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.