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Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207 - 1273)


The greatest mystical poet of Persia, famous for his didactic epic Mathnawi (or 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.
When I'm outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.

(in 'Who says words with my mouth?', tr. Coleman Barks)

Jalal al-Din Rumi, known to his disciples as Mawlana Rumi, "the learned master of Anatolia", was born in Balkh, Ghurid empire on the eastern boundaries of the Persian world (today situated at the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan). His father, Baha'uddin Walad, was a Muslim preacher and jurist. He named his son Muhammad but later called him by the additional name Jalalu-'d-din (The Glory of the Faith). In the West, he is usually known as Rumi, Rum referring to the Anatolian peninsula, "the Greek-occupied lands". 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.

Some sources tell that Rumi was visiting Baghdad just before it was sacked by the Mongols. The family lived for some time in Aleppo and Damascus, where Rumi is said to have studied. Rumi  was educated in the traditional Islamic sciences. 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. Eventually they settled in Konya, in Anatolia, a rare haven during the Mongol invasion. According to an Arab legend, the remains of the Greek philosopher Plato were buried in the city. Existential nonbelonging defined Rumi's life, or as he said in a ghazal attributed to him: "What solution is there, o Muslims? As I don't know myself / I am no Christian, nor am I Jewish, nor Zoroastrian, nor Muslim. / Neither am I of the East, nor the West, neither am I of the Earth nor the sea; / Neither am I of natural elements, nor am I of the rotation skies."

Rumi married at the age of eighteen. His first son, Sultan Walad, was born in Larada. After the death of his father in Konya, Rumi continued there as a teacher and religious authority issuing opinions (fatwas) pertaining to the Islamic law (Shariah).

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, 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. To the horror of his family, he neglected his teaching duties, 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, was married to a young girl who had been brought up in Rumi's family, 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, and went again to Damascus. Describing this period as the search of his own identity he wrote: "Indeed I sought my own self, that is sure, / Fermenting in the vat, just like the must." Rumi saw 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 said. "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. Rumi had cordial relations with Christians, but in accordance with the Qur'an, he did not belive that Jesus is a God: "How could it be allowed as a possibility that a frail person . . . with a bodfy shorter that two cubits could be the keeper and preserved of the seven heavens . . .?" According to John Renard, who has surveyed the role of Jesus and other Gospel figures in Rumi's works, "Jesus' importance for Rūmī was slightly below that of Moses, about equal to that of Abraham, and slightly greater than that of David, Solomon, and Noah." (Images of Jesus Christ in Islam: 2nd Edition by Oddbjørn Leirvik, 2010, p. 91)

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. The work, published in six volumes, was never completed. His other major works include Ruba'iyyat, whose Istanbul edition consists of 3318 verses, Fihi ma fihi (The Discourses), Makatib (a collection of letters), and Majalis-i sab-ah, which consists of sermons and lectures. Rumi died in Konya on December 17, 1273. Christians and Jews joined his funeral procession, too. Rumi's 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. Rumi's first translation were made at the end of the 18th century. Jacques van Wallenberg, an Austrian diplomat in Istanbul in the 1790s, carried out the first modern edition of Mathnawi. In the English-speaking world, The Mathnawi of Jalalud'din Rumi (1925-40) by Reynold Alleyne Nicholson was the first major edition. Nicholson's student, A.J. Arberry, translated its stories in lucid prose (Tales from the Masnavi, 1968). The translations of the American free verse poets Robert Bly and Coleman Barks have been immensely popular. Kabir Helminki's and Daniel Liebert's collections embrace Rumi's ecstatic experience in free verse.

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." Some of Rumi's poems refer to the effects of hashish: "God has put into the form of hashish a power to deliver the taster from self-consciousness."

For further reading: Translating Rumi into the West: A Linguistic Conundrum and Beyond by Amir Sedaghat (2023); The Hidden Teachings of Rumi by Doug Henry Marman, Farzad Khalvati, Mitra Shafaei (2019); Rumi's Secret: The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love by Brad Gooch (2017);  Rumi and the Sufi Tradition by John A. Moyne (2009);  'Jälkisanat' by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, in Mawlaana Rumi: Rakkaus on musta leijona (2002); Rumi by Franklin D. Lewis (2000); The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi by Andrew Harvey (1994); Rumi's World by Annemarie Schimmel (1992); Baha-i Walad: Grundzüge seines Lebens und seiner Mystik by Fritz Meier (1989); Islamic Art and Spirituality by  Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1987); 'Jesus and other Gospel Figures in the Writings of Jalal al-Din Rumi' by John Renard, in Hamdard Islamicus 10 (1987); 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 and 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. - Suomennoksia: Ruokopillin tarinoita: kertomuksia Dzalaladdin Rumin Masnavista, 1995 (suom. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila); Rakkaus on musta leijona, 2002 (suom. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila); Kauppias ja papukaija, 2010 (suom. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila)  

Selected works:

  • The Mesnevi (usually known as the Mesneviyi sherif, or holy Mesnevi) of Mevlana (our Lord) Jelalu-d-Din, Muhammed, er-Rumi, 1881
  • Masnavi i Manavi, the Spiritual Couplets of Maulana Jalalu-d'-Din Muhammad i Rumi, 1887 (translated and abridged by E.H. Whinfield)
  • The Mesnevi, 1881 (tr. James Redhouse)
  • Selected Poems from the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi of Jalaluddin Rumi, 1898 (translated and edited by R.A. Nicholson, repr. 1961)
  • The Masnavi, 1910 (tr. C.E. Wilson; repr. 1976)
  • The Masnavi, by Jalalu 'd-Din Rumi. Book II, 1919 (2 vols., translated for the first time from the Persian into prose, with commentary, by C. E. Wilson)
  • Mathnawi-i ma'nawi, 1925-1940 (8 vols., tr. Reynold A. Nicholson; rep. 1989, 1996)
  • Tales of Mystic Meaning, Being Selections from the Mathnawi of Jalal-ud-Din Rumi, 1931 (tanslated with an introduction by R.A. Nicolson; frequently reprinted)
  • Maktubat, 1937 (ed. Faridun Nafiz Uzluk)
  • The Rubaiyat of Jalal al-Din Rumi, 1949 (select translations into English verse by A. J. Arberry)
  • Rumi, Poet and Mystic, 1207-1273, 1950 (selections from his writings translated from the Persian with introd. and notes by Reynold A. Nicholson; frequently reprinted)
  • Diwan-i kabir, 1957-1976 (10 vols., ed. Badi'uzzaman Furuzanfar)
  • Mystical Poems of Rumi: First Selection, 1968 (tr. A.J. Arberry)
  • Fihi ma fihi, 1969 (ed. Badi'uzzaman Furuzanfar)
  • Rumi: Fragments, Ecstasies, 1981 (tr. Daniel Liebert)
  • Night and Sleep, 1981 (tr. Robert Bly and Coleman Barks)
  • Open Secret, 1984 (tr. Coleman Barks and John Moyne)
  • Look! This Is Love, 1991 (tr. Annemarie Schlimmel; rep. 1996)
  • Magnificent One, 1993 (tr. Nevit O. Ergin)
  • Love is a Strager, 1993 (tr. Kabir Helminksi)
  • The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi, 1994 (by Andrew Harvey)
  • Rumi Fountain of Fire, 1994 (tr. Nader Khalili)
  • The Essential Rumi, 1995 (tr. Coleman Barks, with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson)
  • The Illuminated Rumi, 1997 (tr. Coleman Barks)
  • Signs of the Unseen, 1999 (tr. W.M. Thackston)
  • The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, 2001 (tr. Coleman Barks et al.)
  • The Masnavi: Book One, 2004 (tr. Jawid Mojadeddi)
  • Rumi and Islam: Selections from His Stories, Poems, and Discourses, 2004 (annotated and explained by Ibrahim W. Gamard)
  • Rumi: Spiritual Verses: The First Book of the Masnavi-ye Ma'navi, 2006 (tr. M. Este'lami)
  • A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings, 2006 (ed. Coleman Barks; based on R.A. Nicholson's translations, Nevit Ergin's work from the Turkish and John Moyne's unpublished translations)
  • Rumi: Poems, 2006 (selected and edited by Peter Washington)
  • The Masnavi: Book Two, 2007 (tr. Jawid Mojadeddi)
  • Call to Love: In the Rose Garden with Rumi, 2007 (translated and edited by Andrew Harvey; photographs by Lekha Singh)
  • The Rubais of Rumi: Insane with Love, 2007 (translations and commentary by Nevit O. Ergin and Will Johnson)
  • Tales from Rumi: Mathnawi Selections for Young Readers, 2008 (edited by Ali Fuat Bilkan; translated by Jeannette Squires Okur)
  • Love’s Ripening: Rumi on the Heart’s Journey, 2008 (translated by Kabir Helminski & Ahmad Rezwani)
  • The Quatrains of Rumi: Complete Translation with Persian Text, Islamic Mystical Commentary, Manual of Terms, and Concordance, 2008  (translated by Ibrahim W. Gamard and A.G. Rawan Farhadi)
  • The Pocket Rumi, 2008 (edited by Kabir Helminski)
  • Rumi and Muin: Burning in the Love of God, 2008  (translation and notes by Irshad Alam)
  • Rumi: In the Arms of the Beloved, 2008 (translations by Jonathan Star)
  • Say Nothing: Poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi in Persian and English, 2008 (tr. Iraj Anvar & Anne Twitty) 
  • Rumi Daybook, 2012 (selected and translated by Kabir Helminski and Camille Helminski)
  • Gold, 2022 (translated from the Farsi by Haleh Liza Gafori)
  • The Rubaiyat of Rumi: The Ergin Translations, 2022 (4 vols.; Nevit O. Ergin, Millicent J. Alexander, Shahzad Mazhar)

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