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Rumi and humanity


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MAN has been trying to find meaning in human life since time eternal. Every human being attempts to associate some meaning with his or her life.

However, historically, some individuals have developed very powerful concepts of humanity and moved millions of people by articulating their thoughts creatively.

The eminent Sufi and Persian poet Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) has been one such figure who has not only given an inspirational meaning to human life but has also expressed his thoughts through poetry and inspired countless people across centuries.

Rumi, who was born in Balkh (present-day Afghanistan) and later settled in Konya (present-day Turkey), has been highly admired for his poetic thoughts and expressions. His poetry has not only been widely received in Muslim societies but has also been appreciated in other cultures. For example, he was declared one of the most popular poets in the US in 2007.

Though all of Rumi’s work is admirable, his famous Mathnawi 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 focusing on Islam, Rumi developed some universal concepts of human life.

Rumi has started his Mathnawi 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 human beings. To love the Creator one needs first to learn how to love His creation, ie human beings. Without loving mankind, one cannot achieve divine inspiration. In short, according to Rumi, love for God and His creation is crucial for human salvation.

While Rumi says that all human beings are from the same origin, in this physical world they appear diverse in many ways. He states that all the conflicts and polarisation 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 must delve deeper into the soul in order to find the commonality of humanity which bonds all of mankind.

Rumi has given interesting examples of how contextual differences such as language, culture, etc pose challenges in understanding simple things that cause conflicts between people.

For example, in one of his parables he narrates that once four travellers — a Persian, a Turk, an Arab and a Greek — were on a journey when the pangs of hunger overcame them. Upon discovering they possessed a single coin between them they argued about how to spend it. Each one wanted to buy grapes, but kept referring to the fruit in their own respective language, causing disagreement.

A linguist was passing by and heard their argument. He understood their problem and asked the men to give him the coin so he could satisfy their desires. Taking the coin, the linguist went to a nearby fruit shop, bought four bunches of grapes and then gave each of the men a bunch.

It was then that the four realised they were arguing over the same thing, but had been unable to express themselves due to linguistic differences.

Rumi asserts that understanding each other requires openness and humility. He discourages scholastic vanity which leads to stagnation. Rather, the great sage prefers the disciple to explore commonalities among people.

According to Rumi, negative thoughts that lead to hatred, violence, greed, etc hinder the human potential to actualise. Therefore, negative thoughts, considered the darkness of the human heart, need to be removed in order to understand the inner meaning of human life.

Today, many Muslim societies such as Pakistan are facing acute challenges in terms of polarisation and violence. Sometimes, such conflicts are the result of diverse religious interpretations. It is observed that at times diverse views are less accepted and tolerated, and therefore conflict and violence grip society.

In this 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.

Rumi’s thoughts are important for different reasons. Firstly, they provide bonding threads for human relations based on love. Second, they encourage intra- and interfaith harmony. Third, they provide a sense of dignity to humanity by considering all humans to be from the same origin, ie divinity. Furthermore, his thoughts also offer a base for the concept of human equality. To promote the thoughts of Rumi in our society requires conscious efforts at multiple levels. For instance the media, being an influential social institution, needs to develop programmes that promote the diverse literature by eminent scholars who encourage harmony and peace.

Secondly, the curriculum of schools, particularly the madressahs, needs to include different content to enhance tolerance for diverse views.

In sum, Rumi’s poetry contains powerful concepts related to the value of human life and humanity. His thoughts can be instrumental in creating peace and harmony in our society. There is thus a dire need to promote such literature which advocates harmony and cohesion between people and societies.

The writer is an educator.

Comments (37) Closed

Baloch Jun 08, 2013 02:18am

Nothing can be more plain and authentic on the issue of human differences and their solution through humanistic modalities than Rumi's "simple to understand allegorical refernces" in his poetry.However,because of our rush to settle into our good for nothing times,we have lost touch with the nectar of human life that lies buried in the recesses of our heart.Perhaps,Rumi can help us dig it .

aamir Jun 08, 2013 03:28am

IF only we have the mindset to accept anything decent and moderate, we would gain so much from Rumi

Brig (Retd) Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq PhD Persian liteature Jun 07, 2013 12:06pm
We were lucky to have read his Matnvi and Diwan e Shams tabriz and memorised a reasonable part of his poetry. Our days were such that we were expected to read good books out of our curriculum and we all knew Farsi, at least in its literary sense. We understood Rumi through the song of his flute (bang e Ney), which was cut from the jungle of boboos and was crying to reunite its origin. The cry and longing led to eternal love and harmony. Rumi's Ishq and purity of mind was our real force. Iqbal has suggested to the youth to follow Rumi in true sense and learn the dance of hearts from him in his last verses of Javid Namah, which was his master piece. Iqbal asks us to read Rumi and imbibe his ideas and love.
Hassan Dainik Jun 07, 2013 12:13pm
While Rumi says that all human beings are from the same origin, in this physical world they appear diverse in many ways. He states that all the conflicts and polarisation among human beings are because of focusing only on the physical aspect of human life,,,,,,,,,, Love this statment. We look only at the physical appearence of poeple not their intro-beauty........
peace Jun 07, 2013 12:39pm
that's why you have restlessness and destruction all over!
Fawad Jun 07, 2013 05:33pm
Dr. D. Prithipaul! Foundation of Pakistan was the non-reciprocity of our mystical love from other non-Muslim fellows of the sub-continent. Actually, no one can clap with one hand and such was the Muslims' situation in united India. Alas your scholarly study has not yet revealed the facts to your greatself. Let us pray that we are able to analyze things in totality.
Yasin Jun 07, 2013 11:47am
We have Quiad-e-Azam and Iqbal in our syllabi. That is more than enough if you understand their message.
Cynical Jun 07, 2013 11:49am
Rumi: yes. Iqbal; I doubt.
Syed A Jamal Jun 07, 2013 11:02am
Very nice article. Schools do need to include poets like Rumi in the curriculum. However, most education systems in the world now focus on producing workers, not thinkers. The, we have a society developing where computers, video games, TV, etc. are all over the place and children don't read that much. People are working too much; as nuclear families become the norm all over the world, kids hardly see elders or others; there is less incentive to specialize with smaller families and busy lives. The result is less reading,less enlightenment, and more conflict.
Ariana Jun 07, 2013 05:38pm
Ishq an bashad keh khalq ra darad shad Ishq on bashad keh daad shaadiha daad Zadah ast mara modar ishq az awal Sad rahmat wa afreen bar on modar bad. Love is what gives joy to all creation. Love is what gives joy to giving joy. I was born of mother love in the beginning. To that mother, joyous thanks and endless blessing. The essence of Rumi cannot be understood by people that practice ritualistic Islam devoid of any humanity towards Muslims from other sects, ethnic groups and non Muslims.
Javed Jun 07, 2013 10:37am
Rumi and Iqbal both wrote about the value and importance of humanity and human relations. Iqbal was also impressed and appreciated Rumi's writings. Rumi is one of greatest writers of all times. We should read all great writers of all religions as their message is for betterment of the whole humanity.
Javed Jun 07, 2013 10:38am
Rumi and Iqbal both wrote about the value and importance of humanity and human relations. Iqbal was also impressed and appreciated Rumi's writings. Rumi is one of greatest writers of all times. We should read all great writers of all religions as their message is for betterment of the whole humanity.
Saddy Butt Jun 07, 2013 06:16pm
very inforamative and hit to the realtiy.
Brig (Retd) Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq Jun 07, 2013 06:36pm
Yes I have read a lot about that and am aware of Iqbal's understanding of Rumi.
iqbal carrim Jun 07, 2013 05:46am
It is sad that although the Muslim world has had poets of the calibre of Rumi,their works have hardly penetrated the curriculum of their schools, "particularly the madrassahs to include different content to enhance tolerance for diverse views. "We have shut ourselves in ivory towers and our prejudices of societies other than our own fail to let us appreciate positive qualities in others.Incidentally the famous fables of the well known French poet, La Fontaine (1621 - 1695) also drew inspirations on Rumi (1207-1273).
Farooq Abdullah Jun 07, 2013 07:02am
Rumi,the voice of every age. Very unfortunate to not have thoughts and concepts like of him, in our syllabi.
Tahir Jun 07, 2013 04:58am
Lovely article. How on earth can we emulate Rumi's thoughts when majority of the Pakistani nation has become so radicalized to the extent that they are unwilling to bond between themselves, the intra- and interfaith harmony is a non-entity and the sense of dignity to humanity by considering all humans to be from the same origin is cruelly shattered with the use of the sword and a holier than thou mindset.
BRR Jun 07, 2013 03:43am
Rumi would not last 1 day in today's Pakistan - he would have 5 fatwas declaring him to be an apostate and a blasphemer, and he would be hung from the neatest pole.
Irrfaan Akhtaar Jun 07, 2013 04:43am
We dont want rumi we have our iqbal
Mohammad Yamin Jun 07, 2013 09:06pm
Rumi's poetry is relevant in the present day Pakistan in the grip of conflicts and intolerance.
mak Jun 07, 2013 02:59am
Rumi and Iqbal can save the word from falling off the cliff .
JP Gupta Jun 07, 2013 02:49am
Awesome example... Rumi's thought holds so much relevenve in these troubles times. All religions lead to same God.. so fighting between religions is like the four travellers fighting for the same grape by calling him by different names.
Rocky Jun 07, 2013 02:36am
Even though Rumi lived some eight centuries ago, his thoughts are so pertinent for our time. Unfortunately, most of the Islamic world is getting influenced by intolerant exclusivity of Wahbism.
Dr. D. Prithipaul Jun 07, 2013 04:34pm
In 1932 the Rector of Al Azhar declared: "Sufism is dead!" In fact Rumi's mystical ideas, or any form of mysticism, never formed part of Islamic orthodoxy. This is true also of the Christian faith. Pope Benedict XVI expressly rejects mystical experience for its being contrary to the central teaching of Christian orthodoxy. For centuries more than a millenium, so long before Rumi and mystics like Hallaj and others, Hindus, Buddhists, Jainas had been placing the mystical experience (moksha, nirvana, kaivalya) as the finality of human existence. That was undoubtedly the main reason why Islam has always been - as it still is, even in the purpose for which Dawn was established as the main organ of the Muslim League - on the attack against these Harbi forms of spirituality. Rumi is antithetical to the thinking and action of Jinnah and Iqbal. The Minar-e-Pakistan is a permanent consecration of this anti-mystic fundamentalism.
farhan Jun 07, 2013 01:54am
Good approach towards success for a nation.
BRR Jun 08, 2013 12:07am
Jinnah was completely the reverse of Rumi - he could not even con template living with hindus around him. Rumi was not like that.
BRR Jun 08, 2013 12:10am
Rumi was not a muslim, he was a mystic.
Yeswecan Jun 08, 2013 12:42am
Have you? Just keep it simple. If I love my Creator, I would love everything which He has created!
Anwaar Huk Jun 08, 2013 02:12am
With all due respect, I don't know where you get your concocted information from? Mawlana Rumi, along with being a great Sufi mystic, poet, philosopher, was a Hanafi jurist (expert in the Hanafi methodology/school of Islamic jurisprudence) and so was his father. In fact, contrary to the misconceptions today due to lack of thorough study of Rumi's life, Rumi was very particular about following the Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace)'s outward traditions (prayer, fasting, charity, general habits, etc...aka called "Sunna" in Arabic) and his methodology, like all Sufi methodologies, are solidified, formalized patterns of spiritual exercises (alongside mystical experiences) in order to get intimate with Allah Most High (i.e. following the inner realities of the Prophet's message). Also, majority of Sufi saints in the Islamic tradition were very particular about following the Sharia (in its various forms) as they deemed this to be essential and constant in one's spiritual path. Pick up any well-researched biography of major proponents of Islamic mysticism and you will see their full-fledged loyalty to Allah and His Messenger. In fact, many Sufis were themselves commentators on the Quran (like Rumi), jurists, administrators, linguists, historians, etc. and were very much a part of the larger Muslim and human society. Much of what you see in the form of the Islamic tradition today in its various forms in different countries and cultures is a result of the powerful and positive impact of Sufism.
Anwaar Huk Jun 08, 2013 02:18am
I agree. May Allah bless the Sufis for showing others how to emulate the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his blessed companions and honorable family, while allowing each to find their own inner, comfort zone with God. After all, the great Sufi masters were reflections of the light, the mercy to creation, the beloved of Allah Ta'ala (sal'Allahu alayhi wa salam).
Anwaar Huk Jun 08, 2013 02:14am
Maybe what you're saying is true. However, Maulana Rumi could put many of these religious groups in his pocket. Along with being an expert in Islamic mysticism, it's a well-known fact that he was also a Hanafi jurist and so was his father. If anything, he himself was probably more qualified than many short-sighted "scholars" today in issuing fatwa!
Hamza Jun 08, 2013 10:55am
See Islam discourages sufiism not because its about spirituality but because its an extreme....if you look at the true message of islam its not about it in terms of violence or pure spirituality or pure materialism....any form of extremism is discouraged in strong words....moderation is the is the main focus and idleness is not allowed....islam allows you to take your worldly and spiritual affairs hand in hand without letting one compromise the other.....Maulana Rumi draws heavily from the teachings of peace and harmony and no discrimination in any form is the message of islam....The Quran says that - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew all people. And if anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people. Quran 5:32 So the only reason Islam never encouraged or supported sufiism was to minimize idleness and to utilize time properly.
El Cid Jun 08, 2013 12:34pm
Christianity is based on the mystical experiences of the 12 apostles who saw Jesus after his Passion of Cross and began not only to believe but were so convinced of this mystical experience as to willingly suffer and die for it. Note the total change in St. Peter's personality. And the vision of St Paul on the road to Damascus. And dream of St James, the brother of Jesus. These are all mystical...a rich mystical life was the norm. Pope Benedict was an anomaly, and controversial. His age was not the only reason for his removal. Popes don't resign. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. In 1294, Pope Celestine V resigned after only five months, preferring the simple life of a monk to the majesty of being pope. No other pope resigned in 2000years. READING AND RECITING the Noble Qur'an is a mystical experience on its own as any one who does so at dawn and in the small hours of the night, as is recommended in Qur
El Cid Jun 08, 2013 12:46pm
No. That is why we have Pakistan as a shelter and a home...away from the death and destruction that stalked us before. Thank to God for Iqbal, and Jinnah for Pakistan.
Dustonpath Jun 07, 2013 02:05pm
Did you know Iqbal's poetry and thought had tremendous influence from Rumi. Check out the history!
Nasir Jamal Khan Jun 07, 2013 03:28pm
@Farooq Abdullah - My freindly advice: Do not just learn what it's in the syllabi; Do not wait for certain knowledge/subject to be part of a curriculum. Go out and learn it, no matter how difficult. Once learnt; Act on it and teach it to other.
Fawad Jun 07, 2013 03:50pm
When Love suddenly taps on your window, run and let it in but first shut the door of your reason. Even the smallest hint chases love away like smoke that drowns the freshness ... of the morning breeze. To reason Love can only say, the way is barred, you can't pass through but to the Lover it offers a hundred blessings. Before the mind decides to take a step Love has reached the seventh heaven. Before the mind can figure how Love has climbed the holy mountain. I must stop this talk now and let Love speak from its nest of silence! - Rumi?