RUMI

WHEN YOU DO THINGS FROM YOUR SOUL, YOU FEEL A RIVER MOVING IN YOU, A JOY.

 

Famous for his dedication to love and tolerance, the Persian religious scholar and poet Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi is remembered on a worldwide scale as one of the most articulate and moving advocates for respect and cooperation across religious, national, and other borders. Popularly known as Rumi, he devoted his life to the contemplation of God and love, and wrote pages and pages of passionate poetry describing his experience of both. In contemporary times his writing is embraced as much by rock & roll superstars and peace loving hippies as by religious readers inspired by Rumi’s descriptions of his relationship to God. [1]  

 

Rumi was born in September of 1207, but his hometown is unknown; historians believe he was born in either Balkh (in modern Afghanistan) or Vakhsh (in modern Tajikstan) [2]. When he was five years old, he and his family were forced to move to Baghdad to escape the invading Mongol marauders who were then fighting under Genghis Khan [3].  Three years later, as an eight year old, Rumi moved again, this time passing through Mecca and Damascus and eventually settling in Konya, then the capital of the Seljuk empire and now part of modern-day Turkey. [4]

 

Rumi’s father, Sultanul Ulema Bahaeddin Veled, trained the boy in Islamic studies throughout his youth, but died when Rumi was still young. When Sayyid Burhaneddin, an old friend of Rumi’s father, heard the news, he felt it was his duty to travel to Konya so that he could take over as Rumi’s teacher and spiritual guide. Sayyid Burhaneddin taught Rumi for nine years and was one in a line of several very important teachers in Rumi’s life. [5]

 

As part of his initial religious training, Rumi meditated often and spent a lot of time fasting. He also travelled around the Middle East – frequently in what is now Syria – to study with the most wise and well-respected Muslim scholars. [6]  Most of Rumi’s training was quite conservative, traditional, and book-heavy: he focused on reading and understanding religious texts, and was an expert in shari’ah law. [7] Then, in his mid-thirties, something happened which completely changed his life and his approach to Islam. 

 

No one is entirely sure how Rumi first met Shems of Tebriz, the man who would become Rumi’s best friend and most beloved mentor. Shems was a dervish, a member of the Sufi order of Islam popularly known for the beautiful whirling dances they use as a form of meditation. He was probably in his sixties, and was not much to look at. According to lore, he was a wanderer who wore raggedy clothes and looked old and quite scruffy. [8] Nevertheless, Shems one day walked up to Rumi and challenged him. Some say that Shems began a debate with Rumi about whether the Prophet Muhammad was greater than the mystic Beyazid-i Bestami. At first, Rumi was shocked by the provocative question, but soon the two men were deep in conversation about the virtues of the Prophet. After a few minutes, they had impressed each other so much with their wisdom and dedication to God that they spontaneously embraced as long-lost friends. Then, they set off together for Rumi’s house to continue the conversation. [9]

 

Shems of Tebriz became Rumi’s closest friend and mentor. Before meeting Shems, Rumi had focused all his energy on shari’ah law and on advising and supporting his local community in legal and religious matters. Once Shems and Rumi began to talk, it seemed they couldn’t stop – they spent hours talking alone together about Islam, both feeling that they were something like spiritual twins, or mirror reflections of each other’s spiritual identity. [10] Meanwhile, the local townspeople began to feel quite frustrated with Shems. 

 

Unable to understand why their community leader would become so dedicated to an old man in rags, the locals began to threaten Shems. This lasted for a while – at one point Shems disappeared and Rumi and his family feared the worst, but were able to track him down in another city. Rumi was blissful and relieved – he even gave one of his daughters to Shems in marriage – but the feeling didn’t last long. As the story goes, one evening while passing the time at Rumi’s house, Shems stepped outside upon hearing someone calling him, and was struck down. His body was never found. Scholars believe that he was assassinated by the very people who had threatened him for taking too much of Rumi’s attention. [11]

 

Rumi was incredibly saddened by the loss of his best friend. He would encounter other important mentors over the course of his life, but Shems had triggered a unique realization in Rumi. Fortunately, Shems had already left his mark. Inspired, Rumi wrote pages and pages about love and the importance of human relationships. Emphasizing the beauty of the latter, he believed that there were three ways of becoming close with God: prayer, meditation, and conversation with other people. [12]  He argued for goodness and for charity. Confident that love was the secret to peace, he once wrote, “From love, thorns become flowers”. [13]

 

Rumi died on December 17th, 1273, having composed three enormous texts praising love of God and love of one’s fellow humans. It is said that mourners of all religions and backgrounds attended his funeral. Moreover, his legacy lives on today. People around the world – of all different religions and cultures – appreciate Rumi’s reflections on love. Pope John XXIII once declared that he “bowed with respect before the memory of Rumi”. [14]  Even Madonna produced a song which borrowed lyrics from the Persian poet. [15] To honor his 800th birthday, the United Nations (UN) named 2007 the Year of Rumi. According to the UN, it was a year for celebrating our shared humanity, for realising that divisions based on faith or nationality are small and superficial, and that we are all dependent on one another. [16]

 
 

[1] Haviland, Charles. “The roar of Rumi – 800 years on.” BBC News 30 September 2007. Online.
[2] Curiel, Jonathan. “Can Rumi save us now? Life and words of the popular 13th-century Persian poet have special meaning for a 21st-century world torn by war, genocide and hatred.” San Francisco Chronicle 1 April 2007. Online. 
[3] Shahriari, Shahriar. Rumi on Fire. N.p., 1998. Web. 2 April 2013. 
[4] Ibid. 
[5] “The Life and Spiritual Milieu of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi.” The Threshold Society. The Threshold Society, n.d. Web. 2 April 2013. 
[6] Ibid.
[7] Dalrymple, William. “What goes round…” The Guardian 5 November 2005. Online. 
[8] “Mevlana Jalaleddin Rumi.” EMAV. Emav.org, 2010. Web. 2 April 2013.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “The Life and Spiritual Milieu of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi.” The Threshold Society. The Threshold Society, n.d. Web. 2 April 2013.
[11] “Mevlana Jalaleddin Rumi.” EMAV. Emav.org, 2010. Web. 2 April 2013.
[12] “Different Ways of Laughing: Gibson Fay-LeBlanc interviews Coleman Barks.” Guernica 27 February 2007. Online.
[13] Curiel, Jonathan. “Can Rumi save us now? Life and words of the popular 13th-century Persian poet have special meaning for a 21st-century world torn by war, genocide and hatred.” San Francisco Chronicle 1 April 2007. Online.
[14] Mevlana.net The Çelebi Family, n.d. Web. 2 April 2013. 
[15] Haviland, Charles. “The roar of Rumi – 800 years on.” BBC News 30 September 2007. Online.
[16] “Secretary-General’s remarks at the Rumi Commemoration.” United Nations. United Nations, 2007. Web. 2 April 2013.