The time had come for me to spiritually explore beyond the religion of my childhood. I first encountered the works of Rumi during my middle teens in the bloom of curiosity and eagerness to expand my mind. It was at the time I first also discovered Kahlil Gibran, and Alan Watts. All three thinkers who wrote concise, yet deep literature that soothes yet propels the mind. Gibran, Watts, and Rumi informed much of my life.
“Be empty of worrying…. Why do you stay in prison when the
door is so wide open? Move outside the tangle of fearful
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī was born on September 30th in the year 1207 CE, somewhere in the Khwarazmian imperial provinces. Experts differ on his exact place of birth. Some place him at Vakhsh, located in modern Tajikistan. Other scholars say his birthplace is Balkh, in modern Afghanistan. He was born into a distinguished family of learned theologians. His poetry utilizes everyday scenarios to describe the spiritual world as he saw it. His popularity among seekers and the general public remains strong.
At the time of the invasion of Central Asia by the Mongols, between 1215 and 1220 Rumi left home with his family and some of his father’s disciples. The caravan traveled throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Rumi had become a disciple of one of his father’s students, Sayad Burhan ud-Din Muhaqqiq. It was during this apprenticeship that Rumi first encountered Sufism and its body of literature regarding spiritual matters. In 1231, when Rumi was 24-years-old, his father died. Rumi inherited his father’s position and began his own legacy as a prominent teacher.
“Love’s secret is always lifting its head out from under the covers,
‘Here I am!'”
A major turning point in Rumi’s life happened in 1244 when he encountered the wandering Dervish, Shamsuddin of Tabriz. The two men became very close, dear friends. Legend says that when the two traveled to Damascus, Shamsuddin was murdered by some of Rumi’s students because they had become resentful of the relationship. Rumi never quite got over his love for Shamsuddin, so he channelled this love into dance, music, and poetry.
“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to
make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do, and that light becomes this art.”
Rumi’s poetry and teachings were written in the “New Persian” language that was utilized by thinkers and scholars from India to Islamic Spain. This enabled easy translation into local languages, and hence his popularity. Because his literature already had a foothold in the Iberian Peninsula, his popularity spread easily into the West.
Another reason for Rumi’s current popularity is because he was tolerant of all religions and people. Love and charity were the aim of his writings. The ultimate goal of his mysticism was unity with the “Beloved” or Allah or God.
“In truth everything and everyone
Is a shadow of the Beloved,
And our seeking is His seeking
And our words are His words…
We search for Him here and there,
while looking right at Him.
Sitting by His side, we ask:
‘O Beloved, where is the Beloved?”
The light of the Moon was one of Rumi’s favorite images.
“At night, I open the window and ask the moon to come and press its face against mine. Breathe into me. Close the language-door and open the love-window. The moon won’t use the door, only the window.”
Rumi next met the goldsmith, Salaud-Din-e Zarkub. The two became close companions. Salaud inspired another round of writing and poetry.
“You sit here for days saying, This is strange business.
You are the strange business. You have the energy of the sun in
you, but you keep knotting it up at the base of your spine.
You’re some weird kind of gold that wants to stay melted in
the furnace, so you won’t have to become coins.”
After the death of Salaud, Rumi deepened his friendship with one of his best disciples, Hussam-e Chalabi. The two spent their twilight years in Anatolla (present day Turkey). This is where he completed six volumes of the Masnavi, his masterpiece of rhyming couplets with profound meaning.
Mathnawi IV: 1856 (excerpt)
“The decrease of the food (allotted) by God carried out for
(the sake of) the Sufi’s soul and heart.
1856 When a sufi becomes sad and afflicted because of poverty,
the essential substance of poverty becomes his milk-nurse and
Because Paradise has grown from disagreeable things, and
(Divine) Mercy is the (allotted) portion of a helpless and
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī died on December 17, 1273 at Konya (in present day Turkey). He was buried alongside his father. Contemporary admirers of Rumi can visit the Mevlana mausoleum in Konya, Turkey. It is comprised of a mosque, a dervish dormitory, and dancing place.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a Rumi passage. “Love comes with a knife, not some shy question, and not with fears for its reputation!”