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Jalaluddin Rumi: How a Muslim Becomes the Best-Selling Poet in America

Jalaluddin Rumi Poet
Statue of Rumi. Photo: Depositphotos

Have you ever wondered why the 13th-century Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi became a best-selling poet in the US and around the world? Did you know that Rumi is an all-time favorite in Hollywood, and that Leonardo DiCaprio is playing him in a film by David Franzoni, who wrote the script for the 2000 blockbuster Gladiator? You may not know Rumi as such, but, certainly you have read his one-liners like “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop,” or “There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen,” or “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Rumi was born in 1207 in present-day Afghanistan or Tajikistan but transcended time, distance, language, ethnicity, and other imaginable barriers: he is a world-poet now. Travelling in the Persian Empire, Rumi stopped at Konya in Turkey before he spent a significant period at Damascus and Aleppo in Syria where he studied in his twenties. We have read great epics like the Iliad or the Odyssey in which the poet uses a thousand lines to express a simple thing. Why is Rumi unique? He uses just a single line to express a thousand things!

Jalaluddin Rumi’s Poems and Life

Shakespeare wrote a hundred sonnets on his friendship with the “Fair youth”. Rumi versed 3,000 love songs on his special friendship with his fellow mystic Shams of Tabriz. The friendship, which lasted only for a mere three-years, ended with the disappearance of Shams. Some say Shams had been murdered by Rumi’s son, others think he disappeared intentionally to let Rumi feel and philosophize separation. Whatever the fact might be, Jalaluddin Rumi did immortalized separation between lovers in his one-liners condensed with deep philosophies on life, love, and desire. His love became so deep and spiritual that in naturally transcended mortal and tried to fathom the infinite. Some of these love poem, thus, reflect his wisdom on God and the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He also composed 2,000 traditional Persian poems called rubaiyats. However, his masterpiece is The Masnavi, a spiritual epic of six volumes. He was so immersed in his thoughts that he used to recite his poems while dancing and meditating: transcribers used to write them down.

Jalaluddin Rumi’s Mysticism: An Inward Journey

“Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.” Jalaluddin Rumi’s is an aesthetic journey towards his innermost self, a self that dissolves in the eternal joy and love that represent the Divine power. This journey is not like the journey of the soul from this life to the next, a journey that seldom discovers love, a journey that hardly loves. Rumi’s love is so deep, so encompassing, so thriving with passion that his entire existence is conditioned by it. Lover for Jalaluddin Rumi is not someone outside him: he is the love, the lover, and the beloved at the same time. Yes, it is not uncommon to find a Whitman in Rumi, or rather a Rumi in Shakespeare or Whitman! What Marquez portrayed in an entire novel, Rumi did in one line. Yes, you know about the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza! “This place is a dream. Only a sleeper considers it real. Then death comes like dawn, and you wake up laughing at what you thought was your grief.”

Why Do People Love Jalaluddin Rumi Poems?

Undoubtedly, it is his formidable wisdom that arrests the attention of the reader. Today’s stress-stricken mechanized urban dwellers do not have the time for deciphering encrypted lines we call modern poetry (not all of those, however): they are mesmerized when presented with naked truth in the simplest possible words. It is certainly Jalaluddin Rumi’s sheer simplicity and clarity combined with very powerful imagination that instantly hypnotizes the reader to read the line the second and the third and many more times. Not that the reader does not understand it, but the opposite: s/he understands the first time, second time onward it is for a serious aesthetic and philosophical pleasure that s/he gains from it. The experience is like a very brief but fast journey inward! “When I am silent, I have thunder hidden inside.”   

Jalaluddin Rumi’s was a religion of love, a religion that embraced everything, everyone it found on its way. And, what is love without truth? And, what is truth if not simple? Do we have these things is us, around us? Rumi gives us love, truth, and simplicity. And, amidst so much negativity, Rumi re-energizes us with hopes and optimism, rescues us from our lost selves, and reconstructs our faith in ourselves! “Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.”

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About the author

Nazla Fatmi

Nazla Fatmi is an assistant professor of English at Eastern University. She writes on culture, fashion, and lifestyles.

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