Archive for the ‘ Rumi’s World ’ Category



Keyvan Tabari


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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Table of Contents


Persian Civilization

            Preserving the Old

            New Persian



            Indians and Turks





           Love Stories





            National Epic

            Iran and Islamdom








          Soveriegn Lord






This is one of the chapters in a project on Rumi, the Islamic Gnostic Persian poet who was named Jalal al-Din (1207-1273). Four other chapters would accompany this. They cover the following subjects: Rumi in today’s world, Rumi’s biography, Rumi in ecstasy and Rumi’s imagination. The present chapter is about Rumi’s world, the natural or material world in which he lived. There are, inevitably, some overlaps among these five chapters despite the individual subjects of their focus.

In this chapter the world which shaped Rumi is the focus. It is viewed primarily as he depicted it in his writings of the mid-13th century. Rumi wrote in Persian, with occasional passages in Arabic. The audience which he aimed at was Persian-speaking. The world which he depicts is that of the Persian civilization at the height of its renaissance from the Arab conquest in the early 7th century. This was a multi-ethnic Muslim community. Its culture of the pre-Islamic times, already combining Persian, Indian and Greek thoughts, had evolved with philosophical and theological contributions of Islamic thinkers.

Rumi’s writing, while not a chronicle of his time, reflects his perception of his world.  Capturing that perception in a coherent form is the goal of this chapter as it is a key to understanding Rumi. That goal provides a distinct approach for this work which, otherwise, is based on the valuable studies others have already done on Rumi as well as on his world.

There is no dearth of speculative writings on Rumi. They have produced certain conclusions that might make him accessible to readers with basic common knowledge. He is projected variously, or together, as a Sufi, Muslim mystic, Turkish poet, oracle of love and prophet of ecumenism, to give a few examples. Often, these ascriptions are based on works of deductive reasoning in which the author starts with notions about Rumi also familiar to his reader, as they are formed by their shared cultural orientation. The potential problem with such works is, therefore, twofold: only such evidence is likely to be selected that would support pre-suppositions which are, themselves, affected by orientational preferences.

The ideal alternative would be inductive reasoning combined with mindful avoidance of restrictive orientations. That is, of course, easier aspired to than done. Furthermore, as this study’s own deficiencies show, the risk in refraining from unsubstantiated speculation is erring on the side of too descriptive an analysis. The reader may then be forced to draw his own conclusions, requiring more attention and effort from him than normal.  With that warning in place, attempting the said alternative is worthwhile. At the very least, essential issues will be exposed and fruitful fields of inquiry will be identified. Rumi was the product of an environment which we can glimpse through his writings and magnify by the use of relevant other sources. That task requires drawing a sufficiently informative picture of the complex conditions and events which influenced Rumi’s life and work. His responses are not always possible to specify; they are then outlined in his general reaction and conducts. In the process, Rumi emerges as sharing much with his notable contemporaries, but also differing in significant ways from them.

This review begins with sketching the cultural environment in which Rumi lived, pointing out  that Persian language was fundamental in bringing together many ethnic groups in a civilization that spanned from the Chinese Turkistan to the Byzantine borders.  Rumi spoke in Persian, as the next section stresses, although his work also demonstrates the strong influence of Arabic, the language of Islam which was the dominant religion of the area. Turkish as a language was insignificant, on the other hand, while Turkish rulers were, in fact, dominant. The Greeks who left a mark Rumi’s thinking were the ancient; he hardly had any contact with his Greek neighbors who lived in Anatolia’s countryside.  His contacts with the Europeans were indirect, except for a fresh memory of the Crusades.

The third section of this chapter shows how much Rumi was connected to his predecessors in Persian literature on subjects as varied as love, aesthetics, ethics and introspection. The following section, conversely, points out that religion divided Rumi from his compatriots. His Islam was different not only from the religions of the Zoroastrians and Buddhists but even from the bigger groups of Shiite Muslims. His allegiance to the community of Islamdom superseded his ties to Iran. But he shared as the common enemy the Mongol invaders. In the following section we note that, furthermore, Rumi also similarly faced political turmoil, nearly endemic in the whole region, sought favors with the powerful and in this he had to contend with rivals. The second group of Mongol rulers, the Ilkhanids, indeed, must have looked threatening to Rumi while appreciative of others, including the Shiites.

Rumi’s disciples, however, would eventually save his legacy in the Sufi Order which they established after his death. Their origin as a group is the subject for the discussion in the last section of this survey. Rumi’s writings depict them as primarily the extension of the group which migrated with his father from Central Asia. To that party were added new friends mostly from among traders and merchants, town folks below the landowners in status.  They looked to Rumi as their lord, more than simply their spiritual master. Accordingly, they demanded favor and assistance from him, even entertainment as Rumi says. Indeed, it is what Rumi says, that is what we will try to find out throughout this chapter.

Persian Civilization

Preserving the Old

In the West, when the contribution of the Moslem world to the European Renaissance is acknowledged it is usually attributed to scholars who saved the literature of the ancient world (especially in science and philosophy) by translating it from Greek into Arabic {Ho}. Missing in this facile summary are the facts that those scholars were overwhelmingly Persian and, secondly, in many case, they went far beyond mere translation of others’ works by adding transformative original ideas of their own. Both of these are fundamental in understanding the civilization, the cultural milieu, in which Rumi lived, which was transmitted to Europe from places such as Antalya.

Arabic, of course, was the Moslem world’s language of scholarly expression for much of this time. Its grip on the Persian-speaking people was established after the Arab conquest of the 7th century which resulted in making them abandon not only their Zoroastrian religion but also their Pahlavi language and script.  Additionally, largely lost was the translation of the works of the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, into Middle Persian and Syriac (Suryani) languages in the 6th century. This translation had been done mostly as the result of the return of the Persian Nestorian philosophers upon the closing of the School of Edessa in 489 by the Byzantine Emperor Zeno [1]. A few years later, when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian closed the Academy of Athens in 529 (for being a center of pagan and perverse learning),  seven notable Greek philosophers –namely, Diogenes, Simplicius, Damascius, Eulamius, Priscianus, Hermias and Isidorus- also took refuge in Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sassanid King Khosrow I Anooshiravan (531-579). The King welcomed them as he was himself a great admirer of the works of Plato and Aristotle {EIrS2}  and had established his own Academy of Gondeshapur (near Dezful in the present-day province of Khuzestan, southwest of Iran) {EBA}.  The Greek knowledge of Sassanid scholars is reflected in the Middle Persian books, especially in the encyclopedic Denkard (Acts of Religion), a 10th century collection of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The philosophical terminologies of Denkard are largely Aristotelian {EIrS2}.

The Academy of Gondeshapur was the model for Bayt al-Hikma (the House of Wisdom) founded in 832 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun in Baghdad, staffed with the graduates of Gondeshapur and emulating its learning method . After the Abbasids established their rule and shifted the capital of Islam from Damascus to Baghdad, Persian influences upon Islamic culture became palpable in all spheres of life {Sc: 3-4}.  The Abbasid period is considered to be the heyday of Islamic civilization; Baghdad attracted Persian scholars like Ghazali and Abu Nasr Muhammad Farabi (872- 950) who was from Central Asian area of Greater Khorasan (which extended beyond present-day Iran’s province of Khorasan) and is generally credited with having established the Islamic philosophic tradition {EIrM}.

The translation movement undertaken by the Abbasids through substantial contributions from a host of Persian scholars {EIrS2} soon created the Arabic version of the majority of Greek philosophical and scientific works. With Arabic being the language of scientific and scholarly works in the entire Muslim world, not only Ghazali and Farabi, but also their fellow Persian Avicenna (Abu `Ali Ibn Sina, 980-1037) wrote their major manuscripts in Arabic. The latter who considered himself a student of Farabi, is generally credited with charting the Islamic philosophical directions in the future investigation of both theoretical and practical sciences {EIrM}.

New Persian

New Persian was the first language in Muslim civilization to break through the Arabic’s monopoly on writing.  It was primarily a continuation of Middle Persian, the language of the Sassanid Persian Empire (224–654), itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BC).  However, it had borrowed and integrated much in vocabulary and grammar from Arabic. Indeed, that was also true about many of the other aspects of the new Persian culture. The Arabs brought Islam and joined the Persians with many other nations in a vast network of evolving international civilization in an unprecedented way. Trade relations became extensive and many big cities with numerous bazaars, mosques, schools and caravanserais were established.

In the common culture that emerged, with many ethnic groups, in the vast area from the borders with Byzantine east to the Chinese Turkistan, the lion’s share of contributions came from a historically rare collection of the Persian-speaking philosophers and scientists, polymaths, writers and poets [2]. Most were from Persian families of the region that is today’s Iran and the eastern part of Greater Khorasan which extended into today’s Central Asia. The Persians from the latter area are sometimes called Persionate, to distinguish them from the inhabitants of Iran. The linguistic stock of this whole area was Iranian; it consisted of the ancient Sogdian, Khwarazmian and Bactrian, as well as the language of the Zoroastrian holy books. Dari and Tajik also belong to the Iranian language group. People who communicated in these languages were Persian-speakers {Sta: 7, 17-18, 69}.”

Even those who might have had their own, separate, languages chose Persian as the dominant common language. The Turkic inhabitants of this land, in particular, who were mostly nomadic, did not develop any influential written work in Turkic until Nizam al-Din Alisher Harawi, known as Nava’i (1441-1501), long after Rumi. The 11th century works in Turkic, Wisdom of Royal Glory, by Yusuf Balasaguni from present-day Kyrgyzstan  and Compendium of the Turkic Dialects by Mahmud Kashgari from present-day Xinjiang,  China, were written in areas far to the east and had no discernible impact in the Persian-speaking world {Sta: xxi, xxv}

Rumi’s works were the products of that Persian civilization. The similarity between many of the terms used by Rumi and those in Denkard is a reflection of a renaissance of a Persian culture which had roots; this was not merely an isolated “golden age”.  A few samples of those terms should suffice here: soul (ruwan), wisdom (xrad zoor), movement (jumbishn), water (ab), unity of the universe (yak kardagihi gahan), radical dualism of being (do-buni Dtagîh), philosophers (fîlasofa) {EIrS}.  Just as in the European Renaissance, in many ways the new Persian civilization was a revival of an old one {Ni: xxvii-xxviii; Ta: 356}. It is noteworthy that Rumi lived at a crucial time when the Persian renaissance had reached a zenith from which it would not develop much further due to events taking place at Rumi’s time, principally the destructions wrought by the Mongols.



While this background is necessary for understanding Rumi, his own works are the best source for how he saw his world. He was not a chronicler, but his Masnavi’s over 25,500 poems, together with his Discourses (Fih ma fih, the collection of talks to his disciples) [3] and his Letters (Maktubat) [4] covered a wide range of revealing facets of society. Through them we learn about the people and cultural trends that influenced Rumi.

Although the Masnavi is in Persian, it also includes verses of Arabic. In one instance, after three verses in Arabic, Rumi says: “Speak Persian (Parsi goo) {Miii: 3843}!”  He repeats that directive elsewhere in the Masnavi: “Let’s say it in Persian (Parsi gooiim) {F1:333; mI: 887}.” Rumi’s usage of Arabic reflects the shifting style of Persian writers of his time. It appears akin to the artistic or ornate (fanni or masnu’) style, first introduced by Abul-Ma’ali Nasr-Allah Monsi in his 1145 Persian translation from Arabic of the originally Indian animal fable book Kalileh va Damneh (Arabic: Kalila wa Demna).  Monsi thus changed the style current from the beginning of the (new) Persian literature to the middle of the 12th  century, which was a straightforward manner of expression that avoided loan words except for those of a technical nature as well as insertion of Arabic Qur`anic verses and prophetic sayings and dicta [5].

But the impact of Monsi’s book on the Masnavi went far beyond this.  Like his (Persian) Kalileh va Damneh, Rumi’s Masnavi is based on using stories as a form of analogy (gheyas) – long employed in Persian literature as a method of proof {Ta:386-87}. Furthermore, Rumi’s bringing in secondary (far’i) stories into the principal story was a method used in Kalileh va Damneh. Although that method was then followed in other books [6], Kalileh va Damneh remained the best example and is believed to be the one Rumi considered the most {F1:43}. Of all the works in Persian and Arabic literatures that Rumi is assumed to have read, the traces of Kalileh va Damneh are most apparent in the Masnavi {Sc: 40-41}.

Kalileh va Damneh  which was first translated into Arabic in the late 8th  century, soon became an important source of inspiration for Muslim scholars, poets and mystics who used its collection of fables of animal behavior to illustrate their arguments {Sc:40-41}. The Masnavi’s employment of animal-imagery is remarkable: no fewer than 31 animals make appearances, some several times, just in the titles of its stories {Nic6: Index}. Many of these stories are taken from Kalileh va Damneh {Sc: 40-41}.  In several passages, the Masnavi specifically refers to the book as the source of the story it is re-telling {Mi: 899, ii: 3617, 3621, iii: 2738, iv: 2203, 3463}.   It assumes, as it says, that its audience “will have read” [7] the stories in Kalileh va Damneh {Miv: 2203}.  The Masnavi characterizes Kalileh va Damneh as “entirely fiction {Mii: 3621}.”  At best, the Masnavi says, it tells only “the husk of the story;” while the Masnavi claims to be “spiritual kernel (maghz) {Miv: 2203}.”  The Masnavi admonishes those to whom, Kalileh va Damneh “seems just like the Qur’an {Miv: 3463}.”

Indians and Turks

Kalileh va Damneh originated in India between 500 and 100 B.C., with two jackals, Kalileh and Damneh, as the main characters in the stories. The Sanskrit original known as the Pancatantra has not survived. The oldest extant versions of its story cycle [8], are translations of a lost Middle Persian version {EIrRi} based on a copy brought from India at the time of the Sassanid King Khosrow I. While Kalileh va Damneh may be the only concrete “written” evidence of the influence of India on the Persian civilization that nurtured Rumi, there is no doubt about extensive relations between India and the Persian world not only during the Sassanid rule but also in the periods before, going back to the Achaemenids [9].  Indian thoughts, including those from the Upanishad views about the union of the created and creator, and reaching salvation through asceticism (riyazat), influenced Iranian world-view.  The notion of reaching the truth directly by shohood (signs/evidence) in the Masnavi has a counterpart in the concept of darsana (Sanskrit: auspicious sight) which existed in the earlier Indian philosophical systems {Ta: 323}.

From the unorthodox trends in Indian thoughts which modified the Vedic principles, especially Buddhism, there were influences in the three later Persian philosophical systems of Zarvanism (Zarvangari) -built on the notion of “Zarvan Akarneh (The Eternal Time)” existing before God-, the dualistic Manichaeism (Manigari) {Ra} and Mazdakism, which sought an optimistic interpretation of the Manichaean dualism, and survived Zoroastrian pressures into the Islamic times of the 8th century {EBM}. The Mazdaens in their Denkard paid homage to the “Indian sages (danag i hindog)’’.

Hindu. The Masnavi distinguishes Sindh (Sind), populated by Sindian, west of the Indus (Sind) River, which is now a part of Pakistan, from the rest of India to its east which the Masnavi calls “Hindustan” or “Hind” (populated by “Hindu”) {Mii: 1757}. Nearly all of the references in the Masnavi to India are to Hindustan and Hindu.  Western India had been converted to Islam. In fact, by Rumi’s time many of the inhabitants had been won over by the wandering Sufis whose simple basic teaching of Islam and their mystical, warm and loving, practices appealed to those who would not be attracted by the official legalistic forms of that religion {Sc:7}.

In the Masnavi Hindustan is depicted as a faraway place {Mi: 960-68, iv: 2374; Fih: 95}.  It is the exotic land of elephants {Mii: 22233, iii: 69, 4199, iv: 1892, 3068, 3080, vi: 3561}, parrots {Mii: 154} and unique trees {Mii: 3645}. The Masnavi borrows the originally Indian story of   “The Blind and the Elephant,” which is in the Buddhist scripture, from the poet Sana’i (Abulmajd Majdud, 1080-1131) {Sc: 39}.   The Masnavi also adopts from the poet `Attar (Farid al-Din ‘Attar Nishapuri, 1110-1220) {Mvi: 1382} and Sana’i {Sc: 40; Le: 188} the story of “Mahmud and the Hindu boy (servant) {Mvi: 1383}.”

In the Masnavi’s version of that story, Mahmud becomes the model of the lover, infatuated with his slave, Ayaz {Le: 188}. Ayaz becomes the symbol of the loving soul who, by surrendering completely to his master, wins his love {Sc: 188}.   “Hark, O fellow-servant, go and, like the Hindu boy, be not afraid of the Mahmud of non-existence {Mvi: 1446}.”  The Masnavi is complementary toward Mahmud in another story, entitled: “Story of the night-thieves with whom Sultan Mahmud fell in during the night (and joined them) saying, ‘I am one of you’; and how he became acquainted with their affairs {Mi: 2816}.”   The Turkish Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi was the stern warrior who invaded and plundered parts of Hindustan, east of the Indus River 17 times. The Masnavi mentions these exploits by Mahmud {Mii: 1384}, and says that Mahmud had gained quite a reputation: “What a hellish person Mahmud must be, since he has become proverbial for woe and anguish {Mvi: 1397}.”  Indeed, until today, Indians still see Mahmud in that description. In contrast, the Masnavi calls Mahmud by his honorific title of Ghazi (religious warrior), as a champion of Islam against the infidels {Mvi: 1383}.

Rumi’s references to those infidel Indians (Hindu) are correspondingly highly prejudicial {Sc: 194-96}.  This is evident mostly in his Divan (the collection of Rumi’s odes) where the Hindu is regarded as ugly, black, of evil omen and the personification of the nafs (the base soul) which Rumi depicts as the undesirable world compared to the desirable “inner meaning” of things. Rumi contrasts the Hindu, as the dark world of the body and matter, with the Turk as the representative of the world of spirit and love. In this comparison Rumi was following the pattern found in the earlier days of Persian poetry from the times of the Ghaznavid Empire (977–1186). Turk has been used in the Masnavi as equivalent with the beloved, manifesting strength {Mv: 3778} and victory, although sometimes also cruelty.

Turk. Rumi considers himself a Turk “insofar as he belongs to the world of spirit, beyond the world of Hindu-like dark matter; but on the outward plan he knows not what he is {Sc:196}.”  As he says in the Masnavi, love destroys the border of separation between Hindu and Turk {Mi: 1205-7, quoted in Le2}. It is important to recall Rumi’s differentiation between (old) India’s Hindu and the Sind; it is among the latter that Rumi has enjoyed great love and admiration {Sc: XVIII, 375, 379}.  Rumi’s negative views about the Hindu were not based on the color of their skin.  To him, the Zangi (Negro), black-faced like the Hindu, is a model of spiritual happiness: he is smiling and seems happy {Mv: 417, vi: 1047, Sc: 197 n.13}.

Masnavi mentions the Turks as a group (Turkan) admiringly because fighting is their business, not that of the faint-hearted {Mv: 3778-9}.  It refers to lands occupied by those fighting Turks, as far away as Turkistan {Mvi: 2375} and the Turfan capital of the Uighur Turks {Miii: 1414}.  After the Persian Samanid state was overthrown by the Turkish Qarakhanids who entered Bukhara in 999, various Turkish tribes came to rule the Samanid’s land as well as the neighboring countries where Rumi was born. After the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes (r. 1068-71) was defeated by Alp Arslan Saljuq, Turks also ranged over eastern Anatolia where Rumi was to live most of his life. The founder of the Saljuqs Sultanate of Rum, Solayman, came at the call of another Turkish tribe, the Turkmen of Syria, in 1074, to lead them.  The Turkmen themselves would eventually be pushed to the peripheries of Anatolia in the late 13th century.  Masnavi mentions the Turkmen {Mii: 1}. Rumi’s Divan also has images from the daily life of the Turkmen he saw around Konya, such as the ragman who walked around the town, shouting in Turkish eski babuj kimde war?  (Who has old shoes?) {D: 1125/11876 cited in Sc: 54}.Rumi even composed a few more verses with such lines in Turkish {Le2}.  Beyond these negligible utterances there is no evidence that Rumi knew Turkish or was influenced by Turkish culture or literature.


Similarly, Rumi occasionally brought a few words of current vernacular Byzantine Greek into his poetry {Le2}: in one poem he employs the word agapos (beloved) as a rhyme word {Sc: 345}. In Rumi’s time the populace in Anatolia’s countryside was primarily Armenian and Greek by ethnicity, while the town and cities consisted of Turkish tribesmen, urbanized Turks and Persians  {Le:398; Si:31-32}.  As with Turkish, Rumi’s knowledge of Greek language was limited {Sc: 193}.  In his Discourses, he is explicit: the Greek-speaking Rumis (Rumian) “would not understand our language {Fih: 97}.”  The impact of Greek literature on Rumi’s writings was thus hardly due to his contact with contemporary learned Greeks or to his reading Greek texts; it  was through perusing Persian, or possibly Arabic, translation and the general (ancient) Greek influence in the Persian culture.


Nor is there any evidence of Rumi’s extensive intercourse with the learned Arabs of his time. Despite some claims that Rumi spent years studying in two Arab-speaking centers of learning, Damascus and Aleppo {Le: 109-114}, there is no mention of such activity in Rumi’s writings. Neither the Masnavi nor the Discourses refers to his alleged teacher in Aleppo, Kamal al-Din ibn al-‘Adim {Le: 109} or to Ibn ‘Arabi who was at the time the most prominent Sufi in Damascus. Indeed, Rumi scarcely mentions either Damascus or Aleppo of his times. Rumi mentions Damascus as a part of a proverb {Nic8:95}: “The beauties of Damascus are not fully revealed … unless the view (from)… the mountain overlooking it {Miii: 3753}.”  He also mentions Damascus along with Samarqand as “sweet” {Miv: 1889}, perhaps symbolically in remembrance of his beloved friend Shams (Shams al-Din Tabrizi) {Sc: 191}.

The Masnavi mentions Aleppo as the place where “a poet” observes the Shiite mourning of the centuries-old tragedy of ‘Ashura {Mvi: 777}; in the Divan Rumi describes Aleppo as destroyed, like the heart of a person who is deserted by his friend {Sc: 191}. The contemporary destruction of the city by the Mongol Ilkhanid Hulagu took place in 1256, making it highly unlikely that Rumi himself saw it.  Once again, Rumi is engaged in symbolism; in the same vein that he associates Syria (Shom) with “unbelief and hypocrisy {Miv: 2373}.” There is no indication in Rumi’s writings that he visited the other two major centers of learning in the Arab world, Baghdad and Cairo.

There is, of course, much Arabic in Rumi’s writings in the nature of “loan” words, imported into Persian and adapted for the Persian-speaking world.  Passages from Arabic sources in Rumi’s works were to be expected. Arabic was the language of  the religious scriptures referenced by the clerics like him, Arabs had ruled his homeland for centuries (directly or through Turkish proxies) and, finally, using Arabic was a part of the dominant style of Persian literature at his time as mentioned before.  Along with several hundred verses (surah) of the Qur’an, the Masnavi quotes many Hadith which were sayings established as a part of the Islamic Tradition [10]. There was also another category with considerable importance for Rumi and his time: the sayings of eminent Muslims {Fih: Index}.  The Masnavi uses personalities in Arab history mentioned in the Qur’an and the Tradition as symbols, made into almost mythological beings -counterparts to the heroes of Greece and Rome in the future Western literature- whose tales are told in many guises. This treatment reflects Rumi’s world as it also appears in the poems of other contemporary Persian poets {Sc: 175}.

The Masnavi contains many proverbs and popular expressions, thus telling us much about the folklore of Rumi’s world {Sc: 57}.  Not a few of these, especially if parts of the Tradition, originated in Arabic [11]: “A bowl full of poison {Mv: 4238}.” The world subsists on a phantom {Mi: 170}.”  “The believer sees with the light of God {Mi: 1331}.”  “My companions are as stars {Mi: 2925}. “The unbeliever eats in seven stomachs {Mv: 64ff}.”  “Do you not know {Miii: 1490}.” “A king read a letter {Miii: 1490ff}.”  “A man said, ‘Why {Mii:  776}?’” “This is like the story {Mv: 3077ff}.” “A friend of Joseph {Mi: 3158ff}.” “You are that very thought {Mii: 277}.” “Pharaoh’s magicians {Miii: 1721}.”

Well-known stories from Arabic literature are the sources of some of Rumi’s major ideas {Sc: 160}.  The language of the Masnavi is too allusive to measure the exact depth of Rumi’s knowledge of Arabic literature and philosophy {Ni: xxxi, n. 1}. There are enough traces of Rumi’s readings of Arabic works in the Masnavi to assume that he studied the bulk of Arabic literature, theology, and mysticism {Sc:40, 42}.  Among his sources for the Hadith which Rumi discloses in his Discourses are the following: Mohammad Ghazali’s Basit (a book of jurisprudence ) as well as his Ehya ‘olum al-din, Abdolrahman Siooti’s Jam’  Saghir, ‘Abdolro`ouf’s  Masnavi’s  Konooz al-Haqayeq, and Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn ‘Ali Shirazi’s Tanbih {Fih:309, 377, 379}.  The authors of many of these sources in Arabic were Persian.  Rumi’s references to these sources indicate that they were well-known to the audience of the Discourses, and thus among the widely-read in Rumi’s world.

The Masnavi sometimes quotes the Kitab al-aghani, the Arabic collection of poetry and literary history written in the 10th century {Sc: 41}. It makes allusions to the famous Arabic poet of the ‘Abbasid Caliphs, Abu Nuwas (d.965). Far more, the Masnavi shows fondness for the poet al-Motanabbi (Mutanabbi) (d.965) whose panegyrics reached the height of Arabic poetry {Sc: 42; Ar: 247}. Rumi quotes seven of his poems in the Discourses, as well as nine more from other Arab poets {Fih: 352-353}.

Rumi chooses Arabic to talk about subjects which he might have considered sensitive. Thus in the Masnavi it is in Arabic that he declines to praise and worship Shams –which was motivated by his concern that Hosam al-Din (who after Shams disappeared in 1248 was Rumi’s focus of affection) might feel slighted by too much attention to Shams  {F1:93, mI:128}.  Similarly, in the Discourses Rumi uses Arabic to tell a story in which he implicitly calls the companions of the important cleric in Konya,  Shaykh  Sadr al-Din,  “the enemy of God,”  liars and intoxicated  {Fih:124}.

The far greater number of poems in Persian than Arabic used in the Discourses {Fih: Index} is indicative of how much more comfortable Rumi’s audiences were with Persian. Rumi’s contemporary, the vizier Fakhr al-Din ‘Ali’s introduction of Persian in the place of Arabic as the language of administrative records in the Rum Saljuqs’ court signaled the culmination of the Anatolia elites’ adoption of Persian language and culture {EIrP}.  The vast numbers of the illiterates were even more ignorant of Arabic {Le: 405}.

Occasionally, Rumi sounds nostalgic for Arabic: “Speak Persian though Arabic is sweeter {Miii: 3843},” but he rationalizes the change by recalling his ultimate goal: “Love indeed has a hundred other tongues {Miii: 3843; Sc: 49 n. 95}.”   To illustrate this point, the Masnavi tells the story of “How four persons quarreled about grapes….  {Mii: 413}.” This is about four fellows – an Arab, a Persian, a Turk and a Rumi- who find a coin and argue about how to spend it. Everyone wants grapes but says the name of the fruit in his own language: ‘inab, angur, uzum, estafil. A learned man comes along and solves the problem by telling them that they all want the same thing {Mii: 3681 ff, Sc: 49, n. 96; Ta: 390}.

The story, coincidentally, shows a glimpse of the polyglot nature of the population in which Rumi lived. He applies its lesson to other languages: “Often Turk and Hindu can communicate /whereas two Turks may meet and feel estranged /…/Better a common heart than common tongue! {Le2}.” Indeed, the Masnavi extends his dicta to the multiple diverse religions of Rumi’s world which, following the folklore of the time, it estimates to be seventy two. The religion of love knows no difference between the 72 sects {Miii: 4719ff, cited in Sc: 336, n. 22}. It is different from all other religions {Mii: 1770 ff, cited in Sc: 336, n. 23}.”


In his works, Rumi refers to Europeans of his time only in the context of the Crusades. Called the Farangi  (the Franks), they are remembered as the Christian crusaders who came to take the Holy Land in a war that began in 1095 and lasted until 1291. In the process, the Farangi invaded many cities, including Konya, notably, in 1190.  In four poems in the, Rumi recalls the Farangi’s defiling Jerusalem by bringing pigs to that city which the Muslims call al-Quds (The Holy) {D: 361/3882 & 694/7227; 1211/12885; 2517/26632, cited in Sc: 197, notes 117, 119}. Rumi’s comment about the Farangi in his Discourses {Fih: 85}, makes it clear that he does not mean the European Jews but the Christian ones.

The paucity of Rumi’s references to Europeans and Europe was not unique; Persian poets of his time rarely mentioned them {Sc: 197}. Furthermore, outside of the Persian-speaking world, Rumi makes references just to a few Muslim cities in the neighboring Arab lands to the east. Besides those, he refers only to China {Miv: 2375} a few times and once to Bulghar, a town on the Volga river {Miii: 1414}, merely to use them as examples of distant and different places. Nonetheless, Rumi was connected to the world beyond his Persian-speaking land, especially Europe, albeit indirectly.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher (1225-1274), was Rumi’s contemporary. He was one of the many Christian writers of the time who were influenced by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058-1111).  A Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic who wrote more than 70 books, al-Ghazali was from Tabaran, a town in the district of Tus (in today’s Iran).  The works of Ghazali Tusi, as he is called in his native tongue Persian, more than any other author were the focus of Rumi’s attention. The style and manner of discussion, thoughts and knowledge of Ghazali in his major philosophical book, Ehya ‘olum al-din (The Vivification of Religious Sciences), greatly influenced Rumi {F1: five; Fih: 337}.  The Masnavi paraphrases many of passages from that work which had been written in 1106 {Le: 23}.  St. Thomas Aquinas studied Ghazali’s works at the University of Naples where the influence of Islamic literature and culture was predominant at the time {Sm: 220 ff}. St. Thomas was both a student and a professor at that university. Ghazali is credited with successfully introducing Aristotelianism, or rather Avicennism {St}, its interpretation by Avicenna into Muslim theology in an effort to resolve the apparent contradictions between reason and revelation, and for bringing orthodox Sunni theology and Sufi mysticism together. The Catholic Church, similarly, values St. Thomas for the highest expression of both speculative theology and natural reason .

The work of another Italian contemporary of Rumi also invites comparison with the Masnavi. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote his Divina Commedia only a few years after Rumi finished the Masnavi.  He chose the vernacular Italian over Latin which was the conventional language, just as Rumi had opted for Persian over Arabic. The Divine Comedy has been called the greatest mystical poem of the West, in comparison with the Masnavi which is considered the best poetic expression of the Persian Gnostic Islamic tradition. Like Rumi (who  often mentioned his birth province of Greater Khorasan) , Dante who also ever longed for his hometown (Florence), was on a spiritual journey as well, singing of Beatrice, Latin for the blessed one, as Rumi had done for Shams.  The similarities between these two poets end when they reach their spiritual destination. Dante’s Heaven –in a logically organized cosmic topography of inferno, purgatorio and paradise- was for his fellow Christians alone. Others were barred. For Rumi, the vision and the message of the Divine – discursive and digressive in his the Masnavi– was for all alike {Le: 2}.

Trade. No evidence has been revealed on Rumi’s direct impact on Dante, who came after him. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of profound interactions between the contemporaneous worlds of Rumi and Dante. Coastal zones were the most important places for facilitating the mutual influences of Anatolia and Europe on each other in that period of the medieval age. With the coming of the Rum Saljuq kings and the increasing presence of Italian merchants, maritime Anatolia became a zone of intensive contacts of Persians and Arabs with Franks and Latins, thus also between Christian churches and Islam. The Venetians and Genoese integrated many of those hubs of contacts into their commercial networks. Of all Anatolia’s ports for trade with the West, none was more important than Antalya.  It had become a veritable center of international trade by the end of the 11th century, attracting Byzantine, Muslim, Genoese and Venetians merchants.  After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, the Italians took over control of Antalya.  Two years later, however, the Rum Saljuq Sultan Kay Khosrow I (1205-1211) conquered the city. The Venetians negotiated with him for a treaty that secured their trade privileges; they did the same in 1220 with the Saljuq Sultan ‘Ezz al-din Kay Kavous I (1211-1220) who had to re-conquer the city due a rebellion of the Christian population.

Antalya remained under the Saljuq rule until the 14th century and all along was a most important node in the network of international trade.  Still a third treaty between Venice and the Saljuq Sultan ‘Ala`-al-Din Kay Qobad I  (1220-1237) enumerates some of the goods exported from Anatolia:  corn, pearls, precious stones, gold, and silver {EIrP}. In return, the Venetians and other merchants from Genoa, Pisa, Florence and Southern France brought to Anatolia, among other goods, textiles from Northern France.  The use of western-style textiles in the Islamic world and of eastern-style textiles in Europe, a “cultural cross-dressing,” was just one example of the exchange of numerous artifacts which produced “networks of affinity not bounded by religious, ethnic, or linguistic identity but by possession, consumption and display {Pk}.”  Commercial interests found a meeting ground beyond ethnic or religious antagonisms; money rather than religious scruples dictated relations at this geographic and ideological edge of the spheres of Islam and Christendom. The increase in the number of contact points for commercial border-crossing encouraged contacts among even the non-commercial members of society. In cities such as Antalya, as Ibn Battuta reported, Christian merchants lived in their own quarters but interacted with various other communities of the population. The European guild-type associations of traders found a counterpart in the grouping of the Muslim merchants called futtuwa. There were also shipboard societies, consisting of individuals of different religious and ethnic backgrounds interacting as they sailed on merchant ships {Pk}.

Rumi mentions Antalya (Antaliyeh) in no fewer than three of his 71 short Discourses.  One of these clearly indicates that Antalya, some 190 miles southwest of Konya, was a destination familiar to his audience {Fih: 115}.  In another Discourse, Rumi notes Antalya’s fame as a port on par with Alexandria, Egypt {Fih: 48}. Finally, in his longest comment, Rumi points out favorably that Antalya was a place of “warm climate,” which made it especially desirable compared to the harsh winters of Konya {Fih:97).  Indeed, perhaps for that reason Antalya was a secondary residence of the Saljuq Sultans {Pk}. Rumi further notes that the inhabitants of Antalya are mostly Rumian (Greek-speaking Rumis) and “would not understand our language, though there are some even among the Rumian who understand us {Fih: 97}!”  Not only Persian-speaking people were not numerous in Antalya but they were also hard to find on the ships that called on that port. The Moslem traders were mostly from Arabic-speaking Egypt and, occasionally, Syria {Pk}.


Love Stories

Rumi’s work shows ample evidence of the impact of his peers in Persian literature. He is fully aware that “A language shared brings kinship and a bond {Le2, citing Mi: 1205-7}.” The Masnavi covers many popular love stories of the Persian literature {Sc: 41}.  From them, Rumi draws up the views of the people of his time on love.  The story of Layli o Majnun (Layla and Majnun) appears in at least ten places in the Masnavi. This was a work by the poet Nezami Ganjavi (1141-1209) who brought a colloquial style to the Persian romantic epics. Nezami based it on the popular Arab legend of two ill-starred lovers: the poet Qays falls in love with his cousin Layla, but is prevented from marrying her. He becomes obsessed so much that he sees everything in terms of Layla, hence his sobriquet majnun (The Possessed). In the Masnavi, Majnun is depicted as the symbol of the Persian culture’s idea of “grief for a long separation from the beloved {Mv: 1999},” with his “desire being that of speeding to Layli’s presence {Miv: 1534}.”  “In the eyes of lover of Layli the kingdom of the world was (worthless as) a vegetable {Mv: 2719}.”  Rumi presents himself as Majnun in the Masnavi {Mii: 1381; Nic8:145}.  “Like Majnun, I smell the soil and detect the soil (abode) of Layli without mistake {Mvi: 2829}.”

Another love story by Nezami which is also given considerable attention by the Masnavi is Khosrow o Shirin (Khosrow and Shirin). It was based on a true story of the pre-Islamic Persian King Khosrow’s courtship of Princess Shirin. He endured long journeys and killed his rival Farhad out of jealousy. “The Khosrow (King) (who is the lover) of the spiritual Shirin has beaten the drum of sovereignty {Mv: 2525}.”   Khosrow o Shirin was influenced by yet another, earlier, Persian love story mentioned in the Masnavi {Mvi: 3952}: Fakhr ad-Din Gorgani’s Vis o Ramin (Wis and Ramin). “Read Vis and Ramin and Khosrow and Shirin {Mv: 1204}.”  Ramin was in love with Vis, the wife of King Mubad of Merv. “If you are Ramin, seek none but your Vis {Miii: 228}.”   The heroes of both of these tales by Nezami, Khosrow o Shirin and  Layli o Majnun, became standard types of lovers in Rumi’s poetry, and also for other popular 13th century Persian poets {Sc:41}.

The Masnavi also quotes other Persian poets on love. The work of another Nezami, poet and writer Nezami ‘Aroozi Ganjavi Samarqandi, called Chahar Maqaleh (Four Discourses),  written around 1156, is the source of the very first story in the  Masnavi  which is about how to deal with the symptoms of  the “disease” of love. Rumi’s prescription is similar to the treatment that Avicenna used {F1:42}. In Rumi’s time, physicians considered love to be a mental disease, similar to hallucination (malikholiya).  The Masnavi, however, calls love the measure of health of mind which enables the spirit (ruh) find gnosis (kashf marefat), a guide (ostorlab) to secrets of God: “’eshq ostorlab-e asrar-e khodast {F1:84-85, mI: 110}.”

The love in all of these stories is that between men and women. The Masnavi takes note of the practice of pederasty by some Sufis, especially the Holmanians, whose leading thinker in Rumi’s time was Ahmad Ghazali (1061–1123). They considered pretty faces (shahed) of boys to be the evidence and proof (gavah) of the beauty of God. Rumi rejected that position and in many verses of the Masnavi insists that, instead, loving mard kamel (the complete man) was loving God {Mii: 700 ff; Mv: 363, cited in F1:30-31; Sc: 299, n. 88}. The Masnavi treats the “effeminate man” as a woman {Mii: 1, v: 1}.


The women mentioned in the Masnavi are types well-known in its time: “the hag who wanted a husband {Mvi: 1}” and “the jealous wife {Mv: 1}.”   The Prophet Mohammad’s wife, ‘Aisha, was special as the Masnavi stresses her value to the Prophet as a soothing, conversationalist companion. Seeking comfort, the Prophet says to her: “Speak to me (kalimni), O Humayra {Mv: 2428}.”  The name by which Mohammad called her, Humayra (the fair one), showed the Prophet’s appreciation of women’s physical beauty. The Prophet Mohammad’s sexual appetite was evident in the many wives he kept.  The Masnavi, on the other hand, avoids both sex and physical beauty when talking about its favorite women lovers. Unlike Mohammad, Rumi was monogamous and conventional. He conveniently married the woman who as a child, like Rumi, came among the small circle of friends with his father from Samarqand. After she died, Rumi married a widow from Konya. In view of his disciples, Rumi was devoted to his wives. In approval of her second wife, they would remember her “loveliness… perfection… virtue and purity {Sc: 2, n. 87}.”  These qualities might not have been all that people in Rumi’s time sought in their wives.  Yet, in Khosrow o Shirin, Farhad is presented precisely as embodying the idea of pure and selfless love {EIrF}, and in Layli o Majnun, when the two finally arrange a secret meeting, they have no physical contact; rather, they recite poetry to each other. On the  other hand, when Rumi talks about women in general, not as the beloved, he sees them as the object of man’s lust (shahvat) and his need for procreation {Fih: 85}. In the Masnavi Rumi decries lust: “The lovers of filthy dolls (lo’batan) have sought each other’s blood and life {Mv: 1203}.” The Masnavi is emphatic: “Loving pretty face and colors is not love and ends in infamy (nangi) {F1:109, mI: 205}.”  Rumi is not shy to use direct language for sexual intercourse: “When pretty prostitute (hoor) comes to the devil’s dream; from lust she and the devil discharge sexual water {F1:417, mI: 191}.”    Indeed, the Masnavi can make some readers of our times blush [12]: there are poems about women who see the fornication by asses and say that in comparison “our husbands defecate on our vagina {Mv: 3390}.”


In addition to love, Persian poets of Rumi’s time dealt with other weighty issues, reflecting other aspects of the focus of the contemporary culture. Rumi knew about them as the Masnavi has references to those poets. Two poems in Masnavi are imitations {Sc: 160} from the well-known poems of Abu Abdollah Rudaki (858-940}, who is widely regarded as the father of the New Persian literature. As in Rudaki’s poetry which was the model of a refined and delicate taste, these Masnavi poems manifest the aesthetics of the Persian culture of the time with their emphasis on the beauty of nature: “The sands of Amun (Seyhoon River) seemed to him like silk, the River Amou (Oxus or Jayhoon) seemed to him like a pond. To him that wilderness was like a rose-garden {Miii: 3860}.”  In the second  poem imitating Rudaki, the Masnavi describes the light of the sun which bestows golden dresses upon the naked as able to  transform everything;  “rocks and thorns become, thanks to  its power, soft like parniyan (shot silk) {Miii:1267 }.”


In his Divan, Rumi establishes his linkage with Rudaki through Sana’i, by imitating both of them with an elegiac couplet, lyrical and elegant in simplicity: “Someone said khwajeh (Master) Sana`i has died. The death of such a man is not a small matter {D: 1007/10634 42, cited in Sc: 38, n. 6}.”  Sana’i had composed the same elegiac couplet about himself, imitating Rudaki’s poem about another person, Abulhassan Moradi. The second line in the poem of all three poets is exactly the same.  These poems reflected the significance attached to mournful elegy for admired men in the Persian culture of Rumi’s time. That culture was also self-critical. The insightful diagnosis of its faults by still another great Persian poet, Nasir Khosrow Qubadiyani (1004-1088) gained acceptance to the level of proverbs by Rumi’s time. The Masnavi {Mvi: 604} recalls the famous poem by Nasir Khosrow “az maast keh barmaast (What hits us comes from ourselves) {Nic 8:21}.”


Allusions to the poet Ferdowsi and his Shahnameh (Book of Kings) are mixed in Rumi’s poetry {Sc: 41}.  When the Masnavi refers specifically to the Shahnameh, it is in derogatory terms. The Masnavi does not say which of many works by that name, the Shahnameh, it means – even Rumi’s contemporary, Qane`i Tusi, had composed an epic on the Rum Saljuq dynasty called the Shahnameh, modeled on Ferdowsi’s work. It is clear, however, that the Masnavi’s target was Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, composed from 997 to 1010.  Qane`i Tusi’s work has been lost {EIrP}. Ferdowsi’s massive Shahnameh – at nearly 50,000 lines, the world’s longest epic poetry created by a poet- has continued to be popular as the national epic of Iran and the Persian- peaking world.

National Epic

The Masnavi indirectly acknowledges the Shahnameh’s huge popularity when it tells its Persian readers that: “By reason of contumacy, the Shahnameh,” like Kalileh, seems to you just like the Qur’an {Mvi: 3463}.”  The Masnavi admonishes such a reader whose aim in reading those books is “to divest himself from ennui, and neglect the Word of the Almighty {Mvi: 3463}.”  It expresses regret: “That by means of that (entertaining) discourse he may quench the fire of distress and anxiety and provide a cure (for his malady) {Mvi: 3468}.”   Finally, the Masnavi attaches a derogatory label to the Shahnameh: “For the purpose of quenching this amount of fire, pure water and urine are alike in skill (are equally serviceable) {Mvi: 3469}.”   Then, the Masnavi compares itself with the Shahnameh: “But if you become (really) acquainted with this pure water (Masnavi) which is the Word of God and spiritual, all distress will vanish from the soul, and the heart will find its way to the Rose-garden {Mvi:3470}.”

Nonetheless, the Masnavi cannot escape the popularity of the Shahnameh: it mentions many of the heroes of Ferdowsi’s epic work. The most prominent is the central figure, Rostam, who rescues people from div (the hermaphrodite).  Rumi depicts Rostam in his Divan as symbol of the “true man” {D: 895/9369; 1747/18320, cited in Sc: 41}. The Masnavi makes references to Rostam in numerous places {Nic5: Index}.   Rostam is treated as the symbol of the greatest in valor, surpassing even the Islamic icon Hamza: “Though he (the husband) be Rostam son of Zal and greater than Hamza (in valor), as regards authority he is his old woman’s (wife’s) captive {Mi: 2427}.”  Rostam is also the symbol of strength: “His weakness is like the weakness of the intoxicated, for in his weakness he is the envy of a Rostam {Mv: 975}.”  Furthermore, Rostam is the symbol of manliness: “Manliness of that Rostam who was the son of one-hundred Zals (meaning that he is the son of one-hundred heroes) {Mv: 3965}.”  Rostam is credited with having earned his worth {Mii: 372}.

Rostam’s immense popularity is noted in the Masnavi which refers to the paintings of Rostam in public bathhouses {Mv: 398, cited in Sc: 133, n. 19}. These defied all Islamic religious prohibitions against the depiction of human faces. Their endurable favor with the public was manifest when images of Rostam and other heroes of the Shahnameh came to dominate even the walls of royal palaces when Timur’s successor Sultan Shahrukh (1405-1447) launched the efforts which established the contemporary art of Persian painting {Sta: 485, 490}. In calling Zal, Rostam’s father, a hero, the Masnavi recognizes the status given to him in the Shahnameh.  The Masnavi also acknowledges the legendary speed of Rostam’s horse, Rakhsh, made famous by the Shahnameh: “Do not steal your heart away from the spirit-bestowing heart-ravisher, for he will mount you on the back of Rakhsh {Mv: 1160}.”

Iran and Islamdom

The Masnavi mentions two kings of the pre-historic Persian Kayani dynasty as though they resided in the skies, appropriate to their mythical images.  “When its self-consciousness is gone and its foot untied, the falcon flies towards Kay Qobad {Mv: 2281}.”  “For by traveling the moon becomes (splendid, like) Kay Khosrow {Miii: 534}.”   The pre-Islamic Sassanid Persian monarchs projected themselves as the heirs to the pre-Parthian Kayanid kings {EIrS2}. Ferdowsi belonged to the class of Dehqan, landowning Iranians who had flourished during the Sassanid dynasty and were intensely patriotic. Dehqan is sometimes used in the Shahnameh as a synonym for “Iranian”. The Dehqan considered it as their duty to preserve the cultural tradition of Iran and legendary tales about its kings.  The Saljuq rulers of Rum chose the heroic names of those Kayani kings mentioned in the Shahnameh, an indication of the growing importance of the Iranian tradition in the late 12th century. There were indeed several Saljuq kings, each named Kay Khosrow, Kay Qobad and Kay Kavous {EIrP}.

The other Saljuq Dynasty that governed the area west of Rum, including Iran, was founded by Turkish men who spoke Persian only imperfectly and did not read it. However, by the reign of Sultan Sanjar (1097-1153) those Saljuq kings had become well-acquainted with the Persian literature.  Their court followed the Siyasatnameh (Book of Government), a treatise in Persian on the realities affecting government and how it should be run, prepared by Nezam al-Molk, the vizier of  Sanjar’s  predecessor, Malek Shah.  The Siyasatnameh frequently cites the example of the pre-Islamic Sassanid King Khosrow I.  Its author, like Ferdowsi being from a Dehqan family near Tus, the Siyasatnameh shows the attitude of the Persian elite of the time towards the past of their civilization. The Rum Saljuqs of Anatolia strove to replicate the Sanjar court’s adaptation to the Persian culture and statecraft {Le: 397-98} [13].

Rumi does not share Ferdowsi’s passion for Iran. Indeed, the word Iran, or other versions of it, such as Iranshahr, are missing in Rumi’s works. The closest word Rumi uses for Iran is ‘Ajam. That is the term which the Muslim Arabs used for the Iranians. Accordingly, Persian kingdom was Molk ‘Ajam.  Rumi in the Discourses refers to ‘Ajam, meaning a land of some of  the Muslims coming to the Muslim holy site of Ka’aba,  as distinct from other places from which other Muslim groups may come to the same destination, such as Anatolia, Syria, China, India and the Yemen {Fih:97}.

Masnavi’s allegiance, if any, is to Islamdom, the community (ommat) of Muslims {EIrM}. In the Discourses Rumi criticizes Vizier Parvaneh  (aka Parvana)  for siding with the invading Mongols (Moghol) against the Muslim Egyptians and Syrians, and demands that instead he should support the latter in defense of Islam {Fih:5}.   Parvaneh ( Mo’in al-Din Solayman), a Persian, was for 17 years (1259-1276) the de facto ruler of Konya , treating his Turkish Saljuq kings as puppets {Sc:27-8}.  Notably, when King Qelej Arslan IV protested against Parvaneh’s securing his position through redistributing Saljuq crown lands among his own followers, the King was murdered by Parvaneh and replaced by his underage son Ghias-al-Din Kay Khosrow III {EIrP}.  Parvaneh’s accommodationist policy toward the Mongol was a necessary part of the complex task of his dealing with the “Mongol affairs”. Rumi was satisfied with the ultimate result of Parvaneh’s efforts and, in another part of the Discourses, praised him for working to promote the interest of Islamdom:“These are also works of God inasmuch as they have to do with the safety and security of Islamdom {Fih:11}.”


The Mongols were the contemporary enemy that Rumi saw against his community of Muslims. “When the Mongols first came into this land, they were bare and naked;” their property was what had been “seized” from the Muslims and it was, therefore, now lawful for the Muslims to take it back: “The Mongols seize property, but sometimes they give us property, which is strange. ‘What is (your order) on that?’ someone asked. ‘Whatever the Mongols seize,’ said the Master, ‘is as though it has come from God’s hold and storehouse.’…             Therefore, our property is unlawful for the Mongols, but their property is lawful for us {Fih: 64-65}.”  Rumi chided those who had submitted to the enemy: “What do we mean by considering ourselves Muslims when we bow and scrape to the Mongols {Fih: 77}.”

The feeling against the invading Mongols as enemy was widespread in Rumi’s world. The Mongol hordes swept from the east to the west; leaving death and destruction everywhere they went {Sc: 8-9}.    Samarqand which was a major economic center was laid in ruins by the Mongols in 1219. In 1221, the Mongol Genghiz Khan destroyed Balkh, a flourishing center of Islamic learning from the 9th century {Sc: 14}.   Other major cities in the Persian-speaking world faced the same fate: Reyy in 1220 {Sc: 191) and Nishapur in 1221 {EIrR}. Massacre of the population of the conquered land was a common practice by the Mongol.  The poet ‘Attar met his death that way in Nishapur {EIrR}.  “General terror” was the Mongols’ principle method of governance {Ta: 75}.  Under them poverty reached a new height. Persian historians have summarized the Mongol invasion in this sentence: “They came, uprooted, burned, killed, took and left {Ta:75} .” They believe that was the singular event that put an end to the renaissance of the Persian-speaking world, a blow from which it has not yet recovered {Ta: 82}. Some historians suspect that the Baghdad Caliph Al-Nasir li-Din Allah (1158-1225) was an instigator in the Mongol invasion because he was dissatisfied with the Turkish rulers, considered Baghdad’s designated subordinates, who would be thus vanquished by the Mongol invaders {Ta:75}.    Soon, however, the Caliph was alarmed by the threat of the victorious Mongols. He tried to build an organization of Muslim princes in a call to reunite against the rising power of the Mongols {Sc: 8-9}.  The Caliph’s resistance proved futile. In 1258, Genghiz Khan’s grandson, Hulagu conquered Baghdad and the last Abbasid Caliph was killed {Sc: 8-9}.

Rumi’s earliest written pronouncements about the Mongols are in his Divan: “People flee from the Mongols/ We serve the Creator of the Mongols {D: 1764/1849, cited in {Sc: 17 n. 23}.”  In another poem, Rumi says that although “fire fell into the world, the smoke of the Tatar (Mongol) army,” he saw the eternal sun rising before him. The reference here is to Rumi’s meeting Shams Tabrizi in Konya in October 1244 {D:  2670/28317, cited in Sc: 18 n. 25}.  Finding a silver lining in such catastrophe was typical of R: he would habitually see the bright side {Ch: 193-94}.  On the other hand, there is no evidence that Rumi was directly affected by the physical damages of the Mongol invasion. The Anatolian cities the Mongols pillaged, such as Arzenjan {EIrP} and Kaiseri {Sc: 171}, did not include Konya. Rumi had left his home province, at the eastern end of the Persian-speaking world, in 1216, before there was even a serious threat of the Mongol invasion. His departure was three years before the Mongols’ attack on Samarqand and five years before their sacking of Balkh  {Le:49}. The dispute of that region’s ruling Khwarazmshah with the Mongols did not start until 1218 {Le: 62}. After leaving, Rumi never returned from Konya. Nor is there any indication that he was in Nishapur, Rayy, Baghdad or any other cities damaged by the Mongols during or even after their attack.

Rumi was, of course, familiar with the fatal plight of the ‘Attar in Nishapur, and heard reports of the destructions in areas further east from his father’s old disciple Borhan al-Din Mohaqqeq who arrived in Konya 1232.  Borhan had fled from his hometown of Tormod, the closest city to Rumi’s birth town of Vaksh, some 250 kilometers from Balkh. The influx of other refugees from the invasion of the Mongols into Anatolia {EIrP} provided Rumi with additional information. The Masnavi has a story titled “The Mongol and the Egyptians {M3:p. 50, cited in Nic2}.” It is in his Discourses, however, that Rumi is more explicit with his views about the Mongols. He gives this narrative of why the Mongol invasion took place:

“When Mogholan (the Mongols) first came into this velayat (country), they were bare and naked; they rode on cows, and their weapons were made of wood… At first they were in a wilderness, remote from people, miserable, wretched, naked, and needy. The few of them who used to come as traders into the realm of the Khwarazmshah would engage in some buying and selling and buy karbas (muslin) to clothe themselves. The Khwarazmshah banned their trade and ordered their traders killed. He also levied taxes on them and barred the merchants from his lands….The Tatar (the Mongols) went complaining to their own king and said ‘We have been destroyed.’ Their king …went into a deep cave, where he fasted … humbling and abasing himself… A cry came from God, saying, ‘I have heard your plea. Come forth and be victorious wherever you go.’ Thus it was that when they came out at God’s command they were victorious and conquered the world {Fih: 64-65}.”

Although the reference to the Khwarazmshah’s mistreatment of the Mongol visitors as the triggering cause of the Mongol invasion is familiar to informed readers, Rumi’s account is different in some details from what contemporary historians reported [14]. Nonetheless, Rumi’s views were influential as he was a leader forming others’ opinions in his world. These views included his diagnosis of the reason for the Mongols’ success, and his prognosis of their future: “When they were down trodden¸ feeble and powerless, God found their need acceptable … and (helped) them. Now they have grown so in stature and might, God will destroy them… in order that they may realize that it was by God’s favor and power that they conquered the world, not by their own force and strength {Fih:65}.”  Rumi’s attitude, “God would destroy” the Mongol, was ingrained in the Persian ethical and Sufi literature {Le: 283-4}. It became the justification for a prescription of wishful passivity toward the Mongols. The Mongol invaders stayed as rulers of the Persian- speaking world for another 290 years –counting Hulagu’s Ilkhanids and the related Timurids who followed.

Active resistance to the Mongol rule was rare. Ironically, a dervish (Sufi) group in Azerbaijan, the Horoofiyeh (aka Horrifies) was the prominent example of such active opposition {Ta: 451}. The Horoofiyeh were the followers of a Sufi, Fazlallah Astarabdi known as Naimi. Born in 1339, at age 18, he had an extraordinary religious experience when he heard a nomadic dervish recite a verse by Rumi.  As a result, Naimi determined to devote his life to such religious pursuits in which, like Rumi, one aimed at experiencing the meaning of things rather than coming to know them intellectually. Gathering followers, Naimi eventually moved to Tabriz where, failing to convert the ruler Tamerlane, he was executed in 1394 by Tamerlane’s son, Miran Shah. The Horoofiyeh’s uprising was crushed but their popular movement survived for at least another decade in different guises.


Aside from the Mongols, the dervishes’ uprisings in this period were sometimes in opposition to the big landowners, aristocrats and their hired religious clerics {Ta: 449}. Rumi’s course was different. In the Discourses, Rumi recalls his experience in Samarqand when ‘Ala` al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah (r. 1200- 1220) laid siege: “We were in Samarqand, and the Khwarazmshah, having laid siege in that city, was waging war with his army (lashkar keshideh). In our quarter there was an extremely beautiful lady, who had no equal in that town. I kept hearing her say: ‘O Lord, how could you let me fall into the hands of the tyrants {Fih: 173}.” Rumi refers to this Khwarazmshah in Masnavi as “very bloodthirsty, and that perverse (tyrant) had killed many kings in that region either by craft or violence {Mvi: 2537}.”   Yet, in another story the Masnavi portrays him as “the God Almighty who demands from this wicked folk the (pure) heart {Mi: 868}.”

That one is the story of the Khwarazmshah taking by force of war the city of Sabzawar, further west, where all the inhabitants were Rafizis – Shiites who rejected the Sunni Caliphs Abu Bakr, ‘Omar and ‘Uthman as usurpers. When the inhabitants  begged the bloodthirsty  Khwarazmshah to spare their lives, according to the  Masnavi,  he said, ‘I will grant (you) security as soon as you produce from this city a man named Abu Bakr and present him to me {Mv:845}.”    It is not surprising which side the Sunni Rumi takes: the Masnavi refers to these inhabitants of Sabzawar as infidels (Moghan, Persian for Magicians, used to refer to Zoroastrians) {Mi: 868}. The Masnavi shows a similar attitude toward Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (r. 1002 – 1030). It refers to his reputation for ruthlessness: “What a hellish person Mahmud must be, since he has become proverbial for woe and anguish {Mvi: 1397}.”  This is, however, in a story Rumi tells to correct that “misapprehension {Mvi: 1382}.”    There, in “The story of Mahmud and the Hindu boy {Mvi: 1383},” the Masnavi advises “like the Hindu boy, be not afraid of the Mahmud of non-existence {Mvi: 1446}. The Masnavi calls Mahmud by his title Ghazi (the champion of Islam against the infidels) {Mvi: 1383}.  Among Mahmud’s earliest campaigns was his invasion of Multan (in the today’s Punjab province of Pakistan) in 1005. This war against the Shiite Ismaili Fatimid Kingdom that had been established there ten years earlier, was a bid by Mahmud to curry favor with the Abbasid Caliphate.  Some Ismailis were massacred in the war and some later converted to Sunni Hanafi sect of Islam.

Ismailis. The Ismaili threat continued as did the Ghaznavids campaigns to suppress them. In 1032, Mahmud’s own vizier, Hasanak, was executed on suspicions of becoming an adherent of the Ismaili Islam.   The Ismailis also posed a serious threat to subsequent Turkish rulers of the land.  Nezam al-Molk was the powerful vizier who held near absolute power for 20 years under the Saljuqs -the dynasty that followed the Ghaznavids. In his highly influential Siyasatnameh, Nezam al-Molk wrote about the ominous danger from the ascendant threat of the Ismailis.  Shortly thereafter, in 1092, Nezam al-Molk was assassinated by the Ismailis in the course of their political power struggle. Hence, the Ismailis gained the reputation as the Assassins –on the charge that they would drug the killers, hashishiun (Persian for assassins) with the narcotic hashish. Masnavi refers to the Ismailis as the symbol of fearlessness: “I am unafraid (of death) like the Ismailis {Miii: 4101}.”

The Ismailis were feared by the Sunni population of the land which described them as infidel (molhed) {Le: 12}, but they also had attracted large followings among the masses in the Persian-speaking world {Sc: 6-7}.  Both Rudaki and Amir Nasr Samani in whose court Rudaki served were Ismailis.  Nasir Khosrow Qubadiyani visited Cairo at a time when the Fatimid Ismaili ruler was waging a war against the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, and came back in 1052  as an Ismaili  da‘i (missionary), appointed as the Hojjat Khorasan  “Authority for Khorasan”. That mission henceforth became the main object of Nasir Khosrow’s life.  Ferdowsi is also believed to have been an Ismaili. There is little doubt that he was a Shiite, based on what he says in the introductory part of the Shahnameh, although some scholars think that he may have been a Zaydis Shiite {Om; GbF} The Zaydis were the earliest distinct major group that may be described as Shiite. Like the other two significant branches within Shiism, the Ismailis and the Twelvers (Imami), they believed that the successors to the prophet are ‘Ali and, after him, his descendants from his marriage to the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. The three differed on the succession after the fourth successor (Imam) –the Ismailis and the Twelvers sharing the same Imams until the 8th , with the Ismailis ending at their 8th while the Twelvers continued with their to the 12th Imam [15].

Attractions. In being opposed to the ruling Arab Abbasid Caliphates, the Shiite groups all shared a political appeal for the Persians who sought independence from foreign domination.  This fact was especially reflected in the case of the Carmatians (Arabic, Qarameta) {Ta: 74, 81}, a group that beginning in the 9th century, combined elements of the Ismaili Shiite Islam with Persian mysticism. It gained supporters in many parts of the Persian-speaking world. In 931, lead by a Persian, the Carmatians launched a program of forbidding Islamic law and prayer [16]. That leader did not last long, and the Carmatian movement was suppressed by the Abbasid Caliphs in the middle of the 11th century {EIrD}. Another source of appeal of Shiism to the common people in the Persian-speaking world was that it provided an outlet for their feelings in the more emotional form which they could not find in the dry forms offered by the Sunni theologians {Sc: 6-7}.  The culmination of such emotional manifestations by the Shiites was the ‘Ashura commemoration of the martyrdom of their fourth Imam, Hosayn [17]. The Masnavi comments critically on the rituals as held in Aleppo {Mvi: 7775- 805}, upbraiding the Shiites for such lamentations about some tragedy that took place so long ago. It calls on them, instead, to grieve the corruption of their beliefs: “loudly lament over your own ruined heart and creed {Le:13; Mvi:795}[18] . The death of Hosayn was in the battle of Karbala, in present day Iraq. Paradoxically, in the Masnavi Karbala becomes a symbol of disaster {Miii: 831} and killing {Miii: 423}, and Hosayn, the “slain of Karbala {Mv: 1624}” becomes, in the Divan, the model of the martyred lover {D: 2707/28715, cited in Sc: 186 n 20}. This reflects the wide-spread feelings about Hosayn and the battle of Karbala held in Rumi’s world.

The Masnavi does not engage in theological arguments with the Shiites- that was taken up by the Sunni theologians, especially Ghazali {Sc: 6-7}. Indeed,  Rumi shows high regards for spiritual purity and loyalty of a certain Shiite group of the early 10th  century,  the Ikhavan al-Safa  (Pure Brethren) whose works were read widely;  their very name Safa  (purity) indicated those with whom Rumi could speak about love {Sc:187}.  The Masnavi refers to several cities which had become symbols because of their Shiite inhabitants. Regarding Kashan (Kashi), it says: “No shop will sell you bread in Kashi if your name is ‘Omar {Mvi: 1220, 3233}.”  As in the case of Sabzawar where one could not find a man named Abu Bakr {Mv: 845}, the Masnavi’s allusion here clearly points to the political differentiation between the Shiite and Sunnis.  The Masnavi tells many positive stories about Abu Bakr, ‘Omar and ‘Uthman, the three first Sunni Caliphs. The Shiites considered the Sunnis’ fourth and last Caliph, ‘Ali, as the very first successor of the prophet, not recognizing the other three. ‘Ali’s party (Arabic, Shi`atu ‘Ali) considered Mu`awiya who usurped power from ‘Ali, as an eternal enemy.  The Masnavi, on the other hand, views Mu ‘away favorably {Mii: 2603-740; Le: 13-14}.  In the Masnavi’s words the Shiites (such as the Razi, the population of the city of Reyy) and Sunnis (such the Marvzi, the population of the city of Marv) may both perform religious duties but they aim at different results {F1:13, mI:288,289}. Rumi sighs disparagingly about the Shiites: “How can one speak of ‘Omar to Shiites? How can one play the lute before the deaf {Miii: 3200f, cf Miv: 32, cited in Sc: 49 n 103}. ”


The Mongols’ incursions into Central Asia coincided with the beginning of the reign of the Rum Saljuq’s ‘Ala` al-Din Kay Qobad I {EIrP}. ‘Ala` al-Din was proud for having received the formal recognition of his reign from the Sunni Caliph in Baghdad through a caliphalletter of confirmation granting him Anatolia. The Mongols, challenging the Caliph, would now also become ‘Ala` al-Din’s bitter enemies.  His forces proved incapable of dealing with them. After the Mongols penetrated deep into his territory in 1232, ‘Ala` al-Din formally submitted to the Mongol Great Khan Ogedei but direct Mongol rule would not be imposed for some decades.  ‘Ala`al-Din’s successor, Qias al-Din Kay Khosrow II, after his defeat in 1243, was granted a decree from the Great Khan Batu,  recognizing him as a subject ruler in return for a substantial annual tribute {Fih: 283}.  Henceforth the Saljuq sultans were allowed only a secondary political role, as virtual pawns of the officials appointed by the Mongols {EIrP}.

Rumi never lived under direct Mongol rule. He mentions that the Mongols attacked Rum “lands (mamalek)” and took them in 1242 {Fih: 283}.  The Mongols approached Konya, the last time in 1256, but did not enter that city {Sc: 27}. Around 1258 the Saljuq Sultan ‘Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II (r. 1246 or 1248-60} solicited the help of the Mongol commander in Baghdad, Hulagu, to secure his rule in Anatolia against the challenge from his brother Rokn al-Din Qelej Arsalan IV. Failing that, ‘Ezz al-Din withdrew from Konya to Antalya {Mak: 272}. When the Mongols threw their support behind Rokn al-Din, ‘Ezz al-Din withdrew, further, to Byzantine in 1260 or 1261 {Le: 277-78}.

Rumi had a particularity close relationship with this Sultan ‘Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II as several letters Rumi wrote to him indicate. Some of these were in response to the letters from the Sultan {Mak: 59-61, 107-9, 109-11, 133-4, 162-3, 177, 178-9, 187-8 and 189-92}. Even from Antalya he apparently sent a letter to Rumi inviting him there- which was declined {Fih 97}.  In his letters Rumi offers the prayers of all his disciples for ‘Ezz al-Din, gives advice on the unfaithful nature of the world, and suggests that the loss of political power is not an indication of the withdrawal of God’s blessing {Mak: 108, 187}. Rumi asks the Sultan’s assistance for various individuals close to him {Mak: 178}. Rumi also wrote similar letters to Qazi ‘Ezz al-Din of Konya who became ‘Ezz al-Din’s vizier about 1256, but was killed some two later for having encouraged a Saljuq attack on the Mongols {Mak:  150-52, 271-2}. That fate was symptomatic of the mortal dangers facing all Rum viziers and rulers in those turbulent years of Rumi’s world.

Rokn al-Din who was made Sultan by the Mongols after his brother ‘Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II, lasted from 1257-1267, but all that time under the control of his own vizier Mu ‘in al-Din Parvaneh.  The latter was promoted to that position by the Mongol Khans to serve as their supreme representative at the Saljuq court {EIrP}.  To consolidate his position, Parvaneh married his daughter to the Saljuq Sultan {Le: 279-280},   and himself married the late Sultan Kay Khosrow’s widow Gorji Khatun (aka Gürcü Hatun) {Le: 282}. The title the Mongols gave him, Parvaneh, which literally meant butterfly in Persian, indicated his overseeing responsibility.  Parvaneh interpreted the assignment as becoming the Mongols’ agent in all spheres.  When his plan to redistribute Saljuq crown lands among his own followers caused Sultan Rokn al-Din’s protests, Parvaneh arranged to have him strangled in 1265. Rokn al-Din’s  minor son, Ghias al-Din Kay Khosrow III was put on the throne and henceforth Parvaneh became the undisputed ruler of the Saljuq  dominion in Anatolia,  answerable only to the Mongols {Le:279-280}, until 1277. In that year Parvaneh was, in turn, ordered killed by the Mongol Ilkhan ruler Abaqa who suspected him of instigating the Egyptian Sultan Baybars’s foray into Anatolia against the Mongols {EIrP}.


The relationship with Parvaneh was most important for Rumi. The earliest encounter between  the two was in the late 1250s or early 1260s {Le: 80-81}. Their relationship continued until the last years before Rumi’s death in 1273 {Ar: 245}.  There exist 150 Letters (Maktubat) from Rumi.  The Letters shed light on Rumi’s life and work especially in the period from the 1250s to 1270s {Le: 128}.  Some of these Letters were exchanges with close friends, and a number were written to his sons and daughter-in-law to offer advice {Sc: 25, 26; Ha}.  The majority of the Letters are addressed to the officials and grandees of Konya {Th: xiv}. The biggest group of Rumi’s Letters, about two dozen, was addressed to Parvaneh.

The Letters to Parvaneh were written on behalf of those in need of assistance {Th: xiv}. Rumi sought help in their economic, professional and personal problems {Le: 294-5}.  A prime example was his son Mozaffar al-Din Amir ‘Alem {Mak: 100-101}. Aside from addressing Parvaneh directly, Rumi also wrote a Letter to Akmal al-Din Tabib, asking him to intervene with Parvaneh to secure a better salary for Mozaffar {Mak: 214-215}.   Rumi wrote a letter to Amir al-Savahel (Governor of the Coasts) Baha al-Din asking for assistance to his son, Mozaffar {Mak: 202-203}.

Rumi wrote additional Letters on behalf of his disciple Hosam al-Din to secure for him the position of shaykh at a Sufi lodge {Mak: 158, 219}. In a Letter to the Saljuq Sultan, Rumi complains that the governor of Konya was harassing Hosam’s son-in-law and asks that the sultan intervene and prevent the governor’s actions {Mak: 162-3}.  This Sultan was probably Ezz al-Din Kay Kavous II to whom Rumi dispatched at least 9 Letters, several of which were to ask for similar kinds of assistance {Mak: 59-61, 107-9, 109-11, 133-4, 162-3, 177, 178-9, 187-8, 189-92}. Rumi wrote several Letters to Taj al-Din Mo’tazz Khorasani who was in charge of the Saljuq government’s financial concerns in Kastamonu and Ankara; most of these were on behalf of  Hosam and his children {Le:424}. An additional three Letters by Rumi were addressed to Amin al-Din Mika’il {Mak: 252-3}, a treasury official of ‘Ezz al-Din and later a viceroy (nayeb) in Konya 1259-1277 {Fih: 77; Le: 283}. A Letter from Rumi or on his behalf  that dates to the last two  years of Rumi’s life is  addressed to Parvaneh’s son-in-law, Majd al-Din Atabeg (d. 1277), who was the finance minister of Rokn al-Din, requesting financial help for a certain Nezam al-Din {Mak:75-6, 288}.

Benefits. Taj al-Din Mo’tazz Khorasani eventually secured a Sufi lodge for Hosam al-Din. He made additional contributions to the economic well being of Rumi and his disciples. The hall next to Konya’s ‘Amere school where Rumi taught was built for him by the same Taj al-Din {Le: 425}.   Rumi owed far more to Parvaneh. Even Taj al-Din’s ability to help Rumi indirectly resulted from Parvaneh’s appointing him to his high financial office in the government {Le: 424}. Parvaneh’s wife, at Rumi’s request, provided the dowry for the daughter of Salah al-Din Zarkub, whose other daughter was married to Rumi’s son {Sc:27}.   Parvaneh reportedly distributed cash among Rumi’s disciples through Hosam al-Din {Fih: 264}.  He would arrange sema’ sessions for Rumi and his disciples {Fih: 240}. As a measure of the gratitude of Rumi’s family and disciples, Rumi’s son Sultan Valad even composed a qasideh poem and two quatrains in praise of  Parvaneh’s {Le:281}.

Rumi’s dependence on the financial support of a major patron was typical of his time. The patron was commonly the king, or another de facto ruler. In Rumi’s world the ruler was commonly rich. Indeed, power brought wealth as Parvaneh’s case illustrated.  After the Saljuq king Kay Khosrow’s death, Parvaneh who supported the victorious Qelej  Arslan IV in the ensuing conflict for succession to the throne, took back from the Empire of Trebizond, the Saljuqs’ rivals, the important city of Sinop, some 700 kilometers north of Konya, and twelve surrounding castles. In the feudal system of Rumi’s world, that whole region was then accorded to Parvaneh and his family as an iqta. According to this form of land grant for a limited period in lieu of a regular wage {EBI}, the grantee took a charge (kharaj) from the farmers and gave a share of it (about 10%) to the king {Ta:77-78} [19].

With the rare exception of ‘Attar who, as his name indicated, earned his living as an independent apothecary, prominent Persian poets of Rumi’s world depended on financial support of rich patrons.   These included Rudaki who was supported by the Samanid king Nasr II ibn Ahmad,   Sana’i who looked to the Ghaznavid king Bahramshah, Ferdowsi who completed the first version of the Shahnameh under the patronage of Samanid prince Mansur and then sought support from the succeeding Ghaznavid dynasty’s Sultan Mahmud, and Nasir Khosrow who was appointed by the Egyptian Ismaili Fatimid dynasty as their da’i. Other men of letters and science in Rumi’s world followed the same rule of patronage. Mohammad Ghazali joined the entourage of Vizier Nezam al-Molk in Isfahan. The vizier eventually advanced him to the most prestigious professorship of the time, at Baghdad’s Nizamiyya Madrasa college of religion [20] .Even Avicenna was able to write his works only by employment as both a physician and an administrator in the courts of various Persian rulers, from Samanid Nuh ibn Mansur in Samarqand to ‘Ala’al-Dawleh in Isfahan {EIrG}.

Rumi‘s very presence in Konya was due to the common phenomenon of rulers’ patronage of men of talents in his world. Still barely in his teens, Rumi was brought by his father from the far-eastern part of that world to Anatolia. The father, Baha al-Din, was a minor preacher (va’ez) {Le: 52, 54} in search of employment, having last worked in Vaksh (where Rumi was born in 1207) from 1204 to 1210 and Samarqand from 1212, leaving in 1216 {Le: 46-64}.  Baha al-Din was in Karaman, 100 kilometers east of Konya {Sc:15}  when, in 1229,  the Rum Saljuq  Sultan ‘Ala` al-Din Kay Qobad I (r. 1219-37) called him to his capital and settled him and his family in Konya’s Altunpa Madreseh (Persian for religious school) {Le:71-74}.  Ala al-Din Kay Qobad was gathering around him scholars and mystics.  Well versed in Persian -he read Siyasatnameh and the Persian version of  Ghazali’s Ehya ‘olum al-din called Kimiyay sa`adat–  ‘Ala` al-Din created a Persian cultural environment in Konya. He took for role model two previous kings famous in his time as patrons of the learned, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Qabus Ibn Voshmgir, the ruler of Gurgan and Tabarestan (r. 977–981; 997–1012) {Le: 79}.  These two, however, were not exceptions. Rather, many rulers in Rumi’s world would have worn as a badge of honor a reputation as patron of arts (honar- parvar).  The Saljuq dynasty that ruled the land east of Anatolia boasted Sultan Malek Shah and his son Sultan Sanjar in that category.  The courts of the Abbasid Caliphs were famous for their resident scholars. When Caliph Naser wished to confer on `Ala’ al-Din Kay Qobad I the caliphalletter of appointment, he dispatched the prominent philosopher and Sufi scholar in his court, the Persian Shehab al-Din `Omar Sohravardi {EIrP}.

While the rulers of Anatolia supported men of learning partly out of personal interest in promoting a cultural environment, like other rulers  they expected that their patronage of clerics (such as Rumi’s father) would also help in co-opting them to cooperate with the government, create a pious image for the ruler and foster observance of law and order {Le:398}.  Under some free-thinking early Abbasid Caliphs, especially al-Ma’mun (813-833), there were opportunities to discuss diverse views, even those of other religions than Islam. But with the eventual domination of dogmatic Caliphs, scholars in Persia were forced to give a strong Islamic color to their thoughts in order to protect themselves {Ta: 333}. Baha al-Din died in 1231 and Rumi succeeded him in his position. He continued to live under the same kind of Saljuq state patronage that benefited his father {Le: 397}.  The record of how Rumi complied with the expectations of his patrons is in the Discourses. Rumi delivered the Discourses virtually in the same period that he composed the Masnavi {Ar: 6-7}.    He began the Masnavi probably between 1258 and 1261 and finished dictating it in 1267 or 1268. In that same period Parvaneh was the de facto ruler of the Saljuq Sultanate of Anatolia, the state patron whose expectations mattered the most to Rumi [21].


Parvaneh did not take orders from the Saljuq Sultan; he was responsible to the Mongol Ilkhanids.  The Mongol Commander Baiju promoted Parvaneh to chancellorship in 1256 {Ar:7-8}  but after the death of the Mongol Great Khan Batu, Genghis Khan’s grandson, in 1255,  the fate of Anatolia came to be determined not by his successors but by the new Ilkhanid dynasty created by another of  Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulagu {EIrP}.  The consequences of the change were substantial. Hulagu Khan (1215-1265) destroyed the Ismaili Nizari Hashshashins in 1256 by taking their stronghold of Alamut, and he destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 by taking their capital of Baghdad {EIrP}.   He established his own capital in Maragheh in today’s Iranian Azerbaijan. Persian historians have argued that in finally putting an end to the foreign Arab rule after six centuries, Hulagu was encouraged by a Persian vizier, Khwajeh Nasir al-Din Tusi (1201–1274)  {Ta:75}.  Perhaps, equally important, Khwajeh Nasir al-Din certainly visited the Shiite centers near Baghdad soon afterward {EBE2}.  He had been a prominent theologian of the Ismaili Shiites [22].  Upon the fall of Alamut to Hulagu Khan, however, Nasir al-Din now changed to become a Twelver. Indeed, eventually he evolved into the most prominent Persian theologian of that school of Shiism in his generation. Nasir al-Din provided the influential voice in the center of political power that the Shiites, regardless of their numbers, heretofore lacked. A man of exceptionally wide erudition, Nasir al-Din was also a prominent astronomer {EBE2}.  This endeared him to Hulagu who was a believer in astrological predictions. Hulagu constructed for Nasir al-Din an observatory (rasad khaneh) for creating accurate astronomical tables in Maragheh. This bonding enhanced Nasir al-Din influence on Hulagu.

Nasir al-Din had corresponded with Sadr al-Din Qunavi in Konya. He did not find the mysticism of Sadr al-Din or other masters of his time appealing. Nasir al-Din wrote his own book of philosophical Sufism, Awsaf al-Ashraf (The Attributes of the Illustrious). Rumi did not engage with Nasir al-Din’s works in his own writings. His encounters with Nasir al-Din came in reaction to the actions of Hulagu in which Nasir al-Din’s influence might be seen. In the Discourses Rumi addresses Parvaneh: “You united with the Tatar and assisted them to annihilate the Syrians and Egyptians and lay waste to the realm of Islam {Fih: 5}. Tatar, plural: Tararan,   {Fih: 65} was the name Rumi used for the Mongols, in addition to Moghol, the Persian for Mongol. The events in this segment of the Discourses are dated to the last years of Rumi’s life, at least after 1268 {Fih: 241}, hence by the Tatar, Rumi here means the Ilkhanids.  Syria had become part of the Mamluk kingdom which was founded in Egypt by former Turkish slaves, mamluk (owned), in 1250 {Sc: 8-9}. The Mamluks resisted the Mongols’ advance further west. Hulagu destroyed Mamluks’ Aleppo (in Syria) in 1256; Rumi had alluded to this destruction with sorrow in his Divan {Sc: 37, 191}.

In his Discourses, Rumi accuses those who cooperated with the Ilkhanids, presumably, especially Parvaneh (and perhaps Khwajeh Nasir al-Din) as being infidels: “we are now bowing and serving the Mongols like the nonbelievers (kafaran) who did that to the idols and  call  ourselves Muslims {Fih:77}.”   In another passage in the Discourses, Rumi warns the gullible of the Mongols’ deception: “Tararan also believe in the Resurrection (hashar) and say there would be judgment (yarghavi in Mongolian) {Fih: 284}.   “They are lying and want thereby to say we have things in common with the Muslims {Fih: 65}.”    The Mamluk-Ilkhanid war soon took a different turn.  In 1260 the Mamluk under their Egyptian Sultan Baybars (1223-1277), won a decisive battle against the Ilkhanids (in `Ayn Jalut, in current day Israel) {Sc: 37}.  With the strengthened Mamluks, Parvaneh’s policy changed and became one of multiple alliances with both sides, in the hope of keeping all his options open.

Rumi was now sympathetic and encouraging to Parvaneh as the Discourses tells us: “(Parvaneh) {Fih: 246} said, ‘night and day my heart and soul have been at your service, but I have not been able to attend to you because of my preoccupation with Mongol affairs.’ (The Master responded)… You have sacrificed your all, both materially and physically (to win them over) so as a few Muslims (may) occupy themselves with acts of devotion in security {Fih: 11}.”

In another passage in the Discourses, Rumi tells Parvaneh not to lose hope in God as “He is tricky, He shows nice pictures with bad pictures inside them {Fih: 5}.” In a different passage, however, Rumi warns Parvaneh of the danger inherent in associating with rulers not just because the desire to please them “may harm the religion,” but also because “you could lose your head (die) {Fih: 9}.”  Rumi’s advice was prophetic. Four years after Rumi’s death, Parvaneh was suspected of joining a party of Turkish nobles planning to join forces with the Mamluks in Caesarea against the Ilkhanid overlords. A Turkmen tribal chief seized Konya. Soon the Ilkhanids struck back, drove the Mamluks out of the area and executed Parvaneh in 1277 {Ar: 7-8; EIrP}.


Rumi never became the most respected religious scholar in Konya. During his time, Konya’s Qazi, the Islamic judge with jurisdiction over all legal matters, was Seraj al-Din Mahmud al-Ormovi.   Parvaneh was particularly attached to a mystic rival of Rumi, Shaykh al-Islam Sadr al-Din Qunavi. He took classes in the Qur`an and Hadith from him. Parvaneh was also fond of Fakhr al-Din `Eraqi, an interpreter of the Arab mystic Ibn Arabi’s ideas in Persian poetry. Yet another mystic in Konya at this time was Najm al-Din Daya Razi and Parvaneh built a tekkiyeh (a gathering place) for his followers {Le: 123-128; Sc: 29-30}.

In the Discourses, Rumi seems to show displeasure, in a (culturally common) circuitous way, at the rivalry for Parvaneh’s attention.  Rumi says, he kept Parvaneh waiting not to teach him a lesson, but because he wanted to have the opportune moment to spend more time with Parvaneh {Fih: 37; Th: 251}.  In another passage, Rumi, with considerable displeasure, reveals his clash with Parvaneh. The Vizier wanted Rumi to concentrate on “action” –which for the clerics meant praying and fasting-   and not on making speeches:

“Parvaneh said (to me) that the main thing is action.  I said where are the people who can act and are seekers of action for me to show them action. …Not finding a buyer for action but only for words, we occupy ourselves with talks. .. Action is not prayer and fasting; those are the form of action. An act is the inner content. .. .The basis of things is all talk and speech. You know nothing of this talk and speech and belittle it. But that is the fruit of the tree of action. Speech is born of action. You say that in this age words are          not creditable, but you deny speech by the same words {Fih: 74-75}.”

In another part of the Discourses, Parvaneh asks if “the good resulting from a human action is due to action itself, or a gift of God.”  Rumi answers it is the latter. Parvaneh comments that “in that case every seeker is bound to find.” Rumi responds that, nevertheless, a guide is still needed.  Intellect is that guide for the body, and a saint is the guide for humanity {Fih: 53; Ar:253-54}.


Rumi presumably saw himself as the guide for the audience that attended his Discourses. The composition of that audience reflected the types of people in Rumi’s world who would be attracted to his speeches, influenced by his “actions.”  They were Konya’s urban folk, especially merchants and tradesmen, and some clerics and men of state {Le: 398}. Rumi did not consider the country folk (roosta’i) worthy of his attention: “Anyone who has discernment will benefit from these words we speak, while our words are wasted on any who have no discernment. It is like two rational and qualified townsmen who go out of compassion to give testimony on behalf of a roosta’i. The roosta’i, in his ignorance, says something that contradicts the two so that their testimony has no effect and their good offices are wasted. For this reason they say that the roosta’i has testimony with himself {Fih: 148; Th:154}.” In the Masnavi, Rumi says: “Intelligence and culture are characteristics of townsmen; hospitality and entertainment (of guests) are characteristics of tent-dwellers {Mvi: 2398}, and … villagers (country folk) {Mvi: 2399}.”  The country folk around Konya were attracted to other dervishes, especially Hajji Bektash {Sc: 31-32}.  His background was in Qalandari.  The Qalandars were a group of dervishes [23]. With often shaved head as a sign of withdrawal, these wandering mendicants encouraged freedom from ties and bounds of religious laws. A large enough group was formed around Bektash in Anatolia such that Rumi’s disciples came to consider him a rival {Le: 36}.

Rumi had to share the town folk as potential followers with the highly influential Shaykh al-Islam Sadr al-Din Qunavi {Fih: 124, 314; Th: 256-257}.  His concern with this rivalry was so large that in his Discourses, Rumi singles out Sadr al-Din’s companions as having been (wrongly) accused of “drinking wine” and believing that “Jesus is God,” but “deny it publicly on purpose in order to preserve the community {Fih:124; Th:130}.” Kenya’s growth during the Saljuq was owed to the booming trade relations. No other city in Anatolia had so many bazaars and caravanserais as were built in Konya before the Mongol invasion. The population of the town expanded with many traders and merchants. Rumi found such key disciples among these as Zarkub (goldsmith).  Salah al-Din Zarkub Qunavi (from Konya) would become Rumi’s most important companion for ten years after Shams disappeared {Fih: 302} in 1248 {Le: 21} .  Traders and merchants constituted the lower ranks of the town folk, because in the Persian feudal system the higher ranking landowners lived in the cities –unlike the European feudalism.  Rumi had a following among some of the landowners who were often government officials. The Discourses mentions several of these officials who were frequent visitors or disciples: Qadi `Izz al-Din Mohammad Razi, vizier to Kay Kavous II  {Fih:201, 340; Ar:273},  Amir Nayeb Amin al-Din Mikaiel, Viceroy of Konya (1258- 1277} {Fih:43,44, 77, 252,270}, Shams al-Din Yutash Beglarbegi (d. 1259}, a high ranking official {Fih:125, 314; Th:259 },   Mir Akdishan, the chief  of the akdishes (an administrative or military class) {Th:255}  and Majd al-Din Atabak,  son-in-law of Parvaneh { Fih:19, 28, 19, 28, 260; Th:252}.

Small Group. The other contemporary persons mentioned in the Discourses reveal how small was the group that preoccupied Rumi.  Some are familiar names. Shams al-Din Tabrizi is referred to specifically in five places {Fih: 83, 88, 89, 92, 176}.  In yet one more place, Shams is mentioned by implication as the special man “who had the power to annihilate himself for his friend,” meaning Rumi {Fih:25, 257}. In two places {Fih: 83, 92}, Shams’s name is followed with the prayer qods sarah (May God bless his grave), dating those Discourses to after Shams’s death.  In another passage, Rumi curses “these people” who falsely “say they have seen” Shams {Fih: 25, 88}.  The Discourses also refer to a close disciple of Shams, Shaykh (Qotb al-Din) Ibrahim {Fih: 62}, the sight of whom “reminds us of Shams {Fih: 176, 281-82}.”

Salah ad-Din Zarkub, Sham’s successor as Rumi’s beloved friend {Fih: 302, 312},   appears in two places in the Discourses {Fih: 93, 95-96}.   In one {Fih:95-96},  Rumi defends him against a disciple, Ibn Chavush, who complained that  Salah ad-Din had ulterior motive in the counsels he gave ; Rumi says Salah’s directives should be unquestionably accepted by his followers {Le:209}. After Salah ad-Din’s death, Hosam al-Din replaced him as Rumi’s object of affection {Fih: 312} and would also succeed Rumi as the head of his close circle of disciples {Le: 434; Sc: 34-35}.   In the Discourses Hosam is referred to in a story as the “great man {Fih: 25, 258},” superior to the “saqil (bore)” Shaykh Sharaf al-Din Haravi, one of the leading clerics of Konya {Fih: 25, 258; Ar: 249}.

The Discourses also mentions Rumi’s father by name, Baha al-Din Valad, in a story along with the name of one of the father’s disciples, Khajegi {Fih: 12, 257}   who accompanied him from Central Asia {Ar: 247}.  Much more, however, the Discourses refer to another of Baha al-Din’s disciple, Borhan al-Din Mohaqqeq, who became Rumi’s teacher and mentor {Le: 96-118}. In four places in the Discourses, Borhan is quoted, thus expounding on his wisdom {Fih: 16, 111, 207, 219}.  There are also disciples Rumi himself had brought into this group: Akmal al-Din who was a prominent physician {Fih:209, 341; Ar:274},   Siraj al-Din {Ar:275} who was known as a good “reciter of Masnavis  (Masnavikhwan)” {Fih:230, 344; Th:258}, Nur al-Din Jicheh {Fih:32, 260; Ar:250},   and Ibn Chavush (Najm al-Din ibn Khurram Chavush) {Fih:95; Th:254}. Several other names are mentioned in Discourses about whom we do not have adequate information. One thing they have in common is that they are associated with the part of the Persian world where Rumi and his family (father and wife) came from, the place Rumi calls “our” homeland, velayat (province) {Fih:74}.   These include Shaykh Nassaj Bukhari {Fih: 110, 308}, Saif Bukhari {Fih: 159, 330}, Shaykh al-Islam Tarmadi {Fih: 111, 309},   Sadr al-Islam Abu al-Yusr Mohammad ibn Husayn of Pazda {Fih: 180, 335-336}.   These people were presumably known to Rumi’s audience, indicating provincial bond among a closely-knit group of disciples.

Rumi wrote letters to gain favor for these disciples. Ibn Chavush was the subject in one of such Letters in which Rumi calls him “dear child (farzand)” and asks that the addressee forgive certain transgressions committed by Ibn Chavush {Fih:302}.  However, as the Discourses reveals, Chavush later joined those who challenged Salah al-Din Zarkub’s qualifications to be the successor to Rumi {Fih: 302}.   As noted before, Rumi defends Salah al-Din against Chavush. In another passage, Rumi says nothing is harder to endure than stupidity in a disciple {Fih: 129-30; Ar: 264}.  He follows up in his exasperation at difficult disciples in another part of the Discourses about a mystic experience in which Rumi sees a rebellious disciple in the form of a wild animal {Fih:135; Ar:265}.   Finally, in still passage Rumi refutes an allegation brought against a kanizak (little girl) {Fih: 140; Ar: 260}.   Here the reference is to the dispute between Shams and his wife Kimia {Fih: 140, 319} which contributed to Shams’s disappearance.. The Maqalat (Writings) attributed to Shams refers to this dispute several times {Fih: 319}. The abuse and threat of the disciples of Rumi against Shams who bitterly resented their master’s devotion to him had already once caused Shams to take refuge in Damascus in 1246 {Ar: 6; Le: 177}.

There is no indication in the Discourses that they were attended by women. It has been suggested, however, that Rumi had female disciples and, indeed, arranged sama’ dance sessions for them {Mak: 279; Le: 282-3; Sc: 32}.  A single Letter from Rumi is addressed to the “Pride of All Ladies {Mak: 118-19},” welcoming her recovery from illness. She could have been the wife of the Saljuq Sultan, Ghias al-Din Kay Khosrow II or the spouse of Rokn al-Din Qelij Arsalan IV {Le: 282-83}.

Sovereign Lord

Rumi’s disciples often called him Khodavandegar {Fih: 4, 14, 28, 35, 37, and 42}.” The Arabic Mawlana (Our Master), also used, was a title of respect given to a Sufi master without clear reference to a specific person. In addition to Rumi {Fih: 7}, his father {Fih: 7} was called Mawlana –sometimes Mowlana Bozorg (The Elder Mawlana) {Fih: 204} – as was Shams {Fih: 83}. The Persian word Khodavandegar (Sovereign Lord) indicated perceiving Rumi not just as a spiritual master but also as the leader of a group of disciples. This was not the full-fledged Sufi (Mevlevi) Order which was yet to be established after Rumi’s death; it was rather an expanded version of another institution in the Islamic world, Ahl beyt (Household),  centered  on the some 300  persons who reportedly came with Rumi’s father from Central Asia. Rumi considered his role not only to include settling disputes among his disciples but even seeing to their needs for entertainment. That is the explanation Rumi gives in the Discourses for composing poetry and participating in the sama` dances -which would later become the basis for the trademark movements of the “whirling dervishes” of the Mevlevi (Turkish pronunciation of the Persian Molavi, singular of Mawlana) Order:

“My disposition is such that I do not want anyone to suffer on my account. I am not pleased when my friends try to prevent some people from throwing themselves on me during the sama`. I have said a hundred times that no one should presume to speak for me. Only then am I content. I am loved by those who come to see me, and so I compose poetry to entertain them lest they grow weary. Otherwise, why on earth would I be spouting poetry? By God, I am vexed by poetry. I don’t think there is anything worse. It is like having to put one’s hand into tripe to wash it for one’s guest because they have an appetite for it. That is why I must do it. A man has to look at a town to see what goods the people need and for what goods there are buyers. People will buy those goods, and will sell those goods, even if they are the most inferior merchandise around ….What am I to do? In our velayat (province) and among our qoam (people) there is nothing more dishonorable than being a poet. Had we remained in that land, we would have lived in harmony with their taste and would have done what they wanted, such as teaching, writing books, preaching, practicing asceticism, and doing pious works {Fih:74-75; Th:77-78}.”

Islam discouraged music and dance, associating them with a history of  kings’ courts, slave dancing women, drinking and debauchery; but music and dance were not forbidden outright {Le:28}.   From the early times, some Sufis often indulged themselves in sama` (literally, Arabic for listening), which consisted of listening to music and dancing in whirling movement to attain ecstasy.  As a community activity in Sufi lodges, the sama` sessions were held in many areas of Persian-speaking world by the late 9th century, expanding steadily by Rumi’s time {Le: 29; Sc: 6-7}.

Sama`. Rumi never danced before Shams, but after meeting him, music and dance became a part of Rumi’s life {Mo: 172}. “His whole being was transformed into poetry and music. Music became the only expression of his feelings; music echoed in the enthusiastic words, vibrating in the rhythms of his lyrics {Sc: 21-23}.” Rumi passionately regretted Shams’s departure and “bade the musicians chant songs of love and engage, day and night, in the sama` {Ni: xxii}.”  Rumi’s poetry came to manifest various stages of the experience of  longing, yearning, searching, and hoping for union; music echoed in words, vibrating in rhythms {Sc: 21-23}.  The introductory verses of Rumi’s Masnavi express his love of music. These “She`r ney (The Flute Reed Poems)” recall the use of flute reed by Islamic musicians, and even further back by ancient Greeks {Sc: 21-211}.  Rumi’s poems, however, also show his knowledge of other instruments common in his world: the sorna, similar to trumpet, often played by the wandering musicians,  the rabab, a stringed instrument, which the musician put at his breast and touched with the bow {Sc:212},   the stringed chang, the little harp {Sc:213}  and the large qanun {Sc:214),  the percussion instruments tabl (the large drum), daf  ( the tambourine), tanbura (the drone), and barbat (the lute) {Sc:215}. Rumi refers to the various pardeh (modes) in Persian music, such as the ‘oshshaq (lovers), in appropriate places in his poetry {Sc: 216}.  He knew of the psychic effect of music {Sc: 211}.  “When the harpist who plays the (musical notes) bist o chahar (the twenty and four) finds no ear (to listen), his harp becomes a burden {Mvi: 1658}.”  The instruments and musical knowledge found in Rumi reflect what was common in his world. Long before Rumi, in the middle of the 10th century Farabi had written his Ketab al-musiqi al-kabir  (Great Book on Music) in Arabic {EIrG}; and his student, Avicenna, followed a few decades later by a chapter on music in his Persian Daneshnameh (The  Book  of  Knowledge) {EIrA}.

Rumi held regular sama` meetings. He whirled alone, or encircled by his faithful followers. His radif pakufteh (foot stamping) poems and his rhyme-words were meant for the whirling dance of sama`. Rumi poetically imagines his beloved, carrying a rabab and acting as a dancer musician {Sc: 217}.  With him sama` becomes an antidote that rests the restless soul by encouraging it to experience freedom out of its confinement in the body {Sc: 218}. This is similar to the result which the mystics in other traditions sought by choosing dance as a form of religious expression. In Rumi’s imagination the sama` reflects the tension between union and separation without which no movement or sound would be possible. He believed that all nature participated in this dance {Sc: 219}.  The command for the sama` came from heaven as a breeze.  Only the dead twigs, the scholastic theologians and philosophers, were not moved. The sama` was a branch of the spiritual dance in which the soul ought to join, Rumi said {Sc: 221-222}.

To his disciples Rumi preached fasting for spiritual salvation, but his poetry is rich with imagery that reveals much about the culinary world of his times. Like other Persian poets, he sings about kabab ( roast) and  sharab  (wine) ; like other Sufis, he is fond of the sweets halva and paloodeh (a mixture of milk, noodles, sugar and  spices). Beryani (broiled meat) is mentioned, as is the spice somaq (used with roast).  There is a catalogue of fruit in Rumi’s poems, including apples and peaches, as well as vegetables, including eggplant, spinach and onion. Rumi indicates that in his time and place people ate tuzluq (pickles), sanbusa (with meat stuffing) and totmaj (vermicelli). They used the dik (cauldron) for cooking {Sc: 139 -148}. Rumi is insistent, however, that these descriptions are all meant as images to serve feeding a higher, spiritual, hunger: “The wine became intoxicated with us, not we with the wine {Mi:1812; Sc:152 }.”


Rumi did not join any of the existing Sufi orders. The Masnavi enumerates the distinct characteristic emphasis in the practice of many of those Sufi orders: tobeh (repenting); bakhshesh (alms); service to people, such as cooking or cleaning the Sufi center ( khaneqah);  tavakkol  (trust in God);   not feeling obligated  to obey amr and nahi ( Islamic mandates and prohibitions); khodbini (understanding oneself); focusing on  own powerlessness ; looking at neither the power or powerlessness but only at God; thinking  that with  observation and discussion one reaches the truth {Mi: 475, 476, cited in F1:211}. Rumi was conscious of the animosity of many Sufis in Konya toward him, as the Masnavi indicates in several places {Mii: 2494, cited in F1:198}. Some would criticize the Masnavi for it did not show sufficient Sufi training {Sc: 299}. Indeed, the Masnavi does not even mention the most famous Sufi teacher of the time, Ibn Arabi, or the standard books of Sufism: Qosheyri’s Resala and Abu Taleb Makki’s Qut al-Qolub.  It aimed at “immediate knowledge” which was learned not from books but from “experience” {Sc: 299}. Loving the complete man (mard kamel) which was the same as loving God was the principle of Rumi’s own “way” (tariqat) {Mii: 700 ff, cited in F1:30-31}.

Although the Masnavi refers to Rumi as a Sufi, he sometimes uses the word Sufi in a pejorative sense. True Sufi for Rumi was not the one who wore woolen (suf) frocks (the vernacular meaning of the word) but, rather, the one who sought purity (safvat) -another word derived from the same Arabic root (tasavvof ) {Sc: 4, 299}. Even darvish (dervish), the Persian word for the Arabic faqir derived from faqr (poverty), did not always please Rumi who so fervently espoused spiritual poverty as the goal.  The Masnavi in a story ridicules the simpleton dervish who loses his donkey in a trick by other Sufis of a convent where he is a guest {Mii: 203 ff, cited in Sc: 56-57 n 153}. In Rumi’s time, claiming to be a dervish was popular and was sometimes used as a tool for getting money and worldly status. The Masnavi warns against such “devils in the form of man”. The spiritual seeker should avoid such unsuitable companions {Mi: 316, cited in F1:145}.  Indeed, he should generally “Make a practice of seeing (for yourself) without blindly imitating (taqlid) any authority: think in accordance with the view of your own reason (`aql) {Mvi: 3345}. Following that dicta, Rumi developed his own distinct thoughts which many consider to be the height of `Erfan, or Persian Gnosticism in the Islamic period. To the extent that this was an attempt for the direct experience of the divine it was mysticism – a concept which evolved from the original Greek word   “muo,” meaning “to conceal” {Ge}.


Rumi’s works tell us much about what he read and saw and in his time. The world they depict is the Persian-speaking region which spanned Central Asia to Anatolia, a distance of  some two thousand miles away Rumi lived only in those two extremities, traveling as a young boy from Samarqand to Konya where he spent all of his adult life. The vast scope of what he read contrasted sharply with the limits of what he could witness in person. Rumi devoted his last ten years to composing his majestic Masnavi. It was his spiritual meditation on religions and the ontological questions which also preoccupied other contemporary thinkers.  Its stories were drawn from the culture that engulfed Rumi. This was the time of the renaissance of Persian civilization. Rumi shows its face and its roots in the Masnavi. That work reflects many distinctions of life and culture of an era that was both sublime and unique; a result which is enhanced in Rumi’s other works, especially the Discourses and Letters.

Rumi does not give us history in the conventional sense; at the closest, his work is a special kind of historiography.  What he says are hints directing us to fuller accounts of events and conditions by other chroniclers and historians; they also serve as evidence verifying that such further investigation would prove more on the impact of historical facts on Rumi personally. The examples abound here. Rumi tells us about the tumultuous politics and conflicts of religious beliefs in his times, the interdependence of the writers and rulers, the rich literary endowment left by his Persian predecessors, the multi-source heritage of his culture, the bonds between a Sufi and his disciples and how he, as a Gnostic navigated the shoals of a strict religion. These are all Rumi’s personal history but told enmeshed in a narrative that is based on many stories shared widely as part of the Persian folklore of the medieval times. Both of those subjects, of course, need to be further studied. This review is hardly complete; it only shows the worthiness of seeking to elucidate what Rumi meant by illuminating what he observed in his world.



Transliteration and Names. The method of transliteration of Persian words here aims at the phonetic spelling accessible to the common reader. Persian words, including names, are spelled in the way they are pronounced by Persians today. For the most frequently used names a different version which is often used in contemporary English text is given in parenthesis.

  1. The School was closed to stop teaching the Nestorian doctrine of Christianity. Led by the prominent Persian philosopher Narse, the returning Nestorian philosophers founded the School of Nisibis in the Persian Sassanid land, where they expounded on Aristotle’s work and even wrote a few treaties in Middle Persian on logic and philosophy.
  2. Among other major Persian thinkers contributing to the unprecedented expansion of human knowledge at these times one must mention Abu al-Hassan Bahmanyar (d. 1067) , Qotb al-Din Shirazi (1236 – 1311) , Rases or Mohammad ibn Zakariya Razi 845-925), Fakhr al-Din Razi (1149-1209), and  Nasir al- Din Tusi (1201–1274) {F1:32; Ta:95),  Abu Abdollah Rudaki (858-940), Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi  (940–1020),  Abu al-Rayhan Biruni (973-1048),  Abu al-Fazl Beyhaqi (995-1077) ,  Nasir Khosrow Qubadiyani (1004-1088), Nezam al-Molk (1018-1092) , `Omar Khayyam (1048-1113) , Nezami Ganjavi (1141-1209) , Shehab al-Din `Omar Sohravardi (1145-1234),  Baba Afzal (d. 1213), Farid al-Din `Attar (1145-1220) , Mohammad Awfi (d.1232), Fakhr al-Din `Araqi (1213 – 1289),  Muslih al-Din Saadi Shirazi (1210-1291), Rashid al-Din Fazl al-Allah ( 1247-1318),  Amir Khsorow Dehlavi (1252-1325), Allameh Helli (1250-1325), Hamd al-Alah Mostofi (1281-1349), Hendushah Nakhjavani (1323), Khajavi Kermani (1280-1352) , Ubayd Zakani (1300-1371),  Salman Savoji (1308-1376). The dates are from various sources.
  3. The most reliable manuscript of the Discourses available to us consists of a collection of 71   fasl (sections). It is a composite copy of two separate manuscripts, one being the notes from several Discourses taken down by a person who was present at the time of the delivery and the other part written during Rumi’s  lifetime {Fih:173}. The copier of the first part called it Ketab Fih ma Fih “the book which contains what it contains {Le: 43},” borrowing that title from a piece mentioned in a book by Mohy al-Din Arabi’s Fotuhat-e Makkiyeh. The copier of the second part named it al-Asrar al-Jalalliyeh (The Jalaly Secrets), alluding to Jalal al-Din, Rumi’s name {Fih: ya}.

The 71 Discourses in the collection are not ordered chronologically.   One of the earliest Discourses indicates that it was probably delivered just after Shams’s return from Damascus to Konya (1246) {Fih: 89, 301}, another seems to be from near the end of Rumi’s life {Fih: 339}, and still a third refers to a vizier who died in 1256 or 1258 {Ar: 273}. Most of the other 68 Discourses were probably delivered between 1256 and Rumi’s death in 1273.

  1. The manuscript of the collection of the Letters which is deemed to be the earliest reliable is from the early 1350s. It has been published under the name Maktubat-e Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi. {Le: 294-95}.
  2. That original style was exemplified in the 10th century works such as Mohammad Bal`ami’s history and the Persian translation of Mohammad Ibn Jarir Tabari’s commentary (tafsir) on the Qur’an. Monsi’s ornate “innovation” in that style would influence all Persian literary works for nearly four centuries {EIrO}. Rumi would be especially interested in Monsi’s Kalileh va Damneh as it was among the very first sources that contained quotations from Sana`i’ s poetry which was Rumi’s favorite {EIrB}.
  3. Such as Alf Laylah (One Thousand and One Nights), Sendbadnameh and Marzbannameh.
  4. One reason the stories of Kalileh va Damneh were well-known in Konya was perhaps because a poet at the sultans’ court, Qane`i Tusi,  had composed a versified Persian version of it for Ghias al-Din Kay Khosrow II {EIrP; F1:125}.  This was just one of the many other reiterations of the work
  5. These are in Syriac and Arabic, from the 6th and 8th centuries, respectively. Kalila wa Demna would eventually find its way to early modern Europe where it was often called Fables of Bidpai {EIrRi}, and would influence many authors, beginning famously with the French La Fontaine in the 17th century.
  6. The Sassanid King Shapur I (240-270) ordered the importation of Indian knowledge of astronomy {EIrS2}.
  7. The Hadith consisted of three categories, qodsi (Prophet Mohammad’s sayings), nabavi (related to Prophet Mohammad) and ashab (attributed to Prophet Mohammad’s disciples).
  8. These are cited in {Ar: 263, 265, 266, 268, 271, 272, 276. 277}.
  9. Some scholars translating the Masnavi into English have chosen to use Latin for these and similarly sexually profane poems {Mv: 3943, 3862}.
  10. `Ala’ al-Din Kay Qobad (r. 1219-1237) -who invited Rumi’s father to settle in Konya, and whose garden was frequented by Rumi and eventually became the site of his shrine {Le: 427} – himself read the Siyasatnameh as well as Ghazali’s Kimiyay sa`adat in Persian {Le: 79}.
  11. According to the Persian historian Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani (1193-1265), the Mongol leader Genghiz Khan had originally sent the Khwarazmid ruler, `Ala ad-Din Muhammad, a message seeking a trade relationship and a treaty of friendship and peace. The Khwarazmshah reluctantly agreed. The war started a few months later, when a Mongol caravan and then the Mongol envoys were massacred in the Khwarazmian city of Otrar.
  12. The Zaydis considered Zayd ibn ‘Ali as the fifth and last Imam (successor) while the other two Shiite branches chose his brother Muhammad al-Baqir. The Ismailis then shared two more successors with the Twelver Shiites but then chose Ismail as the eight and last Imam while the Twelvers chose his brother, instead, and continue with his descendants for another four successors (Imams) {Ak; WiZ}.
  13. The year 931 loomed important for the Carmatians’ millenarian fervor for the emergence of the Islamic Mahdi. It coincides with the 1,500 year anniversary after the Prophet Zoroaster’s death when the reign of the Magians, Zoroastrian priests, was predicted. Consequently, in that year the leadership of the Carmatian movement was handed over to a Persian.
  14. On the 10th (‘ashura ) day of the Arabic month of Moharram, in 680 AD, Hosayn  fell in a battle together with many of his family and kinsmen. The Shiites’ ritual mourning ceremonies on that annual occasion included flagellating themselves with razors {Le: 448}.
  15. The Shiites had lived in Aleppo and other parts of the Arab Syria since the rule of the Arab Shiite Hamdanids (800- 1004) {Sc: 14; WiH}.
  16. This feudal economic system was essentially the same as the one in the pre-Islamic Sassanid period and would last until the Iranian Constitutional era of the 1900s, with its later phase being called the tiyool system {Ta:77-78}.
  17. Ghazali was there 4 years until, following a spiritual crisis, he abandoned his career for an ascetic lifestyle in Tus..
  18. Rumi had stopped teaching, although he continued to live in a madreseh (religious school) {Ar: 6-7; Le: 423-424}.  Such life in seclusion was the model established by two scholars Rumi admired the most: Sana`i and Ghazali.  “Harken to the words of Hakim who lived in seclusion,” Rumi says referring to Sana`i {Mi: 3426}.   Ghazali, too, had returned to Tus after 1096 to spend several years in seclusion (‘uzlat); abstaining from teaching, he would only write.
  19. He was writing his important Ismaili work Tasawwurat (Notions) while living in the mountain fortress of ‘Alamut, which was the capital of the Ismaili state since 1090 when it was established by Hasan Sabbah. Upon the fall of ‘Almut to Hulagu Khan, however, Khwajeh  Nasir al-Din Tusi married a Mongol and was appointed by Hulagu as his minister of religious bequests. Khwajeh Nasir al-Din Tusi’s father had been a jurist in the Twelfth Imamate school of Shiite.
  20. They originated as an opponent of the fundamentalism of the Almohad Caliphate in Andalusia and spread east to the Persian-speaking world.


Abbreviations for frequently cited sources

Ak                   Anna Akasoy, “Shiism and Sects,” Pathos, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ar                    A. J. Arberry Discourses of Rumi   (London, 1961).

Ch                    William C. Chattick,   Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi, Translated (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2004).

D                     Divan Shams Tabrizi, ed.  Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, Kolliat Shams ya Dian Kabir, 9 vols. (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1997).  D followed by Rumi or T and then a number indicates the number of the roba`i or tarji`band. (Le; Sc uses the same source but the system for the numbers is not clear)

EBA                 Oskar Anweiler, “Academy of Gondēshāpūr, Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBB                 John Andrew Boyle, “Ferdowsi, Persian Poet,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBE                 TheEditors, “Rudaki, Persian Poet,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBE2               TheEditors, Nasir al-Din Tusi, Persian Scholar,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBI                  The Editors, “Iqta,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at  <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EBM                The Editors, “Mazdakism,” Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition, available at <>  (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrA                 M. Achena, “AVICENNA xi. Persian Works,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrB                 J.T.P. de Bruin, “SANĀ`I,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrD                 Farhad Daftary, “Carmatians,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 1990, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrF                 Charles-Henri de Fouchecour, “IRAN: Classical Persian Literature,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at  < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrG                 Dimitri Gutas, “FĀRĀBĪ i. Biography,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrM                M. Mahdi, “AVICENNA, i. Introductory Note,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrO                Mahmoud Omidsalar, “KALILA WA DEMNA, ii. The translation by Abul-Ma’ali Nasr-Allah Monši,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrP                 Andrew Peacock, “Saljuqs of Rum,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2010,   available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrR                 B. Reinert, “Attar, Shaikh Farid-al-Din.” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at <“; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrRi                Dagmar Riedel, “KALILA WA DEMNA, i. Redactions and circulation,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2010, available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrS                 Mansour Shaki, “Falsafa,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

EIrS2               Mansour Shaki, “Greek Influence on Persian Thought,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online edition, 2012, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

F                      Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, Sharh Masnavi Sharif, 3 vols.  9th printing (Tehran: Zavvar, 2000). Reference to the book’s Masnavi poems in Persian are signified by m.

Fih                   Rumi, Ketab Fih ma fih; az Goftar Mowlana Jalal al-Din Mohammad mashhur be Mowlavi, ed. Badi` al-Zaman Foruzanfar, 9th printing (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 2002)

GbF                 “Ferdowsi,” Books google, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ge                    Jerome Gellman, “Mysticism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” online edition, 2014 available at < > accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ha                    Gh. A. Hadad Adel, “THE LITERARY VALUE OF RUMI’S LETTERS.” Scientific Information Database of Iran (May 2002) available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ho                   Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 1991).

Le                    Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: Past, Present, East and West (Oneworld, Oxford Publications, 2008).

Le2                  Franklin Lewis, The Icon and the Man: in quest of Historical Rumi (Lecture: 2007) available at < >   (accessed on 18 April 2015).

M                     Rumi, Masnavi-ye ma`navi, ed. R.A. Nicholson as Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi,  E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, new series, 8 vols. ( London:Luzac & Co., 1925, 1929, 1993)

Mak                 Rumi, Maktubat Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, ed. Towfiq Sobhani (Tehran: Markaz Nashr Daneshgahi, 1992). References here are to pages used and so cited in Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: Past, Present, East and West (Oneworld, Oxford Publications, 2008).

Mo                   Mohammad ‘Ali Movahhed, Maqalat Shams Tabrizi (Writings of Shams Tabrizi) (Tehran: Tarh Now, 1996).

Ni                    Reynolds Alleyne Nicholson, Selected Poems form the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi (Bethesda, Md: Ibex, 2001.

Nic                   Reynolds Alleyne Nicholson,  Masnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rum,  E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, new series, 8 vols. (London:Luzac & Co., 1925, 1929, 1993)

Om                  Mahmoud Omidsalar, Iran‘s Epic and America‘s Empire (Santa Monica: Afshar Publishing, 2010)

Pk                    Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, Liquid Frontiers (Draft 2013) available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Ra                    Fariborz Rahnamoon, “Zarvan, The Creator of God” Iran Zamin, 13, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Sc                    Annemarie Schimmel, The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi, Bibliotheca Persica, Persian Studies Series (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993).

Sm                   Margaret Smith, Al-Ghazali: The Mystic (London 1944).

St                     “Al-Ghazali,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at <; (accessed on 18 April 2015).

Sta                   S. Fredrick Starr, Lost Enlightenment, Central Asia’s Golden Age (Princeton University Press, 2013)

Ta                    Ehsan Tabari, Barkhi barresiha dar bareh jahanbiniha v jonbeshhay ejtema`i dar Iran (Some Reviews of the Worldviews and Social Movements in Iran) (Tehran: Alfa Publication, 1358/1979).

Th                    W.M. Thackston, Jr. Signs of the Unseen: The Discourses of Jalaluddin Rumi (1999)

Wa                   Warwick, “The Impact of the Middle East on the European Renaissance,” available at < > (accessed on 18 April 2015).