Two persons were exchanging hot words in a street of Konya. Both were abusing each other. One was saying, “O! cursed, if you would utter a single abuse against me, you would get ten in return”. Maulana Rumi, who happened to pass by, heard their altercation. Addressing them he said: “Brothers! whatever store of abuse you have, shower on me. You may hurl thousands of abuses on me, but you would not get anything in return”. The two persons forgot all their abuses, fell on the feet of the great Maulana and reconciled themselves.
Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, the greatest mystic poet that the world has produced, whose renowned Mathnavi is known as the Quran in the Persian language, was born in Balklı in 1207 A.C. He came of a family of great religious scholars, descending from the first Caliph of Islam. His grandfather Husain Balkhi, a great mystic scholar, was so much respected that Sultan Muhammad Khwarizm Shah married his daughter to him. Hence the ruler of Khwarizm was the maternal grandfather of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Sheikh Bahauddin Balkhi, the father of Jalaluddin Rumi, was acknowledged as one of the greatest scholars of his time in the world of Islam. Muhammad Khwarizm Shah became a disciple of Sheikh Bahauddin and frequently visited him. He imparted education and lectured on all subjects. But due to the Court rivalry, Sheikh Bahauddin left Balkh and followed by hundreds of his disciples and followers migrated westward. He passed through Nishapur and in 1212 A.C. visited Sheikh Fariduddin Attar, who, according to chroniclers, took Jalaluddin in his arms, predicted his greatness and gave him his blessings and a copy of his poem ‘Asrar Nama’! From Nishapur, the Sheikh arrived in Baghdad, where he stayed for a number of years, lecturing on religious subjects. The Ambassador of the Seljuk Ruler, Kaikobad, who also attended his lectures, apprised his Ruler of the deep learning of the Sheikh. King Kaikobad also became a disciple of the Sheikh. From Baghdad, the Sheikh and his party went to Hejaz and thence of Zanjan, where he remained for one year, and thence to Larinda (Kirman) where he stayed for seven years. Here he married his son Jalaluddin to a lady named Gauher, who bore two sons, Sultan Veld and Alauddin. The Seljuk Ruler, Alauddin Kaikobad, an admirer of the Sheikh, invited him to stay in the capital. Accepting the invitation, the Sheikh went to Konya (Iconium), the Capital of Seljuk State. The Seljuk King along with his courtiers, went out of the city to receive the Sheikh and followed him on foot. Here Sheikh Bahauddin, the father of Maulana Jalaluddin, died in 1231 A.C.
Jalaluddin received his early education from his learned father. Among the disciples of his father was a renowned scholar, named Syed Burhanuddin Muhaqqiq. The Maulana was entrusted to his care; he taught him all worldly subjects. At the time of the death of his father, Jalaluddin who was 25 years of age, went to Damascus and Aleppo, great centers of learning for higher education in those days. Syed Burhanuddin also instructed him in the mystic lore. After his death, Jalaluddin came under the influence of and received teaching from Shams-i-Tabriz, a “weird figure”, as Nicholson calls him “wrapped in coarse black felt, who flits across the stage for a moment and disappears tragically enough”.
Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, who had become a great scholar, a worthy son of his learned father, was surrounded by scholars and followers attracted from distant parts of the Islamic world. Here, in 642 A.H. he met Shams-i. Tabriz. The meeting proved a turning point in his life. From a worldly teacher, Runi became & recluse. Discarding all worldly pomp and pleasures, he retired to a life of prayers and devotion to his spiritual teacher, Shams-i-Tabriz. This sudden change in his life created restiveness among his disciples, and Shams-i-Tabriz in order to calm their uneasiness, slipped away, from Konya one night. This separation from his teacher utterly disquieted the Maulana, who reacted to the incident by renouncing the world. It caused deep perturbation to his family. Therefore, his eldest son was deputed to search for Shains-i-Tabriz. He brought him back to Konya from Damascus. The teacher and his disciples remained together for some time, and one day, being annoyed by certain followers of the Maulana, Shams-i-Tabriz again disappeared from Konya never to return. A thorough search for the Saint, in which the Maulana himself participated, ended in a fiasco.
The disappearance of his spiritual teacher brought a great change in Maulan’s life and gave an edge to his sentiments and his inspirational poetical instincts which hitherto lay dormant in him. This revolutionary spiritual transformation was climaxed by a spurt of poetical effusion. The beginning of his immortal Mathnavi (long poem) was made during this period.
Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi gave birth to a line of mystics called Jalalia. The celebrated Sheikh Bu Ali Qalander of Panipat remained with the Maulana for a number of years and was much influenced by him. Another well-known Saint, Sheikh Shahabuddin Suhrawardy had also benefited from him. Sheikh Saadi, the famous Persian poet, and moralist, according to the author of “Manaqib-ul-Aarfeen” had also visited the Maulana at Konya.
Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi has left behind him two works on which his fame rests-his Diwan and his immortal “Mathnavi”. His Diwan containing 50 thousand couplets, mostly mystical lyrics, is wrongly considered to be composed by his spiritual teacher Shams-i-Tabriz, due to the latter’s poetic name being frequently used in the last couplet. The bulk of this work was composed by Rumi after the disappearance of his spiritual teacher, while Rida Quli Khan regards the major part of this work to have been composed in his Memoriam. According to Nicholson, a “part of Diwan was composed while Shams-i-Tabriz was still living, but probably the bulk of it belongs to a later period”.
The Maulana’s lyrics are replete with sincerity and sublimity, deep emotionalism, and a spirit of forgetfulness that characterize the works of mystic poets of Persia, including Sinai and Attar. His lyrics are free from ornamentation and passivity prevalent in the lyrics of Salman, Khakani, and Anwari.
It was a time when great panegyrists flourished in Persia, so much so that poets of the caliber of Saadi and Iraqi, too, could not abstain from dabbling in panegyrics, but Maulana Rumi steered clear of this growing social evil. He confined his poetry to sincerely translating his true sentiments into verse. Instinct with the exuberance of feelings, his lyrics have an immense poetic appeal which elevates one to the higher world. He appeals more to the higher and nobler sentiments of man.
With the decline of Seljuk power in Persia, the patrons of poets disappeared, hence the poets paid greater attention towards lyrics instead of panegyrics. The poets who refined lyrics and made it a vehicle of the sincerity of feelings, were Rumi, Saadi, and Iraqi. The Maulana himself a great mystic, has faithfully painted the diverse phases of love, which he had experienced in his life.
His immortal, “Mathnavi” is undoubtedly the most popular book in the Persian language. It has been translated into several Eastern and Western languages and has given him a distinguished place among the few immortal poets of the world. According to the author of “Majma-us-Safa”, the four outstanding books in the Persian language are Shahnama-i-Firdausi, Gulistan-i-Saadi, Mathnavi of Rumi and Diwan-i-Hafiz, but the Mathnavi of Rumi is the most popular of all. It has always been a favorite book of intellectuals and religious men. A number of commentaries have been written on it.
This immortal work of Maulana comprising 6 books and containing 26,660 couplets, was completed in 10 years. According to the author, the Mathnavi contains, “the roots of religion and the discovery of the mysteries of nature and divine knowledge”. (Arabic Preface to Book I). “It contains a great number of rambling anecdotes,” writes Browne in his ‘A Literary History of Persia’, of the most various character, some sublime and dignified, others grotesque, interspersed with mystical and theosophical digressions, often of the most abstruse character, in sharp contrast with the narrative portions, which though presenting some peculiarities of diction, are, as a rule, couched in very simple and plain language”. The book is further remarkable as beginning abruptly, without any formal doxology, with the well-known and beautiful passage translated by the late Professor E. H. Palmer, under the title of the “Song of Reed”.
The Mathnavi (long narrative poem) as a form of poetry owes its growth to Mahmood of Ghazni under whose patronage Firdausi made it a vehicle of narrating the ancient history of Persia in his immortal Shah Nama. Later Hakim Sinai wrote “Hadiqa”, the first mystic poem in the Persian language. He was followed by Khwaja Fariduddin Attar, who wrote several Mathnavis alive with mystic thoughts. But the Mathnavi of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi marks the climax of mystic poetry and ranks among the immortal poems of the world.
Among the factors which have contributed to the popularity of this matchless massive work are the sublimity of thought and subtlety of complex ideas verified in an extremely simple manner, hardly found in any other language. The ethical and mystic values have been beautifully explained through intelligent stories and parables drawn from everyday life. The way in which the Maulana has explained the intricate ethical and mystic problems through realistic stories, amply brings him out to be a person who has a keen insight into the secrets of human nature. With him, the art of teaching morality through life-like stories has reached its climax. He points out to hidden evils of humanity in such a manner that one feels he knew it beforehand.
The main characteristic of this poem is the sublimity of thought and the simplicity and spontaneity of its expression. Contrary to the pessimism and the life of resignation practiced and preached by the mystics in general, the Maulana preached a healthy optimism and a life full of action. In one of his stories, he argues that it is self-evident what a master means when he places a shovel in the hands of his servant. In the same way, God who has given us hands and feet wants us tɔ make use of them. Hence the life of renunciation and resignation is against the will of God. The Islamic teaching is that one should try his best and leave the result to God, Man proposes but God disposes. In this way, among all the mystics, the Maulana made the most practical, realistic and Islamic approach towards life and became the forerunner of Iqbal, the poet of Islam.
Before his meeting with Shams-i-Tabriz, the Maulana passed a life full of pomp and splendor. Wherever he went, he was accompanied by a large number of scholars and disciples. Thereafter, he spent his time in prayers and speculation. Mostly he spent the whole night in prayers.
He was very humane and generous. The neighboring rulers and their courtiers sent valuable presents which he always distributed among the poor. Whenever there was nothing to eat in his house, he was much pleased and exclaimed: “Today our house is like those of saints”, He was so generous that he used to offer to the supplicant whatever he had on his body.
He shunned the society of rulers and their courtiers. The rulers and their ministers vied with each other in order to win his favor and visited him at times, but he avoided them as far as possible.
That Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was gifted with supernatural powers from his very childhood, will be evident from the following anecdote:
As a child of eleven, while Rumi was playing one day with his friends on the roof of his house, the former suggested they might now shift to the opposite house to resume their play there. Rumi refused to accompany his playmates giving them to understand that he would jump over to the said house in spite of a wide lane between the two houses, rather than go there through the stairs. “How could that be possible? You are not a Jinn, nor have you Alladin’s wonderful lamp to summon one to transport you to the opposite house lying across the lane, over the roof”, they asked jeeringly. On reaching the roof of the other house they were flabbergasted to find Rumi already present there.
The Maulana died in 1273 A.C. and was buried in the mausoleum erected over his father’s grave at Konya by Alauddin Kaikobad, the Seljuk Ruler. People of all communities and sections followed his funeral crying and wailing. The Christians and Jews were reciting their scriptures. The Seljuk King who also accompanied the funeral procession asked them what relation had they with the virtuous Maulana. They replied, “If the deceased was like your Muhammad (PBUH) he was like our Christ and Moses”. The entire population had turned out to pay their last homage to the departed Saint.
Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was an eminent poet, an outstanding mystic, and above all a great man. “He is undoubtedly the most eminent Sufi poet that Persia has produced”, writes Browne, “while his mystical Mathnavi deserves to rank amongst the great poems of all times”.