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Rumi and the Universality of His Message. Part 1 of 3

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    Rumi and the Universality of His Message. Part 1 of 3

    Rumi and the Universality of His Message / Part one:

    To most Muslim, Christian or Jewish believers, any reference to universality and pluralism in religion might be considered to be a sign of infidelity or disbelief. Nevertheless, the first references to universality and pluralism quoted in Islamic philosophical and Sufi sources are taken from the Qur'an itself and go so far as to imply that at least both the Jewish and Christian religions are respected by and are fully acceptable to Muslims. A translation of verse 256 from the second chapter of the Qur'an reads:

    “There is no compulsion in religion; the right way is henceforth distinct from error, and he who rejects the false way and believes in Allah, has grasped a strong handhold which will never break..…”

    In this verse, belief is not only Muslim belief, and Allah is not a God reserved exclusively for the Islamic faith. In comparing the usages of the two words "mu'min" [= believer, faithful] and Muslim in the Qur'an, one arrives at a very interesting result. The word "Mu'min" is used 230 times in all 114 chapters, in all its different forms (singular or plural, masculine or feminine). The word Muslim in different forms is only used 42 times.

    In many cases, Mu'min is used to refer only to one who believes in God (man amana bi-Allah) be he/she a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. There is no specification that it applies exclusively to the Muslim. This will be understandable if we realize that the soul of a human being, when he/she tries to know God, is involved in an internal passion or excitement which may result in some type of enlightment. In such a case, a person feels that he/she may see his/her Creator through insight, or as Rumi said, by the eyes of the heart, or through some other means which is not biological or physiological (Mathnawi, Vol.I: 2502).

    Such enlightment may come to a human being without his/her necessarily being a Muslim. That spiritual change, or birth, which is called "waqi'a or waqi'a-y mardan" (happening to a man of God) has produced extraordinary legends in our Sufi sources especially in biographical works like "Asrar al-Tawhid" and "Tadhkerat al-Awliya": In many of those legends, this waqi'a affects a person who is not a Muslim or even a faithful Christian or Jew.

    Fuzayl ibn Ayaz, a famous Sufi master from the second century had been a thief and a plunderer. Another famous master Ibrahim b. Adham was originally a governor of Balkh. Dhu n-Nun of Egypt was well known as a zendiq, an atheist, before his "waqi'a". Ma'ruf Karkhi from Baghdad was born to Christian parents, but in his early childhood, all of a sudden, he denied any belief in the Trinity and acknowledged the oneness of Allah. More examples in the Islamic Sufi literature, and many more, in the Persian Sufi literature testify that such a spiritual change was not exclusive to the Muslim. For this reason, many great masters of Persian Sufism have been very open-minded and friendly to other religious orders: As a result, al-Hallaj, Abu Yazid al-Bastami, Abu Sa'id b. Abi l-Khayr, and Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi were highly admired by them, sometimes to the extent that they were even thought to belong to those religious orders.

    Religious insight and the spiritual search for a reliable haven is a part of faith in all religious. It implies dependence upon an invisible power who supports the faithful whenever and wherever they need. In my view, even idol worshipers do not simply worship a material object. They imagine an invisible power in that piece of wood or stone. Idolater and theist both believe in that invisible or inexplicable existence for which they may have no definition or explanation that can be understood by the public. This is exactly what is meant by Baha'uddin Amili (Sheikh Baha'i) in his well known verse:

    "You are the aim; Ka'ba or pagoda (the house of idols) both are excuses" (Amili 1970)

    Sometimes we find Abu Sa'id b. Abi-l Khayr, the famous Sufi master of Nishapur, being highly praised by Christians, or we read about Rumi's attitude to the Christians and Jews of Konya, who gave him the same respect as their own religious leaders. It seems to me that Rumi and Abu Sa'id both believed in a necessity of their time that was intellectualizing Islam and Sufism and making more attractive to their disciples.

    --- from: Dr.M Este'lami, Professor of Persian literature Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal This paper was first presented in a conference on "Pluralism and Religions in Iranian History and Civilization", at Georgetown University, Washington D.C., Sep 2000.