Mevlâna Celaleddin Rumi
Turks tend to proudly embrace the philosopher and poet Rumi (full name: Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi), known in Turkish as "Mevlâna," as one of their own, though in reality he hailed from present-day Afghanistan and wrote his poetry in Persian. Born in the city of Balkh on September 30, 1207, he came to Konya in 1228, when it was a part of the Seljuk Empire. By that time the young Rumi had already been deeply influenced by mystic readings and had made the hajj to Mecca.
Rumi's transformative spiritual moment came in 1248, when his companion, Shams Tabrizi, a dervish who initiated Rumi into Islamic mysticism, mysteriously disappeared. Rumi's grief at his beloved friend's disappearance—suspected to be a murder—sparked a prodigious outpouring of verse, music, dance, and poetry. After years of searching for his friend and teacher, Rumi found himself in Damascus, where he had a revelation that the universe was one and each person could be his own holy universe. He exclaimed:
"Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!"
For the rest of his life, Rumi attributed much of his own poetry to Shams, and in a way that would become characteristic and controversial, mixed his love with his fellow man with his love for God and God's love for man. Rumi became known for his tolerance, his espousal of love, and his use of dance and song to reach spiritual enlightenment. Toward the end of his life, he spent 12 years dictating his masterwork, the Masnavi, to a companion. He died in 1273, and the Mevlevi order of dervishes, famous for their semas, or whirling ceremonies, was founded after his death.
The central theme of Rumi's philosophy is a longing for unity—of men, of the universe, with God and with God's spirit. Rumi believed in the use of music, poetry, and dancing as facilitators for reaching God and for focusing on the divine. Through ecstatic dancing, singing, or chanting, Sufi worshippers believed they could negate their bodies and vain selves, becoming empty vessels to be filled with love, the essence of the divine. In Rumi's poetry, he talks of God as one might a lover, and the ecstatic states reached through dancing and singing sometimes border on the erotic. In recent years, Rumi's legacy has been revived, ensuring that his timeless teachings endure. His epitaph suggests he would have been happy with that:
"When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men."