Rumi’s profound thoughts defy translation: scholar

October 30, 2007

TEHRAN -- Mohammad H. Faghfoory, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University believes the majority of English translations of the works of Rumi to be unsatisfactory.

Speaking at the international congress held to commemorate the 800th birth anniversary of Molana Jalal ad-Din Rumi at the IRIB International Conference Hall on Sunday, he talked about how the poetry of Rumi is popular in the West despite the fact that translations often inadequately convey the great spiritual treasure which lies buried in the original verses.
He remarked, “In the United States the works of Rumi are reviewed from three points of view -- academic studies are performed by poets and literary figures, research is undertaken by certain groups which support the mystical heritage of Rumi and there also exists a commercial approach towards his works.
“The academic circles of Western society have been familiar with Rumi’s poetry for the past century. However, the various translations that exist are totally different from each other,” he explained.
He went on to say that the depth of mystical meaning in Rumi’s poems renders translation of their concepts extremely difficult which results in the spiritual ideas contained in the original works being inadequately conveyed.
“In addition, most of the translators were either unfamiliar with the Persian language or made use of other translations together with the help of Persian-speaking assistants,” Faghfoory remarked.
He named the works of Coleman Barks to be the best translations of Rumi’s poetry currently existing. Barks has translated a large quantity of Rumi’s work and has been a student of Sufism since 1977.
“The Essential Rumi”, “The Drowned Book”, “Rumi: The Book of Love”, “The Soul of Rumi”, and “The Juice” are works undertaken by Barks containing his writings and translations.
The Rumi congress which began in Tehran on Sunday will travel to Tabriz on Tuesday and Wednesday, and will culminate on Thursday in Khoy, the resting place of Shams.
* Rumi believed holism achieves true wisdom: scholar
Professor of Philosophy from the University of Isfahan Mehdi Dehbashi made a speech on the second day of the Rumi congress.
Speaking during the “Wisdom and Philosophy” session, he discussed the theory of the unity of contradictions in Rumi’s ontology. He remarked that in the thinking of Rumi, true wisdom is obtained through holism.
He noted also that Rumi believed pluralism to be essential for unity.
* American expert discusses satire in Rumi’s works
American Rumi expert Walter Stone, participating in the Rumi congress, discussed satire in the works of Rumi.
He noted that satire is the major technique used by Rumi in his poetry.
* Rumi was highly interested in music: Iranian scholar
Professor of the University of Tehran Tofiq Sobhani made a speech on poetry and music in sama performances.
He said that Rumi was extremely interested in music, adding “Rumi’s interest in music led to the filling of the entire city of Konya with melodies, the pleasing sound of which reverberated everywhere.”
* Man finds true image in Rumi’s works: Tajik expert
Tajik expert on Rumi Mirza Mirahmad made a speech about the perfect man in Rumi’s Masnavi Manavi.
He said that even if the perfect man is mentioned in the poetry of other masters, man can only find his true image in the works of Rumi.
He explained that the major theme of Rumi’s masterpiece, the Masnavi Manavi, is the relationship between man and God.
* Rumi’s unfavorable view towards philosophy
“Molana Jalal ad-Din Rumi had a limited knowledge of philosophy,” Nasrollah Purjavadi, philosophy professor at the University of Tehran said during the session on wisdom and philosophy held on the sidelines of the congress.
Studies reveal that Sufis, including Rumi, harbored a chronic dislike for philosophy since the 11th century AD, when a division arose between Greek philosophy and the wisdom of the Quran.
Although Rumi alludes to some philosophical notions in his works, he condemned philosophy in “Fihi Ma Fih” he concluded.
* Resemblance between the thoughts of Rumi and those of Eckhart
Shiraz University’s philosophy professor Qasem Kakaii made a speech on the similarity between Rumi’s ideas and the thoughts of Meister Eckhart (1260– 1328), the German theologian, philosopher and mystic.
He remarked that the Nothingness Theory is highlighted in their thoughts and ideology. He went on to say that some scholars consider this theory to be a play on words.
Kakaii mentioned that others believe that the Nothingness Theory originated from the philosophy of Parmenides and led to the contemporary philosophy of Existentialism and Nihilism.
* Rumi is a proficient spiritual advisor: German professor
Irmgard Payne professor of sociology at RWTN Aachen University made a speech elaborating on the fondness of non-Muslim Germans for Islamic mysticism.
Payne mentioned that Rumi opposed political dogmatism and advocated that love and spirituality should have dominion over all countries and therefore he is a proficient spiritual advisor for all countries in the modern world.
The professor also highlighted the necessity of dialogue between civilizations, particularly between the West and Islam.
* Art embodied in the poetry of Rumi
Rumi’s works are intimately linked with art, the secretary of the Iranian Academy of Arts Bahman Namvar-Motlaq said in a speech during the second day of the congress on Monday.
“Rumi has utilized artistic emblems and symbols in his poetry in order to convey his ideas. Thus it can be observed that he had a close relationship with art,” he explained.
“To comprehend this affiliation, it’s sufficient to know that his most important work, the Masnavi, begins and ends with art i.e. it commences with ‘The Song of the Reed’ and comes to an end with a poem about a painting,” he noted.
* Resurgence of Rumi and Hegelian philosophy
Ali-Asghar Mosleh professor at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabai University, participating in the congress, delivered a lecture on the theme “The Resurgence of Rumi and the End of Hegelian History”.
“According to Hegel, humans have experienced all cultural and ideological developments and events in the course of European civilization and elements belonging to premodernist cultures are no longer perceptible. Consequently, the world will never again witness the revival of traditions and elements observable in the premodernist eras” he said.
Mosleh rejected Hegel’s ideas by referring to the rise of global interest in the thoughts of Rumi and the abundance of commemoration ceremonies which are now underway in the world for this Persian poet and Muslim mystic.
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