Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It does not matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come
One city in Turkey stands apart from others for its historical significance. Konya is the final resting place of Jalaluddin Rumi. No ordinary Sufi mystic, poet and lover of music, but arguably the most recognised and respected in Islamic world history.
I find myself visiting Konya for the third time, and on this occasion with my parents who have wanted to visit the city for some time. In the three days I have had here in this city, I have read and thought deeply about the contributions of Rumi (and his muse Shams Tabriz) and what it means for my understandings of the cosmos and my play within it.
As I sit in my hotel room, I look out of my window and I see the impressive Selimiye Cami (built by Mimar Sinan no less) next to the Mevlana, where Rumi rests, while countless visitors from every corner of the world sail past and reflect. One can only imagine what goes through people’s mind as they do, some clambering to take photos while others offer prayers and other still are statue-like in quiet contemplation. What goes on is arguably a combination of self-reflection and remembrance of a saintly man whose aims in life were about love. For Rumi, love makes the world go round (literally). The love of Rumi has made people the world pass around him every day, and still over 800 years after his leaving this earth.
In the thirteenth century, during a time of social turmoil and political upheaval, with the Mongols on the war path, Rumi drew his ideas inwards, connecting the soul to the cosmos, projecting the importance of an inner well-being in a situation of unpredictability, even danger and hostility. So what is Rumi to me today? A tourist attraction at the centre of Rumiworld where there are over-priced restaurants, endless tourist tat and lumps of sugar sold as sweets. Or, is Rumi the epitome of knowledge of human existence and the relationship between humankind and nature during his time and therefore he still remains relevant today? Ultimately, two standout themes come to the fore, and they focus on oneness and love. Tawhid (oneness) is a central plank of Islamic theology but it is also quite a testable take on the interrelationships of humankind. And love does not refer to the fiery temporary nature of romantic love but rather the love of all things pure, including family, the dearest of friends, nature, music (or the arts more generally) and knowledge itself.
Love is the fibre of our interconnectedness as human beings, with each other and to nature. The balance of nature is the balance of love. Heaven is a place not beyond the stars but the truth of our existence that we carry with us on this earth. When it is out of balance, our minds are in despair, our souls are on fire and hearts are tainted. This love is brain chemistry that springs into action when one sees and feels love. It is the feeling of love that our hearts see but our minds do not always know. Hence, the fissure of heart and mind that leads to a broken heart or the broken hearted whose mind is frenzied.
As a social scientist, commentator, observer and critic my journey to inner peace reverberates through the intellectual understanding of the world as a single living organism. When one part is diseased, other parts of the body are in pain. When there is an imbalance, the body does not stand fully, nor does it breathe or see clearly. This affects a spiritual connectivity to the idea of a cosmic coexistence between humans, nature and the universe. Furthermore, while my heritage is one of someone born and raised in a conservative Muslim family, I take a rather more open-ended approach to religion. All faiths have the same tenets at their core. They all aspire to achieve the same outlook among their devotees and followers. Religions teach self-reflection, the love of the world and importance of understanding the nature of our environment and the implications raised by our actions.
That Rumi’s teachings have lasted the test of time, underscoring their importance for humankind, is an understatement. The testimony to his legacy is how his central message that ‘love makes the world ground’ is arguably the only message human beings ever need to learn and adhere to. When there are social problems in some respects, humankind has lost its ability to love others due to a lack of faith in our social world. The idea of human oneness is no longer dominant in understanding the nature of our existence. This lack of love of others shifts to the love of the self, but it is a perpetual state of crises as love of the self seeks validation from others who face their own inner needing-to-be-loved demons. Thus, love becomes a tradable commodity, reduced to an impulsive quick fix, each time blackening our hearts and hollowing our minds as we become distant from the cosmos.
A belief in the oneness of man, nature and God does help many steer towards the path of piety, but while religion itself may seem abhorrent to the so-called enlightened thinking among us, there is no doubt that all humans are inextricably linked to one another, whether we like or not, whether we believe it or not. Moreover, our actions lead to reactions and consequences, intended or unintended. But there can be no doubt that a focus on the other instead of the self can lead to an enriching and rewarding experience of love. Knowing the self through knowing others. Often this is all that matters.