The two most important days in life are the day when you were born and the day you find out why. Every human being attempts to associate some meaning with their life. However, some individuals have developed very broad concepts of humanity, in which the meaning of one’s life is inseparable from the lives of others. The eminent thirteen-century Persian Sufi poet Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi was one such individual.
Rumi, who was born in Balkh (present-day Afghanistan) and later settled in Konya (present-day Turkey), has been highly admired for his poetic expression and philosophical thought. His poetry has not only been widely received in Muslim societies but has also been appreciated in other cultures. The great poet was declared one of the most popular poets in the US in 2007. Though all of Rumi’s work is admirable, his famous Masnavi has received perhaps the greatest attention. The powerful allegorical and metaphorical expressions within it have transcended time and context. Even after the passage of several centuries his poetic message is still considered relevant.
Building on the spiritual tradition of the Abrahamic faiths, particularly Islam, Rumi developed some universal concepts of human life. He started his Masnavi with the story of a flute symbolising the human soul. According to Rumi the human spirit was part of the divine soul before it descended to this world. Because of its separation from the divine soul, the human soul feels restless and is eager to seek reunion with its origin. Rumi asserts that for reunification with its origin, the human soul needs to develop a strong relationship with God and fellow human beings. To love the Creator one needs first to learn to love His creation. Without loving mankind, one cannot achieve divine inspiration. Rumi says: ‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’
Rumi says that all human beings are from the same origin but in this physical world they appear diverse in many ways. He states that all the conflicts among human beings are because of focusing only on the physical aspect of human life. He stresses that if human beings want to avoid conflict and create harmony in society they need to accept the physical differences and delve deeper into the soul in order to find the commonality of humanity which binds all of mankind. Even Rumi at one place in Masnavi says, ‘The outward meaning of the Koran is like Adam’s body, For its semblance is visible but its soul is hidden.’
Rumi at another place in the Masnavi gives the famous parable of four travellers, to draw home the point that contextual differences of cultures and languages can be a stumbling block for human relationships. The story goes as follows: ‘Attending merely to names and outward forms, rather than to the spirit and essence of religion, leads men into error and delusion. Four persons, a Persian, an Arab, a Turk, and a Greek, were travelling together when they received a present of a dirhem. The Persian said he would buy “angur” with it, the Arab said he would buy “inab,” while the Turk and the Greek were for buying “uzum” and “astaphil”, respectively. Now all these words mean one and the same thing, viz. “grapes”, but owing to their ignorance of each other’s languages, they fancied they each wanted to buy something different, and accordingly a violent quarrel arose between them. At last a wise man who knew all their languages came and explained to them that they were all wishing for one and the same thing.’
Rumi asserts that understanding requires openness and humility. He discourages scholastic vanity which leads to stagnation. Rather, the great sage urges the disciple to explore commonalities among people. In today’s situation there is a dire need to highlight the literature that promotes peace and harmony in society. In this regard Rumi’s powerful poetry can be relevant to respond to the challenges of violence and polarisation.
To conclude, I am reminded of Allama Iqbal’s famous verse from Aqwam-e-Mashriq:
“It is time that I reopen the tavern of Rumi
The Sheikhs of Kaaba are lying drunk in the country-yard of the church”
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