Islamic Perspectives

The whirling dervish and the Sufi message of love

F.I. Choudhury


He inspired and established sufism as a cult that believes love is the language of life and with devotion one has to try to merge oneself with the Absolute, the True Beloved, to attain eternal bliss:

 At last you have departed and gone to the Unseen.

What marvellous route did you take from this world?

Beating your wings and feathers,

you broke free from this cage.

Rising up to the sky

you attained the world of the soul.

He was the 13th century’s Persian poet Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi. Considered to be a great sufi, he advocated abolition of fear-based religious orders and a life-journey free from fear, guilt and shame. He believed in the journey of pure love. Centuries after his death his mystical poem exalting desire for the eternity continues to attract people. His poems of love transcend all boundaries and religious divisions.

Not Christian,nor Jew nor Muslim, not Hindu

Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion

or culture. Am not from the East

or the West, ……. I do not exist……

In Turkey, where Rumi lived and died, he is revered as the founder of the “Mevlevi Order”, where sufis whirl into joyful merger with the Absolute. These whirling dervish by revolving in harmony with nature- alongwith the smallest particles and stars in the sky testifies to the existence and majesty of the Almighty Creator, thinks of Him, thanks Him and prays before Him. Whirling, known sama’ is a form of deeply involved spiritual exercise, a ritual that sufis practise all over the world.

 I died as a mineral and became a plant,

I died as plant and rose to animal,

I died as animal and I was Man………..

………….Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar

With angels blessed; but even from angelhood

I must pass on: all except God doth perish......

Sufism can be understood as a way of life that involves loving fellow beings, winning over ego, or falsehood, renouncing earthly pleasure to finally reach the unseen Almighty.

His Masnavi, considered to be one of the masterpieces of Persian language contains nearly 25,000 verses dealing with mystical experiences and drawing oneself closer to true love with the unseen.

Lovers find secret places

inside this violent world

where they make transactions

with beauty.

Displacement and extensive travel to escape the Mongol invasion was a learning experience for him. He was a scholar and theologian, but a chance meeting with the mystic Shams Tabriz at the age of 37changed his life. Their intense relationship transformed and initiated him into the world of mysticism. But sudden disappearance of Shams made Rumi’s life lonely and painful, which he described in thousands of his poem dedicated to Shams and the Almighty.

 Those who don’t feel this Love

pulling them like a river,

those who don’t drink dawn

like a cup of spring water

or take in sunset like supper,

those who don’t want to change…

Many scholars interpreted their fascinating relationship as an example to open one’s heart to another human, in order to open one’s heart to the unseen Almighty, the path of sufism.

 The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes

Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries. 

In a span of 25 years, Rumi composed over 70,000 verses, which are deeply philosophical and mystical with soulful expression of passionate love. Filled with yearning and desire, his poems reflect the cry of a chained soul yearning for freedom.

He is the best-selling poet in America today. UNESCO issued a memento in his name in 2006.

I am not the hair. I am not the skin.

I am the soul that lives within.

Rumi’s death anniversary, 17th December, is celebrated as Wedding Night (Urs) in Turkey, a celebration of the sufi belief that after death they attain union with the Almighty, the Ultimate Beloved. His life is a true message of love. At a time when religious intolerance is growing, Rumi’s poems tell us how beautiful and passionate it can be to love one and that loving a fellow being is nothing but a path to loving God.