Monday, November 07, 2005

Living Through Love

It comes as some surprise to discover that the best selling poet of the '90's in the US was a C13th Muslim cleric who taught sharia law in a madrasa: Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi.

William Dalrymple in the Guardian points out some of the ironies surrounding the popularity of Rumi in the West where his verses are " mouthed by such spiritual luminaries as Madonna, Goldie Hawn and Demi Moore" and available in the form of a self-help audiobook: while in the East his work has been entirely neglected. There is no accessible modern edition of his work in contemporary Turkish, while the order of sufi dervishes that Rumi belonged to is outlawed and the open practice of the Sufi mysticism that Rumi represented can still technically result in a seven-month prison sentence.

Rumi was heretical enough to believe that God can "best be reached through the gateway of the heart", that you do not necessarily need ritual to get to Him, and that He is equally accessible to all creeds.

"My religion is to live through love" he said.

Dalrymple says:
It all adds up to an archetypal - if unusually poignant - case of east-west misunderstanding: a west earnestly looking eastwards for an ancient spiritual wisdom, which it receives through the filter of sexed-up translations that most Persian scholars regard as seriously flawed, and which recreate a Rumi wholly divorced from his Islamic context; while in the east, a Republican Turkish government anxious to integrate Turkey with Europe bans Rumi's Sufi brotherhood as part of its attempt to embrace a west it perceives as rational, industrial, intolerant of superstition and somehow post-mystical.
Here are lines I love from a Rumi poem called Spring Giddiness :
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


Has said...

Listen to the way
this reed flute grieves,
telling stories of its separations
--Rumi, Masnavi

Anisah said...

I saw the documentary by Dalrymple on Channel 4 last night.

My opinion of the documentary is that it is a good effort worthy of recognition. My only lament, which in no way should be taken as a condemnation (such a harsh word!) is that it could have been better researched.

May I suggest a chapter in Ziauddin Sardar's recent book, "Desperately Seeking Paradise", which I think gives an excellent, well covered overview of sufism to both uninitiated readers of Islam and sufism and Muslims who are or aren't familiar with sufism.

Fiona1 said...

Reading this brings to mind two incidences when I was in Istanbul. The first was a graduates forum held in a hotel for exchange students like me in Kumburgaz and the discussion was about Turkey and the European Union. I remembered thinking how sad it is that Turkey had to discard its history and religious identity to be accepted by a bunch of instituitionalists.
The second was a dervish dance which I went to once - all the dancers were both men and women - and they all looked European to me.

Anonymous said...

Hey I saw the documentary too, though it was more on the music rather than on sufi practices. My very awake 2 year old enjoyed it, nodding her head in time to the music - old sufi soul, as mom kept nodding off - it was midnight!

Agree with Anisah - wish there was more meat.

Sharon, Rumi is popular, but I love Hafiz more. Try him sometime.

Animah, back from UK

bibliobibuli said...

thanks has, anisah, fiona, animah for adding to the little I knew ... for making me sad that I didn't manage to see the documentary ... and especially for nthe further reading recommendations ...

Anonymous said...

It is funny isn't it, how we assume muslims to be dark and tanned. The idea of a caucasian muslim is somehow "wrong".. no idea why that is.

bibliobibuli said...

anonymous - you're right about that. and my turkish muslim friends are caucasian ...

Anisah said...

Anon, the idea of white, Caucasian Muslims, not one or two who embraced Islam, but a whole community, a whole tradition, a whole world view of Caucasian Muslims, European Muslims. That's what Tariq Ramadhan, Swiss philosopher has been telling Muslim and non-Muslim Europeans. To Muslim European, white, black, or brown, he said something along the lines of, "Do not shy away and think of your religion as an immigrant in a host country; Islam is as much European as Christianity is." In my opinion, he is right. Think of Andalucia, where the majority of Muslim Andalucians were white Spaniards, only a minority were of Arab/Berber origins. There are also small former kingdoms in Russia's Caucasus regions, who had been Muslims for 800 or more years. Yes, those Russian republics that are now riddled with sniper bullets from both separatists and the Russian military. The fact that the largest mosque in Europe is in Kazan, which enjoys very high autonomy within the Russian federation, of white Muslim majority, and not fighting a blood separatist campaign never reach headlines. Compare that with the arrival of Christianity in certain parts of Scandinavia at about the same time. This is not a religious argument for or against any religion, but I suppose a request for changing the common perception of people.

Muslims love, or perhaps prefer to take the view that the West took pains to wipe out the history of contributions made my Muslims, including in Europe. Whilst that is not entirely untrue for the last 500 years, I prefer to view it as Muslims don't really know part of their history very well. Going from the general to the specific, the Malaysian history syllabus for Form 4 dwells more on the Abbasid dynasty taking over from the Umayyads. Islamic civilisation history then goes on to talk about the Abbasid capital in Damascus and its achievements. The amount of attention paid to the Umayyads in Andalucia and their achievements do not commensurate with the achievements there. It certainly is less than the recognition given to Andalucia by Western historians now!

Mustafa Ceric, mufti of Bosnia, when he was in Britain as part of a seminar to encourage British Muslims to be more European and less Pakistan-centric, or Nigeria-centric, or Bangladesh-centric, etc., said, "I am proud that Islam defines my European patriotism." The last quote can be read in its context from the BBC news report here

My apologies, Sharon for blabbing on with a longish comment. As a peace offering, I can record a documentary aired on British TV for you. Just give me advance warning by way of emailing me.

Anisah said...

I beg your pardon, the Abbasids moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad. Their capital was not in Damascus as was previously typed. It's a sign that my work-day should come to an end fairly soon. My apologies for the mistake.

bibliobibuli said...

Your "blabbing on" was enjoyable Anisah. I sincerely thank you for it. Thanks too for the offer to record something for me ... might take you up on that. (If the Rumi programme is ever repeated ...)