acrylic, ink and collage on canvas
72" x 30"

"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
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
helping infiltrate these beautiful Sufic messages into the later pre-Hasidic
Jewish mysticism.