Remembering Rumi: How He Inspired East and West

“Listen to the reed how he tells a story, complaining about the separations

Saying, “Since I was separated from the reed bed, my lament has made both man and woman moan.

I want a breast torn by rupture, in order to deploy the pain of love-desire.

Anyone who is left far from his source wishes to regain the time he was united with her. “

With these words, Mevlana Jalaladdin Rumi begins her famous collection of “Masnavi” – one of the most important, influential and widespread works of Sufi literature in the world. The masterpiece is interpreted as one of the greatest poems in the world, thanks to its depth of thought and the inventiveness of the images.

Why is this so important? Who is Rumi? What is the secret of his great influence on Western culture, apart from other great Sufis?

Rumi’s story

Rumi is known in Iran as Jalaladdin Muhammad Balkhi (relating to the place of his birth), while in Turkey he is called Mevlana Jalaladdin Rumi (relating to the land of the Romans or Anatolia, where he lived and is become famous).

Rumi was born in the city of Balkh (now in northern Afghanistan) on September 30, 1207. His father is Baha al-Din Walad, a great jurist and mystic known as the “Sultan of Scholars”.

Roumi emigrated with his family from Balkh to Nishapur and then from there to Baghdad. The family spent many years moving between cities in the Islamic world until they settled in the city of Qarman (central Turkey), then the family again emigrated to Konya, the capital. of the Seljuk State, at the invitation of the Seljuk Sultan Aladdin Kayqubad. I. And, on May 3, 1228, Rumi began a new life.

“The meeting of the two seas”

It is not possible to discuss Rumi’s legacy and influence in the world without mentioning Shams Tabrizi – a dervish who was the reason for Rumi’s transformation from a learned jurist into a mystic who knew God and whose disciples have spread to all parts of the world for several centuries through the present.

Tabrizi was born in Tabriz, and the exact date of his birth and death is not known. It is called “the pole of Sufism”, “the emperor of the madmen of love”, while the masters of Sufism call it “the bird”.

To Rumi, he was like the sun without which moonlight would never shine.

Just as Tabrizi’s meeting with Rumi had a great impact on his intellectual journey, their separation also had a greater impact on his literary output. Without the reunion, Rumi would not be the Rumi we know. Without the separation, Rumi would not have been burned by “the fire of desire that burned him” (fire is here a famous complex metaphor for Rumi) and he would not have written his poems that roamed the earth.

In “Manaqib al-Arifeen (Stories of the Lovers of God),” scholar Ahmed Eflaki says that Tabrizi’s separation from Rumi is a manifestation of majesty, just as their meeting was a manifestation of beauty. Therefore, to speak of Rumi and his influence in the West is at the same time to speak of Tabrizi and his influence in an indirect way.

Eastern and Western Culture

Although Rumi’s works are literary works of a Muslim jurist and mystic, written in the Persian language, they crossed the barriers of language, religion and culture to reach different peoples belonging to different civilizations and cultures.

Although the first impression of Masnavi (the Persian version) took place in Cairo in 1835, the interest of the West in the study of the life and works of Rumi far exceeds the interest of the Islamic world. Many of those who have translated Rumi’s works into Arabic have even quoted them from the English and French translations made by some Orientalists.

Rumi has had a great influence on Indo-Islamic culture since the 14th century, when Nizamuddin Auliya, the great leader of the Chishti Order, wrote a commentary on Masnavi.

However, Rumi’s greatest influence on Indian culture in modern times was due to the Islamic poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), who regarded Rumi as his spiritual guide and “the prince of the caravan of love. “.

His poetry in the West

The interest of the Western world in the study of Rumi’s personality and poetry began as early as the 18th century through diplomats and travelers who visited the Ottoman Empire and became acquainted with the Mevlevi Order and its famous symbol of Sama’s performance. Then they started to transmit what they saw to their own countries.

Western Orientalists had a great influence in bringing Rumi to the Western world. British Orientalist Reynold Alleyne Nicholson was one of the first to translate Rumi’s works when he translated excerpts from the book “Shams of Tabriz” in 1898. Nicholson also published an eight-volume translation of Masnavi in ​​15 years. He had a great impact on the knowledge that English culture has of Rumi’s poems. He also played a major role in the transmission of Rumi’s poems to Arabs, as many Arabic scholars and translators translated Rumi’s poems from Nicholson’s English translation.

After that, interest in Rumi’s literature increased in the early part of the 20th century and a large number of Orientalists studied and translated Rumi’s works, notably the British Orientalist Arthur John Arberry (1905-1969) and the German orientalist Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003), who wrote a book called “The Triumpal Sun” which contains a study and analysis of Rumi’s poetry.

The French doctor of Islamology Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch (1909-1999), who became acquainted with Islam and announced her conversion to Islam through her knowledge and study of Rumi and his poems, greatly contributed to the transfer of Rumi’s poems into French and even Arabic. In 1990, she even translated Masnavi into French. She requested that she be buried next to Rumi’s mausoleum in Konya, central Turkey. Several years after his death, in 2008, his body was transferred from France to Turkey and buried in a cemetery in front of the Rumi Mausoleum in Konya.

The Rumi Shrine in central Konya province is in the foreground with its cylindrical dome with green tiles.

However, the real impact of Mevlana’s poems on Western culture began with the American poet and writer Colman Barks, who became interested in Rumi and his poems from the academic realm to the popular level when he composed poems inspired by the translation of Masnavi and published them in 1976. After that, Barks’ interest in Rumi’s poems continued and he published eight volumes on him and his poetry. Although he does not know Farsi, Barks hired a translator to work on Rumi’s works. His formulation of Rumi’s poems close to the style of American free verse was an influential factor in their dissemination in popular circles, so that many singers and pop singers in the United States in the 90s sang Rumi’s poems during the period. of their concerts: from Madonna to John Bon Jovi, from Goldie Hawn to Demi Moore. It further helped to increase awareness of Rumi among all sectors of the population and increase its influence in Western culture.

The fact that Rumi’s influence in Western culture grew and his works became best-selling books in the United States between 2004 and 2006 led UNESCO to celebrate Rumi in 2007 on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of his birth. A big party was held in Paris in addition to various events in 18 countries around the world.

In 2015, American singer Christopher Anthony John Martin (Chris Martin), lead singer of the group Coldplay, included excerpts from Rumi’s poems called “The Guest House” in his band’s new album, and the song was a hit. in the United States and abroad. .

In 2016, The Guardian announced that David Franzoni, screenwriter of the film Gladiator, had agreed with producer Stephen Joel Brown to produce a film about the life of Rumi, and announced his intention to name actor Leonardo Di Caprio. to embody the character of Rumi; however, the project did not continue.

It can be said that Rumi’s influence in Western culture is widespread in popular and artistic circles, unlike his influence in the Islamic world and – especially in the Arab world – where this influence was confined to the academic realm.

Eric Geoffroy, French professor of philosophy and mysticism at the University of Strasbourg who previously taught in some universities in Damascus, says that the spiritual atmosphere of Persian and Turkish is completely different and simpler than Arab spirituality. He says Rumi’s teachings are apparently easy to understand compared to more famous Arab mystics such as Ibn Arabi and Ibn al-Farid, which makes studying Rumi and his poetry more appealing to the West.

According to Can Ceylan, a Sufism scholar and faculty member at Medipol University in Turkey, some of the ideas Rumi put forward in his poems seem to come close to shamanism or ancient Greek philosophy, and this is one of the reasons of the interest of the West. in Roumi. This is why they wish to present him as a poet and a philosopher, taking him away from his Islamic identity while Rumi himself has always insisted on this fact.

It is worth mentioning an extract from Masnavi:

“This is the book of Masnavi, which is the roots of the roots of the roots of religion in the way of unfolding the mysteries of fulfillment and certainty; and which is the greatest science of God and the clearest way of God and the most manifest evidence of God. “

To demonstrate that the Masnavi is not just a book of mystical poetry and wisdom, but a comprehensive approach to understanding religion, Ceylon says that “perhaps Rumi has meeting points with philosophers. Greek or ancient Chinese culture, and perhaps his poems contain positions mentioned in the Bible and Torah to convey an idea. But he is above all a Muslim scholar and jurist, just as the Koran does not deny the Torah and the Bible.

“Or whoever is a disciple of Rumi, he must first be a Muslim. Because the Mawlawi Order and the teachings of Rumi are not separate from Islam.”

Ceylon also says Rumi is a good “brand” for presenting Islam and its teachings, presenting a correct image of Islam, and correcting the stereotypical image in the minds of some that links Islam to violence and violence. rejection on the other, noting that the Masnavi has been translated into 26 languages ​​and has continued to inspire many people for over 800 years.

We can conclude with a quote from one of Rumi’s most famous and widely used poems, as it is a summary of the approach a person should live by, regardless of their religion or race. :

“In compassion and grace, be like the sun … In hiding the faults of others, be like the night … In generosity and helping others, be like a river … In anger and fury, be like the dead … In modesty and humility, be like the earth … Either you are as you are, or you are as you appear.

About Norma Wade

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