Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi is misunderstood in our time by some and is subjected to unfair criticism concerning his Sufi path. Could you evaluate the Sufi path of Rumi with respect to his compliance with the essentials of Islam?
There have been so many great personalities throughout the history of Islam whose knowledge, spiritual depth, love, and enthusiasm made their voices reach beyond the centuries. Particularly, there are some exceptional figures with immense personalities such as Imam al-Ghazali, Imam Rabbani, and Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi; they are in a rather distinguished position. Jalaluddin Rumi is one such monumental personality. Those great people that enlightened the spiritual darkness of different eras had excellent insight into their time, analyzed it well, and concentrated on the issues of the highest priority in order to answer the needs of the people. Jalaluddin Rumi must be seen from this aspect. The matters he emphasized served as an antidote against the poisons and negative influences prevalent in his time and an elixir to cure even the worst diseases.
Rumi and the Emergence of the Ottomans
The era in which Rumi lived was a difficult time period. On the one hand, there were the damages inflicted by the Crusader attacks. On the other hand, there was the Mongolian invasion that shattered Muslim lands into different fragments, causing discord and sedition throughout the Muslim world. As a result, the Seljuk state was greatly weakened, the royalty lost authority of their people and all of these negative effects extended throughout Anatolia. During this troubled era, Jalaluddin Rumi opened his arms wide with an immense understanding of tolerance and magnanimity to embrace everyone. Thus, he virtually offered a cure for that environment of chaos, discord, and fragmentation. This immense understanding represented by Rumi and other spiritual masters prepared new ground to cultivate people with Islamic values.
At the same time, the princedom of the Ottomans found an opportunity to stand on their feet in a small corner of Anatolia. Such an understanding of agreement and unity was needed more than anything else in that era. Rumi saw this urgent need at a time when Anatolia was shattered into fragments, different princedoms emerged, people became disoriented, and everyone was going about their own ways. By uniting people around a certain understanding, he paved the way for the birth of the Ottomans. I think this understanding, which we can refer to as the spirit of Rumi, played an important role in their successful flourishing in just a short time period. Had the Ottomans displayed brutality instead of leniency and magnanimity, they would have become stuck and would have been unable to further their progress. In this respect, along with the distinguished qualities of the people who governed the state, the contributions and efforts of Rumi and other dervishes must not be overlooked when examining the continuity of the same dynasty for six centuries, something unparalleled in the history of humanity.
An immense figure of spirituality who took flight with love and enthusiasm to the horizons of knowing God, Rumi formed such a warm atmosphere during his time that most people came under its influence and stepped into his circle. At a certain period, even the famous Yunus Emre1 joined his circle. The great master poured the inspirations of his soul into the hearts of the people who gathered around him and raised exemplary guides to light up the ages after him.
Attracted toward the Divine (jadhb and injidhab) within the Axis of Faith and Knowledge of God
Rumi possessed an understanding of extending a hand of immense tolerance and compassion to everyone. On the other hand, overlooking his depth of worship and devotion as well as his loyalty to the Qur’an and Sunnah might lead one to some misconceptions about him. Indeed, if he had not been so sincerely devoted to the essentials of religion, as is claimed by some, neither would the people of Konya allow him live among them nor would the devout Muslim rulers let him convey his radiant teachings. In addition, none of the scholars among his contemporaries criticized him. For example, his contemporary Sadreddin Konevi was a great scholar who wrote explanatory commentaries about Ibn Arabi’s Shajarat al-Numaniyya and Qadi Baydawi’s Qur’anic exegesis. When we study the life and works of this great scholar, we do not find a single word of criticism for Rumi. Rumi displayed immense compassion and magnanimity by embracing others, and he adhered to the essentials of Islam and did not possess any attitudes or behaviors that contradicted the religious commandments. Unfortunately, some people today view him as a person who jumped to his feet in momentary excitement, put on a costume and started whirling ecstatically, and who contributed to others taking up his whirling. Actually, there is no issue with whirling itself. Rumi was a person of great spiritual depth who weaved a pattern of knowledge of God by constantly moving his shuttle of reflection between human, universe, and God; he became saturated with the knowledge of the Divine and thus made others overflow with love and zeal.
Bediüzzaman follows a system of thought regarding this issue: faith in God, knowledge of God, love of God, and spiritual pleasure, respectively. Accordingly, one must have perfect faith first, then practice Islam without any flaws, and then try to feel sincerity (ikhlas) in their conscience with its complete profundity and try to awaken the consciousness of ihsan, a state of constant awareness of the omnipresence of God. They must be on the way to know God thoroughly by means of the conscience and make their good deeds become a depth of their character so that they can attain the level of spiritual pleasure and zeal for God. In other words, attaining true love and zeal is not possible without sound faith, sound practice of Islam, sound awareness of God, and a deep knowledge and love of God. Rumi’s attraction toward the Divine and becoming enraptured with love and zeal needs to be seen from this perspective.
An Immense Inclusiveness within the Framework of Essential Disciplines
On the other hand, certain words Rumi uttered while in a trance or while he whirled to a particular level are related to the spiritual states he personally experienced. These stem from the entranced states of hayrah, dahshah, hayman, and qalaq.2 Although acting in vigilance is essential for a person in a wakeful state and of a sound mind, consideration of the words and behaviors of a person while in an entranced state of spiritual intoxication should be considered accordingly.
For this reason, what is incumbent upon people like us is to take the special cases of the great figures like Jalaluddin Rumi into consideration and find a plausible explanation for their words and behaviors that are likely to be misinterpreted. For example, one of the most criticized statements of Rumi is his famous call: “Come, come, whoever you are; even if you are an unbeliever, a fire-worshipper, or idolater… come. Our lodge is not a place of hopelessness, even if you have backed from your vow of repentance for a hundred times, still come.”
We are not sure whether these are the exact words that were originally uttered by Rumi or not. However, even if this statement is not his, Rumi has many other statements reflecting this spirit. I believe those who criticize these words are not fully aware of the point being made. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong in making such a statement. When Rumi’s life and works are viewed as a whole, it is clear that they reflect the meaning of “come, whoever you are, discover the beauties in our world, and find your true essence.” On the other hand, as Rumi himself expressed, one of his feet walks through the nations of the world, and the other stays fixed in the center of Islamic principles. As a person who never wavered in his fidelity to religious ways and essentials, it is unthinkable to say that he abandoned any religious practices that were obligatory (fard), necessary (wajib), or commendable (sunnah) to do. It is not correct to solely approach him in terms of his relations with others without seeing the excellent depth of his religious life.
Jalaluddin Rumi has two sides. On the one hand, he lives in strict adherence to the essentials of Islam; on the other hand, he lives among people and teaches the religion to them in a form that they can love and sincerely embrace. Those that criticize him see the second side only and fail or refuse to see the depth of his spiritual life. As a matter of fact, today as well, certain volunteers with love for God and humanity try to show sensitivity in observing acts of worship and complying with the essential disciplines of the religion on the one hand, and they try to come into contact with the entire world on the other. Similarly, those who criticize the volunteers do not pay attention to their religious devotion but only see their efforts for dialogue with others from a narrow-minded perspective. However, in our time when the world is full of antagonism and weapons of mass destruction, dialogue activities centered around love, respect, compassion, and tolerance are very important. If you really wish to eliminate the menacing, negative tension in humanity, you need to use the mysterious key of love. Actually, there is no door this magical key cannot open, no heart it cannot enter, and no face it cannot make smile. Still, it should not be forgotten that one could convey positive thoughts and feelings to others not through a frown but with a warm smile. When others step into your heart, they must find a magnanimous conscience so that nobody worries about failing to find a seat reserved for them. It is commendable to follow the ways and methods presented by heroes of guidance such as Jalaluddin Rumi, Imam Rabbani, Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi, and Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, whose guide was the Qur’an and Sunnah. Although they possessed certain differences of secondary importance, all of those great figures of immense conscience beamed with love, overflowed with mercy and showed compassion to all; they opened their bosom to everyone and they neither returned any negative behavior with a physical or verbal response, nor did they respond by breaking others’ hearts as they did to them. What is incumbent upon us in our time is to take the lesson we learn from these historic figures and use this mysterious and magical power of love for the good of humanity.
1. Yunus Emre (d. 1321), Turkish Sufi poet
2. For further reading, see the relevant chapters in Key Concepts of the Practice of Sufism, volumes I and II.