If you’ve been following on social media, center-of-heart-rumi
you have probably had someone forward you an image or a meme
with a wise and poetic saying from the famed Sufi poet Rumi.

According to many accounts, Rumi became the best-selling poet in the English language in the 1990’s, continuing onto today.

Today, his popularity now seems to have spilled over onto social media.

These popular memes go along the lines of:

The very center of your heart is where life begins.

tumblr_mcujlmlYU11rzib4uo1_500Let yourself become living poetry.

Yesterday I was clever.
I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise.
So I am changing myself.

This is not entirely new, of course.
Years ago we had Demi Moore and Madonna (when she was not in her Kabbalah phase) singing:

rumi_sea

If I love myself
I love you.
If I love you
I love myself.

The poems that Demi Moore and Madonna were singing were composed by Deepak Chopra.  Chopra admitted that these “Rumi poems” were not, in fact, from Rumi, but simply attempts to capture the “mood” of Rumi’s poetry.

There are even a few vulgar and ecstatic expressions.

But did Rumi actual say these things?   Is the Facebook Rumi related to the Muslim sage and poet, Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi who lived in the 13th century and is widely considered the most beloved of all Muslim poets?

No doubt, some of these memes are accurate translations, a few are acceptable paraphrases, but many are outright fabrications, words put in Rumi’s mouth.     There is a useful site that corrects many of the “translations” and “versions” attributed to Rumi.

This is particularly true of those sayings that have a “going beyond religion” or erotic focus, quite popular these days.

rumi Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

These memes and Facebook sayings are participants in the process of transforming a 13th century Muslim mystic into the perfect New Age mystic.  mevlana-2

Many of these Facebook memes and sayings of Rumi portray him as the paragon of an individualistic model of spirituality that stands above and beyond any religion (including Islam), a spirituality which has been emptied out of any references to God, the prophets, and the Qur’an.  The focus is on eroticism, on a “foolishness” that is embraced as real wisdom, and a hostility towards “organized religion”—a phrase that one would be hard-pressed to hear from a Rumi who taught in a madrasa himself!

Instead, I suggest that the more accurate approach consists of situating Rumi in his Islamic context: his writings are among the most intensely Qur’anic of all Islamic writings, and perhaps the very finest commentaries on the Qur’an—some 2000-3000 references to the Qur’an in his writings.  Reading the Masnavi without the Qur’an is as foolish as reading Milton without the Bible.    He is also profoundly connected to the Prophet (he was called the “offspring of the soul of Muhammad.”)

Rumi’s mysticism is part (perhaps zenith) of a Sufi tradition that goes back to the Prophet, and finds expression along the way in people like Hallaj, Bayazid Bestami, and Ahmad Ghazzali.    His poetry likewise is part of a Persian poetic tradition that includes Sana’i and Attar.    Rumi’s legacy has been embraced by many people, including a Sufi community (the Mevlevi Order, Mawlawiyya, or “Whirling Dervishes”) that emphasized ritual, community, and discipline alongside mystical experience.

I find these “Facebook Rumi”s as a sign of contemporary individualistic, feel-good consumerism that is interested in “individual experience” more than any type of spiritual transformation.

konya mevlana rumi shrine night copy copy copy

I remain persuaded that the more we see the timeliness of Mawlana in terms of the richness of his symbols and references, the more we can read him as having something timeless to offer all of us. 

For friends who are interested in having a deeper immersion in Rumi as understood in his original context, I suggest joining us in Turkey for a two-week program of study and immersion.

 

 

 

21 Comments

  1. This is one of the nicest articles in the past several months on Rumi. There is no denying that to understand Rumi, he has to be understood in the context of the Islamic traditions. People such as Shahram Shiva are doing business and have taken Rumi out of context to a large extent.

  2. A distorted article. Rumi was essentially an Islamophobe and anti-religious, who tried again and again to reform a violent Islam that existed around him. He was brought up in non-Islamic regions and countries that eventually were forced to bend to Islam.

    He actually denied the religion of Islam as well as other religions. All his references and poetry points to practices and recommendations that are completely forbidden in Islam, which is probably why Sufi’s are persecuted and banned to this day through the Muslim world.
    Besides, the ‘Sufi’ stamp was added on Rumi after his death by his followers.

    “Without demolishing religious schools (madrassahs) and minarets and without abandoning the beliefs and ideas of the medieval age, restriction in thoughts and pains in conscience will not end. Without understanding that unbelief is a kind of religion, and that conservative religious belief a kind of disbelief, and without showing tolerance to opposite ideas, one cannot succeed. Those who look for the truth will accomplish the mission.” — rumi

    • Omid Safi

      hi “Ben” (obviously not your real name, using a spam email account).
      Sorry to say this, but your response is so off the mark it is laughable. Rumi, an Islamophobe? That would be funny if it weren’t so misguided. It’s like calling St. Augustine anti-Christian. Calling Maimonides anti-Jewish. Rumi was a scholar of the Qur’an, and taught Islamic law during the days in the madrasa. He came from a long line of scholars and Sufis. And his writings have over 2000 references to the Qur’an. The “non-Islamic regions” you refer to? His family is from Khorasan, which was the cornerstone of Sunni Islam in that age.
      Your quote about “without demolishing religious schools” is likewise complete bullshit, having no basis in any scholarly research or anything Rumi himself actually said. If you want the real Rumi, get your facts straight.

      • Read what happened historically around Rumi and the areas he lived in and moved to. The strong Islamic influence only came much later, after his death. And the name “Rumi” means “from Rome”. From the Byzantine influenced areas dominated by the Romans where the strongest influences was completely non-Islamic.

    • Thank you Ben. Mawlana knew how to play his politics too. He wrote many many poems to write against religion. His journey was all about the inner one, his idea was not to have an idea.

    • Bigotry has no limits! These guys apparently know about Islamic traditions and Muslims so much that they think that they can seriously challenge a humanist and a world-class scholar who reads Rumi in his native language, publishes known articles on him, and perpetuates the message of unconditioned love. Rumi has been one of the most venerated Islamic figures throughout the history. I am happy to see that so many narrow-minded bigots are readings the articles of Omid Safi. I am not sure whether they are able to learn something, or brave enough to challenge their representations, but it gives me hope that they are somehow reading the articles of the contemporary Rumi. It shows that there is light for anyone who is ready to open themselves to others, Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc. Dear Omid, never give up your struggle for love!

      • What “love” does Omid possess? He has no acceptance or open mindedness at all. I just have to state the truth and he immediately start accusing my name for being false, my email for being spam. It shows how poor his reasoning is. He contradicts the very core of Rumi’s own statements – one which I have even quoted for him.

        Rumi denied religions. He denied Islam, he denied the extreme narrow mindedness and folly of religion that people like Omid and his dimminded followers mindless ape after. For this he was ‘scorned’ and laughed at and had many enemies (his own words). The sufi movement continues to be scorned and persecuted by the very family lineage of your so called prophet.

        Someone like Omid would not recognize a Rumi even if it stood right in front of him.

        And no Omid, my name is neither fake nor do I use a spam email.

        • The Sufi order established in the name of Rumi became one of the most (if not the most!) popular institutions in Anatolia, Iran, Balkans, Near East and Central Asia. It had hundreds of lodges, and sultans officially became disciples of this path. I am sorry that neither Rumi, nor Sufis, nor Islamic history fits into your representations. So please stop embarrassing yourself: read publications by known publishers on Rumi, and more importantly, try to use seekers of love to bridge and connect people, not to attack to their venerated faiths and traditions or for other unethical purposes. I appreciate your imaginative potential by the way. Peace and grace.

  3. One…. All religions teach the same thing if you deeply study them… The Mirror of the heart… and the flowers of the spirit… about renouncing will and ego… and uniting two forces, and liberating the heart….. If you do not understand this… then it doesn’t matter if you read the Qur’an, The Bible, New Testament, Tao Te Ching, Vedas/Upanishads, Or Buddhist Sutras. If you do understand these things… Then the Memes are more profound for the one who understands than you would think.

  4. Good article, it’s true that people often appropriate Rumi’s sayings to justify whatever they are doing. The fact that so many people think Rumi and many other Muslim mystic poets are about erotic love and physical pleasures (ex.drinking) show how little they understand about him and about Sufism/Islam in general. However I don’t think that people who love Rumi even if they don’t really get it are wrong to propagate his poetry on FB, as his poetry speaks to their heart and that of many others in a way that maybe even the mind can’t understand. He was a holy man. Rumi’s poetry is universal and that’s the beauty of it. A lot of people (some of my friends, at least) came to Islam through reading Rumi. I do find it annoying when Rumi is misquoted in a cheesy new age way but I’d a million times rather read Rumi quotes on FB than some of the other stuff that’s on there!

  5. Omid Safi

    Thank you friends for the kind words.

    “Ben”, whoever you are, and whatever email account you are using, I just love it when a person’s bluster doesn’t match their mastery of facts. So here are the facts:
    “Rumi” was never called Rumi in his life.
    Your attempts to link him to Rum and all that are work of centuries down the road. In his life time he was called by his name: Mawlana Muhammad Jalal al-Din Balkhi: Our teacher, Muhammad the Glory of Faith, from Balkh. His followers called him Hazrat Khodavandegar: “His Holiness, the lord” [small l].
    How many poems do you want me to quote about his relations with Islam?
    Oh, here is one:
    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.

    man banda-yé qur’ân-am, agar jân dâr-am
    man khâk-é rah-é muHammad-e mukhtâr-am
    gar naql kon-ad joz în, kas az goftâr-am
    bêzâr-am az-ô, w-az-în sokhan bêzâr-am]

    [--Rumi's Quatrain No. 1173, translated by Ibrahim Gamard and
    Ravan Farhadi in "The Quatrains of Rumi," an unpublished
    manuscript]

    How to say this nicely? Dude, you’re out of your league.
    Love to all, omid

    • I see the petty Islamic zealot is out. How did you enjoy the latest terrorist attack in Boston by one, entrapped in the prison of manmade religion?

      Rumi quoted Jesus. Does that make him Christian?
      Isn’t it better you stop quoting Rumi. Plastic flowers spread no fragrance. You are too small minded to grasp Rumi. Why not go back to your petty ideology of the dead where you can cut hands, feet, head off anyone for merely playing music? That is where your thinking belong. Stop deceiving people while you can.

      Rumi was INDEED called “Rumi” – “from Rome” – and there is historical evidence of it. Rumi is also said to have spoken the local Anatolian Greek dialect, common amongst the Byzantines. It is Muslims who refuse to accept it and insist to call him Jalāl ad-Dīn because they want to deny his rejection of any and all religions to suit their own agenda. In other words: you want to persecute him in spirit like Muslims of his time did in life.

      The Anatolian peninsula which had belonged to the Byzantine, or eastern Roman empire, had only relatively recently been conquered by Muslims and even when it came to be controlled by Turkish Muslim rulers, it was still known to Arabs, Persians and Turks as the geographical area of Rumi – from (the people of) Rome. In Muslim countries, therefore, Jalal al-Din is not generally known as “Rumi”. That’s a historical fact.

      Rumi openly perpetrated the allegory of wine, drunkenness, prostitutes, dancing, music, song – completely forbidden in Islam. Arabia is suppose to stand for the most authentic form of Islam. Is there any singing, drinking, whirling and dancing permitted there?

      Rumi complained about being rejected and ridiculed by the Muslims of his time. His parents fled his childhood town of Balkh (Afghanistan is a former Hindu colony) at the invasion of Muslims. Why would they flee? There was no murder or persecution of Muslims. Persecution and murder was only against non-Muslims. Do you deny that?

      If Muslims would listen more to Rumi and less to their “beliefs and ideas of the medieval age” as Rumi called Islam, there would exist no suicide bombers who commit millions of murders on innocent people.

      Rumi quoted any and all religious references strongly active of his time. Why deny that and only carp about one narrow minded ideology, which has persecute hundreds of Rumi’s, killed everyone of them, and forced them to go underground and live in secret. And now, the same persecutors want to pretend to be experts!

      Rumi was not a Sufi. That was a title added onto him by his followers. Rumi had no religion and denied all religions. He was his own knowledge, his own religion. He tried to provide the proper guidance for the misguided religious, rather than follow any religion.

      Like Rumi said, there exist no truth in a religion. Religion is a house of falsehood.

      I have already given you a quote of his denying mosques and Islam. I can quote another well-known statement of his, “I am not Christian or Jew, Magian or Muslim.”

      But you don’t want to accept that written statement by his own hand because you want to force him to be religious to suit your idea of him.

      • I can tell you’re a fan of Rumi and it clashes with your Islamophobia, so you’re in denial that Rumi was a Muslim. He was, now build a bridge and get over it.

    • Hello dear Omid,

      I read your comments and see that you are too knowledgeable about Rumi and I really liked that. I’m from where you are from and look for a text in Persian where Rumi exactly says : I change myself because I’m wise in Masnavi Manavi. I’m trying to find that for one of my american professor, he needs it.
      I’d be grateful if you help me.

  6. Ben, it is stupefying to see that you don’t stop embarrassing yourself. Wine allegory is the most popular imagery used by ALMOST ALL Muslim poets and Sufis, and many prominent scholars. More importantly, from where did you derive all this (mis)information? Can you please give me the name or link of the ‘source’ that justified all of this …? You might have understood that the topic of this article is the emergence of people like you. Please give me the name of the book or link; I need them for scholarly purposes, seriously.

    One final question: have you ever read books published by Western scholars, Western publishers on Rumi (let alone Persian, Turkish or Arabic sources that evidently you cannot read)? Chittick, for example? Or Freidlander? Or Schimmel? Ernst? Mojaddadi? It is very important for me to understand how a mindset like yours circulate; so, please let me know how your ideas on Rumi came to exist. Thank you for your explanation. In fact, I would like to have a coffee and interview you if possible, but I am a bit scared:)

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