by Ibrahim Gamard (8/06)

The popularity of Hazrat-e Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Muhammad Rûmî's poetry in America, together with the wide recognition of the name of "Rûmî" is an amazing development. This article examines a key factor that has contributed to this popularization: the false view in many Western books and articles that sufism is something separate from Islam.

Islamic Sufism

Muslims who appreciate sufism, the English word for "tasawwuf" or the spiritual path of the sûfîs, faqîrs and darvîshes, understand that it is firmly based on injunctions of the Qur'ân to be "constant in prayer" (Q.2:3) while aspiring to practice the Traditions [Ahâdîth] about praying with sincerity [al-ihsân] before God Most High with awareness that "He sees you" and "with presence of the heart," to "recollect your God often" [dhikr-an kathîrâ--Q.33:41) and to "remember your Lord within your soul with humility and in reverence" (Q.7:205), to strive to purify the soul from worldly cravings and lowly passions and to develop virtues pleasing to God ("Truly, the one who purifies himself [in this life] will attain happiness [in the Hereafter]"--Q. 87:14), and to strive and pray to attain to a deep level of surrender [taslîm] to the Will, Blessing, Grace, and Love of God in which ordinary self-centered thoughts and desires are minimized so that one may becomes a true servant of God in speech and actions--following the model of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Another aim of the sufi path is to cultivate humility, selflessnes, and "spiritual poverty" [faqr] by becoming a "poor one" [Arabic, "faqîr"; Persian, "darvîsh"], an interpretation of the verse, "O men, you are poor [fuqarâ] in relation to Allâh, and Allâh is the Rich [al-Ghanî], the All-Praiseworthy" (Q.35:15).

Sufism may also be called "Islamic mysticism," or the Islamic path of transcendence of the illusion of distinctions and separations maintained by the ordinary mind, and of direct realization of the transcendent Oneness of the Creator: "Whichever way you turn, there is the Face of Allâh" (Q.2:115), "He is the Outward and the Inward [al-Zâhir wa 'l-BâTin]" (Q.57:3).

Sufis follow the Tradition that the Holy Qur'ân has an outward meaning and up to seven inner meanings [il sab`ati abTun], with the understanding that these meanings should not contradict the spirit of the outward or plain meaning. As Mawlânâ Rûmî wrote: "In regard to the words of the Qur'ân, know that there is an outward (meaning); underneath the outward (meaning) is a very powerful inward (meaning)" ("Masnavi" III: 4244). In contrast to Muslims who have primarily an externalist approach to Islam, who interpret the Qur'ân in a literal way, and who believe that the relationship to our Creator is nothing more than being obedient servants who follow commands, Muslim mystics focus on the connection to God through love ("He loves them and they love him"--Q.5:57; "Those who believe (in One God) are more strong in (their) love for Allâh"--Q.2:165). They also focus on the possibility of intimacy [uns] and nearness [qurbat] mentioned in the Qur'ân ("those nearest" [to God--al-muqarrabîn, Q.3:45; 56:88; "truly, He is the All-Hearing, the Ever-Near" [Qarîb, Q.34:50; "When My servant comes nearer to Me from doing extra devotions [nawâfil], I come nearer to him; if he comes closer by a span, I come closer by a span; if he comes walking, I come running"--Hadîth al-Qudsî). As Abu Hâmid al-Ghazzâlî (died, 1111 C.E.) said, "Those who think in this way [of being obedient servants of God, and nothing more] do not know the essence of the Religion [aSl-e dîn]."

The Creation by Westerners of "Non-Islamic Sufism"

During most of the past two hundred years, however, Western scholars (sometimes called Orientalists) have not viewed sufism as something largely inspired by the Qur'ân and Traditions [Ahâdîth]. Instead, they have tended to view sufism as imported from other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, or Buddhism. Here is an example from an Orientalist who translated some of the poems of Hâfiz from Persian in 1897:

"Hafiz belonged to the great sect from which so many of the most famous among Persian writers have sprung. Like Sa'di and Jami and Jelaleddin Rumi and a score of others, he was a Sufi. The history of Sufiism has yet to be written, the sources from which it arose are uncertain, and that it should have found a home in Mahommadanism, the least mystical of all religions, is still unexplained. Some have supposed that Sufiism was imported from India after the time of Mahommad.... A third theory is that the origins of Sufiism are to be looked for in the philosophy of the Greeks, strangely distorted by the Eastern mind, and in the influence of Christianity..."1

The founding of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875 had a great influence in promoting the acceptance of Eastern religions in America. It's motto was, "There is no Religion higher than Truth." Like previous forms of European esoteric (or to use an Arabic word, bâTinî") teachings such as Masonry and Rosicrucianism, Theosophy taught that there is a secret and universal spiritual doctrine that is thousands of years old that is hidden within the major religions of the world--a doctrine known in its entirety by "secret masters" or "Mahatmas" (hidden in Tibet, it was believed at the time). Theosophy borrowed (and altered) teachings and terminology from Hinduism and Buddhism as a way to promote its own esoteric teachings and doctrines.

As a result of the influence of Theosophy, it gradually became acceptable in Christian America to seek spiritual advancement by studying and practicing yoga and Buddhism--without any requirement to change religions or become involved with Hindu or Buddhist temples and priests. Starting in the 1950's, Americans began to become attracted to the teachings and practice of Zen Buddhism in a similar way.

The popularization of sufism in the West followed this same pattern (first in Europe and then in America) starting in 1910 through a sufi musician and spiritual teacher from India, `Inâyat Khân, who taught that sufism is a form of universal mysticism with no real dependence upon Islam. Westerners were encouraged that they could learn sufi wisdom and do sufi spiritual practices without changing religions or becoming involved with Muslim ritual prayers and Muslim religious authorities. Many popular books on sufism written by non-scholars were published that "authoritatively" stated that sufism is independent of Islam, is a tradition that predated Islam by thousands of years (or was later connected to Islam only by "historical circumstances"), and is a wisdom teaching that transcends any particular religion. One example was a half-English occultist named Idries Shah, who wrote numerous books on sufism and was promoted for many years as "the world's leading authority on sufism." Shah taught that sufism is independent of Islam, that most of the occult teachings in Europe (such as Alchemy, Masonry, Rosicrucianism, Tarot, and the modern teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff) had their origins in Middle Eastern sufi groups led by "secret masters"--that were said to be hidden, no longer in Tibet, but in Afghanistan, as had been claimed earlier by Gurdjieff.

The result of the above is that most Americans of European ancestry involved in sufism at the present time belong to non-Islamic organizations, the members of which believe very strongly that sufism is a universal wisdom teaching that is independent of Islam. Many of these groups practice what is called "sufi dancing," which involves a European folk dance format in which men and women hold hands together in a circle, while singing spiritual songs from Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi traditions. In some of thesse Western sufi groups, members attend gatherings for a "Universal Worship" service in which passages from different scriptures of the major world religions are read in sequence.

Western Views of Mawlânâ as a "Non-Islamic Sufi"

The name of Mawlânâ Rûmî gradually became more and more familiar among people in these non-Islamic sufi groups as one of the greatest sufi masters who ever lived. The great scholar of Mawlânâ's works during the last century in the West was a British scholar named R. A. Nicholson. In 1898 he published translations of 48 ghazal poems, all of which he believed were from Mawlânâ's "Dîvân-e Kabîr."2 Of these, 7 ghazals are now rejected by scholars as authentic poems by Mawlânâ because these are not found in the earliest manuscripts of his "Dîvân."

One of these seven ghazals not composed by Mawlânâ eventually became one of the most famous "Rûmî poems" in the West, and also in Turkey. It begins: "What is to be done, O Moslems? for I do not recognise myself. I am neither Christian nor Jew, nor Gabr, nor Moslem."3 Nicholson admitted that the Persian text for this ghazal did not occur in any of the editions or manuscripts that he used.4 Perhaps he was misled by the final fake line ("O Shams-e Tabriz, I am so drunken...") that was composed by the anonymous poet to make it seem like an authentic Rumi poem.

This is a poem that has led many people to strongly believe that Mawlânâ had gone "beyond Islam" to become a kind of universal mystic who was tolerant of all religions. The poem seems to be saying that Mawlânâ Rûmî no longer viewed himself as a Muslim. Popular versions based on Nicholson's translation were later published that seemed to suggest that Mawlânâ denied being a Muslim, such as: "I am not a Christian, I am not a Jew, I am not a Zoroastrian, and I am not even a Muslim."5 And: "Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion or cultural system."6

Another non-authentic poem, a quatrain that was written by a different Persian sufi poet several centuries before his time, also became well-known in America after being translated into English from a Turkish translation: "Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, it doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times, come--come yet again, come!"7 This was interpreted by Westerners to mean that it made no difference to Mawlânâ whether people who came to him belonged to other religions.

A third case involves a story from Mawlânâ's "Masnavi" in which God is represented as saying to the Prophet Moses--upon whom be peace, who had criticized the heartfelt prayer of a simple shepherd: "In the Hindoos the idiom of Hind (India) is praiseworthy; in the Sindians the idiom of Sind is praiseworthy."8 This authentic verse by Mawlânâ has also been interpreted by Westerners to mean that he thought that differences between religions are unimportant--which is not correct.9

For many years, the main translation of Mawlânâ's poetry that was available in English was the complete translation of the "Masnavi" by the British scholar, R. A. Nicholson, published between 1926-1934. This was a highly accurate translation, but was done in a very academic manner, full of many (to Americans) old-fashioned and Victorian-sounding words. Another difficulty for Americans was that Nicholson's translation contained all the hundreds of Islamic references to the Qur'ân, Traditions [Ahâdîth], Islamic prayers, etc. The other available accurate translations were two small volumes of (a total of 400) odes, or ghazals, from Mawlânâ's "Dîwân" that were made by another British scholar, A. J. Arberry ("Mystical Poems of Rumi") in 1968 and 1979.

One can see, looking back in time, that in order for Mawlânâ Rûmî to be accepted on a popular level in America as one of the greatest sufi masters of the past, he needed to be presented as a part of the so-called "universal sufi tradition" that was viewed as independent of Islam--in other words, he needed to be made into a "non-Islamic sufi." This distortion was not done consciously, but developed as a way for Mawlânâ's poetry to be rendered in a non-scholarly, poetic, and more "alive" manner.

And this is what happened: a number of authors, who do not know Persian, altered the meanings, to a significant degree, of the translations made by scholars such as Nicholson using a poetic "free-verse" style. They portrayed Mawlânâ in a way that would be more acceptable and popular--that is as a "sufi" who began as a "Muslim theologian" but who became transformed after meeting his spiritual master, Shams-e Tabrîzî, into a universal mystic freed from all religions and whose only creed was Love.

Dozens of popular books were published as "Rumi translations," although the authors do not know Persian. Some of the books were actual translations made by Iranians living in America who were not scholars; these translations are often highly "versionized," skip many verses, and eliminate many Islamic terms and references in order to popularize. Some of the most successful authors worked in conjunction with Iranians Americans who gave them literal translations from Persian; the authors then used the literal translations to make their own freely interpreted versions. These are not true collaborations, because there is little evidence that the Iranian partners corrected the (often misunderstood and distorted) interpretations of the (non-Persian-reading) American authors--who seem to have been given complete freedom to interpret and change the meanings however they liked and to choose the final wordings. These books have sold widely in America with the words "translated by" or "Rumi translations" on the book covers, when they are actually interpretive versions, and not translations. This misleads the public who naturally assume that the books are authentic translations made from another language. The most successful of these authors in America is Coleman Barks, who used literal translations given to him by John Moyne (formerly Javad Mo`în) to make his own poetic versions. Here is an example of the second half of one of Mawlânâ's quatrains that was "versionized" by Barks:

"Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."10

Here is my own more accurate translation from the original Persian text:

"There are a hundred kinds of prayer [namâz], bowing [rukû`], and prostration [sujûd] For the one whose prayer-niche [mihrâb] is the beauty of the Beloved [jamâl-e Dôst]."11

Barks has admitted that he deliberately eliminates Islamic meanings in his interpretations:

"For example, Barks says he rewrote a Rumi line that originally read in English, 'out beyond what is holy in Islam and what is not permitted in Islam' to 'out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right- doing.' 'I took the Islam out of it,' Barks says in a phone interview from his home in Athens, Georgia. 'Yeah, the fundamentalists or people who think there is one particular revelation scold me for this.'"12

Barks also admitted to avoiding the word "God" in his versions:

"I avoid God-words, not altogether, but wherever I can, because they seem to take away the freshness of experience and put it inside a specific system. Rumi's poetry belongs to everyone and his impulse was toward experience rather than any language or doctrine about it..."13

Other popular version-makers also tend to avoid the word "God" and they tend to skip or change Mawlânâ's prayers into "spiritual insights." These books developed a modern mythology aboout his life that minimizes his connection to Islam. He is portrayed as a learned professor, legal scholar, and a theologian until he met Shams-e Tabrîzî and then became a sufi. This is not correct: he was strongly influenced by his father's unique mysticism (through personal contact and his father's book, "Ma`ârif") and by his first sufi teacher of nine years, Sayyid Burhânuddîn Muhaqqiq Termezî (a disciple of his father). The way Mawlânâ's life is popularly portrayed implies that Shams "freed" him from being a "Muslim fundamentalist" and made him into a mystic who transcended all religions. Even the story of his funeral in was changed in a number of books, by falsely adding Hindus and Buddhists to Mawlânâ's funeral procession [janâza]14--which would seem to suggest that he may have had disciples from all the major religions and that he was therefore knowledgeable about other religions.

Mawlânâ's Views About Islam and Other Religions

However, a study of works of Mawlânâ and the earliest Persian sources about his life and teachings indicates that he knew little about other religions except what he would have learned from a traditional Islamic education.

These works show that Mawlânâ Rûmî was a very devout and pious Muslim, as well as a great Muslim mystic and poet. His poetry is filled with references to the Holy Qur'ân and the Traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him). For example, he wrote about his masterpiece, the "Masnavi," as "the roots of the roots of the roots of the (Islamic) Religion [uSûlu uSûluSûlu 'd-dîn]... and the explainer of the Qur'ân [kashshâfu 'l-qur'ân]."15

"I am the servant of the Qur'ân [man banda-yi qur'ân-am] as long as I have life. I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one [muhammad-e mukhtâr]. If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings, I am quit of him and outraged by these words."16

There are stories about his beautiful manners toward monks and his kindness toward some other Christians in Konya, but the focus of the stories is on the ones who converted to Islam. Special attention is given to one man who appears to have been Mawlânâ's primary Christian convert. He was a Greek named Theryânûs who was about to be executed for murder, but Mawlânâ interceded with the Sultan of Konya to spare his life. "He accepted the Faith at the hand of Mawlânâ and became a Muslim." He was circumcised, Mawlânâ named him `Alâ'uddîn ("the Lofty Dignity of the Faith") Theryânûs, and he became one of Mawlânâ's disciples.17

Mawlânâ Rûmî proclaimed the superiority of the Prophet Muhammad--upon whom be peace--and Islam: "Any seals which the Prophets (of the past) left (in place) have been taken off by the religion of Muhammad."18 "A star (of Divine Light) revealed its face in Muhammad, so that the substance (of the religion) of Jews and Zoroastrians passed away."19

"...it would be correct that (the Christian) should say, 'Truly the Lord [rabb] of Jesus honored Jesus and brought him near (to His Presence). For the one who serves Jesus certainly serves the Lord, and the one who follows him certainly follows the Lord. But then Allâh sent a more excellent Prophet than Jesus. He demonstrated by his hand what He demonstrated by the hand of Jesus. And more: it is obligatory that he should follow that Prophet of God Most High--(but) not for his sake. For one should not serve (anything) for itself except God, and one should not love (anything) for itself except God."20

Western Views of Shams as a "Non-Islamic Sufi"

In order to view Mawlânâ as someone who transcended Islam, Western authors have also depicted his spiritual master, Shams-e Tabrîzî, in a similar way as a kind of radical dervish whose aim was to "rescue" Mawlânâ away from being a "Muslim theologian" and to transform him into a kind of universal mystic. In this regard, they had some backing from scholars. For example, Nicholson wrote in 1898:

"It will be proper to set down here the few facts preserved by tradition concerning this weird figure, wrapped in coarse black felt, who flits across the stage for a moment and disappears tragically enough.... His character was despotic and overbearing; he was extremely bitter in his sermons, and likened his learned auditors to oxen and asses. Perhaps this may be the reason why Dr Sprenger calls him 'a most disgusting cynic.' He was comparatively illiterate, but his tremendous spiritual enthusiasm, based on the conviction that he was a chosen organ and mouth-piece of Deity, cast a spell over all who entered the enchanted circle of his power.... Bitterly resenting what they conceived to be an insidious attempt to seduce their beloved Master from the true religion, Jalal's scholars and disciples assailed the unwelcome visitor with abuse, if not with actual violence. Shams fled to Damascus."21

Another scholar, who wrote in 1956, partly supported the claim made by a Persian author (who wrote 200 years after Mawlânâ died) that Shams was born into the Isma`îlî sect, a heretical offshoot of Shî`ism:

"Curiously enough, Shams-i-Tabriz belonged to the Assassin tribe of Hasan b. Sabbah. His grandfather, Nur-ud-din Muhammad, a lieutenant of Hasan b. Sabbah, succeeded his chief in A.D. 1166.... He died in 1210 and was succeeded by his son Jalal-ud-din, who utterly reversed the policy of his father and grandfather, abolished all antinomianism and declared himself an orthodox Muslim whence he was known as 'Nau Musalman'. Shams-i-Tabriz is said to be his son, according to Daulat Shah. But Jalal-ud-din Nau Musalman had no other son except 'Ala-ud-din Muhammad. Besides, according to some statements, Shams was an old man of sixty when he arrived in Konya in 1244. He must have been born, therefore, about the year 1185. Daulat Shah's statement about Sham's heredity cannot, therefore, be easily accepted."22

Shams-e Tabrîzî's Views About Islam

Although Shams-e Tabrîzî has been described for more than a century as an illiterate wandering dervish [qalandar] who was charismatic and had antinomian or heretical tendencies, we now have much more information about him for the first time him in the English language, thanks to American scholars such as Franklin Lewis23 and William Chittick24 that was previously available only in Persian since 1990. These are based on an edition, made by an Iranian scholar (Movahhed) of the "Discourses" of Shams ("Maqâlât-e Shams-e Tabrîzî"), which consists of a large number of quotations that were written down in Persian (with some passages in Arabic) by Shams' disciples in Konya (among whom was Mawlânâ's son, Sultân Walad). We now know that he had a solid Islamic education in the Arabic language and that he was a Sunnî Muslim who followed the Shâfi`î school of Islamic law.25 He must have memorized the Qur'ân, since he taught young boys to memorize it.26 According to Aflâkî, Shams arrived in Konya on November 29, 1244.27 Aflâkî called him "Mawlânâ Shamsu 'l-Haqq wa 'l-Dîn Muhammad, ibn `Alî, ibn Malîk-dâd al-Tabrîzî."28 According to early Mawlawî (or Mevlevi) tradition, the spiritual tradition of Mawlânâ's successors, he was said to be 60 years of age.29

Lewis wrote:

"Shams was a Shâfe`i (Maq 182) and he studied feqh, reading extensively in the standard legal textbooks. He specifically mentions one of the five major Shâfe`i legal texts.... he never completely rejected the scholarly study of religion for he did not like the pretense of many who prided themselves on their spiritual questing (Maq 249).... Shams was thus very educated, contrary to what the accounts of a common man turned mystic suggest. However, he cloaked his nature from religious scholars as well as from practicing pietists, such that his contemporaries were confused about whether he considered himself a scholar of law (faqih) or a fakir (faqir), a Sufi practicing spiritual poverty (Maq 326)."30

And Chittick wrote:

"The stories and anecdotes told in the later literature often make Shams out to be a spiritual genius, contemptuous of book-learning and ignorant of the Islamic sciences. The Discourses show that there is little basis for this view. In fact, Shams knew the Koran by heart and used to make his living as a teacher. He had studied jurisprudence (fiqh)--the science of the Shariah, the religious law--and even in Konya he spent time in the company of jurists.... He certainly looked with contempt on superficial learning and the pretensions of the ulama, that is, the scholars who taught in the mosques and madrassahs. In his view, they were traitors to their calling because they employed religious learning to make a living rather than to find God."31

"...Shams's words are surprisingly colloquial, even if he employs a good deal of technical language drawn from the Koran, the Hadith, jurisprudence (fiqh), Sufism, philosophy and theology."32

In regard to what is now known about Shamsuddîn, it is very significant that he placed so much importance on "following" [mutâba`at], meaning following the example of the behavior that was modeled by the Prophet Muhammad (called the "Sunnah" of the Prophet).33 Shams rejected a number of well-known sufi masters (contemporary and past ones) because they did not follow the example of the Prophet sufficiently (and some apparently felt they were so spiritually advanced that they had no such need).34 Based on this understanding, the initial meeting between Shams and Mawlânâ can be seen in a new light: Shams was searching for one of the great hidden saints of God--and one of the proofs of such a person would be a humble veneration and love of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) combined with a strong commitment to following the Prophet's pious way of life. This would be in contrast to other sufis who made claims of receiving extraordinary spiritual favors from God but who had a lack of commitment to following the Prophet's example.

The earliest account is by Shams-e Tabrîzî himself, as recorded by his disciples:

"...I'm not talking about (Muhammad) Mustaf--(may the) peace (of God) be upon him.... But I'm saying (that) he is more superior in regard to those who (came) after him, and (therefore) how can I equate anyone with him? For that which has come to me beyond the acquisition of the knowledge (of religious learning), the intellect, and the toil and exertion (of the mind)--that (has come) with the blessings of following him [bi-barakâti mutâba`ati-hi]. And the first words I spoke with (Mawlânâ) were these: "But as for Abû Yazîd (al-Bistâmî), why didn't he adhere to following [mutâba`at] (the Prophet's example) and (why) didn't (he) say 'Glory be to You! We have not worshipped You' (as You deserve to be worshipped) [subhâna-ka, mâ `abad-nâ-ka...]?" Then Mawlânâ knew to completion and perfection (the meaning of) those words (of the Prophet). But what was the final outcome of these words? Then his inmost consciousness made him drunk from these (words), because his inmost consciousness was cleansed (and) purified, (and) therefore (the meaning of) it became known to him. And with his drunkenness, I (also) knew the pleasure and delight of those words--for I had been neglectfully unaware of the pleasure and delight of these words."35

In sum, Shams-e Tabrîzî found the hidden saint he had long searched for, one who was advanced on the sufi path who continued to follow the Prophet Muhammad, and who acknowledged that the Prophet journeyed far beyond any of the Muslim sufi masters who came after him in the mystical worship of God. And Shams confirmed that, after their initial conversation, they both entered a state of spiritual ecstasy together.

Changing Views of Western Scholars about Sufism and Mawlânâ as a Muslim

Fortunately, Western scholars have revised their views about the relation of sufism to Islam during the past 50 years. For example, the British scholar A. J. Arberry (a student of Nicholson) wrote a book on sufism in 1950 in which he said that he was not going to restate the arguments during the previous century that much or little of sufism was imported from other religions by the sufis. He went on to say:

"...we shall leave this fact to speak for itself, and confine our attention to presenting Sufism as if it were an isolated manifestation; viewing the movement from within as an aspect of Islam, as though these other factors which certainly determined its growth did not exist. By following this procedure it is hoped to draw a picture recognisable as a unity of itself, a picture of a mysticism developing out of a single creed and ritual, which may then be compared and contrasted with the mysticisms of other faiths and so be seen for what it really is."36

A major breakthrough was the publication in English in 1975 of a book by a German scholar of Mawlânâ's works, Annemarie Schimmel, entitled "Mystical Dimensions of Islam":

"Sufism meant, in the formative period, mainly an interiorization of Islam, a personal experience of the central mystery of Islam, that of tauhîd, 'to declare that God is one.' The Sufis always remained inside the fold of Islam, and their mystical attitude was not limited by their adherence to any of the legal or theological schools. They could reach their goal from any starting point--neither the differences between the legal madhhabs nor theological hairsplitting was, basically, of interest to them."37

John Renard (a student of Schimmel), who wrote a less well-known book (in 1994), stated what most authors of books on Mawlânâ have avoided stating plainly--that he was a Muslim:

"Although it may seem all to obvious to need saying, Rumi was a Muslim. Yet what one sometimes hears about his attitude to formal religious affiliation is that he cared not a fig to what community one belonged--and perhaps even went so far as to deny the importance of his own adherence to Islam. For reasons such as that, or perhaps because of the oddly persistent notion that Sufis have always drifted off toward the fringes of Islamic society, relatively little attention has been given to what one of the world's most prominent and popular Muslims thought and felt about Islam's most fundamental notions and principles."38

Renard's book gives examples of the treasures which Mawlânâ excavated from the Qur'ânic "mine of precious gems." He wrote:

"From that mine he brings forth the rough gems of the tradition, cutting and polishing them as only he can, so that they reflect his own insight into, and interiorization of, the central themes of Islamic life. . . ritual prayer, jihad, pilgrimage, fasting, his understanding of the significance of revelation, and his interpretation of the crucial events of early Islamic history as enshrined in the life of Muhammad."39

The most comprehensive book in English on the life and works of Mawlânâ was written by the Franklin Lewis in 2000 (revised, 2003). It resembles an encyclopedia in scope and comprehensiveness.

"It will simply not do to extract quotations out of context and present Rumi as a prophet of the presumptions of an unchurched and syncretic spirituality. While Rumi does indeed demonstrate a tolerant and inclusive understanding of religion, he also, we must remember trained as a preacher, like his father before him, and as a scholar of Islamic law. Rumi did not come to his theology of tolerance and inclusive spirituality by turning away from traditional Islam or organized religion, but through an immersion in it; his spiritual yearning stemmed from a radical desire to follow the example of the Prophet Mohammad and actualize his potential as a perfect Muslim.... To understand Rumi one must obviously understand something of the beliefs and assumptions he held as a Muslim. Rumi's beliefs derived from the Koran, the Hadith, Islamic theology and the works of Sunni mystics like Sanâ'i, `Attâr and his own father, Bahâ al-Din Valad."40

"Rumi as Sunni: Though there were Shiite communities scattered throughout Iran, Iranians were predominantly Sunni in the time of Rumi..... It seems to me that Rumi considered each of the first four so-called 'rightly guided' caliphs as the spiritual axis of the age. Rumi tells many positive stories about Abu Bakr and `Omar (`Umar) in the Masnavi, as well as one very long passage in which Mu`âwiya (the Syrian governor who opposed `Ali by force of arms and usurped the caliphate from him, thus winning the eternal enmity of Shiites), whose name is followed by the honorific, 'may God be pleased with him,' features as a spiritual hero in combating the temptations of Iblis, or Satan (M2:2603-740)."41

"Rumi as Hanafi: ....In Rumi's time, Iranian Sunnis mostly followed either the Hanafi or the Shâfe`i school."42

The present author's book, "Rumi and Islam" was published in 2004. It consists of three sections of translations with commentary of some of Mawlânâ Rûmî's stories about the noble virtues of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), of some of his quotations and interpretations of the sayings [Ahâdîth] of the Prophet, and of some of his praises of the excellent qualities of the Prophet. The translations are from all of Mawlânâ's works (Masnavî, Dîvân-e Kabîr, Fîhi Mâ Fîhi, Majâlis-e Sab`a, Maktûbât). The book did not sell well, probably due to a combination of negative stereotypes and biased representions of Islam in present-day America, as well as resistance to allow Mawlânâ to be a Muslim. Here are some excerpts from the book:

"This book you are now holding is a selection of what I believe are the best of Rumi's accounts of the compassionate actions, sayings, and qualities of the Prophet, which include Rumi's own inspired comments and explanations. It is my hope that you will be surprised and uplifted by the profound wisdom that Jalaluddin Rumi conveys through these stories and sayings of the Prophet. I also hope that it will educate Western lovers of Rumi's poetry about the Islamic foundations of his lover-Beloved mystical poetry. And I hope that it will also educate Muslim readers, who may be skeptical of Islamic mysticism (Sufism) and the poetry of Rumi, about how Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi was one of the greatest Muslim followers of the Prophet Muhammad, and how his Jesus-like teachings about the nature of love for God and God's Love for us are most suitable for increasing the appreciation of Islamic wisdom in the West."43

"If you are thinking that the 'Muslim Rumi' described here is not the Rumi that you have come to revere and love, the 'Rumi of Universal Love'--that Rumi, who was filled with pure love for God and all of creation--was real; his soul remains in sanctified nearness to God, and the blessing of his spirit lives through his poetry and words and at his tomb in Turkey. You can read in other books about Rumi's passionate mystical metaphors--about the reed-flute's shrill cry of longing for its original home in the reed field, the nightingale's passionate love songs for the rose, the self-sacrificing love of the moth for the candle flame, the yearning of the water for the thirsty man, and so on. You may have read descriptions and poems about Rumi's extraordinary mystical love for his Sufi master and friend, Shams-e Tabrîzî. But now read about his reverence and love for the Prophet Muhammad. With this book you are invited to let go, for a time, of whatever attachment you may have to the popularized image of Rumi you have read or heard about, and to allow Rumi to be the Muslim he was. Read here a very different selection of Rumi translations than you have encountered before. Hopefully, the annotations will help you understand and appreciate them more clearly, and drink cup after cup of his extraordinary God-given supply of sublime spiritual wisdom."44


1Gertrude Bell, p. 50, "Poems from the Divan of Hafiz," 1897, p. 50.

2R. A. Nicholson, "Selected Poems from the Dîvâni Shamsi Tabrîz," 1898.

3 Nicholson, "Selected Poems," No. XXXI, p. 125.

4Nicholson, "Selected Poems," p. 281.

5Andrew Harvey, "The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi" 1994, p. 151. Following this biased interpretive version, Harvey went so far as to claim that "Mohammed wasn't a Muslim, Buddha wasn't a Buddhist, and Christ wasn't a Christian! So how could Rumi be a Muslim? Religions are a cosmic disaster because immediately when the sacred fire is lit, somebody steals it to illuminate some grim old sanctuary" (p. 151-52). Apparently ignorant of the universal Islamic belief that Muhammad was the final Prophet, he declared, "Rumi is a prophet, talking to us with poetry to inspire our transformation" (p. 158).

6An interpretive version, based on Nicholson's translation, by Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi" p. 32, 1995.

7This is from a quatrain found among the quatrains of Bâbâ Afzaluddîn Kâshânî (died 1274--Mawlânâ died in 1273) and is related to a similar quatrain attributed to Abu Sa'id ibn Abi 'l-Khayr (died 1048 C. E.). See the translation from Persian by Vraje Abramian, "Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil-Kheir," 2001, p. 4. Here is an accurate translation of this Persian quatrain: "Return (in repentance), return! Whatever you are, return! Even if you are an unbeliever or a Magian or an idol worshipper, return! This [dervish] court of ours is not a court of despair. Even if you have broken your repentance a hundred times, return!" (Excerpted from Gamard and Farhadi, "The Quatrains of Rumi," an unpublished manuscript.)

In an interview with the late Mevlevi Shaykh and scholar, Shefik Can, he stated: "This quatrain does not belong to Mevlana, and this is already known by everyone." He also said that this quatrain is often misunderstood as meaning that people can break their vows of repentance for sins as much as they like and they will still be welcome to join the circles of the sufis. And he added: "In one of his hadiths, our Prophet Mohammed says that if people repent and ask God for forgiveness, but yet commit the same sin again, they would become more sinful. If you deny your oaths a hundred times and this is perceived as insignificant, then is this appropriate in Islamic belief?" And: "He does not say 'Come, our dergah is available for everything. Do the things that people outside do not accept in our dergah, and will we welcome it.' Yet, people misinterpret that. Constantly reading this quatrain had negative effects on people." ("Interview with Mevlevi Sheikh Shefik Can," May 2, 2005, www.zaman.com.)

8A translation by R. A. Nicholson, "The Mathnawi of Jalâluddîn Rûmî," 1926, Book II: 1757.

9Mawlânâ chose the words "Hinduwân" and "Sindiyân" for the sake of the rhyme--not out of acceptance of the Hindu religion, which he would have viewed as involving polytheism and idolatry. Instead, he was referring--for the sake of his Muslim listeners--to Indian Muslims who spoke the language of the people in the countries along the Indus River.

Here is my own translation: "The idiomatic speech (of the country ) of Hind is the (mode of) praise (of God) for the [Muslim] Hindians, (and) the idiomatic speech of Sind is the (mode of) praise (of God) for the [Muslim] Sindians. I do not become pure and holy by their praise, but they become purified and shining (by it). We do not regard the tongue and (outward) speech, (but) We regard the soul and the (inward) state."

By the time of Mawlânâ, Islam had been established in India for over five hundred years. See Mawlânâ's story of the elephant brought from India for display (to a people unfamiliar with the animal) and kept in a dark house by "Hindus" ("Masnavi" III: 2839)--clearly a reference to Muslims from India who were earning money by using their elephant; the story does not mean that they were Indian polytheists, who would not have been welcomed in Muslim countries far from India. See also the verse, "(If) you are a man of (intention to go on) the Pilgrimage [hajj], seek (another) pilgrim [hajjî] (as your) companion, whether Hendû, Turk, or `Arab" ("Masnavi" Book I: 2894). Here, Mawlânâ is clearly referring to fellow Muslims from different Muslim countries. It was much later that the word "Hendû" came to mean in Persian someone who was a worshipper of the Hindu religion. (Excerpts from Gamard, "Rumi and Islam: Selections from His Stories, Poems, and Discourses; Annotated and Explained," 2004, pp. xiv, 187.)

10Interpretive version by Coleman Barks (based on a literal translation by John Moyne), "Open Secret," 1984, p. 7; reprinted in "The Essential Rumi" 1995, p. 36.

11Rûmî's quatrain no. 81 (no. 94 in Shefik Can's translation, "Hz. Mevlânâ'nin Rubaileri"), translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Ravan Farhadi, from "The Quatrains of Rumi," an unpublished manuscript consisting of the Persian text, English translations, and commentary of the nearly 2,000 quatrains attributed to Rûmî.

These verses involve a mystical interpretation of the Islamic ritual prayer. The sufis pray, not just five times a day, but pray to God, the Source of Love and Beauty, in hundreds of ways throughout the day. The original Persian does not mention "kissing" or "the ground." It can be seen that Barks' often-quoted words, "Let the beauty we love be what we do," are his words and are not Mawlânâ's words at all-- which in this line depict a spiritual devotion toward the beauty of the Beloved.

12 Interview with Coleman Barks, "Poet follows his own muse in translating Sufi mystic/ His Rumi books are surprising best-sellers" San Francisco Chronicle, April 4, 2002 .

13Coleman Barks, "The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems," 2001, p. 9.

14The source of the funeral story is Aflâkî ("Manâqibu 'l-`ârifîn," 3:580), where he stated that "all the nations/religions/sects" [milal] were present--meaning from the communities in the Konya area, not from all over the world. Then Aflâkî wrote more specifically: "...from among the Christians, Jews, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and others [ghayr] also."

15"Masnavi", Book I, Preface

16Mawlânâ's Quatrain No. 1173, translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Ravan Farhadi, from "The Quatrains of Rumi" an unpublished manuscript.

17Aflâkî, "Manâqib 'l-`ârifin, 3:185."

18Mawlânâ's "Masnavi" Book VI: 165. From Gamard, "Rumi and Islam," p. 157. He also said, "Oh, (there are) many unbelievers [kuffâr] (that are) yearning for the (true) Religion [Dîn] but their chain (and barrier) is (concerns about worldly) reputation and pride" ("Masnavi" Book I: 3246).

19Mawlânâ's "Masnavi" Book V: 3397. From Gamard, "Rumi and Islam," p. 162.

20Mawlânâ's "Fîhi Mâ Fîhi" (Arabic text), Discourse 29. From Gamard, "Rumi and Islam," p. 163.

21Nicholson, "Selected Poems," pp. xviii-xx, xxiii.

22Afzal Iqbal, "The Life and Work of Jalâl-ud-dîn Rûmî," 1956, pp. 107-8. This claim was made by Dawlatshâh Samarqandî in 1487 C. E. ("Tadhkira-yi Dawlatshâh," p. 195).

23Franklin Lewis "Rumi--Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rûmi," 2003 (revised paperback edition), 686 pages. This book contains a very informative 68-page chapter on Shams-e Tabrîzî.

24William Chittick, "Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-e Tabrizi," 2004. This book (of 400 pages) consists of excerpts from the "Discourses of Shams-e Tabrîzî" ("Maqâlât-e Shams-e Tabrîzî" arranged into thematic chapters.

25"Maqâlât" (Persian text, edited by Movahhed), p. 182-83; pp. 142-43 in Lewis' trans.; p. 133 in Chittick's translation, "I am a Shafi`î..."

26See the excerpts translated by Chittick in which Shams-e Tabrîzî is quoted about his years of teaching children to memorize the Qur'an, pp. 7-12.

27Aflâkî, "Manâqibu 'l-`ârifîn," p. 84 and 618, Saturday, 26 Jumâd 'l-âkhir, A. H. 642. Aflâkî was born after the death of Mawlânâ (1273 C. E.) and was a disciple of Mawlânâ's grandson, Ulu `ârif Chalabî. Aflâkî collected all the stries about Mawlânâ and wrote his book between 1318-53 C. E. There is a complete translation into English of his book, translated by John O'Kane, "The Feats of the Knowers of God, 2002, 788 pages. Other early Persian accounts that have not yet been translated into English are those of Mawlânâ's son, Sultan Valad, and Sepahsâlâr, a disciple of Mawlânâ's. According to Lewis (p. 249), Sultan Valad wrote over a dozen years after Mawlânâ died and Sepahsâlâr wrote almost forty years after.

28Aflâkî (Persian text), p. 614.

29"Maqâlât-e Valad Chalabî," mentioned in a footnote in Forûzânfar's "Zindegânî" (p. 50); mentioned by Iqbal (p. 108) as quoted by Forûzânfar in "Khalâsa-y Masnavî" (p. 542). This age is referred to by Lewis (p. 155). Shams-e Tabrîzî referred to himself as an "old man" [man mard-e pîr] in the "Maqâlât" (Persian text); in Lewis, p. 155.

30Lewis, pp. 142-3.

31Chittick, p. xvi.

32Chittick, pp. xx-xxi.

33See Chittick's section, "Following Muhammad," in his trans. of the "Discourses," pp. 68-88; see also p. 33. See Lewis, p. 150, 156-58.

34Lewis, p. 150.

35"Maqâlât" (Arabic text), p. 685. This passage, and the paragraphs before and after, are excerpted from Gamard and Farhadi, "The Quatrains of Rumi," an unpublished manuscript. See the translations of this important Arabic quote from Shams made by Chittick (pp. 209-10) and by Lewis (p. 155).

36A. J. Arberry, "Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam," 1950, pp. 11-12.

37 Annemarie Schimmel, "Mystical Dimensions of Islam," 1975, p. 17.

38John Renard, "All the King's Falcons: Rumi on Prophets and Revelation," 1994, p. xiv.

39 Renard, p. xiv.

40 Franklin Lewis "Rumi--Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rûmi," 2000, revised in 2003 (the revised paperback edition supersedes the 2001 hardback edition), pp. 10-11).

41Lewis, pp. 12-14.

42Lewis, p. 14.

43 Ibrahim Gamard, "Rumi and Islam: Selections from His Stories, Poems, and Discourses, Annotated and Explained," 2004, p. xi.

44Gamard, "Rumi and Islam," pp. xvii-xviii.