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Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi
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born , c. September 30, 1207, Balkh, Ghurid empire [now in Afghanistan]
died December 17, 1273

also called by the honorific Mawlana  the greatest S ufi mystic and poet in the Persian language, famous for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Masnavi-ye Ma‘navi (“Spiritual Couplets”), which widely influenced Muslim mystical thought and literature. Rumi's influence on Turkish cultural life can scarcely be overstated. After his death, his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyah order, called in the West the Whirling Dervishes.

Jalal ad-Din's father, Baha’ ad-Din Walad, was a noted mystical theologian, author, and teacher. Mainly because of the threat of the approaching Mongols, Baha’ ad-Din and his family left their native town in about 1218. According to a legend, in Nishapur, Iran, the family met Farid od-Din ‘At t ar, a Persian author of mystical epics, who blessed young Jalal ad-Din. After a pilgrimage to Mecca and journeys through the Middle East, Baha’ ad-Din and his family reached Anatolia (Rum, hence the surname Rumi), a region that enjoyed peace and prosperity under the rule of the Turkish Seljuq dynasty. After a short stay at Laranda (Karaman), where Jalal ad-Din's mother died and his first son was born, they were called to the capital, Konya, in 1228. Here, Baha’ ad-Din Walad taught at one of the numerous madrasahs (religious schools); after his death in 1231 he was succeeded in this capacity by his son.

A year later, Burhan ad-Din Muhaqqiq, one of Baha’ ad-Din's former disciples, arrived in Konya and acquainted Jalal ad-Din more deeply with some mystical theories that had developed in Iran. Burhan ad-Din, who contributed considerably to Jalal ad-Din's spiritual formation, left Konya about 1240. Jalal ad-Din is said to have undertaken one or two journeys to Syria (unless his contacts with Syrian S ufi circles were already established before his family reached Anatolia); there he may have met Ibn al-‘Arabi, the leading Islamic theosophist whose interpreter and stepson, Sadr ad-Din al-Qunawi, was Rumi's colleague and friend in Konya.

The decisive moment in Rumi's life occurred on November 30, 1244, when in the streets of Konya he met the wandering dervish—holy man—Shams ad-Din (Sun of Religion) of Tabriz, whom he may have first encountered in Syria. Shams ad-Din cannot be connected with any of the traditional mystical fraternities; his overwhelming personality, however, revealed to Jalal ad-Din the mysteries of divine majesty and beauty. For months the two mystics lived closely together, and Rumi neglected his disciples and family so that his scandalized entourage forced Shams to leave the town in February 1246. Jalal ad-Din was heartbroken; his eldest son, Sult an Walad, eventually brought Shams back from Syria. The family, however, could not tolerate the close relation of Jalal ad-Din with his beloved, and one night in 1247 Shams disappeared forever. It has recently been established that he was indeed murdered, not without the knowledge of Rumi's sons, who hurriedly buried him close to a well that is still extant in Konya.

This experience of love, longing, and loss turned Rumi into a poet. His mystical poems—about 30,000 verses and a large number of robaiyat (“quatrains”)—reflect the different stages of his love, until, as his son writes, “he found Shams in himself, radiant like the moon.” The complete identification of lover and beloved is expressed by his inserting the name of Shams instead of his own pen name at the end of most of his lyrical poems. The Divan-e Shams (The collected Poetry of Shams) is a true translation of his experiences into poetry; its language, however, never becomes lost in lofty spiritual heights or nebulous speculation. The fresh language, propelled by its strong rhythms, sometimes assumes forms close to popular verses. There would seem to be cause for the belief, expressed by chroniclers, that most of this poetry was composed in a state of ecstasy, induced by the music of the flute or the drum, the hammering of the goldsmiths, or the sound of the water mill in Meram, where Rumi used to go with his disciples to enjoy nature. He found in nature the reflection of the radiant beauty of the Sun of Religion and felt flowers and birds partaking in his love. He often accompanied his verses by a whirling dance.

A few years after Shams ad-Din's death, Rumi experienced a similar rapture in his acquaintance with an illiterate goldsmith, S ala h ad-Din Zarkub. It is said that one day, hearing the sound of a hammer in front of Sala h ad-Din's shop in the bazaar of Konya, Rumi began his dance. The shop owner had long been one of Rumi's closest and most loyal disciples, and his daughter became the wife of Rumi's eldest son. This love again inspired Jalal ad-Din to write poetry. After S ala h ad-Din's death, Husam ad-Din Chelebi became his spiritual love and deputy. Rumi's main work, the Masnavi-ye Ma‘navi , was composed under his influence. Husam ad-Din had asked him to follow the model of the poets ‘At t ar and Sana’i, who had laid down mystical teachings in long poems, interspersed with anecdotes, fables, stories, proverbs, and allegories. Their works were widely read by the mystics and by Rumi's disciples. Jalal ad-Din followed Husam ad-Din's advice and composed nearly 26,000 couplets of the Maanavi during the following years. It is said that he would recite his verses even in the bath or on the roads, accompanied by Husam ad-Din, who wrote them down. The Masnavi , which shows all the different aspects of S ufism in the 13th century, often carries the reader away with loose associations of thought, so that one understands what subjects the master had in mind at a particular stage of his life. The work reflects the experience of divine love; both Sala h ad-Din and Husam ad-Din were, for Rumi, renewed manifestations of Shams ad-Din, the all-embracing light. He called Husam ad-Din, therefore, Diya’ al-Haqq (Light of the Truth); diyais the Arabic term for sunlight.

Rumi lived for a short while after completing the Masnavi . He always remained a respected member of Konya society, and his company was sought by the leading officials as well as by Christian monks. Husam ad-Din was his successor and was in turn succeeded by Sult an Walad, who organized the loose fraternity of Rumi's disciples into Mawlawiyah, known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes because of the mystical dance that constitutes their principal ritual. Sult an Walad's poetical accounts of his father's life are the most important source of knowledge of Rumi's spiritual development.

Besides his poetry, Rumi left a small collection of occasional talks as they were noted down by his friends; in the collection, known as Fihi ma fihi (“There is in it what is in it”), the main ideas of his poetry recur. There also exist some letters directed to different persons. It is impossible to systematize his ideas, which at times contradict each other; and changes in the use of symbols often puzzle the reader. His poetry is a most human expression of mystical experiences, in which each reader can find his own favourite ideas and feelings—from enthusiastic flights into the heavens to matter-of-fact descriptions of daily life. Rumi's influence on Turkish cultural life can scarcely be overstated; his mausoleum, the Green Dome, today a museum in Konya, is still a place of pilgrimage for thousands.

Annemarie Schimmel

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