In turbulent times, the mystic's 
balm for the anguished soul

The one great mystic, who has significantly impacted universal consciousness following 9/11 is the legendary Jalaluddin Rumi of Balkh, Afghanistan (he later migrated to nearby Iran). The new millennium has witnessed many a turbulent incident, one after another and Rumi's poetry offers solace each time, not being limited only to the precincts of Islam.

Choon izafat unmi raftam ya'an un bilam/ Mee sha'ztam yeen az afaaq uz'dilam.

(Written in Pahlavi, the precursor to modern Persian, in 1237, Rumi exhorts people not to lose hope and faith as better days are on the anvil). It's worthwhile to mention that Rumi saw many ups and downs in life, including wars and pandemics ravage the world.

The decade from 1240 to 1250 was specifically miserable for mankind, with wars, pandemics, bloodshed and plague and Rumi said tellingly: 'Ya wastam lee haz faseelam buland, namudaar-e-khursheed roshan jahan az'. Masterfully translated by Faiz Ahmad Faiz in these words: Raat kitna bhi kare apni faseelon ko buland/ Subha hogi toh har ghar mein ujala hoga (Let the night erect tall walls/When the sun will rise, every home will see the light).

One remembers Rumi's profoundly prophetic words, especially in the current Indian context: Tee abza nee kaar, de az be nakaar (When you've pressing issues to attend to, you indulge in all sorts of frivolity). Readers, you have got the allusion, I needn't elaborate further.

Religious intolerance is at its pinnacle at the moment. Here's Rumi's take on it from 800 years ago: Aqeedam nafeesam yan shudam izbaaqeen/ Mee awaam iftikharaan-e-vihazeen

(Kings and courtiers always create an issue of religion and get the masses busy in this pettiness).

So very true. In today's context, kings and courtiers are the ministers and politicians who trigger a religious issue and the collectively foolish masses indulge in it. Mind you, certain things and trends never change and remain active in all ages and eras, like politics and religion.

Rumi's universal poetry must be contextualised to understand and take a lesson from. American scholar and an 'authority' on Rumi, Coleman Barks opines in his book Rumi that to restore sanity and a sense of propriety at a universal level, neither religious studies nor scriptures shall help mankind. What will come to the rescue of beleaguered humanity is the calming prophetic poetry of Rumi, a balm for the frayed nerves.

Even a maverick like the German iconoclast Nietzsche, who never considered any other human or ideology worth considering, said of Rumi, 'The world in the gutter needs Rumi to come out of it.' Indeed, the world is in the pits and it needs Rumi's sublime poetry now, more than ever.

When Rumi says, 'Raqsdaza be'ast, duniya im' jaavidan' (Let pandemics come, the mankind will go on), it gives one the goosebumps to think how he could have envisaged this almost a millennium ago? But then, great poetry is prophecy and a poet is a prophet (Sukhanvari payambari ast - Dr Muhammad Iqbal).

Even after centuries, the relevance of Rumi hasn't diminished. Rather, it has increased manifold. We're living in dangerous times, practically on the precipice and are walking on a razor's edge, precariously. Only by reading and imbibing the essence and spirit of Rumi's everlasting poetry, can we all hope to come out of this Stygian darkness of decadence, despondence and despair.

Finally, 'Dee afzan gham massarat nazdeek/ Mahav-e-anjum shab nee taareek ' (Rumi's last couplet in Pashto before he shuffled off the mortal coil on December 17, 1273, in Konya in Turkey). Let me give its rendition through an already existing couplet in Urdu:

Gham jab had se zyada ho, khushi nazdeek hoti hai/ Chamakte hain sitare, raat jab tareek hoti hai (When the sorrow comes to a pass, happiness is on the cards/ Stars glitter when the night is the darkest). Time to remember this fabulous poet to find meaning in our quotidian existence in this wretched world.

The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.

(To download our E-paper please click here. The publishers permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal