This Week’s Middle East Historical Figure

Rumi (as he is known in the west), the most celebrated Persian poet of the Middle Ages and also said to be the “most popular poet in America” in 2007

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī (Rumi) – 1207 – 1273

The poet known commonly in the Western world as Rumi (for the region he lived in) was born in present-day Iran which was then ruled by theKhwarazmian dynasty.   When the Mongols invaded he moved with his father east and eventually settled in the Sultanate of Rum in present-day Turkey.  It was in central Turkey that he would compose the majority of his poems that would make him universally read in centuries to come.

Rumi became the ascetic, mystical poet that he is most known for upon meeting a wandering Sufi mystic in his mid-twenties.  After this meeting he became reclusive and introspective and began to search for God in the tradition of Sufis before him.

The dervish he met was Shams-e Tabrizi, a man who had been traveling throughout the Middle East looking for someone who could ‘endure his company.’  Eventually Shams became Rumi’s mentor and taught him the ways of the Sufi mystics, and it was upon Shams’ requests that Rumi began to pursue writing as a career and after Shams’ death Rumi became a reclusive writer.

He wrote ghazals, a form of Persian poetry consisting of couplets and refrains that share the same meter.  But Rumi was the writer who made this form of poetry universally renowned through his extensive volumes of poetry.  His poetry was written in New Persian, and he was instrumental in making this the popular language in the Iranian plateau until the present day.  Due to Rumi and others writings Persian became the intellectual and artistic language of the Middle Ages and he brought about a rebirth in Persian culture.

Rumi’s poems covered a variety of themes, among them love, religion, introspection and were filled with rich symbolism and metaphorical language typical of Sufi poetry.  His works propounded a philosophy of universal truth in which he believed that all religions were inching towards the same truth and he continuously advocated universal tolerance and charity.  Throughout his works he advocated the Islamic doctrine oftawhid, reiterating the universal nature of God in all aspects of life.

His best loved work is the Masnavi, a massive volume of Sufi poetry that is considered by many Sufis to be the equivalent of the Persian language Qur’an.  The Masnavi is a collection of spiritual advice to guide Sufis on their quest to become fully in love and close with God.

Rumi continues to be the most famous poet in Iranian history and is still revered as the greatest literary figure in that nation’s history.  Iranians are deeply enamored with Rumi’s poetic works and his Persian poetry keeps the Persian language alive and beloved in Iran.

Past Middle East Historical Figures –

Harun Al-Rashid

Ibn Khaldun

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