Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi

acrylic, ink and collage on canvas
40" x 30"
Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi

"What is to be done, O Muslims? For I myself do not know whether I am a Christian, a Jew, a Jabr or a Muslim?"

Jalal al-Din Rumi (c. 1207-73) is a lodestar around which Sufism turns. A timeless thinker, he wrote the greatest amount of lyric poetry in the Persian language, as well as penning the massive epic, the Mathnavi. Translated as "The Mathnavi Devoted to the Intrinsic Meaning of all Things," the Masnavi has often been referred to as the 'Quran-e Farsee' i.e., "The Persian Qur'an." Like Moses de Leon's Zohar to medieval Judaism, Rumi's Mathnavi became known for many as the most important book in Islam, after the Qu'ran. Rumi's poetry has had such universal appeal that he is today the best selling poet in the United States!

Rumi's father, was one of Balkh's (Afghanistan) leading theologians and mystics, and Rumi himself began his career as a preacher and theologian. But after the family was forced to flee the Mongol invasion, eventually settling near Konya, in Turkey, he turned to Sufism. By the time of his death, Rumi had become one of the most important Sufi practitioners in all of Islam. His followers formed the Mevlevi order of dervishes, sometimes known in the West as the "whirling dervishes," after their dance that emulates the movement of planets on their journey of spiritual fulfillment.

Perhaps Rumi's most important influence on the history of Jewish/Sufism was his open-mindedness to and respect for the belief systems of all religions, as evinced in the above quote. This attitude, which emanated from the man and his teachings, helped permeate later medieval Sufism, further opening avenues between Sufis and Jews in Spain, Egypt and the Holy land.

In addition to this general legacy, there was specific influence between Jews and the teachings of Rumi. Shabbateans, 17th century Jewish heretics who had strong ties to Sufism, as well as strongly influencing the direction of the Baal Shem Tov and Hasidism, included certain Sufi poems and tales in their mystical litanies, such as those by Rumi, whose work was translated into Hebrew, helping infiltrate these beautiful Sufic messages into the later pre-Hasidic Jewish mysticism.