Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (30 September 1207 � 17 December 1273), was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi is a descriptive name meaning ‘the Roman’ since he lived most of his life in an area called Rum because it was once ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire.
Rumi was born in Greater Balkh (Bakhtarzamin), present-day Afganistan, and thus he is also called Balkhi, as well as also being popularly known as Mowlana. He lived most of his life under the Sultanate of Rum, where he produced his works. He was buried in Konya and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Following his death, his followers and his son Sultan Walad founded the Mawlawiyah Sufi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for its Sufi dance known as the ‘sama’ ceremony.
Rumi was a philosopher and mystic of Islam, but not a Muslim of the orthodox type. His doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. To him and to his disciples, all religions are more or less truth. Looking with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, his peaceful and tolerant teaching has appealed to men of all sects and creeds.
When the Mongols invaded Central Asia sometime between 1215 and 1220, Rumi, with his whole family, set out westwards. On the road to Anatolia, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, Attar, in the Iranian city of Nishapur, located in the province of Khorasan. Attar immediately recognized Rumi’s spiritual eminence. He saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, ‘Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.’ He gave the boy his Asrarnama, a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world. This meeting had a deep impact on the eighteen-year-old Rumi, and later on became the inspiration for his works.
In 1225, Rumi married Gowhar Khatun in Karaman. They had two sons: Sultan Walad and Ala-eddin Chalabi. When his wife died, Rumi married again and had a son, Amir Alim Chalabi, and a daughter, Malakeh Khatun.
It was his meeting with the dervish Shams-e Tabrizi on 15 November 1244 that completely changed Rumi’s life. Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East, searching and praying for someone who could ‘endure my company’. A voice said to him, ‘What will you give in return?’ Shams replied, ‘My head!’ The voice then said, ‘The one you seek is Jalal ud-Din of Konya.’ On the night of 5 December 1248, as Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door. He went out, never to be seen again. It is rumored that Shams was murdered with the connivance of Rumi’s son, ‘Ala’ ud-Din; if so, Shams indeed gave his head for the privilege of mystical friendship.
Rumi’s love for, and his bereavement at the death of, Shams found their expression in an outpouring of music, dance, and lyric poems, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. He himself went out searching for Shams and journeyed again to Damascus. There, he realized: ‘Why should I seek? I am the same as He. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself!’
Rumi found another companion in Salah ud-Din-e Zarkub, a goldsmith. After Salah ud-Din’s death, Rumi’s scribe and favorite student, Hussam-e Chalabi, assumed the role of Rumi’s companion. One day, the two of them were wandering through the Meram vineyards outside Konya when Hussam described to Rumi an idea he had had: ‘If you were to write a book like the Ilahinama of Sanai or the Mantiq ut-Tayr of Attar, it would become the companion of many troubadours. They would fill their hearts from your work and compose music to accompany it.’ Rumi smiled and took out a piece of paper on which were written the opening eighteen lines of his Masnavi, beginning with: ‘Listen to the reed and the tale it tells / How it sings of separation…’
Hussam implored Rumi to write more. Rumi spent the next twelve years of his life in Anatolia dictating the six volumes of this masterwork, the Masnavi, to Hussam.
In December 1273, Rumi fell ill; he predicted his own death and composed the well-known ghazal, which begins with the verse: ‘How doest thou know what sort of king I have within me as companion? / Do not cast thy glance upon my golden face, for I have iron legs.’
Rumi died on 17 December 1273 in Konya; his body was interred beside that of his father, and a splendid shrine, the Yesil Turbe (Green Tomb, today the Mevlana Museum), was erected over his place of burial. His epitaph reads: ‘When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.’
The general theme of Rumi’s thought, like that of other mystic and Sufi poets of Persian literature, is essentially that of the concept of tawhid � union with his beloved (the primal root) from which/whom he has been cut off and become aloof � and his longing and desire to restore it.
The Masnavi weaves fables, scenes from everyday life, Qur�anic revelations and exegesis, and metaphysics into a vast and intricate tapestry. Rumi is considered to be an example of Insan-e Kamil � Perfect Man, the perfected or completed human being. In the East, it is said of him that he was ‘not a prophet � but surely, he has brought a scripture.’
Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry, and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine, and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of ‘whirling’ dervishes developed into a ritual form. His teachings became the base for the order of the Mawlawi, which his son Sultan Walad organized. Rumi encouraged sama, listening to music and turning or doing the sacred dance. In the Mevlevi tradition, sama represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. In this journey, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the Perfect. The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey, with greater maturity, to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination with regard to beliefs, races, classes, and nations.
Rumi was an evolutionary thinker in the sense that he believed that the spirit after devolution from the divine Ego undergoes an evolutionary process by which it comes nearer and nearer to the same divine Ego. All matter in the universe obeys this law and this movement is due to an inbuilt urge (which Rumi calls �love�) to evolve and seek enjoinment with the divinity from which it has emerged. Evolution into a human being from an animal is only one stage in this process. The doctrine of the Fall of Adam is reinterpreted as the devolution of the Ego from the universal ground of divinity and is a universal, cosmic phenomenon. The French philosopher Henri Bergson’s idea of life being creative and evolutionary is similar, though unlike Bergson, Rumi believes that there is a specific goal to the process: the attainment of God. For Rumi, God is the ground as well as the goal of all existence.
However, Rumi need not be considered a biological evolutionary creationist. In view of the fact that Rumi lived hundreds of years before Darwin, and was least interested in scientific theories, it is probable to conclude that he does not deal with biological evolution at all. Rather he is concerned with the spiritual evolution of a human being: man not conscious of God is akin to an animal and true consciousness makes him divine. Nicholson has seen this as a Neo-Platonic doctrine: the universal soul working through the various spheres of being, a doctrine introduced into Islam by Muslim philosophers like Al Farabi and being related at the same time to Ibn Sina’s idea of love as the magnetically working power by which life is driven into an upward trend.
Barely known in the West as recently as 15 years ago, Rumi is now one of the most widely read poets in America. His is an exciting new literary and philosophical force. �Rumi deals with the human condition and that is always relevant,� says Shahram Shiva. �Rumi is able to verbalize the highly personal and often confusing world of personal growth and development in a very clear and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone, and he includes everyone. The world of Rumi is neither exclusively the world of a Sufi, nor the world of a Hindu, nor a Jew, nor a Christian; it is a state of an evolved human. A human who is not bound by cultural limitations; a one who touches every one of us. Today Rumi’s poems can be heard in churches, synagogues, Zen monasteries, as well as in the downtown New York art/performance/music scene.�
According to Professor Majid M. Naini, �Rumi’s life and transformation provide true testimony and proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony. Rumi�s visions, words, and life teach us how to reach inner peace and happiness so we can finally stop the continual stream of hostility and hatred and achieve true global peace and harmony.�
Rumi’s work has been translated into many of the world’s languages, including Russian, German, Urdu, Turkish, Arabic, Bengali, French, Italian, and Spanish, and is being presented in a growing number of formats, including concerts, workshops, readings, dance performances, and other artistic creations. The English interpretations of Rumi’s poetry by Coleman Barks have sold more than half a million copies worldwide, and Rumi is one of the most widely read poets in the United States.