Born: September 30, 1207
Born Place: Balkh, Afghanistan
Died: December 17, 1273
Death Place: Konya, Turkey
Religion: Khwarezmian Empire (Balkh: 1207–1212, 1213–1217; Samarkand: 1212–1213)
Sultanate of Rum (Malatya: 1217–1219; Akşehir: 1219–1222; Larende: 1222–1228; Konya: 1228–1273)
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Persian: جلالالدین محمد رومی), also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (جلالالدین محمد بلخى), Mevlânâ/Mawlānā (مولانا, “our master”), Mevlevî/Mawlawī (مولوی, “my master”), and more popularly simply as Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273), was a 13th-century Persian poet, faqih, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic originally from Greater Khorasan in Greater Iran. Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent 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. Rumi has been described as the “most popular poet” and the “best selling poet” in the United States.
Rumi’s works are written mostly in Persian, but occasionally he also used Turkish, Arabic, and Greek in his verse. His Masnavi (Mathnawi), composed in Konya, is considered one of the greatest poems of the Persian language. His works are widely read today in their original language across Greater Iran and the Persian-speaking world. Translations of his works are very popular, most notably in Turkey, Azerbaijan, the United States, and South Asia. His poetry has influenced not only Persian literature, but also the literary traditions of the Ottoman Turkish, Chagatai, Urdu and Pashto languages.
He is most commonly called Rumi in English. His full name is Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī (Persian: جلالالدین محمد بلخى) or Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (جلالالدین محمد رومی). Jalal ad-Din is an Arabic name meaning “Glory of the Faith”. Balkhī and Rūmī are his nisbas, meaning, respectively, “from Balkh” and “from Rûm” (‘Roman,’ what European history now calls Byzantine, Anatolia). According to the authoritative Rumi biographer Franklin Lewis of the University of Chicago, “[t]he 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.” He was also known as “Mullah of Rum” (ملای روم mullā-yi Rūm or ملای رومی mullā-yi Rūmī).
He is widely known by the sobriquet Mawlānā/Molānā (Persian: مولانا Persian pronunciation: [moulɒːnɒ]) in Iran and popularly known as Mevlânâ in Turkey. Mawlānā (مولانا) is a term of Arabic origin, meaning “our master”.
The term مولوی Mawlawī/Mowlavi (Persian) and Mevlevi (Turkish), also of Arabic origin, meaning “my master”, is also frequently used for him.
Education and encounters with Shams-e Tabrizi
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 Shariah as 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 of 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!
Later life and death
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 death was mourned by the diverse community of Konya, with local Christians and Jews joining the crowd that converged to bid farewell as his body was carried through the city.Rumi’s 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 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, schools and living quarters for dervishes, remains a destination of pilgrimage to this day, and is probably the most popular pilgrimage site to be regularly visited by adherents of every major religion.
Rumi’s poetry forms the basis of much classical Iranian and Afghan music. Contemporary classical interpretations of his poetry are made by Muhammad Reza Shajarian, Shahram Nazeri, Davood Azad (the three from Iran) and Ustad Mohammad Hashem Cheshti (Afghanistan). To many modern Westerners, his teachings are one of the best introductions to the philosophy and practice of Sufism. In the West Shahram Shiva has been teaching, performing and sharing the translations of the poetry of Rumi for nearly twenty years and has been instrumental in spreading Rumi’s legacy in the English-speaking parts of the world.