Rumi & Shams

Following our visit to Konya, I have been obsessing over Rumi. Visiting the home of Rumi was an important part of my spiritual journey. Since that Konya trip, I have been reading more about Shams, Rumi’s own spiritual guru. Because it has been weighing on my mind, I wanted to share, in two posts, some of my reflections on Rumi. This first post is just a little history on the man and a second post that will be released in a couple of days will dive into how I view Rumi. I would also suggest the following books on Rumi for those that want to learn more about him: Teachings of Shams-i-Tabrezi and Rumi: The Book of Love. I would of course love to hear from you on books on Rumi you found fascinating.

The words of Jalal-e-Din Mohammad, or better known as Rumi, speak to the souls of millions regardless of race, religion, gender and time period. He was an open-minded individual who universally embraced everyone. His 40-day funeral brought together weeping Muslims, Christians, Jews, Greeks, Arabs and Persians who came to mourn for their spiritual leader.

Forget the nonsense categories of there and here,

race, nation, religion,

starting point and destination.

You are soul, and you are love,

Not a sprite or an angel or a human being!

You’re Godman-woman God-man God-Godwoman!

No more questions now as to what it is we’re doing here.

(From Rumi: The Book of Love)

Rumi was born in September 1207 in a small Afghanistani town named Balk. Living in a cultural melting-pot area, he mingled with Buddhists, Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews. His family moved country to country in order to escape the onslaught of Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies until they permanently settled down in Konya, which is now in present day Turkey.

Bahauddin, Rumi’s father, was a highly respected theologian, jurist in Islamic Law, and a Sufi. His father chose Rumi to be his successor as a preacher and teacher and trained him in Islamic law. He learned mysticism from his father’s former student, Sayyed Burhan ud-Din Muhaqqiq Termazi. Termazi was an eccentric hermit, not unlike Shams, who led Rumi into doing back-to-back 40-day fasting retreats. Like a true mystic, he was unconcerned with conventional beliefs and trained Rumi well for his future meeting with Shams. Rumi was a highly respected figure in Konya and enjoyed all the benefits of wealth, popularity, and a loving close-knit family—a perfect life, so to speak.

Pictures from the Mevlana Museum


Then at the age of 37, he met someone who completely turned his life upside down—Shams al-Din Muhammad. To know and understand Rumi, you first have to study Shams. An eccentric wanderer, he traveled from town to town in pursuit of a companion on his level of divine attainment and that search ended when he met Rumi; by that time Shams was about 60 or so, at least 20 years Rumi’s senior. It is said that upon their first random meeting on the streets, Rumi and Shams went to the house of Selah al-Din Zerkub (a goldsmith by trade, he was another very close friend of Rumi) and spent months debating and sharing questions and answers on thousands of questions and topics. They meditated together and soon thereafter Rumi became Shams’ most devoted disciple. Rumi invited Shams to live with him, saying, “This house does not deserve you, but I sincerely love you; whatever I have is yours, doubtless you are the true master”[1].

Shams and Rumi near obsession with each other eventually enraged Rumi’s family and his disciples: “who then is this man [Shams], who has taken our sheikh from us like the stream-water that carries away a husk? Maybe he is a wizard who has cast a spell on our sheikh and has tied him to himself. Shams neither belongs to a renowned family nor do we know from where he has come”.[2]

Their friendship is somewhat of a mystery even today. After seeing how much the people of Konya disliked him, Shams left the city. Rumi, to put it simply, went mad. He started giving away his wealth to musicians and singers so that he could perform the Sema or whirling ceremony day and night. He ended-up composing 45,000 poem verses full of his love, devotion and agony for Shams into a book called Divan-e-Shams. Seeing the “separation anxiety” Rumi was suffering through, his family and disciples decided to bring Shams back to Konya.

Unfortunately, the people of Konya couldn’t understand nor appreciate Shams’ philosophy and saw him as a threat to the traditional teachings of Islam. There were a growing number of people in the community who used to recite the Quran and now started to dance and sing instead, claiming love was their new religion and faith. This alarmed the Sheiks and leaders and they eventually drove him out of Konya for good. For years Rumi searched for Shams until he finally gave-up and realized that

Shams lived inside of him.

Why should I seek more?

I am the same as he [Shams].

His essence speaks through me.

I have been looking for myself

Rumi eventually died 26 years later on December 17, 1273 in his home. His legacy is more alive than ever in this era of mystical awareness. Coleman Barks, author of Rumi: the Book of Love, captures Rumi perfectly, “His poetry is a record of his enduring the experience of living at the core. In each human being there is a meeting with the divine. That intersection is the heart”.

[1] Dr. Turkmen, Erkan, Teachings of Shams-i-Tabrezi

[2] Dr. Turkmen, Erkan, Teachings of Shams-i-Tabrezi


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