Did you know that one of the best-selling poets in the US is a Muslim?
Yes, it might be surprising but the ecstatic poems of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, have sold millions of copies in recent years, making him the most popular poet in the US. Globally, his fans are legion.
The Islamic civilization introduced to the world many great poets of different origins and backgrounds. There are four great names in both Persian and universal poetry: Ferdowsi, Nizami, Saadi Shirazi, and Hafez Shirazi. But none of them claimed such universal acclaim like Jalal ad-Din Rumi.
Rumi was born in 1207 AD in Vakhsh, currently known as Tajikistan, to Persian speaking parents. Due to ongoing threats of Mongols on Central Asian regions, Rumi’s parents had to migrate westwards till they settled in the city of Konya, Turkey, under the rule of the Seljuks. Rumi grew to be a great teacher and a jurist, till he met Shams-e Tabrizi, a wandering dervish from Persia, of whom his asceticism turned Rumi to the mystic poet that the world now admires.
Shams remained with Rumi for three years till he suddenly disappeared. Whether he left of his own will or murdered by one of Rumi’s sons as some sources claim, his disappearance circumstances were unknown. Anyhow, it was Shams disappearance that gave birth to the poet in Rumi’s soul.
He began to mingle music, and poetry with dancing, spending many of his nights whirling while dictating others his poetry. His whirling dervish dance became famous, paving way for establishing the Mewlewi Sufi Order by his disciples after his death in 1273 AD. Buried in the Turkish city of Konya, it became a universal center for Sufi pilgrims.
A Universal Message
Every year on December 17, Turkey commemorates Rumi’s death anniversary, referred to as Şeb-i Arus or The Wedding Night. On such occasion, thousands of Sufists all over the world flock the city, visiting his beautiful shrine, and attending the night ceremony that takes place on Aladdin’s hill where Rumi, arguably met Shams.
But the celebrations aren’t only restricted to Konya. The city gets busy at this time of the year, making it harder for thousands of tourists to find a place in Konya to attend the ceremony. Therefore, similar ceremonies take place at the same time in Istanbul and other cities around the world like Barcelona, New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, and even Mexico City.
The vast ocean of Rumi’s poems were able to reunite his admirers who came from different backgrounds on the love of art, beauty, diversity, and tolerance. That was Rumi’s main message to the people of his time, and the people of the future generations; to focus on our spiritual relation with God, and to always strengthen our spiritual relations with one another.
Rumi was born in a time of major conflicts, where the Islamic world was threatened by both Mongols from the far East, and Crusaders from Europe. It was a time where tolerance and diversity weren’t widely accepted among the conflicted generations. Earth with its resources, treasures, and vastness, wasn’t just enough for its inhabitants who sought to have it all.
Instead of calling to war, raising armies, and recruiting men, Rumi sought a different route. Trying to remind all, that despite our differences, we were created by a single God, of whom our spiritual connectedness with him, will affect our unilateral vision of each other, allowing us to accept each other despite the differences. God, after all, created us in a diverse way, and the world can’t run but through respect for such diversity.
Rumi’s message pierced the boundaries of its age, and reached millions of today’s generations who found in his poetry a clear example of modesty, beauty, tolerance, and reason. Today, Rumi is the best-selling poet in the United States. A clear indication of how universal his message was. It wasn’t for Muslims, or Christians, or Jews, or non-believers, but directed to the whole lot of them.
Poetry of Spirituality & Contemplation
But for Rumi, in order for one to see the world’s beauty, one got to be beautiful from inside first. For him, the beauty we see in the world is the mirror of our souls. Whoever holds peace within himself, will see beauty in every corner on earth, and whoever holds malignity and grudges within himself, will see nothing but evil in every place he sets his eyes on.
Rumi’s poems appear so appealing in our times since the world is being consumed by regional wars on one hand, and the hectic lifestyle we’re living on another. Those who read them find consolation and spiritual longing since today’s world drains the people from their spirituality, forcing them to perceive life in matter of material profits and gains. But through reading Rumi’s poems, one comes to know that life is more than just living it, but appreciating the beauty God has created as a way for man to contemplate the creator’s mightiness.
And like Dostoevsky’s perception of the human-self in his works, that all men carry within themselves a Napoleon that motivates them into committing wrong-doings, Rumi says “Moses and Pharaoh are both inside you. Discover them within” and only through our Moses conquering our Pharaoh, that we can see beauty in both ourselves and the world we live in.
Rumi’s most famous work is The Masnawi. A collection of poems written in Persian that contains around twenty-five thousand verses on how to reach spiritual perfection through absolute love for God. Many consider it the greatest literary work ever written in Persian along with Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh.
The impact of The Masnawi on the people was huge, and it only reflects how the people are in dire need of someone who constantly reminds them of the good potentials they carry within. For despair have clouded the people’s lives, but such despair mustn’t prevent them from seeing the world as it truly is. A miracle that God has created as a sign for those who can see!
“Come, come, whoever you are, come. Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, it doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times. Come, yet again, come, come.” – Rumi
First published: May, 2015