ne of the world’s most celebrated poets, storytellers, and mystics, with a universal appeal in his message, is Mawlana Jalal al-Din Mohammad Rumi (1207-1273). Indeed, he is like a diamond among the Muslim thinkers that dazzles — a jewel in the crown of Muslim civilisation. Acknowledging his greatness, Unesco dedicated 2007 as the ‘Year of Rumi’.
Not only in the Muslim world, but also in many other cultures, Rumi is well known. William Dalrymple, in a Guardian article on Nov 4, 2005 says, “It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations, but the bestselling poet in the US in the 1990s was not any of the giants of American letters — Robert Frost, Robert Lowell ….; nor was it Shakespeare or Homer or Dante or any European poet. Instead, remarkably, it was a classically trained Muslim cleric [Rumi].”
Great scholars including A. Schimmel, R.A. Nicholson, A.J. Arberry, to name a few, spent significant time learning Rumi. He has been highly regarded as a Sufi in Muslim societies, and because of his teachings based on the Holy Book, his Mathnavi is called the ‘Quran in the language of Pahlavi.’
Rumi implies that human experiences create multiple perspectives.
Rumi advocated several important ideas, but peacemaking is the one I want to concentrate on. By reconciling contradictory, paradoxical riddles caused by the diversity of human experience through simple stories, he promotes peace. Take for instance, his tale of the elephant and blindfolded strangers in a dark room watching the elephant. The people end up debating among themselves whose knowledge is accurate as to what kind of an animal it is.Through lighting the room with a candle, when they are shown the whole animal, they feel flabbergasted to see the real animal compared to what they felt in the absence of light.
In the story, Rumi suggests that human interactions produce different viewpoints that sometimes lead to debates about the facts, and what we need to do is express our views and learn from each other rather than compete with each other. In one of his Mathnavi verses, he says, “Do not take a single step towards separating people from each other; as the Prophet (PBUH) has said the most unwanted thing to me is the separation (talaq)”, thus giving a strong message of unity. Similarly, in another verse, Rumi says/: “[O human beings], you have been commanded to unite, not to divide, people.”
Rumi draws arguments for diversity of forms by appealing to human nature. Referring to diversity of languages in which God is worshipped, he says: “God’s praise is in many forms; for a person living in Hind, his language of praise is Hindi, and for the same reason, a person living in Sindh, will use Sindhi [language] to praise God.” His story of Hazrat Musa and the shepherd further supports this argument.
He refers to the diversity of human situations under which we do some activities that may seem uncomfortable in appearance but are reconcilable at a deeper level. In another verse, he further extends this thought by saying, “God looks not at just the outer (biroon) condition and words spoken (qaal) by those who worship; but their inner condition (daroon) and state (haal) of their existence with which they pray”.
Rumi provides firmer grounds, and strong vocabulary for constructive engagement, in times of the dialogue of civilizations today. Through examples, he shows the rootedness of human experience in socio-cultural contexts while recognising the fundamental unity of human unity. He does not base his peace-making message on mere shallow ‘tolerance’ grounds, but on far deeper human nature and diversity of experience grounds. He demonstrates the dictum “we see things, people, events and phenomena, not as they are, but as we are!”
G. Hofstede, a researcher, calls culture the “software of the mind” which filters all information that our brain accesses, in terms of our own cultural norms. Seeing the ‘other’ in an objective manner becomes very, very difficult, if not impossible. Rumi tries to sensitise us to this position of the ‘other’, advising us to be humble and not arrogant.
The approach of Rumi is so inclusive that people of many backgrounds find relevance in his views, Muslim or otherwise. The latter fosters harmony and interaction. Based on various conceptions of life, he abhors dividing people.
In short, by showing reconciliation between obvious contradictions and inner harmony, Rumi’s humanistic and inspiring thoughts encourage brotherhood and peace among the entire human fraternity. He encourages us not only to study external appearances and types and make decisions, but also to reflect in various cultural contexts on the diversity of human experience. Such rich thoughts can be the guiding principles for inter-communal and civilisational dialogues and unity to create peace on sound ideas.