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Rumi and the Universality of His Message. Part 2 of 3

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    Rumi and the Universality of His Message. Part 2 of 3

    Rumi and the Universality of His Message / Part two:

    Rumi's spiritual ladder is love which constitutes one answer to the unlimited number of questions. "Love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries (Mathnawi, vol I, 110), the motive of every visible and invisible movement in the universe.

    Rumi offers many definitions of love. He quotes a Qur'anic verse stating that
    "God loves His creatures and they all love Him too" (Chapter V: 54), but in his short preface to the second volume of his Mathnawi he says: "It is enough to say He Loves them. We do not need to say His creatures love Him too, because both sides are decreed by Him." Some thousands of verses in Rumi's Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi (or Diwan-i Kabir) and in Mathnawi define this love. Nevertheless, Rumi's final words are:

    Whatsoever I say in exposition
    or explanation of love,
    When I come to love itself,
    I am ashamed of my explanation. (Mathnawi, vol I: 112)

    Climbing the steps of this spiritual ladder, Rumi attains the realm of inspired wisdom, an esoteric knowledge which is inspired by God into the heart of a mystic. Such a wisdom, or knowledge, is called "Ilm-i ladunni" or "Ilm-i min ladun", expressions which are used for it in the Qur'an (Chapter XVIII: 65). That inspiration enables Rumi to change himself, his style of life and teaching, his behavior, and his appearance too.

    Guided by Burhan al-Din Muhaqqiq, and especially influenced by Shams ad-Din Tabrizi, he realizes that scholastic knowledge is unable to open our inner eyes to invisible existence (Mathnawi, vol 6: 263). He believes that music is an inseparable part of life, and Sama' is a fruitful activity in Sufi education. In his poetry, the imagery of music and dance is used more frequently than by any poet before him (Schimmel, A. 1975. Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p.317). In the beginning verses of the Mathnawi, the reed (or Nay), separated from the reed-bed is none other than Rumi himself, and in many other verses he repeats the same imagery:

    We are as a harp,
    you are playing us,
    We are as a flute,
    and this is your voice breathed into us. (Mathnawi, vol 1: 602-03)

    Among the most interesting images in Diwan-i Shams and in the Mathnawi, are those related to religious rituals, prayers and services. When a Muslim dies, the burial ceremony includes a special prayer in which the phrase; Allahu Akbar" [= God is the greatest] must be uttered four times. In Persian poetry, this utterance, known as "Chahar Takbir", means relinquishment of something, or despairing of someone's life, but in Rumi's imagery, the utterance of "Allahu Akbar" means despairing of the carnal soul and worldly desires and benefits (Mathnawi, vol III: 2146).

    Moreover, in performing compulsory prayers, a Muslim should stand facing the city of Mecca (called the Qibla), but Rumi in a satirical passage of his Mathnawi says that the Qibla for different people is not the same. To one who is a slave to his belly, the Qibla is a table cloth with a lot of food, to a philosopher it is his fantasy, to a form-worshiper it is a piece of stone, to the ascetic the Qibla is the Gracious God, and to the gnostic is the light of union with God (Mathnawi, vol 6: 1903-07). In his famous narrative, "The Ole Harper", in the first volume of the Mathanwi, the harper despairing of his worldly customers, complains of his extreme poverty, then says:

    .....For seventy years I have been
    committing sin (playing musical),
    (yet) not for one day have Thou
    withheld Thy bounty from me.
    I will play the harp for Thee,
    I am Thine. (Mathnawi, vol I: 2095-96)

    The old harper goes to the graveyard of the city of Medina, playing his harp for God, but he is not merely playing an instrument, he is praying, worshiping; and God understand this.

    "God is so generous that He may
    accept the counterfeit coin of me" (Mathnawi, vol I: 2098)

    -- 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.