If I live, I’m the Qur‘an’s servant evermore,
I’m the dirt of Muhammad ﷺ the chosen one’s door.
If someone attributes to me anything more,
both the person and what they have said, I abhor!
-Moulana Rumi, Quatrain 1330, translation by @persianpoetrics
Rumi was Muslim
After all, his name was ‘Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī’ and he wore the turban of Islamic knowledge, like his father before him - but if you read him in most English translations, it wouldn’t be so clear.
Though this is unanimously accepted by Rumi scholars, there is a common misconception that Rumi was either not Muslim, or a heterodox Muslim on the fringes of Islam - this could not be further from the truth.
But why does such a misconception emerge?
If you wanted to learn more about Rumi you would Google search him - this is where the problem begins. Look what you're greeted with when you google ‘Rumi’:
There he is, the 13th century poet Moulana, or is it?
That’s alright, it’s just a mistake by Google - but what if you wanted to read Rumi’s work? You click on the ‘books’ tab in the search bar:
Or you check Amazon:
Or you search eBay:
All three searches yield books by the same author: Coleman Barks - the ‘Rumi’ that most English-speakers know is a product of his imagination.
Barks does not know Persian or Arabic and has no qualification to translate medieval Islamic poetry. But that didn’t stop him from publishing over a dozen ‘translations’:
Despite his lack of qualifications, Barks managed to establish himself as a ‘scholar’ of Rumi’s poetry, and he’s described as the foremost ‘expert’ and ‘translator’ of Moulana’s works.
These books are largely responsible for the prevalence of quotes falsely attributed to Rumi all over social media:
Coleman’s ‘Rumi quotes’ have become part of American pop culture, take this one from ‘The Essential Rumi’ (page 36):
Ivanka Trump tweeted it after her father’s administration ailed attempt to make peace in Afghanistan (ironically, her father wouldn’t let Rumi into the United States if he were alive today):
Brad Pitt even got it tattooed (right by his pit):
After quite a bit of research, we were able to track down the source of the quote Barks ‘translated.’ Here is the original Persian and a more literal English translation by @sharghzadeh:
Now, let’s compare Barks’ ‘translation’ with ours:
Coleman Barks translation:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn't make any sense.
Barks’ version has erased the Islamic context and secularized the poem, reducing it to a vague, almost meaningless new-age platitude.
Now take this second example, a quote we found online:
We trace it back to - you guessed it - our friend Coleman. It’s in his book ‘Open Secret: Versions of Rumi’
Again, after much research, I was able to track down the source of this ‘translation,’ here is my translation:
Compare my translation with Barks’ rendering:
Coleman Barks translation:
If you don't have a woman that lives with you, why aren't you looking?
If you have one, why aren't you satisfied?