Rumi the Sufi


Rumi the Sufi
a spiritual force in the secular world
© Kenneth Hawley Hamilton M.D.

Jalal-ud-din Rumi is the most popular poet in North America. Nearly every poetically minded person who is anyone quotes him. However, he is not an American. Furthermore, he did not know anything about America when he was alive. He was born Mawlana Jalal-ud-din Mohammed on 30 September, 1207, 285 years before Columbus discovered America. He was born in Balkh, the thriving and beautiful ancient capital of Bactria, now Afghanistan. Balkh lies about 14 miles due west of the city of the Muslim world whose name means “tomb of the saint,” Mazar-e-Sharif. The particular saint was ‘Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.



Then, as now, that region of the world was the source of many mortal conflicts, and by 1207 Balkh had violently changed hands many times in its history. However, in this time, Genghis Khan and his brutal army of Mongols had begun their onslaughts in 1206 and, fortunately for the world, Mawlana’s father, Baha-ud-din Muhammad, foresaw the coming of the Mongol horde and took his family west into Roman Anatolia in 1219. The Mongols overwhelmed Balkh in 1220, putting its occupants to the sword and destroying the city with its more than seven miles of outer walls. The Mongol pressures on the Muslim world were immeasurable. Though Genghis Khan died in 1227, his reputation succeeded him and it was not until 1260 that the Mamluk princes of Egypt finally routed the Mongols from Persia .
At the same time, in the west, the Christians had been carrying on their crusades for 200 years, putting a murderous force on Islam from that direction. These two lethal forces had greatly weakened the steely power of the Holy Prophet. The spiritual beauty and strength of Islam was crumbling, shuddering, threatening to collapse completely, its fire dimmed to a few sparks. It was in this world that Mawlana Jalal-ud-din Mohammed Balkhi took his first breath. When he let go of the last on December 17th 1273, he was known as Mawlana Jalal-ud-din Rumi, and he had indeed breathed fire back into Islam. He had started a fire that would endure to the present. In our time, it would appear that he breathes fire into the most ecumenical and yet secular nation in the world! Let us see now how that happened.

Balkh :
Birth and childhood:

Rumi’s family had moved to Balkh several generations before his birth. His forefathers developed a solid reputation as educators, jurists, and spiritual leaders--Sufis. Rumi’s father, Baha-ud-din Muhammad, was a great scholar and teacher for which the community recognized him with the title, “Sultan of Scholars.” He had grown up in an atmosphere of hostility toward classical Greek philosophy and rationalism sparked by the career of the remarkable philosopher, Imam al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE). Al-Ghazali had become a Sufi late in his life out of a health crisis that precipitated a critical opening to a heartfelt passion for the Qur’an and the Traditions of Islam. He took it squarely into the face of the Islamic establishment that was working to make the Qur’an a rational document. In his mind, this caused the loss of inner strength that threatened Islam’s very existence, caught, as it were, in the vice between the Mongols and the Christians. As we shall see, the way of the Sufi is the way of the heart. It became the way of both Baha-ud-din and Jalal-ud-din, and Baha-ud-din had twenty-four years in which to share his passion for heart-centered thinking and teaching with his son.
Baha-ud-din’s discipleship to al-Ghazali got him in trouble with Fakhr ad-din ar-Razi (1149-1209 CE), a brilliant, aggressive and vengeful Muslim theologian and scholar whose passion was to bring neoplatonic rationalism to Islam. Whereas al-Ghazali had been highly successful in the negation of metaphysics and rationalism in his defense of Islam and would likely have prevailed against Razi, Baha-ud-din was hindered by a fanatical allegiance to al Ghazali—he was not his own man. Razi’s death in 1209 probably spared Rumi’s father a lot of trouble.
Rumi’s growing years were not without the trauma of brutality. In 1210, he was with his father in Samarqand when it was conquered by the Khwarizmshah. He was witness to the needless and senseless slaughter of many of its residents. Understandably, these memories stayed with him for the rest of his life.
His father left Balkh for the west in 1212, apparently to further his education. The family went to Nishabur (modern Neyshabur) in northeastern Iran where Rumi met the famous Sufi poet, Farid-ud-din ‘Attar. Attar is recognized as “one of the greatest Muslim mystical poets and thinkers, writing at least 45,000…couplets and many brilliant prose works” (Encyclopedia Britannica), and it is certain that the visit to Nishabur was for the purpose of meeting ‘Attar. ‘Attar gave young Rumi a copy of his Book of Secrets and blessed the young man with the prediction “that soon he would light a fire in the hearts of all mystic lovers” (de Vitray-Meyerovitch 18).
The family returned to Balkh in 1219 to find the city in turmoil. The Mongols were threatening and the typical anxiety in the face of this mortal threat created a pervasive attitude of hatred and intrigue. It was time to leave--for good.
They went back to Nishapur and from there to Baghdad where they heard of the destruction of Balkh. From Baghdad, Baha made the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca. On his return, they stayed in Baghdad less than a year before resuming their peregrinations. They lived in at least two other cities during the next decade, during which time Rumi married the daughter of a Samarqandi and had a son a year later. Finally, in 1229, a patron appeared and called Baha and his family to the capital of the Saljuq Empire, the south central Anatolian city of Konya. Anatolia had been a Roman province. Accordingly, it was known regionally as Rum, so the “Bhalki” of Jalaluddin’s name became “Rumi.” The family was safe here in Konya and, with the exception of educational journeys, Rumi would live here for the rest of his life.

Konya :
The scholar:

Two years later, Rumi’s father died at the age of 83, and the mantle of the Shah of Scholars fell on Rumi’s shoulders. His father had prepared him well for a career in teaching and spiritual leadership. His father was a “protagonist of an intensely personal and passionate religion designed to lead men back from mere scholastic dogma to a living contact with the Qur’an and the Traditions” (Iqbal 62). As a consequence, “teaching” became scholarship and “spiritual leadership” became mysticism. That his father had suffered because of the principles, which he espoused and followed, had nothing but a positive effect on Rumi. Life had prepared him well for what was yet to come.
Rumi had been an exceptional child. He was bright, quick, curious, and intelligent. Spiritual awareness seems to have been his from early childhood. He had an early grasp of the Qur’an and the Traditions abetted by his tutor, Burhan-ud-din, one of his father’s own trusted and able disciples.
Burhan was not present in Konya when Rumi’s father died. He would not appear for another year, but at that time he devoted himself to Rumi who by then had a following of thousands of devotees. Rumi now surrendered himself completely to Burhan who took him through a course of mortification and ascetic practices that lasted for 120 days. At the end of this, Burhan embraced him saying, “You were unparalleled in the world in rational, traditional, spiritual and acquisitive knowledge, and now this moment you are unsurpassed in the knowledge of divine secrets (Iqbal 69).” Rumi remained Burhan’s pupil for the next ten years, seven of which he spent away in Damascus and Halab, the two most important centers of Islamic studies in the 13th century. Burhan died in 1241, by which time Rumi had already met his next teacher, Shams-i-Tabriz, in Damascus .
Rumi was now thirty-four and acknowledged as a leader of men. He was a learned and orthodox professor famous for his topics of “religion, philosophy, jurisprudence, and morals (Iqbal 69)” and for his ability to “explain the simple faith that was Islam” (Iqbal, p 105).
For all his fame, Rumi lived a simple life as student, teacher, and lecturer. And, for all of these qualities, he was essentially his father’s extremely gifted, mystical son who resembled Ghazali in many ways:
Fools laud and magnify the mosque,
While they strive to oppress holy men of heart;
But the former is mere form, the latter, spirit and truth.
The only true mosque is that in the heart of saints
Is the place of worship of all, for God dwells there(Iqbal 73).
With such thoughts, reform was in the wind, and Rumi was only thirty-four years old. He was not yet the poet who would call God Beloved, but he was a master of prose whose beauty lay in its simplicity. His tremendous following included the Shah of Konya and his courtiers, his fellow intellectuals, and “the ruffians, the tailors and the shop keepers” (Iqbal 105). The intelligentsia of Konya was his “tribe” in its mind, and it wished to claim him for its own from the “commoners”¾a “mass of wicked men.” Rumi’s response to their taunts was, typically, “Were my disciples good men of eminence, I would have been their disciple! Since they are bad men, they accept my leadership so that I may change them” (Iqbal 106).
Rumi, like his father and Al-Ghazali before him, believed that rationalism had reduced Islam “to the imbecility of a mere dogma” (Iqbal 106). Rumi’s modern biographer, Afzal Iqbal, has this to say about Rumi’s reform mission:
“For four years he strove to show the light as he had seen it in himself. These years were devoted to an explanation, in simple prose, of the Reality which Rumi felt had been obscured beyond recognition by the scholastic ingenuity of those who, in an effort to evade the operative causes of Islam, had made a virtue of it by colorfully concealing their attempt in the garb of philosophical activity” (Iqbal 106).
Philosophical activity had taken the heart out of Islam and replaced it with theory. Theory was not keeping the Christians and Mongols at bay. Only the heart would. For Rumi, the Qur’an was a God-given guide to the way of all human life. It was created for king and commoner alike.

The lyrical poet

Having presented his arguments in cogent yet heartfelt ways, and having successfully withstood the taunts and derisions of his tribe (the intelligentsia), it was now time for his own revolution, a revolution that would serve God, not just in Konya in the 13th century, but in the world for all time. When Rumi was in Damascus , one day, out of nowhere, a strange figure, wrapped in course black felt, suddenly appeared in Rumi’s life with questions and/or miraculous deeds that literally stopped Rumi in his tracks and caused him to prostrate himself before this mysterious messenger, Shams-i-Tabriz, a member of the Assassin tribe of Hasan-i-Sabah. Although there are many conflicting versions of their first encounter, it is quite clear that as much as Rumi sought spiritual guidance, so did Shams. It is also clear that Rumi turned his back on friends, family, and students and closeted himself with Shams for the next forty days. He came out a changed man. He gave up lecturing and spent days and days together with Shams. He turned against many of the religious conventions that he had previously espoused, one of which was the sanction of music and dance. Now he would spend hours listening to music and dancing ecstatically to it. He began writing poetry.
Rumi’s tremendous following felt slighted by his attention to Shams. Rumi’s love had clearly turned in another direction and many protested his actions by insisting that Shams leave Konya. This was Rumi’s response:
I have heard that thou dost intend to travel: do not so.
That thou bestowest thy love on a new friend and companion: do not so.
Though in the world thou art strange, thou hast never seen estrangement;
What heart-stricken wretch art thou attempting? Do not so.
* * *
O moon for whose sake the heavens are bewildered,
Thou makest me distraught and bewildered: do not so.
Where is the pledge and where the compact thou didst make with me?
Thou departest from thy word and pledge: do not so.
Why give promises and why utter protestations,
Why make a shield of vows and blandishments? Do not so.
O thou whose vestibule is above existence and non-existence,
At this moment thou art passing from existence: do not so.
O thou whose command Hell and Paradise obey,
Thou art making Paradise like Hell-fire to me: do not so.
In thy plot of sugar canes I am secure from poison;
Thou minglest the poison with sugar: do not so.
My soul is like a fiery furnace, yet it sufficed thee not;
By absence thou art making my face pale as gold: do not so.
When thou withdrawest thy countenance, the moon is darkened with grief;
Thou art intending the eclipse of the moon’s orb: do not so.
Our lips become dry when thou bring us a drought;
Why art thou moistening my eye with tears? Do not so.
* * *
My lawless eye is the thief of thy beauty;
O beloved, thou takest vengeance on my thievish sight: do not so” (Iqbal 116).
The pressures on Shams and Rumi persisted, and, in June of 1246, 18 months after his appearance in Konya , Shams decided to leave...he just disappeared. Some time later, Rumi received a letter from him in Damascus. In spite of their correspondence, Rumi remained despondent at the loss of his Friend, as he had come to call Shams. Rumi’s followers saw Rumi’s suffering as a result of their jealousy. They made public, written apology; and advised Rumi to find Shams and bring him back. They talked his son, Sultan Walad, into going to Syria to find Shams and persuade him to return to Konya. Sultan Walad succeeded and brought Shams back in 1247.
It was not long before these people retracted their apology because Rumi continued to forgo his professorial gown for the peculiar dress of the Sufi; he continued to talk what they perceived to be blasphemy; and he seemed to no longer care about Islamic discipline. Their teacher, who had had such a reputation for piety and learning, now seemed to have gone mad and was openly acclaiming Shams as his master. Even his loving family was caught up in this turmoil and in 1248 Shams disappeared, murdered, it was then rumored and now considered true, by a party that included one of his own sons.
Rumi refused to believe rumors that Shams was dead. He looked everywhere for him, asking the most casual acquaintances if they had seen the man. He rewarded those who said they had, going so far as to give his robe to a traveler who told him that he had seen Shams in Damascus. He even went on a futile trip to Damascus to find Shams. His anxiety mounted and mounted, giving no reassurances to those who had hoped for an improvement in Rumi’s condition. Rumi went farther and farther away from affairs of the mind and progressively focused his energies on dance and music. He found great relief by holding onto a (ceiling support) pole with one hand and walking in circles around it. This led to a whole school of Sufi (dervish) practices that I shall describe later. Material things ceased to have meaning for him. He gave away much of what he had to musicians and others who supported his fascination with music and the ecstatic state.
Had the fire of his passion continued unabated, he would have burned up, leaving us nothing more than another spark of Islam. However, “the fire and the fury of the storm had appreciably subsided by 1250” (Iqbal 124) when he met his next teacher, the antithesis of Shams, the goldsmith Salah-ud-Din Zarkob. Rumi was dancing ecstatically down the street in Konya when he heard the rhythmic beat of the goldsmith’s hammer. He stopped his dance and stood, listening intently to the rhythm, and Zarkob went on beating for hours while Rumi sang his praise. The goldsmith became his disciple. In turn, Rumi gave him his love that would sustain Zarkob’s grounded devotion and support. The now poet realized that in failing to find Shams he had found something greater¾his own immortal self that contained Shams as if Shams had never left.
The relationship between Zarkob and Rumi was to last for eleven years, ending with Zarkob’s death in 1261. During this time Rumi was to write the great lyric odes called Divan-i-Shams-i-Tabriz, about 50,000 verses that he attributed to Shams. This attribution has led to a lot of discussion about the psychology involved, but contemporary students are more willing to see the mystical element of this than are the more traditional, psychologically oriented reviewer’s of Rumi’s work. To the mystics, there is no doubt that Rumi’s hand wrote the odes and Shams’ soul was the author¾after Shams died, Rumi had simply allowed Shams’ soul to reside in him alongside his own soul.
These eleven years mark Rumi’s lyrical phase. His songs are inspired by love¾and they speak to us of and about love, Universal love:
This is Love: to fly heavenward,
To rend, every instance, a hundred veils.
The first moment, to renounce life;
The last step, to fare without feet.
To regard this world as invisible,
Not to see what appears to one’s self.
* * *
To look beyond the range of the eye,
To penetrate the windings of the bosom (Iqbal 134)!
and:
Twere better that the spirit which wears not true love as a garment
Had not been: its being is but shame.
Be drunken in love, for love is all that exists;
Without the dealing of love there is no entrance to the beloved.
* * *
Tis love and the lover that live to all eternity;
Set not thy heart on aught else: ‘tis only borrowed.
How long wilt thou embrace a dead beloved?
Embrace the soul which is embraced by nothing.
* * *
Be not an independent looker-on in this path,
By God, there is no death worse than expectancy (Iqbal 135).
and on the love that transcends all barriers:
What is to be done, O Muslims? For I do not recognize myself.
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabar, nor Muslim.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature’s mint, nor of the circling heavens.
* * *
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin:
I am not of the kingdom of Iraquin, nor of the country of Khurasan.
* * *
My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless;
Tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved.
I have put duality away, I have seen that the two worlds are one;
One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call (Iqbal 136).
and on death:
O lovers, O lovers, it is time to abandon the world;
The drum of departure reaches my spiritual ear from heaven.
Behold, the driver has risen and made ready the files of camels,
And begged us to acquit him of blame: why, O travelers, are you asleep?
* * *
O soul, seek the Beloved, O friend, seek the Friend,
O watchman, ye wake-up: it behoves not a watchman to sleep.
On every side is clamor and tumult, in every street are candles and torches.
For tonight the teeming world gives birth to the world everlasting (Iqbal 137).
These pieces are fascinatingly personal, and yet, at the same time, they are universal. This may be the very nature of love¾the perfect integration of the personal and the universal. Rumi sings for himself and he sings for humankind. His life, though clearly unique to him, is a song of all human life expressed in eloquent images. He articulates a striking philosophy of life in the songs—the idea that God is the Beloved and the Friend. This belief is not unique to Rumi, and, as with other mystical poets, it gets expression throughout his poems and songs. Through his love of God, he shares with humanity a vision of its great and unlimited potential that he expresses in the image of the Perfect Man. He does not get to this vision by reason; he gets there by intuition, the thought of the mystic. He brings his love of God to all of humankind through this medium of mystical, intuitive poetry. Scholarship is now no longer a part of his being, and he most likely would not have been able to get where he has come to now, were it not for his scholarly upbringing and professional career.
Shortly after Zarkob’s death, a third teacher would come to him and bring him into the final phase of his life but before we go there, one last passionate statement from the Divan:
Thank God, people are fast asleep and I am busy tonight with my creator,
Thank Heavens for the Grace and good fortune.
Truth is wide awake tonight and so am I,
I would be thoroughly disgusted with my eyes were they to close tonight in sleep (Iqbal 163).
The third teacher came to Rumi in much the same way that Zarkob came. His name was Hisam-ud-din Chalapi. He would stay with Rumi until the Master’s death in 1273.

The poet with a mission:

With the completion of the Divan, Rumi had reached a point in his life when Shams’ soul had become fully integrated and needed no more expression. In Zarkob’s presence, Rumi’s ecstatic state had matured from a raging fire to a steady flame appropriate for the study and poetic expression of metaphysical thought. Rumi had reached a point at which it was no longer necessary to try to convince people of the soundness of his arguments. He could now invite them into the realm of the heart were they could appreciate the warmth and beauty of his vision of the truth. He could sing them a “full-throated song” (Iqbal 173) that called to their hearts and appealed to their minds, the Mathnawi. The vehicle for this song took 12 years to complete. It comprised some 25,700 verses that he dictated to his scribe, Chalapi.
From its 13th century beginning, the Mathnawi has been praised and revered as “the Qur’an in Persian.” Rumi was never seen as a new Prophet but as a brilliant, passionate teacher of the message of the Holy Prophet. The text was never considered blasphemous but rather a lovely restatement of the words of Gabriel as that divine messenger gave them to The Prophet. The closest that critics could come to finding fault with the Mathnawi was to call it an imitation. Rumi, fully aware of what God was asking him to do, dismissed this form of criticism, thus:
When the Book of God (the Qur’an) came (down), the unbelievers railed likewise at it too,
Saying, “it is (mere) legends and paltry tales; there is no profound inquiry and lofty speculation...”(Iqbal 176).
The Mathnawi begins with a metaphor of the reed complaining that it has been taken from its bed (the people of this region of the world had many uses for reeds, so they could readily understand the metaphor): “Everyone who is left far from his source wishes back the time when he was united with it” (Iqbal 177). Rumi also uses the reed in reference to love: “‘tis the fire of Love that is in the reed, ‘tis the fervor of Love that is in the wine” (Iqbal, 177).
The Mathnawi contains parables such as one of a grammarian who is passenger in a boat and who chides the boatman for not having studied grammar by saying, “you have wasted half your life.” A little later the boat is caught in the storm and the boatman asks the grammarian if he knows how to swim. He greets the grammarian’s “No” with the rather unsympathetic “Now you have lost all your life!” Mathnawi contains lectures on the difference between sense-perception and spiritual perception. It lectures on the limitations of logic and intellect. It gives advice on how to lead the spiritual life and focus on intuition and the heart-path. It honors groundedness and spirituality. It takes into account Rumi’s tremendous experiences with joyful and ecstatic states and honors the Self, the Soul, rather than tries to annihilate it. It illuminates the Soul, the indwelling Spirit.
He dwells extensively on the relationship between the imminent and the manifest, making them intensely, passionately personal. He explores cause and effect, and finds the Uncaused Cause behind the first effect. He develops the thesis that everything seeks to return to its source. He supports the teachings of the Holy Prophet. He describes portions of the life and death of The Prophet with rich meaning for the reader. In short, he touches on just about every aspect of human life in this incredible book that I may not ever read except for segments in anthologies created by others. I pass on to you what these students of Rumi have to say about the work.(His biographer, Afzal Iqbal, outlines the message of the Mathnawi in an eighty page chapter rich with quotes of this remarkable poet.) I have included a list of some of the content that others have experienced, but I do not wish to convey anything of the depth in the Mathnawi. I only wish to convey the impression of other authors that this text is a beautiful, poetic expression of that which we all seek, regardless of the path we follow to it.
On completing the Mathnawi, Rumi died. Nothing more was to be said. His work was done and the members of all religious communities and cultures in Konya were present in his funeral procession: Christians, Jews, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and others. They all uncovered their heads and walked the streets of Konya , wailing, carrying the instruments of their particular religions high in the air. When the Sultan of Konya asked the non-Muslims why they were mourning so for this Muslim imam, they told him that through Rumi they had found the real nature of Christ, Moses and all the prophets” (de Vitray-Meyerovitch 56). Rumi had had fanned the sparks into embers and the embers into flames. He, himself, had gone from being raw to cooked and then burned, to use his words. In Mathnawi, Book III, he says: “it is a burn of the heart that I want, it is this burn which is everything, more precious than a worldly empire, because it calls God, secretly, in the night” (de Vitray-Meyerovitch 21). At the same time he wrote these words, he created a crucible to hold the burn and to carry it to the rest of the world--the Mevlevi order of Sufis--the whirling dervishes.

The legacy of Sufism:

The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Sufism as “mystic Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God.” Remember, Rumi came from a family of Sufis, Muslim mystics, which went back many generations. So his soul came to life with certain spiritual gifts that laid out his path of divine and secular service—his tariqa, as the Soul’s path toward God was called. It was little wonder that his path led him through the realms of love and knowledge, even as extreme as it was.
The origins of Sufism lie in early Islam when there was a movement away from the spiritual path toward the worldly path emphasized by Islamic law. As early as the seventh century (CE), Muslims recognized the absolute need for support of the way of intuition as opposed to the rationalism and intellectualism that was beginning to control Islam. The Nubian, Dhu an-Nun (died 859, CE) is credited with introducing the term, marifah“internal knowledge”— to Islam. From its beginnings, however, Sufism stressed the need for both aspects of knowledge, so it is safe to say that Rumi’s traditions in his egalitarian viewpoints were a good 500 years old by the time he committed himself to the tariqa.
Sufi is a term derived from the Arabic word for wool, the cloth of the poor. Indeed, the Islamic term for its mysticism is tasawuff,, meaning “to dress in wool.” Sufis were known as “the poor,” fuqara in Arabic, darvish in Persian, words that come to us today as “fakir” and “dervish.”
A wondrous aspect of Islamic mysticism is the recognition that every one of us is on an individual path to God. Islamic iconography uses the circle, with its circumference and its center connected by spiraling paths, to portray that path. It is delightful to consider that the dance of the Sufis, sama, is a dance of dancers whirling so that their wool skirts form circles while they move in a circle around their center, the leader or master.
Early Sufis believed that the path to the center was the way of asceticism, which led to their reputation for poverty. However, in the second half of the eighth century, CE, a woman (and why are so many Muslims apparently not listening to women?) from Basra , Rabi’ah al-’Adawiyah (died 801CE), formulated the Sufi ideal of a pure love of God that was unattached to ideas of salvation or damnation. This belief accompanied a developing belief in the need for a Muslim to adopt complete trust in God. Both beliefs remain at the core of Sufism today, as they were also at the core of Rumi’s life and teachings.
A final component of Sufism that Rumi believed in and taught was that Man is the Caliph of God, the leader of God’s polity here on Earth. He becomes that of his own choice, and when he does, he moves toward the divine human archetype of the Perfect Man who is at the heart of the Universe. To become the Perfect Man means the annihilation of one’s self. “He has been able to discover in himself that hidden treasure that one seeks elsewhere in vain, and which can only be found in the renouncement of carnal existence” (Mathnawi, VI, quoted in de Vitray-Meyerovitch 110). Again, this essential Sufism is essential Rumi.
Muhammad knew that each individual needed guidance on his tariqa. He set out to establish a moral psychology that helped set the itinerary of this spiritual journey for each aspirant. By the eleventh century, tariqa had come to mean the specific set of rites that a brotherhood of men would create for the purpose of studying this psychology under the direction of a master. They gathered in “monasteries” (takya) that were much more like “retreat centers” of today. Members usually stayed but short periods time (generally forty days) because most were married and led normal outside lives.
When Rumi encountered Shams, he exchanged his professorial robes for the Sufi dress. When he lost Shams, wearing skirt and pantaloons, he started to whirl by holding onto the support pole of a room in his house and dancing in circles around it. A clinical, scientific “take” on his experience would maintain that he simply became vertiginous. He knew otherwise¾it was ecstasy! His students, at least the Sufis among them, enthusiastically took up the practice because it was consistent with their mystical beliefs and practices that came from the Holy Prophet’s personal practices.
Rumi established a monastery in Konya to teach his particular Sufi way, the tariqa Mawlawiya. It became popular in his lifetime, and his son, Sultan Walad, became the organizer of this monastic order of Sufis that spread throughout the Muslim world over the next 300 to 400 years. Unique to the order was its custom of the sama that was central to its tariqa, and which gave its members the name, whirling dervishes. As the Qur’an admonishes against drunkenness, so Rumi was aware from his own experiences that dancing could lead beyond ecstasy to intoxication. The sama ends abruptly at a signal from the leader that prevents any such occurrence of drunkenness.
The rule of residence in the tariqa Mawlawi demanded a stay of 1001 days. This led to very austere experiences of life, but Rumi wanted no easy way out because that way represented the Islam of his younger years that had no power in the face of the Christians and the Mongols. Life in the monasteries was a rigorous existence of prayer and fasting and at the same time it condemned fanaticism. Community service was important to the dervishes who drew no distinctions between the rich and poor in offering their services to the populations of the towns they visited.
The Mawlawi movement grew rapidly and steadily to the point of creating over 1600 monasteries. It managed to stay politically neutral through many changes of power and when the Ottomans came into power, the movement expanded with their Empire to its limits. In 1925, Ataturk suppressed all of the Turkish monasteries with the exception of one in Aleppo. Today, very few of the old monasteries remain, but the Malawi dervish movement is still alive in the lands of the old Ottoman Empire. Perhaps the movement shall grow again; who knows?
The sixth (and last) Book of the Mathnawi has Rumi’s thought on the Perfect Man:
Do not look (at the fakir who is looking for a treasure) as a treasure-hunter: he is the treasure itself.
How could the lover be anything but the beloved?
“The hidden treasure, hidden in the field of obscure representation, constitutes the deep abyss of human knowledge that we cannot reach” (Kant, quoted in De Vitray-Meyerovitch 110).
Rumi’s response to Kant might be:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.
And maybe, just maybe, with Rumi’s help we are finding our way to that field today.

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Thank you for visiting Maulana Rumi Online, a blog dedicated entirely to the life, works and teachings of Maulana Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi better known simply as Rumi here in our beloved America. Just as a memory refresher, all articles, e-books, images, links and reading materials listed in this Blog are solely for Educational purposes. This Blog is designed and maintained by yours truly, your comments, critiques or suggestions are quite welcome and greatly appreciated. As for my own Rumi Translations, you are welcome to copy and use them as long as it's not for commercial purposes. For best viewing, please try this Blog on Google Chrome Browser. This is a very long Blog though, so please make sure to use the Scroll To Top or Bottom Buttons at the left side, or Back To Top Button at the bottom right corner of your screen for smooth navigation. If you have any question, comment, critique or suggestion, please contact me by clicking the Contact Box embedded at the right middle corner. As Rumi would say, "Come, come, whoever you are, come back again.."!








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