Blog Post

About the Poetry of Rumi

rumiPC writes: "Can you please educate us about the Muslim philosopher Rumi? I have Catholic relatives that quote him all the time on Facebook. My relatives that are outside the church often respond by “liking” these quotes. Something about these Rumi quotes don’t sit well with me but I can’t put my finger on exactly what bothers me about his philosophy. Thank you."

What doesn't sit right with you is probably the fact that you a reading the words of a 13th century Muslim mystic whose belief system is rooted in Sufi pantheism (God is everything and everything is God).

As Catholic Answers explains: "This reduction of everything to a sort of divine cosmic soup means that fundamental reality (God) is ultimately impersonal. The distinction between persons and things is discarded. On the psychological level, if the essential distinction between God and his creation is abolished, then you and I are God. We can, in effect, create our own reality. If this is so, then whatever problems exist in the world are, in the final analysis, self-inflicted, either because we are God and have forgotten it or we're all one and don't know it. From the Christian perspective, this is just a repetition of the serpent's promise to Eve (Gn 3:5)."

But it does not surprise me that your relatives are quoting Rumi, who is presently the best-selling poet in the U.S. He's very popular with young Westerners who are attracted to non-Western forms of spirituality.

For those who have never heard of him, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, more popularly known as Rumi, was born on September 30, 1207 in Afghanistan. The descendant of a long line of Islamic jurists and mystics, he was the son of the "Sultan of the Scholars" who moved the family to present-day Turkey to avoid the invasion of Genghis Khan's armies. It was here that Rumi lived most of his life. When his father died in 1231, Rumi became the head of the madrasah, or spiritual learning community.

According to the Academy of American Poets, a pivotal moment in Rumi's life came in 1244 when he met Shams Tabriz, a dervish or "God man". "What I had thought of before as God, I met today in a human being," Rumi said about their meeting.

The two became close friends but Shams was eventually driven off by Rumi's jealous followers. This caused Rumi to leave the madrasah in search of his friend, whom he never found. He returned home, certain that Shams was now a part of him. "His essence speaks through me," he would later write.

He expressed his mourning for Shams by writing tens of thousands of verses of Eastern-Islamic poetry, including The Works of Shams Tabriz which is considered a personal masterpiece and one of the greatest works of Persian literature.

His spiritual teachings are contained in the Masnavi-ye Ma'navi (Spiritual Verses) which consist of 64,000 lines. Rami once described this work as "the roots of the roots of the roots of the (Islamic) religion" and is regarded as a kind of Persian-language Koran by his followers.

As contrary as his beliefs are to Catholicism, so they are to the Islamic faith.

" . . .(T)he spiritual tradition of Rumi, al-Hallaj, and the Sufi masters lies at the margins of the Islamic faith," writes William Kilpatrick, formerly of Boston College and the author of Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West.  "For example, the use of music, poetry, and dance in rituals practiced by Rumi’s followers are considered un-Islamic by many, if not most, Islamic authorities."

This article, by the English orientalist and Islamic Scholar Reynold Nicholson goes into much deeper detail about the underlying philosophies of Rumi's work.