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The roar of Rumi - 800 years on

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    Rumi made Sufi mysticism popular (Courtesy: Haydar Hatemi) The roar of Rumi - 800 years on By Charles Haviland BBC News, Balkh, northern Afghanistan
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2007
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      Rumi made Sufi mysticism popular (Courtesy: Haydar Hatemi)

      The roar of Rumi - 800 years on
      By Charles Haviland
      BBC News, Balkh, northern Afghanistan

      For many years now, the most popular poet in America has been a
      13th-century mystical Muslim scholar.

      Translations of Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi's - better known as Rumi -
      verse are hugely popular and have been used by Western pop stars such
      as Madonna.

      They are attracted by his tributes to the power of love and his belief
      in the spiritual use of music and dancing - although scholars stress
      that he was talking about spiritual love between people and God, not
      earthly love.

      Rumi, whose 800th birth anniversary falls on Sunday, was born in 1207
      in Balkh in Central Asia, now part of Afghanistan.

      I came here to see whether he has much resonance in his native country
      which, under the Taleban, went so far as to ban music.

      Still standing

      A young Afghan archaeologist, Reza Hosseini, took me to the ruins of
      the mud-and-brick-built khanaqa - a kind of madrassa or religious
      school - where Rumi's father taught and the young boy is believed to
      have studied, lying just outside the old mud city walls and probably
      within yards of his birthplace.

      It is a quiet and melancholy place, the structure eroded and
      encroached on by shrubs and bushes.

      An amazing amount of the madrassa is still surprisingly intact

      But an amazing amount of it is still standing - the square structure,
      its four arches with pointed tops, in the Islamic style, and half of
      the graceful dome.

      Mr Hosseini says the floor was originally constructed of baked bricks
      and lined with carpets donated by those who came to share the learning.

      Sufism - or Islamic mysticism - was already enshrined here before
      Rumi's time and Mr Hosseini imagines that this corner of the town, by
      the madrassa, would have echoed to the sound of Sufi singing and prayer.

      But, he says, it is unclear how widespread, or acceptable, practices
      such as music and dance were in the wider population.

      When Rumi was barely out of his teens, Balkh was reduced to rubble by
      Genghis Khan's marauding Mongol invaders.

      Rumi had fled in advance with his family and settled in Konya, now in

      After the murder of his close friend, a Persian wandering dervish
      called Shams-i-Tabriz, he was depressed for years but later wrote his
      greatest poetic work, the Mathnawi.

      It describes the soul's separation from God and the mutual yearning to

      With his injunctions of tolerance and love, he has universal appeal,
      says Abdul Qadir Misbah, a culture specialist in the Balkh provincial

      "Whether a person is from East or West, he can feel the roar of Rumi,"
      he says.

      Great love

      "When a religious scholar reads the Mathnawi, he interprets it
      religiously. And when sociologists study it, they say how powerful a
      sociologist Rumi was. When people in the West study it, they see that
      it's full of emotions of humanity."

      The Sufi mystical tradition is not immediately apparent in modern

      But with Mr Hosseini's help, I traced a small group of eight Sufi
      musicians in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif whose great love is Rumi's poetry.

      First there is a solo from Rumi's favoured instrument, the reed flute.

      Mr Hosseini says Sufism was enshrined in Balkh before Rumi

      Then the flute player is joined by Mohammed Zakir, usually a
      shopkeeper, who fills the room with his powerful voice in interpreting
      the words "I'm a man who's not afraid of love; I'm a moth who's not
      afraid of burning".

      In the third song, all the men join in with an extraordinary,
      percussive vocal sound which, Mr Zakir says, comes straight from the
      heart. It continues for nearly 10 intense minutes.

      I meet Professor Abdulah Rohen, a local expert on the poet, who says
      that, regrettably, knowledge of Rumi - also known as Mawlana - has
      declined recently.

      "Forty years ago the economic situation of the people was good. People
      would work in the summer time collecting food and would eat it in
      winter. In winter they were free. They would gather in mosques and
      sing Mawlana's poems.


      "But in the past 10 or 15 years people's economic situation has
      deteriorated, so they are far from Mawlana."

      He says the advent of communism in Afghanistan brought poetry into
      disfavour because it was seen as backward-looking.

      The reed flute was Rumi's favourite instrument

      Then the Taleban attempted to crush Sufism and outlawed all music, but
      Prof Rohen says it has since regained huge popularity.

      According to him, Rumi brought Sufi mysticism away from asceticism and
      into the heart of the people.

      Many western fans of Rumi have secularised his message.

      It was in fact a religious one; and, says Prof Rohen, Christians and
      Jews as well as Muslims flocked to his funeral.

      I ask him to sum up the poet's message and he offers a quote.

      "Mawlana says - if the sky is not in love, then it will not be so
      clear. If the sun is not in love, then it will not be giving any
      light. If the river is not in love, then it will be in silence, it
      will not be moving. If the mountains, the earth are not in love, then
      there will be nothing growing."



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