"Don’t come to us 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 that and whatever you’ve assumed."
-Moulana Rumi, Quatrain 1183
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.
Question: What translations should I avoid?
Answer: The Essential Rumi and anything else by Coleman Barks, who does not know Persian, and has no classical education or traditional training, or any other type of qualification. 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 that and whatever you’ve assumed."
and in Ghazal 1371:
"O lovers, O lovers, I've lost the wine glass,
I've drunk from the wine that isn't found in any wine glass."
Question: Are Sufis Muslim? Is Sufism part of Islam?
Answer: In the west, Sufism (like many other types 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 single Sufi order traces it's spiritual lineage (silsila) back to the Prophet Muhammad via his honored progeny (the ahlulbayt). Furthermore, the founders of all major Sufi orders (Qāderiyya, Chishtiyya, Naqshbandiyya, Shadheliyya, 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 sharia?
Answer: Although some Sufis have diverged from Islamic practices, 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 himself was fond of. The daf was played to celebrate his arrival in Medinah, as well as the marriage of Seyyeduna Imam 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.
Question: Were Rumi and Shams gay?
Short Answer: There is no evidence for this.
Long Answer: While it is within the realm of possibility that Maulana 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 sexual identity, and all other types of identity (national, 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). This a large body of homoerotic and homosexuality poetry in the Persian canon, if Rumi's relationship with Shams was sexual, he could have expressed than in his Ghazals. Given this context, one would assume that if Rumi did feel romantic interest in Shams, Rumi could have written openly about same-sex attraction. Rumi's writing are a standard example of a Sufi mureed (aspirant, disciple) venerating their ustad (teacher). In the west, it is assumed that all love between men is sexual, however this simply isn't the case in Muslim cultures. In Arabic, Persian, Urdu, it is common for men to refer to call one another Habibi, Jaan, or Azizam (variations of 'dear') or to even hold hands in a platonic context. Simply put, for us, love isn't necessarily sexual. It's sad that love is so sexualized in the west that we cannot conceive of a man writing love poetry for another man without necessarily having a sexual element. The insistence of reading sexuality into Moulana's poetry is another example of the nature of the Orientalist to sexualize the East.
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 hailing from Muslim countries. This narrative attempts to reconcile the self-hating Muslim or ex-Muslim's Islamophobia with their love for Rumi. They concede that Rumi was a traditional Muslim, however they assert that upon encountering Shams and learning the mystical path (which was apparently not Islamic at all...) Rumi abandoned his old Muslim ways and became a free-spirited mystic, unbound by the dogmas of traditional religion. This is a false narrative. There is no indication that Moulana Rumi abandoned Islam upon meeting Shams. Moulana was already aware of Sufism, as his father was a Sufi, and his works from later in his life (after meeting Shams) indicated that he remained Muslim. Given his stature and fame, even before meeting Shams, Rumi was in no position to abandon Islam or openly question it's orthodoxy. Furthermore, if Rumi had abandoned Islam, his disciples would have probably done the same, instead of founding an Islamic Mystical 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.
For a comprehensive online version of the Masnavi-e Manavi with the original Persian, along with English and Turkish translations, visit masnavi.net.
"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.