This being human is a guest house / Every morning a new arrival / A joy, a depression, a meanness, / some momentary awareness comes / as an unexpected visitor. — Rumi
A professor friend of mine at Harvard University jokingly told me a month ago that nowadays, the criterion for being well-read and educated is how deeply one has read and understood the poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, whose 815th birthday falls on September 30. So very true. The popularity of Rumi among the general readers and often frivolous WhatsApp users is an indication that Rumi is the in thing.
For those who’re still uninitiated and not aware of this great Persian mystic, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi Balkhi was predominantly (predominantly, because he wrote in other languages as well) a Persian poet and Sufi who was born in Balkh in Afghanistan on September 30, 1207. It was his prolific but profound poetry that immortalised him as one of the greatest poets the world has ever seen.
Rumi was already popular among the scholars across the globe but the masses couldn’t relate to him until Playboy (yes, Playboy, of all publications!) popularised him in the mid-1980s, and then 9/11 and Coleman Barks’ works on Rumi catapulted him to stardom. Now the question is, what does 9/11 have to do with Rumi and his universal mysticism?
The demolition of the Twin Towers in New York by Muslim extremists on September 11, 2001 brought a pretty bad name to Islam and people thought that it’s a religion that advocates violence and nothing else. Then came Rumi and his irenic message of universal love, bonhomie and brotherhood. Though chiefly a Muslim mystic belonging to the Sunni sect, Rumi was beyond the precincts of Islam and all organised faiths. The universality of his vision blossomed when he befriended Persian poet Shams-i-Tabriz. In a new biography of Rumi, Rumi’s Secret, Brad Gooch describes how Shams pushed Rumi to question his scriptural education, debating Koranic passages with him and emphasising the idea of devotion as finding oneness with God. Rumi would come to blend the intuitive love for god that he found in Sufiism with the legal codes of Sunni Islam and the mystical thought he learned from Shams.
Rumi is the quintessential latitudinarian Sufi in the sense that his mysticism is not monastic mysticism of indolent lotus-eating Sufis who talked only of the Almighty and nothing beyond that. His message is all-encompassing and humanistic. You’ll agree to this when he says in old Ottoman Turkish (he wrote mostly in Turkish towards the fag end of his life and was entombed at Konya in Turkey): Quo aztan min ashin ze’en munbashir be’ almatan (My life itself is a message to unify mankind). This is the leitmotif of Rumi’s entire oeuvre and his global mysticism: Unification of mankind. Today, we’re either Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or whatnot. But Rumi exhorts us to rise above all sectarian pettiness, religious meanness and nationalistic parochialism. “Be a man. Belong to the whole of mankind. And call humanity your only faith” (Masnavi, Volume 5). Omid Safi, a Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Duke University puts it succinctly, “Rumi’s philosophy helps us break the shackles of the ‘My Religion Only, My God Alone’ syndrome that the world is suffering from at the moment.” Very true. Humans are embroiled in petty issues like religion, nationalism, sects, province, caste, colour and all that jazz. That very essence of universal humanity is lost in a vortex of differences, divides and discriminations.
“Come, spread love and rejoice in the symmetry of oneness,” urges Rumi. “Don’t brandish swords and go on a war killing innocent people. Instead wage a war against the vices that worm away your own self like termites.” Are war-mongers like Putin listening to Rumi?
Rumi’s message of piety, immanent divinity and religionless spirituality are the ever-relevant factors that can galvanise mankind and bring about a change in vision, perception and religious attitude. We’ve been sparring over gods, territories, religions, languages, wealth and scriptures for millennia. Rumi sarcastically says, “The Universe has had enough of seeing mankind’s stupidity but man is still not tired of continuing with his idiocy and ignorance.”
The world is badly tormented by rabid hatred and bad blood. Rumi’s poetry of unconditional love can bring about a modicum of solace and provide a zephyr of succour to it. In other words, Rumi is a whiff of fresh air in the miasma and stench of blood all over the world.
It is, therefore, time to imbibe the spirit of Rumi’s humanitarian poetic message and establish a semblance of order and sanity in these chaotic times. To sum it up, Rumi’s universality assures mankind that there’s still Room for peace and reconciliation.
The writer is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages