Rumi: The Radiant Ocean of Wisdom, Harmony, and Love

Rumi, the Radiant Ocean of Wisdom, Harmony, and Love

by Dr. Ahmed S. Khan
DeVry University - Addison, IL

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated 2007 as the "Year of Rumi" to mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of Maulana (Mevlana) Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Rumi, one of the world’s most revered Sufi poets. On his 800th birthday, Rumi’s popularity has reached new heights in the East as well in the West.

Rumi’s poetry has been rediscovered in recent years, as Rumi has become one of the most popular poets of modern times. The New York Times has declared Rumi as “the most influential poet in America since 1960s.” And the Time magazine has called Rumi as “the Mystic of the century.”
Paying tributes to Rumi, A.J. Arberry writes: “In Rumi we encounter one of the world’s greatest poets. In profundity of thought, inventiveness of image, and triumphant mastery of language, he stands out as the supreme genius of Islamic mysticism.” And R.A. Nicholson called Rumi “the greatest mystical poet of any age,” and regarding his books Nicholson has observed “The Mathnawi, a majestic river, calm, and deep, meandering though many a rich and varied landscape to the immeasurable ocean; the divan is a foaming torrent that leaps and plunges in the ethereal solitude of the hills.” Professor E.G. Browne has said that Rumi is the most eminent poet whom Persia has produced. When Saadi was asked which the best poem was in Persian language, he selected a poem of Rumi. And Jami paid tribute to Rumi by observing:
Mathnawi-yi maulawi-yi ma’nawiHast qur’an dar zaban-I pahalwi.
The spiritual couplets of Maulana
Are the Koran in the Persian language.
Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal has called Rumi as “lamp of the way of free men,” and his respect and admiration of Rumi is evident by his famous couplet, “Inspired by the genius of the Master of Rum/ I rehearse the sealed book of secret lore/ the Master of Rum transmuted my earth to gold and set my ashes aflame” (Asrar-e-Khudi, 1915). Dr. Iqbal also said that “The World of today needs a Rumi to create an attitude of hope, and to kindle the fire of enthusiasm for life.” Eminent Rumi scholar, Afzal Iqbal, in his biography of Rumi titled The life and Thought of Mohammed Jalal-ud-din Rumi presents the tribute of French writer Maurice Barres to Rumi. Barres once confessed, “When I experienced Mevlana’s poetry, which is vibrant with the tone of ecstasy and with melody, I realized the deficiencies of Shakespeare, Goethe, and Hugo.”
It was generally believed until recently that Rumi was born in the city of Belkh, located presently in Afghanistan, on September 30, 1207. But Dr. Schimmel in her book, Rumi’s World: The Life and Work of the Great Sufi Poet, made the following observation regarding his birthplace: “Afghan and Persian admirers still prefer to call Jalal-ud-din Balhki because his family lived in Balkh before migrating westward. However, their home was not in the actual city of Balkh, since the mid-eight century a center of Muslim culture in Khorasan (now Afghanistan). Rather, as the Swiss scholar Fritz Meier has shown, it was in the small town of Wakhsh north of the Oxus that Baha-ud-din Walad, Jalal-ud-din’s father, lived and worked as jurist and preacher with mystical inclinations. He was a man of independent judgment and was known to be endowed with visionary power, though he was never a Sufi in the traditional sense of the word.”
Rumi’s father, Baha-ud-din Walad, known as “Sultan of the Scholars,” along with family and friends left Belkh in 1212. Passing through Nishapur, Baghdad, and Kufa, their caravan reached Mecca for pilgrimage. The caravan finally reached Karaman after passing though Damascus, Malatya, Erzincan, Sivas, Kayseri, and Nejad. The family, after staying in Karaman for seven years, finally came to settle in Konya in May, 1228, at the invitation of Seljuk Emperor, Allaudin Keykubad. Rumi married Gohar Khatoon in Karaman in 1225. The marriage yielded two sons, Sultan Walad and Alauddin Qelebi. After his wife passed away, Maulana got married for the second time and had a son, Emir Alim, and a daughter, Melike Khatoon. Maulana inherited his father’s teaching passion and position after his father left this world in Konya on January 12, 1231. Maulana’s sermons in the medrassah (today known as Iphkgi Mosque) were attended by Muslims and followers of other religions.
Maulana Rumi expressed his pearls of wisdom in Persian. But his message has been translated in many languages. His work has been compiled in the form of five books.
The Mathnawi describes in the story form his mystic feelings and ideas narrated, and is like an ocean of knowledge in which a seeker must dive deep to discover the pearls. The Divan-i-Shamsi (also called Divan-i- Kebir) is dedicated to Rumi’s master and mentor, Shams-i-Tebrezi, and contains poems he recited on various themes. Fihi ma Fihi is based on his lectures at various gatherings. Mektubat is based on letters he wrote to his close friends and the opinions he offered to various question he was asked to reflect on. Mecalis-i-Seb’a (seven courts) is based on notes taken from his teachings and sermons.
Rumi expresses words of universal truths with a voice of love. His message touches the soul, and his poetry soothes the ills ands stresses of the common man living the life of uncertainty. Rumi’s poetic wisdom is embedded with symbolism. He uses symbols of nature: for example, the nightingale represents the soul, the rose illustrates the perfect beauty of God, rose garden signifies paradise, and the breeze symbolizes God’s life-giving breath; winter represents separation from God; spring signifies union, resurrection and rebirth; and the sun implies the illumination of divine knowledge.
The Sun had a special meaning and significance for Rumi, as it alluded to his master, Shams (Sun) ud-din Tabriz, the one who awakened the truth within Rumi. For his Ustad (Master) Rumi uses terms “Shams,” “Shams-e-Tabrez,” and “Shams-ud-din” and addresses various facets of the Beloved. Shams symbolizes the power of grace, the power that awakens the truth within us. It symbolizes, the inner sunrise, the inner “Nur” (light) of illumination of consciousness, one’s own soul and its awakening. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel in her book Look, This Love, Poems of Rumi, comments about the historical meeting of Maulana Jalal-ud-din (the majesty of religion) Rumi and the wandering dervish Shams-ud-din Tabrezi (Shams-e Tabrez): “The professor of theology was transformed into a mystical poet through his meeting with Shams-ud-din (the Sun of Religion) of Tabrez, who led him to the zenith of mystical experience.”
Several accounts of this historical meeting (in 1244), which many authors have called the meeting of two oceans, exist, but three are cited frequently. According to the first account narrated by Jami, Rumi was giving a lecture, and there was a pile of books lying in front of him. Shams walked in, sat for a while, and then pointed towards the books and said, “What are these?” Rumi, perturbed by impertinent interruption, replied, “It is that which thou knowest not!” Shams took all of Rumi’s books and dumped them in a pool of water. Rumi thought books were destroyed. But when Shams retrieved the books from the pool of water, they were not wet or damaged; rather, they were dry and intact. Rumi was amazed and asked Shams, “What was that?” Shams replied, “It is that which thou knowest not!” According to second account of the meeting provided by Muhiyuddin Abdul Qadir, a contemporary of Sultan Walad, Rumi’s books were engulfed in flames and burned to ashes. Shams put his hand in ashes and pulled out the books.
Professor Erkan Turkmen, citing Aflaki, narrates the third version in his book, Teaching of Shams-i-Tabrezi: “One day when Rumi was going towards Pembefurushan Inn, he passed by Sheherizan Street on the back of a mule, where Shams stopped him and asked him, ‘O the great Imam of Islam! Tell me who is greater, Prophet Muhammad or Bayazid of Bastam?’ Rumi replied ‘What kind of question is this? Of course Muhammad is greater than Bayazid.’ Shams continued, ‘Muhammad said O my lord I fail to understand You the way You really deserve’, but Bayazid said ‘How great is my being, and I am the king of kings. I am free from all defects and there is nothing left in my robe other than God.” What do you think about it? Rumi said ‘Well the thirst of Bayazid was quenched by one drop, and his jar of wisdom was filled with that; and the light he received was just in accordance with the capacity of his window of divine light while Muhammad’s thirst was huge and at every stage he wanted more and more love and knowledge of God according to the Qur’anic verse ‘Didn’t We expand your chest?’(94/1) and ‘Was not the earth of God spacious enough to escape evil?’(4/97)”
After answering the question Rumi entered a mystical state of ego annihilation called fana. When Rumi regained consciousness, he looked at Shams with utter amazement, and realized that Shams was no ordinary dervish. From that moment on Rumi’s life changed forever. Rumi took Shams to his house to live and the two men became inseparable. They spent hours praying in isolation. Rumi’s son Walad, in his book, Waladnama, writes about the influence of Shams-e-Tabrezi on Rumi: “The sheikh (Rumi) became a student in his presence. He learned many lessons, and although he had studied many subjects before, he began with Shams like a newly registered student. He was a guide before, but now he was a student. Shams took him to a strange world, which had been seen neither by an Arab nor by a Turk.” (Waladnama, p. 198)
Rumi was totally immersed in the newfound love that his master revealed. But then, suddenly, eighteen months after Shams appeared in Rumi’s life, Shams disappeared. He returned for a brief period but then was gone forever. In his longing for this Sun, Maulana Rumi became a poet who poured out thousands of ecstatic verses at the sound of music, and often while whirling in enraptured dance. Rumi lamented: “It is the burn of the heart that I want. It is this burning which is everything --- more precious than a worldly empire --- because it calls God secretly in the night.”
Rumi wrote a voluminous Divan addressed to his master, the architect of Rumi's world of divine love, Shams-e-Tabrezi. Rumi could not be Rumi without the guidance from his mentor and master Shams, as he pays tribute to his master:
Nothing can itself be anything
No iron can be a sword on its own,
Neither could Rumi’s spiritual Masnevi be born
Without his being a slave of Shams-e-Tabrezi.
You are the moon of the sky and we are like a dark night, and
When there is no moon at night full darkness prevails.”
(Divan-e-Shams p. 711/1889).
Untiringly Rumi called the beloved:
Nor alone I keep on singing
Shamsuddin and Shamsuddin
But the nightingale in gardens
Sings, the partridge on the hills.
Day of splendor: Shamsuddin, and
Turning heaven; Shamsuddin, and
Shamsuddin is day and night.
And Rumi writes:
O my soul, where can I find rest
But in the shimmering love of his heart?
Where can I see the pure light of the Sun
But in the eyes of my own Shams-e-Tabriz?
Rumi, regarded as literature’ greatest mystical poet, very well understood the uncontrollable and idiosyncratic impact of poetry:
The meaning of poetry has no sureness of direction,
It is like the sling, it is not under control.
Jonathan Star in his book Rumi: In the Arms of the Beloved explains that “Rumi was a pure instrument of Divine. A flute upon which God played an exquisite song.” Rumi writes:
Do you think I know what I am doing?
That for a moment, or even half a moment,
I know what verse will come from my mouth?
I am no more than a pen in a writer’s hand,
No more than a ball smacked around by a polo stick!
Further Rumi makes the following observation about his life:
“Not more than three words,
All my life made of these three words:
I was raw, I’m cooked, I’m burnt…”
The central theme of Rumi’s message is Love. Afzal Iqbal in his biography of Rumi The life and Thought of Mohammed Jalal-ud-din Rumi observes, “Love according to Rumi is… a cosmic feeling… a spirit of oneness with the universe…the remedy of our pride and self-conceit, the physician of all our infirmities…the motive force of the universe; it is because of love that everything travels toward its origin; it is love which animates music and gives a meaning to life. It is in Love that the contradictory forces of nature achieve a unique unity. . And love is not logic; it eludes reasons and analysis it is best understood by experience.” Rumi observes:
It is love, not reason which is heedless of consequences,
Reason pursues that which is of benefit.
(Love) never puts God to the test,
Nor does it weigh profit and loss (in its pursuit).
Love is a mighty spell – an enchantment. Reason dare not stand against it. Love puts reason to silence.
Expounding on Love, Rumi further says:
My mother is love
My father is love
My prophet is love
My God is love
I am a child of love
I come to speak of love
My God has created me from the wine of love
Even if I die and rot, he will still be my love.
Rumi’s message of love enables individuals to unlock precious hidden spiritual secrets; it is like looking at a mirror and discovering the hidden spiritual potential. Rumi describes, in an eloquent manner, the relationship between the lover and the beloved, the infinite power of the creator and the nothingness of finite creation:
Alif, the first letter of the alphabet, is a straight line, and stands also for 1.
Besides, it is the cipher (zero) for the slender stature of the beloved.
The lover has value only together with the beloved.
(Translated by Dr. Annemarie Schimmel from Divan).
Maulana Rumi departed this world on December 17, 1273, in Konya. Maulana believed the day of the death to be a day of reunification to his beloved (God), and he referred to this day as “Sheb-i-Arus (the bridal night). Maulana's anniversary of Sheb-i-Arus is celebrated very year on December 17 in Konya. Today Maulana's tomb and museum complex is visited by thousands of people every day from all over the world. For the past eight centuries, the light of Rumi’s love has been radiating from Konya, illuminating yearning hearts all over the world. His message is reverberating all over the world. He is inviting everyone: Come, come whoever you are,
An unbeliever, a fire-worshipper, come.
Our covenant is not of desperation.
Even if you have broken your vows a hundred times,
Come, come again.
Maulana Rumi departed this world on December 17, 1273, in Konya. Maulana believed the day of the death to be a day of reunification to his beloved (God), and he referred to this day as “Sheb-i-Arus (the bridal night). Maulana's anniversary of Sheb-i-Arus is celebrated very year on December 17 in Konya. Today Maulana's tomb and museum complex is visited by thousands of people every day from all over the world. For the past eight centuries, the light of Rumi’s love has been radiating from Konya, illuminating yearning hearts all over the world. His message is reverberating all over the world. He is inviting everyone: Come, come whoever you are,
An unbeliever, a fire-worshipper, come.
Our covenant is not of desperation.
Even if you have broken your vows a hundred times,
Come, come again.

(Dr. Ahmed S. Khan ( is a professor at DeVry University, Addison, Illinois, USA. He is the author of Telecommunications Fact Book, and the co-author of Technology and Society: Issues for the 21st Century and Beyond

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