Theater of Cruelty

Rumi is brought to life

Analysis: What do Madonna, Shirin Ebadi and the Bergen Festival have in common? They pay tribute to the philosopher and 800 anniversary celebrant Rumi. 2007 is UNESCO's International Rumi Year.


[rumi year] At 20 the 20. April starts the Dutch celebration of the Rumi year in Amsterdam, at the invitation of the UN Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO).

Admittedly, it is still five months until the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Persian-born poet, philosopher and Sufi mystic Rumi (800-1207) can be marked on 1273 September. But several countries are now kicking off the celebration of the classic poet that cultural personalities from Goethe to Sinead O'Connor have been inspired by. Friedrich Hegel called Rumi the greatest poet in world history.

And now the poet is back in full force: The Turkish film about Rumi, Seven Cities, is scheduled to premiere at the 60th Cannes Film Festival from 16 May. While Turkey, where Rumi is buried, is launching the peace project "The Cultural Train of Rumi's Love and Patience" through 17 European countries during 2007.

Regardless of the international effort, Trond Gustavsen's Trio 29 will. May hold a concert during the Bergen International Festival, together with The Mediævel, with newly written music for lyrics by Rumi. It is Rumi's "Atonement, Life Expression and Love" that will be at the center of the concert.

Despite the fact that Rumi's main work Masnavi – which took 43 years to write – in 2002 was selected as one of the 100 books in the Book Clubs' "World Library", he is still little known in Norway. Unlike the United States, where Rumi has been the country's best-selling poet for the past decade: Coleman Barks' The Essential Rumi has sold over 500.000 copies. Perhaps not so strange that Rumi also catches on in our time when his poetic stanzas can be translated as follows:

I'm drunk and you're crazy

Who will lead us home?

In 1998, Madonna starred on new age guru Deepak Chopra's CD A Gift of Love. Deepak & Friends Present Music Inspired By The Love Poems Of Rumi, along with Goldie Hawn and Demi Moore, among others. The sales success was so great that the sequel came in 2002, with new readings of names such as Antonio Banderas, Lisa Bonet and Melanie Griffith.

Madonna's contribution was "Bittersweet", including this excerpt:

I saw myself as the source of existence

I was there in the beginning

And I was the spirit of love

Now I'm sober

There is only the hangover

And the memory of love

And only the sorrow

This excerpt from a ghazal, the Sufis poem form, in many ways summarizes Rumi's universal philosophy of life: the almost pantheistic quest for meaning in existence. The individual's reconciliation with himself, and thus also with the higher powers, or to use Rumi's own words within this Gnostic-like Sufi movement within Islam: "I want One, I know One, I see One, I call on One."

Rumi has strangely understood what few other poets or philosophers have been able to: To be perceived as eternal. Paradoxically, using their most timeless lyrics. Both Rumi's universal philosophy, religious brotherhood, gender equality and boundless love message seem to catch on at the entrance of the 21. century.

It's no coincidence that the female cultural personalities were in the majority on Chopra's Rumi CDs. Nor does Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel laureate from 2003, in his noble speech just thanks Rumi for the "humanitarian culture" for which he has been an advocate, which has made "Iranian civilization and culture permeated and filled with human love , respect for the lives, beliefs and beliefs of others… ”

Both Rumi's upbringing, work and reception history have been influenced by the women's deep influence. It was his grandmother, Princess of Khorasan in today's Afghanistan, who trained his father to become "the learned sultan". Rumi's mother, Mumine Khatun, became a Sufi saint and her grave a pilgrimage where she is buried in Karaman, Turkey. Sister Fatima Khatun became a highly regarded philosopher who taught men in philosophy and became a consultant on legal issues.

When Rumi was seven years old, the family had to flee westward into the Persian Seljuk kingdom, away from the Afghan hometown of Balkh because of attacks by the Genghis Khan's forces. After visiting both Baghdad and Mecca, he came to 3. May 1228, 20 years old, to Konya in today's Turkey. Here Rumi married Kerra Khatun, who was known as one of the region's foremost mystics.

Together they had a daughter, Melika Khatun, who became instrumental in continuing her father's philosophical legacy through the Mevlani movement – known for her swirling dervishes, who with their pirouettes try to reach the highest truth. Perhaps the most important heir to Rumi's philosophy was, as Camilla Adams Heminski points out in Women of Sufism (2003), his disciple and close friend in Konya: Fahrunnissa.

The female influence has also obviously influenced Rumi's writings. If you read Masnavi's main work, you can see the women's perspective several times. In the story "The lover who read sonatas to his mistress", the girl turns out to be so demanding that she does not get satisfied even when the man has spent the time writing her poems to pay homage to her wisdom and beauty. She says: "It is not part of a true lover to waste time this way. This shows that I am not the true object of your love, but that what you really love is your own shedding and ecstatic delights. ”

And she continues: "It's like I'm in Bulgaria and your love is in China."

Here we can also see the large geographical span of the world citizen Rumi had. He himself traveled from present-day Afghanistan in the east to Turkey in the west, while his tales were also about Greeks and Chinese who meet in the gloom about building the most beautiful house in the world.

In practice, he lived up to the statement made to him:

I am not a Christian, Jew, Zoroaster or Muslim;

I am not eastern or western, or from land or sea:

Not from nature or heaven, not from India, China, Bulgaria, Saqsuin, Iraq or Khorosan.

My place is the placeless: My sign is no sign.

Significantly, representatives from all known religions also came to pay tribute to Rumi at his death in Konya in 1273. 800 years after his birth, this year's events in Europe, the United States and India show that Rumi's brotherly philosophy is still alive. And that even Nokia has a slogan in its spirit: Connecting people.



■ Born 30. September 1207 in Balkh, Afghanistan. Dead 17. December 1273 in Konya, Turkey.

■ The whole name is Mavlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi.

■ Poet, philosopher and music-maker in Sufism. Creator of the Mevlevi order.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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