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Contextualizing Rumi

Semeen Ali

By Annemarie Schimmel . Translated by Paul Bergne
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 124, Rs. 395.00


The book is a part of the series—Makers of Islamic Civilization and as the Series Editor has mentioned in the book—‘…the aim is to provide an introduction to outstanding figures in the history of Islamic civilization…’ Having said that, the book written by Annemarie Schimmel is a comprehensive introduction to one of the best known Persian poets and Sufi mystics Mawlânâ Jalâl-ad-Dîn Muhammad Rûmî or Rumi, as known to the western world.   Schimmel begins with putting the work by Rumi in the present context and trying to understand the relevance and the misinterpretations that his poetry has been subjected in recent times. It is not easy to understand his poetry nor can it be reduced to love between two people as can be misconstrued while reading his works. The book progresses in a chronological order to help the readers understand his life as well as the circumstances that shaped him and his thought processes. The first chapter traces his birth and his ancestors. It is his meeting with Shams-i-Tabriz which is the central point in Rumi’s life. It is his leaving that makes a poet out of Rumi and Schimmel points out that Shams’s name appears at the end of hundreds of ghazals composed by Rumi. His mourning for the loss of his friend led him to compose 40,000 lyric verses, including odes, eulogies, quatrains, and other styles of Islamic poetry that resulted in Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi or The Works of Shams Tabriz. Although how the meeting of the two minds creates such a powerful form of expression is not discussed in much detail in this book, it is interesting to read about the relationship that Rumi and Shams shared in the book The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. Though the book is based on popular thought rather than scholarly Sufism, it is nonetheless a useful insight into the times as well as the relationship between the two individuals. Baha al-Din Muhammad-i-Walad, more popularly known as Sultan Walad, was the eldest son of Rumi and finds a mention in Schimmel’s book more than any other person—he is the one who was sent by Rumi to find Shams when he disappeared and was responsible for the whirling dance form adopted by the Mevlevis. He gives a formal organization to the sema. Sema acts as a symbol of Rumi’s work—...

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