Rumi and the World
Although Jalal al-Din Muhammad was born in Balkh and wrote his poetry in Persian, he lived in Anatolia (present-day Turkey, also referred to as Byzantium and Rum) and died there among his family and mostly Turkish disciples. The first works about his life and deeds were written in Turkey by his son, Sultan Walad, and Aflaki. After the Mathnawi was translated into Turkish and na'ats (praises) in Turkish were added to recitals, some Turks came to the conclusion that Maulana had actually been a Turk. In the same way that Persians like Ibn Sina and al-Biruni had been forced by circumstances to write their works in Arabic, they said, Maulana had been forced by circumstances to write his poetry in Persian!
Among the Turks who have made lasting contributions to Rumi studies, mention can be made of Rosukhi Esma'il Dede Anqaravi (d. 1631) and 'Abd al-Baqi Golpinarli (1900-1982). Although somewhat controversial, Anqaravi's seven-volume Commentary on the Mathnawi is the most comprehensive study of the master's verses in Turkish. Golpinarli's contributions are related to his translation of a major portion of the works of Rumi from Persian into Turkish. This included a translation from the Mathnawi, as well as lyrics from the Divan-i Shams-i Tabrizi, Rumi's discourses, letters, and the Majalis-i Sab'a (Seven Sermons).
Rumi scholarship in Iran is extensive and beyond the scope of this essay. The reader is referred to the comprehensive work of Franklin D. Lewis for further details. The most extensive study, however, was undertaken by Badi' al-Zaman Foruzanfar (1900-1970). An avid reader and Rumi enthusiast, he wrote his dissertation entitled, Risalah dar Ahval wa Zendegii Maulana Jalal al-Din Muhammad (Study of the Circumstances and Life of Maulana Jalal al-Din, on the subject. The 1954 revised edition of the 1936 dissertation continues to be useful to students interested in Rumi. Foruzanfar also took on the task of writing a Sharh-i Mathnawi-i Sharif, a comprehensive commentary on the Mathnawi, but could finish only three volumes before he died. Other contributors include Sadeq Gowharin (d. 1995), who provided a comprehensive dictionary of Rumi terminology; 'Abdul Hussein Zarrinkub, who has provided an extensive commentary on the Mathnawi; and Parviz Morewedge, whose essay on Rumi's philosophy and mystical poetry is of great interest.
Not all Iranians adored Rumi. In fact, those who recognized Rumi's Ash'arite background and who deemed him to be antiphilosophy and anti-rational, regarded him as a dangerous element in society, detrimental to the psychological well-being of the youth the of the country.
Among this group Ahmad Kasravi (1890-1946) was the most vocal. A University of Tehran professor, Kasravi was forced to leave the university partially due to his staunch stance against medieval Persian poets, especially Sa'di, Hafiz, and Rumi. He considered Rumi to be a deluded individual prone to hallucination. If, according to the Sufis, whose creed Rumi follows, there is no good, no evil, and no salvation, asked Kasravi, why should we bother to educate the young or attempt to build societies, or harbor hope for the future?
Others also see a contradiction in Rumi's words and deeds. They point to Rumi's lifestyle that seems to be at odds with his teachings. He wore beautiful, expensive outfits, a magnificent headgear made from the finest fabrics, his ink set was inlaid with priceless pearls from Bahrain and with gold, and his pen was adorned with a peacock feather. Beautifully embroidered leather shoes completed his ensemble. Is this not at odds with the directives in Misbah al-Hidayah (The Guiding Light), where the circumstances of the life of a Sufi are outlined?
By the same token, one can argue that once the salik passes the arduous stations and states of the Path, he is free to choose any color or type of garment that is most fitting to his mood.
Rumi is first mentioned in French by Barthélémy d'Herbelot (1625-95), where, in his Bibliothéque Orientale, he discusses the life and works of Sa'di, Hafiz, Rudaki and other Persian poets and thinkers. His mention of Rumi, however, is noteworthy. Rather than as a mystic, d'Herbelot discusses Rumi as the master of the Mevlavi Dervishes. His emphasis, rather than on Rumi, is on the rituals of the order, music and dance.
The trend set by d'Herbelot became a tradition in France until the twentieth century. But that does not mean that the French did not study the other Oriental poets and thinkers in depth. In fact, some French scholars dedicated their entire study to Oriental themes. Louis Massignon, for instance, devoted most of his life to an appreciation of the life and times of Mansur al-Hallaj. In the case of Rumi, however, they allowed the spectacle to mask the message. For instance, Clément Huart (1854-1926), who translated the works of Aflaki, paid little attention to the works of Rumi. Similarly, Henri Corbin studied the illuminationist Suhrawardi and the monist Ibn al-'Arabi, but paid only lip service to Rumi. No doubt, this trend would have continued if, in the 1970's, Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch, a Rumi disciple, had not devoted her study to Rumi the mystic. Her translations and analyses of the philosophy of Rumi have made the French aware of the real force behind the music and the dance of the Whirling Dervishes of Konya.
The first mention of Rumi in English is by Sir William Jones (1746-94) who, in December 1791, in a lecture called "On the Mystical Poetry of the Persians and Hindus," recited his translation of the opening bayt of the Mathnawi.
Hear, how yon reed in sadly pleasing tales
Departed bliss and present woe bewails!
Although Jones's field of study was grammar, his contributions cannot be ignored. His Grammar of the Persian Language (1771) formed the linguistic base on which scholars like Edward Granville Browne (1862 - 1926) and Reynold Alleyne Nicholson (1868 - 1945) drew to acquaint themselves with the works of the Persian masters. Without Jones's contribution, they would not have been able to delve into Mawlavi's works, especially into his Mathnawi.
Neither is what is being said an exaggeration. The contribution of Nicholson to an understanding of Jalal al-Din Rumi's world and thought is so great that even in Iran, for reference purposes, Rumi specialists use his edition of the Mathnawi. In fact, Nicholson and his student, Arthur John Arberry (1905-1969), prepared the ground for the two types of scholarship that dominated Rumi studies after they left the field. Nicholson inspires those Westerners who are interested in understanding the mystical dimensions of Islam; Arberry, on the other hand, provides translations on which a more popular understanding of Rumi can be based. A brief history of Rumi in English translation follows.
In 1887, E.H. Whinfield published the translation of an abridged version of the Mathnavi. This was followed by C.E. Wilson's translation of Book II of the Mathnavi in 1910. Finally, Nicholson published a complete version entitled, The Mathnawi of Jalal al-Din Rumi (1925-1940). The eight-volume translation set the scene for Rumi studies for the subsequent decades.
Nicholson's efforts were followed by the 1949 translation of selections from the Ruba'iyyat of Rumi by A. J. Arberry. In 1925, Nicholson published translations of some selections from both Fihi ma Fihi and the Mathnawi. The translations appeared in A. J. Arberry's Selections. Two years later, Nicholson's 1898 edition of Diwani Shamsi Tabrizi was reprinted. In 1956, using Nicholson's selections, Sir Colin Garbett contributed his own translation entitled, Sun of Tabriz: A Lyrical Introduction to Higher Metaphysics. In 1961, A. J. Arberry published Discourses of Rumi and in 1968 Mystical Poems of Rumi. In the 1960's, Arberry translated some of the tales for which Rumi is famous. They were Tales from the Mathnawi (1961) and More Tales from the Mathnawi (1963).
As we shall see further below, these translations provided the base for a series of new transcreations by American poets dealing with Rumi. For instance, Coleman Barks and John Moyne reworded the translations of Arberry and Nicholson in the American vernacular in The Essential Rumi (1996), followed by The Illuminated Rumi, contributed by Coleman Barks and Michael Green (1997). We shall deal with the American treatment of Rumi's verses further below.
In Germany, the contributions of three scholars, among others, stand out. Hellmut Ritter (1892-1971) studied Rumi's life and works concentrating on the rituals of the Order, especially sama' about which he wrote two articles. Following in the footsteps of Ritter, Fritz Meier (1912-98) researched the family background of Rumi, especially Baha' Walad's views, and provided invaluable information about Rumi's theology. He based his understanding of Rumi on Maqalat-i Shams, a very informative source, especially in relation to Rumi's Sufic concepts. Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003) researched the primary sources of Rumi and published extensively on his Sufic thought. More than any other scholar, she has grounded the works of Rumi in the traditions of Indian Islam and in Sufism. She also has produced an extensive amount of literature in English on Rumi.
Rumi is not well known in Italy. In 1894, Italo Pizzi provided five passages and eleven poems from Rumi's works. This was followed in 1975 by the publication of the proceedings of a 1973 conference commemorating the 700th anniversary of Rumi's death held in Rome. In 1980, Alessandro Bausani (1921 - 88) published a volume that included fifty ghazals and twelve quatrains in Italian translation.
Europeans made contact with the Mevlevi dervishes as early as 1422 and became familiar with the poetry of Maulana and his philosophy. The accounts that the early travelers brought back, however, were distorted and culturally biased. Fortunately, later scholars discovered the true Rumi and justified the reasons for the Mevlevis being so proud of their master. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) who translated the German translations contributed by Hammer Purgstall and Herman Ethé (1844-1917) introduced Americans to Persian literature. As was the case in France, in America, too, Rumi was not the Persian poet most liked by the public. Shams al-Din Hafiz of Shiraz was. Actually, Rumi was not well known in the United States until the advent of the New Age in America. Then Rumi became increasingly popular. Today he is the most well known and frequently-cited poet in the United States.
Unlike in Germany and Britain where scholars and religious institutions spearheaded Rumi's recognition, in the United States the general public took the lead. About this Lewis writes, "The influence of Rumi on modes of thinking in the West … makes itself felt not so much in the churches and not so much in the academy or in quasi-scientific approaches to the mind, as in the popular movements and spiritual practices imported from points east and designated generally as New Age spirituality."
Perhaps one of the reasons for Rumi's attraction was the Americans' increasing interest in Eastern spiritualism in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1976, this interest manifested itself in the youth movement which, being anti-materialist and anti-capitalist in nature, was acceptable of Sufi mentality. What vehicle would establish the new Weltanschauung better than Sufism, represented by Rumi as its poster boy? In other words, it was Sufism that was gaining ground in America and Rumi was riding on the crest of it.
From this vantage point, we can see the emergence of two different attitudes towards Rumi and his teachings. One group insists on the promotion of the essential qualities of Sufism and the true philosophy of Rumi. The members of this group study Rumi's works in the context of the society and philosophy prevalent during the thirteenth century. The other group opts for the popular Rumi and, in the process, compromises the integrity of Rumi's teachings. And Sufism, as is its wont, accommodates both groups quite comfortably. Carl Ernst puts it best where, in his Words of Ecstasy in Sufism, he says that Sufism "has been followed by individuals of widely different temperaments and characters, and consequently exhibits a wide variety of approaches."
In 1973, the 700th anniversary of Rumi's death, one of America's major poets, Robert Duncan (1919-88) became familiar with the works of Rumi and, inspired by Rumi, in 1976, wrote "Circulations of the Song: After Jalal al-Din Rumi." Soon after that he included the poem in his public readings and, eventually, published it in his book, Ground Work: Before the War. According to West, Duncan's poem "demonstrates a remarkable familiarity with or intuition about the spirit, pacing, and style of Rumi's ghazals." Duncan's recitations attracted the attention of two graduate students who wrote their dissertations on the subject. Ghulam Muhammad Fayez wrote on "Mystic Ideas and Images in Jalal al-Din Rumi and Walt Whitman" and Sabrina Caine wrote on "Eros and the Visionaries: A Depth Psychological Approach." The latter, following Duncan, dealt with the deep love that bonded Rumi to his soul mate Shams of Tabriz. The same Rumi-Shams encounter also inspired Daniel Liebert to write the first book in America on Rumi. Forty-five pages in length, the book is called Rumi: Fragments and Ecstasies.
In 1984, David Martin translated Rumi from the Persian, disregarding the necklace theory that had governed the analyses, understanding, and translations of the Persian ghazal. Consequently, he presented the poems of Rumi as unified wholes rather than as haphazardly juxtaposed couplets. His diction, however, remained the diction of those scholars who had translated Rumi in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Martin's treatment of the poems of Rumi affected the American poet Robert Ellwood Bly (1926-) in two ways. First it taught him that it was Rumi's ideas in his poems, i.e., the content, that had to be given precedence. Second that Rumi's ideas did not have to emerge through the structures and words of the Victorian translators who had introduced him to the West. Bly, therefore, drew Rumi into his own circle of translations and gave Rumi an American face. The process, which we shall call "transcreation," is quite simple. In the case of Rumi, you take a ghazal that is already translated by Arberry or Nicholson, assess its contents, and write a verse that conveys the meaning. Outwardly the new ghazal need not resemble Arberry's or Nicholson's original. If there is a resemblance, of course, so much the better. If there is not, nothing is lost. In the eyes of Bly, Arberry and Nicholson were means to make Rumi's ideas available. Thereafter, they are expendable. By the same token, we can assume that Bly, too, is a means to convey Arberry and Nicholson to the future generations. Where would this process leave Jalal al-Din Rumi?
The poet Coleman Bryan Barks (1937- ) says that in 1976, Bly, with whom he had just become acquainted at a conference, handed him Rumi's poems and asked him to rewrite those poems as verses familiar to American ears. He did just that and, thereafter, too, he looked for literal translations of Rumi on which to base his renditions. According to Coleman, the more literal the translations, the better they are for his purpose. Often, John Abel Moyne (born Javad Mo'in) provides the literal versions, at other times Arberry and Nicholson. The contributions of Barks include The Essential Rumi (1995), which pulls together some of his earlier selections, a coffee-table book of 128 pages called The Illuminated Rumi (1997), and Rumi: Book of Love (2005).
Transcreation of the type we are addressing here entered the translation of Persian works with the extremely successful transcreation of the Quatrains of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald (1809-83). Those familiar with the Persian text of Khayyam's Ruba'iyyat and with Khayyam's philosophy would attest to the dexterity of Fitzgerald in recreating the world of the Ruba'iyyat of Omar Khayyam a-la-Fitzgerald rather than a-la-Khayyam. There is, however, a telling difference between the contributions of Fitzgerald and those by Bly and Barks. Fitzgerald knew the Persian language very well and, like Khayyam, was a philosopher. Additionally, he was well grounded in both the Western and Islamic cultures that contributed to the depth of the mystic dimension of the Ruba'iyyat. The transcreations of Bly and the others amplifying Rumi's Oeuvre -- they lack these basic elements.
Although often helped by Moyne, the transcreations of Bly and Barks are based on the scholarly translations of nineteenth century authors like Nicholson and Arberry, the generation to which Edward Fitzgerald belonged. If we consider the fact that those great personalities of Iranian studies admitted that their translations did not fathom the depth of the poetry of Hafiz and Rumi, we will have a better grasp of the quality and the value of the Victorian English into American English transcreations of Bly and Barks. Why would then, major American poets like Bly and Barks, and a linguist like Moyne, undertake such transcreations? It all depends on the outcome that each transcreator aims for. Bly's version, in his own words, is based on guesses. He does not look for accuracy. An inaccurate translation, he believes, is better than no translation at all!
Finally, in Tajikistan, Academic A. Bahauddinov, as well as N. Odilov, Kh. Ziyaev, and M. Muhammadjonova have dealt with Rumi's philosophy. In particular, the two latter scholars have authored books on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Rumi's birth. Kh. Ziyaev's publications include a good deal of information on the life and works of Rumi's father, Baha' Walad.
Rumi and Philosophy
When we think of Arthur Schopenhauer, we are reminded of volition (eradeh) and about our own sense of connection to the ultimate reality. When we think about Friedrich Nietzsche, rather than an ultimate reality, we think about superman (abar insan), a distinctly different reality with its roots not in the heavens but among ourselves. Johann Gottlieb Fichte replaces God with an Absolute Mind, an existent (ego, khud) into which existence is projected, and Henri Bergson credits nature as the reality that renews itself at each turn.
Nazir Qaisar compares the thought of Muhammad Iqbal with the thoughts of the four philosophers mentioned above, as well as with the philosophies of Henry James and John McTaggart. They are the Western philosophers whom Iqbal is supposed to have emulated. After analyzing the thoughts of those philosophers and comparing them, almost strand-bystrand, with Iqbal's, he rejects the notion that Iqbal has followed those Western philosophers. He agrees that there is a resemblance, but states categorically that the resemblance is not substantial enough for those philosophers to be credited as the source of Iqbal's inspiration. According to Qaisar, Iqbal's thought takes source in the teachings of the Qur'an, the ahadith and the Sunnah of the Prophet, as well as in the legacy of Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi.
To Qaisar's statement we can add that Iqbal, like Rumi, follows the tradition of the eastern encyclopedic scholar. Rather than connect the nodes within the same topic such as volition, or will to power, or centrality of nature, he connects the nodes across topics. In this way, he allows lesser issues to find their solutions within the larger context. In the philosophy of Rumi, therefore, we find topics like volition, will to power, centrality of nature, and many others as contributing factors to an overall understanding of man and his role here below.
In what follows, we shall examine Rumi's thought in the context of its Ishraqi source and in relation to the worlds of Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi and Najm al-Din Kubra.
Since an understanding of the world of Kubra necessitates an examination of the efforts of the founder of Ishraqi philosophy, and since Ishraqi philosophy draws on ancient Iranian thought, we shall start with the pre-Islamic roots of al-Suhrawardi's philosophy, i.e., the Ancient Persian idea of light and emanation.
Iranian Roots of Rumi's Philosophy
In Mazdian cosmology, the ancient Iranian concept of the khwarnagh, which in medieval times appears as farr, refers to the power of the sun deified. In present-day Farsi, the word khawar (east) refers to where the sun rises. A more important concept is the ancient Iranians' belief that the rays of the sun, accompanied by thought, serve as building blocks to form perfect cosmic societies. The closer the units of light (read "thought beings") were to the source, the stronger was their claim to purity, prowess, and leadership. Thus, the Persian form farahmand (a person endowed with farr) has different connotations, depending on where on the farr hierarchy an individual is located. In the ancient Iranian social structure, the most powerful individual is the one who is invested with the farr by a divine personage. The invisible status of the individual visà-vis the deified sun (khwar) manifests itself, at different levels, depending on the individual's thoughts, words, and deeds.
In ancient Iranian cosmology, a distinction is made between the celestial and terrestrial manifestations of the life force. Everything that emanates from the life force, itself known variously as the Void, Thought, or Khwar, moves downward along an ever-decreasing hierarchy of light and sagacity. In the celestial domain, Ahura Mazda, at the apex, is the source of thought, light, and life. He is assisted by six Amesha Spentas (holy immortals or demi-gods) who, in turn, are aided by a host of Yazatas (archangels). The Yazatas are assisted by an innumerable host of Farahvashis (angels). The deeds of these cosmic personages are illustrated in myth through a series of saint-heroes like Fereydun, Kayka'us, and Kaykhusrau. The terrestrial rungs of the hierarchy emanating from khwar materialize in real historical kings like Darius I the Great, Xerxes I, Ardashir, and Anushirvan. These monarchs model their actions on those of the saint-heroes who have preceded them. Under these rulers, the farr of the king of kings is supreme. Princes, satraps, nobles, farmers, and prisoners of war are placed hierarchically below the king of kings.
Revival of Ancient Iranian Thought
The philosopher who revived the ancient Iranian concept of khwar deified, and who developed the idea further by relating it to its ancient Egyptian and Persian roots is Shihab al-Din Yahya al-Suhrawardi al-Maqtul. He is the founder of Ishraqi philosophy that, after the condemnation of philosophy by Abu al-Hassan Ashari, Abu Bakr Baiqalani, Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, and Ibn Taimiyyah, became the dominant philosophy of its age.
Al-Suhrawardi was born in 1155 in the village of Suhraward in northwestern Iran. He was educated by Majd al-Din al-Jili in Maragha and by Zahir al-Din Qari'i in Isfahan. After completing his basic education, al-Suhrawardi traveled in Iran, Anatolia, and Syria and became familiar with Sufi elders. In Aleppo, he participated in religious debates that pitted his illuminationist philosophy against 'Ash'ari dogma. His frank assertions did not sit well with the 'Ash'arites who accused him of having claims to prophethood. Al-Suhrawardi was either starved to death or strangled at the behest of Salah al-Din Ayoubi in 1192 at the age of 37 or 38. He is referred to as "al-Maqtul" (the slain) to distinguish him from the Sufi Shaykh of the same name who headed the Suhrawardiyyah Sufi Order.
In order to grasp the work of his predecessors, al-Suhrawardi studied the works of the peripatetic philosophers, especially the works of Ibn Sina, and documented his understanding of the knowledge of those sages in a trilogy:
- Talvihat (Intimations),
- Muqovimat (Oppositions), and
- Mashari' wa Mutarihat (Paths and Heavens).
His assessment of peripatetic philosophy convinced him that the path to Truth lies beyond discursive philosophy, and in the relatively uncharted realms of intuitive philosophy. He then wrote his fourth book, Hikmat al-Ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination) that, according to himself, was inspired to him in a dream by Aristotle.
Al-Suhrawardi also wrote a number of essays (risalah) and stories with mystical dimensions.
Al-Suhrawardi bases his illuminationist theory on 2 main sources:
a) Greek sources including Hermes Trismegistos, Asclepius, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato, the Neo-Platonians, the Egyptian Zu al-Nun, and Abu Sahl Tastari, and
b) Iranian sources that also begin with Hermes Trismegistos but include the Royal Iranian mu'bads, as well as Kayumars, Fereydun, Kaykhusrau, Zoroaster, Abu Yazid Bastami, Mansur al-Hallaj, and Abu al-Hassan Kharaqani.
In essence, his philosophy retains not only the Neo-Platonic philosophy that had resulted from the synthesis of ancient Egyptian and Iranian emanation theories of light and al-Farabi's enhancement of those theories, but also the Aristotelian or Masha'i philosophy that views the world in terms of cause, effect, and categories.
Al-Suhrawardi uses Ibn Sina's peripatetic philosophy as a base for his own philosophy and crowns it with al-Farabi's emanationist philosophy. Then, within the new combined system, he makes the following changes. He replaces the discursive nature of Ibn Sina's arguments with his own intuitive interpretations. And he summarily replaces al-Farabi's concrete emanations — from Saturn to the Moon — with abstract emanations that take source in the Nur al-Anwar (Light of Lights).
Most importantly, to these new dimensions, he adds a gradation mechanism whereby the beings closest to the Light of Lights cast the least amount of shadow and those at the greatest distance cast the most amount of shadow. Before entering a brief review of Rumi's world, let us summarize al-Suhrawardi's cosmos in relation to its Mazdian roots. This will help us understand the role that Light and Shadow play across the system, as well as the nature of the gradation involved. It will also prepare us to grasp the world of Najm al-din Kubra on whose thought Rumi drew.
Al-Suhrawardi divides the world into two: celestial and terrestrial.
He calls the chief deity, Ahura Mazda, the Light of Lights. In this way he revives the concept of the Khwar deified. Alongside the Light of Lights, he places Shadow that, due to the intensity of the Light of Lights, cannot show itself. We are aware of it only in a theoretical sense. Below the Light of Lights are the Demi-gods -- Artibihisht, Khwardad, Amurdad, etc. -- with their Iranian names retained intact. We know them as the Amesha Spentas. These Demi-gods and their concomitant Shadows form a rather high level of being that controls aspects of Ahura Mazda's creation. Al-Suhrawardi's lower lights recall the Yazatas of the ancient religion. Known as archangels, they, too, form a level that consists of infinite interactions among the lights and shadows of this level. Before the celestial emanations end, there is a level of angels that corresponds to the Farahvashis of the old system. They are the last of the celestial beings and the closest to human existence.
The terrestrial world, which lies below the Farahvashis, is the part of al-Suhrawardi's cosmos in which shadows gain power over lights. Human beings, more shadow than light in composition, are at the apex of this world. Their internal hierarchy, from king of kings to prisoner of war, was already discussed. Below them are the lesser beings including animals, followed in descending order by plants, and minerals. The world of the minerals is the world of absolute Shadow with light appearing only as a theoretical reality.
The system outlined above includes enough information to discuss the structure with which Rumi works, especially in his poem called az jamadi murdam (I died as a mineral), without getting involved in a full discussion of Ishraqi philosophy. One very important aspect, however, needs to be mentioned in order for us to fathom the depth and the quality of the separation expressed in Rumi's other poem that we intend to look at: bishnau az ney (listen to the reed flute). That aspect pertains to a vertical interaction that exists between the uppermost and the lowermost ranks of the emanation hierarchy. The Light of Lights stands in a qahira (triumphal) relation vis-à-vis the lights below it as they are increasingly obscured by shadow until they reach the Shadow of Shadows. Conversely, the Shadow of Shadows stands in an 'ishq (love) relationship vis-à-vis the Light of Lights above, the object of its relentless quest.
In Sufi literature, the lover ('ashiq), who is on the lower rungs of the hierarchy, finds himself confronted with the immense power (qahr) of the Beloved. It is through weeping, imploring, and begging, that he endeavors to soften the qahr to bring about a degree of proximity to the Beloved and a modicum of solace for himself. Understanding the dynamics of this relationship, especially the distance that qahr creates and that love must bridge, is essential to an understanding of the relationship between man and his Creator.
The scholar who continued the efforts of al-Suhrawardi is Najm al-Din Kubra, the founder of the Kubrawiyyah Sufi Order. A follower of Ahmad al-Ghazzali, the brother of the famed Abu Hamid who died in 1111, Kubra was born in Khwarazm in 1146. He traveled to Nishapur, Hamadan, Isfahan, Mecca, and Alexandria gathering information on ancient creeds and cultures. Eventually, in 1184, he returned to Khwarazm and committed his thoughts to writing. When Genghis Khan invaded Khwarazm in 1220, he ordered Najm al-Din Kubra to appear before him. Kubra refused to leave his people, and because of his insubordination, Mongol officials executed him.
By combining the apparent properties of light and color with al-Suhrawardi's emanation theory, Najm al-Din Kubra played a pivotal role in the further development of Ishraqi philosophy that had been gaining ground since the fall of the Mu'tazilites. Kubra created a mystical system with which he could determine the stations and the states that the 'arif (mystic) experienced as he made progress on the Path. Although not material in nature, the light-color hierarchy that related the mundane to the sublime served as a guide for the insignificant ray of light (the salik) that sought its source, the sun. Ala al-Din Semnani, building on Kubra's system, posited seven colors, indicating the seven stations and states of the hierarchy that the Sufi traverses on the Path. From the lowest rank to the highest, the colors introduced by Semnani are: grey (any human being), blue, red, white, yellow, black, and emerald green (Muhammad). In each color, Semnani saw a different reflection of the prophet of Islam. Needless to say, all the changes take place beyond the realm of the senses, some beyond the realm of the intellect.
The following chart summarizes our discussion thus far.
--- (picture) ---
Rumi picks up the emanation theory at a time when the theory is still being developed. In the 16-th century Mir Damad of the School of Isfahan, and his student, Mullah Sadra of Shiraz, expand the capability of the emanation theory manifold. By replacing the concept of "light" with the concept of "existence," Mullah Sadra revolutionizes Islamic philosophy and provides answers to questions that had baffled both the Masha'i and the Ishraqi philosophers. The remainder of this paper is devoted to the impact of Ishraqi philosophy on Rumi's thought, and, consequently, on the import of his poetry.
Ishraqi Philosophy in Rumi's Verses
In his poem "Az jamadi murdam (I died as a mineral"), Rumi presupposes a knowledge of both the emanation theory and the existence of interaction between Light and Shadow and qahr and 'ishq up and down the emanation hierarchy. In order to follow Maulana's train of thought, we must understand that he begins not at the zenith, but at the nadir of the hierarchy and moves upwards incrementally. In other words, he presupposes that a bright beam of light, separated by qahr from the Light of Lights, has degenerated into a faint (read theoretically distinguishable) existence in the Shadow of Shadows. It is now using 'ishq as a vehicle to make advances in the realm of qahr to retrieve its former status. The "I" in the first couplet, in other words, is not a human being in our sense of a human being, but what we know as jamad (lifeless, inert thing, existent) or the totality of the Shadow of Shadows.
Recall that at the level of the Light of Lights, shadow was a theoretical existent. By gaining what we consider life, it reached its apex (nadir in Sufic terms) where, at the end of the emanation hierarchy, it eclipsed light altogether. The death of the jamad, therefore, is the beginning of a new type of life (unknown to us) for the faint residual of light/life. As the action moves upwards in the hierarchy, the amount of shadow decreases and the power of light increases. The increase, as a result of the many deaths of the Shadow, brings light back into the abode of the untrammeled Light of Lights, the Ultimate. In a sense, therefore, the life and death that Rumi talks about are the exact opposite of what we recognize as life and death.
Thus far in our study of Rumi, we have looked at the underlying principles. Let us now apply those principles to "Az jamadi murdam". Here is A.J. Arberry's translation of the poem. The numbers are added for ease in comparison with the Persian text following the translation.
1. I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
2. I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
3. Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
4. I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.
5. Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.
1. Az jamadi murdamu nami shudam
Vaz nama murdam zi hayvan sar zadam
This opening bayt establishes the undeniable fact that, in essence, all things, human beings included, pass through the sieve of creation and that the progression of jamad must necessarily be upwards; there is no involvement of space and time as we know them, and there are no lower levels to which jamad can descend. Furthermore, the move upwards happens in a series of transformations that are triggered by a kind of death (murdan), the quality of which is also unknown to us. In fact, we learn that death is an ever-present reality and that life confronts death at every breath we take. Fortunately, the ongoing struggle affects the world and us tangentially. In fact, we remain practically unaware of death.
Furthermore, the bayt gives the impression that we are dealing with an individual human being's passage through the hierarchy. But in reality, we are looking at the smallest amount of light amid the Shadow of Shadows that seeks the largest amount of light. On the way to achieving its goal, it passes the human realm as well. Jamadi is the state of utter lifelessness. Life within the realm of jamad is not recognizable by human senses. Nevertheless, it is not the type of life that can be summarily dismissed.
The first perceivable life appears after the state of jamadi is overcome. That is when jamad becomes nami (that which grows). Usually the plant world is given as an example of the nami world; but, in reality, all that grows on top of the mountains and in the depths of the oceans share the nami status. The next stage in the chain is the hayvan level. This is usually recognized to be the animal world, but it, too, is a world unto itself. It is the world in which the static nami merges with locomotion to produce hayvan (animal). Hayvan, in other words, is a life force attached to jamad that is made nami and to which locomotion is added.
2. Murdam az hayvani u adam shudam
Pas chi tarsam, key zi murdan kam shudam
The culmination of the improvement on the insignificant being as it moves in the direction of the Light of Lights, in the terrestrial sphere, is the emergence of intellect (in human beings). From here on, jamad finds itself increasingly on the defensive; it has to fight its way, as it were, in an uncharted territory, the territory of Light. It is at this stage that intelligence kicks in and the inert being, now a human, initiates a dialogue within himself. The question of origins pains him and the recognition of the distance yet to be traversed alarms him. Pining for reunion he forges ahead.
The concept of a transition from the mundane world into the world of the gods has a long history beginning with the dual role of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs and the legendary Iranian saint-heroes, like Kaykhusrau. That discussion, however, is outside the purview of this paper. In medieval mystic terminology, this role is played by the members of the family of the Prophet. In Rumi's world, this role is played by Shams of Tabriz. Shams of Tabriz leads Rumi through the uncharted territory of the divine and into the presence of God.
3 Hamlai digar bemiram az basher
Ta bar aram az mala'ik parru sar
Although intelligence is instrumental in pointing out origins and providing a foretaste for reunion, it is powerless in actually penetrating the levels of the angels, archangels, and the demi-gods. Here, according to al-Suhrawardi, there is need for intuition out of which a faith-key, a key of unreason, can be forged to gain entrance into the mansions of the celestial realm.
4. Bari digar az malak parran shavam
Anchi andar vahm nayad an shavam
The penultimate action of the life force that began in the jamad is a return to the world of no jamad. This is a world about which we know nothing (andar vahm nayad).
5. Pas 'adam gardam 'adam chun arghanun
Guyadam ki anna alayha raji'un 
The final bayt summarizes the endeavor. The Light of Lights and the Shadow of Shadows are one and the same, the unity in diversity that we know as wahdat al-wujud. Together they are called 'adam (non-existence), a neutral continuum along which diverse attributes (nami, hayvan, adam, malak, etc.) contribute to the creation of temporary distinctions (cf., the creations of maya—desire—in Buddhism). In reality, however, there is only one process: becoming (shudan).
Hakim Sana'i expresses the same idea in a slightly different way. Could this poem of Sana'i have inspired Rumi? Sana'i says:
Vaz daruni falak be char gohar
Hama dar bando khasmi yakdigar
Se mavalid az in chahar arkan
Chun nabato ma'adeno hayvan
Chun nabati ghazaye hayvan shod
Hayavan ham ghazai ensan shod
Nutqi insan cho shod ghazai falak
To be-d-in rui baz shod ba falak.
From within the universe,
Four elements emerged.
Enmeshed in a perpetual conflict,
Three of the progeny interact:
Plants, minerals, and animals.
The plants sustain the animals,
While animals become food for man.
Man's eloquence feeds the angels,
Gaining him reentry into the universe.
* * *
Bishnau az ney (listen to the reed flute) is the second poem that we will deal with briefly. It is about separation and yearning for reunion. It spans the hierarchy between the Shadow of Shadows at the nadir, and the Light of Lights (the Almighty) at the zenith. Words like juda'i, boridan, firaq, dur mandan az asl, and other, more subtle, forms indicate the depth of the yearning of the soul for returning to its original home, the abode of the Light of Lights.
Here is a translation of the opening verses of the Mathnavi by A.J. Arberry.
Hear, how yon reed in sadly pleasing tales
Departed bliss and present woe bewails!
'With me, from native banks untimely torn,
Love-warbling youths and soft-ey'd virgins mourn,
O! let the heart, by fatal absence rent,
Feel what I sing, and bleed when I lament:
Who roams in exile from his parent bow'r,
Pants to return, and chides each ling'ring hour.
My notes, in circles of the grave and gay,
Have hail'd the rising, cheer'd the closing day:
Each in my fond affections claim'd a part,
But none discern'd the secret of my heart.
What though my strains and sorrows flow combin'd!
Yet ears are slow, and carnal eyes are blind.
Free through each mortal form the spirits roll,
But sight avails not. Can we see the soul?'
In this poem, using the analogy of the reed flute, Rumi teaches his disciples, and the community at large, about their salvation and whether the gap between man and the Beloved can be bridged. Rumi's audience is acquainted with the reed flute, its construction and function. They know how a reed stalk is severed from the reed bed and converted into a flute. Using this knowledge, then, Rumi explains the workings of the khaniqah, the stations and states that the 'arif undertakes, as well as the relationship of those stages and states to the spiritual existence and the daily life of the 'arif.
Originally, Rumi says, the reed flute was a plant that grew in the bend of a river or in the calm waters of a lake. In the reed bed life and death mingled mysteriously, so that as long as it stayed in the reed bed the reed would enjoy immortality. Similarly, all beings, from the jamad to the human and the angel have their origins in the reed bed of the Light of Lights. The master reed flute maker has visited the reed bed, severed a stalk and taken it to his workshop, somewhere between the Light of Lights and the Shadow of Shadows.
Compare this with the ordeal of the ney. After it was severed from the reed bed, it remained in the flute maker's shop. In time, its green hue changed into a sallow color and its supple composition became hard and wooden. The master cut a piece from it, hollowed it thoroughly, and burned several holes into it. Once polished, the reed became a conduit that could convey the laments of the multitude to the Beloved. In other words, the jamad nature of the reed was transformed to create the love that sooths the qahr of the Almighty.
The murshid in a khaniqah, Rumi says, has undergone an analogous ordeal to become a guide, the same ordeal that the reed flute underwent in order to create the music that rends the heart. The murshid-to-be, answering a call, severs his ties with family and society and, in search of his true origin, enters the khaniqah. In the khaniqah, like the reed that is hollowed, he learns selflessness by voluntarily abandoning all worldly things, including the desire for worldly things. He undergoes rigorous training that includes crossing arduous stations (maqam) and experiencing delightful states (hal) that no ordinary human being experiences. He even gives up reason. At the end, like the reed flute, he becomes polished—a conduit to guide the multitude on the path to Truth.
The source of Nur al-Anwar is God. Maulana has read in the Qur'an that Allahu nur as-samawat wa al-arz (Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth). What prevent the individual from falling victim to jumud are pindar-i nik (good thoughts), guftar-i nik (good words), and kerdar-i nik (good deeds). The roots of these virtues are embedded in the ancient heritage of the Iranians, from where they have entered Ishraqi philosophy.
What we accomplish as a result of our daily activities stems directly from our thought (pendar). That is why in Mazdaism human thought is recognized as the source of existence; words and activities are ancillary to thought. An analysis of Maulana's thought reveals that his murshidi kamil (perfect leader) also bases his worldview on thought.
Recall that Maulana relates the topic nodes to each other to answer difficult questions. The structure and the semantic contents of the two poems that we are examining illustrate this point. Why should there be a death from jamadi? Is it because jamadi is the state of utter ignorance and inertness? The person whose thought falls within the realm of jamad does not have any constructive powers. For him, something that had been significant centuries ago remains as significant today. Passage of time and human progress do not influence him or change his attitude. A society afflicted by jamud behaves in the same way. It is at the mercy of ignorance and stagnation. Maulana says only through death can we rid ourselves and our society of this type of stagnation.
Why should we turn our back on things that merely grow? Perhaps because there are individuals who, like plants, are satisfied with mere growth. Eating and sleeping summarize their existence. An individual or a society in the state of nabat can remain in that state ad infinitum. Islamic societies in recent times provide good examples of this. Since the 13th century when the study of philosophy and the sciences was forbidden, until today, what visible progress has been made?
Locomotion distinguishes the hayvan (animal) from the nabat. But the hayvan world, too, is deficient; it is not endowed with reason. To resolve their problems, animals resort to violence and killing. Human beings, too, for better or worse, have retained their share of brutal activity. During Maulana's time, it was the Mongols. Today, it is 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Darfur.
Does death come as easily to us as it does to the jamad and the others in "I Died as a Mineral?" Of course not. At every level of the hierarchy, death is a desire and an end for the being that is separated from the Light of Lights. And the distance he is looking at is the distance between the flute and the reed bed. By breaking away from jamad, nabat,and hayvan, and with laments and supplication, as well as by cleansing the spirit from evil, Rumi says, there is a chance at clearing one level. He illustrates the difficulty of clearing each level in bishnau az ney.
In summary, for Maulana human qua human is one who has put the states of jamadi, nabati, and hayvani behind him and who has chosen love, religion, wisdom and knowledge as his guiding light. His knowledge that comes from within (shuhudi) is not affected by time. Without considering his own gain, he can direct the multitude out of mental rigidity, inactivity, and violence and onto the path of righteousness. By teaching oneness, equality, and justice, he introduces the Light of the Creator into the darkness in which the multitude dwells. His thought, like the thought of the murshid about whom we talked, is the essential fulcrum of his existence and freedom. In freedom and steadfastness, he rivals his Creator. When he makes a decision based on good thought, when he expresses that thought, and when he implements it, he is not afraid of anyone or anything, not even of death. He teaches the mysteries of love not because it is likely to gain him entrance to heaven, but because it elevates his thought closer to the Light of Lights. The spiritual power of his self confidence puts the world in his hands and places him at the center of the world.
This paper showed that the Ancient Iranian idea of light and emanation not only survived the Muslim invasion but that it reemerged during the apogee of Islamic civilization as Ishraqi philosophy. It also showed that the efforts of the founder of the Ishraqi philosophy, Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, were enhanced by Najm al-Din Kubra who incorporated Ishraqi philosophy in his tariqa. By analyzing two of Rumi's famous poems in light of Ishraqi thought, it was shown how the poet, a follower of Najm al-Din Kubra, incorporated Ishraqi thought in his verses to guide his audience down the path of mutual understanding and tolerance.
 This discussion, a part of a larger debate on the ethnic and national identity of some of the major figures of Medieval Islam, is outside the purview of this essay. For the Turkish claim, see Lewis, 2003, pp. 541-551.
 Lewis, 2003, pp. 554-560.
 Lewis, 2003, p. 558.
 Lewis, 2003, p. 560.
 See Price, "Is Rumi what we think he is?" in the Bibliography.
 Jazayery, 1973, p. 196.
 Cf. Huma'i, n.d., pp. 146-48.
 Huma'i, n. d., p. 152.
 Cf. Lewis, p. 528.
 Lewis, p. 542.
 Lewis, p. 545.
 Lewis, p. 565.
 Cf. Lewis, pp. 529-533.
 Windfuhr, 1973, p. 28.
 Lewis, p. 539.
 Cf., Lewis, pp. 499-500.
 Lewis, p. 513.
 Cf., Nasr, 1975, p. 182.
 Ernst, p. 1.
 Lewis, pp. 584-85.
 Lewis, p. 858.
 See Bashiri, 1979.
 Lewis, pp. 585-87.
 See Qaisar, pp. 96, 136-37, 238-40, 322-25, 351.
 For a comprehensive study of Rumi's life, see Lewis, 2000.
 For a discussion of farr, see Bashiri 1994; see also Filippani-Ronconi, 1978.
 Bashiri, 2003, pp. 103-117.
 For the impact of Egypt on ancient Iran, see Bashiri, 2007.
 Hussein Kuhsari, 2004, p. 164.
 Corbin, 1995, p. 288.
 For the contributions of Ibn Sina and al-Farabi, see Fakhry 1983; see also Bashiri 2005.
 Corbin, 1995, p. 294.
 See Kuhsari, 2004, p. 166.
 For a visual representation of the Ishraqi emanation hierarchy, see further below
 Cf., Morewedge, 1975, p. 189, where the world is divided into the spiritual (ruhani) and the physical (jismani).
 There is a difference here with Plato’s view according to which the terrestrial is a “poor” example of the celestial. In al-Suhrawardi’s view, and later on in Mullah Sadra’s view, the same being or reality undergoes change. Cf., Morewedge, 1975, p. 189; see also Bashiri 2006.
 Cf., Nasr, 1975, p. 179.
 Arberry, 1958, p. 241.
 Al-Qur'an: 2. 156.
 Qur'an, 2: 156.
 Morewedge, 1975, p. 204.
 See Sana'i, Hadiqat al-Haqiqah, 1384.
 Arberry, 1958, p. 223.
 For a comprehensive bayt-by-bayt discussion of this poem, see Anqaravi, 1970.
 Here I agree with Morewedge that Maulana uses cluster symbols to convey comprehensive concepts and that in order to make sense of some of his poetry, we must apply the same technique, see Morewedge, 1975, p. 190.
 Qur'an: 24: 35.
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