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Biography of Jellâl-al-din Rûmi

by Edward Rehatsek










VOL. IV.—1875

[Bombay, Education Society's Press]
{Reduced to HTML by Christopher M. Weimer, November 2002}

p. 293


BY E. REHATSEK, M.C.E., Hon. Mem. B. Br. R. As. Soc.

   The prince of Çufi poets, Mullânâ Jellâl-al-din Muhammad ul-Balkhîur-Rûmi, was born at Balkh on the 6th of the month Rabi’ I. A.H. 604 (1st October A.D. 1207). His principal work is the Meṣnavi, which consists of six daftars or volumes, and treats on an extraordinary variety of subjects, stories, fables, parables, legends, and Ḳorân-texts, all permeated by the spirit of the Çufi doctrines; and second to it is his Diwân, a collection of lyrical poems,—both known from the banks of the Ganges to the shores of the Bosporus. This poet, the founder of the order of whirling dervishes, who have numerous convents and endowed establishments p. 294 in Turkey, spent the greater portion of his life in that country, and is therefore called Rûmi, the Turk; but, according to the Nafhât-ul-uns of Jâmi, his visions began at a very early age in his own country. When he was five years old he had manifestations from the invisible world, such as sights of angels, of genii, and of men within the domes of glory. It is stated in a record in the handwriting of Mullânâ Behâ-al-din Vulud, that when Jellâl-al-din Muhammad, on a certain Friday when six years of age, was playing with some other little boys on the flat house-tops of Balkh, one of the little fellows suggested that they should jump over from one house-top to another; Jellâl-al-din replied that as such movements are peculiar to dogs, cats, and other animals, it would be a pity that human beings should imitate them, but that, if they felt any power in their souls, they ought to fly heavenwards together with him. That moment he disappeared from the sight of his playmates, who became sorry and raised a shout of lamentation whereupon he returned after a short while, but with the hue of his countenance changed and his eyes altered, and said, "Whilst conversing with you, I saw a company of persons dressed in green raiment, who took me up and showed me the miracles of the upper world; but when your cries and wailings ascended they again deposited me here." It is said that at that age he partook of food only once in three or four days.

   It is said that when Jellâl-al-din emigrated from Balkh he met Sheikh Farid-al-din A’ṭṭâr at Nishapûr, who was at that time well stricken in years, and who presented him with his Esrâr-nâmah, or "book of mysteries," which he ever afterwards carried about his person; he also imitated his doctrines, as it is said—

"Mullânâ on A’ṭṭâr attended,
From Shams' hands the drink was all nectar."

By Shams his spiritual teacher, Shams Tabrizi, is meant, Elsewhere we read—

"A’ṭṭâr was soul, Sanâi his two eyes;
We came after Sanâi and A’ṭṭâr."

   On being told that a certain man had said he was at his service "with heart and life," he replied, "Hush! Among men this lie finds credit," and asked, "Whence have you obtained your heart and life, that you can place them at the service of men?" He was nevertheless in the habit of saying, "I am not that body which appears to the A’âsheks (lovers of God), but the pleasure and gladness produced in the hearts of Murîds (disciples) by my words. Allah! Allah! when you obtain that gladness, and taste that joy, consider it happiness, and give thanks; that is me!" Hisâm-al-din was merely his amanuensis, but from several flattering references to him in the Meṣnavi he might be wrongly considered to have occupied a far higher position. To him he said, "It is necessary to sit knee to knee with the Avliâ (pl. of Veli, saint) of God, because such proximity bears momentous consequences."

   Hisim-al-dîn was no doubt a faithful amanuensis and disciple, but on some occasions a little admonition might have been judicious; on the death of his wife he could not be induced for a long time to attend to his duty, and the poet remonstrated:—

"One moment to be absent from him is not good,
For separation will increase mishaps.
No matter what your state; attend on him,
Because proximity will love augment."

   He said that although a bird flying up from the earth cannot reach heaven, it nevertheless gains the advantage of being further from the net; thus a man who becomes a dervish, though he cannot attain perfection, is distinguished above the common crowd of men, and is delivered from the troubles of the world.

   A worldly fellow once excused himself to him for his remissness in visiting him, but Jellâl-al-din replied, "There is no need of any excuses, because I am as thankful for your not coming as others are for your coming."

   Seeing one of his companions in a state of melancholy, he said, "All sadness arises from too great attachment to this world; as soon as you are freed from it and consider yourself a stranger therein, you will perceive, from everything p. 295 you behold or taste, that it cannot abide with you, and that you must go to another place: therefore you will no longer feel any anxiety."

   He was also in the habit of saying that he is a superior man who does not grieve on being affronted, and he a generous man who gives no pain to one deserving to be affronted. Mullânâ Sirâj-al-din Ḳunavi was a great man of the period, but not on good terms with Jellâl-al-din, and when it was reported to him that the latter had on a certain occasion said, "I agree with all the seventy-three sects of the Muhammadan religion," he determined to get the Mullâ insulted. Accordingly he sent one of his followers, who was a learned man, to ask the Mullâ in a large company whether he had really uttered the above sentiment, and in case of receiving an affirmative reply, to affront him with bad language; but to all his taunts the Mullâ only smiled and replied, "I agree also with all you have said," whereupon the man returned ashamed. Sheikh Rakn-al-din a’llâ al-doulah stated that he had been much pleased with this meek answer.

   He daily asked his servant, "Is there anything in the house to-day?" and on receiving a negative reply he became exhilarated and thankful, saying, "Praise be to God, this day our house is like that of the prophet!" If the servant said, "Whatever we require is at hand in the kitchen," he was displeased and said, "The smell of Pharaoh is rising from this house." He seldom or never used wax-lights in his house, and was contented with oil-lamps, saying, "Those are for kings, and these for devotees (çalûk)."

   On a certain occasion a company, in which also Sheikh Çadr-al-din Ḳunavi was present, requested the Mullâ to officiate as Emâm (leader of the prayers), but he replied, "We are Abdâls, we sit down or get up wherever we happen to be; those endowed with Çufism and dignity are worthy to be Emâms," and pointing to Sheikh Çadr-al-din as one of these, he coutinued, "Whoever prays after a pious Emâm is just as if he played after the prophet."

   One day the Mullâ being present at a devotional exercise, it occurred to a dervish to ask him what Faḳr* is, whereupon the Mulla recited the following quatrain:—

"Faḳr is essence, all else accident;
Faḳr is health, all else disease.
This world is all deceit and fraud,
Faḳr is of the next a mystery."

   It has been mentioned above that the Mullâ was a disciple of Farid-al-din A’ṭṭâr; him he recollected even during his last illness, when he said to his companions, "Be not afflicted at my going, because the victorious light will fifty years hence radiate from the spirit of Sheikh Farid-al-din A’ṭṭâr. Remember me in whatever state you are, that I may aid you, in whatever garment I am." He also said, "Do not associate with any persons except such as are of your own kind; because on this subject my lord Shams-al-din Tabrîzi (may God sanctify his secret!) has said to me that the sign of a disciple (murid) who has found acceptance is that he never associates with strangers, and that when he suddenly falls into their company he feels ill at ease, like a hypocrite in a mosque, or a little child in a school. On his death-bed he also said to his companions, "In this world I have but two connections—the one with my body, and the other with you; this latter connection will not be severed even after I shall, by the favour of God, become separated and isolated from this world." On the same occasion Sheikh Çadr-al-din also paid him a visit and said, "May God restore you to health quickly!" But the Mullâ replied, "Let my restoration to health consist in the removal of the only remaining garment which yet separates the lover from his beloved. Are you not willing that light should be joined to light?

"Denuded of body am I, and He of unreality.
I roam and verge to bounds of union."

   The last injunction of the Mullâ to his companions was, "I recommend you to fear God secretly and openly, to be frugal in your eating, to sleep little, and to speak little. To abandon everything sinful, to fast and to pray much. To renounce every kind of last for ever, and to bear insults from everybody. Do not keep up any intercourse with fools and vulgar persons, but cultivate this society of men who are pious and noble. The best men are those who are useful p. 296 to the human race, and the best words are those which are the fewest and the most instructive."

   On being asked to appoint a worthy successor, he uttered the name of Chelebi Hisâm-al-din; the question being thrice repeated, he gave the fourth time the same reply. Being questioned concerning his son Sulṭân Vulud, he replied, "He is a hero, there is no necessity for any injunction about him." Then Chelebi Hisâm-al-din asked the Mullâ whom he wished to pray over his corpse at the burial, and he said, "Sheikh Çadr-al-din." He expired at sunset on the 5th of the month Jomâdi II. A.H. 672 (18th December A.D. 1273), at the age of 68 years according to the Muhammadan, or 66 according to the Christian reckoning, at Ḳoniah, i.e. Iconium, in Asia Minor, where he had spent the greater portion of his life, and from its being in the Turkish dominions he obtained the surname of Rûmi.

   The above Sulṭân Vulud was also a poet, and died at Ḳoniah, A.H. 712 (1312). He is called Behâ-al-din, of the same name with Jellâl-al-din's father, who, when our poet was yet a boy, being displeased wîth the government of Khowarizmshâh, determined to emigrate for ever from the district of Balkh, under the pretence of going on a pilgrimage to Mekkah. Accordingly he departed with this son and went first to Nishapur, where they made the acquaintance of Sheikh Farid-al-din A’ṭṭâr, who had gathered around him many disciples, and who discovered the precocious talents of the boy, presenting him with the Esrâr-nâmah and uttering the prediction:—

"How quick, he said, will this unruly lad
Throw burning fire on anxious souls!"

   Both father and son continued their travels in the company of a valuable guide and spiritual teacher, Sayyid Tarmad, whose sobriquet was Burhân; with him they visited the holy shrines of Mekkah and Jerusalem. They had not completed one half of their intended tour, however, when he took leave and advised them to settle in Turkey. Accordingly Behâ-al-din took his son Jellâl-al-din to Ḳoniah, where they established themselves and ceased their wanderings. At that time ’Allâ-al-din, the Seljukide, governed the country; he was so pleased with the company of Behâ-al-din that he became his disciple; when his father died Jellâl-al-din took his place, but he soon got tired of worldly honours, and, abandoning his position, dedicated himself wholly to spiritual life:—

"But schools and honours pleased him not;
His nature's aspirations were more high,
His pomp and glory seemed but folly to himself,—
Attraction of the spirit-world held his heart."

   He sought consolation in the society of kindred spirits, the chief of whom were Shams-al-din Tabrîzi—whose name appears at the end of almost every ode of his Diwân in token of affection, because Jallâl-al-din himself acknowledged him as his spiritual guide—and Ḥisâm-al-din.

   Shams-al-din Tabrîzi, whose full name is Mullânâ Shams-al-din ’Ali Ben Mâlak Dâd Tabrîzi, appears to have been a restless character and an innovator. He travelled about much and made many enemies. When Shams-al-din arrived at Ḳoniah for the first time, he paid a visit to Jallâl-al-din, who happened to be sitting near a tank with several books near him; he asked what they were, and on being told that they were called Kyl wa Kâl, he said, "What have you to do with them?" and threw them all into the water. The Mullâ exclaimed with a sigh, "O Dervish, what have you done? Some of these were my father's compositions, which cannot be replaced!" Hereupon Shams-al-din put his hand into the water and pulled out all the books, one after the other; and lo, not one of them was wet. Jellâl-al-din was much astonished, but Shams-al-din rejoined, "This is joy and ecstasy: what do you know of these spiritual matters?" And their intimacy began from that day.

   Shams-al-din was constantly roaming about. He wore a robe of coarse black cloth, and took lodgings in the caravanseraî at whatever place he happened to arrive. He came to Ḳoniah A.H. 642 (A.D. 1244), but could not remain there on that occasion longer than one year, as an attempt was made on his life. At that time Jellâl-al-din Rumi saw his friend for the p. 297 last time, and was so grieved at the separation that he withdrew himself entirely from the world, became a dervish, and founded the order of dervishes called after his name, and at present still well known in the Turkish empire.

   When Shams-al-din arrived in his travels at Ḳoniah, in A.H. 642, he took lodgings in the quarter of the confectioners. One day Jellâl-al-din, who was engaged in teaching various sciences, happened to pass, with a company of learned men from the college, through the quarter of the confectioners. On that occasion Mullâna Shams-al-din sallied out from his lodgings, and taking hold of the bridle of Jellâl-al-din's mule asked him whether Bâizid (a celebrated saint) or Muhammad was the greater? Jellâl-al-din said, "It seemed that on account of that terrible question the seven heavens had fallen asunder and had been precipitated upon the earth; a large fire appeared to issue from my bowels and to envelop my brains, the smoke whereof ascended to the throne of God, and I replied, 'As Muhammad is the greatest of men, what can Bâizid be?' He rejoined, 'What do Muhammad's words, "We have not known thee as we ought," imply? whilst Bâizid says, "O God, how high is my position! I am the king of kings!"' I replied:—'Bâizid's thirst was quenched by one drop, and he boasted of satisfaction, because the vessel of his intellect was filled thereby. That light was as much as the little window of his house could admit, whilst Muhammad was subject to a great dropsy and thirst,—he was daily praying for closer intimacy.'" At these words Mullânâ Shams-al-din gave a shout and fell down senseless. Jellâl-al-din alighted from his mule, and ordered his disciples to carry him to the college. He placed the head of Shams-al-din on his own knees, took him by the hand, and they departed together. During three months they lived in retirement, engaged in fasting and prayer; they did not come out once, and no one ventured to disturb their privacy.

   According to the Nafhât-ul-uns, in which the flight of Shams-al-din from Ḳoniah is represented in a somewhat supernatural way, the year in which it took place is given as A.H. 645, and not A.H. 643 as stated above. In the Nafhât-ul-uns it is related that one night when Jellâl-al-din and Shams-al-din were sitting together in retirement, a man from without arrived and beckoned to the latter. The Sheikh got up immediately and said to Jellâl-al-din, "They are calling me in order to kill me." Jellâl-al-din waited long in vain for his return; seven men had lain in ambush expecting him with drawn swords, with which they attacked him, but he uttered such a shout that all of them fainted away and fell to the ground. One of these men was Behâ-al-din, or as in the lithographed copy, ’Allâ-al-din Muhammad, the son of Jellâl-al-din. When these seven men recovered their senses, they perceived nothing but one drop of blood, and from that day to this nothing more transpired concerning that prince of the invisible world.

   The real cause of the attempt to assassinate Shams-al-din, and of his flight in consequenoe thereof, must probably be sought in his open disbelief in Islâm, which Jellâl-al-din was always cunning enough to disguise tolerably well in his own utterances and writings. He, moreover, so monopolized the society of Jellâl-al-din that the disciples of the latter, together with his son, were determined to murder Shams-al-din. It is plain enough, from the last page of the Meṣnavi, that the above conjecture is true, as will appear from the following:—

"Some time he with his friend retired sat,
All alien spirits quite shut out,
Enjoying the pure draught of union.
He was the confidant of his good friend;
His pupils did lament and grumble,
'Whence came this ragged mendicant?
Whence brought he all this fraud and roguery,
To isolate so quickly our great Chief?
O God! Now Islâm is despised, destroyed,
The dome of Islâm is now led astray!
This robber is none but a heretic,
By God! his blood is free and free!'"

p. 298

   It may be seen that in these verses the 'great Chief' and the 'dome of Islâm' is Jellâl-al-din Rûmi, whilst the ragged mendicant and heretic robber is Shams-al-din.

   Jellâl-al-din Rûmi's successor Chelebi Hisâm-al-din, whose full name is Sheikh Hisâm-al-din Hasan Ben Muhammad Ben Alhasan Ben Akhi Turk. Becoming the successor of a Pir or Sheikh, i.e. spiritual guide, implies also the acceptance of all his duties and the allegiance of his pupils; and if the Pir was a man of great authority, learning, &c. his successor is also expected to be one. It appears that Hisâm-al-din got tired of the many Ghazâls composed by his teacher Jellâl-al-din, and requested him to write a connected and large poem; hereupon the latter pulled out a piece of paper from his turban containing the first twenty-eight distichs of his Meṣnâvi, beginning with the words—

"Hear how yon reed in sadly pleasing tales
Departed bliss and present woe bewails!"

and ending with the words—

"Here pause my song; and thou vain world, farewell."*

   Jellâl-al-din said, "Before you ever thought of it, the idea of composing a work of this kind had been instilled into my heart from on high." The last piece in the Meṣnâvi itself contains an account of the manner in which this celebrated work was commenced, and brought to an end by Hisâm-al-din, who wrote down every word of it as it fell from the lips of his master. Sometimes Jellâl-al-din was so full of his subject that from the beginning of the night till the next morning dawned he dictated to Hisâm-al-din, who was in the habit of again reading in a loud voice to the Mullâ all he had written. When the first volume was completed the wife of Chelebi Hisâm-al-din died, and the work was interrupted, as alluded to in the first distich of the second volume:—

"Delayed was this Meṣnâvi for a time.
Respite was needed blood to milk to change."

   After that no interruption of any length appears to have taken place, till the whole work was brought to a termination. That Hisâm-al-din must have been an enthusiastic admirer of this book appears from the following words he uttered:—"When the Meṣnâvi is being read aloud, all who are present get drowned in its light, and I behold a company of spirits from the invisible world who cut off with their swords the roots and branches of the faith of all those who do not listen with complete sincerity, and gradually drag them into hell-fire." But Jellâl-al-din replied:—

"Of verses mine the foes you see
Headlong dragged to flames of fire.
Hisâm-al-din, saw you their state?
Their acts has God revealed to you?"

   The above words of Hisâm-al-din imply that as apparently many sentiments contrary to the strict laws of Islâm are uttered,—unless listened to with great and sincere attention, the hearing of the Meṣnâvi will lead to infidelity, and consequently to eternal perdition; whilst the answer of his master is conceived in that tolerant spirit which permeates the whole Meṣnâvi, and which ventures to condemn no one rashly.

   No doubt the Meṣnâvi contains also many strictly orthodox and even bigoted pieces; it must, however, be allowed that there are many which can never meet with the approval of strict Musalmâns of any sect. Such a piece is "Moses and the Herdsman" (Ind. Ant. vol. III. p. 90, March 1874), at the end of which the author even disclaims to be a religious guide, and openly avows that the religion of love is the only true one:—

"You must not guidance seek from the inebriate;
Who rend their clothes, can they be asked to mend?
From all religions differs love is belief;
The lovers' sects and rites are God alone.

Journals Islamic Articles


p. 295

* Poverty in a religious sense, and he who makes a profession of it is a Faḳîr

p. 298

* This piece was translated by Sir W. Jones, but since his time nothing further has been attempted.

Though fully aware of my numerous imperfections both as an English and a Persian scholar, I have during the last two years given selections from this great poet, who has not yet met among Europeans with the attention and study p. 299 he deserves. In the text I have not ventured to alter a single word or to touch the metre, whether faulty or not; and in my translations I have aimed chiefly at fidelity. However imperfectly I may have accomplished my task, I venture to hope that I shall not be charged with rashness, since my acquaintance with Jellâl-al-din Rûmi is of more than twenty years' standing, and I flatter myself that I have, during that time, learnt to understand him a little. Nothing would please me more than to see better justice done to this poet than I can do.