Speech deliverd on Saturday, October 20th, 2007 at Chapman University by John A Moyne, author of A Bird In the Garden of Angels: On the Life and Times and an Anthology of Rumi� (Mazda, 2007). This book is a Rumi reader for the general public. It contains a brief chapter on the history and doctrine of Sufism and mysticism, and a second chapter on the life and times of Rumi and his close associates.
Before I begin, I would like to thank my publisher, Dr. A. Kamron Jabbari, president of Mazda Publishers, for inviting me to deliver this speech at Chapman University on the occasion of Rumi’s 800th birthday.
Jalaluddin Mohammad Balkhi is known in the East as Mowlavi (Turkish Mevlevi) and in the West as Rumi. The titles Rumi and Mowlavi were not given to Jalaluddin in his life time. Rumi ‘from Rum’ refers to the Roman Anatolia, where Rumi spent most of his adult life and where he died. Mowlavi is the name of the Sufi order that was founded by Rumi but was organized and institutionalized by his son. Sultan Valad. In his lifetime, Rumi was called Mowlana ‘our master’ by the general public, and Khodavandegar or Khodavandegara ‘our Lord’ by his disciples.
In his prolific writings, Rumi gives very little biographical information about himself but we have some early and some later biographies that give ample information about the life and times of Rumi and his circle. On the other hand, Rumi’s father, Bahauddin Valad, had much to say about himself in his own writing, the book Maaref [See The Drowned Book by Coleman Barks and John Moyne]. Bahauddin had much influence on his son. Rumi had memorized his father’s book and carried it with him after his father died. For the Rumi and Mowlavi Sufi devotees, the most important value of Maaref vs. the fact that Rumi worshiped the book. There is a story that, on one occasion, through the whole night, Rumi was reciting the text of Maaref by memory and his disciples wrote it down while a companion dried the ink in front of a fireplace. There are many poems of Rumi, particularly in the Mathnavi, that are based on some narrative in the Maaref.
Rumi was born and lived his childhood in Balkh, a center of Khorasan, Iran, but at the age of 12 his father took his family on a long trip, just before the Mongols were advancing toward Balkh. At the age of 20 Rumi arrived in Anatolia, at Konya that had been for many centuries a Roman or Greek province; now in Turkey. Rumi did all his writings, lectures, teachings, sermons, and poetry in the Persian language. Even the letters that he wrote to leaders, governors, and friends were in the Persian language. Despite all the years that he lived and did his work in Konya, Rumi always considered himself a native of Balkh and Khorasan, Iran,
I was brought from Khorasan
to the Greeks
to live among them and be
in good company.
In his book, Fihi ma Fihi, Rumi says, “In my home town and among my people there was no activity more despicable than being a poet. If I had stayed in that town, I would have followed its tradition and I would have done what the public prescribed’ theology, but my love taught me the art of poetry”.
Sufis are generally Muslims and believe in Mohammad as Prophet and the Koran, but their goal is to be directly with God. Some of the great Sufi scholars who claimed to have succeeded in reaching God were believed heretic and killed. Rumi’s father, Bahauddin, writes in his book about direct contacts with God. There is also a story about Rabia, the first Sufi woman, at 800 AD, who was seen running in a street holding fire in one hand and water in the other hand, someone asked her what was she doing, she said, “I am going to set fire on the Garden of Eden and stop the fire in Hell, so that people will not pray to God for the Paradise or for stopping them from going to Hell. Let them just love God.” Rumi has the following poem in his Divan:
What is this, O Muslims?
I am lost.
I am not Christian or Jew,
I am not from the East or the West,
from the land or the sea.
I am not from India, China, Bulgaria,
or Spain, Iraq or Khorasan.
My place is no place,
my seat is no seat.
I have no body or soul,
I am the soul of the Beloved,
I am free from duality,
I see the two words as one,
I see One I know One
I see One; I call One.
So far I have given a short general story of Rumi and his time. Now I will give some more details for those who want to hear more at this gathering. In the year 1220, the Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan invaded and devastated Balkh. A year before that, Bahauddin Valad, anticipating the onslaught, had taken his family and some friends and had fled from Balkh, ostensibly he was going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. At this time, the young Rumi had already acquired basic learning and maturity, beyond his age, from his father. This journey took the travelers first to Samarkand and eventually to Nishapur, the home of Omar Khayyam. Here Bahauddin called on the venerable poet and mystic Fariduddin Attar, who immediately recognized the intelligence and restless curiosity of the young Jalaluddin and presented him with one of his books, the asrar nama — Book of Secrets. Rumi was fascinated with this book and much later, in his Divan Mathnavi, freely quoted from it and acknowledged his debt to Attar and Sanai, another Persian poet and mystic saint:
Attar was the spirit
Sanai its two eyes
I follow their shadow.
Attar has toured the seven cities of love,
I am at the turn of an alley’
From Nishapur, the party went to Baghdad, the seat of the Islamic caliphate, where Bahauddin was well received as a prominent theologian. After that the party went to Mecca, Syria and other placesjkfter several years they arrived in Larenda, a town some 60 miles outside the capital city Konya. At this time Rumi was 18 years old and his father married him to Guhar Khatun who was traveling with the party. Rumi’s first son. Sultan Valad, was born in this town. Rumi’s second son Alauddin was born two years later. Rumi’s mother died in Laranda and her simple mausoleum is still visited by Mowlavi devotees. At this time Alauddin Kayqubad was the powerful and enlightened ruler of Anatolian Saljuqs and, having heard about the fame of Bahauddin, invited him to Konya to teach and preach. Bahauddin took his family and went to Konya where the Sultan appointed him to a position of high honor as a religious jurist, preacher and teacher. However, after two years in Konya, Bahauddin died in 1231. His grandson. Sultan Valad, recorded his death m the following words:
After two years at the will of God
he gracefully laid his head on his pillow.
At this time Jalaluddin was 24 years old, a sober and serious young scholar, well versed in Islamic law and jurisprudence as well as in the sciences of his time. By popular demand and recognizing his eminence and piety, the Sultan appointed him to take his father’s position as the judge and preacher. Sultan Valad narrates the popular support for Rumi:
When the funeral was over,
people gathered, old and young
They all went to his son and said,
in grace you are like him
we extend our hands to you
and look up at you for leadership.
It was at this time that a noted theologian and Sufi master, Burhanuddin Muhaqqiq, came to Konya. He had been a close associate and disciple of Bahauddin in Balkh and had also fled from the onslaught of the Mongols. Having heard about the prosperity of Konya and the generosity of its ruler, as well as the presence of Bahauddin in that city, he had decided to join his old friend. However on arrival in Konya, he found that Bahauddin had passed away about a year before his arrival Burhanuddin Muhaqqiq undertook the spiritual training of Jalaluddin, and taught him the mystical secrets of the Sufi doctrine. For the next nine years, Burhanuddin devoted himself to tutoring Rumi. During this period he also persuaded the young scholar to go to Syria and study at Aleppo and Damascus, and he may have accompanied him on part of the journey. Agreeing with Arberry (1961), it is hard to believe that during this period in Syria, Rumi failed to meet the great Andalusian mystic and theosophist Ibn Arabi.
Rumi returned to Konya in 1240 to take over the position of his father. At this time, Ghiyasuddin Kaykhosrow n was on the throne. Rumi was received by the dignitaries and officers of the city and, according to a legend, he was offered the place of royal minister for his residence, but he refused saying that, following the practice of his father, he would stay in the school or monastery where he teaches. For the next four years, Rumi taught and preached in the manner of an orthodox Muslim jurist. He wore the turban and robe of a theologian or pnest, and there was no indication that he would become a poet and use dance and music as a form of worship. He even snubbed poetry, not realizing that he would become the greatest mystical poet. and later pour out an uncontrollable flood of poetry.
In 1244, when Rumi was 37 and an established and respected member of the religious society in Konya, he encountered a person who completely changed his course of life. He met the Shams-al-Din of Tabriz, generally referred to Shams. There are legendary stones about many meetings in different places, but the final meeting that established a strong and lasting bond between the two men was at a sermon given by Rumi. The story of the changes in Rumi and his poetry and Sufism are fascinating and cannot be given in brief notes. Details are in the present book. I will give some notes about the origin of Sufism.
It is generally understood that Sufism, tasawwuf, comes from Islam, the Prophet Mohammad, Imam Ali and others had Sufi orders. On the other hand, we have seen that some early Sufi scholars were executed by orthodox Islamic ulema. However there are compelling arguments that the origins of the theosophy and doctrine of Sufism go back to the pre-Islamic era, particularly rooted in the ancient Iranian dogma. Later there were also Hellenic and Roman influences, as well as Christianity, Buddhism, and other creeds. In this paper I will present an outline of some of these arguments and give some additional data that may support this view.
To start with, we already have the testimony of some of the earliest Arabic and Persian scholars For example al-Biruni (d. 1048) erroneously thought that the term Sufi was derived from the Greek sophos ‘wise, learned man’. However, other scholars have supported al-Birum’s assertion that Greek philosophy had influenced the development of Sufi doctrine. Konya, were Rumi lived much of his life, had been a Greek and Roman province where Byzantine culture and Christianity continued to flourish. At the time ofRumi^Greek community lived in Konya and other parts of Anatolia. Both Rumi and his son. Sultan Valad, composed verses in Greek. Philhellenism was not uncommon and, according to Haslucke, there was a tomb in a mosque in Konya, once St. Amphiloghius church, that was called the tomb of Plato, and which was much revered by Muslims, some of whom considered Plato to be a prophet.
Turning to more recent times, we observe that Sufism was introduced to the West, largely in the late 18111 and 19th centuries by orientalist scholars and European travelers. Among the first who commented on the origins of Sufism werefwo English scholars; Sir William Jones (d. 1794) and Sir John Malcolm (d. 1833). They were of the opinion that Sufism had grown out of the ancient Persian and Indian religions (Zoroasterianism and Vendanta) and was not ongmally related to Islam. Nicholson extended this argument using the comparison of Persian and Arabic poetry.
There are many specific examples of parallel persuasions between Sufism and ancient Iranian and Indian theology. I will give a couple of examples here as representative. Recall the Sufi emphasis on the themes of love and harmony, the postulates of pantheism, unification with God and the concept of the path. Compare these with the following: Zoroaster did not reject the ancient gods of the Iranian tribes, but placed Ahura Mazda as the highest God among the gods and the only one to be worshiped. More important gods, such as Mithra (the Sun god) and Anahita (Venus), were incorporated into theAhuras. In Zoroasterian hymns we have:
O Ahura Mazda!
Grant that through the best Asha,
through the most perfect Asha,
we catch sight of Thee,
we may approach Thee,
we may be united with Thee.
Persian poets have played a significant role in the popularization and growth of Sufism. Sanai, Attar, Rumi, Sa’di, Hafiz, Jami, and many others can be noted.
I will conclude with a brief description of Rumi’s funeral by Shamsuddin Ahmad Aflaki:
When they brought out his corpse, all the people, young
and old removed their hats. Women, men, and children
were there, and they made such a loud uproar it seemed
like the day of the Great Resurrection. Everyone was
crying, wailing, roaring and tearing off clothes. People
from all communities and creeds were present: Christians,
Jews, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and others. They walked in
Front, holding up their Holy Books, and chanting Psalms,
The Pentateuch, or the Gospels, according to their faith.
Muslim guards could not control the crowd with their clubs
and swords. When the news of the uproar reached the
and his minister Parvana, they summoned the leaders
Of the faiths and asked them why were they so moved, since
the King of Faith they were moving were the Imam and
leader of the Muslims. They answered, we learned about
the real nature of Moses, Jesus, and all other prophets from
Mowlana Rumi and his sayings. We saw in him the perfect
Conduct of the prophets that we had read in our books.
Just as you consider Mowlana the Muhammad of your time
we consider him the Moses and Jesus of our time. Just as
you love and adore him, we do too, and we are a thousand
times more his servants and disciples. As he said:
Seventy-two sects will learn
their secrets from me.
I am like a flute
with a single note,
turning for 200 creeds.