41-48 SLL-V4N2-1055

Incarnation or Divine Transmigration in Rumi’s Masnavi Ma’navi

Ebrahim Rahimi Zangene1,*

1 Assistant Professor, Persian Department, Faculty of Arts, Razi University, Kermanshah, Iran.

*Corresponding author.


Received 31 January 2012; accepted 2 April 2012.


The Resurrection of man according to actual form of his deed is one of the most significant issues among the Islamic Mystics and scholars that is people with their deeds and actions shape the form for their soul expression, which is the real substance of their soul. Their Purgatorial face will be embodied on the basis of their inward soul expression. This concept has wildly been expressed by Rumi in Masnavi Ma’navi, in which he has given a vivid definition.

In the present study, the researcher has surveyed the concept of incarnation and the way human behavior changes his nature, soul and spirit in line with explaining its difference with transmigration from Rumi’s viewpoint, which is evaluated with respect to Quranic verses of Household.

Key words: Incarnation; Divine transmigration; Soul; Soul expression

Ebrahim Rahimi Zangene (2012). Incarnation or Divine Transmigration in Rumi’s Masnavi Ma’navi. Studies in Literature and Language, 4(2), 41-48. Available from URL: http://www.cscanada.net/index.php/sll/article/view/j.sll.1923156320120402.1055
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/j.sll.1923156320120402.1055


Human’s deed and behavior are like seeds implanted in the farmland of this world and harvested in the Resurrection day. This world is hereafter a farm, where human grain of corn grows. Whatever human sees and receives in the Purgatory is actually what he has planted in the field of material world for human soul changes and evolves through his thoughts and actions. “Through gaining knowledge and experiments, the human soul develops and strengthens and becomes a luminous essence, the more humane he is the more prosperity and human honor he gains. In hereafter emanation, knowledge is the composer and characteristic of human soul and experiment is composer and characteristic of human body. As he is a man, his nutrition is valuable knowledge and good deed; in hereafter emanation everybody is inspired with respect to his deeds and knowledge where people’s face would be the result of their deeds and ultimate actions in the world of living, this world is hereafter farm” (Amoli, 1990, p.86) for the Living, Water of knowledge is hidden in darkness, the light of truth in the darkness of soul, and the unity under the tress of plurality because mankind enjoys the transitional truth which is a confederation of light and darkness, combination of the most villainous shadows of the material world and the exalted truth of the divine world. This composition and authorship is due to being endowed with a divine blessing, i.e. he has within himself the potential for human dignity and emanate his superiority to other creatures in the universe and therefore it can be said that, in this world, he is to grow the potential seeds of his existence in order to make his hidden talents actual, assert and develop them in the world’s farmland because he has the potential to reveal divine names and attributes in the mirror of his heart, and his superiority to other creatures through the very potential capacity. Hence, through his deeds and behavior, he should reach his soul and inner self to be ideal. In doing so he should be aware that each deed and action has a form, which will be reflected on his agent in the Purgatory.

We may read in the treatise on fate that:

Amongst the necessities in knowing that each deed and action has a form which is reflected upon his agent in the purgatory and this is his punishment that nothing but your deeds comes to you as a reward for their good deeds and people will be judged according to their deeds. (Quoted in Amoli, 1990, p.77)

In other word, human being is potentially a noble creature and is free either to actualize this potential or change it to a brutal creature with inhumane deeds and behaviors and he will become an animal-like creature in the Purgatory, which is also pointed out in the holy Quran: they are like cattle, nay more misguided.

1. Incarnation

Reincarnation is a combination of deeds and visualization; visualization refers to an image of man’s praises and actions, which become visible in hereafter emanation; deeds refer to acts and behaviors that human being have done during his social life. In this ground, it is argued that

literally, incarnation is composed of two words, one signifies the substance namely visualization and the other relates to its emanation, i.e. his deed. This is an appearance of the substance in which visualization has been added to deeds, i.e. substance evolves inly accidents. (Amoli, 1997, pp.3-4)


In description of Masnavi, Allame Sabzevary also believes that: “Accidents are the same deeds that have been changed into the substance of the soul through recursion; hence the intent of incarnation or visualization of deed is penetration of divinity to soul. That is to say human behavior in this world includes inccidents which shape the substance of human soul. In this regard Rumi says that:



As regards these accidents of prayers and fasting

Since that which does not endure for two moments becomes naught

‘Tis impossible to carry over the accidents (into another state)

But they may take away diseases (defects) from the substance

So that the substance becomes changed by means of this accident

As when disease is removed by abstinence

If there were no carrying over and resurrection of accidents

Action would be vain and words mere babble



It means that prayers and fasting and other praises are not the substance but inccidents that form the actual identity of man during life, which is the hereafter farm, because his deeds and behaviors as a whole make up the of manner of his soul according to which he will be aroused in the Purgatory:




The manner of acting that preponderates in your nature

In the same form you must need rise (from the dead)




For in that world ideas are endued with form

And our (visible) shapes become congruous with our (moral and spiritual) qualities (1866/6)

In order to explain the visualization of deeds or incarnation, first it is proper to briefly overview the kinds of incarnation:

Incarnation is generally divided into three types:

1. Soul transmigration from one body to another in this world

That is, in this world, souls move from one body to another whether the change is from inferior to superior creature, e.g. transmigration of a horse soul to a human body or vice versa, e.g. transition of a human soul to a corpus of a horse, plant or an organic body (Pahlavanian, 2009, p.190).


2. Soul transmigration from an earthly body to an eternal one according to attributes

In this kind of incarnation, after leaving the flesh body and separation, the soul moves into an eternal body, which is the outcome of his moral and divine qualities that he has gained in his worldly life (ibid).


3. Soul and accordingly body transmigration:

the notion behind the third kind is that human soul gets far away from humanity and changes, accordingly his appearance will change from human to whatever his soul has been transmigrated. This kind of change and transformation in human is due to revolt of his sensual feelings. This revolt and overflow of feeling is in a way that changes his human form and temperament to that of animal’s which has been changed according to his attributes (Pahlavanian, 2009, p.190).

2. Incarnation according to Quran and traditions

Visualization of human deeds in other emanation is true and approved by Quran and traditions and has different manifestation according to mystics and philosophers. In Quran we see lots of verses that explain visualization of human deeds, actions, thoughts and behaviors in Divine or brutal world:

‘‘The day when every soul will find present what they have done of good and evil, they wish that what if there was a far distance between them and their evil deeds.’’ (Ali-Imran/30)

In other world and the Purgatory emanation there is nothing but life and living where everything will find soul and spirit and they become aware of divine secrets even human body comes to life and stand as the witness of your deeds and behaviors, either good or evil.

Hence, the visualization and embodiment of actions are inherent in the substance so “you are only rewarded for what you have been doing” (Ya-Sin/54) because what you see in the Purgatory are rewards and punishments of your deeds and of course this result is adapted by your deeds:



Everyone’s death is of the same quality as himself, O son

To the enemy, an enemy and to the friend a friend


There are several traditions indicative of the Incarnation that imply this fearful and warning reality, i.e. human being will be aroused according to the nature of his deeds and actions, and their face in the Purgatory or heaven will be related to the dominant trait of their soul and spirit. So if the brutal trait become dominant in his soul he will be aroused like an animal, as Imam Sadiq (A.S) stated: animal are the form of your deeds (quoted in Etehad Aghel Be Ma’ghoul, p.404) and/or some people have been aroused better than their inner form in the shape of pigs and apes, or people are all animal except few believers (p. 405), or on the Day of Resurrection people will be gathered according to the actual form of their intentions (Vaselo Shia, Book1, p.134)

3. Incarnation and transmigration

Incarnation is also called transmigration because in the Purgatory the typical human forms will be changed into different shapes, in other words: “Incarnation in another emanation, that is visualizing soul attributes to an animal, plant or inanimate objects in not contrary to reality rather considered a natural phenomena among the educated witness ones and it is also approved among the masters of reason and Shari ‘a which is apparently implied by the Book and tradition (Mulla Sadra, 2003, p.381).


However, Incarnation as “the transmigration of human soul to an animal-like corpus and never being free from the physical body is a rejected religious view” (p.383).

In Al-mabda’ wa’ l-ma’ad, Mulla, Sadra has brought many reasons on the revocation of incarnation and explicitly has pointed out that “in this world, it is impossible for the soul to move into another body, whether it is human body which is called transformation, animal body named as metamorphosis, plant body known as revocation, or inanimate body which is referred to as embedment” (p.281)

As it is mentioned before, divine incarnation, which is the same as evoking souls of reason in knowledge and behavior in an animal body, is widely reflected in Rumi’s poetry, Masnavi:


O you, who have rent the garments of many Josephs

You will rise from your heavy sleep as a wolf

Your bad qualities will rise in the shape of wolves

And rend you limb from limb in vengeance





He will give our fleshly soul the form of an ass

Because He makes the outward forms to be in accordance with the inward nature

This is the manifestation of the secret as the Resurrection

By God, by God, flee from the ass-like body




When his spirit becomes the ape spirit

His clay is debased by the ape spirit

Through breaking vows of repentance a hundred others

Have become hogs and asses inwardly





Because on the Day of Bale the envois will

Without doubt be (raised from the dead and) brought together in the shape of wolves

The resurrection of the greedy vile eater of carrion

Will be in the shape of a hog on the Day of Reckoning

Adulteries foetor membri latentis

Wine- drinkers will have stinking mouths

The hidden stench that was reaching only to hearts

Will become sensible and manifest at the Resurrection

The being of Man is a jungle

Be on your guard against the being if you are of that (Divine) Breath

In our being there are thousands of wolves and hogs

There is goodly and ungodly and fair and foul

To the disposition that is preponderant belongs decision (as to what you are)

When the gold is more than the copper it is gold

The manner of acting that preponderates in your nature

In that same form you must needs rise (from the dead)

At an hour a wolf enters into Man

At another hour a moon-like beauty with the face of Joseph




On the Day of Resurrection every hidden thing will be made manifest

Every sinner will be ignominiously exposed by himself




His hands and feet will give evidence and declare

His iniquity in the presence of Him whose help is sought

His hand will say: I have stolen such and such

His lip will say: I have asked such and such questions

His foot will say: I have gone to enjoy thing desired

His pudendum will say: I have committed fomication

His eye will say: I have cast amorous glances at things forbidden

His ear will say: I have gathered evil words

Therefore he is a lie from head to foot

For even his own members give him the lie

Act then in such wise that the action itself

Will be (equivalent to) saying I testify and (to making) the most explicit declaration

So that your whole body, limb by limb, O son

Will have said I testify as regards both good and ill



This is why Rumi considers repentance the Living Water, because:


If you have blackened the scroll (record) of your life

Repent of the deeds you did formerly

Though your life has (almost) passed this (present) moment is its root

Water it with repentance if it lacks moisture

Give the Living Water to the root of your life

In order that the tree of your life may become verdant

By this (water) all past sins are made good

By this (Water) last year’s poison is made sweet as sugar


In the following Rumi has pointed out that wolf of envy is more horrific than wolf of nature, Purgatorial face of envy is more frightening than the wolf in nature; because the worldly wolf has not rented the garment of Joseph but the wolves of envy have done it to his brothers:



The outward wolf, indeed, did not prowl about Joseph

(But) this envy has actually surpasses wolves (in malignity)

Hundreds of thousands of wolves have not this cunning

(But) this wolf at least be put to shame, stop (and see)


And this is the secret of the Day that all things will be tested, on that Day men will proceed in companies sorted out, to be shown the deeds that they (had done), the day that man will find the Purgatorial form of his deeds. If he acts toward divine guidance and perfection of human spirit, he has prepared his paradise and his deeds will bless him, because:


So that nightingale of prayer and praise

Ever warble sweetly around this garden

When the praise of God has flown from his mouth

The lord of the daybreak fashions it into a bird of Paradise


Therefore, in paradise believers ask angles: where is the hell? How is it that there is no sign of smoke and fire; then they say to the believers that:

Because of your good deeds, the Hell has become Paradise with beautiful garden for you since you have killed an infernal spirit of your soul and instead you have grown piety and faith, hence your anger has changed to meekness, ignorance to knowledge, the teasel grown from envy has changed to flower, and praises to pheasant:


The faithful will say on the last day, “O King!

Was not Hell on the route all of us traveled?

Did not faithful as well as infidels pass through it?

Yet on our way we perceived not the smoke of the fire

Nay, it seemed Paradise and the mansion of the blessed.”

Then the King will answer, “That green garden

As it appeared to you on your passage through it

Were indeed Hell and the place of dread torment

Yet for you it became a garden green with trees

Since you have labored to make hellish lusts

And the ‘fire of pride that courts destruction

To make these, I say, pure and clean

And, to please God, have quenched those fires

So that the fire of lust, that erst breathed flame

Has become a holy garden and a guiding light

Since you have turned the fire of wrath to meekness

And the darkness of ignorance to shining knowledge

Since you have turned the fire of greed into bounty

And the vile thorns of malice into a rose-garden

Since you have quenched all these fires of your own

For my sake, so that those poisons are now pure sweets

Since you have made fiery lust as a verdant garden

And have sowed therein the seed of fidelity

So that nightingales of prayer and praise

Ever warble sweetly around this garden

Since you have responded to the call of God

And have drawn water out of the hell of lust

For this cause my hell also, for your behoof

Becomes a verdant garden and yields leaves and fruit



As Imam Ali stated

after transmigration from this ecstatic body, the believers will finds their counterpart with the best appearance, garment and fragrance that offer them souls and spirits and the blessing Paradise.

The believer asks: who are you? He replies: “I am you good deeds”.(Vafi, book 13, p.92)


In other words, if a man in this world does not fulfill his divine duties according to God’s order, he will gradually deviates from the straight path of humanity and moves toward animal world, in this case his human spirit decline to animal one and he will have a life of animal. So he will be aroused with an animal like face in the Purgatory because every deed is adapted with its nature which is its actual purgatorial shape.


They were digging a pit for the oppressed

They (themselves) fell into the pit, crying “Alas”

They tore the coats of the Joseph

That which they gave they got, piece by piece



The purgatorial form of eating orphan’s property is a fire that will be the food of those in the Hell. “Those who eat the properties of the orphans unjustly, they swallow fire into their bellies” (4/10)

The reason behind human’s fear of death is that he knows there he would find present the true nature of his inner self. If one is infected with a terrible soul and a sinful spirit, it certainly would be frightening for him to face with such an inner self. So as Rumi says:




Your fear of death in fleeing (from it)

‘Tis (really) your fear of yourself, take heed O dear soul!

‘Tis your own ugly face, not the visage of death

Your spirit is like the tree, and death (is like) the leaf

It has grown from you, whether it is good or evil

Every hidden thought of yours, foul or fair, is born from yourself


Because all will find tangible forms of what they have accustomed to in the world.


Even as the soul flies towards the clay (of its body)

The scroll will fly into the left hand or the right

Into his hand will be put the scroll of avarice and liberality

Impiety and piety, and all the dispositions that he had formed yesterday

At dawn when he wakes from slumber

That good and evil will come back to him

If he has disciplined his moral nature

The same nature will present itself to him when he wakes

And if yesterday he was ignorant and wicked and misguided

He will find his left hand black as a letter of mourning

But if yesterday he was morally clean and pious and religious

When he wakes he will gain the precious pearl


In mystics view, sleep is the lesser resurrection, i.e. a sample of the Purgatory and Resurrection:



Our sleep and waking are two witnesses

Which attest to us the significance of death and Resurrection

The lesser resurrection has shown forth the greater resurrection

The lesser death has illumined the greater death

But this scroll is a fancy and hidden though

At the greater Resurrection it will be very clearly seen

Here this fancy is hidden (only) the traces are visible

But there He from this fancy will produce actual forms


That is to say, what is inside us is the exact form of what we will see in the Purgatory and this is the interpretation of the Day that all things will be tested owing to the fact that every deeds and actions have actual form in the Unseen World:


In what work have you exerted yourself without its returning to you

What have you sown without the produce of the seed coming back to you

Your action that is born of your soul and body

Clings to your skirt like your child

In the Unseen World the action is given a form

Is not a gallows erected for the act of robbery?

How should the gallows resemble robbery, but that is

The form given by God who knoweth things unseen



Or as he says in the first book:

21006.jpgThere is an unseen bringing forth of effects to action

And the results born of it are not in the control of creatures


While narrating the story of Luqman and the slaves who charged him as a theif, Rumi has well explained the implied meaning of the Day that all things will be tested, a day that insides will become apparent and secrets will be revealed.



In the presence of his master, Luqman was despised

Because of having a black body amidst his other slaves

He would send the slaves to the orchard so that fruit might

Come to him for his relaxation and enjoyment

Among the slaves, Luqman was viewed as a parasite He was dark of appearance like the night yet full of deep understanding

Those slaves happily ate up all of the fruits

Due to the plundering nature of greed

They told the master that Luqman ate them

The master became bitter and gravely serious toward Luqman When Luqman inquired about the cause

He opened his lips in disapproval of his master
Luqman said, “O princely master! In the presence of God A faithless servant is not approved

Test all of us. O noble master

Give us an excessive fill of hot water

And after that make us go into a great desert

You are riding on a mount and we are running on foot.

Then observe the wrong-doer

As well as the actions of the Revealer of Secrets

The master became the water-server of hot water

For the slaves and they drank it out of fear

After that he forced them into the desert plains

Those groups of men were running up and down the hills

They began vomiting due to their misery

And the water brought forth the fruit from within them When Luqman happened to vomit from the center (of his belly)

(Only) pure water was coming up from his inside
If the wisdom of Luqman knows about this demonstration

Then think what the Wisdom of the Lord of Existence is
On the Day when all hidden things will be put to the test Something hidden and unwished-for will appear from you



According to Rumi, the third kind of Incarnation is also accepted. He believes that body and accordingly heart metamorphosis is impossible and allowed and there have been examples of it among earlier nations. Mulla Sadra not only count it as permissible and possible fact but also he believes that is has happened to a group of pagans who have been headed by their ruthless selves and have had weak and feeble sense of reasoning. This is also implied by Quranic verses, i.e. inward joint with outward metamorphosis and turning away from humanity, such as verses that has been revealed about the Israelites. (And turned some of them to apes and swines) (Al-Ma’idah/ 60)(Be you apes, despised and rejected) (Al-Baqarah/65)

Through pointing to the Quranic story of Sabbath, Rumi has accepted the third kind of incarnation and has described it beautifully:


The violation of vows of repentance by the Fellows of the Sabbath

Became the cause of their metamorphosis and destruction and a bomination

Therefore god turned those people into apes

Since they rebelliously broke their covenant with God

In this community there has never been metamorphosis of the body

But there is metamorphosis of the spirit O man endowed with perception

When his spirit becomes the ape spirit

His clay is debased by the ape spirit

If his spirit had possessed the virtue from experience

How should the ass be debased by his form?

The dog of the companions had a goodly character

Was he any worse on account of his form?

The Fellows of the Sabbath suffered outward metamorphosis

In order that the people might behold outwardly their ignominious fall

Through breaking vows of repentance a hundred others

Have become hogs and asses inwardly



Incarnation is defined as transmigration of the reality of human deeds and attributes to spiritual substance which in the Purgatory will be depicted in a form adapted by it. In other words, man will be aroused according to his inner soul stages and will have an appearance proper to his deeds and behaviors. In addition to Quran, it has also been emphasized in several traditions. Also, Rumi has proposed the issue in his book, Masnavi, in a very effective and informative way. In his opinion, if one ignores the punishment of God, gradually villainous traits will penetrate to his soul and change it to a nature adapted by his deeds; hence after Resurrection he will be in the form of animal.


He will give our fleshly soul the form of an ass

Because He makes the outward forms to be in accordance with the inward nature

This is the manifestation of the secret as the Resurrection

by God, by God, flee from the ass-like body



Your mental pain shall become perceptible to the senses and manifest

See that you do not hold this indication as naught


According to Rumi, incarnation is the same as divine transmigration or inner metamorphosis because his form in the Purgatory will be determined based on dominant behaviors and attributes of human soul.


By this fall you metamorphosed yourself

From that existence which was the envy of the intelligences



Yet it is still possible to see the actual purgatorial face of some people for those who have the Purgatorial eye; the story of seeing human’s truth through fingers by one of the companions of Imam Sajjad during Hajj and so many others of this kind in the works narrating mystics life may confirm the above mentioned fact.


Muhammad ibn Muhammad Huseini (trans.) (2002). Mulla Sadra Shirazi, Sadr al-Muta’allihin, al-Mabda’ wa’l-ma’ad. Tehran: Center for Academic Publication.

Mulavi, Jalal al-Din Mohammad Balkhi (2008). Mathnavi Ma’navi, a Research by Karim Zamani, included with the description of verses. Tehran: Namak Publication.

Pahlavanian, Ahmad (2008). The Relation Between Body and Soul in Mulla Sadra’s Viewpoint. Tehran: Bustan Kitab.

Sabzevari, Haj Mulla Hadi (1992). Commentary on Mathnavi. Tehran: The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Hasan Zade Amoli (1996). اتحاد عاقل به معقول. Qiyam Publication.

Tabatabai, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn (2009). The Nature of Man - Before the World, in This World, and After This World. Tehran: Bustan Kitab.




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