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Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Maulana Jalaluddin Mohammad Rumi

By Syed Aslam, science@muslimobserver.com


Jalaluddin Mohammad Rumi  was born in Balkh,  present-day Afghanistan in the year 1207 CE.  His father, Bahauddin Balad, was a well-known  jurist, Islamic theologian and mystic; he was descended from Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra), the “second of the two in the cave,” mentioned in Qur`an and the closest Companion of the Holy Prophet (s). He became known as ‘Rumi’ because his father  moved to Anatolia, once the base of the eastern Roman empire, now Turkey.

Rumi’s childhood was a period of remarkable social and political turbulence. It was an era of the crusades; also the area where Rumi lived was under constant threat of Mongol invasion. The great upheavals Rumi faced during his life are said to have influenced much of his poetry.  Rumi and his family traveled extensively in Muslim lands. His family left his birth-place of Balkh for Baghdad, to Mecca, Damascus and  to Malatia, in western  Turkey. Later, his father finally moved to Konya, northwest Turkey, at the invitation of the Seljuk sultan.

Here at Konya, Rumi’s father became the head of a learning institution and when he died, Rumi inherited his position. Now Rumi preached in the mosques of Konya and taught his adherents at the madrasa. During this period, Rumi also traveled to Damascus and is said to have spent four years there. It was his meeting at Damascus with the dervish Shams Tabrizi that completely changed Rumi’s life. Shams met Rumi in a very mysterious way, both men were talking one night when Shams was called to the back door, he went out, never to be seen again.  Rumi  went out searching for Shams and journeyed again and again to Damascus where he realized:

Why should I seek? I am the same as He. His essence speaks through me.

I have been looking for myself!

It is said that Rumi, after meeting Shams, spontaneously composed poetry for ten years, and the collection of the poetry was named after Shams in his honor. He  lived all his life at Konya teaching and composing poetry, till he died in the year 1273 CE.  A mausoleum was built in his honor by the Seljuk king, and next to the mausoleum there is a mosque built by the Ottoman prince who was an ardent admirer of Rumi.

Jalaluddin Rumi is one of the world’s most revered mystical poets; he was also a philosopher, jurist and a mystic. During his lifetime he produced a prolific range of inspiring and devotional poetry, which beautifully expresses  the union of man with the divine. These timeless classics have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, as Rumi has become one of the most popular poets of the west. Although Rumi was a Sufi and a great scholar of the Qur`an, his appeal reaches across religious and social divisions. Even during his lifetime he was noted for his cosmopolitan outlook.

Rumi’s poetry can be divided into various categories: Ghazal or odes, the quatrains or Rubayāt and Masnavi or couplets. His first book, Diwan Shams Tabrizi, contains Rumi’s poems in several different styles of Eastern-Islamic poetry. It is a collection 40,000 verses of Ghazals and lyric poems–a masterpiece of wisdom and eloquence–considered one of the greatest works of Persian literature. 

Rumi’s major work is the Masnavi, a six-volume poetry book containing some fifty thousand verses; some went too far ane even called it “the Persian-language Qur`an.” It can justifiably be considered the greatest spiritual masterpiece ever written by a human being. Its content includes the full spectrum of life on earth, every kind of human activity: religious, cultural, political, every kind of human character form the vulgar to the refined. It has specific details of the natural world, history and geography. It is also a book that presents the vertical dimension of life–from this mundane world of desire, to the most sublime levels of metaphysics and cosmic awareness. It is its completeness that attracts readers so much.

Rumi’s book Fihi Ma Fihi  provides a record of seventy talks and lectures given by Rumi on various occasions to his disciples. An other book  Majales-e Saba  contains  sermons  or lectures given in different assemblies. The sermons themselves give a commentary on the deeper meaning of religion. The sermons also include Makatib, the book containing Rumi’s letters in Persian to his disciples, family members, and men of influence.

The teachings of Rumi are universal in nature; for him, religion was mostly a personal experience and not limited to logical arguments, as his  couplets suggests.  
I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.

I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.

I entered the mountain cave of Hira and then went very far but God I found not.

Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there.

Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.

Shahram Shiva is a performance poet, award-winning translator and Rumi scholar who migrated to the US from Iran at an early age. Shiva is the only major presenter in the West who performs Rumi’s poetry in English and the original Persian verses.  The great mystical poet is celebrated with Shiva’s unique and passionate recitations of the timeless poetry performed with various musical groups, he says about Rumi:

“Rumi is able to verbalize the highly personal and often confusing world of personal/spiritual growth and mysticism in a very forward and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone, and he includes everyone. The world of Rumi is neither exclusively the world of a Sufi Muslim, nor the world of a Hindu, nor a Jew, nor a Christian; it is the highest state of a human being; a fully evolved human. A complete human is not bound by cultural limitations; he 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.”

Rumi’s poetry have made a deep impact on the philosophy, literature and culture throughout central Asia and to some extent the Islamic world. His message seems to have inspired a lot of intellectuals, including Dr. Allama Iqbal who considered him to be his spiritual leader. His poetry forms the basis of much of the classical music of Iran and Afghanistan, which has been translated into many world languages including Japanese and Chinese.

In the year 2007 UNESCO celebrated the eight hundredth anniversary of Rumi’s birth, and issued a medal in his name to engage people in the dissemination of Rumi’s ideas and ideals.  


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