Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi (or commonly known as Rumi in Western society) is probably one of the most influential poets and thinkers in the course of history. There have been conducted so many researches on his life and so many books have been written. However, he has never been such a famous figure until the end of the last century. And indeed, in the 21st century.
Apart from his fame in Iran, Turkey, and some other Eastern countries, Rumi has also gained such fame in the West. And the US probably comes first among those Western countries. So today, we are going to investigate the actual causes that lie behind this growing popularity of Rumi. Further, his thoughts and poets will also be the focus of our article.
Discusses over The Name of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi
There are several different approaches to the name of Islamic Sufi. He is most commonly famous as Rumi in English. His full name is Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī or Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī. Jalal ad-Din is an Arabic name meaning “Glory of the Faith”. Balkhī and Rūmī are his pseudonyms, meaning, respectively, “from Balkh” and “from Rûm” (“Roman,” what European history now calls Byzantine, Anatolia).
According to the authoritative Rumi biographer Franklin Lewis of the University of Chicago, “[t]he 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 Rum. As such, there are a number of historical personages born in or associated with Anatolia known as Rumi, a word borrowed from Arabic literally meaning ‘Roman,’ in which context Roman refers to subjects of the Byzantine Empire or simply to people living in or things associated with Anatolia.”
He was also known as “Mullah of Rum”. He is widely known by the sobriquet Mawlānā/Molānā in Iran and popularly known as Mevlânâ in Turkey. Mawlānā is a term of Arabic origin, meaning “our master”. The term Mawlawī/Mowlavi (Persian) and Mevlevi (Turkish), also of Arabic origin, meaning “my master”, is also frequently used for him.
Who is Rumi?
Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi is the great Anatolian mystic, poet, and father of the Mevlevi Order. He is famous as Hz. Mevlana in the East and as Rumi in the West. At birth, his family named him Muhammed, though he got the nickname as Celaleddin. As for “Mevlana”, it connotes to “our master”, while “Rumi” relates to “the land of Rum” or “Anatolia”, where he lived. In his lifetime, many also named him as “Hudavendigar”, meaning “distinguished leader”. Whereas his present internationally renowned title “Mevlana” and it was a seldom use. However, the name “Rumi” became the common name, rather later on.
“Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper, or idolatrous, come!
Come, even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.
— Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi
Mevlana was born on 30 September 1207 in the city of Balkh, Horasan. Later on, Turkish tribes inhabited there at that time; (Balkh, today, remains within the boundaries of Afghanistan). His mother Mümine was the daughter of Rükneddin. He was the “emir” (sovereign ruler) of Balkh. His father, on the other hand, Bahaeddin Veled, was “Sultanu-l ulema” (chief scholar).
Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi’s Family
Following his marriage to Gevher Banu in Karaman, Konya, Mevlana had two sons whom he named Bahaeddin (Sultan Veled) and Alaeddin. Years later, during his time in Konya, and after Gevher Banu passed away, Mevlana married Kerra Hatun. Then, he had two more children; another son, Muzafferreddin Emir Alim and a daughter Melike.
Their clash of opinion with Fahreddin-i Razi, one of his contemporary mystics, along with the probability of a Mongol invasion urged him to desert his hometown accompanied by his entire family. Their migration, via Baghdad, Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Malatya, Erzincan, and Karaman, ended up, on 3 May 1228. The migration came to an end in Konya upon the invitation of Alaeddin Keykubad, the Seljuk Emperor.
As Mevlana begins attending his father’s lessons at a very early age, he pursues the divine truth and secrets. He acquires Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and common Greek as well as Classical Greek. He studies other religions along with Islam. From history to medicine, he receives his initial education from his father and then from Seyyid Burhaneddin Tirmizi and other top scholars of the time. Later on he himself, in turn, teaches hundreds of students in Madrassahs (theological universities).
Crossing Roads: Rumi and Sems-i Tebrizi
Meanwhile, Sems-i Tabrizi is in search of another fellow acquaintance to match his own scholarly wisdom and to enjoy his company. Sems and Mevlana had their first encounter in Damascus. Afterward, they met again in 1244, in Konya. These two God loving Velis (guardians) focus intensely on divine discussions. Moreover, together they attain heavenly wisdom. With most of his time spent in endless talks, poetry recitals, and whirling rituals with his spiritual soul mate, jealousy becomes aroused among Mevlana’s students.
Unjust rumors did spread against Sems-i Tabrizi. Thus, he fleed Konya for Damascus. Mevlana, in his deep grief, secludes himself from all friends and writes many of his verses which we read in Divan-i Kebir. The instigators of this unfavorable situation express remorse and a group led by Mevlana’s son Sultan Veled goes to Damascus and brings back Sems-i Tabrizi. Nevertheless, jealousy arises once again and Sems, this time, suddenly disappears altogether. Even though researchers believe that his tomb in Konya, whether he deserted the city or some murdered him still remains a mystery.
Mevlana enters a new stage in his life upon the disappearance of his close friend. He first appoints Sheikh Selahaddin-i Zerkub, who passes away. Later on, he appoints Chalabi Hüsameddin, one of his own students, to teach on his behalf.
Where does The Huge Popularity of Rumi in the West Come From?
According to California-based sheik of the Sufi Mevlevi order Ibrahim Gamard, Islam continues to be the fastest-growing religion in the United States. And furthermore, this becomes possible in spite of anti-Islamic sentiments. At the same time, there continues to be a strong interest in Sufism. However, this is because it presents a type of mysticism that is not dependent upon Islam. And it transcends particular religions.
Similarly, there are popular Sufi movements in the U.S. that are attractive to Americans. Because they are only mildly Islamic. And this is a major reason why Rumi’s poetry is so popular. Because it presented in popularized versions, not faithful translations. Those studies depict Rumi as a mystic who is only slightly Islamic.