Jalal al-Din Rumi 1207-1273
(Also known as Mowlānā Jalāloddin Rūmī, Jalāluddin Rumi, Jelaluddin Rumi, Jalāl-ud-dīn, Mawlānā, and Mevlevi) Persian poet.
One of the most widely translated figures of Islamic literature, Rumi has been deemed by numerous commentators as the greatest mystical poet of Persia. The Mathnawi, his largest body of work, has been compared to the Koran and is regarded as one of the masterpieces of religious literature. Rumi belonged to a religious sect of Islam called Sufism, which honored love and devotion to God above all else. Many of Rumi's writings reflect the Sufi doctrine and various dimensions of spiritual life.
Rumi was born in Balkh (present-day Afghanistan), a center of Islamic study, where his father, Baha Walad, was a renowned scholar and Sufi. When Rumi was twelve years old, his family fled the city fearing the impending invasion of the Mongols. After nine years of travel, they settled in Konya (present-day Turkey). After his father's death in 1231, Rumi was appointed his successor and became a prominent Islamic scholar, well versed in law and theology. He also continued to study the Sufi doctrine under the direction of a disciple of his father. It was not until Rumi met Shams al-Din of Tabriz at the age of thirty-seven, however, that he was spiritually transformed into an ecstatic Sufi who celebrated the mysteries of Divine Love with dancing, music, and poetry. Little is known about Shams except that a great spiritual love existed between the two men. Rumi's disciples were very jealous of Shams. Their abuse and threats of violence forced him to flee on two occasions, and in 1248 Shams disappeared; according to some reports, he was murdered by Rumi's jealous followers. Rumi was devastated by his loss and searched for Shams for many years. He began writing poetry in earnest after Shams's disappearance, and it was during this time that Rumi wrote much of the Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz, a collection of odes dedicated to the memory of Shams. For the rest of his life, Rumi devoted himself to his Sufi disciples, his spiritual practice, and his writing. He was still working on his last and greatest work, the Mathnawi, when he died in 1273.
Rumi's two major works of poetry are the Mathnawi and the Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz. The Mathnawi is a collection of six volumes totaling over 25,000 verses which Rumi began around 1260 and continued to work on until his death. Written at the request of his favorite disciple, who was responsible for transcribing Rumi's verses, the Mathnawi is a collection of anecdotes and stories drawn from all areas of Islamic wisdom—from the Koran to common folktales—which attempts to explain the Sufi way and the various dimensions of spiritual life. The Diwan, which was written over a thirty-year time span, is thought to have been started after Shams's arrival in Konya in 1244. Comprising approximately 40,000 verses, it contains poems which focus mainly on various mystical states, such as spiritual intoxication and ecstatic love. Scholars believe that many of the poems in the Diwan were composed spontaneously by Rumi while engaged in mystical dancing. Among Rumi's other works are the Fihi ma Fihi and the Majalis-i sab'ah, both of which include transcriptions of his sermons and conversations. In addition, Rumi's letters have been compiled in the Makatib, which contains more than one hundred documents written mainly to the nobility of Konya in order to appeal for help on behalf of his friends and disciples.
Critical opinion of Rumi has varied. Although many view his Mathnawi as second only to the Koran as a work of religious literature, others have found it difficult to comprehend. Western readers are often confused by his seemingly unsystematic narratives and find the loose construction of his stories hard to follow. In his own time, Rumi's detractors faulted his anecdotal style and his lack of metaphysical discussions, Generally, however, Rumi was viewed with deep veneration by his contemporaries. Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike attended Rumi's funeral, and centuries after his death he was still being honored by poets, musicians, and artists. Regarding Rumi's lasting influence, R. A. Nicholson concluded: "Familiarity does not always breed disillusion. Today the words I applied to the author of the Mathnawi thirty-five years ago, 'the greatest mystical poet of any age,' seem to me no more than just. Where else shall we find such a panorama of universal existence unrolling itself through Time into Eternity?"