Jelaluddin Rumi biography

Rumi, or Mevlana, was a Sufi mystic and poet from the 13th century. His poetry set the style not just for Persian poetry, but also for literature in other countries with a strong Muslim contingient like Pakistan and India, with their Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi. It has also formed the basis of Persian music in both Iran and Afghanistan. Since Coleman Barks started his popular translations of his poetry into English, Rumi has been described as the most popular poet in the US. 

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, and popularly known as Mowlana (Mevlana, Mavlana) but known to the English-speaking world simply as Rumi lived from 30 September 1207 till 17 December was not just a Persian poet but also a jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rūmī is a descriptive name meaning "the Roman" since he lived most of his life in an area called Rūm because it was once ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire.

He was likely born in the village of Wakhsh, a small town located at the river Wakhsh in what is now Tajikistan. Wakhsh belonged to the larger province of Balkh, and in the year Rumi was born, his father was an appointed scholar there. Both these cities were at the time included in the greater Persian cultural sphere of Khorasan, the easternmost province of historical Persia, and were part of the Khwarezmian Empire.

His birthplace and native language both indicate a Persian heritage. His father decided to migrate westwards due to quarrels between different dynasties in Khorasan, opposition to the Khwarizmid Shahs who were considered devious by Bahā ud-Dīn Walad (Rumi's father), or fear of the impending Mongol cataclysm. Rumi's family traveled west, first performing the Hajj and eventually settling in the Anatolian city Konya (capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, in present-day Turkey). This was where he lived most of his life, and here he composed one of the crowning glories of Persian literature which profoundly affected the culture of the area.

He lived most of his life under the Sultanate of Rum, where he produced his works and died in 1273 AD. He was buried in Konya and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Following his death, his followers and his son Sultan Walad founded the Mawlawīyah Sufi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for its Sufi dance known as the samāʿ ceremony.

Rumi's works are written in the New Persian language. A Persian literary renaissance (in the 8th/9th century) started in regions of Sistan, Khorāsān and Transoxiana and by the 10th/11th century, it reinforced the Persian language as the preferred literary and cultural language in the Persian Islamic world. Rumi's importance is considered to transcend national and ethnic borders. His original works are widely read in their original language across the Persian-speaking world. Translations of his works are very popular in other countries. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world's languages and transposed into various formats. In 2007, he was described as the "most popular poet in America."

Rumi improvised his poetry. It is only thanks to his diligent disciples that they were written down and preserved for prosterity. 

Teachings and themes

The general theme of Rumi's thought, like that of other mystic and Sufi poets of Persian literature, is essentially that of the concept of tawhīd – union with his beloved (the primal root) from which/whom he has been cut off and become aloof – and his longing and desire to restore it.

The Masnavi weaves fables, scenes from everyday life, Qur’anic revelations and exegesis, and metaphysics into a vast and intricate tapestry. Rumi is considered by members of his Sufi lineage as an example of Insan-e Kamil — Perfect Man, the perfected or completed human being. It is often said of him, in the Muslim world, that he was "not a prophet — but surely, he has brought a scripture".

Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry, and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine, and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of "whirling" dervishes developed into a ritual form. His teachings became the base for the order of the Mawlawi which his son Sultan Walad organized. Rumi encouraged samāʿ, listening to music and turning or doing the sacred dance. In the Mevlevi tradition, samāʿ represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. In this journey, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the Perfect. The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey, with greater maturity, to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination with regard to beliefs, races, classes, and nations.

In the following verses in the Masnavi, Rumi describes in detail the universal message of love:

Lover's nationality is separate from all other religions,
The lover's religion and nationality is the Beloved (God).

The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes
Love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries.

(Naini, Majid. The Mysteries of the Universe and Rumi's Discoveries on the Majestic Path of Love.)

Rumi as a Muslim

However, despite the aforementioned ecumenical attitude, and contrary to his contemporary portrayal in the West as a proponent of non-denominational spirituality, a select number of Rumi poems suggest the importance of outward religious observance, the primacy of the Qur'an and the superiority of Islam.

Flee to God's Qur'an, take refuge in it
there with the spirits of the prophets merge.
The Book conveys the prophets' circumstances
those fish of the pure sea of Majesty.

Rumi's approach to Islam is further clarified in this quatrain:

Man banda-ye qur'ānam, agar jān dāram
man khāk-e rah-e muhammad-e mukhtāram
gar naql konad joz īn kas az goftāram
bēzāram azō waz-īn sokhan bēzāram.

I am the servant of the Qur'an as long as I have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One.
If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings,
I am quit of him and outraged by these words.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr states:

    One of the greatest living authorities on RŻmÓ in Persia today, H‚dÓ H‚'irÓ, has shown in an unpublished work that some 6,000 verses of the DÓw‚n and the MathnawÓ are practically direct translations of Qur'‚nic verses into Persian poetry.

Rumi states in his Dīwān:

The Sufi is hanging on to Muhammad, like Abu Bakr.

I wonder about the date of this verse. However, I'll leave the intricacies of this to the experts, however it is no accident that the last volume of his Divan was translated, unlike the previous ones, into English without the support of the Turkish government. So even if he was a Muslim Sufi till the end of his life, he certainly was a heretical one. (The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication)

The above is mostly based on wikipedia, sept. 2010.