life and works of the unique Persian poet
Jalal ud-Din Muhammad Balkhi (1207 - 1273)
Mewlana Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (Persian: جلالالدین محمد بلخى), also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (جلالالدین محمد رومی), Mevlana or Mawlānā (مولانا, meaning Our Master), Mevlevi or Mawlawī (مولوی, meaning My Master), and more popularly in the English-speaking world simply as Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273), was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic.Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Turks, Cappadocian Greeks, Afghans, Tajiks, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. He has been described as the “most popular poet in America” and the “best selling poet in the US”.
Rumi’s works are written mostly in Persian, though a few written in the lower status vernacular (Cappadocian Greek) of the region in which he settled are preserved. His Mathnawi remains one of the purest literary glories of Persia, and one of the crowning glories of the Persian language. His original works are widely read today in their original language across the Persian-speaking world (Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and parts of Persian speaking Central Asia and the Caucasus) Translations of his works are very popular, most notably in Turkey, Azerbaijan, the United States and South Asia. His poetry has influenced Persian literature as well as Turkish, Punjabi, Urdu and some other Iranian, Turkic and Indic languages that have been influenced by Persian, e.g. Pashto, Ottoman Turkish, Chagatai and Sindhi.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī (Persian: جلالالدین محمد بلخى Persian pronunciation: [dʒælɒːlæddiːn mohæmmæde bælxiː]) is also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (جلالالدین محمد رومی Persian pronunciation: [dʒælɒːlæddiːn mohæmmæde ɾuːmiː]). He is widely known by the sobriquet Mawlānā/Molānā (Persian: مولانا Persian pronunciation: [moulɒːnɒː]) in Iran and popularly known as Mevlânâ in Turkey (also, Turkish: Celâleddin Muhammed Belhi, Celâleddin Muhammed Rûmi, and Mevleviin Modern Turkish). Mawlānā means ‘our Lord’ in the Arabic language. According to the authoritative Rumi biographer Franklin Lewis of the University of Chicago, ” the Anatolian peninsula which had belonged to the Byzantine, or eastern Roman empire, had only relatively recently been conquered by Muslims and even when it came to be controlled by Turkish Muslim rulers, it was still known to Arabs, Persians and Turks as the geographical area of Rum. As such, there are a number of historical personages born in or associated with Anatolia known as Rumi, a word borrowed from Arabic literally meaning ‘Roman,’ in which context Roman refers to subjects of the Byzantine Empire or simply to people living in or things associated with Anatolia.” The terms مولوی Mawlavi (Persian) and Mevlevi (Turkish) which mean “having to do with the master” are more often used for him.
Rumi was born to native Persian speaking parents, originally from the Balkh city of Khorasan, in modern-day Afghanistan. He was born probably in the village of Wakhsh, a small town located on the Wakhsh River in the greater Balkh region, in modern-day Tajikistan. In the year Rumi was born, his father was an appointed scholar there.
Greater Balkh was at that time a major centre of a Persian culture and Khorasani Sufism had developed there for several centuries. Indeed, the most important influences upon Rumi, besides his father, are said to be the Persian poets Attar and Sanai. Rumi in one poem express his appreciation: “Attar was the spirit, Sanai his eyes twain, And in time thereafter, Came we in their train” and mentions in another poem: “Attar has traversed the seven cities of Love, We are still at the turn of one street”. His father was also connected to the spiritual lineage of Najm al-Din Kubra.
He lived most of his life under the Persianate Seljuq Sultanate of Rum, where he produced his works  and died in 1273 AD. He was buried in Konya and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Following his death, his followers and his son Sultan Walad founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for its Sufi dance known as the Sama ceremony. He was laid to rest beside his father, and over his remains a splendid shrine was erected. A hagiographical account of him is described in Shams ud-Din Ahmad Aflāki’s Manāqib ul-Ārifīn (written between 1318 and 1353). This hagiographical account of his biography needs to be treated with care as it contains both legends and facts about Rumi. For example, Professor Franklin Lewis, University of Chicago, in the most complete biography on Rumi has a separate section for the hagiographical biography on Rumi and actual biography about him.
Rumi’s father was Bahā ud-Dīn Walad, a theologian, jurist and a mystic from Wakhsh, who was also known by the followers of Rumi as Sultan al-Ulama or “Sultan of the Scholars”. The popular hagiographer assertions that have claimed the family’s descent from the Caliph Abu Bakr does not hold on closer examination and is rejected by modern scholars. The claim of maternal descent from the Khwarazmshah for Rumi or his father is also seen as a non-historical hagiographical tradition designed to connect the family with royalty, but this claim is rejected for chronological and historical reasons. The most complete genealogy offered for the family stretches back to six or seven generations to famous Hanafi Jurists.
We do not learn the name of Baha al-Din’s mother in the sources, but only that he referred to her as “Māmi” (Colloquial Persian for Māma) and that she was a simple woman and that she lived in the 13th century. The mother of Rumi was Mu’mina Khātūn. The profession of the family for several generations was that of Islamic preachers of the liberal Hanafi rite and this family tradition was continued by Rumi (see his Fihi Ma Fih and Seven Sermons) and Sultan Walad (see Ma’rif Waladi for examples of his everyday sermons and lectures).
When the Mongols invaded Central Asia sometime between 1215 and 1220, Baha ud-Din Walad, with his whole family and a group of disciples, set out westwards. According to hagiographical account which is not agreed upon by all Rumi scholars, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, Attar, in the Iranian city of Nishapur, located in the province of Khorāsān. Attar immediately recognized Rumi’s spiritual eminence. He saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.”[this quote needs a citation] He gave the boy his Asrārnāma, a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world. This meeting had a deep impact on the eighteen-year-old Rumi and later on became the inspiration for his works.
From Nishapur, Walad and his entourage set out for Baghdad, meeting many of the scholars and Sufis of the city. From Baghdad they went to Hejaz and performed the pilgrimage at Mecca. The migrating caravan then passed through Damascus, Malatya,Erzincan, Sivas, Kayseri and Nigde. They finally settled in Karaman for seven years; Rumi’s mother and brother both died there. In 1225, Rumi married Gowhar Khatun in Karaman. They had two sons: Sultan Walad and Ala-eddin Chalabi. When his wife died, Rumi married again and had a son, Amir Alim Chalabi, and a daughter, Malakeh Khatun.
On 1 May 1228, most likely as a result of the insistent invitation of ‘Alā’ ud-Dīn Key-Qobād, ruler of Anatolia, Baha’ ud-Din came and finally settled in Konya in Anatolia within the westernmost territories of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm.
Baha’ ud-Din became the head of a madrassa (religious school) and when he died, Rumi, aged twenty-five, inherited his position as the Islamic molvi. One of Baha’ ud-Din’s students, Sayyed Burhan ud-Din Muhaqqiq Termazi, continued to train Rumi in the Shariahas well as the Tariqa, especially that of Rumi’s father. For nine years, Rumi practised Sufism as a disciple of Burhan ud-Din until the latter died in 1240 or 1241. Rumi’s public life then began: he became an Islamic Jurist, issuing fatwas and giving sermons in the mosques of Konya. He also served as a Molvi (Islamic teacher) and taught his adherents in the madrassa.
During this period, Rumi also travelled to Damascus and is said to have spent four years there.
It was his meeting with the dervish Shams-e Tabrizi on 15 November 1244 that completely changed his life. From an accomplished teacher and jurist, Rumi was transformed into an ascetic.
Shams had travelled throughout the Middle East searching and praying for someone who could “endure my company”. A voice said to him, “What will you give in return?” Shams replied, “My head!” The voice then said, “The one you seek is Jalal ud-Din of Konya.” On the night of 5 December 1248, as Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door. He went out, never to be seen again. It is rumoured that Shams was murdered with the connivance of Rumi’s son, ‘Ala’ ud-Din; if so, Shams indeed gave his head for the privilege of mystical friendship.
Rumi’s love for, and his bereavement at the death of, Shams found their expression in an outpouring lyric poems, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. He himself went out searching for Shams and journeyed again to Damascus. There, he realised:
Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!
Mewlana had been spontaneously composing ghazals (Persian poems), and these had been collected in the Divan-i Kabir or Diwan Shams Tabrizi. Rumi found another companion in Salaḥ ud-Din-e Zarkub, a goldsmith. After Salah ud-Din’s death, Rumi’s scribe and favourite student, Hussam-e Chalabi, assumed the role of Rumi’s companion. One day, the two of them were wandering through the Meram vineyards outside Konya when Hussam described to Rumi an idea he had had: “If you were to write a book like the Ilāhīnāma of Sanai or the Mantiq ut-Tayr of ‘Attar, it would become the companion of many troubadours. They would fill their hearts from your work and compose music to accompany it.” Rumi smiled and took out a piece of paper on which were written the opening eighteen lines of his Masnavi, beginning with:
Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,
How it sings of separation…
Hussam implored Rumi to write more. Rumi spent the next twelve years of his life in Anatolia dictating the six volumes of this masterwork, the Masnavi, to Hussam.
In December 1273, Rumi fell ill; he predicted his own death and composed the well-known ghazal, which begins with the verse:
How doest thou know what sort of king I have within me as companion?
Do not cast thy glance upon my golden face, for I have iron legs.
Rumi died on 17 December 1273 in Konya; his body was interred beside that of his father, and a splendid shrine, the Yeşil Türbe (Green Tomb, قبه الخضراء; today the Mevlâna Museum), was erected over his place of burial. His epitaph reads:
When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.
Georgian Queen Gürcü Hatun was a patron and a close friend of Rumi. She was the one who sponsored the construction of his tomb in Konya. The 13th century Mevlâna Mausoleum, with its mosque, dance hall, dervish living quarters, school and tombs of some leaders of the Mevlevi Order, continues to this day to draw pilgrims from all parts of the Muslim and non-Muslim world. Jalal al-Din who is also known as Rumi, was a philosopher and mystic of Islam. His doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. To him and to his disciples all religions are more or less truth. Looking with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, his peaceful and tolerant teaching has appealed to people of all sects and creeds.
The general theme of Rumi’s thought, like that of other mystic and Sufi poets of Persian literature, is essentially that of the concept of tawhid — union with his beloved (the primal root) from which/whom he has been cut off and become aloof — and his longing and desire to restore it.
The Masnavi weaves fables, scenes from everyday life, Qur’anic revelations and exegesis, and metaphysics into a vast and intricate tapestry. In the East, it is said of him that he was “not a prophet — but surely, he has brought a scripture.”[this quote needs a citation]
Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of whirling Dervishes developed into a ritual form. His teachings became the base for the order of the Mevlevi, which his son Sultan Walad organised. Rumi encouraged Sama, listening to music and turning or doing the sacred dance. In the Mevlevi tradition, samāʿ represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. In this journey, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at the Perfect. The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey, with greater maturity, to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination with regard to beliefs, races, classes and nations.
In other verses in the Masnavi, Rumi describes in detail the universal message of love:
The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes
Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries.
Rumi’s favourite musical instrument was the ney (reed flute).