Dr M Shamsher Ali :
At the very outset, it must be emphasized that the contemporary implications of Maulana Rumi’s thoughts do not involve anyone single community, but encompass all communities of the world. Maulana Rumi has been one of the most venerable Sufis of all times to come. His Sufism does not touch the hearts of Muslims alone, it touches people of all religions and cultures. Thus, Maulana Rumi is not merely a Muslim heritage, he is a world heritage.
The young people, all over the world, are trying to rediscover the spirit and essence of Maulana’s thoughts. The question arises, why? Why can’t the materialistic benefits and opportunities that have been made available to mankind through the unprecedented advances in Science and Technology, satisfy their needs? What extra 'thing' do they crave for? Before we answer this question, we must understand the significance of the era in which Maulana was born. He was born on 30th September 1207. Thus, Rumi appeared on this planet during the time of the Crusade (1095-1291). It is very interesting to know that after 800 years, we are remembering Rumi, in a new context against the backdrop of the theory of 'clashes of civilizations' propagated by Samuel Huntington. The big question that we have to answer is, "How did Rumi, being a Muslim Saint of a commendable height, conquer the minds of people of all religions during the Crusade?" The other question, then, immediately follows: "Should a Second Crusade be ever imposed, how should we face it in the light of teachings of Rumi?" There is something of a universal appeal in the sayings and writings of Rumi, and again, it is this universality of appeal that we have to invoke at our recent times, nay, at all times.
It is interesting that the very name of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi has a universal character, in respect of geographical settings and claims of people of different lands in owning him. Since Rumi lived most of his life in Konya in Turkey, the Turks claim him as being Turkish; the Afghan's claim that since this grandmaster was born in Balkh, a city now located in Afghanistan, he must be considered as being of Afghan origin; and yet, many scholars agree, that Rumi is Persian, in view of the fact, that Balkh, the city in which Rumi was born, was a Persian city at the time of his birth, and also, in view of the fact that Rumi's books were written in the Persian language. Thus, no wonder, that the true mystic Rumi, who is universal in spirit, is claimed also universally. The mystic's real name was Jalaludd in Muhammad, with whom the epithet Maulana ('Mevlana' in Turkish, meaning 'our master') has been added. He became known to the world simply as Rumi, meaning, 'from Roman Anatolia' because Anatolia used to be called 'the land of the Romans' and Balkh was holding great importance in the Anatolian tradition. Again, 'Rome' in some way, comes in the picture, and the strange thing is that when we say, 'All roads lead to Rome', are we not reminded that 'Rumi' really had been a center of attraction of all the people of the world seeking communion with their Beloved? Thus far for the universality of Rumi's name. Now we come to the universality of his work, but before that, to the making of Rumi.
The Making of Rumi : Rumi would not have been what he was had he not traveled with his mystic father Bahauddin Walad, a well known respected preacher, jurisprudent and Sufi, whose spiritual lineage can be traced back to Ahmad al-Gazzali. Because of historical reasons, Baha had to travel to many lands. When the Mongols invaded Bakh in 1219, Baha, with his family, left Balkh to make pilgrimage to Mecca. On their way, they stopped at Nishapur, where they met the great Fariduddin Attar, who saw the potential greatness in young Jalal. According to the description of Ira Friedlander: "Baha and Attar sat together, drank the customary tea, and spoke of passages in the Koran. Several hours later, the travelers were preparing to depart. As young Jalal walked closely behind his father, Attar turned to one of the dervishes and remarked, "Look at this peculiar situation; there goes a sea followed by an ocean."
Attar presented Jalal his book of secrets 'Asrar Nama' and told Baha, "Look after him. Your son will soon be kindling fire in all the lovers of God." What a prophecy of Attar! In fact, in the final analysis of all of Rumi's works, it now turns out that the Love that Attar mentioned attracted Rumi the same way as the sun attracts the planets; and the solar system moves about, again because of attraction. Only the space is different. In the case of the heavenly bodies, it is the outer physical space that we generally talk of, whereas, in the communication with the Beloved, it is the inner space that the lovers are all immersed in. Attar's writings and teachings in Sufism left an indelible mark on Rumi's writings. After having completed the pilgrimage, Rumi's father received an invitation from the Seljuk king Alauddin Kayqobad, invited Baha, offering him residence and position in the Madrasa (University) of Konya. Baha, along with his family, lived for many years at Konya. Rumi, during those days, learnt a lot from his father, and after his death in 1231, succeeded to his father's position as a teacher. Rumi's Sufi training did not begin until 1232 when Borhanuddin Tirmizi, a well groomed disciple of his father, came to Konya. Together they traveled' to Aleppo and Damascus, where Rumi met one of the greatest Sufi masters of all times, Ibn Arabi of Spain. Tirmizi continued imparting the disciplines of Sufism till his death in 1240. Thus, prominent places and prominent people played a great role in making Rumi a man of name and fame. But the man who changed Rumi's life forever, came in 1244. He was the mysterious Shams Tabrizi, (having the name Shamsuddin, 'the great sun of religion'). It was Shams, who brought out the latent perfections of Rumi. It is felt by many, that Shams and Rumi, struck each other like two lightening bolts, creating a new dimension in the spiritual world. In this connection, an event concerning their meeting is worth mentioning: One day, Rumi was discoursing with his students in his library. Shams Tabrizi entered uninvited, expressed greeting, sat down, and pointing his fingers to the books that Rumi had amassed in the corner, asked, "What are these?" Rumi, judging from the appearance of Shams Tabrizi and taking him to be a beggar, answered, "You would not understand". Hardly had Rumi finished his answer, the flames of fire rose from the books. Rumi asked, "What is this?" Shams Tabrizi calmly replied, "You would not understand", and left the room. Rumi cried out and ran after him. The effect of this meeting has been described as follows:
“Suddenly Shamsuddin came and reached him; shadow perished in the light of his light. The sound of love, free of tambourine and saz (a stringed musical instrument), came, emulating the world of love. He explained to him the states of the Beloved; thus ascended his secret to the highest of the highest. He said: You have become a hostage of the inward; but know that I am an inward.”
Rumi left his teaching post, and ran into a retreat with Shams. This dismayed the students of Rurni who became jealous of Shams and it is reported that Shams vanished mysteriously at 1247. Some researchers report that he was murdered by Rurni’s jealous students.
When Shams and Rumi were together in retreat, Shams, instead of giving lectures, taught Rumi the secrets of Divine communication. What was taught was not known exactly, but after the retreat, Rumi was a changed man. Chittick opines that without Shams, there would have been no Rumi. Shams confessed, “I would not be able to have acquired one tenth of the knowledge Rumi had.” But Rumi shed his ego of knowledge, and started listening to Shams like a child. Rumi, after the retreat with Shams, was not interested in delivering lectures and sermons, but was more intent on performing Sufi Sama and Whirling dances-a practice prevalent to this day, and is known as the Order of Whirling Dervishes. It is fascinating to note that in the year 2007, declared by UNESCO as International Rumi Year, the OSCAR award festival organizes a special musical program in the OSCAR hall, to celebrate the 800th birth anniversary of Rumi. What a wonderful combination of modernity and tradition, of worldly art and esotericism!
The relation between love - the key theme of Rumi's work - and whirling dances is worth pondering about. Divine love results from attraction, the greatest attraction of the Lord. Whirling is only a form of expression of this attraction. In nature (Fitrah), almost everything is whirling. The electrons in the atoms are whirling around the nucleus due to attraction. The planets, consisting of all objects on it, composed of atoms and molecules, are whirling around the sun, again, due to attraction. The sun within the galaxy is also rotating on an axis. The galaxies, also, are moving about. As mentioned in the Divine Quran, the Sun and the Moon swim in their orbit according to a law (Al-Quran, 36:40). The law is the attraction. In the whirling dance, this attraction is again the love of the Creator, with the Creator being the central Entity. No wonder, the Whirling Dervishes enter into a trance in a mode of union with the Beloved.
Thus, Sama should be interpreted not merely as a form, but as an expression of Divine Love.
The Works of Rumi: After the disappearance of Shams, Rumi started writing poems of divine love reflecting his spiritual station, and alluding to the experiences of union. The majority of Rumi's ghazals ended with the name of Shams as a gesture of humility. Rumi's famous works include the Masnavi, (containing as many verses as Iliad and Odyssey put together, and about twice as many as that of the Divine Comedy). The Masnavi is basically a collection of fables and tales that Rumi took from the Quran and Hadith, and from the day-to-day events and problems, and has a moral content greatly affecting the lives of the people. The core content of other works, is again, love and love-love of the Creator and of the created. These other works include Divan-e-Shams-e-Tabriz, (written over a period of thirty years, from the time of Shams' disappearance until Rumi's death), Fihi ma fihi (In It is What's in it), Majalis-e-Sab'a (Seven Sessions) and Makatib (Letters).
The significance of Rumi's work in the present day world: We now come back to the question, why is the young generations of the world so enthralled with Rumi's work? The answer lies in the life and work of Rumi just discussed. Although Rumi was born during the period of the Crusade, he spent his lifetime attaining a great Sufistic height, and the entire philosophy of his work including the Masnavi, centered on love. He considered love as the soul of the world: out of love was created the universe, in love is the manifestation of the universe, in love is death, and in love lies the secret of life. The music comes out of the flute as an expression of love. To be continued...