Mevlana Jalal al- Din Rumi is one of the most influential Islamic mystics of all times. It is no surprise that even seven hundred years after his death; he remains to be the best selling poet in North America. His poetry reflects the teachings of Islam and his opinions on various matters such as faith, prayer, love, free will etc. are assembled in a book called “The signs of the Unseen”. Occasionally, commentators dissociate Rumi poetry’s from Islam but the fact is that Rumi’s entire writings are inspired from the Quran and sayings of Prophet (PBUH) and represent the essence of Islam.
Rumi sheds light on many important aspects of Islam and that is the reason that many writers and authors consider his writings to be the second best source of Islamic concepts and traditions after Quran. For instance, Rumi explains the concept of prayer stating that “There is no prayer without the presence of the heart”. Prayer does not just mean performing a set of actions five times a day but the soul of prayer requires absolute absorption and unconsciousness when one is subjected to God. Without that, the purpose of the prayer won’t be fulfilled.
On another occasion, Rumi stated that the faith in God surpasses every form of prayer as the prayer is “obligatory only five times a day but faith is uninterrupted. One can be excused from prayer but cannot be excused from faith”. To lay more emphasis on the importance of faith, Rumi expressed that the faith without prayer brings reward but prayer without faith is purposeless. Rumi also reflected the idea that the faith does not only mean to have a belief in God but one should also never be despair of God as “Hope is the first step to salvation:.
A true Muslim should consider his self helpless at all times and subject himself to God’s will. In the “Fundamentals of Rumi’s thoughts”, Sufik Can provides a beautifully written and skillfully layered account of Rumi’s life and his teachings. To provide an additional explanation of Rumi’s views on faith, he expresses that Rumi had an abundance of divine love for God in him. His patience and endurance in terms of fasting were at an amazing level. Not only he preached the teachings of Islam through his poetry but also spent his life as a role model for all Muslims.
His life depicted unshakable faith in God. Furthermore, Can mentions that Rumi performed his prayers with an open heart forgetting about himself and escaping his imaginary existence. Sipehsalar notes that “If I were to describe one tenth of Rumi’s ecstasy, love and divine attraction, it wouldn’t fit in this book”. Another important theme that is consistent in the “Signs of the unseen” is the annihilation of the ego as the only path to enlightenment and love. Rumi says that “With God, there is no room for two egos”.
In order to become a true follower, one has to give up his ego and subject himself to God. Rumi’s writing style is such that he provides multiple anecdotes along with a concept to enhance comprehension and perception. In this particular case, he puts forth the example of the inability of two birds to fly when they are tied together. However, if a dead bird is tied to a living one, it will be able to fly since there is no duality. Likewise, man cannot attain eternal love and spiritual satisfaction unless he gives up his ego to follow the commands of the God whole heartedly.
It is the ego that prevented Satan from appreciating God’s omnipotence; it is the ego that prevented him from submitting when such an opportunity was offered to him and it the ego that stands between most of us and redemption to God’s kingdom. Can states a complementary explanation to the concept of the annihilation of ego by stating that most people have limited understanding to what is meant by “Being with God”. Only by struggle and endurance, one can find his way to “ittihad” until he comes to a point where his “own-ness” is eliminated from him.
One of the recurring themes in the “Signs of the unseen” is the transparency of heart that results in the love for humanity. Rumi advises that an individual should always consider his/herself imperfect and repent for the numerous errors that we commit in our daily lives. “Love persists as long as reproach persists”. Rumi describes a common reality that when we see a fault in other fellow human beings, we get offended by it but we don’t mind the bad qualities present in ourselves.
Rumi states that “The believer is a mirror to the believer” indicating that one should get rid of his own fault because what distresses him in another is really in himself. Here, Rumi fosters the idea that we should purify our own selves, forgive other’s mistakes and have a love for entire humanity. Beyond just preaching about the love for all humanity, Rumi’s biography portrays that the realization of love was the turning point of his own life. Can states that Rumi unified the love for God with the love for humanity.
His intense love for his companion, Shams-e Tabriz, led him to believe that to love humans is to love God. Love is the epitome of all sentiments, whose most notable characteristic is its ability to transform and change such that the lover begins to resemble the beloved. Shams grasped Rumi’s understanding of religion and infused it with a love and devotion that elevated him from a saint to a philosopher. His heart engulfed his systematic, controlled mind with the message of humanity and oneness of God.
His scholarly ideas were replaced with ecstatic soliloquies of God, love and humanity. The indelible mark of this change began filtering through his actions, evidenced in his fanatic seclusions and in his poetry which continues to enchant readers across a palette of all religions and cultures today. The greatness of his spiritual love can be illuminated by the fact that Rumi even forgave those who drove Shams away as his heart was transparent of all vices. One of the most important themes that Rumi repeatedly discusses in his book is the purpose of man on earth.
He explains that there are three kinds of creatures in the universe. First, there are angels who, due to their intelligence, are obedient, worshipful and constantly mindful of God. The second are beasts which are pure lust and ignorant. Man is the intermediate of the two and is regarded as the best as God has granted him decisive intelligence. The sole purpose of man’s creation is to praise God and follow his commands. On the contrary, man tends to misuse his will power and his attraction to the manifestations of the world leads to his demise.
As guidance towards the right path is clearly defined and separated from the wrong way, man’s intelligence naturally encourages him to follow the right course, and avoid the wrong one. However, the worst enemy of mankind, the devil (shaitan) constantly instigates his desires and emotions to run out of control by clouding his intellectual faculties, and natural inclination towards the truth. He thus makes him blind to the consequences of his actions, and leads him astray from the right path. Rumi advises that human beings should try their best and constantly repent for their mistakes as it is God, at the end of the day, who provides guidance.
Sufik Can provides a complementary explanation about human’s free will saying that the concept of beauty leaves an impression and intrigues the man. However, Rumi advises that one should always remember that all beauty and beautiful refer to God who is most beautiful. Rumi’s discourses are an essential component of Islamic literature which tends to educate Muslim readers who are skeptical of Islamic mysticism (Sufism). Rumi was not only a Muslim saint and a poet but an evolutionary philosopher as well.
He had an enormous affinity and veneration for the profound wisdom contained in the verses of Holy Quran and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). His poetry is an overwhelming treasure of insight and inspiration revealing the depths of Islam and explains how Rumi’s mysticism was firmly rooted in Islam (in contrast to the popularized Rumi books which minimize and avoid Islamic context, references and terms in his poetry). He was strongly devoted to Islam and the anecdotes mentioned in his poetry indicate how Islam is a great religion of compassion, wisdom and moderation (in contrast to stereotypes about fanaticism).
It is extremely difficult to narrate all the thoughts of Rumi but it is very important to remember that he maintains the teachings of Islam as the foundation of his works and most of his poems are a result of his attainment of deeper levels of understanding of the teachings of Islam. However, some aspects of his poetry might arise some misunderstandings and confusions for readers as, for instance, the metaphors of relating to “wine” and “drunkenness”.
When speaking of wine drinking, Rumi does not refer to alcohol (forbidden in Islam) but the experience of spiritual bliss, divine grace and spiritual ecstasy. The “wine cup” symbolizes the grace bestowing aspect of God that fills the soul’s empty cup with the blessing of spiritual love. Therefore, it is essential that one shouldn’t take a very literal approach to translating Rumi’s poetry but consider it in the perspective of Islamic tradition and his life in which embodies the Islamic traditions to the fullest.