Introduction to Rumi
According to tradition, Jalal al-Din Rumi was born in 1207 in the town of Balkh in Khurasan (near Mazar-I-Sharif in contemporary Afghanistan). He was the son of a brilliant Islamic scholar, Bahā ud-Dīn Walad. Fearing the impending Mongol cataclysm, his father decided to migrate westwards, and the family finally settled in Konya, Turkey. During this journey, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, ‘Attar, in the Iranian city of Nishapur located in the province of Khorāsān. ‘Attar immediately recognized Rumi’s spiritual eminence. He saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.” He presented the boy his Asrārnāma, a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world. This meeting had a deep impact on the eighteen-year-old Rumi, and later on became the inspiration for his works.
The Persian-language poet and philosopher Mawlana Jalal-ud-Din Balkhi-Rumi (Mevlana Celaleddin Belhī Rūmī) was born in 1207 in Balkh, now Afghanistan. He lived most of his life in Konya, in today’s Turkey, where he died in 1273. Author of the renowned Mathnawi or “Rhyming Couplets”, he is considered to be one of the greatest Sufi masters, a peer of the well known Ibn Arabi and Shams-e Tabrizi. During his lifetime, Mawlana enjoyed especially good relations with people of diverse social, cultural and religious backgrounds. He addressed humanity as a whole: “I do not distinguish between the relative and the stranger.”
Rumi was initiated into Sufism and progressed through the various teachings of the Sufi tradition before becoming a Sufi teacher. Within a few years a group of disciples gathered around him, due to his great eloquence, theological knowledge and engaging personality.
In 1244 a strange event occurred that was to profoundly change Rumi’s life and give rise to the extraordinary outpouring of poetry for which he is famous today. A wandering mystic known as Shams al-Din of Tabriz came to Konya and began to exert a powerful influence on Rumi. For Rumi, the holy man represented the perfect and complete man, the true image of the ‘Divine Beloved’, which he had long been seeking. Despite his own position as a mystical teacher, Rumi became utterly devoted to Shams al-Din, ignored his own disciples and departed from scholarly studies.
Shams al-Din departed Konya just as suddenly as he had arrived, without Rumi being aware of it. This caused Rumi to withdraw from the world to mourn and meditate. During this time he began to manifest an ecstatic love of God that was expressed through sublimely beautiful poetry, listening to devotional music and trance dancing.
Over the next twenty-five years, Rumi’s literary output was truly phenomenal. In addition to the Mathnawi, which consists of six books or nearly 25,000 rhyming couplets, he composed some 2500 mystical odes and 1600 quatrains. Rumi is also well known for the Sufi brotherhood he established with its distinctive whirling and circling dance, known as Sema and practiced by the Dervishes.
Rumi passed away on the evening of December 17, 1273, a time traditionally known as his ‘wedding night,’ for he was now completely united with God. In the centuries following Rumi’s death, many hundreds of dervish lodges were established throughout the Ottoman domains in Turkey, Syria and Egypt, and several Ottoman Sultans were Sufis of the Mevlevi order. With the secularization of Turkey following World War I, the Mevlevi Brotherhood (and many others) were seen as reactionary and dangerous to the new republic, and were therefore banned in 1925. While their properties were confiscated, members of the order continued their religious practices in secret until their ecstatic dance were again allowed in 1953.
Each year on December 17th a religious celebration is held at the site of Rumi’s tomb, to which tens of thousands of pilgrims come. In the shrine there is a silver plated step on which the followers of Mevlana rub their foreheads and place kisses. This area is usually cordoned off but is opened for these devotional actions during the December pilgrimage festivities. In addition to the shrine of Rumi, pilgrims to Konya will visit the shrine of Shemsuddin of Tabriz (traditionally visited before the shrine of Rumi).
The Mouse and the Camel
A mouse once caught in its paws a rope tied to a camel.
When the camel began to walk, the mouse thought that he was pulling the camel.
“How strong and mighty I am”, he boasted.
Little did he realize that the camel was walking by himself.
The two then arrived at a river. Here, the mouse came to a stop.
“Why have you stopped, brother mouse?” asked the camel. “Keep leading me on, for you are my guide.”
“But this is a deep river. I am afraid I’ll drown,” replied the mouse.
“Let me see how deep it is,” said the camel, stepping into the water.
“Why it only comes up to my knee,” the camel revealed. “Do go on, brother mouse.”
The mouse of course could not cross the river on his own.
“Oh great camel,” he said, “the river is like an ant to you, but to me it is like a dragon.”
The camel took pity on the mouse.
“Jump up and sit on my hump,” he told the little creature,
“And be not so proud another time.”
Introduction and story compiled from following sources:
1. Sacred Sites
2. Rumi entry in Wikipedia
3. Quote is from UNESCO, UNESCO
4. Story adapted from Ta’lim Series, Islamic Publications, see www.iis.ac.uk