Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī Biography


(History of the World: The Middle Ages)

Article abstract: Rūmī is the leading poet of Sufism (Islamic mysticism), the eponymous founder of the Maulawiyah Sufi order (which is still active in Konya), and a direct inspiration for almost all subsequent Gnostic writing in the Islamic world.

Early Life

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, also known as Maulānā (Our Master), was born in the fall of 1207 in Balkh, a major eastern city in what is now Afghanistan. His father, a well-known Sufi preacher and scholar, moved his family from Balkh across Iran and into Turkey shortly before (and perhaps in anticipatory fear of) the Mongols’ devastating westward incursion into the Islamic world. Neyshabur, the home of ʿAttar, the leading Sufi poet before Rūmī, fell to the Mongols in 1219-1220. A generation later, in 1258, Hülegü, Genghis Khan’s grandson, overran the Islamic capital of Baghdad and ended the caliphate.

Rūmī’s family settled in Konya, in Turkish Anatolia, a region then called Rum, from which the poet later got the name “Rūmī,” by which he is best known in the West. Rūmī studied the Koran, religious sciences, and literature. He was expert in Arabic, but Persian was to be his literary language. When his father died, Rūmī, then twenty-three or twenty-four and married, assumed his position as a teacher in a religious school in Konya. Also at this time, Rūmī began further study of Sufi doctrine and further initiation into Sufi practice with Burhan al-Din Muhaqqiq, a former pupil of Rūmī’s father. Burhan al-Din died in 1239 or 1240, by which time Rūmī was being referred to as “Shaykh,” the title indicating his standing as a Sufi mentor with students and followers.

To this point in his life, Rūmī was presumably an orthodox Sufi and had demonstrated no special interest in poetry or in music and dance as vehicles for or accompaniments to religious devotion and expression of faith. All this was to change in the fall of 1244, when he met a peripatetic and charismatic Sufi called Shams-e Tabrizi. Rūmī felt mystical love for Shams of Tabriz, who introduced the latter to wholehearted love as the true Sufi’s requisite attitude and who became Rūmī’s chief “sun” and source of illumination. Rūmī had apparently found in Shams the image of the Divine Beloved, a focus which would inspire the rest of his life. The intensity of the relationship caused Rūmī to begin to express himself in Persian lyric verse and to find special meaning and joy in music and dance.

The attraction of Shams for Rūmī and the former’s influence on the latter did not please Rūmī’s family and students. Presumably as a result of verbal abuse, perhaps including threats, Shams suddenly left Konya without telling anyone of his plans. This event brought Rūmī great sorrow and inspired the composition of Sufi verse lamenting the separation of lover from beloved. Nearly two years later, after hearing that Shams was in Syria, Rūmī sent his older son to bring the wandering dervish back to Konya.

The reunion of the two Sufis inspired Rūmī to compose further Sufi poems, this time on the union of lover and beloved. Yet again, however, some of Rūmī’s followers and family members were vexed at Shams’s presence in their community and his hold on Rūmī. Shams disappeared for good in late 1248 (reportedly murdered by Rūmī’s son and disciples). Rūmī was again inconsolable and set out for Syria to find his mystical guide and beloved. The poet gradually came to realize, however, that the spirit of Shams was with him, that his poems were really Shams’s voice. He consequently chose “Shams” as his own nom de plume.

Life’s Work

Rūmī’s life after the disappearance of Shams became as creative and inspirational as that of any literary-religious figure in history. He composed the bulk of the much-loved and inimitable Sufi lyrics in Persian that comprise the Divan-e Shams-e Tabriz. The following is an especially appreciated example of these lyric poems, in a version by Reynold Nicholson, Rūmī’s foremost Western editor and translator.

This is love: to fly heavenward,
To rend, every instant, 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.
“O heart,” I said, “may it bless thee
To have entered the circles of lovers,
To look beyond the range of the eye,
To penetrate the windings of the bosom.”

Not long after Shams’s disappearance, Rūmī entered into a Sufi relationship with another man in whom he saw something of Shams. Called Salah al-Din Zarkub, this man was reportedly illiterate and also not to the liking of Rūmī’s other disciples. Nevertheless, Rūmī dedicated some poems to Salah al-Din (who died in 1258), and Rūmī’s eldest son married the latter’s daughter. After Salah al-Din’s death, Rūmī became interested in a disciple of his called Chalabi Husamuddin Hasan, of whom Shams had presumably thought highly. Rūmī and Husamuddin lived together for ten years, and it was the latter who prevailed upon Rūmī to compose a didactic and inspirational Sufi verse...

(The entire section is 2180 words.)

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī Biography

(World Poets and Poetry)

Jall al-Dn Rm, also known as Mauln (our master), was born on or near September 30, 1207, in the city of Balkh (in modern northern Afghanistan). When he was five years old and shortly before the onset of the Mongol invasion, his father, who was a religious scholar of renown, left his native land in the company of his family and, traveling westward, finally settled in Konya, a city of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After his father’s death, Rm succeeded him as a religious leader and scholar and soon gathered a large following.

The arrival in Konya of the wandering dervish Shams al-Dn of Tabrz was an event of radical consequence in Rm’s life. The details of the meeting between the two are rather sketchy and at times contradictory. The account that seems to be more reliable than others belongs to the chronicler Dowlatshhi and can be summarized as follows. One day, the peripatetic Shams—who, in search of a kindred soul, had arrived in Konya and had taken lodgings in the Caravansarai of Sugar Merchants—saw a man riding on a mule while his disciples followed him on foot. The man was Rm, who after the death of his father had become Konya’s most distinguished religious scholar, enjoying a large following. Walking up to him, Shams said, “Tell me, what is the purpose of all the discipline and study of books and recitation of knowledge?” “To know the religious laws and precepts, of course,” the scholar answered. “That is too superficial,” the Sage of Tabrz countered. Taken...

(The entire section is 611 words.)

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī Biography

(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Rūmi’s poetry and prose teachings guided Sufis on Islamic teachings by revealing the way to God in the context of the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. He showed the way of loving God as a personal transfiguration of radical and profound proportions for individuals who reach spiritual perfection.

Early Life

Jalā al-Dīn Rūmī’s father, Baha’ Walad, was a Sufi preacher, author, and lawyer in Balkh, present-day Afghanistan, where Rūmī was born in 1207. He influenced many, including Rūmī himself, in placing spiritual values ahead of legal and practical ones of other Muslims, and he irritated learned men with his criticisms of Greek philosophy. Rūmī’s father fled his home city when it was threatened by invading Mongols in 1219. He took the family first on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and then he moved them to Konya, located in modern Turkey, where he soon acquired prominence and influence. Rūmī began his studies in Konya, mastered the Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and Greek languages, and then went to study at Damascus, proceeding from basic knowledge to theology and philosophy. He married Gevher Hatun in Karaman and his son, Sultan Veled, was born in 1226 in Konya. In 1231, when Rūmī was twenty-four, his father died, and Rūmī assumed his father’s place as a preacher and legal scholar.

Life’s Work

Rūmī’s explicit education in Sufi beliefs was guided by one of his father’s disciples, Burhan al-Dīn Tirmidhi, from 1232 to Tirmidhi’s death in 1240. After his death, Rūmī continued to preach and discourse on spiritual law. Then there appeared in 1244 the most important person in Rūmī’s adult life, the mysterious Shams al-Dīn of Tabrīz. This man’s friendship turned Rūmī from a life of prudent teacher of law into an enthusiastic mystic devoted to ecstatic worship of God, expressed in strong Persian poetry of sensuous and intoxicated love. Shams was Rūmī’s closest friend and companion for about two years, and then Shams disappeared forever from Rūmī’s life and from history. The pain of this loss was a significant cause for Rūmī to compose poetry for the rest of his life. Thus did the poems of The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi arise from human love and its loss, but their significance was heightened by Rūmī’s use of that love as a form to worship God. After Shams’s disappearance, Rūmī ceased to perform as a public preacher; instead, he gave the rest of his life to the training of Sufi worshipers.

The Sufi Path of Love is a collection of more than three thousand of Rūmī’s ghazals, or love poems. Other than those that are in The Mathnavī of Jalālu’ddīn Rūmī, the poems of The Sufi Path of Love are all of Rūmī’s poetry produced over a span of nearly thirty years. Most of them are dedicated to Shams, but a few other persons are mentioned in some. They are inspired by Shams, but transcend him for celebrations and praises of God. Love for a person is but a step along the path toward love of God, which is consciousness of universal unity.

The Mathnavī of Jalālu’ddīn Rūmī is a set of six books of poems in couplet style; there are some twenty-five thousand verses in all. It was written at the request of one of Rūmī’s disciples beginning in 1259 so that his didactic teachings might be passed down to posterity in poems that could be memorized. The last book was left unfinished at Rūmī’s death. Rūmī composed orally, and his disciples transcribed his verses for recitation. The follower of Rūmī is instructed to exhibit good works in contrast to the enemies of God, who display only sensual desires. A good work involves praising God, as in the recitation of these poems, made by one who cannot turn good things into bad ones, like God, but merely hold up a mirror to show forth the bad and ugly forms of the world. Although The Mathnavī of Jalālu’ddīn Rūmī shows more didactic intent than The Sufi Path of Love, it is nevertheless only as systematic as the religious framework from which it draws its inspiration and texts for moral edification. The work ought to be read as a companion text to The Sufi Path of Love.

The verses of The Mathnavī of Jalālu’ddīn Rūmī also differ from those of The Sufi Path of Love in that they are largely anecdotal and narrative in contrast to the more lyrical and figurative poetry inspired by Shams. The anecdotes were Rūmī’s versions of folklore and commentaries on passages of the Qur’an. There is a moral to each anecdote and it is intended to develop Islamic beliefs with special emphasis on spiritual or mystical insights stressed by Sufis. Unlike the poems of The Sufi Path of Love, however, those of The Mathnavī of Jalālu’ddīn Rūmī provide more commentary on mystical experience and less on its apprehension or embodiment. After Rūmī’s death, scholars and mystics began to compose commentaries on his poetry, including The Mathnavī of Jalālu’ddīn Rūmī, which is itself a commentary on the distinctions between laws and love. In this work, Rūmī says that the law can, like a lamp, show the way to the path of love, but once a person is on the path itself, he or she will be taken directly to the goal of truth at the end. Rūmī’s way in The Mathnavī of Jalālu’ddīn Rūmī is the path; the goal is grasped in the truth of The Sufi Path of...

(The entire section is 2264 words.)

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī Biography

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Rûmî was an extraordinarily prolific Persian poet, best known for his Mathnavî, which is arguably the most important single work in Persian literature. Although the Mathnavî is massive in scope (26,000 verses), it focuses on al-Rûmî’s primary concerns: the longing of the soul for its beloved and the loss of self in a love for God so absolute that only God exists. He emphasized the cycle of the origination of all things from God and their return through extinguishing the self. The highest possible achievement of the soul is longing for God, beyond which there is annihilation of individuality. Rûmî frequently reworked traditional stories or used metaphors of intoxication and/or human love, and, disdaining...

(The entire section is 139 words.)

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī Biography

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Rûmî’s family left Balkh when he was quite young, fleeing the invading forces of Genghis Khan. In 1228, he moved to Konya, where his father, the noted theologian Bahâ’ al-Dîn Walad, taught. Rûmî took over those teaching duties after his father’s death. In 1244, he met the famed Sufi Shams al-Dîn Tabrîzî in Konya (they may have met previously in Syria), and the two became inseparable partners in the rapture of absolute, mystical love of God. This relationship seems to have been the cause of Rûmî’s turn to mystical poetry. Rûmî’s relationship with Shams dominated his life, eclipsing responsibilities to family and students, who exiled Shams to Syria. Rûmî’s eldest son, Sultan Walad, recalled Shams because...

(The entire section is 170 words.)