When we think about the story that Hazrat Inayat Khan recounted here, of Moses on his way to Mt. Sinai to converse with the Almighty, we can recognise that, regardless of our condition in life, there is a tendency, at least in some people, to wonder where we stand with God. If we do think about such matters, we probably identify more with the drunk in the story than with the pious man – meaning that, knowing all too well our imperfections, we assume that in the course of life we have fallen short in too many categories to enumerate.

That is certainly the assumption of Khwaja Abdullah Ansari in his poem, or perhaps prayer is a better word, asking God to forgive him his sins, not for his own sake but only because to punish him for his shortcomings would sadden the heart of the Prophet. A strict logician might read this poem and think, well, this reasoning seems to offer us a free passage. We can break all the rules, indulge in whatever we want, and use this argument to escape all retribution.

However, if we read the poem not with logic but with the heart, we feel at once the poet’s profound contrition. Without attempting to excuse himself, he confesses that he has fallen short of the teachings of God’s messenger, to the delight of God’s enemy. What is more, his humility is shown in his pleading for forgiveness not on his own account but for the sake of the heart of God’s undoubted friend, Muhammed.

This is an illustration of the Sufi teaching that love is above law; it is not by logic that our errors will be forgiven, but by the flow of love and compassion, a flow released by our sincere repentance.

Hazrat Inayat Khan speaks of the thorns we carry in our hearts, meaning the judgments and resentments of the wrongs we have suffered from others, but once we have unburdened our hearts of our own shortcomings, as Khwaja Abdullah Ansari does in his poem, the offences of others seem less significant. If we have never bowed in genuine humility, we will probably be a harsh judge of others – and paradoxically, of ourselves as well – but once we have truly asked forgiveness, and accepted a compassionate, enfolding embrace in return, it becomes easier to forgive.

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