A tale of two Rumis – of the East and of the West | Arts and Culture


Jalaluddin Mohammad Rumi’s non secular poems and perpetual knowledge have transcended time and cultures.

Seven hundred and fifty years after his demise, the celebrated Persian thinker stays a best-selling poet within the West, revered as an Islamic dervish within the East, whereas his sagacious ideas rule the web.

When he died on December 17, 1273, aged 66, the streets of Konya, in present-day Turkey, have been crammed with mourners from a number of creeds and nations, reflective of the cosmopolitan society that lived in Thirteenth century Anatolia – it was a time when the cross-cultural alternate of concepts and humanities prospered.

At his funeral, his followers, who additionally included Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, every recited from their very own scriptures.

This 12 months too, on Sunday, the person posthumously identified by his nisbah (a reputation indicating one’s origins) Rumi, shall be honoured by his followers on Sheb-i Arus – that means marriage ceremony night time in each Persian and Turkish.

And it could be within the spirit of the Persian poet’s name: “Our demise is our marriage ceremony with eternity.”

From the British capital, London, to California in america, to Konya, his murids or devotees, will collect in whirls of movement and emotion, remembering his personal elegiac eulogy:

“If you see my corpse is being carried,
Don’t cry for my leaving,
I’m not leaving,
I’m arriving at everlasting love.” – Rumi (translated by Muhammad Ali Mojaradi)

Mevlana Rumi’s tomb in Konya is some extent of pilgrimage for tens of millions of devotees and vacationers every year [Creative Commons]

Who’s Rumi within the east?

Rumi is believed to have been born within the early thirteenth century in Balkh (now in Afghanistan), although some say his homeland was in Central Asia.

On the time of his delivery (1207), the Persianate Empire spanned from India within the east and as far west as Greece, with many staking a declare to the person who would grow to be extra popularly often called Rumi, reflecting the area the place he would settle – the Sultanate of Rum, often known as Anatolia.

Within the japanese world, Rumi’s identify is commonly preceded by the honorific title Mevlana or Maulana (that means our grasp), exhibiting simply how revered he’s as an Islamic scholar and Sufi saint. To state his identify with out this title in some circles would obtain tut-tutting and be thought of disrespectful.

“Like every historic determine who spans cultures, he has taken on a lifetime of his personal,” defined Muhammad Ali Mojaradi, a Persian scholar primarily based in Kuwait.

He mentioned folks are inclined to mission their very own understanding and bias when partaking with historic texts, together with Rumi’s.

“I’ve heard that Rumi is a staunchly orthodox Sunni Muslim, others say he’s a closeted Zoroastrian, or a deviant Sufi, or somebody who is simply too enlightened to subscribe to a faith. Some contemplate him a Tajik, a Khurasani, others a Persian, or Iranian, some are adamant that he’s Turkish. These are extra indicative of our biases than the actual Rumi.”

Throughout his life, his identification was intrinsically linked to his religion.

“I’m the servant of the Quran, for so long as I’ve a soul.
I’m the mud on the street of Muhammad, the Chosen One.
If somebody interprets my phrases in some other manner,
That particular person I deplore, and I deplore his phrases.”

– Rumi (translated by Muhammad Ali Mojaradi)

Rumi was an Islamic scholar, following in a protracted line, and taught Sharia or Islamic regulation. He would additionally practise Tasawwuf, extra popularly often called Sufism within the West. It’s a manner of understanding and drawing nearer to God via the purification of the interior self, reflecting and remembering God via meditative chants, songs and typically even dance.

Different thinkers and poets of his time included Ibn Arabi, the Andalusian thinker and Fariddudin Attar, the Persian creator of the Mantiq-ut-Tayr (Convention of the Birds).

Islam’s openness to dialogue and debate right now would permit the poetry and humanities to thrive, influencing the works of different Persian poets like Hafez and Omar Khayyam.

Whirling dervishes perform outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
Whirling dervishes carry out exterior the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, this 12 months to mark the 750th anniversary of the demise of Mevlana Rumi [Khalil Hamra/AP Photo]

What did Rumi grow to be identified for?

After finishing his theological training in Syria’s Aleppo, Rumi went to Konya the place he met a wandering dervish, named Shams-i-Tabriz, who left a long-lasting influence on the Islamic scholar.

Barka Blue, founding father of a non secular arts motion, the Rumi Centre, in California, mentioned Tabriz would remodel Rumi, and result in his “non secular awakening”.

Rumi penned his magnum opus, the Masnavi, a 50,000-line poem, written in rhyming couplets and quatrains a couple of lifelong craving in the hunt for God.

It could grow to be essentially the most famed of his works. Different notable works embody Fihi Ma Fihi and Divan-i Shams-i Tabrizi – a set of poems written in honour of his non secular mentor.

“It [Masnavi] was really known as the ‘Quran in Persian’, indicating that it’s the pinnacle of expression in that language but in addition that it’s an exposition of the Quran within the Persian tongue,” Blue, the acclaimed rapper and poet, advised Al Jazeera.

As Rumi says within the introduction, “that is the basis of the basis of the basis of the way in which [faith],” added Blue, creator of The Artwork of Remembrance.

To completely perceive and recognize the depths of Rumi’s phrases, “a agency grasp of the Islamic custom generally and Sufism particularly” is required, Blue mentioned. “His phrases are undoubtedly a phenomenal entry level to this custom [of Islam].”

Rumi himself would advise readers of the Masnavi to make ritual ablution and be in a state of cleanliness as one would upon studying the Quran or praying the 5 each day prayers. The intention when studying it was to attach with the Creator.

Who’s Rumi within the West?

The primary-known English translation of a few of Rumi’s work was printed in 1772 by a British choose and linguist William Jones in Calcutta — now Kolkata — then the bottom of the British East India Firm. Persian was nonetheless the official language in courts and public places of work in India, a legacy of Mughal rule.

Rumi’s mystical pull attracted different British translators, JW Redhouse in 1881, Reynold A Nicholson (1925) and AJ Arberry’s Mystical Poems of Rumi (1960-79).

However Rumi reached actually international recognition with most of the people after older, extra tutorial English translations of his work have been retranslated, particularly within the Nineties by American author Coleman Barks. Greater than seven centuries after Rumi’s demise, he was a best-selling poet.

But that well-liked attain got here at a price, say some consultants.

“The primary difficulty for many years has been that the Rumi introduced to Western readers, together with Muslims, is that Rumi is a secular, universalist poet,” defined Zirrar Ali, a author and photographer who has additionally authored a number of anthologies of Persian and Urdu poetry.

He advised Al Jazeera that simply because the works of German thinker Immanuel Kant and English thinker John Locke can’t be understood with out understanding their perception methods, it needs to be the identical with Rumi.

“What needs to be requested is why has Rumi been remodeled so freely? It’s partially laziness and partially intentional,” he added.

Eradicating Rumi’s orthodox Sunni beliefs has led to wrongful translations, he mentioned, that cater to a pseudo-secular picture of the person and his work.

Rumi shouldn’t be solely solid as a universalist, Ali mentioned, “he’s painted as a free-thinking liberal … a person who desires nothing however wine, free intercourse and pleasure”.

Omid Safi, a professor on the Division of Asian and Center Jap Research at Duke College in North Carolina, additionally factors to inaccurate translations.

“God” or “The Beloved”, is taken into account to be a human beloved, “somewhat than delicate references that embody all earthly, celestial, and divine beloveds”, he defined.

“One other concrete instance is the much-quoted line ‘Let the sweetness we love be what we do, there are lots of of how to kneel and kiss the bottom’. However Rumi’s authentic is particularly referring to Ruku’ and Sajda, that are postures of the [daily] Islamic prayer.”

Rendering of a few of Rumi’s “hottest variations … water down the Islamic context”, Safi advised Al Jazeera.

By 2015, half 1,000,000 copies of Barks’s The Important Rumi translations have been offered, making Rumi essentially the most extensively learn poet in america. From Coldplay singer Chris Martin to Madonna, pop icons have spoken of how they’ve been impressed by Rumi’s work. Martin has referred to the Barks translation. Al Jazeera reached out to Barks for a remark however had not obtained a response on the time of publication.

Maybe with out realising the deeper connections to Islam, a meme-obsessed web then readily turned digestible one-liners into shareable quotes, that may be utilized by lovelorn romantics to attempt to seize the center of their beloved, or to at the very least get a date.

Nonetheless, even critics of Rumi’s meme-ification acknowledge potential positive factors from translations which have made the poet extra accessible to Twenty first-century audiences.

“Whether or not or not Barks’s work has benefit or counts as a translation apart, if it leads folks to learn extra about Rumi and uncover extra correct renderings, and even study to learn Persian, that may be a good factor,” Mojaradi, who based the eagerness mission Persian Poetics in 2018 to debunk the rise in faux Rumi quotes, advised Al Jazeera.

That’s simply what occurred to Baraka Blue. He was led to Rumi in his teenage years when he would take in poetry with like-minded buddies, beat poets, musicians and songwriters. Rumi’s phrases, he mentioned, had a “profound influence”.

“It wasn’t that he was good with phrases, it was the state he was talking from and the truth he was describing. That’s what drew me in,” Blue, an educator and poet, advised Al Jazeera. So enraptured was Blue, he embraced Islam at age 20 and made a pilgrimage to Rumi’s tomb in Konya three months later.

His shrine has grow to be some extent of pilgrimage for tens of millions of devotees and vacationers, with the hooked up Mevlana Museum recording 3.5 million guests in 2019, the 12 months earlier than COVID-19 hit. It’s right here too that the most important efficiency of the enduring sema dance is carried out, particularly throughout Sheb-i-Arus.

Whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi order perform during a Sheb-i Arus ceremony in Konya, central Turkey. Every December the Anatolian city hosts a series of events to commemorate the death of 13th century Islamic scholar, poet and Sufi mystic Jalaladdin Rumi
Whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi order carry out throughout a Sheb-i Arus ceremony in Konya [Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo]

Is Rumi’s Sufi dance a panacea for contemporary way of life issues?

Although its origins are as mysterious because the motion itself, some say it was Tabriz who launched Rumi to the sema.

It could solely grow to be ritualised and a part of a ceremony a couple of years after Rumi died in 1273, Sultan Walad, the eldest of his 4 youngsters, established the Mevlevi Order, typically often known as the Order of the Whirling Dervish in reference to the enchanting sema ceremony.

Though the dance was added to the UNESCO Listing of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008, and Konya is anticipating hundreds to attend this 12 months’s Sheb-i-Arus, in some locations, the place Sufism is much less accepted, it’s practised privately.

Al Jazeera attended a sema efficiency in London. There, heads jolted to the suitable, eyes solid to the earth, arms prolonged as if about to fly, seven folks spun in tandem, their earthy off-white linen clothes began to softly open up just like the petals of waterlilies. A left hand pointed to the bottom, whereas the suitable as much as the heavens. They spun. Silently. To the echoes of the light nye.

The rotation, defined one of many dervishes to Al Jazeera later, is in an anticlockwise movement, “similar to the pilgrims across the Kaaba and the birds that fly above it”.

Whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi order perform during a Sheb-i Arus ceremony in Konya, central Turkey
Each December, Konya hosts a sequence of occasions to commemorate the demise of Jalaladdin Rumi, the Thirteenth-century Islamic scholar, poet and Sufi mystic [Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo]

Claire*, a spectator on the sema dance ceremony, mentioned she discovered her approach to Rumi about 30 years in the past.

“I used to be going via a very troublesome time in my life, and a good friend urged I be a part of her at a gathering which will assist. I used to be anticipating some sort of yoga class, however what it really was this, the sema.”

“You don’t must belong to a religion. Bear in mind Mevlana tells us ‘come, come, whoever you’re, wanderer, idolater, worshipper of fireside; come despite the fact that you might have damaged your vows a thousand occasions’,” she added.

“These strains inform us every thing, his teachings have been meant to transcend all faith.”

However Mojaradi mentioned, these strains, maybe the preferred strains attributed to Rumi, will not be really his phrases, however as an alternative belong to Abu Stated Abu al-Khayr, one other Persian Sufi poet who lived 200 years earlier than Rumi.

“The truth that even Rumi’s most devoted followers are inundated with false or mistranslated quotes, exhibits how large of an issue we’re coping with,” mentioned Mojaradi, who launched Rumi Was a Muslim project in 2021 to counter this.

“I’m completely satisfied if anybody reads Rumi at any degree, however they’re doing themselves a disservice if they don’t dive deeper. Positive, something that spreads his message on any degree could be seen as a very good factor,” he mentioned.

What makes Rumi so common?

Rumi’s message is “strikingly common”, mentioned Blue. “It’s evidenced by his recognition in translation everywhere in the world.”

“Considered one of Rumi’s nice items is to speak profound metaphysical truths within the language of straightforward metaphor from shared human expertise. He’ll communicate of a ruby and a stone, or a chickpea within the pot, or a donkey that was stolen, or actually something in any respect – however the entire time he’s talking concerning the One.”

And at its core, it’s his message of affection that in the end makes him relatable – whether or not that’s interpreted as divine love, romantic, or familial.

“Set hearth to every thing, besides love.”

– Rumi (translated by Muhammad Ali Mojaradi)

Mojaradi added: “Rumi’s love is a fireplace, everyone seems to be craving for a spark to set their life on hearth. Particularly on this trendy world the place every thing appears to be meaningless and fleeting.”

* Some names modified to guard identification



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