Rumi was the founder of the Whirling Dervishes. He is also considered the greatest mystic poet and to this day, is considered a leader of awakening.
1207 Balk – Konya 1273
Born at Balk in Khorassan (Afghanistan), Jalal al—Din Rumi was the son of the great theologian Baha ad—Din Walad. He was struck by his son’s saintly nature even in his infancy and nicknamed him Mevlana, ‘Our Master’. To escape the Mongol threat, the family fled Balk in 1219 (Balk was destroyed the following year) and went on a long pilgrimage. On their travels they met the poet Attar at Nishapur who, on seeing the child, exclaimed, ‘What a flame, what fire he will bring to the world!’ At Damascus, the illustrious lbn’ Arabi seeing Jalal following his father is said to have cried, ‘Praise God, here is an ocean walking behind a lake’. On the journey, Jalal met and married a young girl from Samarkand with whom he had two sons, Ala ad-Din and Sultan Walad, also a poet who later organized the brotherhood of Dervishes founded by his father.
The family finally settled in Konya (Turkey) where Baha ad-Din Walad began teaching again until his death 2 years later in 1230. Although he was still very young, his son succeeded him but later left for Alep and Damascus, where he studied under Ibn’ Arabi. But Rumi was looking for a way to achieve union with God.
It was then that he met a strange wandering dervish known as Shams ad-Din Muhammad ibn’ Ali of Tabriz in whom he recognized his true master. In 1244 Shams settled in Konya and Rumi gave up his teaching in order to live in seclusion with him. One day, Shams disappeared but was found in Damascus. He came back, only to disappear once more in 1247, supposedly assassinated by disciples who were jealous of Rumi. The latter had identified with Shams to the extent that he signed Shams’s name to his collection of Divan-e Shams e-Tabrizz‘ (Mystic Odes) and devoted himself exclusively to meditation and dance, founding the Maulawiyyah whirling Dervishes (from his surname). It was also at this time that he compiled his major work, the Mathnawi. When Rumi died, the whole town of Konya went into mourning. Admirers still visit his magnificent mausoleum today.
Apart from the Mystic Order, he wrote numerous quatrains (Ruba’yat) and the Mathnawi, an immense poem 45,000 lines long. This is a veritable odyssey of the soul which must die to its ‘self’ in order to have eternal life in God. In the West, the Mathnawi was much admired by Goethe and Hegel. The Fihi-ma Fizi (Book of the Interior) is a record in prose of Rumi’s ideas and was compiled by Sultan Walad. It allows us to better understand Rumi’s philosophy and Sufism in general.
After having studied all the great spiritual leaders of his time, and reached a state of complete mystical understanding, Rumi confirmed his mission as a ‘maker of souls’ by perfecting a method by which union with God could be achieved, To him, terrestrial music evoked that of the celestial spheres, the initial creative vibrations.
The sacred dance of the Dervishes, the sama, which can be seen as their liturgical office, is a manifestation of the heady dance of the planets, the triumphant joy which animates the cosmos. Both his preaching and his work sing passionately of love, firstly divine love, but also love of all human beings, and all living things. A firm pantheist, Rumi saw G0d’s presence everywhere, which led him to deny the existence of Evil — which for him was but the shadow outlining the Sun. Although he was staunch Muslim, this did not prevent him from considering all other religions as equal and even during the aftermath of the Crusades, incorporating Christian parables into his works.
We know Rumi’s teachings today not only because his poems are read and sung on pilgrimages but also because of the Maulawiyyah brotherhood which spread throughout the Ottoman Empire after his death, and which is still active today in many Muslim countries.
The retreat imposed on Dervish novices is much longer than in other tariqa. They must remain in a monastery for 1001 days, or nearly three years of which ‘the first is devoted to the service of others, the second to the service of God and the third to watch over one’s own heart’. The new disciple leads a life of extreme austerity in the community; to mortify him he is given difficult or distasteful tasks. But once initiated, he may participate in the ceremony of sama or cosmic dance, ‘dressed in white, the symbol of the shroud, wearing a tall black felt hat, representing the tombstone and wrapped in a long black coat which represents the tomb itself”. Before the dance actually begins, the dancer divests himself of this coat ‘as if he were freeing himself from his flesh in preparation for a second birth’. In the dance, the sheikh, in the centre of the circle is the sun, the reflection of God, while the disciples symbolize the planets. This is how the supreme union or ney is brought about.
Thanks to the recent work of Western Orientalists, Djalal ad-Din Rumi is now recognized as one of the greatest mystics of all time. Not only does his vast work contain the very essence of Sufism, which with him reached its apogee, but through his wholehcarted devotion to ‘nostalgia for the divine’ to the celebration ofa love which was ‘earthly in appearance’ but ‘which is in fact the hypostatis of divine love’, it takes on a more widespread meaning.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Faik Sarıkaya, Wikimedia Commons/Murat Özsoy 1958, Wikimedia Commons/Ahmed Nisar, Wikimedia Commons/Hossein Behzad