“The ‘sickness’ of the lover is distinct from other illnesses.

Love is the astrolabe of the secrets of God.”

(Rumi, Masnavi)

Heralded as a great thinker and poet, and relevant 800 years later, Rumi is a favorite amongst many Americans. His verses are plastered on watercolor paintings and hung in the homes of many, ultimately immortalizing his legacy. Rumi spent much of his life learning about Islam; his father was an Islamic scholar, he spent some time in Syria studying Islamic legal codes and was even a seminary teacher in Turkey. More notably, his mentor and great friend Sham e Tabriz taught Rumi fundamental Sufi ideas, which is apparent in his poetry. As a Sufi, Rumi put a heavy emphasis on mindfulness, or Muraqabah: meditating and contemplating the individual’s connection to Allah, being in tune with creation’s connection to Allah or more divine power and the human connection to the systems and flows in the natural environment, which is, essentially, an Islamic ideal. 

Thus, I always wondered why a Western nation steeped in stereotypes and assumptions about minority groups such as Muslims had put a Muslim poet on a pedestal. And, more importantly, why is Rumi’s identity never discussed or acknowledged? The reason Rumi’s poetry is popular in Western dialogues is that it touches on ideas of mindfulness through metaphors of deep, everlasting love. However, in Sufi poetry traditionally, these metaphors are commonly used in comparison to one’s relationship with Allah, emphasizing the idea of experiencing fulfillment through one’s love for Allah. Today’s translations of Rumi’s poetry leave out this quintessential Islamic connection because it doesn’t fit into the accepted narrative. However, Rumi was a Sufi Muslim, and Sufi Islamic theology was the main focus of his writings. 

For my extended essay (a 4,000-word essay per the International Baccalaureate coursework), I decided to learn more about the Islamic influences in Rumi’s works and that of his successors. I chose to write about trends present in Sufi Islamic poetry over time, analyzing the figurative language in three different Sufi poets: Rumi; Allama Iqbal, an Indian poet who inspired the partition between India and Pakistan; and Danial Abdal-Hayy Moore, a current Sufi poet who derives his message from his experience as a Muslim convert. Particularly, I focused on the idea of muraqabah. Working to cultivate muraqabah can strengthen the connection between the individual and Allah, which Rumi, Iqbal and Moore all mentioned in their literature.

Staying true to my exploration of mindfulness, the essay forced me to spend long hours reflecting on the idea of mindfulness (particularly in the shower). After typing the 4,000th word, I let out a sigh of relief. I felt satisfied with my work, believing I had effectively communicated my ideas. 

Six months later, I received my score for the essay, which was lower than I expected. I was disappointed, but only momentarily, because through this essay, I felt I had creative freedom for the first time. I relished my journey through each poem and my newly-founded relationship with muraqabah and my spiritual state. I gained a greater appreciation for poetry, Sufi ideology and myself. Despite the looming score, I’m proud of the essay and the message behind it. I pointed out the connections between the words and muraqabah in Rumi’s poems and those of his successors. I argued that this core idea is present, was always present and will be present in the lines, forever, for if it is Sufi poetry, then the language is derived from the author’s intuitive connection with Allah. 

Each poem I mentioned introduced a new perspective to me of how to view my place in this world and my position before Allah. Rumi showed me that love and Allah are inextricably tied together, and one cannot function without the other. Iqbal’s insights empowered me to be mindful of the control I have over my actions while retaining my connection with Allah. Moore illuminated to me the importance of being mindful of the interconnectedness with the world and Allah.

Though my grade on the piece could have controlled me, I chose how it would affect me, solidifying destiny for myself. Indeed, the score is an indication that I had not been writing with perfect clarity and that I had not properly implemented a structure to the piece. But it also indicates what I gained from my journey with mindfulness and poetry, which I will always cherish. My favorite verse mentioned in the essay is from the book “Bal e Jibril” in Urdu — or “Wing of Gabriel” — by Allama Iqbal. The verse inspires the reader to take charge of themselves and develop confidence. The speaker imagines a direct conversation with Allah, solidifying control over their destiny. 

 

“Develop the self so that before every decree 

God will ascertain from you: ‘What is your wish?’

It is nothing to talk about if I transform base selves into gold:

The passion of my voice is the only alchemy I know!”

(Iqbal, Bal e Jibril)

 

 

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