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.

Mawlana Rumi, Quatrain 1183, translation Muhammad Ali Mojaradi.

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 on other social media. If you are able, you can contribute financially via Paypal or join our website.

Question: I don’t know Persian, what are some accurate Rumi translations?

Answer: My forthcoming book.

Question: What translations should I avoid?

Answer: Books written by Coleman Barks and other translators who do not know Persian. Be very cautious of translations that do not include references to the original Persian text. 

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 Persian poetry, and are usually understood as strictly metaphorical by Sufis. 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?

Short Answer: The vast majority of self-identified Sufis are practicing Muslims, and Sufism is part of Islam. Islamic scholars consider Sufism one of the sciences of Islam, along with fiqh (jurisprudence), ḥadīth (sayings of the Prophet ), kalām (theology), etc. Whether or not Sufism was Islamic, or if Sufis are true Muslims was never a question in the past. The current debate and misperception are a product of orientalism, the misreading of heterodox metaphors (like wine) in Sufi poetry, and the presentation of Sufism in the West.

Long Answer: This perception began to emerge centuries ago when orientalists—already assuming Islam is barbaric, backward, and superficial—were confronted with the Sufi tradition. Instead of rethinking their perception of Islam, they concluded that Sufism was a pre-Islamic religion wearing an Islamic robe, as such a tradition couldn't be truly Islamic. That is, Sufism is profound despite Islam, not because of it.

Centuries later, this trend persists, but in different circumstances. Sufism has been exported to the West—by Muslims and non-Muslims—as a New-Age spirituality, an item in a large buffet of Eastern religions to pick and choose from (all divorced from their contexts). These Western-adapted Sufi groups have often diverged from or removed Islamic law entirely, effectively presenting Sufism as a universalist or perennial spiritual practice. Furthermore, some Muslim movements (such as Salafis) have diverged from the Islamic tradition and now consider Sufis deviant Muslims at best, or polytheists (mushrikūn) and apostates (kuffār) at worst.

Despite all of this, Sufism was and is part of Islam. Every Sufi order (ṭārīqā) traces its spiritual lineage (silsila) back to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ via his honored progeny (ahl al-bayt) and later Sufi saints (awliā’). Furthermore, the founders of all major Sufi orders (Qādiriyya, Chishtiyya, Naqshbandiyya, Shādhiliyya, Mawlawiyya, etc) were all leading Islamic scholars.

For a more detailed analysis, see ‘Is orthodox Islam possible without Sufism?’ by Shaykh Abd al-Ḥakīm Murād (Dr. Timothy Winter).

Question: Why do Sufis do things that go against the sharī‘a (Islamic law)?

Answer: Although some who claim to be Sufis have diverged from Islamic law, the large majority of Sufis have not. Judging a vast tradition based on a minority of non-normative groups or practices would be akin to a non-Muslim stereotyping Muslims as terrorists because of the actions of a small minority.

Question: Why do Sufis play music, isn’t that haram?

Answer: The primary instrument in Sufi zikr (remembrance of God) is the daf drum, which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was fond of. The daf was played to celebrate his arrival in Madīna, as well as the marriage of Sayyidunā Ali and Sayyida Fātima al-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 ʿAbd al-Ḥakīm Murād (Dr. Timothy Winter).

Question: Were Rumi and Shams engaged in a homosexual relationship?

Short Answer: There is no evidence that their relationship was sexual.

Long Answer: While it is possible that Rumi and Shams-i Tabrīzī experienced same-sex attraction, there’s no indication that their relationship was sexual. There was already an established tradition of writing homoerotic poetry (in both Arabic and Persian) by Rumi’s time. Given this context, one would assume that if Rumi did feel romantic interest in Shams he could have written about it as others had.

Rumi and Shams lived in a vastly different world. Our modern understanding of identities—whether sexual, national, ethnic, or cultural— did not exist at the time. Even if Rumi and Shams had a sexual relationship, calling them ‘gay’ would be an anachronistic imposition of modern, western sexuality identity on the medieval Turco-Persian Muslim world.

The Western reader may wonder: If Rumi’s writing is simply a platonic veneration of an ustād (teacher) by a murīd (aspirant, disciple), why is the poetry packed with romantic language? The answer lies in the culture: Muslims often express platonic love in ways that are perceived as sexual in Western cultures. Muslims men refer to one another as ḥabībī, jānam, or ʿazīzam (variations of ‘my dear’ or ‘my love’). Heterosexual Muslim men often kiss, hold hands, or even cuddle, these actions are not sexual.

Ultimately, the insistence that Rumi and Shams were gay is a presentist, Western-centric, and orientalist understanding of Rumi’s poetry. Furthermore one should ask: if Rumi and Shams were gay, is that relevant to the lessons they teach us? If Rumi were alive, would he want us to reflect on his teachings, or speculate about his sexuality?

Question: Did Rumi apostatize (lose faith in) Islam, abandon his previous understanding of Islam, or abandon the sharīʿa (Islamic law) after meeting Shams?

Answer: Secular Muslims or ex-Muslims often claim that Rumi was once a legalistic cleric (imagining him as an Ayatullah or Mufti of today) who abandoned Islamic law after encountering Shams. This narrative attempts to reconcile the self-hating Muslim or ex-Muslim’s internalized Islamophobia with their love for Rumi’s poetry. 

This claim is unsubstantiated: Rumi’s poems and sermons indicate he remained a practicing Muslim after his encounter with Shams. His poetry is full of references to obligatory rituals (prayer, fasting, pilgrimage) and quotes directly taken or paraphrased from the Qur’ān and ḥadīth literate. Furthermore, it would be unthinkable for Rumi to openly abandon Islam or the sharīʿa, given the reaction it would draw from his students and society at large. And even if Rumi did stop following the sharīʿa, it would follow that his disciples would do the same, instead, they founded an Islamic Sufi order that emphasizes observance of Islamic law.

Further Reading:

Dar al Masnavi is an excellent resource of all things Rumi, by Mevlevi Shaykh Ibrahim Gamard, the translator of ‘The Quatrains of Rumi.’

‘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.

‘Reading Rumi – The Erasure of Islam from Rumi’ by Zirrar.