Rumi’s eloquent relationship with the natural environment is his signature — his elegantly simple expressions reflect appreciation for both Creation and Creator. And there are so many lessons about both to be learned from this beloved Islamic Scholar, Sufi Master, and brilliantly shining star of timeless poetry:
“Is the sweetness of the cane sweeter
Than the One who made the canefield?
Behind the beauty of the moon is the MoonMaker.
There is Intelligence inside the ocean’s intelligence
Feeding our love like an invisible waterwheel.
There is a skill to making cooking oil from animal fat.
Consider now the knack that makes eyesight
From the shining jelly of your eyes. . .”
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi
The Enigmatic Life of Rumi, 1207 – 1273 CE
Mawlana Jalal al Din Muhammad Rumi was born in Balkh province, which is now the border region of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, where his father was an appointed scholar of Islam. In the time of Rumi’s birth, this area had only recently been conquered by Muslims from the Byzantine, or eastern Roman Empire, and was commonly known as “Rum,” a transliteration of the word “Rome.” People originating here were commonly called “Rumi,” meaning “Roman,” or citizen of Roman-controlled land. In Muslim countries, Jalal al Din is not generally nicknamed “Rumi,” rather he is more commonly known as “Mawlana,” meaning “our Guide,” or “our Master.”
Studying the life of Rumi is as enigmatic today as in his own lifetime. Clearly he was enigmatic to those around him, for Rumi writes about himself:
“Study me as much as you like, you will not know me,
for I differ in a hundred ways from what you see me to be.
Put yourself behind my eyes and see me as I see myself,
for I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see.”
“Truth Lifts the Heart, Like Water Refreshes Thirst.” ― Rumi
In the English speaking world Rumi is currently enjoying huge popularity. He was recently described by the BBC as the “Best-Selling Poet in The U.S.” His works were originally written in Persian and his “Mathnawi,” or “Masnavi,” is considered a crowning glory of the Persian language. Rumi’s writings are very popular internationally and have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages, as they enjoy a timeless influence transcending national and ethnic borders by singing in the language of the soul. His lyrical verses ring with the beauties of the Natural World, with Rumi’s uniquely profound sensitivity to the environment that God created for His creatures:
“Be like the sun for grace and mercy.
Be like the night to cover others’ faults.
Be like running water for generosity.
Be like death for rage and anger.
Be like the Earth for modesty.
Appear as you are.
Be as you appear.”
Rumi’s Early Immigration to the City of Love
When the Mongols invaded Central Asia sometime between 1215 and 1220 CE, Rumi’s father, Baha adDin Walad, with his family and band of disciples, set out westwards. On this journey it is believed that Rumi encountered one of the more famous mystic Persian poets, Attar, in the Persian city of Nishapur. This meeting had a lasting effect on Rumi, then eighteen, providing much inspiration for his works, as he mentions later in a poem,
“Attar has traversed the seven cities of Love — We are still at the turn of one street.”
From Nishapur, Baha adDin and his entourage traveled to Baghdad, meeting many of the Islamic scholars and Sufis of the city. From Baghdad they went to Hijaz and performed the pilgrimage at Mecca. The migrating caravan then passed through Damascus, continuing until finally settling in Karaman. In 1225, Rumi married Gowhar Khatun, producing two sons, Sultan Walad and Ala’ adDin Chalabi. Read how the natural environment clearly influences his poetic expression of marriage and childbirth:
“Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.”
“Patience is not sitting and waiting, it is foreseeing.
It is looking at the thorn and seeing the rose,
Looking at the night and seeing the day.
Lovers are patient and know
That the moon needs time to become full.”
“This is what love does and continues to do.
It tastes like honey to adults and milk to children.”
When his wife died, Rumi remarried and had another son, Amir Alim Chalabi, and a daughter, Malakeh Khatun. There was perhaps no more profound experience suffered by Rumi than the loss of loved ones. This theme cycles and recycles through the life of this famous Sufi Master and accomplished Whirling Dervish.
“You think because you understand ‘one’ you must also understand ‘two,’
Because one and one make two. But you must also understand ‘and’.”
“I will soothe you and heal you,
I will bring you roses.
I too have been covered with thorns.”
Rumi’s Rise to Eminence Begins at Age 25
When Baha adDin died, Rumi, then twenty five, inherited his father’s position as the Islamic Molvi (Islamic teacher). Under Burhan adDin, a former student of Rumi’s father, Rumi practiced Sufism for nine years until Burhan adDin’s death. Rumi’s public life then began in earnest, becoming an Islamic Jurist, issuing judgements and giving sermons in surrounding mosques, while continuing to teach in his madrassa.
Rumi is an excellent Professor of the Natural World, teaching respect for nature by highlighting the wonders of the natural environment. Muslim scholars refer to nature as “the Book of the Universe,” and Islam teaches that this book is entrusted to humans to protect it. Humans must treat nature respectfully and lovingly, by preserving it, not wasting it, and studying it carefully as God’s Viceregents, to recognize and respect the Creator behind the creation. Rumi never allows his students, nor his readers, forget that the universe guides us to higher knowledge of our Creator and Sustainer:
“Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.
From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
Move to an infant drinking milk,
To a child on solid food,
To a searcher after wisdom,
To a hunter of more invisible game.
Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say, ‘The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
And orchards in bloom.
At night there are millions of galaxies,
And in sunlight the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’
You ask the embryo why he, or she,
Stays cooped up in the dark with eyes closed.
Listen to the answer.
‘There is no ‘other world.’
I only know what I’ve experienced.
You must be hallucinating.’”
Rumi’s Final Companion Predicts the Fame of His Master’s Writings
Rumi’s scribe and favorite student, Hussam eChalabi, was the final companion in Rumi’s life. One day Hussam said to Rumi, “If you write a book like the Ilāhīnāma of Sanai or the Mantiq utTayr of Attar, it would become the companion of many troubadours. They would fill their hearts from your work and compose music to accompany it.” Smiling, Rumi showed Hussam a paper with the first eighteen lines of his Masnavi written on it:
“Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,
How it sings of separation…”
Delighted, Hussam begged Rumi to continue writing. Rumi spent the next twelve years in Anatolia dictating the six volumes of his profound masterwork, the Masnavi, to Hussam. To the end of his life, Rumi never left his deep love for the natural environment, always expressing his ideas through the use of graphically described images from nature to illustrate his message:
“With what work are you occupied,
And for what purpose are you purchased?
What sort of bird are you,
And with whose digestion are you eaten?
Pass up this shop of hagglers
And seek the shop of Abundance
Where God is the purchaser [Quran 9:111].
There Compassion has bought
The shabby goods no one else would look at.
With that Purchaser no base coin is rejected,
For making a profit is not the point.”
Rumi’s Doctrine of Unity
Rumi died on December 17, 1273 in Konya; his body was buried beside his father, and the Green Tomb, today known as the Mevlâna Museum, was constructed over his burial place. His epitaph is inscribed:
“When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”
Happily, the hearts of men still carry the essence of Mawlana Rumi. The 13th-century Mevlâna Mausoleum, with its mosque, dance hall for the religious whirling, dervish dormitories, school and tombs of leaders of the Mevlevi Order, continues today drawing pilgrims from all over the Muslim and non-Muslim world.
The doctrine of Rumi advocates unending tolerance, unconditional charity, unlimited kindness, and deeply compassionate awareness of life through the visionary eyes of love, focused on the natural beauties of the environment. To him and his disciples, it seems that all religions are ultimately interested in the same goal because there is only one Creator — because God is One.
“Every holy person seems to have a different doctrine and practice, but there’s really only one work.”
Looking with this visionary eye upon everyone equally, Rumi’s peaceful and tolerant teaching has appealed to people of all countries, sects, and creeds for over 800 years. However, his contemporary portrayal in the West usually stops there, well short of the fact that Rumi was first and foremost a devout Muslim. Rumi lived every moment of his life with his profoundly sensitive heart, soul, and conscience trained on the One True God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (God’s Peace be upon him) in the Holy Quran:
“I am the servant of the Qur’an as long as I have life. I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One.”
“Behind The Beauty Of The Moon Is The MoonMaker” ― Rumi
Behind the beauty of the moon, the MoonMaker is always shining in the light of Rumi’s eyes, guiding him as he guides us through the Natural World, lighting our way as we follow in the footsteps of the Mawlana:
“God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
A passion, a longing pain.
Remember the lips
Where the wind-breath originated,
And let your note be clear.
Don’t try to end it.
Be your note.”
(Originally appeared on EdenKeeper.org)