Popular but Perilous

On the unhealthy renditions of Mawlana Rumi by Coleman Barks


Shrine of Rumi, Konya (Source: https://sacredsites.com/middle_east/turkey/shrine_of_rumi_konya.html)

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

– Rumi of Balkh or Rumi of Barks?


Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, popular as Rumi in the contemporary times, was a thirteenth-century Islamic scholar, jurist, and mystic, renowned for his copious poetic works in Persian. Though he was born in Balkh in Khurasan in the year 1207, he spent most of his life in Anatolia, present-day Turkey. His father, Baha ad-Din Walad, was a man of great learning and a Sufi, who occupied a high religious office in Konya (in Anatolia) and was crowned with the title of Sultan al-ulama (king of the religious scholars). After the death of his father, Rumi succeeded him in his religious function, however, he officially assumed this role nearly after a decade of study and training. He was also a religious teacher and trained a large number of disciples.[1]


Most famous of his works is the Masnawi-yi Ma‘nawi, translated as The Spiritual Couplets. It is a didactic epic of over twenty-five thousand rhymed couplets, which is comprised of a number of vivid stories, allegories, and anecdotes “interspersed with digressions in which Rumi usually explains the relevance of the stories”[2] to the spiritual path. It is also referred to as “the Quran in Persian”.[3] According to William Chittick,

[…] like the Word of God revealed to the Arabian prophet, [the Masnawi] contains within itself the essence of all knowledge and science (although it goes without saying on a lower level of inspiration). Even on the purely mundane and “academic” level it is a compendium of all of the Islamic sciences, from jurisprudence to astronomy.[4]

Rumi himself asserted the Masnavi to be “the roots of the roots of the roots of religion […] and the explainer of the Quran.”[5] Another major work of his poetry is entitled Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi, translated as The Works of Shams of Tabriz, which is a collection of over forty-thousand lines of ecstatic poetry of three different kinds, namely ghazaliyat (odes), tarji‘at (tarji-bands), and ruba‘iyat (quatrains).[6] The Diwan is named after one of Rumi’s spiritual masters, Shams ad-Din Tabrizi, who is considered to have impacted him in the most decisive manner even though the period of their interaction is recorded to have been brief.