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Rumi, in full Jalal al-Din Rumi, also called by the honorific Mawlana, (born c. September 30, 1207, Balkh [now in Afghanistan]--died December 17, 1273, Konya [now in Turkey]), the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language, famous for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Masnavi-yi Ma?navi ("Spiritual Couplets"), which widely influenced mystical thought and literature throughout the Muslim world. After his death, his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyyah order.
Rumi's use of Persian and Arabic in his poetry, in addition to some Turkish and less Greek, has resulted in his being claimed variously for Turkish literature and Persian literature, a reflection of the strength of his influence in Iran and Turkey. The influence of his writings in the Indian subcontinent is also substantial. By the end of the 20th century, his popularity had become a global phenomenon, with his poetry achieving a wide circulation in western Europe and the United States.
Jalal al-Din's father, Baha? al-Din Walad, was a noted mystical theologian, author, and teacher. Because of either a dispute with the ruler or the threat of the approaching Mongols, Baha? al-Din and his family left their native town of Balkh about 1218. According to a legend, in Nishapur, Iran, the family met Farid al-Din ?Attar, a Persian mystical poet, who blessed young Jalal al-Din. After a pilgrimage to Mecca and journeys through the Middle East, Baha? al-Din and his family reached Anatolia (Rum, hence the surname Rumi), a region that enjoyed peace and prosperity under the rule of the Turkish Seljuq dynasty. After a short stay at Laranda (Karaman), where Jalal al-Din's mother died and his first son was born, they were called to the capital, Konya, in 1228. Here, Baha? al-Din Walad taught at one of the numerous madrasahs (religious schools); after his death in 1231 he was succeeded in this capacity by his son.
A year later, Burhan al-Din Muhaqqiq, one of Baha? al-Din's former disciples, arrived in Konya and acquainted Jalal al-Din more deeply with some mystical theories that had developed in Iran. Burhan al-Din, who contributed considerably to Jalal al-Din's spiritual formation, left Konya about 1240. Jalal al-Din is said to have undertaken one or two journeys to Syria (unless his contacts with Syrian Sufi circles were already established before his family reached Anatolia); there he may have met Ibn al-?Arabi, the leading Islamic theosophist whose interpreter and stepson, Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, was Jalal al-Din's colleague and friend in Konya.
The decisive moment in Rumi's life occurred on November 30, 1244, when in the streets of Konya he met the wandering dervish--holy man--Shams al-Din (Sun of Religion) of Tabriz, whom he may have first encountered in Syria. Shams al-Din cannot be connected with any of the traditional mystical fraternities; his overwhelming personality, however, revealed to Jalal al-Din the mysteries of divine majesty and beauty. For months the two mystics lived closely together, and Rumi neglected his disciples and family so that his scandalized entourage forced Shams to leave the town in February 1246. Jalal al-Din was heartbroken, and his eldest son, Sultan Walad, eventually brought Shams back from Syria. The family, however, could not tolerate the close relation of Jalal al-Din with his beloved, and one night in 1247 Shams disappeared forever. In the 20th century it was established that Shams was indeed murdered, not without the knowledge of Rumi's sons, who hurriedly buried him close to a well that is still extant in Konya.
This experience of love, longing, and loss turned Rumi into a poet. His poems--ghazals (about 30,000 verses) and a large number of roba?iyat ("quatrains")--reflect the different stages of his love, until, as his son writes, "he found Shams in himself, radiant like the moon." The complete identification of lover and beloved is expressed by his inserting the name of Shams instead of his own pen name at the end of most of his lyrical poems. The Divan-e Shams ("The Collected Poetry of Shams") is a true translation of his experiences into poetry; its language, however, never becomes lost in lofty spiritual heights or nebulous speculation. The fresh language, propelled by its strong rhythms, sometimes assumes forms close to popular verses. There would seem to be cause for the belief, expressed by chroniclers, that much of this poetry was composed in a state of ecstasy, induced by the music of the flute or the drum, the hammering of the goldsmiths, or the sound of the water mill in Meram, where Rumi used to go with his disciples to enjoy nature. He found in nature the reflection of the radiant beauty of the Sun of Religion and felt flowers and birds partaking in his love. He often accompanied his verses by a whirling dance, and many of his poems were composed to be sung in Sufi musical gatherings.
A few years after Shams al-Din's death, Rumi experienced a similar rapture in his acquaintance with an illiterate goldsmith, Salah al-Din Zarkub. It is said that one day, hearing the sound of a hammer in front of Salah al-Din's shop in the bazaar of Konya, Rumi began his dance. The shop owner had long been one of Rumi's closest and most loyal disciples, and his daughter became the wife of Rumi's eldest son. This love again inspired Rumi to write poetry.
After Salah al-Din's death, Husam al-Din Chelebi became his spiritual love and deputy. Rumi's main work, the Masnavi-yi Ma?navi, was composed under his influence. Husam al-Din had asked him to follow the model of the poets ?Attar and Sana?i, who had laid down mystical teachings in long poems, interspersed with anecdotes, fables, stories, proverbs, and allegories. Their works were widely read by the mystics and by Rumi's disciples. Rumi followed Husam al-Din's advice and composed nearly 26,000 couplets of the Masnavi during the following years. It is said that he would recite his verses even in the bath or on the roads, accompanied by Husam al-Din, who wrote them down. The Masnavi, which shows all the different aspects of Sufism in the 13th century, often carries the reader away with loose associations of thought, so that one understands what subjects the master had in mind at a particular stage of his life. The work reflects the experience of divine love; both Salah al-Din and Husam al-Din were, for Rumi, renewed manifestations of Shams al-Din, the all-embracing light. He called Husam al-Din, therefore, Diya? al-Haqq ("Light of the Truth"); diya? is the Arabic term for sunlight.
Rumi lived for a short while after completing the Masnavi. He always remained a respected member of Konya society, and his company was sought by the leading officials as well as by Christian monks. His burial procession, according to one of Rumi's contemporaries, was attended by a vast crowd of people of many faiths and nationalities. His mausoleum, the Green Dome, is today a museum in Konya; it is still a place of pilgrimage, primarily for Turkish Muslims.
Husam al-Din was Rumi's successor and was in turn succeeded by Sultan Walad, who organized the loose fraternity of Rumi's disciples into the Mawlawiyyah, known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes because of the mystical dance that constitutes their principal ritual. Sultan Walad's poetical accounts of his father's life are the most important source of knowledge of Rumi's spiritual development.
Besides his poetry, Rumi left a small collection of occasional talks as they were noted down by his friends; in the collection, known as Fihi ma fihi ("There Is in It What Is in It"), the main ideas of his poetry recur. There also exist sermons and a collection of letters (Maktubat) directed to different persons. It is impossible to systematize his ideas, which at times contradict each other, and changes in the use of symbols often puzzle the reader. His poetry is a most human expression of mystical experiences, in which readers can find their own favourite ideas and feelings--from enthusiastic flights into the heavens to matter-of-fact descriptions of daily life.