This new anthology of Mawlana Rumi’s teachings, freshly translated and supplemented with commentaries, aims to introduce readers to the personality and teachings of a great Islamic scholar and teacher.
Besides illustrating the traditional basis of Rumi’s teachings, this Treasury displays his unique genius as one of the world’s greatest religious writers, whose voice speaks as clearly and compellingly today as in the 13th century.
‘Everyone has, in their view, become my close friend, but they have not sought out the secrets within me.’
The seventh century AH (thirteenth century CE) was a time of immense turmoil in Central and Western Asia. The cataclysm of the Mongol invasion and
conquest, a turning point in history, had as great an impact on these particular regions as on any other. The Seljuks of Rumi, the ruling dynasty in much of Asia Minor, often suffered from weak governance and internecine conflict. It was part of the Sufis’ mission to try to improve the lot of ordinary people by influencing the rulers in the direction of compassion and fair taxation and rule. Here both Mawlana Jalal al-Din and his son and successor Sultan Walad played an important role.
Part 1: The Religious Scholar
Jalal al-Din Muhammad ibn Muhammad was born in 604/1207, either in the town of Vakhsh (in today’s Tajikistan) or possibly in Balkh, Afghanistan. His background was learned, Persian-speaking, and Sunni. His father, Baha’ al-Din Walad, was a religious scholar and mystic whose Meditations, distinctive (and sometimes daring) personal meditations rich in imagery, clearly influenced his son. In about 619/1219, probably because of the threat of invasion by the Mongols, the family travelled west to Baghdad, then performed Hajj. Like many who had emigrated from the East, they then proceeded to Asia Minor, living in various towns for some years before finally settling in Konya. By this time Jalal al-Din and his wife Gawhar Khatun, whom he had married at the age of eighteen, had two sons.
In 628/1231, Baha’ al-Din died and was succeeded in his teaching post by Jalal al-Din, now an expert in the Islamic sciences. The following year, Burhan al-Din Muhaqqiq Tirmidhi, a former disciple of Baha’ al-Din Walad, arrived in Konya to supervise Jalal’s further training. Under the guidance of Burhan, whose Persian discourses are too little known, the young scholar travelled the spiritual path of Sufism, graduated from the hard school of asceticism (zuhd) and spiritual retreat (khalwa), and enhanced his learning and experience through two periods of study in Syria. While there he encountered some of the leading Sufis of the day and became familiar with Arabic poetry. This period ended with Burhan al-Din’s death in 638/1240. Jalal al-Din was by now a respected scholar and preacher in Konya, in Sufism as well as in Hanafi fqih and other religious sciences. In time he gained influence among the most important political figures of the day. Some came to visit and learn from him, and with others he corresponded.
The Sun of Truth
The event that revolutionised Rumi’s life has since indirectly influenced the lives of multitudes. In 642/1244 a wandering dervish named Shams al-Din Tabrizi arrived in Konya. In their first encounter, Shams showed Jalal al-Din that there were whole realms of knowledge and experience that had been closed to him. Each found that in the other’s company and guidance a door to new spiritual realisation had opened. Intoxicated with this love, Jalal al-Din no longer cared what others thought. The radiance of Shams’s presence was, it seemed to him, barely separable from the radiance of God Himself. Had not the Prophet Jacob suffered inexpressible sorrow and became almost blind from weeping at the loss of his son Joseph, that peerless reflection of Divine Beauty?
Many of those who venerated Jalal al-Din were at a loss to understand the transformation of their master into a man intoxicated with love of the Divine, who composed poetry while turning round and round. Then one day Shams suddenly vanished, fleeing the jealousy of his companion’s disciples. Jalal al-Din was distraught, as we learn from the sources(including poems) in which he pleads with his friend to return. His loyal son Sultan Walad was sent to find him, and eventually brought him back from Damascus to Konya. Not long afterwards, however, Shams disappeared again – this time for good.
Who was this Shams al-Din Tabrizi? Besides the testimony of Rumi’s biographers, his collected sayings have also survived. Shams was an educated man, a Shafi who had studied jurisprudence in depth. It was part of his way as a Sufi to conceal his true nature from others, shunning respectability and diplomatic behaviour. We learn from the Maqalat that the main purpose of Shams’s travels was to find a true Friend of God (Wali Allah), or saint. In Maqala 685 he describes his first meeting with Jalal al-Din Rumi, when Shams questioned him about the Persian Sufi Bayazid Bastami and why he had not found it necessary to say to God, as the Blessed Prophet himself had said, ‘We have not known You as You deserve to be known.’ The Maqalat also reveal how greatly Shams admired Jalal al-Din as a scholar and spiritual figure who possessed qualities that he did not – but that Shams was also a teacher to him
and so the relationship was not of the normal type between master and disciple.
Although the loss of his teacher grieved him, as a spiritual master Mawlana knew well that everything that is worth loving is to be found to perfection in the Divine Beloved. But Shams al-Din had demanded of him everything he had, in order that he transcend the bounds of conventional piety in the quest for complete experiential vision and illumination. What he mourned so eloquently was the loss of that overwhelming inner sunlight, and the companion – a scruffy, boorish impostor in the eyes of many, but for him the Perfect Guide – who had completed his spiritual direction and continually inspired him.
As time passed the impact of the trauma waned. Whatever Shams had essentially represented to him, he now found within himself and in companions like Salah al-Din Zarkub, a simple, pure-hearted goldsmith from the bazaar of Konya; and Husam al-Din Chalabi, a saintly individual who was a faithful and capable helper to his teacher and the chief inspiration of the latter’s masterpiece, the Mathnawi. His equilibrium thus regained, Rumi lived on for over twenty years, supervising the training of disciples and teaching through discourses, letters, and poetry. His death in 672/1273 was mourned not only by Muslims but also by Konya’s large Christian population. The direction of the brotherhood passed into the hands of Husam al-Din, and then to Jalal al-Din’s son Sultan Walad. Founder of what would become the Mawlawi, or Mevlevi, Sufi Order, Walad was also an able administrator and an author; his works include discourses, a Diwan, and some long poems including a valuable account of his father’s life.
This Treasury of Rumi represents, to borrow a Persian expression, ‘a handful from the donkeyload’ – a tiny sample of the immense spiritual riches to be found in the author’s works. Innumerable passages of great beauty and profundity, and even many subject areas, have had to be left out. As for the commentaries, these are neither comprehensive nor faultless. For whatever is worthwhile in them the credit belongs to the compiler’s teachers, to all of whom this little book is humbly dedicated. For whatever is defective, the fault is his alone. Despite its shortcomings, it is hoped that readers will find in this book a source of wisdom, consolation, and inspiration – and food for contemplation.
About the Author
Dr. Muhammad Isa Waley is an editor and translator. He worked for 45 years as curator of Persian and Turkish manuscripts and books, first at the British Museum and then at the British Library. His main research specialisations are Islamic manuscripts and the classical verse and prose literature of Islamic spirituality. The subject of his Ph.D. thesis was the Divan poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi, and he is a member of the Editorial Board of the Mawlana Rumi Review.