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Call me bigheyrat
I have been a zealot for too long to demand poetic justice now

By Anoosh Ariapour
October 29, 2003
The Iranian

One of the's readers was kind enough to send me an email, regarding "Wanting to be found". He writes, "The name Rumi is conjured up by Turks who accept the false notion that Molana was actually a turk hence the name. I am disappointed every time I see the name Rumi especially when uttered by an Iranian. Please do a bit more research before writing about our great, unmatched Iranian poets."

Please allow me to give my response in public, I feel very methodic today.

1- I truly and whole heartedly appreciate your email, I really do. It is conducive to open debate and motivates me to write. As an "emigre" writer with a massive readership, receiving any email is a time for celebration. I am not being sarcastic. It is just an oxymoron, "emigre" writer, a negative metaphor, consider it my Iranian sense of humor.

2- Personally, I don't give a rat's arse who is from where, what nationality, what pedigree, or, what is color of one's passport. But I can understand a cry for national self-identity, whatever that means. Especially, when I see many Iranians are sick and tired of their government, which behaves more like a foreign invader from another cultural zone and time than the guardian of the Iranian cultural treasures.

3- In the older, more traditional orthography, Rumi or Molana's name was printed as Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi, and sometimes, just Mawlana. Encyclopedia Britannica is one such an academic source which uses a simplified version of the International Phonetic Association's rendering (I am not using the ligatures here).

Others, including my humble self, go with the modernized, Americanized, Internety flock and call him Rumi, to facilitate the communication. Variably, his name is also given as Molavi, Molana Jalal-e-Din Mohammad, Molana Balkhi and Mowlana Jalaloddin Rumi (Annemarie Schimmel, Ehsan Yarshater).

4- In a visit to Turkey, in particular Konya, I never heard anyone call him Rumi, they all said: Mevlana, or, Hazrat Mevlana. It is true however that Turks try a Turkish identity for Rumi. Tomb robbery has been a profitable and delicious human endeavor throughout history. It is for a reason that the Mathnavi is called the 'Persian Koran'.

Under Ataturk, the Molavi cult was practically banned in Turkey, Sufi music was performed in secret and the dancing dervish would have been better off learning foxtrot or samba. But who knows, maybe living seven hundred years with Rumi's teachings and breathing in the same air as he did, has impressed the Turkish psyche in a positive way and helped them build the only secular -- albeit not free from tyranny -- country among Muslim nations.

5- Rumi was born in Balkh, part of the greater Khorasan, and therefore, legally speaking, Afghans can claim him too. I hope we won't have to fight our Afghan brothers and sisters over that; they have had enough.

6- I have witnessed how self-conscious some Arab exchange students become when, before a Western audience they have to come up with names of Arab bigshots. Seven out of ten names they give, are not really Arab, but were those who flourished under Islamic civilization and wrote in lingua franca which happened to be Arabic.

I can see my Arab friends' plight. I will gladly give them Omar Khayyam, only if they could see that evil-is-us. I'd also declare Rumi a Turk, if Turks could recite Rumi in Persian. Yes, I am being generous at a cost to our national heritage. Call me bigheyrat if you must, but I have been a zealot for too long to demand poetic justice now.

7- Right now, the only joy and pride I take in my Iraniyat, aside from the fact that I was born in the same land as Shirin Ebadi, is that I am able to read Beyhaghi, Attar and Nasser Khosro, in their original Persian. The rest is just the pust, worthy of a donkey's munching.

True power and beauty emanates from the language throughout the centuries. As Doris Lessing put it, and I am quoting from memory, Persian language is capable of expressing ideas and concepts that English language has yet to learn.

9- To paraphrase Zara Houshmand's Rumi translations, "you asked for one kiss, and I gave you six", therefore I must beg your pardon.


Anoosh Ariapour is an Iranian born journalist based in Washington DC.

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