Rumi, Jalaluddin (1207–1273)

views updated

RUMI, JALALUDDIN (1207–1273)

Jalaluddin Rumi is the name by which the Persian poet Jalal al-Din Mohammad-e Balkhi is conventionally known in the West. In the Muslim world he is generally called Maulavi or Maulana (Mevlana in Turkish), meaning, respectively, "my master" or "our master," a title reflecting the veneration in which he was held by his followers, who formed the Mevlevi (Maulaviyya) order of dervishes around his writings and example.


The hagiographical sources portray Rumi's father, Baha˒ al-Din-e Valad, as one of the most important Hanafi scholars and theologians of his day, placing his family origins in Balkh (near Mazar-e Sharif in modern Afghanistan), one of the four great urban centers of the eastern Iranian cultural sphere in the pre-Mongol period. When Rumi was born in 1207, however, Baha˒ al-Din was living in Vakhsh, a small town located in what is now Tajikistan, acting as an itinerant preacher (va˓ez) and religious scholar. It does not appear that Baha˒ al-Din belonged to any established Sufi order though a small group of disciples seems to have gathered around him. Inspired by dreams, Baha˒ al-Din began to sign his fatwas as "Sultan al-ulema" ("King of the Clerics," or scholars of religion), an unauthorized title that the local religious judge (qadi) in Vakhsh would erase. The resulting conflict, which can be dated to about 1208—as well perhaps as larger questions of political instability in the region—led Baha˒ al-Din to move to Samarkand, where Rumi recalls living during the Khwarazamshah's siege of the city, circa 1212.

Baha˒ al-Din left eastern Persia (Khorasan) with much of his family by about 1216, eventually obtaining positions as preacher or teacher in provincial Anatolia, where Persian was the court language. While the family was in Karaman (Larende), Rumi's mother, Mo˒mena Khatun, died, and Rumi, at the age of about seventeen, married Gauhar Khatun, with whom he had two sons, including Sultan Valad (1226–1312), who would later play an instrumental role in founding the Mevlevi order. By 1229, Baha˒ al-Din had been invited by Sultan ˓Ala al-Din Keiqobad (r. 1219–1237) to transfer to the Seljuk capital in Konya, where he taught until his death two years later. In 1232, Baha˒ al-Din's protégé, Borhan al-Din Mohaqqeq, arrived from Termez to take over the leadership of the disciples. Rumi was sent to Aleppo and Damascus to be educated, and he apparently also underwent a period of retreat and fasting under Borhan al-Din's direction. By the time Borhan al-Din died in 1241, Rumi had assumed leadership of Baha˒ al-Din's classes and the circle of disciples in Konya.

Rumi's teaching and spiritual praxis were noticeably altered under the influence of Shams al-Din Tabrizi, an itinerant religious scholar and mystic who came to Konya in 1244. It was perhaps under Shams's influence that Rumi began composing poetry. Shams's talks (preserved in Maqalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi) demonstrate his strong desire to create an authentic form of spirituality that dispensed with pretensions and imitative piety. This attitude possibly detracted from Rumi's reputation as a pious preacher, even though the ostensible goal of Shams's spirituality was to closely follow the example of the prophet Muhammad. The curtailing of Rumi's teaching activities to devote more attention to Shams also led to resentment on the part of some of his disciples. Apparently in response to this situation, Shams left Konya abruptly in the spring of 1246, sending Rumi into a state of despair during which he ceased composing poetry. After about a year's absence, Sultan Valad found Shams in Syria and convinced him to return to Konya. Shams, despite a marriage to a member of Rumi's extended household, soon disappeared again (c. 1248), never again to return to Konya. Rumi searched desperately for Shams, expressing his deep sense of loss in frenetic poems (mostly ghazals) that cast Shams in the role of spiritual guide, and were indeed frequently spoken through the persona of Shams of Tabriz. Eventually Rumi found his own voice, after internalizing what he had learned from Shams, and even addressed other individuals, first Salah al-Din the Goldsmith (d. 1258) and then Hosam al-Din Chelebi (d. c. 1284), to whom Rumi's Masnavi is addressed, as spiritual mentors. Throughout his life, Rumi maintained cordial relations with several Seljuk sultans and officials, some of whom expressed their devotion and extended their patronage to him.

The Mevlevi (Maulaviyya) order of "whirling dervishes," founded in the last quarter of the thirteenth century through the efforts of Sultan Valad, bases itself on Rumi's poetry and his practice of "turning" to music and verse (sama˓). Rumi's mausoleum in Konya, though now a museum, has functioned as a shrine and center of the Mevlevi order, which has been particularly influential in the history of Sufism in Anatolia, the Balkans, and the Levant. Though this order was not active in South Asia, Rumi's poetry was widely read in the subcontinent and frequently commented upon by Sufis of other orders. Rumi's poetry and teachings have continued to exert an important influence on the thinking of Islamic modernists, such as Muhammad Iqbal in Pakistan, and ˓Abd al-Karim Sorush in Iran.


Rumi composed his Masnavi-ye ma˓navi (Spiritual couplets; or Couplets of true meaning), a lengthy mystical-didactic poem of some 25,000 lines, over several years, beginning circa 1262. It consists of a series of versified anecdotes and tales, often amusing and occasionally quite ribald, varying widely in length, style, and subject matter, and rather loosely organized into six books. The Masnavi illustrates a practical mysticism drawing from the Persian Sufi tradition, provides a poetic commentary on the meaning of the Qur˒an and hadith, and expounds Rumi's views on many of the theological cruxes of Islam. It is arguably the most widely read and frequently glossed poem in the Muslim world, from Bosnia to Bengal.

The Divan-e kabir, or Kolliyat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, collects Rumi's lyrical poems, including some 3300 ghazals, qasidas, and strophic poems, along with just under two thousand quatrains (ruba˓iyat). These poems are characterized by an intense sense of transcendent longing or loss; a frequently conversational, though philosophically rich, style; and a captivating rhythmic musicality (many of the poems seem indeed to have been composed, and are often performed, to instrumental accompaniment). German adaptations by Friedrich Rückert of some of these poems made an impression on the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and initially gave Europeans the impression that Rumi was a pantheist. Subsequently, especially after Reynold Nicholson's complete explanatory translation of the Masnavi into English, Rumi became synonymous in the West of a deep and tolerant Islamic spirituality. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, dozens of popular versions and "translations" of Rumi's poems appeared in English free verse, many by individuals without any knowledge of the original Persian.

Rumi's prose works include the notes recorded by his disciples during lectures, informal sermons, and classes (Fihe ma fih, or Discourses); seven sermons delivered on formal occasions (Majales-e sab˓a); and a number of letters (Maktubat).

See alsoPersian Language and Literature.


Chittick, William. The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

Lewis, Franklin. Rumi: Past and Present, East and West. Oxford, U.K.: Oneworld, 2000.

Rumi, Jalaluddin. The Mathnawí of Jalálu˒ddín Rúmí. In E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series. Edited and translated by Reynold A. Nicholson. London: Luzac & Co., 1925–1940.

Rumi, Jalaluddin. Discourses of Rumi. Translated by A. J. Arberry. London: J. Murray, 1961.

Schimmel, Annemarie. The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi. Rev. ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Franklin D. Lewis