- a combination of historical fact and romantic legend
Jelaluddin Rumi was born in Balkh, Afghanistan, a part of the Persian Empire, on September 30, 1207.
Rumi’s father, Bahauddin Walad, besides being a theologian and jurist, was a mystic. After the family fled the Mongol invasion of Afghanistan – to Konya in Turkey – he became the sheik of the dervish learning community there until his death.
At his father’s death, the title of Sheik passed to his son, and Rumi, already renowned as a scholar, artist, and theologian while still in his twenties, assumed his father’s duties and responsibilities to the community. This was a period of maturing and growing when many questions were asked by the young seeker as he yearned to understand the deeper meaning of his life.
Besides studying with his father’s students, who taught him about his father’s inner life, Rumi also studied the mystics Sanai and Attar.
Until 1244, Rumi led a typically normal life for a religious scholar of that era. It was in the late Fall of that year that he met the man who was to change his life forever. This was a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz. Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East looking for someone who could “endure his company”.
In one version of the meeting, Rumi was riding his donkey through the marketplace, when a man stepped in front of him and shouted, “Who is greater – Muhammad or Bestami?” In the exchange that followed Rumi became so overwhelmed by the presence before him that he fainted and fell from his donkey.
As the relationship matured between Shams and Rumi, they became inseparable, spending months together beyond human needs, relating together in mystical conversation – called “sobhet”. During this period Rumi’s disciples were all but forgotten by their teacher. They became deeply displeased and extremely jealous. Shams sensed trouble from this quarter, and felt that he needed to disappear from time to time – for his own safety and Rumi’s too. It is reported that during one of these disappearances, Rumi’s poetry writing and mystic whirling began.
After things would cool down, Shams would reappear and the episodes of being lost in each other’s company would resume. On one of these reappearances, Shams and Rumi fell at each other’s feet upon seeing each other. This was a telling moment in their relationship – remembering that the first time they met; Rumi fell in a faint at Shams feet. This time they bowed down to each other. What had begun as a master/disciple relationship had dissolved into pure loving friendship.
One winter night Shams, who was living with Rumi and his household, answered a knock at the back door. Shams disappeared, never to be seen again.
This disappearance caused in Rumi what may be called a spiritual implosion, an event in which, in the absence of the beloved, the lover falls “into himself” and disappears into his own emptiness. It is from this oceanic emptiness that the drop that was Rumi became the ocean – and his poetry a reflection within it.
An excerpt from one of his poems perfectly expresses this state:
“Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.”
The union became complete. Rumi fell into the ocean that was Shams. Out of that experience came a huge wave of poetry that Rumi called, The Works of Shams of Tabriz.
Rumi and Shams had merged, and in time Rumi found another companion. The story goes like this…
One day in Konya, after Sham's had disappeared, Rumi was walking down a merchant street through a market. Suddenly he heard a goldsmith tapping his jeweler's hammer upon an small anvil.
The rhythmic sound of that tapping sent Rumi into an ecstasy, where he spontaneously began to whirl – the ecstatic whirling of the Sufi dervish. Legend says that he continued to whirl for forty-eight hours without stopping. From then onwards the goldsmith named Saladin Zarkub became Rumi's companion and the “Friend” to whom Rumi addressed his poems during that period. After Saladin’s death, Husan Chelebi, Rumi's longtime scribe, became the “Friend” and the one who wrote down The Mathnawi, Rumi's vast and mysterious masterwork. In the 12 years before his death, Rumi dictated the six volumes to Husam. He died on December 17, 1273.
It is said that the leaders of all the religious groups attended and perticipated in Rumi's funeral. The Christians of the time compared Rumi Jesus. The Jews, to Moses. And to the followers of Islam, Rumi was revered almost as was Mohammed