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Rumi

INTRODUCTION

Reynold Nicholson


I

JALALU'L-DIN RUMI, the greatest mystical poet of Persia, was born at Balkh in the northern Persian province of Khorasan in A.D. 1207. The city at that time flourished under the rule of Muhammad, the great Shah of Khwarizm, whose empire, as E. G. Browne described it, "extended from the Ural Mountains to the Persian Gulf, and from the Indus almost to the Euphrates." The family to which our poet belonged had been settled in Balkh for several generations; it was highly respected and, according to his biographers, had produced a notable succession of jurists and divines. So far as can be ascertained, its history begins with his great-grandfather, who claimed descent from Arab stock, and from no less a person than Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of Islam.

Although the Eastern biographies of Rumi, like other lives of Persian saints, are to a large extent legendary, while his own works characteristically contribute virtually nothing in the shape of historical facts, we are fortunate in possessing some old and relatively trustworthy sources of information.1 The following sketch, based on the chief materials available, gives briefly the main circumstances of Rumi's life and describes some of the events which were the source of his mystical enthusiasm and poetic inspiration.

In 1219, when Jalalu'I-Din was twelve years old, his father, Baha'u'I-Din Walad, suddenly departed from Balkh with his family and journeyed westward. The motives alleged for this migration, that it was the result either of divine inspiration or human intrigue, are surely fictitious. There can be no doubt that Baha'u'I-Dln, like many thousands of others, fled before the terrible Mongol hordes, which were sweeping through Khorasan and already approaching his native city. News of its devastation reached the exiles on their way to Baghdad or on the next stage of their long journey from Baghdad to Mecca, when they travelled to Damascus and finally settled in Rum (Turkey).

Their first home was at Zarandah, about forty miles southeast of Konia, where Jalalu'I-Din married; in 1226 his eldest son Sultan Walad was born. Presently Baha'u'l-Din transferred himself and his family to Konia, at that time the capital of the Western Seljuk empire, and he died there in 123. He is said to have been an eminent theologian, a great teacher and preacher, venerated by his pupils and highly esteemed by the reigning monarch, to whom he acted as a spiritual guide. About this time Burhanu'I-Din Muhaqqiq of Tirmidh, a former pupil of Baha'u'l-Din at Balkh, arrived in Konia. Under his influence, it is said, Jalalu'l-Din, now in his twenty-fifth year, became imbued with enthusiasm for the discipline and doctrine of the Sufis-men and women who sought to unite themselves with God. During the next decade he devoted himself to imitation of his Pir and passed through all the stages of the mystical life until, on the death of Burhanu'I-Din in 1240, he in turn assumed the rank of Shaykh and thus took the first, though probably unpremeditated, step towards forming a fraternity of the disciples whom his ardent personality attracted in ever increasing numbers.

The remainder of his life, as described by his son, falls into three periods, each of which is marked by a mystical intimacy of the closest kind with a "Perfect Man," i.e. one of the saints in whom Divine attributes are mirrored, so that the lover, seeing himself by the light of God, realizes that he and his Beloved are not two, but One. These experiences lie at the very centre of Rumi's theosophy and directly or indirectly inspire all his poetry. In handling the verse narrative of a mystic's son who was himself a mystic it is prudent to make ample allowance for the element of allegory; yet it would be rash to reject the whole story as pious fiction seeing that at the date when it was written many persons were living who could say whether it was, or was not, a recognizable picture of things which they themselves had witnessed.

In 1244 a wandering dervish, known to posterity by the name of Shamsu'l-Dln of Tabriz, arrived at Konia.

Jalalu'l-Dln found in the stranger that perfect image of the Divine Beloved which he had long been seeking. He took him away to his house, and for a year or two they remained inseparable. Sultan Walad likens his father's all-absorbing communion with this "hidden saint" to the celebrated journey of Moses in company with Khadir ( Koran, xviii, 64-80), the Sage whom Sufis regard as the supreme hierophant and guide of travellers on the Way to God.

Meanwhile the Maulawi (Mevlevi)2 disciples of Rumi, entirely cut off from their Master's teaching and conversation and bitterly resenting his continued devotion to Shamsu'l-Dln alone, assailed the intruder with abuse and threats of violence. At last Shamsu'l-Din fled to Damascus, but was brought back in triumph by Sultan Walad, whom Jalalu'I-Dln, deeply agitated by the loss of his bosom friend, had sent in search of him. Thereupon the disciples "repented" and were forgiven. Soon, however, a renewed outburst of jealousy on their part caused Shamsu'l-Din to take refuge in Damascus for the second time, and again Sultan Walad was called upon to restore the situation. Finally, perhaps in 1247, the man of mystery vanished without leaving a trace behind.

Sultan Walad vividly describes the passionate and uncontrollable emotion which overwhelmed his father at this time.

"Never for a moment did he cease from listening to music (sama'), and dancing;
Never did he rest by day or night.
He had been a mufti: he became a poet 
He had been an ascetic: he became intoxicated by Love.
'Twas not the wine of the grape: the illumined soul
drinks only the wine of Light."

Here Sultan Walad alludes to the Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz ("Lyrics of Shams of Tabriz"), an immense collection of mystical odes composed by Jalalu'l-Din in the name of Shamsu'l-Din and dedicated to the memory of his alter ego. The first verse does not confirm, but may have suggested, the statement of Some authorities that grief for the loss of Shams-i Tabriz caused Jalalu'I-Din to institute the characteristic Mevlevi religious dance with its plaintive reed-flute accompaniment.

The next episode (circa 1252-1261) in Jalalu'l-Din's spiritual life is a fainter repetition of the last. For many years after the disappearance of Shamsu'l-Din he devoted himself to Salahu'l-Din Faridun Zarkub, who as his deputy (khalifah) was charged with the duty of instructing the Mevlevi acolytes. They showed their resentment in no uncertain manner, and the ringleaders only gave in when they had been virtually excommunicated.

On the death of Salahu'l-Din (circa 1261) the poet's enthusiasm found a new and abundant source of inspiration in another disciple, Husamu'l-Din Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Akhi Turk, whose name he has mystically associated with his greatest work, the celebrated Mathnawi (epic poem). He calls the Mathnawi "the book of Husam" and likens himself to a flute on the lips of Husamu'l-Din, pouring forth "the wailful music that he made." During the last ten years of the poet's life this last beloved follower acted as his khalifah, and upon his death in 1273 succeeded him as Head of the Mevlevi Order, a dignity he held until 1284, when Sultan Walad took his place.

To this first-hand account of Rumi's life given in verse by his son the later prose biographers add little that can be considered either important or trustworthy. From Aflaki and others we hear that he was guide, philosopher and friend, not only to the Seljuk minister Mu'inu'I-Din, the Parwanah (Governor) of Rum, but to his royal master, Sultan 'Ala'u'I-Din himself; in any case it would seem that he and the group of Sufis around him enjoyed influential support and were in a position to defy attacks on their doctrine. The poet takes a high line with his orthodox critics. He calls them "boobies" and "curs baying at the moon."

A Platonic type of mystical love had been cultivated by Sufis long before Rumi declared that he and Shams-I Tabrjz were "two bodies with one soul." In this union of loving souls all distinctions vanish: nothing remains but the essential Unity of Love, in which "lover" and "beloved" have merged their separate identities. In calling his lyrics the Diwan (Poems) of Shams-i Tabriz, Rumi of course uses the name Shams as though Shams and himself had become identical and were the same person. Though to us Shams-I figure may appear unsubstantial, we need not accept the view put forward by some modern scholars that he is merely a personification of Jalalu'I-Din's poetic and mystical genius-an Eastern equivalent for "the Muse." Those who adopt that theory must logically extend it to include Salahu'I-Din and Husamu'I-Din and can hardly avoid the implication that Sultan Walad created three imaginary characters to play the leading parts in his father's life and in the foundation of the Mevlevi Order. Western students of the Diwan and the Mathnawi will recall a celebrated parallel that points the other way. Did not Dante transfigure the donna gentil who was the object romantic passion into Celestial Wisdom and glorify under the name of Beatrice?

II

Rumi's literary output, as stupendous in magnitude is sublime in content, consists of the very large collection of mystical odes, perhaps as many as 2,500, which make up the Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz; the Mathnawi in six books of about 25,000 rhyming couplets; and the Ruba'iyat or quatrains, of which maybe about 1,600 are authentic.3 The forms in which he clothes his religious philosophy had been fashioned before him by two great Sufi poets, of Ghaznah and Faridu'I-Din 'Attar of Nishapur. The makes no secret of his debt to them both, his flight a wider range, his materials are richer and more and his method of handling the subject is so original may justly be described as "a new style." It is a style of great subtlety and complexity, hard to analyse; general features are simple and cannot be doubt. In the Mathnawi, where it is fully developed, it gives the an exhilarating sense of largeness and freedom disregard for logical cohesion, defiance of convention, use of the language of common life, and abundance of images drawn from homely things and incidents familiar to every one. The poem resembles a trackless ocean: are no boundaries; no lines of demarcation between literal "husk" and the "kernel" of doctrine in which, i.e. sense conveyed and copiously expounded. The expounded fusion of text and interpretation shows how completely in aesthetics as in every other domain, the philosophy Rumi is inspired by the monistic idea. "The Mathnawi,", he says, "is the shop for Unity (wahdat); anything that you see there except the One (God) is an idol." Ranging over the battlefield of existence, he finds all its conflicts and discords playing the parts assigned to them in the universal harmony which only mystics can realize.

Sufi pantheism or monism involves the following propositions:

(a) There is One Real Being, the Ultimate Ground of all existence. This Reality may be viewed either as God (the Divine Essence) or as the World (phenomena by which the hidden Essence is made manifest).

(b) There is no creation in Time. Divine Self-manifestation is a perpetual process. While the forms of the universe change and pass and are simultaneously renewed without a moment's intermission, in its essence it is co-eternal with God. There never was a time when it did not exist as a whole in His Knowledge.

(c) God is both Immanent, in the sense that He appears under the aspect of limitation in all phenomenal forms, and Transcendent, in the sense that He is the Absolute Reality above and beyond every appearance.

(d) The Divine Essence is unknowable. God makes His Nature known to us by Names and Attributes which He has revealed in the Koran. Though essentially identical, from our point of view the Divine Attributes are diverse and opposed to each other, and this differentiation constitutes the phenomenal world, without which we could not distinguish good from evil and come to know the Absolute Good. In the sphere of Reality there is no such thing as evil.

(e) According to the Holy Tradition, "I created the creatures in order than I might be known," the entire content of God's Knowledge is objectified in the universe and pre-eminently in Man. The Divine Mind, which rules and animates the cosmos as an Indwelling Rational Principle (Logos), displays itself completely in the Perfect Man. The supreme type of the Perfect Man is the preexistent Reality or Spirit of Muhammad, whose "Light" irradiates the long series of prophets beginning with Adam and, after them, the hierarchy of Muslim saints, who are Muhammad's spiritual heirs. Whether prophet or saint, the Perfect Man has realized his Oneness with God: he is the authentic image and manifestation of God and therefore the final cause of creation, since only through him does Cod become fully conscious of Himself.

These are some of the themes underlying Rumi's poetry. He is not their original author; they may be regarded as having been gradually evolved by the long succession of Sufi thinkers from the ninth century onwards, then gathered together and finally formulated by the famous Andalusian mystic, Ibnu'I-'Arabi (1165-1240). Ibnu'I-'Arabi has every right to be called the father of Islamic pantheism. He devoted colossal powers of intellect and imagination to constructing a system which, though it lacks order and connection, covers the whole ground in detail and perhaps, all things considered, is the most imposing monument of mystical speculation the world has ever seen. While it is evident that Rumi borrowed some part of his terminology and ideas from his elder contemporary, who himself travelled in Rum and lies buried in Damascus, the amount of the debt has inevitably been exaggerated by later commentators whose minds are filled with forms of thought alien to the Mathnawi but familiar to readers of Ibnu'I-' Arabi's

Fususu'l-hikam ("Bezels of Wisdom") and al-Futuhatul-Makkiyya ("Meccan Revelations"). The Andalusian always writes with a fixed philosophical purpose, which may be defined as the logical development of a single all-embracing concept, and much of his thought expresses itself in a dialectic bristling with technicalities. Rumi has no such aim. As E. H. Whinfield said, his mysticism is not 'doctrinal" in the Catholic sense but "experimental." He appeals to the heart more than to the head, scorns the logic of the schools, and nowhere does he embody in philosophical language even the elements of a system. The words used by Dante in reference to the Divine Commedia would serve excellently as a description of the Mathnawi: "the poem belongs to the moral or ethical branch of philosophy, its quality is not speculative but practical, and its ultimate end is to lead into the state of felicity those now enduring the miserable life of man." The Mathnawi for the most part shows Rumi as the perfect spiritual guide engaged in making others perfect and furnishing novice and adept alike with matter suitable to their needs. Assuming the general monistic theory to be well known to his readers, he gives them a panoramic view of the Sufi gnosis (direct intuition of God) and kindles their enthusiasm by depicting the rapture of those who "break through to the Oneness" and see all mysteries revealed.4

While the Mathnawi is generally instructional in character, though it also has entertaining passages, as befits a book intended for the enlightenment of all sorts of disciples, the Diwan and, on a much smaller scale, the Rubayiat are personal and emotional in appeal. Lyrics and quatrains alike have everywhere the authentic ring of spiritual inspiration, while in image, style and language they often approximate very closely to the Mathnawi. In some of these poems the mystic's passion is so exuberant, his imagination so overflowing, that we catch glimpses of the very madness of Divine experience. Yet the powerful intellect of Rumi the man never quite capitulates to the enthusiasm of Rumi the mystic; at the last moment there is a sudden drawing-back, a consciousness that certain matters are too secret and too holy to be communicated in words. It is not surprising to read that these poems, chanted (as many of them were doubtless composed) in the spiritual seance of the Mevlevis, roused the hearers to an almost uncontrollable fervour.

In Rumi the Persian mystical genius found its supreme expression. Viewing the vast landscape of Sufi poetry, we see him standing out as a sublime mountain-peak; the other poets before and after him are but foot-hills in comparison. The influence of his example, his thought and his language is powerfully felt through all the succeeding centuries; every Sufi after him capable of reading has acknowledged his unchallenged leadership. West, now slowly realizing the magnitude of his genius, thanks in greatest measure to the work of that fine scholar whose last writings are contained in these pages, he is fully able to prove a source of inspiration and delight not surpassed by any other poet in the world's literature.

1See Note, P.27, which is:

MOST interesting of the biographical materials on Rumi is the Ibtida-namah ("Book of  Beginning") a long narrative poem composed by Riimi's son Sultan Walad; valuable information is also contained in the Manaqibu'l-'arifin ("Virtues of the Gnostics") of Aflaki, disciple of the poet's
grandson Chelebi Arif, which C. Huart translated as Les Saints des derviches tourneurs (Paris, 1918-22). In addition we have a number of books, like the Fihi ma fihi ("In it what is In it") (published at Teheran and Azamgarh in 1928) and the Maqalat-i Shams-i Tabriz ("Discourses of
Shams-i TabrIz") (still unedited), which, though shedding little light upon the life, go far to illuminate the ideas and doctrines of the poet.

In modern times the Persian scholar Badi'u'l-Zaman Furuzanfarr has written a valuable critical study of Rumi's life [Sharh-i Qal-i Maulana ("Biography of our Master"), Teheran 19321], and the learned Dr. H. Ritter has contributed a bio-bibliographical review of the whole subject (in Der Islam, 1940, 1942) which is as masterly as it is indispensable to any interested in this field of research.

2The title for Rumi's follower; Rumi was known among them as Maulana ("Our Master"). Mevlevi is the Turkish pronunciation of Maulawi.

3[This sentence has been added to the author's draft.-A. J. A.]

4Here Professor Nicholson's notes end.

Source: 
Reynold A. Nicholson, Rumi: Poet and Mystic (England: Oneworld, 1998), pp. 17-26.


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