The universality of Rumi's poetry

Talk delivered on the poet’s concept of divine love

Bashaar Husain November 14, 2017
Artistic depiction of Rumi, 1980. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

KARACHI: Rumi’s poetry has crossed cultural boundaries because it is based on the religion of love, said Dr Aziz Ali Najam in an enchanting lecture titled ‘Rumi’s Concept of Divine Love’ at the Aga Khan University (AKU) on Monday.

The session was held as part of AKU’s 6sf lecture series where Dr Najam, a long-time academician, promoted his newly published book Bishnau (Listen), which is based on Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’s life and greatest work, Masnavii Ma’navi.

He began the lecture by talking about the universality and timelessness of Rumi’s poetry, quoting various writers and scholars, including Iqbal. Dr Najam also mentioned an article published in The Guardian by William Dalrymple in 2015:

“It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilisations, but the bestselling poet in the US in the 1990s was not any of the giants of American letters - Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens or Sylvia Plath; nor was it Shakespeare or Homer or Dante or any European poet. Instead, remarkably, it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey.”

He shared that Rumi spent 43 years writing what is regarded as the longest mystical poem ever written by a single author with 25,000 verses. “The Masnavi starts with the story of the reed-flute,” Dr Najam said, breaking into a recitation in Persian, translated by Nicholson (1926) as:

“Listen to this reed how it complains:
it is telling a tale of separations.

Saying, "Ever since I was parted from the reed-bed,
man and woman have moaned in (unison with) my lament.

I want a bosom torn by severance,
that I may unfold (to such a one) the pain of love-desire.

Every one who is left far from his source
wishes back the time when he was united with it.”

“Just as reed is separated from the forest and transformed into a melodic instrument that laments of returning to its origin, human beings too are separated from their Creator and spend their lives waiting to be reunited with Him,” he explained, adding that the tragedy of this world, for Rumi, was separation from his beloved.

Dr Najam also explored the origin of the whirling dervishes founded by the followers of the Maulana. “Rumi was dejected because of Shams’ disappearance and would often burst into circular movements, crying out for him,” he mentioned.

“Arm movement is also of symbolic importance. The arms are stretched sideways with one palm facing upwards and the other facing downwards, demonstrating that knowledge received from the Divine is being passed on,” he added, upon which students appeared on the stage in traditional dervish attire, whirling to a beautiful rendition of Rumi’s poetry.

Dr Najam concluded by saying that Rumi was adamant that his death not be mourned. “He called it a time for celebration because his soul will be free from the cage that is his body and he will finally be reunited with his beloved.”


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ


Most Read