By Pepe Escobar, posted with the author’s permission and widely cross-posted
KONYA – Mystic poet, Sufi, theosophist, and thinker, Jalal al-Din Rumi remains one of the most beloved historical personalities in history, east and west. A wanderer in search of the light, he famously characterized himself thus: “I am nothing more than a humble lover of God.”
The era of Rumi’s father – Sultan Bahaeddin Veled (1152-1231) and son (1207-1273) – was an extraordinary socio-political rollercoaster. It’s absolutely impossible for us today to understand the ideas, allusions and parables that trespass Rumi’s magnum opus, the six-volume Masnevi , in 25,620 couplets, without delving into some serious time travel.
In the Masnevi , written in Persian – the prime literary language in West and Central Asia in those times – Rumi used poetry essentially as a tool for teaching divine secrets, explaining them via parables. The Rumi Project is to show Man the path to Divine Love, leading him from a low stage to the highest. Squeezed and subdued by the techno-feudalism juggernaut, we may now need to heed these lessons more than ever in history.
The Masnevi became hugely popular across Eurasia immediately after Rumi’s death in 1273 – from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. Then, slowly but surely, the man and the opus ended up reaching even the collective west (Goethe was mesmerized) and inspiring a wealth of learned commentaries, in Persian, Ottoman Turkish, Urdu and English.
“The master from Anatolia”
Let’s start our time travel in the 11th century, when some Turkish tribes, after crossing Transoxiana, began to settle in northern Persia. These new Turkish tribes – from the Ghaznavids to the Seljuks (actually the branch of a Turkoman tribe) – constituted fabulous dynasties that played a key role in the inter-mixing of Turkic and Persian culture (what the Chinese today, applying it to the New Silk Roads, call “people to people contacts”).
Islam spread very fast in Persia under the rule of the religiously tolerant Samanids. That was the foundation stone for Mahmud of Ghazna (998-1030) to form a great Turkish empire, from northeastern Persia to very remote parts of India. Mahmud made a great impression on Rumi.
While the Ghaznavids remained powerful in eastern Persia, the Seljuks established a powerful empire not only in parts of Iran but also in the remote lands of Anatolia (called Arz-I Rum). That’s the reason why Rumi is called Mavlana-yi Rum (“the master from Anatolia”).
Rumi as a kid lived in legendary Balkh (part of Khorasan in northern Afghanistan), capital of the Khwarazm empire. When he and his father were still there, the king was Ala al-Din, who came from a dynasty established by a Turkish slave.
After a series of incredibly messy kingdom clashes, Ala al-Din saw himself pitted in battle against the king of Samarkand, Osman Khan. That ended up in a massacre in 1212, in which Ala al-Din’s soldiers killed 10,000 people in Samarkand. The young Rumi was shocked.
Ala al-Din wanted to be no less than the absolute ruler of the Muslim world. He refused to obey the Caliph in Baghdad. He even started entertaining designs on China – where Genghis Khan had already conquered Pekin.
Ala al-Din sent an envoy to China who was very well treated by Genghis, who had an eye on – what else – good business between the two empires (the Silk Road bug, again). Genghis sent his ambassadors back, full of gifts. Ala al-Din received them in Transoxiana in 1218.
But then the governor of one of his provinces, a close relative, robbed and killed some of the Mongols. Genghis demanded punishment. The Sultan refused. Well, you don’t want to pick up a fight with Genghis Khan. He duly started a series of massacres in Persia, and inevitably the Khwarazm empire – along with its great cities, Samarkand, Bukhara, Balkh, Merv – collapsed. By then, Rumi and his father had already left.
Like Baghdad, each of these fabulous cities was a center of learning. Rumi’s Balkh had a mixed culture of Arabs, Sassanians, Turks, Buddhists and Christians. After Alexander The Great, Balkh became the hub of Greco-Bactria. Just before the coming of Islam, it was a Buddhist hub and a center of Zoroastrian teaching. All along, one of the great centers of the Ancient Silk Roads.
On the road with 300 camels
The hero of Rumi’s Masnevi, Ibrahim Adham, like the Buddha, had relinquished his throne for the love of God, setting the example for the Sufism that later came to flourish across these latitudes, known as the Khorasani school.
As Prof Dr Erkan Turkmen, who was born in Peshawar and today is a top scholar at Karatay University in Konya, and author, among others, of a lovely volume, ‘Roses from Rumi’s Rose Garden’ says, there are two top reliable sources for the extraordinary pilgrimage of Rumi’s father Bahaeddin and his family from Balkh to Konya, with books, food and house ware loaded on the back of 300 camels, accompanied by 40 religious people. The sources, inevitably, are father and son (Rumi’s account is written in verse).
The first major stop was Baghdad. At the entrance gates, the guards asked who they were. Rumi’s father said, “We are coming from God and shall go back to Him. We have come from the non-existent world and shall go there again.”
Caliph al-Nasir summoned his top scholar Suhreverdi, who immediately gave the green light to the newcomers. But Rumi’s father did not want to stay under the protection of the Caliph, who was noted for his cruelness. So after a few years he left for Mecca on a Hajj and then to Damascus – which was an extremely well organized city at the time of the Abbasids and the Seljuks, crammed with 660 mosques, more than 40 madrassas, 100 baths and plenty of famous scholars.
The final steps on the family journey were Erjinzan in Anatolia – already a center of trade and culture – and then Larende (now Karaman), 100km south of Konya. Today, Karaman is only a small Turkish province, but in those times extended as far as Antalya to the south. It housed a lot of Christian Turks, who wrote Turkish using the Greek alphabet.
That’s where Rumi got married. Afterwards, his father was invited by Sultan Ala al-Din Kayqubad I (1220-1237) to Konya, finally establishing himself and the family until his death in 1231.
The Seljuks in Anatolia erupted into history in the year 1075, when Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantines in the legendary battle of Manzikert. A century later, in 1107, Qilich Arslan defeated the Crusaders, and the Seljuk empire began to spread very fast. It took a few decades before Christians started to accept the inevitable: the presence of Turks in Anatolia. Later, they even started to intermix.
The golden era of the Seljuks was under Sultan Ala al-Din Kayqubad I (the one who invited Rumi’s family to Konya), who built citadels around Konya and Kayseri to protect them from the coming Mongol invasion, and spent his winters at the beautiful Mediterranean coast in Antalya.
In Konya, Rumi did not get into politics, and does not seem to have had close relations with the royal family. He was widely known either as Mevlana (our master) or Rumi (the Anatolian). In Turkey today he is simply known as Mevlana, and in the west as Rumi. In his lyrical poetry, he uses the pseudonym Khamush (Silent). Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP – a highly materialistic enterprise wallowing in dodgy businesses – is not exactly fond of Rumi’s Sufism.
Under the Green Dome
As we’ve seen, Rumi spent most of his childhood on the road – so he never attended regular school. His early education was provided by his father and other scholars who followed the family to Karaman. Rumi also met many other famous scholars along the way, especially in Baghdad and Damascus, where he studied Islamic history, the Quran, and Arabic.
When Rumi was about to finish the 6th volume of the Masnevi, he fell ill, under constant fever. He passed away on 17 December, 1273. A fund of 130,000 dirhams was organized to build his tomb, which includes the world-famous Green Dome (Qubbat ul-Khazra), originally finished in 1274 and currently under renovation.
The tomb today is a museum (Konya holds astonishing relics especially in the Ethnography and Archeology museums). But for most pilgrims from all lands of Islam and beyond who come to pay their spiritual tributes, it is actually regarded as a lover’s shrine (Kaaba-yi Ushaq).
These lines, inscribed in his splendid wooden sarcophagus, may be a summary of all that Rumi attempted to teach during his lifetime:
“If wheat is grown on the clay of my grave, and if you bake bread of it, your intoxication will increase, the dough and the baker will go mad and the oven will also begin to recite verses out of madness. When you pay a visit to my tomb, it will seem to be dancing for God has created me out of the wine of love and I am still the same love even if death may crush me.”
A Sufi is by definition a lover of God. Islamic mysticism considers three stages of knowledge: the knowledge of certainty, the eye of certainty, and the truth of certainty.
In the first stage, one tries to find God by intellectual proof (failure is inevitable). In the second stage, one may be tuned in to divine secrets. In the third stage, one is able to see Reality and understand It spiritually. That’s a path not dissimilar to reaching enlightenment in Buddhism.
In addition to these three stages, there are paths to follow toward God. Choosing a path – Tarikat – is a very complicated business. It can be any Sufi order – such as Mavleviya, Kadriya, Nakshbandiya – under the guidance of a sheikh of that particular Tarikat.
In these absurdist times of grain diplomacy barely able to remedy the toxic effects of imperial sanctions, part of a proxy war of civilizations, a Rumi verse – “The celestial mill gives nothing if you have no wheat” – may open unexpected vistas.
Rumi is essentially saying that if one goes to a flour mill without wheat, what shall we gain? Nothing but the whiteness of one’s beard and hair (because of the flour). In the same vein: “If we have no good deeds to take with us to the other world, we will gain nothing but pain in the heart, while if we have developed our spiritual being, we will gain honor and Divine Love.”
Now try to explain that to a crusading collective west.
There is no end to war apparently! WW3: game and it’s over, cockroaches win.
Gracias Don Jose, Gracias, gracias, gracias.
Pepe is from Brasil. Here we speak portuguese so one should say: obrigado Pepe. Muito obrigado!
Best regards from Brasil ( w/ “s”, not “z” !)
Thank you Sir for such an enlightening article. Divine teachings transcends our man made petty divisions. If only we could all heed that which is good within, and expand with it, the World will surely be a better place for All to live in. I myself, learnt a little about Islam through a friend I met in a foreign land who was from the Naqshbandi Sufi Order ; he didn’t say so much with words as he did with action/inaction, which I believe is the credence/essence that solidifies the particular path that was chosen.
Rumi was an Asset to Our Human Race.
Gracias, tambien. This is an enlightning essay.
Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Mevlana Rumi. I had the privilege to visit his ‘maqam’ (station) in Konya and this visit remains one of our most treasured travel memories – together with the Whirling Dervishes sacred dance we saw the night before the visit.
Mr Escobar, your conclusion also resonates very well with me – it eludes to Sheikh Imran Hosein’s commentary about today’s geo political clash where one side has been exercising Power for the sake of dominance, exploitation and the pursuit of endless pleasure, through unjust and deceptive means – somewhere it is mentioned about that side that ‘they will be cruel aggressors, while pretending to be victims’!
While the other emerging side is showing us how Power can be exercised in a noble manner, respectful of the Other, for the advancement of humanity. The latter is only possible through spiritual enlightenment!
Having made the pilgrimage to Rumi’s tomb in Konya, I live in hope of visiting some of those places that he and his father passed through enroute- and Pepe, your writing, your enthusiasm and your “spiritual geopolitics” inspire me to keep hoping.
Thanks for yet another enlightening essay.
“Squeezed and subdued by the techno-feudalism juggernaut, we may now need to heed these lessons more than ever in history.”
Thanks for this reminder, Pepe.
Memo: Study relation between Persian mysticism and Goethe’s pantheism in East-West Divan. Because Pepe says, “Goethe was mesmerized” by reading Rumi.
Reading your articles is pleasure and food for the mind. Very packed with diverse and useful information.
I would like to say that religions, all religions, are inoccents of crime committed against humanity, but over ambitious ruthless rulers use anything and everything including religion to advance, enlarge their empires and increase their influence. Thanks for your invaluable writings.
The best discription of western mindset I can find (so far) has been: “humanitarian” imperialism.
If the Apostle Paul had gone to one of those places, I suspect he would have said something similar to those people that he told the Athenians many years earlier:
“Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”
We may learn from the past, not go back to it. Evolution has only one way, that is forward. I love Rumi and Sufism, respect for Hazrat Inayan Khan. They touch the devine truth, unfortunately so many followers cover it with institutionalised religion. You cannot teach people to love, at most be an example in love and leave it to God what the other will shown to the world. There is absolutely nothing to control. In the end you can only be your own teacher.
This is, unfortunately, declaring that Christ’s coming into the world had no sense, that his sacrifice on the cross and Resurrection was in vain.
Everything has it’s reason and all events contribute to growth. Your interpretation is not correct. Besides that, I believe and love the interpretation of Thomas’ gospel.
This is explicitly denying Christ.
Seraphim: Christ said that all sins are forgiven except blasphemy against the Spirit, and I think it was in the context of Jesus’ healing that the religious leaders or Pharisees accuse him of doing so by the power of the devil rather than of God. Also Peter denied Christ three times yet was forgiven, restored, and was fervent in Christ even to the point of death. Jesus himself claimed that he came to do God’s bidding. He does/ tells only what God has revealed to him, at the same time he claims unity w/God in that anyone who sees him sees God. He represented God in the flesh, witnessed, and proclaimed the things of God. But on a public forum readers subscribe to Christian, Islamic, or Abrahamic truths, etc. All religious or spiritual discussions can converge to point to a self-revealing, powerful, wise, impartial, and compassionate God, whose Spirit – man encounters, and who can guide, counsel, lead, sustain and/or protect. We are all at different phase of life’s journey, and it is God who will lead individuals/ groups to faith. In Acts 10, Roman centurion, Cornelius, a devout man, who prayed daily to a God he does not know. Until the Apostle Peter sent by God to proclaim to him the gospel of salvation. Half way through his proclamation God’s Spirit came upon Cornelius and his family gathered to hear the word/ revelation of God. Then there was the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the scripture (that would be the OT) but w/o understanding. The Apostle Philip was sent to explain to him, and he understood and believed. It is good to open up the discussion to allow more light in for a richer and more expansive picture to come through. Christ must be seen in the context of God’s redemptive work in a very diverse world and culture. Jesus’ life, work, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return – point us to God, and therefore, simply not confined to only certain tenets of Christian beliefs/ teachings (unhappily in the established or institutionalized church are often reduced to man’s utterances or legalism that miss the narrow gate) in a neo-Pharisaical system/ church in our modern era.
What does the Quran say about Jesus – While Muslims do not think of Jesus as God’s son — a significant gap between Muslim and Christian views of him – they see him as an important prophet, He neither died on the cross, nor will he take responsibility for others sins, each will carry the burden of their own sins.
All prophets who were sent to humanity are revered in Islam.
Muslims revere all prophets, especially Jesus, because he was one of the prophets who predicted Muhammad’s arrival.
Jesus, according to the Qur’an, said:
‘I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; He has made me blessed wheresoever I will be, and He has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He has made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or miserable.
So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life (again)!’ Such was Jesus, the son of Mary. Truth states that they (vainly) dispute. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) God that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is” (19:30-35).
Muslims, look forward to Jesus’ second coming.
They see him as one of Allah’s greatest prophets to humanity.
A Muslim does not just call him “Jesus” but instead adds “peace be upon him” as a mark of respect.
No other faith in the world treats Jesus with the respect and dignity that Islam does.
All of this is actually what we have mentioned to you in this article. Please read it in depth to know everything related to this topic.
Muchas gracias y obrigados y Arigatos Senor Pepenissimo,
What a wonderful way to start a drizzly, NATO frosty Monday reading your travels yarns..
**it was a Buddhist hub and a center of Zoroastrian teaching**
Any Magic Bus heading that way…
perhaps Ryanair might fly there one day..(that would be a nightmare for the locals, mate!!)
dreaming … or a train from St Petersburg, ferry across Caspian and …..
Thank you, just thank you….
Impressionante meu caro Pepe, como sempre
Um abraço de Moçambique.
If I remember correctly, most of Anatolia was christian until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. “-rum” meant Rome, i.e. the eastern capital of the previous Roman Empire. Even before the christian kingdoms of the crusaders, where people could live under a christian government that was famously free of corruption, the whole area was full of churches and monasteries. Sufism as the spiritual halo of islam, has little to do with the restrictions and commandments that leave no space for individual freedom in day-to-day life to the observant Muslim. The universal love of God and everything He created is the core of everything christian, zoroastrian, or spiritual muslim.
Sufism is the evolution of earlier movements of the “faylasuf” – the philosophers.
Around 600BC due to endless debates and a misled emperor, Platonic Academies were closed. Several left and relocated at more eastern provinces, while some of the best found hospitality in Persia and the court of King Chosroes.
From where they quickly returned. Philosophy continued to be taught at Constantinople and other centers for the following centuries.
My favorite Rumi quote : The morning breeze has secrets to tell you. Do not go back to sleep.
Beat the Drum
Beat the drum, let the poet speak,
Let the crier cry and the seeker seek.
Let the beloved fulfill the lover’s desire,
Let the heart be opened to the spirit of fire.
Beat the drum, let the singer sing;
Let the voice resound and the soul take wing.
Let the mystery unravel and the adventure begin.
Let the heart be led to the altar within.
Beat the drum, let the lion roar,
Let the whale dive and the eagle soar;
Let the One see Itself in the many that abound,
Let the heart rejoice and follow the Sound.
Beat the drum, let the poet speak,
Let the crier cry and the seeker seek.
Let the beloved fulfill the lover’s desire,
Let the heart be opened to the spirit of fire!
“Let yourself be silently drawn
by the pull of what you really love.
It will not lead you astray.”
Last night, Love asked me, “How did you fall in love with me?”
I said, “Don’t get tangled up in the how. Say what you are woven from.”
“O Beautiful Player, Tell Us What You Heard”
“The Hidden Teachings of Rumi”,
Doug Marman, Farzad Khalvati, Mitra Shafaei
Eu já li diversas vezes.
Encantador este seu artigo.
Falta em alguns líderes egocêntricos está visão mais profunda , espitual e fraterna da vida!
Você fechou o artigo com frase brilhante.
Google-translate from mod:
I have read several times.
Charming your article.
Missing some egocentric leaders is more deep, spirit and fraternal view of life!
You closed the article with a brilliant phrase.
Really enjoying Rumi..Pepe..so wish we cud actually step back in time and be there
Dear Mr Escobar, ai loce your work and read you religiously but I must correct some detail here.
There are very few Christian Turks in the world , and most of the ones shown by Turkey are a criminal nationalist family all descended from a defrocked Greek Priest in 1923. That is even admitted in Turkish newspapers. No Christian group in the world accepts these “Christian Turks” as Christians. The defrocked priest was given asylum by Kemal Attaturk to be a spoiler to the Greeks and Orthodoxy , similarly to why the US accepted Gulen to be a thorn in Erdogan’s side.
The Turkish -speaking , but writing -in -Greek -script – “Turks” you mention, are Cappadokian Greeks or Greeks of the Central Asia Minor (Cappadocia -Early Church Fathers’ region ) which became Karamania under the Turks. Rather than stay under the Turks as they could have done if they would accept Islam , almost all left for Greece in 1923 in the Asia Minor Catastrophe- the greatest war time displacement recorded till that time. Later dwarfed by the several millions in The Partition of India. The only ones who stayed were this extended family of the defrocked priest and some others who some say are still Crypto- Christian.
The only real Christian Turks are those Turks who have converted in the last few decades. Sadly ,most were murdered for apostasy by their Moslem peers. Just look up the net and you will see. These are the only Christian Turks who are really Christian and accepted by other Christians. Of course there are still Greek ,Armenian and Assyrian NATIVES who remain in Asia Minor (NOW called Turkey ) and are still Christian as they always were. They are the only real Christians of Turkey ;apart from the very few recent genuine converted Turks and few Christian European families of Turkey (Levantines ) ie Catholic/Protestant Italian/Germanic/English descendants of Traders who dealt with Turks once they conquered Asia Minor.
Rumi was called so , as he was of original Greek extraction ,and as you admit Balkh was a Greco-Bactrian city . Greeks never really left but mixed in and some converted as did Rumi family at some stage. Like most Greeks that converted he became a Sufi or “soft “ mystical uniting Moslem ,rather than a Sunni “hard Moslem” . In later times, most Indians ,Albanians and others who concerted chose the “soft Islam” route ie Sufism, Shiiism and Bektasiism, which allowed “saints” and no need for mosques or fasting as such. Ie close to Christianity.
The Seljuks called themselves the Sultunate of Rum as they considered themselves formal successor of the Byzantine Greek (Roman) this Rum Empire. They even used the Byzantine two -headed eagle as their flag as well , as did Albania,Russia,Austria -Hungary etc later.
“Rumi was called so , as he was of original Greek extraction…”
This is an absurd claim and reeks of the Greek practice of claiming just about everything as “being Greek”,
the name Makedonija for one. Closer to the truth is that modern Greeks have been indoctrinated in the
all pervasive assertions that “this that and the other is Greek”, due to the desire to conceal the multiethnic origins of modern Greeks. Macedonians (who have been the victims of Greek cultural and literal genocide for more than a century now) have a saying, “In Greece you can find anything but a Greek”.
Thanks for your very interesting comment. Your “hard-Sunni soft-Sufi-mystical” delineation of Islamic practice prompted a memory: Sufi means wool. The word was originally a description of the garments worn by Islamic mystics.
Dimitar is right, this is an absurd claim.
Greco-Bactria was established circa 256 BC. Mowlana was born in the 11th century AD. A near endless succession of peoples entered and settled the region between those dates, and the Greeks never comprised a majority of the population at any point. Scythian nomads, followed by wave after wave of nomads from the steppes, Arabs, etc, all settled in Bactria in great numbers after the fall of the Greek kingdom. But Iranians always made up the majority up until the Mongol invasion and genocide which basically cleared Central Asian Iranian lands of people almost completely.
As for the claim about soft Islam — whatever that means — it is another far-fetched idea which demonstrates modern Western mentality and not much more. Let me ask you, what is “hard” Islam? The Taliban, yes? With their compulsory full black veils for women and all, right? What if I told you that they had female dancers at the Safavid court in Isfahan circa 16th century AD? Go to Isfahan and you can see depictions of this on the walls at the Safavid palaces there.
And what about all the countless mentions of wine in the poetry of figures like Omar Khayyam? And have you heard of Shiraz wine?
So, where exactly was this hard Islam that you are referring to? This image of Islam as some kind of atrocious hell-religion of anti-freedom and anti-humanism is a modern concoction. The Islam of the Taliban and ISIS bears no resemblance to the Islam of the middle ages. Neither does the Islam of Saudi Arabia or Iran.
The fact that there are so many versions of Islam today, and they are all at odds with each other, should give you some clue. Everyone has had their own interpretation of Islam over the years. Some of them included belly dancers, others were more inclined towards head-chopping.
And in any case, Mowlana’s father was like a mullah of sorts, an Islamic cleric. Hardly an ecstatic dancer.
They call Mowlana a Sufi, because that is the label they give to Islamic mystics that have essentially gone off the rails. The Iranian government today does not celebrate Rumi, they try to sweep him under the rug. Why? The Iranian government today persecutes Sufi sects in Iran. Why? Because they are considered anathema to the Islam that the government espouses.
Mansur Hallaj was one of the first “Sufis” and the caliphate in Baghdad chopped him to bits. He established the limits of how far “off the rails” it is possible to go under Islamic rule. All Sufis who came after took heed of his example and made sure not to say or do anything too un-Islamic.
Mansur Hallaj was Rumi’s forefather. What did he say that got him chopped to bits? He said “I have become one with the spirit” or “I have attained union with God”. Impossible, according to Islamic teachings. So, he was executed in the harshest possible way.
Rumi and all the other Sufis have basically been saying the same thing. But they said it more carefully.
As such, the Sufiism of Iranian mystics like Mowlana is much more akin to native Oriental doctrines like Buddhism and Daoism, than Abrahamic faiths like Islam and Christianity, which Pepe has correctly surmised.
Al-Kaftarbaz, Thanks for your comments on this thread.
The subjects touched on are a fertile garden with much
more to share.
Do come down to the Moveable Feast Cafe and ‘break bread’
sometime, (if you haven’t already, although I’m not sure we
haven’t met before). I’m a regular there and share mostly
through the medium of poetry, would love to discuss further
with you. Best, D.
I’ve noticed most people are better off not delving into political matters in my country (USA) so I advise the people who come to me not to get involved or obsessed with politics. First, because most are grounded not only in consistent lying in the mainstream media (MSM) but also because of the very poor education at all levels (those with graduate degrees are often the most ardent believers in the MSM’s lies, particularly NPR) of the system and it’s getting worse to an almost absurd degree. In my country working-class people do better at understanding what is going even with little actual knowledge.
Having said that, I explain to those who have ears to hear that only with a profound connection to “essence” whether it’s called love of God or however it’s described can politics as we know it today can be followed. That connection requires a spiritual path, humility, openness, and the ability to experience and embrace suffering as we lose our masks and come closer to essence. Rumi points to the kind of attitude necessary to cultivate spirituality through the storytelling and poetry that often embraces paradox and the grand mystery (good and bad) at the foundation of our existence. All this cannot be described in normal language and can only be indicated through a “cloud of unknowing.” This does not mean to leave reason behind but rather to see it as the tool that helps us understand the world around us (to the extent that’s possible). Once the central understanding of God or essence is at least contacted we have a basis for understanding the major and minor events around us without going into the madness of hatred of the other which is at the heart of all disputes. The truth is that everyone is right, everyone has a story and a connection with family, tribe, culture, country and so on. One friend hates the right, another friend hates the left. Both are highly educated who possess brilliant intellects in their fields–only they lack compassion to see each other clearly.
Rumi indicates a path open to all and has provided a constant support to me and his books (in translations) are always on my bedside table along with (usually) the Gospels.
Chris, you mentioned translations in passing. Briefly, anyone who has undertaken
the task of translating from one language to another, knows just how difficult it is,
and that invariably something is always lost in the process. Poetry offers even more
challenges because of its inherent subjectivity, which relies largely on one’s own
experience as reference point insofar as understanding the poet’s original intentions.
Rumi perhaps even more so, since the vast majority of ‘translators’ are working off
extant literal translations, and I doubt understand the consciousness Rumi was writing
from. Hence, their texts are generally interpretations, more so than translations.
Coleman Barks is a good example of this where, imo, Coleman is as present in his
translations as much as Rumi is. This isn’t bad per se, it just means that what we’re
getting is a watered down or hybrid version of Rumi.
To this end, I would like to recommend by far the best translations of Rumi I have
come across being “The Hidden Teachings of Rumi” by Doug Marman, Farzad Khalvati
and Mitra Shafaei. Doug’s website is; http://www.spiritualdialogues.com
Quote; “This book reveals a secret that has been hidden for over 700 years. Behind the
poetry that Rumi created out of love for his teacher, Shams of Tabriz, is a deep spiritual
teaching seen by most as spontaneous expressions of love and spiritual ecstasy, there
is also a thread that weaves these moments into whole cloth. Each poem shares a
poignant lesson that can only be seen with eyes of love.”
Marman’s work is for those who sense that Rumi goes deeper than what we have
available to us in the English language and he explains the importance of the original
poems from the ‘Divan-e-Shams’, in “The Hidden Teachings of Rumi”, which have been
sourced from the original Farsi and translated with the help of Farsi speakers, Farzad
Khalvati and Mitra Shafaei. Many of the poems have never been translated before
precisely because of the difficulty in understanding what Rumi is talking about in the
Divan-e-Shams. The elaborations following the poems in Marman’s book throw an
entirely different light on Rumi’s meaning, making it clear just how much is lost in
most translations. Which isn’t to say they lack relevance, but simply to point out,
that Rumi’s wok never really “bottoms out”, ie; there are more layers than one can
Finally, I note that neither in Pepe’s article nor in any of the comments has there been
mention of Rumi’s teacher, Shams of Tabriz. Without Shams there would be no Rumi!
Rumi himself, upon meeting Shams, said, “Everything I thought of as God before, I met
today in the form of a person”.
What could Rumi possibly have meant by this? How could one person have inspired
one of, if not the most profound bodies of poetry ever passed on to the human race?
Rumi, said; “Look to the teacher of the day for truth is here and now, not in the past
nor future, but always here and now!” This means that what occurred to Rumi, let’s
call it spiritual illumination, can also potentially occur to any one of us. We must be
prepared to do the hard yards however, and make the necessary sacrifices along
the way, and so on.
Although it is not exactly related, this post reminded me a wonderful book that I’ve read in the past and that I would recommend to you all…
Samarcande by the French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf.
It is one of the best books I’ve read and is well worth the few hours you will spend the author’s wonderful “universe”… Spoiler, it’s a historical mystery novel about Omar Khayyam’s lost (and found) diary.
Speaking of Sufi, the 8th century female Sufi mystic, Rabia Al Basri:
“If I love You out of fear of hell, let me burn in hell.
If I love You in my desire for paradise, lock me out of paradise.
But if I love You for Yourself alone, do not deny me Your eternal beauty.
Gosto bastante dos artigos do Pepe.
Mas quando decide contar a história e os ensinamentos passados para poder passar uma mensagem para o presente me encanta e me faz viajar.
Grande Pepe, um abraço de Minas.
I really like Pepe’s articles.
But when he decides to tell the story and the past teachings in order to convey a message to the present, he enchants me and makes me travel.
Big Pepe, a hug from Minas.
I am not sure if Rumi can be called a theosophist though.
Let us not forget that while Rumi was a sufi saint enamoured with God, he was a practising “Hanafi Mufti” in his daily life. In fact traditional Islamic civilization produced many such Sufi saints who all practised the Sharia to the letter. Without a law that is practised, there can be no justice. And without justice there can be no love. And without love justice will become tyranny. It has to come full circle.
The greatest disservice the west is doing to Rumi is turning him from a practising Hanafi mufti and scholar, to a sensuous love poet and a few whirling lessons. Let us not fall into that trap. Every sufi while enamoured of God was a strict “practising” muslim and his adherence to the Sharia was an indicator of that love. In fact a non-practising sufi is considered a charlatan within the tradition of Islam. And Rumi was no charlatan.
By saying that Mowlana Jalal al-Din was a “practicing Hanafi”, all we are doing is putting a label on him and to some degree politicizing him, which is the antithesis of what he was all about, in my humble opinion.
What do we mean by “practicing Hanafi”? Essentially we mean to say he was a Muslim. What do we mean by that? That he did not lie o steal or cheat his fellow man. That he did not perform blood sacrifice to demons, and he did not engage in the worship of demonic deities, nor did he condone such acts. Etc, etc, etc.
What does “practicing Hanafi” NOT mean? It doesn’t mean that Mowlana would have approved of the Taliban, or any of the ‘Islamic’ regimes in the world today. It does not mean that were he around today, he would line up behind this power hungry mullah or that power hungry Arab prince.
So, was Mowlana a practicing Muslim? Sure.
Does that mean the practicing Muslims of today are on the same path as Mowlana? Absolutely not, as far as 99.99% of them are concerned.
Mowlana lived during a very unique period of a blending of ancient Greek philosphical ideas (translated and proliferated by Farabi, Avicenna, et al) with Persian culture, in a cauldron of Muslim political rule. What made the situation even more unique was the Mongol conquest which destroyed the Persian world for the third time (The invasions by Alexander and the Arabs being the first and second), and this led the Persian psyche to fully focus its gaze inwards, having realized the futility of the material world and material triumphs. Mowlana was the zenith of this inward exploration. And what he found within was not Islam or Shiism or Hanafiism. It was something altogether much more mysterious, and it is still captivating and fascinating to all people today regardless of race or religion, something that Hanafiism or Islam simply does not boast.
The Greek wants to claim Mowlana as his own. As does the Hanafi, the Shia, the Muslim, the Iranian, etc. The truth is, the man was in a league of his own. He was peerless, and continues to be peerless even today. His genius was not the result of Persian language or Iranian genes or Islamic teachings, but something altogether more inexplicable and otherworldly.
His works speak for themselves.
His genius was not the result of Persian language or Iranian genes or Islamic teachings,
but something altogether more inexplicable and otherworldly.
What ever happened to Rumi will one day happen to you and I and every single being
in creation, it’s just that Rumi had the potential to be a poet, which Shams of Tabriz saw,
awakened within him and then asked Rumi to share through the medium of poetry with
the world. The rites of Self and God Realization ( or Self and God Discovery, if you like )
is the destiny in time of every single living being.
I prefer to look at him as a wonderful contribution to the world from the Iranian people. Math is universal too, but Descartes belongs to the French, and Euclid to the Greeks.
Dimitar, mate, I think you have very accurately delineated the two sides to the Mowlana enigma.
One is the attainment of union with the spirit, which you have called self and god realization or discovery. I would say that this is no different than what the Buddha attained. It is also the same thing that Daoists pursue, eg. to join with the Dao.
The second is his poetic ability, which I think we can safely say that very few poets (if any at all) in all of history can really be considered his equal. It is no simple task producing rhyming couplets, let alone elucidating a whole system of spiritual philosophy in that way.
I feel confident saying that while all Farsi speakers today can understand Mowlana’s poetry, as the Persian language has not changed in the last 1000 years, not a single one of them would be able to create even a pale imitation of the Masnavi or the Divan e Shams. And the fact of the matter is, they haven’t.
If we look at the great Persian poets like Rumi, Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Hafez, Sadi, etc, we can’t fail to notice that they all fall into a certain time period, after which the occurrence of such poets slows down considerably, with one or two popping up per century, and eventually stopping altogether. This implies that there were factors — probably social — which gave rise to this kind of poetic genius, factors which are non-existent in modern Iran.
If we look closely, the subject matter of the great poets was almost universally the same, ie. matters of spirituality. So, again there must have been certain influences which drove all these talented individuals towards spiritual pursuits. And once again, those influences clearly do not exist today in modern Iran, because talented Iranians today tend to become doctors and engineers, and spiritual pursuits in Iran today are channeled towards Shiism and are contained within a very narrow and rigid framework.
During that golden age of spiritual poetry, it seems that the spiritual pursuit and the poetic ability went hand in hand, and the deeper one’s spiritual understanding and attainment the more profound was their poetry.
I can only speculate what the social conditions must have been like to foster people like Rumi, Hafez, Khayyam, etc. They call that period the Islamic Golden Age.
Definitely Rumi was a practising Muslim. For him the Quran supersedes the Christian Scriptures and Muhammad is greater than the Christ.
If you understand Rumi’s words that man’s salvation lies not
with any worldly religion but through connection to the source
of the source of the source of all religions, you may think
Some quotes from Mowlana:
“The miracle of Jesus is himself, not what he said or did about the future. Forget the future. I’d worship someone who could do that.”
“Jesus was lost in his love for God. His donkey was drunk with barley.”
“The spirit and the body carry different loads and require different attentions. Too often we put the saddlebags on Jesus and let the donkey run loose in the pasture.”
“Imagine a man selling his donkey
to be with Jesus.
Now imagine him selling Jesus
to get a ride on a donkey.
This does happen.
Jesus can transform a drunk into gold.
If the drunk is already golden,
he can be changed to pure diamond.
If already that, he can become the circling
planets, Jupiter, Venus, the moon.
Never think that you are worthless.
God has paid an enormous amount for you,
and the gifts keep arriving.”
So, who are these donkeys that are drunk with barley and have no inkling of love for God?
Who are these people that have “put the saddlebag on Jesus” and have their donkeys running loose?
Who are the people that have “sold Jesus to get a ride on a donkey”?
And before our Muslim brothers get the wrong idea, Rumi could just as well have said “sold Mohamad to get a ride on a donkey.”
This is how the Masnavi Manavi of Mowlana begins:
Hearken to the reed-flute, how it complains,
Lamenting its banishment from its home:–
“Ever since they tore me from my osier bed,
My plaintive notes have moved men and women to tears.
I burst my breast, striving to give vent to sighs,
And to express the pangs of my yearnings for my home.
He who abides far away from his home
Is ever longing for the day he shall return.
My wailing is heard in every throng,
In concert with them that rejoice and them that weep.
Each interprets my notes in harmony with his own feelings,
But not one fathoms the secrets of my heart.
My secrets are not alien from my plaintive notes,
Yet they are not manifest to the sensual eye and ear.
Body is not veiled from soul, neither soul from body,
Yet no man hath ever seen a soul.”
This plaint of the flute is fire, not mere air.
Let him who lacks this fire be accounted dead!
‘Tis the fire of love that inspires the flute,
‘Tis the ferment of love that possesses the wine.
The flute is the confidant of all unhappy lovers;
Yea, its strains lay bare my inmost secrets.
Who hath seen a poison and an antidote like the flute?
Who hath seen a sympathetic consoler like the flute?
The flute tells the tale of love’s bloodstained path,
It recounts the story of Majnun’s love toils.
None is privy to these feelings save one distracted,
As ear inclines to the whispers of the tongue.
Through grief my days are as labour and sorrow,
My days move on, hand in hand with anguish.
Yet, though my days vanish thus, ’tis no matter,
Do thou abide, 0 Incomparable Pure One!
But all who are not fishes are soon tired of water;
And they who lack daily bread find the day very long;
So the ” Raw ” comprehend not the state of the “Ripe;”
Therefore it behooves me to shorten my discourse.
Arise, O son! Burst thy bonds and be free!
How long wilt thou be captive to silver and gold?
Though thou pour the ocean into thy pitcher,
It can hold no more than one day’s store.
The pitcher of the desire of the covetous never fills,
The oyster-shell fills not with pearls till it is content;
Only he whose garment is rent by the violence of love
Is wholly pure from covetousness and sin.
Hail to thee, then, O LOVE, sweet madness!
Thou who healest all our infirmities!
Who art the physician of our pride and self-conceit!
Who art our Plato and our Galen!
Love exalts our earthly bodies to heaven,
And makes the very hills to dance with joy!
O lover, ’twas love that gave life to Mount Sinai,
When “it quaked, and Moses fell down in a swoon.”
Did my Beloved only touch me with his lips,
I too, like the flute, would burst out in melody.
But he who is parted from them that speak his tongue,
Though he possess a hundred voices, is perforce dumb.
When the rose has faded and the garden is withered,
The song of the nightingale is no longer to be heard.
The BELOVED is all in all, the lover only veils Him;
The BELOVED is all that lives, the lover a dead thing.
When the lover feels no longer LOVE’s quickening,
He becomes like a bird who has lost its wings. Alas!
How can I retain my senses about me,
When the BELOVED shows not the light of His countenance?
LOVE desires that this secret should be revealed,
For if a mirror reflects not, of what use is it?
Knowest thou why thy mirror reflects not?
Because the rust has not been scoured from its face.
If it were purified from all rust and defilement,
It would reflect the shining of the SUN of GOD.
O friends, ye have now heard this tale,
Which sets forth the very essence of my case.
–Translated by E. H. Whinfield. From “Masnavi-i Ma’navi, The
Spiritual Couplets of Maulána Jalálu-´d-dín Muhammad-i Rúmí.” (London, 1887).
We are like the reed flute, torn from our home, which is why we are all in agony as a race. Our home, from which we have been exiled, is something Mowlana calls “the spirit”.
Thank you, Al-Kaftarbaz. I’m a fan of E. H. Whinfield, and have some of his
translations which I find to be a cut above most.
Good Day Pepe Escobar,
Thank you for Rumi, and the wisdom of his heart. I hope I can learn from him, the Buddha, the Christ and others not known to the general population. It is and will continue to be a life long work as I am a slow learner.
A guide of sorts spoke very well of Rumi. He was a tantric practitioner of Tibetan linage. He also studied Rumi. So after reading you I must honor him (he pass away) and show my respect for you wisdom and get the book recommended by you
Roses From Rumi’s Rose Garden
Prep. By ERKAN TÜRKMEN.
I will need a commentary. But until I can find one, I will do my best to understand.
Thank you Pepe for this nice memory of Rumi. He really started me down the path after the manifestations and prophets. I have to say though that Hafiz has been my favourite of the Islamic love bards.
From a completely different direction, more in tune with the spiritual slutty scum buckets of today lets not forget Rimbaud and Baudelaire. They could still write poetry even though they may have been acolytes of Uncle Satan.
Brother Blue Iconoclast
What evades Escobar essay to mention is that the Indian Orthodox Hindus are petrified of the Sufi community in India and Pakistan. This is one of the reasons Modi has anchored the BJP on Hindutva – India for Hindus.
All of the art work in India’s Gov’t buildings including the Taj was done by the Sufi as they attempt to fuse so many cultural arts in their designs including the Persians.