Aleppo-educated Rumi, Messiah missing to an extremist world
September 30 was the birth anniversary of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, Persian poet and Sufi master born in 1207, and the Rumi Day named in his honor as a globally acclaimed poet.
Born in Balkh, then part of eastern Iran but now in Afghanistan, Rumi went to Aleppo and Damascus, today’s Syria, to study. From there, he went to Konya, in Turkey, where he spent the last 50 years of his life.
After over eight centuries, Rumi continues to appeal to many. A host of traditional Iranian musicians and singers have ventured extensively into his words, coming out with great works of music that maximize the passion in his letters.
A young generation of musicians and vocalists have also been putting lines from the Masnavi into pop tunes, making again pieces that capture the sensations of Rumi in a modern-world setting.
In Turkey, where he was buried, Rumi draws many lovers almost as a sanctity. Rumi’s tomb lures reverent followers and heads of state each year for a whirling dervish ceremony on 17 December, the anniversary of his death.
Even in the New World, the Persian mystic’s magnum opus the Masnavi has sold millions of copies in recent years, making him the most popular poet in the U.S.
In early 2016, Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brown said they were going to make a biopic of Rumi, even conveying inclination to Leonardo DiCaprio to act as Rumi.
The cineaste were not the only ones well-disposed to Rumi. In May 2014, it went viral that actor Brad Pitt had tattooed his arm with a variation of part of a Rumi poem, reading “There exists a field, beyond all notions of right and wrong. I will meet you there.”
Shortly after, renowned master of Persian literature and Iranist Mir Jalaleddin Kazzazi found the line to be a translation of Ruba’i 158 of Rumi. “Right and wrong,” Kazzazi said, match religion and atheism in the original Persian text.
It comes as a sad story that the ideas of the genius Sufi are not being practiced as much as his name is heard.
Many have been bogged down in an identity fallacy.
Literary circles in Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey, for example, are in polemic over which country Rumi belongs to. Iranians say that the birthplace of Rumi and his work’s language testify to his Iranian roots.
Turkey, on the other hand, says it is entitled to have Rumi as a national honor because of being home to Rumi’s tomb. Afghanistan has also its own argument.
However, what has brought Rumi all this reputation is exactly his deconstructive thinking, based on which all notions of nationality, blood, race, color, and faith lose meaning to a universal soul.
As someone who has delved deep into Rumi, traditional Iranian music virtuoso Mohammad Reza Shajarian once censored a face value approach to Rumi.
In particular, he attacked sincere but ignorant lovers who idolize Rumi by prostrating themselves at his tomb much like a religious show of devotion.
Yet, the worshipers, Shajarian lamented, seem to be unmindful of Rumi’s message. “We are beyond blaspheme and religion, and superior to peace and grudge,” Shajarian quoted a line from the poet, expressing sadness that Rumi’s cause cannot be met by such ignorant rituals.
As a reality check, even Rumi’s geographical whereabouts have been bearing the brunt of superficial approaches to what he believed in centuries ago.
The world in general, and Syria and Aleppo in particular, have been seeing the worst makings of extremism and intolerance.
Priceless Aleppo heritage gone for ever after extremist attacks
Rumi seems still to be a pioneer nine centuries since he lived and expressed his ideas.
Exhausted by all the havoc that extremism and intolerance have wrought, many today wish for a land “beyond all notions of right and wrong.”
Rumi shows to have grasped something that people today need to adopt as a pivot on which to relate to each other.