20 Nov

Gardens, Seminars and Geniuses

Through his metaphor of the 'perfumed garden', Jami tries to express his purpose in penning the tale as the expression of ideas, and to provide a medium through which they may survive and travel through the minds of readers. He compares himself to the shuttle in a loom, portraying himself as merely the vehicle for concepts and stories greater than himself. In a very self-effacing manner, he does not take credit for the ideas. As the shuttle weaves together beautiful pieces of thread, and as the garden provides nourishment for the tress and flowers of knowledge, he simply brings them together. His 'perfumed garden', while used in his story as a metaphor for the book, is similar to the modern 'seminar', which originates from the Latin seminarium, meaning 'plant nursery'. His role is similar to that of the professor, in that he simply helps the ideas take root and grow in the minds of others and claims no ownership. [As an aside, this culture of rejecting any acclaim for one's work is common to many pre-modern civilizations. Interestingly, the word 'genius' in its original form in Latin referred to a Genius (genie in some cultures), a guardian deity or spirit that watched over you and was responsible for your work.] Jami here tries to emphasize the ideas written rather than the writer. This could perhaps explain his annoyance at the acclaim he received from the public, as the Afterword describes.

Stretching the interpretation of his metaphors a little more, one wonders if Jami is here repudiating any notion of the book being his intellectual property. Is this perhaps (maybe perchance) one of the earliest instances of 'public domain' or 'copyleft'?

20 Nov

false gods and appearances

Zulaikha is in the depths of despair, pining for Yusuf, when she decides to pray to her idol one last time. And yet, despite her pleas, Yusuf's procession continues to pay no attention to her. She then realises the futility of praying to her idol, and renounces it in favour of the true God.

References to idols tend to be accompanied by references to incredible physical appearances. On p. 72, 74, the beautiful maidens meant to seduce Yusuf are described as idols, whom others should worship, and idolatresses themselves. When Yusuf introduces them to God, the "idols are all shattered" and they are now described as "a crowd of pupils". They no longer worship the ideal of beauty and appearances, and they are no longer figures of the religion of superficiality. In learning about God and converting to Islam, they attain spiritual growth and a depth, which connects to them to Yusuf.

The same happens to Zulaikha - it's apt that she turns to God at a time where she has lost of all her physical beauty. She recognises her idol as "just a stone", and maybe she recognises her beauty as just an external feature, which pales in comparison to her spirituality. In learning to love God, she finally becomes worth of Yusuf's attention. Although our discussion on Monday suggested that learning to love other people comes before learning to love God, I think one does not necessarily have to come before the other. Or maybe Yusuf might as well be God because he's so spiritual - in which case, Zulaikha learns to love both things at once.


20 Nov

Love and Devotion: One and the Same Thing?

6.) Why do you think Zulaikha’s love is described as ‘pious devotion’ (p. 130)?

When we understand the context of Yusuf & Zulaikha as a text promoting Sufism, we understand that Zulaikha’s love for Yusuf is essentially a dedicated relationship with God, and hence can be described as ‘pious devotion’. But what is interesting is that such references to God and devotion only occur late in the text, as if the metaphor of love needs to be slowly uncovered by the reader himself. On a meta level, it almost seems like Jami is suggesting we need to first understand what carnal eros or physical love between two people are about, before we can grasp the concept of divine love in its entirety.

Nevertheless, we need to think about whether love and devotion are one and the same thing. When we replace ‘love’ with ‘devotion’ in the text, we are in essence referring to a specific type of love – the love for God – and endorsing the Sufi reading. However, when we replace ‘devotion’ with ‘love’, such as in this context, the verses lose their meaning. Thus, Jami is perhaps suggesting that love is clearly a broader concept that is more relatable and understandable, while devotion is simply a subset of it. This is perhaps why Jami wrote a story of love, rather than one on devotion.

19 Nov

Shattering the Idol to Find the Truth

Idolatry is a recurrent theme throughout Yusuf and Zulaikha, following the idea that such worship of stone figures should be abandoned in favor of the one true God. In Chapter 17, Zulaikha’s depression at being separated from Yusuf drives her to shatter the idol that she consoled in for so long.

In this particular scene, the idol is a physical embodiment of both Zulaikha’s hope and her ignorance of God’s power. Prior to shattering the stone, she comes upon the realization that the idol is “nothing but a stone” (121) – the “jewel of [its] power” (121) rests upon her deluded belief that it is a divine entity that can satisfy her wishes. Therefore, in light of her desperate circumstances, she ultimately casts aside idolatry, realizing that these stones have done nothing to bring her and Yusuf together. Any sliver of hope in the stone’s power becomes depleted after she reaches an emotional and physical low. It is only after destroying the mundane object that she becomes enlightened by “the true God” (121) and begs for his forgiveness. As such, this event is a key turning point in Zulaika’s life and spiritual philosophy, ultimately contributing to her forthcoming happiness with Yusuf.

The consequences of idolatry already foreshadowed this development in Chapter 9, in which Yusuf teaches all of Zulaikha’s maidservants about the monotheistic God. She discovers that the “idols had all been shattered: now all fingers were plying rosary beads, all tongues were proclaiming the one true God” (74). Considering that Yusuf is not idolatrous and that this novel is a supplementary religious text, it makes sense for the author to have Zulaikha converted to Muslim faith in order for their relationship to blossom. Ultimately, it is the shattering of her long-held idol that awakens the love-struck woman to the divine might of Yusuf’s God, leading the rest of her journey in a much more positive direction.

19 Nov

Trees, Songbirds and Seminars

"Each of its chapter is a perfumed garden, with beauteous roses in every flowerbed. There the trees of ideas interlace their branches, and find their expression in the melodies of pertly chirruping song-birds" (Yusuf and Zulaikha, p. 145)

In this quote we can find a strong similarity to the etymology of the word seminar, which we discussed in our very first class. We have seen that the origin of seminar is seminarium, which is the Latin term for “seed plot”. In the metaphor above we have “trees of ideas” which are the grown manifestation of seed plotted in a seminar. More importantly, their branches interlace, just like diverse ideas in a seminar group. In the beginning of our class we emphasized the importance of the seminar as a platform for discourse of various opinions, beliefs and ideas. Together they form a complex web, which enriches the intellectual experience of the individual. So do the interlacing branches help to express the ideas through the “melodies of pertly chirruping song-birds”. Following our interpretation we can regard the songbirds as the students at the end of an intellectual journey, which are inspired by the developed diverse ideas.

19 Nov

end of Jami, end of our seminar

  1. Comment on the decisive influence of dreams on the course of the narrative (e.g. p. 108-110, 131, etc).
  2. What is the significance of the shattering of the idol by Zulaikha (p. 121)? Also note the references to idols on p. 72, 74.
  3. Why is the sense of sight blamed as a path leading to error (p. 121)?
  4. What is the significance of Yusuf’s power to restore Zulaikha to her former beauty (p. 124)?
  5. Comment on the role of divine manifestations in the narrative.
  6. Why do you think is Zulaikha’s love described as ‘pious devotion’ (p. 130)?
  7. Why should one empty one’s heart of ‘all desire for joy’ (p.158)?
  8. Why is the world like a shoe than pinches (p. 139)?
  9. "theory without practice is a poison without an antidote" (p. 140) does this apply to the texts that we have been studying?
  10.   “Turn from this busy workshop to the world of books, and develop your imagination by reading them. As the famous maxim wisely says, wisdom abides in books even when the sage is in his tomb. A book is the companion of solitude, the brilliant light of the dawn of wisdom, forever opening new vistas of knowledge” (p.143). Sima Qian writes that “[the sages] withdrew and put their deliberations into writing in order to give full expression to their outrage, intending to reveal themselves purely through writing that would last into the future.” The Egyptian scribe writes, “Man dies, his body is dust, / his family all brought low to the earth; / But writing shall make him remembered, /alive in the mouths of any who read.” (remember the handout i gave you guys?) What are the various ways in which the authors that we have studied theorize the power of writing?
  11.  "Each of its chapter is a perfumed garden, with beauteous roses in every flowerbed. There the trees of ideas interlace their branches, and find their expression in the melodies of pertly chirruping song-birds" (145). How does this relate to my early lesson about the etymology of seminar?
17 Nov

The Orchestra of Life

Jami compares life to a great orchestra, where each musician takes his turn to "beat the drum of existence". He uses the orchestra to tell us that life is defined by change. If all the world were a stage, the men and women who play their scenes would have their turn; their scenes would come, and so would they go. Some are more important to the play while others serve to set the background. There are magnificent performances, but their beauty is magnified by the ephemerality of their existence. In moving on, they set the stage for others, in the way Adam did for Noah and he did for Abhraham. In his metaphor of the orchestra, Jami beautifully establishes the transient nature of life. The waning and waxing of the moon and the sun as described by him are motifs that prevail throughout the story, often indicative of the life of the characters.

This description is aided by his comparison of Zulaikha to a narcissus flower, known for its long life and beauty. The narcissus blooms in spring, and much like the Greek hero it is named after, it symbolises youth and rebirth. Yet in his comparison, Jami is perhaps suggesting the impermanence of this state. He uses it to remind the reader that when things are good, they will yet again be bad. However, when winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

16 Nov

Yusuf : Twisted logic or incredible cleverness?

In Page 69, following Zulaikha's declaration of lust and desire, Yusuf replies :

Royal Lady, I stand before you a captive in the bonds of servitude : there my duty ends ... do not seek to make a master out of your slave",  and later adds : "if your protestations of love are as true as the light of dawn, then it must follow that your only wish is to comply with my desires. I ask to serve you, and if you deny me this, then that is not the way of a lover".

Certainly, this passage shows that Yusuf is attempting to manipulate Zulaikha and 'put the ball in her court', twisting the matter at hand from his decision to her wants.  He claims that Zulaikha out not to elevate a mere slave in status, an argument that would appeal to a lady of her rank. He also questions her love and links it to sacrificing her own desires for the sake of his - just as a decent lover would.  While this seems like a twisted reasoning at first - after all, one would assume Yusuf would want to be elevated in status and as a slave would not dare to question his master - but it is in fact a brilliant way to flip the situation to get what HE wants, all while making Zulaikha believe she is in control - that, my friends, is how you have subtle power! 😉


16 Nov

Yusuf’s Firm Faith in the Face of Seduction

In the text, Yusuf repeatedly rejects Zulaikha’s advances to avoid sinning as an adulterer. By making love with Zulaikha, Yusuf would be committing adultery and incur the wrath of Vizier (If the Vizier ever heard of such crooked dealings, you know very well that he would subject me to a hundred ignominies before finally taking my life” p.83). Furthermore, he would be punished and shamed during judgement day for this hideous sin of adultery (“And imagine my shame on judgement day, when adulterers will have to pay the penalty for their deeds.” p.83). Zulaikha of course tried to counter the reasons given by Yusuf by saying that he does not have to worry about Vizier as she would kill him by giving a “cup which will so disagree with his constitution (p.84).” She would also set aside treasures in exchange for God’s forgiveness for Yusuf. Yusuf retorted that he is not about to commit another sin of murder (“never allow another to suffer on his account”) and that God will not be granting him forgiveness “in exchange for a bribe”. After several rounds of argument, Zulaikha finally tried to force Yusuf’s hand by threatening to commit suicide but that attempt failed too in the end. From this scene, we see the firm faith of Yusuf in the face of seductions. In the end, even the threat of death did not manage to shake Yusuf’s firm faith in God which ensures that he does not sin.

16 Nov

How does love set one free, according to Jami?

According to Jami,


If you would be free, be a captive to love... from the wine of love come warmth and rapture; without it there is only melancholy and icy egoism. The remembrance of love refreshes the lover's heart... you may try a hundred things, but love alone will release you from yourself.

Jami's use of  antithesis such as "free" and "captive, "warmth and rapture" and "melancholy and icy egoism" seems to suggest that love is a constant tug-of-war between opposing emotions. Yes it is able to set us free, but at the same time, we have to stay captive to it. The products of love are warmth and rapture but the absence of it is melancholy and icy egoism. Perhaps what he is trying to say is that love sets us free in a way that also traps us. This is evident in, "If you would be free, be a captive to love". Jami seems to be saying that if you want to be free, you first need to be a captive to love. This seems rather contradictory because the idea of being held captive is the opposite to the idea of being free. It seems rather incongruous that something that ultimately traps you is also something that will set you free. But maybe what Jami is trying to say is that in order for you to achieve something great, like love or liberation, you would first have to experience the adverse of that emotion such as being trapped or melancholy. And it is ultimately through allowing yourself to be trapped by love that you free yourself.