Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207 – 1273) was a Sufi mystic and Persian poet. His mystical poetry has a universal appeal, which has made him one of most celebrated poets of the modern age.
Rumi was born in 1207 in Wakhsh (present-day Tajikistan), in what is now Afghanistan. He travelled frequently throughout his life, due to the political turmoil’s of his era. After the Mongol invasion of Central Asia around 1215, Rumi’s family moved steadily westward. They visited Baghdad (in modern day Iraq), Persia (modern day Iran) and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. The family finally settled in Konya (modern day Turkey)
Rumi was brought up in the Islamic faith, and became well acquainted with the Quran. Rumi became a celebrated scholar and was admired for his learning. At the age of 25, Rumi took up a position as the Islamic molvi of a madras in Konya. Although following the Sufi path, he became an Islamic jurist and gave sermons in the mosques of Konya.
However, his life changed when he met the wandering Sufi mystic Sham al – Din in 1244. This meeting had a profound impact on Rumi, he felt Sham to be a divinely inspired person and he took him to be his Guru. Under the guidance of Shams, Rumi lost interest in the more cerebral academic studies and became enamoured of the way of the mystic – the path of the heart. Rumi became an ascetic and devoted to the unorthodox spiritual path.
The sky was lit
by the splendor of the moon
I fell to the ground
has made me sure
I am ready to forsake
this worldly life
to the magnificence
of your Being
– Rumi, Translated by: Fereydoun Kia
Only 4 years after meeting Shams, Shams disappeared (rumours suggested he was murdered with the connivance of Rumi’s son, jealous of his father’s devotion to Shams). Rumi’s grief led to some of his greatest poetry in the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi.
This spiritual devotion manifested itself in Rumi’s ecstatic mystical poetry. In particular, Rumi captured the divine romance of lover and beloved – the perpetual yearning for the Divine.
The flowers are blooming
with the exultation of your Spirit.
I long to escape the prison of my ego
and lose myself
in the mountains and the desert.
Through his poetry, Rumi expressed his philosophy which included tolerance of all religious beliefs, the importance of goodness and charity, the belief in reincarnation and the souls evolution. Rumi also playfully hinted at the limitations of conventional morality and religion – hinting the way of the heart transcended religious doctrines. Above all, he advocated the importance of love. Rumi passionately believed in the capacity of poetry, music and dance as a path to union with God.
Both light and shadow
are the dance of Love.
Love has no cause;
it is the astrolabe of God’s secrets.
Lover and Loving are inseparable
Although I may try to describe Love
when I experience it I am speechless.
– Rumi, Translated by: Fereydoun Kia
Rumi’s poetry contained lines based on the Quran, but he explored themes beyond the narrow boundaries of religion. People see in his poetry a glimpse of the Divine and universal quest of love. This transcendental quality of Rumi’s poetry has given him a universal appeal. Even during his lifetime, he acquired followers from a diversity of religious background.
Rumi died on 17 December 1273 in Konya. The epitaph on the place of his burial states:
When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.
At his funeral, which lasted over a month, he was visited by Muslims, Jews, Persians, Christians and Greeks.
Rumi’s teachings and poetry formed a basis for the practise of the whirling Dervishes and the path of the Mevlevi tradition of Sufism. Rumi’s faith was born from the Islamic religion. He makes frequent reference to the Quran.
Flee to God’s Qur’an, take refuge in it there with the spirits of the prophets merge. The Book conveys the prophets’ circumstances those fish of the pure sea of Majesty.
However, Rumi was never limited to scriptural interpretations of religious doctrine. He taught and exemplified the fact that the essential aspect of religion is an individual seeking and personal experience of the divine. According to E. Brown, Rumi was a Sunni Muslim, but it an interpretation of Islam that was mystical and universal.
The Essential Rumi
The Rumi Collection