) as they lie within himself. This phenomenon of seeking continues in his inner body, it enlightens his soul and increases his zeal in obedience.

The mysticism or the Arabic word Tasawwuf, ‘the paths of the woollen-clothed’, derived from the word suf or wool and the Sufi from the word Suf. In the early stage of Islamic Sufism the ascetics led their life in a humble way devoid of worldly luxury and comforts. They used to cover up their body with loose woollen robes  or torn blankets to meditate in a remote place for a longer period of time with dhikr (remembrance) of God to connect their ‘inner-self’ with the Divine love while separating themselves from the outwardness of the world. But the Sufis need not to wrap up always their bodies with blankets or robes to connect themselves with the spiritual world.

Classical Sufism

The transformation of asceticism into classical sufism burgeoned during the periods of twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century. But the classical Sufism actually sprouted out in the early eighth century when the horizon of mystic world was glowed by the light of a mystic poet and saint. She was Rabiah al-Adawiyah.

There were also many great mystic Sufis of Persia and India who lived in those centuries mentioned above and revealed a unique spiritual and intellectual culture throughout the Islamic world that included the culture of writing mystic poems in the genres of rubaiyats and ghazals. With high theme and extreme poetic elegance and brilliance they wrote poems and expressed their mystic philosophy therein. They introduced the songs of ghazals, qawwalis and whirling dervish dance. The vivid manifestation of the spiritual themes in their poems and ghazal-lyrics attained the virtuosity of classic literature par excellence.

The following renowned Sufi Poets boosted up the Classical Sufism in the spiritual world through their alluring Rubaiyats and Ghazals.

Rabiah al-Adawiyah (717-801 AD)

A famous Sufi of Basra and probably the first Sufi Poetess who postulated a doctrine of mutual love between the God and His creation without any attachment of condition; the loving devotee in the earth can be bonded with the Beloved, the God.  It is a way of attaining the divine love or Ishq-e-Haqeeq. She taught to love Allah (God) not for the fear of hell or to love Him not for the desire to enter into paradise. She submitted herself directly into the realm of God’s love. 

She reached the end of the mystic path by subduing ‘the self’ or denying the self to develop a complete intimacy and unity with God. Her sacred spiritual Ishq (love) with the divine power was manifested in her poems.

If someone wants to perceive Rabia’s love for God, her feelings for the Divine Essence then he or she should recite her sublime transcendental poems. A few of her verses are quoted below:

 If I Adore You If I adore

‘You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!

If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,

Lock me out of Paradise.

 But if I adore you for Yourself alone,

Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.’


‘ I have loved Thee with two loves –

 a selfish love and a love that is worthy of Thee.

As for the love which is selfish,

Therein I occupy myself with Thee,

 to the exclusion of all others.

 But in the love which is worthy of Thee,

Thou dost raise the veil that I may see Thee.

Yet is the praise not mine in this or that,

 But the praise is to Thee in both that and this.

She expressed her feelings and love to Almighty—’  


 My God and My Lord


 ‘Eyes are at rest, the stars are setting.

 Hushed are the stirrings of birds in their nests,

 Of monsters in the ocean.

You are the Just who knows no change,

The Balance that can never swerve,

The Eternal which never passes away.

The doors of Kings are bolted now and guarded by soldiers.

Your Door is open to all who call upon You.

 My Lord, Each love is now alone with his beloved.

 And I am alone with You.’

Farid ud-Din Attar (1120 AD? – 1220 AD?)

Farid ud-Din Attar was from Nishapur who had colossal and enduring influence on Persian poetry and Sufism

Mantiq-ut-Tayr [The Conference of the Birds] and Ilahi-Nama [Book of God] are among his famous works. His status in Sufism is so high at one point the mystic Persian poet Rumi has mentioned in his poem: ‘Attar has traversed the seven cities of Love, while we are still at the bend of an alley.’

Attar wrote poems with mystical allegories such we find in his books— Mantiq-ut-Tayr [The Conference of the Birds] and Ilahi-Nama [Book of God].

Mantiq-ut-Tayr [The Conference of the Birds]

The Islamic doctrine of Sufism has been emanated profusely from this twelfth century allegoric epic ‘The Conference of the Birds’ written by Sufi Poet Farid Ud-din Attar. It has both superb literary and mystic qualities that turned the epic into a masterpiece of Persian literature as well as the literature of the world. He demonstrated the brilliance of spiritualty to this world of thinkers through this allegoric wonder someone can contemplate it again and again in a profound way until he gets the inner theme of Sufism.

Where was the King in whom all the thoughts and ‘self’ of the birds (the seekers, the souls of the world) were lost? The birds were agitated to know who their King (Simurgh) was! So, the birds gathered in a place to travel to meet their King. Hoopoe (the wise guide and Sufi master) gave a speech to the thousands of birds assembled there and described them about the barriers (the seven valleys) of the known and unknown that they would encounter and experience during their long arduous journey. Her wise reply with deep insight had cooled down the birds’ worries and anxieties of passing through the long onerous road. The Hoopoe started to lead them to their King Simurgh (The God)—the final meeting place- towards the mythical mountain Qaf. The Simurgh was near but again far away from them. They traversed that precarious road to offer themselves to their King Simurgh. The King’s Sun reflected its rays on them when the thirty birds out of thousands could reach the inner world. The reflections came out on the faces of the thirty birds, on each other’s face they saw the face of Simurgh (God) of the inner world—found that they were the Simurgh! Whatever they have seen, heard and known in the outer world are merged into one existence. The thirty birds are now in the essence of true Simurgh, who told them to annihilate themselves within Him with joy.  

Quoted from The Conference of the Birds:

 Hoopoe tells about the Simurgh in front of the birds’ assembly:

‘Escape your self-hood’s vicious tyranny –

Whoever can evade the Self transcends

This world and as a lover he ascends.

 Set free your soul; impatient of delay,

Step out along our sovereign’s royal Way’


[By Afham Darbandi and Dick Davis]


Hoopoe answers the parrot:


‘Act as a lover and renounce your soul;

With love’s defiance seek the lover’s goal.’


 Mirror in the King’s palace:


‘If you would glimpse the beauty we revere

Look in your heart -- its image will appear.

 Make of your heart a looking-glass and see

Reflected there the Friend’s nobility;

Your sovereign’s glory will illuminate

The palace where he reigns in proper state.

Search for this king within your heart;..


 If you catch sight of His magnificence

It is His shadow that beguiles your glance.’

[By Afham Darbandi and Dick Davis]


Rumi (1207 AD – 1273 AD)

Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was a thirteen century Persian poet, an Islamic dervish and a Sufi mystic. He is regarded as one of the greatest spiritual masters and poetical intellects. Born in 1207 AD, he belonged to a family of learned theologians.

A teacher and a theologian Rumi slowly delved into a mystic world immediately after his meeting and closeness with a wandering dervish named Shamsuddin Tabrizi. It was 1244 AD Rumi met Shams-e- Tabrizi. The mystic influence of Tabrizi had changed Rumi completely. He transformed into a mystic Sufi.

 Rumi’s son Sultan Walad narrated in a poem his father’s transformation to Sufism:

‘Never for a moment did he cease from listening to music and dancing,

Never did he rest by day or night.

He had been a mufti.- he became a poet.

He had been an ascetic: he became intoxicated by Love.

'Twas not the wine of the grape: the illumined soul drinks only the wine of Light.’

(Nicholson, Rumi, pp 22-23)

After four years with Rumi one night Shams-e-Tabrizi, the saint, walked out from Rumi’s residence and never came back. There was a rumor that Shams was killed while he was in Damascus by the students of Rumi with the connivance of his son. They built a rancorous grudge on Tabrizi owing to his extreme closeness with Rumi.  

Out of love and respect Rumi himself went out in search of Shams and visited Damascus again. There, he realized suddenly—

‘Why should I seek? I am the same as

He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!

Rumi expressed his love for Shams-e-Tabrizi and grief at his death through writing volumes of Sufi poems. For nearly ten years Rumi devoted himself in writing Ghazals. He made a compilation of Ghazals and named it Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi.   Rumi spent most of the later years of his life in Anatolia, where he finished six volumes of his masterwork, the Masnavi (Mathnawi).

We could consume a few poems of Rumi that would lead us to perceive him as one the greatest Sufi poets of the world.

Divan-i Shams is his masterpiece. Rumi represents his mystical love for Shams Tabrizi symbolically as if his love for Shams is his love for God. With eloquence and wisdom, Rumi had attained the level of a Sufi and a Master who dwelled in the spiritual realms that were yet to be visited by the visitors of this world; the heights that he attained yet to be filled up. Through his highest level of imagery, through his mystical vision he took the readers into an arena of spiritual understanding to grasp them again and again.

 Divan-i Shams-i Tabrizi (a volume of Ghazal-poems that contains 3,229 odes, or ghazals or ghazaliyat)


‘Tho’ you have no feet choose to journey in yourself,

Like the ruby-mine receive a print from the sunbeams.

Make a journey out of self into self, 0 master,

For by such a journey earth becomes a quarry of gold.

From sourness and bitterness advance to sweetness,

Even as from briny soil a thousand sorts of fruit spring up.

From the Sun, the pride of Tabriz, behold these miracles,

For every tree gains beauty by the light of the sun.’



‘Every foam-fleck of body, which received a sign from

that sea,

Melted straightway and turned to spirit in this ocean.

Without the power imperial of Shamsu ’1 Haqq of Tabriz

One could neither behold the moon nor become the sea.’


0 heart, why art thou a captive in the earth that is passing away ?

Fly forth from this enclosure, since thou art a bird of the spiritual world.

Thou art a darling bosom-friend, thou art always behind the secret veil :

Why dost thou make thy dwelling-place in this perishable abode ?

Regard thine own state, go forth and journey

From the prison of the Formal world to the meadow of Ideas.’

--By Reynold A. Nicholson


‘The Songs of Reed’(Masnavi)

 ‘Listen  to the reed (flute), how it is complaining! It is telling 
about separations,
(Saying), "Ever since I was severed from the reed field, men 
and women have lamented in (the presence of) my shrill cries.’

 ‘(But) I want a heart (which is) torn, torn from separation, so that 
I may explain the pain of yearning.’

‘The body is not hidden from the soul, nor the soul from the 
body; but seeing the soul is not permitted.’

‘The reed's cry is fire -- it's not wind!
Whoever doesn't have this fire, may he be nothing!’

‘It is the fire of Love that fell into the reed.
(And) it is the ferment of Love that fell into the wine.’

‘The reed (is) the companion of anyone who was severed from a 
friend;  its melodies tore our veils.’

--By Ibrahim Gamard (Year 2000)


A flute that emanates mystical music from within the reed field (the home of the souls where they work harmoniously). But outside the reed field ( the outer world) there are only laments and crying of men and women coming out from the shrilling tone of reed flute. The flute can explain its torment of estrangement only when its heart is torn— it was torn from the amassed pain of separation.


Amir Khusrau (1253 AD – 1325 AD)

Ab'ul Hasan Yamin ud-in Khusrau better known as Amir Khusrow Dehlavi, was a Sufi musician, poet and scholar from India who wrote many ghazal poems in Urdu, Farsi and Hindustani and introduced ghazal style song in India. He was an iconic figure in the cultural history of South Asia. He was a mystic and a spiritual disciple of Sufi Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, India. 

Khusrau is regarded as the father of qawwali, a devotional musical form of the Sufis in the Indian subcontinent. 

He brought a change to Indian Islamic cultural traditions through his musical genius, poetic skill and mysticism with the introduction of South Asian Sufi music such as Ghazals and qawwali.

Khusrau’s vast corpus of Persian poetry has been added to Persian literature with profound dignity and still continues to

be read in the modern world.

Two of his famous Ghazal lyrics are quoted below:

Ghazal 1

The vat is empty,

And my heart is still not sated with wine.


If finer vintages are exhausted,

O heart of mine,


Your blood has been kept in reserve.

The clanking of Majnun’s chains is organ


Music for lovers, a music

The prudent don’t have the ear to taste.


Ghazal 2

‘Morning arose from long sweet slumber

Clutching a goblet of milk in her hand.


Her distant movement roused heaven

And the goblet’s sweetness spilled over.


King Khusrau said, ‘My fortune seems bright;

I will go to visit the river of milk today.’


He removed his kingly garments

And emerged in a shepherd’s guise.


Making inquiries through dale and hill,

He came alone to the river of milk.


He gazed for a while on the bank of the stream

And saw all the rocks piled up in a heap.


He looked carefully at each cut

With an expert eye and called out, ‘Bravo’.


When he saw the master craftsmanship,

He set off towards the master, designing a scheme.’

[ Translated by Paul E. Losensky and Sunil Sharma]


Omar Khayyam (1048 AD – 1131AD) and Hafiz (1320 AD-1389 AD) wrote their poems in the form Rubaiyats* and Ghazals* which are now considered to be precious literary treasure with depth, sublimity and esoteric wisdom. Their poems are like an unfathomable deep sea and a stroller on the shore looks at the sea with his wondrous eyes to perceive its vastness — its dancing waves, its depth. There in the depth he finds the pearls and corals.

The poets called the Saki (A fair Persian maiden who bears cup of wine) and begged for a cup of wine. The wine and its inebriety make both the lovers into one entity.  The intoxication that brings the lovers in a state of drunken stupor, so love flows from one to another without hindrance. It is not the wine of the grape, it is the wine of Light what the illumined soul drinks.

Hafiz asked his Saki ‘Bodeho saki moe baki!’ ‘O Saki, pour (more wine in my cup), I am empty.’

Quoted from ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ :

 Quatrain II

‘Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky

I heard a voice within the Tavern cry,

“Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup

Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.’ [By Edward FitzGerald]

Quatrain XII  

‘A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!’
[By Edward FitzGerald]

Quatrain XXXIX

‘Ah, fill the Cup:— what boots it to repeat

How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:

Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday,

Why fret about them if To-day be sweet’ [By Edward FitzGerald]

Quatrain xxxiii

‘Life is so short, yet sleeps thy lovely head;

Why make so soon a death-bed of thy bed?

O love, awake! thy beauty wastes away--

Thou shalt sleep on and on when thou art dead.’ [By Richard Le Gallienne]

Quatrain xxxvi

 ‘A book, a woman, and a flask of wine:

The three make heaven for me; it may be thine

Is some sour place of singing cold and bare--

But then, I never said thy heaven was mine’. [By Richard Le Gallienne]

Quatrain LVIII

 ‘Sweet cup of life no power shall fill again,

Thy juice goes singing through each gladdened vein--

Drink, drink, my love, two mouths upon the brim,

Ah! drink, drink, drink, each little drop and drain.’ [By Richard Le Gallienne]


These above verses of Omar Khayyam have brought a mystic imagery, transforming the body of flesh into a deep pleasure of drunkenness to grope for the love that would last only for today as he said ‘Time is slipping underneath our Feet,’ and ‘Why fret about them if To-day be sweet’.

 His world has become a paradise with wine, bread and Saki or a beauteous Persian cup bearer girl beside him, singing…

Hafiz who is almost a follower of Khayyam in his chosen way of expressing the ecstasy to create mystic allusions. He drank the same veritable juice of grapes as did Omar.

Khwaja Shams-ud-Din Mu?ammad ?afi?, known by his pen name Hafiz, the Persian poet of Shiraz, extolled the happiness of love and wine in his poems.  His works are regarded as an apogee of Persian literature.

Hafiz was prone to write lyric poetry, or ghazals. In the ghazals the themes he dealt with was love, wine and tavern, physical beauty, and intoxication that manifest the delight and freedom— a sort of worldly release that comes from the voice of the lover.

The most notable collection of the ghazals is compiled in his Divan-i Hafiz. 

‘OH Turkish maid of Shiraz! in thy hand
If thou’lt take my heart, for the mole on thy cheek
I would barter Bokhara and Samarkand.
Bring, Cup-bearer, all that is left of thy wine!
In the Garden of Paradise vainly thou’lt seek
The lip of the fountain of Ruknabad,
And the bowers of Mosalla where roses twine.’

‘Dowered is my mistress, a beggar am I;
What shall I bring her? a beautiful face
Needs nor jewel nor mole nor the tiring-maid's art.’

‘OH Cup-bearer, set my glass afire
With the light of wine! oh minstrel, sing:
The world fulfilleth my heart's desire!
Reflected within the goblet's ring
I see the glow of my Love's red cheek,
And scant of wit, ye who fail to seek
The pleasures that wine alone can bring!’

‘WHAT drunkenness is this that brings me hope—
Who was the Cup-bearer, and whence the wine?
That minstrel singing with full voice divine,
What lay was his? for 'mid the woven rope
Of song, he brought word from my Friend to me
Set to his melody.’

[Poems from the Divan of Hafiz, Translated by Gertrude Lowthian Bell, 1897]

*Rubaiyats are the verses of four lines (Quatrains) and the third line ends without rhyme.


     a        2nd line rhymes with the first.


     a        4th line rhymes with the first and second

*Ghazal: With the advent of growing Sufism in Persia and India the ghazal’s themes were centered to mysticism and devoted to the expression of the spiritual longing to be connected with the divinity and romanticism that includes human love and pain of separation along with the glorification of the beautiful nature— the birds, flowers and beyond. Ghazal is normally set to music to uphold the resonance and appealing allusion of the themes.


  1. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Astronomer-Poet of Persia.(1872) by Edward  FitzGerald
  2. Divan of Hafiz (1897) By Gertrude Lowthian Bell,
  3. Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1901 edition) By Richard Le Gallienne
  4. Selected poems from the Divani shamsi tabriz (Edition 2004)By Reynold A. Nicholson
  5. ‘The Conference of the Birds’ by Fraid Ud-din Attar, Translated by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis (1984)
  6. In the Bazaar of Love, The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau. Translated and introduced by

Paul E. Losensky and Sunil Sharma, Penguin Books, 2010

  1. Classic Poetry Series Rabia Al Basri - poems - Publication Date: 2012 Publisher: - The World's Poetry Archive

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