Jalal al-Din Rumi

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Jalal al-Din Rumi


Sufi poet and theologian


Career . Jalal al-Din Rumi was born in Balkh in northwestern Afghanistan and migrated with his father to present-day Turkey around 1217. In 1229 he settled in Konya, where he made his home for the rest of his life. His father, Baha’ al-Din, was a religious scholar and a Sufi who wrote an important Sufi work, a/-Ma’arif (Ways of Knowledge). After his father’s death in 1231, Rumi became a disciple of Burhan al-Din Muhaqqiq, who had been one of his father’s associates. By 1241 Rumi had become established as a scholar and Sufi shaykh in his own right. The inspiration for his Sufi poetry about the love of God came about through his meeting with another Sufi, Shams al-Din of Tabriz, whom Rumi regarded as his spiritual mentor. For three years Rumi and Shams were inseparable companions. When Shams fled to Damascus to escape the hostility of Rumi’s followers, Rumi sent his son after him to plead for him to return (1246). In the following year, Shams disappeared. (A much later story claimed Shams was secretly murdered.) After Shams disappeared, Rumi continued to teach and lead his disciples and entered into his most fruitful period of literary production.

Writings . Rumi’s writings consist mostly of two large poetic works: Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz (The Collected Poems of Shams-i Tabriz), a collection of Persian mystical poems totaling more than forty thousand lines, and Math-nawi-i ma’nawi (Spiritual Couplets), a collection of poetic narratives totaling some twenty-six thousand lines. In his teachings and poems Rumi always remained loyal to the normative practices of Islam and never favored deviation from the law. Rumi’s sense of loneliness and desolation after the disappearance of Shams led him at the same time to emphasize total, selfless love of God. In his writings the fire of spiritual passion burns away the arrogance of the self, until the self is no more, and the lover becomes identified with and one with the beloved, God. The achievement of this state is facilitated by the practice of dhikr (remembrance), which is done in a group and accompanied by music and dance. The latter-day followers of Rumi, the Mawlawis, or so-called Whirling Dervishes, may practice a more stylized form of dance than Rumi’s followers did during his lifetime, but there is little doubt that he laid considerable emphasis on dance from the outset. Because of his love poetry, Rumi is popular with modern audiences. His translated works are among the best-selling works of poetry in the English language.


Coleman Barks and others, trans., The Essential Rumi (San Francisco: Harper, 1995).

Afzal Iqbal, The Life and Work of Muhammad Jalal-ud-Din Rumi (Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1964).

Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teaching and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi (Oxford & Boston: Oneworld, 2000).

Reynold A. Nicholson, trans., The Mathnawi of jalaluddin Rumi, 8 volumes, edited by Nicholson (London: Luzac, 1925-1933).

Nicholson, trans., Rumi, Poet and Mystic, 1207-1273: Selections from His Writings (New York: S. Weiser, 1974).