The Grape Story
I realize we’ve reached mosque overload here, but I have an obscure textual question about a story the Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf tells in a video I linked to recently, which in itself really has nothing to do with the Park 51 debate. Also I wanted to point out some weird snychronicity, to be a good Jungian.
First the story, as I read it yesterday in Gérard de Nerval’s 1851 text Voyage en Orient, which I am puzzling through for my dissertation (a really strange book, but highly recommended.) Nerval talks about his kinship with various philosophical and religious traditions throughout the book and ends with a story, which he attributes to the Turks, about the underlying unity of religious ideas. An Arab, a Persian, a Turk, and a Greek Orthodox traveling companion are eating together and find they have very little money for food. What will they eat? The Turk suggests, “Uzum”, the Arab “Ineb”, the Persian “Inghur”, and the Greek “Stafilion”. The four start to fight about this and are ready to come to blows when a wandering “dervish”, according to Nerval, brings the group a basket of grapes, which is what each one is asking for in his own language.
Like Jason’s recent post (as I understand it), the story is about different faiths addressing the absolute divine reality in different tongues, and arguing about the terms. Researching the topic, I’ve found the story was very popular with 19th century theosophists, and Nerval was quite likely a theosophist. A cursory definition of theosophy is that theosophists believe that all faiths are one, to paraphrase Blake.
Now the Imam Rauf attributes the story to Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi at about the 11:56 point here:
I’ve always found Rumi fascinating, but haven’t read nearly enough of his poetry. Does anyone know if this story really originates in Rumi? It’s certainly in keeping with nineteenth century theosophy, which holds (in its more moderate form) that all spiritual seekers beckoning towards God in specific creedal traditions are seeking the same thing in different tongues. But it’s also not at odds with a specific Sufi tradition that holds that all faiths succeed, to some extent, in pulling back the veils hiding the divine; Islam gets a bit closer, but that’s all. Muslims will note that this isn’t a huge leap from what the Quran says about people of the book.
Okay, so the obscure question: Has anyone read enough Rumi to know if this story originated there and the theosophists borrowed it, or if this Imam is really borrowing it, mistakenly, from the theosophists?
As for the syncrhonicity: I read the story in Nerval and the next day heard it this video, after reading Jason’s similar story here. All of which touch on the myriad faith traditions using different terms to say the same thing.