Regarding Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi's Nationality

By Ibrahim Gamard (originally posted on the newsgroup, "," 1/31/99; revised, 12/02)

Dear Riza,

As-salâmu `alaykum,

This topic is certainly a controversial one, since Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Muhammad (may God sanctify his soul) is claimed by the countries of Türkiye, Irân, and Afghanistân as "theirs." I agree that it is reasonable to call him by the more neutral term "Anatolian," as you do on your very nice website ( ), since it is true to say that he spent most of his life in the geographical area known as Anatolia (present-day Türkiye). However, to say he was a "Turkish mystic," since the area is now called the Republic of Türkiye, has the difficulty of implying that the language in which he communicated his mysticism was Turkish, which is not the case. About 99% of his poetry is in Persian and 1% in Arabic (he wrote much more Arabic poetry than most people realize, but it is unfortunately not very accessible in the Arabic-speaking world today). There are occasional Turkish and Greek words and phrases in his poetry. Turkish scholars have, as one would expect, researched everything that could possibly have been composed by Mawlânâ (spelled "Mevlâna" in Türkiye) in the Turkish language-- and it is no surprise that some have concluded that Mawlânâ's native language was Turkish.1

The city he spent most of his life in, spelled in his day "Qûniya," now spelled "Konya," had been known for over a thousand years as "Iconium"-- a Greek city. In the New Testament, the Christian missionary Paul is mentioned as visiting and preaching in Iconium on three occasions. The Anatolian region had long been called "Rûm" by the Arabs (and a chapter, or sûra, of the Qur'ân is called "Rûm"), since it was ruled by the Byzantine Empire, formerly the Eastern Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople (now called Istanbul) as his capital. The Greek- speaking people who lived in "Rûm" were called in Persian "Rûmiy-ân" and an individual would be called so-and-so the "Rûmî," or person from the land of "Rûm."

After the Saljuq Turks defeated the Byzantine armies, they ruled most of Anatolia, and made Iconium their capital their capital in 1097, calling it "Qûniya." By the time Mawlânâ's father was invited to move with his family to Konya, the city had been the Saljuq capital for over 130 years. However, it seems likely that the majority of common people there still spoke Greek in Mawlânâ's day. Since the Saljuq Turks had been moving through Central Asia for centuries, they had long been influenced by Islamic Persian culture. As a result, the rulers and most-educated Saljuqs understood Persian and had the highest respect for Persian- speaking scholars such as Mawlânâ's father. And, of course, such Persian-speaking scholars were highly educated in Arabic, not only the Qur'ân and Traditions of the Prophet, but other Arabic classics. Persian-speaking sufis were also very familiar with Qur'ânic verses and Prophetic sayings in Arabic. For example, the conversations of Shams-é Tabrîz, preserved in Persian as the "Maqâlât-é Shams-é Tabrîzî," is filled with quotes from the Qur'ân, sayings of the Prophet, and has a very high percentage of Arabic vocabulary.

As for Mawlânâ's ancestry, his family was from the region of Balkh (now located in the country of Afghanistan). Balkh had for centuries been a center of Islamic learning after the Arab conquest (about 711). Balkh was an extremely ancient city (and was called the "Mother of Cities." It was in a Persian-speaking area of eastern Persia, the land believed to be where Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism lived. Due to the centuries-old westward influx of Turks, it is possible that by Mawlânâ's day a certain percentage of people in the Balkh area had some Turkic ancestry-- however , this would be much less likely the case with the most educated and prominent, who must have taken pride in their Arab ancestry. Mawlânâ's ancestry probably was part Arab, but the claims by Aflâkî in his hagiography of Mawlânâ (known as "Manâqib-é `ârifîn," written in 1353) that Mawlânâ was a descendent of Abu Bakr, the Prophet Muhammad's first successor, as well as being the grandson of a royal princess (the daughter of the King of Khorâsân) are believed by scholars to be fictions added to his life in order to strengthen his reputation as a special saint.

According to several scholars, Mawlânâ was probably not born in Balkh (a metropolis prior to the Mongol invasion), but in a small town about 155 miles north in the valley of Wakhsh River, which flows into the Amu Darya (Oxus) River.2 Since this region is north of the Amu Darya, it is in present-day Tajikistan. This area, culturally a part of Balkh, is where Mawlânâ's father, Baha'uddin Walad, was a preacher and jurist.3 He lived and worked there between 1203 and 1211 and then in Samarqand in the year 1212.4 He presumably returned to Balkh, since he and his family emigrated from there to Anatolia about 1216 or 1217.5 It must also be kept in mind that Bahau'uddin was called the "Great Master of Balkh," (Khodâwandgâr-é Balkh) and that Mawlânâ's earliest biographers mentioned only Balkh as the family's origin. Therefore, Mawlânâ's father must also have been very active in Balkh as a preacher, scholar, and spiritual leader with numerous disciples-- and not merely a rural preacher. He was a "Balkhî," a man of Balkh.

According to Professor Franklin Lewis, "Bahâ al-Din may have been born in Balkh, but at least between June 1204 and 1210 (Shavvâl 600 and 607), during which time Rumi was born, Bahâ al-Din resided in a house in Vakhsh."6


1Mehmet Önder, in his book, "Mevlâna and the Whirling Dervishes," Ankara, Türkiye, 1977, pp. 198-201 makes an exaggerated claim (based on a tiny fraction of Turkish words in Mawlânâ's vast output of poetry and prose in the Persian language), asserting: "There is no doubt that Mevlâna's mother tongue was Turkish, for the city of Balkh from which he migrated with his father Baha Veled was the cultural centre of Turkistan and Khorassan, both regions of predominantly Turkish population." He claims that Mawlânâ learned Persian later on, speculating that he "was probably taught both Arabic and Persian in the very early states of his education by his father and teachers." Then he makes the specious claim that, "Scholars have tended towards the view that Mevlâna learned Persian at a later date since in his works he uses an Anatolian Persian dialect." Önder's next sentence is highly misleading: "Interspersed with the Persian are poems, couplets and passages in Turkish. The Divan-i Kebir and the Mesnevi contain a particularly high percentage of Turkish writings." Then he asserts, "Without consideration and study of Mevlâna's use of colloquial expressions, his references to Turkish traditions and beliefs it would be an unscholarly and unfounded assumption to conclude that because Mevlâna wrote in Persian he was of Persian origin. Mevlâna is the eternal gift of the Turkish people to all humanity."

Professor Franklin Lewis commented on these claims in this book ("Rumi-- Past and Present, East and West," pp. 548-49) in a review of Önder's "Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi" (Ankara: Ministry of Culture, 1990, translated by P.M. Butler): "In the introduction, Önder refers to Rumi as 'the great Turkish mystic' and 'a great Turkish intellectual.' He then turns Rumi into a Turkish prophet, calling Mevlâna 'the eternal gift of the Turkish people to all humanity' (210). In fact, there is no reference to the minor detail that the language spoken by Bahâ al-Din [= Mawlânâ's father] was Persian or that `Attâr wrote his Asrâr nâme in Persian [= per the story (now considered apocryphal by scholars) that `Attâr gave Mawlânâ a copy of this book when Mawlânâ was a boy], nor do we learn that Rumi composed the Masnavi in Persian until page 138. . . . Throughout Önder deliberately leaves us to assume that Rumi's other works are in Turkish, and indeed, when he can no longer contain his misplaced patriotism, bursts out with the utterly ludicrous statement that 'There is no doubt that Mevlâna's mother tongue was Turkish.' Through Önder begrudgingly allows that Rumi was probably taught Arabic and Persian at a very early state in his education, (208), he insists that Rumi spoke Turkish throughout his life (whether the Kipchak or Oguz dialect, Önder cannot tell) not only with his family but also 'when addressing the people and in his sermons.' Rumi chose to write 'most of his works in Persian and some in Arabic only because it was the convention of the day (208). Önder's 'evidence' for this insupportable, unbearable nonsense consists of the assertion that Rumi uses an Anatolian Persian dialect (whatever that might be, it would still not be Turkish, which is from an altogether different language family), and that his Divân and Masnavi are interspersed with a 'particularly high percentage' of couplets and passages in Turkish. This is a very creative use of statistics, since a couple of dozen at most of the 35,000 lines of the Divân-e Shams are in Turkish, and almost all of these lines occur in poems that are predominantly in Persian."

2Wakhsh is mentioned once in the Mathnawi (IV: 3319). It is mentioned in Mawlânâ's father's book of sermons (Ma'arif, Vol. I, p. 345, 355, 369; Vol. II, p. 61, 138). It is also mentioned in Aflaki (Chapter 1, section 25, p. 33). (See also "Evidence That Rumi Was Born in Tajikistan").

3Professor Annemarie Schimmel, "I Am Wind, You Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi," Boston: Shambhala, 1992, p. 11, where she refers to an (1989) article by Fritz Meier: "Afghan and Persian admirers still prefer to call, Jalaluddin 'Balkhi' because his family lived in Balkh before migrating westward. However, their home was not in the actual city of Balkh, since the mid-eighth century a center of Muslim culture in Khorasan (now Afghanistan). Rather, as the Swiss scholar Fritz Meier has shown, it was in the small town of Wakhsh north of the Oxus that Baha'uddin Walad, Jalaluddin's father, lived and worked as a jurist and preacher with mystical inclinations."

4Bausani, p. 393 [ "Djalâl al-Dîn Rûmî." In The Encyclopaedia of Islam: New Edition, Vol. II (C-G), pp. 393-397. London: Luzac & Co., 1965], who cites Faruzanfar's Introduction (pp. 37-38) to the Ma'arif of Mawlânâ's father, Baha Walad. Baha Walad refers therein to the kingdom and the Sultan of Wakhsh.

5Bausani, p. 393.

6Lewis, "Rumi-- Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rumi," Oxford, United Kingdom, 2000, pp. 49-52.

Adapted from the Introduction to an unpublished manuscript "The Quatrains of Rumi," by Ibrahim Gamard and Ravan Farhadi

Based on the above, the government of Tajikistan could also claim Mawlânâ as being a Persian-speaking Tâjik from their country!

It is certainly true that Mawlânâ's family soon became a Turkish family, and a very prominent one indeed during the past 700 years. I would like to point out to the readers of this newsgroup the special significance of Riza Pacalioglu's reference to his wife (Gevher, the same name as Mawlânâ's first wife, the mother of his descendants) as the 22nd grand-daughter of Mawlânâ. Although there are thousands of descendants of Jalaluddin Rumi's family in Turkey (and Syria) today, the reference here is to a very special branch of this family who have been the continuous hereditary leaders of the Mevlevi ("Whirling Dervish") Sufi Order, called the Chelebi family. Mr. Pacalioglu's wife is the daughter of the late Jalaluddin Chelebi, the previous leader of the Mevlevi Order. And she is the sister of the present spiritual leader of the Mevlevi Order, the "Hazrat-é Chelebi" and holder of the "Maqâm-é Chelebi" (rank of chief Chelebi), whose name is Faruk Hemdem Celebi. (He has the names of the 14th Chelebi, Farrukh Chelebi (died, 1591), and the 25th Chelebi, Sa`îd Hamdam Chelebi (died, 1858).

Sincerely and respectfully,

Ibrahim Gamard

Riza Pacalioglu wrote, on the newsgroup "" (1/30/99):

Mevlana was not born in Anatolia (which is now where the modern Turkish Republic is situated), but his entire work was written and done at Konya, which is a Turkish city. It is only fair to call him Turkish, not only for that , but his family lived in that country ever since, for more than 700 years! They did became a Turkish family.

It is common practice to call someone from a country if they lived most of their life there or do the things they are famous for there, even if they are not born there. Is Hitler a German? (He was born in Austria.) Is Handel English? Is Rifat Ozbek (the houte couteur designer) English? (He was born in Turkey.) The list is endless.

Anyway, understanding the feelings of other nationals, my wife (who is the 22nd grand-daughter of Mevlana) and I had decided not to call Mevlana as Turkish when creating the web site . We called him Anatolian for which I hope there will be no dispute. Please feel free to visit the site.

All the best.