During the 13th century when Rumi was born, Earth glowed with exceptional divine radiance. St. Francis was 25, Chishti was 21, Ibne Arabi was 43, Shabistari (the author of the renowned Sufi classic ‘The Secret Rose Garden’) was 19 and Attar, the author of the famed Conference of the Birds was 62.
It resembled the 20th century, not only in the way it overflowed with a fresh release of divine grace but also in the way it was overrun by destructive forces that plowed creation for the seeding of the new dispensation. Moving eastward the Crusades carried the Christian banner to the Middle East and trekking from the east the Mongol invasion spread a wave of destruction as it moved westward from the far east.
The Mongol invasion was an extraordinarily violent and destructive. It destroyed much of the world and caused major transformation in its wake. It resulted in a grand exodus to the west just as WWII and more recently the Islamic fundamentalist movements have caused large migrations to the West. Historians make statements such as “ … the Mongols brought terror to Europe on a scale not seen again until the twentieth century” and “… the Mongol invasions induced population displacement on a scale never seen before".
Rumi’s father was among those who went west and settled his family in Anatolia, Turkey, which for a time was governed under Roman rule - and thus the title Rumi.
Rumi’s given name was Jalaluddin. He was born in Balkh (then part of Iran; now in Afganistan), which includes Mazar-e-Sharif, now famous because of its association with recent events. So, his full name often used in the East is Maolana Jallaluddin Balkhi Rumi.
Rumi’s father Bahaudin Valad was a great scholar and mystic. It is said that when Rumi was little he accompanied his father on a visit to the great Sufi, Attar. As they began to take their leave Rumi followed his father as was customary for son’s to do. Attar saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, "Here comes a sea followed by an ocean", and gave the young Rumi a copy of his book Assrar Name (The Book of Secrets). This meeting had a profound impact on Rumi.
In the Islamic East the impact of Rumi and his writings is second only to that of the Quran. This is evident from the fact that the number of copies made of his major book Mathnavi is topped only by the number of copies made of the Quran.
Rumi resembles his contemporary St. Francis in that everyone seems to be enamored by him. His popularity in the West can be gauged by the fact that translations of his poetry continued to be best sellers for a number of years and just recently “The Rumi Symphony Project", written by an Iranian classical composer, hit number one twice on Billboard". Classical chart. More surprising, Rumi’s 800 th anniversary was celebrated in Iran with pomp and ceremony. This flies in the face of the harsh treatment Sufis have been receiving from the Islamic fundamentalist government in Iran.
It is also interesting to note that although “Mathnavi” is simply a style of poetry used by many poets, if one goes to a bookstore and asks for Mathnavi no one asks who’s Mathnavi; they hand one Runmi’s. In addition, his title Molana means our master and, again, the first association of this term among the Farsi speaking is with Rumi.
Rumi’s life can be divided into three distinct phases: a) his life as cholar, b) his unfoldment, which was brought about through meeting a perfected soul, Shams of Tabriz; a phase during which he wrote of his love for his master in Dinav-e-Shams; and c) his perfection, after which he wrote his opus magnum the Mathnavi.
In the future segments, sample poems from the last two phases of Rumi’s life will be introduced using available translations; some a bit tweaked, as well as new renderings not currently in print.