Rumi’s Greatest Miracle
Rumi is known as one of the top best-selling poets in America and Britain. This seems paradoxical in America where Muslims are viewed in a much more negative light than other religious groups, especially by Evangelicals.¹ He lived and died a Muslim during the Middle Ages and quotes or alludes to over five hundred verses of the Qur’an in his masterpiece — the Masnavi.² He remains unmistakably Muslim, yet this phenomenon — the ability to garner so much interest in his poetry within an atmosphere that often remains suspicious and sometimes downright hostile to anything associated with Islam — is not all that paradoxical. He has always attracted people from all faith backgrounds.
It is Rumi’s greatest miracle.
It was quite the spectacle for Konya’s inhabitants to see people from different faith traditions drawn more and more toward Rumi. Back then religious lines segregated neighborhoods. According to Brad Gooch, the Jews were in one section, the Christians were in another, and the Muslims were in yet another. Muslims further divided themselves according to their own sects.³
Gooch illustrates numerous episodes from Rumi’s life, showing how he was regarded in high esteem by some and the interactions he had with the inhabitants that lived in his city. Rumi’s spiritual influence was so great a Christian follower named Gorji Khatum commissioned a painter to make a few portraits of him before departing on a trip to Kayseri. She could not bare to be away from him for so long, so she carried these portraits with her. Then there were the random people he crossed paths with in Konya, where he spent most of his adult life. Reportedly a Jew once asked: “Is our religion better or yours?” Rumi said: “Your religion.” This episode illustrates the importance of the interior light over the lamp’s exterior form.⁴ During his funeral scriptures from all the Abrahamic religions were read. When Gorji Khatum asked a monk named Qaysar about Rumi’s greatest miracle, he said “that a clan may follow a certain shaykh, and a whole faith community may love a prophet, but the greatest miracle (karamat) of Rumi was that people from all faiths and all nations revered him and listened to his teachings.”
The episodes above can partly be attributed to Rumi’s orientation toward religion. As a Sufi Rumi lived out the religion of love (madhhab-i ‘ishq), a concept numerous Persian Sufi poets championed too.⁵ This religion of love transcends all religions.
“Whether we are drunk or sober, each of us is making
For the street of the Friend. The temple, the synagogue,
The church and the mosque are all houses of love.”
“In pagoda and mosque, in Ka’ba and tavern,
The God of Love is the sole aim;
All the rest are just moonshine.”
-Shah Qasim al-Answar
“The lover’s drunk and senseless; he
Knows neither Islam or infidelity.
He’s like a moth impassioned over fire
So one appears to him the burning pyre
Outside the Hindu’s pagoda
Or candle burning in the Ka’ba.”
Scholars have noted that Sufis rooted the theology of love in scripture. Qur’an 5.54 says:
“God will bring a people whom He loves and who love him.”
Also, in this view every human being possesses a disposition toward love, beauty, and truth — even before birth (Qur’an 30.30). For this reason “all the world’s religions may be viewed as divergent manifestations of that one primordial faith of man — that is, the religion of his original disposition (fitra).”⁶ Individuals are not born entirely corrupt.
Nothing here is original. I am merely jotting down my notes from my reading about Rumi.
¹Click here for statistics about how the American public views Muslims.
²See Brad Gooch’s Rumi’s Secret: The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love.
³See Franklin D. Lewis’s Rumi: Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi.
⁴Rumi said: “The lamps are different, but the lights are the same.”
⁵See Leonard Lewisohn’s “Sufism’s Religion of Love, from Rabi‘a to Ibn ‘Arabia” in The Cambridge Companion to Sufism.
⁶See Leonard Lewisohn’s Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry.