Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207 - 1273)

The greatest mystical poet of Persia, famous for his didactic epic Masnavi-ye Ma'navi (Spiritual Couplets), a treasure-house of Sufi mysticism. The theme of Rumi's ghazals is sacred love. After Rumi's death his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyah order, called in the West the "Whirling Dervishes".

This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
Whewn I'm outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.

(from 'Who says words with my mouth?', trans. by Coleman Barks)
Jalal al-Din Rumi, known to his disciples as Maulana Rumi, "Our Master, the Byzantine", was born in Balkh, Ghurid empire (now in Afghanistan). His father, Baha'uddin Walad, was a jurist and preacher. The family moved from place to place, perhaps because political reasons or because Baha'uddin Walad did not have success as a preacher. Also the times were violent. The Mongols had turned against the Islamic states. They destroyed Balkh in 1221, and eventually conquered Baghdad in 1258. According to some sources, Rumi was visiting Baghdad just before it was sacked by the Mongols. The family settled for some time in Aleppo and Damascus, where Rumi is said to have studied. He perhaps met the great mystic Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240) or his students. From Syria the family travelled to Laranda, where Rumi's mother, Mu'mine Khatun, died.
Rumi married at the age of eighteen. His first son, Sultan Walad, was born in Larada. After the death of his father in Konya in Anatolia, Rumi continued there as a teacher and theologian. Although Baha'uddin Walad had been known for his visionary powers, and he had written about spiritual love, at that time Rumi was not interested in the mystical tradition. Late in October 1244 (in some sources on November 30), Rumi met the wandering dervish called Shamsuddin of Tabriz (Shams ad-Din). Shams did not observe the Shariah, the Holy Law of Islam, and he believed that he is united with the Muhammadan Light. The encounter was the turning point in Rumi's life. Shams asked, "Who was greater, Mohammad the Prophet or the Persian mystic Bayezid Bistami?" Bistami could cry in ecstasy that he and the Godhead were one; Mohammad was the Messenger of God.
"You are either the light of God or God," Rumi wrote of Shams later in one poem. He neglected his teaching duties and family, and spent all his time with the dervish, whom he would compare to Jesus. The holy man left the town as mysteriously as he had appeared. "But suddenly God's jealousy appeared, / And whispering filled all the mouths around," explained Sultan Walad in his book Waladnama. The disappearance of Shams turned Rumi into a poet.
Shams returned again to Konya, but in 1248 he vanished completely. It was rumored that he was murdered with the connivance of Rumi' second son Ala'uddin (Alaeddin). Rumi searched his friend without results, describing it as the search of his own identity: "Indeed I sought my own self, that is sure, / Fermenting in the vat, just like the must." Rumi depicted himself as a man who was created from the wine of Love, but Love was also something that was beyond letters, it was eternal life, fire, tower of light, black lion, an ocean with invisible waves - love was limitless. "Pass beyond form, escape from names!" he wrote. "Flee titles and names toward meaning!" Rumi's poetry is full of images of Love.
Rumi's association with Shams has been compared to the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but it also has psychological similarities with the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist - or even with James Boswell's worship of Dr. Johnson. Rumi wrote some 30,000 verses about his love, longing, and loneliness. They were collected in Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz (Divan of Shams of Tabriz), in which he appended Shams's name as the author. Rumi used often the traditional form of love lyric, the ghazal, which consists generally of five to twelve lines and employs one single rhyme through the poem.
After the death of Shams, Rumi met an illiterate goldsmith, Salahuddin Zarkub (Salah ad-Din Zarkub), and wrote some poems under Salahuddin's name. This was another scandal but in spite of the public reaction Rumi also married Sultan Walad to Salahuddin's daughter. After the death of his first wife, Rumi married Kira Khatum of Christian background; they had two children.
Salahuddin Zarkub died in 1258. Hasamuddin Chelebi (Husam ad-Din Chelebi), one of Rumi's students, became for him a new mirror of Love in the world, which is the mirror of God. "The wine is one; only the vessel's changed -" Rumi said in a poem. During the following years, he composed the nearly 26,000 couplets of the Masnavi-ye Ma'navi, but he did not mention Shams's name anymore. Rumi died in Konya on December 17, 1273. His cat died a week later and was buried close to his master. Rumi remained a major influence upon Sufism. His followers have sometimes claimed to have experienced his nearness.
It is believed that Rumi created his poems in a state of ecstasy, accompanying his verses by a whirling dance. After Shams's death Rumi had started in his grief to circle a pole in his garden, and speak the poetry, which was written down by scribes. However, listening to music and ecstatic prayer rituals were already before Rumi features of Sufism. In the 12th century dervishes emerged throughout the Islamic world. Dance was a rhythmic expression of dhikr, an Arabic word meaning 'remembrance'. The repetition of religious formulas, the dhkir, was based on Gur'an: "O believers, remember God often and give him glory at dawn and in the evening." In the simple reed flute Rumi saw the metaphor for himself: "Listen to the reed, how it tells a tale, complaining of separateness." The sama', the mystical dance, was for Rumi more than a technique for meditation, it was the cosmic truth, the manifestation of the secret power of God. The sun dances on the sky, the Eternal is the axis, and the entire universe is dancing and whirling around Him. "Whatever there is, is only He, / your foot steps there in dancing: / The whirling, see, belongs to you, / and you belong to the whirling."
For further reading: 'Jälkisanat' by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, in Mawlaana Rumi: Rakkaus on musta leijona, trans. by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila (2002); Rumi by Franklin D. Lewis (2000); Rumi's World by Annemarie Schimmel (1992); Baha-i Walad: Grundzüge seines Lebens und seiner Mystik by Fritz Meier (1989); The Sufi Path of Love by W.C. Chittick (1983); The Triumphal Sun by Annemarie Schimmel (1978); The Whirling Dervishes by Ira Shems Friedlander (1975); The Life amd Work of Muhammad Jalal ud-Din Rumi by Afsal Iqbal (1974); Rumi: Poet and Mystic by Reynold Nicholson (1950); The Metaphysics of Rumi by Khalifa Abdul Hakim (1933); Waladnama by Sultan Walad (1315/1936) - Note: Masnavi is a longish narrative poem, which is suitable for epics dealing with mysticism, philosophy, and spiritual truths.
Selected works:
  • Selected Poems from the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi of Jalaluddin Rumi, 1898 (trans. and ed. by R.A. Nicholson, repr. 1961)
  • Mathnawi-yi ma'nawi, 1925-1940 (8 vols., trans. by Reynold A. Nicholson)
  • Maktubat, 1937 (ed. by Faridun Nafiz Uzluk)
  • Diwan-i kabir, 1957-1976 (10 vols., ed. by Badi'uzzaman Furuzanfar)
  • Mystical Poems of Rumi: First Selection, 1968 (trans. by A.J. Arberry)
  • Fihi ma fihi, 1969 (ed. by Badi'uzzaman Furuzanfar)
  • Mystical Poems of Rumi: Second Selection, 1979 (trans. by A.J. Arberry)
  • The Essential Rumi, 1995 (trans. by Coleman Barks)
  • Signs of the Unseen, 1999 (trans. by W.M. Thackston)
  • The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, 2001 (trans. by Coleman Barks et al.)


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