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Rumi

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Rumi

    1207 – 1273 Sufi

    poet and

    visionary

    Jalal al-Din Rumi is best known for his mystical poetry and his influence on the Mawlawiyah, a Sufi order founded after his death. Muslims often refer to the Mawlawiyah as the Whirling Dervishes because of their distinctive meditative dance, a ritual based on movements Rumi performed while reading his poetry. Rumi had a profound influence on philosophy and culture in Iran, Central Asia, India, and especially Turkey.

    The son of a well-known religious scholar in the city of Balkh (in Afghanistan), Rumi moved at the age of 12 with his family to escape from approaching Mongols. Rumi's family eventually settled in the city of Konya (in present-day Turkey). His father served as a legal scholar, judge, and teacher at a local madrasah (Islamic school), a position that Rumi took over after his father died. Rumi learned about Sufi mysticism from one his father's former pupils, Burhan al-Din al-Tirmidhi. He later traveled to Syria, where he may have met the leading Islamic thinker of the time, Ibn al-Arabi.

    In 1244 Rumi met a wandering holy man and mystic named Shams-i Tabrizi. Shams made an overwhelming impression on Rumi, and the two developed a close friendship that worried Rumi's family. Bitter at Rumi's neglect, his family and disciples forced Shams to leave town. Rumi rushed after him and begged him to return, but soon after, Shams vanished entirely. Scholars have recently confirmed that Rumi's disciples and his son, Sultan Walad , conspired to murder Shams, burying him close to a well in Konya. The loss of Shams caused Rumi great grief, which he expressed in a major work of poetry. Called the Divan-i Shams-i Tabrizi (Collected Poetry of Shams), it displays the different stages of Rumi's love, culminating in Rumi's discovery of Shams within himself, “radiant like the moon.” Rumi often read these verses while performing a whirling dance that became the hallmark of the Whirling Dervishes. Some scholars believe that he also composed his poems in a trancelike state, listening to flutes, drums, the hammering of goldsmiths, or the sound of the water mill in the countryside.

    Several years later, Rumi met an illiterate goldsmith named Salah al-Din Zarkub. Once again, Rumi formed a special bond that inspired him to write poetry. Rumi's experiences with Zarkub and later with one of his disciples inspired him to write the Masnavi. The longest mystical poem ever written, the Masnavi discusses many aspects of Sufi philosophy, including religion, ethics, and metaphysics. The poem explores the relationship between the spiritual and the secular, focusing on relationships between human beings as well as the relationship between humans and God.

    Rumi died shortly after completing the Masnavi. Along with his longer texts, he left several smaller works of poetry and prose. He enjoyed great popularity and influence among his peers, and his son Sultan Walad later formed the Mawlawiyah out of his followers. The name of the order derives from Mawlana (Our Master), a term often applied to Rumi. Much of what we know of Rumi's life comes from Sultan Walad's writings. See also Literature; Mawlawiyah; Sufism.

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