Don’t come without a daf, we’re in a trance,
we’re al-Hallaj, so play a drum and dance.
We’re drunk, but it’s not grape wine we’ve consumed,
we’re far from whatever you have assumed.
-Moulana Rumi, Quatrain 1183 translation @persianpoetrics
Question: How can I support this project?
Answer: Wherever you see a fabricated or improperly translated Rumi quote, please tag @rumiwasmuslim on Instagram or Twitter, or link www.rumiwasmuslim.com on other social media. If you are able, you can contribute financially in the 'Support Us' tab.
Question: I don't know Persian, what are some accurate Rumi translations?
Answer: Jawid Mojaddedi has completed four of the Masnavi-e Manavi’s six books replicating the rhyme and Rumi's simple style. Alan Williams has translated two of six books in a more literal style, including the original Persian text. Williams’ work is more useful as an aid to those who are studying Persian. Rumi's Quatrains have been translated in full by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi.
Question: What translations should I avoid?
Answer: The Essential Rumi and anything else by Coleman Barks. When choosing any translation, be sure that the work is done by a qualified translator, preferably a native or near-native speaker of the the source language.
Question: What does Rumi mean when he talks about drinking wine or being drunk?
Answer: Wine and drunkenness are among the most common metaphors in Sufi poetry, and in a Sufi context, they are understood as strictly metaphorical. Rumi clarifies this in the last couplet of Quatrain 1183:
We’re drunk, but it's not grape wine we’ve consumed,
we’re far from whatever you have assumed.
and in Ghazal 1371:
O lovers, O lovers, I’ve lost the wine glass.
I’m drunk from the wine not found in a wine glass.
Question: Are Sufis Muslim? Is Sufism part of Islam?
Answer: In the west, Sufism (like other forms of Eastern spirituality) has been reduced to a kind of mindfulness meditation or New Age spirituality, divorced from any context or deeper meaning. Despite this, Sufism is an Islamic phenomenon. Every Sufi order (tariqā) traces it's spiritual lineage (silsila) back to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ via his honored progeny (ahl ul-bayt) and later Sufi saints (awliā‘). Furthermore, the founders of all major Sufi orders (Qāderiyya, Chishtiyya, Naqshbandiyya, Shādheliyya, Moulawiyya, etc) were all scholars and jurists of their respective schools of Islamic though. The misreading of heterodox metaphors in Sufi poetry (like the mention of wine) and the overall orientalist packing and presentation of Sufism in the west has contributed to this misunderstanding.
For a more detailed analysis, see ‘Is orthodox Islam possible without Sufism?’ by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (Dr. Timothy Winter).
Question: Why do Sufis do things that go against the shari‘a (Islamic law)?
Answer: Although some Sufis have diverged from Islamic law, judging the vast Sufi tradition on the basis of some non-mainstream groups or practices would be akin to a non-Muslim stereotyping Muslims as terrorists because of the actions of a select few.
Question: Why do Sufis play music, isn’t that haram?
Answer: The primary instrument in Sufi worship (zekr) is the daf drum, which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was fond of. The daf was played to celebrate his arrival in Medinah, as well as the marriage of Seyyeduna Ali and Seyyeda Fatimah Az-Zahrah. As it relates to the other instruments (such as the reed flute), classical Islamic scholarship has regarded them as permissible so long as they do not incite one’s lower desires.
For a more detailed analysis, see ‘Music in the Islamic Tradition’ by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (Dr. Timothy Winter).
Question: Were Rumi and Shams gay?
Short Answer: There is no evidence for this.
Long Answer: While it is possible that Rumi and Shams-e Tabrizi experienced same-sex attraction, there’s no indication that their relationship was sexual. The world that Rumi and Shams inhabited was vastly different than ours, and our modern understanding of identity - whether sexual, national, ethnic, or cultural - were not developed at the time. It would be anachronistic to impose our modern conceptions of sexuality on the past and call them ‘gay’ even if they did have a romantic relationship (which is completely unknown to us).
Furthermore, this a large body of homoerotic and homosexuality poetry in the Persian canon. Given this context, one would assume that if Rumi did feel romantic interest in Shams, Rumi could have written openly about same-sex attraction. Rather, Rumi’s writing is more likely a an example of a Sufi mureed (aspirant, disciple) venerating their ustād (teacher).
It is normal for men in Muslim cultures to express love in ways that are considered romantic in the West (like by kissing, holding hands, or even cuddling). In Arabic, Persian, Urdu, it is common for men to refer to call one another habibi, jān, or azizam (variations of ‘dear’). In the modern West, nearly all affection between Men is assumed to be sexual, however this is not the case in Muslim cultures. It is lamentable that love and sexuality are so intimately tied in the West, thereby preventing the expression of platonic love between heterosexual men.
Ultimately, the insistence the Rumi and Shams were gay (given the lack of evidence) is a presentist, Western-centric, and orientalist way to understand Rumi’s poetry.
Question: Did Rumi apostatize (lose faith in) Islam, abandon his previous understanding of Islam, or abandon the sharia (Islamic law) after meeting Shams?
Answer: This is a common claim of secular Rumi readers from Muslim countries. This narrative attempts to reconcile the self-hating Muslim or ex-Muslim’s internalized islamophobia with their love for Rumi’s poetry. They concede that Rumi was a (once) traditional Muslim, however they assert that upon encountering Shams and learning the mystical path (which is supposedly not Islamic) Rumi abandoned Muslim and became a free-spirited mystic, unbound by the dogmas of traditional religion. It should go without saying that this narrative is false - there is no indication that Rumi abandoned Islam upon meeting Shams, on the contrary, his poems are full of expressions of his faith in Islam. Furthermore, given his stature and fame (even before meeting Shams) Rumi was in no position to abandon Islam or openly question its orthodoxy. Lastly, if Rumi had abandoned Islam, his disciples would have probably done the same, instead of founding an Islamic Sufi order which lives until today.
Dar al Masnavi is an excellent resource of all things Rumi, by Ibrahim Gamard, the translator of ‘The Quatrains of Rumi.’
All of Moulana Rumi's writings can be found in their original text on Ganjoor.
‘The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi’ by Rozina Ali in the New Yorker.
‘Rumi for the New-Age Soul’ by Kat Thornton for Ajam Media Collective.